The Devil’s Riddle: Session 56

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on July 29, 2017 by Carl

The Dark Jester closest to Tomas recoils from the light that surrounds the divinely inspired warrior, then lets out a primal howl of hatred and fury. Tomas and Lisandra feel the horror of it buffeting them, almost a physical thing, but both call upon the Light within to give them the strength they need to resist.

Sadly Fyn lacks their mental fortitude. His mouth drops open as monstrous undulating forms loom up out of the darkness, eyes glowing red. The Jesters tower over him too, forty feet tall, talons outstretched. His weapons drop unnoticed from nerveless fingers, clattering to the stone floor. Utterly unmanned by the terrors that assail him Fyn turns and flees, wailing in fear. Finding a door behind him he tears it open and dashes into the darkness of the corridor beyond.

The Jester who was once the bookseller snarls and unleashes his dark power at Lisandra, only to see the brunt of the attack turned aside by the faint glow that still surrounds her. “You will you find your powers are limited against one who channels the Light” she smiles calmly. The creature hisses in defiance, backing away towards a door in the far wall.

As it does so a wisp of shadow detaches itself from the crumpled cloak of the fallen Jester. It rises and coalesces into a vaguely humanoid form, hovering above the tattered cloak, twin points of blue light burning where eyes should be. It turns and closes on Tomas, enveloping him in shadow. A shriek of agony tears itself from the big man; black veins stand out and spread out over greying flesh as he is wracked by inhuman pain. Though he lashes out frantically his axe passes clean through the apparition, seemingly causing little harm.

Seeing his plight Lisandra steps forward, places a hand on his back and closes her eyes. “Take courage, my friend. The Source shall never abandon you. Fight on!” Tomas feels the invigorating Light flooding into him and cries out “For the Light!”

Freed of the binding magic Rufus dashes forward. Dropping to one knee he sheathes his sword and takes an arrow with one hand whilst simultaneously readying his bow with the other. As his knee touches the ground the arrow is fired, striking the Jester close to Tomas hard in the stomach at precisely the same moment as Cayleb’s crossbow bolt slams into its forehead. The creature is thrown backwards and crumbles to dust before it hits the ground.

“We are not your foes, dead thing. Come here and tell me of your plans.” Idril’s voice reverberates through the chamber like a bell, laced with compelling magic. The retreating Jester with the face of the bookseller freezes in place and then turns, cocking its head to one side. It clasps its clawed hands together, hunches its shoulders beneath the folds of its great black cloak, and complies, the grin never leaving its face as it scuttles back towards the gnome. Waiting, Idril leans on her walking cane and allows herself a tiny but triumphant smile.

The light that suffuses Tomas causes the specter he battles to recoil, straight into a searing bead of flame conjured by Idril, but another of the spectral creatures rises from the cloak of the fallen Jester behind him and tears at his back.

Rufus drops his bow and dashes towards the wounded specter. His blade flashes up in a swift, clean blow that would take the head of any mortal foe. Once again Cayleb follows up with the killing shot; the inky black shade releases an echoing wail that fades along with its form into nothing. “Hey, that’s three for three!” yells Cayleb. “That’s gotta be worth a payrise!”

Tomas whirls and swings hard at the remaining specter, parting the smoke-like body only for it to reform. Lisandra points and a beam of scorching light blasts towards the specter, punching a neat hole through it. The shadow, clearly sensing defeat, retreats, passing straight through the nearest wall and out of sight.

  The final Jester approaches the elderly gnome. It can feel her in its mind and struggles furiously to break her grip, but has no way of freeing itself from her magic. “Now” says Idril, the power tangible in her voice. “I think it’s time you and I had a little chat.”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 55

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on July 27, 2017 by Carl

Idril steps into the room and points her stick at the nearest of the Jesters. Her voice crackles with power, and her eyes glow white in the gloom. “Go and sit in the corner until I call for you, dear.” The creature turns, as if to comply, then cocks its head to one side and turns back. It lets out a long hiss. Idril, her mental grip shattered, backs away through the doorway.

Fyn races into the room, his axe and dagger glinting in the torchlight. He comes in low, feinting with the dagger before swinging the axe hard, aiming for nearest Jester’s knee. Instead he slices harmlessly through billowing cloak. He whirls away, cursing, just in time for Cayleb to duck around the doorway and fire. The bolt punches hard into the Jester’s shoulder, but instead of doing any significant damage it only just pierces the skin before clattering to the cobbles. “Source! What are these things?” he gulps, as he too ducks back out of sight through the doorway.

