S1E17 A sliver of truth

With 50% of the votes, the story continues on the third path. The finale of season 1 has arrived, and Rena and her companions are finally confronting the people who set fire to her home town, demanding to know why they have her sister’s dress in their possession.

Next episode will be a Q&A episode, so if you have any questions about the story or the production of the podcast, I would be more than happy to answer them. You can find the link to the form here:

Subscribe to the podcast on social media to stay up to date on when season 2 will release and when season 1 will be released as a book.

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

S1E17 Transcript

[Asha] “I would suggest you put your dagger down.”

Asha was glaring at the woman whose blade was on Logan’s throat, her own sword sliding forward and tilting the chin of the man in front of her upwards, a thin trickle of blood running down his neck. Behind her, Kalani appeared in the doorframe, with Vincent and an out of breath Rodrick following along. 

Rena scrambled back up and took a step back. Kalani stopped only a few steps past the door, her sharp eyes fixated on Logan and the woman. Rodrick held on to the doorframe with one hand, his other hand on his thigh as he regained his breath. He looked up at Rena, his eyes full of concern as if they were asking her how she was doing. She nodded slightly, pressing her lips together, hoping this would convey that she was unharmed. 

She craned her neck to glance past Kalani and Rodrick, to see if anyone else was behind them. On the ground, the second man lay unconscious, spread-eagle, the cast-iron pan she had thrown lying next to him. 

[Rena, concerned] “Is Finn not with you?”

Asha quickly glanced over to her, her frown deepening for a second.

[Asha] “No? He left with you, why would he be with us? Did you lose him?”

[Rena] “We had to run into the forest and we got separated. I thought he was with Logan but apparently he lost him.”

[Logan] “I didn’t lose him. I’m sure we’ll find him once we actually look for him.”

[Asha] “Sounds like you lost him to me.”

“This is not a stage show! You will take us seriously,” the woman behind Logan hissed, the blade cutting into his skin. Blood started to run down Logan’s neck, mirroring the man Asha was holding captive.

[Logan, slightly panicked] “Ok ok ok, how about we all calm down, yeah? There’s no need for anyone to get hurt.”

Kalani stepped further into the hallway and came to stand next to Asha. She reached a hand out towards Rena and waved for her to come closer. Rena glanced back at the woman who’s bright green eyes were wide open and full of rage, darting back and forth between Asha, Kalani and her.

[Woman1] “Who the fuck are you people and what are you doing in my house?”

Rena slowly stepped back until she was close enough for Kalani to grab her arm and drag her away from the woman and behind her back.

[Kalani] “We could ask you the same? And don’t pretend like this is your house. I know the farmer rents it out to whoever’s willing to pay. Usually these visitors aren’t responsible for the death and destruction of an entire village however.”

[Woman1] “Do you actually believe these insolent rumors that we’re responsible for that tragedy? What, just because we’re outsiders who don’t adhere to the norms of these lands?”

[Kalani] “It seems awfully convenient that you just happened to show up here right after the fire happened.”

[Woman1] “It seems awfully convenient to blame the outsiders you don’t understand for it. Where’s your proof that we have anything to do with it?”

[Logan] “They had a shrine dedicated to one of the figurines Rena also found in Oceansthrow and [gargle]”

[Woman1] “Shut it.”

[Rena, outburst] “What did you do to Maya?”

The words burst out of Rena without her consent, her fingers digging into her sister’s dress. She couldn’t stand waiting for this game to resolve, for them to coax tiny shreds of truth out of this woman who evidently did not want to comply. It was so clear to her that these people were responsible for the fire, so why were they still wasting time trying to get a confession when there were more pressing matters to discuss.

Kalani turned her head slightly towards Rena without taking her eyes off of the woman.

[Kalani] “Who is Maya?”

[Rena] “My sister.”

[Kalani] “Your sister?”

She turned her head to look at Rena, a concerned frown on her face.

[Rena, stammer] “We found her dress here. In a pile of clothes. I don’t know what it’s doing here, but why would they just pick up her dress before setting the fire? That doesn’t make any sense, right? So they must have taken her. They must be keeping her somewhere.”

Rena held the dress out towards Kalani who stared at it with a deep sunken frown, the muscles of her jaw clenching.

“What did you do to her sister?” Asha growled, grabbing the man’s hair with her free hand and kicking him in the back of the knees so that he fell down to the ground. 

[Man, scared] “I don’t know. I don’t know!”

[Asha] “Bullshit, you don’t know.”

[Woman1] “I should have you all skinned alive for breaking into our house and stealing our things.”

[Logan] “Woaw, woaw, woaw, easy on the blade, easy on the blade! We’re not stealing anything, I promise! We were about to put it back where we found it!”

[Rena, distressed] “But this isn’t yours, this is Maya’s dress! You can’t just pretend it isn’t hers. So why do you have her dress? What have you done with her?”

Rena felt a hand land on her shoulder and for an instance she jerked back in fear before she noticed that it was just Rodrick trying to comfort her.

[Woman1, hissing] “That is none of your concern.”

[Rodrick] “I think it is time both sides set down their blades so that we can discuss this issue peacefully. Surely you can see that my friend here is very worried for her sister, so I implore you to help us find out what happened to her.”

[Woman1] “I said, it is none of your concern.”

[Rodrick] “My good lady, …”

            [SFX big thump]

Their heads all turned simultaneously towards the room from which the noise had come from, towards the room in which Rena and Logan had tied up the other woman. Logan used the distraction to slip out of the woman’s grasp, sliding behind her and slamming her head into the wall. Her body instantly went slack and fell to the ground, blood trickling out of her nose. 

            [SFX big bang]

[tied up woman, muffled screaming] “Help! Help!”

This time around, the man Asha was holding used the distraction to try to get away, but Asha’s grip on his hair was still tight enough that he couldn’t slip away. She slammed him down on the ground, pushing his face into the wooden floor. She dropped her sword an arms length away and used her free hand to pin the man’s arms to his back, kneeling down on his back to keep him from getting back up.

[Man, muffled] “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

[Asha] “Shut up. Logan, who the fuck is in that room?”

[Logan] “Yeah, sorry, we tried breaking in without getting noticed, but that kinda failed, as you may have noticed.”

[Rena] “Logan choked her out and then tied her up.”

Logan shot her an annoyed look, his left hand at his throat where the blade had cut him. 

[Kalani] “Fantastic, this is going great. Two unconscious cultists and two terrified ones. Truly the best conditions for a productive conversation. [sigh] Logan, go get the one from outside before someone sees him. We need to figure out what we do next.”

[Logan] “Yes, sir.”

[Kalani] “Is there a cellar in this house? We should bring them all down there until we know how to proceed.”

[Logan, rueful] “We… kind of broke the door when we broke in.”

[Kalani] “[groan] Of course you did. I thought you were a professional thief, Logan.”

[Logan] “It was locked and I didn’t have any tools on me. I can’t perform miracles. Also, I’d call myself more of a weaver of stories than just a common thief.”

[Kalani] “Then go grab the body and fix the door downstairs, we shouldn’t be staying here for much longer anyway.”

Logan bowed to Kalani with a flourish, his left hand covered in blood. He stepped over the unconscious woman at his feet and winked at Rena as he walked past. 

Kalani ran a hand over her black braids and pulled them over her right shoulder, carting her fingers through them. She looked around the room before her gaze landed on the unconscious woman. She looked at her for a moment before bending down and picking her up underneath her armpits, heaving her up and dragging her towards the stairs. She put her down with the back against the wall and waited for Logan to come back in with the other unconscious body.

Rena crouched down and held her hand out for Vincent to come closer and sniff at her. 

[Rodrick] “Rena, my dear, are you alright?”

Her hand ran over Vincent’s fur towards the back of his ear as he nuzzled his head into her hand. Rena looked back up at Rodrick and shot him a small smile.

[Rena] “Yes, thank you, I’m not hurt. Don’t really know how to feel about the dress, but I’m happy to see Asha and you are unharmed.”

[Rodrick] “Oh, don’t worry about us, we weren’t in any danger at all.”

Logan and Kalani lifted the unconscious man up and carried him down the stairs, coming back up a few minutes later to carry the second body down.

[Rena] “I almost expected to not see you again, Asha.”

[Asha] “I had half a mind set on staying at camp, but then we told Kalani what was going on here and she got all concerned and you don’t just say no to a woman like Kalani if she requests your services.”

[Rena] “Thank you. For coming back.”

[Man, struggling] “Could you please take your knee off of my back.”

[Asha] “No.”

[Man, defeated] “Ok.”

Kalani came back up the stairs and walked over to Asha, squatting down to look at the man.

[Kalani] “If you cooperate I’ll tell her to get off of you.”

The man didn’t say anything for a while. He simply looked up at her, spit drooling out of his open mouth that was squished against the floor.

