[Asha] “I would suggest you put your dagger down.”
Asha was glaring at the woman whose blade was on Logan’s throat, her own sword sliding forward and tilting the chin of the man in front of her upwards, a thin trickle of blood running down his neck. Behind her, Kalani appeared in the doorframe, with Vincent and an out of breath Rodrick following along.
Rena scrambled back up and took a step back. Kalani stopped only a few steps past the door, her sharp eyes fixated on Logan and the woman. Rodrick held on to the doorframe with one hand, his other hand on his thigh as he regained his breath. He looked up at Rena, his eyes full of concern as if they were asking her how she was doing. She nodded slightly, pressing her lips together, hoping this would convey that she was unharmed.
She craned her neck to glance past Kalani and Rodrick, to see if anyone else was behind them. On the ground, the second man lay unconscious, spread-eagle, the cast-iron pan she had thrown lying next to him.
[Rena, concerned] “Is Finn not with you?”
Asha quickly glanced over to her, her frown deepening for a second.
[Asha] “No? He left with you, why would he be with us? Did you lose him?”
[Rena] “We had to run into the forest and we got separated. I thought he was with Logan but apparently he lost him.”
[Logan] “I didn’t lose him. I’m sure we’ll find him once we actually look for him.”
[Asha] “Sounds like you lost him to me.”
“This is not a stage show! You will take us seriously,” the woman behind Logan hissed, the blade cutting into his skin. Blood started to run down Logan’s neck, mirroring the man Asha was holding captive.
[Logan, slightly panicked] “Ok ok ok, how about we all calm down, yeah? There’s no need for anyone to get hurt.”
Kalani stepped further into the hallway and came to stand next to Asha. She reached a hand out towards Rena and waved for her to come closer. Rena glanced back at the woman who’s bright green eyes were wide open and full of rage, darting back and forth between Asha, Kalani and her.
[Woman1] “Who the fuck are you people and what are you doing in my house?”
Rena slowly stepped back until she was close enough for Kalani to grab her arm and drag her away from the woman and behind her back.
[Kalani] “We could ask you the same? And don’t pretend like this is your house. I know the farmer rents it out to whoever’s willing to pay. Usually these visitors aren’t responsible for the death and destruction of an entire village however.”
[Woman1] “Do you actually believe these insolent rumors that we’re responsible for that tragedy? What, just because we’re outsiders who don’t adhere to the norms of these lands?”
[Kalani] “It seems awfully convenient that you just happened to show up here right after the fire happened.”
[Woman1] “It seems awfully convenient to blame the outsiders you don’t understand for it. Where’s your proof that we have anything to do with it?”
[Logan] “They had a shrine dedicated to one of the figurines Rena also found in Oceansthrow and [gargle]”
[Woman1] “Shut it.”
[Rena, outburst] “What did you do to Maya?”
The words burst out of Rena without her consent, her fingers digging into her sister’s dress. She couldn’t stand waiting for this game to resolve, for them to coax tiny shreds of truth out of this woman who evidently did not want to comply. It was so clear to her that these people were responsible for the fire, so why were they still wasting time trying to get a confession when there were more pressing matters to discuss.
Kalani turned her head slightly towards Rena without taking her eyes off of the woman.
[Kalani] “Who is Maya?”
[Rena] “My sister.”
[Kalani] “Your sister?”
She turned her head to look at Rena, a concerned frown on her face.
[Rena, stammer] “We found her dress here. In a pile of clothes. I don’t know what it’s doing here, but why would they just pick up her dress before setting the fire? That doesn’t make any sense, right? So they must have taken her. They must be keeping her somewhere.”
Rena held the dress out towards Kalani who stared at it with a deep sunken frown, the muscles of her jaw clenching.
“What did you do to her sister?” Asha growled, grabbing the man’s hair with her free hand and kicking him in the back of the knees so that he fell down to the ground.
[Man, scared] “I don’t know. I don’t know!”
[Asha] “Bullshit, you don’t know.”
[Woman1] “I should have you all skinned alive for breaking into our house and stealing our things.”
[Logan] “Woaw, woaw, woaw, easy on the blade, easy on the blade! We’re not stealing anything, I promise! We were about to put it back where we found it!”
