Chucaro and I made our way north towards the location of the hunter Orthonn. While the damage done here was nothing like the slaughter of the orcs, there was still plenty to behold. I couldn’t quite figure out why Balarbaz was doing this… whether it was out of sheer madness, to ‘test’ whatever weapon he had created, or any other reason, he had to be stopped! The sobering fact was how much devastation was done in such a short amount of time.
We made our way past the orc encampment and were moving through large plots of farmland… it was like night and day… where damage could be seen from a mountain away behind us, what could be seen in all directions in the immediate area were vibrant, growing crops… why did they remain unscathed?
“I’m going to check around the perimeter of the farmland to see if anything else has happened around here,” I said to Chucaro in a near whisper.
“And I’ll check through the crops to see if there is anything else that may be going on here,” she replied.
“Be careful,” I told her without really needing to say the words.
She quickly disappeared into the crops as I made my way west along the edge of the farm. It wasn’t long until I reached the boundary of the farm. I looked along from the north to the west and saw no signs of damage. If they didn’t come this way, then where did they go? It’s almost as if they disappeared into thin air. I made my way up a hill, heading northwest and found my answer as I reached the crest… I was looking into the bowl of a large watering hole and near the edge of the water was what appeared to be a dead auroch… no, more like half an auroch… the upper half of its body appeared to have been cleanly sliced away from its lower half.
I slowly made my way down to the carcass… whatever was used to kill this beast was fast and efficient. As I got closer to the beast’s body, I noticed a large shadow in the water… the missing hump of the dead auroch! The faint smell of burnt flesh caught my nose. It appears that something very hot had separated the hump from the main body… the lightning skills from the runkeeper??? I took a defensive stance when I sensed I wasn’t alone, as 3 wargs emerged from the other side of the carcass and stood on the body, looking around my general area.
“Reveal yourself, warg… we know you are here,” said the nearest of the three… the leader, possibly? Before I came out of stealth, I sensed three more wargs slowly approaching me from behind. I positioned myself with my back to the water as I came out of stealth so I had all of them in my view.
“Trying to sneak in and steal our food source, I see,” the presumed leader spoke up once again. Upon quick inspection, the one who spoke was the elder of the pack… the remaining wargs appeared to still be young pups… and one near the speaker looked to have a bad limp.
“Steal food, no… merely trying to determine what happened to the beast,” I said in a neutral tone. Now was not the time to instigate a fight… even with the majority being pups, five or six on one was never good odds. “The beast is yours, do with it what you like.”
“Oh, we intend on that,” he said, “but I don’t believe you one bit. You’re not from around here, and we don’t take kindly to strangers.” The one with the limp moved slightly to the side, giving me a better view of the injured leg… no, the leg wasn’t injured, it had been taken clean off! The wound was still fresh… how were they still able to stand, let alone walk?!
As I was formulating a plan, I saw a flash of movement from behind them… she never fails to amaze me, I thought as Chucaro landed with a pounce beside me, ready to take on any who made a movement. “And I didn’t even get to use our signal to inform you of trouble,” I said to her in a low voice.
“I know that I can’t leave you by yourself for any length of time before you get into trouble,” she replied without skipping a beat.
“Another one? So, my initial thoughts were correct… you are here for the meat! Are there any more of you? No matter… we can handle the likes of…” he never finished as the injured warg next to him, as well as the warg to his other side and the three flanking us slowly slunk down and began to back away. The leader sniffed the air and fear appeared in his eyes. “You…” he said, looking at Chucaro.
We relaxed our stance and I looked at the leader questioningly. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. They slowly continued to back away in terror.
“That one smells of the one who attacked my pack… they did that to her!” he accused, momentarily pointing to the injured warg.
Chucaro and I looked at each other… nothing needed to be said as we both knew they were referring to Wargie.
“What happened here?” I asked, but there would be no answer.
“Take the meat… but leave us be!”the leader yelled in horror as the wargs fled as fast as they could in the opposite direction. I could only imagine what hell they had encountered… even a young warg normally stands tall in adverse situations. But to be as fearful as they were told us all we needed to know.
“We need to find that ranger… soon,” I said as I led us around the bowl and up the slope to the north.
We approached the road the burglar told us with caution… everything north was scorched and there was no sign of life. The closer we got to the road, the more heat we could feel from what took place. For as far as we could see across the road, the land was jet black… we could see a number of skeletal remains near the perimeter of the blast zone… theirs bones stripped clean of all meat and skin. But nothing beyond that. Nothing.
