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Subject: Gwidrite Heresies - Session Three rss

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Kai S.
Germany
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Drama Llama Roleplaying Society
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Participating Players
Game Leader – Kai
Maeveen – Sara
Morwenna - Jonna (only watching due to illness)
Nikolas – Fred
Saroc – Simon
Valbrand – Bavo

List of previous sessions

***

The group is on the way back to Niddrie and arrives quite a bit after sunset. Voices can be heard coming from the tavern and a few people emerge from the chapel after attending evening mass, but most villagers seem to be home, probably going to sleep already after a long working day.

Nikolas looks at his companions: „Are we all in agreement that we keep quiet about what we’ve learned today?“

Valbrand shrugs: „What is there to be said?“

„At least we don’t want to make anyone nervous, right?“

Valbrand nods silently, but Saroc doesn’t quite agree: „We were going to talk to Elena’s friends though, weren’t we?“

„Yes, indeed.“ Valbrand nods again. „But it seems unwise to drag them out of their beds at this hour. It would create too much commotion.“

„But if it helps us figure out what’s going on and get that girl back from the forest at this time of the night, it might be worth it.“ Saroc doesn’t give up just yet.

„She will return in her own time. When we tried catching her, she slipped away.“

„But a Feond might catch her out there before we do!“

„There are no Feondas around here“, Maeveen again points out.

„It is good to be watchful though“, Valbrand remarks. „I suggest we all get a night’s sleep and return to this task in the morning.“ With that he walks off to the chapel to pray and then go to bed.

Nikolas also heads to bed, while Maeveen returns to her smithy and, despite the late hour, starts working on the metal bar Maraizh, the mayor, ordered this morning. She is rather tired after a day spent running around the forest, but knows the mayor will be furious if the bar isn’t done by next morning. She also figures that the other villagers are by now used to the noise. Saroc tries to go to sleep but after about half an hour of lying on his bed, thinking about the girl they left in the forest, he gets up again and heads to Jenrick’s farm, where he takes a position from which he can overlook the home without being seen, to make sure that she safely arrives back home. He at first dozes away, but still keeps half an ear out for some sort of noise - until he hears the loud banging of a hammer on a piece of metal coming from the smithy, that keeps him awake very firmly.

Saroc isn’t the only one who is kept awake by the noise - Valbrand has a hard time concentrating on his prayers, while Nikolas, who had still been reflecting on the events of the day, finally manages to fall asleep. He dreams of the stone slab at the Stone Circle with the flower decorations on it, which he finds quite disturbing since he can’t make heads or tails of it. Then suddenly the stone slab seems to tilt and turns into a steep rocky slope… and there’s a body lying at the foot of the slope. Nikolas tries to reach the body in his dream, but he can’t seem to find a way to get to the location - in fact, whenever he thinks he has found a way it leads him even further away from the body. He tries to get a better look at it, but can only make out the legs and feet.

***


While Nikolas is having this dream, Saroc is still watching Jenrick’s farm, but hasn’t seen Elena returning home. He hears the small bell from the chapel toil for the midnight prayer and now starts to get seriously worried. He figures there’s nothing he can do right now, since he knows better than to go into the forest at night, even to look for a missing girl. After another hour of waiting without seeing Elena return home, he finally heads to his bed, even more worried than he was before. He is still kept awake by the noise coming from the smithy though, so he gets up again and walks over there, where Maeveen has almost finished her work on the metal bar: „Listen, Maeveen, it’s been a hard day and I’m trying to get some sleep. How long is it gonna be that you gonna keep on clanging away on that thing?“

„I don’t know, maybe half an hour.“

„WHAT?“ Saroc stares at Maeveen in disbelief. „You need to get some sleep as well, it looks like. Otherwise you make a mistake on that thing and you won’t be able to get the money they pay you for it.“

At this point Nikolas enters the smithy, still wearing his nightgown and a nightcap. He yawns: „Maeveen, what are you doing?“ He looks at the piece Maeveen is working on: „What’s that for anyway?“

„THAT is for our lovely mayor… who can’t wait until tomorrow.“

„Well, I guess he is sleeping safe and sound right now.“

„No, he isn’t“, an annoyed Maraizh, wearing a nightgown as well, says, as he enters the smithy. „Why are making such a noise, Maeveen?“

„Did you not have a commission for tomorrow?“

„Yes, I did! But I expected you to work on that during the day and not during the night!“

