“The place has seen better years, I suppose,” Mayor Geld said as he fumbled with a large ring of keys that jangled in his shaking hands.
Erin did not reply. She just looked over the rather short mayor’s head at what supposedly passed for a building while her heart sank. It had been a while since she came out this way, the inn being so close to the forest and all, but she hadn’t expected this.
Dark windows looked down on them from the upper story while shutters coated in peeling green paint covered the ground floor windows. That is, those shutters that had not fallen off and now lay among the patches of weeds and tall grass around the building. Her eyes caught the pieces of rotting wood here and there that would have to be replaced, as well as the shingles on the roof that threatened to fall with the slightest breeze.
The mayor finally found the correct key and inserted it into the rusted lock where, after a few grunts and ramming the door with his shoulder, the door gave way. They coughed and waved away the dust that swirled around their feet as they entered the spacious front end of the inn. Shadows scattered around the room hinted at tables and chairs as well as a front desk.
“There’s a kitchen in the back as well as a room I believe Mr. Sollis stayed in,” Geld said. He pulled out a handkerchief and covered the lower half of his face with it to ward away the smell and to cover his own coughing. “Upstairs there’s the rooms, of course, and an attic used for storage, I believe. Shall I show you around?”
Erin nodded, as she couldn’t see how this could get any worse. Of course, that was before they encountered the kitchen, and whatever was growing in the corner cabinet. Geld hurriedly shut the door on the disturbing sight and led out the back door.
“There are some stables over there, no horses of course,” Geld said once he recovered his breath.
“I hope not!” Erin gestured at the dilapidated building, which looked no better from this side either. At least the stable seemed to be in better condition, as in it did not look likely to fall over if anyone looked at it wrong. “Hasn’t anyone been in that place since…”
“I suppose not,” Geld said. “In retrospect, I suppose we should have sent someone to clean out the perishables, but Mr. Sollis’s passing took us all by surprise.”
Erin found herself nodding. The man must have been ancient, he built the inn himself they said, but he never acted like it. He would have been considered scandalous in town for all the strange people his inn brought into town and the rumors that went around every now and then if not for the fact that he’d been there so long that he seemed as much a fixture of the town as the inn itself. Now he was gone, and all that was left of the town’s inn was a dirty wreck of a building.
“Well, let’s take a look at those rooms at least,” Geld said and put on his bravest face before covering it once again with his handkerchief. Erin thought the prim little man looked like a man preparing to go into a combat zone the way he charged into through the back door and the kitchen and up the stairs into a dimly lit hallway that split at the top of the stairs and went back the other way with a parallel set of doors on either side. Geld marched up to the nearest door and opened it onto a dark room.
He reached out for a light switch out of habit and his questing hand found one. The single light in the room flickered once or twice and then lit up the narrow room with a brightness that surprised Erin and received a grunt of approval from the mayor.
“This place has power?” she asked. Most of the town just installed electricity a couple of years ago after a big push from the capital of the empire. Most people around here did not take well to change. Then she saw the state of the room and said, “Oh!”
Gleaming floorboards greeted them under an old but beautiful rug. The single bed looked freshly made, and no speck of dust lay on the nightstand or dresser, although the downstairs area probably had enough dust for three abandoned buildings.
Geld retreated from the room and checked the rooms to the right and to the left.
“At least this part is up to shape, eh?” he said somewhat weakly after finding the other guest rooms in the same condition.
There didn’t seem to be anything else to say about it, so Erin just nodded and followed the mayor down the stairs to the main room.
“Are you sure about this?” Geld asked, not for the first time.
Erin looked around at the cobwebs coating the walls and the strata of dust, the floorboards coming up and the flakes of ceiling coming down, and thought of all the work it would take to get this place running again. Then she considered the alternative.
“I’m sure,” she said with a conviction that surprised the mayor.
He passed her the ring of keys and said, “As I said earlier, I can let you have it for three months rent-free, to get things going. We’ll have to discuss it again then, but…”
He hesitated and said, “You do know that this is far too much for one person, don’t you? You can’t run this place by yourself, even if it was in any condition!”
“Mr. Sollis did,” Erin said.
“Yes, but that was him.”
“I’ll…” Erin hesitated and settled on, “I’m sure I can find a partner.”
The mayor hid his doubt fairly well as Erin saw him out of the inn. As he walked away she heard a creak and a snap and looked up to see the sign above the door dangling by one end. Through the layer of dirt and grime one could just barely make out the words: The Last Inn.