Feldard looked to Hasan. “This trail could go on a while. If we are going to follow it to its source, we should gather the group together first.”
Maruc started out of his prayer at the shout of an oarsman next to him. There was movement from the trail. Squinting into the gloom of the forest he recognized the oddly matched duo. “Aha! our scouts have returned.” He pulled on his over-tunic and roused Miklos, who looked up and snapped his book shut. He was eager to here the news, and guessed that their onward journey would not be by boat.
Back at the boat, Feldard proposed their two options—continue on to Misha’s Jetty or follow the tracks.
In the back of Feldard’s mind was that he couldn’t risk seeking Hernane while someone was actively hunting him and his companions down. With her adventuresome nature. she would likely wish to join along. Something he would not tolerate. No, not in the least.
Hasan listened to the dwarf’s argument. “We cannot flatter ourselves. The idea that the Iron Ring was looking for us defies reckoning. Those Ringmen certainly were not prepared for what they found — that encounter … it was little more than a slaughter, I’m afraid to say. No, I think they will look for softer prey than us.”
Hasan turned to Stephan. “I would like to help you, but as an elf, my price is a Dorian. Come friends, let us take this quick trip. These steeds will serve us well as we seek to cover the ground to find the Sons of Darkness. For it is they that are our enemy. For now, the Iron Ring is not. Let us not seek this new trouble.”
“Noble Stephan has already offered his steads in payment. No need to make demands old chap!” a smile playing across Maruc’s face. “As far as I can gather from Miklos’s paranoia he sees enemies at every turn. What little I know of the Iron Ring is that they are not to be trifled with, thusly Hasan’s feeling that we should move on and put some miles between us and these waylayers has merit. However, if these men, who I believe were employed (and not on some personal mission or we would be in trouble!) by agents of the Sons of Night then we are obliged to follow them lest the trail run cold.”
“I think we need to follow the trail,” agreed the cleric. “If Miklos is right and this ambush was laid in wait for us specifically.then we need to find out exactly who we are up against this time.” Feldard reasoned.
Miklos listened carefully and then eye’d the boatmen suspiciously. “Come over here a ways my friends I wish to discuss some things way from unknown ears. Come Stephan, if you would learn more of what Maruc alluded to earlier.”
When they were out of earshot he turned to Stephan. “So that you night know what we are trying to do I shall explain somewhat for our discoveries. In our travels, we ran across a dark book that proficied an event called the Dread Night. As you can imagine from the title, it is not an event that we wish to endure. We have taken it upon ourselves to thwart those that would bring this about. So far we have battled the undead, evil magi, priests of death and witches. The one connecting factor betwixt them all its the prophecy. Sevastian used the book to extend his life after death, the Magus Dentiata actively sort to begin the prophecy with the help of and evil priest by the name of the Rahib. But as soon as the Rahib discovered our intention he sought more powerful allies in the form of three evil spirits that sort to dwell in the bodies of elf maids.” Miklos cast his gaze about ensuring they were alone.
“There were clues that pointed in the direction of the dwelling of the sisters at the Temple of the Grey Mountain, but this does not make sense now. The very first line of the Dark book reads ‘The Breach of the Lost Temple’ yet that Temple was known to many. I considered Dentiata’s Tower, but that was a new construction. So we have yet to discover the place.” Miklos brightened, “If my theory about the Iron Ring proves true then that is the best evidence that we are on the right track!”
“The Sisters already possessed the Black Opal Eye as was mentioned in Sevastian’s tomb, Denetiata had acquired the Dark Book from Sevastian and was in the process of acquiring the Opal when we intervened. Thankfully the Opal is now destroyed and the spirits with it. I rather hoped that would be an end to it. I fear now this is not the case.”
“I have made a further discovery, it gives me an odd feeling of puppetry. As if we are being manipulated in some way. But I discovered something of the Elvenstar. It is a powerful artifact in the possesion of the Wendarian Elves north of here. In fact, the route continues directly past our destination at Threshold. It could be the key to undo the plans of our foes. But it is said to protect the boarders from invasion, acquiring it may prove fruitless unless we have a black horde on our heels!”