[Kalani] “Or maybe we should go talk to your comrade in the other room.”

When the man still didn’t answer she got back up and walked over to the first bedroom to the left. She opened the door and walked in, Logan right behind her. Hesitantly, Rena got up and followed them in.

The woman had managed to untie the tights around her legs and was now lying on her back, feet propped against the bed frame, trying to lift it up enough to get her arms out from underneath it.

[Kalani] “I wouldn’t try anything stupid.”

Kalani sat down on the bed, quashing the efforts of the woman to get out of her bindings.

Logan picked up one of the white shirts that was still lying on the ground and pressed it against the wound on his neck. Rena only slowly stepped into the room, scooting aside to let Rodrick and Vincent in after her. Asha stayed in the hallway, her knee still firmly planted on the man’s back.

Vincent slowly came up to smell the woman, who turned around in panic to scramble away from him until her back hit the bed.

[Woman2, begging, scared] “Please don’t let it hurt me.”

[Kalani] “Sure, if you tell us what we want to know.”

[Woman2, stuttering] “What? I can’t help you, I don’t know anything.”

[Rena, sad, tired] “Where’s Maya?”

[Woman2] “I-I don’t know any Maya.”

[Rena] “The girl who had this dress on. Where is she?”

[Woman2] “I don’t know anything about that.”

Kalani kicked her thigh, making the woman jump.

[Kalani] “Answer her.”

[Woman2] “I’m sorry. I really don’t know anything. I just do what I’m told and they told me to fold the laundry.”

[Rena] “But the dress doesn’t look anything like the rest of your clothes.”

[Woman2] “I didn’t question it.”

[Logan] “Now that’s a load of bullshit.”

[Kalani] “There really is no use in lying to us. We simply want to know where her sister is. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable question to ask, do you?”

[Woman2] “You’re not the kind of people I’m allowed to tell anything.”

[Kalani] “You see your friend over there? He doesn’t seem too comfortable to me. If you help us, we help him. If you don’t help us, well….”

[Woman2] “There is nothing you can do to us that would make me abandon my faith.”

[Logan] “Oh boy.”

[Asha, far away] “Ugh.”

[Kalani] “[heavy sigh] Right, you guys are that kind of people.”

[Rena] “But, you’re ok with this? With destroying whole villages and killing hundreds of people? Even if you’re not the one setting the fire, you’re ok with what the others are doing?”

[Woman2] “Y-you have no proof of that. … A-and in the hypothetical case where we were responsible for these fires, and this is by no means an admission of guilt, there would be a righteous reason for these actions that is more sacred and important than any individual human lives that might be lost along the way, even if their deaths would be tragic.”

[Logan] “What are you even talking about?”

[Rena, quietly] “My entire family is dead because of you.”

[Woman2] “But don’t you see, modern life would have been the death of them anyways.”

[Rena] “What?”

[Woman2] “This life we are living is just a distortion of what it should be. This isn’t how any of us should exist.”

[Logan] “Wait, is that what you’re fighting against? Modern life as in, the new technologies? The lights and machines and the train?”

[Rena] “I-is my family dead because you don’t like … that they’re building a trainline?”

[Woman2] “No no no, you misunderstand. No one said anything about the gas lamps or the train. I quite fancy the train actually. Maybe one day I’ll be able to ride on it; maybe one day we’ll all be able to ride on it! But that is exactly the problem. That all these people in power keep us regular folks away from everything that is good. That they are the ones deciding what we are allowed to do and what our lives are supposed to look like and which province gets help and which gets forgotten. A-and they’re pretending like their system is fair and that it is for our best and that we have any say in it, but we all know that none of that is true. They are building this on the ruins of a once great and sacred system and are spitting in the face of our history.”

[Rena, getting angry] “But what does any of that have to do with burning down villages?”

[Woman2] “There is a divine reasoning behind it that you would not understand.”

[Rena, almost screaming] “Because you aren’t explaining it!”

[Rodrick, calmly] “Rena, my child, there’s no use getting worked up. It doesn’t seem like you are going to be able to reason with her.”

[Rena] “But …”

[Rodrick] “I know, I know.”

[Kalani] “He’s right, this is just a waste of time.”

            [SFX bed creak]

[Kalani] “How about you tell us where you brought her sister? And let’s stop pretending like you don’t know or like you guys aren’t responsible for the fires. [louder] The both of you, alright? You either tell us now, or someone gets hurt.”

[Man, groaning] “I can’t.”

The woman pressed her lips together into a thin line and turned her head away from them.

[Kalani] “Asha.”

[Man, groaning even more, in pain] “I can’t.”

[Logan] “The two of you remember those scrolls you have near the altar, right? The really old ones? The ones that look important and irreplaceable and like they mean something to you? Would be a shame if something happened to them, don’t you think?”

The woman’s head whipped around to stare at Logan with wide open eyes.

[Woman2] “You wouldn’t dare.”

Logan looked up at Kalani with a smirk.

[Logan] “Got them.”

[Kalani] “Hmm, I do think we would dare. Go get them for me, Logan.”

            [SFX footsteps go away, come back]

Logan came back with a pile of the scrolls they had found earlier and dropped them on the bed. He picked one of them up and handed it to Kalani who unrolled it and tried to read it.

[Kalani] “What is this?”

[Logan] “We don’t really know.”

[Rena] “It’s written in a language we can’t read. But we also found one that had drawings on it, Logan should have that one. We think maybe it has something to do with the old Gods.”

Rodrick stepped forward and joined the other two near the scrolls.

[Rodrick] “Let me take a look.”

[Kalani] “Can you read this?”

[Rodrick] “Hmm, I don’t think so, I do have an acquaintance who can however.”

[Kalani] “Right.”

Kalani squatted down in front of the woman and held the piece of parchment up to her.

[Kalani] “I don’t need to know what’s written on here to figure out that the lot of you care about it. So why don’t you help us out, and then nothing will happen to them.”

[Woman2] “You will not break us.”

[Kalani] “Alright.”

            [SFX paper tearing slowly]

[Rodrick] “Oh …”

Tears started gathering in the woman’s eyes as she stared at the paper in front of her slowly getting torn in two.

[Kalani] “How many of these can you fathom losing?”

[Logan] “There’s also a fireplace in the other room.”

The woman’s eyes darted up to Logan, filled with rage, a tear finally rolling down her cheek. 

[Rodrick] “We don’t need to go to those extremes. They are historical artifacts after all.”

[Kalani] “That decision is entirely up to our two friends here. We only want to know one thing. Where is Rena’s sister?”

[Rena, begging] “Please.”

[Woman2] “You don’t understand what you’re doing!”

            [SFX more paper tearing]

[Man, in pain] “Stop, please. I’ll talk, I’ll talk.”

[Woman2, angry] “Michael!”

[Man] “Please don’t destroy the scrolls. Please. I can tell you where she is.”

[Kalani] “Finally someone who’s reasonable. Asha, get him up.”

Kalani stood back up, letting the fragments of parchment fall down onto the woman’s lap. Asha heaved the man up by the lapel of his shirt and turned him around to march him into the room.

[Woman2] “Michael, you know what Inkra will do to you if you tell them anything.”

[Michael] “Her wrath will be greater if they destroy all of the scripture.”

[Rena] “Michael! I-it’s Michael, right? I don’t know who this Inkra is, and I’m truly sorry if we are the reason you get into trouble with her, but I need you to tell me where my sister is. Is she alright? You didn’t hurt her, did you?”

[Michael] “I don’t know, we’re just the clean up crew! We only arrived after the fire, I swear, we’re just here to talk to the locals and advise captain Silac. We didn’t even meet the first crew, they had left the building before we arrived. Most of the stuff is theirs, it’s always like this, we’re just here to clean up after them.”

[Kalani] “But you said you knew where she was.”

[Michael] “Yes! Well, there are only a few places where they could have brought her.”

[Kalani] “That doesn’t sound like you know exactly where she is.”

[Michael] “No, no, no, I do! It’s north-east of here, just over the border in Baedan! It’s the most likely place where they would bring her if she’s still alive! It’s our closest base from here!”

[Woman2] “I will have to report this treason to Inkra, Michael.”

[Michael] “Inkra will understand. She would have done the same.”

[Logan] “I think I know the place he’s talking about. There’s an old, abandoned monastery in the hills near Tarkot’s Bridge. We already discussed it earlier. I remember it having some symbols that we also found at the ruins of Miller’s Knee. Seemed quite plausible that they might have been connected.”

[Kalani] “Alright, seems like we’re crossing the border today. You’re coming with us Michael. Rodrick, we’re taking your wagon. Horses would be faster but we’d have to find enough of them first.”

[Micheal, scared] “Wait, no, no, no. You can’t take me with you. I told you where it was, you don’t need me anymore. And your comrade clearly knows what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t be of any further help to you!”

