S1 Mid-Season Bonus Episodes

Letters concerning the destruction of Miller’s Knee

Bonus episode which narrates the letters Rena found in the archives at the end of episode 10. 

Letters concerning the transfer of power in the Grey Isles

Bonus episode which narrates the letters Asha found in the archives at the end of episode 10.

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1 Bonus Content Transcripts

Letters concerning the destruction of Miller’s Knee

To their Royal Eminence, High Lord Armanic Harkid, red Duke of Fae’Hosh, Admiral of the amaranth armada, Warden of the people.

I hope to find you in good health and fortune. Please extend my best well wishes to the High Lady Taluhid and the royal offspring.

I am writing this letter to you with my deepest and most revered respect to inform you of an incident that happened in Velashta a fortnight ago. I would not trouble you with this event if I did not deem it to be of great concern for the entire kingdom. 

About ten days ago, a small town named Miller’s Knee in the North of our province bordering Nappahrit was destroyed by fire. It was not a town of great importance as it only had thirty-seven residents, however, tragically each resident perished in the fire. I ordered an investigation into this incident to determine what the cause of the fire could have been, and my examiner informed me that an accident can be excluded as the fire’s origin. Furthermore, I have been informed that replicas of the crow effigy have been found on site. As per protocol, the complete elimination of the town’s memory has commenced and the clearing of the debris has already been completed. 

What concerns me in this affair is that I was informed by your honored cousin, High Lady Ciprianid Marnic, that the Royal Council had struck an agreement with the Lynx about the Crow’s activities over the last decade and that such incidents would not occur anymore. As it appears, however, this agreement seems not to have been honored by either the Crow or the Lynx. I do not wish to imply that the Royal Council’s esteemed allies would willingly break a royal accord, which leads me to believe that either the Crow itself might be working against its superior, or that a group has split off from the Crow and is now acting on its own.

As I know you are a great opponent of the Crow’s activities, I am addressing this letter to you to ensure that swift and strict measures will be enacted following this misadventure. I trust in your judgment to deal with this situation in the best interest of the kingdom and its people. I eagerly await your response and am prepared to enact any further measure you deem necessary to combat this plague on our lands.

With my deepest respect and admiration, 

Your loyal servant,

Lailad Parobac, administrator of records

To Lailad Parobac, administrator of records,

I am saddened by the events chronicled in your letter. What a tragedy.

The news you heard from my cousin was correct. A deal had been ratified between the Royal Council and the Lynx, who had assured us they would be able to reign the Crow back in after its previous misconduct. It is a great worry that this might not have been accomplished. I will send a group of my own examiners to your province to help you in your investigation. Please show them the artifacts that have been found and explain the results of your examination to them in great detail so that we can determine if this incident was perpetuated by an independently acting group of dissenters or if the Crow in itself has decided to disregard the Lynx’s authority and the accord with the Royal Council. 

In the meantime, I will convene with the rest of the Royal Council to discuss this incident and any further steps that could be taken. I will champion my cohorts to arrange a new audience with the Lynx to determine whether they are aware of this situation and what their plan of action will be. I am in good faith that this situation can swiftly be dealt with and that no further abhorrent actions such as this one will be taken by the Crow. I am of the opinion that we cannot let such a pest run rampant in our kingdom. Accords which have been agreed upon by both sides need to be upheld at all costs! Otherwise there is no sense in this entire system.

May fortune cast its eyes upon you.

Armanic Harkid, red Duke of Fae’Hosh, Admiral of the amaranth armada, Warden of the people

To their Royal Eminence, High Lord Armanic Harkid, red Duke of Fae’Hosh, Admiral of the amaranth armada, Warden of the people,

As always, I hope to find you in good health and fortune. 

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of your royal examiners. I have instructed my own investigative team to prepare all the information we have managed to gather for their visit.

I profoundly agree with you that accords, especially those agreed upon with the Royal Council, need to be upheld and respected. Such is the basis of our kingdom. I hope it does not step out of line if I say that the Crow needs to be held accountable for their role in breaking this agreement and that an investigation into the Lynx’ potential involvement in the affair should be opened. Of course, I am not implying that the Lynx knew about the Crow’s transgression, and I am certainly not implying that they had anything to do with it, however, if we wish to bring respect to our system of justice, every and all possibilities need to be explored.

With my deepest respect and admiration, 

Your loyal servant,

Lailad Parobac, administrator of records

To Lailad Parobac, administrator of records,

The other members of the Royal Council have been informed of the situation and a meeting with the Lynx has been arranged. My cohorts were displeased to hear that our accord might have been disrespected although they have pointed out that it is of utmost importance to find out who the perpetrators of these attacks on our kingdom are. It does not do us well to put the blame on the Crow without knowing for certain that they are involved in the situation. Furthermore, please refrain from throwing accusations towards the Lynx without being able to prove they even knew about these incidents. The Royal Council has worked with the Lynx for longer than any of us have been in power and they are one of the kingdom’s most trust-worthy and well-respected allies.

Please inform my examiners that they should primarily focus on finding out who is responsible for this tragedy when they arrive.

May fortune cast its eyes upon you.

Armanic Harkid, red Duke of Fae’Hosh, Admiral of the amaranth armada, Warden of the people

To their Royal Eminence, High Lord Armanic Harkid, red Duke of Fae’Hosh, Admiral of the amaranth armada, Warden of the people,

I must apologize for my commentary in my previous letter. I certainly did not mean to imply that the Lynx knew of the incidents or might have been involved.

The royal examiners departed from Velashta this afternoon. As they will be able to tell you in greater detail, we have determined that the circumstances revolving around the incident extensively point towards the Crow’s involvement in this tragedy. Of course, it is impossible to know the exact identity of the people who perpetrated these events, as it could very well have been a sub-fraction of the Crow who decided to act on their own. 

However, as I have not heard from you since your last letter and your royal examiners were not able to give me any further information about the Royal Council’s decision on how to proceed, I humbly ask of you to inform me of any further plans the Royal Council intends to enact to deal with this situation.

With my deepest respect and admiration, 

Your loyal servant,

Lailad Parobac, administrator of records

To Lailad Parobac, administrator of records,

The Royal Council has convened with the Lynx and the situation is being dealt with, you do not have to concern yourself with the further evolution of this matter.

I would advise you to keep news of the incident from spreading as best as possible. It would not do any good if the wider population were to hear about it. Your main responsibility in this situation is to assure the well-being and serenity of your subjects and all people living in our kingdom.

You do not need to contact his Royal Eminence, High Lord Armanic Harkid, about this incident any further. The royal examiners have been able to report any necessary details for the further continuation of this investigation to his Eminence. 

May fortune cast its eyes upon you.

Javac Barred, Magistrate to the Royal Councils

Letters concerning the transfer of power in the Grey Isles

Dear Mari,

I hope you’re doing alright and I hope that one of these days I will have some time to come visit you again. Life has been quite busy for me since I’ve been appointed to this position, but we all knew that was going to happen. How has your research been going? If I remember correctly you were working on the Grey Isles case last time we spoke. Are you still working on that? I hope Dardec isn’t causing you too much trouble, I know he can be pedantic over these kinds of things. 

I’ve got a favor to ask you. I wrote to your cousin last week about the destruction of one of our towns. I doubt he’s had time to tell you about it, but the gist of it is that a small town was burned to the ground and we think the Crow might be involved in it. Nothing is proven yet so please don’t discuss this with anyone until we have more information, but I’ll need your services to keep this from spreading through the kingdom. I wish I could come to the academy myself to talk with you about it, but, as I’ve mentioned, I simply don’t have the time for such a long visit. Especially since I’m awaiting further information from your cousin. I will send over one of my counselors with more information so that you can arrange the appropriate archival adjustments for this case. I’ll tell her exactly what needs to be done but of course I trust your judgment to adapt these directives as you best see fit.

I look forward to seeing you at Rishi’s wedding this summer, even if it is still a few months away.

