[Logan] „Let’s get out of here. We can head towards the forest. With the right angle they won’t see us leave.”
[Rena] “Should we try talking to them? Maybe they can help us figure out what all of this is.”
[Finn] “Or they arrest us for trespassing.”
[Rena, offend ed] “How can I be trespassing in my own village.”
[Finn] “This isn’t your village anymore, the province owns it now. Technically, they already owned the land beforehand but once the demolition troops move in, all of the material that constitutes the buildings now also belongs to the province.”
[Rena] “But we’re not touching the material. We are just standing here.”
[Logan] “Guys, love the argument, but we should really be going.”
[Finn] “He’s right, we’re just losing time.”
[Logan] “Let’s just postpone this marvelous discussion about inherent rights to the ownership of your own home and try to not get locked up or killed for now, okay?”
Rena turned around one more time to look at the intertwined triangles that had been carved into the back wall of the church. Her eyes wandered slowly over the destruction of the room, over the memories strewn carelessly on the ground.
Logan gently grabbed her wrist and tugged at it.
[Logan, calm whisper] “We need to leave.”
Rena sighed heavily and nodded, following the other two out of the hole they had come in from.
[SFX horse footsteps, cart noises coming closer]
[Logan, whisper] “Let’s go this way.”
Logan crouched down and hurried straight towards the trees, making sure the intact part of the church was between them and the arriving cart.
[SFX hurried footsteps]
[SFX horses stop, cart movement]
[Guard 1, muffled, then louder] “Dijani? Dijani?”
[Guard 2, muffled] “Where the fuck did he go?”
[SFX muffled footsteps]
[Guard 1, increased shouting, muffled] “Hey. Hey!”
Rena turned back to look at where the voice had come from. One of the guards had rounded the corner of the church and had spotted them.
[SFX footsteps running, armor clanking in background]
She lifted the bottom of her dress and held it bunched up in one hand. Logan ran ahead, disappearing between the trees, Finn only a few steps behind him. She tried to follow them, tried to weave the same path between the trees as they did, but she had to keep one eye on the ground she stepped on and the other eye on the guard that was following them and soon she had lost sight of both men. She ran in the direction she thought their footsteps came from but the forest muffled and spread the sounds and she didn’t have time to stop and figure out where she had to go.
She kept running, even after she couldn’t hear the guard behind her anymore, even after she couldn’t hear her companions in front of her anymore. She slowed down to catch her breath, to let her heart drop to its usual cadence again. Soon, she was only walking. She let the bottom of her dress drop down again, only holding it up slightly so it wouldn’t drag over the ground and get caught in the underbrush.
She stopped and looked around, unsure of where exactly she was. She knew these forests well enough, but even she couldn’t tell the difference between one random gathering of trees and another. At least it was only the early afternoon, she still had plenty of sunlight to find her way out of it. She tried to picture a map in her mind, tried to figure out which roads or landmarks could be in her vicinity. They had run into the forest on the eastern side of the village, and she had run pretty straight ahead since then, so she might not be too far away from the road that led from Halvint to Mattak. She would have to find her way even further east, but she first would have to figure out where east was. She looked down on the ground, trying to see where the shadows were falling towards, but she wasn’t sure how this could help her. She turned around to look at the bark of the trees, to see where the moss was growing. Little pockets of it were growing everywhere, but she thought maybe one side had more of them. She looked up at the branches, trying to see where they were densest.
All of her observations were vague, nothing a concrete answer that told her for certain where east was. She would just have to take the chance and hope for the best. She told herself that even if she was wrong about east, this part of the forest wasn’t very deep, so even if she ended up going north or south, she would manage to get out of the forest in a couple of hours. She just needed to be sure that she wasn’t walking in circles. These shallower parts of the forest were pretty safe during the day, but she still didn’t want to spend the night here.
She set out and marched towards what was hopefully east, letting the moss guide her. She didn’t have a way to tell the time, she just knew that her legs were getting heavier and her feet started hurting.
After a while she decided to sit down on a rock and take a break. She untied the laces around her ankles that held her shoes up and let her feet breath. She was used to walking through the woods in these thin, canvas shoes, but usually she didn’t have to run in them or hike through the underbrush for hours. She massaged the soles of her feet, trying to sooth the knots that had formed in her muscles.
She really hoped the other two had managed to escape the guard and that at least the two of them had stayed together. She was certain that Logan would be able to find his way out of the forest, he would probably be better at it than she was. With Finn, however, she had no idea how he would deal with a situation like this. She didn’t really know anything about him. Maybe he had never left the archives or the plains before, maybe he had only ever been in cities. He might not be able to tell in which direction he needed to go or figure out whether he was going in circles or not.
She looked up, her eyes wandering over the endlessly repeating trees, and she wasn’t even sure anymore if she could tell whether she was going in circles or not. The land here was flat, which meant she didn’t have to divert her path much, but there were still passages with fallen trees or unpassable terrain which diverted her away from where she meant to go.
[SFX leaf rustling]
She froze, her eyes slowly scanning the area around her. If it was just a deer or fox or anything smaller, she would be fine. If it was a boar it wouldn’t be interested in her if she didn’t move. If it was a wolf or lynx however, and it hadn’t eaten in a while, she might very well have a problem. She only dared turn her head when she couldn’t find anything moving around her.
