Skrie and Malusk circled Geordo’s camp, looking for tracks to tell them which direction the kidnappers might have taken.
“This way,” said Skrie, half a candlemark later. They found a path to the west of the wagon.
One set of footprints, followed by two more—a collection of smaller prints and one almost as big as Malusk’s.
“Here,” said Malusk when the track turned south, leading to a narrow wagon trail.
The marks became fresher, and they slowed their pace, checking the route ahead to ensure they weren’t spotted. Their quarry had stopped for a break when the pair caught up. Skrie crept close to hear what they were saying.
“Let’s go, Aquila,” the tall half-elf had his hand on the girl’s arm, trying to guide her away.
“I want to hear him out, Illeryl,” replied the girl, jerking her arm away. “Then we can leave.”
“Let her go, Helf,” growled the half-orc, leaning toward the pair.
“Look, Horc, I don’t take orders from you … wait, what’s that?” Illeryl drew his sword and faced the wagon trail the trio had traveled. The half-orc brought his quarterstaff around and crouched into a defensive stance.
Malusk came around from a tree, hands empty.
Dammit, thought Skrie.
“Well met,” he said, “is ever’thin’ alright?”
“None of your business, Horc,” snarled the half-elf, brandishing his sword in Malusk’s direction. “You’ll move along if you know what’s good for you.”
“Now, what kinda greetin’ is that?” Mal asked, hooking his thumbs in his belt. “Alls I asked was if ever’thin’ was okay,” he looked over at Aquila. “Seems ta me, th’ lady wants ta listen.”
The other half-orc moved to defend the girl.
“It’s okay, Grubak,” said the girl, looking at Malusk. “I’ll wager my uncle hired this dolt to take me back. Well, I’m not going back, and you can just go right back and tell him that. I’m done with trying to figure out what’s worth it in the junk he keeps finding.”
“Well, see, Miss,” said Malusk, “I c’ain’t do that, I promised him I’d bring ya back along with the items y’all stole.”
The girl sputtered at that. “That I … I what?”
“Th’ items ya stole when ya left, he wants ‘em back.”
Skrie saw the girl rub her chest from her spot in the brush when Malusk mentioned stolen items. She wondered if that was one of the pieces Geordo was so adamant about them returning.
“I don’t have time for this,” said Aquila, hands and lips moving.
“Malusk,” shouted Skrie, “watch out!”
The half-orc dove to the side as Skrie fired her crossbow at the girl. The mage let loose with a bolt of fire the same instant the half-elf jumped toward Malusk. The bolt grazed Illeryl, knocking him off balance and down the embankment on the far side of the trail. Not taking the time to reload the crossbow, Skrie used her divine ability to create a duplicate illusion of herself. She and her image shot out of the underbrush and rolled in different directions.
Malusk was facing off against the half-orc; the girl fumbled for spell components. Skrie loaded another bolt, aimed, and pulled the trigger. Malusk broke through Grubak’s defenses as the bolt hit the half-orc in the leg, dropping him to the ground, unconscious.
“Stop!” yelled Aquila, putting her hands out from her body. “Don’t kill him!”
“Watch her, Mal,” said Skrie, loading her crossbow and walking over to the ditch.
Looking down, she could see the half-elf about man-length down the slope. His ankle was twisted in a painful-looking position, and he cradled his sword arm.
“Please,” pleaded Aquila, “please help Grubak, don’t let him die.”
Skrie went over to where the half-orc lay bleeding in the dirt. Laying her hands on the wound, she prayed to her goddess, Tymora. After a moment, the bleeding stopped, and his breathing steadied.
“There,” said Skrie, “he won’t die.”
“Thank you,” said the girl.
“Now,” said the cleric, “we were sent here to bring you and your ill-gotten goods back to your uncle. He’s worried these two kidnapped you.”
“Kidna—what? No,” Aquila sputtered. “My uncle … my employer wanted to keep me prisoner. He wouldn’t let me leave with my friends.”
“Interesting,” answered the halfling. “From what I heard, your half-orc friend didn’t want you running off with that fellow,” Skrie hooked a thumb toward the gully.
“No, no, that’s not it at all,” the mage started, “we, uh, we were just having a disagreement as to which direction to take.”
“Keep going,” said Skrie, “this gets better as you go. I want to hear more.”
While the cleric talked to Aquila, Malusk took Grubak’s weapons and tied his hands, though he was still unconscious.
“Please …” came a low moan from the embankment. “… it hurts, please.”
“I’ll git ‘im,” said the half-orc as he dropped a rope over the edge. “Here, grab this wit’ yer good arm, I’ll pull ye up.”
When Illeryl was lying on the trail, Skrie prayed again for divine healing to mend the half-elf’s hurts. Malusk bound his hands and feet together when his arm and leg were fixed.
“You can’t …” he started. Malusk found a piece of cloth and gagged him.
“Now,” said Skrie, “I’ll start again. Your uncle hired us to find you and his stolen goods, and bring the lot of you back. Tell me why we shouldn’t truss you up like a guinea hen and haul you back to Geordo.”
“I’m tired of living in that wagon with an old man,” she said, stomping her foot. “Illeryl said we should take some of his junk and make our way somewhere else. We could sell everything and start new. He and I left, but Grubak caught up with us.”
“We got that part,” said the halfling. “You still haven’t convinced me to let you go.”
“Because I want to live my own life!” she shouted at Skrie. “He wouldn’t let me go, so I went with Illeryl on my own! Now, will you please leave us be?”
“I can’t do that,” said the cleric, turning to Malusk. “Mal, you know what to do.”
The half-orc started toward the girl, a length of rope in his hands.
“No…” she said, backing away. “Wait! I … I’ll give you the jewelry we took,” she reached into her bodice, pulled the ring from her shirt, and tossed it into the dirt at Malusk’s feet. Aquila’s appearance changed. Her hair lost its luster, looking stringy and dull. She seemed to shrink, and her beauty faded until she looked almost homely. “Just leave me alone. I want to go with my friends.”
The half-orc picked up the ring. He looked over at Skrie, who shrugged.
“Okay,” said the halfling, checking on the still-unconscious half-orc. She unbound Grubak, handing the rope to Malusk. “But we get a head start, and you don’t get to shoot fire bolts at us. Tie her hands, Big Guy. Their friend can free them when he comes to.”
Skrie turned to Aquila, ignoring the hateful look from Illeryl, “I’ll tell him we couldn’t find you and your henchmen. Fair enough?”
Aquila glared at her, then gave a sharp nod. Malusk bound her hands and feet.
Two candlemarks later, the halfling and her friend were back at the First Place Inn enjoying Filice’s special of the day.
Next: Tracking the Trackers