They arose before dawn the next morning—Almonihah and Garkhen because they could not stay asleep, Zakhin’Dakh when Almonihah came over and told him to wake up. Nor did it seem they were alone in their restlessness, for a number of Rangers including the Commander were up and about, preparing for their expedition.
The Commander greeted them when the three approached. “Good, we’ll want an early start. With any luck, our quarry has camped not too far into the Madlands, and we can catch him before he awakes, or shortly thereafter.”
“That would be ideal,” Garkhen agreed.
“It’s probably best not to let him know we’re coming, though,” the Ranger Commander continued, “So I’m afraid you’ll have to stay on the ground,” he pointed to Zakhin’Dakh, who responded with a disappointed cheep.
Almonihah grunted. “S’pose so. Still, should be ready ‘f we need t’ move fast.”
“Indeed. But we had best move now. You are ready?”
Soon enough the three friends and about a dozen Rangers set out for where the fallen Ranger had been found. Garkhen rode on Zakhin’Dakh’s back, so as to not slow the group, while Almonihah walked alongside. The Rangers spread out, moving quietly through the wooded hills as they made their way across the country.
While they traveled, Garkhen looked down at Almonihah and quietly said, “It is sad that the situation is so dire that they do not have time to look to their fallen comrade.”
Almonihah was quiet for a long moment before replying. “Didn’t notice? Don’t think th’ Commander slept, ‘nd there was fresh dirt near th’ Headquarters. They did it in th’ night.”
“I see…” Garkhen murmured, then fell silent.
The sky was just beginning to brighten with the first hints of dawn when the Rangers ahead of them stopped. Almonihah gazed forwards, trying to make out what was going on as they approached.
“Must be th’ place th’ Ranger died,” he told Garkhen, then jogged ahead to join them.
Once he arrived, the signs were clear enough—the Javni’Tolkhrah had not taken any cares to hide their tracks, much less the signs of combat. The jumble of prints was too chaotic to get any kind of count, but it was clear that several very large creatures had been through here—the lone Ranger would have been seriously outmatched.
Without needing to speak, the group turned north, towards the Madlands. The trail was wide and easy to follow, and it grew easier to get an estimate on their quarry’s numbers.
“Ten. At least.” One of the Rangers stated as he walked. His companions looked grim.
Almonihah growled. “Let’s hope ‘t doesn’t get t’ be more.”
No one felt the need to add anything to that, and they again walked in silence for a while. After a few minutes, there was a subtle change in the air—something impossible to define or describe, but nonetheless real, a kind of… restless energy around them.
One of the Rangers spoke. “We have entered the Madlands.”
And I still haven’t named that Ranger Commander. 😀