Private Tales Scorched Earth

Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn slid down from his saddle. His stirrups quietly jangle as he took the reigns in one hand and walked his horse forwards.

It had been hard to believe when he had heard the stories. It was much easier to believe now. Ahead of them there was no colour on the ground. No movement. No life.

Raigryn dropped to one knee. His gloved hand touched the blackened grass that still clung to life on the border. It was brittle to touch. It had sunlight and the ground was wet. He had never seen anything like it.

"I don't like this Fife not at all."

Everywhere the red mists had touched there was still death. Weeks since the demons had spread their domain here before retreating and not a single green shoot.

"Don't worry, we don't have to go further on," he called. Fife had seen more than enough of the demons up close.
 

Fife

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Sitting atop her pony, Fife did not immediately get down when Raigryn did. Her dark eyes had been scanning the landscape in utter silence. Not that that was unusual, but at this moment it was more grim than her standard muteness. It was contemplation and worry and unease. The gray, dead grass stretched out before them. The ground their mounts stood upon was still alive and colorful, hues of green and yellow. The line between life and death was crisp and sudden.

Raigryn knelt to inspect the grass, but Fife was more reluctant to dismount. She didn't like it one bit. It reminded her too much of what they had found in the underground city and its demons and mechanical figures. It was a dark reminder that not everything she saw on her travels were bright and beautiful.

After a moment, Fife got down and went to stand beside him. She stared down at the line of blackened earth and sighed. Raigryn assured her they wouldn't have to ride further in. Good. The less they had to do with all this, the better. She nodded in agreement once more and looked up at him.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"I think perhaps that we will skirt around this and find the next town. I want to ask about what happened."

Raigryn didn't voice his main concern: that eating the blackened grass could perhaps do harm to Socks. Fife would probably find the notion more abhorrent than another encounter with demons.

He remounted his horse, sparing the boy a reassuring glance. As far as it was known the demons had all fled the land with the red mists. There were rumours that some had passed through into Pandemonium with them first.



"Well, this isn't going to help," Raigryn sighed. He had dropped to his feet to lead his horse through the town gate. It quickly became apparent that they were the only two souls here.

"Sun is going down? Want to find shelter or move on and come back in the morning to look around?" he asked.
 
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Fife

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Fife only nodded, all of the questions she might have had far too complex for her signing skills or the letters she was learning. She was learning more and Raigryn understood her developing signs better and better, but she still lacked the means to ask or say a lot of things. Her concerns and questions had become a lot more complex.

It wasn't exactly her fear of seeing demons again and her own mortal peril that made her wary of the dark divide of earth. Rather, it was that she was with things she cared about. Caring for other people was far scarier than caring only for her own safety.

Fife climbed back atop Socks and the pony plodded after Dusty happily enough. She kept looking back at the blackened landscape, however.

The nearest village was abandoned. It wasn't terribly uncommon this close to the wasted lands, and she couldn't exactly blame folks for not wanting to come back. She was certainly reluctant to be this close.

Hopping down from Socks to lead him alongside Raigryn and Dusty, she scanned the town as she contemplated her response. Eventually she turned to him with a response. She merely pointed to the ground. Here. Fife would rather risk encountering something here, in a fortified area, than on the open road.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Well now he couldn't change his mind. A part of him had hoped Fife would prefer to be away from the town. Raigryn didn't like it. A place like this was supposed to be full of life. Full of emotional energy that connected the world of the Empath.

Instead open doors swaying in the breeze conjured tricks of the mind. Having faced real demons and a host of other beasts his imagination had plenty of material to work with.

Raigryn pushed the gate closed behind them. It wouldn't keep anyone out for long, but it made him feel better.

There was a barn that still had plenty of dry hay. Their mounts were shut away for the night with plenty of shelter, entirely oblivious to Raigryn's worries.



"So they left the hay, but not the beer," Raigryn bemoaned from behind the bar of the town's largest inn. "They left rum but you're far too young for that and I'm most certainly not in the mood," he mused.

