A Debt of Copper [Part One]

It was on the sixth day that Eryn uncurled from the depths of her iron place and found the village astir once more. Margaret had brought her milk and bread this morning, her worn plump cheer openly replaced with a troubled brow and anxious eyes. She told her of how a strange man had arrived late last night at the Brandied Pig, like a winter shadow out of the autumn rains. He had ensconced himself in a corner seat, ignoring the open stares of the villagers and the chilly silence that fell.

The man was neither tall nor wide of build, but outsiders were far from ordinary in these parts and times, so his presence had drawn every eye in the room. The barkeep, Iven, had hailed him without so much as a gesture in reply. He did not ask for drink or bed, but remained hunched over the empty table, his face and attire shrouded by a thick grey traveller’s cloak that swept down to the floor.

Curiosity had quickly turned to wariness, then to a dark fear, and the common room had emptied a short time thereafter. All had left, save him, and there in the inn did he stay the entire night and morning. It wasn’t right or normal, said Margaret as she wrung her creased hands, for a man not to speak his intent when he entered an unfamiliar town, much less not speak at all. Not normal at all.

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Stygian Road [Part Four]

They came gambolling out of nowhere – man-sized shadows a shade lighter than the surrounding darkness. Twin glints flashed, and then another pair, and soon there were hundreds of pale slits reflected in the light of Phil’s lantern-staff. The animalistic cries came from all sides now, forming a chaotic medley of howls and screeches that intensified as the unknown creatures drew nearer. Howard felt his unease burgeon into a blistering panic.

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The Owl and the Man

With a ruffling of chalky feathers, the owl alights on a broken arch, and watches as the man climbs the mountain of rubble. He grips at pitted creases in the rock, pulling himself forwards and upwards, his muscles quivering with the sustained effort. Sweat soaks through on his back and under his arms, but his limbs do not give, and his nerve does not falter.

Whatever the rock used to be, precisely, is beyond the recognition of owl or man. The surface the man climbs is charred and melted, and coated black with a shroud of soot. Vague shapes are outlined in the shadows, overlaying any details that might once have been beneath. Bits of jagged metal poke out here and there, like sharpened nubs of bone in a dusty graveyard.

His hands bleed from the roughness of the handholds, torn skin perforating his knuckles, but that will not be why he dies. Nor will he die from the lack of water he carries, or from the silent heat of the midday sun that beats down on his back.

He is already dead, she fears.

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