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The inn was dark and empty. It stood, silent, on the grassy hilltop, the ruins of other structures around it. Rot and age had brought low other buildings; the weather and wildlife had reduced stone foundations to rubble and stout wooden walls to a few rotten pieces of timber mixed with the ground. But the inn still stood.
It was waiting. Not in a sentient, thinking way, but in the way all buildings wait. It was waiting for someone to find it. For wasn’t that the purpose of an inn? And someone did find it.
A young woman stumbled through the grass, up the hill. Her knees were shaking and she was gasping for air. Her lungs burned. Her right arm was burned. Smoke was still rising from the charred fabric on one shoulder, and her legs were bleeding. Several shallow cuts had torn open her pants at the back of the legs.
But still she climbed the hill. Because of the inn. After all, there was no mistaking it. Despite the years, the building stood among the rest of the ruins, mostly untouched by the passage of time. The construction of this inn was superior to the other buildings. Or perhaps something else had kept it standing.
Regardless, that was not what attracted the young woman to it. It was merely a thought.
The inn. In every world, the inn was a symbol. From a place to meet and rest, to a meeting point from which epic quests could begin, the inn’s hearth fire and warm glow at night was a beacon for the weary, the hungry, and the desperate. But this inn was dark.
The signboard over the inn was rotted, and years had worn whatever name it held away long ago. The windows were dark and shuttered, but the girl, the traveler, had nowhere else to go. Slowly, hesitantly, she stumbled towards the door and pulled at the simple handle on the door.
After a second, she pushed and the door creaked open. Mustering her courage, the young woman peered into the black room beyond. Her instincts told her it was a common room, a place where food or drink would normally be served. However, the inn was long deserted and a thick layer of dust covered every surface.
“Of course it’s empty.”
The intruder sighed and leaned against the doorframe, her strength exhausted. She rested her forehead on one arm, wincing as she felt her burns and the cuts on her legs. She tried not to cry. She’d known the inn was probably deserted when she’d seen it from afar. She’d known, but she’d hoped—
“Ever since I came to this world, everything’s been going wrong, huh?”
Slowly, she pushed herself back upright and walked further into the room. The inn gaped darkly around her, absorbing her footfalls, looming. It had been built to hold huge crowds of people, and it was cavernous in the night. The young woman felt as if the building might swallow her, but where else could she go?
Inside was darkness. Outside was worse. There were things outside. Monsters. She’d seen them. Monsters, and an unfamiliar world. A world that wasn’t hers.
Slowly, the girl stepped over to a chair and collapsed into it. A plume of dust rose and she burst into a fit of coughing. The dust was overwhelming. But she was tired. So very tired. And though it was empty, deserted of all life, and dark, the inn still called to her. Its walls offered some safety. So the young woman sat and closed her eyes for a moment.
It began to rain outside. A cold, hard rain that pattered on the rooftops and seeped through cracks. Tapping, dripping. The young woman’s eyes opened a crack as the pattering became a rush of sound. The shower became a heavy downpour. That was one misfortune avoided, at least.
It was peaceful. The young woman sat back and felt the pain of her injuries fade, at least for a moment. The rainfall became background noise and she felt herself relax for the first time in what felt like ages. She decided to rest here, at least to begin with. But a thought nagged at her, something she could only voice now, in safety. So she opened her eyes and addressed the empty room.
“I’m really hungry.”
Thus, the legendary tale of the Wandering Inn began.