S1E9 Transcript

By the next afternoon, they had hatched out a plan, gotten their decrees and were on their way to the archives. Sayaf’s contact had lived up to their hopes and, with the appropriate payment, given them what they needed. Logan had insisted that they come up with a backstory for the people they were pretending to be and why they were visiting the archives, saying that if they didn’t get used to their new identities in advance they would stumble and falter if they were to be questioned on their mission. They had all gathered in Rena and Asha’s room, spending the evening designing the characters they were going to inhabit, what they were looking for and what their connections to each other were. As Logan and Rena came up with more and more extravagant and unlikely details, Asha had to reign them back in, reminding them that they couldn’t both be disenfranchised royals from far away lands who were on the path of revenge against their evil sibling who had stolen the throne away from them, but by the end of the night even Asha had a faint smile on her lips from Logan and Rena’s antics. And so, over night, they had become a scribe and his assistant examining the accuracy of historical maps, a merchant trying to get the upper hand on his competition, and an envoy from the Paelidian island to their East trying to corroborate some rumours they had heard about the grey isles. They raided Rodrick’s caravan for clothing and accessories that best fit their new background, making it a game to see who could find the best disguise. To no one’s surprise, Logan won their competition. He had managed to not only make Rodrick’s old, baggy clothes look good and natural on him, he had also managed to give off a completely different aura through a change in body language and speech pattern. Rena had never seen anything like it before, as if an entirely different person was standing in front of her, someone she had never met before, even though she still recognised Logan’s face. It fascinated her to see this change, to see how one person could become someone completely new with so little effort.

A few hours later, they were travelling up the main road that led through the plains towards the archives, past the houses that became bigger, sturdier and more opulent as they approached the fortress. They had decided to drive the caravan up to the archives and leave it in their stables, partly because Rodrick trusted it to be safer there than out in the open next to the inn, and partly because Logan said it would help their illusion of being reputable members of society if they arrived at the archives with a strange contraption no crook could afford instead of just walking up to the fortress. Rena thought that maybe it would seem disrespectful or unprofessional if they didn’t arrive by carriage, but as they approached the giant building she saw more people walking up the road from the village to the fortress than those sitting in wagons. But of course, there was also the fact that Vincent would have to stay somewhere, and he would be safest in the caravan as close to them as possible, where, if they had to leave in a hurry, they could get to him quickly.

The road to the archive’s entrance was divided into two lanes, one for carriages to the left and one for those on foot to the right. To each side of the road four tall poles with milky white bulbs containing lamps at the top guided the way. The lights inside the bulbs were still on, colouring the milky glass in a dim orange hue, even though it was the middle of the day and the sun was out. Rodrick slowed the caravan down, trying to leave enough room between them and the carriage in front of them. They were coming up to the entrance of the fortress, the giant metal gates having been opened towards the outside so that Rena could see their inside faces and the tableau of scholars and record keepers that was depicted on them. Rena craned her neck to look at what was going on in front of them but all she could see was that there were three carriages ahead of them and the first one was stopped at the gate. The lane next to theirs also seemed to slow down the closer it got to the gate, although it never quite seemed to stop like theirs did.

[Rena] “Do they already check the papers here? I thought you could get to the entrance hall without any decree?”

[Rodrick] “When we arrived by foot yesterday they asked us what we were here for and then instructed us on which direction to go to. I think they are trying to keep everyone from going to the entrance hall at the same time. There might be other entrances for those who already have a decree or for those who have an audience with the administrator. They might ask to see inside the caravan too, I know they ask for that in other institutions like this one. To make sure no one is bringing anything in that could harm the records.”

Rena turned to look at Rodrick and frowned.

[Rena] “Will we be ok? Should we have cleaned up inside your wagon before coming here?”

Rodrick dismissed her with a wave.

[Rodrick] “Mostly they are looking for large weapons or explosives, I don’t have either of those in the caravan. They don’t care much for the oddities I collect. They don’t even care much if people bring in swords and daggers since there are guards everywhere throughout the building. They will probably still ask us to leave all of our weapons in the caravan anyway and lock it up, just to minimize the risk of harm. As long as Logan and Asha didn’t bring anything more frightful than a blade with them we should be fine.”

True to his word, they were granted access without major problems. It took some convincing to get Asha to leave all of her blades in the caravan but, by the end, all of their weapons were safely locked up and the caravan was in turn safely stowed away between a smaller, elegant, black and red open wagon and a much larger, worn out, closed carriage on which the yellow paint had mostly flaked off, revealing the original light brown colour of the wood underneath.

They didn’t enter the archives through the large doors opposite the gates through which most people disappeared, but were instead led to a side entrance to the left, although these doors were just as ornate and delicately decorated as the ones that, without a doubt, led to the entrance hall. The room they entered into had a high, domed ceiling, white, blue and green patterned tiles covering the floors and the bottom parts of the walls, and delicate swirls had been carved into the white stone of the upper walls. To their right was a row of desks where clerks, wearing long, yellow and green robes, talked to visitors, while two hallways to their left and at the far end of the room lead inside the fortress. Next to each hallway a large sign had been attached to the wall that listed which departments they lead to.

[Logan] “Guess this is where we split up.”

