The mail coach was very definitely a mail coach. Within minutes of it setting off Danny had been covered by a papery avalanche, and was still working his way to the surface.
"At least we don't have to walk," Sarski told him, pushing letters aside. "We'd be covered in mud with this rain."
Danny spat out a stamp, heaping some letters next to him. "I suppose you're right. And it is a bit far to walk by nightfall."
There was a muted exclamation from the front of the coach. "Nightfall?" the driver called back. "If you're wanting to be there by nightfall, you'll be disappointed. We'll be there sometime tomorrow morning."
Sarski groaned loudly; clearly spending the night in a bumpy mail coach was not part of her life plan. The driver sighed, adding: "We'll pass a road to a wall town, Dayton it's called. I can drop you off there if you'd prefer."
The dancer perked up at once. "Thank you!"
"Anything to stop your fine friend crushing my letters," muttered the man. Danny looked sheepish.
"Look! The rain's stopped, too!" Temporarily forgetting the mud, Sarski twirled on the spot, laughing.
"Thank you for the ride, I'm sorry about the letters," Danny said to the driver apologetically. "I hope I didn't damage anything."
The man shrugged, clearly wanting to be on his way. "Don't worry about it. Have a nice day." He flicked the reins, prompting the horses to trot off.
Sarski started up the road, humming, as the coach rumbled off into the distance. Stretching luxuriously as he looked around, Danny blinked.
"Look at that smoke - do you think they're having some sort of festival? A bonfire festival maybe?"
"Ooh, that would be fun, my costume will match as well," laughed the dancing girl, pirouetting again. "Maybe we'll get more money?"
"Is that all you think about?"
"Maybe... it's important, isn't it?"
The walls of the town soon came into view, and in no time they were walking through the gates, which were huge, wooden and slightly ajar.
It was at this point that the day made a turn for the worse.
"So much for a festival."
Danny's tone of horrified awe echoed flatly over the wasteland which was all that was left of the town. Everything was burnt, the charred ruins of buildings reaching imploringly up to the grey sky.
"What should we do?!" Sarski wrung her hands, shifting from one foot to the other. "What if someone comes? They might think we did it!"
"Come on." Danny caught her hand, tugging her forward. "There may be survivors."
As positive as his outlook was, there seemed to be little hope. The ground was still hot, and Sarski walked gingerly, trying to hope from one safe place to another. Everything seemed gone, turned to a white ash which puffed up as they moved and settled on their clothing and hair.
"I don't think we're going to find anything, Danny, please, let's go. This is horrible," Sarski pleaded, clinging to what was left of a doorpost. Her hands came away from it black with soot, and she wiped them on her skirt, uncaring of the marks it left.
"Imagine what it was like for the people who burnt," the musician said grimly.
There was a crash, and both of them whirled around to face whatever had made it. A cloud of ash had risen, presumably from where something had fallen, and as it cleared they made out the shape of someone walking towards them.
A girl of about five. She wore a pink dress with a blue belt, the hem dirty and slightly frayed. Her feet were bare and filthy, and a floppy and battered teddy-bear was tied onto her back with a grubby length of string.
"Hello!" she greeted them cheerfully, waving with one hand and using the other to make the bear mimic her action with one threadbare paw.
Danny went down on one knee in the ashes, smiling at her. "Hello," he greeted her gently. "Did you live here? Are you alright?"
She shook her head to the first question, nodded to the second. "I was just going past here and I saw all this so I came to look. I think my mummy and daddy lived here."
Danny's shoulders drooped a little, and he dipped his head briefly. "Didn't you live with your mummy and daddy?"
"No, I live with my uncle in a big city. You go along there." The girl pointed tp the road leading out of the town. "I came in a coach - all by myself! And now they're not here." She frowned and grabbed Danny's hands, tugging them. "Where are they? Do you know where they would have went? Because they're not here any more, I looked and my house is gone..."
"I - I don't know. I'm sorry."
The little girl frowned and shook her head. Her hair was a dark inky black and swung around her face as she did so. "I wish I knew where they were. They should have sent a message to me." She pouted and planted her fists on her hips. There was something absurdly comical about her, a child standing obliviously in the midst of ruin with her teddy on her back, and Danny broke into a watery smile.
"Tell you what," he said to her. "We'll help you find your mommy and daddy, alright?"
She beamed. "Really? Thank you!" She flung herself at him and hugged him hard.
"What's your name?" he asked softly, hugging her back gently.
"And who's this?" He indicated the teddy. She swiftly and expertly untied the knot at her stomach and pulled it off her back.
"This is Balthazar," she told Danny, holding the bear out to him. "He's older than me! And he's very clever. He says you're nice."
"Why thank you, Balthazar." Danny shook the bear's paw solemnly. "You and your friend are very nice too."
Eloro giggled, and swung the bear back over her shoulder.
"Why were you coming to see your parents?" asked Sarski, casting the musician a warning look. "That's Danny by the way, since he's forgotten to tell you. I'm Sarski."
"My uncle's company was-" the little girl seemed to concentrate "-li-qui-dated. It means he doesn't have enough money to look after me any more, so I have to come here."
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" Sarski asked Danny sweetly.
Once they were a safe distance away she rounded on him, hissing, "Do you know what you've just done?"
"You've told some strange little girl that you're going to find her dead parents for her. Now what are you going to do?"
He shrugged. "I don't know, go to the Enforcers, find her uncle and ask him to take her in again-"
"Her uncle won't want to know, Danny! He was sending her back." Sarski sighed. "I wonder why her parents scraped her off on him in the first place?"
"Poor thing... nobody wants her." Sensing that he was onto a winning thread when Sarski didn't answer, he added, "Just look at her... come on, we can at least look after her until we find a relative or someone."
She snorted. "Fine. But you'll be breaking your promise. You do make stupid promises."
"I hope it won't rain again," Eloro said gravely when they returned. "I don't like the rain. It makes Balthazar all squishy."
"We should go somewhere else," Danny said, nodding. "Even if we have to sleep by the side of the road, it's better than... well." He motioned around them at the mess.
Sarski groaned. "Not that again..."
"No choice, I'm afraid," the musician said, setting off. "Do you want me to carry you, Eloro?"