[Woman2, spiteful] “Serves you right, Michael, for just telling them all our information.”

[Rena] “I promise we won’t hurt you, Michael! Maybe you can talk to the people at the old monastery and tell them to release my sister. I’m sure they’d listen more to you than to any of us. Please.”

[Kalani] “Let’s go, we’re wasting time.”

[Logan] “What about her?”

[Kalani] “Tie her up properly and then leave her. Someone will find her sooner or later.”


They left the house soon after. Logan had tied the woman’s legs together again and had gagged her with one of the tights. She didn’t complain or try to fight back for any of the procedure but her eyes were still filled with rage. 

Kalani led the way out and told them to place their prisoner in their midst. Asha let go of him but still kept an arm around his shoulder so he wouldn’t run away but it also wouldn’t look too suspicious as they walked out. They moved swiftly without running, heading to the northern road where they had left Rodrick’s wagon. They managed to cross the village without any major incidents. Michael didn’t even try to run away or call for help, he simply walked alongside them and murmured something Rena couldn’t make out. 

Until they reached the wagon Rena was on edge, waiting for someone to catch up with them, but soon she sat on the front bench of the wagon next to Rodrick, the rest of their crew in the back, and the wagon rumbled to life. 

            [SFX wagon]

She was still clutching her sister’s dress, her fingers twisting into its fabric. She didn’t know how to feel about the situation, about the anticipation that her sister might still be alive. Tears filled her eyes and fell in thick drops down her cheeks and onto the dress. She didn’t want to hope, didn’t want to get her heart broken once more if their new journey didn’t lead them to Maya. Maya, who was only a year younger than her, who had never been afraid of the forest or the dark even when Rena had still been scared. Maya, who had loved the night and the stars and the moon and listening to the wind glide over the ocean.Her beloved Maya, who she had not dared think about much over these last few days because she was scared she wouldn’t be able to bear the pain of remembering her. 

She pressed the dress against her face and took in a deep breath but the fabric didn’t smell like her sister anymore. It didn’t even smell like the fresh laundry she was used to, as if any remnants of her old life had been denied to her.

            [SFX horses running]

[Guard] “Halt!”

She looked up and next to them on the road on both sides were guards on horses, trotting along to keep up with the wagon.

[Rodrick] “Good afternoon, what seems to be the problem?”

Rodrick talked to them without even the semblance of wanting to stop the wagon.

[Guard] “I said halt! Stop your vehicle right away!”

[Rodrick] “We are simple merchants on our way up North, there is no need to yell at us. Is there a reason why you want me to stop? I ask because I would prefer not to as it is quite the ordeal to get this beauty started.”

[Guard] “On the orders of Captain Silac each wanderer on these roads has to be inspected.”

From behind the guard to their left another mounted guard appeared, riding their horse in front of their wagon before stopping in the middle of the road. Rena looked back behind the wagon and was shocked to see that another three guards were riding behind them. What horrified her even more to see, was that riding behind them, with a drooping right shoulder and bloodied arm, was the woman with the piercing green eyes they had left in the cellar of the house.

She turned around to Rodrick, leaning closer to him.

[Rena] “There are more behind us. And the lady who held a knife to Logan’s throat is with them.”

Rodrick nodded once without taking his eyes off of the road in front of them. He seemed to think for a while, his eyebrows knitting together in apprehension. 

[Rodrick] “Hold on to something.”

            [SFX wagon noises faster, louder]

The wagon lurched forward before Rena could actually hold on to something and she was thrust back, her back hitting the wagon hard. Rodrick steered straight forward, towards the guard that had planted their horse on the road in front of them. The wagon shook violently and Rena scooted forward, only managing to not drop off of the bench by pressing her foot into the wooden paneling in front of them.

Rodrick didn’t budge from his path and for an instance Rena was truly afraid they were about to run into the guard and their horse. She closed her eyes and brought the dress up to her face in anticipation but no collision came. She dared peek out again and saw that the road in front of them was empty. 

The shaking of the wagon was so violent that it almost felt like the vehicle was about to fall apart, but even with the effort it put out it wasn’t anywhere close to how fast a horse could run and soon the two guards to their sides appeared next to them again.

The one next to Rena tried to grab her, grasping for her leg, but the shaking was so intense that he couldn’t reach her. She tried to kick him away but it just made her slide further down the bench to the point where she got scared she would fall out. Next to her Rodrick had the same problem, with the other guard trying to get a hold of his steering wheel. Vincent tried to snap at the guard’s hand but even he had difficulties standing upright.

            [SFX dog barks]

The guard next to her finally managed to get a grip on her, his hand digging into her sister’s dress. She tried to kick him off, tried to throw him off his horse, but the agitation made her slide off the bench and fall down onto the footrest and as her back hit the floor the shock made her lose her grip on the dress. The guard discarded the dress right away, throwing it onto the road behind him. Rena tried to push herself upright again, tried to get away from the guard’s hand but he managed to get a hold of her ankle and yanked her forward, not enough to pull her off of the wagon right away but enough that her legs were dangling off the edge. She tried to grab onto the wagon so she wouldn’t fall, tried to claw at the ground and drag herself back up, but there was nothing she could do. She fell off, tumbling to the ground, hitting the floor hard, all the air in her lungs being violently expelled. She rolled forward a few times and then landed with her face in the dirt. 

            [SFX loud crash]

She looked up to see the wagon having veered off of the road and crashed into a tree, the second guard pulling Rodrick away from the vehicle. Vincent leaped off of the remains of the wagon and onto the guard, making him lose his grip on Rodrick and fall backwards into the forest.

The back door of the wagon burst open and the rest of her companions rushed out. Asha jumped out first, her sword ready in her hand, a stream of blood running down the side of her face and down her neck. Logan was right behind her with a heavy-set cast-iron pan in his hands, the towel he had tied around his neck to bandage his wound a deep crimson red.

Rena scrambled back up again even though her back and her legs hurt like nothing she had ever felt before. The horse in front of her stopped and the guard dropped down to the ground. She turned around and tried to run away but she was quickly surrounded by the other horses.

            [SFX big metallic thunk]

She turned back around to find the guard lying on the ground, Logan next to him with two hands around the cast-iron pan.

[Logan] “Run!”

[Rena] “I can’t just …”

[Logan] “Just run!”

A horse came up besides them, the guard trying to grab at Rena. He was yanked back from the other side and fell off of his horse.

            [SFX horse neighing]

[Logan] “Forest! Now!”

And so she did. She ran past Logan, only stopping to pick her sister’s now mud covered dress off of the ground and disappeared between the trees. She picked the skirt of her dress up and clutch it tight to her chest, bundling it up with her sister’s dress so she wouldn’t lose it. 

            [SFX running]

She didn’t know for how long she was running for or where she was running towards. She only stopped because her legs became weak and her foot caught on a root and she fell to the ground.

She was out of breath, her mouth dry, her heartbeat hammering in her chest and her head. She tried pushing herself back up but her body couldn’t take it anymore.

She scooted closer to a tree and laid down on the ground next to it, hoping that no one would find her there. She wished the fox would show up again, that it would lead her to safety again, but she waited and waited and it never showed up. Her eyes became heavy, impossible to keep open anymore, and she felt herself drift away.

            [SFX twig breaks, footsteps]

Her eyes shot open again, her whole body tensing up. She held her breath and waited. The footsteps seemed slow, sluggish, like someone who was exhausted or injured. A figure appeared from behind a tree, staggering towards her, and tripped over a protruding root, collapsing on the ground.

[Rena] “Oh my stars, Logan! Are you alright? Logan? Logan, wake up!”

S1E16 Behind Closed Doors

With 50% of the votes, the story continues on the first path. This is the penultimate episode of Season 1, so don’t miss you chance to vote for how the season should end. Although Rena is apprehensive, Logan convinces her to break into the house the mysterious strangers are staying in to find out what they are hiding. 

This is the penultimate episode of Season 1, so don’t miss you chance to vote for how the season should end.

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

Promo in this episode: The children of room 56 (https://www.listless.ga/our-shows/the-children-of-room-56)

S1E16 Transcript

Logan ducked down below the window as the door creaked open and someone stepped into the room. Rena sat down, her back flush against the outer wall of the house. She looked out over the fields in front of her with wide open eyes without registering any of the landscape, too busy holding her breath and listening to the footsteps resonating behind her.

            [SFX dull footsteps, walk in and back out, door closing] 

[Logan, whisper] “I think they left again.”

Logan slowly stood back up, peering into the room.

            [SFX door open further away, multiple footsteps, door closes]

[Logan] “Shit! The front door!”

