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The inn’s windows were dark and empty when the traveler found them.

No, not a traveler. A trespasser. Not by her choice either; she was merely searching for some place to hide or rest without much care of where that was. She was desperate.

Her clothes were burned and her arms and legs bore numerous bloody cuts. She had found this place by chance and had fled towards it, prompted by some instinct.

After all, there was no mistaking the humble nature of this building. Despite the years, the wooden exterior built upon the solid foundation of stone had not deteriorated much. The ancient grain of the rich oaken boards had withstood weather and rot, as well as time.

The inn was four times the size of a normal house, built to accommodate crowds of people. But that was not what attracted the young woman to it.

It was merely a thought.

When one thinks of the most important building in the fantasy world, whether in games or stories, there is one that stands out above all the rest: the inn.

From a place to sleep and recover health to a meeting place for adventurers, the inn is a place of solace, refuge, and respite. Epic quests begin around an inn’s hearth fire, and companions may be met dining upon repast both foul and fair. An inn is safety, or so the weary traveler hopes.

The inn’s signboard was faded and the years had worn the paint long away. But still, she had hope, and she was desperate. So the trespasser mustered what courage she had left and pulled at the door’s simple handle.

Nothing happened. After a few seconds she pushed instead of pulled and the door swung inwards.

The door creaked open and revealed a dark room. To be more accurate, it was the common room where food and drink was served. Normally, the tables would be filled with weary travelers like the intruder herself, but dust covered every surface and no one was present. The inn was clearly long deserted.

“…Of course it’s empty.”

The intruder sighed and leaned against the doorframe, strength suddenly exhausted. She rested her forehe; ad on one arm and tried not to cry. Her hopes had been shattered yet again. But it’s not as if she had had many to begin with.

“Ever since I came to this world everything’s been going wrong, huh?”

Slowly, she walked into the center of the room and turned around. An empty inn. A world full of monsters and the unknown outside.

Her burned arm and shoulder hurt. The young woman felt the cuts on her legs start to ache as the adrenaline of panic and flight left her. Against her will she collapsed in a chair, raising a cloud of dust.

She was tired. So tired. And though it was empty, the inn called to her. In its walls she hoped for at least some safety. So she sat and rested.

Outside it began to rain. Another misfortune narrowly avoided. The young woman closed her eyes as the rain began to patter on the inn’s roof overhead. She could hear the gentle drops turn into a flurry overhead, muffled by the thick roof. But somewhere, upstairs, she heard water dripping down through the cracks, landing softly somewhere above her head.

It was peaceful. The traveler sat back and felt the pain of her injuries fade, at least for a moment. The rainfall became background noise and she let herself relax for the first time in what felt like ages. She would rest here, at least to begin with. But a thought nagged at her, something that could only be said here. So she opened her eyes and addressed the empty room.

“…I’m really hungry.”


After a few minutes the traveler stood up. She blinked around the room and wondered who she was, why she was here and—

Blink. Blink. She’d lost her train of thought. At least she remembered her name. Sort of. Was it a bad thing that she was so tired she was having trouble remembering who she was?

Erin. Erin Solstice.

It was impossible to forget a name like that, no matter how hard she tried. She had two first names, and both of them could have belonged to a girl or a boy. Actually, Erin sounded much more like a boy’s name in her opinion. But it was hers, and at this moment it’s about all she had.

Hm. Inventory check. Still sitting in her chair, Erin felt at her pockets. She had…two empty pockets. Wonderful. Erin had hoped she’d brought her smartphone with her, but she was without even that basic necessity.

Most travelers begin their journeys well-prepared. Ordinarily, if Erin had known she would have ended up in this place she would have brought along with her a backpack crammed full of essentials. But she hadn’t planned on this adventure. She hadn’t even known it was about to happen.

How does one travel to another world? Magic is probably one answer, or maybe an intricate device of scientific achievement. Perhaps a summoning portal, or a mystic ritual summoning a hero from another world. All these are valid options and yet…

“I just wanted to go to the bathroom.”

She hadn’t even opened the wrong door, or stepped through a wardrobe or anything. Yet at some point she must have turned the wrong way, because instead of the wonderful sight of white porcelain and water she ended up looking down the snout of a—

Erin’s eyes opened and she sat up in her chair, heart pounding at the memory. This was impossible. She was going insane. No, she’d already gone insane and this empty inn was her mental depiction of the padded room they’d tossed her in. It was as plausible an answer as anything else.

Speaking of which, the inn. Erin looked around. What a strange place. She’d never been in a building made almost exclusively out of wood. Wooden walls, wooden beams in the ceiling, wood floor…was she in some kind of medieval world?

The haunting emptiness of the inn struck her hard the more she looked around. At first she’d just been pathetically grateful to find some kind of shelter in the wilderness. The instant she’d seen the building across the grassy plains she’d ran for it full-speed. But now having found it, Erin was not at ease.

It was so empty. So dusty too. Although the inn’s main room was large and spacious she still felt crowded. Maybe it was all the empty tables and chairs. And the long counter at the end of the inn definitely felt like it should have a bartender behind it, serving a lovely cold drink of—

Erin sighed and slapped herself lightly on the head. Now she was thirsty. And hungry. Time to think of something else.

“Well, at least I should clean this place up, right?”

There wasn’t much confidence in her words though. To begin with, why bother cleaning up a place that’s not yours? Back home, Erin never bothered to clean up her room most days.

But still, the sheer amount of dust on every surface was almost suffocating. Erin never considered herself an OCD type personality or particularly fond of cleanliness. Even so, she felt it was probably better not to raise a small dust cloud every time she sat down.

“—Besides, this is a good place to rest. If no one’s here, then I might be able to…”

To do what? Hide here? Live here? Where is here exactly and what’s going on?

Erin tried not to panic as uncertainty gripped at her heart. She could not panic, not now. It wasn’t that she wasn’t terrified out of her mind, but rather, her instincts were telling her that panic was not an option. No one was around to help her, she was lost by herself—panic was a luxury she couldn’t afford.

So Erin fell back on one certainty. If a room is dirty, its common sense to clean it up, right? So her first movement in this inn and indeed her first conscious decision in the world she had come to was simple:

Find a dustrag.

Certainly, it wasn’t the most inspired action ever, but Erin had an entire plan based around that simple action. First she’d find a dustrag, and then she’d look for a bucket. But even if she didn’t find a bucket she could probably just go outside and wet the rag in the rain. After that she could clear off a few tables and maybe then she’d come across a mop…

The first place Erin looked was behind the bar. It was a promising place to start, but she found only more dust and cobwebs there.


Next, she checked the door behind the bar and found it opened up into the kitchen. In there she found several old, rusty pans and pots and even the desired bucket, but no cloth of any kind.


Feeling increasingly desperate, Erin grabbed the bucket and towed it outside. She set it upright to collect water and returned to the common room. Well, that only left the upstairs.

…It was a very dark stairwell that looked down on Erin as she put her first foot on the stairs. Due to the size of the ground floor, the second floor was quite high up and so the staircase loomed like the bones of some kind of dark monster. At least, that’s how it looked in the darkness.

Cautiously, Erin ascended the staircase. It seemed as though ever second stair creaked or groaned loudly as she placed her weight upon it, and the sounds echoed in the dark inn. To Erin, it felt like she was stepping on landmines – each time she heard a loud creak her heart sped up and caught in her throat.

“Come on. Come on. You can do this.”

Erin whispered to herself, keeping her voice low so as not to—to wake up anything that might be up there. At that thought her heart skipped another beat and she paused halfway up the stairwell, shaking slightly.

This is stupid. There’s nothing up there. Nothing!

Oh yeah? There could be anything up there. Like more of those goblin things or—or a dragon!

What? How would a dragon fit up there?

What about the dragon in the cave? It was real. It was totally real! I nearly died!

At that Erin shuddered and her racing thoughts froze in place at the memory.

Dragon. There was no other word for what she’d seen. A monster right out of fairy tales, and when she’d seen it—

Her fingers touched the burns on her arms and she winced. The pain was all too real. And after that she’d ran and ran and the small green men had chased her.

Goblins, not aliens that is. Actually, aliens probably would have been better. Aliens don’t try to stab you with knives.

“Or maybe they do.”

With a small laugh, Erin gazed upwards. It was dark on the second floor of the inn. Long shadows made the chipped and faded wood ominous. She knew there was probably nothing up there. If there was, wouldn’t it have tried to eat her already?

But this was a different kind of fear that held her heart. It was the fear of children, the fear of the dark and the unknown. So Erin hesitated. But she knew she had to climb.

After a minute she began talking to herself quietly.

“Dustrag. Dustrag, dustrag, dustrag…”

Erin muttered the word like a mantra. Somehow the thought that she absolutely needed to find one gave her the strength to continue climbing the stairs.

One step. That was the hardest. Then two steps. Erin’s heart jumped as the stairs creaked underneath her, but nothing terrible happened. So she kept climbing.

However, if the sketchy staircase was the first hurdle of the mind, the empty corridor full of shadows and darkness was an entirely new level of intimidation.

It was so dark. Even when her eyes adjusted, Erin could barely see five feet in front of her. But having come this far, she was committed. So she kept going with her heart pounding out of her chest.

“Dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag…”

The first room she came to was very, very dark. Erin crept inside and froze as she heard a sound. Was that…rustling?

No. No, it was just her imagination. She could hear the storm passing outside with the rain making a racket on the roof overhead. The wind was blowing against the inn, that was all. It was probably just a leaf—

Rustle, rustle.

That was definitely a sound. Erin’s heart was playing the drums in her chest. There was something in the room with her, and she really hoped for once that it was just a rat. Something—it sounded almost leathery, like two wings unfurling…


In the distance thunder rolled and a gust of wind blew hard against the inn. Something pale and white unfurled itself in the darkness and flew at Erin. She screamed, flailed wildly at the thing and crashed to the ground with it in her arms.

For a minute all was confusion and noise. Erin fought wildly against the monster attacking her as rain started pelting her face and it wrapped itself around her arms and head. She eventually threw it off her and scrambled to her feet to find the terrifying creature was—

A curtain.

For a few seconds Erin just stared at the faded fabric in her hands in complete shock. Once her heart had decided to stop running a marathon she exhaled.


She picked up the pale bit of fabric and studied it. Well, it was a curtain. That was about the extent of her detective skills. It was a white curtain—or at least it had been white a long time ago. Mildew and dirt had turned it grey, but at least it was fabric.

“Okay, okay.”

Erin’s heart was still racing far too fast. She looked around. The room was still very dark, and the wind coming in from outside was making the windows shudder in a very eerie manner.

Erin closed the window. That stopped the noise, at least. But it was still way too dark to make many details out. Now, she could keep exploring the second floor. Or, having found a dustrag she could go back down to the bottom floor. The comforting, familiar, dusty ground floor.

