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Unread 30th of August, 2009, 05:22
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Stringbean2142
Ghoul [GM]

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Keiron pulls his cloak tight around himself as he walks down the road. The winter winds brought a storm north with them, and icy rain has soaked Keiron through to the bone. He needs to get off of the road and to shelter soon, or he risks catching a cold or worse.

The lands around him are dotted with the occasional tree, but there is no shelter to be found in rolling hills and saplings. He forces himself to keep moving, mind intent on reaching the chimney smoke he had seen on the horizon the night before. If he is right, the smoke was rising from a small hollow just ahead. "Two more miles, two more miles…" he mutters. Each word falls on a step, giving the repeated phrase a chant-like quality to it.

***

It turns out to be more like five miles, but eventually Keiron reaches the crest of the hollow and moves into it. He can see the house now, a simple one-floor structure built to house three or four people. The road runs directly in front of the house, separating the house from a small clearing on the other side. A garden, desolate in the face of the approaching winter, wraps around the back of the house and a small barn stands nearby. Keiron walks to the front door and knocks, almost missing the door with his first knock from the shivering in his hands.


The door is opened by a middle-aged man. His frame is a powerful one, but Keiron can see the slight stiffness in the man's movements that comes from age. It is a problem Keiron knows all too well himself.

The man looks over Keiron's head at first, expecting a normal-sized person. Keiron's chattering teeth draw the man's attention down, and Keiron could see the recognition in the man's eyes. It is a common reaction, in Keiron's experience. The recognition always comes when a person first realizes they are face-to-face with a halfling. It is almost as though Keiron can read their minds when it happens. First is the surprise, followed quickly by the remembrance of stories about halflings. Following that is the realization they should say or do something, and what comes next is the measure of a person. Keiron has seen many different final reactions. Some drop their hands to their coin purses, while others pretend to be cultured and act as though they know many halflings. Keiron usually can tell the heart of a person in how they react during that moment.

The man simply stands to the side. "You better come in; tonight is a bad night to be on the road." Keiron nods and enters the house, a large trail of water following him. The house is built with one main room surrounded by four smaller rooms leading off of it. All four have their doors open. Besides the man who had let him in, the sole occupant is an older girl, perhaps twelve. She is sitting near the fire, scratching the stomach of a large dog. Two puppies circled the pair, tails wagging furiously.

When Keiron enters, the girl stops scratching and looks at him. Again, Keiron sees the emotions play out and groans inwardly when a large smile splits her face. It is a reaction he has only seen in girls, but all too often in them. She thinks he is cute, much like she probably thinks the puppies are cute.

"Sit by the fire," the man says. "You need to warm up. I'd offer you fresh clothes, but I doubt you'd fit anything I own."

"Thank you," Keiron says, and follows the man's advice. "I have a spare set of clothes in my bag. I just hope they stayed dry."

The waxed backpack had kept the worst of the rain out, but the spare clothes still got a bit damp. Putting them by the fire to dry, Keiron sat himself beside them, close enough to the fire he was in danger of catching himself. The warm felt uxorious, and he spent a minute just soaking in the warmth.

One of the puppies wanders over, and Keiron holds his hand out to be sniffed. After a few tentative sniffs, the pup begins licking his hand. When he tries to pull away, the puppy pounces on it, pinning his arm to the ground. He could pull away if he wants, but for now he lets the puppy have its fun.

While you dry out, can you tell us your name?” The man followed Keiron to the fire, and is now between Keiron and the little girl. He'll let me in, but still has the foresight to shield his daughter. Smart man.

My name's Keiron. I was just passing through when that caught me unprepared.” He gestures vaguely at the storm raging outside. “If I could, I'd like to stay the night. I've coin.”

The man frowns at that. “Well, winter's coming and food's a bit scarce, even with just feeding two...”

A Dragon,” Keiron says, pulling the coin from his pouch. “I eat light and sleep wherever, and I'm gone by midday tomorrow, no matter the weather outside.”

The man is still hesitant, but in the end pragmatism won him over. “Ok, done.” He takes the coin. “You can stay in my son's old room; he left long ago because... well, what's important is his room's available. You'll get dinner and breakfast. Do we have a deal?”

Keiron grins. “Only if you'll share your name as well. I don't deal with anonymous men.”

The man grins in return. “Fair enough. My name's Roland Tilley, and this is my daughter Greta.”

Keiron shakes the puppy free of his hand. “Well, Mr. Tilley, I thank you for your hospitality.” He holds his hand up for Tilley to shake.

That night, the puppy follows Keiron to bed, its tail wagging in anticipation of the possible lick fest to follow.

***

It is the puppy that awakens Keiron. Pulled from dreams that vanish as consciousness returns, he hears the pup whining and scratching at the door.

"What is it, boy?" Keiron drops from the bed and stands beside the pup, stroking its fur. He feels goose bumps rising under the soft hair. "Do you smell something?"

The puppy turns to Keiron, still whining. Its ears and tail are both drooping, and its eyes show a fear of whatever is on the other side of the door. Keiron grabs his dagger and, dressed only in his pants, opens the door.

The room beyond is dark and quiet. It is hard to imagine this is the same room he had been in just a few hours earlier. Tilley and Greta brought the room to life when they were in it. Now, it is a space waiting to be a room again. Keiron feels like an intruder.

The pup creeps through the room, still quietly whining. When it reaches the front door, it scratches at it weakly with its paw. Whatever it is that has the puppy spooked, it seems to be outside.

Keiron moves to the window beside the door and, standing on his tiptoes, looks outside. The rain is still falling, but everything looks in order. There is no one on the road or on the porch. He is prepared to go back to his room when a flutter of cloth pulls his gaze to the far side of the clearing across the road. A woman stands there, dressed in a plain woolen skirt and a short-sleeved blouse. If the cold and the rain were bothering her, she is not showing it.

She'll freeze to death out there, Keiron thinks. He opens the door and steps onto the narrow porch. The rain is as cold as he remembers. He waves at the woman. "Hey, are you insane? Get inside!"

The woman gives no indication of moving or of answering him. The wind blows again, and her skirt and hair drift with it. Keiron steps to the road, wincing as a sharp rock nicks his heel.

"Didn't you hear what I… what I…" Keiron trails off as he realizes he can see her hair blowing freely with the wind. Wet hair doesn't do that. It clumps together and hangs heavily, only moving for the most persistent of gusts. The woman's hair looks completely dry, as though the rain can not reach her. Her clothes are dry as well. She seems to recognize his shock, and a small grin plays across her face.

Keiron walks the rest of the way across the road and stops a few feet in front of her. This close, he can see the rain falling through her. He traces a quick pattern on his chest with his index finger and whispers, "Zauber." His spell shows him the magical energies swirling around her. It is an old magic, one that doesn't fall under any of the usual classification he is used to. Lines of force run from her to the ground. Keiron thinks they may be tethers.

Keiron asks, "What do you want? Why are you here?"

"She won't answer you." Keiron turns to find Tilley behind him, dressed in a cloak but no shirt. The driving rain makes it difficult to tell, but Keiron thinks tears are in Tilley's eyes as he gazes on the strange woman. "She can't."

"Who is she?"

Tilley smiles sadly down at Keiron. "My wife. She's my wife. Or at least what's left of her."