He dropped down to the ground again, sitting down next to her. Rena’s heart started hammering in her chest, her hands digging into the dirt beneath her, her vision going blurry as her eyes opened wider. She could barely hear the footsteps over the blood rushing through her ears, but she was certain that they would be discovered any second now, that the whole group of strangers had noticed them and would round the corner and confront them about why they were hiding behind the house. But the second past, and then a second more, and Rena had to start breathing again or she would faint. She slowly turned her head to glance at Logan. He was squinting out into the distance, the tip of his tongue peeking out between his teeth. 

[Logan] “Ok, follow me.”

He suddenly jumped up, turning around to face the house again. 

[Rena] “What? Wait, where are we going?”

[Logan] “Inside. Come on.”

[Rena, scared] “Inside? No! Someone might still be in there.”

[Logan] “We’ll just be careful. If the house was crawling with people we would have noticed by now. Aren’t you curious about what they’re hiding?”

[Rena] “I’m more interested in staying alive! And shouldn’t we wait for Rodrick and the others?”

[Logan] “It’s going to be fine. Let’s go around back.”

Logan led the way, stopping at each window to peer into the house. Rena looked back towards the road, unsure of what to do. She wanted to know who these people were, what they were doing here, but what if someone was still inside? What would happen if they found them sneaking through the house and captured them? None of their companions knew Logan and her were here, so no one would come to rescue them.

Logan had already disappeared behind the corner and was leaning back, waving for her to come closer.

She could still back off, let him enter the house on his own and stay outside as a lookout, but would she be putting him in more danger? Or would her joining him be his downfall because he had to look out for her? Logan’s waving became more insistent and finally Rena stepped forward. 

The back of the house had two doors, one that obviously led into the house, and another at the bottom of a flight of stairs that probably led to a cellar. Logan snuck over to the window next to the first door and peered inside.

[Logan, whisper] “The coast is clear.”

He hurried over to the door and gently pressed the handle down. His free hand lay on top of the crack between door and doorframe as if to keep the door from rattling. He pulled slowly at the door, but it didn’t budge. He frowned and tried to push, but nothing happened either. He took a step back and stared at the door with a frown and puckered lips.

[Logan] “It’s locked.”

[Rena] “Yes, I can see that.”

[Logan] “Let’s try the other one.”

He hurried down the flight of stairs while Rena stayed near the door, keeping her ear close to the window so she could hear any potential movements in the house. She concentrated on the noises around her, but all she could hear was the wind rustling through the fields and forest around them. Not long after, Logan came back up to her, his frown having deepened.

[Logan] “That one’s closed too.”

[Rena] “I think we should just leave. Luck clearly isn’t on our side right now. It would be a mistake to force it and expect nothing bad to happen to us.”

[Logan] “Oh come on, where’s the fun in that? We could try the front door. I don’t think I heard them lock it.”

[Rena] “No! That’s much too dangerous. Someone might be waiting on the other side. O-or someone could see us from the farm!”

[Logan] “Yes, but breaking one of the windows definitely makes more noise.”

[Rena] “We also shouldn’t break any of the windows!”

[Logan, sigh] “You have too many rules.”

[Rena] “I just don’t want them to notice us. Logan, I’m serious, we should leave and get the others.”

[Logan] “I’ve got one more idea, just let me try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll concede.”

He turned around and walked back down the stairs. Rena nervously looked around. The house was surrounded by open fields on all sides, the forest beyond those, and it would have been plainly visible from far away that they were trying to break in. She quickly turned around and peered into the house, into what looked like an empty kitchen with an open door that led to a hallway, before ducking back down and joining Logan at the bottom of the stairs.

[Rena, hissing] “What are you doing?”

[Logan] “It’s an old door, we can just take off the hinges.”

He was standing upright, his dark, curly hair undone, trying to thread the piece of fabric that usually held his hair up underneath the pin of the upper hinge.

[Rena] “Aren’t they going to notice that?”

[Logan] “Yep, but hopefully we’ll be gone beforehand.”

He managed to wedge the string underneath the head of the pin, wrapping it around a few times and slowly pulling it up. As the bolt slid upwards, the knuckles of the hinge sprang apart and Logan unwrapped his string to repeat the procedure at the bottom of the door. Rena looked back nervously, certain that someone would emerge at the top of the stairs at any moment and discover what they were doing. She concentrated on her hearing, trying to figure out if anyone was behind the door, but all she heard was the scrapping of metal against metal. 

Another pop, and the second hinge was unbuckled. The side of the door poked out but didn’t jump out of its frame. With the tips of his fingers, Logan tried to pull the door forward, making the wood groan and the metal lock creak and Rena’s body freeze at the anticipation that some must hear all the noise. The door inched out of its hole little by little, until it lurched out with a final groan.

[Logan] “Ok, great. Help me out.”

Logan moved so that Rena could wedge her way besides him on the side of the handle. 

[Logan] “Hold on to it. We need to slide the door to the side for the bolt to pop out , and then we just need to make sure the door doesn’t fall down on us.”

There was barely any space between the edge of the door and the wall surrounding them; Rena really didn’t know how they were supposed to slide a door to the side. 

            [SFX groaning and creaking]

Rena gripped the handle tight, her other hand flat on the door, but both her palms were so sweaty that she was scared the door would just slip out of her grasp. She could feel the strain on the bolt, could feel how it resisted the unnatural movement and threatened to break the wood of the door and its frame. 

The bolt popped out of its socket and Rena almost fell into the room with the door, only keeping herself upright by pressing her shoulder into the frame.

[Logan] “Perfect! See, that wasn’t so difficult!”

Rena was too scared to answer him, too afraid of what lay behind the door. She wanted to flee, wanted to run back into the forest and cry out the tension in her body. She wasn’t made for this life.

[Logan] “I’ll hold the door up, you go inside.”

Her body obeyed automatically. She squeezed through the hole they had created and walked into a dark room. It looked like any regular cellar. One wide room with well-organized shelves and crates and barrels. It actually looked a bit barren to her, like the furniture was just there in case someone wanted to use it, but no one actually lived in the house. She hadn’t really considered how these people had ended up in this house, what kind of connection they had to the farm that they were allowed to stay here, but it certainly didn’t look like they lived here full-time. She supposed that made sense, considering what the innkeeper had said about them only appearing a few days ago. 

[Logan, whisper] “Help me out for a second.”

Logan motioned for her to come closer and she held the door upright while he squeezed his way into the room.

[Logan, whisper] “We can slide the bolt back in and close the door as best as possible and then hope no one’ll notice it.”

[Rena] “I don’t think it’s just going to hold upright without fastening it to anything.”

[Logan] “I’ll just tie the hinges together with my string. Gonna hate having my hair just floating around untamed, but sometimes you gotta make sacrifices.”

As Rena held on to the door, Logan wrapped the string over the uppermost hinge and carefully pulled the door closer. He managed to shut the upper half flush and tie the string to the second part of the hinge, but the bottom part of the door slightly stood out, letting a trickle of light pass through its corner.

[Logan] “Alright, that should hold for a little while.”

They stepped away from the door, Rena keeping her hands hovering near the handle in case the door decided to fall after all. After the door had stood upright without even a hint of movement for a few seconds they turned around and faced the darkness surrounding them. The room didn’t have any windows, and any light trickling in from beneath and around the doors wasn’t strong enough to illuminate much of anything.

[Logan] “Kinda dark in here.”

[Rena] “Well, it is the cellar.”

[Logan] “You don’t happen to have a light or matches on you, do you?”

[Rena] “No. This was your plan.”

[Logan] “Right, right… Let’s just wait a second for our eyes to adjust and then we can inch forward until we hit a door.”

[Rena, hesitant] “Sure.”

            [SFX creaking, dull footsteps]

[Rena, scared] “Wait. There’s someone upstairs.”


[Logan] “I don’t hear anything.”

            [SFX faint footsteps]

[Rena] “There!”

[Logan] “Ok. Sounds like it’s only one person. We’ll just need to be careful, no need to panic.”

[Rena] “We can’t walk around upstairs if there’s someone else in the house! What if they aren’t alone?”

[Logan] “There clearly aren’t ten people in this house. If one of them sees us I’ll just take them out.”

[Rena] “What if they have weapons?”

[Logan] “And we have the element of surprise. It’s going to be alright. Now come on.”

[Rena, mumble] “I hate this plan. I’m starting to think I hate all of your plans.”

[Logan] “But they get results. You’ll see.”

While Logan crept forward, Rena looked up at the ceiling, trying to hear where the footsteps could have come from, but the house was silent again. Reluctantly she stepped forward and joined Logan. Her eyes had adjusted well enough that she could see the faint light emanating from around the door leading into the house.

Logan reached the door and put one hand on the handle and one hand on the crack between door and frame again. He gently pressed the handle down and pulled, and this time, the door actually opened. Luck was on their side after all because the door did not creak as Logan opened it and no one was waiting for them on the staircase beyond the cellar.

