Broken Wheel Inn
The strong mead burned his throat as he took a long drink from the bottle he had bought from the innkeeper, a middle-aged man who was more drunk than the few customers still remaining around the worn tables.
The small room he had rented for the night served its purpose perfectly. Drevin mourned. Tears burned in his eyes as he took another long drink, hoping that eventually the pain would ease, knowing, however, that his ghosts were too many and persistent to ever truly disappear. But the foggy, drunken blanket the mead wrapped around his mind offered sweet oblivion for one night. Gerrick and Merwyn - the only people who had truly cared for him in this town, kind souls who paid the highest price for his dreams that were doomed to begin with. Belith, his one and only love, a gentle soul who had followed him north, loved him unconditionally, and believed all the lies about illusion that Purple Lotus would forget. He should have known better. The Purple Lotus would never forget - not before reckoning - the Hooded One would make sure of that.
A lonely candle burned on the nightstand, creating a dim, warm sphere around itself, but leaving most of the room clad in shadows. With a long, comfortless sigh, Drevin took another long swig from the bottle and swallowed the bitter fluid with a quiet groan. Most inns sold mead and beer to the customers to take with them, but some remote and forgotten places, like this one, also sold a type of enhanced mead that was purposely left in the casks for additional time. The maker usually added some yeast and sugar to give it a small boost, which resulted in much higher alcohol concentration. This drink was very popular among people who wished to become completely wasted without consuming excessive amounts. That night Drevin was one of them.
The old memories haunted him. They came like a storm in the seas, unwanted, uninvited, and there was nothing really he could do to avoid them. Failures that seemed to follow each other in a long line of mistakes and bad decisions. Drevin wanted to pass out as soon as possible, so he took another swig and closed his eyes for a moment. But every time he did that, he saw Belith's face before him. Her kind eyes watching at him without regrets, without allegations. Then the view changed, and he saw her tortured and rent body still tied to the wooden chair, mocking him for his inability to defend her.
If she could have foreseen her own fate beforehand, would have she still followed him to the North? Would have it been better if he had rejected her love in Tarakhan, left her behind without painful explanations or goodbyes while feeling the scorching love in his heart that wiped all rational thoughts from his mind, replaced by the warm smile and the sparkling eyes? No, there was absolutely nothing that could have broken the string that tied those two souls together at the time. He was, without even realizing it, forced to do everything he could to take Belith with him - and he did - with the most dire consequences.
Another deep, regretful sigh, another rolling tear that would dry before long, but nothing could remove the agonizing pain inside. And as the large bottle of mead was getting empty, an idea sparked in his foggy mind. Something he had thought of seriously only once before, while fighting for his life in the cave, but this time he had no slow no painful death in sight. Pulling out one of his fine poignards, admiring the sharp blade that shimmered softly in the candlelight, Drevin considered of using it. With one clean cut, he could take down the most dreadful enemy of them all and end the pain for good. But no matter how much he despised himself, hated himself or wallowed in shame for what he had done in the past, the hunger for revenge was too strong to allow the luxury of preliminary sleep. Unable to kill himself before he had killed everyone involved in his misery, he glanced at the bottle once more. Morhan would not be the last one. This madness would not stop before the source of it was removed. The Hooded One should die before Drevin could rest in peace, but the mere absurdness of such thought brought sceptical grin upon his face. Still, it was a goal he would have to pursue in order to honor the lives of his passed friends - a desperate crusade to the land that had once been his home.
After a last long drink that emptied the entire bottle, Drevin lay down and closed his eyes tightly. The distant noise behind the door was somehow comforting and calming. The drunken customers yelling, laughing and fighting. The bartender serving, telling tales with his rough, burned voice. The howling wind in the corners, vague crackle of the ramshackle house. All those sounds formed a messy symphony that helped to muffle the somber memories and fade the agony in his heart enough for him to finally fall asleep. It was restless and disjointed, filled with nightmares, but it was sleep nonetheless.
* * *
The silence of the morning woke him up rudely as the last fumes of the mead still lingered in his head. The dry mouth and the pounding headache promised a vexing morning at best. However, after a heavy breakfast and a large glass of ice cold water, Drevin began to feel like he might just live through this experience after all.
”Can I bring you anything else?” A cheerful, small lady asked as she poured him more water.
”No thanks,” Drevin answered politely. ”The food was very good,” he added as an afterthought.
”You're very kind,” the lady said, smiling. Then she glanced around in the empty room and winked at Drevin. ”The innkeeper will be sleeping for hours still. I could give you something else besides food that has been said being also very good,” she half-whispered to him and giggled lightly as she leaned over the table, showing her large breasts that bulged and almost jumped out of her dress. She was not ugly, although the years of hard work had left their marks on her body. A bored wife of an innkeeper wishing for a small adventure. Her long, dark hair was braided; her warm, light blue eyes glowed with barely hidden lust as she looked for the signs of agreement from Drevin's solemn face. Before meeting Belith, he would have taken her without second thoughts. She was still beautiful, and her glittering, lustful eyes revealed that she was ready for a rough ride if that was what he wanted. But now, in this new situation, Drevin could not imagine himself fooling around with a strange woman, no matter how promising or willing she seemed. He had so many other more important things on his mind that he doubted if he could do it even if he wanted to.
”Thank you very much, but I can't,” he said, showing the dim silvery ring on his finger, forcing a certain kind of smile on his face.
The lady returned the smile without showing her disappointment. A new kind of respect shone in her eyes, for she had rarely seen a man so dedicated to his woman. She sailed away with the dirty dishes, grotch moist from the unsatisfied need, but in her mind she applauded for this man. It was great to see that a world this dark and cold still had people with precious values and principles they held on to.
Before leaving, Drevin bought enough food and water to last for a couple of days. It was time to enter the sewers again, wait for Morhan to return from his mountain hike and confront him finally. The hunter was about to become hunted; the day of retribution was close at hand.
The weather outside had cleared after the stormy night, but at the same time it had gotten much colder. The streets seemed dead and still as Drevin sneaked through the city toward east where the shadowy silhouette of Castle Grivold stood in the dim light of forenoon. He knew he would find the sewer entrance on the side of the hill behind the castle, but it would be harder to reach now that snow had covered the hills and valleys of western Grisdale.
Without wasting any time, Drevin stepped off the road and began to wade through the crust of snow as soon as he reached the wilds. A clearly uninterested guard had barely glanced at him as he passed the eastern gate, once again feeling too comfortable to come out of the small booth they had by the gate, similar to the ones that guarded all the gates of Lokhan. Drevin looked like any other hunter going out, which did not exactly call for a closer inspection.
The forest was dead and silent. If there was not much food for the animals during the summer, winters challenged their survival skills beyond everything. Harsh conditions drove them deeper into the woods, searching for the last remnants of nutrients the wintry forest had to offer.
The journey was relatively fast as he did not have to look for the entrance this time, and most uneventful, which at this point was a remarkable favor for Drevin, who did not want to spend more energy than what was absolutely necessary.
He found the sewer entrance, as well as the entire interior, completely deserted. Apparently the Grey Cloak brigands had disbanded, or at least badly scattered, after the sudden death of Terrigan Argos. Lacking leadership, and thus a leash they were all tied to, they retreated back to the safety of their homes and lives of dull nobility, and most likely they all remembered to thank the Immortals for this blessing in their prayers. Men like Elmor Emberling could never persuade these people back to such insane hobbies as he had tricked them once to do.