The Devil’s Riddle: Session 60

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on August 30, 2017 by Carl

Rufus and Fyn enter into a scene of chaos; Lisandra bleeding from claw marks across one cheek, Tomas stood rigid in pain as the creature of shadow plunges its limbs ever deeper into his back.

“Stand fast Tomas, I have this.” mutters Idril . The elderly gnome cups her hands and thrusts them out towards the shadowy figure. A tiny bead of swirling black energy flies out and impacts the spectre with a deafening crack of thunder. The concussive force tears the thing apart.  

Fyn and Rufus use the distraction to dash in unseen behind the last remaining Jester; Fyn stabs hard but his dagger passes clean through rotting flesh, causing no appreciable damage. His blow serves to alert the creature however, and hissing in fury it ducks its head beneath a swing from Rufus that would surely have decapitated it.

“Duck this, chuckles!” Cayleb yells, backpedaling, and another of his bolts flies true, burying itself to the fletching in the Darkspawn’s chest.

Tomas bellows in fury and hacks at the creature. The blow is heavy enough to knock the Jester to one knee, but seems to do little actual damage. “You shall be the first to die!” the undead monstrosity hisses at him.

“I think not, foul thing.” Lisandra’s words are gentle, and the movements of her fingers are delicate. The roaring blast of fire that spews forth is anything but. The Dark Jester bursts into flames, the dry and desiccated flesh consumed in a furious conflagration. Blackened bones collapse to the flagstones.

The group silently surround their fallen foe, readying themselves for the emergence of its spirit form.  But swirling smoke-like creature that emerges from the bones does not rise up to attack. Instead it sinks into the stone floor and vanishes from sight.

“Seven take it, it’s got away!” Cayleb moans. “Gone to fetch more of its kind, no doubt!”

“I’m not so sure” Lisandra muses, even as she moves to Tomas’ side to tend to his wounds. “If there were more nearby surely they would have all attacked when the one we questioned broke free of Idril’s control. No, I think we have dealt the enemy a significant blow here today.”

Idril nods. “Aye, lass, your reasoning is sound to my mind. Their plan centered on a summoning ritual, and that ritual requires a book. We have destroyed several of their number, and the one that remains does not know where the book is. It mistakenly believed we must have taken it.”

“I take it that none of us did take it?” Tomas asks, wincing as Lisandra massages necrotised flesh with fingers that glow with holy light. The other shake their heads. “So where could it be? The bookseller left it, Jeden didn’t know anything about it, none of us have it. Who else could possibly have taken it?”

The group stare blankly at one another for several beats before realisation strikes. Rufus and Tomas speak at once: “Ranji!”

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The Devil’s Riddle: Session 59

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

Fyn, meanwhile, is entirely out of his mind with fear. He runs through pitch black corridors with no thought for his destination or the dangers that may lie ahead. His only goal is to escape those horrors that he knows lie behind. Reaching a door he fumbles in the darkness to open it but finds it locked. He whimpers in terror.

In desperation he slams into the door with his shoulder, but fear has unmanned him and his limbs feel drained of strength. The door doesn’t budge, but the sudden sharp pain in his shoulder is sufficient to snap him back to himself. The magical terror dissipates, leaving the young swashbuckler suddenly clearheaded.

“Seven Hells”, he mutters, gazing back down the pitch-black corridor and suddenly very aware of his solitude and vulnerability in this dangerous place.  “What have I done?”

He waits for a moment, but hearing nothing from behind the door he begins to feel his way back the way he came, fingers brushing against cold stone. He’s gone perhaps twenty feet when he hears approaching footsteps, and his heart leaps to his mouth. He fumbles for his weapons, only to realise that he dropped them back in the chapel room. He has a bow strapped to his back, but it’s worse than useless in these conditions. Unarmed, alone, and blind. Exceptional, Fyn, just exceptional.

The footsteps draw closer, a rhythmic staccato march. The precise, regimented march of a man with a parade ground swagger stick shoved firmly up his butt, Fyn realises. “Rufus?” He calls out into the darkness. “Is that you?”

A faint blue glow appears, and a moment later Rufus rounds the corner, his sword glowing in the dark and faintly illuminating him.

“Fyn. Well, you haven’t managed to get yourself killed, or bring down another horde of Darkspawn on our heads. Which is something I suppose. Come on, we need to get back to Lisandra.”

Despite the blademaster’s gruff words Fyn grins. Rufus may give him a hard time, but even the blithe swashbuckler can hear the relief in the older man’s words. “It’s good to see you too, Rufus. I can honestly say I’ve never been so pleased to see you. You don’t have a dagger about your person I could borrow do you? I seem to have mislaid my weapons again.”

The two make their way back down the winding corridor. As they near the door to the chapel Rufus turns to Fyn, about to speak, only for the younger man to hold up a hand, cutting him off. “Quiet!” he whispers. “I think I hear something…”

They both hear what comes next; a roar of agony from Tomas as battle is rejoined. 

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 58

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

Rufus scowls. He is sworn to protect Lisandra, and it sits ill with him to be sent after Fyn when they are still amidst such peril. But, he concedes, they do need to retrieve their ally, and of their number Rufus is best placed to carry out that task. His scowl deepens as he follows the dark tunnels after his companion, sword in hand. He quickens his pace.  The sooner he is back at Lisandra’s side the better…

“My apprentice, I am troubled.”

Rufus halts in place, astonished. This cannot be! The voice that reverberates through his mind is unmistakable; Olimar, the Blademaster who tutored him in the skills of the Chamarand. His master, who sacrificed himself to eternity trapped within Rufus’ sword, that the fey spirit Andromeda, who wars for control of his mind, might be kept at bay. Since that moment when Olimar impaled himself upon the sword there has been the constant sense of his master’s presence, but never words. “Master? How it that you speak?” 

