“He taught me how to read in people’s eyes”, the old man remembered, “despite not having any himself!” He then chuckled with the broken laugh of an old smoker’s lungs. I was sitting at his table, his humble home slightly isolated from the nearby village, after having barely escaped death in the depths of the earth. I was carrying important cargo in my sack, one that required me to stay incognito until I reached the Guild. Deciding against taking the King’s Road, I stumbled upon this village while following the rolling paths that traversed the country. People here were hospitable, and maybe a little too desperate for change or unexpected visitors, as life in the country was monotonous. When the old man saw a weary traveller, dressed in a heavy cloak, a ball of fire lighting the way, his curiosity was soon inviting me to stay the night.
He lived with his son, his son’s wife, and memories from a lifetime of adventure, tales from the past dying to be brought back to life by his lips, provided an open ear was near. Clearly, his son and daughter in law knew the tales already, as they gazed at the two of us with a knowing smile from inside the house. Indeed, we were having tea outside, a low wooden table as sole furniture, grass below, the heavens above. Whereas my cup had already been emptied three times, my host’s was still full. His mind had control over his mouth right now, not his thirst. He told me tales of adventure, travel and glory. The man had been an explorer all his life, traveling to the ports of the world until he settled with his son inland, in the very house I was in now.
Seeing that my host was finally drinking from his cup, I turned my gaze towards the wilderness. A few feet away, a tiny waterfall was fuelling a stream. The dim glow of the town’s lights could be seen in the distance, behind a layer of trees. I sensed so much wildlife bustling around me, and the town was still lively with activity despite the summer night slowly creeping on its residents. I breathed a sigh. This was heaven compared to what I had seen in that cave. Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes, or the way those creatures chased me throughout the ruins like shadows, their figure only lit by four deadly drops of colour in their face. Finding an exit out of there had been miraculous.
A shiver crawled up my spine. Once you see these things, they stay with you forever. Thrice on the road I had turned around violently, hands before me, magic ready to shoot out from them, expecting one of those beasts to be behind me, ready to attack, only to find myself starring at a tree, or at a passing peasant, colour suddenly fleeing his face.
Another sigh. I poured myself another cup of tepid tea and heated it with my magic. After emptying the cup and saluting my host, I grabbed my cloak and headed to the guest mattress that the kind family had set up for me. That night, my sleep was plagued with memories of the cave, how I fought the creature, how its articulations were abnormal, how it had clawed at my cloak, before turning it into crystal.
….Wait a minute… I’m sleeping in that cloak… Right?
I woke up, startled, to find that, actually, I was not. The cloak I had carried with me was gone, leaving me in boiled leather shoulder and chest plates above a silk doublet. My breathing was quick and shallow. My brow was covered with cold droplets. Around me the house was dark, lifeless. I could not feel the presence of the old man and his family. I got up, determined not to let panic overcome me. Once outside, I sent my consciousness out again. The bustling wildlife was gone. The whole forest felt inert. I projected it farther, to the town, or at least, where the town had been. I found nothing. No lights, no life. I opened my eyes. Beyond the low table was an all too familiar figure. It was the frozen, lifeless, crystal-like statue of the man that had welcomed me into the cavern. Except its face now held extra significance to me: it belonged to the explorer who had welcomed me into his home moments ago.
This is the sequel to my first post for the speakeasy, last month. After you’ve read this, I’d like to know something: Do you guys picture the protagonist as a man or a woman? How old is he/she? Whatever you think, thank you for your time, I hope you enjoyed, and I hope to see you around. Comments that do not answer the question above are much appreciated nonetheless.
For those who haven’t read the prequel to this (or forgot the thing entirely), here it is.