The Truffle Hunt – Part 1.

Pirate Airship

Steampunk Pirate Airship by ChasingArtwork on DeviantArt.com

This long short story or maybe short novella was intended for an anthology based on a shared world where influence is tied to alchemical cuisine. The anthology never happened. Which is probably fortunate, since Truffle Hunt was really too long to be included and cutting it down to size was very painful. I do believe that a tale decides its own length and that should not be interfered with, if at all possible.

This was also a story that puzzled and frustrated me greatly at the beginning. I had a character I really wanted to use but he absolutely refused. Through false start after false start, he would appear and plant his feet so firmly the story would not move. I had to incorporate an entirely different protagonist and I am holding a grudge.

In any case, here – in 3 parts, is The Truffle Hunt.

Joa spent most of the day with an unsettled heart and questions to which he could not guess the answers. His brief talk with his legal uncle, Lord Omaya, had been disturbing, and not the least for having not seen the man in nearly ten years. He wanted to speak with Acan, but Joa had told Lord Omaya the truth, if not all of it. Over the last five years, Joa had seen Acan only a handful of times. And he had not seen him at all in the last half-month. Joa had begun to wonder if his childhood friend was avoiding him, though when they met, Acan always behaved as though they had seen each other just the day before.

That Lord Omaya should be taking an interest in both of them now was both intriguing and disquieting. Joa, who had no experience with the art of word-fencing had been hard-pressed to fend off his uncle’s enquiries, and he was certain he had missed something valuable in the man’s subtle remarks. Though the interview had not lasted long, it had left a pulsing ache in Joa’s temples.

Returning to the studio workroom, Joa had continued on his own calligraphic studies and prepared for the afternoon class. These days, the number of well-to-do merchant children was larger than it had ever been, reflecting the changes on Yume since the Daitoh had been forced ten years ago to open the planetoid once again to trade.

People had gone nearly insane over the variety of items the merchants, often escorted by military ships, brought through the Ether from other planetoids or the Market World. Clothing and decorative items were particularly popular although technologies like clear glass for windows was making an increasing appearance in store fronts, artist studios, and schools like the one in which Joa worked.

The afternoon class went well enough. The merchant children might be richer than some of the sons of the nobility, but five hundred years of isolation reinforced the class distinctions. The merchant children knew their place in the order of things, saving their bragging for their own caste, and most of the noble children in his group were too well bred to show the others anything but a polite indifference. This made it easier for Joa to provide a calm learning environment, helped along by the authority derived from his being a member of House Loha. Even so, Joa felt the class had been somewhat shortchanged because he was distracted, and he knew it showed. Cleaning his brushes at the end of class, he was aware that the students were watching him from the corners of their eyes. Probably wondering what was wrong with him. 

And naturally, what was wrong with him was Acan. Even when the future Head of House Loha made himself scarce from Joa’s life, he remained a presence in it. Studies and classes kept Joa busy, but he often found himself thinking of the times at the Manor when he and Acan had spent nearly every waking hour together. They were both nearly at their majority, but surely it was not wrong to miss your closest –only – childhood friend? Once again, he wished he could contact Acan, but years ago Acan had asked him never to come to Court and Joa had no idea where to send a message.

As he wondered and fretted about Lord Omaya’s interest and Joa’s own inability to contact Acan, the ache pulsing in his temples bloomed into pain.

 

 Most of the students had gone and the afternoon had worn away. Another beautiful sunset would be approaching, though this time of year would not find many on the rooftops of the City to see it unless they were well-wrapped. The school’s geki were politely, though impatiently, waiting for the last of the students to leave so they could board up the precious glass windows of the school for the night, and Joa had finished reviewing the day’s work for discussion at the next class. He was checking his desk for the second time to be sure the ink tray was covered, the brushes aligned and that everything was as it should be, when he saw Acan at the window.

Acan’s face was full of that grin that in childhood Joa had often found arrogant and insufferable, talking and laughing with someone Joa did not recognize, while his hands made gestures in a code only he and Joa understood.

Joa caught Acan’s eye and made a very brief gesture of agreement, doing his best to keep his face as impassive as he could; he did not want to give any students or geki reason for more interest. When he looked up again, Acan was gone.

Joa took his leave of his Calligraphy Master and the school and after making sure his short, decorated coat was neat over his robes and that his hip scarf was tied properly, he went to meet Acan. Along the way, he considered increasing the distance of his evening walks, for surely his rapidly beating heart was a sign he needed more exercise.

