Short recap before we begin today’s post – Keith, Kaz and several Dust Runners have broken into a warehouse where they suspect a weapons cache exists. These weapons might aid the cultists from Dreadspire who have infiltrated their settlement, intent on either converting them or killing them. They tripped an alarm going in, however, and got into a firefight in a bad position, when who should appear behind them but Overseer Shariff Jones, who demands their surrender. Keith wonders if he can loop far enough back to reverse things, and tries to do so…
Check the previous post to fully catch up on the current events. And now….
Thrown For A Loop
Keith has looped before, but only for a few seconds at a time. His experience was that it could be disorienting to see everything turn back like a Vidfeed being scrubbed in reverse, even for a couple of seconds. He was not prepared for how disorienting it was to loop for a full minute.
He tried to keep his focus. Words spoken went unsaid and in reverse. Every move he made felt awkward, as his hands, arms and legs moved involuntarily. His eyes moved of their own accord, making it harder to focus. The hot glow of lasgun blasts seemed to move normally but the slow moving projectiles from the slug throwers whizzed past him in a reversed blur.
And then it was over.
Keith found himself about to dash into cover that would expose him to Jones when he came through the door behind them. Abruptly he stopped, and moved closer to the door, praying he wouldn’t be hit by a stray bullet.
“Colonel!” Kaz shouted. “What are you…”
Kaz’s voice dropped when the guards stopped firing. Keith ignored them, raised his gun’s setting to maximum, and pressed the muzzle right to the back of Jones’ head when the Overseer stepped out.
“Hello, Overseer,” Keith said. “Kindly drop the gun or I’ll send you to the White Flame sooner than you’d like.”
Keith saw Jones stare at him from the corner of his eyes, Jones himself trying hard not to move his head. “How…?”
“Wasn’t hard. I figured you would think you had us cornered like rats when we tripped the alarm. And I always figured you were one of them, anyway.” He snickered. “Oh, how I wanted to be wrong.”
“I see,” Jones didn’t seem to buy it. Keith didn’t care. “So what happens now, Ironsworn Vanadu?”
“Drop the d’ast gun and tell them to do the same.”
The Overseer chuckled. “And then what, Ironsworn Vanadu? Did you really anticipate me coming through that door? Because this doesn’t seem like a thoroughly considered plan, if you’re open to criticism.”
“Normally I am, but not right now.” Keith pressed the muzzle harder into Jones’ head. “Never you mind about our plans. Drop the guns or your brains fry. Kaz, search the Overseer. You lot,” Keith shouts at the Guards, “Keep your safeties on and nothing happens to Mr Jones.”
“What am I looking for Colonel?” Kaz shoulders his weapon and starts to pat Jones down.
“I’m thinking he was pretty confident he’d catch us in the act,” Keith said. “I’m thinking he left us something that’d tie him to this White Flame outfit, or to Dreadspire at least.”
“Communicator, left back pocket,” Kaz held it up.
“Somebody check the logs. He can’t have erased them just yet,” Keith said. “Getting a bit nervous, Overseer?”
“Someone must have tipped you off to our plans,” Jones said, less confident now. “There must be a traitor in our midst.”
Keith ignored him as one of the runners managed to pull up one of the more recent comms from the communicator’s logs and replayed it at max volume. One was clearly Jones’ face and voice, but the other was masked behind a strange, glitchy avatar with a voice distorter on, masking everything that could identify them.
“The heretics make their move,” the masked person spoke, the distortion making it hard to make their words clear. “You were right, Overseer Jones.”
“I told you,” Jones said on the recording, “once this…cabal, or whatever you call these scum, once they learn about a weapons cache supposedly meant to eradicate them, they’d want it for themselves, or to destroy it, regardless of what happened with the Ironsworn at The Synergy. Then we can destroy them in one fell swoop.”
“You have Witchlight Renna’s compliments,” the masked voice said. “We are one step closer to liberating all three of the settlements of Sanadris from their ignorance and blasphemy. Soon all of Sanadris will know the comfort of The White Flame.”
“My only will is to serve,” Jones on the recording said. He went into great detail about the plan to ambush the Runners, and signed off once the masked figure approved of the plan.
