I made a Fortune roll to see how the Legion’s escape on the steam-engine affected the civil war between Breaker and the Hag…and with the destruction wrought by the Legion during their escape, Breaker came out on top. It won’t be long before she finishes mopping up the Hag’s dwindling forces, and then executes her traitorous Lieutenant. With Ogyier destroyed by the Legion, Breaker is now free to pursue her studies and research free of the Cinder King’s oversight.
Unfortunately, our Commander was MIA again, so we had to make a decision about how to handle his duties during the campaign phase. We talked about it, made a choice, and then narrated exactly how our decision happened with some free play of the command staff.
Back at Camp
The Legion has spent their time slowly, furtively transferring supplies to the steam-engine, always leaving a squad on guard to get rid of anything that stumbles into the clockworks, while still maintaining their promised help in guarding Calisco’s walls. Somehow, the Quartermaster miraculously staggers these tasks enough that the Legion can rest instead of driving themselves to exhaustion.
Meanwhile, using their status among the soldiers of the fort, the Lions have been surreptitiously gathering an eclectic collection of reliquaries they plan to present to the Quartermaster…though it’s apparently not enough to blunt all his spite towards them.
It is enough, apparently, to procure them some of The Good Stuff during some allowed revelry…though he flat-out tells them it will never happen again without direct orders from the rest of the command staff.
The Spymaster has been, carefully, interrogating the Shadow Witch captured the Lions captured, and has learned some interesting things: with Ogyier no longer a barrier to her freedom (thanks to the Legion), she has returned to studying the shadows of Dar in pursuit of gathering enough power to overthrow the Cinder King, and thereby take his place.
She is also the source of the nightmares that destroyed the Bartan Fifth Thunder – she was using them as an experiment for something darker. Finally, they learn exactly how Breaker creates and controls her witches…unfortunately, removing the patch of Breaker’s flesh sewn onto the witch simply kills her. A sort-of mercy, nonetheless. The Legion take the witch’s body along in case it somehow proves useful later.
Once the steam-engine is fully loaded, the Legion gives notice to Jonakas that they are leaving for Skydagger, and they slip away. In the clockworks outside the walls, the steam-engine roars to life and surges out from the buildings, crushing entire squads of Burned that mass in an attempt to stop it (or are just in the way). With the field guns firing blackshot shells around and behind them, they cut down a huge swath of the Cinder King’s forces as they escape northwards.
The Legion abandons the vehicle at the end of the unfinished tracks, miles away from the fort, and turn east towards the Maw. The last leaves are falling from the trees, the grass is turning golden-brown, and cold winds begin raking down from the mountains as they march. The south-eastern skies have become a black shroud of smoke visible even here, and they soon realize with horror that the Cinder King’s armies are burning Panya to ash.
The Legion has more immediate problems, however: the Commander’s injuries at the hands of the Inquisitor (and the Medic’s nearly botched attempt to free him from its torture devices) have finally caught up with him. He has fallen so deeply ill he is unable to fulfill his duties. (Some even wonder if this turn in his health has anything to do with what is happening in Panya.) Someone must bear his remaining duties, so they meet in his tent along with a few of the Specialists.
The Legion’s Officer begs off as too inexperienced with high-level strategy. The Quartermaster knows he isn’t a leader and refuses. No one is even considering the Lorekeeper-Spymaster, but he quietly backs out of the tent and slips away from the meeting before anyone can even suggest the possibility. The Marshal doesn’t want the additional responsibility. Etc.
However, the Marshal is the only one with the necessary experience and understanding of the Legion’s people, and the Commander himself appoints her to lead in his stead. His last act as the Legion’s leader is to tell her to get the Legion to Skydagger safely, that he knows she can do this. The Legion is so close.
The stress turns her to drink.
Unfortunately, the Broken are right behind them – to the south, whomever is leading Render’s forces has driven them savagely northwards from Eastlake to join Breaker in the siege of Fort Calisco, and in vengeful pursuit of the Legion. Breaker herself, with her successful experiment upon the Fifth Bartan Thunder Brigade, and the Legion’s failure to counter it, has been able to create a Grand Hex affecting all the living beings remaining within Aldermark, plaguing them with nightmare visions whenever they close their eyes to rest.
The stress of the journey is taking its toll on the squads, as well. The Ghost Owls – one of the Legion’s most experienced and successful squads at this point – are collapsing due to in-fighting and argument.
The True Fire-marked Zemyati seeker and the Owls’ True Fire-marked Corporal are at logger-heads regarding how the Ghost Owls should be led: the former believes it is their duty to take on their opponents no matter the odds, not sneak around carefully and cautiously as the latter trains them to do.
