A small, riverside town with a well-maintained dock beside which several fishing boats are berthed. Most of the foot traffic seems to center around the generous front porch of a general store which dominates the town's main street and sits directly across from the docks. A few small shops huddle near the main store, like children clinging to their mother's legs one a cobbler's, another a carpenter's, a third selling pottery. The houses are at once larger and smaller than Lochinvar remembers; they were always grander and more elaborate than the simple homes of his home village, and recent times have seen them grow in both number and size. After Rephidim, however, Triston's tidy four- and five-room buildings, a few of them with second floors, no longer seem impressive.
Both Triston and the fuss its people make over the mail seems less impressive and tumultuous than Lochinvar recalls. Still, it seems simplest to wait for most of the commotion to die down before trying to talk to anyone. A few vaguely familiar Jupani waves to the winged Hekoye in greeting, but, oddly, there seem to be no Vartans around. When the last of the mail is being taken into the store by the shopkeeper, Lochinvar moves from his resting spot to follow the wolf inside.
On entering the store, the winged-Hekoye gets a strange feeling of both thinking that the store seems a little smaller than he remembers it, but at the same time, feels smaller himself. He waits for the storekeeper to finish bringing the mail in and setting it up for other collections, as he remembers being done before.
The Jupani steps behind the counter, his muzzle gray-furred with age, but otherwise much the same man Lochinvar met as a child. He starts sorting the piles of missives and packages on the counter, but pauses to offer the winged Hekoye a grin. "'lo, Lochinvar. Been a long time," he says in greeting as he sorts.
Lochinvar nods to the wolf. "Yes it has indeed, Mr. Keos," says the coyote. "How are things here?"
Another pause in the rhythm of piling mail, then the shopkeeper resumes it. "Well enough, considering. Your folks, boy … they ever send you word on where they went?" he asks.
The Hekoye/Vartan tilts his head slightly. "Where they went?" he asks. "That's part of the reason that I'm travelling back home except I received no word from them, just weeks of returned, undeliverable mail."
Mr. Keos nods his head slowly. "'Spose you would be. I guess I shoulda sent something with it, but I didn't rightly know what to say, really. Your whole village it's gone, Lochinvar. I'm sorry."
The coyote looks blankly at the storekeeper for a moment, attempting to find words. "What do you mean 'it's gone'?" Lochinvar asks.
"Nobody left there. First nobody was coming for the mail … after a month of that, I started sending it back. Finally we got a boy up there to check it out and … wasn't anyone there. He said a lot of the portable stuff had been taken and all the people were gone. Not a word to us before they left. Not a peep." The Jupani shakes his head sadly.
"So … so … the whole place has been deserted?" the Hekoye asks, disbelief still in his voice.
A nod from the shopkeeper answers his query. "Looks like. The local Vartans were real shook up when they heard the news. Lot of talk of ill omens, shadows … they started leaving here, too, shortly after we got the news. 'S only one family of Vartans left in Triston now, and still nothing but rumors on whyfore or where."
Lochinvar asks, "But what happened? Where did they go? Rumors? Shadows?" He sighs a little, shaking his head, trying to get his head around all of this news.
"Can't rightly say." The wolf starts stowing the sorted mail behind the counter, just the way he always has. "A lot of crazy talk going on about it, don't know as there's a lick of truth to any of it. Some folks saying that the village was overrun by Abaddonian hogs, or robbers, or shadow-monsters. There's talk of plague, but no one's been sick lately but the potter's daughter, and she just ate a fish that'd gone bad, I think. Anyway, none of that squares with what the carpenter's apprentice says he saw when he went up there."
"What did he see then?" asks Lochinvar. "It sounds like he told you?"
"Yep, he's told just about everyone by now. Spooky damn thing. Said that it looked like everyone had just got up and left one morning. Dust all over and the gardens starting to get overgrown, but no sign of violence or trouble. Pantries cleaned out, clothes gone, lotta furniture missing from the houses, but no actual damage to anything. Just gone." Another shake of his head as the wolf re-tells the tale.
Lochinvar nods slowly. "Any clues as to where they went?" he asks.
"Boy figured they must've flown off, because there was no sign of that many people leaving on foot. Said he scouted around some of the outlying houses, same story for them, but no unusual traffic on those little forest trails you've got up there. They didn't head through here, or to any of the other inhabited villages. I reckon they must've headed north. Otherwise somebody'd've seen 'em by now, and let us know. Unless… ," he lets the thought trail off unspoken.
