When Haf has recovered he seeks out Etana. The mystic is waiting for him. They sit across from each other, make the ritual greetings and enter the meditative exercises they had spent some much time together in before Haf left on his quest. When the exercises are complete they open their eyes, lock gazes and then open their minds to each other. Haf shows the mystic scenes from his journey: the growing spread of corruption; the Elder Mystics drawing on Wielda and Wratha; the ruin of the towers; the crystals in the earth below the ruins; his encounter with the Tree of False Life; his success in changing the artifact to consume Wratha.
Etana looks searchingly at Haf. You tasted Wielda but resisted its lure, it was right to teach you. Much damage has been done, perhaps the changes you have wrought to the artifact will undo some of it. Regardless, the Wilds are diminished.
Haf knows this too, he has felt it. He senses deep sadness in Etana but he has not finished. “There is more that I have not shown you. I fear what it might mean, or what should be done.’
“I do not know what the Elder Mystics are. When I first came before them I saw that much power flows through them, but some remains with them. They are… becoming something greater even than they are now. When I went before them again I could see they did not just draw Wyrhta, but Wielda and even Wratha. It had affected them, turned their awareness inwards. When the artifact was changed and it was no longer creating Wielda I sensed their presence. They noticed the change. They hungered.”
[Ask the Oracle – Pick from two possible truths: Etana shares the same concern / is offended at Haf’s disrespect of the Elder Mystics. Roll =97, second possibility is true]
Haf sees the mystic’s posture change and he senses displeasure, anger even. You are human, you do not understand the nature of the Firstborn, especially the Great Ones. You have been shown respect and given training in the ways of Wyrhta, but do not overstep.
[Test your bond: weak hit]
“That is true. As I said, I do not know what the Great Ones are… but I know what I saw. I don’t understand what it meant, but my heart is filled with fear. The Great Ones saw me in that place, I’m not sure it is safe for me to stay in the Wilds. Especially if my friends here do not see the danger.”
Haf takes a deep breath, reaching a hard decision. “I will leave the Deep Wilds. Truth be told it is probably time I return to my people regardless. The gifts extended by your people have humbled me, but as you say, I am not Firstborn. You have my thanks and I hope that I will return.”
Etana is impassive, remaining seated as Haf stands. He gathers his things, making absent minded greetings to the Elves of the village, not quite believing that he is leaving. As he turns to leave he looks upon the village one last time. His heart strings tug and for a moment he reconsiders his decision. He takes a moment to gaze upon the serenity and natural beauty the Elves live in, lets himself dwell in the presence of the spirit of the Wilds, and watches the Elves going about their business. It is like a dream, so far removed from anything he had experienced before coming here. Yet his heart belongs in the Ironlands and with those Ironlanders he has ties of love and blood to. He lets a long breath out, mentally says goodbye and walks from the village.
Haf focuses on his travel, not quite ready to contemplate what has just happened. He heads due east, letting his connection to the spirit of the Wilds guide him. He loses himself in contemplation of the woods as he passes, realising that he may never have the chance to walk through the Deep Wilds again, or experience the intimate sense of connection to nature that has become part of the everyday here. The day stretches almost endlessly yet when he reaches the forest’s edge by late afternoon it feels like mere minutes have passed. Haf is not sure what will happen to his connection to the Wilds, or to his ability to use the magic he has learned. He sits under the eaves of the last great trees and dwells in the spirit of the Wilds. He lets his mind roam, exploring the life around him and communing with the sentience the Deep Wilds possess. Attuned to the flows of power he notices a strong presence of Wyrhta to the east. Looking out with the sight he can see a great field of power stretching north to south. He assumes this must be the protective magics that prevent intruders from entering the Wilds. Before leaving, he looks to the rays of sunlight streaming through the canopy of foliage and completes his ritual to capture its essence.
