Part 24: 13-1: Prelude to a BloodbathUPDATE 24: PRELUDE TO A BLOODBATH
Well...that's not ominous given who's (metaphorically) caged in Bolverk's caravan...
The POV switches now use the updated map.
Bolverk remains closer to Arberrang than Alette.
: Don't tell me you're fine when you're not. You're still having those damned dreams.
You growl, feeling less like talking than ever, but knowing the shieldmaiden won't let it drop.
: I keep seeing dredge in different ways. We're eating together, then they're gone. Once, I was teaching them how to fight and they respected me. It's not me, but it feels like me.
Folka watches you, listening closely.
: In the dreams, I feel old, ancient, strong. But then the dredge disappear and I feel...
: Well, I happen to know all about loneliness among company.
When you don't laugh, she just shrugs it off.
: It's just strange that you're feeling kinship with dredge. Have you tried talking to that stonesinger we picked up?
: That would just get the faen Valka involved.
: Zefr'll get involved regardless. If the map's right, we'll hit Old Ford and be at the Valka tower in Manaharr soon.
: Juno, or whoever, mentioned a darkness coming.
: She also said the dredge would be running from that darkness too, but I don't see them.
You hold up your hand, sensing something amiss. Folka and you both scan the trees.
You point to an archer loosing her arrow and dodge it, roaring a battle cry.
As in the start of the previous Bolverk chapter, we don't get a chance to re-equip. It's Folka and Bolverk vs. a bunch of humans.
: You're trying to rob US?
: They won't live to learn their mistake!
We're grossly outnumbered, and given the way turn order works, they're at a huge disadvantage. Especially because Folka regenerates 2 armor per turn and can't take strength damage until all her armor's gone.
On easier difficulties, you can do this whole fight with one extraordinarily long Cull the Weak with Bolverk. Here they need to be softened up a bit. And I actually get greedy and Bolverk goes down before the fight wraps up. But in general this is a piece of cake.
...it's not like Bolverk getting injured will cause me problems.
Folka finishes the final 4 enemies on her own.
Cool, we killed a bunch of starving civilians.
Back in town, we can talk to Sigbjorn and Zefr. Zefr first.
: ...not forbidden, only rare for Valka to have children.
: So Nikels was...
: What did you do to him back in that cave?
: I did...the only thing I could do. The thing we never want to do.
The Valka's eyes fill with tears.
: I forced a skip in the pattern, which won't mean much to you. Suffice it to say that menders usually repair skips, or mistakes, in the woven fabric of our world. They cover powerful, exposed threads until all is right, and the pattern is whole. I did just the opposite.
You stare at her blankly.
: By skipping Nikels, I exposed a thread and used that power to end Eyeless' attack.
: And that cost Nikels his life.
: Yes. But it is a sacrifice every mender is prepared to make, should it be necessary.
: How do I know you won't try to skip me when we get to Manaharr?
: Because I can't. It is a conscious choice a mender is taught how to make.
Silence spans a few moments.
: The Ravens will remember him in a battle chant.
: I'm sure he would have liked that. Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?
: Any idea why Gaular would abandon its prisoners?
: I've been out of contact with the council since I departed for Bindal, but it can't be good. If the prisoners were telling the truth about everyone fleeing to Arberrang, King Meinolf will have a serious problem to handle.
: I wonder if that girl, Alette, knows what she's headed for.
: They're not our concern. Enough talking. Let's get moving.
: Agreed. We need to get this cart to Manaharr soon, and we're not far now.
Let's move on to Sigbjorn.
: What is it we're doing, Bloodaxe?
: To get paid, like always.
: Yeah? And then what? Look at the sky. This isn't some crone's story about stars falling. This is the end of the line.
: Maybe so, but none of us knows what that means. Whatever comes next, I want us facing it with plenty of coin to our name.
: Bah. I guess that's what life amounts to: centuries of fighting and hoarding money for the day you die.
You are about to walk away when Sigbjorn speaks again, quieter.
: Seeing a job through has always felt good.
: I suppose you're right. Getting paid feels good, but then I drink it away and need more money. Feels like and endless, worthless cycle when I think about it.
: Then quit thinking. And lay off the mead while you're at it.
You walk off, shaking your head.
Another nice scene. Sigbjorn, like Bak, is a relative nobody. But this does a nice job showing that the Ravens aren't a bunch of battle-crazy drunken loons. And also that Bolverk, asshole that he is, genuinely cares about the well-being of his Ravens.
Ooh, look at that. I can't really afford it, but hey I've got 6 days worth of supplies and I can just have Bolverk sleep for a little bit, buy the Clasp of Kyn and just power through the rest of the game. What could go wrong?
Before we head out, we get this.
: I bet we'll need all the fighters we can get.
