FIRST CAMPAIGN PHASE
We did initial set-up – excluding Lorekeeper, as we hadn’t bundled that in with the QM role yet – fairly smoothly.
As per Spite’s letter above, the Legion take food a plenty, horses, blackshot, supply carts and labourers. The mission gave them a morale boost, making them pretty damn happy for a group that just got decimated, and kept Time down. This made time passing feel much less stressful, to the point I think they may have taken the ease of Advancing for granted. Something that may bite them in the ass down the line…
With people travelling wildly, we settled in for a run of freeplay scenes with whomever was available -
THE HANGED MEN
The Hanged Men are the last of the Legion’s cavalry, destroyed at Ettenmark. They are also Blighted. While this effectively gave the Legion 5 extra recruits – one of which is a Soldier with the Cavalry Advance – at no cost, I think it worked really well in getting people thinking about what is at stake with Corruption and Blight. I also gave Render an extra Lieutenant in exchange, which will come up later.
In what I think part of the players finding the shared vision of the Legion ethos, the Remnant entirely flip on their brand new quarantine policy in what has to be a couple of days.
Sable crosses the campgrounds, wiping the blood off his hands onto a stained towel. Exhaustion is in his bones, despite the stimulating elixirs he self-medicates with, but he has one more duty before he can grab a brief and disturbed hour of sleep.
At the edge of the encampment, almost pressed against the walls, there is a large red tent. Several soldiers gather around a fire, drinking deeply from a bowl they are passing around. The air around them is heavy with smoke, their small fire banked with green wood. Blood and fermented milk swill around in the wooden bowl. The doctor sees the bowl is near empty, big enough for many men, but only few remain.
The gathered warriors do not stand to attention as the doctor approaches, but turn around on their log to acknowledge his approach. One stands, an image of a hanged man emblazoned on her vest, her left eye white, wriggling grey spots appearing and disappearing.
“Honoured healer,” Taidos, fist leader of the blighted, bows, “we submit to your studious gaze. Would you care for a drink?”
Behind her, the large brute, Bahasa, scowls, arms crossed over his hair chest.
"Berenike Taidos," says Sable. "You are known to me, and I accept your offer of generous hospitality."
The doctor is handed the communal drinking bowl, and he raises it to his lips and takes a swig. While the mouthfeel is unpleasant --it is cut, probably because the component liquids don’t mix well, leaving an oily top layer that clings to his palate-- the sweet, boozy flavor with a deep iron aftertaste is not bad. An acquired taste for sure, but not bad.
"Do I owe thanks to you and your Hanged Men for taking part in Chosen Zora’s divisionary assault of the keep earlier? Or did the Commander have other plans for you today?"
“We battled the poison ones, sword against sword, sword against squishy fist,” Eshaq El Sayed laughs through his nose, and Sable’s eyes are drawn to the scarlet claw marks on his throat, “Always always. First to the front, last to retreat, my brother, until it ends.”
“Until it ends,” the entire fist echoes as one.
Bahasa grabs the bowl back, swigging deep, “Curse of the hanged, thanks to the fucking Cr…”
Taidos growls, and the large man falls silent. The leader turns back to Sable, and her mouth twists into a broad smile.
“Apologies, my friend, thousand apologies. Bahasa is like a new-broken mare, always irritable when ridden hard to battle.”
She shrugs the moment away, “But, ah, we were not quite last to retreat this outing. The blessed one of the Eastern spirits, she fights well and long.”
El Sayid scratches at his chest, “Say, healer, your rooks say that you found some holy texts. No fear, I overheard, did not engage. Secret books of the priests of the dead…”
The raven-haired man leans in, and his voice has a small quiver as he tries to keep his tone light and even.
Sable Flowing Gale takes a seat at the camp fire of the Hanged Men. He looks into the fire, listens to it splutter and spark for a moment before answering the Islander.
“Yes, I have uncovered texts authored by the lackeys of the Plaguebringer. These writings are no sacred scripture though. They are more like medical journals. You know, careful notes detailing their sinister work. Brilliant ideas, really, but such heresy is not for casual perusal.”