 

  

Smiling Fish was the name of the eating establishment Acan had signaled. It was an old favorite that they had not met in for quite a while. Acan was in his regular place, a smallish back room with screens that opened onto a view of the lake walk, along which the evening lanterns had been lit.

“Joa! How was school today? Come sit beside me. Have a drink. Eat something.”

As usual, Acan sent a torrent of directions his way, ratcheting up Joa’s irritation, which was already inflamed by the two young women alternately offering Acan bites of food or rubbing up against him like pets and giggling.

It had been so long since he had seen Acan, but Joa just could not convince himself that there was the smallest chance of the conversation he wanted to have as long as those women from the nearby house of entertainment were in the room. It was disappointing. It was more than disappointing, but…

“I need to talk with you, Acan-piin, but it can’t be done in this place,”  Joa turned towards the doorway, his long, heavy braid thumping against his back as he changed direction.

“I want to talk with you, too. Sit down, sit down. There’s a bowl of Fire Berries, and there is  Rokk fish.”

Joa could not help but stop. When Fire Berries were handled by a skilled alchemical chef, they could tantalize all of the different taste sensations. For how long depended on how long you could keep from biting down on them. Once you did, they created a peppery explosion of flavor. And if you added a bit of Rokk fish before you bit down, it was as though fireworks had gone off. What’s more, you could actually see visions of them behind your eyelids. Fire Berries were Joa’s weakness, and Acan knew it.

One of the girls reached out a hand to Joa. “Oh, don’t be like that; come and sit with us and drink. We’ll put a smile on your face.”

Joa closed his eyes and bit his lips. He really wanted to talk with his childhood friend, but…

“Girls, go play with someone else for a while.”

“No! We haven’t seen you in ages! You never come to the shop anymore. We want to play!”

After a few minutes of argument in which Acan remained friendly but firm, the two young women got up, grumbling. They squeezed past Joa into the hall, giggling behind their hands as they rubbed against him and made exaggerated expressions of disappointment.

Acan patted the pillows next to him, but Joa was still annoyed. He sat down at the end of the table farthest away.

“They saw me come in; I didn’t invite them, Joa.” Acan made his own exaggerated expression of disappointment.

Joa almost laughed but turned it into a snort instead. “Young women seem to turn up wherever you are. I’m sure it must be some kind of curse.”

Acan grinned, patting the pillows once more. “I have limited time. Let’s talk.”

Joa’s sigh should have been audible to every other customer in the Smiling Fish, but he moved to sit down heavily next to Acan, who immediately put an arm around his shoulders.

“I haven’t seen you in nearly a month, kinsman. If anything, you appear to have gotten even more beautiful. I’ll bet the students at the school follow you with their eyes instead practicing their calligraphy.”

Joa shrugged off the arm, feeling the heat rise in his face, something that happened too often around Acan. “Flattery doesn’t work with me; you know that. And don’t call me ‘kinsman.’ It’s not appropriate.” He reached over to the dishes, looking for the Fire Berries.

Acan laughed; his long black hair, caught at the back of his head with a simple tie, spilled across his shoulders as they shook. “Truly, I’ve missed you and your proper ways. You’ve always taken your charge to guide me on the correct path so seriously.”

“Of course I took it seriously. It was a duty entrusted to me by both of our fathers, and it was by no means easily done.”

“Never mind the errors of my youth,” Acan chuckled, pouring Joa a cup of spirit wine from one of five or so small jars. “And it’s entirely appropriate to call you kinsman. Father’s Will made you part of our family.”

“Akaash-din was being kind because he knew I would be alone if something happened to my father. As it is, I’ve made my own way, so please disregard it.”

“No.” Acan’s expression was joyful, and therefore confusing.

“What are you saying? Don’t be an idiot.” Joa pulled the platter of grilled Rokk close and added some to a slice of thin, neutral tasting cracker, then spread a few Fire Berries on top.

“Have you seen my uncle lately?”

Joa’s eyebrows rose and he stopped short of biting into his cracker. Something in Acan’s expression was knowing.

“Did you see him come to the school?” Joa asked him.

Acan’s insufferable grin was back. “Just because you don’t see me does not mean I do not see you.”

Joa’s brown eyes widened. “Are you spying on me or him?”

“Say rather that I am looking out for you.” Acan drank some spirit wine and ate some fish. “What did Uncle want?”