“Is this the question that most needs asking?” There is the faintest hint of amusement in Olimar’s voice, so reminiscent of their time training together. Rufus calms himself, straightens, and slows his breathing.

“What troubles you master?” A sense of approval washes over the Blademaster, and he can almost see his elderly master nodding in satisfaction though when it speaks the disembodied voice is grave.

“You experienced Andromeda’s recent assault upon your mind as you approached the desecrated place. My influence was tempered by the dark energies here, and the fey queen was able to momentarily wrest control. With focus you overcame that assault.” The last Chamarand pauses, but Rufus knows him well enough to know that he is merely considering his next words. The Blademaster remains silent.

“It is what has happened since that troubles me.” Olimar continues. “We have warred from the moment I entered the blade, she and I. Always the two of us in perfect balance. Always held in perpetual stalemate. Sustained. Predictable.” He sighs. “Since that moment of destabilisation I no longer feel her presence warring against me.”

“But master, is this not good news?” Rufus asks, gazing at the sword held out before him.

“Would that it were my boy. Andromeda has ceased her direct assault, but her presence in your psyche remains. She has… changed tack. I fear  she has read your memories and learned something to her advantage during her brief domination, while your mind was temporarily unguarded. Something that she means to turn to her own ends.”

Rufus, calm and focused as he is, cannot suppress a thrill of fear. “The bargain.” he says, with fatalistic certainty.

“I can see no other possibility. Your bargain with the fey king Finvarra was your turning point. As a self-absorbed, ignorant  youth you selfishly demanded transcendence in return for betrayal of Andromeda, expecting power and influence. Instead you were gifted with self-awareness, and this started you on the path towards the man you have become. I fear the fey queen now knows this, and means to turn the knowledge to her advantage. How exactly I cannot say, but I sense great malice in her.”

Rufus bows his head. “Master… I have never had the chance to thank you. For your training, your friendship and most of all your sacrifice. For the perpetual battle you have waged on my behalf. Thank you, master. Whatever Andromeda’s scheme we shall face it together, and Source willing, overcome it. I take great solace in that thought.” He looks up, suddenly recalling his task, and begins to walk again. “My master, I must find my missing companion…”

“Indeed you must my boy.” Olimar agrees. “I will contemplate further.”

And with that the sword falls silent.

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 57

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on August 20, 2017 by Carl

“Yes, it is long past time for answers” Lisandra agrees. “But we cannot abandon our own. Rufus, find Fyn please, before he comes to harm.” Rufus does not look best pleased to be leaving Lisandra’s side, particularly with the grinning monstrosity present, but he complies.

“You will tell us of your plans. Speak.” Idril’s words are quiet and calm, and the Dark Jester is powerless to resist. It begins to speak in a voice as dry as tomb dust. “I serve the Fury, the Glory that is to come. I am the harbinger of Darkness, the bringer of pain, the…”

“She asked for your plans, foulspawn, not your resume.” Tomas snaps.

The creature hisses, but lowers its head in supplication. The fixed grin never wavers. Skeletal clawed fingers intertwine and flex continually, perhaps an indication of the frustration the creature feels.“We were summoned to this place by followers of the Dark. Their ritual weakened the bulwarks that stand between this world and the eternal Dark, and through that rupture we came. We took their forms that we could fulfill our purpose.”

Idril gazes steadily up at the creature, unflinching. “And that purpose is?”

The Jesters thrashes its head from side to side for a moment, clearly attempting to free itself from the gnome’s magical compulsion, but finds itself forced to continue.

“The rent through which we passed was minor. Now we are here we seek to tear it wider. We seek to conduct the ritual that will open this world to the Glory that is to come to all things, our Lord and Master, the Fury!”

“And yet thus far you have not.” Lisandra turns from Tomas, who she has been healing. Her voice is soft, as if speaking to a child. “Why is that?”

The Jester’s head snaps around to fix her with its mad, baleful gaze. “The bulwarks between worlds are sturdy. The ritual to disrupt them is complex. The… the ritual was recorded, but lost. We sought to recover it…”

“What do you mean lost? Lost how?” Lisandra interrupts.

“There was a book, the one used to summon us. It was taken from the ruins above by the host I now wear. Through this host we learned of its whereabouts, and set out to recover it but…”

“Where did you seek it?” Lisandra asks, some premonition sending a thrill of dread through her..

“The Inn. The Devil’s Riddle. We returned there. But the book was gone. We took the innkeeper to learn of its location, but he was useless to us.”

There is a sharp intake of breath from Tomas. “Jeden! You thrice-cursed fiend, if you have harmed him…”

Lisandra cuts in. “When we entered you said a new way to resolve your conundrum had presented itself. What did you mean?”

The creature leans forward, almost conspiratorially. “Let me tell you…”

Idril, who has not spoken for some time, turns to her companions, an anxious look on her face. “Something’s wrong. This creature has shared more than my spell would compel. I fear treachery…”

“If the book was removed from the inn, and the innkeeper did not take it, then clearly one of you did. Now we have you here we shall use one of you as a host for my , recover the book and Woman, your spell compelled me to approach you and speak of our plans.” the Jester hisses, its head cocked to one side. “This I have done, and more. And in so doing, I have achieved three things. I have ensnared my prey. I have gathered my forces. And I have freed myself of your spell!”

The Jester’s clawed hand lashes out towards Lisandra with inhuman speed, raking across her cheek. In the same instant the spectral form that had fled earlier reappears through the wall directly behind a distracted Tomas. It plunges its shadowy arms deep into the warrior’s back and he roars in pain as he feels his very life essence being drained from him.

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!”