A week after the worship of the Elk, Etana meets with Haf and scribes sigils in his arm to accompany Haf’s. They then sit opposite each other and share the first of many sessions dwelling in mental communion. For Etana to teach the secret ways to Haf they need to become intimately familiar with each other’s minds. Haf senses a trepidation equal to his own in the Elf: teaching magic to a human is unprecedented and unknown. Whilst the calm of the great forest around them supports Haf to remain centred and open to their meditative exercises, they are tiring and challenging. Etana struggles with the intensity of Haf’s human emotions and its concerns are laid bare to Haf. Whilst the spirit of the Wilds has endorsed Haf, the mystic still questions the decision to teach him. Can Haf learn the magic of the Firstborn? Can he wield it safely? Can he be trusted to not use it against the Elves?  Haf’s reservations and prejudices against magic trouble him also. Alberetor was poisoned by magic and its use forbidden in the Ironlands. However Haf cannot deny the gift of the sight has seemed to only help, and reminds himself of the words of Delkash and Chandra that magic had also been used for good by the Ordo Magica. 

[Test your bond: weak hit]

[Oracles – action; release, theme: land]

Despite Haf making continual progress and the shared mental understanding between master and student growing, both are increasingly plagued with doubts. Etana has not voiced its concern but Haf feels he can no longer tolerate the growing impasse between them, if it is not broached it will become irresolvable. Haf breaks off the exercise they are engaged in and holds his hand up in greeting to the Elf. Haf has become attuned enough to Elven body language that he senses Etana is confused and also curious. The mystic presses its hand against his and Haf lets them stay touching for a drawn out moment. “Etana, you are my friend”. He lets his mind touch the Elf’s to help him understand his words, “the more you teach me the less trust we have in each other and ourselves. We must find another way, or end this”.

I share your feelings. My distrust is not in you, it is in humans. Unless I am certain you will not use the magic in the way other humans do I cannot teach you.

Haf is taken aback, “other humans? You have trained other Ironlanders?…” Realisation dawns on Haf like a lightning strike.  “The broken! I mean the men who were here before, those who became the broken

They were not taught Firstborn magic, they mastered mighty arts by themselves. They were seduced by power and sought to bend all to their will. Instead they brought corruption on themselves and were destroyed.  

“This is why my people do not use magic anymore, it is forbidden. In the land we came from there was an order of the wise and powerful, who used magic but also made sure it was practiced safely. We were invaded by a neighbouring kingdom who had turned to dark sorcery. After many years we defeated them but the damage done to the land and our people was enormous. All was poisoned and Alberetor was abandoned. Those of our people that came to this land swore against the use of magic”.

“Wratha!” Etana hisses aloud.  The Firstborn use the ancient magic, Wyrhta, the power that creates. Wyrhta gives life, shapes and spawns, makes the Wilds thrive. Men are not satisfied, they wish to control, they desire power and seek Wielda, the power that rules. As Wielda’s appetitive and violence grows it spawns Wratha, the power that reacts. Wratha grows boundless, furious, blind in its hunger until it yields a black fruit.

“The ancestors of the broken used the magic of Wielda and destroyed themselves through Wratha? Just like the Darklords in Alberetor. The artifacts I took to the Elder Mystics, they were Wielda and the the visions I saw of the destruction of the Ironlands, this was Wratha! But you use a different magic, an older magic that does not bring Wratha. If you taught me this then it could not lead to Wratha, even if I wanted it to”.

Haf feels excitement bubbling inside him, does this mean that the people of the Ironlands could have the blessings of magic without the inevitable corruption, as has happened seemingly time and again?

Etana is silent for long moments. Perhaps. We must see if you desire Wielda. 

The mystic rises and begins packing his belongings to travel, without asking Haf does also. Soon they are travelling north, to a destination unknown by Haf. He has learned that when Etana does not volunteer information to keep patient and follow his lead. They travel for a day and Haf feels that the path is familiar. When they reach the area of the forest where there is a void in the spirit of the Wilds, Haf suspects their destination. After another days travel they arrive at the ruins of the five towers where Haf had camped overnight previously. Etana senses that Haf knows the place and is perturbed. You have been here before.

