They sat together in the inn. Two girls, alike in gender and different in pretty much every other respect.
Ryoka Griffin and Erin Solstice eyed each other over the smooth mahogany table. Silence hung in the air between them. Taut. Tense.
It was finally time for them to talk.
“Well. It seems we have a lot to talk about.”
Ryoka was the first to break the silence. She looked up at Erin, and then down at her hands. Quite honestly, she didn’t know where to begin.
“I suppose—we should start with how we got here.”
It was the basis of all things. Sharing information. They needed to pool data, make plans for the future. Their survival could depend on it.
Ryoka took a deep breath. From the beginning. She’d put all her secrets on the line and hope Erin did the same.
“Erin, I came down towards Liscor because I was doing a delivery. A special one. You see, I met this man named Teriarch. And he put some kind of—of spell on me. It made me travel towards the Blood Fields and—”
Ryoka broke off sharply. Erin was raising a hand.
“What is it.”
“I’m sorry. But can we just—not do this right now?”
Oh of course. Ryoka closed her eyes. Erin was probably exhausted from meeting Gazi and rescuing Ceria. But this was important.
“I guess we can start tomorrow if necessary. I can sleep—”
Erin shook her head.
“No, not that. I mean this. Can we just cut the act for a second and take a break? From this stupid story, I mean. Why do we have to have a serious conversation now? Can’t we rest for, I dunno, five days and then go from there?”
“But the script says we talk now and—”
“The script can go to hell! I’m sick of it!”
Erin glared at Ryoka.
“I’ve been here for nine months, and I still haven’t gotten a proper romantic relationship. Or even a wand or something like that.”
Ryoka paused. Erin sighed and put her face in her hands.
“And now I have to poke someone’s eye out? Do you know what that feels like? I mean, come on. I know you’re a professional, Ryoka, but I need a break. I’m sorry.”
Erin put her head down on the table. Ryoka patted her on the back and looked around. Then she lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“You think you’ve got it bad? At least you only have to deal with the inn. Every time I’m in a chapter I have to run for my life or nearly get eaten or—or have my leg run over by a frickin’ cart.”
Ryoka made a face at Erin.
“It’s been six months of this crap. Twice a week I have to run around, fight monsters, and complain about how stupid people are.”
Erin nodded. She sat up as Ryoka sighed.
“I know. And what’s with the frying pans, anyways? Who uses frying pans?”
“I know. I didn’t even get a weapon! What am I, too stupid to buy a sword? How hard is it honestly to use one. Put the pointy end in people. Simple!”
The two girls sat together and began to complain. Ryoka was nodding as Erin laid out her grievances.
“You’d think the author would at least give me a magic wand or something. I mean, is it beyond the realm of possibility that I’d fall into an ancient tomb or stumble over a mage’s corpse. I could have been Harry Potter. Instead I’m…Dudley.”
“Oh come on, you’re not fat.”
“It’s going to happen sooner or later. How do you think I deal with stress? Every time I nearly die I eat half a pig’s worth of food.”
Erin shuddered and shook her head. Ryoka winced sympathetically.
“Okay, how about this?”
The Asian girl spread her hands on the table and looked at Erin.
“Crossovers. They’re a good waste of time. Nothing plot-centric ever happens in a crossover. If we get one with another story, we could waste a chapter or two that way. Take a break.”
She grinned at Erin.
“You could magically appear in Hogwarts and meet Harry Potter for a day. Learn some magic, only it would only work with a wand – which you can’t bring back. That’s a good crossover. Plus, you could see if you can’t get a leg up on Ginny Weasly. Put the moves on scar boy.”
Ryoka nudged Erin with an elbow.
Erin made a face that wasn’t too enthusiastic.
“That would be cool. I guess. But you know that will never happen. Harry Potter’s over, and besides, there are all those licensing issues.”
That was true. Ryoka had to think about that.
“Well—what about other web serials? Maybe another author would go for a chapter trade. Like…what about Worm?”
“Worm? Do you want to die horribly?”
Erin glared at Ryoka, and the other girl held up her hands.
