Friday, December 13, 2013

The Mistress of Agoravilla (First 3 chapters)

The Mistress of Agoravilla
For God, his Benedictions…
            On a moonless night, in the middle of a dense green forest, somewhere in Northern Europe, a stranded couple, stood beside a halted red jeep. One was a fair skinned, red haired, short, lean structured girl in a red sleeveless shirt and brown pants with a ruck sack over her shoulders and another was a thin, tall, blond man, with short spikey hair and rectangular frameless glasses on, wearing an ordinary light green collared t-shirt and brown khaki shorts. He too carried a backpack, but possessing a few more items than that of the girl.
            Fay White was twenty seven years old and got recently engaged to Callum Collins, an ordinary executive in an I.T firm, the spikey haired twenty nine year old man, now with his head sunk into the bonnet of the red jeep, the one he had preferred to drive, over his regular Prius, in an attempt to recreate his childhood trips, riding along with his father in a similar jeep from the East Coast to the West in the States. Now he wished he had bought his regular car which he was so used to fixing, even though it wasn’t in any way as glamorous and as manly as the one he was finding it difficult to bring back to life.
            Everything had been fine, when the couple had started their cross continental drive across Europe, after landing in Lisbon and then picking the jeep from a friend for their long drive north-east, a choice made by the duo to celebrate their recent engagement. Callum was a simple minded, easily afraid, gentle-natured man, who preferred to travel in luxury and to already well traversed vacation spots, drinking and lying down on a hammock under a palm tree, as seen on the covers of travel brochures and greeting cards. Fay, on the other hand, was adventurous and loved to do everything the tough way, exploring, hiking, mountain climbing, swimming and enjoying the life of a primitive human. She might have preferred to be seen as Lara Croft, but Callum saw her as a female Bear Gryllis and hoped and prayed there wouldn’t be any urine drinking in their trip.
            Callum had tried hard to convince Fay that they could get a flight to Paris, then to London and later to Amsterdam, visiting all the major vacation spots and monuments in between, in the midst of fellow tourists, but Fay, the more dominant of the two, convinced him that she would rather see the countryside and the forests with no signs of any human existence nearby, than the yells, cries and silly laughter of over excited, careless tourists with maps, cameras and more annoyingly, travel souvenirs in their hands.
            The buying of miniature Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Statue of Liberty and Kremlin palace, was in no way sufficient to give her the satisfaction of bringing home, a part of the land she had visited. She preferred to collect soil samples and pick exotic flowers and plants, native to the lands she stepped in. Such was the nature of Fay, a complete contrast to Callum, who was satisfied in doing what others before him usually did.
            Fay was also very competitive, tough and never took no for an answer, while Callum often gave up easily and preferred to enjoy life the easy way. He was pretty easily scared and did not in any way like to be even remotely close to anything dangerous, not that there were many who preferred to, but certainly Fay loved the eerie and the ominous, which she saw as thrilling and exciting.
            She was actually enjoying the situation they were in then, while Callum was on the verge of becoming hysterical, wondering why suddenly their car, their radio, their cell phones and their GPS device had all come to an abrupt stop.
“Complete darkness, chilly air, all our tech shutting down for no apparent reason, no sign of any vehicles nearby, lost with no clue as to where we are…a perfect setting for a horror movie” said Fay in a horror inducing tone, perfectly aware that her boyfriend would not appreciate either the tone or the words spewing out of her lips.
“Well, whoever is writing your script, tell him it’s kind of an overused setting…And no one likes a horror story, these days…Why can’t we be in Romantic Comedy script?” asked Callum, fiddling with the innards of the jeep, having no idea what was where and what he was hoping to do.
 “Why did you have to drive us here, wherever this place is. Didn’t your gizmo tell us where we are?”
“The GPS device stopped getting signal about an hour ago…Didn’t want to freak you out. You were asleep and I thought I could find my way to someplace where we could receive the signal again before you woke up. And then everything stopped. My cell phone and GPS both went black. There seems to be no problem with any of it or the jeep, as far as I know. It’s really strange…”
“I’m telling you, there are supernatural forces at work…Oh wait, I think I saw something behind those shrubberies…Is-is that a pair of eyes?” Fay pointed out towards a dense overgrowth with a horrified face, causing Callum to panic and hit his head against the opened hood of the car.
