The Age of Heroes was ending. Metal screamed across a twisted landscape. Spirits fluttered in their lantern cages as Edward sped along the highway. Overgrown fields passed him by. Scorched battlefields, Collapsed buildings and places fouler still were background to his quest. Born of steel, his steed spat fire as its wheels devoured the ancient road. Edward patted the arcane beast’s flank, looking ahead to the past. Skeletal spires split the mauve sky. Englitch had forged their cities from black steel, though never so black as their hearts. The beams of ancient searchlights roved the skyline. They had for a thousand years, as they would for a thousand more. Their infernal contractors bound in perpetuity. This was more than some demon haunted ruin. This was home. No wonder Edward wasn’t happy about it.
No one went thirsty in Pascolo. A throat going dry had only to open its mouth. Not that this fact was appreciated. Travellers crowded under the overhangs outside the city wall, edging each other out for the dry spots. Labourers rubbed shoulders with traders, heroes with vagabonds, though few could tell the difference. There was a begrudging acceptance among the crowd, everyone hated the weather. Beggars were the only ones that dared the rain, going from group to group in search of a stray crust or a pitying noble too much coin. A pair of them walked along the edges, rain running through the holes in their caps, bare feet slapping off wet stone.
“Scuse me. Can you spare a bite?”
The old man looked up from a bowl of rice, leaving down his fork. He sniffed loudly.
“Why don’t ye get a job and earn it.”
The road bounded the woods. Or perhaps the woods bounded the road. No one stopped to check. Two carts rattled along, laden with tin and tents. There was no room to ride, so the people walked instead. Children danced between wary parents, tearing at each other’s patchwork clothes. The adults talked little, eyes fixed on the horizon. These were people with little and little left to fear. Limping amongst them, one had not even that.
“I think it’s going to rain,” declared Gundrea.
“It is raining master,” said Yllen.
“I mean I think it’s going to rain more,” He sidestepped, elbowing a woman. “What do you think?”
She ignored him.
Gundrea shrugged and tried the man on his other side “How about you?”
Edward glanced up at the sky, his face wreathed in shadow. The rain went in his eye.
There's a saying on the plains. If you meet a blind man on the road, kill him.
Now I know what you're thinking but let me explain. You see, there's a story to go with the saying. Everyone knows it, no one ever tells it; until now. It goes that a king out riding met a blind man stumbling along the road. Being the generous sort the king ordered one of his guards lead him home. The blind man responded with these words
“You are very kind great king, but I would fare better on your horse.”
The king was offended at such insolence and rode off with his entourage.
Now as the day closed the king rode back the same way. But a hundred yards from this morning the blind man still struggled. Seeing this the king's heart softened and he ordered his guards to help.
Again the blind man refused “for whom would you give up your horse?”
Enraged the king ordered the blind man beaten. The guards drew their knives, and held them up to eye level.
The blind man stared at nothing “A king who will not give up his horse, deserves to have it taken.”
The guards circled their king, their eyes dark. Then they closed in.
So it goes that a king out riding met a blind man stumbling along the road.
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.”