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Subject: Gwidrite Heresies - Session Five rss

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Kai S.
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Drama Llama Roleplaying Society
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Participating Players
Game Leader – Kai
Maeveen – Sara
Morwenna - Jonna
Nikolas – Fred
Valbrand – Bavo

List of previous sessions

***

The group arrives at the bakery around noon. „What is that pond Bran was talking about“, Nikolas wonders.

„The man’s a madman. Ignore his tidings, they bring us no further“, Valbrand snarls.

Morwenna disagrees: „He’s not mad, he’s just a little different. He’s a good man. But ‚eyes on the hill‘? What is that supposed to mean?“

„A broken clock is right twice a day!“ Valbrand stares at her intently. „I’m fairly certain he has said other things that have no relationship to reality.“

„Maybe… but what if he was right this time?“

At this moment Tristan, the baker, steps out of his bakery and looks at the group: „You’re talking about Bran?“ They nod and he continues: „Thought so.“

Valbrand doesn’t waste any time and gets right to the point: „You are Tristan, father of Feyre, aren’t you?“

„That I am, Sir Knight. How may I be of assistance?“

„Renan told us that he was in the company of your daughter two nights ago and you saw him leave, is that correct?“

The baker frowns: „Yes, that is true. I saw him arrive shortly after Estellines, the evening mass.“

„Do you know when he left?“

„He and Feyre spend some time out in the backyard. I think she came inside at around midnight.“

„Do they meet often?“

„Yes, much to my chagrin. But she is almost an adult, so I don’t think I have the right to tell her who to spend her time with.“

Nikolas speaks up: „But what were they doing outside? Isn’t a conversation with Feyre a little bit… difficult right now? She can’t speak, can she?“

„Yes.“ The bake nods and then suddenly seems to remember something. „Now that you mention that… there was one thing that was odd… because I heard two voices in the backyard. One was easily recognizable as Renan… the other one I didn’t know.“

„Male or female“, Valbrand inquires.

„A man…

„A man you do not know.“ When Tristan nods, Valbrand continues: „You’re the baker, you know any man in this village?“

„Yes, I would say so.“

„And you did not recognize this voice?“

„Indeed, I didn’t recognize it.“

Morwenna jumps in: „Do you know most of the voices of the people who live in the village?“

„I have been living in this village for more than forty summers, I think I can recognize any villager by his voice.“

Valbrand takes over again: „Did you have any chance of hearing the tone of this conversation? The contents or the way they spoke to one another?“

Tristan seems to think about this for a few seconds and both Valbrand and Maeveen notice that the baker seems to have trouble concentrating, with Valbrand also noticing that the eyes of the man seem to suddenly glaze over. Every time Tristan open this mouth to speak they glaze over again and he stops as if he suddenly lost his train of thought. „There was… mhm… there… no, there… hm… was… no, I don’t think I remember.“

Valbrand looks at the man: „Excuse me, can you look at me and focus very hard and try to remember again?“ Tristan complies and Valbrand takes a good look at the eyes of the baker, who again tries to recall that night: „They… they were talking about…“ At exactly this point his eyes glaze over again and get almost milky.

„The Lord preserve us!“ Valbrand instinctively takes a step back.

„Is there something wrong, Valbrand?“ Nikolas gives him a curious look.

The Blade Knight is deathly quiet and doesn’t respond, but everyone heard him call down the Lord’s blessing. He then takes a deep breath and says: „Yes!“

„Tristan, how are you feeling“, Maeveen inquires.

„I’m fine… just a bit tired…“ The man yawns heavily.

Valbrand nods: „Thank you, Tristan. That would be all.“

„Oh, you’re welcome.“ Once the group stops asking him questions, he seems to recover quickly. „Glad I could be of service.“

„Make sure to visit the prayer tomorrow morning and tonight!“

The baker nods and Valbrand just marches away, until he is stopped by Morwenna: „Hey, where are you going? Weren’t we supposed to talk to Feyre?“

„Ah, yes… first that!“ The young knight seems a bit embarrassed.

„Valbrand, what is going on?“

„Let’s continue our mission, I will inform you later!“

***


They head onto the backyard where they find Feyre tending to some bread dough. Valbrand steps up to her: „Feyre! Was Renan here two nights ago?“ The girl nods and Valbrand continues: „Did he stay until midnight or longer?“ The girl nods when Valbrand says ‚midnight’ and shrugs when he asks if Renan stayed longer. „Were the two of you alone?“ She gives Valbrand a quizzical look, who stares back at her and repeats the question, to which she nods. Valbrand looks for the same milky or glazed over look in her eyes, but can’t see it. He and both Maeeven and Morwenna notice that something is odd about her eyes though - it feels as if she knows far more than she should in more than one way about this whole mess, but without any sign of guilt in her eyes. To Nikolas it feels as if someone else is looking at him - her eyes show knowledge and understanding beyond her years, as if a completely different person is living inside the girl’s mind.

Valbrand stares at the girl: „You will come with me!“

Morwenna intervenes: „Hang on for a moment, Valbrand! Let’s talk a little bit more!“ She turns to Feyre: „I think we all know that you know far more than you’re telling us.“ The girl looks surprised. „We’re talking about the life of your friend and she’s not completely in the clear yet, so this is really important. Anything you might remember might help us, any minor detail!“ Feyre nods and points at her mouth, signaling that she’s mute.

Valbrand asks: „You were here with Renan. When he left, did he tell you where he would go?“ Feyre shakes her head. „Was he an enemy of Elena? Do you believe he would have intended to murder her?“ She shakes her head again twice, thinking about her answer to the second question for a short time.

„You paused! Why? Was there tension among the two?“ Feyre shakes her head again. „Did Renan think that way?“ She shrugs, indicating that she doesn’t know, and all of them think that she is telling them the truth right now.

Morwenna asks: „Do you know anybody who might wish ill for Elena?“ Feyre thinks about this question for several seconds and then shakes her head. „So, you’re sure there was nobody else with you and Renan?“ The girl nods enthusiastically. „Not even anywhere near you?“ This time she shrugs.

Maeveen takes over now: „Feyre, would anyone except your gang of friends know about your hideout in the forest?“ The girl gives her a look that says ‚probably not‘.

„I’ve heard enough! Question her, if you wish!“ Valbrand stalks off and goes straight to the chapel, while Feyre waves goodbye with a big smile on her face. She then points at several wooden blocks sitting in the backyard, indicating that they should have a seat. They all sit down, as does Feyre, who sits very straight like an attentive student.