„I told you I had other commissions, you didn’t listen and I’m finishing your commission on time.“

„This is outrageous!“ Maraizh turns around and stomps off - the nightgown making his exit look less impressive than he probably hoped for. Just as the mayor is leaving, Valbrand arrives at the smithy: „Is anyone making a new bell for the chapel or what is this?“

Maeveen sighs: „If you’re going to stay here chatting with me all night, I’m never going to be finished!“

„Can I maybe help you to make it any quicker“, Saroc offers. „Because I might as well be up and helping you instead of sitting in the bed listening to you.“

„Sure, you can work the bellows.“

Saroc nods and does as he’s told, pumping the bellows really angrily. Nikolas returns to bed and tries to get a glass of hot milk from his landlady, while Valbrand returns to his prayers. At around two o’clock in the morning Maeveen is finally done and both she and Saroc go to sleep. The only ones not asleep at this point are Valbrand, Callum and Yorum who pray in the chapel again - Callum nearly dozes off while Yorum kneels straight as a pole next to Valbrand and prays feverishly. Valbrand listens to his prayers and learns that Yorum begs for assistance in guiding the sheep back to the right path - even with fire and brimstone if necessary.

***


Morning comes and Valbrand notices a commotion in the village square. He has just returned from morning prayer and he thinks one of the voices belongs to Jenrick, Elena’s father. He frowns and goes outside to find Jenrick shouting at Judoc, the captain of the guard: „Where the hell is she, dammit? And don’t tell me you don’t know!“ The farmer has grabbed Judoc by his collar and is absolutely furious. Valbrand approaches the two men: „Goodman Jenrick, I suggest you release the good captain.“

„WHAT DO YOU WANT?“

„For you to calm down and find the peace of Soustraine…“

„How am I supposed to calm down? This whole mess is your fault in the first place! You’re responsible for this!“ The farmer is ready to grab Valbrand by his collar now but manages to stop himself at the last possible moment. He stands way too close to Valbrand though, the tips of their noses almost making contact.

Valbrand casually leans his left hand on the pommel of his sword: „Your question, goodman Jenrick?“

„WHERE THE HELL IS MY DAUGHTER?“

„Where she ran off to, probably in the forest.“

„YOU CHASED HER AWAY, DAMMIT!“

„We tried to capture her… she was too quick. You have a spritely daughter, Jenrick. And she will return if the True God wills it.“

„She better come home, or else…!“ The farmer stares at the Blade Knight intently and then stomps off.

Valbrand mumbles to himself: „I clearly see where Elena got her disposition from… sins of the father, truly.“

„You have to understand him“, Judoc speaks up. „Elena hasn’t returned yet.“

„I do, Judoc, I do. I will collect Saroc and we will see if we can find the girl during the daylight.“

„You better do. I have arranged for some search parties… the village hunters are already searching the woods. Can you tell me in which direction she went when you chased her? This would narrow down the area we have to search.“

Valbrand nods and gives Judoc the general direction from which they came yesterday evening, which was north. He also points out that Saroc probably knows more and both he and the captain of the guard then walk off in search of the trader.

***


Saroc is still lying in his bed when there’s a knock on the door. Grumpily he yells: „Fuck off!“ Judoc shrugs and looks at Valbrand, then knocks again. Saroc tries to block the sound by wrapping a pillow round his ears, but the knocking is too loud, he can still hear it. Valbrand now calls out as well: „Saroc, open up! She has not returned, we need your help in finding her again.“ Saroc lets out a cry of grief and sorrow, throws the pillow at the door and shouts: „I’m coming, I’m coming, dammit!“

A short while later he peers round the corner of the door through slitted eyes, his hair all over the place: „What do you want? It’s barely dawn!“ Valbrand hands him a plate with bread and cheese he got from the tavern: „Breakfast. We move.“ Saroc acknowledges this with a grunt and starts wolfing down the food, while Valbrand brings him up to speed: „She has not returned during the night and I wish for her to be found. And you’re a good tracker.“

Saroc sighs: „Come on, then, let’s get going. Call the others as well, we need as many as we can.“

Valbrand walks off while Judoc looks at Saroc with barely concealed mistrust: „And in what direction did she go when you chased her?“

