Joasph stood there, eyes cast high at the sloping dark roofs, the once intricate and shining gold inlaid about the edges. Fog hovered in the air and through a hole he could see the spire with the emblem of bright circles, at the center a red jewel. Moments later, the fog hide the symbol from view and his eyes trailed down the long patchy Viking-esque building and down to the crumbling bridge beneath his feet.
Alone. So, he was alone. Joasph took a deep breath, the pressure of anticipation exhaling out of him and he wondered if it was relief or emptiness that filled him now. They felt the same. He looked at the silver armor he wore, the brown cape, the sword strapped to his side: not his country's. He glanced at the doors, half the in laid jewels missing and the gold shine wore thin. Closing his eyes, he could still see the sun's gleam from his childhood. Joasph hoped that inside the grand halls, the age and dirt hadn't scuffed and thieves hadn't scorched and stole, but he knew that to be a lie and so he shuffled forward, wanting this moment not to pass any shorter than it had to. To remember, remember the orchard's vines, rambunctious songs and cheers, and the dear sweet scent of roasted elk.
He opened his eyes, finding himself standing in the shadow of the door. Inside lay home. Or a memory.
Hands brushed the coarse wood and he pushed. Sunlight streamed through holes in the ceiling and dust particles danced in the air, casting themselves over piles of fur coats, golden trinkets, the jewels stolen from the doors and decorations. Everything was still here, ordered and sectioned off, categorized by usefulness. He'd seen this before. He'd lived in a world of where men's purses and the things they owned defined their place in society. His home, this place, Yewgrove may have kept the same treasures, but not as power ploys to fill the selfish pockets. Or, that's what it used to be like, before when he -
A knock against wood resounded in the hall and he turned, yelling, "Who goes there? Is it a thief?"
From the shadows from a pile of bear furs, a hooded figure appeared clutching a bag. The figure slipped something gold from the bag and threw it on a pile of metalwork vases and knickknacks.
"Why do you call me a thief?" The voice was soft, sultry. "If anything I would call you the thief, coming in here unannounced. What business have you in the old halls of fall Yewgrove?"
"Forgive my presumptions," Joasph said. "I just don't like seeing things stacked up for sell. I know the world of merchants."
The hooded figure did not respond, foot scuttling pot, vase, bowl, broken and dusty figurines side to side, as if looking for one particular object.
He stepped forward, the crawling urge of desperation scratched at the back of his mind to tell this figure that he meant no harm, to prove himself trustworthy. "I used to live here, as a boy."
The figure stopped and turned, where under the folds of the hood, he could see the ghostly outlines of a smile. "Did you now? Then where have you been all this time? I see you return shrouded in silver armor from the weighty and colorful country of Burcu. Do they have your allegiance now?"
"Hardly! Do not insult my honor, wicked man. I was taken - sold - because Yewgrove could not pay a debt. I have been traded, beaten, imprisoned, betrayed, left to die, and my only hope..." Joasph's voice cracked. "Was to come home and now I return to its ruins and some nobody shifting through relics. Can you not? My people are gone!"
The hooded figure spun around, pointing a bony finger at him. "Really? Is that the truth? I see your armor. I see you have money and food and that you hide behind the colors of Burcu. Yewgrove and your lovely money-mongering capital are one on the same."
"How dare -" Joasph stopped. "I will not argue with a witless vagabond. I shall take my leave of you."
Joasph spun, a narrow miss from a rusted blade the hooded figure swung. He swooped and stabbed and, forcing Joasph to draw his own. He grunted as he defended, "Have you gone mad?"
Grunts came as Joasph's only response. No matter how much Joasph wanted to believe this was some insane individual, the bend and curve of the rusted blade, nimble steps from here to there told Joasph he was good. The force, the sheer willpower to keep moving, leaving Joasph out of breath said, I am distressed.
Then he saw it. An opening. Joasph blocked and sliced the figure's side. Then the other and then a strike through the thigh. The hooded figure landed in a heap.
"You are well-trained, vagabond. I have no wish to kill you."
"You speak like a Burcu," the figure hissed.
"I didn't want to be one!" Joasph yelled back. "Why do you think I waited all this time to come home?"
"Why? No money to steal? Nothing to trade?"
"I was scared." Joasph dropped the point of his sword from the man's throat. "I know I'm from the world of selfish merchants now, but I did not want to come here until I was free from their eyes. I want to know what happened."
The hooded figure was silent. He shifted and gasped, clutching his sides. "Burcu never had any interest in Yewgrove beside the children to be taken as slaves. But that doesn't mean Yewgrove had demons of it's own."
"What?" Joasph crouched down.
The hooded figure's ghostly smile returned. "Well, that's just it. They had demons. Raised a whole lot of them - mindless beasts they were."
"What are you talking about?" Joasph leaned in closer.
The figure's hand shot from his side and stabbed Joasph clean in the shoulder, his grip on the blade holding Joasph in place. "To kill their prey. This is the land of hunters after all."
Joasph snatched up his sword, whacking the man on the side of the head. He stumbled to his feet. The hooded figure rolled on the floor, laughing and hissing. Joasph did not have the heart to kill the madman, but neither to heal his wounds. He plucked the knife from his shoulder and pulled up his cloak to cover the gushing wound, making his way out of the hall and it's fog and dusty sunlight to the fresh air outside, to find... where was he to go now?
As Joasph returned to his camp and his horse, knots twisted in his stomach. He could not look at ruins anymore. His home lay in ruins because they created a monster and the monster came after them. Behind him the world was dim, brown, barren of it's leaning pines and white chrysanthemum flowers, and forgotten groans and songs of bears, birds, and deer.