Archive for June, 2017

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?

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 49

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

Fyn takes a deep breath to steady his nerves. Dammit, Fyn, Tomas and Rufus are out there, toe to toe with that thing! If it doesn’t go down soon they’re likely to get torn to pieces! He draws the bowstring back, rises and lets another arrow fly. This time his timing is perfect; just as the scourging light begins to burn once more in the angel’s eyes Fyn’s arrow plunges deep into its shoulder. It howls in pain and the deadly light dies. Fyn can’t resist a triumphant “Hah!” before ducking behind cover once more.

Fyn’s jubilation is premature however. The angel gestures with one hand and to Lisandra’s astonishment Rufus’ shield of light flickers and dies. “How is that possible…” she gasps. Her surprise turns to horror as the Angel reaches out with the other clawed hand and the fiery greatsword vanishes from the ground to reappear in its fist. The subsequent swing is so unexpected it catches both Rufus and Tomas completely unprepared. They drop without a sound, blood gushing from their wounds, and the chained angel roars in triumph.

Briar-kin scuttle around its feet, spitting their little needles, while more continue to clamber over it, puncturing it with spines. Some of their attacks strike home and draw blood, but the angel seems almost oblivious.  Cayleb’s expertly placed crossbow bolt elicits a roar of pain though.

Lisandra clasps her hands together and once more waves of healing energy flow out over her allies. Both Rufus and Tomas blink back to consciousness. As they do so Idril gestures and snaps “Nebula!” Thick fog swirls up around the angel’s feet, completely enveloping it, the briar-kin and the two warriors.

With nothing to shoot at Fyn waits for his moment, bowstring taut. He doesn’t have long to wait. Tangled as it is in a swarm of thorny plant creatures the chained angel is unable to fly, but it can still beat its mighty wings sufficiently to disperse the fog cloud. Fyn fires, but the arrow is knocked harmlessly off course by those wings.

Tomas and Rufus grab their weapons and rise to their feet only to see the entire swarm of briar-kin fall upon the chained angel in a killing frenzy. Blood sprays from countless tiny wounds, and the angel lifts its face to the heavens and lets out one final, horrifying shriek. As it sinks beneath the tangle of thrashing, blood-soaked children of the briar the listeners imagine there is almost a note of gratitude in the sound.

One of the diminutive spiny creatures looks up at Rufus, its eyes gleaming like polished walnuts. The needle-toothed grin, now stained scarlet, never leaves its face. Rufus assesses options and reaches a decision instantly. 

“Tomas! The Darkspawn is down, it’s time we were gone. Run!”

Tomas waits only a heartbeat before complying; the angel has vanished beneath an ever-growing tangle of thorny brambles, but more of the creatures are beginning to eye them hungrily. “Everyone back to the tunnels!” Rufus yells. “Go! Go!”

The tiny plantlings come racing after Tomas and Rufus. The two warriors, Fyn close on their heels, leap back down into the destroyed cellar and sprint for the hole. As they do so Idril pauses just long enough to whip up another cloud of fog to cover their retreat, and the patter of tiny footfalls at their back falters. In short order the whole party are back in the tunnels, with a few precious moments to regroup bought for them by Idril’s quick thinking. With the single minded focus of a seasoned military tactician Rufus swiftly organises them as they race down the stairs.

“Everyone back down the corridor. I want a shooting gallery down here. Lisandra, Idril, you’re at the rear, backs to the wall. Healing if we need it, damage if we don’t. Idril, I want grease on the stairs. Have the door to the trunk room open next to you in case we need to fall back in a hurry. Cayleb, Fyn, fire into them as they come. Tomas, you and I are the front line. Nothing gets past us, understand?”  

Everyone takes up positions, sweat beading on brows, hearts hammering. “Get ready” Rufus growls. “Here they come!”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 48

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 22, 2017 by Carl

Fyn heaves himself up and over the edge, then dashes towards the cover of a half-collapsed wall. Crouching he readies an arrow, waiting for his target’s attention to be diverted towards the irritant thorn-creatures. Then he lets fly, but at the moment he does the angel drops suddenly in an attempt dislodge the clinging briar-kin. “Source take you!” he hisses as the arrow sails over the angel’s head. He ducks back down, considering his next move. As he does so Cayleb pops up; his crossbow bolt does strike home.

Overhead the angel clasps both hands together and an immense blade of roaring fire burst into life between them. It swoops down towards one of the briar-kin that fired needles, and swings twice. The tiny creature leaps nimbly over each arc of flame, then leaps directly at the angel along with another of its kin. While two of them pummel it with spiny fists two more attempt to bind it once more. Once again the angel is able to tear itself free, though with more difficulty this time. The combined attacks and tangled vines force it to land.

