The Apostles leaned forward, squinting at the vid-screen. Most then leaned back, awkward looks on their faces. One of them, braver than most, coughed nervously and said, “Pardon us, Witchlight. But we do not see what you mean.”
The young woman with long, flowing hair dyed blue at the ends smirked. She extended a slender hand, a large rune scarred into the back of it, and scrubbed the vid-feed to one precise moment.
“It’s subtle,” she said, in a voice that had convinced half of the people of Dreadspire to bend the knee to her, “But it’s there. The Black Iron Energy signature. He looped back all the way to the point where Jones – Flame Caress His Soul – first entered the door.”
The Apostles leaned closer to study what their Witchlight had caught that they had apparently missed. The one who spoke did not, however, and simply tented his fingers and considered. “We have Ironsworn Vanadu’s file, witchlight. His token is The Looper. It only allows him to loop one or two seconds back. If what you say is true…he’s grown more powerful than we thought.”
“Or the opposite is true,” Renna said, smiling. “Ready the altar. It’s time we removed Ironsworn Vanadu from the equation once and for all.”
I say…there’s been a significant step we took in that we got Jones’ communicator, so the Red clock advances one, and we killed a bunch of cultists (and Jones, who’s in power) too, so that advances again. So it’s extremely likely that the Cult has made moves in the background.
The Runners have a huge lead on the Cultists in this case. Good…if the die are any indication we’ll need that advantage.
Back in the Warehouse…
No Answer. Kaz stared dead ahead, silent, unmoving.
“Kaz,” Keith tapped his shoulder, and Kaz turned to look at his old colonel. Keith thought he’d seen enough of this kind of look back in Sol. Seeing it again hurt. “Come on, soldier. On your feet. That’s an order.”
“Yes sir,” Kaz said, automatically, getting to his feet.
“That’s good. Now you are going to split the remaining men into two. One for cover, one to carry the dead and wounded back to the hideout. Don’t take unnecessary risks, but prioritise getting back over subterfuge. We’re burned, anyway. We might as well relocate now.” He looked dead into Kaz’s eyes. “Can you do that for me, soldier?”
Kaz blinked. “What about you, Colonel?”
“We came to do a job,” Keith said, gesturing at the now open door. “I’m going to see it done.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No way, Kaz. I need you to lead these guys home.”
“I’ll split ’em into groups like you said and I’ll come along with you. No discussion.” Kaz spat. “No disrespect…Ironsworn. But you ain’t my colonel no more, and I don’t gotta do what you tell me to do. Sit tight. I’ll be right there.”
Keith shook his head, but smiled. His company was known to be one of the most reckless, subordinate and disrespectful soldiers the Rebellion had ever had, but they were also the most fiercely loyal. You couldn’t torture them to tell you the sun was hot. Besides, it felt good to know Kaz still trusted him, despite the losses they’d suffered.
“I blame the spooks, Colonel,” Kaz said, returning to Keith’s side after organising the others’ retreat. “I blamed them for every d’ast thing that happened to me since they appeared, and I blame them for this,” he waved vaguely at the gore soaked room they found themselves in. “I won’t stop until I piss on their Witchlight’s head.”
“Bit extreme, but I appreciate the sentiment Kaz,” Keith smiled and nodded. “Well. Come along, if you’re coming. Keep your eyes open.”
Keith decided it was probably fair to tell Kaz about what had happened. “Fair warning, Kaz,” he said, as they stepped into the next room – which was another storage unit. “I…I think I’m having trouble looping.”
Kaz frowned. “Actually, Colonel, could you back it up a bit? I’m hazy on the when and the how you used that.”
Keith brought him up to speed. “And now…I kind of feel, vulnerable,” he sighed, toying with the token. “I guess I’ve become too comfortable with it on my arm.”
“Have you tried to loop again?” Kaz asked. “Maybe it was temporary.”
Keith sighed. “I don’t know. This…this Black Iron stuff. None of us really know what it does or how it does whatever it does. Maybe that was it for my token.”
“Not making a great case for Iron Banner membership, Vanadu,” Kaz grinned. “But seriously. It must be more than just the token that’s bothering you.”
Keith winced. Kaz saw through him like a las-blast. “I tried again after. I tried to loop back to before the gunfight started and tried to make us go back. That way…nobody would have had to die.”
Kaz sighed. “Shit. You’d think you get used to losing guys by now, Colonel. We’d lost more in the fight against Sunscum.”
“We’re not in d’ast Sol anymore, Kaz!” Keith was surprised at how vehemently he had spoken. “I came here to help these people! Not to get them…not to get them blasted to fuckin’ bits!”
“We knew the risks going in, Vanadu. We-“
“Like fuck you all did!” Keith was full on shouting now. “You know what? I can’t do this anymore, Kaz.” He turned and left the room.
Kaz stared at his old commander. “What are you talking about? Where are you going?”
“Back,” Keith called back. “I can’t be responsible for more death. Not of people who were supposed to find a new life here.”
“So you’re just going to leave us here?” Kaz stared at his old commander’s retreating back. “You’re just going to walk away and leave us to the White Flame?”
“I am not equipped to deal with this shit, Kaz!” Keith turned and snarled back. Tears were in his eyes. “You wanted someone capable, someone who could have done something to stop these d’ast spooks from taking power. Clearly I am not that fucking guy!”
“What the fuck, Keith!” Kaz swore. “The Vanadu I knew wouldn’t have abandoned his men in the middle of a d’ast mission! D’ast it, Ironsworn! You swore to me on that hunk of junk!”
Keith lifted the black iron bracelet. “You’re right about one thing. It is a hunk of junk. And maybe I’m not the guy who you thought I was.” He turned, shoulders slumped. Kaz stared at the man who he had respected his whole life, the man everyone who had started a new life here respected their whole lives, and saw a broken, dejected man, the opposite of who he thought he had called down to help Paragon Stand.
“You coming, Kaz?”
Kaz gripped his gun. Tears flowed down his eyes. “Hang on,” he called back. “Just one thing left for me to do.”
“And that’s that,” Witchlight Renna slipped on her soft linen robe. She was smiling as she stepped down from the altar, awaited by a group of her most trusted Apostles. “Ironsworn Vanadu is no longer part of the equation.”
The Apostles stared, stunned. One managed to stammer out, “We…we thought we had faith. We thought his presence would have been a true obstacle to the White Flame. We doubted, and we never knew it.”
“And why should you?” Witchlight Renna’s voice never raised above a whisper, yet when she spoke it was with the full authority of the white dwarf they worshipped. “Keith Vanadu was never a threat. None of the Ironsworn are. They don’t even understand the powers they wield. But we are enlightened.”
The Apostles fell to their knees. “Please, Witchlight,” they begged. “We have doubted. We did not truly have faith until now. You must forgive us.”
“Yes,” others continued, grasping at the hems of her robe. “Please, forgive us. Intercede on our behalf for our souls. We have been doubters, unknowing.”
Renna shushed them. “The White Flame lays bare all pretense,” she sighed. “Let us now shine brighter than ever before, and let our work not be impeded. Not by the rebels, the heretics, the Ironsworn. Soon all of Sanadris shall be cradled in the warmth of the White Flame.”
End a Session
Wow. Didn’t think it would end like that.
I think I’m not done yet with this world, but maybe I am going to try and solo a different RPG for now. Maybe DnD, or the various other solo RPGs I have in my posession (I have, like, a lot). I’ll say this – the dice, they really hate me. Also, hashtag: #KeithSucks
See you next week for my new RPG!