Vindolanda, Part Four - Death Incarnate
Suddenly, several figures emerged from the buildings to the east of the Archbishop. The group recognised two of them as Uathach and Tarlach of Lahm Scath. The third was a terrible apparition of darkness, eight feet tall with glowing red eyes – a Shadowraith, one of Morgan le Fay’s most deadly servants. The fourth was clad in loose fitting, light coloured garb, good camouflage against the snow, and moved with the speed and grace of a born assassin.
Uathach gestured toward Guillaume de la Croix, and a look of fear crossed his face. He backed away a couple of steps from the Archbishop, before stopping himself. “No! I will not run, by God!!” he bellowed, turning to face the new threat.
As the Shadowraith and assassin surged toward the Archbishop, Storm reacted quickly to protect him, conjuring a wall of ice between the priest and his attackers. Meanwhile, from the west, another figure sprinted toward the Archbishop. Recognising the lithe warrior as Celach, Storm called a warning. Uther and de la Croix moved to intercept him. The Archbishop, seemingly unaware of the danger, continued to chant, his attention entirely focused on the wall of golden light filling the breach.
Tarlach moved to the side, pointing his staff and unleashing a shimmering globe of green liquid, which sped toward the group before exploding. Several of the companions were showered with acid, including the Archbishop, who grimaced in pain but continued his chant.
While Tector remained engaged with the dracolich, Raphael and Sophia fired at the newcomers to their west. Uther yelled for Tector to help defend the Archbishop, before catching the charging Celach a terrible blow with his longsword.
Uathach weaved another enchantment, this time focusing on Sophia, who was blocking her path to the Archbishop. She was momentarily submerged in a vision of darkness before steeling her will and forcing it away. In response, Raphael fired at the enchantress twice, hitting her in the arm with his second shot.
Storm flew into the air, launching a lightning orb at Tarlach which had him writhing in agony. He responded by firing an acid arrow at Storm, which the dragonborn evaded with ease. Sophia decided to aid her friend, firing an arrow into Tarlach’s chest that had him stumbling backwards away from the battle, choking up blood.
As she did so, the wraith rose into the air and floated easily over Storm’s wall of ice, landing next to the Archbishop on the other side. Its shadowy form rushed at the pontiff and he screamed in pain as something terribly sharp stabbed through his robes and deep into his side. Meanwhile, the assassin moved to the south of the wall, but the detour meant that he could not reach the Archbishop immediately. He brought his hands together and extended them in a pushing motion, and a wave of force erupted outwards. The wall of ice protected the Archbishop from the worst of the force, but de la Croix and the Shadowraith were both blasted backwards.
Fortunately for the Archbishop, the wraith ended up a few feet away from him, just as help arrived. Tector charged in, his greataxe still gleaming from the frost he had called up to assault the dracolich, and slammed it into the wraith in a massive overhead blow. He felt it bite deep within the shadowy form and the intensity of the blazing red eyes diminished dramatically. Uther followed up, slashing the wraith with his longsword.
Myrddin, fearing the assassin would reach the Archbishop to deadly effect, called on the spirits of nature. Vines exploded from between the cobblestones, surging up to grab the assassin’s ankles before wrapping around his legs and holding him fast. In response, the assassin launched a spear of force at Tector, hoping to bring him down so the Shadowraith could advance on the Archbishop. However, the big warrior reacted with incredible speed, a sixth sense alerting him to the danger from his rear. He ducked beneath the spike of force, and it sped over his head, burying itself in the Shadowraith in front of him!
Meanwhile, near the breach in the wall, Achilleus led a company of danagrim legionaries toward the two dragons. At his command, the company let their javelins fly. While many bounced harmlessly from the undead dragon’s bones, one penetrated its ribcage and seemed to explode within, causing the dracolich to flinch sideways. Ice, blood flowing freely from several huge rents in his scales, profited from the distraction by leaping into the air, great wings pumping furiously to obtain altitude, aided by unnatural winds conjured by Tegan. Moments later, the dracolich followed, pursuing the white dragon into the low cloud to the east.
Back on the ground, the battle raged on around the Archbishop, who was maintaining his focus on the golden wall of light in the breach. Celach, flanked by Uther on one side and de la Croix on the other, found it impossible to defend against them both and took several deep wounds. Glancing from one to the other as he tried to fend them off, he growled “curse you to the Hells,” before running his thumb down a piece of red cloth on his belt and disappearing.
Seeing Storm’s commanding position over the battlefield, Uathach attempted to bring him down with a pain enchantment, but he resisted her spell. Storm retalitated with a lightning orb, but she nimbly dodged aside. Raphael and Sophia fired at her, both hitting, and she began to advance on them, her fearsome glaive spinning in her hands.
The assassin, unable to target the Archbishop due to the wall of ice in the way, and unable to move to a better position because of the vines writing around his legs, hurled a missile of pure force at Storm. With a flap of his wings the dragonborn banked aside and the force dart missed.