Lochinvar sighs, shaking his head a little. "This just does not seem right. Why would they just up and leave like that?" he wonders out loud. "It doesn't make any sense."
"Sure doesn't," Mr. Keos agrees, dusting off the cleared countertop absently.
Lochinvar looks out at the doorway. "I need to go there. See for myself," he says. "I need to know."
The Jupani nods. "I understand. You need anything for the trip?"
"Well, I only have a couple of days of food with me," says the coyote. "If I continue onwards from the village, I should probably carry more with me."
The shopkeeper nods and fetches out salted fish and meat for Lochinvar, along with some hard but durable biscuits. A few moments of discussion as Mr. Keos convinces the Hekoye of the utility of replenishing a few other supplies, then Lochinvar is ready to go. As he heads for the door, the shopkeeper says, "You take care of yourself, now. And … you let us know what happened, if you find out? You got that?" His tone combines earnestness and concern.
Lochinvar pauses at the door, and looks over his shoulder with a grin. "Of course," he says with a slight grin. "I'll send you a letter."
The journey from Triston to the village seems to take forever, with no companion to make the time pass more quickly. The forest has grown over parts of the path, making travel on foot more cumbersome, but flying long distance wears the winged coyote out quickly, too. After two days of worried travel, Lochinvar at last flies in over the familiar trees that shaded his former home.
Lochinvar remembers his parents' home as a simple, two-room cabin, well-maintained and neatly kept, with careful rows of vegetables in the kitchen garden, and a flowerbed to either side of the front door, constantly attended to by his mother. But nothing now is the way he remembers it. The door has been torn loose from the front of the house, and a hole gapes where once a shuttered window had been, and a chunk of the roof is missing as well. The flowers are torn up, trampled, dead, or dying, and the kitchen garden has more weeds than vegetables.
The nearest house is partially obscured by trees from here, but it looks similarly battered. All around the foliage shows signs of rough passage; it reminds Lochinvar a little of hurricane damage, although this area seldom saw so much as heavy storms. It's as if some large force swept through, ripping at the plant life and punching at the buildings.
After a small surveying circuit, and similar scenes greeting him, Lochinvar lands back just outside his parents' home, adjusts his pack and walks up towards the cabin, pausing at the door. "This is not no signs of violence," he muses to himself out loud.
The scene inside his parents' former home reflects the damage without. The table smashed, with the top leaning against one wall and two legs broken off. Chairs are shattered and likewise scattered around. A few bricks are missing from the stone chimney, and there's something odd about the bricks of the stove which remain.
Lochinvar looks around at the damage, shaking his head as mentally he compares what he sees now to what he remembers. Noticing the oddities in the chimney stones, he kneels down to examine them.
They have an … eaten look to them, as if something had been wearing away at them, like stone battered after centuries of rains, or melted away by a powerful acid.
The Hekoye gets up, looking around for other similar bits of damage, or even a clue as to where his parents may have gone, or if they were even in here when … whatever happened.
As the shopkeeper had said, his parents' pantry is empty, and what's left of the cabinet they kept their clothing in is empty, too. There's no sign of blood or other bodily harm done to living beings within the house. The terrible force vented upon the residence seems to have occurred without opposition. Unfortunately, nothing here points to where the inhabitants might have gone. As the Hekoye investigates the other residences many of which suffered more damage than his parents' he notes an oddity in the dirt by the well, at the center of the village. A perfectly round spot in the ground, about a foot in diameter, and a few inches deep.
Lochinvar takes a look at this circle, and hrms. Well, this certainly doesn't look like anything natural, he muses, but still not able to make much sense or even guess at what caused this.
The destructive force unleashed on the area appears largely confined to the village. The nearby grazing field has been trampled and torn up as well, but the foliage and houses around the formerly inhabited areas are most battered. Towards the north, however, the damage to the foliage consolidates into a kind of trail, several yards wide. It narrows over the course of a few hundred yards, becoming less pronounced, but Lochinvar's trained eyes note there are still signs of some thing passing in that direction.
Heading north, he notices, starting to walk over to where the 'trail' begins. Mr. Keos did mention that it was believed everyone went north.
Lochinvar takes a look back at the village, considering resting for a bit longer. After a moment, he decides against it. There is just something spooky about the place he grew up in being so quiet, so deserted. He steps onto the trail, and heads towards the north, and hopefully, his parents.