The room was very dark. Erin took another look around and quickly went back downstairs. She tossed the curtain on one of the tables next to the bucket she’d found and looked around.

“Let’s see. Where should I start, then?”

Really, the better question was where not to start. Aside from the walls, everything was covered by a thick layer of dust. In the end, Erin started with the table she’d sat at.

The wet curtain-rag raised a cloud of dust into the air, making Erin stumble away, coughing and hacking. She waited until the dust had settled to and tried a different approach.

Carefully, with exquisite care and attention to detail, Erin shoved the dust off the side of the table and onto the floor. After that she went back over the rough surface with another pass of her cloth until the table was clean. Then she cleaned her rag in the bucket with some water and went on to the next table.

After a while, the water in the bucket began to turn grey with all the dust. Erin opened the door of the inn, tossed the water out and sat back in one of the chairs until the bucket had filled up again. Then she started cleaning once more.

There was a rhythm to it. In no time at all Erin had cleaned the tables, so she decided to clean all the chairs as well. And once she’d finished with that, it only made sense to clean the bar top as well.

The long counter was made of some kind of high-quality wood. Erin admired the way the faint light from outside made the rich wood glow after removing the dust. The bar was long enough to accommodate at least twenty people at a time…or fifteen if they were picky about elbow room.

That done, Erin cleaned the barkeep’s shelf below the bar and the other surfaces in the common room. When she was finished, the inn seemed far warmer than it had before, as the newly-clean surfaces reflected the fading light from outside.

Everything was clean. Except for the floor.

She’d been shoveling dust onto the floor to clean everything else up, so now huge piles of wet dust clumped together everywhere. Erin eyed them, thought about cleaning them up for a half a second and decided her work was done.

“This is why brooms were invented.”

Erin sighed and tossed the dustrag into the bucket. She wiped at her forehead and found she was covered with a layer of sweat. And—was it nightfall already?

Yes, sometime in her cleaning efforts the rain had ceased and the visible light had decreased until the inn was a mass of shadows. Now everywhere was spooky.

—But at least the ground floor was reassuring. She’d cleaned it, and so it was hers in a way. That made it safe. At least, she really hoped that was the case.

Erin sat back down in a chair and found she was exhausted. She leaned back against the table and sighed. If ever she needed proof that she was terrible in a survival situation, this would be it. Here she was, lost in a terrifying world without a clue where she was and what was her first move? Clean the room.

“At least Mom would be happy.”

Erin laughed to herself. She closed her eyes, overcome by exhaustion. Time to rest. Maybe tomorrow everything would be better. Maybe this was all just a dream. Probably not, but…

Her eyes lowered. Her breathing grew slower. Erin just had enough consciousness for one last thought.

“Now I’m really, really hungry.”

[Innkeeper Class Obtained!]

[Innkeeper Level 1!]

[Skill – Basic Cleaning obtained!]

[Skill – Basic Cooking obtained!]

“…What was that?”


The inn is dark. That’s because the world is dark at the moment.

It’s nighttime.

However, one figure still moves restlessly around the inn. Her progress leaves a trail in the dust as she walks around tables and chairs. Occasionally she trips over a chair.



Erin brushed dust off of herself in disgust. Well, her clothes were officially dirty now. Not that they’d been pristine in the first place. Parts of her t-shirt were burned black and her jeans had been cut by the Goblin’s knives. But that wasn’t important at the moment.

“Did I just level up?”

Erin stared up at the ceiling from her fallen position. She could have stood up, but that would have required effort. And besides, Erin was hungry, tired, and confused. Lying on the floor made her feel better. Even if the dust was getting into her hair.

Ordinarily, that would have been disgusting, but at the moment—

“Seriously? I leveled up? What is this, a game?”

Slowly, Erin pulled herself up into a squat. Then she put her head in her hands.

“No. No it can’t be. But a—a dragon and goblins and now leveling…this is another world, right? One like Dungeons and Dragons? Or—or a video game?”

She straightened and stood up. The world seemed to be spinning around her. Common sense? Who needed that? Nope. Just hand her a few fire breathing dragons and let her level up by cleaning tables. That made sense.

“Right, right. Let’s recap. I’m in another world which is actually a video game. And there are monsters in this world and I can level up by doing stuff. I even get skills and when I do, a voice in my head—no, more like a thought appears that tells me I’ve accomplished a task.”

She nodded to herself.

“Yep. Makes complete sense.”


“Like hell it does!”

Erin screamed and kicked a chair hard enough to send it flying into the air. The chair landed with a tremendous crash which was satisfying to hear. Less satisfying though was Erin’s foot, which had hit the chair hard enough to jam every toe.


After screaming in pain and hopping around a bit, Erin sat at one of the tables and cried for a while. It wasn’t that she liked crying or did it a lot. It just helped at the moment.

After about ten minutes of crying, Erin finally started sniffing and choking back tears. She felt better, but quickly hit upon another problem when she went to wipe away her tears and snot and remembered there wasn’t any tissue paper nearby. So she used the rag.

The wet, disgusting rag. But it was better than her shirt. And after that, Erin sat, staring at nothing in particular as the darkness surrounded her.

“I’m tired.”

That was the last thing Erin said before she fell asleep.


The next day hit Erin in the face. She groaned and sat up, head aching. Her neck felt twisted, and she was sore from lying on the floor. She still would have slept in longer if it weren’t for the sun and her stomach.

Hobbling around, Erin looked at the bright daylight streaming through one window.

“This is why drapes were invented, you know.”

Windows. These ones had no glass or curtains. They were square holes in the wall, but they did have shutters. Too bad Erin had chosen one of the open windows to nap underneath.

Without thinking, Erin’s hands went up to her hair and came back full of dirt and dust. Oh, right. She’d slept on the floor. The dirty floor where all the dust had gone.

Erin sat in a chair and buried her face in her hands. After a little while her stomach growled louder.

“Got it. Message received.”


The young woman eventually stood up and walked over to the door. There was no food in the inn. Therefore, she had to go outside to find some. Somewhere. Her train of logic was flawless, but she still hesitated as she put her hand on the door handle.


Erin shivered. The inn felt cold suddenly. Her hands began to shake uncontrollably as the cuts on her legs stung horribly. Her burned arm flared in pain.


“I’ll die here if I don’t find something to eat.”

So Erin took a deep breath and opened the door. It wasn’t courage that made her do it. Just the need to survive.

The young woman stepped outside, shading her eyes. And she stopped. Because a thought had struck her suddenly. Something she hadn’t fully realized before in her panicked flight.

This—is no ordinary world.

The sky overhead was far too vast to be from her world. The sky was too big. And that was a thought Erin could never imagine having. But though she could look up in her own world and see hundreds, thousands of miles of empty space and the clouds floating inconceivably high overhead—

This horizon was far greater than even that. The sight of a single cloud took her breath away as she gazed upwards. It was just a cloud, casting a large shadow on the grasslands beneath it. Yet Erin was transfixed. She stared upwards, her mouth gaping.

How large are clouds? Erin never had to wonder about that before. But she remembered staring up at clouds from her world. They were as tall as…skyscrapers? Hills? Were hills bigger than skyscrapers? She knew clouds could get big, but this cloud was different.

This cloud, this single cloud among many, was the size of a mountain.

Erin’s eyes strained as they made out small ridges and layers of the cloud, impossibly small from where she was standing but probably plateaus and massive cliffs up close. The scale of the cloud was making her head spin and her eyes hurt. Erin had to look away.

The mountain-cloud was huge, but as far overhead as it was, it was still only a tiny fraction of the sky. When Erin turned her gaze from the single cloud to the rest of the world around her, her amazement continued.

Mountains seemed to reach upwards forever, looming over a wide grassland untouched by civilization. Erin could stare in any direction without finding an end to the rolling landscape. And how far had she run before coming here? At first glance it seemed like the plains were just that — plain, flat land — but closer inspection showed Erin that the land was in fact full of deep inclines and raised ground.

If she were to walk carelessly, Erin would lose sight of your destination and find herself in a valley thousands of feet deep. She was standing on a relatively high hill, affording her a good vantage point. Yet no matter how hard she looked in every direction, the plains still stretched on, on and on without pause—

Or did they? Erin stopped as she starts to pick out small details on the horizon. Far in the distance between the mountain range and the rising sun she saw what looked vaguely like buildings. Was there a town out there? Or a village? A…city?

It is impossible to tell from where she was standing, half-blinded as Erin was by the light. But the sight of what might be man-made structures gave her hope that she wasn’t alone in this world. However, just the thought of travelling that far on her empty stomach was impossible so she kept looking.

Erin frowned as she spotted something. She shaded her eyes with one hand and squinted hard, confused.

“Are those…trees?”


It was surreal to feel herself looking down on a forest, but that was the only answer she could think of. It looked like there was a small – well, relatively speaking – valley to the east filled with trees. It didn’t look too far away, and if Erin looked closely she could see small specks of yellow and blue on the trees. Fruits?

There was only one way to find out. And so she began to walk in that direction, her legs and stomach overriding her cautious brain. She needed food.

But in the back of her mind, Erin remembered the Goblins. Okay, maybe they weren’t Goblins but strange, deformed children that looked like twisted versions of humans with sharp noses, sharp teeth, little knives and—

Goblins. And she remembered that they’d found her as she was running singed and bewildered from the Dragon.

At the thought of those little monsters rushing her and trying to cut her to shreds Erin’s heart beat faster and her footsteps faltered. But what choice did she have? Either she stayed in the inn until she starved to death, or she went and got food. The trees weren’t that far away. She could grab some of those weird fruit things – if they were fruit – and run away if anything came near her.

That was the plan. It was the plan right up until Erin found herself walking by a huge rock.

There was nothing too important about the rock, except that it was more like a boulder, a gigantic mound of stone rounded at the top like a small hill. It was twice as tall as a normal person and just as long across. In short, it was a really big rock.

Erin ignored it at first, except to look at it and wonder if climbing on top of it would give her a better view. But she was hungry, so she walked right past the rock. It was that which saved her.

As she put the large boulder behind her, Erin felt the whoosh of air and a terrifying loud crack right next to her ear. She jumped, turned around and screamed. Just as quickly she ran as the second pincer nearly took her head clean off.

The thing that had been hiding underneath the rock lifted it up off the ground and scurried after Erin as she ran screaming. She spared only one glance over her shoulder, but that was enough. She ran even faster.

Two large, long pincers made out of a dark brownish orange chitin were poking out from beneath the rock as the crab-monster scuttled towards her. It had lifted the gigantic, hollow shell enough so that Erin could see countless crab legs tearing up the earth as it propelled itself along the ground.

Oh, nonononononononono—

That was the voice in Erin’s head. She couldn’t waste her breath because all the air in her body as devoted to keeping her running as fast as she could.

Behind her Erin could feel something huge barely miss her back. She sped up even faster, but it sounded like it was right behind her. The giant crab was making a sound as it ran after her too, a loud clicking that sounded like gunshots going off next to Erin’s head.