In good health and fortune, now and always,

Your friend,

Lailad

Dear Lai,

How wonderful to hear from you again. It has been too long since the last time we had the opportunity. I miss you dearly, the academy just isn’t the same without you. Yours surely isn’t the only life that has been busy lately. Since Levac (finally!) fully stepped down from his position, I’ve had the privilege of reorganizing the mess he left behind. You wouldn’t believe how much chaos one man can cause! When I took over as dean, I didn’t realize how much time I would spend working like a common clerk. Absolutely none of his documents are organized like they are supposed to. They aren’t even really organized by date or subject or any other logical system. I think he had his own strange way of organizing stuff and forgot to tell me about it. Or maybe he deliberately kept me in the dark to spite me. Wouldn’t put it past that old man.

All that to tell you that, yes, I am still working on the Grey Isles. Dardec hasn’t even been that difficult to work with. In the beginning of the transfer maybe a bit, but I think he’s been quite reasonable with his demands. Horec Oluvad, on the other hand, has been a pain to work with. I had always heard that he was such a friendly and polite man, so I didn’t expect this at all, but I think he didn’t take it very well that Dardec took over his position. He’s trying to demand more inclusion of his name in the official records and I’ve been trying to accommodate him on this, but I’ve got my instructions from the Council and I can’t just do whatever I want. He’s also been complaining that the transfer has been reported as something voluntary and desired on his part and he wants us to at least mention that he stepped down with a heavy heart. Can you believe that?! What kind of image would that send! And I don’t even understand what he’s so upset about. He’s gotten an equally sized province out of this deal. I think High-Foshe might even be bigger than the Grey Isles if you look at the usable land. And anyway, I don’t know why he’s being so difficult with me, I’m not even remotely responsible for the transfer. If he’s upset he should try complaining to the Council about it, see how far he’ll get with that.

About your second point, I haven’t seen or spoken to my cousin in quite a few weeks so I hadn’t heard about this yet. It would definitely be quite concerning if the Crow was back. I’m pretty sure the Council has struck some accord to avoid this situation, so it really shouldn’t be happening. Let’s hope it’s just a copycat or some overzealous dissenters. Do you remember how much work it was last time to deal with all of that? All the sleepless nights we spent at the academy figuring out how to spin this into something believable. My head hurts just remembering it, I don’t even want to imagine what it’ll be like now that I’m dean. But duty is duty, so I eagerly await the arrival of your counselor.

I’m so excited for Rishi’s wedding! Did you hear that they are building a new chapel just for the event? I still don’t understand why she wants to adhere to the old traditions, I haven’t heard of anyone getting married in a chapel in ages! But she’s always been fascinated by the old times, hasn’t she? I’m sure it’s going to be lovely no matter what!

May fortune guide your way my dear friend,

With love,

Marizad

My dearest Mari,

And here we thought old man Levac had it all figured out. But I can imagine that in the last few years in which he’s held the position he’s gotten too old and forgetful to be well organized. Can’t you appoint someone else to do the work for you? I thought Nellad assisted you with this sort of thing? I don’t think it would be a risk to involve her in the planning.

Dardec might be pedantic and exigent in his demands but at least he knows how to communicate them well, I’ve always appreciated that about him. I can understand Horec Oluvad though. He’s been the warden of the Grey Isles for nearly thirty years, usually these appointments don’t last that long. If Dardec hadn’t gotten the province, one of Horec’s children or someone else from his family would have gotten it soon enough. I’ve heard more than once that he’s quite attached to the Isles and its inhabitants, and I think the affection was mutual. You only have to look at all the problems the transfer brought with it. It’s almost been a year and people are still fighting the new administration. They don’t seem to realize that they are doing more damage than good. Dardec was appointed by the Council itself, they aren’t going to get rid of him that easily. And honestly, it isn’t Dardec’s fault that Horec mismanaged the Isles this badly. The population has become too used to the freedom he gave them, they can’t expect it to continue. Every one of the provinces has to contribute to the well-being of the kingdom in its own way, the Grey Isles can’t be an exception to this. 

Don’t remind me of all that work we had to do because of the Crow last time. I almost went out to look for them myself so it would finally stop! It remains a mystery why the Council didn’t demand the Lynx take care of them more thoroughly. I wouldn’t have accepted for them to keep roaming the lands. You never know when they’ll decide to attack bigger cities. I don’t want to imagine the work you’ll have then. 

I think I’ve heard of someone else having a wedding in a chapel too. Looks like people are getting back to the old ways, at least aesthetically. Do you think Rishi will have a preacher officiate the wedding? I think that might go too far for my tastes. I’d be fine with some of the old chants though, I always liked the sound of those. 

In good health and fortune, now and always,

Your friend,

Lailad

My dearest, dearest Lai

I’m truly sorry for how long it’s taken me to reply. I’d written the first version of this letter three weeks ago and then I just never got around to sending it. Everything is so busy right now, I’m absolutely exhausted. 

Nellad is already helping me plenty, I wouldn’t want to put even more work and responsibilities on her shoulders. I want at least her to have the illusion of a life outside of this academy, there’s truly no need for the both of us to never leave this building. 

Some good news, I’m done with my part in this whole Grey Isles mess. It’s not my problem anymore if the two lords decide to continue their petty feud. It’s honestly not any of my concern if Dardec can’t manage to get a grip on his new subjects and still hasn’t been able to quell the rebellions. I don’t understand why Horec Oluvad is trying to drag me into that debate.

And can you believe Horec even tried to argue with me that he should keep his old title?! That’s not how it works at all! The title is tied to the province and High-Foshe has a margrave, so of course he’s going to be a margrave from now on! Who does he think he is? He’s not above the rules of this kingdom just because he got attached to his previous province. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this man anymore. I told Nellad that I don’t want to read a single one of his letters anymore, I’m way too busy to deal with this whole spectacle. Anyways, I need to deal with the transfer of Red Hill next, hopefully that one will be less of a headache. At least that one’s staying in the same family, but you never know if a distant cousin isn’t gonna suddenly appear and try to claim the province for themselves.

Your counselor arrived about two weeks ago and we’ve come up with a plan and schedule of everything that has to be done. I’ve tried to find all of the documents from the last time they were active but I doubt I found all of it in the mess Levac left me. It’s going to take a while to get everything sorted out but I think the most critical parts aren’t going to take too much effort. At least not as much as that tiny coastal village in Nappahrit ten years ago. That was an absolute nightmare. Why did they have to strike so close to the military academy? Don’t they realize how many people live there? Of course they’ll notice when there’s a giant fire on the coast right across from them! At least barely anyone got hurt back then, now we’ll also have to track down the family of the deceased and make sure they aren’t spreading rumors across the land. I’ll let you know once I have decided who’ll deal with this case and how we’ll proceed. 

I really need to get back to work now. There’s so much more I want to talk to you about. I’m counting the days until we can see each other again.

With lots of love and my most fortunate wishes,

Your dearest friend, Marizad

S1E10 Transcript

Rena grabbed Rodrick’s upper arm and led him back to the stairs, away from the alcove with the guards until she felt confident enough that no one would be able to hear them talk.

[Rena] “I doubt that we could fight our way past the guards. Do you think there’s another entrance?”

[Rodrick] “It’s highly unlikely that they have a secondary entrance for these rooms, and even if there was one, they certainly wouldn’t let it be unguarded. There are no windows as we’ve already seen, well, also because we are underground. What they might have, if the building is structured in the same manner as the archives in Mak-Hemma and other archives and libraries I’ve been to, is ventilation shafts.”

[Rena] “Ventilation shafts?”

[Rodrick] “They are a kind of small tunnel between rooms and the outside that lets air circulate between them and helps regulate the temperature and humidity in a building.”

[Rena] “Okay, so are they big enough for a person to crawl through?”

[Rodrick] “Well, for someone of your stature probably, but not for me. Even if I would fit, I’m much too old for that kind of adventure.”

[Rena, sigh] “Alright, so that’s not an option either then. Hmmm, we could maybe try to get a clerk to give us one of these special decrees, or pretend we lost ours, but they would probably just tell us to come back tomorrow with a new one.”

