38 – A Little Chaos

Elder beasts were – as a general rule – twice the size of their common kin. Thus, an elder wolf might be expected to be roughly the size of a horse. Looming out of the darkness and into the light of the bandit camps cooking fire, this elder wolf – an avatar of Vanagandr according to the dead man Zhan – would make a plow horse look small. Dimly, Branwhyn remembered being concerned that the camp of organized bandits might be a threat to the elder beast he was summoning. That concern was discarded and replaced with the hope that it wouldn’t eat the bandits all too quickly and then come looking for him.

With another huffing grunt, Branwhyn pushed off the stabilizing tree. Leaning forward and trusting his legs to move, he started loping towards the largest tent in the bandit’s encampment. He clutched the reassuring weight of his spear in the numb fingers of his clammy hand.

Getting through the camp to our objective without being delayed/found out seems like a Face Danger w/ Shadow (4, 4, 2+2), Miss w/ a twist. I’ll Burn Momentum (4, 4, [7]). Strong Hit w/ a Twist. Momentum Rest +1 from the Face Danger (+2). Only +2, since we have the debility still. Twist is on the Action/Theme Oracle, which says: Locate Rival. Rival seems suited to mean Blacktongue Brecken. Locating him in his tent where we are looking for Corinna doesn’t strike me as a positive twist. Maybe we find him out in the camp and thus putting him out of play to interfere with our rescue of Corinna? That feels better.

The arrival of the elder beast had created more than a little chaos in the bandit camp. The giant wolf plowed into the cooking fires, snapping jaws and flashing blade-like teeth severing limbs and spilling blood. Bandits ran everywhere, some to do battle with the great beast while others sought to gather up loot or slaves, while others simply fled screaming into the night. Those who fled beyond the fire light didn’t get far though, the elder wolf hadn’t come alone as it turned out. A pack of wolves – large and powerful representatives of the breed – had followed in the elder’s footsteps and now stalked the edges of the camp. The pack swarmed and harried any who tried to flee. Branwhyn slipped past their cordon as they busied themselves with a bandit who’d attempted flight.

Taking cover next to a tent, Branwhyn took a moment to catch his breath and survey the scene. The run down the hill plus the cold night air in his lungs sent him into a coughing fit and he hacked up mucus that had been building up inside of his lungs. When the fit passed and he could see again, he found Blacktongue Brecken rallying the bandits in the middle of the camp. The short man’s voice rose above the clamor and he seemed to actually be organizing a defense using the reach of spears and bows. The dwarf had grit; that could not be denied. Still, Branwhyn found a bitter part of him wishing for the little-man to suffer a slow and painful death beneath the elder wolf’s claws. Pushing the thought away, Branwhyn took the rallying of the bandits as the opportunity that it was. Brecken was focusing his attention – along with many of the camp’s bandits – towards the attack and thus not looking for a more subtle threat like Branwhyn.

One more ‘stealth’ roll feels right. I’m going to use the twist above like an Opportunity from Delve and give a +1 Forward to the roll. Face Danger w/ Shadow (7, 6, 6+2+1), Strong Hit. +1 Momentum (+3). That should get us to Corinna, assuming she is in Brecken’s tent, which seems likely. Oracle says: Yes. Then let’s mark vow progress: Revive Corinna 6/10

Stumbling through the chaos, Branwhyn made little effort to not be seen. Instead, he just attempted to behave like he belonged. The stumbling gait due to whatever sickness had been inflicted upon him by the ritual probably helped by making him seem drunk. Ducking in through the flap of the largest tent – which belonged to Brecken – he cast his eyes about the darkness within. Dimly he could make out the piled furs, iron weapons, jewelry with inset gems, and the other spoils of loot from the group’s raids. There was only one treasure which Branwhyn sought though and she hung near the center of the tent. Her hands had been tightly bound and then the bonds used to hang her from a hook set into the tents central support. Grief mixed with anger flood Branwhyn as the not too distant memory of her being tied up and the strife it had put her through. It was a small blessing that she remained unconscious, though it was clear that the bonds and the position had not been kind to the flow of blood through her arms and hands.

