The Spear of Lugh Part 3
Returning to the group, Manzio is aware that his battle is likely to have attracted attention. Sure enough the three Dangrim have weapons readied whilst Heraclief is ablaze with emerald flame.
‘Why did you leave the camp boy? You damn fool…didn’t you heed the knight’s warning?’ barks Broccan. He and Blayne eye Manzio suspiciously whilst Nessa stands further back in the clearing, a stark silhouette against the falling snow.
Ignoring the muttering and dark looks in his direction, Manzio quietly approaches Heraclief and begins to tell the tall sorcerer about his meeting with Nathaira whilst the Danagrim keep watch. He then warns the entire party that he was attacked by a winged creature whilst hunting for food.
‘Leave the hunting to us,’ Broccan snaps, collecting his few possessions and gathering the other two Danagrim to his side. ‘And stay here.’
Watching the stout trio wade out into the snow drifts beneath the ridge-line, Manzio has more time to tell Heraclief the full story of his meeting. He gives the sorcerer the emerald bottle, noting a wry smile pass quickly across Heraclief’s face.
‘What is it? Asks Manzio.
‘I’m not sure,’ responds Heraclief. ‘I will meditate when I can and attempt to distill the true nature of the item.’
For the next three hours, the two grow colder and colder as the weather grows ever more dire. The increased wind speed drives into them the shallow depression providing little in the way of cover. With nothing for Heracief to ignite, the two begin to freeze, Heraclief in particular struggling against the arctic conditions. Finally, the sorcerer is forced to concede defeat.
‘Manzio, we must seek shelter or we will freeze to death.’
Manzio is in agreement and the two quickly stumble out into the drifts following vaguely in the direction of the Danagrim. However, the snow is so thick and the visibility reduced that the footsteps have been erased and duo become hopelessly lost. As the situation becomes increasingly desperate, Manzio spots what appears to be a narrow crack in the rockface of the mountain and after further investigation finds the opening of a cave. Exhausted they are able to gather enough flotsam for a meagre fire but the warmth is short-lived and they are forced to sit out the blizzard gaining some fitful sleep whilst the wind and snow bites at the narrow cave opening.
Dawn breaks with a slither of light. The snow has slowed although after leaving the relative safety of the cave, the famished two continue to stumble through some significant drifts. They are forced to seek out the lowlands, which are mercifully now visible to the eye and make marginally better time than the day before. However, not knowing the land, the two can only guess as to whether they are still headed generally in the direction of Harris and ultimately the Clisham.
In desperation they seek out one of the islanders but find only abandoned buildings as though the population has long since departed. Finally, after a fruitless day, they once again seek refuge for the night but this time in an abandoned village. They are just preparing bedrolls for another bitter night of cold when they see a figure approaching through the snow. At first, both hope that the knight has returned but as they look through a dilapidated window frame, they see that they are being approached by the White Bishop. The construct beckons that they should follow. Turning to one another and shrugging, the two decide they have little choice but to acquiesce.
Throughout the night, the Bishop leads the pair up an ancient stone staircase, which leads once more into the high hills. The path is soon obscured in deep snow drifts and not helped by the freezing temperatures which results in the two finding themselves slipping and scrambling for purchase. The construct has no such problem and seems to glide through the snow, patiently waiting for the other two to catch up. Finally, the three reach the summit finding an old abandoned Church nestled in front of a natural barrier of granite cliff faces, piled high with snow drifts. The glass windows have long since been destroyed with darkened window frames staring out like a gaping, toothless mouth.
The bishop strides forward as though perfectly at home in this strange mountain environment and takes up a position to the right of the front doors before seemingly transforming into a statue. Another identical plinth is situated to the left of the doors but in obsidian black. Ancient, rotting, creaking double doors swing open and the dark interior of the Church can be seen within.
Entering the church, the two penetrate the now familiar inter-dimensional doorway associated with the enchantments of Morgause the White Queen. and the interior immediately transforms. Manzio gasps in amasement and is about to comment on the grandeur of the true interior when he notices that Heraclief has gone.
Searching the huge rectangular nave, he is unable to find his friend and reluctantly accepts that the magic may have moved the sorcerer into another sub-dimensional space. Reaching the sermon plinth at the front of the church, he finds an ancient crypt. Searching the sarcophagi, he finds no way of entering despite the instructions of Nathaira.
After several frustrating hours, he turns away and explores the vicinity surrounding the crypt. One the wall, his eye is distracted by a painting on the wall which as he looks more closely seems to quite literally animate before his eyes. A mischievous little girl, much like a pixie suddenly looks up, giggling as she notices the Vesuvian staring at her
‘In a thick Irish brogue she nonchalantly addresses him. ‘…of course, there is a command to get in you know?’