[Rodrick] “You all have your copy of the department list, right? Rena and I will be in the department of topographical works, if you run into any troubles or can’t find where you have to go, you can come and find us there. At least for the beginning, I don’t know how long we’ll stay there yet.”

[Asha] “We’ll be fine.”

Asha side eyed him with a mix of confusion and aversion. Logan leaned forward and patted Rodrick on the arm twice, flashing him a grin.

[Logan] “Don’t worry old man, we know how to get out of tricky situations on our own.”

He leaned over to ruffle Rena’s hair and winked at her.

[Logan] “Let’s go.”

He turned around before Rena could protest his actions, her hands frantically trying to smooth her hair out again. Asha followed him without any further comments and they weaved their way through the crowd to the hallway at the end of the room. Rodrick shook his head at their retreating figures before turning to Rena and smiling at her.

[Rodrick] “Shall we?”

It took them some time to find their way to the correct room. Even though all the rooms were neatly numbered, the hallways branched out in such weird and unexpected ways that they had to backtrack a few times before finding where they were actually meant to go. Rena had expected guards to stand in front of each room to make sure people couldn’t just enter wherever they wanted, but they only saw a handful of them leisurely strolling through the hallways in groups of two, talking to each other and barely regarding the people hurrying from one place to the other. When they had first entered the archives there had been so many people in the hallways, some standing to the sides in deep conversation, some rushing past them, and they all looked different from each other. Some were wearing long, embroidered robes in a multitude of colours, some were wearing tight fitting leather pants that had to be laced at the sides, some had wide brimmed hats, some had veils covering their faces, and some even wore the clothes Rena was used to seeing in her small village. She tried not to stare at them, to look like she belonged there, but some of the clothing looked so unusual to her, so fascinating, that she had to hold on to Rodrick’s sleeve to not lose him and their way. 

But now, as they came closer to their destination, they barely met anyone. They reached their target, a room labeled “R1TG3” in big letters with a barely legible subtitle reading “topographical works”, and Rodrick pushed open the simple, dark brown door. The room they entered into was dimmer than the hallways, illuminated only by the same milky white bulbs they had seen outside, fixed high on the ceiling. The floor tiles in front of them were a continuation of the intricate, symmetrical blue, white and green star pattern that had stretched out throughout the entire building. In front of them stood rows of dark brown bookcases, made of the same wood as the door and the rest of the furniture in the building. They were filled not just with books, but also with stacks of parchment rolls and boxes. 

“Permit, please,” a boy not much older than her said from next to them, sitting behind a table to their right. He looked at them with the greatest disinterest, as if sitting there was the last thing he wanted to do but he had somehow still been forced into being there.

When Rodrick handed him the appropriate decree he barely looked at it before giving it back, not asking them for any verification or explanation on what they were looking for. Rodrick simply turned around and walked away as if he hadn’t expected to be questioned, but as Rena followed him she couldn’t stop herself from glancing back at the boy, making sure that he hadn’t changed his mind and was calling them back. The boy, however, had slumped back into his chair, his shoulders drooping, and was staring off into the distance in front of him.

Rena turned back to Rodrick, leaning in so that no one else would hear her.

 [Rena, whispering] “Doesn’t he want to know why we’re here?”

Rodrick had stopped in front of one of the bookcases, reading the sign that was hanging on its side. He frowned at it, before looking from side to side, looking back at the sign, and only then looking over at Rena.

[Rodrick] “Hmm? Ah, eh, I don’t think these records are that important so they probably don’t care too much about who gets access to them, and I don’t think that boy cares enough about it either way.”

[Rena] “Then why not just make them completely public if they barely look at the decrees anyway?”

[Rodrick, chuckle] “Well they can’t just let anyone look at their records, now, can they? There needs to be some weeding out or who knows where we’d get. Ah, this way I believe.”

He turned to the right and went past a dozen bookshelves, keeping track of the signs labeling the contents of the row, before abruptly turning left and hurrying down one of the rows. Rena finally realized how deep the room was. One of these bookshelves would not have fit into any of the rooms in her parents’ house, and if she counted correctly there were five of those in one row, with space for a passageway between each bookshelf. Rodrick only lead them to the second bookshelf though, to a part that seemed quite empty in comparison to the first bookshelf they had just passed. No books were present in this section, only rolls of parchment at the top and wooden boxes at the bottom. Each shelf was labeled with letters and numbers, abbreviations that Rena couldn’t decipher, and in turn each box had a longer label that seemed even a greater mystery to her. But not to Rodrick, who after only a few seconds of careful consideration reached down and pulled one of the boxes out, crouching down to put it on the ground. Without hesitation he opened the lid, revealing a stack of rolls of paper, bound shut by differently coloured ribbons.

[Rena] “How do you know it’s that one?”

Rena stared at the boxes in front of her in confusion before crouching down next to Rodrick. He turned the label towards her and pointed at its inscription.

[Rodrick] “TP means topographical, as we already saw on the door, the number is just to not have every sub-category in one place, the RW means roadworks, the S means signage or simply just signs, and then you have the abbreviation for the specific region of the province and the year the documents belong to.”

[Rena] “How do you know all that?”

[Rodrick] “The archives in Mak-Hemma use the same system so I know how to read it, the specifics I kind of had to guess at because I have never had to look up anything relating to roadbuilding before.”

