Well, we’ve made it, everyone. The Legion reached Skydagger Keep. It was nerve-wracking there for a bit with our losing a few players, and occasional life-stuff doing what it does to plans. But even down to three players, we still had enough for the core command staff (and the responsibilities of the five command staff divyed up by the end – a deliberate choice to maintain established narrative continuity). I’m proud to say we all stuck it out like legionnaires! And it was a blast!
Without further ado, here we go:
Back at Camp
When Oysingra finally awakens, she dabs the Zemyati blood-runes off her face and body. She seems clear-headed and sane, though she remarks how strange it is now to hold the Legion as family, when once they served the mad Emperor who cursed her. The squad spends a few days at the monastery letting her recover from her ordeal before setting out back down the mountain.
By that time, the Owls are certain the Legion has cleared the Maw by now – at least they hope that’s the case – and so make preparations to cross the mountains to reach Skydagger instead of backtracking down to the Maw, hoping to beat Render’s forces. To aid them in their journey, the elder asetic sends the silent Zemyati monk with them (the one who had met the squad at the temple gates). He tells them that the monk is the temple’s best hunter, and knows the mountain trails well, and that he will also accompany them to Skydagger to provide aid to Zora in her fight against the Broken.
On their way down the mountain, one of the squaddies asks Oysingra if she’s still Chosen. She remarks she used the last of the power invested in her by the Living God to banish the Dar shadow, but perhaps not quite all of it. She also says, though, that she can feel she is dying, but doesn’t know how much time she has left. It may be days, or years. It’s sobering for the squad, but Oysingra doesn’t seem bothered.
Elsewhere, the main force of the Legion has finally cleared the Maw, and the Quartermaster calls for a brief respite and liberty (such as it is), breaking out the last few casks of The Good Stuff, as well as giving the medics time to set up their tents and proper surgeries for the wounded. His mind is already at Skydagger, and the Legion’s laborers and alchemists are left without any more direction than “rest yourselves for the trial ahead.”
The Owls meet the Legion when they reach Skydagger, and help unload supplies and settle in…for the Cinder King’s armies are on their heels. It is only a few hours from the moment the Legion arrives before the gray winter clouds turn black with threatening storms, a sign Breaker is on her way, and the distant thunder of the hooves and feet of Render’s forces echo up to Skydagger as the weight of his army marches towards the mountain keep.
What remains of the command staff meets to discuss shoring up the keep and how best to hold the Broken at bay. The Marshal realizes there aren’t enough personnel in the squads to achieve all the Legion’s objectives, and that their most experienced legionnaires need to be harnessed for particularly dangerous tasks…but are scattered throughout the squads.
Especially now as the Ghost Owl’s Corporal, upon reporting back, reveals he’s taken up apprenticeship under the Legion’s current and more-experienced Medic, and is thus resigning his position with the Owls. The Legion’s rules regarding medical staffing and the rights of medical officers are hard-set, and there’s nothing they can do to make him stay on in his position with the Ghost Owls.
Worse, when the first round of reassignments are made, cracks appear in squad leadership that threaten cohesion…one of the new Grinning Ravens refuses to serve under their existing corporal, due to a family conflict arising from labyrinthine Orite politics. So in an effort to prevent serious problems in the field, the Marshal removes the current Corporal and replaces them with a more experienced Ghost Owl – a Zemyati advocated for by the Ravens’ Panyar. The replacement is embarrassing and infuriating to the former corporal, and she is shifted to the Ghost Owls in return, to serve as their corporal for the outgoing apprentice Medic. The Ghost Owls are a squad of experienced soldiers, however, and there is grumbling that their new corporal is wet-behind-the-ears.
The Marshal manages to stave this off in the field by sending their old Corporal, as a newly-minted Medic, along with them to “keep an eye on things.”
By the end of the reshuffling process, the Silver Stags are left with a single member, green-and-fresh to the Legion. Without a real squad, he ends up playing gopher for and between the other squads, command staff, and Legion’s auxiliary personnel.
