Part 23: 12-1: Our Steps to the NightUPDATE 23: OUR STEPS TO THE NIGHT
When we last left off, we were trying to figure out what to do with the friendly-seeming stonesinger.
: Ask it what those things were.
The Valka again makes unfamiliar sounds like a skald trying to find the right tune and the stonesinger responds.
: He says they are...a nightmare. Then something about mercy and he thanks you. Their language is difficult for me, but I can learn more from him once he is healed.
: And where do you plan to heal him?
: In a cart on our way to Manaharr.
: I want to hear more. Let's get him in a cart.
: This is a mistake. This isn't like you. We kill those things, not invite them into camp!
The shieldmaiden walks off instead of saying anything else. Zefr looks at you.
: She'll get over it.
Zefr thanks you again as the stonesinger is lifted into a cart. He hums something you cannot understand.
And so we continue our journey, one wounded stonesinger stronger.
Soon after, it turns out Zefr's lost.
But our stonesinger...friend?...navigates us back to "our world."
Sure enough, we seem to be reaching the surface.
A good number of fighters, and even clansmen from Bindal, run for the exit without looking back. Folka says nothing, but her silence says everything. Everyone continues moving forward, the fear of the warped, twisted creatures fresh on their mind. You notice something strange about the light coming from the exit - it is not pure daylight.
A bunch of fighters and clansmen disaffect. Screw 'em. Fewer mouths to feed.
Almost out...but apparently something's wrong on the surface...
The clouds are purple and there's a giant dark...orb?...on the horizon.
: What in the depths am I looking at, Valka?
: I...don't know.
And on that reassuring note...
It's time to head back to Alette's group.
Bolverk's Ravens basically went through the mountain range between Bindal and Brunthal underground. They're not that far from Alette's caravan now.
Barely a couple days south, Alette is in Lundar, recuperating.
He tosses aside a whittled stick. "And I doubt we'll get out of here without talking to that old man again. I think his name's Josurr. Seems he's the temporary leader since their governor was killed."
There's no market in Lundar. It was destroyed when we chose to save civilians last chapter.
: I want to know about you and Derdriu.
He whips his tail and stands taller, prouder.
: Derdriu...mate. Me hers. Hers...mine. When food much...again, strong young for Derdriu and me.
Oddleif looks at you with arched eyebrows.
You smile and shrug before looking back at Ro'Ech.
: Why did you attack other horseborn?
His eyes dart around, and he repeats your words silently, slowly, before preparing his response.
: Other like me...wrong. Friend no.
You look at Oddleif to see if she undestands, but she only shakes her head a bit.
: Fight...friend no. Other wrong.
: You fought them because they're not your friends?
Ro'Ech squints while studying Oddleif's mouth moving.
: Friend no.
: If you're going to join us, you have to follow orders.
He doesn't seem to understand your words, but your tone makes him step back a pace.
: You are not in trouble. But we are a herd. Alette is our leader.
Oddleif points to you and speaks slowly.
: We follow orders from leader. You follow orders from leader.
You cannot be sure how much Ro'Ech understands. His jaw clenches and he stands straighter. He snorts and kicks up dirt with a hoof.
: He doesn't seem to like that, does he?
: No, but he'll learn to appreciate it.
: I'm glad a I had a chance to talk to you, Ro'Ech.
Ro'Ech simply stares at you. Everyone feels awkward at the inability to communicate, so you smile at him.
: Thank you.
He taps a hoof to the ground a few times before trotting off.
: My best guess is there are different herds like clans, but they don't really get along.
: Maybe this herd attacking Lundar was just a particular enemy.
She smiles and leaves you to your confusion.
...maybe Rugga's right. Having this many wildcards in the caravan is going to be a challenge. Or a danger.
Anyway, let's see what old man Josurr wants.
: You know we're heading to Arberrang. I've been very clear about that.
: But what if those dredge return? Or those flea-ridden horseborn?
: I'm not sure about the horseborn, but you can count on more dredge.
: They're running from something. Same as us.
: But you're running from them. What are they running from?
: That's what we'd all like to know.
Josurr's eyes dart around for a moment.
: Does that mean you'll take us with you?
