It was their fourth day of travel.
Only Tristan the moody priest remained behind. The Trigiuan was pleasant enough giving out his ‘good-byes’, but grew recalcitrant soon after, withdrawing back into the inn as the Adventurers-Upon-Return departed with the rising sun.
The lands north of Ganse were a bit different from the wet and forested hills east and south of the town. A rugged land of huge boulders and crags, seemingly tossed about by an army of giant children. Few caravans traveled in this direction, and the roads were less paved, often meandering through jagged, rock-strewn gullies and fissures. Grasses, shrubs, and occasional gnarled and twisted miniature trees, fought a seemingly endless battle with the rocks and stones for space and room to grow.
The weather was at least mildly cooperative. The skies were clear and blue, the cold, crisp air, chilled the lungs with every breath, even as the deceptive late autumn sun blinded the eye. At least it wasn’t raining, Glordren thought as he walked, happy to be rid of the drenching downpours.
The companions made their way slowly but in fine spirits, trudging through the rough terrain, avoiding pitfalls and rocks, making their way around the larger, randomly tossed boulders and ravines. Some chatted, some walked silently, and yet others lamented the lack of mounts, despite the fact that this northern hinterland was an obviously poor choice of terrain for horses.
Why would Professor Agoroy Zelmundt come this way? The land was turgidly desolate.
Vallace the Whipmaster had mentioned a tower, a village, and a library, during his drunken ramblings. Vee felt energized as he paused to suck in a lung-full of cold air. What secrets do you seek, eh Professor? What have you found, or think you’ll find? I am on your heels Zelmundt! Vee smiled.
For an entire fourth day, the Adventurers-Upon-Return made their way due north, until finally the sun began its descent, and the air grew even colder. Birds flew overhead, but few signs of life presented themselves to the companions. It was a barren land, yet hints of habitation abounded, such as when Aerex spied what looked to be tracks of some large mountain lion, or some other puma-like feline, or when Jjuldae examined some scat and blithely announced that wolf packs proliferated in these lands.
What had struck the companions most however, and not for the first time, was just how far Ganse was from civilization, and just how quickly the lands around that speck of a town grew wild and inhospitable. Four days out of Ganse, heading north and slightly west, the Adventurers-Upon-Return were now approaching true wilderness. A vast, broken, haphazard, and granite-strewed terrain sprawled out before them.
Finding a campsite for the night proved simple enough, the companions choosing a relatively flat ground, beside a thirty-foot, thirty ton, oval boulder, sticking out from the ground like a beacon, and offering good protection from the wind, which had picked up, further chilling the travelers as darkness descended.
Jjuldae felt alive. The druid seemed to Kadarin as if he was some bird of prey. Jjuldae was standing some thirty feet away, with his back to the settling group, smelling the wind currents and staring into the graying skies, as if he was about to take flight.
Strange, thought Jjuldae. I feel strange, yet alive. As the druid glanced upwards he spotted an eagle, his totem, a white and gray osprey, gliding far overhead. What was this creature doing this far inland? Jjuldae knew that forty leagues toward the setting sun lay the sea, but this creature seemed lost.
The osprey shrieked and flew on, oblivious to Jjuldae’s queries.
Vorodon managed to get a bonfire going, with branches and dead stumps from the various stunted foliage haphazardly growing around and about. The half-ogre had also managed to find a bleached sheep skull, at least that’s what he called it, and used it as a head rest, reclining beside the firepit, awaiting his turn to guard.
Talia spoke with Vee as the two planned out the night-watch shifts. Out of the corner of her eye, Talia could spy Aerex casting more than the occasional glance her way. Was he smitten? Was that it? the Bladedancer thought as she continued listening to Keykold. She was also thinking of her father. The conversation with Loiha had resurfaced some old wounds, and Talia was now in a bit of a contemplative mood.
Dujek looked restless and seemed to be conversing with Koschei.
Kadarin handed the albino boy some food. The two had become inseparable, though Kadarin said little to anyone on the matter.
All was quiet as the companions settled in for another evening of sky watching, conversing, and thinking.
Moruz found himself wondering where in these parts a glassblower’s guild may be found. And more importantly, he wondered, why would it be here, in the middle of nowhere. He was told back in Ganse that the “Glassmaker’s Guild” was four to five days travel north. A few more days of travel perhaps, Moruz thought, as he gazed north, despite the darkening sky. In the distance, an impressive mountainous horizon had swallowed the setting sun. Those must be the perilous cliffs of the so-called Great Escarpment, the Ouzquin Dremorix pondered. But still, that impressive jagged scar, stretching across the land was another week’s travel at best
Before going to sleep, Moruz checked on the peculiar collection of substances he had found and purchased the night before leaving Ganse.