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Coming closer, however, the village didn’t seem welcoming any more.
Sure, there were the usual small houses painted in friendly colours
and smoke rose from the chimneys, giving testimony of big blazing
fires inside. And yet it had more the feel of a cemetery than a place
for the living. In fact even at midnight and with some ghouls around
you’d hardly manage to get such an atmosphere; it was as if all the
life had been drained from the place. Now and then a curtain moved,
and Laiva was pretty sure she’d even seen a shadow flitting past one
of the windows, but that rather added to it than anything else. One of
the houses, halfway across the village, had an even more ghostly
quality to it, if that was even possible. Even Mynor seemed to be
uneasy about it; he looked at the building, penetrating the walls with
his stare, as if it was, well, something she couldn’t quite grasp. And
afterwards he wore an expression that, to Laiva, appeared worried. She
had never seen him like that before. However, when they finally
arrived at the inn, the situation didn’t improve; the door was not
only locked, but her knocking stayed unanswered as well. A boulder
couldn’t have done a better job and it indeed looked as solid as a
rock. Why would they lock it during day anyway? It made no sense, for
an inn even less so, but with all the villagers hiding in their houses
that was hardly a surprise. Nothing could have kept her inside on such
a day. Following an impulse she went to one of the other houses, only
to see that, here too, her knocking didn’t provoke any reaction; Laiva
hadn’t really expected otherwise. She went back and, once more knocked
at the inn’s door. No reaction. Laiva cleared her throat and, trying
to make her voice as firm as possible, demanded entrance. Nothing
happened. She stepped back and looked at the inn. If she had known
how, she wouldn’t have hesitated to force her way in, if only to show
them she could; but she couldn’t. The heavy door could obviously take
much more senseless force than she would ever have and with metal bars
in front of the windows she’d never manage to get in there; the only
other way in was the chimney, but if they built them the same way as
back home, there would be a heavy grate in there and getting in that
way was never a good idea anyway. By the looks of it she’d have to
stay another night in the woods; so much for a hot bath. If
civilization didn’t want her, well, she could do without.
‘And then the horse says “You too?”‘
Roaring laughter from the students. He was the most popular of
the teachers, making even a subject like ‘Advanced theoretical
history’ fun. Kind of.
‘Well, the point is that he forgot that it’s about people.
Everything is about people in a way, except maths, of course, which is
about someone else getting it done for you.’
More laughter; he taught maths as well.
A pigeon entered through the window and made him stop in
mid-sentence; not because of the pigeon, you only had to wait a few
minutes for them to sail through a random open window around here. No,
it was the fact that the window had opened itself to allow exactly
this to happen. The pigeon alighted on the teacher’s desk.
‘Seems like I’ve got mail… by the look of it someone’s found
a new way to send me those unnerving memos…’
Laughter. He was notorious for his strategies of dealing with
the flood of memos the teachers hated so much that they answered them
with at least five new ones; usually by linking his mail slot with the
great hall’s fireplace, but there had been quite a few more
spectacular events. However, it didn’t seem to be one of those.
Reading the note his expression changed from curiosity to worry and
without a word he rushed out of the room, slamming the door shut
behind him. A bit later the door opened again.
‘I’m off for at least a week. Someone tell the headmaster,
Slam. And that was that.
This night Laiva couldn’t sleep. It had nothing to do with the cold,
she just couldn’t couldn’t get the village out of her mind. She was
angry, naturally, and bitter, but that wasn’t it. It had just been
wrong; everything had been plain wrong. Villages were supposed to be
full of life, friendly places a stranger is always welcome in, or at
least a stranger gets the impression that she’s welcome. She took the
small vial out of her pocket and rolled it from one hand to the other.
It couldn’t be that, could it? The animals of the forest hadn’t seemed
to care. Still, it had to be fear, that was the only explanation.
Who’d be afraid of a girl?
The air started to blur and ripples formed, like those on a lake you
had just thrown a stone into, but water didn’t tend to sit vertically
in midair and rarely had such a ghostly glow to it either. Elias
hesitated a moment, but then took a deep breath and stepped though the
portal. It felt as unpleasant as ever with the added sensation of wet
feet. Quite odd. Normally he’d rather have taken the coach, and if the
leaders of the order knew he’d probably have a lot to explain, but who
cared? There were things you just had to do and this was one of them.
He turned around, just in time to see this side of the portal fade and
eventually vanish; for a long time he stared at the spot it had been,
before realizing why his feet felt so strangely wet. Maybe, just maybe
he should have been a bit more careful about the portal coordinates;
it wasn’t like he was in the wrong place, but there were times when a
few metres did make a difference. Well, it could probably have been
worse. Slowly he waded to the river bank. He hated the portals.
Laiva finally decided that she wasn’t getting any sleep this night,
whatever she did. There was but one thing to do; admittedly the
probably most stupid one, but that was something she’d have to live
with. Hopefully. Laiva got up and prepared to pay the village another
With dried boots Elias sneaked towards the village. He had put on a
snow white cloak, letting him blend in with the snow covered ground;
even the most observative watcher would have had problems seeing him.
Then, suddenly he heart a low, muted sound. He didn’t like it, not at
There was a second. A third. And another one. And yet another one. On
and on it went. Laiva didn’t know what it was, but it made her shiver.
It almost was as if the hill lands were calling for her. A call she
rather felt than heard, both a call and a warning in one.
Without making a sound Elias slid into the shadow of a house. Slowly,
step by step he approached the edge of the building, closer he came
and even closer until hardly an arm’s length separated him from the
crowd and, finally, he could see the village square. Damn, why did
things always have to get more complicated than he already feared?
At the same time Laiva was approaching the other end of the village.
She carefully avoided any noise, although nobody would have heard
anything anyway as the beating sound still filled the air. It had
grown louder and louder the closer she came to the village and Laiva
eventually recognized it as the sound of heavy drums. She hadn’t been
able to tell at first because of the muting and the echos, but now it
was obvious. However, this knowledge didn’t comfort her at all. The
villagers making such a noise couldn’t be a good sign. Laiva crouched
down and started crawling up the small mound in front of her; the
village had to be right behind it. When she finally reached the top of
the hump she was in for a surprise; you’d have expected the villagers
to hide in their houses now more than ever, but obviously some kind of
celebration or ceremony was going on. There didn’t even seem to be any
guards; how could they be so careless? Or didn’t they have to care,
because they were the ones to be careful about, like werewolves or
vampires? That’d surely explain a lot. Perhaps she should leave now
and let the villagers be whatever they were.