[Sunday, before sunset]
The note that Marina had left was gone, and the bartender apologized profusely. She had a mind like a game-snare, though, and recalled exactly what the note had said: Royce the brewer, in Feppic, would know where Marina could be found. To Feppic then, with high hopes to close the gap and let Marina know what's going on. Getting horses wasn't too difficult, either. The farming season was drawing to a close, and nobody wanted to feed and stable them over the course of the winter coming up. Most of the leftovers would be requisitioned as cart-horses for moving food to the army near Whitescale, anyway.
With six horses and plenty of provisions set in, the party headed out the Artisans' Gate and left Baerstun behind them, riding hard and turning right at Sweetwater to put the sun behind them. From there the going got considerably less developed, with no good roads to be found. Bree remembered the miserable tale of a traveler she had met who had come through this place and suggested a route that wouldn't lead them into the worst of the rocky pine scrub, while Terciel looked for roots and tangles. Shard took point, scouting for danger or ambushes, while Thea turned and squinted through their dust into the setting sun, trying to pick out anyone who might be following. Darg and Lenora concerned themselves with the horses, and Rache tried not to get too queasy.
Thea eventually hopped down off her horse and jogged alongside it to let it take a rest from hauling her armor and axe, while Lenora watched the other horses to make sure they weren't ailing. Bree had a close call, nearly falling off the horse when they crested a ridge and had to turn suddenly to avoid a tangle of roots, but she was fine. Rache was able to deflect the questions the first few times, but Darg saw something in her eyes and feigned frustration with a bundle of bandages he'd been carrying. He asked her if she'd mind carrying it so he could pay more attention and hold the reins (maybe not spill the halfling this time) and she graciously agreed. Soon enough there was no light left, and Shard scurried out into the long shadows to set snares and noisemakers while Terciel walked a large circle around the campsite looking for the best tree to perch in overnight. He settled in quietly, listening for any abnormal sound.
Two or three hours after midnight they all woke up to the sound of Shard's noisemakers. The racket was punctuated by the sounds of something or someone running away through the woods, but when they were able to walk the perimeter they found only a few bootprints. Someone had definitely tried to sneak into their camp, and had left quickly when they were discovered. The group settled back to sleep grumpily, except for Terciel, who quietly made his devotions to Melora, with a kindly word to Avandra tossed in for good measure.
Bree awoke and mumbled the best prayers she could remember, hoping for a bit of Avandra's favor to carry them to their destination safely, or at least without anything boring or lethal happening to them.
[Monday at dawn, after an extended rest]
Lenora, Darg, and Shard looked at the horse's hurt leg in the light of day and decided that if they were going to press the pace again they would need to spend some time tending to it, so they patched it up as best they could. Thea stretched out her sore legs and did her best to ignore the pain, helped along by Rache's storytelling. They had been on a dusty path alongside a field of tall grain when they noticed Shard had stopped and dismounted beyond the fork in the path, waving them forward. They all passed the crossroads unassumingly and then halted. Shard gave them the news: the idle farmers they had seen earlier in the day, the riders they'd passed before lunch, and the observers who had been on the crossroads just now were the same three. They were being dogged by the three riders and had only just noticed them.
Shard and Terciel crept through the grain to get a better look, perhaps even listen to their conversation, and came away with this: the three were a male duergar, a female elf or eladrin, and a human. They were on decent enough horses, and the last thing they said was "we can definitely beat them there if we hurry. Let's away!" and with that, they were gone. Terciel, Shard, and Darg mounted the three fastest horses, leaving the slower horses for Thea, Lenora, Rache, and Bree; they rode ahead at a murderous pace, and arrived in Feppic in late afternoon.
When they came to the inn, there was a red-haired dwarf behind the bar cleaning the glasses, and two strangers seated quietly at a table, having a late lunch. They might have been farmers, locals, or travelers, but the appearance of an eladrin, a dwarf, and a tiefling in close company and armed to the teeth was clearly the most interesting thing that had happened to them in months or years. They sat rapt while Shard hailed the bartender and asked after Royce. The dwarf remarked that Royce could usually be found behind the bar, cleaning the glasses, and introduced himself to the three of them.
They asked if he knew where Marina was, and remarked off-handedly that they'd slain untold numbers of the undead under Baerstun, and that it was important that they find Marina even though she had fled suddenly. He seemed to take it in stride easily enough, asking them a few questions about her health and looks. It seemed he was looking for a way to be sure they were the right ones. Shard's nerves seemed to worry him, though, and when he asked why they all seemed so jumpy, Shard explained that they had been followed. Given that they didn't know their pursuers but that anyone trying to intervene probably meant harm to them, Marina, and anyone else in their way, Royce's suggestion that they take cover and let Royce handle it seemed bold.
Shard glanced out the window looking for a safe place from which to cover the doors. Terciel and Darg headed out back to quickly hide their horses in the stables and find themselves cover as well.