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Subject: Gwidrite Heresies - Session Six 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
Nikolas – Fred
Valbrand – Bavo

List of previous sessions

***

Maeveen, Valbrand and Nikolas are still at the clearing with the pond and the tree stump. The shadows have retreated from the clearing and the group has just discussed if cutting off the sapling was a good idea, which most of them agreed was not the case. Valbrand cautiously moves onto the clearing again, he keeps a close eye on the shadows, but they don’t move so far, so he sheathes his sword, but keeps his shield in hand. He slowly moves towards the pond, which makes Maeveen a bit nervous, so she calls out: „Are you sure this is a good idea?“

Valbrand mutters: „No… but I must lead so others may follow…“ He walks towards the pond and tries to get a good look. The pond is around 5 meters by 4 meters, but seems to be really deep, since Valbrand cannot see the bottom of the pond. He mumbles: „I wonder of this was here before…“ He walks around the pond slowly and very cautiously, as if the pond was a dangerous animal, studying it from all angles. Once he’s done, he does the same thing with the tree as well. The sapling, which is about 1 cm thick, sprung up in the middle of tree and on closer inspection it doesn’t look like it was grafted. He slowly reaches out and touches the stump, which feels cold and slightly brittle. When he removes his hand, he notices he has soot stains on his fingers. „This is not normal behavior…“ He rises to his feet. „This tree should be dead! Dark powers have awakened it once more!“

Nikolas walks up to the tree as well now: „Are you sure? Is this the only possible explanation? I’ve seen trees that have been burned, yet still they lived on. Sometimes fire is necessary for new life to spring from the old.“

Maeveen joins the two men and shakes her head: „This is still ominous, considering the history of that tree in question.“

Valbrand nods in agreement: „And unless it is pure coincidence that shadows begin to dance in the neighborhood of this tree…“

„Granted, this is true“, Nikolas concedes. „But since the original tree has been cut down, why should we be intimidated by a mere sapling?“

„I’m not intimidated by the sapling, I’m intimidated by whatever caused the darkness to move! This is an ill omen place!“

Maeveen nods in agreement. Nikolas looks at his two companions: „So, do you think there’s anyone more capable than us to bring this whole thing down?“

„No, probably not.“ Valbrand shakes his head. „I think we need to cleanse this place with fire or call for a Sigire.“

„But Valbrand“, Nikolas interrupts him, „do you really want to call in the inquisition because of a sapling on a tree stump?“

„You seem to be overly fond of focusing on a single object while discarding all the other things that have been happening around this village…“ He looks to Maeveen: „Maeveen, do you happen to have flint and tinder on you?“ Maeveen shakes her head and Valbrand sighs: „Very well, then…“ He starts praying, reaches for his dagger, grabs the sapling and cuts it down. The instance he touches the sapling though, he notices how the shadows seem to be creeping onto the clearing again. Once he has cut through the sapling, he tosses it aside and watches the shadows, which don’t react in any way. „Odd… I expected more… Strange… This is strange… is it the oak or the pond then… or the very soil?“

Nikolas notices that even though the trees cut off most of the sunlight, the sun seems to be close to setting - and the shadows are growing longer. „We’re not staying in this accursed place once darkness sets in“, Maeveen remarks as she watches the shadows, who suddenly seem to grow longer far too quickly - almost like they’re reaching out for Valbrand, who is oblivious to this. Nikolas grabs a resin torch from his backpack and quickly lights it - but the shadows don’t disappear. He moves to the tree stump and presses the torch against the area of the sapling. Since the sapling was fresh and healthy it takes some time burn it off, but after about two or three minutes at least the visible parts are gone. Nikolas then looks at his companions: „Given the circumstances I suggest we retreat to the village.“ Maeveen watches the scene closely and suddenly realizes that the shadows have reached the feet of her two companions - and that they seem to be creeping up those feet and legs… She calls out: „You should move! Now!“ They both immediately obey and move away from the clearing, while the shadows creep up the tree stump and cover the area where the sapling used to be. Valbrand watches the scene angrily and mutters: „What is this..?“

Maeveen snarls: „This is obviously black sorcery!“

„If someone in the village is responsible for this“, Nikolas nods, „then we have to find that person.“

„Or this is responsible for what is going on in the village“, Valbrand replies. „Then we stand before an even greater task. But I agree with Maeveen: night is coming. We must look more into this.“ Looking at the sky Valbrand notices that by now the sun has set. „Let’s head back to the village.“

They quickly leave the clearing and return to the village.