So she ran faster.

Eventually the clicking stopped and Erin realized she couldn’t hear anything behind her. She stopped and turned to see a rock with many legs slowly moving back across the plains.

“What…the holy…crab?”

Erin could only gasp and clutch at her side. She felt like her legs were about to fall off, and her lungs were about to burst. She was also lightheaded, but she really didn’t want to sit down.

Instead she forced herself to keep walking. It hurt. Everything hurt. But she was still alive, crabs or no crabs.

Erin tried to smile. Her legs ached, but eventually she got her breathing back under control. And even better, she was at her destination.

“Is—is that a tree?”

Erin gaped up at the strange plants before her. They were probably trees. They had bark, leaves, and fruit. But in each aspect they were slightly—off.

The tree in front of her was thin and squat. Erin felt trees shouldn’t look fat. It was still about ten feet tall, but its trunk seemed far too narrow to support its weight. And not only that, but its leaves were huge.

“It’s like a palm tree, but with branches. And blue fruit.”

So decided Erin after she’d tested the tree to see if she could push it over. The wood was remarkably hard – even when she went to push at low-hanging branches she could barely bend the thin wood.

“And it’s grey. Grey bark, green leaves, blue fruit. Who dropped the paint bucket on this thing?”

That said, the colors didn’t clash horribly. And what interested Erin more than the aesthetics was the edibility of the fruit. And the reachability.

Most of the blue fruits on each of the trees were clustered around the top branches. There were yellow fruits lower down, but since they were smaller they were probably also unripe. Hesitantly, Erin grabbed a branch and after testing her weight on it a few times, tried to pull herself up.


Her arms shook as she strained to get off the ground. After a few seconds Erin got her chin above the branch, but no further. After another second she had to let go.

Erin landed on the ground and stared up at the tantalizing blue fruits, just out of reach. If she weren’t so hungry and tired…she’d still probably never get up that high.

“Is this how I die? Starving to death because I can’t do a pull-up?”

No. That was stupid. But the more Erin thought about it…

“No. No!”

Erin jumped and managed to pull herself halfway up the first branch through sheer desperation. But her arms gave out and she fall on her back with a whumph that knocked the air out of her.

“You…stupid tree!”

Erin’s shouts of frustration echoed in the small valley. She tried to grab the branch again, but she couldn’t even pull herself up anymore. She screamed in frustration, grabbed at her dirty hair, and then kicked the tree.

The entire tree shook slightly with the force of Erin’s kick. The leaves trembled, and the blue fruits moved—

And one fell to the ground.

Erin stared at the round, slightly fuzzy blue fruit. Then she looked up at the tree. Without a word she grabbed the fruit. Then she looked around expectantly.

“Um, shouldn’t there be some kind of announcement?”

No response. Erin kicked the tree again and picked up another fruit.

“[Mysterious Blue Fruit acquired!] Dun dun dun dun!”


After a little bit, Erin put her head in her hands to cover her blushing face.

“…I hate this world.”

Once she was done, Erin looked at the fruit in her hands. There wasn’t much to see. It was blue, it was probably a fruit, and it was pretty large. Erin had seen monster apples before in stores, the weirdly expensive ones that were three times as big as their smaller cousins. That was about the size of the blue fruit.

Her stomach rumbled just looking at it. Erin raised the fruit to her mouth, and then hesitated.

“…Am I going to die?”

It was a good question. Erin studied the fruit in her hand. She sniffed it cautiously. It smelled faintly…sweet. She poked it. Tender. Probably succulent. Then she licked the outside.

“Pheh! Hairy!”

Maybe it would be better to peel it after all. Maybe it was actually some kind of alien monster she was holding and if she bit it she’d be eating a mouthful of guts and blood. That thought made Erin hesitate for few minutes before she started peeling it away.

“It’s like a peach. Not a monster, not a monster…”

Erin peeled off the outer layer of blue fruit and found the inside of the blue fruit was a purplish-blue. The juice ran to the ground and smelled…Erin’s stomach grumbled but she’d found something else that caught her attention.

“That is the biggest seed I’ve ever seen. There’s more seed here than fruit!”

Erin held up the core of the blue fruit, which was indeed a seed core two thirds the size of the blue fruit itself. The shell was a stained purple-brown, but Erin felt something sloshing about inside when she shook it.

“Okay, time to see what’s inside.”

She’d need a rock for that. Erin transferred the seed core to her other hand and stood up. As she did, she squeezed the core gently.

Crack. Crack.

Hollow. The brown shell split open and disgorged a mess of pulpy seeds and brown juice onto Erin’s pants and the ground. She stared at the mess in silence until the pungent odor hit her nose – an incredibly chemical smell similar to antifreeze or some kind of cleaning product.

Slowly, Erin stood up and brushed the seed vomit off her clothes. That did nothing to get rid of the smell, though. Then she picked up the pieces of the seed’s core and hurled them as hard as she could against one of the trees.

“I hate this world!”


After a while her stomach began to growl again as the smell from the seed pod dissipated in the morning air. Hesitantly, Erin grabbed the second blue fruit and brought it to her lips. This time she bit into the outer skin and chewed. The texture was unpleasantly rubbery and tough to chew, but thankfully it was edible. And what was more—

“Wow. This tastes really good!”

That was the remark Erin made after she’d consumed eight more of the blue fruits, all in rapid succession. The seed pods she left untouched on the ground, but she happily devoured the outer rinds, stripping an entire tree clean before she was finally full.

Groaning with satisfaction she sat back against the tree. She felt good. Sticky, smelly, true, but good. The day was fair and warm, and with her stomach full and the soft grass beneath her there was only one thought on her mind.


Maybe it was something in the fruits that triggered it, or maybe it was just long overdue. Either way, Erin was suddenly, keenly aware of a certain need pressing at her. Erin sighed and stood back up.

“Nature calls. I hate nature.”

She walked behind the nearest tree, and then around it. There wasn’t much…cover here, but she really had to go.

“Well, what am I hiding from anyways?”

Erin thought about that for a moment then deliberately edged around the trunk until the sun was out of view. That made her feel better.

A few seconds later Erin felt refreshed and happy. Her stomach was full, other parts were empty and best yet she was alive.

“Now, how am I going to get back past that crab rock-monster?”

Erin’s stomach twisted unpleasantly at the thought and her heart began to pound in her chest. But an idea struck her as she looked at the countless seed pods on the ground.


The large, duplicitous rock seemed more and more out of place the more Erin looked at it. If she’d been able to think past her hunger before she’d have wondered how such a large stone made it all the way to the grasslands without being eroded by the elements. Well, that stupid crab-creature was clearly one of the predators in this world.

And it was quick. Erin didn’t want to run away again, so she really hoped this plan of hers would work. Did crabs have noses? Probably not, but she really hoped they could still smell.

Slowly, Erin walked forward. The rock remained motionless. Well, that was fine.

Erin picked up a small stone and hurled it at the rock. It bounced off.

She waited. The rock didn’t shift so much as an inch.

Erin picked up another, larger stone and threw it against the rock. She wasn’t a good shot so the rock glanced off the side. Again, there was no response.

“Uh, is…is this the right rock?”

Erin looked around. No other suspicious large rocks in sight. But it wasn’t doing anything.

“Get closer…no, that’s stupid.”

She eyed the rock again. Well, if it wasn’t going to move…

Erin turned her away. She’d circle around. Far around. She began walking away.


It was such a small sound. But it made her freeze and then whirl around.

Erin caught the rock-crab crawling towards her stealthily. In just a few seconds it had covered nearly twenty feet. She stared in horror as it reared upwards.


The rock-crab began its high-speed shuffle towards her. Two enormous claws and a pair of dark antennas—or were they eyes? – curled up from underneath the rock.

Erin stepped back, half-turned to run, and remembered what was in her other hand. She took swift aim and threw the seed pod she had been holding.

Bullseye. The seed core smacked the rock-crab right in the antennae and burst into a shower of pulpy liquid. Even at this range Erin could smell the toxic odors on the breeze.

If she was honest, Erin didn’t know what she expected. Pain, or shock from the rock-crab maybe. She’d nailed it pretty good on the antennae and she was sure that had to hurt. But still, it wasn’t as if the seed cores were that heavy. She expected the crab to recoil, and maybe get scared off by the scent at best.

What she didn’t expect was for the crab to freak out and start smashing itself with one of its claws. It was panicking, frantically scraping away at the spot she’d struck it with the seed core, ignoring the damage it was doing to its own antennae. At the same time the rock-crab was making distressed sounds.

It sounded like the loudest cricket in the world, only a lot deeper and echoing out from beneath the rocky shell the crab was wearing. That was enough to make Erin back up until she was back among the trees and the crab was barely visible.

Even after she’d gone a ways she could still see the crab doing an unhappy dance as it tried to scrape off the seed pod fragments.


Erin scratched her head.

“Well, it’s good to know they hate fruit.”

Speaking of which…Erin decided to get more of the delicious blue fruits. As many as she could carry, in fact. Blue was now the color of breakfast, lunch, and dinner and she only wished she had more hands. Could she make a basket somehow…? Out of grass?

She kicked at a tuft of the stuff.

“…That’s a stupid idea.”

How about her shirt then, or pants? But that was a bit…well, there was no one around to see her except the rock-crabs, right? Even so, though.

“Too bad I’m not a streaker, huh?”

Erin addressed that comment to a nearby patch of patch of grass. The grass said nothing in reply.

With a sigh, Erin walked away. She slowly crested a small hill and found herself looking down on the fruit orchard once more. She also found herself looking at several short, green creatures. They were kicking trees and harvesting the blue fruits that fell to the ground.

For a few seconds they didn’t see her. Then one of them looked up and saw the slack-jawed human staring their way. He made a shrill noise and the others looked around.


The nearest creature took a step towards her. It looked harmless. For a moment. Then it bared its incredibly sharp teeth and drew a knife. Its friends did likewise. They advanced on the young woman.

The young woman for her part stared in horror for two more seconds, and then pointed one finger. She opened her mouth and screamed.


The green skinned monsters stopped and stared as the young woman screamed and took off running at top speed. But they followed her doggedly despite the insane speed at which she sprinted. Humans panic and grow tired. They’ll catch her as soon as she slows down.

…Assuming she ever slows down.


It is evening. The sun is casting long shadows across the plains. All is silent. Aside from the screaming rock-crab smashing itself and the screaming human, there is no sound in the world.

All is calm.

A single figure sprints across the grasslands. She is running as fast as she can. Behind her a group of squat creatures follow. It is nearly dinnertime.

Erin Solstice, age 20. A young girl—woman from Michigan with a casual interest in video games and a deep obsession with strategy games. Hobbies include snowboarding, watching Youtube videos, playing chess, shogi, go, etc. Dreams of one day becoming a professional strategy game commentator.


