Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
At first, you thought it was the building just creaking or settling. Surely that was the most logical explanation for the slight sounds you heard coming from upstairs while you were in the kitchen. But, when the stairs started to creak, you started to freak out because that sounded an awful lot like someone—something—coming down the stairs. Holding your hands over your mouth as you stood petrified, the sound of strangled hacks drifted over to your ears. The sound had continued long enough for you gather some courage to peek out into the common room.
You recoiled at the sight of the green humanoid trying to cough silently into their hands. It wasn’t working much since you had heard. Instinctively, you understood that this thing had been trying to get the drop on you. The dagger clutched in one of their hands was clue enough that this thing didn’t mean you any good. You knew you should try to get to Sora or at least scream to alert him, but you doubted you would be able to make it out the door in time, or, even if you did, doubted that you would be able to get very far before this thing came up from behind.
Then again, there was a small chance that they didn’t mean any harm. But, Shizu and Daiki were always adamant that you never gamble on the kindness of others. No, they told you to put yourself first, and if you were ever left alone, your primary objective was your own survival.
Leaving no time to second guess yourself, you rushed forward and grabbed one of the chairs that had survived the night. Then, just as the ugly humanoid was opening their eyes, you viciously swung the chair down, striking hard. The thing let out a guttural squawk as it hit the floor. Nearly hysterical—you are alone, this thing has a knife, you’re not strong, where is Sora— you proceeded to viciously whack the smaller humanoid with the chair.
(if your friends could have seen you, they would have been tempted to laugh once the danger was over)
Suddenly, it wasn’t about being scared anymore. Well, not just that, anyway. Muffling sobs, you felt your arms tiring, but you continued beating the intruder as blood started to appear. Why were you here? Why hasn’t anyone come to rescue you? It was cold. The floor was hard. There isn’t good food. It’s scary. It’s lonely. You want your mom. You want your dad. You want the city. You want home.
(but the temptation would have passed quickly as (Name) began to scream and cry, still whacking away as the goblin’s blood began to splatter around)
Slightly worried about (Name) but reassured by the fact that she was in a locked building, Sora went about his task of investigating their new (and hopefully only temporary) surroundings, though for now he stuck to the dilapidated buildings rather than wander out into the wilderness. Having no idea how long it took for mainly wooden buildings to rot and fall apart, Sora couldn’t even begin to guess just when this place had been abandoned. Though, considering the dead person upstairs at the inn and the fact that Sora got sick immediately after finding that, he would wager that this place had been hit by a sickness of some kind. The kind that kills and forces survivors to run away and not come back.
Looking up at the cloudy sky instead of where the roof should have been in the last building, Sora felt his stomach sinking even lower. A plague in Japan would have been news. There would have been a quarantine, and a health scare in the general populace, but he hadn’t heard of any such thing. Surely it would have come up in conversation if it had happened in Japan…
Sora doesn’t want to think that this place isn’t Earth, but he’s starting to think that there isn’t any other explanation. After all, there are nearly no dead spots in modern day Japan. A person should be able to get a signal almost anywhere, and certainly in a wide open area. But here, there is no signal. No way to contact the others, or even the authorities. Here, there are strange fish he’s never seen before, snowmen that move on their own without anyone nearby, and… goblins.
Sora has played enough games to know how goblins look. Small, green, ugly… he’s almost one-hundred percent certain that those things he saw on the other side of the stream were goblins. A few years ago, being curious, he’d done an internet search and found a small family with a goblin-like appearance, though they had been living in Europe. Was this Europe? But no, even modern day Europe had extensive cell coverage. Plus, where were the people? Or the distant sounds of traffic? The glow of city lights at night?
That voice in his head from last night was something to take into account too. He should ask (Name) if she heard anything, but wouldn’t she have said something if she did? Maybe… maybe someone was just fucking with him? Trying to scare him? If he brought this up with (Name) and she got scared, then was the goal to divide them?
Sora’s eyes widened.
Had the goal been to separate them for an extended period of time?
Like this right now?
Sora turned on his heel and bolted out the doorway, yelling boss lady’s name in his head.
You were crying on your knees with the possibly dead humanoid just a few feet away. The chair was discarded between you two, lying on its side.
