Shadow of Hope 46

Having been refreshed by an undisturbed evening of rest and the promise of a rain free day ahead, the party departed the camp in heightened spirits, anxious to continue forward on their journey. At Erellia’s request, Zulian and Borlak exchanged positions at the head and rear of the column, and the slender half-Elf lead the way along the murky flow of the Wicked Way.

Travel was swift as the sun’s rays and the gusting winds began to dry out the terrain, and the lay of the land became considerably less cluttered. Despite a noticeable increase in elevation, the morning hours passed rapidly, and a quick lunch was consumed astride mounts as the scribe of Deneir anticipated. With little sign of trouble throughout the journey, a mounting sense of tension began to form amidst the ranks. Surely something must be lurking nearby in these inhospitable hills to threaten this small group of travelers.

“Here,” Erellia spoke loudly enough for Zulian to hear, “We turn away from the river here, heading toward where the sun will set.” No visible marker or outward sign was apparent for the change in course, but Zulian moved the group off into the wilds, blazing a trail across the rugged landscape.

The alteration in direction served to lessen the sense of unease that had been building throughout the morning, and once again, the watchful eyes of the party began scanning the surrounding countryside for potential dangers.
An hour or two later, Erellia called a halt and dismounted, walking to the head of the line. Standing motionless for a few moments, she extended her arms outward and turned her face toward the sun. “I must look ahead for a few moments,” she said, lowering her face from the sky, “Please wait here.”

Kurn halted as bidden, turning his mount to face outward from the path of the party’s progress to better keep watch on his quarter as Erellia investigated.
The Elven woman moved on ahead, swinging her head from side to side, searching for something that, from the looks of it, would be on the ground.

“Something is…troubling here,” Zulian said dourly to those within earshot, “There is too little movement within these hills and woods. More than luck is at work here, no offense,” she acknowledged Katarina with a smile, “For us to have come this far unchallenged.”

“Agreed,” Kurn said, “Like a predator, an organized ambush, or a distant front.”

From some fifty feet ahead, Erellia emerged from around a small hillock and beckoned, “This way. We are close now.”

Zulian’s gaze swung across those closest to her, emphasizing her sense of discord, but she grabbed the reins of her horse and began walking the animal toward where Erellia waited.

Kurn’s matching gaze was stoic and accepting of Erellia’s lead in this matter, though he did offer Zulian a nod to confirm he was aware and alert. He resumed his horse’s pace in line.

As the group approached the Elven patron, two stumpy and warped trees came into view on the far side of the hillock where she lingered. The bark of the trees was mottled in places along the twisting growth of limbs and trunk as they loomed near the edge of a narrow ridgeline. Erellia waited for everyone to gather near before offering further instruction.

“The lands around the village of Anquilla are guarded,” she began, “It is one of the ways those who dwell there insure a peaceful existence within this rugged environment. Zulian will lead us through those trees and along the ridgeline beyond,” she said, motioning in the direction of the gnarled trunks.

“A short distance after, she will guide us into a narrow defile,” Erellia continued, gazing at each member of the company in turn, “Passing through that defile will bring us to the lands of Anquilla. Follow the one in front of you closely and do not deviate from the path. If you do so, you may be challenged.”

The last word was spoken with enough purpose so as to inspire the appropriate caution.

“Anyone may leave Anquilla by any means,” she said in reassurance, “Finding one’s way back may prove to be somewhat more difficult however. Please keep this in mind.”


Shadow of Hope 47

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