He pulled out one of the rolls and turned it around in his hand before undoing the bow.

[Rodrick] “This part we’ll just have to guess at however.”

He unrolled the paper and held it out in front of them. The top of the page had specific, little boxes that had to be filled out with the location of the works, the date, who had given the orders and who was responsible for the project, making it easy for them to discard any of the reports that weren’t useful for them.

Rodrick rolled out a fifth bundle of papers and instantly the text looked different than the rolls they had looked at before. At the bottom of the first page a line had been cut out and a note had been scribbled in the margins next to it. The further they got in the report, the more pieces of the pages were missing, or had simply been crossed out to make the text impossible to read.

[Rena] “What do the margins says?”

Rena leaned in closer, trying to read the tiny font, but it looked like more of the abbreviations that didn’t make much sense to her.

Rodrick brought the paper closer to his face before reading.

[Rodrick] “R4C6E1 dash C6E1ARC”

He frowned down at the paper, pulling it away from his face again.

[Rena] “What does that mean?”

[Rodrick] “I’m not sure actually.”

He pulled out the list of departments he had stashed away in one of the front pockets of his coat and unfolded it, smoothing it out against the tiles of the floor.

[Rodrick] “The number after the first R indicates the level of restriction, meaning this section is highly restricted, the C probably refers to communications, meaning that the E refers to external. If I read this correctly, the cut out paragraph can be found in the external communications department with a high restriction, which would be … in the second basement. Or at least a mention of what was cut out can be found in the document this points to.”

He rummaged around in his coat before pulling out a little tin box, opening it and picking up a piece of charcoal. He drew a cross next to the department of external communications before picking the rapport back up and deciphering the next margin. For every annotation he made a cross next to the relevant department. By the end of it, they had quite a few crosses next to departments relating to roadworks or town management with an R2 or even R3 restriction, and next to communications departments over all types of restrictions.

They silently pondered their list for a few moments. The longer Rena stared at it, the deeper her frown got, unable to puzzle together what it all meant. She knew that the fact these reports had been cut up and the information scattered across multiple departments probably meant that something was off, that their intuition had been right, but she couldn’t figure out what it actually meant.

[Rena] “I suppose we should go to one of these other departments, right? Which one do you think we should go to? Town management appears a lot in the report. I don’t really know what there is to manage about a town but it does sound relevant to what we’re looking for. Maybe we’ll find more information there.”

[Rodrick] “Hmm, no I think we would just find more breadcrumbs there. More of these rapports where everything that’s important is mysteriously missing. No, in my opinion there’s a quicker way to get to the source, and that is going directly to the restricted communications. I think anything above R5 is only accessible to the staff of the archives, so our best bet would be the R4 one, even if I don’t think it will be easy for us to get in. The decrees we have don’t give us access to anything that restricted.”

 [Rena] “But they don’t care about the decrees anyway. If we just act confident enough they probably won’t question our presence there too much.”

[Rodrick] “No, I think for those departments they are more careful about who gets access to them. Even if we had a decree for those sections, they probably would examine it very carefully.”

[Rena] “Ok, so what do we do?”

[Rodrick, sigh] “I think we should still find out where it is and see if there might be another way in. It might not be the most prudent decision but I don’t want us to waste our time with trivialities that would barely give us any information we could work with.”

[Rena] “Hmm… What do you think they’re trying to hide?”

[Rodrick] “Well, they really aren’t giving us much information in this report. It doesn’t mention who gave the orders, why the signs were replaced or even really what exactly was replaced.”

[Rena] “Couldn’t they have just lied on the report instead of cutting it up like this? This just looks extremely suspicious.”

[Rodrick] “I think they do want to keep actual records of what happened and why it happened, and at this point these kinds of reports have just become a routine. There’s a format to them and there are habits on how to deal with confidential information and that’s just how things are done. No need to change it up if it works.”

[Rena, mumble] “Doesn’t seem very safe to me if people like us can just stumble their way onto really important information.”

[Rodrick, chuckle] “We don’t have the information yet, don’t get too hasty.”

He rolled the papers back up and tied them up with the blue ribbon before placing all of the rolls back into the box and sliding everything back onto the shelf. With a groan and a hand on his back he stood up.

[Rodrick] “Let’s go find our next clue, shall we?”

The sound of their footsteps echoed around them as they went down the spiral staircase, the smell of humidity heavy in the air. No one else was around this deep in the archives and it was quite enough that she heard the light hiss emitted from the lamps. It didn’t sound like fire, even though the light danced around like a flame. They weren’t nearly as bright as the lamps that had illuminated the hallways above them, as if it didn’t matter as much if the people down here could see where they were going. Or maybe people were supposed to bring their own lamps with them, Rena thought. Maybe outsiders didn’t come this far down usually and the people who worked here knew to bring their own lights. She nervously looked around, hoping to see if she could spot anyone else, to see how other people behaved down here, but the hallway they were in was long and empty and she only just then noticed that there weren’t even any doors or signs around them.

[Rena, whisper] “Are we going in the right direction?”

[Rodrick, whisper] “We should be. At least that’s what the signs upstairs were saying.”

They suddenly stopped when a door creaked shut and they could hear faint whispers in the distance, slowly coming closer from a bent in the hallway in front of them.

[Rena] “Quick, show me your list.”