Morwenna looks at the mute: „You know, I’m trying to figure out what to ask you… this is kind of difficult for me. I mean… I’m talkative, you know me…“ Feyre nods at that. „All we want to do is figure out what happened to your friend. I bet that’s what you want as well, right? You wanna know what happened.“ The girl nods. „I don’t understand why anyone would do that. She’s such a nice girl, why would anybody hurt her…?“ Feyre smirks when Morwenna says that Elena is a nice girl, indicating that she might not quite agree with her. „Well, at least she’s not evil enough to deserve this, right?“ Feyre nods and Morwenna mumbles: „Yes, I thought so… no one would wish something like that down on her.“ The girl nods again, but all three remaining members of the group notice that she hesitated for a fraction of a second before nodding. Morwenna looks at Feyre for a long while and finally says: „So there is someone who wishes harm on her…“ She then watches the girl again to see how she reacts, but Feyre only shrugs and makes a gesture indicating ‚maybe‘.

Maeveen asks: „Were you there when Bran gave his boots to Renan?“ Feyre shakes her head, and does so again when Morwenna asks: „Do you know why Bran did that?“ Both women notice that Feyre seems to be getting afraid when they mention Bran though. „Do you know why Renan would accept a gift from Bran?“ Feyre shakes her head and signals that Bran is an idiot, to which Morwenna nods: „That’s why I was wondering why he would accept that gift.“ Feyre signals that she wants Bran to stay as far away from her as possible.

„Is Renan afraid of Bran“, Maeveen asks. Feyre points at her herself and again signals that Bran should stay as far away from her as possible. Nikolas suggests: „None of you wants to have to deal with him?“ Feyre nods and then signals that she’s afraid of Bran. „He’s harmless“, Morwenna says, but Feyre shakes her head. „Have you ever seen him do anything bad?“ The girl nods and Morwenna continues: „Oh, really? Now I really wish you could talk and tell me what it is! Err… I mean, sorry, I’m bad at this…“ She blushes a bit, while Nikolas asks: „Is it just that he did something weird?“ Feyre shakes her head and Maeveen asks: „Would he able to kill someone?“ The mute girl nods and Morwenna inquires: „Have you seen him hurt somebody?“ The girl nods. „A human being?“ She shakes her head this time and points at a few rabbits that are running around at the edge of the forest. „He hurt a rabbit?“ Feyre nods again and shows Morwenna five fingers. „Five rabbits?“ She nods again. „Did he catch them for food? Did he eat them or did he just hurt them?“ Feyre picks up a rock that’s lying on the ground and makes a smashing movement. „And then he just left the rabbits?“ The mute girl nods. „Oh, Bran…!“ Morwenna sighs: „I’m sorry you had to see that…“ Feyre makes a sad face and nods, while Morwenna mumbles: „Rabbits are cute…“ Maeveen sighs: „Morwenna! Focus!“ The herbalist looks up: „Okay… but they are cute!“

They get ready to leave, but then Morwenna suddenly says: „One more thing… does an expression ‚eyes on the hill‘ mean anything to you?“ Feyre thinks about this for a few seconds and then shakes her head. „Can we talk to you again, if we need to ask you anything else later?“ The girl nods. „And if you remember anything just… send a word to one of us. We will try and figure out how to communicate. We will try our very best to find out what happened to your friend. I hope she will make it.“ Feyre nods and returns to tending the bread dough as the three investigators leave.

***


Valbrand meanwhile is storming towards the chapel. He enters the building looking for Callum and finds him kneeling in front of the altar, swaying slightly. Valbrand approaches him and immediately smells alcohol on the old priest’s breath. „You have been drinking!“

„I have not…“

„Lie to yourself but not to me, Brother Callum! Tell me, can you perform an exorcism?“

The old priest stands up on shaky legs: „Who do you think you are, accusing me of lying?“

Valbrand straightens himself: „I am the Lord’s blade!“

„And I am the Lord’s voice!“

„Slurred with a beverage that’s forbidden to us!“ When Valbrand finishes the sentence Callum immediately smacks him in the face. The young knight just smirks: „Reign in your passions, Callum! We are supposed to be calm.“

„Get out of my chapel!“

„I see…“

„…and find yourself new lodgings as well! You are no longer welcome here, Redcoat!“

„It is fitting that the church sent me then! We are going to need a Sigire!“ Then Valbrand leaves the chapel to look for Brother Yorum, whom he finds working the small vegetable garden of the parsonage, which is located right next to the chapel. „Brother Yorum!“

„Brother Valbrand, what a pleasure to see you.“

„Does Brother Callum drink often?“

The young priest hesitates: „It is not for me to judge him.“

„It is now. We have issues of faith.“

„Of course we do.“

„I have reason to suspect that we’re dealing with witchery in this village.“

„Witchery?“

„Yes. I questioned Feyre’s father Tristan concerning the attempted murder of two days ago. He was to confirm or deny Renan’s alibi. He remembered something, but upon further questioning he could not… seem to focus upon the questions I was asking him. He could not seem to remember who his daughter and Renan spoke to in the garden, although he remembered a male unknown voice. Whenever I asked him to think of it, his eyes turned milky white. This is not normal behavior!“

„I agree with you.“

„I asked him the question three times and three times the milky film came over his eyes! He became more and more fatigued and seemed to recover only when let loose of the question!“

„I see…“

„This is problematic! I have reason to suspect that there’s more going on than what we know. And Brother Callum’s indiscretion comes at the wrong time. We will need to send for a Sigire!“

The young priest shakes his head: „I don’t think we should do that just yet. Bringing a Sigire into this whole affair will create too much upheaval. We will investigate this ourselves and then we will decide what needs to be done.“

„Brother Yorum, with all due respect, I’m a sword, I’m not an investigator.“

„You are now.“

„I know the limitations of my competency. I’m a fighter, not a searcher!“

„I think you have surrounded yourself already with capable people who are able to assist you in your investigation.“

„Are they trustworthy though? If evil has already seeped in, can we be certain they are pure?“

„Do you trust them?“

„I trust no one at this moment! Callum has shown weakness and I see potential witchcraft around me! The time of trust is over!“

Yorum shakes his head: „Continue with your investigation. I will take care of the rest.“

„Very well… I will follow your advice in this matter. Walk with God, for we will need him.“ Valbrand walks off and heads to Nikolas’ practice, where he takes up guard.