The drinking bowl is being passed around for a second round, and Sable gladly accepts. The burn of the liquor is pleasant, and helping the doctor in processing the day’s experiences. Sable decided to cut straight to it.
“Tell me, Hanged Men,” says the medic. “How have things been? How are you coping?”
The fist listen, whisper to each other in their own tongue. Something in Berenike settles, and she leans backwards.
“You are the only person to share our fire, my friend. You are the only one to drink from our bowl,” she gestures back at the rest of camp, “And though you come warmly, even you are allowed to come only as our healer.”
“So it is,” she throws the dregs of the bowl into the fire, and stands with sudden determination, “Until it ends.”
As addressed to the Eternal Legion High Command, namely: Lord Commander Dimitri Alexovich, Lady Marshal Zinovia Lubovyena and Quartermaster General Bianca Valentina Storace de Nessuno
After performing my doctoring services for the Laughing Ravens, I spent some time with our blighted patrol, the Hanged Men. They know when I am assessing them, even as we break bread, drink, and make conversation at their camp fire. The squad is undoubtedly showing signs of corruption; from milky eyes with no pupils, to studded bone ridges beneath the hairline, unnaturally sharpened lateral and cuspid teeth (upper and lower), leathery skin patches on the hands and forearms, etc. Their conditions have not worsened since my last visit two days ago. The Hanged Men show no sign of physical deterioration, so far. As I have not found a way to stave off the symptoms, I can only expect their condition to worsen. We have known this for some time. The reason for this missive pertains more to the psychological profile of the subjects.
The Hanged Men are being isolated, and they know it. They are showing signs of feeling unwanted, and of being feared. It is my professional assessment that we must change these undesired emotions with the subjects, because as a realist, I must warn you. The Hanged Men will not be the only blighted squad among the Legion during this campaign.
What I propose is that we set up the Hanged Men as role models for other legionnaires who will undoubtedly contract and suffer the blight during our push toward Skydagger Keep. We have to show the rest of the Legion how to carry blight and still function as soldiers without giving into despair and becoming liabilities. It is important that we find compassion in our hearts toward the Hanged Men, and re-welcome them into our fold.
Bernike Taidos, their stalwart leader, is an affable and competent woman. If we permit them to commingle with the rest of the Legion, I do not believe that they will overreach. One way to begin this would be to ask around for volunteers, who can accompany me as I do my rounds with the Islanders.
Sable Flowing Gale.
Bianca rereads Sable’s report, initials it in the green ink used by her. Gorgeous uses red. Fang uses blue. Their marks are on the document already. She feels about for her pipe, thumbs tobac into it with her thumb from its pouch. At the far end of the tent, Taisa sleeps, curled up, three of the dogs nestled about her. It’s summer and it’s hot at night, and the girl sleeps with three dogs keeping her warm.
Outside, the camp rattles with the first signs of pre-dawn takedown. They’ll break camp fast, march by the time the sun is full. She lights the pipe, puffs for a few seconds in silence. Her arms, ass, and legs are sore, the way they’re sore after battle. Almost nobody sat the Chosen’s diversion out. It literally didn’t matter how you cut them, there were always more. The Chosen, Bianca reflects, was enjoying herself a little too much.
She rises with a grunt that she is glad nobody is around her to hear. She knows she is getting older. She knows she’s likely lived too long already. By all rights, she should’ve been dead a decade past, if not longer. Makes no sense, no rhyme nor reason, why some live and some don’t, and the thing that burns her the most about the Cinder King is that he is, fundamentally, a cheater . It’s not that he cheats death; it’s that he cheats others from death. He changes the rules, changes them so much there’s no rules left.
One of the dogs – the one she calls Storm – rises from Taisa’s side and trots after her as she steps out, shakes herself out of sleep beside her hip. Bianca scratches its head absently, looking over the camp. "Breakfast," she says, after a moment. She puts two fingers in her mouth, whistles for a runner, and gives him the message.