She motioned to Rodrick to hurry up, turning him around to face the wall and huddling close to him so they could both look down at the list.

[Clerk, getting louder] “I could arrange for one of the records keepers to accompany you next time if you have more specific questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of much service to you, that area isn’t my expertise. I do know a lot about the inner workings of the military academy, if that is another area you would be interested in.”

[Researcher] “Not really, no.”

[Clerk] “Tragic. I find it quite fascinating. Maybe for a later book of yours. Oh, but I have heard that Aminah Burhan was appointed chief court historian in Dam’vala. Is that right?”

[Researcher] “Sadly, yes.”

[Clerk] “What a dreadful woman. The last time she was here she insisted on staying in one of the rooms for hours, completely disregarding that I still had other work to get to that day. I’ve decided that the next time I hear she’s about to arrive I’ll assign one of the younger clerks to her. I’ve earned at least that from all my years working here. You know we’ve been asking for a raise in our pay for years. All these nobles keep moving to the plains or just buying up the big houses for their summer residence and it keeps driving up the prices of everything, and yet we’re supposed to keep living here on the same amount of money we made twenty years ago? I feel like it’s time we workers set up our own city away from the plains so that we can live in peace and aren’t bothered by any of the newcomers and snakes trying to wriggle their way into the good graces of the administrator.”

When the two had past them, Rena finally dared to glance back at them. One of them was an older man who wore the same uniform the clerks had worn in the entrance hall. The other was a middle-aged woman, wearing a wide, dark-blue robe with golden inscriptions rising up from the bottom. She had braided her long, black hair into one thick braid and had slung it over her shoulders like a scarf.

Rodrick folded his list back up and slid it into his jacket.

[Rodrick, whisper] “Let’s be careful.”

The two strangers had barely noticed them and were well on their way to the staircase. Rena took her eyes off of them and turned around to face the way they had come from.

[Rena, whisper] “Wait here.”

She pulled the skirt of her dress up so it wouldn’t rustle too much and inched closer to the corner of the hallway. She dared to glance past it, keeping herself close to the wall. What she saw could barely be called a hallway, more like an alcove. Two doors stood facing each other, each flanked by two guards. They were facing ahead, unmoving, a curved sword hanging from their belts. Rena pulled back again and walked back to Rodrick.

[Rena, whisper] “We’ve finally found the rooms, but there are guards in front of each of them. What should we do? I don’t think we can just walk up to them and ask how we can access the rooms, right? That would be pretty suspicious.”

[Rodrick, whisper] “No, you’re right. We’ll need a different tactic for this, something a bit more savvy.”

[Rena, whisper] “I wish Logan was here.”

S1E9 The keepers of truth

With 60% of the votes, the story continues on the second path. The group has finally reached the archives, hoping they can find out the truth behind the mysterious fires.

By the end of the episode, three choices will be presented to you. vote on twitter or down below for whichever path you want the story to continue on.

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E8 Gone but not forgotten

With 60% of the votes, the story continues on the first path. The group splits up and tries to find out more details about the archives and about the other village that disappeared.

By the end of the episode, four choices will be presented to you. Vote on twitter or on theheartpyre.com for whichever path you want the story to continue on.

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E8 Transcript

Rodrick had been right when he had said that this inn had comfortable rooms. It was nowhere near as big as the room she had been in just that morning, but the bed was the softest thing she had ever had the privilege of sitting on and she couldn’t stop herself from running her hands up and down the fresh linens. She was sharing a room with Asha this time around, while Rodrick and Logan had a room further down the hallway. 

Rena got up from her bed and wandered across the room, taking in the abundance of decoration the innkeepers had plastered all over the walls and furniture. Whoever was responsible for these rooms seemed to be extremely fond of marbled ducks and red carnations. On the singular nightstand between the beds there was a bouquet of the flowers although Rena had already touched it and figured out that they weren’t real flowers and made of tissue instead. Surrounding the flower pot were figurines of the ducks, in various sizes and shapes, ordered in a circle from biggest to smallest, leaving almost no room for anything else on the nightstand. 

While Asha was unlacing her arm guards, Rena walked over to the window. From her standpoint on the fourth floor she could see over most of the city, although she could only really see the houses surrounding them, anything beyond that were just spots of dim light in the darkness. She opened the window and leaned out, looking over to her right to see the lights outlining the shape of the fortress.

“Careful with that,” Asha warned her, unlacing the front of her tunic and sliding out of it. 

Rodrick had given them all simple cotton robes of his so they wouldn’t have to sleep in their dirty clothes. Asha slid hers on and its formlessness looked, quite frankly, ridiculous on her, the fabric tight around her upper arms while the chest and skirt were loose and too short.

Rena turned around to lean against the windowsill, observing as Asha rolled her shoulders and moved her arms, frowning at the straining fabric.

“I’m sorry we had to drag you into this,” Rena told her.

[Asha] “I’m using you just as much as you’re using me to get into the archives. There’s nothing to apologize for.”

[Rena] “Still, I’m sure you had other things planned for this week.”

[Asha] “You don’t have to worry about how I plan my time. If you worry about everyone else’s decisions all the time you won’t get anywhere in life.”

Rena nodded, unsure how to respond to that. She had simply wanted to be polite, she hadn’t expected Asha to dismiss her like this.

