Monday, July 2, 2018

CRUNK! THONK! KLAANG! Goes the Temple

Though Cawyn does his best to persuade the old treant, Hollyhorn will not be convinced into joining their assault on the temple. He is very thankful, but seems determined to use the energy they’ve given to make it to the gateway and back to the Elder’s glorious light. Somewhat crestfallen, the Druid still wishes him well and asks that he swat down a few cruel sprites if he gets the chance at the gate.
Hollyhorn waves a broken fingered hand, “Huumrmm-grmmmmrm, Rest assured I shall young Druid! The Elder’s blessings upon you in your quest against the darkness!” He disappears into the gloom, trailing shadows that follow at a wary distance.
As the party hikes back toward the temple, they devise a plan. Though the captain is somewhat apathetic and quiet, thanks to the influence of Cairn nan Arq, the rest feel refreshed and optimistic about their chances. They sneak right to the doors of the dark temple, after ensuring the shadows and the fiends have not been replenished as guardians.
As per the plan, Abraxis, restored once more to his power, cloaks Harrick in a mantle of protection against infernal evil. Falco cloaks himself in a magical disguise as one of the black armored knights of Sevos. As the topping to their assault, Cawyn summons an elemental servant he dubs, ‘Mossy Rocks.” An eleven foot behemoth of stone with thick durin-like limbs coated in a partial carpet of moss and dangling lichen for hair, Mossy Rocks has a slight feminine appearance, but her voice is pure gravelly terran when she asks, “What is thy bidding master?”
Cawyn tells her, and the barred doors of the temple come down with a CRUNK! CRUNCH! under the sledge fisted assault. Even Calder smiles briefly, grimly, at the display.
As the destruction echoes throughout the temple, the group follows their walking siege tower inside. Down the stairs and to the right Harrick is the first to spot the dread weaver as the fear inducing power descends upon he and Falco. The rogue succumbs, being forced into a mini montage of disturbing events that end with him being once more shrunk and stored in the pocket of the Archfey, Laird Turath. In the shadowfell, he drops and curls into a fetal position upon the stones.
The power slides off of Harrick, thanks to Abraxis’ protections and the hulking fighter throws a dagger at the spider as a means of pointing out the tiny fiend. The blade misses, but it allows Calder to see it. A lightning draw from the hip and a ringing crack from the Syvani-made pistol puts an end to the bug, with a wet splat of fiendish ichor on the wall.
As Mossy Rocks heads around the corner and sees the lowered portcullis, the THONK of heavy crossbows can be heard as bolts break upon her torso. She needs little urging to begin her charge, though Cawyn gives it anyway. As Falco sends a blast a fire and Calder shoots from cover, the elemental builds up momentum, using her formidable arms to cover her face. Seeing the elemental’s intent, Calder smiles again, whispering near silent, but heartfelt encouragement.
The two knights behind the bars hastily send another round of bolts that do even less, and barely have time to crouch as three thousand pounds of rock (and a tiny bit of soft moss) collide with iron! KRAAANG! Stone pavers shatter and ceiling gives way as the entire gate breaks from its moorings and flies into the faces of the stunned knights. One manages to shift, taking a glancing blow from the flying metal but the other is thrown with it, ending smashed and pinned beneath.
Stepping up beside the heaving behemoth, the rest of the party makes quick work of finishing the knights, who scarcely have time to cry out before they are cut down by blade, bullet and magic. Once again, the echoes of the conflict die away as they approach the main doors to the altar room.
And once more Cawyn’s servant of stone prepares to rip doors asunder. More crunching, this time taking a whole four hammer blows, and the heavy iron doors embellished with the icons of the Master of Chains lie smashed and ruined. From within, a flurry of missiles hit Mossy as a tide of inky darkness extends outward. Arrows break upon her as she wades into the gloom.
The darkness only lasts a moment before Cawyn’s druidic counterspell ends it. Abraxis lets loose a shout of angry joy and Harrick barrels forward into the room as Falco and Calder aim spell and shard. With speed and skill Harrick somehow not only covers the distance, but takes two good swings, one which finds a gap and draws blood. The tiefling blackguard and his devil master meet the assault with chain and glaive.
Like Harrick, the blackguard seems to be cloaked in his own mantle of protection that causes Calder’s shots to go wide. For the moment, he holds his own against the onslaught. Nalfesh’s chains snakes from the ceiling and grab up Harrick and Falco, ripping at them with barbed hooks while the devil himself and the tiefling lashes out at the elemental. Cawyn sends a gout of fire that melts the chains holding Falco. Soon enough, they break free through strength and agility.
Abraxis shouts out a Command and the blackguard drops his glaive to the ground with a surprised look on his white face. Falco summons a shadow blade that slices into the half fiend knight. All the while, Mossy Rocks does her best to make a paste of the tiefling, and he does his best to dodge the furious blows.
Calder switches targets, putting rounds into the master since he could not hit the servant. The shards hit their mark as the Chain devil’s torso rocks with the blasts. In his mind, he hopes his sire can see it. The blackguard rolls and picks up his weapon, following through with a flurry of attacks that end with a black burst of energy that swirls briefly about the head of the elemental.
Abraxis crosses his blades and raises them high, “Golden Three and All the Court of Light and Shadow! Through me, fill this place with YOUR power and chase away the taint of the Beyond!”
With the ringing words, sparks of golden light illumine the darkness and send terror into the eyes of the fiends. Even Calder shudders momentarily with fear. But the blackguard and Nalfesh actually shrink back in horror. Nalfesh, in a fevered attack, sends all of his remaining chains at Harrick, who has instilled his own intimidation into the chain devil. The attacks are hurried, but some still connect. Harrick is lifted into the air and ripped at. Nalfesh joins his guardian at the rear of the altar room, shaking off the fear with deviled determination.
Then, having re-coalesced his dark blade, Falco sends it once more streaking toward the distracted devil. It appears as if by magic through the eight foot devil’s heart, sunk to the shadowy hilt. With a groaning, hissing curse the chained one slumps to the floor and perishes.
Seeing the destruction of his master, the blackguard goes wild. Abraxis charges. A thunderous clash of gold light and black shadow war as the two trade smiting blows. Mossy Rocks lumbers in as the tiefling redoubles his doomed attacks.
From the rear of the chamber, Cawyn points a stubby durin finger over the cluster. A thin, black beam of withering energy snakes between the thrusting limbs and heaving forms. When it connects, the blackguard shrieks and stumbles backward. When his body hits the wall, the armor is already falling in on itself. Where once supported by living flesh, it now collapses on withered muscle and brittle bone.
Together, the party watches as the black helm slips from a skull caving in on itself. Lips like crumbling parchment whisper fading curses before the last juices leak from eyeless sockets, black blood gushes from a fleshless nose and mouth, and turns to dust before hitting the floor.

