The men from Tumbledown had barely caught their breath, the bodies of dead marauders scattered at their feet, before they set out again in pursuit of their wagon and belongings. Jak Jayne and Dhast set a demanding pace through the ruins of the sprawl. The wagon tracks and foot prints left by the Dead Men marauder band led them northwest from their camp. The Dead Men had made very little effort to mask their trail and the companions made better time than they would have had they been forced to hunt for it as they went along. The labored breathing of Caled and the trader from Last were the only sounds heard over the tromp of their feet as they settled into the pace of men who knew that their pursuit was just beginning.
It was one hour later when the smell of smoke brought Jak short as he signaled with an outstretched hand for his companions to slow down and keep low. The men crouched as they dodged between large pieces of stone rubble from a building, the purpose of which was long lost to the years after the Fall. Coming to the lee of a partially intact stone wall Jak was able spy the threads of smoke from two small fires in a depression ahead. The fires and any marauders remained out of sight beyond a field of rubble.
Jak turned back to his companions, as if to discuss how they would proceed, when Zhen kept him silent with a finger raised to his lips. A nod from the almond-eyed foreigner pointed Dhast and Jak’s attention to the rubble forward and right of their position. It took a moment for the hunter and youth to recognize what had caught Zhen’s attention, but once they had their hands fell immediately to their weapons. The cloaked form of a man squatted in the rubble far enough ahead of their vantage that it might have been able to observe the camp, as he seemed to be doing. His clothing blended well with the surrounding rubble, no wonder Jak and Dhast had missed him at first.
Jak’s fist thought was to stealthily subdue this stranger, the risk that he was another of the Dead Men was too great. He was forced to abandon this fledgling plan before it’s complete hatching when they caught sight of a slight turn of the stranger’s head and the white’s of his eyes as he looked directly back at them. Silently all three of the cursed Caled and the trader’s heavy breathing behind them. “Go,” Jak whispered with urgency, Dhast and Zhen automatically taking his meaning.
With a burst of motion Jak and Zhen vaulted over the low stone wall they had been crouched behind as Dhast dashed down its length to flank the stranger or potentially cut off his retreat. Spear in hand, Jak sprinted across the short rubble-strewn expanse. The threat of violence narrowed his vision and caused the heavy beat of his heart to drown out most other sounds. Zhen paced his friend, hand to the pommel of his bronze sword as they bore down on the stranger.
Seeing the two men bearing down on him the stranger stepped away from his hiding spot and held his hands out, empty. Jak and Zhen threw up small clouds of dust as they skidded to a halt within striking distance of the man. He was tall and leanly built with a respectable growth of black beard. The dirtiness of his clothing and frayed edges of his cloak suggested that he had been out here in the sprawl for longer than most dared to, but he lacked the furtive look of desperation and sunken cheeks of someone who had been forced to struggle to survive amid the ruins. This man was here by choice.