Logan ducked down below the window as the door creaked open and someone stepped into the room. Rena sat down, her back flush against the outer wall of the house. She looked out over the fields in front of her with wide open eyes without registering any of the landscape, too busy holding her breath and listening to the footsteps resonating behind her.
[SFX dull footsteps, walk in and back out, door closing]
[Logan, whisper] “I think they left again.”
Logan slowly stood back up, peering into the room.
[SFX door open further away, multiple footsteps, door closes]
[Logan] “Shit! The front door!”
He dropped down to the ground again, sitting down next to her. Rena’s heart started hammering in her chest, her hands digging into the dirt beneath her, her vision going blurry as her eyes opened wider. She could barely hear the footsteps over the blood rushing through her ears, but she was certain that they would be discovered any second now, that the whole group of strangers had noticed them and would round the corner and confront them about why they were hiding behind the house. But the second past, and then a second more, and Rena had to start breathing again or she would faint. She slowly turned her head to glance at Logan. He was squinting out into the distance, the tip of his tongue peeking out between his teeth.
[Logan] “Ok, follow me.”
He suddenly jumped up, turning around to face the house again.
[Rena] “What? Wait, where are we going?”
[Logan] “Inside. Come on.”
[Rena, scared] “Inside? No! Someone might still be in there.”
[Logan] “We’ll just be careful. If the house was crawling with people we would have noticed by now. Aren’t you curious about what they’re hiding?”
[Rena] “I’m more interested in staying alive! And shouldn’t we wait for Rodrick and the others?”
[Logan] “It’s going to be fine. Let’s go around back.”
Logan led the way, stopping at each window to peer into the house. Rena looked back towards the road, unsure of what to do. She wanted to know who these people were, what they were doing here, but what if someone was still inside? What would happen if they found them sneaking through the house and captured them? None of their companions knew Logan and her were here, so no one would come to rescue them.
Logan had already disappeared behind the corner and was leaning back, waving for her to come closer.
She could still back off, let him enter the house on his own and stay outside as a lookout, but would she be putting him in more danger? Or would her joining him be his downfall because he had to look out for her? Logan’s waving became more insistent and finally Rena stepped forward.
The back of the house had two doors, one that obviously led into the house, and another at the bottom of a flight of stairs that probably led to a cellar. Logan snuck over to the window next to the first door and peered inside.
[Logan, whisper] “The coast is clear.”
He hurried over to the door and gently pressed the handle down. His free hand lay on top of the crack between door and doorframe as if to keep the door from rattling. He pulled slowly at the door, but it didn’t budge. He frowned and tried to push, but nothing happened either. He took a step back and stared at the door with a frown and puckered lips.
[Logan] “It’s locked.”
[Rena] “Yes, I can see that.”
[Logan] “Let’s try the other one.”
He hurried down the flight of stairs while Rena stayed near the door, keeping her ear close to the window so she could hear any potential movements in the house. She concentrated on the noises around her, but all she could hear was the wind rustling through the fields and forest around them. Not long after, Logan came back up to her, his frown having deepened.
[Logan] “That one’s closed too.”
[Rena] “I think we should just leave. Luck clearly isn’t on our side right now. It would be a mistake to force it and expect nothing bad to happen to us.”
[Logan] “Oh come on, where’s the fun in that? We could try the front door. I don’t think I heard them lock it.”
[Rena] “No! That’s much too dangerous. Someone might be waiting on the other side. O-or someone could see us from the farm!”
[Logan] “Yes, but breaking one of the windows definitely makes more noise.”
[Rena] “We also shouldn’t break any of the windows!”
[Logan, sigh] “You have too many rules.”
[Rena] “I just don’t want them to notice us. Logan, I’m serious, we should leave and get the others.”
[Logan] “I’ve got one more idea, just let me try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll concede.”
He turned around and walked back down the stairs. Rena nervously looked around. The house was surrounded by open fields on all sides, the forest beyond those, and it would have been plainly visible from far away that they were trying to break in. She quickly turned around and peered into the house, into what looked like an empty kitchen with an open door that led to a hallway, before ducking back down and joining Logan at the bottom of the stairs.
[Rena, hissing] “What are you doing?”