"I've got a suspicion you actually like humans more than any other varl alive," Sparr says, chuckling until he starts coughing and wheezing for air.
We gain some more fighters. We're dangerously low on supplies, but we're well armed at least.
For a world where the sun has stopped overhead, it's getting...ominously dark.
: Show me the kid.
: If it's an omen, it's a good one. No one harms the child.
Morale improves. I'll play Bolverk like an evil mercenary, but he's no child killer.
: Forget this path. We'll find another way.
The scouts search in various directions but a day passes before another route is found. The clansmen don't seem to mind the rest, though.
Day 82. We're down to the last of our supplies. We're going to start starving if I can't resupply.
There are no supplies to be found at this godstone, but Bolverk intones as they arrive.
: I always respected Bygglaerer the Builder, but if he made those caves we went through, I'll...well, I'd have killed him myself.
You know the godstone routine by now.
The pieces of Bygglaerer's godstone, put together without mortar or daub, represent the mastery of the god's own skill. In life, he traveled the land, laying the world's cavernous foundations and raising mountains. He was ever regarded by the other gods with a wary respect, for one who knows how to put things together will also know how to take them apart.
Buzz off, kids. Bolverk is more a "take things apart" kind of guy.
Huh. Wasn't expecting that. I figured giving the kids a stone would be what got us the item. Anyway, it's another good item for armor break and I'll give it to Oli if ever he gets high enough to use it.
Hey, another banner. But Alette's too far away. Who's left that has a banner?
Whoever it is, they're in trouble.
Another random event.
: What's in the hole?
"We couldn't tell," a scout says. "No trees around, just a deep hole in the ground around four yox-length across. My arms were like chicken skin just looking at it.
: Let's have a look, you craven.
: Were you trying to be funny? Craven and Raven?
You ignore her and head for the hole.
: Someone get in there. Now!
Hah. Look at that. We get another Clasp of Kyn. A pity we have 0 level 10s in the caravan, much less 2.
Day 83. Our clansmen can't forage fast enough.
Bolverk's right, though. This is gonna be awful for everyone.
: Well, just that I was scouting around this place, you know. And I went up on a hill to watch the dredge. The, um, banner we saw? It's from Einartoft.
Einartoft. You grimace as the town's name floods your mind with images. A giant bridge. Hundreds of varl. Iver in your way. Your anger focused just beyond him.
(That's not Bolverk's memory, y'all.)
"Stick with him," you growl to the few fighters you allow to join. "If he's still as lucky as he claims, we'll grab the others and get back in one piece."
And so we set out to meet the Einartoft caravan. Normal setup. Folka tanks, Zefr lays down some Runic Gale, Bolverk picks it up and attacks, Krumr either follows up or gives Bolverk another turn, Dytch moves in front of Bolverk to block enemy movement, Oli softens up. What could go wrong?
For starters, "the enemy has a million gloomwardens" could go wrong.
As could "Runic Gale gives a bunch of willpower spots instead of something useful when the caravan is maxed out on willpower since the battle just started."
Let's also not forget "a gloomwarden is smart and drumfires on Folka and Bolverk so that she can't tank anything, and Bolverk will take 1 strength for every square that he has to walk on drumfire." That could go wrong too.
Not to be outdone by "another gloomwarden gets the same idea so that Bolverk is maimed before he even gets his second turn."
Short of leaving Bolverk back entirely there's nothing I could have done about this. I probably should have let him fall in order to get him out of the turn queue.
Krumr still has his strength, but gloomwardens have huge armor break and Folka can't get to Krumr easily thanks to there being an ENORMOUS hazard on the map.
Once Folka drops, it's all over. I don't have anyone left to absorb hits and there are several high strength units still on the map.
This helps a little bit and repairs Krumr's armor.
And, briefly, it looks like I might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
But Krumr crits someone to death by accident, which moves up this gloomwarden in the queue before Zefr can patch his armor back up. Now Krumr is maimed and I don't have anyone who can do sufficient damage. Oh well, maybe I can block pathing with Dytch and have Oli axe throw them to death?
Fucking smart AI uses drumfire on a stealthed Dytch. Very clever.
And that's gonna be that.
Everyone falls. Anyone die?
Amazingly, no. You can lose this battle and not take any deaths.
Once back in the village, the deep tones of the scarred varl utter curses you've never heard before. Then he sees you.
Hey, I know that guy.
: You the faen leader of these pathetic humans?
: These humans are the Ravens. And I'm Bello...uh, I'm Bolverk. Who are you and why do you look like you were spit out by a Cold Bear?
The varl stares at you and then cracks what might be a smile beneath all the facial wounds.