„Didn’t chase her… caught her.“

„Caught her and then chased her again. That is what Valbrand told me.“

„No, she just ran away, that’s all.“

„And in which direction did she run away?“

„I’ll show you now. Come with me.“

„Listen, Saroc, I have to coordinate several search parties, I don’t have time to come with you. In which direction should I send the search parties?“

„I’m tired, I didn’t have any sleep last night, but I’ll try…“ Saroc gives Judoc a description that is for some reason even less detailed than the one Valbrand gave him. „I gotta show you, this is no good.“

Judoc sighs and nods in agreement. A short while later Nikolas and Maeveen, having been summoned by Valbrand, arrive at the tavern, where Saroc is staying. Maeveen has delivered the metal bar to Maraizh, while Nikolas was looking for Morwenna, but wasn’t able to find her.

„Stupid girl“, Maeveen curses quietly. She looks at Valbrand: „Have you talked to her friends?“

„Not yet.“

„Then we should do that first. Maybe she’s trying to hide from her father there.“

„That’s a good suggestion“, Valbrand nods and looks at his companions.

Saroc inquires: „Where do her friends live?“

Maeveen sighs: „Feyre lives with her parents in the bakery, Samuel is the son of Mikel and he lives on his father’s farm, while Finn is the son of Farrell, the potter. Renan is quite a bit older than the others and a ne'er-do-well who usually hangs out at the tavern.“

Valbrand looks at his companions again: „Thoughts, remarks? Or do we simply walk into the forest again?“

„I know where the baker is anyways“, Saroc remarks, „so I’ll go there and talk to this Feyre lass. Someone else can talk to some of the others, so we can do this as quickly as possible.“

„You know that Feyre won’t talk“, Maeveen reminds him.

„Well, she can’t talk, but she can nod. That’s all I need.“

***


A little while later Saroc arrives at the bakery where he sees Tristan, the baker, hard at work probably for several hours already: „Morning, Tristan! Sorry to disturb you, just looking for a missing girl - Elena seems to have gone missing from her father’s place last night. Just seeing if she was staying with your daughter last night.“

„Morning, Saroc!“ Tristan dusts some flour of his hands. „Elena missing, you say? Can’t say I’ve seen her.“

„Can I check with your daughter, would you mind?“

As Saroc mentions the baker’s daughter a shadow seems to pass over Tristan’s face: „Sure, go ahead. Just don’t expect her to answer any questions.“

„I know she can’t speak, sorry to bring that up. But she might be able to at least acknowledge if she has seen her.“

The baker shrugs: „Like I said, go ahead. She’s in the backyard.“

Saroc thanks the man and heads into the backyard, where he sees a teenage girl piling up firewood for the oven. He walks up to her: „Morning, Feyre, how are you?“

The girl turns to him, smiles and shrugs.

„Just wanted to ask you: have you seen Elena at all last night?“

She shakes her head and looks at him with an utterly blank expression, that makes Saroc suddenly feel very uneasy.

„It’s just that she never came home to her father last night.“ While speaking he walks closer to get a better look at Feyre’s facial expression. „We were talking to her about the old Demorthèn circle up on the hill there. Do you know it?“

The girl again just shrugs.

„Were you ever there?“ Saroc studies Elena’s face closely and thinks there’s something weird about the way she looks at him, but can’t quite put a finger on it. „We were talking to Elena about it last night and she ran off into the woods. Thought she’d come back last night, but she didn’t. Bit worried about her.“

Feyre nods.

„Any idea where she might be?“

The girl shakes her head and then puts her hands to her cheek and tilts her head as if she was sleeping.

„You were sleeping last night, so you never heard nothing?“

She nods.

„Thought as much… well, look, if you do hear of anything or think of anything where she might be, tell your old dad and he’ll let me know.“

Feyre nods and enthusiastically, but Saroc notices that her face still remains utterly blank. He gets to the door and just as he’s about to leave he turns around and says: „Oh, one more thing… when you were leaving flowers up by the old Demorthèn circle… did you notice anything strange up there?“

Feyre shrugs, but there’s a slight smile on her face.

„Was there any writing on the stones?“ When she shrugs again, he adds: „Well, there either was or there wasn’t.“ She shrugs for a third time, still with the same smile on her face that seems to say: ‚I know what you’re trying to do.“

Saroc sighs: „Ah, well, you see if there was more information you could give us it might help us find Elena more quickly before the Feond that’s out there catches her…“

The girl simply nods again and with a heavy sigh Saroc turns around and leaves, heading back to the village square. Out of the corner of his eyes he notices Elena waving goodbye.