Manzio frowns and after thinking for a while, states the obvious. ‘Open.’
Again, she laughs. ‘Not that silly.’ Bored, the pixie returns her attention to a daisy chain and after some time, glances slyly up. ‘Still there?’
Manzio follows the pixie’s instructions and to his delight, the sarcophagus begins to open, stone sliding against stone, revealing a darkened staircase leading down. Descending down into the gloom, the assassin is plunged into darkness. He waits for his eyes to adjust and then makes his way deeper into the bowels of the church. Finally, he steps out into a small circular chamber containing only an intricate mirror set with translucent spidery runes likes cracks upon the wall but lit as though with ink.
Within the depths of the mirror it appears as though a mist has coalesced and from within a silky smooth voice begins to speak:
‘What do you seek?’
Manzio thinks for a moment and then responds simply. ‘The spear of Lugh.’
The mist thickens and it is quite some time before the voice once again speaks. ‘The White Queen allows you to pass and bids ye well. Seek out the Abbey of Iona and there you will find what you seek but beware for there are many others seeking the same prize.’
Manzio steps into the depths of the giant mirror or rather the mists envelopes him, gliding his body into a gaseous space. It feels timeless and serenely quiet within the ether as Manzio’s physical form is supported by the mist, guiding him through the emptiness. He is unsure how long his body has been floating in suspended animation when the familiar smell of salt and sea return him to his senses with a sharp jolt. The mist begins to thin and Manzio steps into a freezing, darkened cave. The waves smashing against a rockface are the only sound in an otherwise darkened, silent setting. The only light is translucent and from within the mirror, which is now positioned behind him.
The cave entrance is vaguely visible as a stark silhouette whilst the floor is dominated by a perfectly still, placid pool of inky black water. Narrow perpendicular pathways are visible either side of the pool.
As Manzio begins to make his way carefully around the pool, a figure slips through a narrow entrance, a face aged and long since dead transformed by hideous milky white eyes. His skin is tattooed by the ancient iconography of the Picts whilst around his neck a simple wooden crucifix burns but with a chilling, spluttering blue light.
He throws the crucifix into the pool and it quickly starts to spread outward, the liquid surface turning to ice. The temperature plummets to an unnatural cold…Manzio feels as though razor blades cut into his lungs every time he takes breath. Transfixed, Manzio watches as the priest lifts his left hand. He holds a bible bound in black leather with a painted white crucifix on the front. He begins to chant in the gaelic tongue.
‘You are too late thief! I see the evil in your intent boy and I will not allow you to pass. The Spear of Lugh belongs in the safekeeping of the Church and already a Saint prepares to defend the faith. For the Lord in his majesty has woken servants of power to do battle with the servants of evil.’
Manzio, confused and still disorientated by his movement through the mist, begins to back into the shadows attempting to buy some time but he has little time to think before the priest points an accusatory finger and utters but one word.
Manzio shrieks as countless invisible stabbing sensations wrack his body. For several seconds the Vesuvian is debilitated by the pain and then slowly and mercifully it fades, though leaving trickles of blood pouring from his body in several places. Quickly loading his crossbow, he takes aim from deep within the shadows, firing through the darkness, the priest is unable to see the path of the flight and Manzio has the satisfaction of seeing his bolt strike home through the lower cheek of the desiccated priest.
This time, it is the turn of the priest to scream out as he quickly tries to rip the bolt from his cheek. As he does so and Manzio reloads for a second ranged attack, the spreading ice cracks in the very centre as a vast figure wearing plate armour breaks through with splinters of ice scattering in a tearing rent. Manzio is astonished to see his old friend, the Templar knight Tector scrambling up onto the frozen pool.
Recognising the Templar cross, the priest, through a strangled scream as he finally succeeds in ripping the bolt entirely clear of his face, shouts out: ‘Brother. To me. Help me defeat this vermin.’
Confused Tector gasps as he sees Manzio step from the shadows gathered in the gloom close to the cave face. They only have seconds to exchange a shocked grin of recognition before the priest once again bellows a command but this time Manzio is prepared for the mental onslaught and is just able to push aside the attack, his open wounds prickling once again but less effectively than the first attack.
Ignoring the priest, Tector decides to protect his friend. Still trying to retain his purchase on the ice, Tector joins Manzio in the choice of his crossbow, loading and loosing a bolt, although just missing the rapidly retreating priest. Just then, a second figure bursts through the gaping icy hole in the pond, gasping for breath. The female figure of Lady Sophia scrambles for leverage but slips before grasping a large chunk of ice, which provides just enough purchase to prevent her falling back into the freezing waters below. She tries to scramble out for a second time, unceremoniously crawling out onto the ice surface.
