The Houndslayer and his comrades make their way through Nektulos Forest, encountering something unexpected.
The Kithicor rangers, the Leatherfoot elite and Gumpy Nattoo paused on the edge of Nekutolos Forest. They had all heard the fireside tales of ash-filled trees dropping clouds of life-choking pumice on unsuspecting travellers. After conferring about their route, the ranger who had befriended Gumpy nodded toward him: “I say let the Houndslayer lead the way, for he is crafty and shall surely lead us unscathed through these perilous woods.”
Everyone was quick to agree with the ranger, and they pushed Gumpy to the fore of the group. Gumpy had given up trying to explain himself to the admiring rangers, ever since that incident with the dread wolf. After being considered a bumpkin for most of his days, the adulation was rather pleasant. In fact, maybe the rangers were the only folk who saw his true worth! Gumpy’s heart swelled with pride as he led the way.
Three days later, Gumpy heard one of the gnomes (they were being carried in rucksacks on the Kithicor rangers’ backs) say, “I had no idea Nektulos Forest was this huge! I always thought it pretty small.” Another gnome in another rucksack further away agreed. Gumpy heartily wished an ash-laden branch would break over the little chatterboxes’ heads. They came to the edge of a clearing and stumbled into another group of Leatherfoot halflings.
The Sarge took over all the talking, never explaining why they were in Nektulos Forest, but apparently asking the way to Neriak. The Kithicor rangers frowned at the Sarge and one of them whispered to Gumpy, “Has he no shame, to stop and ask for directions thusly? Your way is much better, for it confounds those who would follow us. I name you ‘Pathfinder,’ friend.”
It seemed rather odd to Gumpy that the Kithicor rangers kept “naming” him, yet none of them ever gave out their own names. He’d asked a couple of them, but they merely laughed and said that the Kithicor rangers left their names behind with their families. An odd group, but Gumpy was getting used to their peculiar ways. Whatever strange habits they had, there was one thing for certain: they were generous in sharing their rations.
One of the Leatherfoot scouts they’d found camping in Nektulos Forest accompanied them the rest of the way through. “There’s that river again,” Gumpy heard one of the gnomes comment from the protective covering of its rucksack. At that moment, in accordance with Gumpy’s earlier wishes, the branches of the tree above it cracked and poured thick ash and pumice on its head. Unfortunately, the ranger carrying the gnome did not survive either.
“We’re down to three gnomes,” the Sarge grumbled. His rucksack bulged with the array of sprockets, gears and flizgigs taken from the deceased gnomes along the way. “One of these little fellows has got to make it to the First Gate or we won’t know how to put their mechanamagical thing to work.” The Kithicor rangers concurred and decided to gag the gnomes to keep them silent for the remainder of the journey. Gumpy was not alone in his glee.
Dawn the next day found the Leatherfoot elite and the Kithicor rangers within spitting distance of the Foreign Quarter. They could see (and smell) the trolls that inhabited the sector. A dark elf patrol wandered close by and Gumpy was very glad he had the ivy-covered gladius given to him by the rangers at hand. These dark elves looked particularly fierce.
A rustling from the nearby brush caught the attention of both dark elves who turned quickly on their heels in one coordinated, fluid motion. Gumpy could swear he saw their pointed ears prick up like a cat stalking a mouse. One of the gnomes, inexplicably out of its rucksack, stumbled out of the woods pulling the gag from its mouth. Barely had it said, “Whew!” when the dark elves surrounded it and sliced it to ribbons.
Now they were down to two gnomes. No one else among them knew how to put together the mechanamagical device meant to ensure no dark elves reinforced the forces attacking Felwithe. Things were looking mighty grim. At that unfortunate moment, Gumpy’s stomach gave a loud and irritated grumble. The dark elves stopped stabbing the fallen gnome and pricked up their ears again. Gumpy pushed on his gut with his free hand and thought, “Whoops.”