***


Valbrand meanwhile goes looking for Samuel, who is Elena’s best friend. He marches through the village and asks the first person he meets where Samuel lives. The villager points at a teenage boy of maybe 17 years carrying a basket filled with corn on his shoulder. When Valbrand approaches him, he puts the basket on the ground and bows obediently, as he is supposed to do.

„Blessings upon you, Samuel. I would like a moment of your time. Have you seen Elena since yesterday?“

The boy leans on the basket and sighs: „I’m afraid I haven’t, Sir Knight.“

„So she has not come back here!“ He looks sternly at Samuel.

„Has she run away?“

Valbrand nods: „Tell me, what were you doing at the old Demorthèn circle.“ Samuel seems to be taken completely by surprise by this question - he hesitates very obviously and doesn’t seem to know how to respond. „Confession is good for the soul, Samuel“, the Blade Knight adds.

„It… was probably a mistake to go there… we went there as part of a dare. First we just dared each other to go to the hill… and once we were there, well, it was not that creepy, standing at the foot of the hill, so we thought that this was not much of a dare at all, so… we dared each other to go up.“

„You dared each other - there was no outsider?“

„No, it was just us.“

„And when you went up there, what did you see? What did you do?“

„The girls thought it was so romantic - moss-covered broken stones in the afternoon sun, the fog hanging over the forest… to me it was just an overgrown place… not much going on. I don’t know why, but suddenly they decided to put some flowers on the stones, because they thought it made the place look nicer. And that was it, basically. We then returned to the village.“

„You saw no-one else there? You saw no writing upon the stones either?“

„No, no-one else, Sir Knight. But what kind of writing are you talking about?“

„Marks, symbols, sigils.“

„I didn’t pay the stones that much attention. I can’t tell, I just don’t remember. You see, I thought the whole thing was kind of stupid… I thought this was a waste of time. There wasn’t anything creepy either at the foot or on top of the hill, so it wasn’t much of a dare. So we left. In fact, I was the first to leave.“

„Do you know who stayed the longest?“

„The others caught up with me fairly quickly.“

Valbrand studies the boys face to try and gauge if he’s telling the truth. He thinks the boy is being genuine - what he says makes sense and it also fits in line with what Elena told them earlier. Samuel seems straightforward, there is no hesitation when he speaks and his facial expressions match the emotions he describes. Valbrand finally nods: „Alright. If you remember anything, come find me.“

„Certainly, Sir Knight.“ Samuel pauses for a second and then asks with a worried expression: „Is Elena in trouble?“

Valbrand pauses for a second: „Yes. She has not returned to the village last night. Let me know if you see her.“

Samuel is visibly struggling, but suddenly says: „Sir Knight, I might have an idea where she might be…“

„Speak!“

„We have a tiny hideout in the forest - a place where we just sit down and… you know, do stuff. If you promise not to tell anyone else, I can show you where that place is… She might… well, I spent a night there once, it’s not comfortable but okay.“

„Follow me then, we’ll find the others and then you can lead us there.“

The boy takes a step back: „What others?!“

„Saroc, our huntsman, and Maeveen, who she knows.“

„Do we have to get the blacksmith involved? Can you guarantee that she won’t tell others about our hideout?“

Valbrand looks at Samuel: „You can ask her, Samuel, but I think you’re misunderstanding the gravity of the situation.“

The boy looks down and nods: „Okay…“

They then head to the tavern to find Maeveen and the others.

***


While Valbrand is searching for Samuel Maeveen is looking for Renan. She knows that he usually hangs out at the tavern, even in the early morning. She finds him sitting on the front porch of the tavern, a mug of ale already in hand, and immediately notices that he looks very tired, like he has been up all night. She starts feeling guilty for all the noise she made during the night, but then remembers that he lives in a hut at the edge of village, quite a distance away from the smithy. „Morning, Renan.“

„Morning, Maeveen.“ He gives her a smile that he probably thinks is seductive. „May I say that you look lovely this morning!“ He takes a swig. „Cheers!“

„Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about you.“

„Huh?“ He gives her a dirty look. „What did I do wrong this time?“

„You look like you’ve been doing this“, she gestures towards the mug of ale, „the entire night.“

„What? Oh, no, I was doing something else during the night…“ He winks at her with a lecherous smile on his face.