Dropping his spear onto the carpet of pelts, Branwhyn lifted Corinna’s limp body up off the hook and laid on the ground. Fumbling at his belt, he drew his elk-horn knife and started slicing through the rope bonds around her wrists. His trembling hands made the work slower than he would have liked but slitting her wrists would have been a far more problematic delay. Once the bonds were cut, Branwhyn took a long moment to massage circulation back into her limbs. It was all the time he could spare though, already the sound of battle outside was starting to quiet. Taking up his spear, Branwhyn moved to the back of the tent and cut a new opening before doubling back to where Corinna lay so that he might unceremoniously sling his unconscious ward over his shoulder.

We’re hoping the newly created back door will be helpful and we’re attempting to Secure an Advantage w/ Shadow, (9, 1, 4+2). Weak hit. +1 Momentum (+4). I wouldn’t normally roll for something like carrying Corinna, but given the Debility exhaustion seems like a potential problem. Ergo, we’re going to follow up with a Face Danger w/ Iron + Bind (1, 6, 3+1+1). Weak Hit. I’m going to take -1 health (+2) to represent the fatigue and sickness taking its toll. Endure Harm w/ Health (6, 7, 5+2), Weak Hit. Keep calm, carry on.

Thanks to the full moon and the cloudless night, it was far brighter outside of the tent. The red and orange glow of several bandit tents – now turned into accidental bonfires – only added to the night’s illumination. He could not see the wolves stalking the edges of the camp, but he was certain they would still be there. The sound of running booted feet to his right – presumably bandits – made the decision of direction for Branwhyn, he went left.

Rounding the large tent, Branwhyn angled towards the east, towards the river where he’d hidden their somewhat sea-worthy canoe. He found himself amidst a dozen or so others moving in the same direction. Beaten and worn down with hollow looks in their eyes, several still wearing iron collars around their necks. These then were some of the captured caravanners. It seemed that Caldas had been able to set many of them free. Their presence could be both blessing and curse, but as Branwhyn felt another layer of his strength waning away he couldn’t bring himself to worry about it. He just kept putting one leg in front of the other.

And one more roll to get clear of the camp. Face Danger w/ Shadow (10, 5, 5+2), Weak Hit. We’ll call this stress damage and take -1 Spirit (+3). Endure Stress w/ Spirit (3, 5, 1+3), Weak Hit. No change.

It seemed like bandits and wolves noticed the escape at the same time. The bandits fell upon those in the back first. Laying about with cudgels to subdue the escaping prisoners. The unlucky caravanners feebly tried to resist, throwing up arms in the defense or trying to fight back. Unarmed, they were no match even for bandits already tired from battle. The rest of the caravanners simply ran, scattering to make the chase more difficult. Branwhyn ran with them but tried to keep to the center, heart sinking in his chest, knowing all too well what would happen next. The scattered caravanners became easy targets for the wolves. The pack moved with aggressive fluidity, darting in to harry at the feet and ankles. When one caravanner would go down, two or three more wolves would swarm in to finish the kill. There was little Branwhyn could do for them, except make use of their deaths. Even at his best, he would be hard pressed to fight such a canny pack of wolves. Even if he could hold them off, the bandits would surely finish what the wolves had begun. Branwhyn could not save them, only Corinna and himself, and take benefit from their unintended and unwilling sacrifices to his cause.

Spending the lives of those around him seems like Shadow to me, so one last Face Danger w/ Shadow (10, 7, 5+2), Miss. Pay the Price – The current situation worsens. Given that he was trying to get away, it seems appropriate that something stands in his way. Wolf 1-35, Bandit 36-70, Elder Wolf 71-80, Brecken 81-90, 91-100 Caldas. 32 – Wolf. Cool. Why have it be a random wolf when we have an NPC we haven’t seen in a while?

The screams behind him faded away as his weary legs took him further from the bandit camp being savaged by an elder wolf and its pack, or perhaps the sounds were simply covered over by the growing sound of rushing waters. Turning the corner of a game trail, Branwhyn instantly realized his mistake. A lean and grizzled timber wolf stood in his path, head low, ears forward, and teeth barred.

Branwhyn stilled immediately, not wishing to provoke an attack. Slowly, he lowered Corinna to the ground and leaned her against a nearby tree; both to distance her from danger but also to free him to move more swiftly should it come to a violence. His tight throat, shaky legs, and numb hands that held his spear all brought into doubt his efficacy in a fight to begin with. As his fever laden mind cast about for alternatives, Branwhyn noted the ragged crescent scar around the wolf’s left eye. It seemed familiar and it gave him pause. The bright moonlight allowed him to slowly take in other details of the wolf before him, it’s scraggy coarse coat of gray and faded brown fur, its silvered muzzle. This was the wolf that been controlled by Corinna’s true mother, the hag that had tormented and in the grip of fear the Ironhold of Mournful Cairn. “Old Grey.” He croaked out past dried and cracked lips.