Heavy breathing, grinding elemental stone and the quiet spitting of green flame braziers are the only sounds left in the chamber.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hollyhorn

You feel the deep bite of the glaive as it pierces your chest. You watch the pistol slide from your suddenly weakened grip. As you fall to your knees, you stare through the partially raised portcullis bars, "Go! Run!" Then your world goes black...
...You wake at the foot of a massive, black throne. The pain in your chest is still present, but has become bearable. A tall figure cloaked in shadow sits upon the throne. It's legs are heavily muscled and seem to end in hooves. When it leans forward, you peer into a porcelain smooth face with sharp, curving horns protruding from an otherwise neran-looking brow. Immense, dragon-like wings unfurl, but you are mesmerized by the skin of the devil before you. It's exactly the same shade of deep purple as your own! The ten foot tall being is smiling down at you.
"What's this? One of my childer, come to receive my blessing?" The voice is cultured and deep, with the strange accent of the infernal.
It... no, "he" peers closer, noticing the wound in your chest. With a casual wave of long, purple fingers ending in razor claws it summons the frozen scene of your battle into being around you, sees by flickering green torchlight the white skinned blackguard above you.
"Tsk tsk. Nalfesh's brood. No wonder your wounding calls to me so, and in his place of power no less. The Chained One and I have no love for each other." He seems to consider. "So, not a planned meeting, but a meeting nonetheless." He looks down at you more intensely, "Not come to seek my blessing, but perhaps amenable to receiving it, eh?"
Calder looks up. "If you are indeed my sire... then yes... amenable to receiving a blessing..." He scowls in fear and anger at the memory the Dread Weaver had recreated in his mind. "The mortal world is rare in offering just a little kindness upon one such as me."
The outworld lord looks down on you, and his mouth hardens momentarily in a thin line of disapproval, "You should never look to mortals for kindness, nor should you need it. That is a weakness born of your thinner, weaker blood," His handsome face softens into a caring smile, "But as your father, I am inclined to offer it."
He flicks his fingers and the scene of conflict vanishes. He turns his wrist and offers his hand to you. On the middle finger is a signet ring emblazoned with an infernal rune. It's clear that the kissing of the ring will signify a pact, but you can't help being more interested with the word so casually offered up, a simple word with so much meaning for an orphan, a halfblood outcast. Father.
Where Calder would look and expect deception, especially from such an infernal source, he is tired and weary from these days of constant conflict.  Still, he hesitates a moment, then kisses the ring, sealing a pact, and perhaps his destiny.