“Tell me why you are watching me.”

“I will, but a little later. There are several things I want to tell you. For now, tell me what Uncle wanted.”

Joa told him about the conversation and that he thought Lord Omaya’s renewed interest was probably due to their birthdays, which would arrive within a week or so of each other, in about another half month. Their twentieth birthdays, which would make them adults in Yume.

Acan looked down and fingered his cup. “You’re not wrong. At this dinner he and Aunt will probably bring up the subject of marriage.”

“Marriage.” For some reason, the word made Joa’s heart speed up. He absently took a bite of the Berries and Rokk fish. “You are past the age where such matches would have started to be discussed, especially for the heir to a House,” he reasoned.

Acan’s voice seemed wry. “I doubt Uncle has had any inquiries from marriage makers for me – it would not be quite advantageous for any of the noble families to ally with mine at this time.”

Joa frowned. “That makes no sense at all. Your family is very old and respected. There have likely been many ups and downs over its long history. I believe it would be wise for a noble family to ally with your house now, especially if they have less rank and more material wealth. Your house is bound to rise again and take them with it.”

“You really mean that.”

Joa closed his eyes to see the fireworks then opened them again. “Of course.”

Without warning, Acan leaned forward to take Joa’s face in both hands. He looked at him for what seemed to Joa an unconscionable length of time, then leaned in and kissed him on the forehead.

“Reliable Joa,” Acan said.

Joa felt his face catch fire and for a moment he could hear his own heartbeat like a drum in his ears. “Idiot,” he whispered. Then he picked up a pillow and hit Acan in the face with it. “You idiot! Don’t make so free with other people’s foreheads!”

Acan tossed the pillow aside. It landed on top of something hidden under a scarf and there was a rattle as of something moving in a reed cage.

Joa sat up and straightened his coat and robes. “Honestly, Acan-piin. Why must you delight to break my temper?” He sighed again. He always seemed to lose his composure when in Acan’s company.  “Truly, I’m worried for you.”

Acan laughed. “I’m more worried for you.”

“What do you mean?”

Acan ran a hand over his brow. “Joa – I’m going away for a few days.”

Joa took a sip of his spirit wine. “You might have been gone for the last 20 for all that I’ve seen you.”

Joa did not know what he had expected, but a chuckle from Acan was certainly not it. “You count the days between seeing me?”

“Certainly not. It’s just that a – a commission was made on that day last and is due for delivery tomorrow.”

Acan sighed ostentatiously. “Well, I suppose I should be happy I’m remembered at all.”

“Where do you travel?”

Acan was silent long enough that Joa turned again to look at him. “Gateworld.” It was almost a whisper.

Joa knew his mouth was moving, but for some reason, nothing was coming out.

Acan laughed. “You look like a Rokk fish.”

“Why there?” Joa picked up a cracker and put it down again. “And don’t make me ask you Thirteen Questions. We’re not children anymore.”

“You’re right.” Acan took the spirit jar and poured the last drops into his cup. “We’re nearly twenty, and that’s why I’m going.”

Joa’s earlier headache was returning. “Why is everyone being so mysterious? Speak clearly, I’m begging you.”

“Why do you think you have seen so little of me?”

“Well, I told Lord Omaya that you were busy now that you lived at Court. Is that not right?”

Acan nodded. “After His Highness tired of bullying me, I took to running errands for many of the higher ranking nobles.  Over the last five years I believe I’ve made some gains in building some support before our majority. What do you think happens then?”

“His Highness confirms you as Head of House Loha, and you take the oath of fealty.”

“And then?”

Joa had to think a bit. The last time a young lord succeeded to Head of House had been a few years ago; the new Head of House had not been married and the Daitoh had betrothed him on the spot. A political marriage that benefitted His Highness. The Lords had almost all objected, but though the law giving the Daitoh the right to marry off his vassals had not been used in a couple of centuries, it still existed. Over the last few years, His Highness had used that right often.

Joa felt lightheaded. “His Highness wouldn’t…” He had to stop, unsure.

Acan took a long drink of spirit wine. “You’ve never been to Court, so you don’t know what it’s like. He could and he would – especially me. After all, it was my father’s Ether Ship that led the Market Lords to Yume, even though both our fathers were already dead from Pirates. Without that, the Daitoh would never have been forced to open Yume to trade.”

“It would have happened eventually.”