Running for her life.


Erin found a stream running idyllically down a hill a few miles away from the inn. Its position and relative size meant that it was the perfect place for her to gather water or even wash herself should the need arise. All things considered, it was a windfall of a discovery.

She took three steps, leapt, and cleared the stream in one jump and hit the ground already running. The stream kept flowing as she left it rapidly behind. Not once did Erin look back, although her throat was burning.

She was being chased.

By Goblins. They swarmed after her, wading through the stream despite the strong current. And though they were small, their bodies were wiry and their dirty arms muscled. And they all carried weapons.

Generally they were daggers or short swords, but Erin had spotted what looked like a meat cleaver on one of them. She was too busy running to get a good look, but if they were like the ones she had met yesterday they were rusty, stained with dried blood and crusty substances, and sharp.

That, combined with the Golbin’s faces made them terrifying. Normal Goblins were supposed to look ugly, but not dangerous. In video games Erin had always seem them depicted as short, man-like creatures with beaky noses, pointed ears, and ugly faces. But these Goblins…

Pointy ears? Check.

Ugly face? Check.

Their noses weren’t too pointed, but they were definitely carrots compared to potatoes as noses went. But what really scared Erin were their teeth.

They had two rows of teeth. Like sharks. They had blood red eyes, like monsters in nightmares. Glowing red eyes. And they screamed as they chased her.

It didn’t sound like normal screaming. Erin was used to hearing screams, but they only came out of humans. The sound the Goblins made wasn’t a continuous sound but a kind of ululating noise that seemed to grow louder the longer they yelled.


It made Erin break out into a cold sweat and she pumped her legs even faster to charge up the hill. She was in one of the valleys, but she knew she was headed straight for the inn. She just had to get there and, and—

That’s where they’d kill her. Erin would get to the inn, and they’d surround it, break in somehow and tear her to shreds. But what other choice did she have? None. She couldn’t run forever.

Already Erin felt like someone was twisting a knife into her side and she was gasping for air. She was no athlete. The only reason she was still ahead of the Goblins by a good bit was because they were short. She also guessed they were letting her use up all her energy before closing in for the kill.

Erin crested the hill, stumbled, caught herself, and saw the inn’s dark brown walls only a hundred meters away. She dashed towards it, throwing all of her energy into a desperate sprint.

The Goblin’s voices had faded a bit by the time she burst through the inn’s door way and slammed it shut. But she knew they were only minutes away at best so Erin stood up despite the agony in her chest and legs.

The door had a metal bar that could be slid to prevent it from being opened. Erin did that, and then looked around. Windows. The common room had so many windows.

“Oh you’ve got to be—”

She didn’t waste time on the rest of her sentence. Erin dashed over to one window and slammed the wooden shutters closed. Then she fumbled with the latch. It was a cheap bit of metal, but it might buy her a few seconds.

Erin sped around the room, fighting to close the windows as the Goblin’s shouting grew louder and louder. She slammed shut the last window and let out a huge sigh of relief. Then she remembered that the inn had a second floor.

The mysterious darkness of the second floor that had terrified Erin the night before didn’t even slow her steps as she dashed up the stairs. She ran in and out of each room as fast as she could, closing windows. While some of the mantles had succumbed to the rot, all of the shutters were mostly intact. She’d hear if they were being smashed in, at least.

Erin ran into the room at the end of the corridor and stopped when she saw the skeleton in the last bed. But even that didn’t slow her much and she closed the windows just in time to hear the Goblins start pounding at the door downstairs.

They didn’t get in that way. But as Erin sped down the stairs she heard one of the shutters break. And then another.

The first Goblin squeezed through a window as Erin stood petrified. The second and third were right behind him.

Erin backed up. The first Goblin came at her as his fellows spread out behind him. There were five—no, six of them.

Her legs were shaking. Erin tried to turn over a table but the Goblin was too quick. He lunged forward and she fell backwards with a small scream. He laughed and jumped for her, knife swinging.

Erin rolled backwards and felt a stinging cut on her leg. She scrambled to her feet and looked down.

Blood. It came from a shallow cut on her leg. She looked back at the Goblin and saw his grinning face.


It was a similar grin. Or smile. Or expression, really. But to Erin, it was the same face. The same as a human’s. Mocking. Confident. The kind of face young men—

He licked at the blood on his knife. Erin’s face froze. The fear that had been bubbling in her turned in an instant to anger. The Goblin didn’t notice, and ran for her, still grinning.

Erin’s leg shot up. She didn’t kick. It was just a lightning-fast shot right between the legs. She could have sworn she heard something crunch.

The Goblin’s face which had been so full of malicious glee froze up. He turned pale, made a high-pitched keening sound and toppled over.

The other Goblins stared in shock at their friend. Erin stared in shock too, but had the presence of mind to grab a chair before they could react. She raised it threateningly.

“Well? Come on!”

Erin swung the chair like a club. The Goblins ducked underneath it and advanced on her, swinging low.

A lucky blade slashed Erin’s leg and she cried out in pain. Instantly she brought the chair up and over her head and smashed the Goblin flat.

In movies, the chair would break off leaving Erin with the stumps in her hands. In reality the impact made her hands sting but the chair didn’t so much as creak. The Goblin on the other hand screamed a lot.

His fellows backed up as Erin held the chair up for another swing. Her leg was bleeding badly from the cut but she was more mad than scared at this point. Plus she had a chair. All they had were knives.

In fact, she had more than one chair.

“Eat this!”

Erin tossed the chair at one Goblin and clipped it on the head as it ducked. He fell down too, and meanwhile Erin had grabbed another chair. She used it like a shield, jabbing the legs at the nearest Goblin and forcing it back.

Faced with an unexpected threat the others split up and tried to circle around Erin. Accordingly, she tried not to let them. But even if they were surprisingly fragile, they were quick and hard to hit. Before long the remaining four Goblins were all around Erin, peering under tables, feinting at her from behind unheld chairs.

“Get back!”

Erin tossed her chair again and again, missed. But as the Goblins ducked she turned around and fled for the stairs. She had longer legs, but they were quick too and surged after her as she jumped up the stairs two at a time.

The fastest Goblin was hot on her heels, cackling with that strange laughter as he swiped at the back of her legs. Erin ignored the bleeding and hit the top of the stairs with the Goblin right behind her. He laughed evilly.

And stopped when he realized it was just him and the human female at the top of the stairs. He looked up. The big human female made a fist.


The fourth Goblin crashed down the stairs, face a bloody mess. The remaining three Goblins looked up at the young woman standing above them and hesitated. But she was prey. Prey didn’t fight back!

One threw a knife. It hit Erin in the stomach point first, but the toss was so weak it barely penetrated her skin. She grabbed it and leapt down the stairs.

Two hands on the handrail let Erin swing her legs up. She was no gymnast, but rage gave her a moment of athletic inspiration. Both her feet crashed into the face of the knife-throwing Goblin.

He screamed and clutched at his broken, bleeding nose. His two friends ran back as Erin landed on the ground. The bleeding Goblin waved his knife at Erin. She slapped him.

Crack. It was a good slap, the kind that made Erin’s hand go numb. The Goblin fell down stunned and his hand let go of his knife.

Erin stared at it. Then, before the other two Goblins could move she grabbed it. And when she stood up she had a very different expression on her face.

The remaining Goblins looked at her. They weren’t just two, not really. Their friends hadn’t been knocked out, just hurt. Already they were getting up while clutching their bruised heads and bodies. However…

The human female was facing them, knife in her hand. She didn’t look as frightened as she had been before. In fact, she looked quite angry. That wasn’t good. She seemed suddenly bigger, and the Goblins were keenly aware that she had just beaten two thirds of their number in a matter of seconds.

And she had a knife.

The Goblins stared at Erin. She stared back. Now they were all awake and upright, but they didn’t seem to be about to attack. In fact, they seemed sort of nervous.

Erin stared at them. They stared at her. Her eyes began to water, but she didn’t dare blink. But she had to do something, right?


The Goblins shrieked and ran. They crashed out of the broken windows and ran as if pursued by demons.

Erin stayed where she was for quite some time, hands still half-raised. Eventually she lowered them.

She wanted to scratch her head, but nearly stabbed her eye out with a knife. Carefully, Erin put the knife on a table and then sat in the nearest chair. Her legs had lost all strength.

“Ha. Haha.”

Erin coughed and then chuckled again.


Her chest hurt. Her arms hurt. Her legs hurt. Actually, her entire body hurt. She felt like she was dying. But.

“I can’t even laugh properly right now. Hahahahahaha…ha?”

And then she did laugh. She started laughing as she sat with her back against the table, bleeding onto the inn’s clean floor. She laughed and laughed until tears were in her eyes. And as she closed her eyes she smiled. Then she bumped her cuts and stopped smiling. But she still slept.

[Innkeeper Level 4!]

“…Hey. What happened to levels 2 and 3?”


The young woman sat in a chair and pondered. It seemed stupid. No, it was stupid. But there could be only one explanation.

“When you level in dreams, you level in real life?”

Erin thought about that for a moment.


She sat in the chair for a few more minutes. Those minutes turned into half an hour, and then nearly a full hour before her stomach grumbled.

“Right, food.”

After another hour Erin decided to get up. Her body protested the movement, but her stomach overruled her legs. She got up and reluctantly stumbled out the door.

Her legs hurt. As she stepped outside Erin felt at the back of her legs and winced.

“Right. Knife cuts.”

She should wash that. If she had water. But since she didn’t and the wounds were already scabbed over, Erin left it and started walking.

It was a long, long walk back to the fruit trees. Erin was only glad she remembered where they were. She was even gladder than there weren’t any suspicious rocks along her route, but that only made her warier. Could they burrow? Were there grass-crabs?

If there were, they didn’t seem interested in her at the moment. Erin found the strange, spindly trees easily and picked an armful of blue fruits. She sat and ate fourteen. It wasn’t that she was hungry so much as really thirsty. She sucked as much of the blue juice out of the fruits before gathering as many as she could carry and walked back to the inn. The seed cores she left where they lay.

…Actually, now that she thought of it…

Erin doubled back and grabbed two seed cores and placed them carefully on top of her stack of blue fruits.

“Just in case. I should also get a bow and arrow or something, right? Too bad I have no idea how to shoot anything. Or have any idea how to carve a bow. You carve bows, right?”

Erin thought about that as she walked back over the sloping ground, taking care not to trip and break the seed cores. How would she make anything, anyways?

“Um. Is it three bars of iron and two sticks to make a pickaxe? Or can I make a wood sword by punching trees? Why couldn’t this be Minecraft instead?”

But now she thought of it, Erin remembered the trees.

“Firewood. If I could cut the wood away, that is.”

She thought of the incredibly stiff branches.

“…Nope. But wait a second. What about fallen branches? Or—”

She turned around and started walking back. But when she got there she found neither helpful twigs nor larger branches anywhere in the orchard.