„Yeah… so that’s the reason you’re all morose… but, hey, you weren’t with Elena?“

„Why would I?“

„I thought she fancied you.“

„Sure, she’s cute, but, no, I wasn’t with Elena. As far as I know she hasn’t even returned home.“

„You don’t know where she is?“

„Nope.“ He takes another swig.

„What about the stone circle? What did you do there?“

„The stone circle? I didn’t even go there. Stupid kids trying to drag me there…“ His voice trails off and he seems to look at something right next to Maeveen, who turns around and spots Bran, the village idiot, standing a short distance away, who seems to stare at Renan. Renan takes another long swig, but while he does so he can’t seem to take his eyes off of Bran.

Maeveen looks from Renan to Bran and back: „Something between the two of you?“

„He just gives me the creeps…“

„So Elena wanted you to come with her to the stone circle, but you said no? That doesn’t sound like you.“

„Well, when the girls tell me to go somewhere I usually follow… they tried to drag me there, but it was no fun. In fact, it was boring as hell… all they wanted to do was pick some flowers and put them on the stones…“

„So they wanted to pick some flowers and you left?“

„I told them I wanted to pick some other flowers…“, he lecherously winks at Maeveen again.

Maeveen sighs: „Ew… and then you left?“ Renan nods and she continues: „So you never actually went to the stone circle.“

„I went up, I went down…“ He looks at Bran again and then turns to Maeveen, pointing at the village idiot with his chin: „Can you chase that guy away, please?“

„He’s just looking at you…“

„Can’t he look at something else?“

„Go inside, so he can’t see you.“

„Good idea… mug is empty anyway…“

„Thanks, Renan, see you around.“ With that she walks off to go find the others. She hears Renan call after her: „Maybe you and me can go some up’n down, ey?“

„You’re disgusting…“

***


Nikolas goes locking for Finn, the potter’s son, and finds him in his father’s shop, located not too far away from the bakery at the edge of the village, where he’s working as an apprentice. Nikolas approaches him: „Good morning, Finn! That’s a nice piece of pottery you’re working on.“

„Good morning, doctor!“

Nikolas gives the bowl the boy is working on an appraising glance: „May I have a quick word with you?“ The boy looks at Farrell, his father, who grants him permission to take a quick break, and then leaves the shop and starts walking a little bit away from the pottery.

„Listen, Finn… your friend Elena, she ran away from home yesterday and she hasn’t returned so far. Now her father is all kinds of worried about her and… I don’t know, you’re a good friend of hers, so maybe you have an idea where she might be hiding.“

„I don’t know… I mean, why would she run off?“

„Well, I’m not sure either. I think she got into an argument with her father. She ran into the woods and later… we saw her, but she ran away. It’s just so crazy…“

Finn gives Nikolas a confused look: „Why would she run off?“

„Well, you see… Valbrand asked her about the stone circle in the woods.“

„Valbrand? Is that the Blade Knight?“

„Yes, that’s him. You see, personally I don’t make such a fuss about it… it’s just a circle of stones in the woods, I don’t know why people get so upset about it…“

„It’s an absolutely boring place“, the boy agrees.

„But there are some overly zealous people around and… they tend to make a fuss about these situations. Maybe she panicked… I can’t really tell… but she was out in the woods all night and that’s very dangerous…“

„Indeed, staying in the woods at night is probably not a good idea.“ By now they’re quite a bit away from the pottery. „But I have no clue where she might be hiding.“

„So you have no place in the forest where you and your friends meet?“

„No, not really. We tried building a tree house a few years ago, but it collapsed last summer.“

Nikolas has been watching the boy closely, but he thinks he’s probably being honest right now - he speaks openly and there’s no hesitation when he answers. He finally says: „Well, if you notice anything… just talk to me. I don’t want this to cause a big ruckus though, people might overreact…“

„Certainly, doctor, I will do that.“

„Alright, thank you.“ Nikolas leaves, mumbling: „That went great…“, while Finn returns to the pottery to continue working on the bowl.

