He was awake. He did not know for how long he’d been asleep, but it had to have been some time. He could no longer feel the presence of the darkness. In fact, he could only feel the presence of one of the younger ones, and the younger one was dying. He rose and stretched his limbs. “Not as powerful as I used to be”, he said to himself.
_Corlagon crash-landed in a ravine. His alkaline blood was burning through what little vegetation there was. He had not fled far enough, and death was not far behind. He closed his eyes. It was hard to breathe. He didn’t know how long he’d been lying in the ravine when he could feel a thud, as if something huge had landed right beside him. Corlagon tried to open his eyes, but he was too weak.“Corlagon,” a voice spoke to him, a voice he had not heard for hundreds of years. “You always were an embarrassment.” Corlagon tried to speak, but only bubbles of alkaline blood emerged from his lips. “Corlagon the Great.” The voice was filled with mockery. “Hunter of goats, ravager of sheep. So petty he could not even hold goblins as slaves.” Colargon wanted to jump up and go for the throat, not necessarily to kill, simply to end the mockery. Even if that meant he’d die. For he would die, soon, he knew that. He spat out some more bubbles of blood. “What was that you said?” Corlagon mustered all his remaining strength. “They are right behind me, and now they are coming for you too.” “You fool. You are nothing more than a cave wyrm. Who are right behind you?” “They are armed with elven…” and Corlagon was gone.
He was hungry. Hungry enough to devour a drake, and that was exactly what he did. Refuelled by the draconian soul harvested from the red Cold Drake, he stretched his neck and roared.
It was good to be awake again._
Rangers of the North: Angmar
The wind beats uncaring gusts in across the parapet. Below is true darkness, above is nary a star. Only Salabon can see the uneven course of the wounded beast as it frantically beats its wings into the night.
“We must descend the way you arrived! We need our mounts, the supplies…”
“No.” Feredir interrupts him. He walks to the edge. “Dwarves do not fly. And this fortress was not built for dragons. This parapet must have had a function, it is unlikely ornamental in origin.” He tosses a torch down. There are steps carved into the very face of the cliff, but even from here he can see that they are mostly eroded and broken. Not a one of them will be descending that way.
“But the way you came!” sputters Salabon. “Surely it is the only way?”
Feredir turns on him, and snarls, “It is the wrong side of the mountain! End your prattle about the way we came, we are not taking that path. The only way is there!” He points into the gaping archway towards the night.
Salabon still does not understand Feredir’s sullenness, and mistakes it for uncertainty, so he continues unchastened. “What about the gold?”
“What of it? If you are thinking of filling your pockets, you have another thing coming.”
“No, no, not for myself. Dragons can sense if its hoard has been pillaged. Won’t it be back for the gold? We don’t need to go anywhere.”
Again Feredir turns on his friend with anger in his eyes and voice. “Do you presume to teach me of dragons? Have I not travelled across all of Eriador and beyond collecting every last tale and bit of lore about them?”
This stings Salabon’s pride, finally. “Well, I presume not a thing, but if you recall, o Huntsman, it was I who translated the ancient writings in the library in Tharbad. I fail to see how anyone else could have done that.” He adds the latter in almost to himself.
Through gritted teeth, Feredir mutters “And we all know about your linguistic abilities,” but he regrets it as soon as it is said.
Beoraborn tries to intercede. “Let’s prepare this place for its return, we can rig an ambush, get it real good.”
“No.” Feredir stalks over to the hoard, scans it, and picks a large, precious jewel. “This will do.” He points to Beoraborn. “You and I can track it. The rest can return for the gear if you deem fit, and we will leave tracks for you to follow.” Beoraborn nods.
“Wait a minute,” says Jack. “This chain mechanism, would it not be able to feed enough chain to lower us down?”
Feredir thinks for a while. “It makes sense. That must be the purpose of this platform, to transport goods up and down with this chain.”
“I’ll see if I can get it working,” says Jack, and ambles over. While he is busy trying to make sense of the ancient, Dwarvish magics, the rest of the crew go over their gear.
“We have enough supplies,” says Eadyth. “The goat we smoked will last us for several days.”
“And there must be ample hunting in Angmar,” says Feredir, nodding. “After all, the dragon must have been feeding on something. Goats, hill sheep, grouse…”
“We’re ready to go,” says Beoraborn, and Salabon sighs dejectedly.
“Fine,” he says, sullenly, still not sure of why Feredir chastised him so, not grasping the enormous feeling of failure and guilt in his friend, and the burning need to set it right or die trying.
“I have it,” Jack calls from the other side of the hall, and they all turn in surprise to see the chain rattling and clanking across the parapet and into the darkness.
They cheer and clap Jack’s back as he returns to them, and Feredir states, “Right, then we embark.” And with that, he grabs hold of the chain and disappears into the night.
Soon they are down on the ground.
“Can you track him?” Feredir asks Beoraborn. The massive Beijibar ponders, and then shrugs off his equipment. He stalks off into the darkness, and after a series of terrifying and painful-sounding noises an enormous bear emerges from the night. It sniffs the air, snuffles about, and then starts lumbering away. The Companions look at each other and follow.
After a while it becomes clear that sporadic drops of alkaline blood is insufficient to determine the direction of the dragon’s flight. It is simply too time consuming to locate the next splash of blood.
“This will never work,” complains Salabon. “It is impossible to find what way the dragon took!”
Feredir just glances at him, and calls in a hooting voice. Soon, a familiar-looking shape glides out of the night and lands on his raised fist. He seems to speak to the barn-owl called Nighteyes, but it is unintelligible to them all. “He flew north,” he finally declares. The Companions move out.
The track the dragon’s path, and find that it veers off into the mountain chain to the west. Impossible to traverse, they decide to move further north, into Angmar itself, and skirt the mountains via the plains. They have not gone long before they can see campfires being lit in several directions in the dusky twilight of morning, visible in the flat, open plains miles away. Orcs," mutters Feredir, equal measure statement and query.
Some time later, Feredir comes across the tracks of a company of Orcs, no older than two days. At a march, they move much slower than the Companions, and the five of them pick up the pace. They gain good ground, but are eventually forced to make camp, as only Feredir and Beoraborn are able to keep up the relentless pace.
As Jack keeps watch, he seems to sense something in the dark. He wakes the others, and they realise they are being stalked for an ambush from several directions. They hurry to get their gear on, and make a circle around their secret weapon, Beoraborn. Suddenly arrows start flying, and they are under attack!
With the giant bear on their side, they make quick work of the Orcs, but their battle has attracted the attention of another group of Orcs, half a mile away. They pilfer what they can, and make flight, easily outdistancing themselves from the Orcs, and being able to rest for the night.
When day breaks, they retrace their steps, and sneak into the Orc camp. Feredir and Jack crawl all the way into camp, donning discarded Orcish armour and helmets to blend in, and manage to dispatch the sole sentry with ease. They signal for the rest, and the five methodically slaughter the evil creatures. Even Salabon takes part in the dirty work – and dirty work it undoubtedly is, but works that need doing. For Feredir, this is the reason for his training: Kill Orcs and vanquish evil. Having inherited his father’s grudge for the twisted humanoids, he also has a special hatred for Angmar Orcs, as they also turned out to be his father’s bane. For Jack, dispatching the things bearing a symbol resembling the hated Red Eye, this is another step on the path to Redemption. For Beoraborn and Eadyth, these are their peoples’ tribal enemies. And for Salabon, this is another uncomfortable reminder of the life he chose when he decided to escape from the path of Evil: Even the good path is an evil in and of itself.
As the sun rises over a plains awash with black blood, five grim Rangers again turn towards the mountains and their prey.