“They are the very foulest spawn of darkness, and I shall send them back to whence they came!” bellows Tomas, charging forward. His righteous fury manifests as a bright white glow that causes the Jester to recoil as its desiccated skin begins to bubble and hiss. Seizing his opportunity Tomas slams his axe hard into the creature’s side, but it doesn’t fall, even when a searing bolt of light cast by Lisandra burns into it. Rufus, frozen in place, can do nothing but stare in mute fury.

As the brawny warrior tries to tug his axe free the Jester reaches out, and at its touch Tomas’ skin begins to blacken and shrivel. He feels his essence being forcibly drained from him, and grits his teeth against the pain. “That’s it, feed me, mortal creature!” the foul thing hisses.

The other two Jesters back away in opposite directions and black crackling energy leaps from their outstretched fingers towards the beleaguered Tomas. He tears his axe free in the nick of time; only one of the four bolts strikes home as he backs hurriedly away, though the pain it inflicts is almost more than he can bear.

Idril tries a more direct approach. She launches a tiny orb of flame towards the Jester facing Tomas, but the grinning thing swats it contemptuously aside. Capitalising on the distraction Fyn dives in, both weapons biting into hard dead flesh. “Fall, curse you!” he snarls in frustration as he backs back out of reach once more, only for Cayleb’s crossbow bolt to take the thing clean between its grinning teeth. There is a long hiss, and the monstrous thing crumbles to dust, it’s black cloak falling empty to the flagstones.

Tomas grins. “You see? They die just like anything else. And you’re next, abomination!” With a roar he charges the Jester that had backed away to the right, his axe hammering down into its shoulder. The creatures howls as the warrior’s aura of radiance blisters its skin. It howls again as Lisandra strides forward and begins to glow so brightly she becomes painful to look at. Her eyes blaze like twin stars as she cries “Feel the Light’s righteous power, hellspawn! Let it blast you back to the Ebon Pit!” Necrotic flesh sloughs from both the Jesters’ skulls, and their shrieks of pain  echo through the vaulted chamber.   

Rufus, who has been battling against the magic holding him in place, calms his mind. He steps outside himself, observing the magic coursing through his body, and the way it holds his muscles paralyzed. You have trained to overcome spells such as this, he thinks to himself. Remember, it is a question of correctly targeted will. Instead of struggling physically, focus the mind. Like… so! Freed of the magical bonds he moves into an attacking stance, death in his eyes.

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 54

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on July 25, 2017 by Carl

The party’s return into the smuggler tunnels is largely uneventful. The rust monsters are mollified by a meal of scrap metal, and the group head back to the junction. This time they take the other fork, entering a long, twisting tunnel that eventually forks once more. Ahead the tunnel turns once again, but to the right another passage leads to a doorway, with yet another narrow tunnel to the right of that.

Rufus gestures for silence and approaches the solid-looking wooden door, taking a moment to listen for any sounds beyond. Behind him the others ready themselves, taking up positions to support the blademaster should things go awry.

“I hear nothing, but let’s take no chances.” he whispers. Silent as night he draws his gleaming blade. “Everyone ready?”

“Would it make any difference if I said no?” grumbles Cayleb, but Rufus ignores him. He flicks the door open and moves swiftly into a huge, dark chamber, Tomas close on his heels. By the light of Cayleb’s torch the blademaster can just make out the stone vaulted ceiling and the far wall perhaps 50 feet ahead. To his right though the chamber extends a good 60 feet and then is lost in total darkness. Crude wooden benches, some overturned, are placed at regular intervals. The place looks like a subterranean church, though to what deity or dark power the adventurers can only guess.

Rufus has more important things to worry about though. Unseen by him as he passes the threshold, faint runes on the floor briefly glow an angry red. A deep voice reverberates like a bell through the room “Intruders!” and Rufus feels the unmistakable tug of magic as his limbs begin to grow heavy and slow, then freeze altogether as the enchantment binds him firmly in place.

Perhaps 40 feet away, standing close together as if in mid-conversation, are three hunched and cowled figures. They turn as one to reveal the vile rictus grins of the Dark Jesters. “My brothers,” hisses one. With a sick lurch of his stomach Tomas recognizes the ruined features of the young bookseller. “It seems another means to resolve our conundrum has presented itself!”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 53

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on July 23, 2017 by Carl

Idril speaks, her voice solemn. “It is told that the world was sung into existence by the Seven. Ankhra, Brahn, Certes, Dhrume, Espra, Fove and Ghorra. They walked the world from the dawn of time, colossi 900 feet tall forged of black iron. Each a musical key, and a colour of the spectrum. Together they were the Source and the Light. And as they walked, they sang.” Her words hold the cadence and rhythm of a mantra oft-repeated. Tomas takes up the tale.

