Rena felt Logan shift behind her so that their backs were now flush against each other. She kept her eyes on the approaching guards. One was already halfway down the passageway while the other was just rounding the corner of the bookshelf near the back wall. Next to her, Asha pushed herself away from the bookshelf she had crashed into earlier and came to stand in front of her.
[Logan] “Listen, we don’t want any trouble. We’re simply here to read up on some documents. This is a public archive after all, right? Everyone’s allowed in here with the correct paperwork. You just spooked us, ok? No harm done, we can all go back to what we were doing beforehand. We won’t even complain to anyone about the way you’ve been treating us.”
[Captain] “Yeah, I don’t think so.”
The captain stepped closer, keeping his blade at Logan’s throat.
Logan’s hand came to grab Rena’s arm at their side, his finger wrapping tightly around her wrist. Asha shifted closer to Rena and blocked her view of the approaching guards. Her hand slipped underneath the fabric of her tunic at her waist and slid towards her back, clenching around something without taking it out.
[Captain] “You can drop this foolish act. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t think I actually really care to find out, but I don’t believe that you’re just some innocent researchers. Not if you’re in this room. Not if you’re in this section.”
He got closer to Logan until they were face to face, only the blade separating them.
[Logan] “As much as I am weirdly enjoying this, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
[Captain] “Sure you don’t. You know, you’re not as good at sneaking around as you think you are. Sure, the surveillance in this place is quite frankly abysmal, but I notice. I always notice.”
[Logan, chuckle] “Well, good for you. You seem to be a very valuable member of this establishment. Like a well-behaved, loyal guard dog.”
[Captain] “You think you’re so clever, but look at where you are now.”
[Logan] “Being threatened by a kinda attractive asshole with delusions of grandeur who thinks he’s just uncovered a great conspiracy in his basement?”
[Asha] “Logan, shut your mouth or I swear I will shut it for you once I’m done with the rest of these fools.”
The first guard was almost upon them and Asha finally pulled out what she had been holding on to behind her back. At first it looked like a thin, black handle until she flicked her wrist and it expanded into a rod the length of her forearm.
Rena didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what she could add to the conversation that would help them out. She knew she wouldn’t be able to fight them. Asha and Logan probably, but definitely not her. She would certainly just end up being an obstruction for the other two. But being the eldest daughter had taught her how to calm an argument down before it escalated into a full fight and maybe there was the sliver of a chance that the captain would listen to her instead of Logan.
She turned around and opened her mouth to say something but the second the captain’s eyes shifted to look at her, Logan lifted his free hand and pushed the captain’s blade up and away from his throat, making the man stumble back a few steps. Logan ran forward, his grip tightening on Rena’s wrist as he dragged her behind him.
[SFX footsteps, running]
Rena almost fell, not expecting the sudden shift in movement, but managed to somehow keep her balance. Her dress wasn’t made for running. Her legs kept getting tangled in the fabric and even though she tried bunching the skirt up with her free hand she barely managed to hold on to it.
She looked back and realised Asha wasn’t behind them. She was still standing between the bookshelves, the captain at her feet while she was holding on to his jacket, his blade on the ground next to him. With her other hand she was swinging the rod towards the first guard, hitting him on the side of the head before he had finished lifting his sword. He slumped to the side and crashed into the bookcase. The captain tried pushing himself up to his feet again but before he could fully regain his footing she swung him around by his jacket and threw him towards the second guard.
[Logan] “There’s no time!”
[Rena] “But Asha!”
[Logan] “She can manage on her own!”
Rena tried to pull her wrist out of Logan’s grip, but his hand clamped shut, blocking the blood flow to her hand.
[Rena] “No. Wait!”
She almost lost her footing trying to get him to stop but he just kept going, kept running down the endless hallway between bookshelves. She turned around one more time, glancing back at Asha while Logan led them to the other end of the room. Asha had picked up the captain’s rapier and was swinging it with the same form and force like you would a regular sword.
Before Rena could see any more of the fight Logan was pulling them to the right down the passage between bookshelves that lounged the left-most wall of the room.
[Rena] “Wait! Where are we going?”
[Logan] “Out of here.”
[Rena] “But the door is the other way.”
