The party headed back toward the village, approaching from the west. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the town, they saw very little activity at first. Three men were dragged into the courtyard under guard a quarter candle later. They watched as the guards backed away when a priest in black and red robes appeared.
“Wonder what that’s about,” whispered Skrie.
A swirl of black mist from the tower caught the halfling’s eye. In the center of the disturbance, she saw a tall, thin, hooded figure. She saw the men standing before the figure, and the priest trembled with fear. Dark red swirls of light and fire twisted around them as they writhed and screamed. Then they fell to the ground, not moving. Skrie heard more chanting as the red mist coiled and curled through the air. As it engulfed the dead bodies, the trio rose and stood.
When the mist subsided, three acolytes strode forward, each approaching one of the undead, leading their newly created charges toward the ruins. The priest and black-shrouded creature retreated back to the tower.
“Oh, gods,” said the halfling, silently praying to Tymora.
“Now we know how they replace their workers,” said Theren.
“Gods,” grumbled Malusk, “I hates magics.”
“Let’s keep watching to see if they leave the tower,” said Skrie. “I have a feeling that what we’re looking for is in there.”
The party watched as the guards patrolled the town. Close to mid-morning, a guard knocked on one of the buildings. A different priest, wearing black and gold-trimmed robes, answered the summons. Apparently not happy with the news, the priest began raising his voice.
“… don’t care … search ….”
Skrie only heard a few words, “search,” “farms,” and “kill,” being the ones that stuck in her mind. The guard turned on his heel, then entered another building. Sometime later, three groups of three armed and armored guards exited the buildings. One group headed north, one east, and the last went south.
“I bet they’re looking for the villagers,” said Skrie.
“They’ll probably check the nearby farms and such,” said Theren.
“Accordin’ t’ th’ villagers,” said Malusk, “they’s only one farm close t’ here.”
“Aye,” said Skrie. “They’ve got to be looking for the villagers. I hope Garrick and the guards get them to the half-orcs in plenty of time. They didn’t get much of a head start.”
They continued watching the village and ruins, memorizing the various guards’ patterns around the area.
“Notice an’a’thin’?” asked Malusk.
“No, why?” asked Skrie.
“It only looks like they gots more guards,” said the half-orc, “but they’s stretched real thin, see?” he pointed toward the ruins and tombs to the south. “I don’ see ‘em so much in town, now that th’ villagers is all gone.”
Skrie watched for several dozen heartbeats.
“You’re right,” she said. “I noticed that the priests and that … that shrouded thing each had a guard. That makes, what? Eight or ten cultists in the way?”
“At least that,” said Malusk.
“Not to mention that they can make more,” said Theren. “And, not to be the bearer of bad news, but …” he trailed off.
“But what?” said Malusk, looking at him with suspicion.
“Any mage that can use a spell to kill, then raise the body he just killed into an undead minion, is a much more skilled necromancer than I will ever be.”
Next: Recovering the Relics