They are also diametrically opposed when it comes to actually using the True Fire, with the seeker advocating its benefits, and saying that any visions of the Cinder King aren’t a problem, while the Corporal believes the mark is a problem (and certain the Cinder King is watching them even now – and why he has been surreptitiously avoiding all intelligence briefings).
The argument can be heard throughout camp, and while she thinks the situation has been resolved and they are on the same page, it turns out that isn’t exactly true and there has been a serious miscommunication…particularly about whether or not it’s up to her to call on the True Fire.
In camp, with the return of her memories, Oysingra has grown increasingly paranoid and unstable – often mumbling things no one else understands. Zora has brought her concerns to the command staff, suggesting that a squad could lead Oysingra into the mountains. She believes the mountain air and the secret arts of the Zemyati ascetics who tend to temples above the clouds may cleanse her madness.
The Ghost Owls, fractious as they are, are tasked with leading Oysingra into the mountains, and then rejoining the Legion at Skydagger. The Medic is sent along due to her extensive familiarity with Oysingra both personally, and with her symptoms and history. The Legion’s original surviving Heavy accompanies them, in case they run into trouble.
The squad unfortunately runs into trouble almost immediately, and the problems between the Corporal and the Zemyati Fanatic surface during the first major problem the squad encounters: a major winter storm envelopes an already icy, narrow pathway up the side of the mountain. While the Corporal considers finding a place to wait it out, and insists everyone stay together, the fanatic ignores him and charges ahead…summoning the True Fire to burn away the ice, and using her supernatural strength to slam iron spikes into the stone to tie off the squad’s ropes.
Unfortunately, this gives their position away to the Cinder King…and somehow Oysingra can see and sense this as well! And yet, the fanatic spits defiantly and declares that she is chosen by the Living God and Zora, the True Flame is hers, not his, and to come get it if he wants it so bad. While this show of insane bravado shakes the squad, the spiteful defiance shores up Oysingra’s deteriorating mental state.
But, perhaps twisted by the distant hand of the Cinder King, the weather turns worse: a terrible flash frost of supernaturally intense cold creeps down the mountain towards them, cracking the very rock and shattering the exposed equipment anyone who falls too far behind. The snow stops falling as the temperature plummets, and the squad manages to keep just barely ahead of it on the winding path…but it is inexorably catching up.
With exhaustion setting in, the Corporal makes the decision to try and locate a cave or protected crevasse to hide from the cold…hoping he isn’t dooming the squad to a quick freeze anyways. The path has widened here, and trees dot the mountainside above, some even growing up from the sheer wall on their left – they splinter as the frost hits them. The Corporal misses it, but the fanatic and the Heavy notice what looks like an opening into a deeper hole the squad can all squeeze into.
Summoning the True Fire once again, the fanatic drags a massive chunk of scree over the entry, and gripping it with the True Fire, keeps the frost at bay. In the background, Oysingra is whispering over-and-over that “he’s in the darkness, he’s everywhere”…she can see the Cinder King, astride now a skeletally-emaciated black steed in what must be the wastelands of Dar. He tells her he is coming for them. She curses at him once again, saying the Legion and the Living God will stop him.
The squad waits in the darkness, lit only by the dim white glow of the True Fire brand on the fanatic’s head, but uncertain how long the deadly weather outside will continue. Not wanting to remain in the cramped “cave”, they chance removing their stone plug. Luckily, the weather has passed and they continue their upwards trudge.
Hours later, almost entirely above the tree-line, on a steep, but navigable side of the mountain, they discover what appears to be a path leading upwards into the clouds. It’s “marked” by a length of twine and tattered triangular flags that disappears in and out of the heavy snow. Night is on its way, and they notice distant, black specks in the sky winging towards them. There’s some discussion about whether or not to continue up the mountain during the freezing night, or find somewhere to hide and bed down until morning.
Luckily, there’s a sheltered copse of trees nearby, growing in a break in the mountainside, protected from the wind. The Heavy makes the call: they’re bedding down for the night. With the pine and some dried wood, they manage to make a small, smokeless fire under the thick branches. The Owls’ Corporal takes the first watch, and uses it to scout the surrounding mountainside for dangers. Luckily the Owls’ thick winter clothing doubles as camouflage in the snow (a trick picked up in the mountains near the Barrak mines), so when the specks resolve themselves into Devourers soaring over the mountains, he’s fairly certain they don’t notice him…
The rest of the squad is busying themselves preparing a meal from the last of their supplies, and having a Come-to-Zora moment to restore morale and – they hope – draw Oysingra out of her increasingly withdrawn, suspicious muttering and disconnection. The Medic thinks it can’t hurt, and that solidarity with her fellow oathsworn legionnaires might just be the medicine Oysingra needs…perhaps it might even mean they have no need to continue up to the temple.