[Rodrick] “We could steal someone else’s.”

[Rena, reluctant] “We could try, I suppose.”

Rena frowned down at the ground, crossing her arms tightly in front of her. They had lied and snuck around and gotten false documents to get to this point, but stealing? Taking something from a random, innocent person that they owned and might need? That felt completely different to her.

[Rena, hesitant whisper] “I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable stealing someone else’s decree.”

[Rodrick] “I think it is the safest option we have. You’re right that we won’t be able to battle the guards, and I don’t see how we could distract all of them at once, so sneaking past them isn’t an option. Our only options are convincing one of the clerks to accompany us without a decree, or stealing a decree, and out of those two options the fastest and surest option is stealing.”

[Rena] “But what if they need still it?”

[Rodrick, chuckle] “Don’t worry about that. They can just get a new decree from wherever they got the first one from. You don’t get those types of decrees without a good reason or good connections, so it will be easy for them to get the new one reissued. You would be astonished how often scholars lose important documents, or they don’t remember where they put it. Even I have managed to lose the occasional essential file here and there. It never turns out to be as much of a calamity as you think it will be.”

[Rena] “Still … You never know.”

[Rodrick] “You are right. Of course, of course. Stealing is certainly not an honourable response, and I don’t fault you for being opposed to it, I certainly have my qualms about it too, but I think it is imperative for us to access these communications, as I believe we could uncover some immensely important information about secrets the royal council and other noble families are trying to hide from us all.”

[Rena] “I know, I know.”

[Rodrick] “So I have a proposition for you. The scholar that just passed us was obviously done with her research, and she didn’t seem in any hurry, so even if she were to still need her decree at a later date, she certainly has enough time to get herself a new one. She might not have left the building yet, so if we hurry we could catch up with her.”

Rena still didn’t like the idea, didn’t like just taking something away from someone, but she supposed that if that woman had just been inside the room with the records then she probably had gotten the information she needed, so it did seem quite likely that she didn’t need her decree anymore. She pressed her lips together and hesitantly nodded.

[Rodrick] “Let’s go back to the entrance hall.”

When they reached their destination, the room was more packed than when they had first arrived, almost as if all the people who had been standing around in the hallways earlier had shifted to standing around in the hall instead. They stepped aside from the entryway and craned their necks to look over the crowd, hoping to recognise the scholar that had just passed them moments before. Rena hadn’t exactly gotten a good look at the woman, but as luck would have it, her dress was instantly recognisable even from across the room and the way she carried her hair convinced Rena that she had found the right person. 

[Rena] “Over there!”

She leaned closer to Rodrick so that he could hear her and nodded towards their target.

The scholar was still standing next to the clerk who had been talking to her earlier, or more accurately who had been talking at her, which he seemingly hadn’t stopped doing. The scholar, on the other hand, kept looking away, glancing around and behind herself, and scanning the room as if searching for someone or something.

 [Rena] “Do we approach her here? What do we say? What should we do? Or do we follow her outside?”

[Rodrick] “We don’t know where she’ll go next. I want to avoid her going somewhere where we can’t follow. I know her dress, that’s the uniform of the historical academy in Dam’Vala. I think I could distract her with some questions but you will need to figure out where she’s keeping her decree and get it off of her.”

[Rena, hesitant] “Ok, I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to do that.”

[Rodrick] “She doesn’t have a backpack or other bag with her, so she has to have the decree on her person. In a pocket or inside her shirt sleeve. You will have to circle around her and find out where it is.”

[Rena, nervous] “I don’t know if I can do that. I’ve never pickpocketed something. She will definitely notice something is up. I don’t even know how deep her pockets go, and if she’s got it in her shirt sleeve, how am I supposed to get it out of there? I certainly can´t just walk up to her and sneak my hand in there, she would notice instantly.”

[Rodrick] “You’re right. I suppose if I can get her to show me her decree you could try bumping into her and exchanging it for another document. Here, I’ll give you one of our decrees. Try to fold it the way she has so she won’t notice it isn’t the same.”

He rummaged around in the inside pockets of his coat until he pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to her. She took it with both hands, staring down at it with wide eyes. 

[Rodrick] “It’s going to be alright.”

Rodrick put a hand on her upper arm, slowly rubbing it up and down to comfort her, smiling at her softly. 

[Rodrick] “If it doesn’t work out we’ll figure out another way.”

[Rena] [BIG BREATH] “It’s gonna be alright. We need the information in those secret documents, so we need this decree. We can manage it.”

Rodrick’s smile grew wider as he nodded at her, once, to confirm her feigned confidence.

[Rodrick] “We can manage it.”

[Rena, murmur] “Ok.”

[Rodrick, murmur] “Ok.”

Before leaving, Rodrick patted her lightly on the shoulder and then turned around. He clasped his hands behind his back and leisurely strolled through the crowd, looking around as if he was admiring the architecture. 

Rena took in a big breath and then slid the decree into the front pocket of her dress before wiping the sweat off of her palms. She looked back up, determined to keep track of where Rodrick was going, and took a few careful steps forward. She slid from behind one group of people to the next, her eyes constantly darting between the floor, the people around her and Rodrick’s back. He had slowly approached the other side of the room but had somehow decided to walk past their target and go chat with one of the clerks behind the desks. Rena wished he had told her what his plan was, but she wasn’t even exactly sure he had a plan. At least not a carefully constructed one. She hid behind a group of older women all wearing almost the same kind of clothing as if it were a uniform they were allowed to personalise. The scholar and her companion stood only a few meters away from her. Rena tried to figure out where she could be hiding the decree, but every time the scholar turned her head to look around Rena instantly looked down to the ground, too afraid that their eyes might meet. Rodrick still wasn’t moving from his position, seemingly in deep conversation with the clerk. Rena’s stomach tightened at the thought that their target might turn around and leave before Rodrick decided to start his approach. She slowly became aware that just standing around behind a group of people and nervously looking up and down at someone only a few meters away looked extremely suspicious, evident by two of the older women glancing back at her and frowning, still too polite to say anything to her. She needed a new approach, an approach that didn’t consist of standing around in the middle of the room and looking like she was planning to rob someone. If only she knew what Rodrick’s plan was, where he would approach the scholar from, where Rena had to stand to get the best view of her robe without being seen by anyone. Considering where Rodrick stood, however, he would in all likelihood approach the scholar from behind, meaning that if Rena wanted to be in position behind her later, she would have to pass in front of her now. 

She took a few steps back and snuck past the group of women she was standing behind so she could put a greater distance between her and the scholar. She would have to approach the desks from behind other visitors and hope that wasn’t the moment Rodrick decided to walk towards their target. She approached the desks at a spot between two clerks, hoping neither of them would notice her, and turned her back to them, looking over the crowd as if she was simply searching for someone. Her eyes lingered a second longer on Rodrick and the scholar before wandering over the rest of the room. When she was sure no one was looking in her direction she slowly slid closer to her target. The scholar seemed to be looking away more and more frequently, barely regarding the man in front of her who was apparently still complaining about something or other. If Rodrick didn’t approach the woman soon they clearly ran the risk of her leaving out of boredom or annoyance.

But maybe that was his plan after all? To intercept her when she was about to flee her predicament? But how could he know that she would stop to talk to him then, that she wasn’t so annoyed by the clerk that she didn’t want to be roped into yet another conversation? Rena hated this waiting game, the uncertainty of not knowing how she was supposed to act when an error on her part could mean the plan failed, or worse. What would happen if the scholar noticed she was trying to steal her decree? Would she signal it to the guards? Would they be thrown out, or arrested? She didn’t even really know what happened to thieves in cities like this. In her village, they tended to deal with thieves simply by kicking them out, or by giving them a stern lecture if they were younglings, but she knew city folks were more serious about these things, that if the crime was severe enough, bad things could happen to the perpetrators. 