You startled and screamed when something suddenly started to loudly bang at the door.
Oh. It was just Sora.
…Just Sora being chased by more people like the one near you?
Getting up to your feet, you quickly staggered over to the door to unlock and pull it open. Sora’s face stared back at you, wide eyed with red patches on his face. His eyes quickly darted up and down your body, looking for the reason for your distress.
“Why are you crying?”
Wordlessly, you pointed further into the room. Opening the door wider, Sora saw what you were pointing at.
“Fucking hell.” He turned back to you, putting his hands on your shoulders. “Are you hurt? Did it hurt you?”
You sniffled and shook your head, wishing you had some Kleenex for your runny nose.
Sora sighed in relief. He patted your shoulder. “Good. That’s good.”
He eyed the chair for a moment and grinned back at you. “I didn’t think you had such violence in you.”
Annoyed, distressed, and still feeling anxious, you angrily pulled away from him, turning your head so you didn’t have to look at him. He was silent for a moment, then you heard the door closing and locking. Footsteps went over to the fallen humanoid and you heard the rustle of cloth.
“Well, shit. That’s pretty much a goblin.”
“That’s not polite,” you groused half-heartedly.
“No, I mean it literally. I’m pretty sure this is a goblin. That’s practically a guarantee that its buddies are also goblins.”
Your head snapped in his direction. “You mean there’s more?”
Sora folded his arms and nodded grimly at he stared down at the so-called goblin. “A lot more. I saw at least six the day before but there’s no way to tell if that was all of them or just a few of them on an errand or something.”
The last word reminded you of his earlier phrasing so you pounced on it. “Is that why you told me to lock the door? Because you saw freaking goblins?”
“Pretty much,” he said. His head cocked to the side. “Wait a minute.
“How did this guy get in?”
Sora almost left to go check upstairs, but then he stopped and stooped down to check if the goblin on the floor was still alive. Surprisingly, it was, so he coaxed (Name) into making sure it would stay under and also would not have any mobility if it somehow woke up. With that done, he went upstairs and dutifully checked every room.
It was mostly thanks to the thick dust on the floor that he found where the goblin had come from. This room in particular had broken shutters, so it clearly had come in through there. Cautiously sticking his head out of the window to look down, Sora saw tracks in the snow. He frowned as he saw the trail leading up and down the hill the inn was on.
The goblin hadn’t come alone. There was a trail leading to the corner closest to the front door, but the trail then went down the hill and eventually out of sight. It seemed as though the goblin downstairs was meant to open the front door. The thought made Sora’s skin crawl. Boss lady had done well enough against a single opponent, but three at once? He shuddered and shoved away the thoughts of what could have happened to her.
A minute or so later, Sora had to admit that there wasn’t really a way to close the shutters and keep them shut. He didn’t have a hammer or nails to nail them shut either. He scowled, knowing now that any open window was a way for the goblins to get in. If they returned, and in larger numbers…
Slamming a hand against the windowsill, Sora stalked out of the room.
You listened grimly as Sora told you about what he had found. You guessed that other goblins had helped lift the one on the floor closer up to the second-story window. You could practically picture it, a small pyramid of goblins helping get one of their own into the building where the weak human was all alone.
The joke was on them today, but what about next time?
A flash of inspiration struck you and you looked down at the goblin.
You gestured down at the prone creature. “This thing has the same sickness you did.” Seeing him raise an eyebrow, you explained. “That sickness is hanging around in the air. I can feel it trying to invade my body. You’re immune now, but this goblin wasn’t. It’s sick. The disease is spreading through it as we speak.”
“It’s not perfect, but what if I made sacs and we put them around the windows? That way, even if they do get in, and maybe overwhelm us, they’ll still die in the end.”
You weren’t exactly happy at the prospect of dying at the hands of goblins, but if you were going to die, then you wanted to bring your murderers down with you.
Sora thought about it. “Won’t the sacs freeze?”
You shrugged. “Maybe. It is cold outside and upstairs. What if I put some in the hallway too?”
He shrugged. “It’s not like I have a better idea. Do it.” His eyes widened. “Wait.”
He paused, visualizing something as he slowly spoke. “Instead of putting them out in the hall—where we’ll have to walk to get to and from the toilet, by the way—how about making it so they can’t open the doors without bursting a pod?”