***


Maeveen, Morwenna and Nikolas leave the bakery. Morwenna mumbles: „Bunnies are so cute, why would Bran do such a thing? I mean, he’s different, but… I don’t think he’s usually harming anything.“

Maeveen shakes her head: „I don’t think you’re different in a good way when you’re smashing in rabbits’ heads for fun.“

„Well, he’s gotta have a good reasons for that, though. Well, from his perspective at least… maybe he saw something that wasn’t actually there.“

„Bran isn’t my concern right now“, Nikolas replies. „It’s really odd… did you notice something strange about Feyre? It was something about her eyes, as if…“

„Well, it just looked like she was not telling us everything“, Morwenna shrugs. „She knows more than…“

„Yes, but that’s not all… I also noticed something else… it looked like she’s far older and more experienced than her appearance suggests. The way she reflects on the things we told her…“

Maeveen interrupts him: „What are you trying to say, Nikolas? Are you claiming that she’s possessed?“

Morwenna suddenly looks concerned: „No! You’re not, are you?“ Nikolas remains silent and she asks: „Are you? ARE YOU?!“

Finally the doctor speaks up: „I’m not sure… I haven’t dealt with possession so far…“

„Before we go on with this discussion: nobody mentions this to Valbrand!“ Morwenna gives the others a stern look. „He’s gonna flip!“

„If she truly is possessed“, Maeveen looks at her companions, „something needs to be done! What about her soul?“

„What do you mean?“ Nikolas seems curious.

„If you’re possessed by a demon, what happens to your soul? What if she’s corrupted?“

Morwenna shrugs: „Well, she didn’t look corrupted, did she?“

„Well, there’s something strange going on here, and I fear that… there was something odd with Tristan as well… he seems unfocused as if he couldn’t pay attention and now you claim that she’s possessed and…“, Maeveen sighs. „I mean this is all… pointing in a direction I don’t want to go in. We can’t have witchcraft and demons here!“

„I completely agree with that“, Morwenna nods.

„But the evidence seems to suggest that there’s something awfully wrong.“

„Yeah… but a witch hunt is overreacting and excessive and…“

„Are you sure?“

„Yes, I am!“ Morwenna calls out.

„But with if there are witches and demons here?“ Maeveen is still not convinced.

„I don’t think there are.“

Nikolas agrees: „Yes, so far experience has taught me that there’s no such thing as witches and demons. Things that happen with people usually have different causes. But if we really have witches and demons around, then this is something the church should take care of.“

„Oh no, let’s not do that!“ Morwenna suddenly gets very concerned. „They would start a full witch hunt immediately without even thinking about whether there’s a need for that. They will just do it.“

„Morwenna… Valbrand’s involved…“, Maveen points out. „The church is already involved.“

„Maybe he didn’t realize what happened… maybe he didn’t see the… why did he rush off like that?“

„Well… why do you think he rushed off?“

„Oh, for crying out loud! The only thing this means is someone innocent is going to pay with their life for something somebody else did! This is what’s going to happen if we have a witch hunt!“

„And what are we supposed to do about it?“ Nikolas is getting worried as well. „A blacksmith, a herbalist and a doctor?“

„I don’t think we can do anything about it.“ Morwenna shrugs. „Valbrand is very stubborn and opinionated. He’s not going to listen.“

„But that’s exactly what I’m going to do: I’m going to talk to Valbrand.“ Nikolas marches off in search of the Blade Knight.

***


Valbrand has taken seat behind the door to Nikolas’ practice, to prevent anyone from immediately seeing him when they enter the room. Nikolas doesn’t go to his practice though, instead he enters the chapel, reasoning that Valbrand will probably be there. He finds Brother Callum sitting on one of the pews and shaking his head over and over again. Nikolas approaches him: „Brother Callum! What happened? I’m looking for Valbrand, have you seen him?“ Nikolas immediately notices the smell of alcohol on the old priest’s breath.

Callum doesn’t seem to hear him though: „I knew it… I knew we never should’ve let one of those pesky Blade Knights into our village…“

„Hm, it seems something went sour between you and Sir Valbrand…“

„Don’t mention that guy…“

„Do you at least know where he went?“

„I guess he was looking for Yorum. You might wanna check the backyard.“

„Are you sure you’re alright?“

„I’m fine! Leave me alone“, Callum yells.

„Fine. I guess I see you at the evening mass then.“ Nikolas turns around and leaves.

Callum yells after him: „Yeah, would be nice seeing you for once!“

Nikolas stops for a second, but then only adjusts his hat and leaves for the vegetable garden. Brother Yorum is still working the small vegetable field, but by now has gotten all the potatoes out of the earth and is collecting them in a basket. Nikolas approaches him: „Brother Yorum, may I interrupt your work for a second?“

„Of course!“ The young priest stretches and wipes the sweat of his brow.

„Looks like a busy day of labour?“

„No, I wouldn’t say so. Soustraine taught us not to complain about the work we do to feed ourselves and others.“

„That much is true. I just met Brother Callum at the chapel… he looks really messed up. But I was even more surprised to learn something has happened between him and Valbrand.“

„I think they got into an argument.“

„Well… do you know where Valbrand went? I’m looking for him.“

„He left…“, the priest looks at the position of the sun in the sky, „not that long ago.“

Nikolas mumbles to himself: „Missed him by only a few minutes, damn.“ He turns to the priest: „Thanks and sorry for interrupting you. I’ll have to search for him then.“

„Don’t worry, you never interrupt me and I’m glad I could be of assistance, no matter how small it might have been. May the Lord be with thee.“

„And with you.“ Nikolas leaves the vegetable garden and continues his search for Valbrand.

***


While Nikolas is talking to the two priests, Maeveen decides to have a talk with Renan again, who is still kept in the penitent’s cell, which means she follows Nikolas to the chapel. She arrives shortly after he left for the vegetable garden and walks straight to the cell. Renan is sitting on the ground and spitting against the wall - he must’ve done that for quite some time already since a small puddle of spit is visible at the bottom of the wall. „Charming…“, Maeveen remarks.

„Did you come hear just to tell me that?“

„No… we talked to Tristan and Feyre.“

„So?“

„Something strange is going on. You talked to someone else that night? The night you spent at Feyre’s? The night Elena ran off?“

Renan starts looking uncomfortable: „Who should I have been talking to? I was alone with Feyre!“

„A man? Not from this village?“

„I have no clue what you’re talking about!“ He gives her a forced smirk.

Maeveen immediately gets the impression that Renan is lying to her: „Why are you pretending that you didn’t talk to someone? Are you trying to protect someone?“

Renan gives of a nervous laugh: „Hehe… protect someone?“ He starts laughing even more.

„So you’re trying to protect yourself.“

„That’s more like it!“

„Did you do something to Tristan?“

Renan laughs again, this time sounding very bemused: „Me? Do something to Tristan? Oh, no, no, no! I didn’t do anything to Tristan!“

„Then why are you so nervous? You weren’t this nervous when Valbrand threatened to crush you for trying to murder Elena.“

„I didn’t murder anyone.“

„Then who did you talk to?“

„No one. There was no one there!“ He wipes the sweat of his brow and laughs nervously again.