In the infernal hall, the four heros share a look. Falco sees the bars of the portcullis rising and the triumphant looking blackguard standing over the body of Calder. His decision is made in an instant. He dashes back toward the captain, his mind already flooding with the spell alterations necessary. Harrick pulls back and throws the handaxe, not sure in the moment if he’s aiming for the blackguard or the gate.
As Falco slides under the tines of the portcullis, he grabs up Calder's pistol and wraps his arms around Calder, the axe slams into the bars, wedging into the groove where gate meets ceiling. The blackguard flinches backward from the attack and his thrust at Falco is a hair too late. Both rogue’s bodies turn to mist and reappear thirty feet away. There’s a grinding sound from the chains within the wall, then the portcullis shutters and drops a foot before ratcheting tight and continuing to descend. The axe drops free.
As Harrick takes Calder’s body from Falco, the Blackguard drops his glaive and reaches out for the bars, screaming obscenities and curses in infernal. As they run, his gloved hands slip on the iron and the gate crashes down. In the hallway beyond, Calder wakes up, much to everyone’s surprise. He’s leaking a good bit of blood but mobile.
The five flee out of the temple and into the dark, colorless forest. On their way, they pass several shadow beasts that have gathered over the bodies of the devils outside. The creatures do not pursue them.
Cawyn checks the dark sky for signs of Sharhad Hasul’s gateway, but sees nothing. While stopping a moment to let Calder and Abraxis catch their breath, the Golden court paladin tells them that when he entered Cairn nan Arq the first time, it was a through a gateway an hour north of the temple. He tells them the gateway was near a second passage to Mar Nan Os, the Endless Forest. The others share a look. It sounds a great deal like the gate they took from Laird Turath’s wildfey mansion to the Tiger vale.
With hungry shadows once more gathering, they set off toward the gate. Along the way, Calder points out that he caught a bit of the infernal screaming on their way out. Nalfesh commanded his minions to stay, claiming something about needing them to complete the process.
Cawyn spots unnatural growths sprouting from the captain’s back, at about the place wings would be. He mumbles worriedly but the captain puts the matter off for later.
A candle later, the group is staying just ahead of the gathering shadows. Once in their course, Harrick and Abraxis are forced to cut one down. At their latest rest stop, Falco realizes they are at the shadowed side of the Luck rabbit’s warren. It means the gateway is close. They discuss whether to rest more, or press on to the gate.
“Or you could continue to talk loud enough for all the fells to hear,” A small voice adds from the top of the boulder pile.
It is Snap, still tiny, and riding a lean tomcat with sable, raven-like wings. After quick, warm greetings, the little ranger tells them he was sent by the gynosphinx when she had to cut the power to the gateway. He tells them the nearby gates are being guarded by a small troop of unseelie sprites and offers to lead them to a small cave he spotted while searching for them. They follow happily.
In the deep shadowed base of a nearby ravine, they spot the cave entrance, guarded by a peculiar holly tree with mostly bare limbs. All of them notice the tree has just a tiny bit of color, and more detail than the surrounding shadowy vegetation. Pushing a little closer, Cawyn sees the indistinct lines of a face on the trunk. Leaning close, he whispers a few words in the ancient tongue of the druids.
“Wake up old one, we have need of your wisdom.”
Slowly, the eyes open, revealing dim, forest green light in the sap-lined pupils. The mouth moves and a deep, sleepy voice rumbles, “Humrummm- What traveler in this dark place - grummrum- speaks the tongue of trees?” The treant’s eyes seem to focus wearily on the Durin before it.
In the following conversation, they learn the forest walker’s name is Hollyhorn and he apparently accidentally wandered into the shadowfell some time in the past. He searched for a way out, but the dark trees would not speak to him and he eventually grew too weary to search. When they give him a tiny sip of their nearly depleted water, he tells them they can take their rest in the cave, but to beware the shadows within.
They crawl into the small cavern. When they find two Syvani skeletons, the creatures animate with shadow and attack, but the crew is ready, and destroy them easily. Exhausted and hurt, they sleep in the dirt, by the fitful light of a rusted manawyn campaigners lantern, only taking shifts for safety sake.
In the sunless morning, they wake comparatively refreshed. Cawyn sets to healing Calder’s wound as Snap relays a report on the situation back in the lighted realm at the temple. There was no further sign of Arys and the Tiger’s Tail tribe returned to the temple in force. Before they were able to break down the temple doors, Sharhad Hasul hid the littles in a secret cache under her statue.
Having learned that the captain and his crew were dealing with devils of Sevos the Chain master, she gave Snap a dose of knowledge and sent him and her cat through the gateway before she had to close it. He tells them that Nalfesh gains power from his cultist followers, who have ethereal slave collars around their necks.
Healed of his wound, Calder then sets about investigating Abraxis stomach problems and his inability to tap into his powers. After an intense, identifying ritual, he comes to the realization that the paladin has a arcanic parasite wrapped around his core. He explains the problem to Cawyn and explains what must be done.
They prepare a new ritual. Cawyn casts a Restoration, which makes the worm tangible. Calder helps draw the head out and Harrick and Falco grasp the spiny coils. Through manual strength the two carefully pull the writhing creature out, where Calder proceeds to shoot the straining head, destroying it. Free of the drain, and very thankful, Abraxis is able to channel further healing to the group.
Armed and equipped with repaired chainmail and blades from the skeletons, rested from sleep and healed by magic, the group is ready to finish what they started. Outside, they wake Hollyhorn again. After Abraxis shows the group’s thanks by way of a daylight and create water spell, Hollyhorn is much revived. He stands and bats aside several shadows that had gathered at the lip of the ravine. The old treant seems very eager to make his way to the gate. The druid seems interested in recruiting the giant tree to their cause.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Black Hall of Nalfesh