: Are you ready to sew your banner into ours?
: Wait a minute, girl. You may have charmed a few other towns into that banner, but this is Lundar.
: Fine. Stay here. We're leaving.
: Great. Then that's settled.
: Josurr, what can you tell us about the Old Wood?
: Is that where you're headed? With this many?
When he sees you nod, his lips purse and move from side to side.
: Well, strange things happen in that place. It's a place where people go missing or come back happier than ever.
: Is it dangerous?
: You charged into a town under attack by horseborn and dredge. I'm not sure what you consider dangerous.
: I guess that means we'll find out.
You agree and call for everyone to move out.
Oh hey, I forgot to edit people back in after the Lundar fight bugged out on losses. Oh well. We get a bunch more clansmen and I think it's probably fine.
We leave Lundar behind, and it turns out that the Old Wood is really pretty.
However, about halfway between Lundar and the cover of the Old Wood, another kragsmen ambush.
Mogr knows this tactic, though. We turtle up and protect both sides.
: It's a game of patience now. If they stick with us, they'll expose themselves and we'll hit them hard.
Nothing comes of it. I guess we chose correctly. Could've sworn I did the same thing in my Rook game only to get slaughtered, but maybe there's a fighter check involved and you can't turtle up with < X fighters. Or maybe it was just bugged. Anyway, we're fine here.
A pity the Old Wood is so dangerous, because it's damned pretty.
: Nothing but game trails into this place. For this many people? I don't like it.
He looks agitated, nervous. Glancing around, you notice the other varl - and even the horseborn - acting similarly.
: Tight places like this don't sit well with us. No room to stand or swing. Just another place I don't belong.
Iver's growing concern with feeling useless is somewhat puzzling, but you keep it to yourself. For all its majesty and storied past filled with legendary hunts, the dense foliage and spore-filled air of the Old Wood feels eerie.
We're barely half a day's march into the woods when this happens.
: Why were you stealing?
Drifters are people without a banner. They are blamed for all sorts of woes, mostly undeserved. The varl and clansmen alike run them off before you can make sense of it all, but you are left wondering what will become of them.
We lose 24 clansmen. And, uh...I think we know what will become of them.
We're now fully into the Old Wood, and the town of Etingbekkr is in the distance.
Ugh, these guys again.
: And if I say no?
"Don't do that," he says plainly.
: Fine, but there better be no trouble.
"We're a rough crowd, right? But we'll keep our distance," he says before whistling. Kragsmen appear all around you, each carrying food and weapons. They nod as they fall in line.
I've never had this event before. Looking at the game code, seems like I got it because we took the muddy path instead of the stone path earlier. The stone path, by the way, is a kragsmen cemetery. They get real upset at us defiling their cemetery and we end up in a war with them.
There's some other stuff too but we'll get to that later.
More importantly, the kragsmen detachment is 100 fighters strong. Our caravan is damn big now.
Oddleif looks concerned.
: I'm not sure if that's the right attitude or not. It keeps them from worrying all the time, but it keeps them from being cautious, too.
: What's the point in caution? Look around. If it is that massive Serpent causing these quakes, it could be an arrow's range away and we'd never know it for all these trees.
His words do little to quash the acrid dread in your gut.
Iver being pretty morose notwithstanding, we reach the outskirts of Etingbekkr unscathed.
: Let's see if we can help.
(This is obviously going to lead to a fight, but we've never turned down a fight previously and we're not going to start now.)
While she doesn't understand your words, your movement toward the village prompts Derdriu to move forward quickly. Only Ro'Ech is able to slow her, and keep her near the caravan.
Your arrival through the smoke is unexpected by the hoofed pillagers. Some unite to hold you off, while others, smeared in blue war paint, flee into the surrounding woods.
All 3 horseborn are required in the party for this fight.
And yeah, I haven't been showing off all the character bios. Sorry. Anyway, yeah. Ro'Ech is only ten years old.
Nothing we haven't seen before, except the horseborn in the back is varl-sized and has a special name. The same name that Scathach mentioned a while back when explaining who some of the enemy horseborn were.
I have kinda gotten tired of overwatching everything. It's effective, sure. But sometimes you just want to smash things with Iver.
