The trek was long. Dreams were peppered with images of great flying beasts, the smell of acid, and eyes beneath swampy waters. But the Rangers returned to Last Beacon Outpost to report to Commander Pelops the details of their recent foray south. Perhaps he was less concerned than they expected, but Pelops made the impending draconic attack a test for the new recruits. They would take up command in the face of the danger, and the lives of the villagers would rest in their decisions.
It was quickly decided that answers were needed. Rika and Bubocrates, both concerned by recent transformations, approached the Alchemist for information. Though he had little to offer by means of explanation for their transfigurations, he offered to add several acid resistance potions to his task list, as well as research other potential methods he could use to produce potions that may be of assistance. Skuthropos and Koboros turned to Labrax, the outpost’s monster lore specialist, and began to assemble what knowledge they could of the great and terrible creatures. It was Labrax’s insight that there was no hoard in the cockatrice den that sparked the realization that the true lair of the dragon was likely elsewhere. Harmanjohd’s discussion with Artesia proved illuminating, if a bit disturbing. The small lizard-rat beings, which he called “Kobolds” were, in fact, a mutinous slave crew that attempted to sell him to the dragon by his account. His cargo, some of which was lost in a shipwreck, was largely taken by the dragon’s minions, and either were an orc tribe of some kind, or a trained pod of killer whales; orcas and orcs are difficult sounds for Harmanjohd to separate. Skuthropos, in hopes of putting together a further plan of attack, convinced Grippus to take apart a crossbow he had taken and attempt to rebuild it on a larger scale.
Waiting for others to return, the new Rangers made plans for protecting their home while also marching out. Sending messages to three near-by outposts, known as Opal Roost, Sunflight, and Serpent’s Fall, a half dozen additional rangers were secured to augment their forces. Ennia, now well enough to travel though still slightly weakened from the joining, would further come at least as auxiliary and aide for the others. Pelops and Charmido would remain behind with the still recovering Hieron and the Alchemist to protect the post. Artesia also sent a desperate letter in hopes of reaching her archery instructor Thessalus Haemonos, and the Order of the Dragon more broadly. While the notion of locating a Zorwan dragon-fighting specialist was tempting, ultimately it was rejected as a process that would take too much time.
With preparations underway, the five rangers decided to abdicate local command back to Pelops while they took to the road to locate Harmanjohd’s shipwreck in hopes of finding traces of the orcs (or orcas) under the dragon’s command. Three days of rushed travel got them there, and traces of the band were obvious. Bubocrates was able to follow from the air the nearly mile long trail that ended in a cavern, much to the owl’s ongoing chagrin. Descending an uncertain number of spirals led the Rangers to something they had never thought they would see: orcish architecture. This cavern, perhaps a mile underground, was a great highway, flat and easy to travel, carved into the stone. Skuthropos was able to translate the glyphs on the wall, indicating they were at the eastern end of the road, and somewhere before them in the darkness rested the “Grand Crossroads.” No longer certain what they had found or the scale of this orcish force, the rangers steeled themselves and pressed on into the dark.
A lone bat, high in the ceiling, watched as the orange light of the torch disappeared down the corridor. As it hung there, it warmed itself against the red crystal flush with the wall, unseen from below. The bat would not awaken from its slumber, as a white spider with those same crystalline eyes made the creature a meal in the hidden alcove.