The chamber beyond is lit with green flames and purple, arcane light, fitful and heavy with shadow. As is power’s way, a raised dais-like platform occupies the rear of the hall. Dozens of spiked and hooked chains dangle from the shadowed ceiling and two large iron crates line the walls.
On the floor before the dias, six more of the fleshy devil spawn, with razor teeth and bloated bodies are already moving slowly but purposefully toward the heroes. Behind them, perched like living gargoyles with small beating wings, are two of the spined devils, barbed forks in hand. Further back, behind the front line, are three armored men, wearing a mix of blackened chain and plate armor.
The two flanking the third have heavy crossbows with cruel stabbing blades attached to their fronts. They also have bulky looking, black bladed swords at their belt, longer than a man’s arm. The third at the center stands slightly taller and wears a stained and torn white cloak about his armored shoulders. Horns sprout from the full helm and a white, lashing tail, similar to Calder’s, whips in agitation at his back. In the blackguard’s hands, a deceptively slender hafted glaive with a two foot blade at it’s tip and a chain dangling from the haft that wraps several times around the warrior’s right arm.
Behind all this, standing tall, and shrouded in a multitude of barbed chains that writhe around it’s seven foot frame, is the devil spied ever so briefly at the standing stones, the one called Nalfesh, who rules this bastion of the shadowed realm.
There isn’t time for more than a glance at the enemy arrayed before them before the danger steals breath and draws the attention away from the wider perception. With a cry, Harrick rushes the nearest minion. His blade makes quick work of the devil. Falco let’s a bolt of fire loose, striking one of the knights as it raises it’s crossbow to fire. Calder ducks for cover and sends shot from his pistol at Nalfesh, scoring the leader’s armor.
From the hall, Cawyn cries out in a ringing voice in the ancient tongue of the druids of Aeranos. A mist rises from the floor at the entrance and eight, lanky timber wolves emerge along with the brief smell of earth and pine. In but a moment, they are lunging into the fray, ripping and tearing at the spined devils and fleshy minions, rending flesh and dragging opponents to the ground! Cawyn sags with the magical effort and Calder worriedly takes note.
From his place at the door, Calder sees Nalfesh’s head bob in silent laughter as several of the chains begin to writhe and then snake out at the wolves. He also sees the Chained lord of the hall say something to his half-blood knight. He makes out the word “darkness” and shouts a warning just as the blackguard draws all of the light in the chamber into his gauntleted fist.
The chamber is plunged into unseeable blackness. Wolve’s growl, devils hiss and stab, and crossbow bolts fly. All while the heroes strain to hear and sense the unseen conflict, perfectly aware their enemy is not so constrained.
Harrick is stabbed and shot as he lashes out in the dark. Abraxis shouts a battle prayer, “Gods of Golden Light, Quell this Darkness!” but there doesn’t seem to be magic to back up the words. Gritting his teeth, the tattooed Syvani draws his saber, which with a flick of the wrist becomes twin blades. He lunges bravely into the darkness, sword in each hand, bandages soaking with fresh blood.
Cynwen’s wolves never stop fighting, and more minions goes silent, but the sound of wolf flesh being rent away can also be heard. The howls are also quickly silenced. Harrick manages to keep his warrior calm and lashes out at the next enemy to draw his blood. His return strikes sink deep into Spined flesh and the winged thing flies away leaking precious devil blood.
But valor and bravery can only go so far. When the last growling wolf is silenced seconds later, Nalfesh’s laughter grows louder. The chains can be heard dancing in the darkness. There’s a grunt and a clash of blades, then the smack of several blows and blast of thunderous sound as Abraxis comes sailing out of the shadows to smack into the wall of the hallway.
Calder cocks his pistol and looks at the freshly wounded Syvani, then over at Falco and Cawyn. Inside, he hears Harrick hiss and grunt, then an ominous silence from his friend.
In each of the four heroes minds they then hear Sharhad Hasul, "My energy is at it's end. I cannot keep the gate open. I am sen-" then silence there as well.
Calder whispers, then yells, “Retreat... Harrick! Do you hear me? Fall back!”
The words are answered by a throatier laugh from the Chained lord, “Hehhehahaah! Oh no, please, stay! There is so much more I have to show you!
A moment later Harrick stumbles out of the darkness, creased with blood and wobbling dangerously, a black bolt buried deep in his shoulder. Calder catches his friend and channels what small amount of healing he can into the Oroka. Unfortunately, hot on the warrior’s heals are more ripping chains.
Though they try to evade, Calder, Harrick and Falco are entangled once more and yanked to the floor. Harrick fends off unconsciousness with his own tough resolve. Abraxis and Cawyn are already retreating toward the portcullis when this happens, and though the druid tries to help with his own thorn whip, he’s unsuccessful. A spined devil flies out of the shadows and stabs at Calder, but the writhing chains actually cause the attack to miss.
Heavy booted steps are approaching! The three grappled heroes struggle mightily. Harrick forces the chains apart with brute strength and a bit of well timed inspiration. Falco likewise calls on his last bit of luck in a wholly unlucky situation to wriggle free. Calder makes it look easy, but unfortunately rolls free and into the face of the blackguard who slashes and stabs three times and connects twice.
They break with the enemy and run now, knowing escape is their only choice! The blackguard and one of the dark knights runs in pursuit. The third mysteriously stops to crank the portcullis mechanism. Four of the crew make it under the rising portcullis and into the hall.
Behind, Calder makes it to the tined gate before the blackguard strikes again. Once, twice the glaive slashes, splashing tiefling blood. As the captain drops to his knees he looks at his friends, who are glancing back in panic,
“Go! Run!”
A third attack sees the tip of the blackguard’s blade break through Calder’s torso and he sinks to the ground in a fresh gushing of blood. Abraxis looks back and then at the others, wordlessly asking the plan....