***


They arrive back in Niddrie right on time for Estellines. After the events at the clearing they all feel they are in desperate need of a sermon, so they follow the villagers to the chapel. They notice Brother Callum is standing at the door, welcoming each member of the parish personally. He lets Maeveen and Nikolas pass, but when Valbrand tries to enter the chapel he blocks the door. Valbrand gives the old priest a very cold look but says nothing at first. He finally addresses Callum: „I was not aware that you could excommunicate.“

„I have not excommunicated you. I’m simply not granting you access to the chapel.“

„So you are disallowing a believer into the home of God?!“ Callum doesn’t respond, instead he simply looks at Valbrand, who after several seconds says: „Very well… I would not wish to hear the sermon of a drunkard anyway!“ He turns away and goes to the parsonage, where he finds his packs at the door. He grabs them and sets up tent close to the gate in the palisades, where the traders usually set up tent as well. Once he’s done, he does his prayers on his own.

Back at the chapel meanwhile, Callum preaches about pride and the downfall of the proud. During a song the parish is singing Nikolas, who is sitting next to Maeveen, whispers: „He’s scolding Valbrand like a little kid!“

Maeveen glares at him: „Shut up! You don’t speak during mass!“

„I’m sorry…!“

Once the mass is over, the villagers leave the chapel… and most of them head straight to the ‚Smiling Cat‘, the local tavern. Notably, Callum is not among them. Both Maeveen and Nikolas leave the chapel and go home - neither of them aware that Valbrand did not join them for Estellines.

***


During the night the ground suddenly starts shaking and a rumbling sound can be heard. While earthquakes have occurred in this area before, it is not a common occurrence. Nikolas gets up and quickly leaves the house to check on the other villagers. Outside, almost everyone is already awake, quite a few standing together in groups and discussing the event nervously. He looks over to the mayor’s house, wondering if something exploded in his study again, but the house is undamaged, except for the burnt down study. He then asks several villagers if they know what happened, but everyone he asks just shrugs and tells him that they were woken up by the rumbling sound and the shaking ground. By now the earthquake seems to have stopped though - and there are no afterquakes so far.

Nikolas and Maeveen meet at the village square to discuss the event, waiting for Valbrand to show up as well. The latter first has to set up his tent again though, because it collapsed during the earthquake. Nikolas meanwhile asks: „Do you think this has something to do with… you know what?“

„I don’t want to believe it“, Maeveen replies, „but… let’s just add it to ‚one more strange thing happening here‘.“

„And where’s Valbrand? Shouldn’t he be around here somewhere?“

„I don’t know.“

„I haven’t seen him since we went to Estellines…“

„I think he can take care of himself“, Maeveen shrugs.

„I guess you’re right… but I find this whole situation very disturbing tight now.“

„Yes, definitely… you don’t know anything about the Old Faith, do you?“

„Only some very basic stuff… what the Demorthèn were, etc.“

„Because I’m thinking… if the past is coming alive and haunting us, it might be a good idea to know a little bit about it… and since this certainly seems to point in the direction of evil spirits and…“ Maeveen stops talking when she sees Finn, one of Feyre’s friends, approaching them.

He turns to Nikolas: „Excuse me, doctor… I wanted to talk to you after Estellines already, but I had to return home first… I found this…“, he reaches into his pocket and produces a small metal cylinder.

„What is this?“ Nikolas eyes the object curiously.

„I don’t know. I found it when I was helping Maraizh remove the debris from his burnt study. It was lying in a corner… actually I found two of these, but Maraizh got very angry with me and snagged one of them off of my hands. Fortunately I managed to palm the other. I have no idea what this is, but I thought maybe you might know more about this…“

Nikolas takes the cylinder and studies it more closely - it looks like an empty container for liquids, but he has no idea what it might have been used for. He looks up: „May I keep it until tomorrow so I can examine it a bit more?“

„Sure… it smells awful, I don’t wanna keep it!“

Nikolas smells at the container and immediately notices that this container omits the same chemical smell he noticed in Maraizh’s study a few days ago. „Hm… strange… I don’t know what to make of this yet, but thanks.“

„You’re welcome, doctor. You probably have a better idea what to do with it than I do.“ Finn returns to his father’s pottery.

