Everyone was up and ready to move out at the crack of dawn… well, what could be considered as dawn. The clear, sunny skies we were used to gave way to a dreary, grey morning… with a steady, soaking rain to keep us company. That didn’t bother me at all. I was anxious to be back on the hunt, and weather wouldn’t dampen that in the slightest. Even Chucaro just sat at the cave entrance waiting for the group to be off.
The huntress and the burglar were the last of the group to join us. “Well,” said the burglar in his normally good-humored mood as he peered out in the dimly lit morning, “We’re going to be trudging through more swampy land as it is, so this will get us acclimated rather quickly, I would guess.” His beaming smile doing nothing to raise the spirits of the minstrel or the huntress.
“But it was such a beautiful day yesterday. Couldn’t the rain have held off for a while longer?” Creami asked in a somber tone.
“This will help mask our sent as we get closer to our target.” I assured the others. “Besides,” I added as I looked at the burg, “some of the group could really use a bath at this time.”
“Wha…?” the burglar asked in an offended tone as he raised an arm up and sniffed. “Must still be goo left over from the spider queen and her court.”
“Still blaming the spiders for you natural scent?” the huntress added with a raised eyebrow and a sardonic grin.
“Hrmph!” the burglar said as he folded his arms across his chest and started to sulk.
“So how far is it til we are into the next swamp?” I asked, trying to bring the group back to the task at hand.
“Ah, it shouldn’t take us very long to get there,” the huntress chipped in. “Just watch your footing as we get out of sight of the lack… this swamp isn’t as bad as the marsh where we met with the spiders, but the water can get deep in some parts. Now, as we head north, we’ll come upon some ruins known as Ost Ardulin… this is where the group will part ways, as orcs currently inhabit this area. Creami, Silentknife and I will head east at this point. We can skirt around the orcs easily enough, but will need to be on guard for the trolls to the east. We can follow the water around as we hit dry land and work our way northwest to the Elven outpost called Lin Giliath. We can get fresh mounts from the stables there and make our way to Esteldin before we meet back up with Deathwulf and Chucaro.”
“And we will head west when we part ways, I assume?”
“Well, you may want to head more northwest, at least until you bypass the elven area. It is guarded, but not to the extent as most outposts… there are not many who stay there anymore during these dark times. Once you are past Lin Giliath, across the small stream, you will be in the Kingsfell. Keep the water to your left as you continue north and you should avoid any free peoples… there is a large orc encampment you will find easily enough. Continuing north, you will be passing through farmlands… keep on that route until you come to the main east-west road. With the road in sight, head west until you come to a bridge. You can then continue north across the road at that point. Keep heading north, northeast and you should find the camp of the Ranger, Orthonn… if he doesn’t find you first,” she said, finishing off with a wink.
“Who is this ranger we are to find?” Chucaro asked.
“He should already know to expect you two,” the burglar interjected. “He knows these lands intimately and will know of our presence as soon as we step foot into the North Downs. Wait with him until we meet back up with you… and whatever you do, do not go after those dwarves alone!”
“We can handle ourselves just fine, thank you,” I re-iterated.
“That’s not the problem… I want to be in on the killing, as well!” he said, flashing his big smile.
The minstrel and huntress both sighed and shook their heads… “Males…” they both uttered in unison. Chucaro howled with laughter.
“You have no idea,” she added, smiling as she looked at me.
Despite the dreary weather, the travel was swift and uneventful. We could see the beginnings of the ruins near Ost Ardulin and stopped to scope out the area. We were highly alert more for what wasn’t there… the lack of orc patrols and the sounds of orc camps in general… even the sounds of nature were absent. The still, unnatural silence was unnerving.
“I don’t like this at all,” the burglar said, breaking the silence. “This is where we must part, but be extremely careful. We will meet back up at Ost Lagoras with the ranger Orthonn. If we get there before you, we will wait for you… I expect the same with you?”
“Yes, human, we will wait… for a time.”
“Fair enough!” he replied with a laugh. “Safe travels, Deathwulf… Chucaro.”
The huntress, burglar and minstrel headed to the east as we watched then leave. Creami looked back at us with a look of concern. She briefly held her hand up to us before turning back to the others. In a matter of minutes, they were out of sight.
I looked at Chucaro and without a word, we went stealth. We made our way towards the ruins… something wasn’t right and I intended to find out why. We slowly made our way across a small pond when we first heard the noise… a faint humming coming from the center of the ruins. As we came out of the water, we slowly made our way up the bank as the humming grew louder… I couldn’t put my paw on the sound, but it had an odd familiarity to it. We came up to a fallen pillar… the sound was much louder now… a steady buzzing. I looked at Chucaro and then slowly peered over the column… the sight I saw before me froze me in place as I discovered the source of the buzzing noise… it was the sounds of swarms of insects feeding off the slaughtered remains of the orcs who had inhabited Ost Ardulin! I heard Chucaro gasp as she viewed the carnage before us. It looked like a battlefield where all the combatants were just orcs… no other bodies could be seen. But we knew that they wouldn’t turn on themselves to this extent… this was caused by an outside entity.
We slowly made our way around the perimeter of the camp as we surveyed the scene… orcs were killed in every way imaginable… we saw badly charred remains, parts of orcs that appeared to have been frozen solid before being blasted to pieces… others that looked to be torn in half by lightning strikes… the stench was nearly overwhelming, let alone the sight of the carnage. “Balarbaz…” Chucaro said, explaining it all.
And Wargie… judging by the way some of the bodies were ripped apart. “Let’s hurry and find that ranger… we are running out of time.”
We skirted west of Lin Giliath… mostly to avoid any encounters with elves, but also to not run into any other possible war zones. We crossed the stream the burglar mentioned and made our way up into the Kingsfell. We remained stealthed as we made our way north, keeping the water to our west… it wasn’t long until we came upon the aforementioned orc outpost. Upon first glance, signs of battle were obvious, but outside of charred wooden posts and huge holes blasted through wooden walls, there was an abundance of activity… orcs busy repairing the damage to the outpost fortifications, with the leaders yelling out instructions as the grunts broke their backs moving new lumber into position. We slowed our pace as we made our way along the outer walls, trying to pick up any information we could… which was little as the tongue used here was more barbaric than what we were used to. We were hoping to come across some wargs that could give us more information as we made our way north to the ranger… if the path of destruction didn’t beat us to him, first.