“The Seven walked the world until the Chaining, when the dwarves in their folly conspired to bind Dhrume. The worldsong fell silent, and world was torn asunder in the Shattering. And the Seven sung once more.”

“The dwarves, seeking to atone for their crime, vowed to reforge the world. They created chains that bound the shattered lands together. A great empire rose, and a golden age of peace began.”

Tomas’ turns bitter. “But it could not last. In their hubris men opened portals to other worlds. They sought profit. They found only death. Demons poured through into the Chained World, and so began the Demon Wars.”

Fyn joins the tale. “If it wasn’t for the Saviour, we wouldn’t be here talking to you now. She was the Chosen of  the Seven. It is said She was of that place, the demon dimensions. But She came through to our world and sealed the portals behind her. From the brink of utter defeat She led the people in a war that spanned the Chained World, and that led to the eventual destruction of the demon lords and their kin. The Seven were reunited, and the world was reborn in harmony.”

Idril smiles. “More than a hundred years have passed since those times. The Seven continue to stride this chained and shattered world. And, with the Saviour’s blessing, we continue to rebuild.”

There is silence for a time as Rufus and Lisandra glance at one another, trying to take all this in. Eventually Lisandra speaks, though more to herself than anyone else. “I had not thought to question, I had simply assumed… This world is so unlike our own.”

Rufus grunts. “Is it really so different? Men and their kin plot and fight and fail, darkness threatens to engulf everything, and above it all, the Light shines. It doesn’t sound so different to me.”

Cayleb snorts. “Well I’m glad that’s settled. Look, I hate to interrupt your little history lesson, but can I remind you we are trapped underground, facing metal eating monsters, needled-toothed blood-frenzied plant things, the risen dead, and the Source knows what else. Rather than catchin’ up on the last 30,000 years, shouldn’t we be figurin’ how we survive the next three hours?”        

A rueful smile tugs at Rufus’ lips. “You’re not far wrong, Cayleb.” He looks to Lisandra. “If our aim remains to slay any Darkspawn that still infest these tunnels we must set to it. We have lost enough time already.”

The Channeler nods. “True enough. Time is indeed of the essence. We must return into the tunnels, and turn left where previously we turned right. With the blessing of the Light we will see them destroyed before they have the chance to wreak further misery.”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 52

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on July 23, 2017 by Carl

Lisandra is true to her word. As sleep claims the weary group the Channeler moves among them reciting sacred words in a language unfamiliar to all save Rufus. At the touch of her cool fingertips the pains of battle are washed away.

The elderly gnome Idril is the last to rest. Before she will allow herself to sleep she rummages in her large shoulder bag and pulls out what looks like a large cookbook tied with string. As she opens it loose sheets of parchment flutter out; she deftly snatches one after another from the air, rearranging them throughout the pages of the book. At Lisandra’s quizzical glance she shakes her head, grimacing.

“I was all but useless back there dear. The spells I had committed to memory were poorly chosen, I see that now. If we are to face foes of this power I must be better prepared. An hour or so of study and the I will rest, you have my word.”

The adventurers rest for several hours, and when they wake they do indeed feel invigorated.

“Hah! I’m ready for anything!” grins Fyn, shadow fencing with his crude weapons. “Bring it on, Darkspawn, you won’t find Fyn Summergold wanting!”

Cayleb doesn’t seem convinced, and neither does Rufus who growls “Put those blades away before you put out someone’s eye. Or your own.”

As they ready themselves to leave Tomas nods down at the metal chest. “Are we not going to take a look in there, then?”

“I tried to make out the runes on it, but they were unfamilar to me.” Lisandra admits. “Did you have any more luck, Idril?”

The wizened old gnome nods, approaching with the aid of her stick. “Yes, I recognise the script. A form of ancient elvish by the look of it. Reads something like “Warded by wit”. I think it’s a puzzle, these runes look like they move. Hold on…”

Gnarled fingers lightly trace the runes for a moment, and then a smile lights up her features. “Oh, how clever. If you turn this rune 180 degrees… now it reads “Let wit be your reward”. There is a muffled click, and the chest lid swings smoothly open.