Your eyes widened in response. “That’s ingenious! I’ll do that, then.”
Nodding determinedly, you knelt down and reached out a bare hand.
(you used him up and left only his waste in a thick membrane for Sora to throw far away)
The chieftain was angry that they returned without a human. He didn’t care about losing Yellownails, but he did want to kill the two humans and add them to their food supply before they could be found and taken by the Drakes and Gnolls from the city. The smoke from the old building would be noticed soon, if it wasn’t already.
After he finished beating them, their chieftain took a long time to think. Glaring down at them, he announced the plan. They would go again that night in greater numbers, and he would lead them to make sure they didn’t fail again.
Tonight, those two humans would die.
Sora went out again, but this time you went with him. His shield was the best protection you had, plus he didn’t feel comfortable leaving you alone anymore. Thus you ended up going outside where it was even colder in order to go back for the stuff Sora thought would make good kindling. Together, the two of you collected old chairs and some sparse wood that had been sitting or lying around in the abandoned homes.
“I guess the plague hit them during a warmer season,” Sora mused after they were done. “I mean, wouldn’t they have had more wood or even coal if it had been winter?”
“I… suppose,” you said slowly. It did have some logic to it. “Doesn’t really help us one way or another, though.”
“Guess you’re right,” Sora said. He stretched and groaned. “Man! I’d kill for a cheeseburger and a soda.”
“Or rice,” you said wistfully.
The day wasn’t over with, but Sora looked just about done. Fair enough, considering he had done most of the work yesterday and had kept the fire going through the night. You let him sit around as you tackled the task you had wanted to start before the whole goblin mess.
You shuddered as you dipped your hands into the cold water in order to soak a rag. Wincing at the cold air as you lifted it from the bowl of water, you then wrung the water out. Sora, watching you work at the counter, piped up as you started wiping the dust off its surface.
“Why are you cleaning?”
You scowled down at your hands. “I’m bored. We’re stuck here. We might as well not squat in a total pigsty.”
“…Fair enough,” he said. He then proceeded to pull out one of his smartphones and turned it on. “Fancy some music?”
A famous game theme filled the inn.
Sora had to melt snow for (Name) twice before she was even remotely satisfied with the state of the counter, tables, and surviving chairs. He then had to scour the building for a broom—which he found, though it wasn’t in the best shape—so that she could sweep the floor. Instead of sweeping the dust into a corner, she swept the dust out the door, dirtying the snow, not that either of them particularly cared. When all this was done and door securely locked, she surveyed her domain with a satisfied look.
“There! Now we don’t have to get mad that there’s dust everywhere.”
Sora turned off the music and the sudden silent put a damper on her mood. There was still no signal and the power was down to just under fifty-percent, so Sora powered it off.
“Good work,” he praised. It wasn’t much, but having a clean space did make their situation a little less terrible. And, now that her cleaning spree was done, he grinned. “Let’s eat.”
They had eaten the mandarin yesterday, leaving the apple and tomato. Truthfully, they probably should have at least eaten the apple by now, but neither of them had an appetite this morning. So today would be more tuna and either the apple or tomato.
“Maybe we should leave the apple for now,” he suggested once they were looking at the cupboard and their food supply.
“For tomorrow,” she agreed readily enough.
Sora cut off a large piece of tuna he then proceeded to cut into smaller bite size pieces. One for boss lady, one for him; one for boss lady, one for him… At the end, they finished off with half a tomato each. It was an unusual meal, and not very filling, but better than nothing.
Going over to the small, shuttered window in the kitchen, Sora peered outside and noted that it was getting dark.
“Shit. I probably should have done another water run.”
(Name) peered into their water bucket. “I think we’ll be fine.”
Sora came over for a look and agreed, mostly because he didn’t want to go back outside and make the walk to the stream where he could possibly be attacked by another freaking fish. Sora suspected that the fish was their best chance at surviving until either rescue came or they figured out how to procure food through other means, but that didn’t mean he was looking forward to dodging fish in the future. Sighing, he followed (Name) as she headed back out into the common room where it was warmer.