Tector and de la Croix exchanged blows with the Shadowraith, giving their own blood to stop it reaching the priest again. Uther dropped back to guard the old man, calling up the blessing of his goblet and holding it to the Archbishop’s lips. The pontiff paused his chant for a moment to drink, and colour flowed back into his pale cheeks.
As Uathach advanced on them, Raphael and Sophia combined again to shoot her with arrow and bolt, while Myrddin called upon nature’s blessing to lend focus to his friend’s attacks for the rest of the encounter. Meanwhile Tegan, held aloft by a wind vortex, noticed araken clambering over the Wall and called a warning to the danagrim below. Achilleus shouted commands, and the disciplined legionaries formed into ranks to engage the araken as they dropped down from the Wall above.
Uathach spoke words the companions could not understand, and suddenly there were four of her! The friends quickly realised that she had conjured images of herself, but they could not distinguish true from false. Raphael stabbed at one of the four visions before him, guessing right and feeling his dagger bite home, but his second blow hit an image and it blinked out of existence. Tegan’s wind lifted a javelin and sent it shooting over, hitting another image and destroying it. The enchantress surged forward, glaive spinning at the friends. Raphael was quick enough to dodge aside but Sophia was not so fortunate and was slashed down the leg. In response, Sophia stabbed with her rapier, dispelling the final image and leaving a single Uathach before them.
At the centre of the battle, the wraith began to spin around and rapidly morphed into a vortex of shadow. Moving like a cloud of darkness it surged towards the Archbishop, engulfing him. He screamed in pain, a deep stab wound in his chest. Storm reacted fastest to this assault, conjuring his draconic lightning and sending it hurtling down on the wraith from above. It slammed home, and he was pleased to see the wraith convulse, sparks of lightning flashing throughout its shadowy form. Tector charged the wraith, hitting it once again, and Uther then slammed his shield into the creature, rupturing something deep within. As the Templar Knight stumbled backwards, the wraith seemed to implode into a vortex of darkness before surging forward, penetrating into his chest and disappearing completely within. He gasped in pain as deathly energy coursed through his body, but Myrddin’s ward protected him from the worst effects.
The assassin, still struggling against Myrddin’s vines, took a large, shimmering pearl from a pouch at his waist and hurled it at de la Croix. It struck home and exploded, hurting both Guillaume and Tector. Worse, the Templar was encased in a globe of solid force. He slashed with his sword, trying to cut his way free, but succeeded only in blunting his blade.
Myrddin, most of his offensive powers depleted by the seemingly endless battles, focused on the wall of ice next to the assassin, causing it to explode outward, peppering him with shards of ice which drew blood. Hearing a footstep behind him, the druid whirled to see Celach charging at him from behind, rapier and stiletto dagger gleaming. Reacting quickly, he dodged both blows.
Slightly to the south of the Archbishop, at the centre of the battle, Raphael and Sophia were still engaged with Uathach when she gestured and disappeared! From the air above, Storm yelled that she might have become invisible, and Raphael began slashing at the air nearby, feeling his blade bite home. Sophia slashed with her rapier but was not as quick to react as the Vesuvian.
Seeing Uathach disappear, Tegan turned her attention to the Wall, where the danagrim legionaries were finishing off the araken. The wind sorceress spotted several more araken atop the Wall and conjured a huge gust of wind that sent them tumbling backwards off its height.
Storm hurled a lightning orb at the assassin, narrowly missing him, before the cloaked man drew his weapons, dropped his head in concentration, and disappeared. Moments later he reappeared immediately behind the Archbishop, driving his dagger deep into the old man’s back. Screaming with pain, the priest seemed to seize up as a freezing poison flowed through his veins. His chant faltered and the golden barrier across the breach began to falter, the undead legion beyond beginning to push through.
Desperate to come to his master’s aid, de la Croix slammed his shield into the shimmering barrier around him, to no avail, while his Templar brother Uther slashed at the assassin, distracting him from the Archbishop. Seeing his chance, Tector surged forward and grabbed the assassin, driving him away from the pontiff with brute force. With an act of supreme will, the old man shrugged off the paralysing poison, and through gritted teeth he resumed his chant, undead disintegrating as the golden barrier resumed its brilliance.
A few yards away, Celach charged at Myrddin again, blades flashing. Once again, the druid dodged the blows before slamming the dark elf backwards with a thundersmite.
The assassin slashed and stabbed at Tector, breaking free of his grasp, but the big warrior and Uther kept him away from the Archbishop, their blades working in unison. Guillaume slammed his full weight into the barrier surrounding him, finally shattering it.
Nearby, Uathach reappeared. She spoke a single word and the limbs of de la Croix stiffened. His face twisted in a grimace and he forced his legs to move, fighting away the enchantment and taking his place by the Archbishop’s side. As he did so, a yellow-green mist began to rise from the cobbles all around the group, quickly engulfing them. Storm and Tegan flew above it, unaffected, but the others struggled to see and move as the choking gas burned their eyes and throats.
Celach wisely backed away from the gas and disappeared down an alleyway, while Myrddin also rushed out of the choking cloud, moving toward the breach in the Wall. Uathach shrugged off its effects, attempting once again to bring down Guillaume with a spell. Her failure was exacerbated when Raphael shot her with another quarrel from close range. She collapsed to her knees, and began to keel forward, before vanishing.
