"Are you planning on going out again immediately?"
"That was our plan, yes," Dubricus told her.
"Fairly soon, maybe tomorrow," the orc amended.
"I'm just curious how much longer you're going to be in town, I'm going to be passing this information along to Devereaux, and he may wish to speak with you."
"We have to go out again forthwith, but I'm sure we'll be right back," Terzin told her.
"You have great faith in your abilities."
That went without saying. They took their leave and returned to the blacksmith to pick up the newly refurbished mail, and also stopped by the bakery. Brother Martin regretfully told them that he was needed there and could not accompany them on this next trip. Dubricus was devastated.
The five of them, then, set out for the valley. Francis was very unhappy about the chain, which was extremely heavy, and they made slower progress than they would have otherwise. Terzin straggled behind the others, moving from shadow to shadow and making certain they were not followed. They forded the river edge, noted that the Shy Tower was present and passed it by.
The sun was setting as they reached the valley, and they saw smoke and light coming from a higher-up cave, one mostly hidden by the undergrowth. They proceeded with caution toward their own shelter, Terzin still a shadow behind them. He lingered at the cave mouth for a few moments after the others had gone inside.
There he saw something move in the dense twilight. Something short and hunched over, that moved away in a scuttling fashion now that the group had gone inside. He readied an arrow and followed it to the edge of the Goblinwater. It was heading for a cave low down in the east wall. Terzin crossed the river; it heard him splash, stopped moving, abruptly changed path dove into some bushes. He sprinted, loosed the arrow as soon as he was within bowshot.
Whatever it was, he hit it; the scuttling figure fell to the ground. Terzin nocked a second arrow and ran up to about ten feet away. As he did so, it slowly regained its feet; a hunched, slender figure, humanoid, with small tusks. A young orc, maybe? Seeing him coming, it limped toward the bushes.
"Stop! Wait right there."
Two more steps, and it froze.
He couldn't be sure it understood Rell; it may have just guessed what his first command meant. It didn't seem to be armed, though it wore a number of pouches on a belt. He circled around it and indicated with a jerk of the bow that it should go back toward the river. It moved slowly as he herded it, clearly badly hurt. Terzin kept an eye out, not sure if his captive might have allies. Glancing back, he saw a second small figure making a sharp motion which strongly suggested that there was a rock coming for his head.
Terzin ducked and heard the stone whistle past. Giving up on his quixotic mission, he sprinted toward the river and the safety of the cave. The first creature had pulled something from a pouch and threw it toward his facea clod of dirt? He ducked down and rolled to avoid it, came back to his feet without breaking stride. Neither of them pursued him beyond the river.
The others had found nothing changed in their absence, no tracks in the ash that filled the back rooms, and promptly sunk their dwarven treasure into the cold water. Terzin found them there.
"Well, I have to say that we certainly lost sight of you along the trail," Dubricus greeted him heartily. "Were we followed?"
"Yes." He described the two beings he had seen. "I assume they know we're in here. Were those orc kids?"
"Probably kobolds," Harrick guessed.
"Which is what?"
"Like really short orcs, mostly."
"I've heard of kobolds as an orcish tribe, is that...?" Dubricus looked questioning.
"That would make more sense," Terzin remarked. "They certainly didn't fight like kids. They were armed with slings, and one of them threw, I don't know, I figured it was dirt or sand, I ducked."
"Probably a good choice," their tusked companion judged.
"Did you see where they came from?" Dubricus asked.
"No, they were just kind of lurking about the woods on the other side of the valley."
"It certainly seems as if there is more than one orcish clan here."
Harrick nodded. "Quite possibly. Kobolds generally attach themselves to another orc tribe."
"This valley is downright overpopulated," Robin muttered.
Terzin wandered over and looked down for the chain. "Hey, that's great, you can't see it at all."
They gave Dubricus a tour of their lodgings, including the resident water elementals, then settled down to discuss their next move.
"If we're lucky enough to find bugbears in this valley..." Harrick mused, thinking about what Dubricus had said.
"'If we're lucky?'" Robin repeated.
"I think I knowaccording to the legends that I've heard, anyway, they're herders, right?" the young man said.
"Among other things. They're the ones who are willing to talk first," Harrick said dryly. "They're a little more diplomatic than most tribes."
"Talking is what we we were hoping do with these people, right?" Robin said.
"Do you... think we should be trying to form an alliance with the tribes here? No offense, friend Harrick, but you were raised in a very different society than they were." Dubricus' look was earnest as always.
"Well, frankly, from what we've seen, they haven't been the ones marauding or waylaying caravans, frankly that's been the humans as far as I can tell. And from what they said the first time we came in here, the bandits have been coming in here and killing them all as well."
"If we can work out an arrangement with them, it would probably be for the best, for both sides," Robin opined.
"II do worry about that, do you have the authority to make such an arrangement?" He looked doubtful.
"Of course, we'd have to clear this with Devereax."
"We'll also have to stop shooting them," Terzin remarked.
"Yes!" Harrick couldn't believe he'd shot something without knowing who or what it was.
"That would be a nice start," his cousin agreed a bit acidly.
"That's why I didn't kill the one." Terzin, as always, was serene in the face of their clear disapproval.
Struck by a thought, Harrick said, "Hey Dubricus, you don't happen to know Clear Projection, do you?" The other Elementalist shook his head regretfully. There went that idea.
"If I can ask," Dubricus began a while later on, as they prepared to get some rest, "what drew the four of you out here?"
"The caves were calling us," Terzin told him seriously.
"You come from a small town, there's really not much to do," Robin replied, ignoring her cousin.
"And so you decided to risk your lives?"
"Have you ever wrestled a toad?"
"This is a lot safer than what most of us used to do for a living," Harrick had to agree.
"And more lucrative!" Terzin put in.
"Wrestled a toad?" Dubricus looked puzzled.
"They're about this tall...." She put out a hand.
"Oh, I had forgotten," he remembered their town of origin, and the armor most of them were wearing. "You wrestled them?"
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