A door creaked. Begrudgingly, the abandoned inn admitted a torrent of rain. A figure tumbled in, dropping his broom to kiss the floor.
“Sweet mercy, dry land!”
He was followed by a girl. A woman. She was at that precocious age where she looked like neither and acted like both. The last of the trio stepped inside, only to be sprayed as the girl shook water from her overcoat. A tall, reedy presence, he sighed, allowing the wet to cascade from his expensive cloak. His tired gaze swept over the common room, settling on an unlit hearth.
Yllen hopped after him, still trying to get the rain off.
“Sorry-” she began, only to be interrupted by a chair.
“Bring that with you. It’ll make good kindling."
Pausing only to rub her shin, she dragged the chair over. Gundrea picked himself up off the floor and for lack of anything else to do, began sweeping.
“Here, this place was packed last year. What happened?”
“They retired to live long happy lives no doubt,” said the thin man. His cloak drew back, revealing armour referred to in the ancient tongue as a speedo. Yllen set the chair down. They called him Titanslayer but he’d told her to call him Edward. He tore apart the chair, tossing the pieces on the hearth.
Yllen abandoned her soaking overcoat and tried to coax some warmth into her hands.
“Here lass, you’re shivering something awful.” Gundrea put his arm around her. He smelled of dust.
“I’m alright.” She appreciated the warmth though and dallied before standing away. Gundrea just gave her the same wrinkled, knowing grin he always did. He looked ancient but wasn’t really, probably.
Edward focused on the hearth. He arranged the broken chair pieces like someone building a watch. Only when satisfied did he intone “Spirit of fire, by the compact of my people I call you to account and request payment of your debt.”
A tiny spark settled on the wood. It sat there until it died. Gundrea produced a tinder box. Edward took it grumbling. “That normally works.”
The fire sparked to life, creeping first from the splinters then to the chunks. It burned away the night and damp. Their circle of warmth included scattered furniture and an abandoned bar. Gundrea left to poke around behind the counter. A balcony ran around the edge of the chamber, with doors to what looked like bedrooms. Edward stared into the flames and, not for the first time, Yllen looked him over. He didn’t look like a hero. The darkness of his cloak gave his pale flesh an unhealthy pallor. He carried no sword, just a knobbly stick. Yet this was, everyone assured her, the Titanslayer. His gaze rose to meet hers and she looked away, embarrassed.
“Well they took the beer with them.” Gundrea returned, carrying another chair. He offered it to Yllen.
“This place reeks of death,” Edward said.
“Sweepers ain’t choosers. My mind’s on what the beds are like.”
Edward’s eyes turned to the balcony.
“Then again, might just curl up by the fire.” Getting no response Gundrea nudged Yllen.
“I’m not tired,” she declared.
“How about a story to pass the time? I know a good one about the Titanslayer and the hundred storks.”
Edward jerked from his reverie “Orcs. Hundred orcs. And there were only five.”
“Hundred sounds better,” said Gundrea with a wink.
“But five actually happened,”
Gundrea changed the subject “Any more chairs? This floor’s piking cold.”
Yllen jumped up. “Take mine, Master.”
It was Gundrea’s turn to look put out. “How many times did I say not to call me that? It’s just ‘Gundrea’ between friends.”
Edward snagged two rickety chairs. He plonked them in front of the fire. “Please. Master, have a seat."
Gundrea pretended not to hear. “How about something more tone appropriate."
The other two eyed him with curiosity.
“You know, us three in a spooky inn reminds me of this one time. There were three people, staying in an abandoned inn. Suddenly they were eaten by weasels!”
“Weasels aren’t very scary,” said Yllen.
Gundrea looked as if he expected something else “They can be, if there’s lots of them.”
Edward stoked the flames some before sitting back. “I do recall a tale about an inn.”
Yllen regarded him with interest.

“It was a night much like this one in which a warrior and a wizard embarked. They came upon an inn, dark and forlorn. At first, they thought it abandoned only to find with surprise the innkeeper and his family. Grateful for hospitality they elected to stay the night."
His audience hung on every word.
“It was in the night that the wizard awoke to find his friend’s bed empty. He crept downstairs to find in the common room a boiling pot with the keeper’s family gathered round. ‘What are you cooking at this ungodly hour?’ asked he. The innkeeper turned to him with a plate full of meat and said Do not worry, we saved the best for last."
Edward made the mistake of pausing. Gundrea took it as an invitation to jump in “And his friend jumped out and said Haha! Want some stew?”
Irritation crawled like a spider across Edward’s face. His eyebrow twitched “Do you mind not ruining the-“
CLANG.
They jumped. Yllen to her feet, Edward to arms and Gundrea to the mantelpiece. A metal cauldron rolled into view.
Edward poked it with his stick.

Gundrea eased himself down to the ground “These old buildings eh? Always creaking and moaning."
The inn filled with the sound of three people listening. Rain pattered on the roof.
“I just love old things,” said Edward, glaring at the sweeper.
Yllen wracked her brains “I remember a tale about the Red Horror."
Gundrea sat cross-legged on his chair “Tell us about the Red Horror."
“There was a house in Ilsaran that no one lived in yet every night it would light up and sounds would emerge of the most wonderful party."
Edward shuffled in the background, poking things and glaring.
“But no one dared enter because well, they knew what would happen. Of course, visitors wouldn’t always heed their warnings and they’d go up to the gate and step inside the porch,”
Yllen frowned at Gundrea, he stopped biting his nails.
“And in the morning the Ilsaranites would creep inside and there they’d find the visitors hanging on a hook on the wall, the room all painted in red."
“Not red! It doesn’t go with anything!”
“Master!”
Gundrea chuckled.