The wolf’s ears twitched at the name. They’d done battle before, Branwhyn having bested it, but then cutting free the painful stitches that the hag used to control the beast and then nursing the wolf back to health. All told they’d spent a fair portion of time together. How much the wolf remembered or understood of Branwhyn’s kindness though was a mystery.

Dipping his spear tip towards the ground, in what he hoped the wolf would understand as being non-threatening, Branwhyn took a slow step forward. Through barred teeth, a low growl rumbled up from Old Grey’s throat. Every so slowly, Branwhyn extended his left hand – the one that still bore the iron wolf ring – so that Old Grey might recognize his scent.

I’m torn here about the nature of this roll. There is a fair argument for Face Danger or Compel, but there might be one for Forge a Bond too. Or even more than one. I think we are starting with Forge a Bond and essentially seeing if one was formed between these two retroactively. So, Forge a Bond w/ Heart (3, 2, 6+2), Strong Hit. Woot! I haven’t wanted a roll to work that bad for a while. I think the relief that Old Grey recognizes is him is good for moral and while the momentum is probably smarter, the +1 Spirit (+4) makes more sense. Also, New Bond: Old Grey. Now with that in place, we want him to let us pass, so Compel w/ Heart + Bond (7, 2, 5+2+1), Strong Hit. Whew, close. +1 Momentum (+5). Also, Vow Progress: Revive Corinna 7/10. Last roll, does Old Grey come with us or stay with the pack? 50/50 – 52.

Almost reluctantly, Old Grey sniffed at his hand and then recognized him. The growl and barred teeth evaporated, replaced by small happy bark and a pink tongue licking his hand. It was a blessed relief and Branwhyn let out the breath he’d been holding, which of course prompted another violent fit of coughing. The dry hacking cough dropped him to his knees and he was very glad that Old Grey had remembered the bond they’d formed so many months ago. If he hadn’t, there was a good chance that Branwhyn’s hot blood would be cooling on the game trail.

Using his spear for balance, Branwhyn leveraged himself back to his feet. The old wolf brushed against his legs as he did, moving past Branwhyn to sniff at the girl who lay against the tree behind him. Old Grey sniffed once and his ears went flat, his teeth were bared again, and the deep growl rumbled out. Corinna smelled like her mother, yet another reminder – as if Branwhyn needed another – that there was a potential monster living inside his ward. A monster that would, if he could not guide her, seek to terrorize and enslave others. “Thank you my friend.” Branwhyn placed a calming hand on Old Grey’s hackles. The wolf flinched at the touch, looked between Branwhyn and Corinna, and then bolted away. A heart beat later and the wolf was gone again.

Wearily, Branwhyn lifted Corinna again and slung her over his shoulders. It would surely be uncomfortable for her, if she’d been conscious. With a steadying breath, he started down the game trail again. The spear was a blessing and he used it as a sturdy walking stick. As his body crashed from the adrenaline high, the aches and pains of the sickness came back full force. The rampant fever caused his awareness to teeter between hazy delirium and conscious focus.

It wasn’t until he felt the water through his boots that he became aware that he’d reached the river, or even remember that the river was his destination. For a long moment, Branwhyn simply stood in the river, letting the water flow around his legs while his fevered mind tried to put itself back together again. The small dugout canoe was near, hidden amidst reeds. He laid Corinna at the prow as gently as he could, his back and shoulders protesting as he did so. His pack and spear were secured next, his body moving through the familiar steps with little contribution from his mind.

Slowly, he became aware that he’d been simply standing at the aft of the boat. After securing everything, he’d apparently just stopped. How long he’d been there was a mystery, but the sky was starting to grey. Branwhyn splashed the chill water onto his face, a temporary relief from the burning fever. It cleared his mind though and he took stock. Untying the mooring line, he let his body flop into the dugout and let the river begin to carry it. Grudgingly, he righted himself in the dugout. Taking up an oar to use as a rudder, he was suddenly very glad they were travelling down river.

