Separate paths

We rushed back to the camp to report our findings… with renewed hope, the travel went swift, but it felt like we were running forever until we reached the outer perimeter and met Tracer.

“This is good news, indeed!  Finally, the break we’ve been hoping for.” Tracer said with much relief.  “I’ll wake Winter if you’ll gather the others so we can discuss the next step.”

Chucaro went to get the minstrels as I looked for Tregoan and the runekeeper.   I was able to find the hunter, but when I couldn’t locate the runekeeper, I began to worry… he had a head-wound, after all… but as I saw Chucaro approach, she had the runekeeper in tow along with the minstrels.   Winterwulf and Tracer soon joined us.

“So, Deathwulf, Tracer informed me that you two have gathered information on Wargie’s possible whereabouts,” Winterwulf began, in his normal, blunt way.  “I know the keep that you spoke of where the Dourhand reside, but what makes you think you can trust this warg ‘guide’ of yours?”

I cast a quick, sideways glance at Chucaro before I responded.  “Chucaro can be very persuasive when she needs to be…”   I could almost feel her blush from my comment, but kept my gaze towards Winterwulf to avoid the daggers being sent my way.  “There is no reason for the warg to lie to us… besides, we know Wargie is there… her scent was very strong.”

Winterwulf thought carefully of all that was said.  “Then we need to move quickly… we will strike at dawn.”  As I was about to voice my concern about waiting, he continued, “While I know these lands intimately, the others may not.  There are many traps and creatures lurking out there that can cause major problems if you are not careful and can’t see them.  We’ll get some rest now and head out at first light.  Tracer, get some rest… I’ll take watch as I have much to think about.  Thank you for this great bit of information, Chucaro and Deathwulf.”

The group dispersed amongst much upbeat discussion and welcome relief… despite everyone’s best efforts, there was a great toll being taken… the possibility of a nearby conclusion appeared to renew their conviction.  I turned to head towards our make-shift den when I was shoved and nearly lost my balance.  I felt a cold nose touch my ear as Chucaro whispered, “Paybacks are hell…” before she gently nipped my ear.  I could only chuckle to myself as she walked by me.  I followed her, wondering if either of us would get any sleep… I was anxious to get moving…

————————-

Someone, or something is close by…I thought to myself as I awoke instantly from a light sleep.  Without moving, I went stealth to avoid detection.  I glanced quickly at Chucaro, who was sleeping peacefully and then to the camp… no activity.  It was still a few hours til sunrise, from what I could tell.  I sniffed the air… it’s another warg, and close by…I surmised as I carefully moved in a wide berth until my target was in front of me… he was behind a large boulder, close to our den.  As I stealthed closer, I could tell it was one of the pack that we encountered the day before… my anger rose as I closed in… he kept looking around the rock towards Chucaro and then quickly looking around with a panicked look on his face… “he’s probably trying to locate me and is afraid of an attack… and rightfully so..”  I came up to his side and before he could react, I shoved him hard against the bolder, my jaws inches from his face.

“You have a lot of nerve showing your cowardly face here… and to sneak up on us like this, as well… you have five seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t end your miserable life here and now.”

“Please…” he whimpered, trembling against the rock so much that I thought he would wet himself right on the spot, “I was sent by my pack leader to find you and bring you to him… you remember him, the one who showed you the dwarf camp.”

I backed off a little before continuing.  “What’s this about?”

“He didn’t give me details, but he needs to talk to you now… he said it’s very urgent and pertains to someone named ‘Wargie’…”

My heart skipped a beat… did something happen to her? Did he find her?  What is going on??

“I’ll get Chucaro and we’ll go meet your leader,” I told him. “Wait here!”

I raced to where Chucaro was sleeping and gently nudged her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, half asleep.

“Our warg guide from yesterday sent one of his pack to find us.  He needs to talk to us urgently.” I answered as Chucaro quickly got to her feet.

“Is it about Wargie?  Is she ok??”  she asked, voicing my concerns.

“We’ll know more when we speak to him.  We need to go.”

Chucaro followed me to where I left the warg.  We followed close behind as he led us to his leader.  It wasn’t long until he slowed down… we were close as I could sense other wargs nearby.  The warg led us to a large den… it wasn’t far from the dwarven keep as their pungent odor permeated the air.  We stopped near the entrance and waited.  After a few minutes, the warg we spared yesterday appeared from the entrance, followed by two other wargs… both from the same pack, as well.  Chucaro let out a low growl as we both went into a defensive stance.

