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?

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.”