The next morning Prof cleaned himself and his room up, checked over everything he had, and said his goodbyes to Sag, Horka and the Lady. Prof couldn’t tell, if she was happy that the murderhobo or the specist terrorist was leaving her domain. But Prof didn’t care that much, Lady Jotabor wasn’t his favourite person in Arkadia either. To his surprise the old Captain was waiting for him in front of Kendrik’s house.
“Good morning, Prof. Although the Lady doesn’t like you for some reason, I do have to thank you for everything you did this last month. Please accept this.“ He handed a copper plaque over with the Jotabor coat-of-arms engraved in it “Show this to the Captain of any Town Guard in Wanderberg and they will know you are a trustworthy man. It will work for most of the Noble Guards too. Good luck, my friend!”
“Thank you, Captain. I hope, I will visit Smallgrovewell again!”
“My friend, I do have the feeling, we will hear about you!” Kendrik gave him a hug as a goodbye “With your numbers, you will leave most of the famous adventurers in the dust soon! But, be careful, don’t get overconfident!”
“I won’t, my friend!”
Hajni gave him a hug too, and gave him the rest of the potions. Prof turned to the Elf.
“All right, Shinead, I think we can go now. On the first leg to the lake we will run, and then we will try to find your tracks.”
The Elf nodded and they set out. Although Prof was fast (at least in Earth-terms), the Elf still could have left him standing without any effort — but only Prof knew the way, so she had to adapt to his pace. Just to prove what he was capable of, Prof dictated a serious speed, so they reached the waterfall in record time.
"I found you here," Prof pointed out. “Since you wouldn’t have been able to get far with that nasty fracture, I assume you broke your leg here, falling down the cliff. Let's look around up there!”
Shinead followed Prof to the top of the waterfall without a word, and watched silently as he tried to find clues. After ten minutes, Prof realized his Skill was too low to find several days old clues on stony ground.
"Unfortunately, I didn't find anything," he admitted to the elf. She just hummed contemptuously (it was terribly cute when she did this).
“It was expected. This is why I’m so much better than you. Do you see that bush with the piece of fabric on it? I have had to come from that direction, stumbled upon this stone here, hit my head on that one over there, and finally I fell into the stream there. How can you not see the tracks?”
"I only have 72% in [Tracking], but I hope I'll be as good as you are one day." Again, he could say the sentence without sarcasm. Ok, without much sarcasm. “If you have the track, we can continue.”
The next hours were spent walking slowly, Shinead following her own footsteps unerringly as Prof tried to spot them. No matter that he knew what to look out for, he was certain half of the time he missed something. He didn't have as high a Skill as the Elf, let alone Kendrik. He had no plans to increase his [Tracking] Skill in the next few levels, but he hoped something would just stick to him following the Elf.
Other than dirt or blood. The trail they followed meandered back and forth in the woods, the Elf apparently wasn’t clear in her head last time she was there. They made barely six kilometers as the crow flies till the evening, but following the footsteps it was more than twelve — at normal pace it would have been maybe an hour, Shinead said it took her a day and a half or maybe two wounded as she was. The elf wasn’t a great conversationalist, she said practically nothing by herself, and answered Prof's questions as briefly as possible (and sometimes in a really rude way).
So, Prof didn’t learn that much – the most important point being the borders of the Domain were not fixed, but fluid and more of a frontier than a true border. He figured that sometimes the Elves “annexed” a grove or let go of a hill, but without reason and rhyme.
They made camp in a small clearing at dusk, for lack of a better idea, halving the guard-time. Prof somehow enjoyed the camp. There was no chance of seeing the starry sky at home, even in the deepest countryside: urban light pollution (and smog) suppressed everything but the brightest stars. Here, in the middle of the forest, in a world where street lighting had not yet been invented, the sight was indescribable. Unknown constellations, including the four moons of Arkadia: the largest white, a little reddish a bit closer, and the two little yellowish twin moons farther away.
There may have been an interesting tidal system on the planet. Prof wondered which of the stars might be the Sun, or whether he was still in the same galaxy — or dimension — at all. He woke Shinead after midnight (making sure not to touch her) and then crawled into his bedroll. He have forgotten to buy a tent. Again.