[Ritual (Lightbearer) +wits: strong hit]
Haf stands and looks around one last time, swallows his misgivings and strides forth, back into the Ironlands. Plains dotted with copses of trees extend before him, and to the north the land rises in rocky hills. After a short walk he crosses the nearby river at a ford, passing through the protective field as he does. The presence of the Wilds, the background to his waking life for what feels like a small lifetime, is suddenly gone. Haf knew this may happen but is still shocked and feels a yawning sense of loss in the pit of his stomach. What have I done…
Haf looks back towards the vast woods stretching as far as he can see on the western horizon. He contemplates returning for a moment, but just as quickly realises that his way now lies to the east. Life in the Deep Wilds is different to anything he has experienced before, but that time has passed, for now at least. He turns to the plains and hills and draws in a deep breath. Before coming here this was the only reality he knew. It is not the same, perhaps it is lesser, but there is still majesty and beauty here… and people, people he cares about. As much as the Elves welcomed and honoured him in their way, he has felt apart, reliant on his connection to the Wilds to not feel empty and alone. The way of life he has tasted in the Deep Wilds has been amazing and revelatory, but it is not a way for a human to live beyond a season or two.
Looking ahead to the Ironlands he starts walking. I probably need to decide where I am headed, although “east” should suffice for now! He decides that Lostwater should be his final destination, though he would like to track down Delkash and Keyshia on his way if possible.
[Undertake a formidable journey to Lostwater: strong hit, reach a waypoint, +1 momentum from Wayfarer]
[Oracles – location: path, descriptor: diverse]
These are lonely lands, overshadowed by the vastness of the Deep Wilds and uninhabited by Ironlanders. They are also strangely absent of animal life – Haf noticed this on his approach and attributed it to the protective magics intended to turn away the approach of men. He makes a comfortless camp not far beyond the river and is asleep before he has the chance to mull over the days events. In the morning he decamps quickly, eager to commence his long journey.
Haf quickly settles into the rhythm of travel. His steady footfalls lull him into a trancelike state and he drifts in and out of reverie. The next few days pass in distracted contemplation of life before and during his time in the Deep Wilds and imaginings of what he may be returning to. As his daydreaming tails off and his focus gradually returns to his surrounds he notices signs of life all around him: birds both overhead and their song in nearby trees; nests and burrows of rodents; remains of some larger beast that looks to have been taken down by wolves; game trails and a rarely used track walked by humans. He realises that he will need to have his wits more about him, the travel so far has been uneventful through luck rather than effort. Haf considers following the track in search of an Ironlander settlement. Despite feeling a pressing need to be in the company of his own kind he turns the idea aside and even contemplates taking his path into the hills to the north to remain away from human habitation. In the end he decides to continue the most direct course east, he will let fate decide when he comes into the company of other Ironlanders. However he determines to be more aware of his surrounds and the terrain ahead, taking regular stops to scour the horizon for any signs of life and changes in the land.
[Secure an advantage +wits: weak hit, +2 momentum, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]
[Undertake a journey: strong hit, reach a waypoint, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]
[Oracles – location: dark, descriptor: woods, meet a fellow traveller – Althus, an obsessed (action: surrender, theme: prize) leader. His current goal is to secure provisions, his current stance to you is neutral]
The plains seem without end and Haf finds the travel as challenging as the most rugged hills or forest in its own way. Retaining his focus requires constant effort and he doesn’t have enough familiarity with this terrain to keep his supplies easily replenished. He spies a large wood on the horizon and heads towards it, hoping to find some easier forage. Whilst the woods are nothing compared to the ancient vastness of the Deep Wilds he still finds being amongst dense trees comforting. He is able to top up his travelling supplies and is contemplating making camp here overnight when he hears noise ahead. He cautiously investigates and when he gets closer is sure he can hear human speech. He stalks up on what turns out to be a lone man, talking to himself as he looks through the underbrush. The man looks haggard and is completely ignorant of Haf’s presence. Haf watches in silence. As best he can tell the man is looking for food, but he appears to have had limited success and is eating indiscriminately. He decides to try and help, clears his throat and steps into the open. The man responds in confusion and then panic, his eyes wide as he backs away from him. Haf realises suddenly that he still wears his mask of Elven wood and takes it off, urging the man to calm. The man’s panic settles before he then looks at Haf with even greater puzzlement. “You…” he mutters, shaking his head in disbelief. Haf looks more closely and realises that this is the young man who had once hounded the young Mistress of Ravens out of Ravenscliff
[Compel +heart: strong hit, +1 momentum]
“…Althus? That is your name, yes? Believe me, I am as surprised to see you as you are me”.
