Calling an immediate halt, Uther gathers the evacuees together as quickly as possible, sending Raphael ahead to scout the way. Waiting until he is as close as possible to the army ahead, the Inquisitor slips on his ring of invisibility, stealing into the zombie ranks to get a better sense of their numbers and dread Captain. He sees the plain ahead filled with undead and estimates upward of 500 shambling corpses. Getting a better view of their leader, he notes the impressive mithril mask and huge staff; 15ft in height and towering even above the vast frame of the figure holding it aloft alongside the trotting frame of a huge black warhorse with rotting flanks and steam emitted from its nostrils. Raphael also notes that the staff appears to be the femur of some huge animal and is infused with veins of crimson, blood runes. Memories return of his flight from the Solstice Stones and the battle fought between Hakan and this deadly necromancer…none other than Kalruch, apprentice to Morgan le Fey.
Returning to Uther, Raphael describes the situation ahead, stressing the power of Kalruch. With no option but to turn back and seek an alternative route around the mass of animated dead, Uther attempts to calm the already panic stricken evacuees.
As he does so, Ulric spots yet more shambling corpses, this time on the road behind them. Sounding a warning cry, Raphael looks up to see that an ancient skeleton wearing Roman armour leads hundreds of zombies. In his left hand, he carries a huge, oversized battle-axe. Pointing his skeletal hand at the evacuees his forces surge forward in a desperate, grabbing attempt to devour the living!
The evacuees begin to flee, turning and running from the monstrosity in front. Uther calls for calm but to no avail with small groups fragmenting, some fleeing into the snowy countryside and others on the main road. Turning to face this new foe, Uther calls for Raphael, Richard and Ulric to attend him, forming an all too thin protective cordon in front of the evacuees behind. The zombies quickly overwhelm the four as the sheer weight of numbers pushes them back into a defensive position. From their horses, Uther and Raphael slash and jab out at the clawing, filthy hands of the zombies, the big Templar particularly effective given the reach of his longsword, which cuts hands, arms and heads from the animated forms reaching to dismount him. Likewise, the Inquisitor enjoys success waiting for the zombies to overextend their reach before expertly smashing his sgian dubh into necks, jaws and any other exposed appendages. The horses of both Uther and Raphael are clearly well trained Templar mounts as they kick out at reaching zombie hands, keeping many at bay. Elsewhere, Richard and Ulric are less well served with Ulric’s horse quickly overwhelmed by grabbing, clawing hands. However, the fleet-footed and nimble Ulric is able to tumble aside avoiding the falling horse. Richard is less assured and lands beneath his horse. Stunned and winded, he is unable to combat the zombies as they converge on his stricken form.
Uther is the first to react, smashing into the melee of figures pouring in around Richard. With huge two handed blows, twisting on the seat of his horse from side to side he pummels through the press, knocking figures aside and crushing others under the stomping hooves of his horse. Richard slowly stands although badly wounded and very uncertainly on his feet.
Raphael takes the battle to the zombies, continuing to slash at those closing in on the evacuees. Seeing a small group of villagers separated from the main party in a moment of panic, he moves to intercede. Unfortunately a few of the villagers have already been killed…two old men and a mother trying to protect her daughter before Raphael decapitates the animated Danagrim warrior responsible for the massacre with a vicious cut of his sgian dubh. As he catches his breath and prepares to enter the fray once again, a rusted, vicious looking battle axe, misses his head by inches, whistling past his ear as he dodges the blow before retuning to the hand of the skeleton leading the undead. Eyeing the creature from across the battlefield, Raphael retrieves his crossbow, firing a shot at the Roman. However, the creature moves faster than expected and easily dodges the blow. However, the Inquisitor has little time to consider this as another wave of undead pours in over their smashed brethren, attacking the defenders with fresh gusto and bloodlust.
The battle rages on as the snow falls ever more quickly, a thick blanket covering the battlefield. The visibility now greatly reduced, Raphael and Ulric can barely see ahead as they continue to keep the enemy at bay. With the zombies unable to break past the whirling blades of the two, the skeleton steps forward, the cold blue animated glow of its eyes malevolently facing the Inquisitor. Once again raising his battle axe, the weapon is hurled through the air at astonishing speed and blinded by the stinging snow, bites into the shoulder blade of Raphael before also rebounding off Ulric. Both stunned by the huge blow received from the ancient weapon, the zombies begin to breakthrough Ulric’s defences whilst Raphael’s horse finally succumbs to fatigue, throwing the Inquisitor who tumbles and then regains his feet with tremendous speed although not without placing his weight on his injured shoulder. Grimacing, Raphael prepares to face the ghoulish skeleton when to his astonishment it suddenly stops and appears to combust in a conflagration of emerald green flames. The combustion is so violent that the skeleton’s head blasts off his shoulders landing 20ft away in a smouldering mess of smashed bone. Unable to identify the source of the emerald flames, Raphael and Ulric form a defensive position, back to back as a sea of zombies threatens to drown them. However, the destruction of the skeleton appears to disorientate the creatures… they begin to lose focus and move in random directions without cohesion.
Regrouping, it is clear that Richard is the most badly wounded. Uther immediately offers healing and the bruised and broken ribs mend with the blessing of Christ’s touch. Ulric is offered the Goblet and is amazed to find that his shoulder injury is completely healed within seconds of drinking the honey elixir. Uther’s grizzled, greying face turns and points out that such miracles come at the blessing of ‘Jesus Christ our saviour.’
There is little time to spare as the group attempts to get the evacuees moving nor sentimentality as the stricken dead are tied to the Templar mounts remaining, so as they cannot be reanimated into Morgan’s forces. Ulric advises to approach the Wall from the East as a river is situated to the west and may cut off their escape route should they require it. Uther agrees and the remaining evacuees once again pick up their pace with the hope of seeing Vindolanda before day’s end.
The light is beginning to fade as the group finally catch a glimpse of the wall in the distance. As they approach a figure approaches cross country ahead. As he draws closer taking in the four leaders, Raphael recognises the Danagrim scout, Salinor, hailing him from afar.
‘Manzio, what the hell are you doing in the middle of a battlefield, boy? You have the knack of turning up unannounced and in grave peril.’ responds the Danagrim.
Raphael quickly explains the situation with Salinor confirming that a zombie force is converging on the wall not less than a mile away from their current position. ‘We plan to pincer them boy.’ Explains Salinor. Satisfied with Raphael’s explanation, Salinor turns and whistles in a high-pitched, shrill call. Ahead, Danagrim figures emerge from the snow where they have been concealed brushing themselves down and forming into ranks. Leading them, Raphael also recognizes Cole (Colinus) the commander of the legion. Wearing a breastplate emblazoned with the sigil of a griffon, Cole clasps the hand of first Raphael and then Uther.
‘Well I’ll be damned…what news?’
Raphael quickly relates his situation to the old Danagrim commander who winces at the news of Netherby’s fall.
‘That bitch Morrigan will pay.’ vows Cole, clearly moved and angered by the tale told by Raphael. Regaining his composure Cole quickly takes stock of the situation.
‘Quick you must get these people to the wall. We will scout the countryside for more survivors.’
Thankful for the support, the group is able to enter Vindolanda via the western gates, which slowly shudder back into place behind them as the survivors reach the safety of Hadrian’s Wall. As they do so, a metallic griffon sets off from atop the battlements gripping a standard representing the griffon legion of Colinus V