The blue glow of their scrying org grew ever-brighter as the land grew ever-rougher, and it had nearly filled the entire orb by the time the horses began to have difficulty navigating the terrain. By the time the travelers were within range of those seeking to ambush them, it was a solid blue glow.

“Hands where we can see them!” The command, accented, seemingly came out of that brush itself. Eggebrecht immediately thrust his arms up, while Feris was contents to hold them out in front of her as if they were entangled in an imaginary cat’s cradle.

Wild folk, all of them orcs, rose out of the grass and scrub at a sharp whistle. Some had repeaters, others bows and arrows, and one even had an old muzzle-loading flintlock that looked like it had been buried for a hundred years.

“Hello there. I am Dr. Dana E. Eggebrecht, eminent ethnologist, and I have come here seeking information. I want to assure you that, regardless of what has caused the recent unrest, I still regard yours as a fascinating and noble people worthy of serious academic study.”

“Also, he’s unarmed,” said Feris. “He probably should have led with that bit.”

One of the orcs with repeaters answered. “One of you interlopers killed an edor in cold blood at the Meeting Stone, one of the most ancient and respected places in the wild,” she said. “It would be like killing Highclaw in his den rather than on the field of battle. We here of this group are still not convinced that this killing was a deliberate slight rather than an accident, and it is for that reason that you are still alive.”

“Ah, yes, I have no desire to see such a fascinating, uh, ethno-cultural construct such as an edor die out,” Eggebrecht said. “In fact, I might even dedicate a chapter in my book to them. I have the dissertation to sprang from on my person if you’d like to peruse it.”

“What’s your business here?” the lead orc said. “These hills are what little remains of our old lands, and if you have no business with us, you must leave.”

“We’re looking for Sally Hammertoes,” Feris said. “Dr. Eggebrecht would have gotten to that part in about a day.”

“I am Sally,” the orc said. “Or, at least, that is one of many names that I suffer myself to be called. How did you find me?”

Eggebrecht flashed the scrying sphere, now as bright blue as the summer sky on a sunny day. “We were given some very kind help by your friend Jinny Witchazel,” he said.

“She is no friend of ours,” Sally said. “Not anymore.” She held out a hand. “I would have that from you.”

“Oh, of course.” Eggebrecht gave the scrying sphere a light toss, and Sally caught it. She crushed it in her hand, the enchantment shattering and leaving nothing but dry brambles and water leaking through her fingers.

“Now you’ve found me, and we need not worry about anyone else doing so,” Sally said. “What is it you want?”

“We’re looking for Father Zelten,” Feris said.

“Ah, yes,” Eggebrecht stammered. “We have some questions for him. About dragons. If he’s still alive.”

“You’d come here, in light of what your people have just done, and ask to speak with one of our oldest and most revered leaders?” Sally spat. “How dare you? You’re not worthy to be in his holy presence!”

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