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Rhian had met hostility before, but never such raw hatred.  She wasn’t lobbing fireballs or summoning lightning from the heavens, she wasn’t shouting from her lungs, I AM A MAGE, WATCH ME MELT YOUR FACE. She had left the staff on her cot at the inn. The look from the woman’s face was shocking and Rhian didn’t understand, she hadn’t done anything.

 

“Can you tell me what is wrong so that I may try to remedy it?” Rhian tried a different tactic. The woman instead spit in her direction, made a curious symbol with her hand and index finger that Rhian had never seen and didn’t know what it meant, but the spitting, that was to ward off evil. Rhian was hardly evil, tainted, but hardly evil.

 

“You should have never come here,” the woman said in an accent that Rhian had never heard. She didn’t speak like the innkeeper. “Stay away from my child.” The woman warned or threatened. Rhian took a step back, her hands splayed to show she was harmless but it would seem that this action frightened the woman even more and she half ran, half waddled and half carried, half dragged the boy along with her. Rhian was alone on the beach as the sun began to set into the water.

 

She turned and watched the sunset. A long dock extended into the water, but most of the boats instead of being tied up to the wooden dock were instead dragged right onto the beach. 

 

<i>Was there a water monster that was frightening these people? </i>

 

As the sunset completely and darkness swallowed Rhian and the beach she noticed a figure standing on the dock. It looked like a woman in long black robe with and extremely long mane of blonde or possibly white hair.

 

“Hello?” Rhian called to the woman, she had to climb a ladder to reach the dock, but she was certain she hadn’t noticed a woman walk down the dock. It was as if she had simply appeared there when the sun lowered beneath the waves. Rhian turned her head from the woman to pay slightly more attention to rungs of the ladder, she didn’t want to fall, Rhian, and though gifted in magic was not exactly the most graceful of creatures. Rhian looked back at the woman only to see the dock was empty.

 

<i>Had she imagined the woman?</i>

 

“Hello?” Rhian carefully called again. She did not have heightened night vision and now was more concerned with accidently falling to her drowning death from the dock as full night washed over the land. She walked down the dock, but no one was there, just her. Rhian shivered, the temperature must’ve dropped rapidly which was unusual for coastal villages, normally the water kept the area warm, but her breath was coming out steam in front of her. All the small hairs on the back of her neck and her arms were erect like she was in the middle of a lightning storm.

 

Rhian left the dock and returned to the inn to find the double doors closed and as she pushed, apparently locked. She knocked upon them and waited. She knocked again, louder this time. Rhian looked around her, she noticed a light in every window of every hovel. The goods from the market stalls were gone, leaving empty trays and counters.

 

<i>Everyone had closed up shop while she’d been at the beach? And she’d seen no one?</i>

 

“Who goes there?” Asked a rather shaky version of the fat innkeeper’s voice.

 

“It is I, Rhian, your roomer,” Rhian stated firmly. There was a barely audible sigh and she could hear the sound of what sounded like wood sliding on wood. The door opened, and with a trembling hand the innkeeper was holding a lantern trying to not look past Rhian into the darkness of the village.

 

“Hurry!” He snapped at her and Rhian moved through the door, having to brush against the innkeeper which probably should’ve made her skin crawl to even be in contact with him. He quickly closed the door and dropped a plank of wood into the brackets bolted to the doors, effectively barricading it. She supposed she hadn’t noticed the barricade because the doors had been propped open.

 

“I was unaware you closed up so early,” Rhian stated trying to make polite conversation.

 

“I should’ve warned you, the doors close and lock at sunset. You were lucky I even bothered to open the doors for you.” The innkeeper said, “I won’t be doing it again. If you’re not inside the inn at sunset, you’ll be locked out.”

 

Rhian had seen fear before, had seen villages close up quickly, but this was uncanny. Something about the innkeeper’s mannerisms, the woman from the beach and the boy’s rigid surprise at her appearance was not natural.