Frustrated, Erin kicked a tree and dodged another falling blue fruit. She added it to her armful and walked back to the inn.

The room was still a mess from last night’s fight. Erin sat the fruits down on one table and started righting chairs and tables.

“Stupid Goblins.”

She paused as a thought struck her. Goblins. Oh yeah. She’d fought Goblins.

Her eyes fell on the knife she’d taken from one of them. Slowly, Erin’s legs folded up and she sat on the dusty ground again. Then she sneezed.

“Dusty. This is stupid.”

She got back up and looked around. Where was it? There.

“Dustrag. Let’s do this.”

Erin got down and began sweeping up the dust on the floor. It was difficult since she had to move all the tables and chairs out of the way, but it gave her something to do. She only had a small, dirty rag anyways, so she was mainly doing it to think. Her mouth was terribly dry, but Erin started working. She had to focus.


Erin stared at the waves of dust as she scrubbed.

“Seriously. Goblins.”

She shifted two tables aside and pushed the dust out of the way.

“…With shark teeth. That’s messed up.”

She thought about that.

“But I won.”


“They’re not that dangerous.”

“Unless they stab me in my sleep. Or there are lots of them.”

“But I’m probably safe if I keep the windows and doors closed.”


“And there’s the rock-crab-thing.”

“…Does it eat Goblins?”

“They were eating the blue fruits. So they live nearby.”

“But I can run away from them.”

“…Until they chase me down and overwhelm me and eat my guts, that is.”

Erin stopped and put her face in her hands. She immediately regretted that decision.

“Pheh! Dusty.”

She sighed and grabbed the rag. Time to clean up some…more?

“Uh. What happened to the dust?”

The floor of the inn was made out of floorboards. Very sensibly, and in keeping with the rest of the inn which was also made out of wood. However, Erin had never seen the floor before. Up till this very moment it had been covered by a thick layer of dust.

Now though she was staring at the floor. A clean, undusted floor. Erin stared and then stared some more. Then she looked at her hands.

“Was that me?”

It must have been, but how had she done it? Of the numerous and varied—of the few skills Erin possessed, cleaning was not one of them.

Oh, sure she could clean up spills and small messes. Anything that involved tossing water and mopping stuff up was okay. But this?

“I wasn’t even dusting for more than—an hour? Two? And it’s all clean.”

Erin scuffed at the floor and amended that thought.

“Sort of clean. You couldn’t eat your dinner off it I guess. But that’s why we have plates.”

And it was a definite upgrade from before. Distractedly Erin scratched her head and felt the caked dirt and dust on her face start to crumble away.

“The floor is clean. I am not.”

Erin stared at the floor again and felt hot, sweaty, and very dirty.

“Right. I need a drink.”

Water, preferably. But Erin would have killed for a nice cool drink of anything, really. Too bad there wasn’t any water nearby.

“Time to find some. Or I’ll die. Whichever comes first.”

Erin wandered out of the inn. After a minute she walked back in, grabbed the knife, and closed the door behind her as she left. After another minute she walked back in and threw the dustrag on the ground. She slammed the door as she left this time.


“It’s really hot.”

Erin stumbled through the grass, looking around blearily every few steps. Her mouth felt dry and nasty. She had a headache, and she felt sweaty and gross. But what was really on her mind was water.

“Water. Water is water. Because water. Where’s the water?”

Erin walked for a few minutes in one direction and saw no water. So she turned left and started walking that way.

“I could drink a Gatorade. Or a Pepsi. I like Coke too, though. What about Pepsi and Coke and Gatorade? Gatorpepcoke? Pegatoroke?”

It occurred to her that she wasn’t making much sense. Even for her, that was. Erin looked around for the water and felt her head spinning. Her head was really starting to hurt.


Her foot slipped. Or maybe she stumbled. But suddenly Erin tripped and had to spin around to keep her balance. That was so much fun that she started spinning around as she walked. She stopped after a few seconds and tried not to vomit.

“Feel sick.”

She wiped her brow. At least she wasn’t sweating. It was really hot, though. Weird.

She really needed to sit down in the shade. But there wasn’t any to be found, at least not where she was. Maybe if she lay down she’d feel better?

Erin went to bend over. Halfway down she remembered.

“The stream!”

She tried to stand up and nearly fell flat on her face.

“Where—where was it?”

Head spinning, Erin looked around. The inn was still visible.

“It was there. So if I’m here…there?”

Shakily, Erin began stumbling towards where the stream was. As luck had it she was closer than she thought and came across the stream in a matter of minutes.


The stream is fast flowing and cold. The young woman cares not. The instant she spots it she dashes madly into the water and flops down face first.


She cups her hands and begins drinking the water as fast as she can. Then she spits out the water and washes her hands of the grime caked onto it before trying again. She drinks one palmful, another, and then five more.


It was around the fourth handful that Erin realized she’d made a bad mistake. The water was delicious and cold as ice cubes, but she was so thirsty she drank it down like…water. Five minutes later she was laying on her side trying not to puke.

Too much water on a dehydrated body. Erin could feel her stomach trying to empty itself and was determined not to let it.

“It—it hurts. It really hurts…”

After a while the pain went away. Erin reluctantly got back up. She was glad she hadn’t puked. She only had one pair of clothes after all.

Speaking of which…Erin raised her arm and sniffed.

“…Bath time.”


Erin sat in the stream and tried not to let her teeth chatter. It was cold. Not numbingly cold, which was sort of bad.

“B-being numb would be better than being really cold.”

But it was water, and it was making her clean. And the longer she sat, the warmer Erin felt. That was probably because her body was freezing up, but she didn’t care.

Erin ran her hand through her wet hair and sighed. She’d scrubbed hard, but without soap or shampoo what could you do? And when she thought about how she hadn’t used a toothbrush in days…

“Hm. So, [Basic Cleaning] was really a skill after all?”

Erin thought about it. It was better than thinking of cavities and rotting gums.

“…Huzzah. What a great skill! I mean, I might have to fight off giant crabs and Goblins, but at least I’ll be able to clean the floor while they eat me!”

She sighed and dunked her head into the water.

“Gah! Cold!”

The stream was deep enough that Erin was up to her shoulders in the cold water. And it was moving fast enough that if she lay on her back she might be swept downstream quite quickly.

“And if I follow the stream long enough, do I get to an ocean? Or just a lake?”

It was a tempting thought. Why not just let the waters carry her away to somewhere else? Anywhere had to be better than here, after all. She could leave, and then…

“Then I’d be eaten by something else. Underwater Goblins, probably.”

Erin punched the water and sighed again.

“Monster, monsters all around. And not one of them looks edible. But at least there’s blue fruit that smells like cleaning fluid. And at least there’s a dusty old inn. And at least I have four levels in innkeeping. Huzzah for me.”

She splashed some water on her face. Tired. She felt really tired. But being clean was helping a lot. Now that she had water she could drink and eat, at least. And with water she could even have a bath.

“A really frickin’ cold bath.”

But it was good. And the sun was warm. Erin thought about getting out of the water and lying on the grass while the sun warmed her up. That was a good thought.

“Maybe today won’t be so bad after all.”

Erin laughed to herself.

“Or not. Knock on wood.”

She turned jokingly to find a piece of wood to knock on and saw it. A huge shadow in the water.

Erin shot out of the stream like a reverse cannonball just as the fish lunged. She felt something incredibly large brush past her navel, felt the slimy, slick feeling against her skin for one heart-stopping moment—

And then it was over. Erin lay on the grass, breathing for air as she stared at the fish flopping around on the grass.


The fish flopped towards her. Erin flopped backwards and got to her feet. It might be on land but it had a mouth as large as her head. It was almost one third mouth, in fact. And it had very sharp, very long teeth.

The flat, squat fish that looked like a balloon with teeth kept thrashing around. Whether it was trying to still bite Erin or get back in the water was hard to tell. Either way, it wasn’t having much luck.

Erin stared.

“Fish. Fish with teeth. I hate this world so much.”

Eventually, the fish stopped flopping around. Erin slowly edged over to the fish and stared at it. Was it dead? It didn’t seem to be breathing. It was probably dead.

She pointed a trembling finger at the fish.

“Hah! Take that!”

The fish lay there. Erin edged over. She nudged it with one toe.

Instantly the fish leapt into the air, wriggling like a snake. Its tail smacked Erin in the face as she tried to run. That hurt.

Erin fell over and landed next to the writhing fish. She pulled herself away as the gaping maw opened and closed a few feet from her face and waited until the fish slowly stopped moving again. This time she was pretty sure it was dead.

Just in case Erin psyched herself up, ran over, and kicked the fish hard in the side.


Erin hopped around in agony, clutching her foot.

“Is that thing made of rocks?”

It was like kicking a sack of flour. Not that Erin had ever kicked a sack of flour, but she imagined that was what it was like. The fish had barely moved when she kicked it. It lay on the ground, jaw gaping open. It was definitely dead, now.

After a while Erin stopped hopping around and swearing. She limped over to the fish and stared at it. It had…two eyes. Four, actually. But it had two on each side. One big eye and a smaller eye right behind it.

“Ew. Mutant fish with teeth.”

Erin stared at it for a little while longer. Her stomach rumbled.

“Right. Lunch.”

She stared at the fish.



“Discovery one: fish are heavy.”

The dead fish lay on the kitchen counter. It was dripping.

“Discovery two: kitchens have knives.”

It was a very sharp knife, too. It looked sharp, at least. Testing the sharpness with her thumb was probably a good way to lose her thumb.

“Discovery three: fish stink.”

She sighed. Self-evident discoveries aside, she had no idea what to do next. Or rather, she only had a vague idea of what to do next.

She had a fish. You skinned a fish – or was that a bird? – and then you ate it. She was pretty sure about that. A fire was involved at some point, but slicing up the fish was a good first step. After all, wasn’t sashimi just raw fish? True, Erin had only eaten that once and with enough wasabi to burn her nose off, but it was worth a shot.

“And hey, I need food. So it’s time to chop stuff up.”

Still, Erin hesitated. She’d never had to cut up a fish before. How was she supposed to do it? She had no idea.

“Huh. I guess [Basic Cooking] doesn’t work on fish.”

Or maybe not this fish. Erin gently poked it in the teeth and shuddered. Its scaley hide looked no easier to cut. But at least she had a knife.

True, she could have grabbed a bigger knife. Happily, there were several knives ranging from one that looked like a proper cleaver to a tiny one the size of a finger. But she’d chosen a slimmer blade because she didn’t want to wrestle with the big one. Besides, this one was sharpest and she needed all the sharpness she could get.

Gingerly, Erin began sawing at the fish’s exterior. The knife skated over the scales without finding purchase. Grimly, Erin tried again. She sawed at the side and felt the skin begin to slowly part.

“Ew. Ew. Ew.”