The squad starts quietly discussing home and family, and breaking MREs together, bonding together again as a squad, and the Heavy manages to finish healing the developing rift between the Corporal and the fanatic. And there’s a frank and open discussion about the Cinder King and the True Fire. And about the Medic’s shadow twin – which she finally comes clean about. The stress and shame of it, and of hiding it all this time, finally catch up with her, and the shadow whispers her failures and anxieties in her ear…she almost withdraws entirely into herself. Almost, except that the squad Corporal reminds her of the good she’s done, not just for the Legion but for everyone they’ve met along the way, that the shadow is a liar, and that the Legion is her family and is there for her.
While he’s distracted with the Medic, the fanatic decides to lead the conversation with Oysingra…unfortunately, it’s bluntly and without tact. Her curiosity about what happened in Dar with Zora gets the best of her, and Oysingra reveals with a few questions put together that before the Chosen destroyed the Last Emperor, the Legion captured and helped the Last Emperor torture her.
The squad is understandably horrified, even knowing the Legion’s origins as the Emperor’s personal guard. But the Zemyati pushes on, fascinated, asking outright if Oysingra was corrupted and Broken? At which point the former Chosen’s eyes turn pitch, their visible skin suddenly floods with black lines like lightning, and she snarls “DO NOT ASK.” The fanatic, unperturbed, grabs the former Chosen’s shoulders and shouts at her, “You are one of US! You are with THE LEGION now! You are FAMILY! We are oathsworn, we are blood.”
While her eyes return to normal, Oysingra angrily snaps, “I was the first…that’s why she buried me.” Then turns to stare hard at the Corporal and says, “And he can see you now, too.” Before she rolls over and ignores everyone.
It’s the most coherent speech they’ve gotten out of Oysingra so far and due it, the Heavy decides they need to press on to the temple for help in the morning. Assuming they can help.
Note: We ended there for the night. This would end up being a two-parter because…well, tons of Free Play and then an intense mission that definitely wasn’t resolved, despite the best efforts and intent of the players. The dice rolls were not in their favor.
When morning arrives, the squad is stiff and cold and hungry, but pack up quickly. Checking first for danger and seeing no sign of the Devourers from the night before, the Corporal leads them expertly up the mountain along the half-buried trail. They pass through the clouds to the mountain-top above where the temple has been built. They struggle through the thin air to the temple doors, where a young, silent Zemyati monk meets them. He silently leads them inside, through the courtyard, and into the main hall where the elder asetic, Stanislav, meets them, and the Heavy decides to tell him everything.
The fanatic is not convinced these monks can actually help Oysingra, and tries to engage the elder in a religious debate on this point…it does not go the way she thinks it should. Finally, the elder tells her there is a cave near the peak above that she should go to and have her questions answered. And not to come back until she does.
The Heavy, embarrassed by this disrespect towards a Zemyati elder and priest, does not go with her or take the squad. Instead, he accepts the offer of a warm place for everyone to rest, and a simply meal that evening. Other monks lead Oysingra away to prepare her for some kind of rite the elder does not choose to discuss.
The Corporal, despite not being Zemyati, chooses to accompany the fanatic further up the mountain. The cave is cramped, narrow, and runs deep into the peak. It has signs of being both natural, and hand-worked by tools to widen it in places. There are candles and stubs both outside the entrance and on rocks and in shallow alcoves inside – none are lit. The Corporal tells the fanatic not to even think about trying to light the candles with True Fire – it’s only partially meant as a joke – and they go about doing so with more mundane methods.
Before they can light more than a few, something huge and white silently slithers out of the darkness further down the tunnel and lunges at them with a mouth full of razor fangs – a huge, white, furry snake. The Corporal barely notices in time, but still receives a small bite wound and tries to hold it off. The fanatic has brought a huge signal horn with, and blows it hard, hoping to summon help from the temple below (unsuccessfully) and that the noise will scare the snake off (but just ends up annoying it).
They both summon True Fire and wrestle it back, the Corporal badly wounding it, before he shoves a candle in its face, and the fanatic blows the horn once again, giving it slight pause…long enough for the fanatic to un-sling her bow and fire a blackshot arrow at the creature – she’s not trying to kill it, just scare it. The sting of the arrow does finally cause it to retreat back down the tunnel.
They decide to follow it deeper, not having gotten their answers yet.
Deep inside, the cavern opens out into a ritual space, with a large stone tree carved into the far wall and the ceiling overhead, so its “leaves” are above, and the “roots” spread across the floor underfoot. There are crevices leading to possibly deeper caverns into which the snake could have retreated, but no sign of it or anything else in the chamber.