Undertake a Journey w/ Wits (8, 8, 5+3), Miss w/ a Twist. Profane Explicative. Pay the Price, It is Stressful. We’re using Gradient Threats for this journey and we are currently at 6/20, ergo still dangerous. -2 Spirit (+2). Endure Stress w/ Heart (6, 6, 1+2). Miss w/ a Twist. . . . *glares at dice.* -1 Momentum (+4). Okay, two twists. Bleh. Oracles – Action/Theme says: Manipulate Revenge & Construct Fame. Both of these need to be bad. Manipulate Revenge, that seems fairly obvious. Someone is going to jump Branwhyn. Brecken seems Likely – Oracles says Yes. Not good. Next, Construct Fame. Ultimately, that is reputation and it isn’t Branwhyn spread it around. The Butcher of Mournful Cairn has been a growing sobriquet, the survivors of the Bandit camp are going to spread it around all the more. Branwhyn it seems is becoming infamous. Finally, where are we? Desolate Road River. Fellow traveler, Kotoma the herdsman.

Even with the river’s current doing most of the work, staying alert enough to navigate the dugout canoe was taxing. More to mind than body and Branwhyn found it harder and harder to keep his focus. Adding to the mental fatigue were the aches in his joints, his numb hands, and the unpleasant mixture of hunger and nausea in his stomach. Taken together, the myriad of discomforts were strong encouragement to stop and rest well before noon. Besides, the patch in the dugouts keel was far from perfect and it would be nice to drain the water that had seeped in.

Branwhyn beached the dugout along a barren and desolate stretch of river. The only trees for miles were a small copse at the river bend. That was on the east bank though. The trees would provide shelter, but given recent troubles, Branwhyn thought the barrier of the river would be better protection. Laying out a bedroll only for Corinna, he transferred his ward carefully. Though there was still breath in her lungs, she never stirred. It was an effort to drag the dugout up onto the bank and he simply didn’t have the energy to turn it over; or to make any kind of camp for that matter. Finding a smooth rock for a pillow, Branwhyn wrapped his bear fur cloak around his shoulders and fell fast asleep.

“You don’t look well traveler.”

The unfamiliar voice woke Branwhyn from a fitful dream. A short distance from them stood an Ironlander leaning casually on his spear. A blond man with a beard a couple of shades darker than his hair, he wore a well-worn cloak over a simple tunic and breeches. All was made of undyed wool, only colored by time and the weather.

“A sickness.” Branwhyn croaked out as he sat up, checking with a glance of his eyes that his own spear was close at hand. “You’d best keep a distance. Is there a circle near? With a healer?”

“Indeed.” The stranger started to indicate a direction with his arm and caught an arrow just beneath his collar bone. It was the first arrow of a volley already in flight.

Enter the Fray w/ Wits (7, 4, 4+3), Weak Hit. Bolster Position, +2 Momentum (+6). Face Danger w/ Iron + Bind (5, 9, 4+1+1), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+7) but -1 Supply (+2). A group of Brecken’s bandits seems Formidable, not that I’m planning on fighting them.

Fueled by a sudden rush of adrenaline, Branwhyn grabbed hold of the dugout and rolled it over atop he and Corinna to act as an impromptu shield. The water he’d not had the energy to drain the night before drenched them both and a few supplies not secured within scattered to the rocky riverbank. The volley of arrows thudded as they struck the dugout’s keel or scattered skipping off the rocks around them.

Peering out from under the gunwale of the canoe, Branwhyn could see men moving on the far bank in the copse of trees that he’d decided to not camp in. A wise choice as it turned out. It was too far to see who they were, but he could guess easily enough: bandits from Blacktongue Brecken’s camp seeking revenge.

The stranger who’d greeted him scrambled underneath the dugout next to him, shouting in pain as the movement snapped the arrow shaft off while the head was still buried in his body. “Kotoma by the way.”

“Branwhyn.” Another volley of arrows rained on their position, sounding like hail against the dugouts hull. More than one arrow was fired in a low arc, skipping off rocks in an attempt to ricochet them up under the cover provided by the canoe. “After the next volley, we’re going to flip the canoe over and use the river to flee.”

Kotoma’s eyes went wide. “Is that wise?”

“Probably not.” Branwhyn shifted around, putting his back to the ground and positioning his hands against the dugout. “Do you have a better plan?”

The herdsman grimaced and then without comment shifted around as well, making ready to roll the dugout over. A third volley of arrows crashed down upon them.