Ro'Ech kicks the leader in the face, which will stun him and skip his turn. Mule kick is a great move.
Here's the thing about this battle: there are unending numbers of horseborn and you can farm renown all day if you're so inclined. The battle ends as soon as you kill the leader, but if you don't, every few horseborn that die will summon new ones.
If we'd gotten Eirik to level 6 where he could learn the "Track" ability I'd have maybe farmed a bit since we could have just wasted all the boss's turns. But we didn't, so I didn't.
Honestly, I really did try to maximize kills and eke out a bit more renown, but eventually Trigecannthae, the horseborn enemy leader, gets a turn, wanders into Alette's overwatch, and that's that.
Drops the Gold Bridle, though, which is a ludicrously good item and I think the only item in the first 2 games that you get from an enemy body.
"We can never repay you," the village leader states. "But we will spread word of what you did here today across the woods and hills. Thank you."
It only gets us 5 renown. Turns out you don't really get that much fame when the world is ending and most people who aren't dead are already in your caravan.
Rugga at least likes what we've done, though. And we played hardball with Josurr to get the survivors of Lundar into the caravan. When we hit Arberrang, it'll be with a strong banner--just as he asked.
There's a pretty interesting item in the market here. -5 str attack doesn't reduce your strength but rather just the amount of damage you do on a strength attack. For characters that focus on breaking, it's really good. Yrsa's slag and burn, for example, is independent of strength. I probably should have purchased this actually.
The Gold Bridle is awesome. As soon as I get Iver to 10, he's gonna use it.
We leave Etingbekkr and continue onward.
However, it's not too long before we run into a woman tied to a post, surrounded by some armed men.
: She'll die on her own after that long with nothing to eat or drink.
"That's not on us," the guard responds. "But if you want to set her free we'd be bigger fools than you to get in your way.
: How do you know she's a witch?
Everyone looks at the woman who is grinning a toothless grin. She scratches at the tree bark and calls out the dead gods one by one.
"If that's not enough," the guard says, "she was seen squeezing mistletoe berries into water troughs. I think I heard that makes you sick." The other guards bob their heads in agreement.
: Yrsa, any thoughts?
Yrsa smiles and saunters toward the tied woman. She says a few quiet words to the prisoner and looks her over before returning.
: My suggestion? Burn her and the tree to the ground.
...Well, that's not what I expected. But I know better than to cross Yrsa or expect that doing good will be its own reward.
: I don't like it. But this isn't our concern.
"We don't like it either," the guard says, "but thanks for leaving us to it." As the caravan rolls by, the woman screams curses and hexes, leaving most feeling sorry for her or scared.
We lose morale. Don't know if there's a better way of handling that event.
Despite the woods being incredibly pretty, our morale is really low the deeper we go.
...and suddenly we arrive in an unnamed village.
: Is everything alright here?
: Yes, everything is fine.
An awkward silence hangs in the air.
: Fine, I'll say it. You look like you fought a bear and lost.
: Oh! Do you normally insult those who offer you a place to rest?
: He didn't mean to be rude, but your clothes are torn and you're bleeding.
: Daily chores. The woods keep us busy and are unforgiving if you're not paying attention.
: So it was a beast.
Iver gives you a skeptical look, but says nothing.
: Please, make yourselves at home. WE have good food and strong drink, enough for everyone.
The man begins walking away.
: Wait, what's your name?
He smiles again.
With that, he shuffles away around a building.
Sure, man. We're not staying in your village.
Things get even weirder the further we go in.
: Why is the flower perfect?
"You wouldn't understand," he says. "Colors have meaning and the light is just...it's perfect." The others agree and seem offended by your question.
: Enough. Keep moving.
6 clansmen leave so they can study flowers for the rest of their lives. Which I imagine will be fairly short.
Oh c'mon I befriended you guys!
Since you haven't seen them in any other battle. War bears have a lot of strength and also you have to take out their armor before you can do any strength damage. They're like Folka. Only dangerous.
Iver with the Gold Bridle is gonna be nuts. When he crits, he just absolutely mangles things.
Really not much to talk about in this fight. Just a bunch of overwatch.
