The three friends were led away in chains, and soon felt the cobbles of Hexham’s streets give way to dirt road and then to rough track. Unable to see, they stumbled often, stubbing their feet painfully or, being chained together, crashing into one another.
After a long, exhausting day, the group finally halted as night fell. Still hooded, the companions waited under guard as a camp was quickly struck. Then, one by one, the friends were unhooded, fed a basic meal of hard bread and dried fruit, given water, and hooded once more. When Sophia was eating, Kazimir approached her from behind and cuffed her to the ground. “That’s for the arrow in my leg,” he growled before stomping away.
Any talking resulted in further punishment, so the group quietened. Storm tried to communicate with Myrddin, hoping he could somehow speak in the druid’s mind as he had in Storm’s. However, the art proved entirely alien to the dragonborn and he felt nothing. Exhausted, the friends fell into a troubled sleep.
The next morning, the companions were unhooded, one at a time, and given water and a piece of stale cheese. Hooded again, and having no sense of their bearings, they were dragged to their feet for a long day stumbling through woodlands. They realised that they had been chained together and were walking in single file, with Sophia in front, followed by Tector and then Storm.
As camp was made again at the end of the day, the friends took care to note the position of the camp, the hounds, and the bedrolls of their captors. They also noticed that Kazimir carried a large leather pack, which they had not noticed when they first saw him. Surmising that it contained the armour and other items taken from the group, they resolved to grab it and escape should the chance arise.
Staying awake, they paid close attention to the routine of their captors. They noted the heavy tread of Kazimir, the light steps of Roarc and the slight chill in the air when Geimhreadh walked close by. It seemed to the companions that, at any one time, one of Lahm Sealguire was walking patrol around the camp, but they did not know whether the others slept or kept a silent watch.
In the early hours of the morning, Sophia felt Kazimir’s heavy tread nearby and reached out with an enchantment. Unable to see him, and speaking in the quietest of whispers to keep her spell secret, the conditions were not ideal. She heard his footfalls stop, and a huge yawn. Then, slowly, the heavy tread began again, and Sophia realised that the kurgen had resisted her sorcery. Thankfully he also seemed unaware of it!
Waking to the same routine, the group continued on for another stumbling day, moving over rough country from dawn til dusk. They waited, helpless, while camp was made that night, and overheard a few words from Jarleth, evidently reporting back to Lorcan following reconnaissance.
“… very close to the Wall … caeltir scum … too close … patrols searching … make for the east … the black ships … north that way …”
After fitful sleep and another gruelling day moving across country, with the manacles now beginning to chafe horribly at their skin, the group stopped once again. They overheard Lorcan’s rasping whisper imparting commands to his Hand: “… stay safe, hidden … lay low for a time …”
This time, instead of the usual camp routine, the companions felt themselves being led carefully down stone steps, and smelled a dank, musty chamber. Sophia asked her captor where they were. “In an old cellar, long abandoned,” answered Roarc’s lilting Hibernian brogue. “I’m afraid it offers little comfort for a Lady such as yourself, but it will have to suffice for a few days.”
Left alone for a few moments, Tector tried to break the chains binding him, but failed. Thankfully the attempt was not noticed, and the group settled down and pretended to sleep while watch was posted. They heard light footsteps on the stairs and had the sense that someone was sitting on the steps watching them.
In the small hours of the night, Sophia reached out with an enchantment once more, the tendrils of her sorcery reaching into Jarleth’s mind and lulling him into a deep slumber. Sophia removed her hood and carefully moved over to the slumbering scout, sliding his rapier and daggers from their sheaths. Briefly considering whether to cut their captor’s throat, the three friends decided they would not stoop to the level of the Hand and murder in cold blood.
Having removed the hoods from Storm and Tector, the three worked together to break the chain linking Storm to Tector. This made some noise as the chain links broke apart and, despite Storm’s diving catch, some clattered on the floor. They heard the catch of breath in Jarleth’s throat as he began to waken.
Quickly grabbing Jarleth’s bow (for the second time!) Storm stepped over his captor’s waking form and hurried up the stairs. Emerging into the razed remains of an old villa, with little more than two feet of wall remaining, he was relieved to see most of Lahm Sealguire wrapped in their bedrolls asleep. Kasimir was walking the perimeter of the camp, but luckily for the dragonborn he was facing away from Storm as he emerged from the cellar.