He didn’t reply, just ran to the end of the passage. He stopped abruptly and turned towards her, dropping down to one knee in the same motion. He held his hands out to her, interlinking them palms up at knee height and looked up at her expectantly.
[Rena, confused] “What?”
[Logan, brash] “Climb up.”
Rena looked up at the bookshelf in front of them and then looked around, trying to figure out what he wanted from her, but the shelves looked exactly the same like any other in this room.
[Logan] “On top of the bookshelf. There’s some tunnels in the wall that connect the rooms together. Now climb, we don’t have all day.”
[Rena] “Ventilation shafts?”
[Logan] “Yes! Maybe, I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, just get up there already.”
[Rena] “Ok, ok.”
She grabbed onto the boards on the bookshelf with her left hand, testing whether they would hold in place or not, and placed her other hand on Logan’s shoulder. She stepped on his intertwined hands and he hoisted her up with such force that she almost hit her head on the ceiling. She somehow managed to hold on to the bookshelf and slide on top of it. She had to lie flat on her stomach since there was barely enough space between the bookshelf and the ceiling for her to turn around. Like Logan had mentioned, there was a rectangular opening in the wall that was covered with an ornate, cast-iron grate. While Logan was climbing up the bookshelf in front of her, Rena tugged at the grate with all of her force, which wasn’t exactly much of it considering the awkward position she was in.
[SFX Metalic Thud]
[Logan] “Go in first, I’ll close the gate behind us.”
Rena slid forward, contorting her body to fit into the opening. The cast-iron grate dug into her hip on one side while the ceiling dug into the other. Somehow, after a lot of back and forth and almost falling off the bookshelf, she managed to squeeze her body into the opening. She crawled forward, realising that the stone underneath her was covered in dust. She could smell it in the air, feel it tickle her nose as she breathed it in. She tried to cover her face with the back of her hand but it didn’t help much. The tunnel in front of her was dark, only slightly illuminated by the dim light from the room. It didn’t seem to go very far, there was maybe enough space for two people before there was a wall, but she supposed there had to be a bend to either side that she couldn’t see.
The space was thankfully big enough for her to move around and look back at the entrance but not big enough to really turn around in it. She crawled forward a bit to make enough space for Logan to get in. She reached the back wall where the tunnel bent to both sides, hoping it could tell her where to go next, but both tunnels were completely dark.
She looked back at Logan who was climbing in with his feet first. He pulled the grate over the opening again before fishing something out of his pocket and bringing it up in front of him.
[Rena] “What are you doing? We have to leave. What if they catch up to us?”
[Logan, groaning] “I’m just glueing it shut. Won’t keep them away forever but maybe long enough for us to lose them. Just keep going already and I’ll catch up.”
Rena turned around and looked down both tunnels again, hoping her eyes had gotten used to the dark enough to see something more, anything that could indicate to her where they were supposed to go, but the paths in front of her were still pitch black.
[Rena] “Where do I go?”
[Logan] “Doesn’t matter, both lead to other rooms, we just need to get out of this one.”
[Rena] “What if we get stuck? I can’t see anything, I won’t know whether we’re going in circles or not. What if this is the only grate that opens and we never find our way back?”
[Logan] “Just go forward until you see some light and then head towards that light. Like I said, it doesn’t matter where we end up, and they didn’t consider that people would be crawling around inside these shafts, so the grates aren’t welded to the walls. Well, except the ones leading to the outer walls probably, but we’re not going there anyway, would probably take us a whole day to find the correct shafts that lead outside, and then who knows where we’ll land. Maybe if we had scouted the area beforehand so we’d know where these shafts lead but …”
[SFX clothes rustle]
[Rena] “Ok, I’m just going to go towards the left.”
[Logan] “Yeah, sure.”
Thankfully the tunnels were big enough for her to take the turn, even though she had to shuffle around and squeeze herself past the corner. She could feel the dust caking onto her dress and arms and hands, especially after she had taken the turn, but at least her disgust was strong enough to override the fear and anxiety that came with crawling through a dark, enclosed space with no end in sight.
[SFX clothes rustle stops]
[Rena] “I touched something.”
[Logan] “Something moving? There’s probably rats and cockroaches in here.”