[Rena, distressed] “But this isn’t yours, this is Maya’s dress! You can’t just pretend it isn’t hers. So why do you have her dress? What have you done with her?”
Rena felt a hand land on her shoulder and for an instance she jerked back in fear before she noticed that it was just Rodrick trying to comfort her.
[Woman1, hissing] “That is none of your concern.”
[Rodrick] “I think it is time both sides set down their blades so that we can discuss this issue peacefully. Surely you can see that my friend here is very worried for her sister, so I implore you to help us find out what happened to her.”
[Woman1] “I said, it is none of your concern.”
[Rodrick] “My good lady, …”
[SFX big thump]
Their heads all turned simultaneously towards the room from which the noise had come from, towards the room in which Rena and Logan had tied up the other woman. Logan used the distraction to slip out of the woman’s grasp, sliding behind her and slamming her head into the wall. Her body instantly went slack and fell to the ground, blood trickling out of her nose.
[SFX big bang]
[tied up woman, muffled screaming] “Help! Help!”
This time around, the man Asha was holding used the distraction to try to get away, but Asha’s grip on his hair was still tight enough that he couldn’t slip away. She slammed him down on the ground, pushing his face into the wooden floor. She dropped her sword an arms length away and used her free hand to pin the man’s arms to his back, kneeling down on his back to keep him from getting back up.
[Man, muffled] “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
[Asha] “Shut up. Logan, who the fuck is in that room?”
[Logan] “Yeah, sorry, we tried breaking in without getting noticed, but that kinda failed, as you may have noticed.”
[Rena] “Logan choked her out and then tied her up.”
Logan shot her an annoyed look, his left hand at his throat where the blade had cut him.
[Kalani] “Fantastic, this is going great. Two unconscious cultists and two terrified ones. Truly the best conditions for a productive conversation. [sigh] Logan, go get the one from outside before someone sees him. We need to figure out what we do next.”
[Logan] “Yes, sir.”
[Kalani] “Is there a cellar in this house? We should bring them all down there until we know how to proceed.”
[Logan, rueful] “We… kind of broke the door when we broke in.”
[Kalani] “[groan] Of course you did. I thought you were a professional thief, Logan.”
[Logan] “It was locked and I didn’t have any tools on me. I can’t perform miracles. Also, I’d call myself more of a weaver of stories than just a common thief.”
[Kalani] “Then go grab the body and fix the door downstairs, we shouldn’t be staying here for much longer anyway.”
Logan bowed to Kalani with a flourish, his left hand covered in blood. He stepped over the unconscious woman at his feet and winked at Rena as he walked past.
Kalani ran a hand over her black braids and pulled them over her right shoulder, carting her fingers through them. She looked around the room before her gaze landed on the unconscious woman. She looked at her for a moment before bending down and picking her up underneath her armpits, heaving her up and dragging her towards the stairs. She put her down with the back against the wall and waited for Logan to come back in with the other unconscious body.
Rena crouched down and held her hand out for Vincent to come closer and sniff at her.
[Rodrick] “Rena, my dear, are you alright?”
Her hand ran over Vincent’s fur towards the back of his ear as he nuzzled his head into her hand. Rena looked back up at Rodrick and shot him a small smile.
[Rena] “Yes, thank you, I’m not hurt. Don’t really know how to feel about the dress, but I’m happy to see Asha and you are unharmed.”
[Rodrick] “Oh, don’t worry about us, we weren’t in any danger at all.”
Logan and Kalani lifted the unconscious man up and carried him down the stairs, coming back up a few minutes later to carry the second body down.
[Rena] “I almost expected to not see you again, Asha.”
[Asha] “I had half a mind set on staying at camp, but then we told Kalani what was going on here and she got all concerned and you don’t just say no to a woman like Kalani if she requests your services.”
[Rena] “Thank you. For coming back.”
[Man, struggling] “Could you please take your knee off of my back.”
[Man, defeated] “Ok.”
Kalani came back up the stairs and walked over to Asha, squatting down to look at the man.
[Kalani] “If you cooperate I’ll tell her to get off of you.”