There’s also a small altar at the “base” of the tree, polished and wooden. It turns out to have a horn of “sacred drink” inside (Zemyati
turpentine moonshine). The fanatic takes big drink and almost immediately regrets it…but it does make the stone tree come to life, swaying as if in a strong wind (the Corporal does not partake and so does not see this, ahem, miracle).
When the two finally return down the mountain, the elder asks her if she took care of the snake for them. When she explains she did not kill the innocent creature, he shakes his head and mutters about “the damn snake still infesting the cave” and that between he and she, at least one of them knows how to do their job. It’s a clear, poignant jab at her earlier questioning of his ability to help Oysingra. What she takes away from the lesson is “stunned annoyance.”
Meanwhile, the Heavy and the rest of the squad have approached the Zemyati monks to request permission to help cleanse the taint from Oysingra “as members of her family.” This being one of the most important parts of Zemyati society, the monks agree.
While watching the monks begin the ritual, inside the central chambers of the temple, the squad quietly discusses how they might contribute, until the Heavy suggests they quit discussing what to do and just DO it. The squad surrounds Oysingra, and Elder Stanislav uses a ritual knife to collect blood from each member’s hand and then uses it to paint Zemyati runes on her skin and face.
The Medic places her hands on Oysingra’s shoulders and summons the power of the Lunar Crown to cleanse corruption, surrounding them both in a shaft of moonlight. The two True Fire-marked Owls summon up its power, standing in front of Oysingra, guarding her, and face the revealed image of the Cinder King. He declares she is his and he will have her…but both shout denial at him. His image rushes towards them, growing larger, and all the candles in the temple are blown out as by a great wind, leaving the shaft of moonlight as the only source of light.
Both of the Owls manage to hold firm.
Behind them, a pool of shadow is forming beneath Oysingra…stretching out, standing, forming into an almost-human shape. It utters that she cannot escape the shadows of Dar and reaches for her. The rest of the squad shout encouragement at her, that she can defeat this enemy, that her brothers and sisters in the Legion stand with her. Steeled against her own fear, Oysingra raises her arms and a brilliant bolt of lightning arcs from them, shredding the shadow with light and noise, blinding and deafening everyone in the room.
When they recover, they find Oysingra unconscious on the floor, but with no sign of corruption staining her flesh.
The monks declare the rite has been successful and Oysingra is free of her curse.
Back at Camp
Meanwhile, back along the pilgrim’s path that winds around the Maw, the Legion is busy among the shrines and hidden tombs in the catacombs under the mountain, chasing down the story of a lost resting place of an ancient Chosen said to wield lightning.
The Legion’s spies and the Lorekeeper’s records have managed to pinpoint its entry chamber, but with the rest of the Legion sealing up the other shrines and tombs to keep them from being desecrated by the undead, it falls to the Grinning Ravens (led by the Officer and the Scout) to decipher the ancient writing on the tomb’s walls, so they can bypass the traps and guardians of the inner crypt.
While they are successful in penetrating to the inner cyrypt, they lose a couple members of the squad to those things left to protect the tomb. Among the burial goods, the Legion discovers a chain used by the ancient Chosen, which can summon lightning, and they gather up burial items that the Legion’s priests can fashion into reliquaries. As per the Legion’s strictures against defiling the dead, they leave the Chosen’s corpse in repose, decide to lay their fallen members in-state within the crypt, and seal the chamber before they leave.
It was late at this point, so we closed on that. I double-checked with everyone that the plan was still to advance immediately to Skydagger Keep, and it was. We broke for the evening and planned on completing this phase’s campaign actions the following session.
So…this was not the mission I thought they would choose as the primary! I was surprised at the pick, but I really enjoyed how the players made this one their own: especially how the squad reasoned Zora’s actual directive was to “fix” Oysingra, and decided they might not have to trek all the way up the mountain if they could do so themselves. It almost worked, even! The players remarked after the game that this was one of the most memorable missions we had done.
Though I kind of dropped the ball on the cave scene, it came up suddenly and I thought I had somewhere to go with it, but it honestly just petered out and was a bit jokey instead. Unfortunate on my part.
I deliberately kept Oysingra’s statements generally vague, and used pronouns instead of names or proper nouns. Everyone has definitely made assumptions, like who she means when she says “he” and “him”, and about what really happened centuries ago – which may be correct. Or not. The only real and solid information they have is that the Legion and the Last Emperor were real bastards to her, and that something real bad definitely happened to her in Dar which led to Zora burying her in a tomb for the last few centuries.
What does this whole ritual mean for Oysingra? Mechanically, she’s a Heavy with a point of Weave. She’s no longer Chosen – in fact, she’s burned out almost completely now.
NEXT UP: SKYDAGGER!