They've finally found her: Irēn Adler.

⚡️THUNDERFANG S3 #8: Precursor
With the depths of the strange precursor vault, Locke and his crew hope to find the woman they’ve been searching for.

The previous chapter


Season 3, Chapter 9

I couldn’t believe my eyes. 

She was right there, directly in front of us. No chance of her running off and slipping out of sight like she did on Stella. I could finally make it up to Ira.

As long as she came with us.

She stood about as tall as her brother, if not a inch or two taller. Her dark hair fell to about the middle of her back. I didn’t spot a visible helmet, so I assumed she had a model with a retractable one. Speaking of, this particular model didn’t look cheap and was extremely form fitting. It probably cost more than all of ours put together.

“Who are you?” Irēn took a single step forward, cycling her aim between us. John and Jane lowered their weapons as I stepped forward, hands raised in surrender. Watt floated in front of me, but I quickly brushed him aside. I needed her to trust me.

I still had a splitting headache from the vault’s defenses, but I noticed something odd about her. She didn’t seem bothered by the same affliction that was ailing us. How was she standing without breaking a sweat? It was taking everything in me to remain on my feet. Even more to keep my hands raised.

I filed that oddity away for later.

“My name is—” Shit. I was technically wanted all across the Salvi Pass. I was going to have to lead with something else until she trusted me. “I know your brother, Ira Adler. We came here to find you.”

I took another step forward, her gun now fixed on me. Again, she moved as if she felt completely fine. Was it her suit protecting her? Was she secretly Branded and could somehow manipulate our bodies? 

How did you find me? I don’t exactly leave clues behind.”

“Trust me, you’d never believe us,” Jane said between labored breaths.

“Try me.”

“Irēn,” I said, “if you’d just come back with us, we can take you to your brother and he can explain everything.” I continued to step forward, hoping and praying she wouldn’t shoot me. I was sure the suit could take a bullet, but I didn’t feel like confirming it today. I needed her to trust me before our “luck” ruined everything again.

“Stop right there.” She raised the gun slightly and fired, the sound of the shot echoing only briefly before dissipating into nothing. Then she pointed it towards my head again. “There will be no further warnings. I don’t know who any of you are, but I will not hesitate to show you my Edge.”

“Look, can you please not shoot your brother-in-law!?” Jane shouted. “I’m quite sure Ira would kill us for letting you kill him!”

I spun just in time to see John punch Jane in the arm. Him and I winced at the effort.

“Jane!” John’s face scrunched together in disbelief, reminding me of when he was Dr. Watson. His face said all the insults we were both thinking.

“Brother-in-law?” Irēn said. I turned back to face her just as she lowered her gun.

“Sorry, I really wanted him to explain it,” I said. I flashed my black iron ring.

I heard another punch. “What!? My bad! She was going to find out anyway, and look! Fucking results! She’s not going to shoot him anymore. YOU’RE WELCOME! I’m gonna sit down…”

I smiled and finished approaching, lowering my hands. “My name is Locke Holmes. We still haven’t decided on what to do with our family names just yet.”

Irēn hesitated. I couldn’t blame her. I hadn’t presented anything compelling, just our word. For all she knew, I’d done my research on her and was dangling her brother’s name out as bait. But if there was ever an instance where I wanted my words to take hold, this was one of them. I needed to reunite them, give Ira something positive about home—

The Cracked Cauldron. The dish that Ira described to Corra. It had been part of Ira’s bad memories, but apparently one of Irēn’s more positive ones. Perhaps this would prove to her that I knew her brother. I did my best to recount it, making sure to describe it the same way Ira did, full of disgust and aversion. I worried that if I described it more positively, like how Irēn probably remembered it, she’d think I’d forced the information from Corra.

I watched as her lips parted in awe. 

“You sound just like him.” She holstered her weapon, taking in the sight of the three of us once more. She let a small smile slip out. “Nice to meet you, Locke.” She held out her hand for me.

// Oracle

What can the "sacred artifact" do?

AT: 23, 17: Communicate Cure.

Maybe it knows how to stop Malice...

What does it look like, the artifact?

DF: 8, 36: Automated Force.

It's .. an AI?

What does this "cure" look like, I guess? How is the cure administered?

AT: 34, 25: Demand Disaster.

It sticks out to me that the first word is "demand"—it, somehow, as if by magic and fate, speaks to the themes I've already established.

What does "disaster" mean in this context, though?

…I think I know.

I seriously could not have written this better if I had planned it, honestly.

I now see why the dice rolled that she wasn't Branded back in Chapter 5.

Future Tavon here: the AUDACITY of these rolls. -chef’s kiss- In this moment, I don’t understand this thing at all, but ooooooooh does it make sense much later on.

