Hexham

The group galloped into Hexham, Storm flying above, prompting a small child to scream and its mother to grab it and run inside. Edgar yelled that raiders were coming and the townsfolk should take refuge in the Abbey.

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Storm landed and the rushed to the Abbey Square, shouting to all they met to seek the protection of the Abbey. Arriving there, they were tying their horses to a post when a novice named Egfrith approached them. Quickly taking them into the Abbey, Egfrith located Prior John and introductions were made.

The group hastily explained that a Hand of dark elves were converging on the town. Prior John asked why, and Storm replied that they were hunting the four companions. Again Prior John asked why, and in response the three friends showed him their inquisition rings, explaining that they were in the service of the Archbishop of York.

Prior John’s eyes widened, particularly as he saw the scaled skin of Storm’s ring finger. “Hexham stands within the Archdiocese of York, and I was appointed to my post by the Archbishop many years ago. You are dragonborn, the one who has spent his entire life in York Minster?”

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Storm nodded in confirmation. “God bless you all,” said the Prior. “Now, I must arrange shelter for the townsfolk, excuse me.” With that, the Prior rushed off. Already, townsfolk were beginning to enter the Abbey, and soon the trickle grew into a flood of nervous, worried people.

As the Prior and his priests and novices struggled to organise and settle the townsfolk in the nave, the group explored the Abbey, looking for entrances and other points of weakness. Drawing on his knowledge of cathedral architecture from his life in York, Storm identified the stairs up to the church tower and the group made their way up to the roof of the church tower. This provided an excellent vantage point over the town of Hexham, the hills to the south, and the river Tyne to the north.

For two hours the friends watched as townsfolk converged on the Abbey, first in a stream but narrowing to the occasional straggler by the end. Despite their vigilance, they saw no sign of Lahm Sealguire.

Remembering the attack on York Minster, the friends were concerned that the sithe might be attacking through the crypt. They located it and went down, Storm lighting the way with flickering lightning. They found a dry, dusty chamber filled with stone tombs and effigies. They stood for a time, listening for any sign of tunnelling, but could only hear the faint hubbub of humanity in the church above.

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Returning to the roof, the friends and two novices spent the next few hours looking out over Hexham. They caught a few glimpses of their enemy: a demon hound entered the Abbey Square briefly, sniffing at the ground. Storm extended his senses across the town, searching for telltale power like his own, and felt that the storm sorcerer Geimhreadh was also nearby. Later, Tector spotted the menacing figure of Lorcan gazing at them from a window across the square.

Finally, as night fell, Sophia noticed Kazimir, the huge ogre, standing at the edge of the Abbey Square. Quickly judging the distance, she felt he was just within range and snapped off a shot with her elven bow. With a smile she saw it strike home, hitting the kurgen in the thigh. He grunted with pain before reaching down and ripping the arrow out and snapping it in two. Then, before Sophia could fire again, he stepped back behind a building.

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Night fell, and the companions decided to take sleep in turns. Tector, stationed by the main entrance to the church, slept first while his friends continued to peer over the town from the roof of the church tower.

The big warrior was soon woken by three firm knocks on the church door. A chilling voice then pierced the night, sounding like a hissing whisper but loud enough to carry some distance into the church. “People of Hexham, our quarrel is not with you. We seek three traitors, who you are sheltering. Hand them over to us and your lives shall be spared. You have one hour.”

As this news spread, Sophia and Storm came down from the roof, to be greeted by whispering and sidelong glances from the townsfolk huddled in the nave. Prior John, however, reassured the companions. “You are Inquisitors, and I am sworn to protect you. Those were strong words, and we must be alert this night.”

An hour later, three further knocks echoed from the main church door. On the tower roof far above Storm peered down, looking for a target for his lightning orb. But he could see nothing but inky darkness. Lorcan’s sinister voice pierced the darkness. “People of Hexham, this is your last chance. Hand over the three traitors now or face your deaths!”

Silence was the answer. After a few minutes, a shuddering blow struck the church doors, rattling the bars. Further blows began to splinter the wood, as Prior John began to chant in latin and stepped forward. Touching the door as another blow crashed into it, a golden light extended from his hand and seemed to flow like water onto the door, pouring into every crack and coating every surface. The blows continued, but seemed to have no further effect. It was as if the door had been turned to steel.