The man didn’t say anything for a while. He simply looked up at her, spit drooling out of his open mouth that was squished against the floor.
[Kalani] “Or maybe we should go talk to your comrade in the other room.”
When the man still didn’t answer she got back up and walked over to the first bedroom to the left. She opened the door and walked in, Logan right behind her. Hesitantly, Rena got up and followed them in.
The woman had managed to untie the tights around her legs and was now lying on her back, feet propped against the bed frame, trying to lift it up enough to get her arms out from underneath it.
[Kalani] “I wouldn’t try anything stupid.”
Kalani sat down on the bed, quashing the efforts of the woman to get out of her bindings.
Logan picked up one of the white shirts that was still lying on the ground and pressed it against the wound on his neck. Rena only slowly stepped into the room, scooting aside to let Rodrick and Vincent in after her. Asha stayed in the hallway, her knee still firmly planted on the man’s back.
Vincent slowly came up to smell the woman, who turned around in panic to scramble away from him until her back hit the bed.
[Woman2, begging, scared] “Please don’t let it hurt me.”
[Kalani] “Sure, if you tell us what we want to know.”
[Woman2, stuttering] “What? I can’t help you, I don’t know anything.”
[Rena, sad, tired] “Where’s Maya?”
[Woman2] “I-I don’t know any Maya.”
[Rena] “The girl who had this dress on. Where is she?”
[Woman2] “I don’t know anything about that.”
Kalani kicked her thigh, making the woman jump.
[Kalani] “Answer her.”
[Woman2] “I’m sorry. I really don’t know anything. I just do what I’m told and they told me to fold the laundry.”
[Rena] “But the dress doesn’t look anything like the rest of your clothes.”
[Woman2] “I didn’t question it.”
[Logan] “Now that’s a load of bullshit.”
[Kalani] “There really is no use in lying to us. We simply want to know where her sister is. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable question to ask, do you?”
[Woman2] “You’re not the kind of people I’m allowed to tell anything.”
[Kalani] “You see your friend over there? He doesn’t seem too comfortable to me. If you help us, we help him. If you don’t help us, well….”
[Woman2] “There is nothing you can do to us that would make me abandon my faith.”
[Logan] “Oh boy.”
[Asha, far away] “Ugh.”
[Kalani] “[heavy sigh] Right, you guys are that kind of people.”
[Rena] “But, you’re ok with this? With destroying whole villages and killing hundreds of people? Even if you’re not the one setting the fire, you’re ok with what the others are doing?”
[Woman2] “Y-you have no proof of that. … A-and in the hypothetical case where we were responsible for these fires, and this is by no means an admission of guilt, there would be a righteous reason for these actions that is more sacred and important than any individual human lives that might be lost along the way, even if their deaths would be tragic.”
[Logan] “What are you even talking about?”
[Rena, quietly] “My entire family is dead because of you.”
[Woman2] “But don’t you see, modern life would have been the death of them anyways.”
[Woman2] “This life we are living is just a distortion of what it should be. This isn’t how any of us should exist.”
[Logan] “Wait, is that what you’re fighting against? Modern life as in, the new technologies? The lights and machines and the train?”
[Rena] “I-is my family dead because you don’t like … that they’re building a trainline?”
[Woman2] “No no no, you misunderstand. No one said anything about the gas lamps or the train. I quite fancy the train actually. Maybe one day I’ll be able to ride on it; maybe one day we’ll all be able to ride on it! But that is exactly the problem. That all these people in power keep us regular folks away from everything that is good. That they are the ones deciding what we are allowed to do and what our lives are supposed to look like and which province gets help and which gets forgotten. A-and they’re pretending like their system is fair and that it is for our best and that we have any say in it, but we all know that none of that is true. They are building this on the ruins of a once great and sacred system and are spitting in the face of our history.”
[Rena, getting angry] “But what does any of that have to do with burning down villages?”
[Woman2] “There is a divine reasoning behind it that you would not understand.”
[Rena, almost screaming] “Because you aren’t explaining it!”
[Rodrick, calmly] “Rena, my child, there’s no use getting worked up. It doesn’t seem like you are going to be able to reason with her.”