“Tell that to the Daitoh. I’ll bet he’s been burning lamp oil figuring out which Lady would make him the best political advantage while ruining my young life. Which is why I went to him first to make an offer.”

“What kind of offer?”

Acan opened another jar and poured some spirit wine into his cup. “As Daitoh of Yume, His Highness controls the Gateway, and no matter how the yearly Cooking Competition on the Market World turns out, that remains true. But since His Highness was induced to open Yume for trade again, he has used the Competition to show the other Lords and Merchants that Yume is not a fruit to be plucked and that it will not be easy to replace one Daitoh with another.”

Joa was shocked. “Could that happen?”

Acan lifted his brows. “In any case, the Daitoh has found a particularly good chef with a recipe that, when perfected, could keep the Market Lords at bay for quite a while.

“I don’t know the details, but it’s an offensive spell, something that can control behavior. And, according to His Highness’s Alchemical Chef, it doesn’t have to be eaten, but can be drunk, inhaled, or taken in through the skin.”

“Which would make it hard to guard against.”

“Yes, so it would give the other Lords something to think about. The one thing I do know for sure is that a main ingredient is Man-eater Truffle.”

Joa could not help but pale a little. From what he had heard, Man-eater Truffle was one of the most dangerous and hard to capture ingredients in all of the Yume Gateworld. “How did you find out all of this?”

To his surprise, Acan looked embarrassed. “While at Court, I’ve been spending time at the Alchemical Kitchen with the Competition Chef. From our conversations, I guessed some of the ingredients for proposed recipes. She really wanted to perfect this one, but worried that the Truffles would be impossible to come by. Then the gods provided me with the information I needed to put me in the position of being able to get them.” He gestured at the covered cage. After securing  this, all that was left was to approach the Daitoh.”

“The Chef in charge of the Competition is a woman.” For reasons he could not name, Joa found himself irritated.

“Yes. I managed to make her acquaintance on a market day and it seemed we had some things in common. It’s not been particularly easy being the woman His Highness promoted over several other cooks to make his Competition Chef, after all. As you might expect, she has few friends in the place, which is another thing we had in common. Kaiya and I have passed some pleasant hours with spirit wine and she’s let me taste a few of her proposed recipes – without the magical ingredients, of course – “

“Another friendly woman whose company was imposed upon you?”

Acan frowned. “Not at all…” His eyes widened as Joa’s narrowed. “That – that is, there was some mutual benefit to our conversations…”

“Conversations! Who do you think you are talking to –“

“Wait, now. I did not take advantage, or at least if I did,  then she was taking advantage, too. It’s not as though she didn’t enjoy our private meetings, but it was all necessary to —“

“And I expect you helped that along with a few little gifts here and there. You really are the worst, bribing the Chef with trinkets and your body like a, a –“

“My body? Who said anything about — and why are you so angry on her behalf? I told you I wasn’t taking advantage, even if she was trying to… Anyway, it was necessary! Can’t you see it through my eyes?”

“No! Because it would make me ill.”

“Is that so? Do you think I am so low that I could… Wait. Joa — are you sure this is about her and not about you?”

“How would it be about me? You’re the one who shouldn’t have done it, much less enjoyed it. You are the worst – “

Suddenly, Acan put his hand over Joa’s mouth. Joa pulled at it, then stopped as he caught the tension in Acan, who was tilting his head, listening.

Joa listened as well and heard loud voices coming closer and what sounded like furniture and pottery being thrown and broken. Some of the voices got louder and he could hear the word “foreigners” being repeated.

Acan’s hand slid down to Joa’s and grasped it firmly. The other hand grabbed a jar of spirit wine and shoved it into his hip scarf, then grabbed the handle of the covered cage. Joa was pulled into the night through the lake view doors and made to run as fast as his robes would let him.

He came abreast of Acan, who released his hand.

“Who was that and where are we going, Acan?”

“You’re going home, Joa. At the next intersection, take the right-way path. If it’s who I think it is, they don’t know you, so they won’t bother with you even if you meet them.”

“You’re in trouble. Tell me what is happening.”

Acan paused a moment, drawing Joa into the deep shadows of a wall. Joa could not see his expression clearly, but he had the impression that it was pained.

“Joa, there’s so much more I want to – I need – to tell you, but it looks like it’s all going to have to wait. I promise I will explain when I come back. Until then, you are just going to have to trust that I’m doing the best thing I can for both of us.”