: We're all that's left of those who fled Grofheim and stood against Bellower at Einartoft. Kvig, run and get us some damn drinks and some meat. Bolverk and I need to talk.
Hey, Fasolt's not dead! Somehow.
: I need fighters and there's a lot more humans to choose from these days.
The scowl leaves Fasolts' face for the first time, a distant look in his eyes.
: I'm alive by luck alone. No skill with a weapon or desire to kill could have seen me through that. Einartoft was a massacre.
: Stick with us and you can get some revenge.
: What makes you think I'm interested in anything like that?
He holds you stare for a moment before laughing an unexpected, cruel laugh.
: The truth is, I could kill a hundred of these slags a day and not be fulfilled. There's more dredge than rats and after Grofheim and Einartoft, we...the varl are done.
: What happened back there?
: More death than I've seen in all my centuries combined. Bellower led an incredible force against us...with such precision. He moved his hordes of fighters around like his own arms and legs. And if we faen cut one off, he just grew another.
Why do you feel proud?
: Why didn't more of you flee?
: Jorundr. He decided to make stand. I was left for dead. Woke up to actual ravens pecking my face. Damn near got my eyes.
: How did you make it through the fields of dredge?
: This stuff behind us? Faen easy. Those aren't all dredge warriors. They might all be armed, but they're mostly families. Most won't bother you if you leave them alone.
: Since when have dredge ever left us alone?
: Most. Seems to be a number of them hunting something or someone though.
: The Battle of Boersgard was a bloodbath too.
: Oh? What happened?
: The Ravens were called in to keep people from rioting. Trying to get those people to leave was useless. Then Bellower showed up with an army. A human took him down.
: A human? The immortal Bellower's dead?
His question makes you tense, though you're unclear why.
: Wait, which human?
The varl's demeanor changes. He's growling.
: Is Rook still alive?
: No, Bellower killed him before falling. His daughter is leading their group to Arberrang now. Why?
: Because I've come all this way with a faen message for her father from our former king...but she'll do.
Fasolt's eyes, accented by the torn skin, look deadly.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I think the flag for how the bridge of Einartoft fell is set incorrectly. Or read incorrectly. Fasolt seems to think Rook brought it down rather than Jorundr agreeing to it. Or maybe Fasolt, who was "dead" before the bridge fell, assumes that the humans did it. I don't know. In any event, he's pissed off.
You have more questions, but decide to leave the varl to his brooding thoughts.
So...here's the problem. All our best units are injured. Some for 6 days. Some for 4. There are very few worthwhile units elsewhere in the caravan. Even Fasolt, who is an incredibly good tank, starts at level 3 and we don't have the renown to promote him.
And we only have 2 days of supplies. I rest 2 days, and then we head out. Hopefully clansmen can forage the rest for us.
Except...I forgot that this is the last rest opportunity of the chapter.
Now it is time to outrun the dredge and the ever-encroaching darkness. While starving. And wounded. A death march indeed.
: Move out! And leave the fighting to those who know how!
(We need them to forage, if nothing else.)
The caravan responds to the command without complaint. You even see a few smiling at you as if you've done something good just by getting them moving. Stupid humans.
BGM: The Twilight Flight
And almost immediately we're accosted by dredge.
VOTE TIME! PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION!
Bluntly: we're not strong enough to fight off the dredge in most battles. I can try to get away with one here and there, and Folka, Dytch, and Zefr don't need strength to be effective. Mogun, Fasolt, and Bersi can probably fill in in a pinch, and Sparr's not bad either. If I play this really well I might be able to do all the fights without disaster striking. But the A team is injured to the point of ineffectiveness, and the B team, well...it's a rough fit.
So, 2 things to vote on.
A.) HOW DO WE HANDLE THIS EVENT WITH SPARR
1.) Let Sparr have his glorious moment with a few others. Old man has been through worse scrapes; maybe he'll survive.
2.) Send a dozen unnamed fighters to keep them at bay. Fighters before heroes!
3.) Do it ourselves, and damn the injuries.
4.) Not even sure what this does. But you can vote for it!
5.) Ignore them and see if Fasolt is right about being able to avoid fights with dredge.
B.) This will not be the last time that one of the Ravens tries to play hero. Some of the Ravens are more competent at leadership than others. If someone offers to lead a charge instead of the main force doing it, who should we let try? You can vote for multiple characters. If that character has a heroic event and you all vote in favor, we'll try it that person's way. If you vote against it, we'll do a standard fight and cross our fingers. This genuinely isn't a trap choice--some of the Ravens are more apt to leadership and war than others. This is like a "send Thane in the vents Mass Effect 2" kind of situation. There legitimately are correct choices.
WHO SHOULD WE SUPPORT IF THEY ASK TO LEAD A FIGHT THEMSELVES?