Walking calmly back to the crossing at the centre of the church, Prior John continued his latin chant. As he did so, he extended his arms out from his body and began to glow with a golden light. Gradually, this filled the entire church, so bright that the people huddled there for protection had to shield their eyes. As the light died away moments later, the doors and windows of the church continued to glow.

The prior then walked down the nave of the church and seated himself on his frith chair at the centre of the choir. There he continued a low chant throughout the night. Three times something smashed against a church window, but each time the glass held, and the companions were able to rest.

They were woken by the smell of cooking, and handed bowls of porridge by a toothless old woman. Seeing Prior John absent, Tector asked a novice about him and was told he was sleeping. The companions then climbed the steps to the church tower, and Storm sensed that Geimhreadh was still close by.

Keeping a watch throughout the morning with two novices, the group was shocked when Lahm Sealguire began to assemble at the far side of the Abbey Square, along with a human family. “God save us,” said one of the novices. “They have Halfdan and his family!”

The companions asked about Halfdan, and the novices explained that he was a farmer who lived outside the town. He must not have heard the alarm and had obviously been captured by Lahm Sealguire. The group could see that he was bleeding from wounds on his right leg and left arm, while his wife had heavy bruising to the side of her face. Two children also stood, each being held by Jarleth the hunter. One was around six, the other no older than three. Both were crying.

Lorcan stepped forward, his voice once again a loud whisper that carried easily across the square. “I offered you mercy. You forsook it. Now your own people will pay the penalty. One of these people will die each hour until the three traitors are delivered to us.”

The friends on the rooftop begin to discuss how they might respond to this, clearly distressed at the thought that this family would suffer on their account. As they did so, they were summoned to speak with Prior John, who had been woken from his rest.

“As Inquisitors of the Church,” he said, “I am certain that you would rather sacrifice yourselves than the lives of innocents.” The friends agreed, and discussed their options with the Prior. They planned to give themselves up, ensure that Halfdan and his family were released and safely in the Abbey, and then attack their captors.

As they walked toward the church doors, they adjusted their plan, at Storm’s request. Leaving their weapons inside the church, they walked out into the Abbey Square. As soon as the hostages were free, the plan was that Storm would call upon the north wind to lift himself and Tector up to the church tower, while Sophia would break the feather charm she had recovered from the goblin pirates on their return journey from France so long ago and fly up to join them.

With this in mind, the group stopped half way across the square and waited for the family to be released. Lorcan gazed at them balefully. “Approach. The humans will not be freed until you are chained.” Turning his head, he said to Jarleth, “if they try anything, slit the little girl’s throat.”

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Horrified at the depths of Lorcan’s evil, the group suddenly realised that their plan was going awry. They began to move slowly forwards, looking at their options. Jarleth still held both children, and the parents stood in front of him, flanked by Roarc and Geimhreadh. Kazimir, with three hounds straining at their chains, closed on them from the left, while Lorcan stood before them.

They halted just before Lorcan, who gestured to Roarc. “The girl first.” Roarc stepped forward with manacles and gestured for Sophia to hold out her hands. She did so, and the manacles closed firmly around her wrists. The warrior then pulled a black hood from his back, placing it firmly over Sophia’s head.

Still desperately trying to think of a contingency plan, Storm suffered the same treatment. Tector considered attacking Roarc and strangling him with his own manacles, but he saw that the children were still firmly held by Jarleth and succumbed. The big warrior was chained hand and foot, with both sets of manacles then chained together so that he could not raise his arms.

Releasing Halfdan and his family, who ran sobbing for the safety of the Abbey, Lahm Sealuire searched the companions, taking everything of value, including Sophia’s Solstice Amulet and Tector’s Solstice Dragon Armour.

As they were led away in chains, blind and stumbling due to the hoods over their heads, Lorcan’s whispering voice cut through them once more. “My mistress will be pleased. It is time for you scum to pay the price for your actions.”

Hexham

Albion Andrew_Brereton Andrew_Brereton