“Well, well, well,” Keith grinned. “It appears we have our leverage and then some. Witchlight Renna, is it? I’d be glad to meet them.”
“Do not sully the Grace Witchlight with your heretic lips!” Jones spat, all pretence at having the upper hand gone.
“You’re doomed, Jones,” Keith said. “The new question is if you – and your boys here – come quietly or go out as a hot spray of superheated goo, courtesy of my gun here being on max setting.”
“Max setting? D’ast, Colonel, you’ll blow a hole through the wall!” One of the runners said.
“D’ast if I care,” Keith said. “Arm’s getting tired, Jones. What’ll it be? Right answer’s to drop ’em, assuming you want to live, of course.”
“It seems to me,” The Overseer says, dropping his energy rifle, “that my usefulness to the White Flame has come to an end.”
Keith barely catches the guards raising their weapons again. “Down!” He shouts, ducking into cover. The Runners barely make it, while bullets riddle the Overseer, causing his body to jerk spasmodically for a while before finally sending him flying back through the doorway he came from, blood trickling down to the floor.
“Holy D’ast!” Kaz shouted. “These spooks are insane!”
“Back to square one, then,” Keith said. “Put the d’ast crazies down!”
If you’ll pardon an intermission here. Combat happens again, and I think I have to do a rewrite here to prevent Boring Stuff To Read from happening. Long story short, I rolled extremely badly, and…not going to lie, I tilted a bit here and didn’t know how (as Keith) to turn the situation around and ended up just brute forcing rolls. I am going to rewrite the scene, instead of a slow burn disaster, as one huge clusterfuck that derails Keith’s plans. They will end up, narratively and mechanically, at roughly the same situation, but things will be made more Exciting to Read and maybe help feed my creativity when next I play.
That The White Flame May Shine
Bullets fly past Keith’s head as he ducks behind the storage unit, using it as cover. He takes a glance at the other Runners, wondering if they made it like he did, but what he sees makes his heart sink.
It wasn’t just the Overseer that got shredded in the first volley of gunfire; Jones was just the focus of Keith’s attention at the time. The Overseer’s body lay slumped over, under and around three more Dust Runners who didn’t manage to move in time, and as a result suffered the same ignominious death as the cultist Overseer. Torn to pieces for something…or someone they believed in.
Torn to pieces because of him. Because he ordered them here. Because he made them come here and wager their lives, only for them to lose the sucker’s bet.
I killed them, Keith thought. Holy d’ast, I as good as killed them.
“Shit, Vanadu!” Keith snapped out of it at Kaz’s insistent screaming. “Get it together! You gonna help drop these d’ast spooks or what?”
Keith realised he had been frozen behind cover, not firing or moving. Thanks, Kaz, he muttered under his breath. He lowers his gun’s setting to conserve ammo, lines up a shot and lets loose several bolts of energy at the guards, who start dropping as Kaz had requested.
“Welcome back, Colonel-” a Dust Runner was about to praise Keith when a bullet vacated his brain. Turning back to the guards, Keith could see them shifting formation in order to maximise their fire spread to make up for their lower numbers. Despite covering fire from the Runners, the guards had managed to move in perfect formation.
“Kaz,” Keith called out. “Cover me!” Before Kaz could say anything, Keith fired two shots at the storage unit in front of him, aiming straight at the bolts holding it to the floor. The shelving unit toppled, and Keith gave it a solid kick to make sure it fell. It missed the guard behind it entirely, but it distracted the man enough for Keith to make a dash for Jones’ energy rifle.
And that’s when something strange happened.
Keith was used to Looping. His Black Iron Token, registered under his name as The Looper in the Ironsworn Token Archives, allowed him to somehow reverse time for one or two seconds while also maintaining his memories of what had happened pre-Loop, which allowed him a ‘mulligan’ of sorts. Being a military man, Keith Vanadu often used it to avoid grievous injury – like the bullets flying towards him right as he was diving towards the dead Overseer’s energy rifle. All that he needed to do was touch his bracelet, and he would be back in time a couple seconds, just enought to avoid disaster.
It’s just that this time, The Looper didn’t work.
