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The old barn looked incredibly ugly. Whenever anyone would see it for the first time, they would usually freeze on the spot, taking a closer look at the simple household utility. Only after a while were they able to keep moving, looking back a few times to let the image sink well into their memory. There was nothing unusual per se about this barn. Well, besides a few things. The jerry-rigged wooden barn had a classic Roman portico with two crooked clay columns at its entrance. As if that alone wasn’t enough, the barn also had a tower on the roof. It was too small to serve any purpose other than to be decorative but large enough to be noticed from a far distance. It was apparent that someone enthusiastic, yet inexperienced, worked hard to make it one of the best barns ever, and they succeeded… somehow.

By now the building lost some of its initial beauty. Still, it was solid and looked almost the same as in Appius Lancer’s childhood. Appius noticed that someone recently plastered-up cracks on one of the columns. This barn was still being cared for. The architect smiled, and immediately felt annoyed with himself for this nostalgic feeling. It was a mistake to choose this old road to the Old Vulture. He should have taken another, one that didn’t bring him of those memories. Appius squinted, noticing another addition to the barn. An old hawk, sitting atop the tower, like some weird weathervane.

Oh, no… not this bird again.

For the past few days, that woman’s strange pet, Nenet, was it? wouldn’t leave him well alone, not even for half an hour! It sat at the windowsill when he went to bed. It was the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes the following day. It monitored how the architect had his breakfast, listened to his talks to the fortress workers, looked at him writing dispatches. It never came close enough to catch him and never did anything else. It just watched him. Something was disturbing in how this bird behaved. Too silent. Too focused. Too attentive. Too human-like. Appius shivered when he realized why he turned to this road in the first place. It was because of the hawk. Again.

He had initially noticed the hawk sitting on the village gates and instinctively chose a different path, confident their eyes didn’t meet. But oh no, here it was, looking at him from the barn roof! Laughing at how it set him up in this memory trap! Appius shook his head. Absurd. He should sleep more. Birds do not laugh, they do not understand human speech, and they certainly cannot set traps! Or could they… No! He snapped out of his thoughts. This bird knew nothing about him, especially not what the ugly old barn meant for him, anyway.

[TO BE CONTINUED…]

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