Chucaro echoed my sentiments about the continued ‘riding’ in the covered wagon… not truly a cage, but still having the same feeling as if there were bars keeping us inside. “We’ve lost their trail and they’ve gotten further away from us. I know they saved us from the avalanche, but we’ve become dependent on the free people now… I don’t like that feeling and I want Wargie out of the dwarves clutches now!” she growled in a hushed tone. “Why must we keep taking orders from them?”
“Because I made a deal with the hunter… but once we reach this Ost Guruth and we glean whatever information we can on their direction, we will continue the hunt on our own and leave the others to whatever they need to do,” I replied in a near whisper. “Trust me on this, Chucaro.”
She looked into my eyes for what seemed like an eternity before nodding her consent. Chucaro knew I meant what I said and that I would give my life to protect her and Wargie. We had been making good time once we left Thorenhad… the wagon had been moving much faster; only slowing around the curves in the road just enough to avoid sending us careening down the narrow slopes. It wasn’t long before we reached the bridge connecting the Lone Lands to the Trollshaws. The group didn’t skip a beat as horse hooves clattered over the smooth stone of the bridge… slowing down and finally coming to a stop after we crossed.
Winterwulf popped his head through the slit, “We’re making a quick stop to get the horses some water before we continue on.” He stopped momentarily to scan the sky. “We will be at Ost Guruth by nightfall,” he said as he dropped down from the wagon to tend to the horses. Glancing at the sky, I figured we were not too far as dusk had already settled in. I sniffed the air intently… it was dry and still, as if in anticipation of something big to come. I couldn’t go out and look around, but I had a nagging feeling we were being watched. I tried to peer out the front slit, but all that I could see was a barren landscape… there were some hills, but nothing popped out. If we were being watched, they were a ways away. These were foreign lands to me, so I figured it was the unease of being here that had me on edge… along with the free peoples we were traveling with. Whatever the case, I kept my senses sharp.
“We’re moving on,” Winterwulf said through the slit, “We’ll be there in no time.”
As we got further away from the bridge, my sense of unease grew stronger… something was coming. Chucaro also sensed something wasn’t right… she moved closer to the minstrels, who were huddled close together on the bench. As I moved towards the front of the wagon to warn Winterwulf, we were attacked. I heard the cries of a horse as a flight of arrows rained down on the party. The wagon lurched to a stop as I braced myself to avoid being slung forward.
“We’re under attack!” Winterwulf yelled out to the party. I watched from the rear of our cart as Tregoan and Tracer galloped to the front of the wagon. The sounds of battle grew as I prepared to jump out the back. I heard something splatter against the canvas covering… “Pitch!”, I thought to myself, judging from the smell. “Out of the wagon!” I yelled as I jumped out… Chucaro and the minstrels were not far behind. Sophwen caught Creami as the first fire arrow struck the canvas, instantly igniting the black tar. As I turned away from the cart, I saw three orc berserkers coming straight for us.
“You two minstrels help the others up front, Chucaro and I will handle these orcs,” I ordered as Chucaro and I went stealth and went to great our guests. Chucaro reached the closest one and launched herself at him… striking him directly in the breastplate and sending him reeling backwards. As he hit the ground, she used her momentum to launch herself at the second, catching that orc unawares as her teeth sank into the surprised orc’s throat. I also used the first orc as a launching pad, directing myself towards the last of the three, who was readying an attack at Chucaro. I felt the breath leave the orc’s lungs as I flew like a dart at the third orc, catching the swing of his blood-coated axe in my jaws before he could connect. The wooden haft snapped in two as I bit down, pushing off the orc and landing between him and Chucaro. She looked up briefly as the third orc had staggered a few steps backwards. Without missing a beat, she left the dead orc and turned her attention to the first orc, who was still lying prone on the road, leaving me to the ugly brute standing before me. He had regained his senses and let out a massive roar before he ran towards me. Orcs are clumsy oafs, at best and this one was no exception… I ducked under his massive swing and side-stepped him easily. As he stumbled by, I swiped at his nearest ankle, severing the tendons and sending him face-first into the road. He yelled in pain before turning over on his back to face me, his arm coming forward with dirt clenched in his fist… but I was faster, as I was prepared for this attack. Before he could release the dirt in a futile attempt to blind me, I clamped on his arm below the wrist and with one quick twist, snapped his arm in half. His guttural cries of agony were quickly cut off as I slashed his throat with a massive swipe of my paw.
I looked up to see Chucaro approaching me, looking none the worse for wear after easily dispatching the other two. I heard the snap of a twig coming from a small hill off the road to our left. We instantly went stealth and headed towards the hill. A small, shadowy figure was attempting to head away from the battle without being detected. As we silently moved in, I could tell by the smell that our prey was a dwarf… had these beings never heard of bathing before? It was nearly enough to make one lose one’s lunch… but we have smelled much worse than this.
As I closed in from behind, Chucaro moved around to flank him. I paused just slightly for her to begin the assault… as she attacked from his right, her swipe severed his ankle, spinning him around to the ground as I pounced on his chest and muffled his cries with my paw… we didn’t want him dead… yet…
A look of surprise mixed with sheer terror covered his face when he saw who had attacked him. “You two are supposed to be dead!” he said, his face draining of all color as he realized what was about to become of him.
“Where is the cart holding the warg at, dwarf?” I asked, barely containing my rage and just simply ending this wretch’s life.
The dwarf started to convulse as his face began contorting in strange movements… I watched in shock as his face appeared to transform into that of the runekeeper we had encountered in the Misty Mountains.
“So, you two managed to survive my frozen tomb, I see,” the drawf spoke in a distant, haunting voice… his eyes had turned pure white as his gaze appeared to pierce right through me. “While you two have been superior adversaries, this game is growing old and you are becoming a nuisance. Return to your home in the Ettenmoors, and you will be spared your lives… continue on this path, and your deaths will be eminent…” A chilling laugh left the dwarf’s lips and faded off in the distance as the body began to twitch violently. I jumped back from the dwarf as his body instantly became engulfed in an un-earthly blue and purple flame that I narrowly avoided… within seconds, the dwarf had turned to dust.
The others met up with us as I stared at the remains before me. “What happened here?” Winterwulf asked, also looking at the pile of ashes. I told them of the three orcs that attacked the group from behind and then of the dwarf we spotted trying to sneak away.
“We were set upon by a squad of ocrs, both skirmishers and berserkers… they appear to have been sent to take us out with the three attacking from the back to take out the minstrels… your unexpected presence foiled their plans, but the element of surprise is gone… they know you’re alive.”
“We lost one horse from the attack, as well as the wagon, so we’ll have to ride to Ost Guruth on horse while you and Chucaro run.”
“It’s what we are built for and used to… it feels good to stretch our legs and be free again,” I added.
Our conversation was interrupted when several horses approached us. “Well met, travelers. We heard the sounds of battle and rode out as quick as we could to assist,” the lead rider said, quickly assessing the situation. “It appears we weren’t needed at all,” he continued, a light smirk appearing on his lips. “We’ll escort you to Ost Guruth… it’s just a short ride from here.” He appeared not to notice us as Chucaro and I went stealth as they rode into view. As our free people companions mounted their horses, Winterwulf glanced at me and gave me a quick wink and a smile… “his ability to detect us in our stealth forms is truly amazing,” I thought to myself as we followed them from a distance to Ost Guruth.