The drone hovered overhead. Miles Adisa took little note of it, not wanting it to acquire full facial recognition should he look up. His mother had taught him better than that. He was ten years old and she’d already had that talk with him. He waited for the drone to continue on its patrol before retrieving the panels from the shed. After lugging them up to the roof, he took only an hour to spread them across the rooftop of their house. His mother, Ella Adisa, wiped her forehead after she climbed onto the roof. Fresh from harvesting in the garden to ensure they’d have food for the next few days, she yanked off her gloves and then inspected his handiwork.
“Looking good, M,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said. “I should have the whole house done before sunset. Then we won’t have to worry about brownouts.”
“That’s the hope. My sister wants to have the entire block off the grid by the end of the month.”
“When will Aunt Etta come by to visit?” Miles asked.
“I don’t know, baby. She’s off doing important work for important people. But she hasn’t forgotten about us.”
Tandy | Class: Veiled Archer | Level: 2
HP: 49/49 | Status: Normal
XP: 1,645 | Next Level: 3,000
It took a few minutes for Tandy’s eyes to adjust to the darkened hallway. Lamplight fell from the sconces at the top of the stairs. With each step on the creaking wood, she had the uneasy sensation of exploring a dark corridor in a castle. She gripped and re-gripped her Rustic Bow for assurance until they reached their floor.
The second floor of the Bell and Bones wasn’t too high up in the inn, affording the team a hasty escape if the need arose. According to Ben, the ground floor presented more defensive issues, and with it a greater worry of unwanted company lurking outside.
Innkeeper Bell pursed her lips and grabbed a ring of keys. She unlocked the door and it opened with a melancholy groan. The small parlor was austere, with only a fireplace and a few chairs in it. A large oak table was tucked in the corner.
“I hope you enjoy the accommodations.” The innkeeper unshuttered the windows to allow in a faint breeze. The small, round windows would be a tight squeeze in a pinch. A baby gryphon flew by. Innkeeper Bell shambled back down the stairs.
Ben scouted the room, stalking the periphery as if checking for traps or listening devices. The space would be a cozy fit for everyone, but it was better than the prospect of camping under the stars. Tandy had thought about allowing customizable housing for players in Alternis, perhaps including it as an option in a later edition. The room was more like a suite: The parlor opened into two adjoining bedrooms. Each room had two narrow beds. A chest sat at the foot of each bed with a fitting for a lock in case anyone had to store extra valuables.
Everyone needed a moment to regroup in their own way. Dante didn’t say a thing upon returning from whatever walkabout he was on, then contented to perch on the hearth. Tandy stood by the windows. She turned up the background music. A soft melody, full of lush strings with a bit of a mournful quality, played, like the theme music accompanying the halls of a lost legendary hero. Ben took the first room. Still brooding in silence, he looked like he was one stray comment away from punching something. Etta retreated to the other room like a woman who had to scratch five items from her to-do list before she was fit for human company. Tandy presumed the sleeping arrangements defaulted to pairing off according to gender.
They were all on guard and on edge. As if suspecting the walls themselves had ears, no one spoke for the better part of an hour, each team member lost in their thoughts, agendas, and schemes as they considered their next move. And probably Tandy’s role in that plan. It was only a matter of time before they came to the same conclusion: There was no way they were going to be able to complete a level 9 quest with Tandy in tow. Tandy knew that she was a drag on the rest of the group. She could easily imagine what they must be thinking: She wandered about like a baffled tourist; if they were now in a race, one with real-world consequences, they no longer had the luxury of leveling her up gradually. Tandy needed to be swapped out, and it was just a matter of figuring the logistics to make it happen.
Sitting on the marble ledge that ringed the stone fireplace, Dante gestured frantically, his eyes distant. Whatever information spread across his heads-up display must’ve expanded, drifting out as quite the presentation. He swiped at the air as if swatting at a swarm of imaginary insects, toggling images as if juggling with one hand, and brushing them all aside to start his gyrating calculations again. A soft click behind her signaled that Etta had reentered the parlor. Whatever her thoughts, conclusions, or machinations,...