[Logan, whisper] “Ok, let’s go.”

He opened the door wider and signaled for Rena to go first. She took a deep breath and stepped forward. She only poked her head out into the room at first, but when she saw they were at the bottom of a flight of stairs she walked out completely. Rena lifted the hem of her dress with one hand and kept the other on the wall to stabilize herself and make her footsteps as soft as possible, but she couldn’t keep the wood from faintly creaking. She held her breath as she walked forward, keeping her ears focused on any other possible sounds emanating from the house.

When she got closer to the top of the stairs she stopped and only let the top of her head poke up. In front of them was what looked like the front door, with an empty coat hanger fixed to the wall on her left. To her right, just beyond the end of the stairs, was a door. She turned around and looked out into the rest of the hallway. To her left were another three doors, with two more doors on the wall to her right. A final door stood open at the end of the hallway, and she recognized the kitchen beyond its threshold.

[Rena, whisper] “Where should we go?”

[Logan] “I don’t know. Probably the room we saw from outside.”

[Rena] “I don’t know which one it is.”

[Logan] “Just try one of the doors.”

She looked out over the hallway again, guessing that the room had to be behind one of the first two doors to her left. She closed her eyes one more time to listen to any footsteps, only moving when she was certain that she couldn’t hear anyone else.

She tiptoed forward to the first door and bent down to look through the keyhole. She couldn’t see much except for two unmade beds. She used Logan’s technique to slowly open the door but it opened inwards and holding her hand on the doorframe didn’t help much except keeping her from falling into the room.

She stepped in, slowly at first until she was certain no one else was inside. She hurried the rest of the way in, waving at Logan to follow her.

She had chosen correctly. This was the room that held the strange altar they had seen from the outside. She slowly walked over to it and reached a hand towards the figurine, her fingertips grazing over the smooth wood.

            [SFX door closes softly]

[Rena] “It looks exactly like the figurine I found, just bigger and better made, but the inscription looks the same. I think. Wish I hadn’t left the other one in the caravan so I could compare them.”

[Logan] “We don’t know what the inscription means anyway.”

[Rena] “Yeah, but still.”

            [SFX fabric rustle]

[Logan, sarcastic] “Great choice of fabric colors. Doesn’t feel disrespectful at all.”

[Rena] “It’s terrible.”

She picked up the figurine and fabrics and walked over to one of the beds to stuff them underneath the blanket, making sure they were completely hidden.

[Rena] “I don’t want to see it anymore.”

[Logan] “Finally some rebellion from you. I like it.”

[Rena] “What do the parchments say?”

            [SFX paper rustling]

[Logan] “Can’t read most of them, but they look old. We probably shouldn’t really be touching them. They look like they’d tear very easily.”

[Rena] “This one has drawings on it.”

[Logan] “Let me look. Oh, nice! Like those giant tapestries that tell a story.”

[Rena] “Did you see those in your museums too?”

[Logan] “Yes, I did. I’ll take you to one of the good ones in the North one day, then you’ll see how fun they are.”

[Rena] “So do you know what this is?”

[Logan] “Hmmm. Not exactly. But most of them were legends about heroes and the monarchy and about the old Gods. Especially the ones with this style, you know, with the weird figurines and the big swirls and the text all around it, probably means it’s a legend about the old Gods.”

[Rena] “I suppose the life of a simple farmer isn’t interesting enough to be put in your museums.”

[Logan] “There actually is a museum of rural life in Jodash, but I’ve found it to be not very accurate. They’re trying to sell it too much as a peaceful fairytale for the people in the big cities and to any outsiders from the federation.”

[Rena] “They could just come down here and talk to us, and I’m sure the North has its fair share of farmers too. No need to put lies in a museum.”

[Logan] “Oh, but my dear friend, museums are full of them. Wouldn’t want the citizens to know what’s actually going on in the kingdom, would you? Like all of these tapestries; the people who painted them already embellished what had actually happened, and of course whoever runs these museums, which in the vast majority of cases is the Count of Jodash, they choose which tapestries to include and which not to include, or even which part to include. So it’s very easy to hide behind lies.”

[Rena] “Right, nothing is the way I learned it would be, got it. So do you know what this one is depicting?”

[Logan] “I’m definitely not an expert in religious history. Maybe Rodrick or Finn will know more. We should take it with us.”

            [SFX paper rustle]

Logan rolled the parchment back up and slid it into one of the pockets of his pants. Rena riffled through the rest of the parchments, but none of them seemed to be written in a language she could read.

[Logan] “You know, now that I think about it, it’s strange that these aren’t written in our script. I know it’s been in widespread use for at least 200 years, probably way longer than that, and sure the paper looks old, but not four hundred years old, so why isn’t it written in a language we can read?”

            [SFX dull footsteps]

Rena froze, her eyes opening wide as she stared at the door.

            [SFX door opening]

Her hand slowly lowered as she put the parchment back on the table without making any sounds.

            [SFX door closing, footsteps fading]

[Logan, whisper] “I think we’re good.”

[Rena] “We shouldn’t be here.”

[Logan] “I think we can find out more if we stay a bit longer.”

[Rena] “We’ve tested our luck long enough, they’ll find us if we stay longer .”

[Logan] “They’re in the back of the house. If we avoid that part we’re going to be ok. Let’s just go across the hallway.”

[Rena] “*heavy sigh* Fine, but after that we’re leaving.”

Logan walked over to the door and pressed an ear against it, waiting a few moments before quietly opening the door and looking out. He slipped out onto the hallway and tiptoed over to the other side. Rena followed him and closed the door as carefully as she could manage, her eyes constantly darting to the closed doors at the other end of the house. 

They entered a smaller bedroom that only held one bed to their left and a wardrobe to their right. The bed looked freshly used but not unkempt. Rena quietly closed the door and then stepped into the room, looking around at the sparse décor.

[Rena] “I don’t see anything that’s unusual here.”

Logan knelt down to look underneath the bed then tiptoed over to the only wardrobe in the room and opened it. Rena looked over his shoulder to see what might be inside, but it was empty except for a pile of towels.

[Logan] *sigh* “Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything to find here.”

            [SFX dull footsteps coming closer]

[Logan, under breath] “Fuck.”

Logan grabbed Rena’s hand and dragged her to the corner between the wardrobe and the door. They pressed their backs against the wall, the dread rising in Rena as she heard the footsteps coming closer.

            [SFX door opens, footsteps]

The door opened, stopping a hand-width away from Rena’s face. A person walked in, wearing the group’s uniform of black pants and dark red tights with a loose white shirt. A rather plump woman, with short curly brown hair. She walked straight towards the bed, holding a pile of folded laundry in her arms. 

Logan stepped forward, pushing the door closed, and before the woman had the chance to fully turn towards him, he had wrapped his arm around her throat. The woman tried to fight him off, the pile of clothes falling to the ground as she clawed at Logan’s arm, but soon her movements became more sluggish and then her arms fell to her sides and her knees buckled. Logan gently let the body drop to the ground, making sure she didn’t hit her head on the frame of the bed.

[Rena, concerned] “She’s going to be fine, right?”

[Logan] “Yeah, yeah, we just need to tie her up so she doesn’t come after us.”

He dragged the unconscious body closer to the bed and picked up one of the tights from the pile of clothes that had fallen to the ground. He pushed the body around until it lay on its side with the arms wrapped around the leg of the bed and then used the tights to tie them up.

Rena crouched down to pick up the only fabric that stood out from the pile. A white and green dress similar to the one she was wearing. She frowned as she looked at the hem of the dress, at the swirling flower pattern that had been meticulously embroidered into the fabric, the pattern that she had run her fingers over so often as she helped her mother wash their laundry.

[Rena, murmur] “This is Maya’s.”

[Logan] “What?”

[Rena] “This is my sister’s dress. Why do they have my sister’s dress?”

Logan stared at her, his hands still hovering over the knot he had just tied. His eyes wandered down to the dress in her hands, his mouth opening slightly as if he wanted to say something, but no words came out.

Rena’s vision went blurry as her eyes filled with tears.

[Rena, upset] “Why do they have her dress?”

[Logan, quiet] “I don’t know.”

[Rena, crying] “What have they done to my sister?”

[Logan] “I-I don’t know. A-are you sure it’s her dress?”

[Rena] “Yes, I’m sure! My grandmother embroidered those flowers, there isn’t another dress like it out there!”

[Logan] “I’m sorry, I really don’t know what it’s doing here.”

[Rena] “Do you think she’s here? Are they keeping her somewhere? We need to save her!”

She got up, clutching the dress close to her chest. Without waiting for Logan, she turned around and hurried out of the room.

[Logan] “Rena, wait!”

She stopped in the hallway for a second, evaluating where they might be keeping her, then rushed over to the first door to her left. She didn’t wait to hear if anyone else was still in the house, didn’t wait to make sure anyone wasn’t waiting for them. She needed to know if they were keeping Maya somewhere. If she was still alive and well.