[SFX leaf rustling]
She turned around in one quick motion and saw the flash of something orange disappear behind some trees. Instinctively she stood up. Had that been a fox? She felt silly that for an instance she wondered if it was the same fox from the archives. She was on the other side of the province now, it was absolutely impossible for the fox to have followed her here.
She waited to see if the animal would show up again but nothing moved. She bent down to lace her shoes back up and then carefully stepped closer to where the animal had disappeared to, curiosity overtaking her. She looked back to the rock she had sat on to remember what it looked like so that she wouldn’t lose her progress in the forest and then stepped behind the trees. With her dress in one hand and her other hand grazing over the trunks of the trees she carefully stepped further away from the rock. The fox didn’t seem to be where it had disappeared to anymore, but Rena also hadn’t heard where it could have gone. She didn’t want to step too far away from her rock, too afraid she might not find her way back.
[SFX leaf rustling]
She turned to her right and saw a white tail disappear into a bush. She knew she shouldn’t follow the animal far into the forest no matter how curious she was, no matter how much she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the same fox from the plains. She stepped forward, her body moving on its own. She reached the bush, approaching it carefully, and leaned down to peer through the branches. When she couldn’t spot any glimpses of red or white fur, she stood back up and peered over the forest floor, but there was nothing there either.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to turn around, to not chase a random wild animal through a forest she was trying to escape. She only took a few steps before she heard the animal behind her again.
[SFX leaf rustling]
The fox stood in front of the bush, looking straight at her. For a moment they simply stared at each other, neither of them moving. Rena opened her mouth slightly to say something but then realized how little sense that made. She stepped closer and the fox jumped back, disappearing into the bush again. When it noticed that Rena wasn’t following it, it peered its head out of the bush to look at her.
This definitely wasn’t normal fox behavior. It wasn’t running away from her and it wasn’t attacking her, so what exactly did it want? It couldn’t possibly want her to follow it, could it?
The fox disappeared back into the bush and Rena knew that she had no other choice but to follow it. She had some difficulty stepping through the bushes as her dress kept getting caught in the branches, but the fox was never far away, always a few steps ahead, waiting for her to catch up. It led her through the thickest parts of the underbrush but Rena kept following, even if she could feel the million cuts forming on her legs. Soon she was out of breath and her legs hurt from the effort, but the fox never stopped running ahead, waiting for her but never letting her fully catch up.
At some point the horizon in front of her grew brighter as more light shone through between the trees. Rena picked up her pace, the edge of the forest coming closer. The fox ran ahead and didn’t stop anymore, didn’t turn around to check on her. It simply ran out onto the road and disappeared between the trees again on the other side.
[Rena] “Wait! Don’t leave!”
She wanted to follow it, to figure out who or what it was, but she had finally found her way onto the road and she couldn’t risk getting lost in the forest again. She crossed the road and stood at the edge of the forest, peering in hoping to see a glimpse of the fox, but it was gone. She didn’t understand what had just happened, why this wild animal had led her to the road and made sure she actually reached it. She had never seen any animal act like this. Maybe a dog if you trained it well, but definitely not a fox.
She was certain now that it was the same fox she had seen near the archives, the same one who had looked at her when they had entered the plains. But none of it made sense. She wished she could speak to it, to find out why it was following her, why it was helping her. Was it even actually a fox? What if it was just her mind playing tricks on her? After all, Logan hadn’t seen the animal in the archives, maybe she had just imagined it.
She didn’t want to think about it anymore. There was enough unusual stuff going on around her, she didn’t also have the time to figure out why a fox was following her and trying to help her. She turned around and looked at the road, unsure of which direction led to Halvint. If she remembered her maps correctly and she had walked through the forest on a straight-enough path, she would have to follow the road in the northern direction to reach Halvint, so she turned to her right and started walking. Occasionally she would turn around and check if the fox was behind her or in the forest next to her, but it had really disappeared.
She reached Halvint not long after. She headed straight to the inn to see if Logan and Finn were waiting there for her, but the innkeeper told her that he hadn’t seen them since they had set out. She went out onto the street again to hopefully find them somewhere else in the village, but the streets were empty except for some kids playing in the town center.
[SFX children playing]
She hadn’t been to Halvint that often in the past, and there were some roads she had never visited before. The village was slightly bigger than Oceansthrow had been, with a handful of shops more. At first, she simply wandered through the village, peering into the shops and other establishments to see if she could catch a glimpse of her lost companions, but they didn’t seem to be anywhere in town. After a while she started getting anxious, thinking that maybe the guard had caught them or that they were lost in the forest, but she knew that the two of them would very easily be capable of fighting off one guard, and that part of the forest was really not big enough to get truly lost in.
