The following morning began early as the group rose with the dawn. Packing their meager belongings, the party trudged down the stairs for a morning bite before heading toward Geordo’s camp. Less than a candlemark after waking, Malusk and Theren found themselves hiking alongside the wagon. Skrie sat on Malusk’s shoulders.
The party traveled in relative silence until turning east onto the Traveler’s Way. Then, the old man relayed what he knew about Nemeademore. The more Geordo talked, the more the halfling felt they could be walking into trouble. While she had never encountered the undead, the stories the sisters at the temple told had made her hair stand on end.
“I am most interested in tomes or jewelry,” The old man concluded. “Especially anything associated with an ancient sage or wizard. Most of the books or scrolls will be dust by now, but magical tomes should be protected from the ravages of time, for the most part.”
A candlemark later, Geordo pulled the wagon up at a broken marker after turning onto the trade road.
“This is where the old road begins,” he said. “We will wait for you about a mile or so from here,” he pointed down an overgrown path, “at a camp near the road. I can only wait for six days, then I must head east. If we do not meet along the road I will see you in Irewick. If you are delayed even longer, I will leave a word where to find us.”
The old road was overgrown and had obviously not been traveled in years. As they walked, signs of deer, wolves, and bears were abundant, but they saw no evidence of humanoid traffic. After checking the trees and surrounding areas for signs of bandits, they helped Geordo and Aquila set up their camp. The group then followed the road until dusk. The day passed without incident, and they made a small, cold camp that night. Not knowing the area, the party found a rock face not far off the path that would provide a bit of cover should the local wildlife get curious about their presence.
“What do you think we’ll find when we get there?” asked Theren.
Skrie could tell he was excited with the prospect of tomb crawling. The young elf had been radiating his enthusiasm all day. However, she wasn’t sure this would be an easy task.
“I don’t know,” replied the halfling. “I’m not sure this will be the easy task Geordo thinks it’ll be.”
The night passed without incident, so Malusk started a small fire when he rose. Skrie and Theren woke to the aroma of strong tea and sizzling meat. Less than a candlemark later, they broke camp and followed the path to Nemeademore.
The sun hadn’t even risen above the trees when Malusk stopped the group.
“A fight happened here,” Malusk pointed down at the marks on the road. “At least six or seven people, fightin’ each other.”
Climbing down from her perch on Malusk’s shoulder, Skrie searched the area and discovered a sword lying on the ground to the east near a cliff. She also found blood, lots of it. The short sword was plain, with no personalized markings, and it looked like the swords she had seen the soldiers at the garrison wearing. Following the blood trail to a cliff edge, she saw the ground drop off ten man-lengths. The bottom was littered with rocks and broken brush. Halfway down the face, two broken bodies lay in the bushes.
“Over here!” shouted the cleric.
Malusk and Theren rushed over. They tied off several ropes and climbed down the cliff to examine the corpses. One of the dead wore the uniform of the soldiers from the fort. Next to the soldier, written on a nearby rock in blood, were the words: 2 live. Skrie checked the remains.
“They’ve been dead a couple of days,” she said. “Huh, this one looks like a priest. Check out this robe and the symbol.” The second fellow wore a dark robe and a wooden sigil hung by a leather strap around his neck. The symbol was a simple wooden carving of a cross.
“I wonder what this means,” Theren looked at the sigil, then it disappeared into one of his belt pouches. He also took the scabbard from the soldier. After climbing back to the top, the young mage sheathed the sword that Skrie found.
“I don’t know,” replied the cleric. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. And I never heard about any god using this symbol before.”
They continued along the trail, watching for more tracks. Later in the day, Malusk spotted another section of trampled road. This time, the path led them straight to the cliff edge. Several bodies littered the bottom of the cliff, some ten cart lengths below them. The tracks were recent, only a few hours old.
The tracks became fresher as they traveled. Less than half a league later, they found evidence that a large group was in front of them, heading toward the village. At least ten people traveled in three groups. One group was clumped together, and the others were spread out in front and behind them.
“This is odd,” said Skrie.
Malusk leaned down to look at the footprints left in the dirt.
“I don’t see nuthin’ unusual,” said the half-orc.
“Look here,” said the halfling pointing to how the prints were distributed. “I’ll bet some of these folks are prisoners.”
Malusk stepped back and looked at the bigger picture.
“Well, I’ll be,” he said, “I think yer right.”
They continued following the trail. The group ahead was traveling much slower than they were. Sometime in the mid-afternoon, the tracks veered off the path.
“Wait here,” said Skrie. “I’ll check ahead and let you know what I find.”
“Ya know I don’ like when ya goes off on yer own,” complained Malusk.
“I know,” soothed the halfling. “But you can’t get close enough without tipping them off that we’re there. I promise, I’ll make it quick.” With that, she disappeared into the brush.
Several hundred paces off the road, the cleric found their camp. Two groups of captives were tied to separate trees on the far side of the camp. Four humans, one in armor and three wearing the same robes as the dead cultist they discovered earlier in the day, were huddled around a small fire. Creeping as close to the camp as she could, Skrie heard pieces of conversation among those gathered at the campfire:
“I can’t believe these fools thought they could escape us,” said the armored man. “They paid for it with the loss of the others. That oughtta teach them a lesson.”
“At least these ones can work the ruins or be of some use,” said a robed man. “The others were too old.”
“I hate this,” said another robed fellow. “The others are exploring the ruins, and we’re stuck out here hunting villagers.”
“Not me,” said the third. “The ruins are creepy, especially those walking bones.”
“I ain’t in any hurry to get back,” said the man in armor. “A nice hunting trip for rabbit, deer, wolf, or people is better than guarding this bunch.”
“We’re only half a day from the village,” said the first cultist. “We should have pushed further before stopping.”
“I don’t want to be herding these people in the dark on this road,” said the second cultist. “It’s bad enough having to stay here.”
“Look at this nice meal The One has provided for us,” said the armored fellow, “courtesy of these rabbits.”
Having heard enough, Skrie returned to Malusk and Theren.
“This way,” she whispered, moving down the road away from the cultists’ camp to make their plans.
Previous: Half Truths and Job Offers
Next: Saving the Prisoners
To read from the beginning: Exploring Everine
2 thoughts on “The Road to Nemeademore”