It’s not a grand spread, but it’s a solid, real breakfast, because there’s eggs and meat left, and hot tea and honeycomb and the bread is fresh. She’s on her second pipe of the day when the Hanged Men arrive, hold at the flap of the tent. The runner steps inside.
"They’re here." She nods, "Go pack."
He goes. She waits, trying to figure out how long will be long enough. Dawn means the camp is alive. People are moving. Soldiers will see. She wants this seen, but it has to be for the right amount of time. Too long, it’ll look like reprimand. Too short and there’s no fucking point.
"Taidos! Roll those damn flaps back and get me some light in here! And then get yourselves in here, food’s getting fucking cold!"
They enter. Bianca’s hand falls to Storm’s neck, pressing gently, holding the dog steady. She eyes the Hanged Men as they present themselves uncertainly. She looks them over, making no pretense about it. Letting them see her see them .
"Well, sit down and eat, dammit," she says, leaning forward and beginning to fill the battered mugs with tea. "We’ve got road to devour and fighting to do and fuck knows when we’ll have the comfort and companionship of a hot breakfast next."
She rolls the small talk as they settle, uncomfortable and uncertain. She stills the dogs, asking inanities – where you from, how long, what’d you do before, and who’d you leave behind. Lulls them into boredom while they eat, until she sees them relax despite themselves, because you can’t be at attention forever, especially not with a boiled egg and a chicken leg in your mouth.
Then she tells a story, the one about the Backwards Charge at Gold, which is called that in the Annals because Spite ended up on the wrong horse, that motherfucker that Fang had bought, the one they joked had demonblood in its veins. And the motherfucker turned her into cavalry when she was never, ever cavalry before and has not been since.
About the way Rampart was pissing herself laughing, and Fang, and Clutter, and that wet cunt who-shall-not-be-named who Gathered Whispers (and Bianca spits at having to mention her), and how Spite did everything wrong – and the Hanged Men know cavalry, they know dumb-luck and stupid mistakes – and yet somehow had grace and luck and smarts at the right time and stupidity at the right time to live through it all. It is a funny damn story, and she gets her gold near the end, when the first sniggers have turned to chuckles and then, finally, to laughter.
And with that, Bianca has the Hanged Men to breakfast, and makes damn well sure everyone in the Legion knows she did it, and wishes they’d been invited, as well.
The ‘formal’ Back at Camp scene chosen from the list was “Rememberance for the fallen”, here the funeral and wake for Commander Rampart.
Spite finishes and steps back, aware of Taisa looking up at her. She reaches out, runs fingers through the young woman’s hair, an almost-absent gesture of reassurance.
“It’ll do,” Spite says, as much as to herself as to the girl. She puts two fingers to her mouth, whistles sharp. The flap parts, and four of the Legion enter from where they’re been waiting outside. They’ve cleaned up as best they can. Captain de Deori leads the group. Another of the Laughing Ravens, Endrizzi, and two others she can’t put names to at this moment.
Together the four lift Rampart’s body, or more precisely the sheet she now lays upon, and at Deori’s word carry her out of the quartermaster tent. Spite checks her pocket again, finds the phial, follows, Taisa at her side, half-shuffling.
Outside, the night is still summer-warm, the distant scent of the past battle whispering on the wind, discernible beneath the odors of the camp, the cooking fires, the soldiers, the horses. Gorgeous and Fang are waiting at the pyre, as well as what remains of the company. Full-stop for this one, Spite thinks.
Rampart’s body has been prepared, repaired, as best Spite and Taisa can manage. Asking Sable to do it seemed somehow wrong. Open wounds have been closed, the body dressed and wrapped, the late commander’s hair brushed and braided. Her sword was lost when she was lost, so Spite has used her own, affixing the sheath to Rampart’s belt.
The company rattles from attention at a motion from Gorgeous. He looks at Spite, and she thinks again how young he is, how steady yet innocuous he has been all these past years. In torchlight, she imagines new lines already creasing his face, though if it’s only imagination it makes no difference. He’ll have the real ones soon enough.