After a half-night of not really relaxing sleep, they continued following the track. Even Shinead had a hard time finding them now. She had to turn back several times and search for a long time. At least they found the girl's other boot under a bush, and Shinead immediately replaced her footwear out of the overpriced bargain bin.
The Elf girl was visibly frustrated by the time they arrived at a larger clearing in the afternoon, having made just over ten kilometres (and barely four in a direct line). On one side was a small lake that continued in a stream through a waterfall — Prof thought it might be the same stream he had found the girl on the shore of a few days ago — and even Prof could trace the fight in the clearing’s grass. Around a campfire lay her belongings in a huge mess – Shinead immediately ran over and began to search.
"Most of my stuff is here," she said after a short time, despairing "Only my money and the documents are missing. And my dagger.”
"Let's look around the clearing to see if there are any clues. I will take the lake’s shore, you search the edges of the clearing. There must be something!”
After nearly half an hour of playing Indian, it was surprisingly Prof who found something: a few footprints in the soft ground.
"This is my footprint," Shinead pointed to one after examining them, "and the other might have been the attacker. Interesting. I could swear Elven boots left the print.”
“Why is it interesting? We are in the Elven Domain, people are expected to walk around in Elven footwear.”
“Elves, not Humans! Don't mix up species! Or should I compare you to a majom?! The interesting thing is that obviously an elf was the attacker! We don’t sell these boots to other races and there’s little chance anyone will accidentally find one. Plus, the attacker left everything here except the scrolls, so they were specifically looking for them! It wouldn't mean much to another species! The lack of clues also suggests that a highly trained ranger was here. That alone wouldn’t rule out a few other races, but all in all, an Elf is the logical answer to everything!”
Shinead hadn't spoken that much at once before, and not even the usual arrogance and contempt radiated from her. Just the conviction, Elves were obviously the Alpha and Omega of everything – but hey, Humans think that about themselves too. And probably Dwarves, Dragons and Cats. From her argument, Prof figured that he had been mixed up with a political intrigue between the Elves. Although he did not like political games at all — especially the games of another race — he had no better things to do.
“Okay, let’s say you were indeed attacked by an Elf and he was really looking for the scrolls. Who knew you were going to go this way and had an interest in getting the documents? What was in them for a start?” Prof tried to apply the knowledge he had learned from the crime series he had seen over the years, but he had too little information about the local cultures and customs. And only 29% in [Investigation].
"That’s not your business!" Shinead has found her usual style. "It’s enough for you to know that our Clan Head sent them to the Great Lady of the erdei tündék. Many would have had an interest in obtaining them, but few knew they would be sent. Those who knew about it were members of the Clan, but they would not have had an interest in acquiring them.”
"I don't know your language and culture that much, so correct me if I'm wrong, you're a red, if I remember correctly, you called yourself a Vér, and now the recipient is an Erdei. Is that another tribe?”
“The Vértündék, or in your tongue blood or red Elves and the Erdei Tündék, or in your tongues wood or green Elves are not two tribes, but two different races of elves! Only you Humans have tribes!”
“Ah, I see! How many races do you have?”
“There are also Nemes Tündék, the Yellow or High Elves, Vizi Tündék, the Blue or Sea Elves, and the Sötét Tündék, the Black or Death Elves. Than we have the Jégtündék, the White or Ice Elves, the Holdtündék, the White or Moon Elves. And the different Beastfolks. You Humans think the korcsok are elves too, but they are not.”
"You said white twice."
“No. All right, in your tongue white and white are the same, but not in Elvish. You could say white for the first, and silver for the second, maybe.”
"Okay, so there are seven or eight races. From which could have someone joined your Clan to spy on you?"
“From none of them! We would recognize it immediately simply by appearance and behaviour, and if that weren’t enough, we’d look at the stranger’s character parchment, it shows the species!”
“Can you take a look on the character parchment of others?!?”
“Where do you come from? A cave? I wouldn’t be surprised”