“What? Where? What is it?” Callum looked around rubbing his head and picking his flashlight from the bag, which also failed to work. He just waved it around, as if it was some kind of weapon, as he had nothing else to defend himself or his girlfriend with, if they did end up in some sort of danger.
“Oh come on, are you really that gullible? There aren’t any ghosts, ghouls or zombies in here, Cal” laughed Fay, not caring one bit about denting her boyfriend’s confidence or regretting for having been responsible for him hurting his head. It was his ignorance and silly belief in beings that did not exist that made him hurt himself, was her perception.
“It’s not funny, Fay…You know I am not comfortable with anything paranormal or ghastly. Why do you have to scare me like that?”
“I’m just trying to make you realise what a big baby you are and that one day you might have a baby, who might actually end up a baby, even after growing up, after seeing a big baby like you.”
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m all anxious and panic stricken or because I hit my head against the bonnet, but I really didn’t understand a word of what you just said there” said Callum, closing the hood of the car, coming to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything that he was aware of about the jeep, to fix it.
“So what do you propose we do now?” asked Fay seeing her boyfriend locking his car down.
“Guess we have to walk our way to the nearest spot with some signs of human life. Why aren’t there even any street lights here? No shops, no houses, not even a car or a truck, passing by” asked Callum looking around for any sort of light at least in the distance. But as far as he could see, there was nothing, except for the flame from Fay’s lighter, which she was holding in front of her.
“Don’t know, really weird, isn’t it? Oh wait, what’s the light there?”
“Cut it out, Fay. I am not a fool to fall for it twice” said Callum, now once again inside the jeep, packing his bag with his GPS device and the water can that was left under the seat, both of which, he had forgotten to take, before he had locked the doors.
“No, I’m serious. Look over there…Two bright lights hovering over there” and that was exactly what Callum too noticed, as he locked the jeep doors down for the second time and looked where his girlfriend pointed.
 Three dark hooded figures of different sizes with black robes over them, walked a few feet ahead of them with lanterns in their hands. Callum, for some reason, did not feel comfortable with the appearance of these figures even though he was longing for some company to help them with their equipment and to probably offer a ride for them to a more inhabited place.
Fay had no such feelings and was quick to go after the figures, calling out for help, much to Callum’s dismay.
“Hello…hey, over here…Could you folks please provide us with some assistance…Hey! Can you see us? Follow the flame of my lighter!” she yelled raising the lighter high over her head.
“Quiet down, Fay. We don’t even know if they understand English. Or what sort of people they are…What if they are bandits or some sort of murderers?” whispered Callum, pulling back Fay by her arms.
“I don’t think there are seven year old murderers” said Fay pointing towards the smallest of the three figures.
“We are in a different country, who knows how things are here-” even before Callum could complete his sentence, he noticed the three figures halting and turning in their direction, raising their lanterns. Only the two larger figures had lanterns with them and not the smallest one.
“Hold on, right there…We are coming” Fay caught hold of Callum’s arms and ran towards the figures, dragging him along.
Callum could see only parts of the faces of the three individuals, since most of their body was covered with large, black blankets. The largest one was a male, probably in his forties, with large, bushy moustache, green powerful eyes, a bald head and a pudgy face. The next biggest being was a female in her late thirties, with a pointed nose, fair skin and dry lips, blonde locks, dropping down beside her ears, from between the revealing part of the thick blanket. The smallest one was an eight year old boy, not seven as thought by Fay, with gleaming green eyes, just like his father, rosy cheeks and black hair, peeking out of the visible part of his head, from within his blanket.
The man also carried a crossbow over his shoulder and the woman had a large crescent shaped pendent with a red stone at its centre, dangling between her breasts.
“Excuse me, sir, madam…We were just driving by and our vehicle and our equipment stopped working. Is there a motel or a mechanic shop nearby, where we could find some help?” asked Fay, pointing towards her jeep far behind her, while facing the trio in front of her.
 The husband and wife saw each other with a confused look and the kid smiled innocently towards Fay. Callum felt that they were not able to comprehend what his girlfriend was saying so he decided to gesture towards them, to make them understand.