When there are no further earthquakes, the commotion on the village square dies down and the villagers return to bed, while Valbrand finally arrives at the smithy, where Nikolas and Maeveen are waiting. Nikolas calls out: „What happened, Valbrand? What took you so long?“

„A slight issue with my tent…“

„Why are you in a tent?“

„Because Brother Callum has seen it fit to bar the chapel for me.“

„What?!“

„The old man is clearly quite… intoxicated, or at least, his brain has been damaged by his amount of drinking, as has his faith.“

Nikolas shakes his head: „You should definitely come to terms with him! I mean, how can he do this, deny you the service? This is absurd!“

„It simply shows the depths of his depravity. If he will sacrifice his duty for something so simple as drinking, he has no business being a priest.“

„And what about the earthquake?“

„I’m not an expert on the workings of science or the natural world, but it seems inauspicious that it should take pass right now.“

„Could it be a punishment of the One God? As far as I remember something like that is not unheard of.“

„It is not unheard of, but it is very rare. Perhaps a warning… perhaps not. But I suggest we continue our vigilance tomorrow. How is your patient, by the way?“

„Her condition remains unchanged. As I mentioned before, she might not fully recover from this incident, but so far she seems stable enough. I think we can return her to her family tomorrow.“

Valbrand nods thoughtfully: „As you wish, you are the doctor. I will keep her in my prayers, it is all I can do.“ He then bids the others a good night and returns to his tent.

Nikolas and Maeveen return to heir respective homes as well and they all go to sleep again.

***


The next morning comes and it seems yesterday was the last pleasant day Niddrie would see this autumn - the sky this morning is overcast, heavy gray clouds are hanging low and it is already raining heavily. Valbrand rises early and heads to the chapel, where he goes straight to the penitent’s cell to talk to Renan, who is still asleep in his cell. Nikolas bangs his armored fist against the wall, but Renan only mumbles: „Go away…“

„Wake up, Renan!“ He bangs his hand again against the wall.

„Leave me alone!“

„You will tell me of Bran!“

„What do you wanna know of Bran?“

„You will tell me about him, because it’s either you or him! And you fear him, you took his boots.“

„I already told Maeveen everything I know…“

„What do you know of him and the old oak near the pond?“

„What old oak?“

„The pend where your friend Feyre lost her voice!“

„Oh, that one, but no… I know the place, because everyone knows that place… but I did not go there. I’ve been there, but…“

„When was the last time?“

„Pfft… don’t know… don’t even remember… it’s a location I prefer not to go to.“

„A rare sign of common sense with you. Admirable. Who tells the story that if you wish upon it you will gain something?“

„Everyone knows… I mean, seriously, everyone…“

„An old folk tale retold over and over again…?“

„Yeah, something like that. I think Deabra is the one who usually tells it to the children.“

„This makes no sense… tell me, who were you talking to that night you were with Feyre?“

„I was talking to Feyre. There was no one else there.“

„Then who answered?“

„I don’t even know.“

„Tell me, can Feyre still speak?“

„She has not spoken to me.“

„Who else spoke to you then?!“ Valbrand is getting annoyed.

„There was no one there! How often do I have to tell you?“

„Because I do not trust your word!“

„Big surprise.“

„Yes, for some suspected of murder it would be difficult to convince me otherwise!“ Valbrand watches the drunkard carefully, but Renan seems to be genuine. „What did you talk to Feyre about? Because if she doesn’t answer, there would be very little conversation to be had.“

Renan sighs: „We talk in sign language. She points at things…“

„Alright…“ Valbrand thinks there’s no further knowledge to be gained from Renan, so he leaves the chapel and goes looking for Bran, but can’t seem to find him anywhere within the village. He asks around a little, and most villagers point him to the forest, claiming that Bran actually lives in the forest, but also often stays with Gladdys at the tavern, who seems to have a soft spot for him. After learning this, Valbrand realizes that Bran would know the forest really well and probably also know where the hiding spots are. Since he thinks he won’t be able to track a madman through the forest, he ends his search for Bran for now and goes to Nikolas’ practice instead. Meanwhile Maeveen is at her smithy, completing a few orders, after she received several complaints about work not being done by now.