She burst into the room and frantically looked around. One long table stood in the middle of the room with eight chairs standing around it. One side of the table was covered in loose papers, books and rolls of parchment. The other side was empty except for another pile of clothing in one corner. Along the wall to her left stood two large cupboards. On the far wall beyond the cupboards was a fireplace that still held ashes from the previous night.

Rena stepped into the room, leaning down to look underneath the table, opening the cupboards to look inside, but of course Maya wasn’t anywhere to be found.

[Logan] “Rena, come on, stop!”

[Rena] “She isn’t here. We need to check the other rooms.”

She shouldered past Logan into the hallway, sliding out of his grasp when he tried to stop her.

            [SFX door open]

She turned towards the front door and looked straight into the bright green eyes of a woman she had never seen before. She had an old scar running over her nose and underneath her left eye, and her light brown hair was almost the same color as the pelt she had draped over her shoulders. The woman stared at her, her eyes growing wider before her eyebrows knit together in anger.

[Woman] “Who are you?”

She stormed forward, her hand disappearing underneath her cape before reemerging with a dagger, its tip slightly curved upwards. Rena quickly stepped back until she hit the wall next to the open door to the kitchen, clutching the dress tightly to her chest. The woman rushed towards her and raised the dagger, but as soon as she had passed the door to the parlor Logan jumped out and grabbed her wrist, the sudden halt in movement turning her around to face away from Rena.

Rena used the opportunity to slide into the kitchen. She thought about closing the door for a second but couldn’t dare leave Logan alone out there. She frantically looked around for anything she could use and her eyes landed on the cast-iron pans hanging from the wall. She grabbed the biggest one with one hand, refusing to let go of the dress, and rushed back out to find Logan trying to pry the dagger out of the woman’s hand. From afar she could see two more people wearing the now familiar outfit rush towards the front door. She ran forward and threw the heavy pan at them, almost losing her footing. She tried to close the door before the men could reach it, but she wasn’t fast enough. One of them slammed into the door and sent Rena flying backwards. The distraction was enough to break Logan’s concentration and the woman ripped her arm out of his grip. She held the dagger out to his throat, backing him into the wall.

[Woman, growling] “Who the fuck are you people?”

[Asha] “I wouldn’t even think about hurting him.”

Rena’s head whipped up at the sound of her companion’s voice. Asha stood behind the man who had burst through the door, her golden sword at his neck.

S1E15 A thread to follow

With 65% of the votes, the story continues on the third path once more. Rena, Logan and Finn try to sneak out of the ruins of the church without getting caught, but when one of the guards notices them the group gets separated and Rena has to find her way back to Halvint on her own. 

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

Intro music: Lonely Dusty Trail by Jon Presstone

Logo Design: Mars Lauderbaugh

Promo in this episode: Shadow Realm (https://www.thearyachronicles.com/podcast)

S1E15 Transcript

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

S1E14 Back to the beginning

 Content Warning: mentions of burn victims, mentions of death, reliving of trauma, choking

With 50% of the votes, the story continues on the third path. The group finds their way back to Halvint and separates to investigate further. 

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

Promo in this episode: Inn Between (https://www.thegoblinshead.com)

S1E14 Transcript

  Content Warning: mentions of burn victims, mentions of death, reliving of trauma, choking


[SFX forest noises, footsteps]

They disappeared between the trees with Asha taking the lead. Rena tried to glance at the people who were supposedly arriving at the clearing, craning her neck to look behind the trees. She didn’t see much at first but then spotted a few shadows moving on the path leading to the clearing. She couldn’t recognise who it was from this far away, couldn’t even really tell how many they were, but the moonlight glinted off of something and that something must have been armour or at least weapons.

[Rena, whispering] “How do they already know we’re here?”

She turned to Logan and almost tripped over a root that was protruding out of the ground. His hand shot up to stabilise her, pulling her up to her feet again. 

[Logan, whispering] “Maybe they aren’t here for us.”

[Rena, whispering] “Why else would guards come here in the middle of the night?”

[Logan, whispering] “Not sure they actually looked like guards to me.”

[Rena, whispering] “What? You think so? Who else should they be? What do they look like to you?”

[Asha] “Shh!”

[Rena, whispering] “Sorry, Asha.”

[Rodrick, whispering] “I must agree, I’m not sure they looked like guards to me either.”

Rodrick came up to Rena’s other side, leaning in closer to them so they could hear him. Vincent was in front of them, only a few paces behind Asha and Finn.

[Rena, whispering, shocked] “You really think so? But who else could they be? You don’t think the people who did this came back here after all this time?”

[Logan, whispering] “Maybe they’re scouting out their old arson locations to get some new inspiration.”

[Rena, shocked] “Logan!”

[Logan, rueful] “Sorry.”

[Rodrick, whispering] “Well, the Tavuu’Moda triangles did look like they had been only recently carved into those gravestones. It might not be that outlandish to think those who perpetrated this atrocity came back here not long ago.”

Finn whipped around to stare at them, flinching aside for a second when the dog almost ran into him.

[Finn, hissing] “Will you shut up?! We are clearly sneaking away from a potentially dangerous situation, how do you folks not understand that silence is of the utmost importance? And yes, they looked like guards, why would anyone come back to the scene of a crime years later when there is nothing left of the town.”

[Asha, forceful] “Shh!”

[Rena, whispering] “Sorry.”

The forest in front of them was dark and they didn’t dare ignite Rodrick’s lamp, but by staying close to the path they had come from Asha managed to navigate them out. No one seemed to be following them, and no one seemed to wait outside of the forest either, so they walked back to the nearby town as if nothing had happened. Rena clung to Logan’s arm, hyper-aware of her surroundings, trying to see from the corners of her eyes if they might not be alone after all. She knew if she were to turn her head and look around it would look suspicious, but didn’t they look suspicious no matter what? A group of five people who didn’t look like they belonged together wandering in and out of a forest in the middle of the night, that surely must raise some alarms? 

But luck was on their side, and they didn’t meet another human soul until they woke the old farmer up to get Rodrick’s caravan back. Rena wished they could have stayed with the farmer for the rest of the night, ask him for a place to sleep and maybe a bath, but the others were keen to get away from this part of the province and from whoever was roaming around the ruins of Miller’s Knee. 

Rena laid down on the floor of the wagon and tried to rest, even if it was quite impossible with the noise and the rattling and the heat. They drove all the way back to Halvint, back to the inn Rodrick and her had stayed in that first night of the journey. The innkeeper wasn’t happy to see them arrive that late, but when he recognised them he shooed them into a room and told them to come talk to him in the morning.

It wasn’t a big room they had been dumped into, although it did hold eight beds, two of which were already occupied by other people. It was the middle of the night, almost morning again, which made it difficult to get out of their clothes and into their beds without waking the strangers up. The bed couldn’t exactly be considered comfortable, but after the long journey in the caravan anything that was even slightly soft was a blessing to Rena. The linens smelled familiar to her, almost like home, and a wave of melancholic sadness flooded her whole body as she buried her face into the blanket and tried to fall asleep.

            [SFX morning birds]

It was deep into the morning when Rena woke up, the sun shining into her eyes. She groaned and turned her back to the window, cracking her eyes open just the slightest. On the bed next to hers, Logan sat with his back against the headboard, Finn at the other end of the bed, Asha sitting on the next bed over, all looking at her. She pushed herself up, rubbing at her eyes with the palm of her hand.

[Rena, mumble] “Morning.”

[Logan, cheerful] “Good morning, sunshine.”

[Rena] “[sniff] Why are you all up already?”

[Logan] “Because it’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining.”

[Asha] “We’re not all sixteen anymore. Our bodies decide for us when it’s time to be awake.”

[Finn] “They woke me up.”

Rena pulled the blanket up to her chest, feeling cold in only her undergarments. She looked around the room, noticing that the other people had already left. She turned to her right and saw that Rodrick was still asleep, the dog curled up on the bed at his feet. She turned back around to face the others, wrapping her arms around her legs and letting her head drop onto her knees.

[Rena, sleepy] “What are you guys doing?”

[Logan, cheerful] “Scheming.”

[Finn, annoyed] “Trying to figure out what the best strategy is for the journey ahead.”

[Logan] “Same thing.”

[Asha] “What the idiots are trying to say is that we have decided that Rodrick and I will go to the city of Rancor to talk with Cas about this situation and the idiots will go to Oceansthrow to figure out what is going on there, and then we hope that they don’t get killed and come back with some actual, valuable information.”

[Logan] “So little trust.”

[Asha] “In you? Always.”

[Rena] “And what about me?”