At least she knew the fish bled red. That was really no comfort, actually.

Erin sawed some more and managed to peel off a slice of skin. She looked into the fish’s insides and gagged.

“Oh. Oh god. Why—why is that yellow? What is that?”

She poked it with the knife. The yellow thing vibrated. A bit of pale yellow-white pus oozed from it—

Erin put down the knife and stepped into the common room to breathe for a while. When her stomach had stopped lurching she went back.

“There is no way I’m eating that. Cooked or raw. Actually, there’s no way I’m eating any of this without a frying pan.”

She looked around. Frying pan? Check. Good.

“Okay, okay. Let’s just…get rid of the bones? And the—the squishy stuff.”

Gingerly, Erin began sawing at the easily-detachable bits. It was hard work. Nothing really wanted to come out, and the knife she’d chosen wasn’t exactly a precision tool.

“Come on. Get out of there.”

The yellow thing was stuck to the bones. She couldn’t get it out.

“Alright. Can’t go around it. Gotta go under it. Goodbye head, look out belly, here comes the knifey.”

Erin flipped the fish over and tried to cut around the other side. But again, the scales were hard to saw through. And now everything was slippery with blood and fish juice.

“Come on. Cut. Cut!”

She pressed hard with the knife. But it just wasn’t going through the skin. Annoyed, Erin pushed harder.

And slipped.

It happened in an instant. Her hand lost its traction and the blade skated across the scales.


Erin blinked, and held up her right hand. A gaping red line split her palm diagonally. There was no blood.

She flexed her hand once. That’s when the blood starting pooling. But there was no pain.

Erin looked around. Bandage? There were no bandages nearby. Or cloth.

Her hand felt…numb. Then tingly.

Bandages? Cloth? There were…curtains upstairs. Right? But they were dirty, and mouldy too.

The blood was dripping onto the fish and the counter. Erin wanted to wipe it away, but she was still holding her knife. And suddenly, her hand started hurting.


Erin dropped the knife.

“Ahh. Ah.”

She gripped her wrist as hard as she could, stopping the blood flow. But the pain kept coming now, on and on.


She didn’t remember leaving the kitchen. But she was back with one of the curtains from upstairs and slicing it to make a bandage as blood soaked the cloth. It was hard. She could only use one hand and her other was hurting.

Eventually she wound the cloth tight and gritted her teeth as she tied a knot. The bloodstain was already spreading, but at least something was covering the wound. But it still hurt.

It hurt! Erin tried to think as she stumbled back to the common room. It wasn’t deep. Well, it was deep but she wasn’t looking at bone. But it felt really deep.

“It hurts.”

She didn’t have words to describe the agony in her hand. The rest of the world was dim and unimportant compared to the pain radiating from that one point. All of her senses were focused on that place, and it was all Erin could do not to scream.

“Screaming is bad. Quiet.”

She just knew it. Screaming would make it somehow so much worse. So instead Erin sat and gripped her wrist. The blood was dripping. It hurt.

It really hurt.


The sun was going down. Erin sat in the chair and stared at the puddle of blood on the floor. It wasn’t big. But every few seconds another drop fell from the bloody bandage onto the floor.

Drip. Drip.

The pain was still there. It didn’t go away, even after this long. But it was—better. At least she could think, a bit. She’d moved around, gotten another curtain and sliced it up for a second bandage. But she hadn’t wanted to change the one she was using so she just sat.

And stared at her blood.


Something smelled bad. Erin looked up. What was that smell? She wanted to ignore it, but after a few minutes she had to stand up and go see.

It was coming from the kitchen. Erin walked in, clutching the wrist of her bad hand.

“Oh. Of course.”

The dead fish stared up at her on the cutting board drenched with her blood. It stank. At the same time, Erin’s stomach grumbled. She wasn’t hungry for fish, but she was hungry.

Still, she didn’t want to eat. Erin walked back to the chair and sat down. As she did she bumped the back of her legs. The knife cuts burned and hurt. A different kind of pain.

“I get it. It’s a bad day, right?”

Erin whispered. It made her feel better not to talk loudly. She was awake even though she was tired. The pain wasn’t going to let her sleep. And she was hungry, but she really didn’t want to eat.

So she sat, and watched her blood fall.



It was dark when the puddle stopped growing. It soaked into the floorboards, a dark stain in the night. Erin stared at the blackness. She couldn’t sleep.

“Still hurts.”

Erin stared at the table. She stared at the grain of the wood. No good. She couldn’t distract herself. But she had to.

So she began to whisper.

“Pawn…pawn to E4.”

She rested her injured hand on the table. It flared once in pain, and then resumed throbbing. Her other hand traced a square, and her eyes darted over the empty table.

“Pawn to E5. Pawn to F4. Pawn captures F4 – King’s Gambit Accepted. Bishop to C4, queen to H4. Check. Bishop’s Gambit. King to F1, pawn to F5. Byran Counter-gambit. Bishop captures B5, knight moves to F6. Knight moves to F3…”

She kept talking long into the night. But the pain in her hand never stopped. It just kept hurting. And hurting.


Erin woke up suddenly. Her hand was burning.

Though her head felt like fog she couldn’t fall back to sleep. Instead, Erin just sat and cradled her hand again. She couldn’t move it or the pain would get worse, but sleeping or relaxing was beyond her as well. She could only sit in agony.

Bit by bit, the pain faded away. Maybe it was her waking up, or maybe she just got numb.

“Either way.”

Erin got up. She still held her hand and took great care not to flex it at all. It was…aching didn’t even begin to describe it. It was just pain, all the way through. And it wasn’t stopping.

But at the same time, she was hungry. And for a little bit that overrode her pain.

Slowly, very slowly, Erin hobbled around the inn. She grabbed the blue fruit with her good hand and began chomping them down one at a time. She was so hungry she ate four before she knew it and then polished off two more as she sat at a table.

She would have sat there forever. Getting up wasn’t worth the effort, but a higher power called to her. It spoke in words she could not ignore.


Erin sighed and put her head on the table. But the longer she sat the more uncomfortable it became. Still, the pain in her hand fought off the need to go relieve herself for the better part of an hour. When Erin finally stood up, she marched to the inn’s door and kicked it open. She’d go do her business in a random valley and then wash her hands at the stream. Hygiene and all that.

Erin made it five steps out of the inn before she reluctantly turned back and closed the door behind her. She doubted the Goblins would come back, but—safety. That done, she went about the business of doing her business.

It took nearly two hours before Erin came back. That was mainly due to her getting lost. Somehow the stream seemed to be in a different spot than she’d remembered, and when she’d completed her task she wasn’t able to retrace her steps.

When she did finally see the inn’s welcome sight, Erin could have cried with relief. All she wanted was to sit and suffer in peace and the open door welcomed her in.

Absentmindedly Erin walked through the door and closed it behind her. Then she went back and sat down at the table. She looked at the dirty, bloody bandage.

“Damn it.”


“Ow. Owch. Ow.”

Every time Erin peeled off a bit of the bandage part of her skin and a lot of blood went with it. Some of it was dried blood. Some of it was not.

After she’d gotten half of the bandage off Erin had to stop. The pain was too much. And the bandage was stuck to her skin. But having a half-peeled bandage was worse. Erin couldn’t stop picking at it.

“Maybe I can cut the rest off somehow.”

Erin went to the kitchen. There were certainly sharp things in there. Like knives.

“Not knives.”

So were there scissors? They didn’t seem very medieval, but who knew? Erin decided to go through the cupboards.

Oh, she’d opened one or two before, but this time Erin did a systematic search of every drawer and cupboard in the kitchen. The dust that poured out make her sneeze cough, but she did find some basic cooking utensils like spatulas, a drawer full of tarnished silverware, and even some plates. The cupboards held a lot of things. And there were a lot of them. And that was strange.

“I’ve seen old kitchens in castles. I thought drawers and that kind of stuff only came later. So is this place in the dark ages or can I get a light bulb somewhere around here?”

Erin grumbled as she searched with one hand. She threw open another cupboard and stopped.

“What the—”

Food. Food was sitting in the cupboard. Erin had to rub her eyes with her good hand. Then she slapped herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. But when she looked again it was still there.

“Is that…flour?”

Erin poked the bag and stared at the white granules on her finger.

“It could be flour. Or—alternatively, it could be cocaine.”

She tried to smile. But her hand hurt too much.

“…It’s probably flour.”

But was it any good? Erin stared at the bag and tried to remember how long things were supposed to stay good. Probably not that long, especially if it was out in the open like that.

She sighed and pulled the bag out anyways. Might as well check.

But behind the bag of flour was another surprise. Erin’s eyes narrowed and she frowned hard.

“That’s butter.”

There was no mistaking it. And it wasn’t just butter either. Erin was used to the nice, square sticks of butter that turned soft and spreadable in the sun. This…was more like a block of butter. It made her arteries scream just looking at it, but her stomach was rumbling already. However—

“That’s not right.”

Erin stared at the butter. It was a golden yellow. She stared around the kitchen. Dust and cobwebs seemed to make up most of the room. She stared at the floor she had yet to sweep.

“How long does it take for dust to get two inches deep?”

Five months? Two years? Five years? Either way, Erin was pretty sure butter didn’t last that long.

“Is someone messing with me?”

Erin glanced around. Could someone have put the food in here? But no, her footsteps were the first to disturb the dust. So then how…?

Her eyes flicked back to the cupboards. Something bright caught her attention.

“Oh. Oh!”

A series of glowing symbols faintly shone with silvery light. Erin brushed at the inscriptions and traced them around the edge of the entire pantry.

“Wow. Magic.”

She stared at the runes, entranced. Then a thought struck her and she opened the other cupboards..

“Here. Here…they’re everywhere.”

Around the edges of each cupboard were the same small etchings of runes. Erin traced them with her fingertip but unlike the cupboard with all the good food, these ones weren’t glowing.

“Huh. I guess it wore off. Or maybe they broke somehow? I wonder what they’re made of.”

Experimentally, she scraped at the runes with one fingernail. A bit of it flaked off onto her finger.

“Silver? Or something glowy.”

Erin poked a little harder. It was embedded in the wood, but time had made the wood soft. Another splinter of wood came away. This one neatly cut the unbroken line of runes in two.

Instantly, the glowing symbols faded away. Erin stared at the piece of wood she’d removed and then at the runes in open-mouthed horror.

“Oh you’ve got to be shi—”

Erin pulled back too far as she stood up, overbalanced, and fell backwards. She didn’t hit the ground too hard, but her bad hand smacked the ground. Instantly Erin grabbed her hand and cradled it, but she could feel the blood running again. She curled up into a ball and stayed there for a long time.

“It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”

Erin looked up after the pain faded a bit. She saw a dark cupboard. When she got up the food was still the same, but the magic had gone.

Dully, she stared at the now dark symbols. Dead. Just like that.

Erin rubbed at her eyes. She wasn’t crying. But her eyes stung a bit. That was all.