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dread Weaver

As Cawyn continues to wrap Abraxis’ wounds and otherwise tend to the hurt Syvani, Falco works on the iron box in the next room. He’s careful to the point of inefficiency. When he nearly breaks his picks working them through a mage hand spell, he finally has to get real hands on the problem.
Meanwhile, the others learn a little more about the Blade Knight. He tells them that he is seeking the murderer of his best friend. He was told by his patrons that he would find what he sought at the Traveler’s Temple in the Tiger Vale at the Midwinter Solstice. What he found instead was a nest of Nas-Kudra and their demon masters.
He doesn’t know anything about the artifact he heard mentioned. Nor about the ley line energies being redirected. He is familiar with Cairn nan Arq, having been in the Shadow Realms twice before. He offers to help the group in any way he can, but admits that something is still keeping him from connecting with his power.
Falco gets the chest open, and there is no trap. Inside are Abraxis things, including armor, weapons and shredded clothing. When the knight sees the way that Calder handles his shard pistol, he lets the captain use it. The captain is happy.
More fiddling with the portcullis reveals there is likely a locking mechanism in the recessed stonework above. No amount of lifting will move it. Without any way to reach it, they opt to backtrack and try the other passage. Dressed once again in his chain armor and carrying his Syvani saber, Abraxis stumbles along with them as best he can. The group eyes him, wondering exactly how much help he’ll be in a fight.
Passing the swiftly putrifying remains of the demons in the hall, they make their way into the opposite chamber, Falco and Calder doing their best to watch for traps or ambush. The large chamber is poorly lit by a single green flame brazier hanging from the ceiling. After a careful search, they find no enemies, except for another matching portcullis gate.
Harrick can’t help but curse it and perform rude gestures in its general direction.
Feeling time press upon them all, Cawyn is now forced to attempt a wild shape beyond his limits, Praying, “Lady of the Eternal Forest, Keeper of the Sacred Grove, Grant this humble brother of earth and stone your power once more this day.” His inspired plea is answered as his form shifts to that of a rose striped constrictor snake.
Slithering over Harrick’s boot and climbing the portcullis bars, he squeezes into the gap above the portcullis, finds the locking mechanism and uses his coils to disengage it. Hearing the click, Falco aids Harrick in a strenuous lift that produces am 18 inch wide gap at the base. Calder eyes the tines for just a moment before sliding under and taking some of the weight. Falco runs to retrieve a stone urn and slides it under just in time, as Harrick finally loses the battle with the heavy iron gate. There’s a thump and groan from the urn, but it holds.
Helping Abraxis through, they each follow in turn, and proceed down the hall and around the corner. Harrick is first now, and feeling rather impatient. He sees the wheel and lever mechanisms for both the portcullis, and a wide, iron door in the opposite wall. There’s a momentary disorientation as something tries to invade his mind but he shrugs it off. Calder and Falco aren’t so lucky...
Falco is second down the hall. Darkness descends and vision returns, only now he’s in a clean and well kept stone hall, with banners hanging and polished marble underfoot. He’s much younger, and soon realizes he’s in a memory of his past. “Where’d the little Falcon brat go? Check the hall!”  The words bring a fresh dose of terror. The bullies of the other families are about to catch him! He runs when he hears them yell, “There he is! Get him!” In the demon hall, Falco sags and remains standing, paralyzed with wide fearful eyes.
Calder is only a step behind him when he’s hit by a similar, memory-induced terror. He is strapped to a school chair with cruel leather bands. Before him stands “The Abbot” of the Dockside School for the Destitute, headmaster and cruel ley-priest, charged with stripping the demonic spirit from the little half-bloods who find their way into his care. The wet leather strap is even more painful as it strikes his face and neck again and again. In the demon hall, the captain falls to his knees, as helpless as Falco.
Cawyn sees what is happening, but realizes Harrick is going to need help. He slithers forward, hoping beyond hope that he can fight off the effects. Unfortunately, fate isn’t kind. He brushes against the same magic and falls into the same mind-trap, his body reverting. Not so much a memory for him, as a nightmare. He skulks through the deforested wreckage of a once pristine woodland while giant cogs tear at the lands. Dead woodlands creatures are scattered about, fires burn and greasy pyromite smoke belch from the elemental bound machines. He hides and cowers, unable to fight. Like the captain and Falco, he huddles near the wall, eyes wide and unseeing.
Harrick is awed and disgusted. How can this be? He steps forward and delivers a heavy slap to Falco, hoping to wake him. Blood trickles from the rogue’s mouth but his expression only grows more frightened.
“Abraxis! I could use some help here!”
The syvani peers from around the corner, eyeing the walls. He tells Harrick to seek any runes or markings to defile or scratch out. Harrick begins searching. At first he finds nothing.
Falco seizes up. In his nightmare the boys have found him. Unlike reality, they pull knives and begin stabbing him. In this reality his heart shudders and stops.
Harrick spots something! Not a rune, but a bunch of webbing fifteen feet up, above the door in the crease where wall meets ceiling. A dark blue spider half the size of his hand. He tells Abraxis, who replies, “A Dread Weaver! Kill it!”
With a running start Harrick kicks off the door and leaps high. His blade cleaves some of the web but misses the tiny spider. The creature begins to bounce madly in its web and Harrick feels the presence of it like a stain on his thoughts. Abraxis stumbles forward and grabs the pistol from Calder’s holster. He fights off the effects and moves forward, aiming at the tiny target. One shot. Two. Both miss and the creature retreats into the wall. With that, the nightmares lift from Calder and Cawyn.
Quickly focusing, Cawyn pounds on Falco’s chest, restarting the man’s heart and saving his life for the second time in one night. Calder retrieves the pistol from Abraxis, who pulls his blade. From beyond the iron door sounds of preparation can be heard. Infernal tongues yelling commands warning of the hero’s approach.

