Julan hadn’t seen him leave, and no one else had. They all had been too busy eating to notice. It wasn’t until Kavia got up and took some of the empty plates to the kitchen that the note was found. They had already discussed when they had last seen Orledin, and had decided it was when he brought the bread out to them. Now they were figuring out what to do next. The Captain wasn’t at the building yet, but should be soon. There was some talk about waiting for him. Someone else suggested a search party going out for him right away, while others waited to tell the Captain. There were two missing rangers in the same morning. Julan put his boots on and slipped out the door, taking care not to be noticed by the others.”
He started heading into the forest when he heard a voice behind him.
“Julan! Wait, where are you going?”
He turned to face the elf running towards him, Perothis. He was the youngest of the rangers, evidenced by the fact that his parents still sent a package for him once a month with cookies and useful things like mittens, scarves, combs and toothbrushes. Julan had never had anyone who cared enough about him to do something like that, and whenever a new package arrived, he started wondering what it was like. He always decided, rather quickly, that it must be annoying, and went on to think about something else.
“Nowhere.” Julan lied in response to Perothis’s question.
“You’re going somewhere. We have a recruit missing, and Orledin is gone. We don’t need you to disappear as well.”
“I’m not disappearing. I’m just checking something.”
“What are you checking?”
Julan paused, trying to come up with something good. “The trees.”
“The trees? What’s wrong with the trees?”
“Then why do they need to be checked?”
“Look, you shouldn’t go alone. I’ll go with you.”
“Because I’ll look at your butt or something, and that makes everyone uncomfortable.”
Perothis looked at him and grinned, “If you do, I’ll tell Des and she’ll turn you into a sheep.”
“I don’t want to be a sheep.”
“Then don’t look at my butt or anything.”
“I have a better idea. You could stay here.”
“You’re not really going to check the trees. There’s nothing wrong with the trees. You’re doing something else, and you better tell me what, or I’ll go tell the others.”
Julan paused again. Trees wasn’t a good answer the first time, but trees were the only thing around. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to tell him the truth. “Look, if I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone else, and it’s not because it’s my secret. It’s someone else’s, and I’m very discreet. I don’t tell the secrets of others, but since you’ve caught me, I’ll tell you. You have to promise not to tell the others.”
Perothis regarded him with suspicion. “Is it a bad secret?”
“No, it’s not good or bad, it’s just someone else’s.”
Perothis took a moment to think about it before nodding, “I won’t tell.”
“Okay. Follow me.” Julan began to lead Perothis through the forest. He had learned early on in his life that it was always a good idea to pay attention to landmarks, direction, and distance. He had been slightly drunk when he had come this way before, but he paid even more attention to those kinds of details then. Previous to becoming a ranger, it was mostly useful for getting out of a crowded Murder Row slum, or occasionally, a client would want to take him to a part of the city he wasn’t familiar with. Once he had one ask him to Eversong, which was the furthest he had been from Murder Row in his life, before coming out here. Knowing how to get back home was important. Clients rarely cared about getting him home after their needs were taken care of.
“So where are we going?”
“Some troll ruins. Orledin had some things in some of the huts he fixed up. Maybe he’s there. I don’t know how many people know about it. The path isn’t very visible, and it’s not near any of our routes. I’d rather have him mad at me for telling everyone, so keep it quiet.”
“Oh. If he’s there, he won’t be mad at me, will he?”
Julan shrugged, “I’ve never seen him mad, have you?”
“I hope he won’t be then. He has the troll huts fixed up really nice and has a place to sit and read, and he puts together bones in the others.”
Perothis nodded, “Is that where the reanimated raptor is? I want to see it.”
Julan stopped walking. Of all the things he could forget, how could he forget that? “Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
“Orledin might be there. We have to check!”
“It might be there too.”
“So, he has control over it, right?”
Julan twitched an ear, “I guess.” He continued walking again, though a bit more cautiously than before.
Soon, they reached a clearing. They passed the troll huts that were nearly reclaimed by the forest and headed to the ones near the river. Julan warily walked around one of them to the entrance. He glanced inside. Sheets covered the skeletons that Orledin had been wiring together. He saw no sign of the death knight.
“Check the other hut while I check this one over here.”
Perothis nodded and headed towards the third hut, while Julan went around to the entrance on the second. It had been covered by a leather flap. He raised it, and peeked inside. Again, there was no sign of the elf. The cot that Julan had slept on that night was in this room. Julan walked into the hut trying not to think about what had happened that night. He failed as his mind wandered. It hadn’t been bad really, but the thought of it still grossed him out.
He heard Perothis call from the other side of the third hut. He had been trying to be quiet as to not attract the attention of any reanimated skeletons. Perothis apparently didn’t have such fears. Julan quickly left the second hut to join him.
“Look.” Perothis pointed at the ground.
The third hut was the closest to the river. Julan looked at the ground, but it was all mud around this area due to the frequent autumn rain. He looked at Perothis wondering why he had been so excited about mud.
“Don’t you see? Look.” Perothis knelt down closer and then Julan saw it. There were some strange markings in the mud. No, not markings. Those were tracks. Bone tracks. Raptor bone tracks.
“Are those fresh?”
“It rained last night. They have to be, but look over here. See, there’s elf boot tracks too.”
Julan followed him, nodding as he pointed out the other tracks. “He was here then. We could just follow the tracks, right?”
“Well, normally we could follow them until he got to drier ground, but that’s the other thing. They stop down there closer to the river.”
“What do you mean they stop?”
Perothis shrugged, “They just do, go look for yourself.”
Julan followed the tracks down the bank of the river to find the younger elf was right. The tracks just stopped though there was plenty of mud to make more. He looked back up the bank at Perothis. “We need to tell the Captain.”