That was all.


Erin sat at the table in the common room and talked to herself. It was mainly to avoid thinking about pain or her own stupidity.

“True, you’ve gotta leave stuff behind when you leave. Can’t carry everything. But you had good food still here. And more, in those other cupboards. And here’s a kitchen full of supplies…how expensive are good, sharp knives?”

Erin flexed her hand and winced again. Very sharp knives.

“No one leaves that behind. So why would anyone…?”

It was a bad thought to have. Erin suddenly felt very uneasy. The hair on her neck began pricking and her stomach began doing pushups.

“Question. How did Mr. Skeleton upstairs die?”

Her spine tingled.

“Maybe that’s a bad question.”

But once asked, it wasn’t easy to get rid of. Erin tried to ignore it. She stared at the dried blood on her hand, ate another blue fruit, but the thought lingered. Eventually she couldn’t bear it any longer. She stood up.

“Upstairs. Fine. Hello darkness my old enemy.”

It wasn’t nearly as hard going up the stairs. Now that she knew what was in every room, going down the dark hallways wasn’t scary. But going in the last room? That was very scary.

Erin took a few deep breaths before she opened the door. Her palm was sweaty on the doorknob.

“Am I afraid of dead people? Well yeah. But they can’t hurt me. Zombies can, but normal dead people can’t. It’s just a skeleton. I can take a look for signs of—of death and then I’ll go sleep. Good plan. Let’s do it.”

She opened the door and stared inside. Then she ran back and started opening the other doors on the top floor, slamming into each room before running to the next. But what she sought was not there.

Slowly, Erin walked back to the room at the far end and looked inside. A sagging bed, a small table, a shuttered window. Nothing else. Erin whispered into the silence.

“It’s gone.”


The skeleton was gone. Erin was sure of it. It wasn’t anywhere in the inn that she’d looked, and she’d combed both top and bottom floor thoroughly. And the worst part about losing a dead body was wondering where it went.

Erin sat in the common room. Actually, she sat in a corner of it, her back to the wall as her eyes darted around the room. It wasn’t that she was waiting for a pile of bones to fall from the ceiling. But…she would prefer to know where said bones had gone.

“Okay. Okay. What’s the problem? It was just a skeleton. Just a spooky, dead thing. And even if it did move—somehow, where would it go?”

She didn’t know why she was whispering to herself. It just made her feel…well, it didn’t make her feel better, but it felt appropriate. It was getting dark. It was nearly night. In the circumstances being loud didn’t feel like the smart thing to do.

And the skeleton might hear her.

“No, no. That’s impossible. It’s not here. It’s somewhere else. Besides, where could it hide? I checked all the rooms upstairs. So where could it be?”


Her eyes darted towards the kitchen. No. It couldn’t be. She’d checked.

What about underneath the floorboards? Or in the roof?

Erin kept very still and listened. Nothing. That was good, right?

But skeletons don’t need to breathe. They don’t need to move until you’re asleep. And then…

Enough. Erin shook her head. It was all in her head. There had to be a perfectly good reason for a corpse to disappear suddenly—

What about the walls?

Erin refused to turn her head. She was just being paranoid. Which was a good thing. Because it could be anywhere.

No; not just it. Them. Maybe someone, something took the skeleton. But why? And when?

Her mind suddenly flashed back to when she’d returned that morning. Hadn’t the inn’s door been open? She hadn’t noticed at the time but she remembered closing it as she left. She didn’t remember having to open it when she got back.

Her skin crawled. The inn suddenly felt a lot less safe.

But it was just her imagination. She had an over-active imagination. If she went to sleep all would be well. All she had to do was close her eyes and when she woke up all would be well. There was nothing to worry about. Erin couldn’t even hear anything except the rapid beating of her heart and the creaking.

Creaking. A footstep.

Erin sat bolt upright. Her heart felt like it was about to stop from sheer overwork. Her eyes darted to the ceiling.

Something was up there.

She heard it moving about. Maybe if she’d been more relaxed she might never have noticed the faint creaks and groans of floorboards as something crept around upstairs. And judging by the sounds…

Erin tracked the progress of the creature. It was moving to the stairwell.

Slowly, Erin clenched her bad hand to avoid screaming. The pain as her sliced hand throbbed and started to bleed grounded her. Silently, she stood up.

The knife was on the table. Erin held it in her good hand and moved around. The stairwell was on the right side of the room. Anyone coming down wouldn’t be able to see her if she was in the rightmost corner.

Skirting the chairs and tables Erin made her way there and crouched down. The handle of the kitchen knife was slippery in her hand with sweat. Her other hand was slippery with her blood. She gazed at the blade of the knife. It was very sharp.

The creaking stopped for a moment as the intruder reached the top of the stairs. Erin waited. It would come down. And when it did, she’d get one chance to attack first.

Attack first? Am I some kind of hero?

No. New plan. The instant Erin saw what it was she was running for her life. But she had to see what it was first.

The skeleton popped into her head. Was it that? Or was it the creature that had stolen it’s bones? Was it some kind of parasitic creature that lived in dead corpses—or a gaunt nightprowler that ate the marrow of the deceased?

Please let it just be a skeleton.

The monster started descending the stairs. Quietly. Slowly. Even though Erin was listening, she barely heard the sound it made. She tried to guess how far down it was. Halfway. Two thirds. A few steps left.

Something left the last step and walked into the common room. Erin didn’t breathe. She didn’t move, or even blink.

Slowly, the creature stepped closer. Erin squinted and gasped as it came into view. Then she stood up and sighed.

“Oh. It was just a Goblin.”

The short green creature whirled around in surprise as Erin stood up with a sigh. It immediately crouched, its sharp dagger held in a fighting stance. It snarled at her.

She snarled back.


The rest of the Goblin ambush party waited outside of the inn, keen ears straining for sound. Each one was a seasoned warrior – at least by the standards of their small clan. They were all armed with the best weaponry available. The most dangerous among them had shortswords that were only half-covered in rust. And they were awaiting the signal.

The inn’s door flew open. The Goblins looked up. They expected the human female to run out of it, screaming and preferably bleeding. At worst, they expected their comrade to be running out, her fast on his heels. They readied their weapons.

And ducked as a body flew over their heads.

“Go to hell!”

The human female slammed the door shut.

The Goblins stared at the closed door of the inn. They stared at the barely recognizable face of the unconscious Goblin, and then exchanged a look. Then they quickly picked up their fallen comrade and legged it back into the night.


Erin woke up with one back against the inn’s front door. Her neck was aching and her hand was burning. It was morning.


She held her hand. It was hurting—

“Feels like it’s worse than yesterday. Which is probably my imagination.”

She sat cradling her hand for a full minute. Then she remembered why she was sitting there and shot to her feet.

“Skeleton? Goblins.”

Where was it? Erin stood up and hobbled over to a table. There. Two daggers on the tabletop.

“At this rate I’m going to start a collection.”

Erin mumbled to herself as she poked one of the hilts with a finger. But it proved she hadn’t been dreaming.

“No skeleton? No problem. I hope.”

She sighed and then sniffed.

“What’s that smell?”

Something smelled really bad. And it was coming from the kitchen. The instant Erin opened the door she groaned aloud.

The fish lay on the cutting board, covered in dry blood and reeking in the sunlight. It stank. Actually, it smelled worse than a stink.

“This. This is disgusting.”

Erin stared at the fish for a few more seconds. She had absolutely no desire to touch it. On the other hand…

A few black things crawled out of the fish’s mouth. Erin stared at the small things, gagged, and then ran outside before she hurled. That was the start of her day.


How do you get rid of a fish? Erin put it outside on the ground and stared at it.

“I could bury it. If I had a shovel. And I could burn it. If I had a way to make fire. Or…I could leave it over there.”

She walked for about fifteen minutes before she was sure she was far enough away from the inn. Then Erin unceremoniously dumped the rotting fish off the cutting board. That was a mistake.

As the fish hit the ground it exploded. Something inside of it broke or squished, and suddenly a host of little black and green insects exited the fish’s body from every orifice. Erin took one look, screamed, and ran. She was getting good at it.


It took her a long time before she found the courage to return. And even then, it was just to run in, grab the cutting board and leg it to the stream.

“Ew, ew, ew.”

Erin thrust the plank of wood in the water and watched fish guts and insects sweep away into the current. It wasn’t the dead fish she objected to. Well, not as much as the live bugs that clung stubbornly to the wood.

“You. Get off.”

The tenacious fly seemed to have the strength of ten bugs because it refused to let the current drag if off. It was black with a green butt—abdomen, and looked like nothing Erin had ever seen before.

“Another weird creature. Wonderful.”

Reluctantly she looked closer. Know thy enemy, right? She supposed she should also know her bug.

“That’s definitely a bug. And it’s really ugly.”

Swish. Swish. The bug clung to the wet wood despite Erin’s best attempts to shake it off.

“…Why’s it got four legs? I thought bugs had six.”

Annoyed, Erin finally pulled the cutting board out of the water. The insect fanned its wings as she stared at it. It was really mostly like a beetle, except that its backside was glowing green. A cross between a freaky firefly and a beetle. Better than a cockroach, but there was only one way to deal with bugs like that.

Erin curled her finger and gave the bug a damn good flick. It exploded.

The insect’s green abdomen burst into a splatter of green liquid as the rest of it flew off into the stream. Erin blinked as the green liquid covered the cutting board and splashed into the water.

Some of it landed on Erin’s arm.

“Ahh! Owowowowowow!”

Her arm plunged into the water. It was an instinctive reaction but it made the pain vanish. Still, Erin frantically scrubbed at the spot until all of the burning pain vanished.

“Acid flies. Okay, that’s completely wrong.”


Her skin was red and sore from the brief contact with acid, but she was fine. Nevertheless, she washed both her body and the cutting board until she felt completely clean. This was less fun because Erin was also watching out for strange shadows in the water.

“Great. My arm hurts, and now my hand hurts.”

Erin stared at the dead fish as she walked back to the inn. The fish’s body was swarming with those little acid flies. They were probably laying eggs in it or something equally fun.

Briefly, Erin considered dragging the fish into the stream and letting all the buggers drown. Then she considered what would happen if all the flies landed on her and exploded.

“Right. Well, there’s only one thing to do in a situation like this.”

Erin raised first one, then both her middle fingers. Her injured right hand hurt like fire, but it still made her feel better.

“That’s for all of you.”

Then she went back to the inn.


“I really should have brought a bucket.”

Erin stared at the ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter. Her stomach was rumbling, and she was in the mood for food. But she didn’t really want another breakfast, lunch, and dinner of blue fruit. Today she was in the mood for bread. Freshly baked bread.

Unfortunately that required water. And Erin really didn’t want to walk to the stream and back with a heavy bucket. But she needed water. She knew that. Somehow.