Harrick looks around to be sure everyone is prepared. He wedges Moonshade’s handaxe into the crease and pries the door open. With strong Oroka fingers he grabs the edge and shoves it further. White hot spines fly out, one connecting. Inside a hellish chamber filled with demons awaits.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Moonshade and Abraxis

Moonshade attacks ferociously, pressing Harrick with a flurry of blows from his black, spider-headed mace. When the sharp tines of the weapon pierce flesh, they poison as well, causing the Oroka warrior to stagger drunkenly. Falco, Cawyn and Calder rush forward to aid their friend as the spined devil bites and thrusts with his jagged trident from behind.
   Now Windbeard rushes in, whipping the cloak wildly around the dark elf slaver and pummeling with giant fists of pressurized air. The attack causes Moonshade to falter. When he takes a deep gash through his chain shirt, he steps back with quickness born of skill and calls out in furious Sylvan,
“Lady Patron of Webs! Aid your servant in his time of need! I BEG YOU COME NOW!”
With the words he tosses down his mace, which seems to come to life as it strike the ground. It’s black legs stretch and grasp the stone of the floor. In a burst of black, choking smoke a large spiderish form with the torso of a chain clad Kuranani woman appears where the mace once was. At the same time, Moonshade quaffs a potion and draws forth his longsword and axe. The Drider woman draws her own, long dark blade and the fight resumes.
The back and forth thrust and parry continues, with the spined devil finally being cut down by Harrick. As Cawyn sends a wave of healing into his companion, the Drider summons a sphere of inky darkness that encases everyone. From within the darkness she attacks Harrick again, drawing another gout of blood and weakening him further.
The darkness is countered by Cawyn’s own plea to his Goddess of Nature, coming in the form of a Durin ringing, “Light of the Huntress, Banish the Darkness!” The albeit flickering greenish flamelight returns, showing Windbeard, somewhat diminished by the drider’s black blade, furiously pounding the bloodied remains of Moonshade into the cracked tiles of the dungeon floor.
Focused now on their one remaining threat, the group comes together to face the drider, who despite her spidery skill is sore pressed to stop the combined might of the team. She gets one or two more cruel blows before she is crushed and banished back into the mace, which rings hollowly off the stone floor as it comes to rest at their feet.
Nothing threatens in the immediate aftermath of the fight. Light healing spells are applied and the area is checked. The suspended torture victim is lowered to the floor and checked over. He is found to be breathing, and given a small bit of healing as well. It takes him a while to come around.
In the room immediately beyond Falco finds a locked crate which he notes to be trapped with some form of poison gas effect. A portcullis bars further progress. Neither Harrick nor Windbeard are able to lift it and Falco can’t find any hidden means of opening it. Calder takes the time to identify one of the items found on Moonshade, and activates a Ione Stone of Dexterity. Cawyn sends Windbeard through the bars and around the corner, hoping to find a means of opening the passage. Only an inaudible POP of released energy is “heard” in the Druid’s head as the connection to his elemental is severed and Windbeard ceases to be.
A sibilant, hissing laugh can be heard echoing down the dark hall.
Further plans remain unenacted as a group of stealthy, animate chains, slithering through the portcullis bars, attack the party. Harrick cuts his down quickly, but Falco and Cawyn are less lucky. Cruel barbs rake at both heroes as the chains tighten and wrap them up. Cawyn is pulled from his feet and yanked cruelly against the portcullis bars. Falco misty steps clear of his bindings.
The Druid’s chains get tighter and tighter, ripping exposed flesh and drenching him in blood. His companions work hard to fight off the other chains while simultaneously trying to free Cawyn, who is helpless to cast and slowly losing feeling in his arms and legs. Finally, in a last, desperate burst of wriggling, he manages to slide free! The remaining chains recede once more into the darkness as the group hastily retreats from the archway, watching warily. Again, the hissing laughter, then quiet.
They gather around the prisoner once more, as he slowly comes to consciousness, only now realizing the man has light, but intricate and arcanic tattoos all over his body.
In the ensuing conversation, they learn his name is Abraxis, and that he is a knight of the Order of the Blade (whatever that means). He was instructed by his patrons to be here on the Winter Solstice in order to further his quest. He arrived at the Traveler’s temple but was ambushed by devils and captured after sending many to their deaths.
He heard the leader of this temple referred to as Nalfesh. When they thought him unconscious, he heard something about, “The artifact being nearly charged.” All else is a blur of pain and screaming.
“Even now, I can’t seem to focus, nor gather my own power. Perhaps with my gear, I would be better suited to aid you, weakened though I am.”

