The town of Gremell's Reach was not an impressive one, and as their wagon rolled along the beaten path that led towards the town square, Kieran frowned, looking around. The houses were made of well-fitted stone, but were roofed with simple thatch, and the townsfolk looked less than prosperous. At the same time, the streets were cobbled and there was an old stone fountain, dried up, in the town square. He leaned forwards, to talk Elena. "Wonder what happened here?"
"Fortunes change with time." Khory shrugged, holding the reins to the mule, while Elena turned to him with a raised eyebrow. "You see it all the time in the North. Maybe a migration pattern changed, and the hunters couldn't hunt, or a mining vein dried up." He sighed, and waved an arm. "See the mountains around here? It might even have been a trade route, once, until a more profitable route opened somewhere else. The town gets left behind, and uses most of its resources to keep surviving instead of expanding."
"You know a lot about the North, Khory." Elena smiled sidelong at him, and looked back at their cart.
"Well, it's my home, y'know. Travelled around it a lot in my time." He smiled, with a trace of wistfulness. "You thought I ended up down underground on a whim?"
"I don't know; we've been travelling northwest for the last ten days, and you haven't talked about your past before this." Elena smiled again, and shrugged. "For all I know, you could have been a local."
"Fair enough, but no. I was born over in the Haslanti League, west of here. Spent some time working caravans, hired on to a few Scavenger Lords here and there." He smiled, glancing back at the wagon. "It's not like anyone else has been more specific."
Sitting on the back, her legs dangling off the end and kicking idly at the air, Nia barely turned to glance at him. Instead, she looked around the town. "This seems different, though." She frowned, turning her head up towards the others. "Look at the people."
Around the town, villagers were stopping their work to stare at the wagon as it passed by. Kieran frowned, following her gaze, and pursed his lips. On every face was some variant of the same expression; hope mingled with fear. "I wonder if they're expecting someone." He looked back at the front of the cart, and Elena nodded slowly.
"I think they are. And I don't think we're it." She glanced back. The first age equipment that they had recovered was now covered by their mundane gear, and wasn't visible at first glance - nor was the work that Kieran had been doing on those parts that he considered useable. After taking the strangers in, the townsfolk were returning to their business, but now that it had been pointed out, she could see it as well. "These people have been living on the edge for a long time..." She frowned, as Khory pulled the cart up in front of the inn. A stableboy walked forwards, and nodded to the group.
"It's one sian the night; stabling is included." The boy grinned. "You won't find better anywhere in town."
"What, your inn's that good?" Khory raised an eyebrow at the boy's chuckle.
"Not exactly. We're it." Khory, Elena, and Kieran all turned to gape at the stableboy, and he shrugged. "There aren't a lot of travellers here, and they don't stay. It isn't safe."
"What do you mean, it isn't safe?" Elena turned to look at the others, and then back to the boy, who shrugged again.
"The Shasti doesn't like it when visitors hang around for more than a couple of days." In answer to the stunned looks that the three gave him, he shrugged a third time. "You don't know? No, I guess not, or you wouldn't have asked, huh?" He chuckled, as they got off the wagon. "No one's ever seen it straight on; but it leaves messages in blood. Spooky. Likes things done a certain way, gets very upset when they aren't. Lethally. And one rule is no visitors for more than two days, or they get dead fast." He shook his head. "At least, that's what Jack said. He's the innkeeper." He shrugged one more time, and smiled. "Never seen him myself, and no one's died in months. But no one's going to change things..." He trailed off as Kieran and Elena looked at each other. Elena broke the silence.
"We don't actually know what this is about. Wait and see, kid."
"I guess so... but we might as well find out." Kieran looked around, leading the way into the inn. Elena was just a step behind him. "It can't be a co-incidence that brought us here."
"Yes, it can." The door closed behind them, and Khory watched it for a moment before turning to Nia with a shrug. She shrugged back, sliding quietly off the back of the cart. He turned to the boy, handing him a small coin.
"Keep track of everything here. Some of it's valuable, and our quartermaster has every part memorized." He chuckled, patting the boy on the head, and turned to Nia. "Coming?"
After glancing around a moment, she nodded. "Yes." Together, they walked into the inn, following their friends.