“Our jeep” Callum pretended to turn an invisible steering wheel in mid-air, “stopped” then raised his hand signalling the word halt. “Cell phones, not working” he put his right hand to his right ear, as if holding an invisible phone and shook his head. “We are lost” he kept looking from one side to another, which Fay understood as her boyfriend trying to signify getting lost, but felt as a word that she could surely use to beat him in dumb charades, the next time they played with their friends. “You know-” He pointed his index finger towards them and put the same to his temple. “-a place to sleep?” he made a triangle with his hands and then closed his eyes, dropping his head down. “We are-“ he waved towards himself and his girlfriend, “-very tired” slumped his shoulders and dropped his head again.
“Not to mention, hungry” Fay lifted her right hand and rubbed it against her tummy.
“We do speak English, but we did not understand the words said earlier by you” said the man.
“But hunger, sleep and a place to stay, yes, we do understand that” said the lady, with a sweet voice and a gentle, comforting tone.
“Unfortunately, we do not have anything valuable with us to provide you with and you’d have to ask someone else for help” said the man, ready to lead his family away, not wanting any further talks with the couple before them.
“But-“ began Callum, but the lady’s voice continued to say what he wanted to say.
“But there isn’t anyone else here to help them, is there, dear? We’ve got to do something for them”
“We do not know who they are and where they are from. We do not want to get ourselves into any sort of trouble” said the husband, with a lowered voice, which was still clearly audible to Fay and Callum, amidst the silence of the night.
“It’s alright, sir, we mean no harm to you or your family. We are simple folks on a trip to celebrate our engagement” said Callum and Fay quickly raised her hand and pointed towards the diamond ring on her finger, with a large smile.
The lady smiled back, from within the hood and the man puffed air out restlessly.
“We are travellers ourselves with very little resources in our possession. But we do know of some place where you can find all that you seek” the lady turned a little, raised her hand and pointed towards a narrow rocky pathway, between two large shrubberies nearby.
“That way? There seems to be no proper road or lights. Where does it exactly lead to?” asked Callum.
“Well, to the Agoravilla mansion, of course. The Mistress there is a kind woman who would treat you well and fulfil your needs. Now come on, dear” the lady said no further. She simply, abruptly turned away from the couple and kept walking forward, with her husband leading.
“That was rude” whispered Fay to her boyfriend.
“And awkward” added Callum.
The kid, who had started following his parents, turned back towards the couple and ran in their direction. Fay and Callum got a bit nervous as to whether he had heard them speak ill about his parents’ reaction and was about to get them in trouble with them. But he just smiled once again, picked an apple from his pocket, under the blanket and handed it over to Fay.
“Well, thank you dear” Fay received the apple and saw the boy skipping behind his parents, not saying anything to her.
The couple gazed towards each other wondering about the maladroit conversation that had just happened with the strangers and decided to follow the pathway, pointed to, by the woman. Fay threw the apple in the ruck sack, hanging on her back and Callum picked up the water can that he had placed on the ground, before he had begun his gesturing. Off they went, between the shrubberies following the pathway, hoping to find the mansion that could fulfil all their needs.
There were just rocks, plants and trunks of fallen trees in the path taken by them and Callum wondered if he could reconfirm with the family, who had pointed them towards the pathway, if they were indeed right about the presence of the mansion beyond all that or had they given a wrong direction in the darkness. However when Fay and Callum looked back, there were no more lantern lights or individuals in hoods walking around. In fact, there was nothing but darkness everywhere…
The couple walked along the path for fifteen more minutes and as far as they could see, there was no mansion anywhere. The flame from Fay’s lighter did not provide sufficient light and Callum’s battery operated torch still did not work, so they picked up a piece of wood from the ground and lighted it to use as a torch. While Fay’s eyes were completely on the horizon longing for the appearance of the Mistress’ mansion, about whom they knew absolutely nothing, Callum’s eyes were on the ground, fearing if they would step on a snake, a spider or a scorpion that could potentially sting them to their death. The temperature was dropping fast and Callum’s teeth began chattering. Fay too shivered a little, but she was much more tolerant and capable of handling the changing conditions around her than Callum.
He, of course, did not want to appear weak and vulnerable before his girlfriend, who already knew everything about him, having known him for over five years, yet Callum tried to hide his chattering by whistling and crooning some old country classics, but it only aggravated his shaking. Fay moved closer to him and hugged him as they walked, hoping to warm him and herself up with each other’s body warmth. They often bought the burning wood closer to them and hovered their hands over it, to reduce the impact of the cold, but surely that wasn’t helping enough.