„What are you afraid of?“

„I’m not afraid of anything!“

„I don’t believe you.“

„Well, I guess… that’s bad?“ Renan is now clearly mocking Maeveen.

„What’s wrong with Feyre? Except that she doesn’t talk.“

„There’s nothing wrong with Feyre!“

„Do you agree that… err, you wanted to claim that Bran tried to kill Elena.“

„I didn’t claim that Bran tried to kill Elena… but I think he did!“

„You’re claiming that he tried to kill Elena! Why?“

Renan starts laughing again: „He’s the only one who could’ve done it!“

„Why?“

„Because he’s mad?“

„Did he know about your hideout?“

„He might have followed us there! He’s a sneaky bastard!“

„Why are you all so afraid of him?“

The drunkard obviously feels really uncomfortable by now and forces a laugh: „Because he’s crazy!“

„What did he do?“

„I’ve seen him break a deer’s legs…“, he pauses for a few moments and then quietly asks: „Have you ever heard a deer scream?“

„No…“

„Trust me, you don’t wanna!“

„Did he threaten you?“ When Renan slowly nods, Maeveen asks: „Why did you accept his boots?“

„You know, when he’s standing right in front of you and tells you that you have to take them… then you take them!“

„Did he tell you to wear them?“

„Well, he got mine… and I only own one pair of boots… so if he takes my boots and I own only that one pair… then I wear his boots…“

„Okay…“

„He’s dangerous!“

„So you say…“

„He is!“

„Well… let me know if you want to talk about what happened that night you were at Feyre’s.“

Renan doesn’t respond, instead he just sits on the floor, staring into nothingness and gnawing on his fingers. Maeveen watches him for a few moments and then turns to leave.

***


As Maveen leaves the chapel she meets Nikolas who is coming back from the vegetable garden behind the parsonage. „Ey, Maeveen! Say, did you come across Valbrand? He wasn’t at the church anymore… but there was a quite disturbing scene there, with Callum reeking of alcohol and seemingly having gotten into an argument with Valbrand. It seems they had a fight!“

„I don’t know where he is.“

„Well, then I think I’ll check how Elena’s doing.“

„You do that… I think I need to talk to Callum…“

„You want to visit Callum? Good luck with that, he was really angry. I don’t think he’s the right person to have a conversation with at the moment.“

„Well I don’t care, he needs to shape up. He’s so blind that he doesn’t realize this village needs him! Someone has to wake him up.“

„So you think we’re dealing with a possession here?“

„Something is off. Renan knows what it is, but he won’t talk. Bran is involved somehow, unless Feyre and Renan made it all up, just to cast their blame on him… but they both seem afraid of him. So… yes, maybe.“

„Okay, then let’s say we’ll meet later at my place.“

„Sounds good.“

„Best of luck then. I hope you get more out of the old man than I did.“

„I don’t think so…“ Maeveen bids him goodbye for now and walks back to the chapel.

***


Nikolas arrives at his practice and immediately spots Valbrand quietly sitting in the corner of the room, his sword on his lap. „Valbrand, there you are! I’ve been looking for you!“

„I do not think we should leave this one alone for now.“ The Blade Knight points at the still comatose Elena. „She is our only witness.“

„I was about to check on her.“ Nikolas walks over to Elena and examines her - she seems to be in a stable condition now, but is still unconscious. He turns to Valbrand: „It looks like she’s stable now.“

„Do you think she will wake up? Will she be able to talk at some point?“

„The hit on her head probably caused serious damage… it’s still swollen. I’ve seen similar patients and there’s a chance that she might not be right in the head when she finally regains consciousness.“

„Do what you can for her. I need her testimony.“

„Of course. By the way, why did you leave the bakery all of a sudden? What was it you saw?“

„Did you see his eyes, when I talked to him?“

„Him?! I saw Feyre’s eyes and something was definitely wrong with her! It looked like she’s far older and more experienced than her appearance suggests.“

„And she doesn’t talk, does she? You did examine her when she lost her voice? Can she talk? Is her voice in order, Nikolas?“

„Physically there’s nothing wrong with her.“

„So there’s nothing wrong with her, but she won’t talk. This is interesting. Tell me, Nikolas, how well have you kept up with your theology ever since you left the abbey?“

„Valbrand… we’ve known each other since we were little kids. Why would you ask me such a question?“

„Because I need to know who I can trust at this point! I’m considering requesting a Sigire to investigate this matter further, but I’ve been advised I should not, so I need other people to assist me in my investigation.“

„Ah, I guess that’s the reason why you had an argument with Brother Callum?“

„No, I had an argument with Callum because he violates his strictures. The old doddering fool is drinking and it is forbidden to us to drink! Soustraine has forbidden it.“

„Yes, I’ve noticed that as well… but in a remote place like this…“

Valbrand interrupts him: „In a remote place like this is exactly where weakness takes hold and where corruption sets in! I have reason to suspect possession! I have reason to suspect that the old ways are returning to this village in force! And if we don’t root it out - branch, body and root, then I’m afraid I have to call in the Holy Inquisition!“

Nikolas tries to calm the Blade Knight down: „Okay, Valbrand… I understand that something really strange is going on in this village and… I’m totally with you there and you trust me… what interest would I have in corrupting anyone in this village? But if you’re going to call in the inquisition…“

„Then there will be fire…“

„You might get more than you asked for!“

„Don’t you think I know that? The inquisition is like a hammer, it performs its function admirably, but it does not tend to be subtle.“

„Yes! And the inquisition views everything as a nail!“

„Has Soustraine not said ‚God will know his own‘?“ Valbrand says this with a very ironic tone. „I am aware. But I’m also aware… you said she looked different… she seemed older… like there was someone behind her eyes?“

„Yes, something like that.“

„Someone using her as a mask? As a puppet? Nikolas, you do know what you’re telling me, right? She cannot speak, she will not speak! Perhaps because her voice is no longer her own?! Her father heard a man speaking, but there was no man there! It would be weird for a man to live around a small village with active hunters, scouring the surroundings daily, and not be spotted!“

„Yes… and the mere fact that he wasn’t able to recall the incident, even when asked three times… that was really weird…“

„Yes, indeed. Not just that he didn’t know… he phased out when I asked him. Nikolas, do me a favor: find the three others involved in this. I need help of people with different skills than mine! I’ll keep watch over this one.“

Nikolas nods and prepares to leave. Then both he and Valbrand suddenly notice movement on the village square - Maraizh is very angrily talking to Saroc, even yelling at the trader, who suddenly starts running towards his horse and then quickly rides away. Valbrand gets up and walks to the door: „What was that all about?“

Maraizh looks at Valbrand and shrugs: „None of your business. I have reason to suspect that he sold me improper goods and when I confronted him about it, he ran away.“

„I will have need of another hunter then!“ Valbrand storms off and returns to the practice.