The smile dies from her face as she peers inside however. The only contents are piles of half-rusted scrap metal. Axe heads, bent spoons, a large copper kettle. Cayleb looks over her shoulder. “It’s just a lot of junk!”

“It’s food for the creatures in the next room.” Idril corrects him. “Obviously this area was a storeroom for their rations. Which suggests… something rather interesting actually. We had been assuming that the rust monsters were left here by the Darkspawn, but I think we may have that wrong. The smugglers’ tunnels lead from the village right up to Cotely Hall. We believe a ritual summoned the Darkspawn here. Unless I miss my guess those two observations are connected. I think those guard dogs next door were left by Lord Cotely to protect his home from unwanted guests from below, but visitors he was very well aware of. I think Lord Cotely may well be tied to the Devil’s Riddle cult, and may even be the one who called those creatures to our world.”

“Light of the Sacred Seven!” rumbles Tomas, fury in his voice. “What madman would do such a thing, opening gateways to other worlds? Did we learn nothing from the Demon Wars?”

Lisandra, who had been about to reply to Idril, glances at Tomas with curiosity. “Tomas, that is not the first time I have heard this phrase, “Light of the Seven”. The Source is  One, it is singular and all encompassing. What is this Seven you speak of?”

Everyone except Rufus turns to stare at the Channeler, astonished. “You’re kidding, right?” Fyn manages at last. “You’ve really never heard of the Seven? The World-Striders?  The Seven Sacred Colossi?”

He lets out a long low whistle at the blank expressions on the faces of Rufus and Lisandra. “Wow, things really are different where you come from.”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 51

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 26, 2017 by Carl

A few thorny tendrils squirm under the door. Tomas stamps at them, growling, and they soon retreat. After a few minutes the clicking sounds from behind the door fade, and there is only silence.

“Help me get this in front of the door” Rufus calls over, and between them Rufus and Fyn block the entrance with the heavy trunk. With no further sign of activity from the hallway the group sit, their backs against the walls, and rest.

As adrenaline ebbs away the shock of the battle begins to set in. Some, such as Fyn and Tomas, retreat into silence. Others feel the need to express their fears.

“Source preserve us, what were those things? What Pit-spawned horror did we stumble into?” Cayleb gulps, running his hands nervously through his hair.

“I can’t speak for the winged man, but those things that came after us were plant spirits of the Greenwald, the forest that lies to the north of Tylon. I’ve encountered their kind before.” Idril speaks quietly, her voice soft and somehow reassuring after all the recent traumas they’ve faced.  “It is said, they grow in deep briar patches in forest clearings, or else along sunny hillsides and riverbanks. Though it is said also that they spawn whenever a sorcerer or magical creature’s blood is spilled on the forest floor. I can’t be sure of the truth of it.”

“What I can tell you is that wise men flee when they hear their clicking in the underbrush, for the children of the briar have all the capricious wickedness of spiteful children and a taste for blood.”

“They have been known to creep far and wide to spy on the forest’s inhabitants, sometimes using spiders, monstrous centipedes, even giant dragonflies as mounts. It is not unknown for the fey to engage them as servants, and I heave heard they are able to travel freely between this world and the Feywild.”

“When approached with caution they will on occasion converse with travelers bearing interesting news. But the wise are wary, for the words of the briar-kin are thorned with gleeful malice, jealous bile, and lies. As you have seen, they are not above murder. Though I have never seen such a blood-lust upon them. Normally they trade news and gossip for trinkets, favors, and drops of spilled blood.”

If Idril spots the look that passes between Rufus and Lisandra at the mention of the fey she does not show it.

Lisandra speaks. “As for the dark angel, I can only speculate. That cry as it died haunts me still.  Unless I miss my guess it was a powerful creature of the Source, an angelic being born of the  Light, though those chains that bound it were undoubtedly Pit-spawned. I think it had been corrupted. Perverted somehow, turned against its true celestial nature through some unholy rite. Perhaps it was summoned to this world in a similar way to that in which the Jesters were called. However those abominations came willingly. If the angel tried to resist the summons but failed  perhaps it was weakened when arrived. It may have been vulnerable, allowing creatures of the Dark to capture and enslave it. I cannot say for certain, but that was a creature of power; I cannot imagine how else the Jesters would have overcome it and worked their unholy binding. I wish we could have freed it. I am just glad we were able to help in providing it release from its torment.”