“Aren’t you bothered a little about the sudden disappearance of those three folks? I mean they couldn’t just walk away so fast. It had just been a matter of minutes since we turned away from them” asked Callum, trying to distract both their minds from the cold.
“I don’t know and I don’t care. I just need a place to bunk and some food to eat. My stomach is grumbling”
“Why don’t you have the apple that the boy gave you?”
Fay remembered about it just then and was quick to jump into her rucksack. Even before she started her exploration within it, she spent a few seconds rubbing her hands on the insides of the bag, which seemed to provide her with some warmth. Then she started digging in, traversing through her various items, including a mini make up kit, her sunglasses, her purse, her cell phone that had stopped working, her three pairs of clothes, as she always preferred to travel light, at least on the clothing department, soap, brush and her sanitary pads. No matter how much she searched, she couldn’t find the apple or a possible hole in the bag, through which it could have fallen out.
“That’s strange, the apple’s missing and there is no hole in my bag either, so it couldn’t have fallen out”
“Did you put in your bag or did you just throw it over your shoulder thinking you were dropping it in your bag?” asked Callum, as he had seen Fay earlier in the day, doing the same with a tin of cold beverage. “Are you that lazy, to not just remove the bag from your shoulder and put something in?”
  “I don’t remember what I had done…Maybe I had dropped it somewhere. Never mind, we should reach the mansion in a short while…Speaking of which, how much farther, did the lady say, it was?” asked Fay, not wanting to give her boyfriend a chance to belittle her.
“Uh…she did not say anything regarding the distance, did she? She just said about a mansion at the end of the pathway between the shrubberies, on which we are travelling right now.”
“Well that is not very bright. Who would not ask for the distance?” Fay now found a fault to pin on her boyfriend.
“They weren’t travelling by a car or a bike. They were walking and as far as I could see, there isn’t any other place for them to have come out from, except for this mansion they said about. So I presumed it was a walkable distance…They couldn’t have just known about the mansion, if they had not come from it sometime recently”
“Don’t make assumptions on your own, Cal. They might have come across the mansion in the past and might have remembered about it, when we asked for a place to rest. And you said you saw nothing around, which probably included the mansion as well, but they said it existed somewhere. What if they also had some house or a shop nearby, from where they could have come and the same being not visible to us from the distance? There are so many possibilities-“
“Oh come on, Fay, don’t show your frustration on me, due to an empty stomach. We should come across something eventually” Callum cut short her rant, sensing the raise in her voice. The last thing he wanted was for them to have an argument then. This was already a frustrating night in their long journey.
It took them ten more minutes before they came across some sort of light and it wasn’t any grand mansion, but an old, shabby, tiny, shack, with a lantern hanging outside, which now appeared like a palace to the couple, who were longing for a place to rest and an escape from the cold.
They knocked on the stained, wooden door with fungus all over it and from within came a short man of about five feet five inches, in his late twenties, with golden, curly hair, clean shaven face and a pleasant smile. He too like the family, that the couple had come across on the road, was fully covered with a blanket, his being grey and only his face and parts of his head were visible.
“Greetings sir and madam, how might I help you” said the man in a voice, as comforting and friendly as the lady they had seen on the road.
“Hello to you too…We were just travelling past this region and our jeep broke down, along with rest of our equipment” Callum waved his battery operated torch, that had stopped working and it caught the gentleman’s gaze, like a laser point catching the attention of a cat. His eyes moved wherever the battery operated torch moved, as Callum spoke, waving it around and pointing it towards the direction, they had come from.
“It’s really freezing and we are hungry. We were told about a mansion at the end of this pathway, where we could find someone to help us. But we did not imagine this pathway to be so long and we did not come across the mansion, as of now. We were wondering if you could give us a better picture as to where the mansion is” explained Fay.
“And probably provide us with something to keep us warm” added Callum.
“The Agoravilla Mansion? Well that is still some distance away from here. And it is not a great idea to travel there at this time of the night. Nocturnal beings are often seen roaming around seeking food and you two might just as well lie down on a dinner table and invite them for a feast” said the man, holding the door of his shack open, beyond which, Fay noticed very few, but expensive looking objects, like a grand, oval mirror, a traditional grandfather clock, a silver pocket watch lying on an seemingly expensive oak table, a dirty bronze goblet and a bust of an unknown man with a thin beard. The shack, the objects within, and the person speaking to them did not really appear coherent.