 

“What plagues this village?” Rhian finally asked plainly. She was tired of polite and kind, trying to coax information. The innkeeper looked at her like she had bees flying out her ears as if it was the most preposterous thing he’d ever heard.

 

“Nothing plagues this village, we’re merely cautious,” the innkeeper stated. Rhian realized she didn’t even have a name to put with the face. He was merely the ‘Fat Innkeeper,’ and at this moment Rhian really wasn’t making an effort to know him as any more than that.

 

“I saw a woman on the dock, she was dressed in black and had long hair, blonde or maybe white,” Rhian said looking hard at him, hoping for some reaction, the lack of one seemed to bother her more than if he’d jumped or stumbled over his words. Instead he was rather calm and seemed to brush off her words.

 

“I know of no such woman that lives in the village,” he stated flatly.

 

Rhian decided to skip dinner, even though the innkeeper had not offered her food, and just go to bed. She had been walking all day and had been for several days. Rhian went upstairs to the room of cots and sat down on hers. Her staff did not seem to have been touched and she moved it from the cot to prop it against the wall.

 

Her feet were sore and she carefully removed her boots, massaging the sole of each foot before removing her cloak from her shoulders and hanging it on a peg next to her cot. Rhian unbuckled her belt and placed the belt and its pouches in the wooden box under her cot with her backpack. She couldn’t say for sure, but she was certain her pack had been opened. All of her things were there, but she had the queer sensation that someone had gone through her things. She pulled out her journal and flipped through the pages. It recounted all the villages she’d been to, the people she’d met and the deeds she had done. It wasn’t ego that she had documented her works, but simply for those to know after she was gone of this world to know she’d tried to pay penance for all the evil she’d allow to happen. Rhian closed the book and replaced it, relocking the chest and sliding it back under the cot.

 

She removed her outer maroon robe, wearing only a linen chemise. She also hung the robe from same peg as her cloak. She crossed the room and blew out the lantern that illuminated the room. Rhian slid her feet under the heavy quilt that lay on the cot, and pulled it up to her shoulders. She closed her eyes and though sleep did not come quickly it never did, and usually it was never peaceful. Rhian discovered the innkeeper slept in the large bed. Sometime after she had closed her eyes and lain in the cot, he came up the stairs and undressed scarily down to only some thin linen short pants, too thin in Rhian’s opinion. She had watched him through hooded eyes. He blew out his own candle, climbed into his big bed and proceeded to snore.

 

She eventually fell asleep. When Rhian did sleep she dreamed of Gwydion. Her dreams of him were only a soft version of her life with him. The blood, the sex, the sadohedonism, the dead clambering from their graves. Evil men shouldn’t be so beautiful, so charismatic, and Rhian had killed, had tortured, just for his caress. Gwydion was dead now, Rhian had been broken, and her splinters had driven his own ceremonial dagger into his heart.

 

Dawn could not come quickly enough. Maybe it was the snoring, maybe it was the ghost of Gwydion’s handsome face dancing behind her eyes, taunting her, mocking her. She could remember too vividly the touch of his warm hands on her flesh and the way he had made her feel. Rhian did not want to think about Gwydion anymore. The more she thought of him the more she felt the void where her emotions had once been, where her heart had palpated in her chest. Her heart still beat, but she was dead inside, a husk, nothing more than a shadow of the woman she’d once been.

 

When Rhian woke, she noticed the innkeeper’s bed was empty, and could smell food cooking. She slowly dressed, pulling on her robe and her boots, buckling the belt across her hips. Once again she decided to leave the staff on the cot after she quickly straightened the quilt. Perhaps she would encounter some other villagers, some that were more forthcoming.

 

She glanced out the window and noticed the sky still had that gloomy overcast look to it, even though the sun was shining, but the light was muted as if filtered through dark glass. She left the window and walked down the stairs to the simple dining room and its adjoining kitchen. Rhian had expected the innkeeper to be cooking but was surprised by the man who stood there.

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