Bullock and his squad marched upriver for several days until they were near the official administrative border of the republic. As they went Nantsen, who had grown up in the area, pointed out landmarks and told anecdotes from his childhood, and the others began to share his appreciation of the rolling hills, quite different from the flatter land nearer the coast. The next day they proceeded with a higher level of vigilance, ready for action at short notice. Late in the day they saw smoke and cautiously approached what turned out to be a cluster of houses. Speaking to the people there they learned that they had not seen any Wretched for years. After spending the night there they pushed on up the riverbank. Two days later they came upon an isolated house sited close to the river and saw outside it several bodies lying on the ground. Very cautiously, and after donning their respirators and protective gloves they investigated the area and found two dead people inside the building and four dead Wretched outside. The people, they assumed, had defended their home against the Wretched and been overpowered. Their weapons were missing, the house had been ransacked, and the people had been dead, they estimated, about two weeks.. Clearly more of the Wretched had survived and had moved on. They examined the area and found very faint tracks heading not downstream towards more settled areas or upstram to where - they assumed - the Wretched had come from but away from the river into rough, overgrown land, The rangers followed the tracks as far as they could but soon lost them.
With no obvious trail to follow they returned to the farmouse, to find a man standing there. After wary standoff they found that his name was Reed, and that he was a neighbour - his family farm lay at the other side of the river. He indicated his small boat moored nearby and said that would check on the Bakers - the people who had died defending their farm - every so often and they checked on him. Reed offered to accompany them as long as they were in territory he was familiar with. First they buried the Bakers, leaving the Wretched lying, and followed the trail into the scrubland again. Baker was able to follow the Wretched's path further than the rangers had, but also lost them after a time. He suggested that the Wretched had been deliberately covering their tracks, a sign of more intelligence than the rangers usually attributed to Wretched.