"Makes sense I suppose." He stood up and placed a bowl of dried jerky on the table. It wasn't much in the way of spoils. He had get into a habit of speaking and then making sure he looked to Fife incase the lad had something to try and communicate.
 
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Fife

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The found a stable for the horses, and Fife set to work making them comfortable. She had happily learned how to care for them, and brought them armfuls of hay and gave them a quick brushing when their tack came off.

She jogged after Raigryn, her soft leather boots seeming loud in the abandoned streets. It wasn't unlike Elbion on some evenings, when a nasty storm was about to blow in. Everyone had made their preparations and had taken shelter for the evening.

Only, in this case they had taken shelter far from the incoming storm an not returned.

Fife didn't mind a dinner of jerky. She was spoiled from their meals while traveling, sure. But food was food and she'd never show any complaint. She perched herself on a barstool and reached out to take a piece for herself. The chewing tricked her body into thinking she'd had more than what it had truly consumed -- a handy trick she knew well.

Looking around, Fife thought about how to ask the questions in her mind. She'd taken to carrying a piece of parchment and a small stick of graphite for impromptu concepts she couldn't ask or spell, but could draw. With the jerky hanging from her mouth, she withrew it and sketched a rudimentary gathering of people. Fife pointed to them, then held up eight fingers together, emulating the drawing. She swept them away in one motion, raising her fingers to the side at arm's length. Shaking her head, she repeated the motion to the original position.

The people left but didn't come back.

She made a sign for fright, grimacing and laying her hands over her chest, then pointed outside toward the gate. Toward the line of dead grass from the mists. It was vague, but hopefully he could put it together. Are they afraid of the border?

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"The demons were supposed to have fled. Perhaps that is the wrong word. They left. A town like this needs farmlands. Perhaps it is nothing more than the fact that crops were inside the mists. If they lost an entire harvest with no hope of reseeding they may have just left."

He offered Fife a reassuring smile. He would have liked one from someone else for his own nerves. This looked as if it had been an organised retreat. There were tales of towns where they walls had been smashed down. The entire populace dragged off into the mists.

"Bugger it," he muttered, pouring himself a small glass of rum. It burned on the way down. Silly old man worrying about shadows, he admonished himself.
 
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Fife

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Raigryn offered a more rational reason behind why the town was still abandoned. She wouldn't have thought about their harvests and vocations. She looked around the tavern bar. It made sense. If they couldn't farm, the townsfolk had no reason to be here. If there were no townsfolk, they needed no services.

His smile seemed a bit forced, but she returned it with a nod of understanding. But Raigryn didn't look like he was as reassured by his reasoning. She watched as he downed a shot of the rum he 'hadn't been in the mood for.' Fife chewed at her jerky and looked from him and the rum to the rest of the tavern. The man could obviously benefit from a distraction.

There were plenty of things she would have liked to ask, but the stuff that occurred to her to ask Raigryn was all complicated and hard to express. She mulled on it while she chewed, then turned to him, whistled his name softly, and stuck the stick between her teeth.

Holding her brows high in question, she pointed to Raigyn, made the house shape with her hands, then pointed to him again. Do you have a home?

She pointed to him again and paused with a small frown. Fife bent and quickly drew four people -- a man, a woman, and two children. She circled the four figures and pointed to them. Fife made up a similar sign for it, holding up her four fingers, close together, and circled it with her index finger. Do you have a family?

She had never asked much about him, but after having spent months on the road together, she felt less like he would leave her suddenly. Fife wanted to know somebody. Curiosity had ate at her for a while. She might as well ask. The worst he could do was decline to answer.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn leaned across the bar, watching her draw. He knew that it must have been a constant source of frustration for him to be trying to find ways to communicate. For Raigryn it was a new enjoyable puzzle a few times a day. He felt a little bit guilty at that difference.

"Never settled down with a wife," he mused. "No children either. Probably."

If there were any they had never sought him out anyway. As a younger man he had traveled a great deal. Before they had fallen out of favour Empath's had held something of a reputation. One that almost no other order of mages had.

"I rarely settle in one place for long." He grinned and decided to pour another rum. Because if they were going to go down this road he was going to need another drink.

