His footsteps were as stealthy as always, yet the audible CRUNCH of the quartz under his boots echoed off the stone facades of the surrounding buildings and made him wince at each step. His eyes moved around at a furious pace, as there were many places he calculated would be ideal for an ambush. Yet his inner sense felt nothing; there was not even the slightest twinge indicating life of any kind within the town limits.
His adrenaline ebbed just enough to allow to him to gauge the architecture of the buildings along what he assumed was Main Street. They were different than Darrus would have expected: short but heavy, solid. Permanent. This particular township had been here for a while, and by no means looked ready to leave.
Yet the streets were empty, Darrus was sure of it. He relaxed his grip on his sword handle but kept his fingers nearby, just in case. He paused and looked around for the biggest, most ornate building he could find. Dreadsmire might not have been the biggest township in the land, but even the smaller villages had a Town Hall of some kind, a place to gather to accommodate town politics, and those buildings were generally the most impressive of all the structures. Unfortunately, the buildings of Dreadsmire resembled bunkers -- heavy, squat, and easily fortified. If Darrus didn't know better, he might think he was walking in the midst of a border town which was currently engaged in some sort of conflict with its neighbors.
There was a thought. What if the townspeople were all huddled in some underground shelter somewhere, away from onslaught or bombardment? If so, then why? What had happened to cause the entire population to head for the hills? Darrus cocked an ear to the sky but heard only the quiet hiss of windblown leaves above him. There was something else, too, something out of place. His mind couldn't quite grasp it, but something fluttered around the edge of perception. He grimaced and made his way farther along the street.
After a bit he spied a dark, two-story lump of stone situated across from what Darrus supposed was the town square. It was built with care, with crisp lines and a solid roof, but like everything else in this godforsaken town it was dowdy and ugly. It did, however, have a bedraggled and leaning sign out front which proclaimed, in bold script, TOWN HALL.
The clouds were swirling and darkening over Darrus' head, and the stiffening breeze plucked at the hair escaping from beneath his helmet. It would be in his interests to find shelter during the imminent storm, and the Town Hall would no doubt be superb for that kind of endeavor.
There were three stone steps leading up to the entrance, and as Darrus strode to the top step, he wondered where the hell everyone had gone. He stood there for a moment, thinking, but a dark thunderhead rolling in over the hills to the west broke his hesitation and he instead reached for the door handle. A stray thought ambled through his consciousness, Those black clouds are going to force the birds to take cover and hold on, lest they get blown away.
And then that needling thought which had been just beyond his grasp became clear. The thing which seemed so out of place in this town was its utter silence. Not a bird's chirp to be heard nor the sound of a rabbit in the underbrush. Nothing.
At was as if the town didn't exist at all.