“Yes, whilst travelling to the circle of Elders. I took shelter in the low tower, I was troubled by bad dreams and did not investigate further. I guessed this ruin was once made by the men who lived in the Ironlands before my people. It seemed strange that it was in the Deep Wilds”.

Yes, it was built to harness the power of the Wilds. Not Wyrhta, but rather to wrest the vitality of the Wilds into Wielda. The Firstborn did not allow them. There is still the shadow of Wielda here…

“and Wratha“, Haf finishes for him. “The spirit of the Wilds is distant, even absent here. Does Wratha weaken Wyrhta?” 

Wratha corrupts all. When the power of creation is forced, bent, used in violence, creation pushes back and is itself damaged. 

”Can it be healed or restored?”

Creation can be harmed in many ways. Usually it heals itself.  Sometimes when it is hurt it does not know how to heal, such as the lake and the Elk. This corruption can be cleansed. Wratha consumes all. It can be contained but does not fade.

 

The mystic and apprentice make camp and Etana is more forthcoming than usual, sharing many tales of the history of the Firstborn and their interactions with the ancestors-now-broken.

[Make camp: weak hit, +1 spirit]

They share good cheer, knowing that tomorrow’s unspoken test may have significant consequences. Haf sleeps a deep, dreamless sleep and feels ready to face the ruins. In the morning they break fast and spend some time in mental communion before Haf broaches their reason for being here. “What would you have me do here to show I can resist the lure of Wielda?”

Inside the ruins lies an object of power, used by men to channel the vitality of the Wilds into Wielda. The Firstborn were able to cut off its connection to the Wilds, that it could no longer draw its essence, but could not destroy it. You are a man, you will be able to attune to its magic and make it cease. You will need to use Wielda – you are not trained in it but have the gift for magic, it will respond to you. The power of the magic will expose you to Wratha. If you can resist the corruption it will fade and I will teach you. If not you will leave the Deep Wilds and take the Wratha with you.

Etana looks expectantly at Haf, he is uncertain what the Elf expects but notices the mystic’s gaze upon his knife and chuckles. “Yes, I will swear to do this on iron! It is not your way but you know it is sacred to the Ironlanders”.

[Swear an Iron vow – dangerous (turn off the artifact and face Wratha): weak hit, +1 momentum]

Haf takes out his blade and swears his oath then gathers his belongings and strides towards the ruined towers.

[Discover a dangerous site: Ancient Ruin – The Five Towers]

Haf decides entering the small tower with the ground level entrance is the best place to start. When he stayed here previously he only gave the insides a cursory inspection and now sets about exploring it thoroughly.

[Delve the depths +wits: weak hit, mark progress and reveal a danger]

[Reveal a danger: Denizen (Chitter) protects an ancient secret]

Haf can clearly see the staircase winding around the side of the tower crumbles away before reaching the ruins of the floor above. He guesses that the stairs may have also once descended and clears away debris from the floor. A stone trap door is revealed, Haf clears the sediment from the seal and lifts it open. He is immediately struck by the smell of dank, musty air… and something else he can’t place that wrinkles his nose. He lights a torch and slowly descends. The stairwell cuts straight down for a short distance before becoming a corridor constructed of stone blocks. Haf follows it until it reaches a small chamber lit by a faint blue glow. The earlier smell is acrid here. As Haf cautiously enters he sees the light emanates from a doorway lined with heavy stone lintels carved with runes. Large insect like creatures crawl around the doorway, attracted by the light and energy pulsing forth. Haf guesses this is some form of portal – perhaps it will take him directly to the artifact he is seeking, but he will need to pass through the swarm of creatures to enter. Haf sees a mundane exit on the other side of the chamber and decides to sneak past without attracting the creatures‘ attention.

[Face danger +shadow: strong hit, +1 momentum]

The creatures’ attention is absorbed by the portal and Haf makes the nerve wracking walk across the chamber unmolested. 