Sophia is quickly followed by the dragonborn Storm. He immediately takes to the air given the vast size of the chamber, preparing to strike out with his ice javelins. Summoning the crackling ice energy, the sorcery shoots outward. The first strikes home true pinning the priest’s shoulder to the cave wall, although the last of Storm’s javelins explodes in shards before he has the chance to send it on his way…one shard backfiring painfully into his outstretched arm.
Furious and now badly outnumbered the priest rips the javelin from his shoulder before his body is surrounded in a bright white light. The intensity is so radiant that the other four have to shield their eyes. When they look back, the priest steps forward confidently, turns his bible confidently to a marked, inky page and once again begins to chant. From the centre of the pool not far from the hole through which the group emerged, a giant, blazing conflagration of pure white light begins to surface forming a cross, which rapidly becomes suspended in midair. As the group continue to pepper the priest with ranged attacks, now bolstered by Sophia’s magnificent bow and Storm’s devastating sorcery, the cross begins to pulsate with a dangerous build up of energy. Finally, the cross explodes, white light encircling the room with extreme heat hitting the group like a backdraft.
Anticipating the explosion, Tector charges forward quickly closing the distance between himself and the doorway. Fully committed, he hammers the door with his left shoulder and incredibly shatters through a wakened section of a concealed oaken door. The wood and shards of attached stone splinter and then disintegrate under the brutal impact with first Tector and then Manzio carried over the threshold and out onto a sandy beach.
Back in the cave, Sophia and Storm are initially shocked by the force of the detonation although Sophia’s solstice amulet absorbs some of the heat. Firing once again her arrow strikes home followed by the icy sorcery of Storm. The figure curses and releases a hidden trapdoor in the cave wall, disappearing within and collapsing before a cylindrical stone rolls back into place, sealing this alternative escape route.
Exiting the cave, the group is glad to have left behind the freezing cold of the cave but in truth the weather conditions are little better outside. It is dark and a swirling biting wind is coming in from the ocean, which continues to crash onto the cliff face further around the coast. Each member of the group embraces Manzio but the freezing conditions curtail the reunion and they are forced to quickly seek shelter from the elements.
A gentle climb takes the group up from the cave onto the cliff top. Despite the deep snows, Storm ascends into the buffeting cold 20ft above the group for a quick reconnaissance and is able to make out the semblance of a track leading north following the coast. Little can be seen in the darkness and only a slither of moonlight is visible to chart this course. He is about to descend when a sudden burst of ultra violet light catches his eye from the beach, much further down the coastline. A vortex of necrotic magenta and crimson light seems to cut through the darkness and from within one, two, three, four, five figures emerge. The window of excruciating purple light, which even from the safe vantage point of the Fellowship seems to tug unnaturally at the very fabric of the elements, closes and then vanishes as suddenly as it appeared. Storm observes that three of the group appear to be moving away from the Fellowship’s position, remaining on the beach, whilst two breakaway, climbing an unseen pathway onto the coastal path.
Storm returns to the group with a description of the ‘hand’ emerging from the darkness. Sophia, Tector and Storm quickly tell Manzio of why they have been sent to Iona and the ‘hand’ sent by Morrigan to reclaim the Spear of Lugh. For his part, Manzio tells a truncated tale of how he arrived to be on the isle and his quest to find the third Tuatha de Dannan jewel.
With a great deal to consider and the weather growing dangerously cold, the group scout for shelter but can find none. Instead, they use the snow as protection, wrapping themselves in blankets distributed by Sophia before burrowing into the snow beneath the exposed winds biting in from the Atlantic. They take turns keeping watch simultaneously trying to keep some warmth in their shivering bodies. Only Storm seems to experience only minor discomfort whilst for the other three they pass a fitful night preying that the snows will have relented by dawn.
The following morning the stiff and bleary eyed group emerges from the blizzard and the relative safety of the snow holes. Several remain wounded and therefore Sophia uses her healing on Storm and Manzio whilst Tector calls upon the power of his remarkable armour to do likewise. The group not only benefits from the healing but also the temporary respite it brings from the cold too. Tired but with spirits lifted, they set out together through the snow toward the silhouetted shape of the Abbey in the far distance.
Like Harris and Lewis, Iona seems deserted and abandoned. The Fellowship takes a little less than two hours to reach their destination. Approaching the Abbey through the freezing fog and snow, the building itself shows the ravages of countless attacks from Viking raiders. The outer façade a crumbling relic of a once sacred space but which has now caved inwards and is almost entirely exposed to the ravages of the elements. The remnants of the building are surrounded by spectral trees, which have already fully shed their autumnal blossom whilst further out on either side of the main building, stark black gravestones protrude from the stacking snow drifts.
