Ludo moved up to Hasan and whispered, “I think we should go and have a look at who is making the fire, this far into the wilderness the only people I would expect to see would be more ‘Sons of Night’ cultists, or possible hunters, either way we will get some information about what is around here”.
“Da, Ludo,” Stephan said. “You and Hasan can likely get a good view from up that way before getting closer if needed.” He pointed to some bluffs overlooking the river.
Stephan peered at the smoke again. “A small fire. They did not travel far for the wood. It appears to be this riverside oak bramble,” he indicated the dominant foliage surrounding them. “They’re not expecting anyone in these parts, I’d wager. Or they’d have taken better care with the smoke.”
“I doubt that they are travelers this far up the valley.” said Maruc, “I suspect a scouting party, guardians or watchers of the path. Be careful. Halav go with you.”
Miklos nodded in agreement. “I’d suggest preparing ourselves for the worst and hoping for the best, as they say. There are many dwellers of mountains. A best they are dwarves, at worst a stone giant. I doubt dragons would build fires so little chance of that! But knowing our luck I’d imagine a goblinoid race of some description. I’d get your axe ready Feldard.”
Hasan nodded. “The land grows rougher by the mile, but it’s still forestland to me. Come along Ludo, and walk softly now.” The elf handed his shield to Maruc, “Bring this ahead for me, alright? A little glinty for now, I think.”
And with that, the elf and stealthy human ascended the first hillock between themselves and the smoke. At the summit, Hasan waved his companions forwarded, then turned to plunge quickly into the deep brush. The elf unslung his bow, as he and Ludo walked and winced their way through the brambled wood. The ground grew a little damp under their feet, and mushrooms grew larger. A tributary to the Foamfire winkled through the wood, 200 yards away. A raven’s distant shriek echoed through the vale.
Hasan judged the smoke. It was small like Stephan had surmised. It had the characteristics of a dying fire, perhaps from embers still smoldering from morning. It was still. He could not be absolutely certain, but he doubted there was anyone, or anything, still around to pose a threat.
Ludo followed Hasan amazed at how quietly he moved even whilst wearing armour. The forest seemed still and the air heavy in the midday heat, and the moisture under his feet was welcome even though he could not help occasionally making a ‘skelch’ sound as he moved through the undergrowth. Eventually Hasan lower his body to the ground as they approched a clearing, Ludo followed suite and slithered forward to the edge of the clearing.
A flock of black crows took to the air, cawing loudly, startled by the party’s approach. Scattered around the smoking remains of a large fire were a few pots and pans, the torn fragments of some bedrolls and a broken spear shaft.
The other joined them and commenced a search of the area that revealed numerous footprints, some human and others that were slightly larger. A noticeable trail lead northwards up the valley. In the remains of the fire were the blackened bones of a group of humans. There were no skulls.