Was it instinct? Erin frowned and knocked on her skull. She had never made food, not really. Well, she’d made Mac and Cheese and instant ramen but that didn’t count. And that went for microwaves and ovens too. So why did she know that to make bread she needed flour, oil, salt, sugar, yeast, and some water? It had to be magic.

Or a skill.

“[Basic Cooking], huh?”

Erin stared at the washed cutting board. Yes, all the ingredients were here. It made sense; this was a kitchen. Kitchens had ingredients. Therefore she could make bread. Or dough. To make bread she’d have to bake it in an oven. Handily, this kitchen had an old oven that Erin’s instincts told her she could use. But to use the oven she needed fire.

She had no idea how to make a fire.

Whatever new ability she had to make food, it did not extend to making fire. Erin stared at the empty fireplace in the oven and thought.

“Sticks. You hit sticks together. Or rocks.”

She looked around. She had wood. There were lots of chairs and tables. What she didn’t have was matches. Or a lighter. Or a can full of gasoline and a flamethrower.

Erin went back to the kitchen. There had to be something to start fires in there. How else would you cook things?

“Right. Rummage time. I knew I saw a shelf full of weird stuff somewhere…”

She went back through the shelves. In her first search through the kitchen she’d put everything vaguely useful or non-rusted in the cupboard next to the food.

“Let’s see. Frying pan? No. Tongs? No. Hammer? Why does a kitchen need a hammer?”

Erin set the hammer aside and squinted. Behind that was something she hadn’t quite figured out. Well, two things. It was a rock and something else. Something weird.

“Is that…a horseshoe?”

No. It was way too small to be a horseshoe, and the wrong shape. Unless this world had really weird, small horses that was. But even then, why have horseshoes in a kitchen?

“Unless they ate horses.”

Erin stared at the horseshoe-thing. She stared at the rock. Slowly she slid the rock along the fire striker and watched sparks fly.

“Huh. So that’s what flint and steel looks like. It actually does look like Minecraft!”

Erin paused. She sighed and slapped herself gently.

“I’m an idiot.”


Flint and steel was actually pretty fun to use. So long as you didn’t burn down the flammable, wooden inn around you by accident.

Erin peered in the large fireplace and fumbled with the flint and steel again.

“Dried grass…check. Broken chair…check. Fire?”

She slid the flint across the steel quickly and flinched as the sparks flew.

“Ow. Hot!”

The shower of sparks descended on the dry grass like a swarm of angry fireflies. And the tinder caught fire in places, and the fire grew.

Erin held her breath. Then she exhaled, blowing at the small flames like she’d seen television campers do.

“Damn. It went out.”

She struck the flint and steel again. This time she let the fires grow a bit and did not blow on them. Slowly, the small fires grew. She fed the small flame pieces of wood and grinned.

“Fire! Call me Promethus…Promethea.”

The warmth on her front became a little too hot so Erin scooted back. But she was grinning. Well, she was grinning until she sat on her bad hand.

“Okay. Pain. But now I can make bread! I’ve got all the ingredients. Right? Right. I just need flour, yeast, butter, a bit of salt and sugar and—”

Erin sighed.

“Oh yeah. Water. Great. Well, I can just go out and get some. It’s not like there’s a time limit or anything—”

She looked back at the fire she’d just started.



In the end, Erin let the fire burn while she went to get water. The fireplace was stone, and the kitchen was stone. The odds of a stray spark walking all the way to the common room was remote. Still, she felt uneasy.

“This is how it starts, right? You leave the fireplace on while you go on a vacation for a few days and the next thing you know, your inn’s burned down. A classic cautionary tale.”

Erin sighed as she walked along. She wondered again how much trouble she was really in. After all, she had just started a fire, true, but that was pretty basic even for primeval humans. What could—

A patch of green moved in the grass ahead of her. Erin stared at it. Was it part of the grass? It raised its head and stared back. It wasn’t the grass it all. It was—

Something exploded out of the grass. Erin screamed, flailed wildly with her bucket and fell over. The gigantic bird with leather wings and a beak longer than her arm took off into the sky with an ear-piercing screech.

“Oh. Oh wow.”

Erin sat on the ground and stared.

“Is that a…pterodactyl? No way.”

It looked like it. And while Erin was only really seeing it’s rapidly disappearing backside, the bird had a certain…non-feathery quality to it. However, where the ancient dinosaur-birds Erin had seen in museum pictures were brown and plain, this bird had been a light green with red markings.

“Camouflaged dinosaurs. Now I’ve really seen everything.”

Erin shook her head and got back up. She brushed off her dirty t-shirt and jeans.

“Gotta wash these sometime. But that means I’ll be walking around naked. Is that an issue? And what’s that smell?”

Something smelled truly terrible. Erin covered her nose and frowned. She cast around for the source of the smell. It was on the ground somewhere. She walked ten steps and found a nest.

“Huh. I guess without many trees birds get lazy. But what a big nest. And what’s that inside—”

Erin took one look inside the nest and covered her mouth. She gagged and took a few deep breaths.

“Okay. At least I know where all the normal birds go. Inside the dinosaur-birds.”

Averting her eyes from the grisly remains, Erin turned to go. She took two steps and tripped.


She got up, cradled her injured hand a bit and wished for the world to explode. Or just her. Then she squatted down to look at what she’d tripped over.



Buckets could hold things. Ideally they held water, but they could also hold eggs. They could also hold eggs in water, so that saved her the effort of making two trips.

It was still a pain to haul the bucket across the grasslands, though. Erin puffed and huffed and kept up a running stream of complaints as she lugged the full water bucket along.

“People used to do this every day? This is why plumbing was invented, you know. Who puts a stream so far from an inn? What happened to a good well?”

She kept grumbling until she reached the inn. Once there, Erin had to lean against the door and pant like a dog for a while before she felt better. She noticed a sign hanging next to her nose and squinted at the faded lettering.

“Huh. ‘Closed?’ Is that English?”

It wasn’t English. The lettering was distinctly not-English. But Erin understood in nonetheless.

“Freaky. But convenient. Who needs Google Translate when you’ve got magic-weirdness?”

And at least it confirmed Erin’s suspicions.

“This was an inn once. But someone abandoned it.”

She tapped her lips thoughtfully and narrowed her eyes at the hanging sign. The rope was frayed and worn, but it was still in pretty good shape.

“…Well, finders keepers.”

Erin kicked open the door to the inn and dragged the bucket inside. But she paused and stepped out to look at the sign.

It was a sudden whim. Erin flipped the sign over so it read ‘Open’.

“Now, where can I get a piece of chalk and write ‘no Goblins allowed’?”

Well, that was a question for later. Right now Erin was more concerned about the precious water. She had the water. She had dragged the water very painfully all the way here. Now she had to find a place to store said water. The bucket was nice, but it was also sort of small and definitely not useful as a long term container. It was leaking a bit. So where else could she put it?

Erin wandered into the kitchen.

“Well, here’s a cauldron.”

It was actually a pot. But it looked like a cauldron. It was in fact both things at once. The point was that it could store water. Unfortunately, that meant the cauldron had to be cleaned first.

Erin tried to use as little water as possible. But the pot was large, filled with dust and the bucket was finite. She eventually ran out of water and had to make another trip back. And then another.

When the cauldron was finally full of water and clean enough to hold said water, Erin was ready to kill something. Like eggs.

She tromped back into the kitchen and stared at the grey embers. She scowled.

“I’ll deal with you later. For now, I need dough.”

Dough was easy. It was just mixing stuff and Erin had plenty of stuff to mix. But an idea struck her as she stared at her ingredients.

Bread took a while to bake. Bread needed to rise and do all kinds of complicated yeasty-stuff according to her [Basic Cooking] skill. And to be fair, that was about all she could make with the ingredients at hand. Not much you could do with a bit of flour, right? But eggs? Eggs changed everything.

Erin’s stared at the flour. She stared at the butter and salt. Then she stared at the eggs. Her eyes narrowed.

“Forget bread. It’s pasta time.”


The mixing bowl was full of flour, a dash of salt, some water and butter. Oil would be best, but Erin didn’t have oil so butter would do. She grinned. This was easy. Then she cracked the egg.

A large, glistening yolk fell into the bowl. The eggs of the giant dino-birds were about three times bigger than normal bird eggs. That could make a lot of pasta. But there was just one thing different about these eggs.

“Oh. Oh god. Why are there red lines—?”

Erin covered her mouth.

“It was alive. There was a baby inside.”

Her stomach lurched. But there was nothing to throw up. Erin took a few deep breaths and tried to think.

“Right. Normal eggs actually hatch. Right. This isn’t a store so of course they’ve be living—but they must be new eggs. Not full of half-born chickens, right?”

She stared at the rest of the eggs. Right?


Erin wiped her mouth as she kneaded the dough. She hadn’t thrown up. But her stomach was still a bit queasy from all the killing she’d done. If that was the word for it.

“Sorry, baby dino-birdlings. But I really need to eat. And you look nice and doughy right now.”

She punched the dough ball gently. The kneading was done. It was time to roll it and slice it into nice, pasta-shaped sizes.

To her credit, Erin barely hesitated when she grabbed the sharp knife again. But she did take the time to wash the blood off before she began slicing. And though it took her a bit longer to cut everything since she worked with one hand and tried to keep all her digits out of the knife’s path, she eventually had a pile of long stringy noodles ready to be boiled.

Erin held the first batch of raw noodles over the boiling water in the pot.

“Double double, boil and trouble…into the pot you go.”

The noodles fell in with a large splash. Erin yelped and jumped away.


When she was finished calling herself and idiot, Erin sat back and waited. The noodles wouldn’t take that long. Then she could add some more butter, a little more salt, and feast. It was a good plan.

“Too bad I don’t have something refreshing to drink as well. A nice glass of juice would go down great. But y’know, it’s not like I…can…”

Erin stood up. She walked back into the common room and looked around.

The pile of blue fruits was right where she had left them. Erin’s eyes narrowed as she looked at them. She stroked her chin in thought.

“Blue juice?”

She shook her head.

“Nah. Bluefruit juice? That’s more like it.”


It was a messy process, peeling each blue fruit and then pulping the fruit into a mush. And then of course there was the mandatory trip to the stream with the bucket in order to get enough water to add to the mixture, not to mention to clean the glasses, plates, and silverware. By the time she’d made her umpteenth trip to fetch water Erin’s arms fell like they were about to fall off. But that was okay because she now had a drink.

“Mm! Sweet! This stuff’s like syrup! Chunky syrup! Or…a smoothie.”

Erin put the pitcher of blue fruit juice in the common room and checked on the noodles.

“Hm. Chewy. Tasty! Pasta is the greatest food in the entire world.”

Her eyes went slightly misty. Erin rubbed them briskly and created a huge plate of noodles.

“Hm. Fork…fork! Am I missing anything?”

She felt like there was something missing. But—she brought the food into the common room anyways and sat d