[Logan] “It’s an old door, we can just take off the hinges.”
He was standing upright, his dark, curly hair undone, trying to thread the piece of fabric that usually held his hair up underneath the pin of the upper hinge.
[Rena] “Aren’t they going to notice that?”
[Logan] “Yep, but hopefully we’ll be gone beforehand.”
He managed to wedge the string underneath the head of the pin, wrapping it around a few times and slowly pulling it up. As the bolt slid upwards, the knuckles of the hinge sprang apart and Logan unwrapped his string to repeat the procedure at the bottom of the door. Rena looked back nervously, certain that someone would emerge at the top of the stairs at any moment and discover what they were doing. She concentrated on her hearing, trying to figure out if anyone was behind the door, but all she heard was the scrapping of metal against metal.
Another pop, and the second hinge was unbuckled. The side of the door poked out but didn’t jump out of its frame. With the tips of his fingers, Logan tried to pull the door forward, making the wood groan and the metal lock creak and Rena’s body freeze at the anticipation that some must hear all the noise. The door inched out of its hole little by little, until it lurched out with a final groan.
[Logan] “Ok, great. Help me out.”
Logan moved so that Rena could wedge her way besides him on the side of the handle.
[Logan] “Hold on to it. We need to slide the door to the side for the bolt to pop out , and then we just need to make sure the door doesn’t fall down on us.”
There was barely any space between the edge of the door and the wall surrounding them; Rena really didn’t know how they were supposed to slide a door to the side.
[SFX groaning and creaking]
Rena gripped the handle tight, her other hand flat on the door, but both her palms were so sweaty that she was scared the door would just slip out of her grasp. She could feel the strain on the bolt, could feel how it resisted the unnatural movement and threatened to break the wood of the door and its frame.
The bolt popped out of its socket and Rena almost fell into the room with the door, only keeping herself upright by pressing her shoulder into the frame.
[Logan] “Perfect! See, that wasn’t so difficult!”
Rena was too scared to answer him, too afraid of what lay behind the door. She wanted to flee, wanted to run back into the forest and cry out the tension in her body. She wasn’t made for this life.
[Logan] “I’ll hold the door up, you go inside.”
Her body obeyed automatically. She squeezed through the hole they had created and walked into a dark room. It looked like any regular cellar. One wide room with well-organized shelves and crates and barrels. It actually looked a bit barren to her, like the furniture was just there in case someone wanted to use it, but no one actually lived in the house. She hadn’t really considered how these people had ended up in this house, what kind of connection they had to the farm that they were allowed to stay here, but it certainly didn’t look like they lived here full-time. She supposed that made sense, considering what the innkeeper had said about them only appearing a few days ago.
[Logan, whisper] “Help me out for a second.”
Logan motioned for her to come closer and she held the door upright while he squeezed his way into the room.
[Logan, whisper] “We can slide the bolt back in and close the door as best as possible and then hope no one’ll notice it.”
[Rena] “I don’t think it’s just going to hold upright without fastening it to anything.”
[Logan] “I’ll just tie the hinges together with my string. Gonna hate having my hair just floating around untamed, but sometimes you gotta make sacrifices.”
As Rena held on to the door, Logan wrapped the string over the uppermost hinge and carefully pulled the door closer. He managed to shut the upper half flush and tie the string to the second part of the hinge, but the bottom part of the door slightly stood out, letting a trickle of light pass through its corner.
[Logan] “Alright, that should hold for a little while.”
They stepped away from the door, Rena keeping her hands hovering near the handle in case the door decided to fall after all. After the door had stood upright without even a hint of movement for a few seconds they turned around and faced the darkness surrounding them. The room didn’t have any windows, and any light trickling in from beneath and around the doors wasn’t strong enough to illuminate much of anything.
[Logan] “Kinda dark in here.”
[Rena] “Well, it is the cellar.”
[Logan] “You don’t happen to have a light or matches on you, do you?”
[Rena] “No. This was your plan.”
[Logan] “Right, right… Let’s just wait a second for our eyes to adjust and then we can inch forward until we hit a door.”
[Rena, hesitant] “Sure.”
[SFX creaking, dull footsteps]
[Rena, scared] “Wait. There’s someone upstairs.”