***


Nikolas is at his practice already and checks Elena’s condition again, which remains unchanged. Valbrand enters and is greeted by the doctor: „Ah, Valbrand. Any news?“

„No“, the Blade Knight calmly replies. „Renan refuses to speak and Bran is out somewhere in the forest, leaving me with no suspects. And Renan is proving singularly uncooperative! I wish we had a Sigire at hand - proper torment would make him speak!“

„Do you really think one of the villagers might be a sinister Demorthèn?“

„Heresy slumbers in places like these… where the shepherd does not tend to his flock but to the bottle.“

„Yeah, but… who do you think would be capable of committing such atrocities? Worshipping the spirits of nature!“

„Heresy is a slow fall usually - it starts with one glass, it starts with one whispered curse or one whispered wish, and from then on slowly evolves.“

„One glass?“

„How else does one turn to drinking? But I was using a metaphor.“

„Ah, I thought you were actually accusing Callum…“

„Of course not… though“, Valbrand shrugs, „ I doubt he would’ve fallen that far.“ He sits down. „But, no, Callum does not strike me as that type. It would be a price worth taking for the darkness though, but I doubt it.“

„Well, I could ask Deabra if she has a spare room for you. Staying outside during this kind of weather is…“

Nikolas is interrupted by a knock on the door. Finnarf, one of the farmers, bursts into the room and calls out: „Nikolas! Come quick, Gudrun is in labor!“

„Of course!“ Nikolas jumps to his feet. „Let me just grab my bag!“ He quickly throws a few things that might prove helpful during childbirth into a leather bag and then follows Gudrun’s husband to his farm.

***


Several hours later Nikolas wipes the sweat of his brow. Gudrun is still in labor and both he and Morwenna, who is assisting him as midwife, are running out of options - Nikolas is afraid Gudrun might actually die during childbirth. Just as he’s about to give up, the scream of a newborn baby pierces the dark hut. At first Nikolas is relieved, but when he gets his first good look at the baby, his relief turns to abject horror: the baby is utterly malformed. It does not even remotely look human, only the eyes and the sounds it makes are those of a regular newborn. Nikolas stares at the baby with a completely dumbfounded expression, he can’t even fathom what has occurred. He turns to Morwenna, who presses a hand at her mouth and is dead silent. Finnarf slowly approaches the two, the hope in his eyes mixed with fear, until he takes a look at his baby - and then he stumbles out of the hut, gagging and throwing up. Morwenna follows him after a few seconds, tears streaming down her face, leaving Nikolas alone with the baby and Gudrun, who thankfully passed out during the final stage of labor.

„At least we can spare her that“, Nikolas mutters, as he again looks at the baby. And then a terrible question comes up in his mind - what is to be done with the newborn? He is holding the tiny creature in his arm… and he can feel the very fragile neck right under his fingers, as his hand moves across its back. He finally comes to a conclusion and takes the baby, puts it in a basket and leaves the hut. Finnarf, the baby’s father, is standing outside, wiping some bile of his chin - and then he looks straight into Nikolas’ face. Nikolas slowly shakes his head at him and Finnarf nods. Nikolas then walks into the woods, walking for more than two hours until he finally reaches a small brook. There he puts the basket on the ground, putting the life of the baby into the hands of the One God. He then turns around and quickly walks away without looking back at the basket, even though the baby’s crying can be heard in the forest for quite a while still…

***


On his way back to Niddrie, about one hour away from the village, Nikolas suddenly notices the light of a fire somewhere to his right. He walks a bit closer and sees Bran in the distance, dancing around a small bonfire and singing a song. Nikolas stops dead in his tracks and tries to listen in on what Bran is doing. He can’t understand a word of what the madman is singing - if this is a language, it’s a language he doesn’t know, but it has an eerie otherworldly sound. Nikolas gets the impression that Bran is chanting something or maybe even performing a ritual. Sometimes the madman throws something into the fire and the flames flicker wildly and rise several feet in the air.

Nikolas approaches the fire, but Bran doesn’t seem to notice him, so he calls out: „Bran! What are you doing there?“ The madman stops, looks at Nikolas for a few seconds and then just continues to dance. Nikolas merely shakes his head and wonders if this is where Bran actually lives - he noticed that the bonfire was set in a makeshift fireplace. He then returns to the village.