I extended my sweaty hand and—


Irēn spun around, gun pointed at a statue behind her I hadn’t noticed until now. John rushed forth with Jane at his side, the three of us breathing heavy.

My eyes narrowed. Upon further examination, I realized it was less of a statue and more of a non-descript automaton. It had a vaguely humanoid shape, but was fixed into the floor of the vault and had no arms or other appendages. More like a chunk of metal with shoulders and a head. It did have eyes—which were currently glowing a mechanically menacing red—and its head swiveled to lock on to us. Its voice echoed, much more than the gunshot had, as if projected on hidden speakers surrounding us.


I lurched downward, that sickness weighing heavy once more. It felt like my heart was being squeezed and each individual bone was fifty-pound weights. A fever consumed me, yet ice ran through my veins, the dichotomy making me want to hurl but I couldn’t afford to lose the fluids. The air was thick as molasses and I couldn’t get enough in my lungs. I heard John and Jane groan behind me, their experiences matching mine.

Irēn, however, stood tall. Unfazed. She shifted her gaze from us to the automaton. “What the hell is going on?!”


// Face Danger

3 (iron) => 7 vs 3, 5. SH

+1 momentum [5]

I pushed off the ground, forcing myself to stand and move past Irēn, getting between her and the automaton. I stole a glance behind me; John and Jane were forcing themselves to their feet as well. In the corner of my eye, I saw some of the Risen trudging in the distance. A few of them simply laid down while others slowed to a stop and stood motionless. 

After my comrades managed to stand, they made their way past Irēn and joined me.

Why wasn’t Irēn affected by this? Didn’t she feel that sickening weight pushing her down? Was there no headache or fever or body aches? It was as if…

…as if the vault’s defenses were only targeting the Branded. And, oddly enough, the Risen.

What was I missing? Why would a precursor vault have defenses specifically targeted towards Branded and Risen? What was this thing trying to tell us?

“What do you think you’re going to do to that thing?” John asked. What was my plan? How did I plan on shutting down—

Ah. My favorite trick.

Like the Risen, I trudged forward. As the automaton continued to chant, I placed my hands on it and was welcomed by the fact that it was made of metal—or, at least something that felt like metal. I still wasn’t sure what this place was comprised of. But it didn’t really matter.

As long as it could conduct electricity.

Instead of pushing the little voltage I had remaining into the statue, I instead pulled the energy out of it. I could recharge and shut this thing down all in one move.

Maybe. Hopefully.

I gripped opposite sides as firmly as I could and inhaled—both with my nose and with my abilities. The lights in the space flickered slightly and I felt that familiar pulse of power beginning to course through my hands and into my veins—into my soul.

// Lightningbranded Recharge

+4 (spirit) => 6 vs 6, 7. Miss.

I was going to use some Command or Fugitive, but I like this story beat.

+2 lightning [3]

-2 harm [1]


I slipped and fell to both knees, but my hands did not leave the statue, almost as if they were glued there now from the electricity. John screamed my name as power continued to flood my veins.

It was…rather painful.

// Endure Harm

+3 (iron) => 8 vs 3, 10. WH

-1 mom [4]

+1 health [2]

This thing was thwarting my efforts and instead of feeling better I was actually beginning to feel worse. But I kept pulling, hoping that I could drain it enough for the vault defenses to shut down and we could escape without issue.

// Face Danger

I think this final Face Danger shows us the outcome of this attempt.

+3 (iron) => 9 vs 5, 10. WH

I'm going to use some Command to bump this to a SH.

-1 command [1]

+1 momentum [5]

My fever increased. My bones ached. My nerves spasmed. My stomach was performing at a sold-out circus. Had the air somehow gotten thicker for everyone else, too? Black spots began to cloud my vision and I felt myself began to slip.

Gunshots. Non-stop gunshots. They were coming from behind, slightly to the right? Was Irēn shooting it? But also from further behind. John, too?

And then I tumbled forward. I don’t think I let go, but apparently my body was giving out on me and—

No. I hadn’t let go, not on purpose. When the tumbling stopped, I was shocked to see Jane tumbling with me, something mechanical in her hands. 

And I was beginning to feel better?

I looked behind me, seeing the automaton glowing white hot. Had she phased me away and ripped out part of the automaton’s insides? The air shifted sharply as she tackled me again and threw herself over me like a shield just as the automaton exploded in a spray of shrapnel, various pieces soaring through us faster than bullets.

Seconds passed. Jane stood with ease and took a step back, eyes scanning the chaos. The air shifted once more, feeling less charged, just as John moved from in front of Irēn.

I stood up with a helping hand from Jane and exhaled a sigh of relief. “Well, that went well.”