The new leader sensed our unease and said, “It’s ok… they are loyal to me now… you are safe here,” he said, trying to ease the tension.  “I tracked them down after talking to you two and these three have sworn their allegiance to me…”

“What of the fourth one?” I asked.

He looked away at first, then at the ground before looking me in the eyes.  “He… has decided to choose a different path and is no longer welcomed here… if he is seen, his life is forfeit.”  Noticing the questioning look on my face and before I could ask, he continued, “He has given his alliance to the dwarves… I don’t know what problems that may cause, but that is not why I sent for you two.”  His voice grew serious, “Please come inside… I don’t trust anyone outside of the three with me, and you two, of course.”

We followed him inside the den, our senses heightened, not sure what to expect.  The other three remained outside, guarding the entrance.

“The situation has changed,” he began.  “The dwaves have already left and were seen heading west.”

“What?  When did they leave?  We must go after them…”  I growled… anger once again rising.

“There’s more…” he paused.  “There wasn’t just one group that left… there were two.  Each one had a covered cage that looked identical… while I could tell that the warg was with them, I couldn’t tell which cage held her.  I’m sorry… I should have stayed to keep an eye on them, but after talking to you, I felt I needed to try to gather the others to try to salvage what I could out of our pack.”

“I understand,” Chucaro interjected, “we are not blaming you for do what you did… we never expected to get any other help from you, to be honest, after what happened yesterday.  We are thankful for the information, but we need to go after them now.”

“I know, I just wanted to give you what information I could gather and return the help that you gave us yesterday.  I don’t know if the other warg is with them, but be wary… he has always been a snake in our pack and cannot be trusted.  I wish we could help you more, but I fear we would just slow you down.”

“You’ve done plenty… more than we could have asked for, but this is our fight, not yours and we would be wrong to ask anything of you,”  I replied.

“I’m not sure exactly when they left, but when I trailed after them, I got as close as I could for fear of being seen. They traveled west towards the Forsaken Inn, just near the edge of where the Bree-lands begin.  It was at that point that the two groups split up… one continued west and the other north, heading towards the marshes.  I’m just not sure which one contained your warg.”  he concluded, sounding defeated.

“Thank you, warg.  It seems we are growing deeper into your debt,” Chucaro said.  “Your help thus far has been more than we could have hoped for.  You will make a fine pack-leader.”

“I am called ‘Swiftpaw’ by the others,” he said. “I’ve been known as the fastest warg in the area.  But, you need to hurry before anymore ground is lost.”

We nodded and thanked Swiftpaw again quickly before we sprinted back to the camp.  Dawn was fast approaching and they would be readying to move out soon.

As predicted, the others were awake and nearly done with packing up the camp.  We found Winterwulf and quickly told him the new information we had learned.

“Perfect timing, then,” he responded, hopping onto his horse.  “I’ll inform the others while we ride.  We’re moving out, taking the main road west, towards the Forsaken Inn.”

As the group headed out on horseback, with Cucaro and I running near the front, a slight, uneasy feeling crept over me… we were being watched… it was very subtle, almost un-noticeable, but it was there ever since we got to Ost Guruth.  Knowing where we were and being alien to this region, I brushed it off… “Why should we be surprised if we are being followed?” I asked myself.  “I should be more surprised if we weren’t being tracked… we are following after a dangerous enemy, after all.”  I didn’t dare dismiss the fact, but I tucked it away in the back of my mind if needed, and concentrated on the task at hand.

——————

We raced hard along the road heading west until the Forsaken Inn came into view.   As we passed by the inn, the landscape slowly changed from the barren wasteland of the Lonelands into the lush, moist terrain of the marshes marking the eastern border of the Bree-lands.   We stopped to survey the area… there were ruts in the road heading west, but no sign of any travel north, into the marshes.

“We’ll continue west until we see signs indicating the group has split up,” Winterwulf decided.   Something didn’t feel right to me… my senses were screaming at me to head north… that was the direction I would find the dwarves… and Wargie!

As the horse started to continue west, Chucaro began after them, then stopped and turned towards me.  “Death?” she asked.

“Something doesn’t feel right,” I replied.  “My senses are telling me to head north… that is where we’ll find them.”

“Then north we’ll head… your senses have never led us astray, and I trust you with my life.”

I glanced towards the horses riding off to the west and led Chucaro north, into the marshes.  As we moved further into the murky landscape, a thick fog enveloped us.  I thought I heard someone yelling our names, followed by some cursing, but it wasn’t long before the only sounds we heard were the slogging of our feet through the spongy terrain and the chittering of insects and whatever else lived in these lands…

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