Everyone's home is getting ruined by whatever's happening to the world.
Iver hits rank 10. He now has rank 1 talent in all but armor (where both talents are garbage anyway). And with the gold bridle, that's rank 4. He's awesome.
I just wanted to show off the artwork for the camp screen in the Old Wood.
As we depart, we come upon the only godstone in the Old Wood: Geirradr.
This is never addressed in the games--a lot is left to interpretation or subtext. But look at the godstone. And look at this guy.
We've already seen instances of the gods not actually being fully dead. Aselei, or an avatar of hers, put an item in Alette's pack back when we were on the Ormsa. Stravhs is keeping Bellower mostly dead. Is it possible that the unnamed village was where Geirradr's resting place? Or maybe I'm completely off base here.
Known as the god of wise counsel and direction, Geirradr is accredited with all types of discoveries and good decisions. As you pull away large strands of ivy, Aleo reads aloud the tale inscribed.
As you think about the story, you discover a small nook in the stone. Inside is a lock of red hair tied with sewn cloth.
We get Brenna's Lock and I'll show it off later. Suffice to say, it's not great. Or maybe I just don't know the appropriate use case for it.
The clansmen go about their rituals with the godstone and are soon ready to move one, but up ahead others have decided to make camp. You stifle a yawn but look forward to some rest.
We're literally forced to rest. Also I forgot to do a training battle which is why I'm so renown starved. Oh well.
: Have you memorized the basic threads of mending yet?
: I...think so. It's hard to find time to practice, though. It feels like someone always needs something.
: Are you going to show me more?
: Part of weaving is knowing what pattern you're looking to create before you ever begin.
: Right. So, I want to mend a wound like you did with Iver's arm.
The mender smiles.
: And I want to use your bow to fire an arrow through a line of enemies.
: Yeah, but that took years for me to...oh. I get it.
: We'll start small. I'll show you a pattern so tiny it will feel like you're doing nothing, but it's the foundation of many great woven spells.
Eyvind's instructions are easy to follow, but tough to repeat accurately more than twice in a row.
: You're getting it. You just need to relax, and--
A violent rumble in the ground silences him. His face grows concerned.
He bolts through the shaking woods faster than you imagined he could move.
She's fine, Eyvind.
OK yeah that's not great.
Remember what Iver said about the Serpent being within an arrow shot and we wouldn't know until it was too late? It's too late.
Before she's swallowed whole, Juno does whatever telepathy thingy she did with Eyvind when she was mostly dead atop Ridgehorn.
: Eyvind, RUN!
And then she's gone, and our camp is destroyed.
But as with the last time Juno faced the serpent, she's not dead. Only mostly dead.
: I've been here before. But not like this.
: Se kit res ta. (If anyone wants to translate that?)
: An ancient tongue. I...know the language.
: I'm...I'm no longer sure I can die.
: You've been hunting me.
: You should not be here, so nothing is yours.
: False. I am created by a god to become a god. It is you who should no longer be here.
: A mistake was made, but this is not your time.
: This is my only time. Because of you.
Everything shakes violently.
: Perhaps we want the same thing?
: Your schemes are insignificant. Would you humor a gnat's requests? Besides, if you truly desire the same as me, release your grip on that which currently sustains you.
: And allow you to destroy all that lives? To what end?
: To the end. Just as the world started, so must it cease. All things have an end.
: And so must you. The others with me will find a way to stop you.
The space shudders again.
: The others? Could they be your end as well? No...you can control them all.
That image of Bolverk is there for a fraction of a second. I was lucky to catch it. So was the Serpent, apparently.
: So...there is one you cannot control. He would be my salvation, but...
: I feel it too. We are both dying!
: No satisfaction in mutual destruction. Impatience has undone me. Frustrating to learn a solution too late.
The space shakes horribly one last time.
The Serpent hisses just before a flashing light. A terrible pain rips through you both. The two of you shriek simultaneously, and your vision dims.
Arc lightning: good at bringing down more than just stone bridges.
: Who are...what...happened?
: Hush, Juno. You're safe now. I'll always keep you safe.
: Eyvind, what did you--how did you do this?
: Save your questions. We should get away from here.