“Your uncle mentioned you were from the Grey Isles, right?” she tried again, hoping that this at least could lead them towards a normal conversation.

Asha folded her clothes together on the bed before walking over to one of the two chairs standing against the wall on the opposite side of the room and laying them down in a neat pile. Rena started to get nervous when Asha didn’t reply.

“How did you arrive here?” she continued, desperate to fill the silence in the room with something. “You mentioned something about a takeover earlier, has it something to do with that? I’m sorry if I sound ignorant but I didn’t hear anything about such events before.”

Asha took in a long breath and sighed.

[Asha] “We don’t have to talk about this. You can concentrate on what you want to get out of the archives, and I will concentrate on what I want to get out of them. There is no reason for us to discuss our backstories.”

[Rena] “Ok.”

Rena pressed her lips together and looked down at the ground, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. She had already sensed that Asha was not the most talkative person, but she hadn’t expected her to outright rebuff her like this.

[Rena] “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

Her fingers dug deeper into the wood of the window frame, expecting Asha to put her in her place again but the room remained silent.

After a while Rena dared look up and saw that Asha was standing next to the chair, staring at her. Rena’s breath caught in her throat when their eyes met, a cold shudder running down her back.

“We should go to sleep,” Asha finally said, turning away from Rena and leaving her in utter confusion. 

Rena didn’t know what Asha’s look had meant, if it had been a confirmation that Rena had in fact offended her, if Asha had wanted to tell her something but thought better of it, or if it had meant something completely different. The cold night air creeping in from the open window finally made her stand up and close the window behind her. She silently walked over to her own bed and picked up the robe Rodrick had given her, slipping out of her own dress.

                                                ~~~

“If we split up, we can cover more ground,” Logan suggested as they sat around a table in the inn’s tavern, enjoying the freshly made potato omelettes the innkeeper had just brought them.

“I don’t think we should wander around the city on our own,” Rodrick replied, darting a quick glance towards Rena. 

[Logan] “Ok, but we can still split up. You two go check out the archives and me and Rena here go talk to the people in town. And then no one’s in danger of getting lost.”

He winked dramatically at Rena and the discussion instantly made her feel like she was six years old again and her parents were discussing whether she was allowed to go to her friend’s house at the other end of the town by herself or not.

“I can look after myself,” she replied and shoved some of the omelette into her mouth.

“I agree with this plan,” Asha said, having already finished the bowl of food in front of her. “It would just be a waste of time if we all stayed together. Splitting the tasks up can ensure that both get the needed attention. We should meet up again here for lunch to discuss what we have found.” She got up and looked straight at Rodrick. “We should leave now before we waste too much time doing nothing.” 

Rodrick’s eyes widened in surprise as she simply walked out of the room and he had to gulp down the rest of his food before following her out the door, almost forgetting to make sure that the dog was following him.

“Always so eager,” Logan muttered into his mug, his eyes still fixed on the door the others had left through.

Rena kept her head down, bringing smaller and smaller pieces of food to her mouth so she wouldn’t run out and have to find something else to look busy with. She would have preferred it if she could have gone with Rodrick, at least she felt somewhat safe with him. Logan looked like he could get her into a lot of trouble and she didn’t know what she should think of Asha and her cold disposition. She dared to glance over at Logan but he seemed lost in thought, his eyes staring into the middle distance while he was absent mindedly biting at his bottom lip. Suddenly he perked up and turned to her.

“Ok so I think we should ask around with older people or at least those that have been here for a long time, because they are the most likely to have heard about the fires. Maybe try to find someone that’s from around where the villages burned down or has family there. Do you know where these other fires were?” He looked at her expectantly and she simply shook her head. “Yeah, me neither. So, we’ll have to start at the very beginning and figure out if anyone has heard of anything like that at all. Maybe ask some people who come into contact with a lot of folks or who wander around a lot. We can start here and then go to some other taverns, maybe some messengers, merchants if we’re lucky, but we also don’t have all day so we should concentrate on those who are more likely to know something.”

Before she could answer he had already stretched his arm out and was calling over the innkeeper. She was a stout woman with wrinkles and freckles covering her tan skin. As she walked over to them she wiped her hands off on her apron.

“What can I get you guys?” she asked when she came up to them, picking up Asha and Rodrick’s empty bowls.

“Hi, we’d love some more of your fantastic omelette,” Logan told her with a wide smile although Rena definitely wasn’t hungry enough for a second bowl. “I didn’t know they had such delicious traditions in the south, I definitely have to remember your establishment when we travel through these parts of the kingdom again. Also, I was wondering if you could help us out with something. Me and my friend here are apprentices to the great Master scribe Daelavic and we are on tour of the kingdom examining the humble heritages of our dear members of the royal council and their consorts, as our Master is working on an extensive history of our beloved country. Well, I don’t want to bother you too much with the details, I’m sure you are too busy for my ramblings, but as our Master has an audience with the administrator today he has asked us to investigate some other matter for him. Our research into the family history of Queen Harion has led us to these parts of your lovely province but we have hit a bit of a wall in our investigation. We know that her ancestors lived in a small town around here and that apparently some of her extended family still lived here up to a few years ago, however we don’t know the exact name of the town, we just know that it probably doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe due to ransacking or a fire or something of such sorts. I was wondering if you had heard about anything in that direction before, any towns that were destroyed in recent years? Although, when I say recent years this might have even been ten to twenty years ago. You can imagine how it is to operate on a scale of hundreds of years for your research.”

