Escape from Vindolanda
With the terrifying power of Morgan Le Fey’s death magic still ringing in the ears of the group, the companions retreat through the streets of Vindolanda, marshelled by the incredibly disciplined Danagrim. The stout warriors of The Iron Relief century provide a defensive cordon, forming a barrier of shields at the end of each street. Yet despite the stout hearted protection provided, the sheer number of undead surging through the narrow streets starts to have an impact with the Danagrim forced to yield ground, dropping back step by step and all the while with ever thinning numbers.
Sophia and Manzio carry the lifeless, smashed body of Uther, both too stunned to speak. Storm continues to provide aerial cover, hovering just overhead whilst Tector carries the catatonic body of the Archbishop, his right arm still held out rigidly clinging to his bible. The biting, swirling snow intensifies whilst the tread of booted feet and horse hooves has begun to leave a slushy corridor through the central pathways of each road.
Concerned for the safety of his apprentice, Ulric, Manzio calls up to Storm. The dragonborn hovers down to the side of the Vesuvian his eyes sore and swollen from the intensity of the snows at a higher vantage point.
’I’m sorry friend but I must find my apprentice Ulric. Will you carry my burden with Sophia.’
Looking sadly at the hideously twisted body, Storm nods with a saddened, grim resignation.
‘Be careful Manzio.’
For a fleeting second, Manzio hesitates, looking at each companion in turn, the tears coming to his eyes before hardening his resolve.
‘…and so the wheel of fate turns once more. Farewell my Fellowship.’
With that, Manzio sprints toward the Knights’ Templar Circle, seeking out his friend, Ulric. The building has already been abandoned when Manzio reaches the open courtyard and finds Ulric and Heraclief waiting on horseback.
Ulric dismounts and embraces Manzio. ‘Sir, I was told to wait for you here. I hope I did the right thing. I didn’t know what to do for the best.’
Manzio, patting Ulric reassuringly dismisses his apprentice’s concerns. ‘You did the right thing Ulric. Now quickly, let’s ride. We have little time to lose.’
Riding alongside Heraclief, the sorcerer turns in his saddle, shouting above the din of the horses. ‘We must get to the hospitaller building and retrieve the Scian and Ross also. The Scarack is sure to finish her off if we leave her here.’
In full agreement, the three companions make their way quickly to the hospital building. An entire Danagrim century and several Templar Knights hold the mass of undead back from the gates, though clearly tiring from the effort.
‘We must be quick. They cannot hold for long.’
Heraclief is the first to reach the entrance, sidestepping those of the injured lucky enough to be evacuated, overseen by fussing hospitaller Knights. Entering into the dining space, which has clearly doubled up as a makeshift ward, the three are struck by the sight of dead bodies beyond count. They make their way to the comatose, limp body of Calais. Alongside her Ross is in little better shape, the left hand side of his face swollen, covering up his entire left eye. Heraclief and Manzio carry Calais between the them, one arm slung across each shoulder. Ross, to their amazement regains consciousness and is able to slowly walk, supported by Ulric who helps the tall ranger to navigate the many dead or dying bodies on the floor. Finally retrieving their horses, Manzio carries Calais on his horse. Ross is able to ride alongside Heraclief.
The group make their way to the southern gate, leaving behind the street battles as the Templars and Danagrim try to hold long enough for the evacuees to make good their escape. Wagons of food and spare horses and mules block the roadway which is already teeming with those leaving the fort. After waiting anxiously whilst the bottleneck at the gate subsides, the five are finally able to make the relative safety of the southern road, the undead army yet to pursue with Vindolanda itself clearly the immediate target.
Before long, the evacuees take the eastern road…the Danagrim determined to reach the safety of the final remaining lodestone fort at Corstopitum, Heraclief, taking note of the easterly route, calls a halt.
‘I fear we must leave the main road. Calais does not have the strength for a long trek east. We must look to make camp in the wilderness and risk a fire. She will freeze without warmth.’
Manzio, remembering the previous Ku Kuba plant given to him many months ago by Calais herself, explains his plan. ‘I have healing Heraclief. But first I need boiling water…’
‘That, I can promise you,’ smiled the Sorcerer confidently.
Once off the main road, the going is increasingly treacherous with the snow beginning to settle in drifts. They are unable to keep going for long before Ulric spots a forest under which the group can take cover from the ravages of the cold. Manzio notes that Heraclief himself seems very susceptible to the biting sting of the swirling snows and quickly gathers the wood required for a fire. To his astonishment, the tall sorcerer seems to summon wreathing, billowing emerald flames without ritual or arcane language. The intensity of the fire melts the snow covering the wood and quickly a blazing fire is underway, the wind less able to slow the flames under cover of thick forest and the other trees protected from flames by the stacked layers of snow covering them. Quickly, Heraclief is able to boil some water in a metal decanter before Manzio adds the Ku Kuba. Slowly and patiently he administers the medicine, Ulric keeping the mouth of Calais open and through manipulation of the throat, the liquid is fed into the Scian. Her breathing quickly improves although she does not regain consciousness.
After the companions eat, Ross quickly takes to his bedroll, clearly still in a lot of pain and discomfort. Ulric, seeing the exhausted state of his other two companions offers to take the first watch.
The night passes without incident although with Heraclief’s Flames now only charcoal and embers, Manzio- taking the final watch- is concerned that the cold will be perilous for Calais and the badly injured Ross. Waking Heraclief to voice his concerns, shortly before dawn, the sorcerer agrees and the camp is quickly broken. Thankfully, the companions find a hamlet shortly before lunchtime and with a temporary break in the relentless snow storms, they descend a ravine, able to pick their path before arriving in the deserted village. Several of the houses have been abandoned but an elderly couple are still in residence and suggest that the group uses one of the abandoned houses. It quickly becomes clear that many villagers have fled fearing that the undead incursion will envelope their village too.
Heraclief once again starts a fire in their temporary shelter with Ross and Calais both able to sleep in the relative comfort of beds, heated by the roaring fire fed intermittently by the emerald sorcerer.
With Ulric tending to the horses, Manzio and Heraclief are able to discuss their current predicament. Heraclief suggests that the north is in need of their services before investigating the death of Manzio’s father, Alberto. He also confides that Manzio’s father was a good friend of Heraclief’s…in their parting conversation together, Heraclief agreed to check up on Manzio from time to time should anything happen to Alberto.
Heraclief also suggests that perhaps the best course of action for the two would be to slip behind enemy lines, attacking supply lines to the Araken army in particular. He also points out that his fear is that the Archbishop’s power in the north is broken and that Manzio has a decision to make…either as an ambassador of the Church or within a role of his ‘own choosing.’ Finally, Heraclief voices his concern about Ulric’s inclusion, fearing that the he would struggle to protect himself given the enemies associated with the group. He suggests that Ulric would be better deployed in Carlisle as an informer and that he should attempt to provide accurate numbers on Sithe deployment in the city which can be sent to Lincoln. Although at first reluctant to accept this advice, Manzio decides to seek out Ulric in person, outlining Heraclief’s plan. Ulric accepts that the severity of the attack on Vindolanda frightened him and that ‘yes,’ his services would be better placed in a city context. Seeing the sense of Ulric’s new role, Manzio gives Ulric his blessing and shortly afterward, Ulric bids the group farewell, embracing Manzio and thanking him once again for freeing him from the dungeons of Carlisle Castle.