"There were a few close calls though," he admitted.
 
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Fife

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He answered, and Fife wasn't sure if she was surprised or not. Raigryn, the perpetual bachelor. It was a fitting garment for the man, she supposed. His wanderlust had been made apparent to her by this point. Though, she raised a brow and hissed in short, strange laughter at his probably. He didn't seem very bothered by the prospect.

Raigryn poured another drink and he smiled, however. So maybe it did? Fife took it as an optimistic sign. She grinned back and settled in to see how much she could weasel out of him before he stopped answering questions. She had been burning with curiosity for weeks.

She pointed to him, then paused with a frown. Her eyes searched around as she tried to think of some way to ask what she wanted, and a familiar crease of frustration marked her brow. Her dark eyes roamed and settled on the paper. Fife wrote with her left hand and her tongue sticking out slightly as she focused on the letters.

W A И N T

She had messed up the first N and scribbled it out, then simply finished the word after. Spelling wasn't really her forte and thinking about what letters made what sound was extra complicated when sounding then out in her own head. But it was a legible word. Or, at least, she thought it was.

Fife pointed to the word, put down the pencil, and held up her hands. She mimed curling her fingers in a needy, begging gesture. Starting over, she pointed to him, made the new want sign, then the new one for family. She repeated the question for home.

Do you want a family? Do you want a home?


Fife held up her hand, palm up in a contemplative gesture that had served as or for a while now. She indicated Raigryn, walked her fingers in front of her, then gestured broadly and settled her hands with thumbs up.

Or are you happy with travelling?

They were hard questions she was just now capable of asking him. It seemed like such a mundane thing to feel excited about. But she was quite excited about it. She was getting better. Raigryn was getting better at interpreting her.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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His eyes went a little wide when he realised what she was asking. Silver eyebrows stayed as little bridges as he looked down towards the rum. He was going to need more liquor if he was going to keep asking such things.

Raigryn settled onto his elbows and sighed.

"Well that is a big question," he said. He wouldn't have said it out loud, but he was making sure that Fife knew his question was understood.

"It's hard to imagine a life different to this," he said slowly. "I might have settled down had things not happened in a certain way. Empaths were once the most popular mages in court, though that was well before my time. It was fashionable to have an Empath balance your emotions and be attached to your household.

"Now of course they're seen more as emotional leaches. Leaches are horrid little things that such your blood by the way. It's not as if I'm outlawed, but I've become used to travelling. I've seen a lot of things I would not have done otherwise."

Raigryn chewed on the corner of his cheek and swirled another shot of rum around a glass. It was unfair to be able to communicate so much, so quickly when Fife had to work with sign and pictures. Out here he would have to ensure his made time to keep working with the boy on his writing.
 
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Fife

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She had obviously asked a difficult question. Fife listened, her eyes fixed on his. But, as usual, Raigryn was difficult to read beyond the surface. He was good at withholding his emotions -- far better than she was at reading them. Fife nibbled silently on her jerky.

She let the silence between them linger for a few moments, then sat up straighter and tipped her head to the side in thought. Fife pointed to herself and made the sign for want, then paused in contemplation. Brows furrowed in thought, she picked up her pencil again to draw it before she tried to sign it.

She drew a wall comprised of parallel lines beside the group of people, then a little house with herself sitting in it beside a hearth. Outside she drew trees and sweeping lines like tall grass, several fat ponies, and as many fat chickens. Fife turned it around to show Raigryn.

She signed for it, moving the sign for people at arm's length and frowning, shaking her head and hands in refusal. She grinned as she made house and crossed her arms over her chest and sighed in perceived comfort. Fife signed horse, with four fingers running together with one hand and the other forming a figure riding it, then flashed through the numbers on one hand before opening it and swiping it away. A lot. For the chickens, she hooked her thumbs together for bird, then flattened one hand and pecked at it with the other.

I want a warm home far away from people, with lots of horses and chickens.

