The retreat from Marsten was agonizingly slow. A regular journey to Redhurst could easily take several days. With a massive flock of refugees that included wounded and elderly, it was going to take much longer. They pressed on, the ominous glow of the corrupted Ivory Tower at their backs, fearing that at any moment a swarm of demons would boil forth from the city they'd call home to run them down.
To everyone's relief it never happened. They greeted the morning light with growing hope that the worst was, for now, over. The Captain did not share what little optimism there was. He kept a tail of scouts behind the refugees at all times in the hopes that they would provide enough warning for the Watch and the army to mount a rearguard should the demons attack after all.
"We're not far from Laptom," Prince Vincent said as they paused to allow people a rest. Laptom was one of Marsten's satellite cities, a smaller town who's main focus was the production and sale of food to the nearby trade hub. "We brought little to no supplies with us when we left," he pointed out. "If we're going to make it to Redhurst the people will need food."
"This many people will strip Laptom clean," The Captain said. "It'll be like a swarm of locusts hitting them... they won't be happy about it, and don't blame them."
"We have to ask them for anything they can spare," Noron agreed with Vincent. "These people aren't soldiers. The more healthy among them might make the trek to Redhurst on empty stomachs, but we'll lose far too many who can't."
"Oh, I wasn't saying we shouldn't get what supplies we can," The Captain said. "I was just thinking they may not want to part with them. We may have to take what we need by force."
"What?" Vicent asked in surprise. "You mean to sack one of our own towns?"
"If necessary," he asserted, "and I pray to the gods it isn't."
"How are the mages?" Noron asked, changing the subject. They had all been surprised when what was left of the mage's guild had come out of the Ivory Tower with the remnants of the army's attack force. Unfortunately they'd been in no state to answer questions. One was on death's door and the rest were so exhausted they had been loaded onto a wagon and collapsed into unconsciousness. As far as The Captain knew they'd been asleep ever since.
"Still recovering," The Captain told him. "Though I did get a chance to talk to Esme. From the sounds of it they went in before the army attacked, hoping to reach Olian and nip the Incursion in the bud. All she knows is it went poorly."
"They're lucky only one of them died in there," Vincent said grimly. The Captain nodded, not mentioning that Dasker would be lucky to survive his injuries. He was about to say more when a sound caught his attention. It sounded like a distant waterfall...
"I was wondering where they'd gotten to," he said, turning his gaze to the sky. The two Princes looked puzzled, but then they heard it as well and followed his gaze. It took him a minute, but he eventually found what he was looking for. Outlined in the distant morning sky was the Headwind, headed towards them from the direction of Redhurst.
The airship put down ahead of the refugees, just on the outskirts of Laptom. The Captain and the two Princes rode ahead of the main body of refugees, borrowing horses from Vincent's house guard. They found the Headwind surrounded by curious villagers and, more surprisingly, a number of troops from Redhurst's army. Those not standing guard around the airship were busy helping unload cargo from it's innards, overseen not by one of their own officers but by Her Ladyship, Prince Vanora.
"Noron, Vincent," she greeted the Princes, and with more of a smile, "Captain."
"It's good to see you, My Lady," The Captain told her. "I thought you might have taken the Headwind out. I didn't expect you to come back so quickly, though."
"What's going on here, exactly?" Vincent inquired, gesturing to the cargo being unloaded.
"I told Prince Haldran what happened at Marsten," she explained. "About the Incursion. We didn't know what to expect, but we knew at least some people would get out. He was gracious enough to offer food and soldiers. Food for any refugees that came through and soldiers to protect the town. There's medicine and a couple of healers as well, for any wounded. Most of this run is soldiers, of course. Haldran agreed that if there was an Incursion starting we needed to keep Redhurst as safe as possible, and fortify somewhere in between it and Marsten. Laptom was a natural choice. The main force of their army will march here as soon as they can assemble. I was so glad to see all of you from the air," she admitted. "I'd feared the worst, but there are so many... most of the city must have escaped."
"We owe that to the army," Noron said, "What's left of it. And probably the mages, too. They kept up an attack on the Tower while everyone fled."
"Oh, something else you should know," Her Ladyship added, "Prince Hammon was here."
"Was?" Vincent raised an eyebrow.
"According to the townspeople he stopped just long enough to give the horses a rest. He's headed on for Redhurst now. I think he'll be disappointed to know I got there first." She looked from Vincent to Noron, and a thought occurred. "Did Konrad...?"
"Oh yes," Vincent assured her. "Resting up in his coach. It's a bit of a bumpy ride, as he continually complains, but he'll live."
"Have you spoken to the townspeople?" The Captain asked. "The supplies you've brought aren't going to be enough for everyone."
"They'll give all they can spare without starving themselves," she said. "And you needn't worry about taking anything with you. From now until you're within sight of the city Bee has agreed to let me use the Headwind to ferry supplies."
"If you could take people back with you it would speed things up a great deal," Vincent suggested. "Those that need the most help - wounded, old, any pregnant women, that sort of thing."
"Of course," she agreed. "And the three of you, as well. Prince Haldran is eager to meet with us to plan our next course of action."
"Someone needs to stay with the refugees," Vincent objected. It was obvious that he was suggesting himself. No one seemed willing to argue the point, and it was agreed. As soon as everything was offloaded the Headwind would begin taking on passengers for the return trip.