It wasn’t entirely true that the ruins were really ruins. Kytab — that had been its name, as a cracked wooden sign still proudly proclaimed by the road — was mostly still intact. Thankfully, the original architects had designed most of the important buildings out of stone, not wood, and so the central hospital, meeting hall, and perimeter wall were all still standing.
Kytab had been a hospital town on the western frontier. Explorers had made many forays out into the western mountains in the hope of finding what lay beyond. Those that returned found haven in the small city, which had once been a military outpost for the recuperating returning troops during the War of Fire, many years ago. It had been reborn into a peaceful place after the War, and was now more peaceful than ever, looking out alone from the old foothills at the vast unconquered peaks in the distance.
Myra led the way to the hospital. While deserted and — as they soon found — stripped of almost all equipment, it provided her with a sense of comfort. It was the sole familiar place in the strange lands they had traveled through. A squat, two-story building, it contained the usual wooden cots and mysterious potions that marked any medieval hospital, but it appeared that after the deaths of most of the staff, scavengers had stripped it of most of the equipment. The only other member of the group happy to be inside was Alytho, who soon found a secret wine cellar near the stables.
“Anyone care for some vintage ale? It has to be at least ten years old.” He happily offered some to the group; Theyna pushed it away, disgusted, while Myra quickly declined before Syng could ask.
“Myra, did you work in a hospital like this?” Syng’s inquisitiveness always surprised Myra.
“Yes. I’ve told you; I was an apprentice to the midwife.” Myra stopped for a second, as the image of “Granny” Byngham came to mind. “But that was years and years ago. Things were different.”
“Well,” said Alytho, still grinning, “Some things have not changed.” He raised the bottle to indicate his priorities. “But enough waxing poetic! There’s got to be something else in this place that you can use, right?”
Myra considered pointing out that the current occupants, several rats, might be the most important thing right now — after all, they were short on food — but decided to put off Syng’s protests until they could settles down for dinner. “I suppose I can check the lower stores. You said there was a door in the corridor by the cellar?”
“I did indeed. Let us stride boldly forth, to the dangers that lie ahead!” Alytho strutted about, then bowed to Myra. “Ladies first.”
The four made their way to the corridor, then turned left along the passageway. It was dimly lit, and while torch brackets were still embedded on the upper walls, the flames had vanished years ago. Several rays of Sun escaped through small openings in the walls, by ground level, but shadows still danced around.
At the end of the corridor was a door, just like the one to the wine cellar. Myra’s hand was two inches from the iron handle when Alytho jumped in front of her, still grinning. “Madam, allow me.” With a slight bow, he grabbed the handle and gently swung the door open.
Myra wasn’t sure which startled her more: the tiny cavity that was revealed or the disheveled man who occupied it.
“Hello,” he said casually.