Her fingers started to feel cold and she wanted to rub them together to warm them back up but she didn’t know if that would look suspicious, if people could see the nervousness and fear on her if she moved too much. She tried to ground herself, to think about something else, about what her actual objective was at that moment. Figuring out where the scholar kept her decree. She let her eyes slowly creep over the floor until they landed on the woman’s shoes, as if she would be able to feel Rena’s eyes on her if they moved too quickly. Her gaze wandered up the woman’s body from the worn black boots to the hem of her dark-blue robe, drifting along the golden inscriptions of phrases in a language she did not speak, until her midsection where the inscriptions had faded into the midnight blue of the fabric. Rena kept her eyes unfocused, as if she was simply zoning out instead of investigating the scholar, trying to figure things out from the corners of her vision. She noticed that the robe did have deep pockets at hip-height and by the way the fabric bulged it looked like something was inside both pockets. She also noticed that although the sleeves of the robe were wide and billowy, that there was a tighter band around the wrists to keep them in place, so it was rather unlikely that the scholar kept the decree there. Rena kept looking around bit by bit until she noticed her eyes stinging too much and she had to shut them tightly and blink the pain away. 

Finally, in the corner of her eye, she caught Rodrick move away from the desk, turn around and walk towards their target. She tried to stay calm, to not look up at him in excitement. Her whole body was tense as she forced her gaze to look over at the entrance door to her left, keeping track of Rodrick’s movement in her peripheral vision. He looked down at a piece of paper in his hands, slowly drifting away from the desk and towards the scholar until he almost ran into her. His head whipped up as if he was shocked to see anyone in front of him but immediately his face lit up, hurrying to fold his document and sliding it into his jacket before shaking the woman’s hand enthusiastically with both of his. He didn’t let go of her hand as he talked to her, although Rena couldn’t hear what they were saying, just more murmuring that was drowned out by the general cacophony of the room. She could, however, see how the woman turned away from her previous companion and engaged fully in Rodrick’s conversation. The clerk, who stood perplexed and somewhat annoyed next to them, pressed his lips together tightly, waiting impatiently for the conversation to shift back to him. 

Rena pretended to look through the room and scooted closer to them, making sure no one was observing her when she took the steps to her left. After a few minutes she was close enough to hear their voices, and if she concentrated hard enough she could even vaguely understand what they were saying. 

She had positioned herself in such a manner that the scholar wouldn’t be able to see Rena in her peripheral vision and although Rena was now closer to the woman, she still couldn’t figure out in which of her pockets she kept her decree. She certainly wouldn’t be able to get closer and sneak around behind the scholar to get a better glance at her pockets, because even if the clerk would leave Rodrick and the scholar alone, there were still too many people around them for such a risky approach. But bumping into her without knowing where the decree was would either be futile or would reveal their plan, so that definitely wasn’t an option either. All that was left for her was hope that Rodrick managed to make the scholar take her decree out of wherever she was hiding it. Rena clasped her trembling hands in front of her, squeezing one hand with the other so tightly that the pain would force the rest of her body to not move, that it wouldn’t betray her nervousness. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run, she wanted to do something, anything, and not just stand around waiting for a moment she didn’t even know would come. 

They kept talking and talking, the woman’s face lighting up with interest, leaning in closer towards Rodrick while her previous companion grew visibly impatient, his arms crossed, his foot tapping up and down incessantly. 

But then, suddenly, out of the corner of her eyes, Rena saw how the woman reached down, fumbling around in her right pocket until she pulled a piece of paper out and handed it over to Rodrick. Rena’s body froze, her breath stopped, her eyes fixed on one of the swirls on the wall at the other end of the room, unable to move. Rodrick took the document and turned it around in one hand, inspecting the back of it before opening it up. 

Should she go now? Should she wait an instant longer? Should she try to take it from Rodrick or wait for him to give it back to the scholar? What if the clerk stopped her before she could reach them? She would have to run towards them, make it seem like she was in a hurry, like she couldn’t waste even a second to apologise to them. She suddenly remembered that she had to match the folding pattern of their own decree to the scholar’s decree first, but she couldn’t just take it out here in the open or they would notice. 

She turned around, her hands trembling, her fingers ice cold. She pulled their decree out of her pocket, almost dropping it. It was folded in four, once horizontally and once vertically, but the scholar’s decree looked to have been folded in three, with three equally long horizontal parts. She tried to smooth out the old folds on the desk with her palm but it was impossible to make them disappear. She refolded the document carefully, slowly, so that she wouldn’t have to redo it and add even more creases to the paper. She laid it down on the counter, stretching out her fingers and closing them up a few times to get the heat and blood back into them. She looked up, suddenly aware that what she was doing must look extremely suspicious. She didn’t dare turn her head too much, didn’t dare scan all the people around her, but from what she could tell no one was observing her. She took a few deep breaths, picked the decree up in both hands and slowly turned around. Rodrick was still reading the document the scholar had handed to him, nodding slightly with the tip of his tongue sticking out between his lips. The woman was leaning in close to him, pointing at the document and explaining something to Rodrick. Rena stared at the wall behind them, her whole body tense, waiting desperately for the right moment. She didn’t know if the clerk was still observing the other two, couldn’t tell if he was now observing her, if he had noticed her odd behaviour. She hoped not. She hoped no one was paying attention to her, but it started to feel like everyone in the room was looking at her, was acutely aware of her.

The scholar leaned back, interlocking her hands in front of her again. Rodrick nodded more enthusiastically and looked up at her with a wide smile, folding the decree back together. This was the moment. Without thinking Rena rushed forward, her eyes still focused on the back of the room, straight towards the empty space between Rodrick and the scholar. She didn’t plan her movement, didn’t plan how she would exchange the two documents, she simply dashed towards Rodrick and ran into him. 

            [CLOTHES RUSTLE]

[Rodrick] “Oh!”

[Rena] “I’m sorry! Oh no, I’m so sorry!”

[Rodrick]” Are you alright? Wait, wait!”

[Scholar] “Hey!”

[Rena] “I’m sorry! I have to … Sorry! I’m late, I have to go. I’m so sorry, sir!”

[Rodrick] “It’s fine, it’s fine. Nothing happened. Are you alright?”

[Rena] “I’m fine, I have to leave. I’m so sorry.”

[Scholar, fading] “Look where you’re going! This isn’t a playground. Can you believe that? The youth of today, no respect at all. Are you alright?”

[Rodrick, fading] “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Just a bit shaken up. She must have been in a real hurry. But I’m fine, don’t worry too much about me.”

She ran through them, clutching the new document tightly to her chest, not looking back, not waiting for them to say anything else, she simply weaved her way through the crowd, apologising to the people she bumped into, until she had reached the other end of the room. 

[Rena, in background] “Sorry. Excuse me. I’m sorry, just coming through, excuse me.”

She rushed towards the entrance that led inside the archives, slowing down but not stopping until she had reached the stairs to the basement and was already a floor down.

She turned around, looking up the staircase to make sure no one was following her, then looked back behind herself to see if anyone was observing her in the hallway. When she had made sure no one was following her she leaned back against the wall and looked down at the piece of paper she was clutching in her hands. It was crumpled from her tight grip so she tried to smooth it out on the stone wall behind her, too afraid to open it. It didn’t seem to have the crease marks from the other folding pattern, meaning that they had successfully managed to exchange documents, but what if this wasn’t what they were looking for? What if it couldn’t actually help them and all of this had been for nothing?

She had to reassure herself that Rodrick would have probably said something, or at least motioned to her, if this wasn’t the decree they were looking for. She closed her eyes, stood up straight and took in a few deep breaths. As she opened her eyes again she delicately unfolded the document, as if it would crumble in her hands if she wasn’t careful enough. She had to scoot closer to one of the lamps to be able to read the document, but there it was, their access to what they were looking for. Issued by the magistrate at the military academy near Lomen, full access to the rooms in the R4C6 category for the delegation of the historical academy of Dam’Vala without mentioning any exact names, dated only three days ago. She clutched the document to her chest and let her head rest against the cold stone wall. 