“Here is the Legion,” Spite says. “Ten thousand of us or one of us, here is the Legion, and we do not forget. Glittering in sunlight or sheltering in shadow, here is the Legion. We are the Legion. We carry that, each of us, in our hearts, on our backs. Here is the Legion.”
She stops, swallows. She can’t stop looking at Rampart. She is thinking of so many years, of the woman’s growl, of her laughter, of her cursing. She is thinking of her screaming in battle-rage and barking orders as clear and calm as winter ice. She is thinking of her drunk and weeping when she believed she was alone, paging through Clutter’s books.
“We march on,” Spite says. “We fight on. We complete the contract. That is the duty of our Commander, to lead the march, the fight, to fulfill the contract. That is our honor, our only honor. We do the job. We always do the job.”
She steps closer to the pyre, the body, rests her hand on Rampart’s head.
“Here is Rampart. Here is the Legion. We release her from our service, knowing she served with all her heart, knowing that she gave us everything she could, and then again gave us more…”
She pauses. There is so much more she wants to say, but she thinks she has said too much already. She bends, kisses Rampart’s cold forehead. She takes the phial from her pocket.
“…her contract is fulfilled.”
Spite steps back, throws the phial at the pyre. The tiny container shatters, spattering oil, a whiff of alchemical acidity that is promptly lost in its ignition with the air. The fire erupts at once, spreading quickly along the wood.
“For the Legion,” Spite says.
Dmitri stares into the pyre, watching the flames sent Rampart wherever she was going. He half-expected her to wake up on the fire and pat out some errant flames. Bark an order or two in her scratchy voice and get them moving again.
Her contract is fulfilled.
It had been the three Crones for so long that Fang and Spite looked oddly amputated, in a way that they hadn’t until now. Her presence marking the truth of her absence. Despite the snarls and scars, Dmitri noted the loving care with which the body had been prepared to be sent on. More delicate than a lover, more faithful than a friend.
Conscious of the need to say something, even after all the years at her command, Dmitri felt a little perverse here, as if he had come to the funeral in the dead woman’s clothes. But silence would compound the problem, make him seem too willing to take her cup without thanks.
"When we go, all we have is ourselves to send us on. All we have are the annals by which to be remembered." He took in the scant numbers of the Remnant. "And remember we shall."
Faces grim, in the firelight. At least they all came back alive, this time. At least there is that.
It is a stern Marshall Fang who watches the late Commander Rampart burn on the pyre they had erected and lit for her. She has stayed silent, but she knows its her turn to speak.
“Death is for the dead,” says Fang as she stares into the blazing flames that claim the first Crone.
“Funerals are for the living. So I want everyone to take their time here and send off Commander Rampart properly.”
The Marshall then turns to face the congregated Legion, “And then we move on . We honor the sacrifices of those who grant us the ultimate gift, their life in service, but we do not dwell on the dead. There will be no idolatry. We are strong, because we are of flesh and blood, because we are mortal.”
The Marshall draws her blade, and holds it up. Inspects it in the firelight. Then she lets out a high, piercing war cry full of sorrow, joy, fear and pride. Fang re-sheaths her sword and stares back at the Legion with something wild in her eyes. More than a few rookies flinch, thinking she might attack them before she speaks again.
“Life is for the living. So live !”
As Fang turns her attention back to the pyre, Spite and Gorgeous can see that there is a slight twitch in her face.
That’s the three members of the Council in a nutshell.
This was a chance to check in on how it was to have a Chosen at camp, and Robert stepped in to flesh out Frieta.
Frieta Laghari was pious. Not afire or afraid with the eccentric superstitions of the Panyar, nor cold and skeptical like the Orite, but devoted enough, devoted in her bones, in a manner both practical and sentimental. The gods were real, they worked miracles every day, the Chosen were their instruments and incarnations. Like most Bartans, while she honoured the Horned Beast, the Trinity of Civility, Orcus and a hundred other gods, her first devotions were to Ostra, Lady of Mercy, and Kol, Lord of War.