***


Valbrand is still at the practice where he has been once again keeping an eye on Elena - he’s very worried that the murderer might return to finish the job. Nikolas enters and without saying a word immediately walks over to a washing basin to wash some spots of dried blood off of his hands. After several minutes he without looking at Valbrand suddenly says: „I’ve seen Bran in the forest, maybe an hour’s walk into the woods. He was dancing around a bonfire… and chanting strange words. It freaked me out quite a bit…“

Valbrand nods: „Well, that is interesting information… but I do not think it would be wise to…“ He pauses and takes a closer look at the doctor: „Nikolas, you look distraught.“

„Seriously, I’d rather not talk about it right now… I’m utterly exhausted.“ Nikolas sits down at the table and rest his face in his hands. Valbrand gets up and puts a hand on his shoulder, then he sits across and doesn’t say anything. After about an hour of shared silence he stands up: „Rest, you will need it.“

„Thanks…“

***


It’s late in the afternoon and Maeveen is still at the smithy, working on a piece for one of the farmers. From her smithy she can see the village square and the Smiling Cat tavern at the other end of the square. Earlier that day she heard some villagers mention that Gudrun was about to give birth to a baby - and now she notices Gudrun‘s husband Finnarf stumble out of the tavern, completely drunk. Even from the distance she can tell that he does not look happy at all - instead he’s crying. She drops what she’s doing and calls out to him: „Finnarf?“

He stumbles over to the smithy and mutters: „Yeah?“

Maeveen gently asks: „What is it?“

„It’s dead.“

„I’m so sorry…“

„No… you shouldn’t be sorry… it… I… I think it’s probably for the best…“ He takes a deep breath. „This was supposed to be a day of happiness and celebration… and now… it’s not.“ After a few seconds he whispers: “It was not human… Nikolas… took it into the forest…”

Maeveen stops breathing and looks away, but Finnarf doesn’t seem to notice and there is a long silence, until she says: “I… Don’t leave her alone.”

“I won’t… she doesn't know…”

“Don’t tell her…”

“I won’t… why did this happen…?”

“I don’t know… I have no idea…”

Finnarf suddenly rests his head on Maeveen’s shoulder and starts crying. Maeveen hugs him softly and after a few minutes he seems to regain his composure and looks at the blacksmith slightly embarrassed. He clears his throat, walks to the entrance to the smithy and then turns and looks at Maeveen again, whispering: “Thank you…” After that he stumbles out the door and walks home. It is getting dark by now - Maeveen has walked over to Morwenna’s hut; the two women are sitting next to each other, neither of them saying a word. Meanwhile Valbrand is sitting in his tent, sharpening his sword, until finally the darkness casts a black veil over the horrors of the day.

***


The next morning comes. It is a Saturday and the group meets up again. Valbrand is pacing up and down: “Renan is not giving up any information, Bran is still as suspicious as ever and there are strange things going on in this village. I do not know what to do… if it was something I can fight, then yes, but…”

Maeveen looks at him: “Is there a person behind all of this, do you think? Then you can fight it and kill it and everything will be fine again…?”

“Maeveen, are you suggesting I start a smiting tour around this village, going from most suspect to least suspect?”

“I’m not saying you should kill indiscriminately, no.”

“”Exactly my problem… but I think it is a person. Why else would whatever slumbers in this pond have only risen recently? There has been no grand change, has there?”

Nikolas sighs: “Do you mind going for a small walk?” The others nod and Nikolas continues: “Maybe we can visit that pond again to see what’s happening there?”

Valbrand nods: “Of course. I’ll get my lantern, so we are not left in the dark this time.”

Maeveen is not happy about this: “But we’re not staying there for too long.”

“I agree, last time was close enough already, but it pays to be prepared.” Valbrand smiles: “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

Nikolas sighs again: “I need to get out of this village for a moment… to clear my head a bit… the thoughts I’m having lately are quite disturbing…”

Valbrand has heard about Gudrun giving birth to a baby, but all he knows is that it was a stillborn, which is the official version the villagers were told. He wonders why the baby hasn’t received a proper burial yet: “What happened to the child, by the way? There was no burial? Is the church in such disrepair that the stillborn are gotten rid off without proper ceremony?”

Maeveen looks up sharply at that.

Nikolas seems a bit nervous: “Valbrand, if you must know… we bury humans, we don’t bury monstrosities…”

Maeveen very calmly says: “Don’t spread the news…!”