As soon as he cleared the steps Storm unfurled his wings and drove himself into the air. Despite his attempts at stealth the ‘whoosh’ of his wings was too loud to be unnoticed, and Kazimir whirled and bellowed a warning as the dragonborn climbed into the air.
Lahm Sealguire reacted as expected for elite trained hunters. Lorcan rolled to his feet, conjuring a spear of glowing red-hot iron as he did so and casting it violently at Storm. It pierced completely through his right thigh and stuck there. Screaming in pain, the dragonborn continued to pump his wings, trying desperately to gain altitude.
Roarc grabbed his bow, rolled to his feet, nocked a blue-fletched arrow and let fly in a single fluid motion. Storm tried to bank out of the way, but the arrow sparked with electricity in mid-flight before transforming into a stroke of lightning which caught the dragonborn in the side. Twisting in agony, the sorcerer beat his wings once more, battling his swimming vision to stay conscious and gain altitude, leaving the sithe hurling arrows and spells in his wake as he climbed into the night sky.
In the moonlight, he could see hills in one direction and a wide river in the other. Recalling that they had passed over water earlier in their journey, he surmised that the river was the Tyne and flew towards it, battling shock, bloodloss and exhaustion. Gliding across the river with the last of his strength, he landed on the south bank. Finding that Lorcan’s hellspike had melted away, leaving a terrible hole in his leg, Storm finally slipped into exhausted unconsciousness.
As soon as Storm had run up the steps, his two friends realised there could be reprisals and, putting their hoods back on, lay down and pretended to be asleep. This was, unfortunately, not sufficient to save them from the wroth of the Lahm Sealguire, and Kazimir in particular, who administered a terrible beating to them both.
Bruised and battered, Sophia focused on her wounds and they healed beneath her golden light. She tried to crawl over and give the same blessing to Tector, but heard Lorcan’s cruel whisper instead.
“No more of that. Take her upstairs. We must strike camp now and move. The dragonborn will bring the caeltir down on our heads if we tarry.”
With that, Sophia and Tector were dragged to their feet and led at a stumbling run across rough woodland at night, their captors dragging them relentlessly onward and demon hounds nipping at their heels.
Storm regained consciousness on the banks of the Tyne. It was light. His leg throbbed with pain, but he knew his friends were in mortal danger and that he was their only hope of rescue. Forcing his wings to obey, he climbed into the sky and circled. Seeing no obvious settlement nearby, called upon the full array of his sorcery, sending draconic lightning, whirlwinds and lightning orbs high into the air for many minutes.
As his wings were beginning to protest, a tawny owl flew out of the north and circled him three times, before swooping down to the south bank of the Tyne. Storm followed, and as he landed saw the owl shift and transform, until before him stood the welcome sight of Myrddin the Druid.
The elf grimaced. “You are in poor health Storm. Let me help you.”
Kneeling, the druid cradled Storm’s wounded leg in his hands and the dragonborn felt great warmth flow through it. He looked down to see his leg whole once again.
Myrddin stood. “I know you were taken by Lahm Sealguire. Are Sophia and Tector still captive?”
Storm nodded. “Then we have no time to waste” replied the druid. “The Hand of the Hunter is known to take vengeance on its captives,” he muttered, looking north across the river. “Follow me,” he said, before transforming once more into an owl.
Flying quickly across the river and to the north, Storm followed Myrddin into a broad, circular clearing ringed by great oaks: a druid grove. As Myrddin transformed, three caeltir emerged from the trees.
The first was a striking elf-maid in woodland garb, with emerald eyes and hair so black it was almost green. Several wolves paced restlessly around her.
“Storm, allow me to introduce my companions. This is Arianwen, a member of my druidic circle.”
Turning to the second figure, a petite elf with wind-blown hair, twin scars on her pale skinned face, and wearing bright multi-coloured clothes, he introduced Tegan. “She is known as the Tempestborn, as she was birthed in the eye of a terrible storm and has ever had the winds at her beck and call.”
“And Sian the Swift needs no introduction,” he concluded, as the tall, fair elven scout strode across the grove to greet Storm.
The five of them quickly conferred, Myrddin pressing Storm to remember details of where his friends were held; landmarks, distances, directions. The sorcerer was able to describe the cellar they had been held in, and the rough direction. When he confirmed there was nothing above, not even ruins to speak of, Sian was confident that she knew the place.
Wasting no time, they parted. Arianwen transformed into a wolf, loping off with her pack as Sian jogged alongside. Myrddin shifted into the form of a tawny owl once more, and as he flew off the wind suddenly picked up, sweeping Tegan into the air and aiding Storm as he beat his great wings to gain height.