It was going to be fine. They would just have to sell the lie that they were from the historical academy to one of the clerks, even if they weren’t wearing the appropriate uniforms. Rodrick clearly knew enough about that place to make something up, so if they picked one of the younger clerks it would be fine. They just had to be quick about it, before the scholar realised that the decrees had been switched. Hopefully this was their last stop in the archives, that they would actually find out the truth in that room and wouldn’t be sent to yet another location. 

From far away she could hear footsteps coming closer, one pair, unhurried, heading down the stairs. Her body tensed and she leaned back, eyes fixed on the bottom of the stairs, waiting for whoever was coming down to emerge. She tried to evaluate whether she had to run away or not. She didn’t know where she should run away to, where she could hide, but if whoever was approaching was the scholar or a guard she didn’t have the luxury of just staying there.

The footsteps came closer, but they were slow, sluggish, not like a person who was looking for someone. She stepped away from the wall, sliding the decree into the front pocket of her dress without taking her eyes from the stairs.

[FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING AND STOPPING]

[Rena, huff] “Oh thank the stars.”

[FOOTSTEPS RUNNING A SHORT DISTANCE]

[Rena] “I’m sorry I ran into you like that, I didn’t think before rushing forward.”

[Rodrick] “No, no, you did well. You did very well.”

[PAPER RUSTLING]

[Rena] “Look, I got it!”

[Rodrick] “Good, good, very good. We shouldn’t dawdle here too long. I managed to distract her long enough that she just put the decree into her pocket without looking at it but I can’t guarantee that she won’t look at it soon. I don’t know how long we’ll have.”

[Rena] “Do we have to go back up? I don’t know if that would be a good idea, what if she’s still standing there?”

[Rodrick] “I saw her walk away, it should be fine. Don’t worry about it.”

[FOOTSTEPS AND VOICES COMING CLOSER]

[Rena] “Wait, someone’s coming.”

She pushed him away from the stairs and towards the wall, choosing the middle point between two lamps so they could stay in the shadows, at least as much as that was possible.

Two people came up the stairs, one man in tight black pants and a floor length brown coat, and a young woman in the same uniform the other clerks were wearing. She was plump with rosy cheeks and light brown hair braided into two long braids running down her chest and before Rena even realised what she was doing she was rushing forward towards the clerk.

[Rena] “Hi, excuse me, I hope I’m not interrupting you. We are searching for someone to accompany us to room R4C6E1, would you be free to come with us? I’m truly sorry, we’re in a bit of a hurry or we would have gone upstairs again.”

[Clerk] “Oh, ehm, I- I think I’m available? If that would be ok with you, sir?”

[Companion] “Yeah, I’m good, I know the way out of here.”

[Rena] “Thank you so much!”

[Companion, chuckle] “Sure.”

[FOOTSTEPS]

[Clerk] “G- Goodbye, sir.”

[Rena] “Thank you so much for your help. We’re with the delegation from the historical academy in Dam’Vala. I’ve got our decree right here.”

[PAPER RUSTLE]

[Rodrick] “Hello, it’s very nice to meet you.”

[Clerk] “Oh, yes, I’m honoured to meet you too, sir.”

[Rena] “Here you go. It’s for any of the rooms in R4C6, but we only need to go to the E1 room.”

Rena handed the decree to the clerk but barely gave her enough time to open it and glance at it before she looped her arm around the clerk’s elbow and headed down the stairs.

[Rena] “I’m sorry to rush you like this but we really are in a bit of a hurry.”

[Clerk] “No problem at all, I understand that you are busy people, especially after coming from so far away.”

They walked down the stairs and down the hallway, Rodrick following both girls close behind. The clerk didn’t ask to see their decree again before opening the door to their room, nor did she acknowledge the guards. It all seemed too simple to Rena, like someone would come rushing down the stairs calling out to arrest them at any moment. 

They entered into another deep, dimly lit room filled from floor to ceiling with bookshelves that were packed with what looked like the same type of bound book over and over again. 

[Rodrick, whispering] “Go find the documents. Look for ARC.”

Rodrick had leaned in to whisper into Rena’s ear before turning to the clerk.

[Rodrick] “I have a question. A member of our delegation is currently looking into a rather confidential subject at the moment, and she has mentioned that she has already inspected all documents she has access to without finding exactly what she’s looking for. How would one go about getting access to the more restricted areas? I understand that not everyone is allowed in those rooms but can exceptions be made for reputable institutions?”

Rena stepped forward a few steps, feigning curiosity at the bookshelves until she was out of sight of the clerk. She slipped between two bookcases and hurried down the passage, making sure her feet barely left the ground so her footsteps wouldn’t resonate through the entire room. She only stopped shortly to look at the signs hanging on the side of the bookcases to figure out where the documents they were looking for could be, but since she wasn’t sure how to interpret the abbreviations it took her several minutes to find out where she was supposed to go. She had to find row A first, which happened to be the last three rows of the room. She then had to find the bookcases labelled RC, but since the letters related to abbreviations and were not simply just organised alphabetically she had to run from one sign to the next to figure out where the correct one stood. She was lucky enough that she didn’t run into anyone, or even hear anyone else in the room. She was far enough away now that she couldn’t hear Rodrick’s conversation anymore, which also meant that she didn’t know if he was still successfully distracting the clerk or if she was now looking for Rena.

[Rena, whisper] “There it is. Finally! What do I have to look for? Oh, why do they all have to look the same? Hmm, I should probably look for the year when the fire happened, am I even in the correct decade? Why is it organised like this? How do these people find anything in here?”

[Logan, whisper] “Hey!”

[Rena, hiss] “What are you doing here?”

She had reached the end of the bookshelf when Logan had slid out of the shadows between rows and was now standing next to her.

[Rena] “How did you even get in here?”

[Logan] “I have my ways. What are you looking for?”

[Rena] “Well, ehm, I need to find the books with the year of the fire on them, or anything more recent than that.”

[Logan] “Ok, ok, ok, so what? Two, three years ago? Yeah, we can find that. Over here!”

He ripped three books out of the bookshelf near the end of the row and spread them out on the ground, kneeling down in front of them.

[Logan] “What are we looking for?”

[Rena] “I don’t know. Any mentions of the fire I guess, or any mentions of the town name or even just orders to change the road signs, anything like that I suppose. I’m honestly not sure myself. We just found a mention of this place in another report that had been cut up to hide information, so I don’t even know what we’re looking for.” 

[PAPER RUSTLE]

[Logan] “Yeah I had that too. It was like going down a spiral of clues. Not sure I got anything useful out of it either. Wait, here, I think this is what you’re looking for. Yeah, yeah, that looks relevant.”

[Rena] “Can I see it?”

Rena sat down on the ground next to Logan and took the thick book he handed her, placing it in her lap. The pages of the book were letters between the administrator and various members of the Royal Council that had been sewn together into a tome. Logan leaned over the book and pointed to a section in one of the letters that mentioned Miller’s Knee. Rena’s eyes grew wide, turning immediately into a frown as she skimmed the letter. 

[Rena] “How dare she say the town had no great importance and then mention right after that thirty-seven people died?”

[Logan] “Yeah, these people are assholes, don’t expect compassion from them.”

[Rena] “Wait, she mentions the crow effigy, I found one of those too! In my hometown, next to the church. They had been planted in the ground, like, like a ritual or something. I-I don’t know, it was kind of strange. But I picked one up and it had an inscription on it, in some old script. Rodrick didn’t know what it was either but I think he knows someone who could read it.”

[Logan] “Okay, weird. Like, someone placed them there? Never heard about that before. You think the people responsible for it left them there? As a threat?”

[Rena] “I-I don’t know. The-the letter doesn’t state much either. It, ehm, oh, wha- ‘as per protocol, the complete elimination of the town’s memory has commenced’? What does that mean? How can they eliminate a town’s memory?”

[Logan] “What? Show me! What the- They just admit to that? They genuinely keep evidence of the fact that they actively suppress the truth just lying around here? Where everyone can see it?”

[Rena] “But what does it mean?”