[Feature: You transition into a new theme (Corrupted)]

The passage continues in poor repair into the darkness. Time has taken its toll: the walls sag, tree roots grow through the ceiling and the flagstone floor is uneven and hazardous. The air has the faint hint of death and Haf continues with trepidation.

[Delve the depths +wits: weak hit, mark progress and find an opportunity]

[Find an opportunity: +1 momentum, you find a secure area]

Haf weaves through crumbling passage and passes collapsed chambers before reaching stairs upwards. He ascends into another of the towers. The tower is mostly intact and the middle level has stone doors that both seem sturdy: if Haf needs to secure himself later this would make an ideal place.

The level above has an exit leading onto a flyway across to the neighbouring tower. The stonework still seems secure and Haf nervously edges across.

[Delve the depths +wits: strong hit, mark progress and find an opportunity]

[Find an opportunity: the terrain favours you or you find a hidden path, +1 to next move]

Haf crosses into the next tower which is in decay but seems intact enough to enter. There are stairs leading up and Haf sees blue light shining from the room above. He ascends and finds a bare chamber with a a blue lit portal similar to in the tunnels below. He hopes his hunch is correct and this will take him where he seeks… and steps through.

[Deleve the depths +wits: strong hit, mark progress and find an opportunity]

[Find an opportunity: An aspect of the history or nature of this place is revealed]

Haf experiences a flash of blue light and emerges into a large round chamber. The air is stale and the shadows seem unnaturally deep despite several other blue lit portals lining the walls. Stairs ascend the walls to a chamber above. As Haf climbs he notices inscriptions in the walls following the path of the stairs.

[Oracles – feature aspect: broken, feature focus: death]

The carvings are time weathered and clogged with mouldy growth. They are pictographs and tell the story of the construction and purpose of this site. Haf cannot be sure, but the magic wrought here seems to grant  some power over death. The tales Haf was raised on of the Darklords returning their soldiers to life time and time again as walking corpses come to mind. Restoring life, even if benevolently intentioned goes against nature and is open to being abused. He can only assume this is the source of Wratha darkening this place. 

[Locate your objective: strong hit, +1 to next move]

Haf crests the stairs and enters a smaller chamber. The room pulses with blackness, the source of corruption tainting this whole region of the Deep Wilds. On a raised platform in the middle of the room grows a small tree, its wilted and gnarled branches filling the room. In contrast to the tree’s sickly aspect, large bright red berries teeming with vitality hang low and Haf has to suppress the urge to reach out and pluck a fruit. The room thrums with magical energy emanating from the plant and Haf feels vaguely nauseated. 

Haf opens himself to the sight and for a moment he is staggered by the presence of corruption made clear to him. Fighting a growing despair and fear he reaches out his awareness to the blighted tree.

[Scene challenge – formidable: The tree of false life]

[Face danger +wits: miss with a match, mark countdown, take 3 harm]

[Endure harm: miss, -1 momentum, wounded]

The tree is rank with corrupt vitality, a parody of the spirit of the Wilds. Haf senses it as a living, almost aware presence, seeking life to consume. His mind reels and stomache purges as it sucks on his life essence. His knees buckle but he does not hit the ground – the leaves of the plant have wrapped around his arm, burning into his flesh and drawing him closer as they drain at his life…

[Face danger +wits: strong hit, mark 2 progress, +1 momentum]

…Haf engages in a desperate mental wrestle with the artifact, asserting himself as the wielder of its power rather than its sustenance – though its leaves remain fused with his skin. Its magic now lies within his grasp and he feels a rush of power…

[Face danger +heart: weak hit, mark 2 progress, mark countdown, -1 spirit]

[Endure stress: weak hit, press on]

…As Wielda flows through Haf his mind races with the ways he could use the power to further his goals: ensure the safety of Lostwater, defeat Korva, bring peace and security to the Ironlands… He wrests his mind from that path, knowing that it is falsehood. 

