In the grey light of the predawn hours, the party woke the villagers.
“We need to move before the next watch arrives,” said Skrie from Malusk’s shoulder. “I can appeal to Tymora to help cover our trail but we need to know which direction we should go before we go stumbling in the dark.” The cleric looked around at the assembled group.
“Aye,” Mayze stepped forward. “I think I know jes’ th’ place.” Turning to her neighbors, she said, “grab yer littles, le’s get us all t’ safety.”
As the villagers rounded up their children, Skrie talked to the guards.
“We need to get word to Suncall about what’s going on here,” she said.
“Aye,” said Jorge, “soon’s we get these folks ta a safer spot, me an’ Jackson’ll high-tail it back ta th’ fort and talk ta th’ lieutenant. She’ll know what t’ do.”
“That we will,” Jackson nodded his agreement.
A candlemark later, the group examined the cave Mayze had led them to. It was more than half a league from the village, far enough the cultists might not think their captives would have the strength to travel. When they arrived and settled the littles, Skrie foraged the area for herbs and roots while scouting toward the village, looking for signs of pursuit. Malusk took his bow and went hunting with others from the hamlet.
When the halfling returned to the cave, she noted that the people who had stayed had gathered more root vegetables and herbs, water, and a pile of sticks. Some workers used the dry wood to make a fire, fashioning arrows with straighter pieces. Others were tending to the children as they woke from their drugged slumber. Not long after the cleric returned, one man came in holding a brace of rabbits. Those were skinned, cleaned, diced, and added to the party’s cookpot, filled with water, at the fire.
Skrie made herself inconspicuous as she circulated among them, making sure none of the children suffered ill effects of the sleeping drought they’d been given. Working her way from group to group, she listened to the villagers as they talked among themselves.
“I was in the upper level when I heard screams in one of the next rooms,” she heard one man say. “Everyone was running and yelling ‘get out, get out.’”
“That’s when the guards brought us from the tombs early, wasn’t it?” said another.
“I seen that strange dark woman carry a fancy box from the tombs,” one halfling murmured.
“Someone said one of the priests was killed down below,” said a human.
“I hope Jorund and the others got away,” said a halfling.
“Jorund and them others left us with no care for the kids,” said a human.
“What are we to do? We escaped those others but can we trust that horc and his friends?”
A commotion drew Skrie’s attention toward the entrance to the cave. When she saw Malusk carry in a young buck, dressed and ready to portion out, she knew they would eat well that afternoon.
After the foragers and hunters returned and everyone had eaten their fill, Skrie called the group together.
“We need a plan,” she said. “We need to know you’re going to be safe. I wish some of you had gone with the soldiers, you could talk to the lieutenant and let her know what you know.”
“We been talkin’ among ourselves,” said Mayze. “They’s a farm a league or so from th’ village. The horcs that run it are a bit odd, but nice enough.”
“Sounds good,” said Skrie, “you can warn them about the cultists.”
“Most folk don’t go there, though,” came the response. “We got’s ta cross a piece o’ the Valley of Irewick. It were th’ site of a long, terrible battle. Magic and necromancy, an’ a lot o’ other means o’ death and bloodshed, was used there. Some folk say the place be haunted with strange lights and sounds, walking skeletons, armor and weapons moving on their own. I been through there lots o’ times and ain’t seen none of that, but I stay out of the valley when I can. The track we’ll take is along the edge of the battlefield, we should be safe from people’s superstitions.”
“I’ll go with them,” said Garrick, stepping forward. “I can help guard the group and make sure they get to the farm safely.”
Jorge and Jackson followed Garrick.
“Aye,” said Jorge. “It ain’t safe fer the littles without someone t’ watch their backs. ‘Sides, if the horcs have horses, we’ll borrow ‘em. We can get back t’ th’ fort quicker ahorse than afoot.”
“Okay then,” she said, looking out at the faces before her. “Before you go, we need to ask you some questions so we know what we’re facing. What did they have you doing?”
“They was interested in the older graves and tombs,” said one man.
“They kept askin’ about th’ lower tombs,” said a halfling, “I didn’t know nothin’ about that, ‘though the village priest might have. But they killed him.”
“Friar Kavin said there were lower sections but the way down had collapsed,” said a third. “My name is Jamal. I was one of the Friar’s acolytes. I ‘spect there was a passage but he didn’t talk about it.”
“They didn’t start getting’ nasty until that other priest and that strange woman showed up,” said one woman.
“The strange woman?” asked Theren.
“Ya,” said the woman, “she always stays covered up in her cloak, but once I seen she has tar-black skin and silver-white hair.”
Theren pursed his lips.
“What?” asked Skrie.
“Sounds like a Drow elf,” said the mage, “but I can’t be sure unless I see her for myself. Why she would be on the surface instead of the safety of the Underbelly …” he trailed off.
The cleric wracked her brain for knowledge of Drow elves and came up with nothing. She had heard the word somewhere but knew nothing other than their domain was in the deepest, darkest depths of the earth.
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