***


Maeveen returns to the chapel and walks up to Brother Callum, who is kneeling in front of the altar again and praying. She kneels down next to him and joins in his prayer - which is a prayer asking the Lord for strength to overcome temptation and obstacles. After several minutes he finally finishes his prayer and looks at the blacksmith: „Maeveen, my child.“

Maeveen, just like Valbrand and Nikolas before her, notices the alcohol on his breath and the slurred speech With a sad voice she asks: „What are you doing?“

„I am an old man. I’ve lived my life according to the Lord’s laws and strictures…“

„Then why stop now?“

„I have grown tired of it. I’ve seen almost seventy summers. I have upheld every stricture the Lord has imposed on me. I’ve prayed daily… I’ve held every mass. But it seems the Lord doesn’t listen to me… why else would he bring this punishment down on our village? So if the Lord doesn’t listen… why should I?“

„Perhaps it is but a challenge?“

„I have seen so many things that I have explained to myself as a challenge put before me by the Lord… I’ve grown tired of the challenges the Lord imposes on me!“

„Then stop being selfish about it! Step away! Do you see what you’re doing? How much you’re hurting the village?“

„What am I doing?“

„You are making a complete fool of yourself, you are neglecting your position, and neglecting the village! You have Yorum. If you don’t want to anymore, step down!“

„I can’t let him take over yet! He’s a fool! He’s a zealot! Just like Valbrand!“

„You’re a fool if you continue like this!“

„And I would be an even bigger fool, if I let them run free in the village now! Do you have any idea what Yorum would do?“

„No, I don’t.“

„Just look at Valbrand. Coming to me, talking about sorcery and witchery… he’s a fool, there’s no such thing as sorcery or witches!“

„Okay… then you are a fool for not guiding them better, or neglecting to do your duty. Because when you die - and you’re certainly making sure that’s going to happen soon - we’re left with them. And if you haven’t taught them better…“

„I will die anyway.“

„We all must…“ Maeveen waits for a few seconds. „Now…get a grip on yourself.“ She stands up and gets ready to leave. At the door she stops and looks back at the old priest - he’s still still kneeling at the altar, frozen in place. She turns around and walks out, the last thing she hears being a suppressed sob coming from the altar…

***


Morwenna meanwhile has returned to her hut, where she prepares a tea to induce lucid dreaming. After drinking a cup she falls asleep rather quickly - her vision narrows to a tunnel… until she realizes that she is in fact falling into a hole in the ground, the opening moving further and further away from her. She is tumbling down, hitting the walls left and right, hitting her head on rocks sticking out from the walls… and it goes deeper and deeper… and just as she thinks it will never end, she splashes into a pool of water. Looking around she realizes she seems to be at the bottom of a well, a single beam of moonlight shining down into the shaft and being reflected off the water at the bottom. She decides to dive to the bottom of the well. She goes deeper and deeper until she sees something right in front of her - it looks like a skull, grinning at her… and then its eyes start gleaming. Morwenna is slightly creeped out by this, but she tries to pick it up nonetheless, when suddenly a skeletal hand reaches out to her from the murky water.

Morwenna closes her eyes, but the gleaming eyes of the skull are somehow still visible even through her closed eyelids - and they seem to burn brighter and brighter… Morwenna ignores the gleaming eyes and again reaches for the skull and this time she manages to actually grab it - but then it suddenly feels like her hands are no longer her own, instead they seem to be controlled by someone else. And then they pull the skull closer and closer to her face… and it’s getting bigger and bigger. She also suddenly notices that she’s running out of air, so she tries to resurface, but for some reason the water now seems much deeper than before - she swims upwards but can’t seem to reach the surface, while the skull is now very close to her face - and then it opens its mouth and starts snapping for her nose! Suddenly a very deep male voice starts laughing, the laughter ringing in her ears - but it’s not a happy laughter, instead it sounds triumphant. Morwenna reasons that this is all a dream, so she lets go of the skull, turns her back on it and tries to ignore it, to make the dream go somewhere else… but when she swims upwards again, she feels the skull penetrating the back of her own skull, pushing itself into her head… and the laughter gets louder and louder…

***


Nikolas is on his way to Morwenna’s hut, deep in the forest. Along the road he notices a few very pretty flowers, which he picks, hoping that they’re some kind of ‚medicinal herbs‘. When he arrives at the hut, he hears someone gasping inside and a male voice laughing. Worried by the sounds he drops the flowers immediately and rushes to the door, which Morwenna forgot to lock. He enters the single round-shaped room that comprises the hut and notices a weird round bed to the left and a table in the middle on which lots of different herbs are lying, some in a mortar, others simply scattered all over the table. A few cupboards line the walls, stuffed with clothing and other personal belongings, while a small fireplace indicates where the kitchen area is. The whole hut is very simple, with herbs being everywhere, also perfuming the air inside with a heavy rich fragrance.

Nikolas looks for something to fight off any possible intruder that might be attacking Morwenna, but only finds a broom. He then notices no one’s inside the hut besides Morwenna, especially not a male person Morwenna might be having sex with, and relaxes slightly. Confused he looks around and spots Morwenna lying on her bed and obviously asleep - and she makes movements as if she was swimming. She is also the one gasping… gasping for air, that is, as if she was drowning, while the laughing male voice seems to come out of her mouth as well. Nikolas rushes to her side and calls out: „Morwenna! Wake up! Morwenna, please, wake up! Are you alright?“ At first he’s not sure if he should touch her, but then shakes her slightly. She doesn’t wake up though. Nikolas notices there’s an empty cup on the table - he smells at the cup to identify what she might have consumed. He can’t identify the smell though, but realizes that he might be able to wake her up by pouring water over her head. Nikolas is at first a bit hesitant to do this, because Morwenna seems be stuck in a nightmare in which she is drowning. After giving this quite a bit of thought, he gets some water from the water barrel outside Morwenna’s hut and carefully splashes some water on her face. This does the trick and Morwenna wakes up screaming, since there’s now actual water on her face and in her mouth. She very quickly sits up and looks around in panic. Nikolas tries to calm her down: “Morwenna, everything’s alright! It’s me, Nikolas! You had a nightmare!” Without thinking about it he then gives her a hug, which she does not resist against. Instead she touches the back of her head, making sure there’s no skull biting in her scalp or anything. Nikolas gives her a concerned look: “What happened to you? You were speaking with a strange voice… I thought there was someone else with you in your hut!”

Morwenna looks very worried: “You heard that?”