[Rena] “But …”
[Rodrick] “I know, I know.”
[Kalani] “He’s right, this is just a waste of time.”
[SFX bed creak]
[Kalani] “How about you tell us where you brought her sister? And let’s stop pretending like you don’t know or like you guys aren’t responsible for the fires. [louder] The both of you, alright? You either tell us now, or someone gets hurt.”
[Man, groaning] “I can’t.”
The woman pressed her lips together into a thin line and turned her head away from them.
[Man, groaning even more, in pain] “I can’t.”
[Logan] “The two of you remember those scrolls you have near the altar, right? The really old ones? The ones that look important and irreplaceable and like they mean something to you? Would be a shame if something happened to them, don’t you think?”
The woman’s head whipped around to stare at Logan with wide open eyes.
[Woman2] “You wouldn’t dare.”
Logan looked up at Kalani with a smirk.
[Logan] “Got them.”
[Kalani] “Hmm, I do think we would dare. Go get them for me, Logan.”
[SFX footsteps go away, come back]
Logan came back with a pile of the scrolls they had found earlier and dropped them on the bed. He picked one of them up and handed it to Kalani who unrolled it and tried to read it.
[Kalani] “What is this?”
[Logan] “We don’t really know.”
[Rena] “It’s written in a language we can’t read. But we also found one that had drawings on it, Logan should have that one. We think maybe it has something to do with the old Gods.”
Rodrick stepped forward and joined the other two near the scrolls.
[Rodrick] “Let me take a look.”
[Kalani] “Can you read this?”
[Rodrick] “Hmm, I don’t think so, I do have an acquaintance who can however.”
Kalani squatted down in front of the woman and held the piece of parchment up to her.
[Kalani] “I don’t need to know what’s written on here to figure out that the lot of you care about it. So why don’t you help us out, and then nothing will happen to them.”
[Woman2] “You will not break us.”
[SFX paper tearing slowly]
[Rodrick] “Oh …”
Tears started gathering in the woman’s eyes as she stared at the paper in front of her slowly getting torn in two.
[Kalani] “How many of these can you fathom losing?”
[Logan] “There’s also a fireplace in the other room.”
The woman’s eyes darted up to Logan, filled with rage, a tear finally rolling down her cheek.
[Rodrick] “We don’t need to go to those extremes. They are historical artifacts after all.”
[Kalani] “That decision is entirely up to our two friends here. We only want to know one thing. Where is Rena’s sister?”
[Rena, begging] “Please.”
[Woman2] “You don’t understand what you’re doing!”
[SFX more paper tearing]
[Man, in pain] “Stop, please. I’ll talk, I’ll talk.”
[Woman2, angry] “Michael!”
[Man] “Please don’t destroy the scrolls. Please. I can tell you where she is.”
[Kalani] “Finally someone who’s reasonable. Asha, get him up.”
Kalani stood back up, letting the fragments of parchment fall down onto the woman’s lap. Asha heaved the man up by the lapel of his shirt and turned him around to march him into the room.
[Woman2] “Michael, you know what Inkra will do to you if you tell them anything.”
[Michael] “Her wrath will be greater if they destroy all of the scripture.”
[Rena] “Michael! I-it’s Michael, right? I don’t know who this Inkra is, and I’m truly sorry if we are the reason you get into trouble with her, but I need you to tell me where my sister is. Is she alright? You didn’t hurt her, did you?”
[Michael] “I don’t know, we’re just the clean up crew! We only arrived after the fire, I swear, we’re just here to talk to the locals and advise captain Silac. We didn’t even meet the first crew, they had left the building before we arrived. Most of the stuff is theirs, it’s always like this, we’re just here to clean up after them.”
[Kalani] “But you said you knew where she was.”
[Michael] “Yes! Well, there are only a few places where they could have brought her.”
[Kalani] “That doesn’t sound like you know exactly where she is.”
[Michael] “No, no, no, I do! It’s north-east of here, just over the border in Baedan! It’s the most likely place where they would bring her if she’s still alive! It’s our closest base from here!”
[Woman2] “I will have to report this treason to Inkra, Michael.”