Idril takes Lisandra’s hand and rises painfully to her feet. “Thank you my dear” grunts the elderly gnome. Then she mutters under her breath, twists her fingers sharply and gestures towards the angel. The ground beneath it becomes suddenly slippery, but if she hoped to cause it to fall she is disappointed.

Tomas hauls himself up, reaches for his greataxe and charges. “For the LIIIGHT!” he roars. He swings but the angel sees him coming and swats the mighty blow aside with one wing, leaving the big man stumbling and wide open to a counter. It lets out a wild, inarticulate roar of fury and defiance. 

Seeing this Rufus makes a desperate dash to help his ally. He drops his bow and breaks into a sprint. As he runs he draws his gleaming curved blade, holding it out behind him as he springs from one wall to the next and rolls over the lip. As he does so Lisandra raises her hands, and a faint, shimmering shield of light forms around her bodyguard. He comes up running and lashes out twice, clean blows that open up a neat cross of blood across the angel’s clasped fingers. The chained celestial bellows in pain, and the blazing swords falls from its grip.

Rufus allows himself a satisfied half smile, and steps back into a wide-armed stance, almost inviting the creature to stoop and reclaim its weapon. His confidence drains as he meets the creature’s gaze however; there is nothing there but deep, soulless anguish and fury, utterly at odds with its divine countenance. 

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 47

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 22, 2017 by Carl

“It’s as good as dead!” grins the irrepressible swashbuckler as the party respond to Lisandra’s call to action. Drawing his bow Fyn dashes for a pile of rubble in the far corner of the destroyed cellar and attempts to use it as a springboard to reach and swing up from the jutting beams above. The rubble shifts underfoot however, leaving him clinging, one-handed, to an overhanging beam, feeling somewhat foolish. He doesn’t realise how lucky he is to be out of sight of the combatants above.

Overhead the chained angel shrieks once more, an inhuman, ghastly sound that makes the flesh crawl. Blindingly bright light suddenly erupts its eyes with deafening roar; the few thorny creatures that had been clinging to the angel are blasted clear. They tumble from sight into the manor ruins.

The angel’s blazing gaze rakes over everything it falls upon, throwing up showers of dust and debris. Caught out in the open, Idril and Lisandra are blasted from their feet and crash to the ground ten feet away. Idril lies unmoving where she falls, blood pooling around her grey hair. Rufus too is thrown backwards and lands heavily but shakes his head groggily, still conscious though badly hurt. Tomas grunts in pain as he too is struck, but he keeps his feet.

Cayleb, who wisely ducked back into his hole the moment he saw danger, pops up as the beams of radiant light pass by, takes a panicked shot and ducks quickly back out of sight. Unsurprisingly his crossbow bolt flies well wide of its mark.   

More of the thorn-covered creatures emerge, scampering up beams and over crumbling masonry. Two of them open grinning, spine-toothed mouths and razor-sharp thorns spit out, flying twenty feet to rip into angelic flesh. Distracted by this assault the angel barely sees the other two that leap down from the gaping hole in the roof to land on its back. As they cling on tangled, thorny briars burst from their tiny bodies and spread between them. The tendrils interweave and wrap swiftly around the angel, threatening to bind it completely.

The angel gathers itself; powerful wings flex and tear through the thick binding briars like wet cotton. It is all the briar-children can do to hang on.

Tomas bellows in fury; down here he can do nothing. That abomination up there is free to cut down his companions at will unless he can somehow reach it. He takes a running start and leaps for an overhanging joist. Even with his great height and strength he only just reaches it and manages to hang on by his fingers.  Rufus meanwhile drags himself to one knee, nocks an arrow and despite his swimming vision he fires. The pain is too much though; his shot lacks power and the arrow falls short of its target.

Lisandra rises unsteadily to her feet and staggers over to the fallen Idril. She reaches out a hand and closes her eyes. White light, similar to that emitted by the angel, washes first over the elderly gnome and then out to envelop all her companions. “Awake, bright heart” she whispers, and to her great relief Idril’s eyes flutter open. “There is hope yet.”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 46

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 22, 2017 by Carl

Fyn pushes the door open, ready to spring back, but what he sees brings him up short. “Nothing in here” he calls back to his companions. “Nothing but a large trunk against the far wall.”

