The silvery dawn approached on the wings of a fierce mountain breeze, rippling the gnarled gorse and stirring the tops of tall trees to dance and bow before the new sun. The highlands were filled with the signs of the dying summer, the first crinkles of orange and yellow touching the leaves of the bent trees. Though the sun floated in a wide clear sky the cold of the alpine, and the coming autumn flew on the wind and the earth was frosted and hard where shadows loomed. Angry clouds billowed off Dragon’s Peak, blown by the fierce winds and alighting skyward before tumbling down the valleys.
It was a strange and anxious morning, the weather fretful and uncomfortable, changing quickly from bitter wind and drizzle to clear skies and warm sun and back again.
A solitary figure trekked across a rocky ridge above the dancing canopy of the Bigobo glades. A dwarf, clad in furs and leather marched along the ridgeline with steady purpose, a heavy bow slung across her back, her wild coppery hair and braids tossed by the winds. She followed a well-worn goat path down the winding mountainside, down into the craggy foothills and steep forested valleys. In this wind-scoured landscape, even the hills seemed to huddle together, like fearful cattle against the wilderness. The dwarf lass trekked on as the trail wound its way through a low canyon, hugging a narrow ledge over a near-dry stream bed.
The trail emerged from the canyon at the height of land, where the blistering wind had reduced the few pines and gorse to twisted miniatures, grappling the edges of stone outcroppings. Ahead, a line of tall trees, dancing in the wind, marked the edge of the mighty Bigobo, stretching far to the eastern horizon. The wind rippled through the dwarf's hair and furred mantle, buffeting her and tinkling the green glass beads that ornamented her sidebraids.
“Bleedin' wind,” She said gruffly in ToZheeler, her piercing blue eyes scanning the sky before flicking back to the ground, her knees wobbling beneath the open sky. “Thase clouds send me tummy churnin’. Need ta get into the woods afore the rains come.”
At the bottom of the descent, hidden from the coming storm by a deep copse of pines, the dwarf stopped and knelt beside the edge of the stream bank. Her sapphire eyes searched the parched mud, her dirty fingers tracing several lines of light prints as they meandered down through the darkening forest towards the Lorimar road.
“Beard-footers,” she grunted, pinching some of the mud in her fingers and sniffing it, her freckled nose wrinkling in a scowl. “Well-fed, and lightly armored...a halfling patrol? I must be gettin' close to the road.”
The halflings were no friends of Ehtome-Naom, but as a Seeker dwarf, Zhaetar's cultural prejudices had to be set aside in pursuit of quarry. She swept her hand over her coarse windblown hair, tucking the braids of her sideburns behind her ears as she cast her thoughts back to her mission, and the harsh orders of the Zrrkyrr General rang in her head:
There’s an Iliff plot afoot. Every dwarf knows that elvish magicks bring elvish ruin. Whenever those dew drinkers get up to somethin’ with their delusions of fae grandeur, honest folk are the ones to suffer….Some kind o’ blue beastie was seen wandering the Lorimar road, and there’s talk of a gray elf wizard recruitin’ mercenaries around the land for some kind o’ scheme. Get ye to Kiana, dolmaack, find out more about any elfy doin’s there...
Her duty as a Seeker was clear enough, even if the mission was muddy.