Callum however did not notice the inside of the shack and his eyes were on Fay, when the man spoke about wild animals roaming around, realising how dangerous their stroll, from their jeep to that shack had been. He had anticipated snakes and lizards, not bears and wolves.
“What are we going to do now? We’ve been lucky so far to not encounter any dangerous being, but who knows when our luck will wear out?” asked Callum, genuinely concerned.
“Might I suggest something? Why don’t you two good folks rest inside my shack for the night and we’ll leave for the mansion, together first thing in the morning…”
Fay and Callum stared at each other and then nodded their heads immediately without even any ‘we do not want to be an hindrance’ act, thanking the gentleman for his kind offer, without which, they could have really suffered. Fay also wanted to have a closer look at the objects within the room, that were visible to her, through the gap between the partially opened door and the owner of the shack himself, who was standing and blocking the view of most of the interior of the house with his body. But when Fay tried to enter the room, the man requested her and her boyfriend to enter the shack through another door towards the side.
The couple did so and the room that this door on the side, led to, was plain and dull, with nothing inside but a wooden cot, which the couple were to share and some old, woolly blankets. Neither of them could ask for more and had to be really grateful to the man for even letting them in. There wasn’t any fireplace or an electronic heater within the room, but it was certainly much less colder inside, than it had been outside and also the woolly blankets provided just enough warmth that they needed. The door to the other room, with the objects seen by Fay, was locked by the man, as he entered the room where the couple were, as if signifying that it was off limits for the couple.
 “Let me formally introduce myself. I’m Matthews Miracle, an ordinary woodcutter in this part of the woods. I live alone here and there isn’t much more to say about me, if you think about it” said the man with a smile, bowing before the two.
Callum and Fay introduced themselves back and said about their misfortunes on their trip to further north of the continent. Much of the things said by the couple, did not seem to make sense to Matthews, as he stared at them with a puzzled look, but did not bother to question further to know more. Callum noticed that Matthews still did not remove the blanket over him, even after shutting the doors and windows and when remaining on the inside of the shack.
Fay also spotted a tiny protrusion, right from the hips of Matthews, seeming like the hilt of a dagger, behind the thick blanket and this troubled her. She did not fear Matthews, but she was uncomfortable with him for some reason, just like how Callum had felt with the family of three whom they had come across earlier in the evening. Callum however had no such feelings towards Matthews, as Fay had felt nothing with the trio and was joyfully conversing about various irrelevant things, till a loud thunder, brought the three of them to the topic of weather, which was usually the conversation starter.
“That’s quite a loud thunder…are you sure this shack is safe to be in? Please don’t mistake me to be disrespecting your courtesy” said Callum, not wanting to offend Matthews by speaking lowly of his home.
“I understand your concerns and I too feel this place to be not so safe…I mean, it is perfectly alright to spend time when there is heavy rain or lightening outside, but it’s not the best place to be when a storm is about to come” said Matthews casually, while handing the duo a cup of tea each.
 “A storm? There is a storm coming to these parts?” asked an uneasy Callum.
“Yes, I expect it to hit the region sometime tomorrow in the evening. Therefore I intend to travel with you to the mansion and seek shelter under the wings of the Mistress”
“How can you be so sure about the storm and its timing?” asked Fay, suspiciously.
“I believe I haven’t said about the timing with great surety. But yes I am sure that a storm is on its way. Men of the woods know it well. Wilderness teaches you a lot. If you have the endurance to survive, the patience to observe and the determination to not give up, you can learn a lot from Mother Nature” said Matthews sipping on his tea.
Callum and Fay had their tea as well, but they experienced absolutely no taste nor felt their hunger to be easing. It was if they were consuming plain air that had no effect on their stomach or their tongue. Both were aware that they were not in a situation to complain and they simply chose to not speak about any discomforts in front of Matthews, to appear courteous and not whiny.
“So that is why you said we can all go to the mansion together, when we said about our intention to go there. By the way, have you ever been to the mansion and met the Mistress yourself? What is she like?” asked Callum, curious.
Matthews silently sat there for a few moments, watching the wall in front of him with a serious expression, as Callum asked about the Mistress and replied a few more moments later, in a soft, uneasy tone.