All those shudders? Eyvind was pulling down ludicrous amounts of lightning, far beyond anything he'd done before. He took down the World Serpent. Or at least wounded the hell out of it enough that he could get Juno's body back.
Eyvind's assault was not enough to save much of the caravan, though. Look how low the numbers are (and how bad the morale is) compared to what it was before the Serpent attacked.
It slithers off somewhere, that gaping wound still in its belly. But the damage is done.
We get a few people back. It's not enough.
: I feel the same way.
: I couldn't do a damn thing to help.
You have never seen the varl like this.
: We all scattered like roaches. I don't know if the ones missing are dead or just lost.
: I couldn't tell if we were chasing that Serpent or trying to get away from it.
: And the way Eyvind threw lightning at it.
: I've never seen anything like that, and I've lived a long damned time.
: It was a pretty brave thing to do.
: Brave. Stupid. I'm sure everyone here has a different opinion. None of them really matter because it happened. We move on like we always do.
You both look towards Juno and Eyvind.
: With the little I've learned about spellweaving, I don't think he's an ordinary mender. And a Valka being swallowed by a Serpent and cut out by lightning? It sounds like one of Aleo's tales. How did she live through that?
: I don't know how any of us...
He looks around.
The silence that follows becomes an unavoidable presence.
Whatever hopes we had of arriving in Arberrang as a strong army are now dashed. But we have nowhere else to go. We forge onward.
To be fair, she'd freak me out too at this point.
: Train more fighters. That should keep them distracted.
: A hundred new fighters will give us all a bit of courage.
: Let's hope so. Or at least some sense of purpose.
Fiskivik is a fishing village not far from Arberrang. This is the state we'll arrive at the capital in, most likely.
: There are signs of recent fighting all around Fiskivik, but it might provide a meeting ground for all who scattered when the Serpent struck.
: I'm worried about all the people we're missing. Scattering like that in the Old Wood...I feel guilty.
: You can't prepare for a giant snake busting up your camp.
: But these people depend on me. I gave them my oath we would get to Arberrang.
: Then keep going. From the moment you left Skogr, you knew everyone wouldn't make it. But the rest of you can. Besides, what else can you do? You'll stay alive, and as long as you do, these people are going to follow you.
: You keep saying "you" instead of "we." Are you trying to tell me something?
The giant varl sighs.
: What? Join them where?
: They haven't filled me in on most of the plans. But they said I'm needed and that we're leaving the caravan.
: Leaving? All three of you?
: All three of us.
: Why would you do this to me? Why now? Look at what's left of this caravan.
: I've seen who is left. A bunch of varl who depend on you and Hakon, not me.
: But I never would've made it this far without you.
: Then I've done my job. This isn't easy, but don't make it harder than it has to be.
Before you can respond, Juno and Eyvind arrive. Her hollow appearance catches you off guard.
: What he could. What's this all about?
: We are no longer good for the caravan. Our presence not only scares the clansmen, but puts them in real danger. Beyond that, the Serpent's attack has clarified our need to move quickly, something we cannot do with all of you.
: But this caravan needs the three of you. I need you to help get these people to Arberrang.
: That's right. Lend me your map.
Confused, you hand your map to the Valka. She and Eyvind hold it at corners while tracing patterns with spear and staff. The map glows faintly and loose threads from her cloak and his tunic snake through the aged material. THe image pulses, it looks alive.
The map gained color! And...it now shows all the giant fissures in the ground where the world is, quite literally, breaking. Oh, and...
There's a spreading darkness on the map. You can't interact with any of the landmarks on the map in the purple. Because they are gone.
Assuming it spreads outward from a central point, the darkness started out just a bit north of Grofheim. If this is where it started, then that's where the dredge would've started running. And that'd explain why so many of them were at Grofheim to the point that the varl capital fell easily.
We don't really have a good sense of how quickly the darkness is spreading, or if it's gaining speed. But Bindal--which is empty thanks to the efforts of Zefr and Bolverk--was the next major city to fall. Either that or Ormsdallr, but the fissure took care of that before the darkness could.
We're heading to Arberrang, which is about as westward as we can get short of going south into Dalalond--where the horseborn used to live before the plains broke. And where Ubin allegedly is right now.
