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“Just as Dimmet had expected, the house was now just a leaning structure of splinters, crackling plaster, and hay. The wall separating the main living quarters from the stable had collapsed who knows how long ago, and large drifts of moldy straw had plunged through. The roof was steadily collapsing. Masonry peeked out of fissures in the walls. The sheer, oppressive atmosphere of abandonment made Dimmet shudder. This place had been left hastily, yet thoroughly, nearly all traces of former occupation having been packed up and carted off. The only apparent evidence that someone might have once lived here was the large, sturdy wooden table in the front room, currently caked in dirt, the rusted cauldron being cradled in the crumbled remains of the hearth, two or three broken chairs, a forgotten lantern dangling from the ceiling, and in the far corner, a traditional zutzet, a carved wooden emblem holding the concord of forest animals and fay. The house was empty. It had no more soul. Dimmet could see that. And yet, there had been smoke. He had seen the smoke through the trees. And when he had drawn closer, he had seen it rising out of the house’s ancient, weathered chimney. His heart had fluttered violently, the brim of his hat quivering in time with it. He had taken a moment to think, to consider, before making any decisions. The house had looked harmless from the outside, unless you count splinters, the only foreboding thing about it being the mysterious, wafting smoke. He had almost not gone in. But then an urgency had struck him, sent from a memory that he had half hidden in his brain, in among dragon bone marrow and gnome saliva dissolver. So, after scoping out the location for another five minutes and seeing nothing threatening, he had ran in. And was disappointed. A fire had been started at one point in the hearth, yes, but he must have just missed whoever made it. It was hastily made, perching on the single solid stone slab left, right beneath the chimney opening. Just a small pile of twigs and burnt straw. The fire was almost out by the time Dimmet had found it. He sighed as he looked at it, folding his arms. It raised more questions than it answered. And he had been hoping for answers. He was so sick of questions. Despite his miffed feelings, he still felt compelled to further investigate. After all, that was what training had taught him. Don’t be fooled. You don’t know if there’s more to learn. Picking his way over the unstable ruins of the hearth, Dimmet managed to crouch low and peer at the little smoldering pile. There was nothing unusual in it, no artifacts hurriedly burned, for fear of consequences or what have you. Once again disappointed, Dimmet made to stand up and leave. But something stopped him. It grabbed his eye at the last second. The smoke, still spiraling up in skinny tendrils, was spelling something. Startled, Dimmet sucked in his breath, his limbs freezing. Languidly, in no rush, the smoke swirled and rose, slowly spelling out, “I AM BACK. DECEIVE NONE. TELL ALL. GO.” Dimmet watched, riveted, as it spelled this out again and again. Then, finally, when he was certain that it would say nothing else and he could stand the sight no more, Dimmet whirled around, clamored down to the floor, nearly crashed into the table, and dashed outside, his pulse racing faster than his legs, knowing he had to tell Gellert.”

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