“For both of us? Acan, what do you mean?”

“Not now, Joa. There’s no time.” Acan glanced around. “We’re at Lantern Street. If you take Net, you should be home in no time. Go home, Joa. For my sake, please go home and be safe.” Before Joa could reply, his friend was gone, running.

Joa stood there, listening to the sound of Acan’s sandals on the narrow cobbled street, fading away. A sudden fear closed his throat and made it hard to breathe. He was still standing there, trying to decide what to do, when four men, their features indistinguishable in the lantern light, passed him. They ran down Net street, but soon came back, circling like hunting dogs. Then one put a hand up and ran it through his hair, spinning about. Another stopped him and gestured towards the street Acan had taken, saying something in a foreign language.

They ran down Lantern Street into the dark.

And Joa followed.

 

 

The Gate was really a pair of doors set in a rocky hillside. They were tall and wide, with a smaller door set inside of each. From having read history, Joa knew the Gate had been made completely of sword steel and covered by a fortune in gold leaf painted with pictures and designs. It stood at the top of a flight of wide, shallow stairs made of wood and stone flanked by long ramps used for transporting heavy goods on those rare occasions when wagon loads were received or sent. It was guarded at all times and no one could use it without the Daitoh’s permission.

When he arrived, Joa could see Acan standing in front of one of the small doors, surrounded by a dozen of the Daitoh’s guards whose short spears were pointed away from him. At his side was a tall, thin man in luxurious robes who was smiling grimly at the four men held off by the guards. Near to that man stood a palanquin and its carriers.

In the light given off by lanterns brighter than any Joa had seen before, he realized the men pursuing Acan were probably from the Foreigner’s Village.  They wore heavy shoes instead of sandals, and were dressed in a way he was not familiar with. Their hair was cut very short and without combs, pins, or ties. They were speaking in heavy accents to the man next to Acan.

“This man is a thief.” Their spokesman pointed at Acan. “He has something of ours and we want it back.”

A soldier with a decorated helmet drew his sword. Obviously the guard captain. “You will not take that tone when addressing Lord Yual. And you will not speak before the Daitoh’s Gatekeeper gives you permission.”

The men, Joa saw, were taken aback. Five of them seemed to catch hold of themselves and attempt to be calm. The fourth, though – Joa could feel anger in the very set of his body. He stilled, but it was the stillness of an animal before it leaps.

Joa walked a little more forward, not thinking of anything beyond getting to Acan and Lord Yual saw him.

“Who is that?” he asked, shading his eyes against the bright light, which Joa now guessed must have been imported from the Market World.

Before he could bow and introduce himself, he heard Acan say his name and something else in a low voice and the tone puzzled him. It sounded both worried and angry.

Lord Yual glanced at Acan and his smile widened. A long-nailed hand gestured to Joa. “Ah. Join us, please.”

Joa bowed low, then came up the stairs, edging far from where the foreigners were standing. He bowed again when he reached Acan and Lord Yual, who looked at him with interest.

Acan spoke first. “My kinsman has nothing to do with this, Lord Yual. He happened to be dining with me when we were set upon by these men. I would appreciate it were he to be allowed to return home.”

Lord Yual’s arched brows lifted and he continued to stare at Joa. Then he laughed. “Please excuse my rudeness, but you have a face worth looking at.” His gaze moved to Acan as though seeking a reaction to his remark. “I have known Lord Acan for years, and I believe this is the first time you and I have met. You are?”

Joa fought not to show his confusion and was not sure he succeeded. “I am Joa of House Loha, Lord Yual. I’ve never been to Court. Although Lord Acan and I grew up together, I am but the son of a retainer.”

“Yet he said that you are a kinsman.” Lord Yual waved a hand. “Never mind for now, I have this matter I must attend to. I am sure we will have time for a longer talk another time. Perhaps over tea. For now, I hope you will please wait patiently. Once this matter is concluded, I will be glad to send you home.”

“Acan? Who is Acan?” The spokesman for the foreigners looked confused. The guard captain made to use his sword, but was stopped by the Gatekeeper.

Lord Yual indicated Acan with a sweep his hand in which he held a key attached to a long, silk cord around his neck. “This person is Acan, soon to be Head of House Loha. Who did you think he was?”

The foreigners looked at one another, except for the fourth man. Joa saw that he kept his eyes on Acan and that his face was still dark with anger.

