The Inquisition Heads North, Part Four - Solstice!
After tending to Tector’s wounds, the companions asked Mary what had happened to the dragon. “It was not real,” she replied. “Nothing but a vision”. The group asked who had assaulted the dragon with beams of silver light and she explained that these had come from her weapon, the Spear of St Peter. However, she noticed something was wrong when her second strike appeared to hit the dragon but pass straight through it. It was then that she saw through the illusion, seeing that it was crafted from swirling darkness and shadow. But others could not see the truth, and the panic continued until the dragon disappeared a few minutes later. They discussed the sight of the dragon breathing acid over the Cathedral Green, the numbers of dead and wounded, and how an illusion could have achieved this. Storm noted that that they had been attacked by acid from the trees, and wondered whether that was the real source of the casualties.
The following day, Sophia employed her healing arts on Tector, and the group were visited by FitzDolfin. He thanked them for intervening in the battle and saving his life, telling them that they would always be welcome in his fiefdom of Raby. Later, Mary of Stamford called on them. The Templar captain healed Tector, and told the big warrior that a soldier had been singing his praises, saying that his life had been saved by the generosity of a noble knight in shining dragon armour. Mary talked to Tector about the Knights Templar, and explained that she felt he would be an excellent knight. She offered to sponsor his knighthood, were he to wish it, and assuming that his liege lord Baron de Percy would agree. Tector thanked her and said that he would consider it carefully. Before taking her leave, the Templar captain mentioned that the Bishop of Durham wished to see them.
Having eaten, the companions crossed the green to the Cathedral, where they were met by Sir Guy and escorted to the Bishop’s chambers. Hugh de Puiset was a middle aged man, clean-shaven but for a long mustache, and with short grey hair. He wore finely embroidered burgundy ecclesiastical robes, a golden mitre, and held a golden cross atop a slender staff of white ash.
Fixing the group with his penetrating gaze, he spoke with calm authority. After thanking them for their timely intervention on the previous night, he explained that a small group of dark elves had been spotted fleeing the city in the aftermath of the attack, and were heading northwest. He told the companions that they needed to be stopped before they could do further mischief, and asked the friends to pursue them. The group readily agreed, and the Bishop explained that he had arranged for them to be accompanied by his best tracker, a gamekeeper named Edgar. Sir Guy introduced the companions to the gamekeeper and his faithful hounds, and horses were saddled and ready.
Setting out quickly, despite the fact that Tector still bore some cuts and bruises from the previous day’s battle, they made good time before the trail veered across rough country. They camped the first night knowing that they were on the trail of the sithe and that they were closing in. The next day they continued their pursuit, hampered by woods and rocky terrain but cantering on open ground where possible. By the end of the day, Edgar was confident they had gained further on the dark elves and would catch them within the next two days. That night, on the eve of the summer solstice, they camped again with no fire.
The following morning, none of the companions awakened. Instead, they lived a fitful dream, in which they experienced again the events of the summer solstice at Ben Nevis. Comatose and unable to be roused for the entire day, they came round after the stroke of midnight to find a distraught Edgar looking after them. Beside himself with fear and concern, he took some calming down but was eventually convinced to get some rest.
Very early the following morning, each of the companions felt something tickling at the edge of their consciousness, and they suddenly heard Myrddin’s voice, clear as a bell within their minds. “Greetings my friends. It has been mere hours since we freed Ice from his prison at the heart of Ben Nevis. I trust you are all safe in York.”
Storm replied. “We are not in York, we are in the forests northwest of Durham, hunting a band of dark elves that attacked Durham Castle and tried to free the Carricks.”
Myrddin responded, aghast. “You are in grave danger! The Witches are furious at the release of Ice, and their anger has united them. Their eyes are fixed on the south, and they have mobilised many agents to strike against us. Several sithe Hands are already active south of the Wall, and they will no doubt be seeking you now. We should be safe in our strongholds: out in the wilderness you are terribly exposed!”
Sophia gasped in fear and the group exchanged scared glances. Myrddin continued. “I will send aid. But it will take time to reach you. Where are you now?”
The companions described their current location and some of the landmarks they had passed. “Keep heading north,” said Myrddin, “keep moving, and stay vigilant. I will send aid!” With that, the magic faded and the three friends were left staring at one another, momentarily speechless.
After a few moments they recovered themselves, gathered their possessions, and explained their predicament to Edgar. He went pale and urged them to turn south back to Durham, but the group were determined to follow Myrddin’s instructions and despite the gamekeeper’s protestations they nosed their horses due north.
Half the day passed, and they were riding along a trail through woodland, with a stream to the west. As they passed through a clearing, they were startled by a bellow from further along the trail. Already on edge, they stopped their horses, peering ahead, and were startled to see a large and brutal-looking ogre charging along the trail into the clearing.