Monday, April 30, 2018

Shadows and Chains

A multi-session update...

    Ever wary, Arys first takes them to the fallen tree, where he carefully picks the satchel out of the roots. Inside, Falco finds the the tinker’s rune carved lantern inside and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. When they are about to approach the temple stairs, they hear someone approaching through the trees.
    The voices are speaking in the Knock tongue and arguing about the need to keep patrolling the temple grounds, “I don’t see why the Laird cares about some tiny runaways? Or why he thinks they’d come here of all places?! These damned cats would eat them up as a snack, and that’s a fact.” A more commanding, gravelly voice responds, “I don’t care what you understand! It is said that a foul white unicorn is helping them! If Laird Turath says we check the wards, we check the wards! That’s all! Stop yer’ snivelling and keep your bloody eyes peeled.” With that, a handful of knockfar approach the temple, some going inside, while others begin checking the grounds. Thanks to Arys affinity for camouflage, the group remains well hidden, and waits.
    The Kudra take their time, carefully checking the perimeter, while the leader spends his time inside, doing who knows what. Falco sneaks forward enough to watch, and therefore notices one of the forest goblins paying special attention to tracks in the dirt. Eventually, the tribesmen go inside, then all come out and head back along the trail, leaving the way they came.
    Though the rest of the party is ready to continue, Falco has them hold a moment longer. As a result, he hears the stealthy footfalls of an invisible creeper returning to the temple. Apparently something the kudra found made them suspicious. Extra carefully, Arys carries the group to the far side of the temple, away from the entrance and their hidden lurker.
    Together, they carefully scale the crumbling wall and reach the domed roof. They can clearly see a broken section more than large enough to allow the little’s to enter. A plan is made. Arys leaves the group of littles in the most sheltered spot available on the roof, away from the nearest lounging cats and returns to the forest. Soon a commotion can be heard from the front, as the Kudra lying in ambush spot Arys with his satchel wrapped around his neck. Arrows fly and the chase is on. The newly born unicorn leads the kudra warriors and their now visible leader into the forest and away from the temple.
    One by one, and with as much haste as possible, Cawyn flies the Captain, Falco and Harrick to the statue of Sharhad Hasul. Gruellingly, he then flies the lantern down to the broken right hand, placing it carefully upon the stump. Once that’s done, he reverts to Durin form and begins repeating a litany of prayers, beseeching Sharhad Hasul and the Gray God she serves to intervene on behalf of her dedicated servant, Denrick Fallhollow, who risked much to get here. To end the tyranny of a corrupted fey who has turned a holy sight into a trap for slavers and demons.
    And with the words, a bright, pure light begins to shine from the lantern, and is reflected in the statue’s one remaining jeweled eye. With a groan of protesting stone the head moves and the face of the Traveler’s scion looks down upon the tiny druid. “By this lantern light I see you! You who come before me in need. How is it that I may serve a lonely pilgrim on this coldest of days?”
    In the next few minutes, Cawyn explains their purpose and their need. He asks that Sharhad Hasul return them to their original size, that they might seek vengeance on the Fey lord who trapped them. She is more than willing, but informs them that much like the Faelinarie Queen in the Circle of Stones, her power has been stripped and diverted. She explains that a demon of Sevos, in the realm of Cairn Nan Arq, siphons all the mana of the ley lines into his own place of power.
    She offers to use what little power she has to return the four of them to their original size. She tells them she will gladly free the rest if they can travel through the rift and destroy the source of the Chain demon’s power. But they must hurry, because she cannot keep the rift open for long, and once her power is gone, she will not be able to help.
    It’s not the outcome they most wanted, but the group quickly realizes it’s the best they’re likely to get. They accept, and one by one are touched by the half-feline statue’s remaining hand, regaining their size and power, and none too soon, as growls and yells can be heard from the front of the temple.
    Calder and Falco are the first to the door. As the captain shoot his newly enlarged bow to suppress the rush of the kudra from the forest, Falco and Harrick begin pushing the heavy stone door closed. When it shutters closed, they look down to find that Falco has taken a knockfar arrow to the throat and is quickly bleeding out on the floor. Cawyn rushes to his aid, but can only staunch the wound. Falco is dying and there’s nothing the druid can do.
    Panicked, they carry him back to the fountain before the temple, where Sharhad Hasul has revealed the siphoning rift. At the scion’s feet they plead for help... and find that she has compassion for their plight. “Take what is left of my power, channel it into healing for your friend, but do it on the other side of the rift! For I am nearly spent! It may well be beyond my ability to keep the way open. Complete your mission and return as quickly as you can!”
    With that, the sucking portal opens in the cracked offering pool. One by one they jump through, Harrick last, cradling the dead weight of Falco in his arms...