[Innkeeper] “Hmm, I’m not sure, don’t think I’ve heard of any villages just disappearing like that.”

[Logan] “Not even rumours or whispers.”

[Innkeeper, chuckle] “No, I’m pretty sure I would have heard about something major like that.”

[Logan] “Alright, thanks a lot, I guess we’ll just have to keep asking around then. It’s probably a dead end for our research anyway. Don’t tell our Master this, but in my opinion, there are more interesting stories to investigate than just having a list of family trees for all the royals.”

[Innkeeper] “Don’t disregard our small part of the kingdom. We’re more interesting than you Northerners could ever imagine.”

[Logan] “Oh no, I wouldn’t dream of it. I didn’t mean to imply that nothing ever happens here. How this whole city came to be, for example, is fascinating.” He waved his hand around vaguely.

[Innkeeper] “Mhm.”

She raised an eyebrow while holding the bowls in one hand and picking up the empty mugs with the other.

[Innkeeper] “I’ll bring you your food right away.”

“You didn’t have to lie to her,” Rena mumbled as the innkeeper walked away from their table.

“It’s always better to lie at first,” Logan answered, intertwining his hands and placing them in front of his mouth so that only Rena could see his face. “You can always apologise for lying later. You can’t make someone who wasn’t supposed to know the truth just forget about it.”

[Rena] “It’s still rude to lie to someone without a good reason, and I don’t think we have any reason to lie to these people. What would they even do with that information?”

He shrugged and looked away for a second.

[Logan] “They could rat us out.”

[Rena] “Why would they.”

[Logan] “Money. Favours. Information. Spite. The list goes on and on.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed.

[Rena] “I don’t know why you guys all think that the guards are going to throw us into prison just for wondering what happened to these villages. I’ve got a right to know what happened to my family.”

[Logan] “Yeah, sure, if the universe was fair they’d let you find out what happened and have closure, but that’s not how things work, and if something’s actually amiss here they won’t like it if you’re poking around.”

Rena looked away, her eyes drifting over the other people in the room enjoying their breakfast. She still believed that if they would just try to ask the guards for help, they certainly would help them, or at least leave them alone if they couldn’t help, but the others were so obsessed with thinking that even consider talking to the guards would mean doom for them. Before she could reply the innkeeper had come over again and placed two bowls of food in front of them. 

“Thank you kindly,” Logan answered, his demeanor shifting instantly to the charming scholar he had played before.

Rena looked down at the steaming potato omelette in front of her and wondered how she was supposed to eat another bite of this, no matter how delicious it was.

“I just remembered,” the innkeeper said, frowning down at the table as if in thought. “When I was little I lived in a town east of here, North of Hollowtooth. There’s a bunch of small towns scattered across the land there near the border and since no one ever cared enough to put them on maps we had these signposts on the road that told people in which direction all of those towns were. This was about thirty, fourty years ago. I haven’t lived there in a long time. But I remember that over a year ago I went to visit my cousin because she was sick and I noticed that they had redone these signposts. Don’t ask me why or who is even responsible for these posts, but I remember that one of the names was missing. I kind of remembered it from my childhood because it was something silly. Miller’s Knee or Farmer’s Heel or something like that. It definitely had something to do with a body part. When I saw that it was missing I didn’t think much of it though. Some of these towns only have five people left living there, the town might have just died out. I just thought that if someone can find out what happened to it then it’s you folks.”

[Logan] “Thank you so much. That is great information. Definitely something to look into. If you don’t mind me asking, where are you from? So we could potentially go there and try to find our way to this missing town.”

[Innkeeper] “I’m from Dessta. You won’t find it on a map, but if you go up from Hollowtooth and follow the small roads you’ll stumble upon some signposts leading you to the town. Good luck finding a town that isn’t marked anywhere though.”

She knocked on the table twice and nodded to them before turning around and getting back to her work.

Logan rested his chin on his intertwined hands and looked over at Rena with a smirk, raising his eyebrows twice.

[Logan, whispering] “Told you it would work.”

[Rena] “I’m not exactly sure how this information is supposed to help us though.”

[Logan] “If we find out who is responsible for remaking those signposts we might find out why they had to be redone. And also, now we can go around asking more specific questions about this mysterious town that is suddenly missing. Maybe find a wandering merchant who goes to these small towns and see if they noticed anything about the signposts or the town.”

Logan started eating again while Rena warily eyed her bowl, dividing the omelette into tiny pieces before hesitantly bringing one to her mouth.

[Logan] “I think I saw the caravan of a merchant on the outskirts when we were coming into the town yesterday. We could try our luck there, hope they’re still nearby. Even if they don’t know anything, they can probably send us to someone who knows more.”

                                    ~~~

It took them at least two hours of being sent from one wandering merchant to the next to find someone who had operated in that part of the province before. They landed in the shop of an old cheesemaker who used to wander from town to town to collect milk from the goat and sheep farmers. She hadn’t been on such a tour for a few years, so she couldn’t comment on the new signposts, but she did remember there being a small town called miller’s knee. She hadn’t gone there often, especially not in the last decade since the only goat farmer in town retired, so she didn’t personally know what had happened to it, but after pressing her a bit on the subject, she seemed to remember that one of her contacts mentioned that something happened to the town. She couldn’t exactly remember what though. Something about a plague destroying all crops or a fire spreading from haystack to haystack one dry summer. Something that would have led the remaining inhabitants to leave their homes behind and move to a safer place.