[Michael] “Inkra will understand. She would have done the same.”
[Logan] “I think I know the place he’s talking about. There’s an old, abandoned monastery in the hills near Tarkot’s Bridge. We already discussed it earlier. I remember it having some symbols that we also found at the ruins of Miller’s Knee. Seemed quite plausible that they might have been connected.”
[Kalani] “Alright, seems like we’re crossing the border today. You’re coming with us Michael. Rodrick, we’re taking your wagon. Horses would be faster but we’d have to find enough of them first.”
[Micheal, scared] “Wait, no, no, no. You can’t take me with you. I told you where it was, you don’t need me anymore. And your comrade clearly knows what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t be of any further help to you!”
[Woman2, spiteful] “Serves you right, Michael, for just telling them all our information.”
[Rena] “I promise we won’t hurt you, Michael! Maybe you can talk to the people at the old monastery and tell them to release my sister. I’m sure they’d listen more to you than to any of us. Please.”
[Kalani] “Let’s go, we’re wasting time.”
[Logan] “What about her?”
[Kalani] “Tie her up properly and then leave her. Someone will find her sooner or later.”
They left the house soon after. Logan had tied the woman’s legs together again and had gagged her with one of the tights. She didn’t complain or try to fight back for any of the procedure but her eyes were still filled with rage.
Kalani led the way out and told them to place their prisoner in their midst. Asha let go of him but still kept an arm around his shoulder so he wouldn’t run away but it also wouldn’t look too suspicious as they walked out. They moved swiftly without running, heading to the northern road where they had left Rodrick’s wagon. They managed to cross the village without any major incidents. Michael didn’t even try to run away or call for help, he simply walked alongside them and murmured something Rena couldn’t make out.
Until they reached the wagon Rena was on edge, waiting for someone to catch up with them, but soon she sat on the front bench of the wagon next to Rodrick, the rest of their crew in the back, and the wagon rumbled to life.
She was still clutching her sister’s dress, her fingers twisting into its fabric. She didn’t know how to feel about the situation, about the anticipation that her sister might still be alive. Tears filled her eyes and fell in thick drops down her cheeks and onto the dress. She didn’t want to hope, didn’t want to get her heart broken once more if their new journey didn’t lead them to Maya. Maya, who was only a year younger than her, who had never been afraid of the forest or the dark even when Rena had still been scared. Maya, who had loved the night and the stars and the moon and listening to the wind glide over the ocean.Her beloved Maya, who she had not dared think about much over these last few days because she was scared she wouldn’t be able to bear the pain of remembering her.
She pressed the dress against her face and took in a deep breath but the fabric didn’t smell like her sister anymore. It didn’t even smell like the fresh laundry she was used to, as if any remnants of her old life had been denied to her.
[SFX horses running]
She looked up and next to them on the road on both sides were guards on horses, trotting along to keep up with the wagon.
[Rodrick] “Good afternoon, what seems to be the problem?”
Rodrick talked to them without even the semblance of wanting to stop the wagon.
[Guard] “I said halt! Stop your vehicle right away!”
[Rodrick] “We are simple merchants on our way up North, there is no need to yell at us. Is there a reason why you want me to stop? I ask because I would prefer not to as it is quite the ordeal to get this beauty started.”
[Guard] “On the orders of Captain Silac each wanderer on these roads has to be inspected.”
From behind the guard to their left another mounted guard appeared, riding their horse in front of their wagon before stopping in the middle of the road. Rena looked back behind the wagon and was shocked to see that another three guards were riding behind them. What horrified her even more to see, was that riding behind them, with a drooping right shoulder and bloodied arm, was the woman with the piercing green eyes they had left in the cellar of the house.
She turned around to Rodrick, leaning closer to him.
[Rena] “There are more behind us. And the lady who held a knife to Logan’s throat is with them.”
Rodrick nodded once without taking his eyes off of the road in front of them. He seemed to think for a while, his eyebrows knitting together in apprehension.
[Rodrick] “Hold on to something.”