[Logan] “I don’t hear anything.”
[SFX faint footsteps]
[Logan] “Ok. Sounds like it’s only one person. We’ll just need to be careful, no need to panic.”
[Rena] “We can’t walk around upstairs if there’s someone else in the house! What if they aren’t alone?”
[Logan] “There clearly aren’t ten people in this house. If one of them sees us I’ll just take them out.”
[Rena] “What if they have weapons?”
[Logan] “And we have the element of surprise. It’s going to be alright. Now come on.”
[Rena, mumble] “I hate this plan. I’m starting to think I hate all of your plans.”
[Logan] “But they get results. You’ll see.”
While Logan crept forward, Rena looked up at the ceiling, trying to hear where the footsteps could have come from, but the house was silent again. Reluctantly she stepped forward and joined Logan. Her eyes had adjusted well enough that she could see the faint light emanating from around the door leading into the house.
Logan reached the door and put one hand on the handle and one hand on the crack between door and frame again. He gently pressed the handle down and pulled, and this time, the door actually opened. Luck was on their side after all because the door did not creak as Logan opened it and no one was waiting for them on the staircase beyond the cellar.
[Logan, whisper] “Ok, let’s go.”
He opened the door wider and signaled for Rena to go first. She took a deep breath and stepped forward. She only poked her head out into the room at first, but when she saw they were at the bottom of a flight of stairs she walked out completely. Rena lifted the hem of her dress with one hand and kept the other on the wall to stabilize herself and make her footsteps as soft as possible, but she couldn’t keep the wood from faintly creaking. She held her breath as she walked forward, keeping her ears focused on any other possible sounds emanating from the house.
When she got closer to the top of the stairs she stopped and only let the top of her head poke up. In front of them was what looked like the front door, with an empty coat hanger fixed to the wall on her left. To her right, just beyond the end of the stairs, was a door. She turned around and looked out into the rest of the hallway. To her left were another three doors, with two more doors on the wall to her right. A final door stood open at the end of the hallway, and she recognized the kitchen beyond its threshold.
[Rena, whisper] “Where should we go?”
[Logan] “I don’t know. Probably the room we saw from outside.”
[Rena] “I don’t know which one it is.”
[Logan] “Just try one of the doors.”
She looked out over the hallway again, guessing that the room had to be behind one of the first two doors to her left. She closed her eyes one more time to listen to any footsteps, only moving when she was certain that she couldn’t hear anyone else.
She tiptoed forward to the first door and bent down to look through the keyhole. She couldn’t see much except for two unmade beds. She used Logan’s technique to slowly open the door but it opened inwards and holding her hand on the doorframe didn’t help much except keeping her from falling into the room.
She stepped in, slowly at first until she was certain no one else was inside. She hurried the rest of the way in, waving at Logan to follow her.
She had chosen correctly. This was the room that held the strange altar they had seen from the outside. She slowly walked over to it and reached a hand towards the figurine, her fingertips grazing over the smooth wood.
[SFX door closes softly]
[Rena] “It looks exactly like the figurine I found, just bigger and better made, but the inscription looks the same. I think. Wish I hadn’t left the other one in the caravan so I could compare them.”
[Logan] “We don’t know what the inscription means anyway.”
[Rena] “Yeah, but still.”
[SFX fabric rustle]
[Logan, sarcastic] “Great choice of fabric colors. Doesn’t feel disrespectful at all.”
[Rena] “It’s terrible.”
She picked up the figurine and fabrics and walked over to one of the beds to stuff them underneath the blanket, making sure they were completely hidden.
[Rena] “I don’t want to see it anymore.”
[Logan] “Finally some rebellion from you. I like it.”
[Rena] “What do the parchments say?”
[SFX paper rustling]
[Logan] “Can’t read most of them, but they look old. We probably shouldn’t really be touching them. They look like they’d tear very easily.”
[Rena] “This one has drawings on it.”
[Logan] “Let me look. Oh, nice! Like those giant tapestries that tell a story.”
[Rena] “Did you see those in your museums too?”
[Logan] “Yes, I did. I’ll take you to one of the good ones in the North one day, then you’ll see how fun they are.”
[Rena] “So do you know what this is?”