A light flickered from the balcony. Their eyes were drawn to it. Light burned in one of the bedrooms. It carried the sound of laughter. Edward brandished his stick.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” declared Yllen. Gundrea and Edward exchanged looks.
“Do you believe in having your head torn off and used as a football by angry ghosts?” asked Edward.
“Hey, she’s a child!” Gundrea complained.
Yllen stepped away from them. “When I was nine my master took me to the cremation grounds that the burning corpses would drive the fear of death from me."
Edward looked at Gundrea. He had enough shame to look at the floor.
“She screamed the place down and the monks told me I was a terrible person."
“But I’m not scared,” insisted Yllen.
“Then follow me,” Edward began the ascent.

The stairwell groaned at their presence. Every footstep was impossibly loud. Far from the hearth, Yllen guided herself by the stone walls. They felt clammy beneath her fingers. On reaching the top Edward traced a sigil in the air. It lit up the balcony dimly, buzzing around his head. Light still flooded from the room yet, despite its warmth it didn’t seem to illuminate, blotting the surroundings yellow. Yllen could hear the cheerful chatter of voices but even when she focused she couldn’t make out words.
“Maybe it’s a private party,” Gundrea stage whispered.
“Someone is toying with us,” said Edward. “I will call them to account."
“Fine,” Gundrea waddled past, right up to the doorway. With a wave to the horrified Yllen stepped inside
The light vanished, and the noise.
“Aaaaagh!”

Edward rushed forward. After a moment of doubt Yllen went too. They arrived at the doorway. Outlined by Edward’s sigil stood the old sweeper inside a bare room.
“It’s painted red."
Edward pressed forward, face twisted in a snarl “If you are behind this-”
“Tweren’t me! It’s as I found it,”
Yllen crept inside and poked around. Cobwebs were all she got for the trouble.
Edward stepped back out onto the balcony “Be you spirits or demons show yourselves and I will deal with you fairly!”
His voice echoed through the inn.
“Guess you’ve a lousy hand,” said Gundrea, cleaning the room.
Edward whirled “Sweeper! Tell a story!”
“Eh?”
“Tell a story! Tone appropriate!” Edward pointed dramatically.
“Are you sure you want to-”
“Yes.”
Yllen backed up to the edge of the balcony. It seemed safer.

Gundrea drew an unsettled breath.
“Very well Titanslayer. I tell a tale of a hero from a distant land who sought to uphold a vow. A maiden he loved had lost her family to an ancient evil."
Below them the fire guttered, then died.
“He stood there in the darkness, for any fire he lit died."
All at once the inn began to shudder
“The ground moaned and howled, the air grew thick as treacle."
Yllen felt the words pressing down upon her.
“All around him an evil pressed in, making every breath a struggle."
Even Edward had difficulty now. He flourished his stick, eyes closed.
“Then a terrible form appeared amidst the gloom."
Something gathered in the air before them. Wisps of cloth snaked through the air, wrapping around each other in the shape of a figure. It sucked the heat from the air until Yllen’s teeth chattered. Gundrea could barely stand. EHe had to yell to be heard over the deafening silence.
“The hero lashed out on instinct!”

Edward leapt toward the figure. His club came crashing down through it, before he hurtled to the floor. The inn wailed. Gundrea grabbed Yllen under the arm and, before she could protest, jumped. The balcony shattered behind them and they landed amidst debris. Misty fingers clawed at them as Yllen helped Gundrea up.
“And then the hero realised it was the maiden, she had not wanted him to face it alone."
Edward’s looked haunted, then his sigil light winked out. The mists dispersed.
“The end,” said Gundrea.

The inn was just damp and dark now. Edward stood in silent contemplation. Gundrea settled in satisfaction. Some little thing nagged at Yllen though. She couldn’t resist “Suddenly they were eaten by weasels?”

The door flew off the hinges, knocked aside by the roaring form of Edward. He was quickly followed by Yllen, flailing at something attached to her arm. Gundrea rolled out last, suplexing a ferocious weasel. Yllen coaxed the beast on her arm into letting go, then gave it an almighty kick. It sailed away, past Edward trampling the last of the demons. He took up his mighty stick and marched towards the inn.
“That’s it! Spirit of flame, harbingers of fire burn this bloody place to the ground!”
Gundrea grabbed him before he made it back inside “Whoah! Let’s not make this the grave of Edward, killed by a dire weasel."
The rain boiled off Edward’s helmet. He made a noise akin to a whistling kettle. Slowly his anger seemed to deflate.
“There, there, that’s a good lad,” Gundrea went over to the broken door. With Yllen’s help he propped it over the entrance. With a knife he scored the word ‘Haunted’ into it.
“Where will we go now?” asked Yllen, she was glad she’d grabbed her overcoat on the way out.
“I’m sure something will turn up."
There was a scream. Edward smashed through the door, charging into darkness.

The burning inn kept them warm all night.

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