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”.

He watches the young man carefully, aware he may bear him ill will and does not seem to be of sound mind. He slowly lowers his pack and takes out some food, proferring it to the man. Althus readily accepts and crams food down his throat with urgency. Haf watches silently until Althus has eaten and drunk his fill, then casually remarks, “you’re a long way from Ravenscliff…”
 
Anger briefly flashes across Althus’s face, which he quashes with visible effort before his shoulders slump. “I’m sure you already know why, is this a test?”
 
“I could make some guesses, but you may be placing greater knowledge and intent upon me than exists…”
 
Haf is interrupted by Althus’s laughter, bitter and slightly unhinged. “A stranger comes from nowhere and in the course of one day changes everything. Then months later in the midst of…”, he gestures expansively, “wherever in the hells we are the stranger turns up. Yet he would have me believe it is all… what, coincidence?”
 
Haf goes to speak, pauses and looks upon the young man. He is dirty, emancipated and unkempt. There is anger, but mostly fear in the way he holds himself. However underneath the defensive exterior Haf senses expectation. 

 

“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…”

[Compel +heart, weak hit]
 
Althus stares down Haf with wild eyes, “Why did you come to Ravenscliff? Why are you here?”
 
“I told the truth, my passing by Ravenscliff was pure happenstance. I was travelling west to the Deep Wilds. That is where I have been these last months, living with the Elves.”
 
Althus recoils with shock but Haf continues, glad for the chance to share his experiences with another human. He tells the incredulous young man the tale of his time in the Deep Wilds. Althus is spellbound and oddly his body language softens despite the strangeness of Haf’s story. 

 

“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.”

Althus is clearly more curious than afraid. “Show me”, he demands. 

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.

[Gather information +wits: weak hit, +1 momentum, +1 momentum from Sighted]
[Oracles – action: hide, theme: stranger]
 
At first all is stillness – absence – but Haf takes a breath to steady himself and let Wyrhta reveal itself rather than searching for it. Slowly he begins to sense a faint lifeforce, different to the pervasive presence of the spirit of the Wilds – it does not have the same strength or sentience but there is nonetheless a clear field of life energy, of Wyrhta here. He senses it more clearly amongst the trees but even in the plains beyond there is still vitality and power weaved throughout all life there. He cannot access it in the same way, it will take time to learn how to commune with it, but his heart soars with the realisation that the Ironlands may not be so different to the Deep Wilds after all. 

 

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”.

No sooner has Haf asked than Althus opens himself completely, giving a rambling, emotional account of the last few months and his life beforehand. He holds nothing back, voicing his fears, shames and hopes, treating Haf like a trusted confidant. It seems he has truly repented for his past misdeeds and left Ravenscliff out of shame and a desire to find some kind of redemption, although clearly without a plan and the last few months have been more penitence than personal change. When he is done he looks at Haf expectantly, clearly hoping that Haf will have some answer or benediction to bestow upon him. 

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”.

Althus is crestfallen, but nods his head and then extends his hand. “Months ago I would never dreamed of saying this, but I am glad we have met, both at Ravenscliff and now”. 

 

[Sojourn +heart: miss with a match]

[Pay the price: It causes delay or puts you at a disadvantage]
[Oracles – action: support, theme: direction]
 
Haf ends up spending the next month with Althus, passing on what he can in that time of how to secure sustenance and shelter, read the weather and animal spoor, to navigate both plains and forest. Unexpectedly Althus also asks Haf to teach him the meditative exercises he has seen him doing. As they range Haf also continues to explore the feel of Wyrhta in different locales and is becoming more adept at making a fledgling connection. Whilst Haf does not begrudge Althus the time spent with him and feels that at the very least Althus will not starve now, he begins to become restless for the company of those dear to him and feels Althus is becoming overly reliant on him. When Haf broaches returning to their respective travels he is met with hostility from Althus who had not considered that they would be parting ways. Haf points out that returning to Ravenscliff is the only way Althus can truly make amends for his past but  the young man insists he is not yet ready – unspoken is the clear expectation that Haf would be helping him to do this. In anger Althus spits out at him, “you come and go as you please sorcerer, no wonder you trek the wild places alone”
 
Haf is taken aback and has no words of reply – it seems he is not the only one capable of speaking acknowledged truths. They spend the rest of the day in awkward silence and in the morning Haf packs his belongings to travel onwards. Althus avoids his gaze until Haf calls him by name in his strongest seer’s tone. “Althus! …It pains me to break company with you on ill terms but I also have loose threads in my life to attend to. I wish you well on your path, in fact that is partly why I leave – whilst we are together it stops you from pursuing it. It takes a brave man to face their past and change the course of their life. You spoke the truth yesterday. I have oftentimes found it easier to move on than to put down roots. However, that is what awaits me – the chance to make a lasting home for myself. Joining myself to your journey would just be an escape from my own”.
 