[Rena, shocked, hesitant] “What?! No, no, it wasn’t moving, i-it was, I don’t know, kind of fuzzy I guess?”
[Logan] “Dead rat, then. Nothing to worry about, it can’t hurt you if it’s dead, let’s keep going.”
[SFX clothes rustle continues]
[Rena, mumbling] “Just a dead rat, because those don’t carry any diseases at all.”
[Logan] “Less mumbling, more shuffling forward.”
[Rena] “We should have just let the guards take us to the holding cells.”
[Logan] “You definitely wouldn’t say that if you’d ever been in one of those before. They don’t clean up the dead rats there either.”
Rena didn’t know how long it took them to navigate through the ventilation shafts before they found another grate that led them to a different dimly lit room. More than five minutes and less than half an hour, if she had to guess. As Logan had mentioned before, she had no problem pushing the grate forward and carefully lowering it onto the bookshelf underneath the exit. She poked her head out to see if any people were around who could see them climb out, but the room seemed empty enough. The layout was almost the same as the room they had just come from, with tall, wooden bookshelves that almost reached the ceiling, although it looked like the middle of the room had either shorter shelves or no shelves at all. She scooted forward and managed to shuffle to the side so that she lay on her belly on top of the bookshelf. She looked down at the ground, wondering how she was supposed to get down without falling or taking the whole bookshelf with her.
[SFX clothes rustle; thump]
Apparently Logan didn’t have the same concerns, because he managed to roll himself off the edge, turn in mid air, and land on his feet without any major problems.
[Logan, whisper] “Here, take my hand.”
[SFX clothes rustle]
[SFX clothes rustle, soft thump]
[Rena, whisper] “Thank you.”
[Logan] “No problem. [breath] Ok. Let’s figure out where we are. [pause] We might be alone in the room, that’s good.”
[SFX box move, paper rustle]
[Logan] “Ok, no idea what any of this is. Just a bunch of numbers and words that don’t make sense.”
[Rena] “Receipts for the military spending on food.”
[Logan] “Damn, how do you know that?”
[Rena] “It’s written on the crate.”
[Logan] “Ah, yeah, that makes sense. What would I do without you.”
[Rena] “That crate over there reads military carpentry receipts.”
[SFX paper rustle, box move]
[Logan] “Ok, so, bookkeeping then. Fascinating. No wonder no one’s here. We’ll just need a good excuse to walk past the guards standing outside.”
[Rena, shocked] “You want to just walk out?”
[Logan] “Well, if we wait here for too long they’ll have enough time to raise the alarm and lock the entire place down and look through all the rooms on this floor. So our best bet is to get upstairs as fast as possible to blend in with the rest of the crowd.”
[Rena] “But what if we run into them in the hallway?”
[Logan] “We’ll hear them coming from far away, won’t we?”
[Rena] “I guess so. But what about Asha?”
[Logan] “She’s stubborn, she’ll find her own way out of here. Now come on.”
[SFX clothes rustle, steps]
[Rena] “And Rodrick?”
[Logan] He’s definitely smart enough to pretend he doesn’t belong with the rest of us.”
[Rena] “But some of the clerks saw us together. Especially the one who entered the room with us.”
[Logan] “Well, he’ll just have to charm her into lying for him. I’m sure he’ll figure something out.”
They walked up to the end of the passage. Logan held a hand up for Rena to stop and then leaned forward to peer into the room.
[Logan, whisper] “Ok, I think we’re good.”
[Rena] “Wait, what are we going to do about our clothes? We’re covered in grime and dust.”
[Logan] “It’s gonna be fine, we just have to walk out of that door like we’re supposed to be here and talk about the price of flour or whatever. The guards outside will only see our backs anyway, and with how badly lit this whole place is I’m sure they won’t notice anything anyway.”
[Rena] “I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll remember whether we entered the room earlier or not.”
[Logan, dismissive] “We can just pretend like we’ve been here the whole day.”
[Rena] “Logan, I’m really not sure about …”
He held up another hand to silence Rena and slowed down his pace. They hadn’t yet run into anyone else on their way to the entrance but that didn’t mean they had to be careless, even if Rena hadn’t seen anyone in the branching passages between the bookshelves either. She hadn’t even heard any indications that someone might be at the other end of the room.
She wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. On the one hand, no one was there to bother them and notice them sneak in through the shafts, but on the other hand, if this was a room where no one ever visits, the guards outside the door would definitely not just let them walk away. They would probably end up having to flee or fight the guards, so what had been the point of crawling through the ventilation shafts in the first place? At least in the other room they had had Asha with them who knew how to fight, and clean clothes. They did have the element of surprise in this room however, if she really tried to find a positive side to their situation. Maybe they could exploit that if they stopped long enough to come up with a decent plan.
They carefully stepped closer and Rena could finally see the area at the centre of the room that held long wooden desks instead of bookshelves, but even that area looked abandoned. The chairs were all placed neatly beneath the middle of the desks, as if no one had ever touched them since the day they had first been set there.
Before they could reach the passage that led to the door, Logan turned around to face her and stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
[Logan] “There’s probably gonna be a clerk sitting at the desk in front of the door. We’ll just walk past them as if we’ve been here the whole day, ok? Just nod to them but don’t say anything more. If they try to talk to us, just let me deal with it.”
Rena nodded and stood up straight, taking in a deep breath to centre herself.
Logan patted her face twice, smearing the grime from the shaft on her cheeks, and turned around, striding confidently around the corner.
He instantly stopped again, and Rena ran headfirst into his back.
[Logan] “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Rena stepped back and around Logan and immediately her body froze. On the desk, where the clerk should have been, lounged the captain that tried to arrest them earlier. Rena didn’t know if she should run away again, if they should get back into the shafts, but Logan wasn’t moving and the captain wasn’t moving either. He just sat on the table, leaning against the wall, one leg outstretched, the other angled up, and looked at them.
[Logan] “How the hell did you find us?”
[Captain] “Logic and deduction. I know the layout of this place and I know where the shafts lead to. A bit of chance and guessing to find the exact room you’d end up in, but it seems like fortune is smiling down upon me.”
[SFX wood creek, footsteps]
[Captain] “So, tell me, what were you doing looking at the administrator’s letters?”
[Logan] “Why would we tell you anything? Just cause you found us a second time doesn’t mean we’re suddenly gonna give in to your requests.”
[Captain] “Don’t pretend you’ve got any power in this situation.”
[Logan] “Hmm, well, you didn’t exactly give me any incentives to tell you the truth. Is this how you city folks conduct your interrogations? Where’s the torture? Or maybe a bribe? Getting my way in gold is always nice. Or I could also come up with some other ideas.”
[Captain] “You know, you’re quickly becoming the most annoying person I’ve ever met.”
[Rena] “H-hi, I’m Rena, uhm, I’m really sorry we ran away from you earlier. It was just a bit of a frightening situation. We didn’t mean any harm by reading those letters, we’re just trying to figure some stuff out. We’re not colluding or rioting or planning a coup. I promise, we’re not going to cause any trouble for the archives, a-and I’m sorry we took some of the letters with us, we’ll give them back as soon as we’ve had an opportunity to read them. It’s really just because we’re trying to piece together what happened to my hometown, because we think something strange is going on.”
[Logan, hissing] “Stop talking, why are you telling him any of this?”
[Rena, hissing] “Maybe he can help.”
[Logan, hissing] “Why would someone like him ever help us?”
[Captain] “Because we might have the same concerns.”
[Logan, Rena, unison] “What?”
The captain crossed his arms and leaned back against the desk, eyeing them wearily, his jaw clenching and unclenching as if he was mulling something over in his head.
[Captain] “I don’t know what exactly you people are looking for or what you’re even talking about, really, but I’ve done some digging of my own and I’m not thrilled with the things I’ve found.”
[Rena, excited] “Do you know anything about Oceansthrow? O-or maybe Miller’s Knee? The town’s that burned down?”
[Captain, cautious] “I’ve heard of them.”
[Rena] “There’s something weird going on, right? That the fires weren’t just accidents? Something to do with those crow effigies, right? And that’s why the events had to be kept a secret?”
[Logan] “How do you want to survive as an adventurer if you just tell the enemy everything we know?”
[Rena] “He caught us twice. He can just take the letters off of us when he throws us into jail, what does it matter if I tell him now or not?”