As the group approaches the crumbling remains of the arched entrance, a striking Caeltir figure steps out from behind the masonry and sets his spear into the snows, his fine longsword already carried in his other hand.
‘State your business.’
Shocked, the group is stopped in its tracks and uncertain how to respond.
The figure looks at each member of the group and repeats his question, this time with a note of anger in his voice.
The group looks toward Manzio and with all eyes upon him, the young Vesuvian takes a hesitant step forward.
‘We have been sent to retrieve the Spear of Lugh by the White Queen. We believe it is held here in the Abbey.’
Storm, Sophia and Tector exchange rather shocked glances at this information and it does not elicit a friendly response from the figure barring their way. He extends his spear in a threatening manner. At the same time, a half humanoid, half spider emerges from the interior of the abbey. The group recoils at this grotesque hybrid but as it approaches, Manzio gasps in horror as he sees that the body of Jean de Carcassone, former Templar commander of Netherby Fort, is attached to a giant spider’s body, his head fully 8ft in the air. His eyes are white unfocused and unseeing. The creature stands behind the Caeltir, an ominous threat of violence given the shortsword attached to Jean’s left arm and a blackened blade in his right.
‘I will give you one chance. Go now and do not come back to Iona. Leave and I will spare you your lives.’
Manzio nods and the group, relieved to have some respite and a chance to rethink given Manzio’s revelations, retrace their footsteps finding an old abandoned house not far from the abbey. Entering the derelict building, initially there is an uncomfortable silence with nobody wanting to address the involvement of the White Queen. Unwilling to challenge the Caeltir warrior for the spear and with unspoken conflict within the group, a few tokenistic ideas are exchanged about attempting to take the spear but the plan does not inspire confidence whilst the group is reticent to make a move. As they are talking, the Caeltir once again appears, standing beneath the doorway of the building like a wraith emerging from the snow. His pale visage is even more evident when at such close proximity to the group.
‘Did I not give you clear instructions to depart this isle? I give you one more chance to flee. I will not offer a third.’
Just then another figure can be seen moving behind the Caeltir. He is dressed in a Templar tabard and chain mail armour although also hooded like a priest, his holy symbol emanating light. Pointing a finger at the Caeltir warrior, he commands a spell in a powerful, booming voice: ‘stigmata.’
An explosion of pain wracks the warrior, his headband gleaming with a pale translucent light as though responding to this new challenge. However, he recovers quickly, backing into one corner of the house bringing both his spear and magnificent longsword to arms. His face transforms, concentration etched across his chiseled face.
Lady Sophia extends her thoughts attempting to end the combat without further bloodshed. She enters into the mind of her adversary and slowly quells his anger, urging sleep. To her surprise, the Caeltir warrior succumbs and slumps down onto the floor.
‘Well done my lady,’ shouts the Priest. ‘Templar brother, tie him up and disarm him. Quickly now.’
With the group still giddy at the ease of their victory and Tector gladly obliging the Priest’s request, Manzio takes to the roof in order to provide aerial reconnaissance. Almost immediately he recognizes a second threat attacking at speed and cries out in warning. ‘Jean de Carcassone is attacking.’
The hybrid spider emerges quickly from behind a second derelict dwelling and distracted by Manzio’s warning decides to leap onto the roof ready to attack the Vesuvian assassin. As it does so, the weight of the creature causes the thatched roof to buckle unsteadily.
Manzio is able to strike home with a crossbow bolt given that he is separated from the spider by a gaping hole in the roof. As the creature crosses the gap, the ceiling finally gives way plummeting into the room below. Tector is quick to engage it in melee whilst Sophia once again attempts to make a mental connection. Feeling a spark of hesitation and a flash of power from the crimson gemstone embedded in Jean’s armour she senses that it is this receptacle, which is the source of Morrgan’s hold over the Templar. For a brief second she smashes through the consciousness of the spirit inhabiting Jean’s mind and makes contact with the Templar himself.
‘Lady Sophia, Manzio…mercy. Kill me.’
The shortsword attached to the left arm of Jean begins to move inch by inch towards his own chest as though fighting some terrible inner battle. Tector grabs hold of the arm and uses his enormous strength to force the bladed weapon into the jewel. A massive eruption of necrotic energy detonates catching Tector full in the chest although his armour absorbs some of the magical force.