“Now to a decision! I’m sorry Stephan but we must follow the Iron Ring. To do otherwise would be folly. We do not know for sure that all the assailants were involved in the strike. Some may even be now hastening to their Masters to report the defenses we can muster. They will come at us with more strength, guile and cunning lest we strike back swiftly!”
Stephan listened intently as Miklos told the group’s tale. His eyes widened several times. But more so, his brow furrowed as he tried to comprehend it all.
“Nay, sounds to be a grave quest. Where these “Dentiata” and “Sevastian” companions of you at the first? You speak of many things I’ve not heard. This fell book, do you still have it? And did you destroy the other Eye?”
“They have been defeated along with the Rahib and the Sisters.” replied Miklos, “But it seems our actions have not gone unnoticed. We must act swiftly. But I see a way to confuse our trackers. If we travel North we could lead our pursuers into beliving we have fled. We could then double back and put them on the wrong footing. But this depends on the weather—should it turn, rains would wash the track away. So I leave it to Hasan to make the call, would the tracks be too difficult to follow if we delay?”
Stephan cast his gaze to the setting sun. “Regardless of you decision, I recommend you overnight at Misha’s. We are not far but should be moving soon while whe have light. You can come back to the ruffians’ tracks at first light. Of course you must do what you must. Just as I must.” Looking to the elf he asked, “Hasan, are there any additional markings or items on the one who was slotting his fellows?”
“Nay, his markings were the same,” he answered. “Though by his skill and bearing, there is no doubt that he was their leader.”
Stephan nodded at the elf’s answer. “I wish to stay with you as far as I can. But I must fulfill my promise to Pytor, my brother.” Gesturing with a nod and look, “His homestead lies in that direction. If you would have me, I can stay with you for a time before having to part for Pyotr’s.”
Stephan examined the make of any of the enemy arrows to see if he could tell their origin. He then made a survey of the boat to see if there was any cargo that the attackers may have been after. When asked about his searching the boat, “I just wondered if the attackers were after something in particular. Mayhap this boat carries some secret.”
To Kalanos, the captain, Stephan asked, “What is your cargo? Can you figure why these robbers were after you? Or did they attack because such boats are always plentiful?”
“The boat has nothing of great worth,” answered the old sailor. “The river traffic is very light this time of year. If these villains be thieves, they would have been better served attacking during the Highforge trading season.” He offered to let the group examine the cargo. Nothing of any particular interest was found.
Hasan heard that his companions would not go on without investigating further. Thinking on it, it made some sense. But it made even more sense to do so with the big man from the boat alongside. “Stephan, I would go to Rifflian with you. But Miklos is right. First, we must clear the way. To do less would be folly. I do not know this Ring beyond what we have seen today, but it is clear they will threaten your family’s trade until they choke it to death. Why not ally your purpose with ours?”
Stephan eyed what he could of the trail, noting the direction from which Hasan and Feldard returned. “Aye, the jetty is close and in that direction,” he gestured to the tracks. “Just as is Pyotr’s…” The realization is visible on the fighting man’s face. The words of Hasan must have sunk in…
“They may be heading to the homestead!” And with that ,he started up the trail.
“Halav has provided us a clear sky. The light will last but we must show our appreciation of His grace and start our journey!”
Maruc finished recladding himself with his armour for the journey ahead. He didn’t relish the idea of traveling in platemail but he couldn’t risk further arrows, and by all accounts the distance wasn’t too far. He shouldered his shield and pack and followed the others down the trail.
Hasan fell in next to Miklos and watched poor Stephan lead the way. The elf admired the man’s obvious earnestness and devotion to family. Not a bad traveling companion, he thought, and he wondered at how long their paths would be joined.
* * * * *
With Hasan taking the lead, the group followed the tracks of the attackers into the Dymrak Forest along the river route. It wasn’t long before they came to a campsite. Apparently, the members of the Iron Ring had stayed here over night. A quick search was conducted. The elf was able to pick up more tracks. One group of tracks, belonging to a large group of men, led in the direction of Misha’s. Hasan noted another set of tracks, belonging to only one man, led in another direction—deeper into the Dymrak forest—to the area of the Traladaran settlements, and that of Sukiskyn.
Nothing else of value or interest was found at the site.