***


The group meets again at the tavern. Valbrand has brought Samuel along with him and asks him to tell the others what he told Valbrand earlier. Samuel, after hesitating a little, complies: „I think I might know where Elena is hiding. There is a place in the forest where we’re hiding sometimes and… it is dry and fairly well protected from the weather, so you can spend a night there and…“, he looks directly at Maeveen, „I would prefer if that doesn’t make the rounds in the village.“ Marveen nods in response and the boy continues: „Okay, I’ll show you.“

He leads them into the forest, going straight to the North for maybe half an hour. They arrive at a tree that has toppled over, with a large bush growing out of the rootball. Samuel points at a tiny opening next to a large root that is almost unnoticeable but once pointed out fairly easy to recognize as a tunnel leading underneath the rootball. Valbrand looks at the opening and immediately realizes he won’t be able to fit through because of the armor he’s wearing.

„I can go in there and see if she’s hiding here“, Samuel offers.

„It would be appreciated“, the Blade Knight nods.

Nikolas inquires: „Is this the only exit?“

The boy just smiles and then quickly dives into the small opening, while a suspicious Saroc moves around the tree to keep an eye on the far side of the bush. They can all hear Samuel gently calling Elena’s name - but there’s no response. About a minute later he emerges from the opening again and shakes his head: „She’s not in there… but I think she was here. Someone slept on the bed of leaves that we made.“

„Where would she go then if she’s not going home“, Maeveen asks.

„Maybe she’s back home now“, Saroc suggests, while Samuel shrugs: „I honestly don’t know.“

Nikolas asks the boy if he can take a look as well and after being granted permission climbs into the hideout. He enters a simple hole in the ground, with a roof of leaves, dry and quite comfortable, and finds a bed of leaves that looks like someone slept in it, at least for a while, but not much else besides some earthen wares and a bottle of liquor, so he returns to the others. Saroc meanwhile starts looking for tracks. After just a few seconds he finds some tracks that look like they’ve been left by someone light-footed - and they look very similar to the ones he tracked yesterday when they were chasing Elena. He also spots a second set of footprints - a lot heavier, maybe left by an adult. He calls out to the others and points the tracks out to them. They decide to follow the tracks, while Samuel asks if he’s allowed to return to the village, which Valbrand permits. The Blade Knight then mumbles: „Interesting children they have here…“ He looks at Maeveen: „Are they all so… undisciplined here?“

„What do you mean?“

„Going off on dares, Demorthèn shrines… that kind of stuff.“

„Oh, Valbrand…“ Nikolas interjects, „you don’t have to be holier than thou!“

„I was just wondering… I mean, I was young as well, but….“

„When we were children, we did all kinds of stuff!“ Nikolas has a big smile on his face now.

„Yes, but I would never have dabbled with spirits or places that were that forbidden!“

Maeveen gives him a stern look: „I’m not sure they dabbled with spirits.“

„Right… let’s find her then.“

***


They follow the tracks for a short time when suddenly Saroc notices that the tracks seem to fork, with the light tracks leading further north while the heavier tracks turn back into the direction where the village lies. When this is pointed out to him, Valbrand mumbles: „Something tells me this is that older guy, Renan… but he is not our concern right now.“ Saroc suggests following the girl’s footprints, which the others agree to. He notices that Elena seems to have been running now. They walk for quite a while until they suddenly reach the top of a very steep rocky slope, which is probably at a 75 degree angle. It is not that high though, probably 4-5 meters. The tracks stop here… and at the bottom of the slope, a body lies face-down in a small creek that’s running along the foot of the slope.

Saroc is very worried when he sees the body and decides to slide down the slope, despite the steep angle. He manages to get to the bottom of the slope somehow, but when he lands he sprains his ankle and cries out in pain.

Valbrand calls out: „Saroc! Are you hurt?“

„No, no… I’m fine!“ The trader limps heavily down the stream to the body and pulls it out of the water as quickly as possible - it is Elena. There still is some warmth left in her, but her extremities already feel very cold. He yells at Nikolas: „Quick, get down here! What do I do?“ He looks at the others: „Get the doctor down here now!“

After witnessing what happened to Saroc, Nikolas ties a rope to a tree; this way he and others manage to climb down the slope almost without problems - Nikolas hurries so much though that the rope burns his hands slightly. He then rushes towards Elena and checks her vital signs - there still is a pulse, but it is very weak. „She’s still alive, but on the brink of death!“

„Then do something!“ Maeveen yells at Nikolas.