[Compel +heart: strong hit, +1 momentum]
 
Althus grudgingly listens to Haf’s words, lets out a sigh and then looks him in the eye. “Very well. Let us both attend to our own fates. My thanks to you and I hope our paths cross again”. He smiles weakly at Haf who returns it with warmth. “Likewise, I suspect that fate will see to it”. Half holds his hand out to Althus…
 
[Forge a bond +heart: weak hit]
[Oracles – action: breach, theme: mysticism]
 
Althus grasps Half’s hand, holding it firmly whilst looking him in the eye. “Your words have twice now changed the course of my life. Before we go our separate ways grant me a third boon. Look into my future and tell me what you see”.
 
Haf steps back instinctively but is held fast by Althus’s muscular grip. He can see that Althus will not surrender his request gracefully. He does not agree but decides to cede to his request. He does not know what the sight will show him, that will be Althus’s responsibility to deal with.
 
[Secure an advantage +wits and pierce the veil: strong hit, +2 momentum, +1 momentum from Sighted]
[Oracles – action: investigate, theme: religion, character role: guard, character descriptor: relaxed]
 
Haf locks eyes with Althus and opens himself to the sight. The man before him fades from view and instead he receives vague images and impression of his fate.
 
“I cannot tell you what direction your path lies from here, but I can see that you will find peace. Within you is the capacity for courage and humility, you will learn how to make use of your strength to serve and protect those weaker than you. Your heart and mind will open to a new way of thinking and believing, the world will be revealed as a different place to you, you will be a man that believes“. 

 

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.

[mark a bond]
 
—-
 
As Althus marches off to the south Haf scans the eastern plains and sky, deciding on his best route from here.
 
[Secure an advantage +wits: weak hit, +1 to next move, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]
[Undertake a journey: strong hit with a match, reach a waypoint, +1 momentum from Wayfinder]
[Oracles – location: spring, descriptor: rich]
 
The last months’ wandering and teaching has taken Haf off his bearings. Though they mostly travelled east, their focus was more on finding supplies and exploring. As a result of undirected roaming and Haf not knowing these horizon spanning plains he is not exactly sure where he is. He knows his path lies east,  but does not know what he will come across in his travels. 

 

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. 

[Make camp: strong hit, +1 spirit, +1 momentum]
[Resupply: miss, burn momentum—> strong hit, +2 supply]
[Oracles – action: withdraw, theme: prize]
 
Haf spends a leisurely day swimming and bathing in the water and discovers that the pool is fed by an underground stream. The pool is the water source for animals from the surrounding area and Haf takes down a drinking deer with his bow. He eats well and smokes what he cannot eat, replenishing his victuals. Whilst he relaxes by his smoking fire he watches the local wildlife and is amazed by the vitality surrounding him. He could easily imagine himself in the Deep Wilds right now and when he opens himself to the sight he can sense the presence of Wyrhta around him. 

 

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.  

[Undertake a journey: strong hit, reach a waypoint +1 momentum from Wayfinder]
[Oracles – location: cairn/grave, descriptor: blighted, action: hunt, theme: opinion]
 
With his new traveling companion trotting by his side Haf continues east with a spring in his step. In many ways the wolf is easier company than Althus had been, it asks nothing of him other than his company. As they travel Haf notices regular signs of ruins. They are of weathered stone, long predating the Ironlanders coming across the sea. He assumes the ancients-now-broken must have once settled these lands densely. He is inclined to steer away from the area – he has not heard tales of broken raiding The Havens, but they could well inhabit the ruins of their old empire. However the weather is turning foul, Haf notices dark clouds on the horizon and feels the charged air that comes before a storm. He continues on his course and when he sees the ruins of a large structure decides to seek out shelter. He guesses it must have once been a castle, although the size dwarfs any Ironlander settlement he has ever visited. The majority of the site is tumbled down and overgrown, however there is a large central building intact enough to serve as makeshift shelter. It’s a lonely and foreboding place, but when the rain and lightning eventually comes he is grateful to have a roof – of sorts – over his head. In the morning they travel on and as they leave the ruined castle Haf finds a rocky path leading straight to the east. It makes for easy travel, but as it continues straight for mile after mile he becomes puzzled. The path seems to be of stone and yet the land around is mostly bare of surface rock. He can only assume that this is a “road”, Keyshia has described these to him, great paths covered in flat rock to facilitate travel between the cities of the ancients. As the path continues it passes by great stone edifices that rise from the ground to the sides of the road. They appear carved, in form both human and beast, but are too weathered and broken to tell their import. For a mile long stretch of the road they appear on both sides every few hundred paces. After most of a days travel the road eventually disappears, becoming less able to be followed until it is no longer there. 

 

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]