Sophia and Tector had been enduring a hellish run for many hours. They were covered in cuts and bruises from numerous falls, but every time they stumbled they were dragged roughly to their feet, blood now flowing from their wrists due to the endless chafing of the manacles. Tector realised that the brutal Kazimir was dragging him forward, while Sophia was pulled onward by Jarleth each time she slowed.
Desperate to fight back in some way, Sophia muttered a spell and tried to force her consciousness into Jarleth’s, willing him to attack Kazimir. Whether because of her wounds, exhaustion, the hood over her head or the constant jostling, she failed and the nightmare journey continued.
The wind suddenly picked up in intensity, and the demon hounds began to bay, picking up scents close by. As Sian and the wolves ghosted through the trees behind Sealguire, Tegan and Storm flew overhead and Myrddin landed on the trail ahead of the Hand, transforming into his elven form.
Sensing a change in fortune, Sophia lashed out with her mind, hammering terror into the consciousness of her captor Jarleth and sending him fleeing, screaming, into the woods [Tilly rolled a 20]. Roarc, at the rear, spun and fired a black-fletched arrow into a wolf, taking it in the chest and sending it sprawling. Sophia bolted for safety, but the hound behind her pounced, clamping its jaws on her shoulder and raking its hind claws down her back, dealing her terrible wounds and slamming her into the ground.
Another hound bounded for Myrddin ahead on the trail, but bushes and branches moved to ensnare it, wrapping tight as it flailed to get free. Arianwen and her wolves fell on the hounds, knocking one off Sophia. Two others rolled, biting, with the third hound while two more harried Roarc, trying to stay away from the bite of his dragonsword. Through the trees to the side, Sian loosed an arrow that struck Lorcan in the arm, drawing blood. He flinched in response, and seemed to concentrate for a moment. In response, molten black metal flowed across his skin, hardening to iron in seconds.
Geimhreadh looked into the sky, and narrowing his eyes on his rival storm sorcerer, he flung a bolt of lightning from his outstretched hand. It struck Storm square in the chest, smashing him backwards, but he was able to stay airborne. Now protected, Lorcan reached a blazing fist towards Sian, and as he clenched it with a terrible curse she burst into flame. She screamed and stumbled backwards into the woods.
Kazimir slammed Tector into the ground, knocking the wind out of him, before standing with one foot on his prone form and unlimbering his thick chains for use as flails. A few yards away, Storm landed beside Sophia as a wolf and a hound rolled inches away, pulling her to her feet and handing her Jarleth’s bow, arrows and rapier. Seizing his moment, Tector surged upward, grabbing Kazimir by the leg and waist and lifting him bodily into the air before slamming him brutally down, head first, into the ground.
Ahead on the trail, Myrddin’s hands were raised to the heavens and a freezing vortex descended on Lorcan and Geimhreadh. The storm sorcerer stepped out with ease, but the leader of Sealguire was hedged within, desperately battling to stay on his feet.
Sian continued to scream, stumbling as she blazed like a human torch. “Fly, you fools!” yelled Myrddin as he sprinted through the trees to aid her. Sophia loosed an arrow at Geimhreadh, missing him. The storm sorcerer retaliated by calling down a rain of fist-sized hailstones, which slammed down around Tegan, Storm and Sophia. The elf-maid and the Lady avoided the worst of the blows, but Storm was battered as his wings took a heavy beating, and he was on the very edge of passing out. Tegan gestured and the wind intensified, lifting the dragonborn into the air and pulling Sophia along with him.
As the wolves began to disengage from the larger, more powerful hounds, and Lorcan struggled within Myrddin’s icy maelstrom, Kazimir swept his chains in a horizontal arc to slam into Tector’s legs and take the big warrior down. Instinctively, Tector leaped over the flying chains, landing beside Kazimir and grabbing his huge leather pack. In an incredible display of strength and agility [another 20!] the big warrior ripped the pack from the kurgen’s back, kicked him to the ground, and span away, sprinting into the trees. As he did so, the roaring wind picked him up and swept him into the sky.
Looking down as they soared above the treetops in the chill wind, the three friends saw Geimhreadh aiding Lorcan to be free of the blizzard and Roarc slashing at a fleeing wolf. Three wolves and two hounds lay prone, while one hound was still tangled in the undergrowth. They saw no sign of Sian, Myrddin or the other wolves, but Kazimir struggled to his feet and gazed balefully at them as they soared into the cloudless sky.