[Logan] “Hmmm. Not exactly. But most of them were legends about heroes and the monarchy and about the old Gods. Especially the ones with this style, you know, with the weird figurines and the big swirls and the text all around it, probably means it’s a legend about the old Gods.”
[Rena] “I suppose the life of a simple farmer isn’t interesting enough to be put in your museums.”
[Logan] “There actually is a museum of rural life in Jodash, but I’ve found it to be not very accurate. They’re trying to sell it too much as a peaceful fairytale for the people in the big cities and to any outsiders from the federation.”
[Rena] “They could just come down here and talk to us, and I’m sure the North has its fair share of farmers too. No need to put lies in a museum.”
[Logan] “Oh, but my dear friend, museums are full of them. Wouldn’t want the citizens to know what’s actually going on in the kingdom, would you? Like all of these tapestries; the people who painted them already embellished what had actually happened, and of course whoever runs these museums, which in the vast majority of cases is the Count of Jodash, they choose which tapestries to include and which not to include, or even which part to include. So it’s very easy to hide behind lies.”
[Rena] “Right, nothing is the way I learned it would be, got it. So do you know what this one is depicting?”
[Logan] “I’m definitely not an expert in religious history. Maybe Rodrick or Finn will know more. We should take it with us.”
[SFX paper rustle]
Logan rolled the parchment back up and slid it into one of the pockets of his pants. Rena riffled through the rest of the parchments, but none of them seemed to be written in a language she could read.
[Logan] “You know, now that I think about it, it’s strange that these aren’t written in our script. I know it’s been in widespread use for at least 200 years, probably way longer than that, and sure the paper looks old, but not four hundred years old, so why isn’t it written in a language we can read?”
[SFX dull footsteps]
Rena froze, her eyes opening wide as she stared at the door.
[SFX door opening]
Her hand slowly lowered as she put the parchment back on the table without making any sounds.
[SFX door closing, footsteps fading]
[Logan, whisper] “I think we’re good.”
[Rena] “We shouldn’t be here.”
[Logan] “I think we can find out more if we stay a bit longer.”
[Rena] “We’ve tested our luck long enough, they’ll find us if we stay longer .”
[Logan] “They’re in the back of the house. If we avoid that part we’re going to be ok. Let’s just go across the hallway.”
[Rena] “*heavy sigh* Fine, but after that we’re leaving.”
Logan walked over to the door and pressed an ear against it, waiting a few moments before quietly opening the door and looking out. He slipped out onto the hallway and tiptoed over to the other side. Rena followed him and closed the door as carefully as she could manage, her eyes constantly darting to the closed doors at the other end of the house.
They entered a smaller bedroom that only held one bed to their left and a wardrobe to their right. The bed looked freshly used but not unkempt. Rena quietly closed the door and then stepped into the room, looking around at the sparse décor.
[Rena] “I don’t see anything that’s unusual here.”
Logan knelt down to look underneath the bed then tiptoed over to the only wardrobe in the room and opened it. Rena looked over his shoulder to see what might be inside, but it was empty except for a pile of towels.
[Logan] *sigh* “Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything to find here.”
[SFX dull footsteps coming closer]
[Logan, under breath] “Fuck.”
Logan grabbed Rena’s hand and dragged her to the corner between the wardrobe and the door. They pressed their backs against the wall, the dread rising in Rena as she heard the footsteps coming closer.
[SFX door opens, footsteps]
The door opened, stopping a hand-width away from Rena’s face. A person walked in, wearing the group’s uniform of black pants and dark red tights with a loose white shirt. A rather plump woman, with short curly brown hair. She walked straight towards the bed, holding a pile of folded laundry in her arms.
Logan stepped forward, pushing the door closed, and before the woman had the chance to fully turn towards him, he had wrapped his arm around her throat. The woman tried to fight him off, the pile of clothes falling to the ground as she clawed at Logan’s arm, but soon her movements became more sluggish and then her arms fell to her sides and her knees buckled. Logan gently let the body drop to the ground, making sure she didn’t hit her head on the frame of the bed.
[Rena, concerned] “She’s going to be fine, right?”
[Logan] “Yeah, yeah, we just need to tie her up so she doesn’t come after us.”