The spokesman rubbed his short hair all over and sighed. “He told us his name was Sechi and he promised to help us meet merchants we could sell our goods to. Then he seduced my niece and stole one of our prized goods.”

Joa stiffened and edged closer to Acan protectively, though he could not resist glaring at him. Acan did not notice; he was gritting his teeth and scowling at the foreigners. Without a word, he handed the covered cage to Joa and put his hand on his sword.

That grim smile was once again on Lord Yual’s face. “Acan-piin?”

“The item they want was a friendship gift from this man’s niece. He maligns her by implying that her actions were in any way immodest. He should be defending her honor, not impugning it, himself.”

The fourth man spoke up, “That is lying! This man lies!” He struggled with the language of Yume to make his meaning clear. “If his intent to friendship, why did he fly falsely colors?”

Lord Yual flicked his eyes at the guard captain. “If this one speaks again without having been spoken to, cut out his tongue.”

The man silenced, though his attitude remained defiant.

“Fly false… ah, I see.” Lord Yual tapped the key on one long nail. “You are probably unaware that it is not unusual for a lord of Yume to travel incognito. Especially when dealing with foreigners who might misunderstand because they lack experience with our nobility. No doubt, Lord Acan was protecting you from just such a misunderstanding. As your presence here indicates, such things can happen so easily. He says the item was a friendship gift, while you say it was stolen. This is a strong misunderstanding which would normally have to be brought before the Daitoh’s Chamberlain.”

Acan glanced at Lord Yual, then returned his attention to the foreigners.

“But I am charged by the Daitoh to see that Lord Acan undertakes an errand in the Gateworld this very evening, so this misunderstanding may have to be resolved at a later time.” A pleasant smile remained on Lord Yual’s face, although Joa felt sure the Daitoh’s Gatekeeper disliked the foreigners.

The spokesman rubbed his head again. “But –“ he looked at Lord Yual, who indicated he should continue to speak. “But if he takes our property into the Gateworld, we may never see it again.”

“Hmmm. I assume you reference the fact that Lord Acan might lose the item in the Gateworld, not that he would purposely avoid returning it for judgment, which would be improper, na?”

 The spokesman blinked and then nodded slowly.

Lord Yual turned to Acan. “Would I be correct in assuming that the item is something you need for the success of your errand?”

Acan bowed. “It is essential, I believe, Lord Yual.” His voice seemed tight and his posture wary.

“Ah. That settles it, then. If Lord Acan requires it for his errand, then the Daitoh requires it.” Lord Yual moved past Acan and Joa to insert the key into the lock on the small door and push the unlocked door ajar. “You have permission to leave, Acan-piin, though it is somewhat earlier than the hour we agreed upon, and you seem to have rather less baggage than I expected.” He gestured pointedly at the covered cage. “Perhaps you are not ready to go? His Highness’s instruction to me was that you must go by the Water Hour, but there is still some time left until then.”

Joa thought Acan looked a bit surprised and perhaps discomfited by Lord Yual’s remarks. His mouth opened as though he would say something, but he never had the opportunity.

“Damn you!” The fourth foreigner had pushed his fellows aside and cleared a small opening. “Damn you, whatever your name is! You perfumed fop! You think you can seduce my Sira and then just leave her after getting what you wanted?”

Joa did not understand a word of what the foreigner was yelling, but he could clearly see the glint of light on a throwing knife. Without thinking, he pushed Acan behind Lord Yual and through the open door. There was a hiss of air near his ear and he heard Acan cry out. Then the two of them were tumbling over the threshold and Joa was rolling back to slam the door shut on the blades and confusion.

After a minute or so, Joa sat up slowly and found himself looking down the pathway into the Gateworld. As far as he could see, it was mostly grey. The air seemed very heavy and wet and there were strange reflections that looked like the nita, the band of colors sometimes seen in the sky after rain. The tiny nita appeared and disappeared as the misty air moved. Except for the cobblestone road he sat on, there was very little else to be seen.

His back felt slightly bruised, probably by hitting the heavy door, but that seemed to be all. He stood, steadying himself on the wooden door and realized he could feel no vibration or hear any sound of the struggle that must be happening. There did not seem to be any handle or keyhole on this side, either.

“Acan, how do we open the door?”

When there was no answer, he turned and saw Acan lying nearby. His eyes were closed and there was blood, a lot of blood, creating a pool under one shoulder.

 

To be continued…

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