[Logan] “That is for you to decide, sunshine. We can’t force you to go back to Oceansthrow, we definitely wouldn’t want you to relive all of that. So if you want to go visit the ominous Sovereign Outcast with Asha and Rodrick you can do that, or you just stay here and take a day off.”

[Rena] “What about the innkeeper? Didn’t he say he wanted to talk to us?”

[Logan] “You slept through all of that, my dear. Young people really have an incredibly deep sleep, it’s kinda unfair. And I don’t know what’s up with the old guy but he hasn’t moved since we woke up.”

[Rena] “What did he say?”

[Logan] “Like a bunch of stuff.”

[Asha] “[sigh] The authorities have already come down here to take a look at the town. Someone from town actually contacted them to get some help, because they still believe these people are here to help us. A flock of guards arrived two days ago and told everyone they weren’t allowed to go to Oceansthrow anymore because they’ve got it all in check. And yesterday some lady in a fancy blue dress arrived to tell them the fire was just a tragic accident because someone left the oven on overnight.”

[Rena] “Like, a dark blue dress? With some inscriptions on it?”

[Asha] “I don’t know, you’d have to ask the innkeeper about it.”

[Rena] “That might be the historical academy. We saw a woman with that kind of robe at the archives. Rodrick mentioned that it was the uniform for the academy.”

[Asha] “Would make sense.”

[Finn] “It is part of their job to assist in these sorts of investigations.”

[Logan, mock conspiratorial] “Also, apparently there are some weird and shady people roaming around town.”

[Rena] “Shady people?”

[Logan] “I don’t know, he mentioned something about a group of people arriving yesterday that constantly stay together and that no one in town has ever seen before. I’m not actually sure it really means anything, maybe the innkeeper’s just being paranoid. Could just be some creeps who like looking at tragedies, or the kinda guys who’re trying to solve weird mysteries on their own. There’s some weird people out there, but hey, life wouldn’t be fun without them.”

[Asha] “I don’t fault the innkeeper for being careful. Better to be paranoid about things like these.”

[Logan] “What? You think the guys who did this have come back to check out the situation right when the place is crawling with guards? Or are these the people tasked with the ‘complete elimination of the town’s memory’?”

[Finn] “No, like I already mentioned, that’s the historical academy’s job, and they don’t go around weirding out the townsfolk when an official representative of the academy already talked to them. And all that means is that they’re trying to not cause mass panic. You’re making it sound worse than it is.”

[Asha] “The arsonists might be working with the guards, that’s why they aren’t afraid of being caught.”

[Rena] “As in, the guards know who’s setting these fires and isn’t doing anything about it?”

[Asha] “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

[Rena, stern] “No, I won’t believe that.”

[Asha] “Then you’re naive.”

[Logan] “She’s sixteen, give her a break.”

[Rena] “I’m sorry but I won’t believe that the guards and the administrator and who else know the people who burned down Miller’s Knee and didn’t do anything about it for two years and now my entire family is dead and it could have been prevented, but instead they are just letting these people run free, and for what?”

[Asha] “Money, maybe power, like everywhere else where these people destroy a place and its inhabitants for their own gains.”

[Logan] “Asha, come on, play nice. Listen, Rena, we don’t know what’s going on. We can’t even be sure Miller’s Knee and Oceansthrow are connected. It’s highly likely but we don’t actually know. Maybe the guards and the Royal Council have nothing to do with this, maybe they really are just bad at investigating and handling this kind of situation, but from my experience, it might also be worse than that. These people aren’t exactly strangers to playing around with people’s lives to get what they want.”

[Rena] “But certainly not all of them?”

[Logan] “No, sure, some of them are probably upstanding citizen who are appalled by this situation.”

[Rena] “So surely those people would be doing something against this? They wouldn’t just stand by and do nothing as more people died, right?”

[Finn] “From my experience, ‘upstanding citizen’, as you called them, don’t stay in power for very long. They are too much of an inconvenience for the rest of them.”

[Rena, angry] “[clothes rustle, footsteps] You are all just a bunch of gloomy killjoys. Everything is bad and negative in your eyes. I don’t want to talk to you any further. There is good in this world and people care and not everything is a calamity. Goodbye, I will see you at lunch.”

            [SFX door open and close]

She grabbed her dress on the way out of the room and slipped into it when she was in the hallway. She had forgotten her shoes in the room but she was used to walking barefoot on a wooden floor and she didn’t mind the rough feeling of it on her bare skin. 

            [SFX door open and close]

[Logan] “Rena, wait.”

She turned around at the sound of Logan’s voice, crossing her arms as she waited for him to catch up to her.

[Logan] “I’m sorry we’ve upset you.”

[Rena] “I’m not naive, you know. I’m willing to believe that the administrator and the guards are trying to cover this up because they haven’t caught the perpetrators yet and that they don’t want that to tarnish their reputation, or cause mass panic like Finn said, but it’s a giant leap from this to ‘none of them care about us and will just let us die if it makes them money’.”

[Logan] “I know, I know. We got a bit carried away. Asha’s gone through some stuff with her family, you can’t blame her for having such a negative outlook on life. We just have to figure out what actually happened. I’m sure at least some of the nobles in power care about this. The administrator sounded upset about what happened in Miller’s Knee in the letters, right? At least a little bit. I’m sure she’s also upset about Oceansthrow. I don’t think anyone can look at this situation and not be upset one way or another. We just need to find the right people who’ll be willing to help us. Once we actually figure out what is going on and it turns out to be something that can actually be fought.”

[Rena] “Do you think Finn will know who the right people are? He’s probably well connected, right?”

[Logan, chuckle] “Honestly, who knows. He probably knows some of them, at least from around here, but if he’s just the third son of some old house that barely even owns land anymore and he only got his position because of some favour he’ll probably won’t have much bartering power. But otherwise we can also just bribe or blackmail someone if we don’t find anyone who would willingly help us.”

[Rena, annoyed] “Isn’t this what you were all complaining about? That the nobility is corrupt and isn’t playing fair? How is blackmailing them into helping out any better?”

[Logan] “Hey, they started it.”

      [SFX door opens and closes, footsteps]

Finn stepped out of the room fully clothed, his sword dangling from his side, his blond hair slicked back with water.

[Finn] “We should leave, we’re only wasting time standing around here. Are you coming with us Rena or are you going with Asha?”

[Logan] “You really don’t have to if you don’t feel up for it, sunshine. Don’t force yourself for our sake.”

[Rena] “No, I’m coming with you. I need to know what happened to the town. Just let me get my shoes.”

            [SFX forest, footsteps]

They left Halvint after lunch and approached Oceansthrow by foot. Asha and Rodrick took the caravan to the city of Rancor, and they made plans to meet up again in Halvint before nightfall. Finn kept complaining that they had waited for lunch before leaving, that they were wasting precious minutes where something that could help them would be destroyed. Rena wasn’t sure what could remain of the town if the guards had already been here for a few days, but she started to agree with him that eating might not have been the smartest plan. The closer they got to her hometown, the more her stomach twisted and turned in on itself. She started having trouble breathing again but she forced herself to take in deep breaths so that the other two wouldn’t notice anything. 

By the time they reached the end of the road her fingertips were ice cold, her back was drenched in sweat, her lips were numb and she desperately wished she could sit down and rest for a moment. 

[Logan] “Let’s just pretend we’re curious farmers from somewhere around here who heard about the tragedy and wanted to check out what actually happened.”

[Finn] “Do I look like a farmer to you?”

[Logan] “We can just pretend you’re our weird cousin who ran away to join the guards and now dresses in ridiculous clothes to pretend he’s made it in life.”

[Finn, offended] “My clothes aren’t ridiculous! Your plan just doesn’t make any sense.”

[Logan] “My plan is perfectly fine.”

[Rena, weak] “I think I’m going to be sick.”

[Logan] “Ok, ok, look at me, take a deep breath, [imitates breathing].”

[Rena] “[Shaky breathing]”

[Logan] “We’re here with you, ok? Do you want to sit down? Should we take a break?”

[Finn] “We don’t have time for a break.”

[Logan] “Do you even have a heart behind those ridiculous clothes of yours? Don’t you see she’s struggling. Even you have to recognise this is a difficult situation.”

[Rena, shaky] “He’s right, we don’t have time for a break. I didn’t come with you to hinder your investigation. We should keep going.”

[Logan] “Ok, but promise me that before you faint you tell me you want to take a break, yeah? No falling over without giving us a warning first.”

[Rena, weak chuckle] “Sure.”

They advanced slowly, emerging onto a wide plane of dirt and ashes. No buildings remained except for the burnt remains of the church in the middle of the clearing. A big pile of rubble indicated where the tower used to be, but astonishingly enough, the main building next to it had not completely collapsed in on itself, with the roof still intact on the rightmost side.  

Horse and wheel tracks ran from both roads towards the church, next to which piles of debris had been neatly sorted and stockpiled. Three people were currently next to the church, loading a horse-drawn carriage up with pieces of wood from one of the piles. 