[Logan] “I don’t know, probably that they try to pretend the town never existed. You know, like, if they never talk about it then the town’s destruction never happened, and everyone who says otherwise is called a liar or silenced by them. But the fact that they just keep this lying aro-

[APPROACHING FOOTSTEPS]

[Logan, murmur] “Wait, wait, wait.”

He held out a hand in front of her as if he wanted to stop her from moving. He looked up, his eyes wandering around slowly as if he was scanning the room. Rena froze up, eyes wide, hearing nothing but the slowly approaching footsteps. She didn’t know if it was best to stay quiet and hope the person didn’t see them or if they were supposed to run away, but where could they run away to? The room only had one door and there were guards outside of that door, so if they were to run out the guards would know right away that they had to be arrested? Could they hide from the person by sneaking between rows? But Logan wasn’t moving and the footsteps were getting closer and panic was starting to rise in her.

[Logan, whisper] “I can’t be one of the guards. Must be just another visitor, just pretend we’re allowed to be here.”

[Rena] “How do you know?”

[Logan] “The guards wear heavier armour and a sword, you hear that immediately when they’re walking. It’s gonna be fine, let’s just keep reading.”

[FOOTSTEPS GETTING LOUDER]

Rena stared down at the page in front of her, the letters melting together in front of her eyes. Her breathing slowed down until it stopped completely and she was only aware of the beating of her heart and the approaching footsteps.

[Logan] “Thank the stars, it’s only you.”

He got up, ripping Rena out of her trance. She looked back at the figure that was closing in and realised with relief that it was only Asha.

[Asha] “Where’s the old man?”

[Rena] “You didn’t see him near the entrance?”

[Asha] “No, there was no one there.”

[Rena] “Strange, he should have been there. Do you think he left?”

[Logan] “Nah, he doesn’t seem like someone who’d do that. He’s probably just looking around in another part of the room.”

[Rena] “I guess. Asha, how did you get in?”

Asha stood a few metres away from them, facing the same bookshelf Logan had taken the books out of. She didn’t respond and Rena wasn’t sure if she didn’t want to answer the question or if she was simply too engrossed in finding what she was seeking. She reached out and pulled one of the books out, leafed through it till the very end before stopping at a certain passage and ripping out the page.

[Rena] “What are you doing?”

Rena shot up, the book sliding off of her lap. She rushed over to where Asha was standing while Asha slid the book back into place and folded the ripped out pages in four before sliding them into the inside pocket of her tunic.

[Logan] “You know what, you’re right.”

[PAPER RIPPING]

[Rena] “No we can’t just steal these things, they’ll notice.”

[Logan] “I kinda already did it earlier with my stuff.”

[Rena] “But they’ll notice!”

[Asha] “They won’t notice anything, they’re too blind and stupid for that.”

[Logan] “Yep, definitely agree with that.”

[Rena] “It just, isn’t right to destroy someone’s property and then steal it.”

[BOOK SLIDING; FOOTSTEPS]

[Logan] “Look, we don’t have the time to read all of it here anyway, and we’ll probably need it as evidence later. Let’s just take everything we need and get out of here and then read it outside. I promise, they won’t notice it’s gone.”

[Rena] “How do you know?!”

[Logan] “Wait, shut up.”

[FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING]

[Rena] “Wha-”

[Logan] “Shit, we need to leave!”

[Rena] “What?”

[Asha] “Over here.”

Asha rushed past and before Rena had really grasped what was going on Logan had grabbed her by the wrist and was pulling her towards the back of the room until they had reached the wall. They turned left but just as they emerged from behind the bookshelf they almost ran into someone. Someone who suspiciously looked like one of the guards that had previously guarded the other side of the door. Immediately Logan swivelled around and pulled her back so they could run in the opposite direction. In front of them another guard emerged from between two bookcases, blocking their path and forcing them to turn right, back towards the centre of the room. As they reached the end of the row Logan stopped abruptly, letting go of Rena’s wrist as his arm shot up in front of her. Asha had to pivot to the left so she wouldn’t crash into him, her back instead hitting the bookshelf. Rena lost her balance and fell backwards, and only after she had hit the ground did she see the rapier blade held out in front of Logan’s throat and the man the sword belonged to. He didn’t look like one of the guards. He instead wore a long, blue coat with gold details that told Rena that in all likelihood he was the one giving orders, even if he barely looked to be Logan’s age. 

She scrambled backwards and got up, trying to run back to where they had come from, but one of the guards had caught up with them and was now coming down the passage. Rena stepped backwards until she hit Logan’s back, keeping her eyes fixed on the approaching guard.

[Captain] “Who are you?”

[Logan] “Hey man, I could ask you the same? This all seems a bit abrupt. Why all this aggression? Look, we weren’t doing anything wrong, just looking at some documents like we’re allowed to. You’re coming on a bit strong here.”

[Captain] “Then why did you run away, smartass?”

S1E10 A Way In

With 30% of the votes, the story continues on the second path. Rena and Rodrick find a way to access the files they were looking for and finally uncover a sliver of the truth.

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E9 Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

Rena turned to look at Rodrick and frowned.

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

Rodrick dismissed her with a wave.

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

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

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

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

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

[Asha] “We’ll be fine.”

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

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

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

[Logan] “Let’s go.”

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

[Rodrick] “Shall we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena] “How do you know all that?”

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena] “What do the margins says?”

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

Rodrick brought the paper closer to his face before reading.

[Rodrick] “R4C6E1 dash C6E1ARC”

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

[Rena] “What does that mean?”

[Rodrick] “I’m not sure actually.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena] “Ok, so what do we do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena] “Quick, show me your list.”

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

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

[Researcher] “Not really, no.”

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

[Researcher] “Sadly, yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena, whisper] “Wait here.”

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

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

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

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

S1E9 The keepers of truth

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

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E8 Gone but not forgotten

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

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E8 Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asha took in a long breath and sighed.

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

[Rena] “Ok.”

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

[Rena] “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

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

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

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

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

                                                ~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Logan] “Not even rumours or whispers.”

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

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

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

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

[Innkeeper] “Mhm.”

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

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

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

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

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

He shrugged and looked away for a second.

[Logan] “They could rat us out.”

[Rena] “Why would they.”

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

She rolled her eyes and sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                    ~~~

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

[Rena] “So someone survived?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Ding of a bell]

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

                                    ~~~

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena] “They tore it down?”

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

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

The man shrugged, rummaging through his pile of papers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Runner] “Uhuh.”

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

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

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

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

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

[Runner] “He’s out on business.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Rena, softly] “Yeah.”

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

                                    ~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S1E7 So Close, So Far

With 60% of the votes, the story continues on the second path. The group get closer to their goal as they drive to the Malahen where the archives are and discuss how best to access the records they are looking for.

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E7 Transcript

Sayaf had relented and finally written the letter, explaining where they could find his contact in the plains while writing it. Rena thanked Sayaf profusely and said they would repay him when they got back, but he simply waved her off, saying that writing down a few words could hardly be considered work. Asha pocketed the letter and so Rena had somehow gained another companion on her journey. She thought that at least she wasn’t alone, that having company would make the passage of time bearable, that if the grief got too difficult to deal with again at least this time she would have someone to talk to. Although her new companion didn’t seem that keen on talking. As they headed out of Sayaf’s tent, Asha let Rodrick and Rena take the lead on where to go and silently followed them once they had decided to retrace their steps. 

Rena didn’t want to stay in the camp any longer than necessary, but she also didn’t quite know whether they needed to go look for Logan or whether to wait for him somewhere. Who even knew how long it would take him to talk to this Cass person. 

They somehow managed to find Logan’s tent again. Rena looked around and up into the trees to see if they were being observed, whether Kalani was keeping an eye on them or not, but besides a group of kids’ playing down the road, there was no one around.

“Do we wait here or go back to the caravan?” she asked Rodrick, peaking past the tent into the forest to see if she could recognise the way they had come from. “Do you think we could even find our way back?”