“What do you mean”, Valbrand stares at Nikolas intently.

Nikolas sighs: “Seriously, I don’t want to go into the details any further…”

Maeveen again very sternly says: “Don’t talk about it! Just ignore it, Valbrand!”

The Blade Knight thinks about this for a few seconds: “I see…”

“Don’t go poking in it!” Maeveen stares at Valbrand, while Nikolas avoids eye contact with the young knight.

“Has this happened before?” Valbrand inquires.

“Don’t go around adding to their pain! You hear me?” Maeveen’s voice gets louder.

“I hear you”, Valbrand calmly replies. “I simply find the timing of all of this most disturbing… or is this another adding of irrelevant facts?”

Nikolas shakes his head: “Look… another reason why I wanted to talk to you outside the village was… I’ve seen Bran in the forest yesterday! I have no idea what he was doing there, but it was giving me the creeps. That guy is sick, he needs to be dealt with. If you’re looking for someone who is performing dark rituals around here, look no further than him! He was dancing weirdly around a bonfire, chanting in a language I’ve never heard before and when I called out to him, he didn’t even respond. Call him a village idiot or whatever you want, but… I think we don’t have to look for anything fancy here!”

Valbrand nods: “He makes a believable miscreant.”

“He mentioned to us he knew about things that had happened. He mentioned things he has seen…”

“I agree with you, Nikolas, but why mention it at all? If he was mad, then perhaps that’s just the case, but what I do not like”, Valbrand starts pacing again, “on one hand Bran is clearly dangerous according to the people that are involved in this little thing - Renan, Feyre, Finn. We can’t question Elena, because she is… indisposed, but they all fear him. But maybe the only reason they all fear him is because Renan and Feyre tell these stories about him. We know that Renan blames him for the boots. He makes a perfect scapegoat - almost to good of a scapegoat! So, yes, he may be dangerous… but, especially with the story of Feyre… is he a scapegoat to them, or are they simply very bad liars?” He sighs deeply.

By now the group has arrived at the clearing with the pond. Valbrand looks at the place and immediately notices the sapling on the stump of the tree, standing strong and healthy. He calls out: “What is this madness?!”

Nikolas stares at the sapling in disbelief: “How did it manage to grow back? We’ve burnt it… we’ve cut it down! How can it grow back?! That’s impossible!” Nikolas drops to his knees in front of the sapling, struggling to grasp the situation. Maeveen puts a hand on his shoulder and mutters a prayer. “Lord, protect us”, Valbrand mumbles and then starts praying as well.

Maeveen and Nikolas are standing very close to the pond and suddenly they both notice a skeleton at the bottom of the pond, that might have been unearthed by the recent earthquake. Nikolas points into the depths of the pond: “Do you see that?” Maeveen simply nods. Valbrand squints and with some difficulty can make out the shape at the bottom.

“Valbrand”, Maveen asks with a shaky voice, “would a human sacrifice be enough to reinvigorate this place?”

The Blade Knight draws on the teachings of the Temple of the One God, who claim the Demorthèn were sacrificing humans on a regular basis, and nods: “Yes, it would… my teachers told me it would…”

Maeveen whispers: “Roderick, Gladdys’ husband, disappeared fifteen months ago. No one knows what happened to him…”

Nikolas looks into the depths of the pond and notices that the bones are covered in algae and lichen - which makes him believe that the body has been down there far longer than fifteen months. He also can’t make out any clothes or even boots on the body - they must’ve rotted away already. Nikolas suggests getting the skeleton up to investigate it and give it a proper burial, but the others aren’t sure that’s necessary. Valbrand gets out of his armor and hands his shield to Nikolas: “Hold this!”

Maeveen stares at him in disbelief: “Are you going in?!”

The young knight shrugs: “It might be worth it…” He looks at Nikolas: “Remember the training at the abbey!”

“Valbrand”, Maeveen pleads, “remember what they say about that pond before you go in! You don’t want to jump in there and then the demons think you’re sacrificing yourself!”

„My faith is strong, I do not fear. If this can give us any kind of information on what is going here, I’m willing to risk it.“

„I think that there are better ways of getting an idea of what’s happening here than throwing yourself headfirst into a cursed pond.“

„I wasn’t planning on going in headfirst…“ Valbrand is now only wearing a loincloth and a dagger in a belt.