“Let’s just say that if she likes you enough, she will never let you get out, ever again”
            Fay could not wait to meet the Mistress about whom the family on the road as well as Matthews had spoken greatly of, or at least what little they had said about her, sounded great to the couple. The lack of enough information on the Mistress also did its part to increase Fay’s curiosity regarding her. And Fay felt that it would be better if she and her partner left this little shack as early as possible. Not only because it was a tiny, shabby, uncomfortable place to be in (the very place that had appeared as a palace when they had been out on the cold, now looked as miserable as it really was, after spending some time within), but also Fay was not really at ease with a strange man carrying a dagger within his blanket and having bizarre, expensive, classy items within a shack.
            Fay wondered if Matthews was a thief who invited passers-by to his little place, allowed them to sleep there and then stole things from them (the objects on the other room, being such stolen items, in her perception), after murdering them with his dagger. It did appear as an over the top thought as no passer-by could have walked around with a grandpa clock, a human bust or an expensive table for Matthews to murder and steal from them, but that did not ease her suspicion of him. Fay wanted to discuss about it all with her boyfriend, who seemed to be extremely comfortable in the presence of Matthews in that little shack, but she decided to wait till they were left alone by the woodcutter.
            He went to sleep, the moment Matthews said his good night after a series of conversations about more unimportant topics between the two (with Callum speaking about football, the Democrats, computers, leaving Matthews with a puzzled look and with Matthews speaking about the woods, the animals, his village, the survival in the wild and more about the weather, leaving Callum nothing to contribute on the subjects, as he knew nothing about the life in the wilderness)  and left the tiny room to his own room with all the expensive items. Fay could not relax and she had her eyes on the door, beyond which Matthews had walked out to his own room, wanting to make sure he did not return, intending to kill them for whatever they might possess and whatever he thought they had with them.
            Her vigil did not last long, as her exhaustion emerged victorious over her resolve, bringing with it sleep and by the time she woke up, she was greeted by Matthews with a bowl of fruits. The couple had them for their breakfast and once again they felt complete and prolonged emptiness in their stomach and tastelessness in their mouth, even after finishing the entire bowl.
“You might not be satisfied with what this poor woodsman could offer you, but I am sure that we could find a more sumptuous feast in the Mistress’ mansion, the journey to which has to commence as soon as possible. It was raining heavily all night long and though it might appear to have stopped now, we have to understand that it is the calm before the storm. We have to use this quiet period to our advantage” said Matthews, already prepared with a pair of old, torn shoes and a large sack over his head, to protect him from the showers, once it commenced later in the day. He was still covered with his blanket, but the protrusion of the dagger like object near his hips wasn’t as obviously visible then, as it had been the previous night.
Callum seemed to have not noticed it the previous night and now he had lesser chances of spotting the hilt, with the curves and wrinkles of the blanket better aligned to hide the protrusion. Fay still did not speak about her uneasiness with Matthews to Callum, which she had hoped to do the previous night, after Matthews had walked out of their room, but Callum had so quickly fallen asleep, that Fay had not had the chance to share her thoughts with him. When she had woken up, Matthews was already in their room and she once again did not get the opportunity.
The opportunity seemed like it was never to come, as Matthews hurried the couple to get on with their journey and locked his shack down, leaving all his belongings inside. Fay wanted to ask why he wasn’t bringing along any of his valuables, if he was so concerned about his shack not having the strength to withstand the effects of the storm. If the shack was to get decimated, wouldn’t the objects within?
“Nothing is more valuable to a man than his health and well-being. Other than that, whatever is lost, can be regained. Besides the shack might even survive the storm. I just don’t want to risk your lives as well as mine, taking a chance. If I were to have something, no force in this world can take it away from me. Whatever I am to have, nobody can stop me from having it”
Callum did not want Fay to speak further about Matthews’ possessions, as he considered it to be rude and Fay did not like Callum treating her like a child telling her what she should and should not speak about. The trio of Callum, Fay and Matthews began their journey from the shack to the Agoravilla mansion, the distance to which wasn’t said accurately by Matthews, when Fay asked him about it.
“Not too far away from here…” “We must get there in a matter of time…” “Our legs are good enough to carry us there” were the replies given by Matthews each time Fay questioned him in a different manner, (in terms of miles, hours and possible mode of travel) to deduce the exact distance.