Manzio, jumps down from the roof his sgian dubh readied and shakes his head at the passing of a great knight. He is about to sheathe the weapon, as Sophia is using her healing to support Tector and Storm when the priest points to Manzio’s weapon, whilst gesturing to the group.
‘I thank you for your aid. You were an unexpected boost to our defence of the Spear. Although beware, three more await at the abbey. This fight is far from done yet. However, first I would see your weapon boy.’
Manzio is clearly uncomfortable under the penetrating gaze of the Priest. ‘Who are you to request this?’
The Priest does not take his gaze from the weapon. ‘I am Christian of Whithorn, bishop of the isles and this is my jurisdiction. As such, I ask again to see your weapon.’
Christian closes the gap and closer now to the assassin he begins to mutter an incantation simultaneously clutching his holy symbol. Stepping back, he shakes his head and gestures to the group. ‘The boy carries an evil blade. It must be removed before ascending the steps to Iona Abbey.’
Christian beckons for Manzio to follow him out into the street. He beckons for Tector to cut the belt holding the dagger. After a moment of hesitation, the big Templar acquiesces and the belt and sgian dubh fall harmlessly into the snow. The grizzled old priest nods as though satisfied and then turns to the others. ‘Come gather your equipment and let us finish this together. ‘God has clearly sent you to help deliver us from evil.’
The group is able to quickly make good on its preparations and it is not long before they once again approach the stone staircase leading up to the abbey. Storm suggests that he gain an aerial advantage whilst Manzio is advised to take an alternative path, attempting to flank the three adversaries waiting for them ahead. Tector and Christian lead Sophia upwards.
Manzio uses his boots of speed to climb about half of his chosen path when, once beyond the sight of the others he returns to the abandoned house and reclaims his weapon. The blade seems to call out to him and he feels tremendous relief as it is tucked into his robes. He then once again uses the boots quickly retracing his footsteps and circumnavigating the abbey before approaching from the dun overlooking the abbey. As he approaches, he notes Storm hovering about the three others, as they emerge on the pathway leading to the crumbling archway forming the entrance to the abbey, Inside the ancient building he can see two figures waiting to attack, weapons at the ready. One is a tall man dressed wearing an unbuttoned black leather coat exposing an intricately designed breastplate and matching gauntlets with a crimson bloodstone centrally embedded within the armour. The man has chiseled features and white hair, almost like a Sithe elf accept clearly this is a human given his broad chest and height. In his right hand he holds a magnificent two handed sword fit for a great knight. His eyes burn with an unnatural white, much like the spider hybrid manifestation of Jean de Carcassone.
Looking to the left of this imposing figure, Manzio’s heart misses a beat as he spots his friend; the barrel-chested Danagrim with powerful arms and oversized fists. Unmistakably Håkan! His face is almost entirely covered in tattoos, set against a tough, aged, leathery face. His white beard and tuft of what Mohican style hair looks wild and untended, whilst his eyes are white and lack focus. Håkan wears a black furskin, whilst strapped to his back he carries a set of throwing daggers, all of which glimmer with silver. In either hand he carries two magnificent throwing axes. On his bare chest there is a blood red gemstone.
Positioned behind the back wall and not too far from Manzio although unaware of the assassin’s presence is a third figure. A tall, gaunt figure, six and a half feet in height, wearing a loose fitting grey tunic has already started the process of spellcasting. Something of his movements remind Manzio of Stotm and sure enough as he steps from his shelter pointing toward the group, silver scales tinged with a fiery orange glow are revealed. He finishes his spell and Manzio notes the impact on Sophia, Tector and Christian. Flying across to confront the dragonborn, the newcomer is about to begin casting again when he sees Storm and stands aghast. Simultaneously, Håkan charges from his concealment, several tattoos activated on his arms and back with a silvery blue light surrounding his muscular frame.
Manzio sees his chance and uses his speed to scramble up a crumbling archway and onto the roof of the abbey. He is forced to jump across a break in the sidewall and then immediately has to stop as he walks into an unseen force blocking his way. Exploring the blockage with his hands, he quickly infers that an unseen wall is in place and that furthermore, the abbey is far more than meets the eye. Intrigued by this discovery, he finds an alternative way to scale the unseen parts of the building and finally reaches the far side of the abbey roof, no far from the sounds of battle below. As he does so, the third figure with his back still to the archway, notices Manzio’s movements and begins to walk toward an opening in the wall. As he does so, Christian appears through the archway having made it past Håkan. Suddenly 12 Priests stand beside Christian, their forms slightly insubstantial but protecting his path. The tall figure senses the threat changing his position to keep both Manzio and Christian within his sight.