Nikolas does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and also tries to get the water she has got in her lungs out. After a little while she starts coughing and some water trickles out of her mouth. Her breathing becomes deeper and more regular - but she does not wake up. Valbrand takes off his cloak and wraps it around her, but Nikolas doesn’t think this is enough: „We need to get her to a warm place, her body is cold already! Saroc, can you build a fire?“

The trader nods and suggests: „We need to get her up on top of the slope and…“

Maeveen interrupts him: „Stop, stop! What happened to her? Did someone do this to her?“

„Such questions are for later, Maeveen!“ Valbrand gives her an annoyed look. „If we can save her life that is now the top priority.“

Maeveen moves a bit away and examines her surroundings. She notices there are no signs of a struggle at the place where they found Elena, but finds a set of footprints leading to the creek and away from it again - and these don’t look like Elena’s footprints, but instead are much heavier footprints. Looking at the surface of the slope she also notices there are no slide marks besides the ones Saroc left, when he slid down the slope, which makes her think that Elena was probably pushed down the slope.

Saroc goes searching for firewood while Valbrand and Nikolas slowly carry Elena away from the creek and up the slope. Once they’ve put her down again, Nikolas starts preparing a fortifying tea for Elena while also checking her body for injuries. The only injury he can find is a nasty bruise on the back of her head - he thinks she must’ve hit her head on a rock. Examining it more closely he realizes this wound looks more like something hit her on the head. He shares this information with the others and asks Saroc: „Were there any other tracks besides Elena’s around here?“

„I saw some“, Maeveen quietly replies. „Over there.“ She points Saroc in the direction of the footprints she found earlier, who limps over and takes a closer look at the footprints at the creek. He instantly recognizes the footprints as the same ones he saw earlier - the ones accompanying Elena’s footprints and then turning back towards the village. The footprints leading to the creek are also much deeper than the ones leading away from the creek, which makes him think that maybe something was carried to the creek and dropped there - and the actual struggle took place somewhere else. He returns to the top of the slope again to examine the tracks Elena left and notices something he missed earlier, maybe because he was so much focused on the body they had found: Elena’s tracks don’t end at the top of the slope - they turn right and follow the edge of the slope. He follows these tracks, hoping to find the place where the scuffle actually happened. About thirty meters away from the turn Elena took he suddenly spots the heavy footprints again, that join Elena’s footprints, which stop at this point. He examines the surrounding area and realizes that Elena must’ve tried to climb down the slope here - the distance to the bottom of the slope is only three meters at this point and there are a few broken branches and slidemarks visible on the side of the slope. The heavier footprints walk straight to the spot where Elena climbed down the slope and then continue to the right, where the slope gradually ends - and they are much deeper once they go to the right.

Saroc searches the area some more and gets incredibly lucky - he finds a small rock, maybe the size of his fist, with a rather sharp edge which shows not only blood spatters but also hair glued to the stone by to the blood. He picks it up with a pouch so as to not disturb the hair. He then returns to the others and tells them about what he found.

Valbrand is currently trying to rub Elena warm with the cloak and has placed her as close to the fire as possible. He looks at Nikolas: „Do you think she will live?“

Nikolas checks Elena’s vital signs again, but isn’t sure. From what he can tell, she was hit on the head with a rock and then deliberately placed with her head in the water, so she would drown. He also thinks that she must’ve spent some time lying in that creek already, but managed to somehow keep at least part of her nostrils above the surface - her chance of survival is probably less than 50 percent. He looks at Valbrand: „It’s a miracle she survived at all.“

Valbrand nods and turns to Saroc: „I want you to make a sketch and take the size of the boot we found. I want you to get every shred of evidence you can find.“

„I found this“, the trader replies and shows him the rock he picked up. „Look, it’s got hair and blood on it. I found it where the scuffle took place further down there.“

„So someone hit her with a stone…“

„Do you think she saw who did it“, Maeveen inquires.

„It doesn’t look like it“, Saric replies. „It looks like she was actually trying to climb down one of the less steep banks and whoever did it snuck up behind her and hit her on the head. Difficult to tell for sure though.“

Valbrand turns to his childhood friend: „Nikolas, if we take her back to the village, will that increase or decrease her chances?“

„Well, increase it, I think. She needs to be put in bed.“

Valbrand nods; he then cuts down two small trees with his sword and builds a makeshift stretcher out of them and his coat. Nikolas uses some of the smaller branches cut away from the trees to create shins for Saroc. They then slowly travel back to Niddrie.
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