„Maybe we could tie a rope around your waist - in case something goes wrong“, Nikolas suggests.

Valbrand doesn’t respond, instead he goes to the water and very slowly lowers himself into the pond - the water is numbingly cold and he starts to shiver immediately. He takes a deep breath and then dives. It takes him several attempts to even get close to the bottom of the pond - the water is even colder down there. Fortunately, Nikolas is shining the light from the lantern into the pond, so he can at least see down there. Valbrand touches the walls of the pond - they feel rocky and look natural, so he thinks the pond is not manmade. Once he is close to the bottom, he can make out the skeleton quite clearly: it looks ancient, like it’s been down here for decades, maybe even centuries. Suddenly he notices several other skeletons at the bottom - they’ve sunk into the mud and were not visible from the surface. He examines the skeletons more closely and notices that all of them show signs of violence - caved-in skulls, broken bones, even a ripped-off jaw. There are also several rusty weapons lying at the bottom of the pond. Valbrand resurfaces, shivering, and tries to get out of the pond, but he is too exhausted - Maeveen and Nikolas have to drag him out of the water. „C-c-c-c-cold…“, he mutters and looks at his companions: „There are more bodies down there - about half a dozen. Broken bones, caved skulls, metal weapons…“

Maveen asks: „Adults?“

„Yes, adults. I did not get close enough to discern gender based on skeletal remains.“ He shivers even more. „Could you hand me my cloak, please?“ He quickly wraps it around him and continues: „These men died fighting by the looks of it, or through violence. If I was to make a guess, this was not sacrifice… this was war! Maybe the old Demorthèn, who died at the time this place was taken?“

„It’s that old?“

„I am no expert on bones, but they seem ancient.“

„So you say that this pound was used for some kind of burial?“

„Or they simply dumped the bodies there.“

Nikolas looks at the shivering Blade Knight: „I strongly suggest we get you back to the village and to a good hot fire, else you might end up like Elena!“ Everyone agrees and they start walking back to the village.

Maeveen inquires: „You say that these are old Demorthèn? So they are the ones haunting this place?“

„Perhaps“, Valbrand replies. „It seems unlikely… would you in a church dedicated to the One God leave bodies lying about, even it if was in disrepair? Probably not. Therefore it seems to me that these were… people left here. And considering that this was an old shrine…“

„Perhaps those pagans used it as a burial ground“, Nikolas suggests.

Valbrand shrugs: „I know too little about their stories.“

„Maybe we need to know a little bit more…“ Maveen slowly says, „…about the history of this place.“

„But there are no written records in this village“, Nikolas replies.

„Are you sure?“

„The older people may know something“, Valbrand suggests. „Now… not to press you unduly, Nikolas… the flesh is weak, could we see to this fire you mentioned?“

A little while later they arrive at the village. Valbrand’s lips are slightly blue by now and they head straight to the forge, reasoning that this is the warmest place in the village. Maeveen works the bellows a bit and the place quickly heats up even more. While Nikolas is severely sweating, Valbrand mutters: „Blessed be the Lord for creating fire! That is not a dive I wish to repeat… but it does tell us something: it was not a recent sacrifice and this can not be the reason why all of this started. There was not a body among them that looked young. And they died through violence and not through sacrifice.“

„Aren’t sacrifices violent“, Maveen wonders.

„There’s a difference. War tends to be less… practiced about it, I suppose. When you strike a man, you strike where you can hit him. From what I understand, sacrifice, or any kind of ritual, needs to follow certain patterns. That would mean, they would all have to been wounded the same way - which was not the case.“ Valbrand puts his tunic back on. „So… what do we do now? We ask stories about the strange pond? It’s not a distraction, something’s clearly going on there… something dark. Do we bring in Bran for questioning? Can we get sense out of the man?“

„I’m not sure“, Maeveen replies, „but he… seems to know something.“

„He definitely seems to have some kind of connection to what has happened“, Nikolas agrees. „Either as a bystander or… maybe as an agent?“

Valbrand nods: „I think that will be our next task. Find Bran and get some answers out of him. It is good that Morwenna is not here.“

Maeveen agrees: „She seems to have a tendency to think the best of people.“

„Such is usually not a bad thing. In this case it might be. Where would he be at this time of the day?“

Maeveen shrugs: „I have no idea, I don’t associate with him.“

„A wise cause of action. Very well, let’s go.“
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