The morning fog was still densely packed over the city when Hector walked out into the backyard of the house. Or, more accurately, the patch of barren land that made do as a backyard which he had bought along with the small and plain three-roomed habitation that was his home at the moment. He had bought it from a poor old woman who had decided to go live in the inner rings of the city after the death of her husband. The hovel, for it had been more a hovel than a real house, as it barely seemed to be able to protect anything from the harsh winter weathers, had not been ideal, but having a place to call home was a luxury to many so he had not shunned this opportunity. A few weeks of hard work had sufficed to turn it into a cozy enough place to live comfortably, if he could call his life comfortable. At least he had a roof to sleep under and a job to provide enough to eat and to live better than most, if not well, and on top of that he managed to save some of his earnings. It would take years at the rate it was going, but if all went well he would one day achieve his dream: owning an inn.
For now though he was still a simple field worker, tending to the lands of richer men than he. He sighed at the thought and began his daily routine, stretching out his limbs to wake his body up from the grogginess of sleep. The air was humid and fresh but not cold, the small patches of grass in what he called his garden were pearled with water and he could feel the soft earth bend slightly under his feet. The sun had barely risen over the horizon, not that he could see it anyway through the dense misty air, which meant he still had a full hour before it was time to go. He groaned sleepily as he switched position and bent his limbs in ways most people could not. He maintained his flexibility by exercising each morning, all in the hopes of retaining as much of his physical abilities in his old age. He was barely thirty one but people did not tend to live very long in his world, rarely more than twice as old, and when one did, most of the time it was not a pretty sight.
Half an hour passed as Hector moved his limbs slowly but deftly and with intent and purpose. Extending his muscles, warming his joints, controlling his breath and calming his mind. He liked feeling every little part of his flesh and bones tingling as he finished his exercise, it made him feel alive. As he opened his eyes again he noticed two things: the first one was that the fog had begun dissipating, letting him almost see the blue of the sky, the second one was a faint shadow in the distance and a soft groan he almost swore was his imagination. But he could see it, small and stumbling, it seemed to move in his direction. He immediately tensed, cursing in his short but dense brown beard. At least it didn’t seem to be a beast, Lum knew what dangerous and ferocious beasts roamed at the edge of the outer ring! That was part of the reason he had gotten the house for such a cheap price. It had the shape of a human being, a child even, but he wasn’t so foolish he would trust what he saw, he had heard enough to know it was never good to be careless. He swiftly grabbed his axe and stood his ground as he waited for the unknown being to approach, each footstep barely echoing on the soft ground.
But it never came. Instead, as it seemed to be about to walk out of the mist, he heard a thud. He blinked to focus and realized the shadow had disappeared. Cursing again, louder this time, he took a step back while looking around and was about to walk inside when he heard another soft groan from the direction he had seen the silhouette. He hesitated. Damn it! You stupid idiot!, he chastised himself as remembered the fundamental law of the wild: never hesitate. Act or don’t, but never, ever linger. Lingering meant pain, or worse, death… He took in a deep breath and decided. He took a tentative step forward, looking around him for any sign of danger and hardened his grip on the wooden handle. Seeing no immediate threat he took another one, and another. It was slow but finally he reached the place where he had last seen the silhouette and gasped as he saw a young child, no more than nine or ten, lying face first on the patch of grass.