The Commander had been Zemyati, however, and so it was to a small and bent tree just outside the camp’s protections that the Frieta turned her attentions. She cut herself, and made a prayer to the Living God, bleeding a few drops onto the ground.
“May her trials be seen as worthy.”
Beside the massive specialist, the Chosen seemed too fragile to be a divine instrument. Unlike other Chosen, she has no flaming aura, no circling white doves, no azure skin or flowers blooming beneath her tread. Even when Frieta fell to her knees, Zoya was less than a head taller.
“May her trials be seen as worthy,” the Bartan replied.
Zoya looks at the heavy, “I hear you bested one of the Cinder Guard?” Frieta nods, “With Kol’s aid, yes, holy one.”
“Killed one so mighty, with the blood of the king in their veins. Royal blood.”
Zoya sits beside her in the dust, and there is a sad smile on her face. Her voice is soft, “In the older faiths, as practiced in the Empire, to lay hands on one with royal blood was a terrible sin. The Emperor was divine, afterall, and all that shared their essence. It was an affront to all the gods to cause harm to one lifted above the common folk, earning a soul eternal damnation and torment. After all, all they did - good or ill by the lights of the fireflies - was imbued with ineffable, infallible purpose.”
Frieta, unsure of whether to keep kneeling or sit, looks up, but Zoya’s attention is on the tree. There is a silence, as Zoya cuts her own palm with her Legion blade and bleeds onto the ground.
“You know,” she whispers, looking over her shoulder, “I’m not sure there are any gods.”
Frieta blinks and stutters, her huge frame temporarily unbalanced.
What a way to begin. To a blasphemy.
Frieta knew she was not quick or clever, like some members of the company. Though she was fast enough in a fight, she would watch some of the others, that queer lightning crackling in their eyes as they reached strange, near frightening leaps and connections. Frieta did not think as fast as them. She reacted as fast as most of them - or faster - because of how she thought. Certainty. Frieta was sure . No pause between thought and action for second-guessing. No running faster than she could keep up. Running exactly as fast, for exactly as long as she could.
The gods were real. As certain a foundation as unyielding stone. A solid place to plant your feet for the fight. But so was reverence for the Chosen.
Chosen can err, she thinks. They can Break. You’ve seen it. Consciously she has not spoken for some moments, she looks to Zora.
"What makes you say that?"
Zora wipes her bleeding hand on her tunic.
“Because I killed an old man.”
She looks at her blade as she sheathes it one-handed, “The priests say I am became divine, because I stuck the business end in an old man who thought he was too potent to need to stay current with duelling styles. The priests say this meant it was his will to transition, to become one with me.”
The woman closes her eyes, lost in memory, “He sure didn’t act like it was his will. And I have killed many who were meant to be gods, and many who aren’t, and it felt much the same.”
Her eyes open and look into Frieta’s, “Just as you killed the Cinder Guard. It’s the same, just harder, right?”
“Still, I have believed we were divine. Believed without proof beyond our miracles, as I am told we gods demand. And it seemed enough… until we started to break.”
Zora eyes are a little wide, the usual fire and intensity behind them pressing, digging into Frieta for some sort of answer, “If we are gods, soldier, what is it that can change us? And why would we allow it?”
CHECKING IN ON OUR GOOD, GOOD RAVENS
“Look, I am not gonna lie,” says Margrave Cyprian Da Luca. “I was excited when I found out that Topaz Running Iron was on the mission with us.”
The Orite Legionnaire was chowing down on some reheated beans together with an assortment of other rookies who were curious of how the retrieval of the late Commander Rampart had gone down. Sable had put Da Luca’s arm in a shoulder splint to keep the axe wound from reopening, but he could still hang onto his bowl of beans no problem.
Da Luca was pointing at Knight Ruben Orlando, one of the Scarred Lions, with his spoon, as he was finishing chewing a mouthful of the food stuffs.
“No joke, man,” says the Orite Margrave. “That Panyar Master Gunner is a stone cold killer.”