// Set a course 

Back to the Scarlet Adler

+3 => 5 vs ...

As we made our way up on the elevator, Irēn took the opportunity to finally look me over completely.

“So, Locke, you’re Branded? And how exactly did you meet my brother?”

I kept the answer to both of those questions to myself for now. “It’s a long story,” I said instead. “I’d prefer if we wait until we were with Ira before telling you more.” I shot a glance to Jane and she just rolled her eyes.

“I haven’t seen him in years,” Irēn said. “I tried to find him—and our parents. They were all I had…”

“I thought you had a boyfriend?” I asked, remembering what Ira had told me.

“I decided to leave him right after I had Forsaken my job. He tried to propose, too, but…I couldn’t imagine living there with those people after what they did to my brother. Besides, I gave him the opportunity to come with me, to find Ira and my parents, but, like a stubborn Ironsworn, he chose to adhere to the Vows he’d already Sworn to—I hadn’t accepted the proposal so there was no Vow sworn. Ah, my apologies, these Ironlandic terms must be confusing.”

“Hope you weren’t trying to get away from stubborn Ironsworn. Locke’s the worst, but he’s head over heels in love with your brother,” Jane said with a smirk as we departed the elevator, making our way back down the lit corridor. “He even swore a Vow to find you. True definition of a Bleeding Heart.”

Irēn stopped, head tilted and eyes narrowed. “Swore? Bleeding Heart? You’re Ironsworn?”

“Part of the long story,” I said with a smile—and a quick ice-cold glare to Jane. “But basically he taught me.”

“We must be talking about two different Iras then. My brother taught someone else how to be Ironsworn?” She did her best to hold back that laugh I’d only ever seen siblings do. That laugh where they knew—or used to know—everything about a person, and something did not line up.

Would I be able to have that same laugh if and when I found Michael?

“Things have changed since you last saw Ira, I’ll leave it at that.” We resumed our travel back to the Scarlet Adler, the name of which I was not going to tell her just yet. If Ira had thought it was weird I named my ship after him, I could only imagine what she would think.

We passed through the barrier that transitioned us from light to pitch black, and we formed a line once again. I led, followed by Irēn, Jane, and John.

“This vault doesn’t make sense,” Irēn said. “It only responded to your presence, not mine. Even the Risen mostly ignored me.”

“Why would a precursor vault react to us?” John said. “It’s almost as if—”

There was a loud CRACK above us.

We stopped in place. I looked up, despite not being able to see anything in the darkness. Just as before, the lights in our suits could only illuminate the space immediately around us.

Watt beeped loudly.


Something crashed to the ground not too far away, shaking everything..

And then another. And another. 

Stone by stone, the mighty vault began to fall all around us.

“Is this place falling apart?!” Jane screamed.

// Set a Course Result

5 vs 1, 9. WH

What could this complication mean?

DF: 14, 57: Broken Organism.


Cool. The vault is crumbling.

Face Danger

+1 (edge) => 4 vs 2, 4. WH.

Let's burn momentum, so 5 vs 2, 4. SH

+1 momentum [3]

We picked up the pace. I yelled to Blackstone over the comms to get ready to pick us up. We narrowly avoided most of the debris falling from above. Had I done this when I destroyed that thing downstairs?

Watt floated up ahead, frantically beeping at the entrance, allowing us to follow his sound in the darkness. I didn’t have time to ponder too deeply on why this place—

Jane grabbed my shoulder just in time for a large chunk of the vault to come crashing down on top of us. Well, more through, having merged with the stone thanks to Jane’s Branding. She hugged us all together as close as possible. 

“Don’t stop moving!” she said.

Outside, Blackstone was waiting for us. We hopped into our exploratory pod and quickly escaped. After a few seconds of heavy breathing, we burst into laughter.

“Welcome aboard the Scarlet Adler,” Blackstone said to Irēn as she stepped inside.

She gave me that look. “You named your ship after my brother?”

“Wait, you named your ship after Ira?!” Blackstone said, as if only now catching on to what the Adler was referring to.

All I could do was sigh. “Again, long story.”

Next week on ⚡️THUNDERFANG:

Ira is elated to have his sister back in his life—a familiar voice from his past that he thought he'd lost.

But—naturally—that's not the only familiar voice the crew of the Scarlet Adler come across.

⚡️THUNDERFANG S3 #10: A Familiar Voice
The familiar voice of his sister fills Ira with so much joy, while the familiar voice of another fills Locke with anxiety…

The next chapter

This work is based on Ironsworn: Starforged (found at www.ironswornrpg.com), created by Shawn Tomkin,
and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Want to own Starforged for yourself? Grab it on DriveThruRPG!
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