It was a simple sentence, but it was probably the longest one she had ever strung together. Fife grinned. She had no idea how she was going to support these fictional horses and chickens, or how she was going to obtain said warm home far from other human beings. But this was a fantasy, right? Coming from the back alleys of Elbion, something this simple sure seemed like a fantasy.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn smiled, but there was a touch of sadness in the corner of his lips. He was happy to see Fife move on from what he had been through. He felt there had to have been an improvement to give him the mental freedom to think about his aspirations and try to convey them.

He was happy because it was something he could easily make happen. But he was sad because there was little room for himself in it. It had been nice to have a student again and to have a companion on the road.

"When you've finished your training I can probably find a landowner who owes me a favour. They're always looking for farmhands and more young men. Especially in the harvest. Won't be easy work though. If you're lucky we could find someone who needs a stable hand."
 
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Fife

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Did he seem a bit disappointed? Fife couldn't be sure, but it wasn't the usual unrestrained smirk he normally wore when he was amused. Trying to read Raigryn was like watching the clouds. It looked like rain, but one could never really predict the weather.

But his response surprised her. Her smile fell to a look of such, mouth slightly agape and eyes widening. He could do that? He would teach her and then call in a favor simply to find her placement -- for nothing other than he didn't want her to hurt herself and others with her Empathy.

She pointed to Raigryn and walked her finger far away from her, then turned her hand palm-up in question. You'd keep traveling?

Fife touched her throat, paused, then indicated herself, touched her lips, shook her head, and held up people. Pausing again to indicate a new sentence, she signed again. Indicating herself, touching her lips, then pointing to him.

I can't talk to anyone else. I can only talk to you.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"You wouldn't be able to talk to me if I kept walking? Oh, no you wouldn't be able to talk to others?"

He considered this for a few seconds. They were working on his writing, but that wasn't something most farmers could do. Fife could write all he wanted but it wasn't going to be legible. Writing in fact offered more opportunities to him. Plenty of nobles were after scribes these days.

"Well, we will think about that. I was just getting used to having you around anyway," he laughed. "We'll find you a pretty deaf woman for a wife when you're older, that's what we'll do!" he joked, knocking back on last glass of rum.
 
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Fife

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She shook her head and then nodded, helping him find the right meaning. His answer was fairly noncommittal, but he admitted to being used to her being around. That made Fife smile and nod.

I want to travel, she signed. She liked traveling with Raigryn. She wasn't ready to leave him just yet. Her nightmares had lessened on the road together, even if those that still plagued her had new material to draw from. Fife certainly wasn't ready to leave Raigryn yet. She wouldn't have the first idea of what to do if she were on her own in the world again.

But his jest wiped away the smile from her expression. A flood of crimson flashed across her face and ears and she looked down at the table. Fife looked embarrassed, no doubt conveyed as a boyish bashfulness. If only he knew what he was suggesting!

She grabbed her piece of paper, now filled on both sides, balled it up, and threw it at him. With her face still bright red, she grabbed a second stick of jerky and hopped down from the stool. A wife! Fife made for the door, intending to go to the stables to give the horses their better brushing and possibly die in the hay pile.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Sorry! Sorry!" he called after Fife. The empath was all too aware of the embarrassment Fife felt. His abilities did not reveal a cause, just the emotional symptoms. Raigryn assumed that it was the 'deaf' part of the joke that had caused the reaction.

He unrolled the piece of paper, flatenning it down on the table. It was ruined but he had particular habits given how difficult it could be to source.

"Fife don't go out on your own, please," he called in case it did stop him.
 
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Fife

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She was a naturally quick walker, in spite of her short legs, and was almost to the exit when he called for her to stop, asking that she not go out alone. Huffing, she found a chair by the door and perched there. Her face was reddening almost to her collar and she didn't dare turn to look at him. Fife put her hand on her cheek, as of her cool palm might alleviate some of the color. Life had embarrassed her worse than this, no doubt, but it was hard to recall when.

Chewing on her stick, she tried to think of anything else. She looked out the windows at the dark, empty town and tried to think of ponies and chickens, not wives -- or husbands. Fife was probably going to be stuck pretending to be a boy the rest of her life because the longer she was with Raigryn, the harder it was to try telling him. If she was ever going to tell him. Now probably would have been a good time. She had a damn good opening to the subject.