Haf lets his mind observe the power of the artifact from a distance, trying to assess how to control it…

[Secure an advantage +wits: weak hit, +1 momentum]

…Haf is not trained in the use of magic or how to wield this artifact, but the sight shows him where the tree is vulnerable. He reaches forth with his mind, trying to seal off its capacity to draw life…

[Face danger +wits: weak hit, mark 2 progress, mark countdown, -1 spirit]

[Endure stress: strong hit, -1 momentum, +1 spirit]

…Haf focuses his awareness and wills the tree’s connection to the Wilds to completely close off. The artifact resists, fighting for its existence but Haf eventually gains the upper hand…

[Face danger +wits: weak hit, mark 2 progress, mark countdown, -1 spirit]

[Endure stress: miss, -1 momentum] 

[Scene challenge progress roll: miss with a match, take 3 stress]

[Endure stress: miss, -1 momentum, shaken]

…the artifact senses its pending destruction and pushes back against Haf, trying to dominate his will. He is flooded with corruption as the artifact pushes into his mind. The black sickness invading Haf threatens to completely overtake him. Summoning the last of his reserves all he can do is sever his mental connection to the artifact and stagger from the chamber, his body and mind nearly overcome. He stumbles down the stairs and makes for the portal. 

[Escape the depths +wits: miss]

Haf staggers through the portal and emerges in a room bathed in blue. An acrid reek and clicking, chattering movement all around him alerts Haf that in his haste he has taken the wrong portal and exited amidst the insect creatures. He tries to sprint away before they can react to his presence.

[Face danger +edge: miss with a match]

Haf trips on a jutting flagstone and sprawls on the floor as the disturbed creatures swarm to attack the source of disruption… 

[Enter the fray (dangerous) +wits: miss, burn momentum —> strong hit, you have initiative, +2 momentum]

…Haf scrambles to his feet as the chitinous creatures surround him, sweeping up his dropped staff and swinging it around in a wide arc, driving the creatures back momentarily. He feints at the creatures between him and the passage ahead, attempting to force an opening…

[Secure an advantage +wits: strong hit, +1 to follow up move]

…the Chitters scuttle back and Haf tries to flee through the momentary opening…

[Face danger +edge: weak hit, take 1 harm]

[Endure harm: weak hit, press on]

…Haf barrels through as the creatures close in and snap at his legs with their mandibles. They draw blood but his desperation pushes him past them, down the hall and up the stairs to the outside world. He staggers outside in the direction of the campsite before collapsing in a heap.

Haf wakes up inside a structure and is disoriented. Etana appears, motioning Haf to calm. Looking around Haf realises that he is inside the mystic’s dwelling. He tries to move and feels sore and weak to his core. The realisation that he failed to deactivate the artifact hits and he begins to apologise to Etana. “…I will leave as soon as I am able to travel”.

That is not required unless you wish it. You were not able to stop the source of Wratha, but it was a task beyond your capacity. I should not have set you to it. However,  you were able to resist the lure of Wielda. That is enough. 

“I swore to cleanse the Wilds of the taint and I failed at that”. 

Then I will teach you to call to Wyrhta so you will succeed when you try again.

 

 

Haf spends the next month or two – time loses meaning living outside any of his usual routines or bearings – recuperating, reflecting on his actions and learning the rudiments of calling upon Wyrhta. The mistrust between himself and Etana has been mended and the Elf focuses on teaching him magic that will aid in combating corruption

[Take a hiatus]

[Change Vow rank to formidable – Destroy the tree of false life]

[Advance a threat: Mark menace]

[Learn from your failures: strong hit, 3 experience, +3 momentum]

[Advance: Lightbearer, spend 3 experience]

[Ritual – Lightbearer: weak hit]

 

As they come to the end of Haf’s teaching, their shared meditations on the Wilds reveals troubling news. The corruption leaching into the Wilds surrounding the towers is beginning to spread. Somehow Haf’s attempt to destroy the artifact within has awakened it, perhaps Haf himself has provided a conduit to the woods beyond the wards trapping the corruption in place. Haf resolves that he will make good on his vow, but is troubled by the fear that he will again fail despite his new knowledge. He asks Etana if there is anything else that can be done to reseal the wards or destroy the artifact. 