She decided she simply had to wait. If she hadn’t seen them by evening, she could tell Rodrick and Asha about it when they returned from the city of Rancor and they could go look for them together. In the meantime, she didn’t know where to go. She didn’t have any money, so she couldn’t go wait in the inn, but she was also exhausted from her hike through the forest that she didn’t want to walk through town anymore. She thought back to the kids playing in the town center and remembered seeing a raised platform in the middle with a water pump. She could go and sit on those stairs and wait for evening to approach there. In all likelihood, Logan and Finn would have to walk past the town center on their way to the inn anyways, so as long as she kept an eye out on the streets, she might catch a glimpse of them.
She made sure to look closely at everything that moved around her, afraid one of her companions would rush past without noticing her, but all she saw for a long time was the regular comings and goings of a village. Until she saw a group who didn’t fit in with the rest of the crowd. Five people, hurrying diagonally across the town center, passing behind her so that she couldn’t get a good look at them. They didn’t talk to each other like most other groups did, and they all wore the same clothes. Or more precisely, they all had the same style and color combination to their clothes, but it wasn’t always the same cut, as if each individual had had to find the correct clothes to fit the pattern themselves. Black pants that only reached their knees, thick laces running down the rest of their legs, with dark red tights underneath. She hadn’t been able to see their shirts, but they were all wearing a thick cape made of grayish brown fur. They didn’t look around when they passed through the town center, they simply looked ahead as they headed for one of the adjacent streets and disappeared between two buildings.
Something was definitely strange about them. She understood why the innkeeper would be paranoid about having them weave their way through town like this. She slowly got up, unsure about what to do. She looked around, hoping she would find Logan or Finn waiting for her in one of the streets surrounding her, but the only person she saw was an elderly woman hanging up her laundry. She stared down the street the strange group had taken for a while, before deciding that she could always find her companions later, but she might never have another opportunity to find out who these people were.
She hurried to catch up to them, afraid she might have already lost them in the interweaving streets. When she saw them in the distance she slowed down, only rushing forward when they disappeared behind a bend in the street. They led her to the outskirts of the village, where the fields and farmhouses stood. Rena had to stay further and further behind as the opportunities to hide behind something in case they ever turned around got sparser, but they never did turn around. They headed straight to one of the farmhouses, one she knew grew onions and shallots and other such bulbs. They didn’t enter the small shop front of the farm however, or walk into the main building. They walked around the farm, taking the small path between the main building and the fence of the field, and headed towards a smaller, detached building in the backyard.
[SFX lock click]
Rena pretended to look at the prices listed in front of the shop, then strolled over to look at the fields, slowly making her way towards the back of the farm. She was sure she wasn’t allowed back there, but no one seemed to notice her or care enough about her to say anything. She scanned the area through the corners of her eyes, and when she was sure that no one was around who could see her, she hurried closer to the building and hid behind the wall facing away from the farmhouse. She crouched down near some windows, wondering how she could look inside without being spotted.
[Logan, whisper] “Hey.”
[Rena, whisper, shocked, offended] “What? Logan! What are you doing here? Since when have you been behind me?”
[Logan] “A while.”
[Rena] “Why didn’t you catch up?”
[Logan] “It was fun watching you trying to follow them without getting caught.”
[Rena] “Unbelievable… Where’s Finn?”
[Logan] “Lost him in the woods somewhere. Tried to look for him but then I saw these guys and followed them.”
[Rena unsure] “Should we be worried?”
[Logan] “I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure who these guys are.”
[Rena] “I mean, about Finn.”
[Logan] “What? Nah, he’ll be fine. He wanted to go on an adventure, now he’ll find out what that entails. We can start getting worried in the morning.”
[Rena, hesitant] “If you say so.”
Logan stepped closer to the nearest window, peeking up slowly to look into the house. Rena followed him but didn’t dare look into the house. She got uncomfortable with every second that passed that Logan didn’t crouch down again, certain that someone would spot them at any moment.
[Rena, whisper] “What do you see?”
[Logan, whisper] “It’s a bedroom with two beds and a table in the corner. Someone’s definitely been sleeping in these beds, but I guess creepy strangers that wander through town like ghosts also have to sleep at some point.”
[Rena] “What else?”
[Logan] “There’s a stack of parchment rolls on the table and a sort of nest made of fabric with a bird figurine on it.”
Rena shot up to look through the window, and true to Logan’s word, a bigger and more detailed version of the figurine she had found lay propped up on a pile of red, orange and yellow fabrics.
[Rena] “What is this?”
[Logan] “Looks a bit like an altar to me. Like something they used two hundred years ago in the North. That’s also what their clothes look like, like they raided one of the museums in Jodash.”
[Rena] “How do you know that?”
[Logan] “I’ve been around.”
[Rena] “That doesn’t make any sense.”
[Logan, slightly offended] “I’ve been to museums before.”
[Rena, confused] “To steal things?”
[Logan] “What? No! Well, once, yes, but I mean I’ve been to museums as a regular citizen before.”
[Rena] “People can just visit those?”
[Logan] “Yeah? What did you think they were for?”
[Rena, sheepish] “To keep things safe?”
[Logan] “No, it’s so people can go and look at stuff.”
[Logan, confused] “Because it’s interesting to look at?”
[SFX footsteps, lock click]
[Logan] “Shit, get down, someone’s coming!”
[Logan] „Let’s get out of here. We can head towards the forest. With the right angle they won’t see us leave.”