“The sun is still out. It might take us a while but I don’t think we would get completely lost. As long as we can find the road, we will find the spot where we left the caravan.”

“Hmmm.” Rena looked back down both sides of the road, unsure about Rodrick’s statement that they wouldn’t get lost. He wasn’t from around here, even if she didn’t know where he had grown up, she doubted it had been anywhere rural, so what did he know about getting lost in a forest. You could walk for hours or even days before stumbling upon a road if you went in the wrong direction, and if you weren’t careful you could end up walking in circles and never find your way out at all.

A figure appeared to their right, coming straight at them with determination. Rena tensed up before she recognised that it was Logan, but the speed with which he approached them and the expression on his face only heightened her discomfort.

“Aah, there he is,” Rodrick said with a smile when he noticed Logan, although his chipper expression quickly vanished.

“Let’s go,” Logan said when he came up to them, walking right past them and disappearing between two tents to their left.

Rena’s eyes met Rodrick’s. She raised an eyebrow in concern but didn’t say anything. Her eyes quickly darted to the end of the road where Logan had come from to see if anyone was following him but no one was there. She didn’t have much time to wonder what was going on, as Asha slipped past Rodrick and her to follow Logan as if nothing was wrong or even out of the ordinary, and so they had to hurry to keep up with the other two, slipping in between the two tents to see that Logan wasn’t waiting for them and had already headed into the forest. 

It took them half the time to get back to the caravan than it had taken them to get to the camp. Rena had wanted to catch up to Logan to ask him what was going on but he was walking with such a speed that she periodically had to start jogging to just keep up with her group, and so she only caught up to him when they reached the caravan. She had to lean against the wagon and take in deep breaths before she managed to talk. 

“What’s going on?” she finally managed to wheeze out.

“We shouldn’t stay here for too long,” Logan replied, shuffling around nervously, his gaze fixed on the spot where they had just emerged from.

Vincent jumped down from the driver’s seat and walked up to them, going from one person to the next to sniff at them. Rena pushed herself away from the caravan again and crouched down to greet the dog, thankful that no one had discovered the caravan’s hiding spot and hurt him. 

“What did you do this time?” Asha asked, her eyes fixed on Logan.

“Nothing,” Logan blurted out, throwing his arms out to the side. “None of your business. It’s a private affair. Why are you here anyway?”

“I wasn’t going to let Sayaf go to the plains with some strangers. Why did you send them to him, you know he’s out of the business.”

“I was meant to come with them, ok, but then Kalani found us so I sent them off without me. Can we open the caravan now? We should really be on our way. And I know that Sayaf’s out of business, but he still knows people so I wanted to get some information out of him, and since you’re here I assume they managed to get that info without me.”

Rodrick was standing next to the caravan with his hands on his hips, breathing heavily through his open mouth. When his breathing had calmed down he rummaged around in his coat and slipped out the key to the caravan. He walked over to the back door and unlocked it with a loud thunk.

“Ok great,” Logan said and bounded over to the door. “The plains, you said? That’s gonna take a while, I don’t know if we can get there before nightfall. Maybe we’ll have to take a rest somewhere. Rodrick, how far can this thing go? How does it even work? Can it just go on forever or does it need a break? I’m sure we can take a break in some village, not sure what you need to refill it though, but if it’s just coal we can find that anywhere.”

“We should be good for the duration of our journey,” Rodrick answered as he opened the door and stepped into the wagon. Logan was standing right behind him and had the doorframe been slightly wider he would have surely tried to squeeze his way past Rodrick. “I have water and coal to refill the tank on my own. We will just have to take a little break on the side of the road somewhere.”

“Why are you so nervous?” Asha asked Logan, coming to stand next to him.

Rena ruffled the dog’s head one last time before standing back up and joining the others. She tried to peer into the caravan to see what Rodrick was doing but all she could see between Logan and Asha’s shoulders was that he had crouched down in front of something that kind of looked like an oven. 

“I’m not nervous,” Logan shot out, turning around to frown at Asha. She didn’t answer, just kept staring at him until he continued talking. “I’m not nervous, I just want to get out of here. Yeah, ok, maybe things didn’t pan out the way I thought they would, and maybe the discussion got heated, and you know me, sometimes I say stuff I probably shouldn’t have, but I was in the right so I’m not going to apologise for it. And if Cass can accept that then Deacon should also be able to, but he’s stubborn and a moron so I just want to get out of here before he gets it into his head that the discussion isn’t over.”

“So we are running away because one of your deals blew up? Why am I not surprised?”

“Will you be ok?” Rena asked him at the same time with genuine concern.

“Yeah I’ll be fine,” Logan replied, waving Rena’s concerns away. “And the deal didn’t blow up because of me. I told Deacon it was unlikely to go the way he wanted it to, and lo and behold, his plan didn’t work out, and now he’s blaming me for selling him false hope, but I literally warned him, so absolutely none of this is my fault.”

“Excuse me,” Rodrick muttered as he slid past them, finally clearing the way into the wagon for Logan, who didn’t miss the opportunity to slip away for the discussion.

Asha eyed the wagon in distrust but slipped in behind him without any comments.

“Do you want to sit in the front with me?” Rodrick asked Rena, leaning down to pet the dog.

“Mhm.” She nodded eagerly, thinking that the long ride would be much more bearable in the front than inside the loud, stuffy wagon, even if the front seat was uncomfortable.

                                                ~~~

It hadn’t been often that Rena had travelled this far in one day. She had been at her aunt’s house three times in her life, which was beyond Mellahen, the capital of the province, so technically she had seen the capital and the accumulation of houses surrounding it which everyone called the plains before, but only in passing. People were barely allowed to get near the fortress and her father had always called the plains a lawless place filled with nothing but leeches, so there had never been a reason for her to dream of going there. She wondered what it was really like, the fortress filled with books and documents and the clerks who looked after all of it. No one besides the administrator and her family lived in the fortress, not even their servants, so everyone else had had to build their own residences outside of the castle. People from all around the province and even farther away came to the plains hoping they could get a job in Mellahen, but of course not everyone could get one. The lucky of the unlucky ones managed to find a job in the plains, because people still needed to eat and clothe themselves. The truly unlucky ones had to find other means to keep themselves alive. And according to her father, there were a lot of truly unlucky ones.

The group only stopped once on their way to the capital so Rodrick could refill the tank and they could all eat something. Thankfully Rodrick’s wagon was filled with food, probably more food than Rena’s parents had ever had in their house at any one point. With every new item he pulled out of one drawer or another, Rodrick explained to the rest of them what exactly it was and where it had come from. Rena was shocked that he wasn’t scared it would all spoil before he could eat it, but apparently he had specifically selected all the items for how long they could stay edible and had set up a whole system to remember what needed to be eaten when. In the end, she had eaten a piece of bread Rodrick had bought only a few days ago with a piece of dark sausage she could barely bite through. 

Rodrick hadn’t stopped at only talking about the food. During their ride he told Rena all about his journey. How he ended up in Velashta, the people he had met on the way, how he had initially set out to write down the history of agricultural practices and which tools people were using to help them in the fields. She wasn’t really able to imagine why anyone would be interested in those things, in what was such a mundane, every-day thing for her, but he spoke with such a passion about the creativity and ingenuity of people that she found herself listening with great joy to all his stories.

Night had fallen long before they reached Mellahen so when the road finally widened and they emerged from the woods onto the wide, empty expanse of the plains, the lights of the make-shift city were clearly visible ahead of them.

“Do you think we can actually find the truth here?” Rena asked, staring straight ahead at the orange dots of light that slowly came closer to them. Rodrick sighed heavily before he answered.

“The entire truth? Probably not. But I think we can at least find the beginning of it. Or a few crumbs that will lead us in the right direction.”

“I don’t even really know what we are looking for. Do you think they already have a file on Oceansthrow? Maybe they are still investigating it and haven’t found out much. Do you think we should talk to the guards about it first? Maybe they can help us out after all.”

