163 - rally
tuart spotted her cabin by the thin gray wisp of smoke rising to the clear blue sky above. At that distance, he could not make out any details about the building which would confirm that it was hers, but the location was right.
Such an odd place to build a dwelling, Stuart thought. Here in the lowlands, far from the safety of the craggy valley walls. Wide-open plains without even a tree to call on for cover.
She must be fearless to live like this. He had heard tales of entire tribes roaming the flatlands long ago. Maybe there really had been a time when "home" did not revolve entirely around safety, he considered. But defense and protection were what his brain was wired to think about.
Even moving here through the tall grass unnerved him. He knew that anyone attempting to assail him would be just as exposed, but this territory was unfamiliar to him. He moved with swiftness, eager to reach the small building on the prairie.
With great relief, Stuart arrived at the primitive cabin. His perspective had now changed, and he was glad to come across any sort of refuge after crossing the plain. Fortunately, the markings on the door matched the description that he was looking for. But at this point he would have imposed upon just about anyone in order to take up shelter for a while.
Stuart gave the coded knock on the door, as he had been instructed. He waited for a while, and considered that he had perhaps done it wrong. Finally, he heard a faint voice call for him to enter.
He cautiously grabbed at the door's handle and pushed upon it. The door swung open with ease. He hadn't heard any motion inside the building to indicate that a lock had been undone after he successfully delivered the secret knock. Surely the door had not been unlocked the entire time, though. Stuart couldn't even imagine it. He must have missed the sound.
He entered a dark room, a small fire in the hearth on the other side of the cabin provided the only illumination. The inside of the room was sparsely decorated. Stuart saw a rudimentary bed and a few other items of necessity spread out across the interior, and not much else.
Except the table. For some reason, he had failed to immediately observe the large centerpiece of the room, but after he noticed it, he couldn't stop looking at it, or all the curiosities piled upon it.
Until he noticed her. She was seated on the other side of the table, her body frail and small. Stuart couldn't believe this was the woman of legend, but he somehow knew that she was the one he sought.
"You're disturbed by my appearance?" the old woman asked.
She was not what he expected, certainly. Aside from her frailty, she was completely naked, her elderly body's wrinkles on full display. From head to toe, she also seemed devoid of even a single strand of hair, instead covered in patches of bright red blotches that looked like a rash run amok.
The woman did not wait for Stuart's polite lie. "It's a disease," she began to explain. "A side effect of my 'gift.' You see, power has its price."
She continued, "The only thing that does not cause pain upon my skin is sunlight, and in my advanced age I find myself less and less able to walk about in the sun's pleasant rays."
Then she looked directly into his eyes. "Stuart, you came here looking for my help. But first, I must ask for yours. Help this old lady enjoy a quick stroll under the sun, please."
Duty obliged him to grant her request.