Idril nods. “That makes sense, my dear. I imagine it was left here by the Jesters as a guardian. Though I cannot for the life of me say why the briar children came here, or fought it, or us.”

Cayleb holds his head in his hands. “What a disaster! We’re trapped down here, I’m down to my last arrow, Rufus and Tomas are half dead, Fyn’s lost his swords and you spellweavers are as much use to us now as a hog in a hailstorm! Those things are out there, just waiting for us. We’re done for!”

Rufus glowers, ready to administer some military discipline but Lisandra silences him with a calm gesture. She places a hand on Cayleb’s shoulder, causing him to look up and meet her eyes. “Do not despair Cayleb. Any of you. What does not kill us only makes us stronger. The briar children are held at bay, perhaps even have left entirely. More importantly we have faced a powerful weapon of the darkness, it has been destroyed and we are still standing. With rest our vitality and resolve will return. Take solace!”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 50

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 25, 2017 by Carl

Rapid clicking sounds echo down the passageway, and Idril finds herself wondering if they might be some form of rudimentary plant language. Then a twisting, writhing mass of bramble and briar comes pouring down the stairs towards them.

“Oh shiiiit!” Cayleb cries, and he panic fires his crossbow into the tangled thorns. While the rest of the group manage to better maintain their composure they are no less alarmed. As one they unleash the attacks they had prepared, arrows thumping into gnarled briar. Lisandra points and a bolt of light leaps from her fingers. The thicket seems to part momentarily, and the light passes through harmlessly. Tomas grips his greataxe tightly and bellows a challenge.

As the wave of thorns closes Idril unleashes the spell she has been holding. Bright colours swirl from her fingertips bathing the thorns in coruscating patterns. The thorn swarm falters, halts, and breaks apart into its composite creatures. A couple of them blunder about, their shiny black eyes turned milky white by the blinding lights. Idril intensifies her attack, and another creature lets out a clicking squeal, trying in vain to protect its eyes. Fyn is able to pick one of the blinded ones off with another well placed arrow.

But the respite is momentary. The remainder hurl themselves on the adventurers with savage glee. Wicked spined claws open wounds down Tomas’ legs while spat thorns tear painfully into Rufus’ face and neck. The two warriors are battered, bleeding and exhausted.

“There are too many of them!” Rufus cries. “Fighting retreat! Back through the door! Go!” He takes up a defensive stance, hoping to buy the others enough time to escape. Though it goes against his every warrior’s instinct Tomas follows the blademaster’s lead. Cayleb and Fyn back away, still firing, as Lisandra casts healing magics on Tomas.

Idril, leaning heavily on her cane, retreats back into the room with the trunk, frustration furrowing her brow. “I’m sorry, my friends; my magics are all but spent. I don’t know what further help I can provide.” Lisandra nods. “I have little left to offer myself. Rufus is right, everyone fall back!”

As if things are not bad enough the blinded briar-kin’s white eyes regrow their shiny black coating. They crouch and turn towards the embattled warriors, bloody maws spread wide in toothy grins, wicked little eyes glinting. The horde of tiny briar-kin seem relentless, remorseless, unstoppable. 

Tomas takes up a position in the doorway with the others at his back. The big mountain man roars in defiance, keeping the creatures at bay with chopping sweeps of his greataxe. Although the occasional attack gets through he does a remarkable job of holding the line. “Come at me, you spiky devils!” he bellows. “I’ll chop you to kindling!”

“Lisandra, keep him standing!” Rufus cries. He unslings his bow, notches and fires in one smooth motion. “The rest of you, keep fighting!” Fyn and Cayleb continue to shoot, though their quivers are running low. Even Idril unwraps a sling from her wrist and catches a briar-kin with a nasty shot as Lisandra channels all her remaining healing magic into the brave mountain man’s defense. As quickly as she heals him though fresh wounds are opened up by the vicious grinning little creatures. It is increasingly plain to all of them that this war of attrition can have only one outcome.

At the rear of the pack two of the creatures join hands and thorny tendril begin to snake towards the big man. “That’s it!” snaps Rufus as he takes another briar-kin down with a well placed arrow. “Back, Tomas, now. Close the door behind him!”

The door slams. Rufus and Tomas set their backs to the thick oak as Fyn and Cayleb work to secure it. No-one speaks, their breaths coming in short gasps. Sweat slicks their brows. Their work done the party step back, glancing anxiously at one another, then at the door. They have earned themselves a respite. But for how long?