"The world is old, many people and places have come and gone," Telenstil mused quietly but then spoke up in a louder voice, "The stones beneath the steading, Ivo, did they seem the same?"
"Yes!" Ivo agreed vigorously. "Yes, this is the same stone."
"We dig old stone, find bad place," said Little Rat. "This bad place?" he asked alarmed.
"What did you find? Where?" asked Talberth excitedly.
"Bad place! This bad place. Place make crazy, bad place make crazy," Little Rat screamed out terrified.
"We're going," Harold grabbed the orc by the shoulder and pulled him away from the stone block and the body of the gibberling.
"Wait..." Talberth began.
"Let them go," Telenstil told him. "Gytha do you sense anything?"
The cleric stood very still for a moment, then quietly began to pray. "My senses are weak, dear Saint, aid me, let me see beyond this veil, let me know where the touch of evil is present on the land," she held out the iron rod she'd taken from the giants kitchen and faced the foundation stones they'd found.
Gytha was still for a few moments, she did not breath, then with a whoosh she exhaled and then breathed deeply. Telenstil looked at her; he did not say a word but raised his brows.
"There is evil, very faint, it runs along those stones," she said. "I will try again." she paced away from them out to where the last of the stones could be seen then turned so that the worn block was at her back.
* * *
Harald rushed along the path he'd taken through the heavy brush. He abandoned all attempts to conceal his tracks, but his well-practiced woodsman's skills kept him from leaving a careless trail, the branches fell back in place, unbroken as he passed. There was a shout, he heard a piping voice; the ranger broke into a run. He had to stop to draw the huge blade he wore over his shoulder, he swore he'd carry it like a staff or spear in future cursing as the edge caught on an overhanging limb.
"What is it?" the thief called to him. The halfling drew his own blade as he ran, the young orc trailing behind him a rusty dagger gripped in either hand. "Harald is it those monsters?"
"What was that yell?" Harald demanded.
"That? That was just the Rat here," the halfling explained. "Ivo says the stones are the same as in the steading, this one, " Harold pointed back toward Little Rat casually with his thumb, "got upset, he's scared. So am I."
The others had gathered around the body of the dead beast, the orcs had just put down their burden, Derue, and caught sight of the gibberling. Harald could hear their voices rise, then their leader gave a shout and knocked one to the ground. Talberth yelled then and made the lot cower and scowl.
"They sound scared as well," said Harold.
"They should be. We are safe for now," the ranger told him. "The herd went to the east, at least as far as I could see. We should be able to avoid them."
"That's good news," Harold said with relief. "We'd better get them moving then. What are they up to?"
The pair walked side by side back to the others with the small orc just behind, his daggers still drawn in his hands.
* * *
Gytha paced out a wide half circle through the bushes, she traced the outline of a structure; now only worn or buried blocks of stone. She walked back to the others, but before she reached them she stopped, then with her iron staff she dug into the ground at the base of a young tree. When the staff had sunk in several handbreadths deep she bent her head and directed the power that the Saint had given her toward the oerth underfoot. The others could not hear the prayer she spoke, but they saw her pause then shudder before she rose. The ranger, the halfling and the orc rejoined the group just as Gytha approached, all walking quickly as they could.
"There is an old evil here," she said. "It is very faint, but strongest down below the ground." Gytha pointed to the spot where she had knelt by the young tree. "Something is there. Something evil, below that spot; It is faint but because it is far below. The evil is still present; these stones are only evil from a presence that passed away long ago."
"Then we should be leaving," Harold said. "We have enough problems with the giants, now we have these monsters," he gave the body of the gibberling a kick. "We don't need more."
"I agree," said Harald. The ranger pointed to the east. "Gibberlings, a good-sized herd went that way, they are harmless in the light, but we must make haste."
"Harald, you know these creatures, but I have studied them as well," said Telenstil. "A herd moves forward like a wave, they follow the easiest path, they will only veer aside if they are tracking prey. A large herd like this that moves on and does not return from a night's forage, they are not likely to return at all, is this correct?"
"What I've seen agrees," said Harald, "a big herd on a rampage, they aren't likely to go back to their lair, just keep on moving till all of them are dead."
"What kind of beasts are these?" asked Ghibelline. "What sense does that make, they go forth and kill till they are killed themselves?"
"No one knows for certain," said Talberth.
"Harald, what say you to following their trail?" Telenstil asked.
"If we find them they are helpless in the light of day," answered Harald, "but there looks to be hundreds, unless they are nearby we could not hope to kill them all before the sun has set."
"No, no," Telenstil gestured with his hands, "Let us follow the tracks where they came from, not where they have gone."
"That's crazy," burst out the thief.
"Hah!" laughed out Ivo. "The giants might think so too."
"Aren't we in enough danger!" Harold objected.
"Think, even the giants would be unlikely to follow such a trail, and our own tracks would be lost among the destruction of the herd."
"If we are careful maybe," the ranger said. "They have left a path wider than the road to Gorna, but we will be going the other way, a good tracker might find us."
"The wolves should be unable to follow our scent," said Telenstil.
"That monster stinks enough to hide even the smell of the orcs," Ghibelline added.
"It's crazy," Harold shook his head.
"It might work, there should be some type of cavern where they came from," the ranger thought aloud. "Telenstil, it is still a dangerous idea."
"We need to find a place to camp, a temporary base of some sort. If the giants are tracking us, then this gives us an opportunity to escape them," Telenstil said to them all.
"I don't like it, I don't like it," muttered the thief.