It was shocking to Keith. It was like taking a step down the stairs only to find there was another step left to go before reaching the bottom. It had become so much a part of him that now, the one time it didn’t work, it was so jarring Keith forgot all about the energy rifle, the bullets headed towards him, even the firefight around him.
He was reminded right quick when he slammed face first into the floor, followed quickly by two of the bullets impacting into his shoulder. He screamed in pain, grabbed the gun, and crawled towards cover, miraculously only taking a grazing shot across his calf on the way. He sat up, and stared at the Black Iron. Maybe it had to recharge after using it for longer than a few seconds. That would have been good to know, but then again none of the Ironsworn knew that much about their own Tokens – not even Jameela Devadhikar, and hers was central to the Iron Banner’s government and economy.
A bullet exploded something near his head, and Keith was dragged back to reality. Assessing the situation, Keith realised they were in bad shape, but could bring it back if they did better. They had sustained several more casualties, but so did the guards, who seemed to be having trouble themselves. This outta even the odds, Keith thought, and after priming the weapon lay down a field of energy bolts across the room, killing one guard outright and vaporising the arm of another.
“D’ast it Colonel, what’d I say about warnings?” Kaz shouted.
“Keep up, Kaz ol’ buddy!” Keith shouted back. “Blood for blood! Make ’em pay for every drop of blood they’ve spilled!”
“Sir Yes Sir!” Kaz responded enthusiastically, and that rallied the remaining Dust Runners fit for fighting. Together they managed to inch forward, gaining ground and for the first time, about to win the fight.
And that’s when another strange thing happened.
They had managed to pin the remaining guards down behind their own storage unit shelves, or behind the doorway leading into the room. Occasionally a gun muzzle would peek out from behind, fire randomly for cover, and dip back down again, but suddenly even that stopped. Keith held up a hand, signalling for a cease fire. When the gunfire had subsided, he called out to the guards.
“Had enough, yet?”
There was a strange, sighing sound. Keith strained to listen. It sounded like the guards were whispering to each other. Trying to form a plan? he thought, wondering what they could be up to. Then Keith heard a clattering sound as the guards dropped their weapons on the ground. Keith breathed a sigh of relief, and stood up, keeping his weapon trained on them.
“Hands. Let me see them. No sudden moves,” he ordered. He turned and gestured for the rest to cover him as he went over to the guards. “Come on out, now. Show me those hands.”
Kaz’s warning saved him. He leapt back behind cover as…something sailed by him. Keith heard a gasp, and turned around. His eyes widened when he saw one of the runners with what appeared to be a long, bone white spike through his chest. The spike had gone straight through, and Keith thought at the other end of the spike was the torn remains of a leather glove, the kind the guards were wearing. Blood spurted out of the wound and dribbled from the man’s lips as he slumped down to the ground, dead.
Keith turned to stare in horror at the other end of the room. One of the guards taking cover behind the doorway stood in it, now, with just one arm held upwards horizontally, aimed right at him. The other was gone. Keith realised where it went just as the other guards stood and lifted their arms like this one did, and in unison shouted out:
“We Burn That The White Flame May Shine!”
“Fucking drop them!”
It was over in a flash. Keith lifted Jones’ rifle and fired indiscriminately. He didn’t know if he hit anything or not. His cover exploded with the force of the bone spikes tearing through the storage units like a las blast through butter. He heard screams. He heard las blasts. He saw nothing but endless blackness for a good, long time – or throught he did. The entire exchange lasted less than a second, but felt forever.
When Keith opened his eyes it was because something hot was dripping down onto his face. He turned and almost screamed at the sight of one runner, her entire head replaced by one of the spikes, remaining standing as she had been pinned to the plasteel wall. The entire contents of her head had been splashed onto his face in a shower of gore. He turned and saw more casualties. Stunned, he stood and stumbled towards Kaz, who was almost flat on his back, shooting arm straight out. His gun was whining since its charge had long gone, but Kaz’s finger stayed depressing the trigger.
Keith wanted to tell Kaz to stop, it was over, there was nothing to shoot anymore, but all he could do was fall to his knees next to Kaz and put his hand on the empty gun and pointed it downward, silently. Kaz turned to look at him slowly, but it was as if he didn’t see him, didn’t see anything at all in fact.
And that was all he said for a long time.