If that darkness reaches Arberrang, though...
It probably won't be good for anyone. Not even the World Serpent likes the darkness.
: I've spoken about a Darkness enshrouding the land, and now you bear witness to it on your map. The sky will soon reflect the truth shown here.
(That's the giant dark orb that Bolverk saw on the horizon, then.)
: Even the chasms opening across the land are displayed, but your path to Arberrang is clear.
: Speed will be your ally now. With so few, you should be able to outpace whatever comes your way.
: I still don't understand why you need Iver.
: A one-armed varl brings good luck.
You shake your head but refuse to look at the varl.
: Iver's strength and resolve will be necessary for us in the days ahead. It's the same resolve you use daily, and you will have Hakon and the remaining varl with you for strength.
: But Iver's my friend.
Iver exhales loudly, like he is releasing a breath he has held in for ages.
: I doubt that will change even if I live another century or two, and it sure won't change with distance. Understand?
No words come to mind, so you simply nod.
: You and the rest of the caravan are needed in Arberrang. What will assault you there will require every bit of your wits and strength to survive. And even then, you will perish if we do not succeed.
: How will I know if you succeed?
: You'll know because you'll still be alive. You must get to the capital. You must stay alive. No matter what occurs, hold out as long as you can.
Silence follows her words.
: You keep saying a darkness, but what is it?
Juno stares at you. Your concern about the darkness starts to fade until Eyvind touches her shoulder.
: Then why is it here?
: Because I--
: Eyvind, that's enough!
The Valka looks at you, and for a moment, her hard-eyed expression cracks.
: We're trying to do what we have to.
You notice her spear moving ever so slightly before your mind moves to other things.
: What can I expect in Arberrang?
: I wish I could promise you nothing but safety, but Arberrang will be the refuge for so many.
: Clans will vie for power the way they always do, even in the face of destruction. Remember: you are a Sundr slayer. Your reputation will help you a great deal.
: That doesn't really put me at ease.
: Just use what you've learned on this journey to keep the others alive.
: I should get the clan ready to head up the coast and west to Arberrang.
: If you were anyone else, I'd stick around to help, but there's no one alive better suited to take care of these folks.
You look at the giant varl who has been with you through so much.
: 'Till we see each other again, then?
: In some form or another, I imagine.
The two of you smile.
: Before I go, I think it's time you became Alette again. Your hood might still serve you in a fight, but otherwise, pull it down. These people deserve to look their leader in the eye.
: Thank you, Iver. You're probably right.
: You as well, Eyvind.
Iver and Eyvind find a small fishing skiff. The once clear water of the Fiska Bay is turning green and foul as the varl hauls the vessel toward the receding tide.
: I'm sorry for the hardship that has become your life. Though it probably means little to hear it from me, you've done great work in making it this far. Continue to push hard for the capital. With luck, my small force will face and defeat the Darkness before it reaches you. I hope our efforts will not be in vain.
: Then I hope luck is with you as well. Take care of Iver.
The Valka gives you a small smile before following the other two. You turn to the caravan.
: Everyone on your feet! We're pushing to Arberrang!
We still don't have good answers. Juno was clearly mind controlling Alette there when Eyvind was about to explain what happened. And it seems like Iver is sailing off into certain doom with our two mender friends/"friends."
I'd also like to point out how devastating this is in a Rook game. We've been skating easily thanks to Alette's overwatch, but Rook's caravan doesn't get that ability. He has to actually fight battles legitimately. Which means judicious use of Iver and Eyvind, arguably the two best units in the game. And now they both leave, taking with them all the renown and items you poured into them.
It's a brutal moment from a story standpoint in both scenarios, but it gives you the extra kick in the teeth from a gameplay standpoint if you're Rook, the unluckiest man alive.
But there's nothing to be done for it. There is no way to stop Iver, Eyvind, and Juno leaving the caravan at this point. All we can do is wish them well and hope they return safely.
BGM: Our Steps to the Night
Great song, but do not watch the video. Spoilers.
We watch Iver, Rook's best friend and the strongest and best damned varl alive, sail off into the unknown.