The legion’s original Heavy and the newly reformed Star Vipers are assigned to helping the laborers with shoring up the keep’s defenses. Luckily, the Spymaster’s network has scouted the area for a source of timber and stone, and managed to get word east where they have blackmailed an Orite merchant into leaving supplies and materials at the keep, ahead of the Legion’s arrival. The Heavy directs the squad and the laborers in clearing timber and hauling it up the pass before the Broken’s armies arrive, hoping the vanguard can be held back long enough for them to finish.
It wasn’t certain if the R&R action, which restores Morale to the Legion, would give the Quartermaster an extra action if it increased Morale to a higher level (from 7, with 1 free action, to 9 with 2 free actions) during his actions. I ruled it did.
The Spymaster wasn’t able to complete the Lay Trap action, unfortunately. However, they used both Interrogate – which I allowed to apply to every mission here at Skydagger – and Blackmail, which I allowed use of for the first roll of the Long Term Project regarding the gates-and-ramparts (I know that normally it is supposed to be for an existing LTP by the Quartermaster before the Legion moves out, but it fit, there were no LTPs in progress, and I liked the creativity of the idea).
Holding the Lower Pass
Moon-Crown Medic and the Sniper are sent out with the Grinning Ravens under their new Corporal to hold the lower pass as long as possible against Ache and his vanguard of Black Oak calvary. They’ve come loaded for bear, looking as if they’re determined to simply hold the pass with blood and steel. That, unknown to the squad’s new corporal, isn’t actually the plan…
Ache hates (and fears) the Medic due to what happened at Barrak Mines, and has sworn to see the Raven’s new corporal dead for daring to get in his way at that time. So when the squad finds a point where the lower pass narrows significantly, the Medic plants a flag of truce and tells the corporal to get Ache talking. Meanwhile, the Sniper has climbed the cliff to find a nice spot to set up a sniper’s nest, and sent the rest of the Ravens into hiding among the rocks and brush.
When Ache’s vanguard appears, the corporal and Medic call them out, demanding to speak to Ache, that they have a proposition for him…and manage to convince him to meet with them instead of simply attacking. But do not convince him to leave his personal guard behind – a few mounted Black Oak leading some Hounds. The squad quite literally holds their breath, to keep the Hounds from noticing them, while the Medic and corporal talk.
The Medic produces the head of the Shadow Witch they had captured and then killed at Fort Calisco, and recites a vague-but-poignant “prophecy” she has spent the better part of her free time since Gallow’s Pass making up, relying on painstaking research of Ache’s own personal history. Then she makes Ache an offer: they’ll give him this oracle, which can tell him exactly when and how he will die (the one thing they know he fears), if he does not kill the two of them and takes his troops and leaves. The Medic hints he will be killed in this battle somehow, if he doesn’t take their offer.
The rest of the squad is now desperately trying to continue holding their breath, so as not to blow the plan.
The corporal still naively believes the Black Oak have a sense of honor and fair play, and is unfortunately about to be proved wrong. Ache proves only too happy to take the deal, taking out Lady Tsaga’s emaciated head and crushing it underfoot, then stuffing the Shadow Witch’s into his chest-cavity. The half-armored giant grins inside his helm and points at the Medic, saying “you, witch, may go, but I have pledged to gut this boy” and lifts his out-sized cleaver.
The Medic, unperturbed, demands that if there is to be an honor-duel, then the other Black Oak rejoin his troops in preparation for their leaving. Ache waves them back to the rest of his forces while the two Zemyati carefully circle one another. (WHEW says the squad.) The Medic quietly backs away, slowly dropping behind cover, shouting encouragement to the corporal.
The two warriors land a couple of blows on each other, both to little effect thanks to their heavy armor, and with the corporal fighting carefully and defensively against this monster. Above, the Sniper is continuing to keep a bead on Ache’s chest, waiting…
…because the plan here wasn’t really to fight Ache and the vanguard or trick them into leaving, the plan was to blow them up. Unknown to the corporal, the Sniper and the Medic had rigged up a bomb and placed it inside the decapitated head Ache just stuck inside his own chest. A bomb which is activated by contact with cinder blood. The only part of their plan they aren’t sure about is how long it will take for the bomb to blow.