Sora paused and looked around the inn. The common room was large, too large for the fireplace to warm it adequately, at least not with the bit of wood they had. Plus, the cold and wind was blowing in from the cracks in the shutters, ready to freeze them if they let the fire go out.
Sora then looked back over his shoulder at the kitchen. The kitchen wasn’t nearly as big as the common room, and it had its own fireplace, meaning the thing they had used to cook a bit of the fish yesterday. Surely the stove was capable of keeping the kitchen warm? Or at least, warmer than the large common room.
She looked over at him from her chair. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder towards the kitchen.
“Let’s sleep in here. It’s a smaller place, so it’ll be easier for the stove to keep the room warm.”
It didn’t take much to convince her to try it out.
There was a noticeable improvement in moving from the common room to the kitchen. Sora had been right. The smaller area was easier to keep warm, especially after he hung up a dingy blanket in the doorway. There wasn’t enough wood to make a larger fire, so it wasn’t exactly warm enough to discard your jackets, but you already liked being in here more than being out there.
Sora finished plugging up most of the gaps in the small kitchen window. When you pointed out one, he said it was to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. There was a gap beneath the blanket in the doorway, but having some fresh air coming in would put his mind at ease.
“I don’t really get the specifics,” he confessed, taking a seat next to you on one of the two chairs brought in from the common room. “I just know that it would be majorly bad. As in, ‘we could die’-bad.”
You slowly nodded, vaguely remembering something like that.
The two of you stared at the stove that was giving off heat.
Usually, either of you could be doing any number of things. You know the guys liked games, even if they didn’t have much time for them, and it was pretty much universal that people messed around on their phones, not to mention that you often used a laptop, so this whole ‘nothing to do’ situation was… awkward. Did you talk to Sora? Say nothing and leave him alone? What would you even talk about? There’s not much to do to distract yourselves from each other, and this silence was getting stifling!
You tried not to claw your knees as you mustered up the courage to break the silence.
“So, um… h-how did you and Daiki meet?”
Face slowly burning, you kept your eyes on the deceptively cold-looking stove as you waited for his reply. At first, Sora didn’t say anything, and you nearly glanced over at him, but you managed to keep your eyes on the stove. Finally, he chuckled.
“I picked a fight with him when we were kids. It was at a park. My family had just moved and I wasn’t exactly happy about it…”
Due to having smartphones, neither you or Sora wear a watch. Why put something on your wrist when you can just pull out your phone? Out of everyone you know, only Shizu wears a watch and even she rarely looks at it. It was gift from her father, so even though it was sleek and stylish, she wore it mostly out of obligation. Point being, unless you turned on your phone, you had no idea what time it was.
It felt late, but that might be because it was dark outside and that you didn’t have much to do inside. You and Sora had told each other stories about your lives (mostly to do with your currently absent friends), but the two of you had fallen silent. As Sora stoked the fire, adding more wood, you sighed and declared that you were going to try and sleep.
Hearing this, Sora closed the stove and the two of you shuffled around, moving the two chairs to set up the blankets near where it was warmest. Sora remained sitting on his bed while you lied down and tried to get comfortable. It was nice, not to have the cold biting at your back this time.
You weren’t sleepy, though, so you lied awake listening to the fire crackling inside the stove.
“Do you think anyone is looking for us?”
He snorted. “I know for a fact that Daiki and Shizu have mobilized the gang by now. If it were just me stranded here, they’d put in an effort, sure, but for you? They’re gonna tear Japan apart until they find you.”
Hearing that, you couldn’t help but wince. Regarding the Sleepers, things you tried to keep hidden from even Shizu, the only mercy was that they wouldn’t wake unless the Seven were unleashed. Thankfully, Shizu could substitute for your dead man switches for the Seven, but nothing except your own self would be able to stop the Sleepers from waking. Gut churning with dread and guilt, you tried to think of something else.
Instead of continuing the conversation, you closed your eyes and tried to sleep. You don’t know how long you laid there, but eventually sleep came.
[Innkeeper Class Obtained!]
[Innkeeper Level 1!]
[Skill – Basic Cleaning obtained!]
[Skill – Basic Cooking obtained!]
…What was that?
I don’t like my job but my job likes me.
~Alain Bremond-Torrent, running is flying intermittently