The man awoke to absolute silence. Only the sound of the leaves above rustling against each other came to his ears. He looked down. His robe was completely soaked in blood. He felt weak and light-headed. Strangely, he could no longer hear any trace of the hounds that had been following him. Perhaps they had given up the search. He did not want to wait to find out. Slowly, he attempted to stand, but could not. The muscles in his back had atrophied to the point where they could no longer support his upper body. Doubled over, he decided to crawl on four limbs. As he shuffled away, he turned to glance one last time at the pillar he had rested on. He thought that it might be the last time he gazed upon any form of civilization.
Sitting at an unpainted desk, Leiv struggled to stay awake. He had filed away all of the records for the day. He was surrounded by papers, various invoices, and recordings of meetings of people he didn’t know, and probably never would. Blackwater had become the slum for the various surrounding provinces to deposit their waste. The town was not really a town, but a poorly assembled community of farmers and exiled academics. The farmers kept to themselves, tended their crops, raised their children, and ignored the town center, while the academics kidnapped themselves there, within the library and town hall, slaving away indoors, trying to shake off the feeling of utter isolation. Every week or so, a caravan of carriages would flood into the town center, and the academics would rush outside to greet the drivers, savoring in the only human interaction they would receive for the next six days. With the drivers came barrels of old documents, utterly meaningless writings that the provinces could just not bear to throw away. Leiv’s job was to sort these documents, and have them presentable for whomever might come searching for them. Of course, no one had come. In an air of desperation, Leiv flourished a pen, and procured a piece of blank paper to write upon. He wrote:
It has been several fortnights since I have seen your face. Nothing fills me with greater sorrow than to admit that you were right, and I was wrong. At this moment, I am suffering tremendously. Blackwater is hell. This is a place where the madness of men is concentrated. They have me tending to abandonments, scraps of nothing, for a measly wage that barely pays for a single room in the town center. There is nothing to see, nowhere to go. The town is enshrouded by a wasteland of death. It is as if Sleipnir itself passed through on its way to the underworld. We are huddled together at our desks, barely staving off insanity. I was wrong to leave you. I am ashamed. The wounds in me are gaping, yet I cannot fill them. Please know, that I will return as soon as I can. I love you.