[Rena] “So someone survived?”

[Cheesemaker] “Well I hope so. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy if everyone had just died. I’m sure they must have gone to live with their families somewhere.”

[Logan] “But you don’t know that for certain?”

[Cheesemaker] “No of course not, I didn’t know these people personally, I’m definitely not keeping up with their lives.”

[Rena] “But maybe you’ve heard about one of them relocating?”

[Cheesemaker] “I don’t think so, but also I don’t think that’s information I would remember. I come across so many people on a daily basis, I can’t keep track of all of their names or faces.”

[Logan] “The person who told you about this, do they live around here?”

[Ding of a bell]

[Cheesemaker] “No, no, he lives on the other side of the province now. Said he wanted to be as far away from this shithole town as possible. Now either buy something or let me get back to work.”

                                    ~~~

They tried one more spot on their way back. A message delivery service that advertised itself as servicing even the tiniest corners of the province. When they came in there were three people in the room, an older woman dictating a message to a younger woman to their left, and a guy who looked a bit older than Logan and who was sitting behind a table rifling through some papers to their right. Logan strode right up to the guy to their right, putting on the same bright smile he had used on all the other people on their journey.

[Logan] “Hi, my wife has sent me here to send a message to her great-aunt. She lives in a small town west of here near the border, but it’s so tiny I’m not even sure your service would deliver a message to it.”

“Which town?” the man said, barely looking up from his papers.

[Logan] “Miller’s knee. I believe it should be somewhere around Dessta.”

[Runner] “Yeah, that town doesn’t exist anymore. They tore it down about two years ago. Well, they tore down what was left of it.”

[Rena] “They tore it down?”

[Runner] “Yeah, yeah. Retrieved all the material that was still useful to build something else. They do that sometimes if the stuff isn’t needed anymore.”

[Logan] “So do you know what happened? Why did they tear it down?”

The man shrugged, rummaging through his pile of papers.

[Runner] “People got old, famine, sickness, a flood. Who knows.”

[Logan] “What happened to the people who lived there?”

[Runner] *sigh* “I don’t know, you’d have to ask the guards about that. I don’t keep track of every tiny town that suddenly disappears around here. Do you know how many of those there are? People don’t want to live in a town where they know the name and entire family tree of everyone else who lives there. They want to live in cities where there’s actually something going on. Same reason why you are here and why I am here. I bet you didn’t want to take over your great-grandfather’s goat farm either. Also, shouldn’t you be the one who knows what happened to their own family members?”

[Logan] *nervous chuckle* “Well, it’s on my wife’s side, so I definitely wouldn’t know. They’re a complicated family, a lot of fighting and arguing, you get me. I don’t think my wife has talked to her great-aunt in almost a decade, but we’re expecting our first child so she wants to get all the family back together.”

The man looked over at Rena and mumbled his congratulations. Appalled, Rena only just now realised that this situation must look like she was Logan’s wife. Didn’t she look way too young to be married and a soon-to-be mother? Reflexively, she violently shook her head to deny the allegations, too stunned to say anything.

[Logan] “Oh, no, no, this is my sister. My wife’s at home in her bed, she definitely shouldn’t be walking around anymore with the baby coming any day now. No, no, we’ve just been promoted to her errand boys for the time being.”

“I’ve got another question,” Rena blurted out, desperate to change the subject.

[Runner] “Uhuh.”

[Rena] “Have you delivered any messages to the South lately, around Mattak or Halvint?”

[Runner] “Not me but one of the other guys was there recently.”

[Rena] “Did they pass through a town named Oceansthrow? Did they say anything about it?”

[Runner] “Hmm, no I don’t think he mentioned anything about that town.”

[Rena] “Is he here? Would it be possible to talk to him?”

[Runner] “He’s out on business.”

“Thank you so much for your time,” Logan said before Rena had the opportunity to say anything more.

He grabbed her by the elbow and gently tugged at it, turning them around to walk out of the building.

“That was risky,” Logan whispered into her ear when they had exited the shop.

“I had to ask,” she hissed back and pulled her arm out of his grip.

[Logan] “Sure, but you could have been a bit more subtle about it.”

[Rena] “I’m not a professional liar like you. I can’t just come up with another random reason why I would be asking about the town in an instant.”

[Logan] *sigh*  “Fine. So, if the other guy didn’t mention anything about the town, then it means the news hasn’t gotten out yet. And he didn’t seem to even recognise the name. If anyone had heard about what happened around there then it would be these guys.”

Rena frowned down at the ground as they kept walking to their inn. It had almost been two days since the fire, did news really travel this slow? She supposed it could be possible. That since she hadn’t notified the authorities about it, that no one else had bothered to do it either. That the people in Halvint had decided to deal with the situation on their own or that they had just been too busy to contact anyone else about it. She wondered if they were still cleaning up the ruins at the moment. If they were uncovering the bodies and burying them. If they had found out what had happened to the town, to her family. She wrapped her arms around herself, holding on tight, unable to keep herself from imagining what the town looked like in broad daylight. What her house looked like, what her mother and father and siblings looked like. She stopped in the middle of the road, her jaw trembling as she struggled to breath. She had abandoned them. She hadn’t even been able to stay long enough to bury them.