Overhead, Storm battles through the wind and snow flying quickly away from the abbey and toward the dun used by Manzio to gain his stealthy approach. Manzio catches a glimpse of what he now takes to be a second dragonborn fleeing and guesses that Storm has taken a very personal interest in his adversary. Backing away from the tall, silver haired human below, Manzio risks a quick glance toward the pathway leading to the abbey and sees Håkan statuesque. Sophia has her eyes closed whilst Tector is picking himself from the ground, blood running freely from a nasty head wound, clearly inflicted by one of Håkan’s magically enhanced throwing axes which are both covered in blood. Sophia suddenly opens her eyes and cries out in anguish as the massive Danagrim follows in the footsteps of Jean de Carcassone, driving his axe deep into the crimson bloodstone attached to his armour. Tector has already started to back off and throws himself to the ground as the detonation erupts, throwing Sophia from her feet. As Sophia and Tector unsteadily get back to their feet they see another pulsing stone like a dragon egg in the snows, perhaps all that remained after the detonation of Håkan. Both retreat to the relative safety of the stone stairs, unsure if a second explosion is about to occur.
Using the distraction of the explosion, Manzio leaps from his cover, sgian dubh in hand and slashes out at the tall man facing him. He catches the figure hallway between his left hand and elbow, with a vicious blow which cuts deep into the arm of his opponent. A surge of deadly necrotic energy is released, the energy prickling even on Manzio’s hand, which feels numb from the shock.
Turning in horror, the assailant looks for one shocked second at his left hand before it turns to dust before his very eyes. As he bellows in pain a disturbance in the fabric of reality blasts Manzio back a stride and he stares as though through a window at a stone slab elevated to chest height above a darkened floor. A surge of power emanates from the window, a dark figure with its back turned to him is beginning to turn and as it does, large black wings are revealed I the half-light. No sooner has Manzio seen this glimpse of the powerful winged denizen than his adversary is sucked through the portal, like black smoke escaping through a chimney. In the blink of an eye he is gone, a snapping sound accompanying the shut of the window in reality.
Back at the abbey, Manzio is left staring at Christian. The priest wears a scowl of loathing, as he stares murderously at the weapon in Manzio’s left hand. ‘Did I not release you from this evil?’ Christian looks into the eyes of Manzio. ‘Clearly, you seek to be the master of this evil weapon and I have no choice but to end this now.’
Manzio sprints from the militant priest and attempts once again to reach the safety of the roof. Leaping high he is able to gain some distance from his pursuer and then easily vaults onto the heights above. He quickly outdistances the Bishop of Whithorn and is considering his next move when a voice speaks to him, a sentient being embedded within his dagger:
‘You must kill him. He will try to take me from you when I am the blessing of the White Queen. Act now before he attempts to involve the Templar. You cannot afford to be outnumbered.’
Manzio feels a surge of hatred for the upstart priest and the trouble he has brought the group. Dropping from the ceiling via a crack in the roof and and landing with the cover of an ancient column to conceal his whereabouts, Manzio sees that the priest is not faraway, his back turned to him, scanning for any sign of the assassin. Using his ring of invisibility, Manzio moves at speed from the safety of his secluded position and attacks with both his sgian dubh and hook blade, slashing out at the exposed neck of the priest. Both attacks connect, the dagger in particular biting deep within the jugular of the old priest. With a gasp and clutching at his severed artery, blood spurting, Christian tries to clutch his holy symbol but cannot concentrate long enough to focus and falls face first into the cold, stone abbey floor.
Sheathing his blades and badly shaken by his own merciless actions, Manzio staggers into the graveyard surrounding Iona abbey and sits in the snow, Christian’s blood still dripping from his fingertips. He is disturbed from dark thoughts by first Storm and then Tector and Sophia who have both given the pulsing stone a wide berth in order to join their friends.
Exhausted the friends take stock of their situation, although Manzio does not participate and sits staring into space, deep in his own thoughts. Storm too is unusually solemn and elusive when asked about what transpired with the other dragonborn by the others.
‘He left. I don’t know where he is going.’
Tector is just asking what happened to Christian of Whithorn when a pulsing begins to emit from each of their solstice stones. Simultaneously, the stone in the snow begins to glow too. The light intensifies and each member of the Fellowship is forced to shield their eyes against the intense glare. With a final flash, the light fades and stepping into their midst close to the stone in the snow is the familiar figure of Myrddin.
Quickly taking in his environment, a quizzical look on his face, he gathers up the stone, as the others begin to gather around him. He addresses each member of the group in turn, his eyes intense, forehead furrowed in concentration.
‘What has happened here on Iona? Tector, Storm and Sophia how did you get to the island?’