The heat was still too intense to allow us to move through the area, so we had to go around. As we walked around the perimeter, it was apparent that if the hunter got caught in the blast, he didn’t survive. This would’ve wiped out the Hoarhallows back in the Moors… I shivered involuntarily at the thought.
We approached some hills and climbed up to get a better view of the area… it was an eerie feeling…. whatever happened here completely leveled the landscape… no trees, no rocks or boulders could be seen. We continued climbing up the nearby hills and as I moved past a tree, something whistled over my head, striking the tree. We disappeared from sight… I glanced at the tree and saw an arrow protruding from it… there was a piece of white cloth attached to the arrow. As I looked in the direction the arrow came from, I saw Chucaro already on the move. I quickly pursued after her.
I picked up his scent nearby atop a rocky crag… Chucaro was quickly inspecting the area, but couldn’t find a way up… it was just out of reach of her highest jump.
“I was hoping that would get your attention,” came a deep voice from the shadow of the crag. A human appeared out of the shadow.
“When we get hold of you, human, you’ll wish that arrow found its mark!” I growled at him menacingly.
“If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead, Deathwulf,” the human responded. “I simply wanted to get your attention and get you away from that area. Now, when Chucaro has calmed down, we can talk.”
At the mention of her name, Chucaro came out of stealth… a look that would kill a hobbit all on its own directed at the human. “How is it you know who we are, human?” she asked, venom dripping from her voice.
“Surely Silentknife and Sylwith told you about me? I am the hunter, Orthonn.”
“And why should we believe you?” Chucaro interrogated?
“I’ve known you were here since you left Nen Harn,” he said with a deep laugh. He grew serious as he continued, “We don’t have much time… the Dourhands are massing and after the razing of the nearby lands, they will not stay still long…. I fear their first target will either be Othrikar or Esteldin.”
Chucaro looked back at me… he seems to know quite a bit about what is going on… he must be the hunter they told us about… I nodded to her and she walked back over to me. We sat down as the hunter eyed us wearily.
“Very curious, indeed,” he said as he looked for a safe spot to come down to. “I would very much enjoy studying you two at some point in time.”
“Don’t give me any more reasons to kill you, human” I warned.
“Very interesting, indeed,” he repeated as he came down from his perch, landing as light as a feather. “Follow me,” he said, “the Dourhand have scouts all over… I have a hidden camp not far from here. It’ll be safe to talk once we get there.” Chucaro and I went into stealth as we followed after the hunter. He moved swiftly over the rugged terrain… the two of us had to work to keep up with him…. he knew the area very well.
As we trailed after the hunter, I caught the scent of something close by… a dwarf, judging by the stench… and a Dourhand, at that! I scanned the area quickly as we followed the hunter… There! Up on the rocks up ahead on our left! But Chucaro was already in action… I closed in on our hunter in case I needed to move him out of harm’s way as Chucaro made a bee-line for the scout. As the scout nocked an arrow and took careful aim at his target, Chucaro pounced!
Chucaro’s jaws clamped on his arm, causing the arrow to fly harmlessly through the air. The hunter stopped and took a defensive stance behind a tree. I positioned myself between the hunter and the scout as we both watched Chucaro at work. The scout, surprised at the sudden attack, tried to brace himself from the impact, but his foot slipped on the rock, causing him to fall towards the edge of the rock. Chucaro tried to compensate for the scout’s fall, but lost her footing on the slick rock, causing her to roll over the top of the scout. Her jaws were clamped tight, however as they both fell off the rock and out of sight for the moment. I raced to where they landed and found them at the base of the hill… Chucaro landing on top of the stocky dwarf.
As I rushed to her side, she slowly started to get up. She shook her head slightly and, upon seeing me rushing towards her, started to walk towards me.
“Behind you!”I yelled, but I was not fast enough… the dwarf had rolled over onto his side and lunged towards Chucaro, a deadly dagger in hand. The blade plunged into her flank as she went down with a yelp.
I leapt over Chucaro and locked my jaws onto the dwarf’s neck, smashing his head against the rocky hillside… the dwarf slid limply down to the ground as my jaws crushed his throat… a trail of blood and brains followed his head as it slid down the rocks.
I quickly turned my attention back to Chucaro as the hunter had already reached her. He pulled the blade from her thigh and tossed it aside with a disgusted look. “Poison blade,” he said as he gently picked her up. “We are close to my cave, but we must hurry before the poison spreads too for into her system… follow me… quickly!” I followed after, failing miserably to keep the tears from welling up.