Synch couldn't hear the orders barked amongst the orc units.
Instead, she listened for the sounds of something approaching her vantage point. Her eyes meanwhile took in every detail of the activity below.
For many years they had kept watch on the orcs, seeking into disrupt them, to stop the destruction of the woodlands. As the landscape grew more barren, the frustration and anger of the Green Hoods grew.
When the lumber cart finally trundled away, Synch made note of the time and headed back to make her report. They called her "Synch" because she was ran everything on a strict schedule, something her fellow Green Hoods had been lax about until her arrival.
"Even the orcs have a timetable," she chided them until finally, the other members of her team began to synchronize their schedules.
"That's the fifth cart of lumber in as many days," said Synch, tapping the piece of parchment on which she tracked the orcs' activities.
"They've taken most of the trees already," mourned a young scout. She had been with the team for only a few days and had yet to receive a mission name. The Green Hoods used mission names to keep their true identities hidden. Though it seemed unlikely these orcs would retaliate against distant families, the old habit gave the Green Hoods a sense of history in the changing world.
"We know they used a lot of timbers to shore up their mines," said Rally, Synch's observation partner.
"The mines are as reinforced as they'll ever be." Synch pursed her lips, looking at her list. "Where's the tide chart?"
Synch located the chart and spread it out beside her notes on the cluttered table.
"I see what you're thinking," said Rally, nodding in agreement.
"Those carts, given their known speed, would be at the orcs' push off point at high tide. They're floating the lumber somewhere."
"Not every cart, though." Synch scribbled some calculations on her notes, shaking her head. "Some of the carts might be destined for a sea voyage but we'd have noticed a ship off shore trying to take aboard all this lumber, especially an orc ship at anchor for five days."
"Perhaps they're building new mine shafts?"
"Or perhaps another mine we haven't noticed before."
Rally studied the map of the Orcish Wastes that hung on the wall of the small cabin - he would be damned before he called this place "Zek" as those cursed orcs did. The Green Hoods had referred to the area as "the Forest" until the destruction made that name sadly ironic. Only pockets of the once bountiful pine forests remained, but who knew how long the orc lumberjacks could be kept at bay?
"It can't be a new mine," Synch said, standing beside Rally and frowning at the map. "Those cursed villains have tunnelled every piece of rock that has any sort of value. They must be transporting the lumber off shore, but how? And why?"
"We'll have to follow the next cart," Rally said, his voice grim.
"They'll be taking the cart down to Siren's Cove and handing it over to the Blackhooks. Hopefully, they'll let on what they're up to. Four pairs of scouts ought to be enough to track the carts and ensure..."
"...that at least one of us makes it back." Nodding, Synch said, "Without the cover of night, we'll have to take every precaution. The orcs' schedule has been easy enough to determine, let us hope their plan for the lumber is equally obvious."
All through the night, Synch tossed and turned. Though she tried to force herself to get some much-needed rest, her mind continued to mull over the possibilities. The Deathfist orcs had once had a mighty armada, but that was back before the Shattering during the Age of War. Were the Deathfist orcs ferrying timber out to sea to rebuild their warships? Or were they using the lumber for something completely different?
Or was this perhaps a trap? A trick laid by the orcs to rid the Orcish Wastes of the Green Hoods at last? Were they walking blind into a situation from which they could not escape?
Finally, Synch drifted off to sleep. She dreamt that she and Rally walked down a long corridor. While Rally went on ahead, she turned aside into a room full of bulky objects covered by dusty white cloths. The air was so still she found it hard to breathe, but she could not find a window to open. As she turned to leave, a hand shot out from beneath one of the cloths, grabbing her forearm in a vice-like grip. Suddenly, all the cloths lifted and Synch saw that beneath each of them was a Deathfist orc, holding aloft the heads of her fellow Green Hoods. She felt a blade drawing across her own throat.
"Synch!" Rally hissed, shaking her awake. "Your screaming could wake the dead. It's time to get up."
Her throat felt raw, as though she had been screaming for some time. Synch walked down to the Watering Hole and splashed some water over her head. Just a dream brought on by the stress of their situation. Nothing more.
"There they go, right on schedule," whispered the new scout excitedly as they readied to follow the orcs. Synch made a mental note to nickname her "Hush," which is what she would have said if she had physically been any closer. One pair of Green Hood scouts was already hidden ahead along the route, the others would follow at various distances. Synch and Rally were the last pair.
The orcs hauled the cart down the hard-packed path that led from sparsely vegetated vales through barren hills. If there was any measure of rain, the dry earth gulped it up greedily, and then disgorged it in the form of mudslides and boulders from the naked slopes. The orcs ignored the damage to everything else but their road, which allowed them swift travel from one encampment to another.
The Deathfist orcs transferred the cart to the Blackhook Raiders at the narrow passage to the Siren's Cove.
"You take too long to get here," shouted one of the Deathfist orcs, transferring a long crate from the Blackhook's cart to their own.
"Lots of cargo goes 'round the Sinking Sands," snapped the Blackhook's leader. "All the cursed traders trying to make quick coin on our route! Emperor Fyst's carpets nearly got sold off to some elves, but we put a stop to that."
Another Raider added, "With our blades! Hah! We Raiders take care of our own, even in the new land. Been that way since the Rending."
There were rumors that new Lands had been found along one of the major trade routes. The discovery had been fairly recent, or so Synch thought. She continued to watch as the orcs concluded their business and shambled away.
The cry caught her off guard. It was a quick, shrill sound that raised the hair on the back of Synch's neck. Curled against the fawn-colored boulder, she blended herself against its rough surface while trying to peer across the narrow ravine. That couldn't have been Rally, could it?
She heard the voices before she saw the orcs themselves. Two Deathfist orcs clambered down the opposite hillside. Apparently unaware they were being watched, the orcs slide down the rocky slope, kicking up clouds of dust. Synch pressed herself back into the scant shade to enhance her camouflage.
"That's the fifth one," said the one orc with a satisfied smirk.
"So now you can counts to five?" growled the other orc.
"I can count higher than that," boasted the first orc, slapping himself proudly on the chest. "Gots to count high and be smart to be assigned new duties."
"I want new duties," whined the second orc. "Travel to the new world...I want that."
"Sinking Sands...Clefts of Rujark... both very hot," said the first orc. "The Desert of Ro, it was, only broken now, like Zek."
"Zek not broken!" cried the second orc, horrified.
"Not Rallos Zek!" The first orc slapped his companion on the back with a hearty laugh. "This land we name for Zek, it is broke!"
"Only trees broken." The orcs chortled as though this were particularly funny.
"Need trees in new lands. Trees for Rujarkians, things for us. Many things they give us, over many seasons."
"No one sees, no one knows," added the second orc. "New world, full of sand. And broken trees from Zek!"
Still laughing, the orcs continued down the road. Synch waited. Just a few minutes more, then she could turn back towards camp and wait for Rally and the others to return. If they did.
Synch reached for her knife, but the orc proved faster. Knocking her from her perch, he bounded after her in one leap. The orc grabbed her throat and squeezed, whispering gleefully, "Six. Six comes after five."