“We could try, but as I’ve told you, they tend to be rather secretive with all their information, especially towards people they don’t deem important enough. I think they would rather err on the safe side with trusting strangers, because you never know what people’s true intentions are. But who knows, we might find someone who takes pity on us, but I’m uncertain whether it would be a good idea. They might deem you too young and just send you to a relative, and then you might never find out what the actual truth is. I would remain cautious for now until we know more. We can always go talk to them once we know whether the incidents are just horrible accidents or not.”

Rena nodded slowly and looked around, her heart heavy thinking about their journey ahead. She didn’t know what she wished for, whether it would alleviate her grief more knowing the village’s disappearance was just a cruel twist of fate or if someone was responsible for it, if someone deliberately set the fire and watched as they all died. At least then there would have been a reason behind the tragedy, something she could find out about and try to understand and someone to condemn. Even if that would mean someone this evil actually existed in this world. 

“So do we just go to the archives and search around there? Will they let us in if we don’t know what we are looking for?”

“I doubt it. If the archives operate the same here as they do in the citadel there are different levels of confidentiality, so one decree might not allow us to see all of the records. We will probably need to figure out what we are looking for and where we can find it before we head into the archives, but first we need to talk to Sayaf’s contact so we know whether we can get a decree in the first place, and which kind of decree that would be.”

Rena took in a long breath and sighed heavily.

“Don’t worry, it isn’t a hopeless endeavour, we will find a way to these records.”

Rodrick patted her on her knee to comfort her but Rena couldn’t shake the feeling of uncertainty weighing on her. The plan to just find the records and let those tell them what happened had sounded so easy and clear before they were faced with the actual reality of accessing those records, if they even existed. But she had to stay hopeful that they would find something, because the alternative was that they had come all of this way for nothing and she didn’t even know how to approach her quest from another angle. 

As they came closer to the make-shift city she started recognising buildings. Close to the road that led into the city there were larger buildings, although out here they looked fragile and decrepit, as if they had been built in less than a week without any regard for comfort or longevity. Behind these houses, speckled across the grassy field, were smaller houses, although they could barely be called houses, more like shacks that had been built in a day. No road led to these houses and no lights were on in them. Rena couldn’t even see what was beyond those buildings, but she imagined that they looked like the tents she had seen in the city of Rancor, something that could be moved at any moment, inhabited by people who didn’t have anything but who still wanted to try their luck in Mellahen.

Even though night had already fallen the streets were still alive. People were standing around talking and laughing, and she even saw a man get thrown out of a house, the assailant stomping out after the man to continue their fight. Rena’s body tensed and she quickly looked away, feeling grateful that she was in a moving vehicle and not walking past them on foot. As the caravan drove forth she could see things dart away from them in the shadows between the houses, feral dogs and rats and other rodents. On a crate between two houses she saw a fox. It didn’t scamper away like the rest of the animals. It was just sitting there, facing the street, looking right at her. Rena turned around to look at it as they drove past but it disappeared too quickly behind the corner of the house. She wasn’t used to foxes being this unbothered by human activity, but she had heard that animals behaved differently in cities, that they lost their fear of humans and that that was why cities were so dirty and smelled rancid, at least that was what her father had told her. She wondered if foxes here even let people come close to them, whether she could find one that would let her pet it. 

Rodrick drove them further into the city and the street started branching out to the left and right. Rena thought she could see the outline of the fortress in the dark ahead of them, or at least a pattern of lights that might indicate it. The further they drove though, the sturdier the buildings and the road got. By now, the houses facing the road were shops and other businesses, although most of them were closed at this time of day. Some of the buildings were still made of wood, but slowly more and more started to be stone houses, as if people had committed to remaining in this city. At first it looked like life had died down here, that fewer people were hanging around outside, but Rena quickly realised that people had just wandered away from the main road and were now standing around on the side roads.

Apparently Rodrick knew where he was taking them because he took a left turn and continued further down the road until they came upon another fork in the road where they turned to the right and landed on a narrower road. They didn’t stay on this road for very long, however, as Rodrick took another left which landed them in an open square between a tall building and a lower, wooden building that resembled a stable. 

“Have you been here before?” Rena asked and looked up at the high building rising up next to them. She counted four floors, maybe five seeing as the windows weren’t all in neat rows. The wall had different shades of white and beige as if the upper floors had been added over the years. 

“Just for a little while,” Rodrick answered, driving the caravan up to the other end of the square. He pulled a lever and the caravan sputtered to a stop. “But I know that they have comfortable rooms here that don’t cost too much.”

Her head whipped around, her eyes wide.

“I don’t have any money.” She hadn’t even thought about that fact before. She had never needed to have money on her. The few times where she had been out of town she had been with her parents or another relative, and they had always paid for her. 

“Don’t worry about that, I have enough for the both of us,” Rodrick answered, patting her on the knee before standing up. 

“Thank you,” Rena replied, standing up and following him down the steps. “I can pay you back. I can find a job in town here somewhere. Or I can come with you where you live afterwards so you don’t have to wait here for me to have all the money together.”

“Child, I’m an old man who spent all his years working in the citadel for the people in power, I have enough money and resources to pay for our room and board for the next few months.”

He flashed her a soft smile and Rena nodded slowly, although she didn’t exactly feel comfortable with the thought of accepting his money and never paying him back. She would just have to keep count of how much she owed him on her own and pay him back once everything was over and she could find a real job.

“Finally! Freedom!” Logan cried out as he threw the door open and burst out of the caravan. “I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts anymore with all that noise.”

He stretched his arms out towards the sky and then bent down to the ground, swinging his arms back and forth.

Asha climbed out behind him and strode right up to Rena and Rodrick, craning her neck from side to side. 

“Why does your vehicle have to be this loud?” Logan whined and joined the rest of the group. “What is wrong with the normal kind with horses? Why can’t you just have one of those? This is torture. I can’t believe that I was intrigued by it this morning. Are you so old that you don’t hear the noise anymore, is that it? And the vibration is good for your aching bones? I’m too young to get shaken around like this.”

“We need to discuss how we’ll proceed,” Asha said stone-faced, interrupting Logan’s tirade.

“Yes, of course,” Rodrick said, looking quite amused by Logan’s misery. “I suppose it is too late to go looking for your uncle’s contact at this moment. Maybe we should take the evening to decide what our next step could be.”

“The straightforward path is to visit Emmson here in the morning and see how he can help us,” Asha replied. “We can form a plan around what he can offer us afterwards.”

“But wouldn’t it be more convincing if we already knew what we were looking for?” Rena interjected. “Do any of us even know the layout of the archives?”

“Never been there,” Logan replied while the others just shook their heads.

“Then how would we know which kind of decree Emmson should give us? Maybe we need to figure that out before going to him.”

[Logan] “What if we pretend we’re some super important person and just request access to the entirety of the records? Rodrick, you’ve got the right face to be some rich merchant who demands to see some highly confidential documents to have the upper hand on a deal, we can just spin something around that.”

[Rena] “Would that work? What if they find out we’re lying?”

[Logan] “You just need to go in with enough confidence and insist that you need to enter the archives as quickly as possible because you’re too busy from being important and whatnot. Just pretend you’re really upset when they suggest they need to check out who you are before they let you in, I’ve done that a million times. You just need to be out before they figure out you’re lying.”

“It would probably take us some time to find what we are looking for so I’m not sure your plan of running in and getting out before they figure things out is going to work,” Asha objected.

[Logan] “Look, we just need to figure out a plan that holds tight for like a day or two. Use some real names and events, something that isn’t from around here so they can’t just ask around in the neighbourhood. And then if we’re arrogant enough they’ll either believe us or be too afraid to offend us and we’ll have at least a few hours to do whatever we want.”

[Rodrick] “We might get a lot of attention if we pretend to be someone important. I don’t want the administrator to be aware of our presence.”

[Logan] “Alternatively, we can just pretend we’re working in the archives. Pay off some folks to get some uniforms for a day and hope no one tries to recognise us. Something low level that gets recycled often enough, like guards or runners or something like that.”