[Logan] “We could have bargained.”
[Rena] “It didn’t look like your bargaining was working very well earlier.”
[Logan] “Well, you didn’t exactly let me finish the negotiations, did you?”
[Captain] “Maybe I should just have both of you thrown into jail if this is how you behave.”
[Rena] “I’m sorry, sir. O-or maybe my lord? Prince? … Duke?”
[Captain] [SIGH] “None of that. My name’s Finn.”
[Logan] “Hi, Logan, nice to meet you.”
Logan held a hand out towards the captain while smirking, waiting for him to shake it. Finn looked down at the hand in confusion, his eyes slowly knitting together before he finally took the hand and shook it once.
[Rena, mock whisper] “Didn’t you just call him the enemy?”
[Logan] “I still have manners.”
[Finn] “Can we finally get back to the initial subject? I don’t know much about these fires or what purpose those effigies have, but I’ve heard about the Crow before and I know that the Royal Council works with them somehow but doesn’t want it known.”
[Rena, eager] “So the figurines represent an organisation? What kind? What do they do?”
[Finn] “I don’t know, I haven’t figured that out yet. I’ve got some suspicions but nothing concrete.”
[Logan] “Anything you’d like to share with the rest of us.”
[Finn] “You see, I don’t know how much I can trust you yet, so I’m going to keep my hard earned information to myself until I’ve figured out who the fuck you guys are.”
[Logan] “Oh, come on.”
[Rena, same time] “I’m from Oceansthrow, m-my family died in the fire. I just want to figure out what happened to them.”
[Finn] “Hmmm. That might be true, but maybe it isn’t. And it also doesn’t tell me who he is or who your other companion is. But that doesn’t really matter right now. We need to get out of here before one of the guards decides to go behind my back and tell the administrator about you.”
[Logan] “We? Since when are we all working together? A second ago you were trying to get us arrested.”
[Finn] “I know I can’t investigate this thing on my own. I at least need someone to stand guard during the night when I’m asleep, and I don’t exactly trust anyone around here, not for this sort of mission. So I suppose you lot will do, no matter how irritating some of you are.”
[Logan] “You wait, I’ll grow on you in no time.”
[Finn] “I highly doubt that.”
[Logan] “But also, why should we trust you? Like I said, you tried to get us arrested. You might very well be a spy for the Royal Council.”
[Finn] “Don’t flatter yourself. You aren’t so important that the Royal Council would send a spy after you. If they didn’t like you, they’d just throw you in jail and let you rot there. You don’t have to trust me, we just need to come to an understanding that for the next few days or weeks, we’re going to work together. We are both looking into the same thing, and I doubt you know as much about the administrator and the Royal Council as I do.”
[Logan] “Well, still, somehow I don’t tend to work with people who just held a blade to my throat.”
[Rena] “I think it’s going to be fine.”
[Rena] “A week ago I didn’t know you or any of the others, but you still grabbed my hand before running away and Asha still fought the guards off to help us escape and Rodrick drove us all the way here even though he has no personal stake in the whole matter. So I don’t see why I shouldn’t let him into this group too, especially if he already knows more than we do about this whole situation.”
[Logan] [SIGH] “Fine.”
[Finn] “I’ll need to gather some of my things from my chamber before leaving. A ledger with all the irregularities I’ve noticed while at the archives. You can wait in here until I’m back, you should be safe hiding in this room if I tell them know I didn’t see you.”
[Logan] “I definitely don’t think we should linger here. I’m sure you can remember all that important information in that beautiful head of yours. Our best bet is to get out of here as fast as possible and get out of town before anyone else starts being suspicious.”
[Rena, appalled] “What about Asha and Rodrick? We can’t just leave them here? We don’t even know where they are!”
[Logan] “I’m sure they’ll find a way out on their own. We can just wait for them at the inn. Maybe put a little note on Rodrick’s caravan so that he knows not to wait for us.”
[Rena] “But we don’t know if they’ll be able to get out. Asha was fighting three people so that we could get away. She could be in the holding cells!”
[Finn] “She isn’t. She got away from us before we could catch her. I only sent one of the guards after her, she should be fine.”
[Rena] “It still feels like we are abandoning her.”