Matthews even offered to carry the couple’s bags, sensing the duo to be slowing down not even half hour of walking later. Fay tried to refuse politely, but Matthews insisted and Callum offered his bag, as well as asked his girlfriend to hand over her rucksack, to please the man who was showing so much kindness to them.
The darkening sky, the damp ground, the pervading petrichor and the fast dropping temperature was accompanied by thick white fog that was soon covering the entire expanse of land that was visible in front of the travelling trio.
“Not to fear friends, occurrences of fog are quite common in these parts of the land. Just walk alongside me and we should be fine” said Matthews and walked a little forward to the couple.
Neither Fay nor Callum knew much about meteorology and Fay was wondering if fog can occur before a storm or was this one more of the oddities they were witnessing in their long journey so far.
The couple, despite not talking to each other over petty differences that morning, were still hugging each other and rubbing hands together as they walked along the path, unable to bear the cold conditions. Matthews had given them one of his woolly blankets to use if conditions went really chilly and Callum had packed it in his bag, which was then being carried by Matthews. It seemed a perfect time to get it out and he halted Matthews and got it out of his bag. The curly haired man was losing patience fast, on seeing the time taken by the couple to unravel the blanket and cover themselves with it.
“Friends, we are progressing really slowly. We need to hasten. I’ll be walking ahead, just follow me once you are comfortable having covered yourself with that blanket” said Matthews and started moving forward, the bags of the couple, still on his shoulders
Callum agreed to do so and it took some more time for him to properly cover both himself and Fay with the same blanket, which wasn’t of a very great length to cover either of them fully. So it was a mini struggle with Fay cursing Callum for not thinking of borrowing an additional blanket and Callum getting back at Fay for not even having the presence of mind to get one in the first place.
 By the time the duo were done arguing and covering themselves up to provide the best possible level of warmth and focused on following Matthews, there wasn’t much to be seen ahead of them. The visibility had dropped significantly and all they could see was dense white clouds all around them. Callum felt a bit suffocated, as if a white blanket was being used to cover his entire body including his head and Fay was just more ill at ease, not knowing what was where. They could not even see Matthews clearly and only a silhouette of a dark figure was visible ahead of them, amidst the fog. They decided to follow the figure as swiftly as they could and they struggled to run ahead, with both of them being covered with the same small woolly blanket. 
Even the thumping noise of Matthews’ footsteps and the rustling of leaves under his sole started to fade and Fay began to panic, much sooner than Callum, this time around, despite being the stronger and more confident of the two.
“Where did he go? Do you see him? I’m losing track of him” she whispered to Fay.
“I’m losing him as well, but I can still see a faint shadow ahead of me. We have to hurry. We can still catch up to him. Hello! Mr. Matthews…Please slow down”
The duo heard a faint reply, the words having absolutely no clarity. They yelled again calling out his name and the reply grew even fainter and by the third time Fay let out a cry, there was no reply whatsoever and even the shadow that Callum was keeping his eyes on disappeared.
Eventually the couple came to a stop, when they accidently placed their feet inside a small mud puddle and almost slipped forward. This slowed them down even further and both of them were sure that they now lost Matthews completely.
“Where is he? I can see nothing ahead of me…He’s got our bags and all our items. Our cellphones, our passports, our travel documents, my make-up kit, the keys to our house, my wallet…everything is in there. He’s not coming back for us, is he?” Fay launched questions after questions towards Callum, who stood there, peering into the fog, hoping to somehow spot Matthews.
“Don’t worry… he is not going to run away with our belongings. He does not seem the kind of guy to ditch us and steal our stuff. He’s probably lost us, as we’ve lost him”
“I don’t trust him. I saw some random, expensive, valuable items in his room, the kind not seen in the house of a simple woodcutter living in a shack in the middle of nowhere. There is something not right about him. I even saw a dagger hidden under his blanket. He must use it to kill people and rob them off their valuables…Oh God, this is awful” Callum was able to sense Fay shivering inside the blanket shared by the two of them.
“What are you talking about? I did not see anything of that sort. You are just over exaggerating your own misconceptions and assumptions. Wait, I see something. There, do you see it? A dark silhouette…That’s Matthews, isn’t he?”
“I can see it as well. The figure seems to be getting larger…” confirmed Fay squinting her eyes and trying hard to concentrate on the figure.
