Merlin greets me with a pair of small bread loaves and an awkward smile. It's apparent she could hear me telling Dresden off but she doesn't say anything about it. I thank her for the bread.
"Excuse me, Ultra," I say to get the bread seller's attention. She turns to look at me with a raised eyebrow. "Do you know where I can refill a canteen, I mean a water skin?"
"There's a drinking fountain around the corner," Ultra said while pointing with an open hand. "Do you have a water skin? I thought you were both from another world."
"We are," I reply. "I made some money singing earlier and am hoping I have enough to buy one. The drinks I had with me have been used up."
"Ah, yes. On the off chance you didn't see when browsing earlier, Default Style sells the best water skins as well as satchels," Ultra explains. "He's just two stalls down from me."
"Thank you so much. Do you know how much the skins are?" I ask.
"Two iron each," Ultra says. "For the small ones, anyway."
"I think I can swing that," I say. "Come on, Merlin. Let's get some supplies, okay?"
"Are you sure?" She asks quietly as we walk. "I mean, do we have time?"
"We each were summoned closer to dusk, right?"
"Yeah," Merlin says.
"Then we have time to get water bottles."
It doesn't take us long to find Default Style's booth. Leather canteens of different styles and sizes hang from straps throughout the stall. I tell Merlin to pick out one she likes. She does and it winds up costing four iron because it's larger and has some bright red beads decorating it. I dig around my bag and count out the payment before handing it to Default Style who counts it a second time. Then I pick out my own water skin, opting for a very plain one that's just a little smaller than the one Merlin bought. I pay Default the two iron two copper he asks. We fill our water skins at the drinking fountain, not to be confused with the ornamental fountain in the center of the plaza which is covered in bird mess and full of brightly colored stones I've seen people tossing in rather than money.
"You made a lot of money," Merlin tells me as we hide behind the crates near the castle gate.
"I need to count it properly," I say between bites of bread. "Also, I found out the monetary system. Here, I'll go over it, okay?"
After a while I have the money counted and have explained how aside from ten copper equaling one iron the rest of the money is one hundred equals the next unit through aluminum coins. I don't have any silver or gold but have now counted the copper and iron coins I have left and it's enough to buy several more water skins. Almost enough to equal a silver coin, actually. I wonder if I could get Merlin some other clothing. Her football suit? Jersey? Uniform! It's gotta be uncomfortable to live in day to day.
"So, what you're telling me is you're rich?" Merlin asks.
"What? No, I can maybe get more water skins or see how much clothing is if you want something to wear besides your uniform," I say shaking my head.
"But your soda cans? They're aluminum, right? You didn't throw them away. I saw you stash them in your lunch box with the foil."
I gag on my bread before coughing a few times. She's right. I completely forgot the foil I kept from lunch wasn't the only aluminum I have. I had four sodas with me. They were the reason Merlin and I had something to drink since I arrived.
"Holy shit I forgot," I say breathless. "We need to find someone who will trade for them or something but not right now. I don't trust Dresden and I worry they'd be more likely to take coins than trash."
"Good point," Merlin says with a nod. She holds up her water skin. "Thanks for this, by the way."
"No problem," I say. I hold up the last bit of my bread. "Thank you for this, too."
"No problem," Merlin echoes.
We finish our food in silence and sit quietly for a while listening to the shuffles and other noises of the city I now know is called Centrum. It reminds me of a vitamin which is something I may never see again unless we can find a way to get home. If someone can summon us surely they can send us back, right? Or is it only one way?
"What are we going to do?" Merlin asks.
"Find a way home," I say absently.
"No, about Dresden," she corrects me. "You didn't sleep last night at all, did you?"
"I didn't," I admit.
"You can't go two nights in a row like that," Merlin says. "It's not healthy. You might start seeing things."
"You're not wrong," I agree. "I mean, I once went a week without sleep and there were these little...shadow thingies I thought I kept seeing but they were just hallucinations."
"I've only ever read about that. There was this book where a character had that happen to her while she was trapped on a space station and it was freaky."
That sounds incredibly similar to one of my early books. It never got published but I queried it maybe a hundred times from 2013 to 2014. Even used a pen name in the hopes someone might be more inclined to publish it if they thought I was a dude.
"Was that by R. Ease Elder?" I ask.
"Yeah!" Merlin almost shouts. "His books are so good!"
I blink a few times. "That's a pen name of mine. I abandoned it after nothing I pitched with it got picked up."
"Whoa, really? But Eleventh Hour was so good!" Merlin beams. "I especially liked the bit where it turned out Stella's low serotonin levels from not sleeping were keeping her from being eaten by the monster."
"That was inspired by that insomnia I had," I explain. "You've read a book I wrote that was never published in my world..."
"R. Ease Elder is big, though. No one's ever seen his face but he's got, like two Metflix shows. Think that's you from my time?"
"Probably," I say with a nod. "Which also means, for certain, you aren't from the 2015 of my timeline. We are each really from different worlds. That might make it harder to get home."
"We don't know that," Merlin says with a shrug. "Maybe it will make it easier?"
I rub my eyelids. They're getting heavy from fatigue. I wonder how much longer it will be before the new summon shows up, or if it will even be a person. Maybe we'll get a dog? That'd be nice. Or another mop so we could trade for another room at the inn and avoid Dresden.
"You okay?" Merlin asks, concern in her voice.
"Yeah, just starting to crash," I say. "How long do you think before the gate op-"
I don't get to finish my sentence before someone shouts from the direction of the wall. The cry is both alarmed and offended.
"What are you doing? No! No! I will not simply have you- Unhand me! Stop that!"
"I think we got a dude this time," Merlin says as she peers through the gap between the crates. "Or at least someone who's tall with a mustache and fancy suit."
"You can't do this! I was in the middle of a demonstration!" The voice continues.
I squeeze out from behind the crates and stare at the scene.
"I'm sorry, but you must now leave," the head mage says, her long ears low with shame. "Goodbye."
The gate makes a loud clanking noise as it shuts. The tall man in a black suit with a tail coat wastes no time as he begins rapidly hammering his gloved fists on the door. He's frantic and I don't blame him but despite knowing what I'm seeing I'm having trouble processing it. Today I've talked to someone about dragon eggs and could make more sense of that than what I'm seeing now. I recognize him. I know who this terrified screaming man is.
"Should we try to explain?" Merlin asks.
When I don't reply she shrugs and starts over to the man who's almost crying now. I snap out of it after a moment and jog over to her side then around ahead of her with my arms out.
"Wait, Merlin," I say. "Please, let me."
She raises an eyebrow before nodding silently.
"Please! Let me back in! What's going on!"
"Excuse me," I begin. The man turns around suddenly and almost jumps when he sees myself and Merlin so near to him.
"Who are you!?"
"This is going to sound strange, Mr. Tesla. But we're in the same boat as you," I say, my hands out to show I'm unarmed. "If you give us some time we can explain."