After finally making it to the village, Ian wondered if perhaps Trevor had the right idea about turning around. Most of what appeared to be homes and once quaint shops were burned to the ground and the handful left standing only retained hints of their former lives. A barbershop’s sign hung sideways over a busted out door. Someone’s lovely window garden sat wedged in the broken window it was supposed to decorate. A larger building announced itself as a school from the collection of books and children’s drawings littering the meager lawn in front of it.
“Where is everyone?” Simone hopped out of the cart and walked a few steps ahead before making a dazed twirl to take in the barren disaster. “Obviously they were attacked but I can’t believe an entire village would disappear with no survivors.”
Ian tied their horse to what remained of a fence lining the school and stared Trevor down until he showed enough courage to come out of the cart as well. “I’m guessing your old friends must have taken them after they wrecked this place?”
“But the Keepers don’t usually destroy things like this,” mumbled the former henchman as he made his way over. “They take whoever they can back to the castle but not like this. They’ve left all the other villages I know of abandoned but never destroyed.”
“Maybe they decided to make this place more of an example.” Ian glanced back at Simone to find her bent down and shuffling through the school’s lost papers as if their scribblings would provide an answer. He started to walk toward her but only made it a few feet before his left shoe sunk down onto something spongy and soft. Fearing the worst, he slowly stepped off and looked down – breathing a sigh of relief at finding he’d only found a trodden on teddy bear laying in the road. He picked the toy up to slap it’s blanket of dust and dirt off and immediately felt something like five sharp knives pressed against his back.
“Put the bear down,” growled a thunderous voice from behind him. “Unless you want this pitchfork messing up that fancy cloak of yours.”
Without turning around, Ian felt quite certain he either just discovered the largest child ever or this teddy bear must have an astounding guardian. Judging from the wide-eyed faces he now saw on Simone and Trevor in front of him, not to mention the fact they both stared over his head, it seemed more likely the latter.