She had followed the first people who had talked to her on a wild goose chase instead of making sure that her family was laid to rest. As if the ruins of the town would just disappear if she didn’t see them. That none of it would be real if she wasn’t in the middle of it.

[Logan] “I suppose that he could have been forced to keep it quiet by the authorities, but I’m not sure how likely that really is. Seems to me that would take a lot of money and effort to keep people silent like that. But if they really don’ w…. Are you alright?”

He was already a few steps ahead of her, only belatedly realising that she had stopped. He turned around to look at her, waiting for her to say something, but when she didn’t move or answer he rushed towards her, grabing her forearms, crouching down to look her in the eyes.

[Logan, softly] “What’s up? Talk to me. What’s going on?”

[Rena, gasping] “I left them alone. They’re still lying there and I just ran away. I ran away because I didn’t want to see them anymore and I just abandoned them and let someone else take care of their bodies. No one deserves a daughter like me.”

[Logan] “No, no, no, listen, listen, you didn’t abandon anyone, ok? We’re here for them. We’re here to find out what really happened, so they can find peace in their death. This matters. What we’re doing right now matters. You didn’t run away, you’re running towards the truth, and that’s important. Don’t let your brain tell you that you’re not doing the right thing. There’s nothing more important than the truth.”

[Rena] “That’s rich coming from someone who keeps lying all the time.”

She wiped her eyes with the side of her hand, forcing herself to take deeper and slower breaths.

[Logan] “Yeah well, there are small lies you can tell people that aren’t going to change anything about anyone’s lives and then there are the big, evil lies that are trying to hide what’s actually important. I dabble in the first. The second ones are there for us to uncover them.”

[Rena, chuckling] “That makes no sense.”

[Logan] “No it totally makes sense. That guy I just told that my wife is about to have a baby isn’t even going to remember me by tomorrow. The Innkeeper might wait for a deep-dive into the family history of the royal council to come out at some point, but even if she waits all her life and nothing like that ever comes out her life won’t be different. She can just learn about those family trees some other way. But if the administrator or whoever is fabricating stories about what happened to these towns to cover up what actually happened then that will have serious consequences, because they wouldn’t cover it up if it wasn’t anything damning to them. Which means that thing can happen over and over again and more towns might disappear and no one will ever try to stop whatever’s happening because they just don’t know about it. You do see how that’s different, right?”

She pressed her lips together, nodding and, slowly looked up into his eyes.

[Logan] “You’re not abandoning them. You’re just making sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”

[Rena, softly] “Yeah.”

[Logan] “Alright, let’s go back to the others. We’ve got things to discuss.”

                                    ~~~

When they strolled back into the tavern Rodrick and Asha were already sitting at a table, pouring over a pile of different papers.

“What did you find?” Logan asked as he let himself fall onto the bench next to Rodrick.

[Rodrick] “The staff at the archives were very helpful. They gave me a list of all the different departments and which kinds of decrees one would need for them. I had to insist a bit to get all of the information for the more classified records but I think I now have everything we need.

There are some departments that we might not get access to because they are restricted for anyone outside of the fortresses staff but I don’t think we would need to look through those anyway.”

“What did you find?” Asha asked, nodding in Logan’s direction. 

Rena sat down on a chair opposite Rodrick, bending down to pet the dog who was sleeping underneath the table before sitting back up and craning her neck to look at the papers. One document seemed to hold a list of all the departments with their location, level of access and the name of the person who was responsible for it. The other papers were more detailed lists of what exactly could be found in each department. She carefully slid one of the papers closer to her. It was a list for the department of horse trading, and it contained a numerical list of districts under which different villages and towns were indexed. She hadn’t even known that the authorities kept track of horse sellers or that their province was divided into districts. What else had she never known about? How much did the authorities keep track of? If they knew about who bought and sold horses they also had to know about every single town that existed, no matter how small.

“So,” Logan sighed and leaned forward, interlacing his hands on the table. “There was a town called Miller’s knee east of here near the border that still existed a few years ago but doesn’t exist anymore now. People don’t seem to know or really care about what happened to it, also because apparently it was tiny and only old people lived there, but the guards came in to dismantle it and changed the signposts, so they basically erased it from existence. It’s not much but it’s a beginning. I’m sure they have the department of signposts or something, so we could hit that up, find out what it says. Maybe see if they have a town demolition department. If we’re lucky they’ll have a department of towns that were mysteriously destroyed and that we want to erase from living memory now.”

[Rodrick] “Asha, do you know which part of the archives you need to access for your investigation?”

[Asha] “It will probably have to be one of the departments with a higher restriction level, but I will have to look at the list to know which area holds the most interesting information.”

“Same here,” Logan said as he slid the list of departments closer to him, biting his bottom lip as he squinted down at the paper.

Asha looked down at the pile of papers in front of them, her fingers tapping against the table, her jaw clenching and unclenching as she considered their options.

She suddenly got up and said, “I’m going to get us some food. We’ll be here for a while.”