Their shift passed mostly without incident. After the first hour had passed, the pot of coffee had been emptied, with Blagoje being on duty for refilling. While her comrade was away, a few of the Cultists began to move about, walking with shaking steps and curious manner around the regiment. If they had been less exotic creatures, she could have sworn they became temporarily drunk one at a time. When she told Blagoje, he gave her a look like she too was drunk. Half an hour passed, and the curious behaviour resumed, individual Cultists roaming a short distance from the regiment. As apology, she made Blagoje refill her cup. With the exhausting march and her too-short rest, she was uncertain what the time of night was, only that there was not a smidgeon of sunlight on either horizon. Beyond talking about the Cultists’ odd behaviour, Zuzana and Blagoje said very little during their shift.
“Shift change,” Blagoje muttered, stretching as he stood up, “I’ll wake the trader.”
Zuzana stood up as well, lightly pushing the shrub in front of her away. “Wait,” Blagoje stopped, waiting for an explanation. “Wake all of them, we need to move.”
Down on the plain, the regiment had begun to march again.
While the improvised camp was packed away in a hurry, Anushka swearing all the while that they would regret the resulting entanglement, Zuzana ranged ahead, keeping as close as she dared to the porcelain-white regiment as it slowly marched into the mountain range under the rising sun. There were no traces of the odd behaviour from the night before, and she knew not if the Ardents had seen it or not. There had been no need, then no time, to ask. The group caught up with her, Blagoje in front, as the last row of Cultists had left the plain beneath the mountains.
Velabahleke tied their pack-horse to a tree in a small grove in the shadow of the mountains. “There. Should we need to hurry, this knot can be untied quickly.”
The Cultists had split up into smaller groups, presumably to search the range faster. The 60-strong regiment had split into 10 groups of 6, white dots growing ever smaller against the grey rocks of the mountains. Each of the porcelain-creatures was armed with a bow of some white wood and a quiver of arrows. She had seen no weapons for close combat, but the behaviour in the night had caused her to mark the Cultists as unpredictable. Looking around the group as they scanned the mountain, she knew they would be outnumbered if facing just one of the Cultist-patrols in a pitched battle. They were all veterans in their own way, except for the trader. Velabahleke was an unknown quantity in many ways. The composite shortbow he carried across his back seemed well-used but also well cared for, and he did not seemed unduly daunted at the prospect of wandering a mountain-range filled with Cultists.