Tector responded fastest, spurring his destrier forward and swinging his greataxe at the monster. The huge blow passed straight through the ogre and Tector immediately realised that something was wrong. Focusing his will, he saw that the ogre was nothing but swirling shadows, and called back to his companions: “It’s nothing but a vision!”
At the same moment, Storm felt the whisper of sorcery and found himself enveloped by utter darkness! He tried running out of it, but the pool of night simply moved with him. Sophia, who had also been in the dark but could see again once Storm moved, was looking around for the source of the threat, and saw a pale, slender dark elf in the trees to the west holding a staff topped by a glowing green gem. As she spotted him, an orb of swirling green liquid arced towards her, exploding over her head and showering her, Storm, Edgar, their horses and Edgar’s hounds with burning acid.
The poor gamekeeper and his hounds were overwhelmed by their burns, and his horse bolted, as did Storm’s. As this happened, a globe of night emerged rapidly from the woods to the west and closed on Storm and Sophia. Engulfed in darkness, neither could see what was happening, and they found it impossible to dodge the pinpoint strikes of a sithe warrior wielding both rapier and stiletto dagger. In response, Storm tried to rake the sithe with his lightning claws, but the darkness again thwarted him. Sophia backed out of the darkness, rushed to Edgar’s side and poured her healing into his broken form. He sucked air into his lungs with a great gasp, and struggled to his knees.
As the sithe warrior’s furious assault on Storm continued, Tector moved to aid him but felt a sinister presence in his mind and was overwhelmed by terror. Consumed by the desire to escape this deadly fight, he spurred his horse and galloped away to the north!
Hearing this panicked flight, and seriously wounded from acid and blades, Storm called upon the North Wind and the chill vortex lifted both him and Sophia to brief respite on the other side of the clearing. The globe of darkness containing the sithe warrior immediately moved towards them, and Edgar got to his feet before fleeing unsteadily to the south.
Sophia looked around for a target and noticed the dark elf sorcerer in the woods, focusing her will upon him. His mental defences collapsed under the lady’s onslaught, and his face twisted in horror. Quickly stepping backwards into the stream, he dissolved into acid which splashed down into the water and was swept away!
Tector was still gripped by fear and continued to gallop away from the fight, while Storm was struck again by the dark elf warrior. Bleeding profusely, he collapsed to the turf in agony. Sophia stepped across, activating her Solstice Amulet as she did so, and under the protection of its wards she poured the remainder of her healing power into her friend.
Finally overcoming his fear, Tector turned his horse and galloped back towards the battle. The sithe warrior attacked Sophia relentlessly, but could not pierce her wards and turned his attention to Storm. Knowing that he would not likely survive another assault from the sithe’s twin blades, Storm flexed his wings and leapt into the air. As he did so, a tall, lean dark elf stepped into the clearing.
She wore a full suit of black leather armour covering her entire body and a dark burgundy cloak. Her face was shrouded by her hood and an ornate silver mask, and she carried a short polearm with an ebony haft and ornate mithril falchion blade. Her eyes fixed on the dragonborn as he climbed higher into the air, and he felt the darkness of a vision begin to assault his mind. Knowing that the battle hung in the balance, he pushed it away furiously.
The darkness engulfing Storm finally dissipated, and he responded by hurling a lightning orb at the enchantress who had assaulted him moments before. It slammed home. Sophia decided to stand her ground, relying on the solstice wards to protect her from the continuing assault of the sithe warrior, and unwilling to attack either him or the enchantress as this would mean losing the protection of the amulet against that target.
Tector arrived back in the clearing at a gallop and hurled his Frost Net over the female sithe. While her warrior companion continued to assault Sophia without success, her arms were pinned by the net and she was unable to attack. Seeing her weakness, Storm swooped down from the sky and unleashed his Ice Javelins. All three slammed into her chest, one after another, and she screamed in agony before collapsing. The companions cheered but, as she hit the ground, she disappeared!
Tector turned towards the darkness engulfing Sophia, but suddenly it too disappeared and Sophia could see again. The darkness around her had gone, and with it the final sithe had somehow fled.
Catching their breath, the group took stock. Tector was uninjured but his companions both had wounds which Sophia was unable to heal. They had Tector’s horse and managed to find Sophia’s, but the others were lost. Discussing their next steps, they resolved to go after Edgar to the south, reasoning that he would be in grave danger on his own and prioritising this over following Myrddin’s instructions. After an hour or so they caught up with the injured man and his one surviving hound, limping slowly south.
“By God, I’m pleased to see you,” said the gamekeeper through gritted teeth. “Now we must make for Durham with all haste, lest those devils return!”