Wisps of frost licked the cobblestones along the path to the Middle Empire. Beda felt the chill through his sandals, from the dew of the morning. Day was coming. Black mountains met blue sky as shadows, and in the distance Beda saw the dying lamps of two towns. A bitter wind blindsided him, forcing him off the road. His hands barred the assault as he swore to Refutemon. His master answered him with fog, much to Beda’s surprise.
Yet as the fog slowly enveloped him, Beda saw a dim light in the distance grow. The lamp did not flicker inside the spacious globe. It was a gas lamp. Why a gas lamp? How novel. No one used gas lamps any longer. Beda pulled himself up from the ditch and stood at the top of the trench. He could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch, of the lifter walking along the road.
“Ho there,” Beda cried out, waving his hands. He did so until the contraption halted, and beamed a light onto the road, just at his feet. Beda looked down and saw the grass browning under the light. And so he knew it to be a most opportune test.
“Hallo, stranger,” a voice shouted back to him. “What brings you to the fjell lands? Are you armed?”
“I am but a simple man of simple needs.” Beda replied. “I am no criminal.” In his mind, Beda repeated his words.
A moment passed of indecision, then the light turned off. Beda wiped the sweat from his brow, heaving a sigh of relief. The lantern swayed closer until the fog broke and a man emerged a few hands off the ground. He was perched inside the metal chassis of a lifter, hidden away by tubes and wires. All that was visible was his meaty chest and cherry face. Tuffs of hot breath vaporized in front of him, casting off his spirit.
“Well, a priest or monk? Has no member of the kvitekrist’s communes a place to abide in these bitter winters? Are you lost traveler?” The man approached cautiously, never leaving his lifter.
Beda held his tongue, a moment.
“I am itinerant. I go forth and spread my Lord’s will. May I have the road?”
The man in the lifter laughed. The suit followed his motions in pantomime with alarming precision, as the arms thrust forward into the back end of the torso.
“Rather, go forth with me stranger, out of this cold, and to the nearest tavern we can find. I reckon not you to be much of a drinker, but I am and my thirst must be slaked.”
Beda agreed to go along with him then. It didn't take much to convince him. He wished for anything to get out of the cold. This of course did not spare what he would do to the man, for he was a sinner. And sinners deserved punishment. Just like all those that had not yet submitted to the will of Refutemon.
The Inn was family owned, 4th generation, and when Beda entered the main drinking hall, his eyes sought the ceiling, but could not tell where it was exactly. The roof had been replaced by a construct reality of decent quality. Above him was a calm blue sky with the sun overhead. He could hear the sounds of springtime. A willow wren chirped in the trees above him, nested in the branches of an ash.
Concluding the necessary introductions, Beda learned the pilot of the lifter to be named Rugga. Beda listened to the poor man a little while. Rugga was one to brag. He was loud and assertive, as was his stories. Beda listened as his training permitted. Secretly, he admired Rugga. There was no regret in Rugga, vices notwithstanding. That Rugga was a farmer likely had some part in it. Farmers were the hardest to break. They were too humble.
“So why not drink?” Rugga spouted. He slammed the drink to the ground fiercely. “You look like one of those dressy folk, the beer drinkers from the south. You know them? Even the monks endure to this day. You’d have to.”
“It is not the way of Refutemon,” Beda began. “I serve only the master of restraint.”
Rugga’s face ceased to be gleeful and soured.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re a cultish bloke, ah? Well my evening is soured. I knew there was something funny about your ways.”
“So I’m not funny?” Beda retorted swiftly. “Why am I not funny? Everyone is funny.”
“Thasss not what I said,” Rugga spoke in a low, drowsy voice. “I said there was something funny about your ways, you hear?”
Beda sat back in the chair by the table.
“Am I funny?” Beda asked, his eyes like stone.
Rugga stammered incoherently. Without provocation, Rugga began to shake and crossed his eyes. Beda leaned in towards Rugga and whispered into his ear.
“What is it that you wish to forsake, Rugga? Humor can’t be the only thing…”
Beda watched the farmhand collapse into the table, sparking some interest from the others around him. He heard some comments about Rugga. The man was a drunk. He was always in here making silliness. Those that turned to watch Rugga collapse went back to their business, as did Beda. Taking a sip from Rugga’s unfinished drink, Beda paid the tab and left the tavern. It would be an hour or so before the patrons would discover the nature of Rugga’s mind, but none would know how Beda broke it.
After all, they were his trade secrets.