At first the trio uncomfortably avoid the druid’s gaze and after an uncomfortable moment, Storm breaks first, recounting the story of the elf, their journey through water and the sense of impending conflict overheard, as though between major powers. Tector and Sophia pick up the story after their arrival on Iona and the battle with the priest. Finally, Manzio finishes the tale with a brief summary of events at the abbey.
Myrddin shakes his head, clearly displeased and irritated by the turn of events.
‘You have all been used as pawns in the games of the black and white queen. You three were naïve to have trust a stranger for clearly it was one of the White Queen’s enchanters and possibly even Morgause herself.’ He once again shakes his head. ‘Although I cannot fault your loyalty to Manzio.’
Looking around the graveyard in which they stand, Myrddin reaches for the stone retrieved from the snow. ‘The 5 stones are gathered together for the first time since Ben Nevis, whilst I have the summoning stone in my possession. Yet I do not see Håkan, though his solstice stone is left abandoned in the snow. I fear this is not coincidence.’
Sophia, tears flowing freely from her cheeks recounts Håkan’s final moments, Myrddin nodding solemnly in empathy, sharing the sadness of the tale.
‘And so passes Håkan son of Loric.’
Myrddin looks up, directly addressing Manzio. ‘And what of Heraclief? Where is he?’
Manzio quickly recounts his final moments back at The Clisham and the disappearance of his friend. He adds a brief description of his Danagrim travelling companions and the mysterious knight as well as the quest for the Spear of Lugh.
The druid looks thoughtful at this news and for the first time since his arrival, a look of optimism returns to his troubled features.
‘This is news to me but the return of a great warrior focused on the overthrow of Morrigan from Hibernia must surely aid our cause. I must find him and Heraclief for the solstice stone must now pass to him. A ‘hand’ to combat the many hands already in the field and at the disposal of the enemy.’
Glancing at the weapons strapped to Tector’s back, noticed by the druid for the first time as the big Templar turns, a frown once again crosses the druid’s face. ‘Tector, where did you get those weapons.’
Myrddin once again listens as the group tell him of their meeting with the tall Sithe warrior and the possessed demonic hybrid of Jean de Carcassone. After waiting patiently for the group to conclude their story and having established that the Sithe has been taken prisoner, Myrddin asks to be taken to the derelict building in which the figure is being held.
After a short walk through the thickening snow, the group reaches the empty shell of a house in which the prisoner remains tied. A gaping hole is exposed in the roof from the spider’s fall, only hours earlier. The figure is exactly where he was left, his path blocked by debris from the collapsed roof, his mouth bound and hands and legs tied with rope.
‘Release him.’ commands the druid in a softly spoken voice. ‘Prince Connal of Connaught, surely now you see that this is not the path.’
Turning to Tector, the druid asks that the weapons be returned to the Prince. The Prince takes some time for his aching joints to ease before nodding toward Myrddin and then the rest of the group. In a soft Hibernian brogue, he thanks them.
‘I didn’t want to serve the black queen. It was not a choice but she is the only one who has offered to help me find my love.’
Myrddin once again nods. ‘There are other pathways and unfortunately we are at war old friend. We are hard pushed just to protect our own borders. I promise you that there will come a time when I will find a way. You have my promise if you come with me.’
Connal considers this offer as he sheathes his weapons. ‘Aye, alright then. I know you are true to your word.’ He looks around. ‘…what of the priest? Christian of Whithorn? Did the Young King get him?’
Once again, Myrddin is is stopped in his tracks. ‘The bishop of Whithorn is here?’ he looks to the group. ‘Where is he?’
At this Manzio, crouches low, in a protective position, a sudden change robbing his features of their usual cool demeanour, only to be replaced by an alien look of savage aggression.’
“it is mine. He tried to take it from me and I was forced to protect myself.’
The group, glances uneasily at Myrddin. The druid quickly takes in the situation quickly reading the influence of the sgian dubh.
‘Manzio, the blade has bewitched you. You must fight its influence…’
No sooner has Myrddin finished his warning than Manzio bolts for the door, narrowly escaping the lunging grasp of Tector before sprinting into the street at blinding speed. Storm walks calmly behind the forlorn chase given by the big Templar and centres his whirlwind on Manzio. The Vesuvian is thrown up into the air, spinning wildly within the vortex. At the command of Myrddin, a dense tangle of foliage struggles upward breaking through the frozen soil, snapping and slowly rising up ready to catch the spinning assassin. Storm waits for the group to position themselves before lowering his spell. Tector immediately rips the blade by its sheathe and throws it into the snow. Whilst Manzio struggles to free himself from the thick vegetation Myrddin quickly wraps the dagger in fine emerald cloth and places the deadly weapon within his robes. Walking calmly toward Manzio he offers some druidic healing and Manzio at last feels some degree of peace from the bloodthirsty command of the dagger although his body is shaking.