“Yes, it sounded like a male voice, laughing maniacally. It was horrifying!”

“”Interesting! Did I actually say any words?” Morwenna touches the back of her head again.

“No, it was simply laughing. By the way, is there something wrong with the back of your head?”

“No, I just… well, the nightmare was really bad.”

“When I arrived it sounded like you were drowning… gasping for air… and it looked like you were trying to swim.”

“Yeah… well, actually in the dream I was drowning, so thank you! It was not a pleasant dream.”

“I’m sorry about the mess I made when I tried to wake you…”, Nikolas points at the water stains on the bed.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter… I’m just glad I got out of this nightmare.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m okay…”

“Good…”, Nikolas looks around. “If you don’t mind, I could use a tea…”

“Yeah, me too.” Morwenna gives him instructions as to where to find the kettle and some cups. Then she suddenly laughs: “At least you already know where to find the water, apparently!”

Nikolas laughs as well, but then gets serious again: “Well, actually I came here for a different reason than just having a cup of tea with you. Back in the village Valbrand was quite distressed… he got into an argument with Brother Callum and… the old man was really angry at Valbrand. And he was also completely drunk. He was in worse shape than I’ve ever seen him before.”

“That’s bad!”

“Yeah… and Valbrand wants to deal with some kind of possession in this village. Truth be told, when I saw you lying there, stuck in your fever dream, that voice coming out of your mouth…”

“Oh… that was nothing… I really think you should just forget that, it was nothing to worry about. I sometimes have strange dreams.”

“Yeah, we’ve talked about that a few days ago… but, you were there when we talked to Feyre and her father… and you must’ve noticed the strange occurrences that took place there. I mean, Feyre doesn’t seem like a normal girl, does she?”

“Hm… she can’t speak and she’s not exactly a normal girl… yes, she is different.”

“That’s not what I meant. In my opinion the fact that she doesn’t speak is the least disturbing thing about her… I’ve examined her condition and, well, there’s no physical reason for why she can’t speak. She should be able to talk… it’s something else… And when we were talking to her earlier today it was like… someone was behind her eyes…

“Hm, to me she merely looked like someone who knows way more than they tell you.”

“It was different than that in my opinion. And you have to keep in mind how her father reacted when Valbrand asked him about the conversation he overheard, how he was struggling for words. Valbrand told me that his eyes glazed over whenever he tried to tell us about that conversation in his backyard - in fact that was the reason why he stormed off!”

“His eyes glazed over? In what kind of way? What do you mean? And what exactly did Valbrand say?”

“I didn’t see this myself, but Valbrand is very much distressed right now. He doesn’t know who to trust anymore and he wants us to meet him to discuss what to do next. He’s thinking about calling in the Inquisition!”

“No, no, no, no, no! We gotta stop him! By the way, please don't mention my dream to Valbrand, we don’t need to talk about this with him, he doesn’t need to know. What he doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt him!”

“Alright… that’s true.”

“If he’s already talking about the Inquisition, he’s gonna totally flip if he hears about this… so, you know…”

“Okay… do you feel well enough to get back to the village?”

“I think so.”

They both leave the hut and head back to the village.

***


Valbrand is still holding watch over Elena and praying for guidance, when Nikolas and Morwenna arrive at the practice. Maeveen also heads there since Nikolas told her to meet him at the practice once she was done talking to Callum. Valbrand greets them: “Thank you for coming. I assume that Nikolas has informed you.” He looks at Nikolas and Morwenna, sensing that there’s something going on between the two of them.

Morwenna doesn’t seem to notice his glance: “Yes, he did.”

“Alright… simply put, the situation that we’re having is deeply troubling. Tristan’s behavior is in my opinion not natural. Feyre’s behavior…”

Morwenna interrupts him: “Hang on a second… Tristan… what exactly did he do? I did not notice anything.”

Valbrand nods: “When I questioned him about the male voice in his backyard, his eyes glazed over as if a white mist came into the eyes and whenever he seemed to get close to remembering, it increased up until the moment I ceased repeating my question.”

“Well, that’s defininetly not normal!” To Morwenna this sounds like he is under some kind of spell, even though she has no clue as to what spell exactly he is under. She mutters: “This sounds like he was under a spell…”

Valbrand hears this nonetheless: “Yes, I agree! Furthermore, the behavior of Feyre is disconcerting. Something is odd about her as well.”

Morwenna nods: „Yeah, it felt like she wasn’t telling us all she knows.“

Valbrand turns to Maeveen: „Have you talked to Renan?“ When she nods he continues: „What has he told you?“

„Something is making him nervous or afraid.“

„He was not afraid of me… so there must be something more frightening…“

„I know. He’s afraid of Bran and he’s obviously lying about not knowing who he talked to that night Elena disappeared. But he won’t tell me. It seems there’s something he’s more afraid of then whatever punishment you can dream up.“

„He’s not a wise man.“

„No, but he also claims that he saw Bran smashing a deer’s leg and watching it as it screamed.“

„Really?“ Morwenna looks quite disturbed by this. „I find it kinda hard to believe… do you believe that, Maeveen?“

„He seemed sincere… he actually seems rather afraid. He said he accepted the boots because he didn’t dare to not take them. So either Bran knows something to blackmail him with or he’s generally afraid of him.“

Nikolas speaks up: „Didn’t Feyre indicate that Bran smashed bunnies with a stone? Elena was hit with a stone. So it’s entirely possible that he might be able to do something like that.“ The others nod and Nikolas continues: „Regarding Tristan… I’d like to examine him thoroughly - his glazed-over eyes might have a medicinal explanation. He’s already quite old and sometimes people develop a medical condition called a cataract in their eyes…“

„A cataract that only appears when you ask him certain questions?“ Valbrand is not convinced.

„Well, that’s what I wanted to look into more thoroughly. Maybe he’d be willing to come over here and I can investigate this with my tools at hand.“

„I will play the cards that I have“, Valbrand sighs. „I am considering calling for a Sigire. I know that is not what we actually want, but we cannot risk what is going on here. I think there are two suspicious things: Feyre’s behavior is odd, especially in relationship to her father, who told us there was no man but there was a male voice, and she’s not speaking… does that not strike you as odd? It’s not that she is medically incapable, perhaps she is not speaking because her voice is no longer her own. It is not unheard of. That would explain the strange voice her father heard. That would also explain why Nikolas told me that Feyre’s eyes looked far older than they seemed.“

„I wouldn't call for a Sigire“, Morwenna intervenes. „We can investigate this ourselves and then see how it goes, right? We don’t have to go and act strange right away!“

„Not yet, no“, Valbrand agrees.

