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I stood in front of the inn. It was a fairly long, two floors building which took up almost half the city block. The double doors in the middle of the building were wide open, beckoning me to approach like a bee drawn to honey. While the first floor had only a handful of windows, the second floor had nearly double the number of windows, presumably for guest rooms. A big, wooden sign was placed right above the doors, with the words, “The Noble Lady,” written in gold letters.
Without further delay, I boldly strolled into the establishment as if I belonged there. I looked around and saw that it was fairly well lit, with crystal chandeliers hanging from the middle of the ceiling. The air inside the inn was stuffy and stank of sweat and alcohol. The environment reminded me of college when I was a lot more social and used to hang out for hours during the evenings in nearby bars. I know I don't look it now, with my receding hairline and my slight beer belly, but I used to be quite a ladies' man. Back then, a cocktail of youth and alcohol was all that was needed to pull me out of my shell. Nowadays, though, I was living my life as a social outcast who minimized physical contact with other people.
There were numerous wooden tables and accompanying benches on either side of the large common room. Further back was the bar, with the requisite bar table and stools in front of the table and endless bottles of wines and spirits behind it. Hanging above the wine shelves was the mounted head of an enormous boar; underneath the trophy was a double ax that appeared far too heavy for me to swing. To the left of the bar was a staircase while to the right was a set of swinging doors that apparently led to the kitchen.
Despite the early hour in the morning, the place was half full already, with dirty looking patrons sitting at the tables and eating simple bowls of oatmeal embellished with nuts and berries. The patrons were an assorted mix of humans . . . and demi-humans! There were elves and dwarves, gnomes and ANIMALS who stood upright like humans! I tried very hard not to stare at the animal people. I will admit that I had a secret fetish for cat girls. Calm down, Larry!
A barmaid approached me. She wore a daringly tight fitting low cut red blouse and an equally dangerous short navy skirt rising above mid-thigh. The female human appeared to be thirty-something years old; she had long, luscious blonde hair, hazy blue eyes, and a warm smile which she put to great effect. “Sir, are you in need of breakfast or a room?” she asked with an accent that I couldn’t recognize.
I stared blankly at this lovely woman for a moment when I noticed something floating above her head. I looked up and I saw a caption which read: “Name: Amelica [X], Level: ?, Disposition: Friendly.” What was going on here? This box reminded me of the pop-up message that I had received while I was on the street. The previous message informed me that I had lost two points of Health. This message offered the barmaid's name.
When I thought more about the previous message and the throbbing pain in my chest, I realized the connection between the two: The message actually reported the physical damage that I had received from the guard's kick to my ribs. However, this caption above Amelica's head seemed to be different. For one thing, it did not disappear. Rather, it appeared to be more permanent in nature.
I resisted the urge to facepalm as I pondered the differences. Doh! It should have been obvious. The pop-up message served as a notification of a change in my current status. It was meant to be temporary in nature. However, a person does not change his name on a regular basis. Thus, the caption did not disappear as a result.
The waitress waved her hand in front of my face. “Uh, sir?” Not getting a response, she tried a different tactic and looked at the caption above my head. “Uh, Lord Mulligan?”
Huh? How did she know my surname? The shock quickly knocked my mind back to reality. “I’m sorry. But how do you know my last name?” I asked politely.
She pointed at the floating caption above my head. “It said your name is ‘Lawrence Eugene Mulligan,’” the waitress replied. She drew closer to my face and peered into my eyes. “Are you okay, milord?” she asked with great concern and sympathy. My disposition was "Confused."
I inhaled the sweet fragrance drifting into my nostrils. She smelled of peach and apricot. “I’m sorry. I seem to have drunk too much last night. My mind is still foggy,” I lied. Yeah, it was only a half-truth (the foggy mind part), but it was the best excuse I could come up with right now without making myself look like an idiot.
“I’m Amelica,” she said sweetly while pointing at the floating caption above her head. “Please take a seat. I will bring you a cup of warm milk with honey. It’ll help you clear your head,” she promised and offered another warm smile.
Before I could reply, Amelica shot back into the kitchen. I couldn't help but stare at those finely toned, shapely legs before they disappeared from view. I decided to follow her suggestion and took a corner seat at a less occupied table. I cradled my forehead in my sweaty palms and leaned my elbows on the table.
What was going on here? The last thing I remembered I was trying to finish the chapter that I was writing and have it ready for Cindy, the editor from hell. Apparently, I fell asleep on my workstation. When I woke up I ended up here, wherever “here” was. But the strangest things were these floating captions. That, plus the presence of non-humans, seemed to suggest that I somehow pulled a “Tron” and ended up inside a fantasy gaming world.