The Sniper is the back-up plan: if it takes too long, they’ll try activating it by making sure cinder blood gets spattered all over it.
Uncertain how long the corporal could hold out on his own, and not being Zemyati and thus not having a sense of “fair play” when it comes to honor-duels, the Medic has told her shadow to give the witch’s head a message for Ache: “it is too late, death comes, you have already taken the act that dooms you.” The shadow enjoys giving messages of doom and despair, and was only too happy to comply, so when the witch head whispers its message to Ache, he stops in mid-blow, suddenly terrified, and stumbles back staring down at his chest.
The bomb works a little better than expected. Well, a lot better than expected. Ache’s torso disintegrates, and the rest of him doesn’t fare much better. Fragments of bone and shards of armor embed themselves in the corporal’s shield (luckily raised) and armor, and he is thrown to the ground and sorely banged up by the concussive force.
The giant warrior’s helmed head bounces to a stop near the Medic, who grabs it, gleefully holds it up for the Black Oak to see, and quips, “Whew! That’s a head-Ache!” (Our Medic, ladies-and-gentlemen.)
The Black Oak are caught off guard, but not demoralized – at least not until a shot rings out and Ache’s second, in the midst of giving orders to advance, is knocked, dead, off his horse by the Sniper. Followed immediately by a volley from the hidden Ravens. While it doesn’t cause much injury, it’s enough to sow confusion and another of the Black Oak calls for retreat and regroup.
While this causes somewhat of a delay, it isn’t for long, and the Black Oak move forward once more…only to walk into the rest of the now “retreating” Ravens’ trap. The lower pass has been strategically mined, and the Ravens are very good at leading the Black Oak troops right into them. Time-and-again. Eventually, the Black Oak wise-up and call up packs of Gaunt to use as mine-tripping fodder, but the Ravens’ plan proves so formidable that it has slowed the advance and forced the army to redirect resources from scouring the nearby mountains.
We were all amused that everyone looked at each other and said “Go Heavy” for Load at the start, and then it turned into a completely different mission involving subterfuge and deceit. Plus the central elements of this mission were actually high-stress flashbacks. The ‘prophecy’ to lure Ache in? Flashback. The shadow witch head? Flashback. Hiding the bomb in the head? Flashback. Mining the pass? Flashback.
And they kept crit’ing these rolls. “Let’s make a bomb. I think the trigger should be cinder blood. The alchemists have some knowledge of it, right, because of their work making the Fire Hearts?” “OK! So…yes, the QM is willing to hand out the supplies. Rig?..So, yes, you can make such a thing and your bomb will go boom.” “Let’s roll to see how long it takes to go off and just how deadly the explosion…ah. Well. That’ll just do it.” “We should have made more explosives, too, to mine the pass. FLASHBACK to the Legion’s summer camp bomb-making activity!” “OK, group Wreck? MULTIPLE crits? So they’re…really good, and there’s a lot of them.” “I think we know how we hold the lower pass!”
This also resulted in the fictional truth: “Clearly, our Sniper is also a master explosives expert.”
So…ultimately, the Grinning Ravens came loaded for bear, and then just lied and manipulated their way to victory.
Oh, I should also mention that the Grinning Ravens started in a Controlled position, and had been fully outfitted by the Quartermaster (the Legion had collected a lot of Assets, so the QM went all-out on all these missions, spending every resource either down to nothing or pretty nearly by the end). The Legion had no Intel left, but did have the bonus question from Interrogate.
Finally, we had a fairly late start this time – real-life issues intruded – and did not have enough time to do any of the other missions. We decided to save them for the following week and cut early after getting some book-keeping decisions out-of-the-way: mainly, who was going on which missions and what intel did we have about each.