Da Luca starts gesticulating with his one healthy hand as he excitedly continues.
“One of those masked surgeons almost gutted the doctor, and Topaz was all like, ‘nah, Dad,’ and went BLAK-BLAK and shot it right in the face!”
The spoon clattered as the Margrave tossed into the empty bowl and washed his food down with some watered down wine.
“I am telling you Ruben, if you go out into the field, to do some real shit, you want my man Topaz Running Iron by your side. He kept calling the Captain ‘Dad’ too. It was kinda weird, but I liked it. He sounded confident. Maybe I’ll try it next time, too.”
Knight Ruben Orlando of the Scarred Lions slapped Da Luca gently on the back of the head.
“Don’t do that, Da Luca. That’s a Panyar thing. You’re just going to sound like an idiot.”
“Ah, yeah,” agrees the Margrave. “You’re probably right. But damn if Topaz isn’t the sharpest dagger in the Legion right now! Blew out a Cinder Guard with a single bullet. Damn it, man.”
TRAUMA FOR RAFE & SABLE
There was a decent haul of xp, especially for Topaz. Robert is way more comfortable pushing the edge for that extra xp than the others. I cannot remember how all the many-times-overwritten sheets looked, but I know Rafe took Hardened so Trauma would not knock the poor Captain out next mission.
Along with spending the xp, Chris and Greg wanted a chance to foreshadow how Rafe and Sable had changed. I always love a good foreshadowing…
The camp of the Eternal Legion had a different energy to it after the successful recovery of the late former Commander. There was a sense of vindication, and relief that the death of leader was not being exploited by the vile lackeys of the Plaguebringer. The Legion expected to be on the move before too long, so there was a hustle and a bustle to the entire operation. Sable Flowing Gale finds Captain Raffaele Orazio de Deori between errands.
“Sir Captain, a moment of your time,” says the doctor. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”
The question was rhetorical, “How did you feel about this past mission? Any keen observations about the other Specs, or the Laughing Ravens? That would be of use to me, I mean, as a doctor.”
"Ditch the rank bullshit," Raffaelle says. "We’re not in front of the Rooks."
He steps off the drag, posts up near a stack of supply crates that have yet to be loaded. He reaches beneath his cloak, produces his flask, takes a pull and then offers it to the medic.
"How do I feel about it? By every metric we have it was an absolute success. Even the diversionary force came back without a loss."
He takes the flask back from Sable, pulls again, then caps it and returns it from whence it came.
"You saw Fang when she came back, she was dripping their fucking gore. And don’t get me started about our Chosen."
He sighs, smudges his temple when he rubs it, and makes the mistake of closing his eyes. Instantly, he sees Rampart again, foul fluid pulsing, forced through her veins, the death-denied anguish in her face.
"Any keen observations." He laughs, a short sound, trying to kick the memories back into hiding. "Yeah. It was an unqualified victory."
He meets Sable’s eyes, "So why the fuck doesn’t it feel like one?"
Sable Flowing Gale holds Raffaele’s gaze for as long as he can.
“We did all that, and it was still… just about putting one of our own to bed.”
The doctor breaks eye contact and looks off to the side, watching the Scarred Lions load up one of the supply carts.
“All that effort, and we were still too late. Mam is still dead.”
The Panyar doctor takes a deep breath. His eyes are steady again when he turns his attention back to the Captain.
“Look, Raffaele,” says Sable. “I just wanted you to know that you were right. About keeping the Dar woman alive. There are some rivers we don’t cross, and you saw to that.”
Sable Flowing Gale was looking Raffaele in the eye, but the Officer got a sense that the doctor was looking through him, and examining his own oaths to the practice medicine, about always giving aid freely whatever the cost.
“If I would have shot her, that would have been something I’d always have to live with. Becoming… the opposite of what I came out here to be. But now I don’t have to.” The medic takes another sip of the brandy they were passing between the two of them. Sable tips his head to his Captain. “So there is that, too. Thank you, Raf.”