[Rena, mutter] “They really took everything away.”

[Logan, whisper] “I’m sorry.”

[Rena] “I knew they’d take the remains away but I-I thought that at least some of it would still be here.”

[Logan] “Yeah, they really worked quickly on this.”

[Rena] “It’s just … gone. My whole life I lived here and now nothing remains except for the stupid school.”

[Finn] “Once those guards are gone, let’s get closer to the church and look at what remains.”

[Logan] “Come on, give her a second.”

[Finn] “I said once they’re gone, that’s multiple seconds.”

Rena pointed to the other end of the clearing where the second road led into the forest.

[Rena] “Over there, that used to be my father’s friend Jesper’s house. He had a few goats in his backyard and he used to make cheese out of their milk. It wasn’t the fancy kind of cheese you see in bigger towns or cities, just regular goat milk cheese, but he made it with love and he always gifted us some and that made it special to us. Next to his house there used to be two big poles with ribbons tied to them marking the entrance of the town. Each year, the kids in their last year of school would make a new ribbon and add it to the other ones. This year would have been my turn. Over there, there used to be a soap shop run by this old lady called Maggie. When she was young she travelled all over the kingdom, and even up to the Kano-Reki Federation and higher North. I’m not even sure which country is further north than the Kano-Reki Federation.”

[Finn] “It borders the nation of Yarrik and the duchy upon Elizar, although they might merge together soon.”

[Logan] “Shut up.”

[Rena] “A-and she brought all these recipes for soaps home with her and then settled down here, because her family was here, even though she could have very easily sold her soaps in the big cities, but I’m happy she remained here because I really liked her soaps. And my house used to be on that side, not too far from the forest. My uncle’s house was right down the street. Every week we used to all gather together and eat a big meal. Everyone got their turn to decide what should be cooked, even the little ones, but mom was really good at shaping their wishes into an actual, nutritional meal and making them believe they had wanted that version from the start, so no one was ever upset with what we ended up eating. It would have been Maya’s turn to choose this week. She would have probably asked for some cod again. She always asked for cod.”

[Logan] “I’m really sorry.”

[Rena] “[sigh] I thought I would start crying when I saw this, or faint or be sick, but I just feel empty. Like this place. Stripped of everything that used to be here.”

[Finn] “The guards are leaving.”

[Logan] “Did you never learn when to shut up.”

[Rena] “Looks like one of them stayed behind. I think he’s guarding the place.”

[Finn] “We’ll need to distract him somehow. I don’t see how we would be able to sneak up upon the church without him noticing us.”

[Logan] “Leave it to me.”

[Rena] “What? No wait!”

            [SFX footsteps]

Logan jogged up to the guard, waving and calling him over as he approached the church. Rena couldn’t hear what he was saying, but the guard didn’t look alarmed. Logan shook the guard’s hand when he reached him, not letting go of it for a good while.

[Rena, whispering] “What is he doing?”

[Finn, whispering] “I don’t know. It just looks like they’re talking. He’s probably actually pretending to be a curious farmer.”

[Rena] “How does this keep working on people?”

[Finn] “Him pretending to be a farmer?”

[Rena] “No, in general, him just walking up to people and talking them into stuff.”

[Finn] “It’s the smile probably.”

[Rena] “You really think that’s all it takes?”

Logan put a hand on the guard’s shoulder and they spun around to look at the piles of debris next to the church. Logan patted the guard on the back, staying a step behind him, before sliding his arm around the guard’s throat.

[Rena, alarmed] “What is he doing!?”

[Finn] “Choking him.”

[Rena] “He’s going to hurt him!”

            [SFX footsteps running]

[Rena] “Stop it! What are you doing!?”

Logan let the guard slip out of his grasp.

            [SFX metal thunk]

[Logan] “What?”

[Rena] “You could have hurt him! H-he’s not dead, is he?”

[Logan] “He’s fine, he’s just sleeping.”

            [SFX footsteps]

[Finn] “We should hide the body. We don’t know when a new troop will show up to pick up more supplies.”

[Rena] “Are you sure he’s fine?”

[Logan] “Yes, stop worrying so much. He’s going to wake up in a couple of hours. Let’s just put him in between the piles here.”

            [SFX dragging]

[Finn] “I wouldn’t exactly call that hidden.”

[Logan] “Oh yeah, do your beautiful blue eyes see another hiding spot in this great vastness of nothing or do you want to drag him all the way to the forest? Maybe we should dig him a hole and hide him underneath the earth.”

[Finn] “You are absolutely infuriating. If a new troop appears they will find him right away if you just put him between the piles and what kind of advantage does that give us?”

[Rena] “You guys deal with your mess, I’m going to go look at what remains of the church.”

            [SFX footsteps]

[Logan, fading] “Yes, great observation, do you also have a follow up plan?”

[Finn, fading] “We could put him inside the remains of the church. The right side of the building looks intact enough for someone to stay in.”

[Logan, fading] “As if that isn’t the second place these guys will be checking. How does that help us more than putting him down here?”

Rena circled around the ruins of the building. As her eyes swept over the scorched beams sticking out beneath the rubble the memories of the fire came back, of the collapsing church as she entered the town, of the hand sticking out from beneath the collapsing building. The smell of that evening clawed its way down her lungs again as if she was still surrounded by burning bodies. She stopped in front of the back side of the church, bile rising up her throat as her vision went blurry. She dug her nails into the palms of her hands until the pain was all she could feel. She forced her eyes shut and took in long, deep breaths, dragging her mind away from the fire and towards happier memories, towards her new life, towards the warm, soft fur of Vincent. 

            [SFX footsteps]

[Logan] “Anything interesting on this side? Couldn’t see much from the other side but the room looks stable enough for us to go in. I checked the guard’s pockets but there isn’t anything on him. Not even a letter with his orders or anything like that. He’s definitely from Mellahen though, except if these people all stole the official guards’ uniforms and are pretending to be from the capital, I guess.”

Rena opened her eyes and unclenched her fingers, the pain remaining a dull, pulsing ache in her hands.

[Logan, hesitant] “You alright?”

[Rena, weak] “Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s look inside.”

She approached the part of the old building that had collapsed. She could see into the building from where the collapsing roof had torn a hole in the wall. Spots of light covered the ground from the broken windows and roof, illuminating the piles of ashes and rubble inside the building. Footsteps lead to and from holes in the wall, towards the almost intact side of the room. She squeezed through the hole, making sure not to touch the walls or the beams too much, and stepped into the ruins of the church. She had to crouch until she reached the part where the roof hadn’t collapsed. The smell of fire filled her lungs again, but this time she was certain that it wasn’t just in her mind. She tried not to look at the ground too much, too scared to find a part of someone’s body again.

She remembered this part of the building. It was the smaller classroom, where they had kept the little kids that didn’t have the attention yet for a learning environment. Along the wall to her left stood a row of closets filled with blankets and toys, although most of them had collapsed and spread their contents on the ground. A few of the tables were still standing untouched, covered in ashes, although the ones at the very back had been pushed forward, forming a half-circle around the back wall.

Logan came up behind her, looking around the room.

[Logan] “Well, someone was definitely in here.”

[Rena] “They moved some of the tables. I don’t think the destruction from the fire could have piled them up like this.”

[Logan] “Yep, definitely looks deliberate. Nothing else was touched though.”

[Rena] “Hmm, no I don’t think so … Wait, what’s that?”

She stepped closer to the tables that had been pushed forward, towards the back wall that had fresh marks carved into it.

[Logan] “Weird. Looks like the symbol we found in Miller’s Knee.”

[Rena] “That definitely wasn’t here before.”

[Logan] “Welp, guess we finally found our connection between the two towns.”

[Rena, getting angry] “What is this? Who would do something like this? People died here not even a week ago, a-and some random people came in here to carve symbols into the walls to-, to what? Pray to some old God no one has thought about for hundreds of years? What kind of sense does that make?”

[Logan] “I honestly have no idea. I’m sure they must have some reason for it.”

[Rena] “Are these the same people who put the bird figurines everywhere when the town was burning?”

[Logan] “Who knows, but it kinda seems likely. Would be wild if there were two secret organisations roaming around the kingdom doing weird shit like this. Although, one might just be taking advantage of the whole situation, like vultures.”

[Rena, mutter] “I just don’t get it. All this destruction and pain for what? For some, old belief system that disappeared centuries ago?”

            [SFX footsteps]

[Finn] “Someone’s coming.”

[Logan] “Guards?”

[Finn] “Looks like it. Another wagon to pick up materials. We should leave.”

S1E13 The ruins of Miller’s Knee

With 60% of the votes, the story continues on the second path. The group meets up with Finn and then sets out to find what remains of Miller’s Knee.

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