“I cannot dispute the effect my coming had on your life, but I also know that fate is greater than any of us. Perhaps it was intended that we meet again here, but not by my planning. I could look into your aura and see what has happened and perhaps what lies before you, but I would rather hear your tale by your own words…”
“So, you are a sorcerer then?’
“I guess you could describe me that way, although I have only begun on that path.” Haf picks up his Elven mask and shows it to Althus. “Importantly, the magic I can call on is of the Elves. It is not the same as the Darklords or even the Ordo Magica wielded. You need not fear me.”
Haf is surprised but elects to do so, more than anything to see if he can still access Wyrhta outside the Deep Wilds. He closes his eyes and centres himself, then releases a measure of the light that he has captured [-1 light]. He hears Althus’s gasp then opens his eyes to see the woods around them lit as if in broad daylight. Haf can’t help but smile. Althus briefly forgotten, he places his mask on and reaches out with the sight, seeking the presence of Wyrhta here.
Haf turns to Althus with a warm smile. “Thank you for asking, this is the first time I have drawn on the magic since leaving the Elves, I feared I would not be able to. I have told my tale, I would like to hear yours and do what I may to return a gift to you”.
Haf smiles sadly, “I cannot offer you answers to what you seek, that would be walking your path for you. I can however teach you some woodcraft so that you don’t die out here! Perhaps some human company for a while will do us both good if you can bear it”.
[Sojourn +heart: miss with a match]
Althus seems both satisfied and underwhelmed. He looks searchingly at Haf, who remains impassive, before slowly nodding his head. “Very well, that is something. I wish you the best on your journey too. I hope you find peace and a place to stay”. They exchange a warm embrace before shouldering their gear and turning to leave on their own paths.
After a few days of uneventful trekking due east Haf comes across a wide but shallow stream. He decides to follow it along its course from the north, hoping to pass terrain familiar from his westward journey. After a further days travel the stream ends at a great pool. There is no water feeding into the pool, it appears the source of the stream. It’s a site of natural beauty and an ideal camp site, he decides to stay for a day and investigate the source of the water.
Haf notices his smoking meat has attracted the attention of one of the locals. A rangy wolf is sniffing and approaching boldly. Haf watches with amusement until he realises with a double take that it is the same wolf that had tailed him west to the Deep Wilds. He chuckles and calls out, waving a piece of venison. The wolf comes close and Haf tosses it the reward, which is snapped up midair. Hag guesses the wolf is still without a pack by its spare frame and shares his hunt freely with the wolf, which appears to recognize him despite his mask of whisperwood. [-1 supply] With that their close connection is restored, the rupture in their friendship caused by the Elven wards and the intervening months forgotten. They wolf sleeps nearby and as Haf readies himself to journey on in the morning it rouses itself in anticipation.
As Haf and the wolf continue their travel they notice greater signs of animal life. The former lands of the ancients-now-broken had been strangely quiet, more obviously now that they have left them. They are both of a mind to hunt for their dinner and when they spot a small herd of bison the wolf looks at Haf with what looks like a grin before taking off in a sprint. The wolf takes a wide arc around the herd and it is not until many minutes later when it lets out a distant howl that they become aware of its presence. They move away from the wolf’s howls and it slowly tails them, howling every minute or two. The herd is driven towards Haf’s location and when Haf realises what the wolf is doing he finds a good spot to fire upon them as they pass by him.
[Resupply: strong hit, +2 supply]
Haf secures himself behind a small stand of low shrubs and takes aim on the closest bison as they pass by him. He is able to put an arrow through its foreleg and a few more in its neck. They rest of the herd scatters but the stuck bison cannot keep up. The wolf circles around it, driving it back towards Haf. As he emerges from cover and nocks an arrow the wolf dives in at its rear ankle, latching its jaws on and half pulling it down. Haf has a clear shot and puts an arrow in its throat.
They feast together that night and the act of hunting and sharing their kill lowers the last of the wolf’s reticence towards Haf. It curls up next to Haf as they go to sleep that night.
[Advance: Hound asset (reskinned as Wolf) – cost 3 experience]