„I think it’s too early to draw the conclusion you’re drawing, Valbrand.“ Nikolas shakes his head. „While I agree that there’s more to Feyre and her father than literally meets the eye, I think we should look into this more thoroughly. We could try and catch Feyre in the act of speaking with a different voice.“

„Alright“, Valbrand says. „We’re all going to investigate this. And you’re all going to help me, because I’m convinced none of you wants the involvement of the church in this matter. Is that correct?“ Everyone nods and Valbrand continues: „Then let that be your motivation! My interest is the following: what is going on with Feyre? Why was Elena assaulted? What is up with this madman Bran? If you need my help with the more physical stuff, I will be of assistance, but besides from that I know the limitations of my own skill set. I trust you will do better. May the Lord guide us.“

„Indeed“, Maeveen whispers.

„Valbrand“, Nikolas speaks up, „there’s one thing you should know - I have the utmost confidence in your abilities and in your faith as well, but… err, earlier you were not certain you could trust the rest of us. I think we should settle this matter now, before we proceed.“

The Blade Knight shrugs: „Do I have a choice, Nikolas? My only other option would be to send for a Sigire post haste and then wait weeks for him to arrive, while the trail goes cold, while what little evidence and tracks there are, are probably smudged out and a Sigire will not be pleased with finding nothing. He will search and question and perhaps find truth or his own fears. I must trust you, for you are all I have, to be quite honest.“

„And we can’t wait for weeks“, Maeveen adds. „Whoever did something to Elena might do it again, and whatever’s wrong with Feyre might spread… I have no idea…“

Morwenna asks: „You think these are connected?“

Valbrand nods: „It seems very coincidental that the one we question about what happened at the hilltop, who hides in a place that the four of them should know, is found the next morning nearly dead by a stone and tossed down in the river. It seems very coincidental that the boots seen at this place are on Renan, who supposedly got them from Bran. Meanwhile one of her friends is no longer speaking, the father is behaving oddly… I am a paranoid man in many ways, but this seems suspicious.“

„Valbrand“, Maeveen asks, „how much do you know about, I don’t know, the heretics and the heresies?“

„I know what a Blade Knight should know. I know the larger heresies, I know some basics. But usually we are there to support the Sigires. They have the knowledge, we have the strength.“

„Because I think I know where Feyre lost her voice.“

„What?“ Morwenna gives Maeveen a surprised glance.

„According to village gossip“, the blacksmith tells them, „there is a pond nearby in the forest and it is said if you sacrifice something to it, it will fulfill your wishes. Samuel says that Feyre gave the pond her blood… and that she would not speak after that event.“

Nikolas nods: „Didn’t Bran also mention a pond? And a sapling that grows there? Maybe he pointed us towards that incident… that Feyre sacrificed her blood to the pond?“

„Planting a seed, perhaps“, Valbrand remarks.

„I don’t think that’s it - she’s a young girl“, Morwenna interjects. „She probably had a wish she wanted to fulfill and something just went really badly wrong.“

„Devils do not often take our wishes…“ Valbrand snarls, „they supplant their own! We’ll go to this pond!“

„Who told you about this again, Maeveen“, Nikolas asks.

„Samuel, Feyre’s best friend.“

„Did he tell you what Feyre wished for?“

„No! He didn’t tell me personally. He told some people in the village.“

Morwenna wonders: „Does he even know what she wished for?“

„We could ask him.“

Nikolas nods: „I think we should. It’d make it easier if we know what we’re looking for at the pond.“

„We should probably talk to him anyway - see if he also noticed something about Bran.“

Valbrand nods: „Alright. I will speak to the guard and ask if they can keep a close eye on this place while we’re gone.“

They get ready to leave, but then Nikolas asks: „What should we tell the other villagers? One of them has been injured, they might demand some answers.“

Valbrand coolly replies: „Nothing. We are still investigating and we do not know yet. This gives us the perfect cover to ask questions.“

„I hope all turns out well in the end then…“

„Do you not remember what the abbot said? If you wish the Lord to laugh, tell him your plans… This will not get better before it gets worse.“

***


The group finds Samuel working his father’s fields, gathering the straw and binding it up in bushels. Maeveen approaches him: „Samuel! A word with you, please.“

The boy looks up and straightens himself: „Certainly, Maeveen. What can I do for you?“

„I have some questions. What is your impression of Bran?“

Samuel sighs: „Do you want a polite answer or an honest answer?“

„Honest, please.“

„I think he’s dangerous.“

„Why?“

„I haven’t seen it myself… but I’ve heard stories about what he does.“

„From whom?“

„Several people… Renan told me that he saw him break a deer’s legs and then watched it lying on the ground screaming. Feyre told me that he killed bunnies. And even my father told me that he was out in the woods doing creepy things that he did not understand. He was standing on the fields, collecting the bushels and he saw Bran dancing at the edge of the forest in a weird way… I just don’t feel comfortable around him. If you ask me, I’d be happy if he was gone.“

„Has he been following you?“

„Maybe… I don’t know. I noticed that he seems to showing up wherever we go for some reason. Why are you asking?“

„Well… Renan seems afraid of him.“

Samuel laughs without joy: „I am as well, seriously.“

„And Feyre?“

„As far as I know she’s afraid of him as well.“

„So, you think it would’ve been possible for him to hurt a person?“

„From the stories I’ve heard of him… and from the things I’ve seen him do, even though I have not seen him hurt someone or something personally… I would not put it beyond him. He hears voices, he sees things that are not there… what if he sees something in someone and then suddenly attacks him?“

„And you’ve done nothing to him?“

Samuel hesitates for a second: „We’ve chased him away when he wouldn’t leave us alone… We’ve called him names… but everyone does!“

„Was Elena worse than any other?“

„No… I think she might have teased him once or twice.“ He blushes slightly and looks away. „But when we… flung mud at him, it was all of us, not just Elena.“ Morwenna shakes her head when she hears this last bit.

Maeveen thinks about this for a few seconds and then says: „Okay… have you noticed something odd with Feyre lately?“

„Except the fact that she doesn’t speak anymore? Can’t really tell…“

„Why not? You were rather close, were you not?“

„Yes… yes, we were. But she seems quite normal to me… for the most part. Sometimes she’s maybe a bit distant, but… I don’t know.“

„What’s between her and Renan?“

„I think Renan wants to get into her pants.“

Maeveen shakes her head and sarcastically remarks: „Big surprise.“

„Yeah, indeed. He wanted to get into Elena’s pants as well.“

„Do you know what actually happened to Feyre?“

„I didn’t accompany her when she went to the pond.“

„But she told you about this before?“

„She told me that she wanted to go there. I advised her against it.“

„Did she go alone?“

„Yes. At least, that’s what I know. Like I said I didn’t go there with her, but someone else might have accompanied her.“

„Do you know what she wished for?“

Samuel hesitates and blushes very deeply this time: „No…“ Maeveen just looks at him and the boy’s face turns an even deeper shade of red: „Well… I have an idea… but it doesn’t feel right talking about it, since it’s just an idea.“

„Why not? Tell us!“

„Okay… you know, I think, she wished for true love…“

„How romantic…“

They suddenly hear voice calling: „Samuel?! Are you done yet?“ Samuel turns around: „Not yet, father!“

Maeveen nods: „Sorry for interrupting you. Thank you, Samuel.“

„I’m glad I could be of assistance.“ The boy then returns to his farm work, while Maeveen bids him goodbye and the group leaves.