    ... With a brittle crash the four figures break through what seems like a thin sheet of black obsidian only to find themselves falling through a black sky, hundreds of feet above the ground. Below them, they can just make out a benighted valley similar to, yet different from the Tiger vale. Below them, a broken structure resembling the Traveler’s temple with green flames burning around it and within it, the vortex of mana being sucked into its heart... and approaching quicker than any of them would like.
    Thinking fast, Cawyn summons forth two giant eagles that dive to the rescue. The combined weight of four men is too much, but at the cost of some minor lacerations, the huntress summoned birds are able to grab hold of the falling men and guide them in a gentler crash to the ground.
    And once there, having glided into the woods a little ways from the temple, Cawyn ignores his minor injuries and immediately begins the ritual to heal Falco’s critical wound. As Harrick and Calder stand guard, a candle and more passes, and life returns to Falco’s body.
    There is little time for thanks. The group prepares themselves and heads off in the direction of the dark temple. After sneaking closer, they spy two malformed humanoid guards. Calder can pick up on their infernal, telepathic communications. Though they attempt to sneak around, Cawyn is somewhat less than stealthy and they are forced to fight the two creatures, putting a quick end to them before their limited telepathy can alert the rest of the temple.


    Approaching closer to the structure, they next spy a varied group of demons, hunched in the first clearing. Among them are a ten foot tall, hulking, part bear, part bull, part gorilla, a short, winged and spine covered demon, another of the lumpy ones and a small, monkeyish, bat-like creature. Retreating into the denser brush of the gloomy forest, Cawyn and Harrick wait while the two more stealthy make a quick check of the perimeter around the temple, especially the roof, where they hope to find another entrance.
    No such luck. Though they do hear the muffled screams of someone or something being tortured. When the two scouts return, they find that Cawyn has summoned an air elemental in the vague shape of himself, only much larger. He calls it Windbeard and informs the group that it will fight for them when they make their rush.
    The plan is quick and simple. Sneak as far as possible, then rush the place, hopefully locking themselves in and fighting their way quickly to the center, where they hope to find the “source of the demon’s power.”
    The sneaking is over rather quickly when Falco, in the illusory disguise of a lumpy demon, is confronted by a small imp at the temple steps. To say his ruse is unsuccessful is an understatement. With a loud screech, the imp wakes the temple to the threat and hell breaks loose.
    Some stay outside to mop up demons in the clearing, while others venture into the entrance of the temple and down the stairs. To their surprise, they find the interior to be far different than back on the middle plain. Windbeard mops up many, including the large brute with the horns. The crew lends support.
    Inside, Harrick and Falco deal with some grunts whose poison clouds of noxious breath aren’t enough to save them. Choosing not to wait for everyone, the Oroka warrior rushes ahead and takes some heavy hits when he’s ambushed by another spine demon and a black cloaked figure who reveals himself to be none other than Master Moonshade, the Kuranani warrior who watched Harrick ringside back at Laird Turath’s mansion. Behind them, hanging from spiked chains, is a nearly naked Syvani man who looks to be barely clinging to life.

    As Cawyn, Calder, Falco and Windbeard hurry to join the fray, Harrick fights to get clear of his bad position and Master Moonshade does his best to kill Harrick before he can find his footing. The temple alarm has been raised and time is short!