 “That means he is coming towards us. He must have just now realized we are not following him. He must be coming back to get us. And you jumped the gun on him-” Callum stopped what he was intending to say, when he noticed that there was no staff or their bags being carried by the figure. And as the figure got closer, it appeared larger than Matthews had been, when they had seen him at the same distance.
“That’s not Matthews…That seems like someone else?” said Fay making a statement in the tone of a question, not sure if she was being correct.
“Mr. Matthews, is that you?” asked Callum, not wanting to prolong the suspicion and get to the answer right away.
“Berrycloth…Calhoun Berrycloth is my name-” came a booming voice and an old man about six feet seven inches tall, with a strong muscular body, long greying hair, thin white beard, plenty of scars all over his arms and the visible part of his legs, with one major scar running across his right eye, came to a halt not more than six feet ahead of the couple, “-and who might you be” he leaned forward with a powerful glare.
Both Callum and Fay took a couple of steps back in fear and held onto each other tightly, with Fay being the relatively less scared of the two.     
“We are just a couple of individuals on our way to the Agoravilla mansion…” said Fay, trying to put up a brave face and sounding confident and authoritative.
“Does the lady have no name? And does the man have no bollocks?” laughed Calhoun, on seeing the way Callum was cowering behind Fay and his lips shivering.
The sound of his laughter made Fay’s hair on her arms stick up and Callum’s face was fast losing its colour.
  “I-I’m Cal-lum-Callum Collllins…And thiss isss m-my girll-girlfriend Fay” stuttered Callum.
“We mean no harm and have no intentions to poke our nose in anyone’s business. Now if you’ll please move aside, we’ll continue our journey” said Fay, not staring the man before her, in his eyes.
“Did you say you were heading to Agoravilla Mansion? And you intend to visit it under such awful weather, when dangerous beasts are on the prowl and in the company of a coward?” asked Calhoun, pointing his thick fingers towards Callum.
“He is not coward…he is just being cautious” said Fay, trying to show her boyfriend to be stronger than Calhoun was assuming him to be and to give Callum confidence that she still believed in him and he had to be strong in such a precarious situation. Neither of them knew who the man was, but by the looks of him, he must have been in the midst of great many deal of tough situations and emerged successful, was the thought that came to Fay’s mind.
“Well, let us not disagree with the gentleman, shall we…I think it would better if we turn back and head to the shack, giving up on the idea of visiting the mansion, if the path leading to it is a tough one. Matthews already said about dangerous animals in these parts, the coldness is unbearable, we’ve lost the man who was to lead us to the mansion, along with our possessions and we can hardly see ten feet ahead of us. The shack might survive the storm and we can, with it,” said Callum, already making up his mind to turn back, not having the mental strength to move forward.
Fay understood the point being made by her boyfriend and she too felt it to be the best decision. She had already thought of telling the same to Callum, but had refrained when she had seen the large figure approaching them, whom she too for a brief moment, believed to be Matthews returning. Now with him nowhere to be seen, their chances of making it to the Agoravilla mansion lessened even more. She just hoped that they survived the storm in the shack and that Matthews returned to the shack once the storm passed over, with their belongings. She knew they had to break open the locked shack and she did not mind paying for the damages if Matthews returned with everything they owned. If not, she did not mind ransacking the shack and taking all the objects she had seen within, for herself. How she was ever to get them back to a place where they could sell them and make money out of them, she had no idea and decided to think of something, as time went by.
But all that changed with the next few words said by the large, thick skinned gentleman.
“Yes, the puny and the weak have no chance of overcoming the obstacles in the path to the mansion…especially the woman kind, who are nothing but a burden and a distraction even to a strong minded man” said Calhoun and just walked past them, saying not a single word more.
As mentioned before, Fay was a very competitive, strong-minded, ‘never say no’ kind of character and when somebody said she could not do something, she got the urge to do it right away, no matter how tough it was. Now, not only did Calhoun insult her and her boyfriend individually, but insulted the whole of the womankind and Fay grew desperate to prove him wrong and make it to the mansion, no matter what obstacle came her way.
 Having been in a relationship with Fay for over five years and having lived with her in the same house over three, Callum knew what Fay was about to say next and he dreaded the words that he expected to come through her lips, which did, not long after.
“We are going to the mansion. We reach there or die trying”

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