The party enter the room and indeed there is very little of note; a door in the northern wall, a heavy trunk against the western one, banded and clad in dull steel. It is unadorned save for three thick embossed runes on the front.

“Want me to take a look?” Fyn asks, but Lisandra shakes her head. “Let Idril and I examine it first. Perhaps we can determine what these runes signify.”

The two step forward, but before they can stoop to begin their examination they are interrupted by an almighty impact from above that causes the floor to vibrate and loose ceiling mortar to rain down on them. Rufus is the first to react.

“That came from the ruins above! Everybody move!”

He leads them at a sprint, dashing back down the corridor and scrambling up through the hole in the ceiling at the top of the stairs. The sight that greets him gives even the experienced blademaster pause. Above him, silhouetted against a large hole in the manor house roof, a being he can only describe as an angel is furiously beating its huge snow-white wings as it desperately attempts to climb. Clinging to it are a number of tiny spined creatures, their sharp thorns lacerating the flying being. They appear to be plantlike, but are utterly alien to Rufus.

Lisandra clambers up first to join the blademaster in the ruins of the manor cellar and then the others; as they begin to make sense of the scene unfolding overhead it becomes apparent that whatever it is, this “angel” is not what it first appeared to be. Its long flowing robes are stained brown with what looks like dried blood. Instead of hands it has long, vicious claws, similarly stained, and the flesh of both arms glistens, as if its skin has been flayed away. Wrapped around the body and arms are spiked black chains that pierce the skin, and attached to the chains there is a black iron collar around its neck. It opens its mouth and lets out a tortured shriek as it flings one of the tiny plant things away.

“Sevenfold Source!” Tomas spits. “What is that unholy thing? Do you see its halo? It’s black as the Pit!”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care!” cries Cayleb, still halfway through the hole. “Let ‘em tear each other apart, and let’s get out of here before they try to do the same to us!”

Lisandra shakes her head, no doubt in her mind. “I have no idea what it is, nor what those are creatures that attack it, but we are here to destroy agents of the Dark. That chained thing is plainly our foe. If it escapes this place who can say how much harm it might do? Stand fast, my friends; we attack!”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 45

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

Lisandra closes her eyes and reaches out with her senses. Almost at once she recoils, her features contorting in disgust. “Oh! This place reeks of the Dark! Something foul occurred here…”

She takes a deep breath and concentrates, picking her way through the layers of foulness and corruption that cling to this place like congealed blood. In her mind’s eye she senses the place and time a dark ritual was performed, and pieces fall into place.

“Rufus, we had assumed the Darkspawn followed us here. I’m not sure that’s true, at least in the manner in which we had presumed.” She opens her eyes and meets the blademaster’s steady gaze. “What I sense here is an unholy rite, a summoning ritual that opened the way to the agents of the Dark. I don’t think the Darkness followed, I believe it was called.”

Rufus strokes his chin, concerned. “That would suggest that our foes had allies here, that their taint had already spread into this world before they themselves broke through.”

“Perhaps,” Lisandra nods, “though we cannot be sure. It is possible that the ritual was conducted in error, or that the consequences were unknown.” She sees the look of skepticism her bodyguard shoots her, and shrugs. “I confess, it does not seem likely.”

“But the house?” demands Idril. “What of the house? These ruins look hundreds of years old! How is that possible?”

“The Source is in all things” the Channeler responds. “Most strongly in living beings, in animals and plants. But to a lesser extent present also in felled wood, in stone and steel and glass. I think what happened when a portal opened here was that an outpouring of Darkness bled into this world. At its touch all remnants of the Source were burned away. Stone crumbled, wood rotted; in effect this place aged and decayed hundreds of years in a matter of moments.”

Fyn shudders. “Light of the Seven! If it had that effect on the building, what would it have done to any people here?”

Lisandra nods. “It is a horror that does not bear thinking on. We must do everything in our power to prevent any similar incursions. But I fear we will not achive that here. Our quarry are long gone from this place; I think we must return to the tunnels in order to seek them out.”

There is no debate; a lingering dread taints this place and all the group are grateful to take their leave of it. Within minutes they have made their way back down into the smuggler tunnels.

“Very well” says Rufus. “Fyn, with me, but quiet and touch nothing unless I say so!” The pair head down the unexplored tunnel, which turns to the right. A door stands before them, which Fyn examines for a moment before announcing “Unlocked, I think.”

Rufus nods, backing away to the cover the corridor corner. “Very well. Tomas, stand close by me. You others, behind us. Fyn, glance inside and be ready to fall back in case of danger.” He nocks an arrow. “Everyone ready? Then go!”