[Gather information +wits: strong hit, +2 momentum]

Etana guides Haf’s awareness of the Wilds to the west. The place he is shown teems with viridescence in his sight  – with Wyrhta as he now recognises it. At first Haf struggles to understand what he is looking at before he realises it is a body of water. Etana explains that it is a lake much like the one Haf cleansed of corruption, only it has never been tainted and overflows with the power of creation. Haf is instantly intrigued and plys the Elf with questions but Etana gives half answers before Haf gives up, knowing the mystic will not be drawn. Etana tells him that if he can harness the Wyrhta within the lake he may be able to use it to combat the corrupt artifact within the towers. When Haf asks how this could be done Etana tells him matter of factly to use the ritual he has trained him in. Haf resigns himself that he will need to figure this out for himself. When Haf states he will depart for the lake in the morning Etana requests Haf give him his mask until then. Haf complies and realises that he has not removed it now for weeks and feels almost naked without it. 

In the morning the Elves of the village gather to see Haf off and sing their hymn to the Wilds, bestowing it’s blessing upon him. Haf joins the song, reflecting on how much a source of routine and comfort it has become to him. Etana re-presents Haf with his mask which has been fitted with pieces of the sacrificed Elk’s horns, mimicking it’s own. Haf takes the mask with reverence, he can only guess at the exact significance of the horns but senses he has been granted a great honour. He places it on and then leaves – the Elves have no ritual farewells in the way of humans, he is beginning to sense that it is because they do not see themselves as ever being truly apart.

[Undertake a dangerous journey (as a Delve): weak hit, mark progress, -1 supply]

From communing with the Wilds, Haf has a clear sense of his journey ahead. He travels for a few days to the west and north, bringing him near the zone of corruption. As he enters into the absence of the spirit of the Wilds he realises it extends much further from the towers than before and he is forced to negotiate terrain reliant on his bodily senses that he had previously passed through whilst in connection with the Wilds. He is able to do so without great struggle but the travel is slower and he cannot rely on easy forage. Being cut off from the Wilds feels alien after what is only a short period of his life – he can only imagine the impact it holds for the Firstborn

Haf slows his pace deliberately, carefully scouting the lay of the land for the best path and potential dangers to avoid.

[Secure an advantage +wits: strong hit, +1 to next move, +2 to momentum, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]

[Undertake a journey: strong hit, mark progress, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]

Haf’s skill and experience as a woodsman takes over as a familiar reflex and he is quickly in tune with the terrain in his own way. He skirts the southern edge of the corrupted zone, pressing east with careful confidence for the next few days. He passes a dense grove of ancient trees whose bark has turned black and branches creak ominously. He cannot say what threat they pose but his instincts scream danger and his sight shows they are clearly tainted with Wratha. He give the grove wide berth and continues on.

[Undertake a journey: weak hit with “1” on action die, -1 spirit,  mark progress, -1 supply, reveal a danger]

[Endure stress: strong hit, -1 momentum, +1 spirit]

[Reveal a danger: theme (corrupted) – denizen (Husk) controls dark magic]

The area of the forest affected by the blight continues to stretch to the west – he does not know if it was always this extensive but fears it has spread. Whilst cut off from the spirit of the Wilds he finds his sight is becoming more sensitive to noticing the presence of Wratha. Whilst this helps him avoid danger it also takes its toll mentally. At night he is exhausted and is running down his supplies eating ravenously to restore himself. Travelling alone he cannot take watch and relies on camping in a secure nook out of sight. However against creatures of darkness, drawn to life itself, this is no defence…

Haf wakes in the middle of the night to a shuffling sound not far from where he has been sleeping. He startles and peers into the darkness. He can see nothing but senses a presence – somehow dark even in the blackness. He calls forth a mote of light from the ritual Etana has trained him in. A human like figure staggers back muttering and Haf looks on in horror. It appears to be a man, or what was once a man, now lost to corruption and more dead than living. It sniffs at him like an animal and then throws its head unleashing a piercing wail, chilling Haf to the soul.

