Shades of Light

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Chapter 2

It was comfortably crowded inside the inn. A big fire in the center of the room meant that nobody had to sit very far from it and it still allowed the travelers and local farmers to huddle up close as they exchanged the latest news. As the drink flowed freely these stories had quickly turned to boisterous tales of brave heroes and scary monsters. None of the gathered men and women could have conceived of the monster which had entered their midst.

They had left the pale stranger in the dark rags alone after he had indicated, rather rudely, that he wished to be so. He observed the merriment with a look of amazement. When one of the barmaids offered him a drink 'on the house' he downed it with a sour expression that quickly turned soft. One of the patrons, a large farmhand with a red face, didn't see any danger in asking him if he had ever had a drink like that before. The stranger's voice was hoarse, his accent savage, and each word he spoke was accompanied by a steady growl.

“Not like this,” the man said. He looked gravely at the farmhand who seemed oblivious.

“You haven't? Where are you from then?” He asked and slapped the stranger on the shoulder. All the eyes in the room turned to them as the stranger growled like an animal as he leaped from his chair. The farmhand fell before him and stared up, attempting to blink the fog from his eyes. Two red eyes with large pupils stared back at him.

“I come from a world of endless dusk or dawn, depending on your stance in life,” the stranger said. “Everybody is always hungry and sick. Food is, at best, tasteless. Light either burns or is absent. Sex is rape. Communication mostly occurs with fists and drinks like these exact a high price on those who indulge in them.”

“That-that doesn't sound like fun,” the drunk man muttered.

“It's not,” Alex said.

“Please explain something to me,” Alex said as he grabbed the drunk man by the collar and pulled him up and back on his feet. The man seemed grateful and utterly unafraid.

“Sure thing, buddy,” he said with a stupid grin.

“This man,” He indicated on of the others from his group. “, he has been closely following the serving wench and indicated multiple times his desire to copulate with her. I have seen no indications that she is owned by one of the other men present. What is stopping him from taking her?”

“I don't understand...” The man muttered and looked questioningly at his friend. The other man seemed just as confused. “You mean Harold and Samantha?”

“Whatever you want to call them. I haven't seen any true darkness yet but there are plenty of spaces out of view here.” Alex said. “Another thing, that small man has been taking that large man's possessions in one of your quaint little games. I wonder why the larger man hasn't asserted his dominance yet and killed him.”

“Michael and Gerald?” The man said, making a genuine effort to understand. “They're friends...”

“Hey you.” Alex said and walked up to the two gambler. They had stopped throwing their dice to listen to him. “You know that you can just take back your metal disks with violence, right?”

“Violence?” The large gambler said. “I ain't no knight, traveler. Besides, Gerald ain't no monster. Not as far as I know, 'nway.”

“Violence against another person,” Alex said slowly. Everybody in the room seemed fascinated. Alex ignored them and kept his gaze on the gambler. “I know you are angry. I see it.”

“Yeah, but...” The large man stared at the coins and dice on the table. He didn't really need the money for anything right now but he had planned to use it to buy a gift for his wife. It was their anniversary soon. Last year, Gerald had lent him the money but he had yet to pay that back.

“Look, friend,” The owner of the inn said to break the silence. He walked towards this strange man in rags with a friendly smile on his face. Alex only recognized him as the man who had let him in. The baring of teeth made him wary. “, I'd appreciate it if you didn't confuse my customers. We have been nice to you, right?”

“Yes,” Alex said. “, it is most puzzling.”

The innkeeper seemed slightly taken aback by this response.“Now, if you can't be nice to us in return I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave, traveler,” he said in a tone that always worked when he wanted his oldest son to do some chores. This stranger seemed to be about the same age.

“You keep calling me things but you are constantly wrong,” Alex said and smiled. His understanding of the power of words and names had set him apart from his peers. It had made him powerful in ways they could not understand and it had brought him here. “What is your name?”

The innkeeper smiled back. “My name is John Oaksfield.”

“Be quiet, Johnoaksfield, and I will not kill you...end your life. You know what that means, don't you?” The growing horror in the man's eyes answered him. He turned to the two gamblers. “Take back what is rightfully yours, Michael.”

The large gambler nodded and started gathering up the coins from the table. When the other protested and tried to stop him, he pushed him off his chair. It was meek, compared to what he knew, but Alex was satisfied. He turned to the group of farmhands. “Harold, you are a strong man so she can't stop you and nobody else here will do it for her. Do what you want.”

One of the men stood up and thanked him loudly before turning his attention to one of the barmaids. Alex laughed. It sounded more like coughing to the others in the room.

“The same goes for all of you,” he said when he was finished. “Except for you. You are going to take off your boots and hand them to me first. Then I will let you go.”

The man he had indicated stood up and frowned. “No.”

Alex' fist moved with the speed of an arrow in full flight. None of the witnesses were entirely sure how he had traversed the distance so quickly. There was sickening crunch when the fist made contact with the man's jaw. Alex let him fall to the ground before tugging off his boots. He had never managed to craft anything resembling a shoe from the materials that had been available to him back home. This was quite an upgrade from the foot wrappings he had previously settled for. There was a content smile on his face as he walked out of the inn and disappeared into what passed for the night here. The inn grew increasingly rowdy behind him.

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