He dragged the unconscious body closer to the bed and picked up one of the tights from the pile of clothes that had fallen to the ground. He pushed the body around until it lay on its side with the arms wrapped around the leg of the bed and then used the tights to tie them up.
Rena crouched down to pick up the only fabric that stood out from the pile. A white and green dress similar to the one she was wearing. She frowned as she looked at the hem of the dress, at the swirling flower pattern that had been meticulously embroidered into the fabric, the pattern that she had run her fingers over so often as she helped her mother wash their laundry.
[Rena, murmur] “This is Maya’s.”
[Rena] “This is my sister’s dress. Why do they have my sister’s dress?”
Logan stared at her, his hands still hovering over the knot he had just tied. His eyes wandered down to the dress in her hands, his mouth opening slightly as if he wanted to say something, but no words came out.
Rena’s vision went blurry as her eyes filled with tears.
[Rena, upset] “Why do they have her dress?”
[Logan, quiet] “I don’t know.”
[Rena, crying] “What have they done to my sister?”
[Logan] “I-I don’t know. A-are you sure it’s her dress?”
[Rena] “Yes, I’m sure! My grandmother embroidered those flowers, there isn’t another dress like it out there!”
[Logan] “I’m sorry, I really don’t know what it’s doing here.”
[Rena] “Do you think she’s here? Are they keeping her somewhere? We need to save her!”
She got up, clutching the dress close to her chest. Without waiting for Logan, she turned around and hurried out of the room.
[Logan] “Rena, wait!”
She stopped in the hallway for a second, evaluating where they might be keeping her, then rushed over to the first door to her left. She didn’t wait to hear if anyone else was still in the house, didn’t wait to make sure anyone wasn’t waiting for them. She needed to know if they were keeping Maya somewhere. If she was still alive and well.
She burst into the room and frantically looked around. One long table stood in the middle of the room with eight chairs standing around it. One side of the table was covered in loose papers, books and rolls of parchment. The other side was empty except for another pile of clothing in one corner. Along the wall to her left stood two large cupboards. On the far wall beyond the cupboards was a fireplace that still held ashes from the previous night.
Rena stepped into the room, leaning down to look underneath the table, opening the cupboards to look inside, but of course Maya wasn’t anywhere to be found.
[Logan] “Rena, come on, stop!”
[Rena] “She isn’t here. We need to check the other rooms.”
She shouldered past Logan into the hallway, sliding out of his grasp when he tried to stop her.
[SFX door open]
She turned towards the front door and looked straight into the bright green eyes of a woman she had never seen before. She had an old scar running over her nose and underneath her left eye, and her light brown hair was almost the same color as the pelt she had draped over her shoulders. The woman stared at her, her eyes growing wider before her eyebrows knit together in anger.
[Woman] “Who are you?”
She stormed forward, her hand disappearing underneath her cape before reemerging with a dagger, its tip slightly curved upwards. Rena quickly stepped back until she hit the wall next to the open door to the kitchen, clutching the dress tightly to her chest. The woman rushed towards her and raised the dagger, but as soon as she had passed the door to the parlor Logan jumped out and grabbed her wrist, the sudden halt in movement turning her around to face away from Rena.
Rena used the opportunity to slide into the kitchen. She thought about closing the door for a second but couldn’t dare leave Logan alone out there. She frantically looked around for anything she could use and her eyes landed on the cast-iron pans hanging from the wall. She grabbed the biggest one with one hand, refusing to let go of the dress, and rushed back out to find Logan trying to pry the dagger out of the woman’s hand. From afar she could see two more people wearing the now familiar outfit rush towards the front door. She ran forward and threw the heavy pan at them, almost losing her footing. She tried to close the door before the men could reach it, but she wasn’t fast enough. One of them slammed into the door and sent Rena flying backwards. The distraction was enough to break Logan’s concentration and the woman ripped her arm out of his grip. She held the dagger out to his throat, backing him into the wall.
[Woman, growling] “Who the fuck are you people?”
[Asha] “I wouldn’t even think about hurting him.”
Rena’s head whipped up at the sound of her companion’s voice. Asha stood behind the man who had burst through the door, her golden sword at his neck.