She leaned against the hallow wood of the abandoned building, listening to the pulsing of her own heart it gave her some consolation to know the pulse of her blood was not in time with the strange rhythm that dominated the land. She pulled off her pack and dug inside until her fingers brushed against the weathered cover of a leather-bound journal.
She pulled out the journal and flipped through the yellowed pages careful not to tear them. She’d gone through this journal many times over the last few days, she already knew by heart the images and words her father had scribbled into the journal in his youth but she constantly felt herself drawn to this one sketch in particular. It was the face of an elderly man, at the time he was somewhere in his sixties. His hairline was reseeding but his hair was thick. His face was tough, accented with a strong square jaw line and chin. But his eyes were kind. And the way her father wrote about him gave Kat comfort to know there might be someone in Devil's Helmet she could trust. She didn't fell so alone so terribly afraid. Scrawled under the drawing was the caption'The Mapmaker of Fritter Alley'. Kat wasn't sure where or what Fritter Alley was or how she was to get there but she was determined to find this man.
Kat closed the book and tucked it away. She looked out on the street beyond, it was still bustling with that strange urgency. She sighed leaning back against the wall reluctant to leave. However, soon her solace was invaded by the sound of footsteps; soft at first but growing into a menacing scraping noise.
Scrape, pat, Scrape pat.
Kat peered anxiously into the dark of the alley as the ominous scraping sound grew closer. Her hand slid down her hip and came to rest on her dagger. She lifted the dagger from its sheath as the scraping grew louder. She took a step back bracing herself.
A hideous form emerged from the shadows. As it limped closer to Kat she could make out the form of a man. He resembled more a rotting tree in a cursed forest of a forsaken land than a human. His thick upper body was thick and twisted by a hunch that raised his back unnaturally. His gnarled hands were cracked and covered in calluses, holding onto the tattered canvas of a stained stack he carried over his shoulder. His legs were bowed and one hung limp at his side and dragged when he walked. His face was disfigured with thick scares faded with age, half hidden by dirty locks of lanky hair.
Kat stared at him wide-eyed. Too scared to move.
The man glared at her with his sinister eyes. They were a muddy green so light they appeared to be gray.
"What are you doing back here?" The man snarled taking a menacing step forward. His voice was hoarse like a rasping old dog.
Kat jumped back, shaking herself from her daze. She raised her dagger.
"I might ask you the same thing."
"I own this building." The man said unshaken by Kat's dagger he took another step forward. "Now you."
"I was leaving." Kat said taking another step back.
The man looked her over curiously, examining every inch of her. She didn't retreat but met his gaze defiantly.
"You're not from not from around here are you?" He asked.
Kat froze. Fear gripped her spine. Was it so easy to detect she wondered. But she was determined to not let her fear show or let panic get the best of her so she calmly replied.
The man shrugged, shifting his leaking sack from one shoulder to another.
"Well, you don't strike me as a city girl, you're dressed too masculine. And the way you hold that dagger is mechanical, trained even. You must be from the Crawlers. I'd say a general's daughter but then you'd know better than to wave a dagger around unless you meant to use it. Your one of the gutter rats ain’t you?"
Kat did well to hide her relief as she put away her dagger.
"I’m no gutter rat.” She said backing out of the alley.
The man followed her, still watching her.
"Where exactly is it that you're from then?" He asked. "I've never heard that accent before."
Kat pondered her response carefully.
"Fritter's alley...Have you heard of it?" She said.
The man laughed.
"You mean the armpit? Yeah I've heard of it, your far away from home little Crawler."
" I'm trying to get back." Kat said. “Can you point me in the right direction?”
"Well why didn't you just say so?” The man barked, the tone of his voice lightening.
Kat was surprised by the sudden change in mannerisms but remained quiet and let the man do all the talking.
“Next time wait at the front door you idiot." The man said climbing the steps to the building Kat had thought to be abandoned.