A subtle light slowly crept from outside and the slight adjustment in illumination woke Theodore up.
He reluctantly got off the bed and moved his still slumbering body towards the window. Under a dense ceiling of gray clouds the city was already awake. The streets below crawled with people, crafting, trading, strolling around as much as they could, before the skies cracked open once more. His over indulgence in liquors last night had provided for a devious bowel and a nice headache, so he poured some water on his face to consolidate his senses. As he saw his dreary reflection in the water-bowl, he tried to gather his recent memories to figure out some possible reason to grab the day by the sideburns and not call in sick.
After some long seconds of self-staring, he still was oblivious to most of the details, but the one thing he did remember made him jump up.
In two minutes he had put on clothes, grabbed his sack and was limping down the stairs with his left boot still in hand. He dashed out of the tavern, almost running over a passing pastry seller and anxiously looked around for the delivery man.
A wooden wagon with battered and patched spots all over dragged by two horses to match it in vitality, was stationed across the street. The delivery man had just loaded what seemed the last of the cargo and was about to set off.
Theodore maneuvered to the best of his ability through the busy street and by weaving hands and halting cries managed to draw the man's attention.
“You're late. Get up.” he said briskly.
He looked just as exhausted from yesterday's endeavors and even though he probably woke up quite before Theodore, he clearly did that on the wrong side of the bed.
“Thank you! I'm eternally in your debt” exaggerated Theodore, but felt quite relieved he didn't miss that one.
Shortly after, they had left Rumporth behind and the moist countryside spread before them to the bleary horizon. The delivery man back in his every-day distant self reminded nothing of the previous encounter's open-hearted fellow. He mostly dealt with Theodore the way he did to the rest of the cargo and spent the majority of the time in silent driving.
The view was captivating in its own way. A series of hills dressed up in faded greens, bushy beech trees sprouting on some of them and low wooden bridges connecting the banks of flooded streams. Everything under trick layers of moisture which provided a glistening finishing touch. The bumps and cracks on the swirly road made the horses lose their step from time to time and the cargo rocked and clanged against each other. Theodore noticed everything was unlabeled as to their contents but were specifically addressed. He also noticed that some of the boxes moved more unforced than others, but avoided a question whose answer his nauseated morning self could not handle. Instead, he closed his eyes for a while, leaned his head against the wagon and tried to control his body's unsolicited movements. Soon, sleep had taken over again.
He wasn't sure if he dreamed of something, but an undefined darkness crept at the back of his mind as one of the first raindrops returned him from his torpor. The man beside him was still the same and driving, but his surroundings had radically changed. Between the rocky cliff-side to his left and the deep ravine to his right, the path was nearly wide enough for the wagon. Behind he could still see the hills gradually elevating and becoming rough and narrow. How long was he asleep? He heard the sea crushing against the base of the ravine and saw the loaded clouds surf along the waves towards the shore. Soon another pouring.
They almost held their breaths as they moved carefully in the uneven path. After a couple of steep turns around blind corners, where the rocking of the wagon made them wonder if they will live to see the other side of them, the road became wider, eventually leading to a small clearing.
The whinnying of the horses broke the neurotic clapping of their hooves and they stopped.
“We're here.” said the delivery man bluntly. “Follow the path around the hill and you'll find the manor.” he added and pointed towards an even narrower crossing, maybe wide enough for a man and his horse. It wrapped around a great rock formation growing outwards, hanging against all natural elements and gravity, high above the raging waves of the sea.
Theodore bid the fare and the farewell to the delivery man and that was the last he saw of him. He stood there alone for a moment staring at the way before him.
The scenery was covered in shadows. Protruding where the path was eaten around the rock, mouths of gray stone cast strange shapes at the last minutes of the fading sun. Doubt settled in. For the first time he had that weird realization, a sudden self awareness of where he was and what he was doing. The menacing surroundings temporarily affected his sense of purpose making him wonder, if there was danger in there for him. If whatever lied beyond was worthy of this unlikely for him riskiness. Couldn't he just go back and “just manage it” like he did so far?
The sound of rain drops added ambiance, interrupting Theodore's pessimistic thoughts, replacing it with a feeling of urgency. He was here already and almost where he's supposed to be. He couldn't simply abandon now.
From afar one could only see a pale light from Theodore's lantern as he steadily moved higher around the rock. He noticed, even though the road was carved a long time ago, there were patches with planks connecting rockfall gaps which looked quite recent. This sense of human presence lightened a bit his darkened mind but couldn't totally dispel the looming feeling of something being wrong about all this. After a while he was barely thinking about the path and mechanically moved through the seemingly unchanging turns. His mind was set to finding what it was he was forgetting. Someone telling him something; an important thing. Was it something about rats, or was that just a dream? The scared face of a man popped in front of his mind's eye and he instinctively shuddered to cast it away. It's just this place, he tried to reassure himself.
His feet were starting to become sore, when finally the way opened up and he emerged from between the rocks to witness a large clearing. There was soft soil and even a couple of old trees. A dirt path led to the manor standing in the middle of it. He approached with apprehension taking the time to inspect the building. As he came closer, the manor towered above him ominously, taller and darker. It had two series of windows, most of them roughly barred with bed planks and broken window parts. At the top the attic room hung watchfully above the plateau. It had a round window where a light flickered, indicating life in the otherwise derelict place. Who would choose to live in such a dreadful, isolated place? He reached the heavy mahogany door and found himself in front of an iron door knocker, made to resemble some thorny plant. He took a last look around him and after seeing no one, he went to knock. At his touch the door slid effortlessly in with a squeak and he took a cautious step inside.
The indoors looked dusty, old and upside down. The furniture seemed as if they had been under worn out sheets when someone tossed them around, tearing the goose out of them. Glasses shattered and books torn laid the way in front of him leading to an old wooden staircase. He took a moment outside to change the oil in his lantern and after taking a deep breath, went forth. The stairs creaked in his every step, even under the thick carpet covering them with faded reds. The second floor rooms were in a similar state of broken chairs and knocked over portraits. Theodore passed them hastily moving up the staircase to the attic. Soon he would meet the rival to his expectations. His heart was running wild, but everything else moved slowly as he took another reluctant step.
The light shedding through the open door of the attic room hit Theodore's face and inside he saw a man sitting behind a heavy wooden desk. The lamp in front of him disfigured his barren scalp and bushy sideburns into an outlandish image.