[Face danger +heart: weak hit, -1 spirit]

[Endure stress: strong hit, -1 momentum, +1 spirit]

Haf experiences a moment of panic, alone in the depths of the Wilds facing a creature born of Wratha. Then unable to look away from the creature his horror turns to disgust and even pity. He reaches inside to the light he has drawn from Wyrhta and tries to drive the creature away into the night.

[Compel +heart, +2 from lightbearer: strong hit, -1 light, +1 momentum]

The mote of light expands into a searing white light illuminating the woods all around and showing the creature to be a withered pathetic thing. Haf strides towards it with confidence and it scrambles away, muttering and shrieking to itself.

Whilst the creature has been driven off, Haf does not feel safe remaining here and quickly gathers his belongings and travels into the night guided by the sorcerous light. [-1 light]

 Haf travels on into the next day before it seems he has gotten past the area of blight. He senses his connection to the Wilds return and presses on with renewed spirits.

[Undertake a journey: strong hit, mark progress, find an opportunity, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]

[Find an opportunity: this area provides an opportunity to scavenge, forage, or hunt]

[Resupply: strong hit, +2 supply]

[Reach your destination: miss with matched 10’s, mark Menace]

Despite his lack of sleep Haf presses on for the remainder of the day. An ease settles back into his stride and he finds ready forage on his path. That night he sleeps in the open under the stars, feeling secure in his connection with the Wilds. Early in the next day he comes across a small stream. He is able to tickle a few trout and decides to follow the stream, hoping it will lead to the lake. The next day his hopes are dashed as another stream from the north meets the one he has been following, its waters brackish and smelling of rot. The combined creek waters becomes black and he senses the trace of Wratha with the sight. He continues following the water until he reaches the lake later that day, but his fears are revealed: the corruption has tainted the entire lake. 

Haf sits despondent by the lakes edge pondering what to do next. Helpless anger rises up in him: before he left the Elves, Etana had shown him the lake abundant with Wyrhta. The taint of Wratha may have only reached here days ago, but now his hope to find a solution to the source of the Wratha has been cut off. If the corruption continues to spread it could have a catastrophic effect. As Haf notices his thoughts turning dark he realises that he should not be staying here. Regardless of where he heads to he must get moving. He decides simply getting away from the corruption by the quickest route is his first priority and starts hustling at a slow jog to the south. 

[Face danger +wits: strong hit, +1 momentum]

The corruption is localised to the lake – for now – and after an hours travel Haf feels his connection to the spirit of the Wilds restored. He seats himself and after spending a few minutes in the meditative exercises Etana has taught him to focus his mind he reaches out to the Wilds with the sight.

[Gather information: strong hit with a match, +2 momentum, +1 momentum from sighted]

Haf lets his awareness join with the Wilds and float free of his body to explore the expanse of life and Wyrhta across the Deep Wilds. He can see the presence of Wratha leaking outwards from the towers, slowly spreading and poisoning. He can see the nearby lake, its nature completely changed from little over a week ago. Further afield he can see the lake that he helped to cleanse, it emanates Wyrhta, but it is weak, fledgling. Suddenly it occurs to Haf – he knows of two other lakes far to the east that he suspects hold or once held similar power, perhaps there are others in the Deep Wilds. He opens his awareness wider, looking for concentrations of Wyrhta. There are several others, the nearest and most powerful is to the north and east of where he is. Focusing his attention closer he realises it is the glade of the Elder Mystics.  A thought occurs to Haf: why did Etana not send him there to begin with? It is further than the lake from the village, but surely the danger warranted seeking the involvement of the Elders? Had Etana simply underestimated the level of danger or did he have reason for not seeking their aid? Haf decides these questions are meaningless, even if Etana were before him right now he would likely not answer them. He decides that travelling to the glade of the Elder Mystics is the best option. Looking upon the Wilds he can see that he must travel across the corrupted zone but guesses he could be at the glade within a week. Haf exits his trance and with a sigh that is half resignation, half resolution he gathers his travelling supplies and heads off.