But when she glanced back at him, she knew she couldn't. She felt the same uncertainty creep in as had when she'd been given other opportunities, a quiet fear of being left. Raigryn had gutten used to having a travelling partner, and she had learned what it was like to be understood.

Fife looked at him for only a moment, then her eyes fell and drifted back toward the windows. She ripped off a bit of jerky and sighed, a silent toast to being a boy forever.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"It wasn't right of me to make fun," he called to her. "When it comes time to stop exploring I'm sure you'll find a perfectly wonderful wife and..."

He pointed to the picture of a perfect family of four.

"...a family and horses and chickens of your own. As long as you let me visit. I know a horse breeder on the steppes actually..."
 
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Fife

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She sighed and turned to look back at him as he spoke. Raigryn, like normal people, tended to say a lot in short bursts that didn't really give her a good way to interrupt and respond. So she waited until he began to wander off in thought to whistle his name.

Fife pointed to herself, shook her head as she made want, combed her fingers through imaged long hair to indicate woman, then touched her ring finger.

I don't want a wife.

Fife sat there for a moment, looking exasperated, then blinked. Now she looked like a boy who didn't like girls, which was the same suggestion as before. Her cheeks flushed again and she hurriedly signed again, this time replacing the sign for woman with a combing over a beard for man.

I don't want a husband!

She shook her hands like she was trying to shake off something gross and shuddered. She didn't want either, although the notion was more frightening to her than gross. Her experiences with people in general had not been good. Fife crossed her arms and turned away again, an indignant child or trying not to seem too upset about things she couldn't explain.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Ah I see. You don't want to get married at all then?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. Fife was young, but not that young. He hadn't noticed the lad take much of an interest in people around them. Then again there hadn't been many people that weren't dwarves recently.
 
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Fife

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She shook her head. No. A spouse was the last thing on her mind. Fife bit off a hunk of jerky and chewed it quietly for a while before looking out the window again. It was getting late. She wondered what he wanted to look for tomorrow. Whatever stuff had come with the mists, they had (thankfully) gone away again. She, for one, didn't feel like chasing after them after what had happened in the underground city.

She hopped off of her chair and hitched her a thumb over her shoulder back toward the stable they had found, whistling the names of their horses. They needed to be brushed and watered yet, and she was sure that he would want to be up at first light to do whatever he wanted to do.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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They did not make much noise as they crept into the town late in the night. It was their own, they knew where to go to stay out of sight. It was a big job for the group to search the entire town. The scout had spotted two riders coming into town. An old man riding alongside a child.

The land was not yielding good results, even beyond the mists. They needed more workers for the fields that didn't need much food. They didn't need an old man who would eat without providing.

They found the horses tethered near the old Rose and Horseshoe inn. The front door was locked, or barred from the inside. Fortunately there was a way in through the wine cellar.
 
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Fife

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The town might have been abandoned, but they had not been able to take everything. The rooms in the inn still had beds, and Fife managed to drag one of them into the room Raigryn picked. She wasn't keen on sleeping in another room by herself. The town being empty didn't bother her, but being near the blackened earth did.

After going to the window to check on Dusty and Socks, she laid down to sleep. It was fitful, nightmares she hadn't had in a while resurfacing with a vengeance. Fife kept jerking awake, an interrupted sleep more like she'd had when they'd first begun travelling together.

For what must have been the fourth time in as many hours, Fife jerked and gasped awake. She was awake and the dream began to fade away. Thank the gods. She rubbed her face with shaking hands and curled up tighter on her straw mattress. At least they weren't real. Her mind could invent and relive its horrors all it wanted, but she could at least wake up from them. Feeling drained, she closed her eyes to try sleeping again.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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A little rum went a long way to pushing a man in his late forties into a deep sleep. He didn't even snore. He could be heard breathing softly beneath the blankets.

As he had made his bed he had reflected once more than the rum had been a bad idea, but it had been too late by them.

There was a creak from the ground floor below them. It could have been the inn settling as it was buffeted by the wind.

The second creak almost certainly couldn't have been.
 
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