Peering down through the yellowish cloud, Storm launched a lightning orb at the assassin, but it flew wide, crackling on the cobbles nearby. Looking up, and then around, the hooded figure saw that he was the lone remaining attacker, with Tector and Uther flanking him and Storm flying above. “Ridiculous,” he stated, before lowering his head in concentration and disappearing.
Nearby, the Archbishop let out a terrible choking sound as the gas overcame him. He collapsed to his knees, vomiting and choking, before keeling over on his side. Horrified, Guillaume called upon the Lord and drew upon the last of his healing, reaching out to pull the Archbishop to his feet as the golden glow faded. It was the Templar’s last act of the battle, as the choking gas overcame him and he fell to the cobbles. However, the golden barrier had barely faded thanks to the bodyguard’s quick action, and the Archbishop resumed his chant as Tegan’s winds gusted past them, blowing the gas from the battlefield.
At that moment, from beyond the Wall, something slammed into the golden barrier. The Archbishop stiffened, raising his voice and lifting his glowing right hand higher. Uther, Sophia and Tector rushed to his side, seeing that a terrible black energy was roiling against the barrier, tendrils of darkness burrowing and twisting into it.
The old priest’s voice became a hoarse shout as he continued to chant, and he seemed to be physically pushing against a terrible pressure, his arm being forced backwards and his knees bending. Tector grabbed his arm, trying to hold it upright, while Uther and Sophia tried to keep the Archbishop on his feet. Despite the bitter cold, sweat poured from him, and the veins stood out on his neck and temples from the enormous effort.
The old man groaned again, collapsing to his knees, and his glowing barrier collapsed, writhing black energy shredding it. Tendrils of darkness surged forward, arcing through the air and entering the Archbishop’s chest. He sucked in a breath, like a drowning man, before exclaiming “Oh, God!” in a choked voice and collapsing, face first, to the cobbles.
Through the now open breach, a figure floated. Flanked by five Swordwraiths, she was clad from head to foot in a black cloak. The companions saw her ravaged features, even from a distance. “One of the Witches!” said Sophia, in a horrified voice.
“We cannot stand against her,” shouted Tegan, an edge of panic in her voice. The wind shrieked in response and carried the elven sorceress away to the south. The companions looked on, awestruck, as Morgan Le Fay advanced.
In front of the breach, the danagrim legionaries stood defiant. At the command of Achilleus, they let fly their javelins, thirty or more cutting through the air toward the witch. She interrupted their flight with the tiniest gesture of her little finger, causing them to crumble to the ground, little more than rust and sawdust.
Drifting toward the rank of legionaries, the witch lifted her hands and made a wringing motion. The companions recoiled in shock as, before them, the entire rank of danagrim collapsed, face down, onto the cobbles. Morgana floated effortlessly over the crater left by the dragons, watching Hakan turn and run as Achilleus stepped toward her, shield raised, drawing his gladus. With a flick of her finger she slammed him aside, gladus clattering as he fell to the cobbles.
Myrddin yelled “Flee! Save yourselves!” and began to transform into an owl to fly away. Tector grabbed the Archbishop, throwing him over a shoulder, and the companions turned and ran. All save one.
As the gladus of Achilleus skittered to a stop on the cobbles, Uther addressed Morgana in a clear voice. “In the name of my father, Henry Plantagenet, I solemnly vow that you will answer for your crimes." With that, he charged at the Witch, bellowing "I sentence you to death!” as he lunged forward. Glancing at him, she flicked her finger almost contemptuously. Something punched into his heart, and he felt as though a horse had kicked him in the chest.
Though the blow would have felled a normal man, something in Uther’s being drove him onward. In a second he closed the ground on Morgana and slashed with his longsword, catching her across the left cheek and opening a long, bloodless gash. Her eyes widened in shock and she flinched away. Face twisting in anger, her eyes locked upon the Templar knight, burning with hatred, and she stabbed her finger at him, screaming “KILL!”
All sound seemed to vanish for hundreds of yards in each direction, as if all eardrums had been ruptured or they were suddenly leagues beneath the sea. Death magic beyond mortal reckoning hammered into Uther with such force that his armour exploded inward, breaking every bone in his body, as he was blasted back nearly a hundred yards.
Ears still ringing from the immense magical power that had been released, Raphael and Sophia stopped to lift his body, looking fearfully over their shoulders as they did so. Behind them, Morgana advanced on the unconscious forms of Achilleus and Guillaume de la Croix. Without warning, the witch was suddenly engulfed in emerald green flames! Screaming bitterly, she blazed for a few moments, like a human torch. As she did so, two danagrim sprinted from the shadow of the Wall, grabbing Achilleus and dragging him to safety.
As suddenly as they had engulfed her, the emerald flames were extinguished. Morgana seemed unharmed, and raised her eyes once more, advancing past the Wall and into the fortress of Vindolanda. Turning, the companions ran, carrying their precious burdens away from the triumphant Witch.