***


Once they’re out of earshot, Morwenna says: „I kinda guessed that was what she wished for, but why would she loose her voice after that?“

Valbrand nods: „It is not just puzzling, it is worrying!“ As they’re walking away from the farm, he turns to Nikolas: „Nikolas, a question for you… Elena would’ve been clearly alive if her pursuer or attacker checked her immediately afterwards… she would still be breathing?“ Nikolas nods and Valbrand continues: „Isn’t it strange that he would drag her to the riverbank to drown, but not finish her off? Did he try to alleviate guilt? Or was it a… why would you do such a thing?“

„Maybe they got interrupted“, Morwenna suggests.

„That’s a possibility“, Nikolas replies. „The other possibility is that he maybe thought he had already finished her off. When we found her, it was quite difficult to figure out if she was still alive.“

„But this was after hours“, Valbrand wonders. „Would you not simply, if you wanted to kill her, finish the job? Is this cruelty? A lack of conviction? Wanting to make it look like an accident? This was not a… if he wanted her gone… there would’ve been better ways.“

„Well, if Bran really was involved in this incident… and if the stories about him torturing animals are true…“, Nikolas suggests.

„But the modus operandi does not fit either!“ Valbrand is getting annoyed. „Because if it is cruelty that drives someone, then this was… I do not know, but it bothers me, now that I think about it.“

Morwenna nods: „It does, actually even more then the idea that someone was being angry or attacking her in the heat of the moment.“

„It was not a heat of the moment, because there was a long chase before it…“, Valbrand remarks.

„It could still be, if there was a really heated argument before the chase.“

Nikolas draws a resume: „If you put all these pieces together that we have right now, my impression is that Renan and Feyre parted ways, Bran went to Renan and they switched boots…“

„But when did they exchange boots? That’s very important!“ Valbrand’s eyes light up. „If they exchanged boots the morning after the attack, it would place Bran at the scene of the crime. If this is a lie, it would place Renan there. Both of them are untrustworthy due to various reasons. The question is: who is it? For all his bluster, Renan does not strike me as a cold-blooded killer, which might mean that he wanted to finish the job less directly, using water. However, Bran has apparently killed before… animals, but this sometimes escalates.“

„But I have an even more worrying thought“, Maeveen suggests. „If we’re dealing with witchery and sorcery, perhaps the attacker was someone who didn’t want to do it - and that’s why she’s not dead.“

Nikolas seems unconvinced: „So, you’re suggesting that either Renan or whoever did this, was forced into murdering Elena?“

„I don’t know! I don’t know about sorcery!“

Morwenna mumbles: „That is a disturbing thought!“

„Indeed, it is really worrying.“

Valbrand shakes his head: „My two instincts are: it is either Feyre and Renan together, or Bran alone, but regardless of whether or nor Bran is involved, the story of Feyre is connected to this. Let’s continue with our investigation.“

„Shall we investigate the pond then?“

„Yes, I think we should.“

***


Maeveen knows the way to the pond, as does Morwenna. They walk into the forest to the east of the village and after about fifteen minutes arrive at a small clearing. The trees are very old in this part of the forest and thick branches are shutting out all of the sunlight, turning the clearing into a something akin to a gloomy cave. In the middle of the clearing a pond is visible - it is quite small, but seemingly rather deep. Right next to the pond the stump of an immense tree is visible - the tree itself seems to have been cut down and burnt - but out of the middle of this stump grows a small but healthy and strong looking sapling.

Valbrand is certain that this place was a Demorthèn sanctuary and the tree probably one of their holy oaks. When Maeveen mutters: „This is bad“, he nods: „Yes.“ He then goes down on one knee to do a prayer of benediction, trying to ward off evil. As he starts praying, it suddenly seems as if the shadows are just a tad too deep and to dark - and they seem to seep onto the clearing, spreading very slowly!

Morwenna calls out: „Guys? Look at those shadows!“

„Valbrand! Watch out“, Nikolas shouts, as the shadows are getting ever closer to the praying Blade Knight, who only now finally looks up and realizes the danger he is in.

Valbrand jumps to his feat and brings the shield forward, yelling at his companions: „Back! Get off the clearing!“ Everyone complies, but they also notice that the instant Valbrand stopped praying, the shadows retreated from the clearing. They all stare at the scene before their eyes, while Valbrand mutters: „It seems darkness has truly come to this village!“

Maeveen wonders: „Was the sapling here before Feyre made her sacrifice, you think?“

„I know nothing of trees and their growth“, the Blade Knight snarls. They quickly discuss when the tree was probably cut down and think it must’ve been at least 150 years ago, when the Temple became the official religion in Gwidre.

„I don’t think this is a normal tree…“, Maeveen whispers.

Valbrand nods - he indeed knows almost nothing about trees, but one of the few things he does know is that a sapling should not grow out of a tree that has been dead and burnt this long ago. Both Morwenna and Maveen estimate that, judging by the regular speed of growth of a sapling, this particular sapling must’ve been here for at least several months. Maeveen compares this to the time since Feyre lost her voice - but realizes the latter happened only a few weeks ago.

Nikolas points at the sapling: „Valbrand, does it take anything special to cut that sapling down?“

Morwenna intervenes: „I wouldn’t touch it right now!“

Valbrand looks at Nikolas, while also still peering over his shield: „I have no idea… this is heresy beyond which I was trained!“

Maeveen nods: „Let’s not experiment with witch trees and spirits and shadows! And I don’t think it simply decided to start growing. Someone must’ve be reviving the old places.“

Valbrand agrees: „Yes… and I wonder if Feyre is part of it…“

Morwenna speaks up: „And Bran definitely is not!“

„I wouldn’t discount Bran just yet. He knew about the sapling.“

„Yeah, he knew, but how would Bran revive anything?“

Valbrand gives her a meaningful glance: „How would shadows move when the Lord is praised?“

They all stare at the clearing in distraught silence…
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