We’re going to Turn the Tide and attempt to Secure an Advantage w/ Iron + Bind + TtT (10, 1, 6+1+1+1), Weak hit. +1 Momentum (+8). Face Danger w/ Iron + Bind (3, 9, 3+1+1), Weak hit. 1 Harm. -1 Health (+1). Endure Harm w/ Iron + Bind (3, 4, 5+1+), Strong Hit. +1 Momentum (+8), since we can’t gain health due to the debility of sickness which I’m treating basically as wounded. Escaping this ambush feels like Vow Progress for Reviving Corinna 7/10. Does Kotoma live? 50/50?

They rolled the dugout canoe back over and into the water. Kotoma immediately scrambled in, Branwhyn scooped up Corinna and her sleeping roll together and dumped them – along with his spear – into the canoe before scrambling in himself.

Taking up the only remaining oar, Branwhyn put all the strength he could muster – bolstered by the bear-spirit bound within him – into each and every stroke. In front of him, Kotoma pulled at the water with his good arm in an attempt to garner even the smallest sliver of extra speed. As a moving target, they were harder to hit. Arrows fell all around them, striking water and canoe in seemingly equal measure. An accurate or lucky one slammed into Branwhyn’s left shoulder blade, slicing through the bear fur cloak and muscle before hitting bone. The pain only served to drive him forward with gritted teeth, momentum growing with every stroke of the oar, adding to the speed of the river, and taking them further and further away from their ambushers.

It was only after they were well out of bow range that Branwhyn noticed Kotoma’s arm wasn’t pulling at the water. Instead, the herder’s arm dangled motionlessly in the water. An arrow had struck him in the side, slipping through the rib cage and found the vulnerable organs underneath. Nearly on instinct, Branwhyn started to rise to tend to the dead man; but seemingly all at once the pain and weariness from fatigue and sickness flooded back into his body. Sitting back on the canoe’s aft bench with a heavy sigh or weariness, he left the dead man where he lay. Pulling the oar in, Branwhyn leaned forward to touch Corinna’s ankle. She was still warm to the touch, still breathing, and had no wounds that he could see. Slumping down further in his seat, Branwhyn let the river carry them.


Note: The Delve expansion was officially release just before I wrote this chapter. Accordingly, I want to integrate some of the mechanics therein. The optional moves like Check your Gear will be options going forward, even when not delving. We’re integrating Threat as well. The active ones are going to be corruption of the leshen that has led to the Apostles of the Broken. So, new threat track below: Corruption in the North. Technically it is tied to the vow to break the power of the Broken’s Apostle, but given how I track things its easier to represent it separately.

I’m going to note that this vow to find the heir to Twin Rivers is very much not address the Corruption in the North (we’re literally going the wrong direction). Thus, we are going to retroactively Advance a Threat – 25 – The threat readies its next step. Whatever it is doing, Branwhyn isn’t there to address it. Ergo, we mark menace. Next, the Delve near Greybrook was another delay. So, Advance a Threat – 09 – Same result, still not there. Ergo, we mark menace, again. Corruption in the North – 2/10.

Finally, we’re going to start a Failure Track. I’m going to retroactively tick it for the past few chapters. It feels like there has been a lot of misses lately. Given that the Failure Track is essentially an Epic Quest, I’m not sure how much we will actually get out of it. Time will tell, assuming that I remember it’s there. It also gives a nice mechanical effect though for the times that Branwhyn finds himself brooding over mistakes and failures. Failure Track – 12/40 (context, this is a +3 on a normal Ironsworn Track).

Journey to Ragged Coast [Extreme] – 6/20

Branwhyn ap Hugh Bonds: 11
Health +2 Spirit +2 Supply +2 Momentum +8
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1+1 Shadow: 2 Wits: 3 XP: 19/23

Debility: Sickenss

[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+; [Companions] Kindred (Corinna) – Shield-Kin; [Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward

Active Vows:
Kingmaker [Epic] 3/40
Break the Power of the Broken’s Apostle [Extreme] – 5/20
Mentor Corinna [Extreme] – 7/20
-Rival [Monster Within] – 5/20
Find the Heir of Twin Rivers [Formidable] – 2/10
Renew Twin River Southern Trade Route [Dangerous] – 6/10
Revive Corinna [Formidable] – 7/10

Threat: Corruption in the North – 2/10

Failure Track – 12/40

Bonds: ???, ???, ???, Esyllt the Herbalist, Ironhold of Crow’s Perch, Björn Blacksmith of Greybrook, Valknut, Ironhold of Twin Rivers, Ironhold of Greybrook, Priestess Indirra of Wolves Haven, Old Grey [wolf]

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