“Okay, okay. Good point. How about a webcomic? Those are nice.”
“That takes too long to draw.”
“Not unless we’re stick figures. We could try Order of the Stick.”
“I dunno. I don’t think I’d look good in 2D. Besides, you know the author’s too lazy to do any of that.”
The two sat in silence for a few minutes. At last, Erin spoke.
“We should protest. Start a petition.”
Ryoka pounded the table.
“You’re right! Let’s send one to the Author’s Association.”
“Wait, there’s an Author’s Association?”
“…Probably not. But we can post it on change.org!”
“Yeah! Let’s do it!”
“Okay, I have a piece of paper here. Let me start this petition.”
Ryoka pulled out the chapter’s script and began scribbling on the back. Erin got up and hovered over the paper as Ryoka wrote.
“pirateaba is obviously a fake name. But I know what the real author’s name is.”
“Okay. What is it?”
Erin smiled. She pointed to the first line.
“Helicopter DeFranco. Okay, so we’ll start by saying that ‘We the main characters of the story feel that the author, Helicopter DeFranco has repeatedly ignored our right to acceptable working hours, freedom of speech, medical care, a safe working environment, and…’”
“Wait a second.”
Ryoka had to hold up a hand and cut Erin off.
“Are you sure his name is Helicopter DeFranco?”
“Pretty sure? And it’s ‘she’, Ryoka. The author is a she. Helicopter can be a girl’s name as well as a guy’s.”
Ryoka stared at Erin. She paused, put down the pen, rubbed at her eyes, and looked at Erin.
“First: the author’s name is not Helicopter DeFranco. I don’t know where you’re getting that from.”
Erin looked down sadly at her hands.
“The comments lied to me.”
Ryoka shook her head.
“Second: the author is male.”
“He is not! I mean—she is not!”
“The author is totally a he, Erin. Only a guy would be this much of a dick to female characters.”
“If we were in a LitRPG web serial written by a guy, we’d both be in a harem. And your breasts would be three times as large.”
Ryoka looked down at her chest and covered it protectively.
“Not every male author is a chauvinistic pig. Some of them can write female characters. Like George R. R. Martin.”
“If we were in The Game of Thrones we’d be dead.”
“Anyways, the author is a she.”
“Look, are we going to write the petition or not? Let’s just write ‘pirateaba’ for now and change it later.”
Ryoka hesitated as she stared at the paper.
“But are we sure we want to do this? I mean, seriously?”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“He could have Gazi come back and stab us repeatedly.”
Erin paused. And then she looked at Ryoka, seriously.
“Ryoka, let me ask you this instead: what do you think the odds are that the author’s going to have that happen anyways?”
Ryoka stared at Erin for a second, and then sat down and began to write.
Later that day, Relc and Kblkch walked towards the inn. They stopped when they saw the signs planted deep in the snow.
Female main characters for proper pay and time off! Striking until we get vacations!
Free our heroines! No stabbing for all!
I want a pay raise!
Relc turned to Klbkch.
“Looks like they’re on strike. Want to go back and wait?”
“That appears to be the only sound course of action.”
Relc hesitated. He stared at the inn. He could hear Erin and Ryoka inside, shouting some kind of protest.
“Should we tell them they’re only alive until the real main character shows up?”
Klbkch shook his head.
“I believe that would be unwise.”
The two began walking back towards Liscor, though the snow. Relc started complaining after a few minutes.
“What kind of name is ‘The Wandering Inn’, anyways? The inn doesn’t even move!”
Klbkch agreed. He gestured to his new body with one of his arms.
“I object to my death by the Goblins as well. I feel I should at least have died to twice their number. My reputation is at stake.”
“And I got my ass handed to me by Gazi while Erin gets the final blow. Again.”
“To be fair, Rags got the kill for Skinner.”
“Oh, so I get upstaged by a human girl and a Goblin? I feel much better about that.”
The two walked on in a huff as lightning began pouring from the sky and striking The Wandering Inn. After a second, Relc turned to Klbkch.
“…Do you think we get hazard pay?”