[SFX wagon noises faster, louder]
The wagon lurched forward before Rena could actually hold on to something and she was thrust back, her back hitting the wagon hard. Rodrick steered straight forward, towards the guard that had planted their horse on the road in front of them. The wagon shook violently and Rena scooted forward, only managing to not drop off of the bench by pressing her foot into the wooden paneling in front of them.
Rodrick didn’t budge from his path and for an instance Rena was truly afraid they were about to run into the guard and their horse. She closed her eyes and brought the dress up to her face in anticipation but no collision came. She dared peek out again and saw that the road in front of them was empty.
The shaking of the wagon was so violent that it almost felt like the vehicle was about to fall apart, but even with the effort it put out it wasn’t anywhere close to how fast a horse could run and soon the two guards to their sides appeared next to them again.
The one next to Rena tried to grab her, grasping for her leg, but the shaking was so intense that he couldn’t reach her. She tried to kick him away but it just made her slide further down the bench to the point where she got scared she would fall out. Next to her Rodrick had the same problem, with the other guard trying to get a hold of his steering wheel. Vincent tried to snap at the guard’s hand but even he had difficulties standing upright.
[SFX dog barks]
The guard next to her finally managed to get a grip on her, his hand digging into her sister’s dress. She tried to kick him off, tried to throw him off his horse, but the agitation made her slide off the bench and fall down onto the footrest and as her back hit the floor the shock made her lose her grip on the dress. The guard discarded the dress right away, throwing it onto the road behind him. Rena tried to push herself upright again, tried to get away from the guard’s hand but he managed to get a hold of her ankle and yanked her forward, not enough to pull her off of the wagon right away but enough that her legs were dangling off the edge. She tried to grab onto the wagon so she wouldn’t fall, tried to claw at the ground and drag herself back up, but there was nothing she could do. She fell off, tumbling to the ground, hitting the floor hard, all the air in her lungs being violently expelled. She rolled forward a few times and then landed with her face in the dirt.
[SFX loud crash]
She looked up to see the wagon having veered off of the road and crashed into a tree, the second guard pulling Rodrick away from the vehicle. Vincent leaped off of the remains of the wagon and onto the guard, making him lose his grip on Rodrick and fall backwards into the forest.
The back door of the wagon burst open and the rest of her companions rushed out. Asha jumped out first, her sword ready in her hand, a stream of blood running down the side of her face and down her neck. Logan was right behind her with a heavy-set cast-iron pan in his hands, the towel he had tied around his neck to bandage his wound a deep crimson red.
Rena scrambled back up again even though her back and her legs hurt like nothing she had ever felt before. The horse in front of her stopped and the guard dropped down to the ground. She turned around and tried to run away but she was quickly surrounded by the other horses.
[SFX big metallic thunk]
She turned back around to find the guard lying on the ground, Logan next to him with two hands around the cast-iron pan.
[Rena] “I can’t just …”
[Logan] “Just run!”
A horse came up besides them, the guard trying to grab at Rena. He was yanked back from the other side and fell off of his horse.
[SFX horse neighing]
[Logan] “Forest! Now!”
And so she did. She ran past Logan, only stopping to pick her sister’s now mud covered dress off of the ground and disappeared between the trees. She picked the skirt of her dress up and clutch it tight to her chest, bundling it up with her sister’s dress so she wouldn’t lose it.
She didn’t know for how long she was running for or where she was running towards. She only stopped because her legs became weak and her foot caught on a root and she fell to the ground.
She was out of breath, her mouth dry, her heartbeat hammering in her chest and her head. She tried pushing herself back up but her body couldn’t take it anymore.
She scooted closer to a tree and laid down on the ground next to it, hoping that no one would find her there. She wished the fox would show up again, that it would lead her to safety again, but she waited and waited and it never showed up. Her eyes became heavy, impossible to keep open anymore, and she felt herself drift away.
[SFX twig breaks, footsteps]
Her eyes shot open again, her whole body tensing up. She held her breath and waited. The footsteps seemed slow, sluggish, like someone who was exhausted or injured. A figure appeared from behind a tree, staggering towards her, and tripped over a protruding root, collapsing on the ground.
[Rena] “Oh my stars, Logan! Are you alright? Logan? Logan, wake up!”