‘Look after him.’ Myrddin begins to gather his possessions. ‘Connal, you look as though you could do with the exercise. Come with me, we must retrieve the body of Christian, plus we may yet catch the dragonborn mentioned by Storm. I would like to speak with him.’
A strange silence falls on the group after the departure of the Prince and druid. Tector glances from time to time in the direction of the bearded Manzio. He notices the enormous changes wrought on the face of the young Vesuvian. Despite his youthful age, Tector cannot help but feel that the assassin looks as though he is in his late 20s. Clearly the war effort has aged his friend. Equally, the death of Christian wedges a divide between the three and Manzio. Only Storm seems oblivious to this and has clearly been hugely impacted by the meeting with the dragonborn.
Several hours pass and the storm outside has worsened before Myrddin returns. With him, he is accompanied by both Connal and the all dragonborn.
“Allow me to introduce Sioc.’
The group nods in response as Myrddin introduces them, however Sioc seems hardly to notice as he stares at Storm throughout.
Myrddin takes a deep breath and addresses the group. "I must go. It is imperative that i find Heraclief and the knight you mentioned earlier Manzio. Sioc here and Connal will come with me and aid us in the war effort. Durham is in grave anger from Morganna’s undead hordes and many of the northern cites are completely cut off from support. You, stay here. I will return as soon as I am able.’
Using the power of the solstice stones, Myrddin draws Sioc and Connal close and the magical manifestation from each of the six stones begins to emit light. At first this is a faint glow but gradually the light spreads and becomes a blinding intensity before quickly fading…
For several days, the four companions are able to convalesce, recovering from their enormous efforts throughout 1180. Tector and Sophia bring a regular supply of fish for supper whilst Manzio finds the local community huddled in a small bay to the south of the island. He is able to buy some mutton and vegetables although the islanders have little to spare given the harsh weather conditions.
Sophia and Tector continue to use their healing and or a while, despite the storms and snow, the war is briefly forgotten.
It is the fifth day after Myrddin that the druid returns. The group has just finished a frugal lunch when Manzio spots a group of five approaching from the southern road. He calls the group together before sprinting ahead to embrace Heraclief. As the newcomers and Fellowship converge, Myrddin gathers them together, resting on his staff. His skin is ashen and his face looks haggard and drawn from the continued efforts of teleporting the length and breadth of the country using the solstice stones.
‘Let me introduce Tuan Mac Cairill, Broccan, Blayne, Nessa and of course, you are already frequented with Heraclief.’
Storm, Tector and Sophia look in awe at the tall knight towering over the rest of the group. His presence introduces a palpable power and this word strapped to his side, though archaic in design is quite clearly an artifact of extraordinary power.
‘We have little time,’ says Myrddin. ‘Events move at pace in the north. I have negotiated with Tuan so as to recruit the services of Heraclief and Manzio for two days. The Fellowship must be united in a task of great importance. A powerful hand has entered the catacombs beneath York, including your old adversary Lorcan but led by a powerful apprentice of Morganna, Mallaidh. We believe that the ’hand’ has been sent to gather the five keys of binding required to enter the tomb of Septimus Severus, former Roman Emperor and a individual of great power. Morganna seeks to control Septimus using her fell necromancy and at all costs, this must not be allowed to happen. We must, unfortunately leave at once.’
The group gathers their possessions quickly, Manzio and Broccan pointedly ignoring one another. Blayne quickly intercepts the movements of the Vesuvian and has a quick word f advice. ‘Give him time…remember that we have lost our entire family. He will forgive you in the fullness of time.’
Manzio nods, thanks Blayne and embraces his friend.
Elsewhere, Nessa has drawn Sophia to one side and with her gaping eye-socket close the young Lady, she too has words of advice. ’Aren’t you a beauty?’ she beams. ‘Beautiful and an emerging player on the board. I sense your skill, power t match the White Queen herself one day I fancy, if nurtured properly. You need a teacher. Seek me out when the time is right and there is much I can show you. I sense that the Fellowship of Fate is strong but many will try to divide you and turn you against yourself. That must not happen or all will be lost.’
Finally, the exhausted druid brings the group together with all five stones connected and the summoning stone in the possession of Myrddin. As he is gathering his strength, the tall knight, Tuan has one last warning, his voice emerging as though from a chasm.’ ‘Remember, druid…I am not de Glanville and your late return will not be tolerated. Two days only.’
With that, the stones flash with light and the Fellowship is transported once again, through space and time.