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!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

To The Wayfarer's Temple

Early Morning, Dec. 20
A small glade in the upper Tiger Vale
    The unicorn Arys makes several attempts, before finally making a telepathic contact with the five crewmen. In the next few minutes, he explains that the spirit who communicated with he and Cawyn was none other than Queen Lhianna, the ruler of his tribe and village. The banshee was her sister, Shae Lors, who once looked after the young Faelinarie of the village.
    He also explains that there was some sort of power sink happening around the circle. What power they used to enact the reincarnation and the restoration of their gifts was hoarded by the Queen from long ago. Once it was gone, the undead were able to breach the circle's defenses. It seems clear to Arys that the Chained demon must be responsible.
    With this in mind, the crew transfers to the unicorn's back and they set off toward Arys's tree, figuring they need the rest of the crew before they make their final approach on the Traveler's temple. Arys gathers shadows and their surroundings seem to bend toward keeping them hidden as they proceed.
    Just a few minutes into their run they hear the sounds of arcanic engines rumbling on the south edge of the valley. Calder can tell there are two arcanicraft. His ear for engines tells him they are powerful machines. Taking note of the presence, they decide to continue on their path.
    Arys is prepared to cross when they reach the fast flowing river, but Falco stops him, noting something out of palce in the screen of damp undergrowth on the far side. By it's location he fears a hidden blind of sentries watching the forest path here. Arys retreats carefully, opting for a crossing further downstream.
    This crossing goes smoother, though Falco nearly falls from the unicorn's back when Arys slips on a mid-river stone. Apologizing for his clumsiness, they continue on, eventually passing the temple trail and coming to the area at the base of Arys tree, where they hear tiny, sprite voices raised in mocking tones.
    "Hhahahhahaheeeeheheh! Poor little Foosh! This is what comes of not watching where one is going." A second voice joins the first, "Yeeees stupid clod! Some sneak YOU are. Couldn't see the web for the trees eh?"
    A quick, cautious peak by Falco reveals a pair of the unseelie sprites bobbing about near the web of Arys's arachnid guardian. Stuck fast in the webbing is a third sprite, presumably the unlucky Foosh, who is trying desperately not to struggle and bring the attention of the web's maker.
    The group decides quickly upon a plan. Falco and Calder approach once more, while the rest of the party prepares their own round of surprises. Soon the silent image of a tiny Neran that looks a lot like the Maven crewman Kashan is crawling across the forest floor. When Calder adds a bit of his own thaumaturgy, the figure begins moaning in pain.
    The ruse works as the two sprites hoist their tiny swords and buzz toward their wounded prey. The ambush is a complete success as Falco destroys the first Sprite with a bolt of fire and Arys lunges and skewers the second on the tip of his impressive, sword-like horn. The commotion sends Foosh into an uncontrolled thrashing, which in turn brings about his own downfall when the bulbous body of the spider glides down and finishes him off. The party quickly and quietly drags their own prizes off into the bushes.
    With another pair of sprite bows and swords, and some admittedly damaged leather armor, they reach Arys's tree. Looking upward, they all realize without the Faelinarie's climbing skills, a new way of ascending the sixty daunting feet is in order. Cawyn shrugs tired shoulders and makes the change. A ten inch long wasp grabs Calder by the shoulders and carries him upward to the doorway.
    The crew is well, and delighted to see the return of the captain and officers. One by one, Cawyn brings them to the forest floor, saving the hulking Grello for last. The seventeen littles all climb aboard Arys's back and he moves off toward the temple.

    Another twenty minutes finds them peaking from the dense ferns at the edge of the clearing. The temple has an assortment of flying cats lounging high up on it's walls, but curiously none near the entrance. Across the way, Falco can see the downed tree under which he placed his pack. Cawyn, still in wasp form, rests on Arys's rump and the rest of the crew clings quietly to the unicorn's mane. There goal lies in sight.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Holy Bones

Dec. 20, 572pfk
The Tiger Vale, Northern Manawyn
Cursed Faelinarie Village

     All is quiet, but not calm. The group of tiny, weary, beaten and wounded adventurers rest from rain, wind, zombies and vines in the relative protection of the stone altar, but they can't escape the growing fear. Still, the three gifted among them haven't given up on the riddle. Cawyn remembers seeing something atop the altar as well, and sends Falco to check it out.
     Climbing up, Falco finds a wand and an old, weathered pouch. The wand is seven inches of twisted material that he first takes to be wood, with more runic carvings down its length. The pouch contains herbs, unguents, crystals, and a small stoppered clay phial with an unknown liquid inside. He drops them both down to the others before climbing off the exposed surface.
     As Harrick sees to the treatment of the still unconscious Snap, Calder takes the wand out of the magical silence, onto the sloped expanse of the fallen fourth dolmen. He tries to take the time to identify it, but he's nearly cut when a desperate dive by a winged shadow interrupts him. Frustrated at his failure, he climbs quickly off the rock and rejoins the others. While they are unable to get an exact identification, Cawyn is able to decipher the runes along the wand's length as, 'Be well and whole by the blessings of the Huntress." He also figures out the wand is actually made of bone, or horn.
     All actions by this point seem to be interspersed with a need for short rests, but the group's minds remain active, seeking clues. Cawyn spends some time going over everything he knows of the Reincarnation spell. Falco reviews what he knows of the Obsythia Manal, or ancient places of power, and how they can be used to affect spellwork. Calder ponders the warring of good and evil energies. Eventually they come to some conclusions.
     First, Cawyn realizes that the Reincarnation spell was truly, nearly complete, and has remained in a state of readiness over the countless years since it was first set up. Without the silence, it requires no more than a few short ritual phrases, and no actual expenditure of power, but whatever body it was meant to bring back has long since moved past its expiration date as far as the spell is concerned. Second, Falco realizes such a spell could be empowered by the energy of the circle to effect something older, or further away. Calder meanwhile believes there is an actual Unhallow spell in effect on the circle, causing the psychic buzz of warring energies.
     It's about this point when Harrick first notices the looming figure standing at the edge of the glade. Twelve feet tall and shrouded in an all concealing hood and cloak, the Oroka warrior can sense the beings malevolent stare. More than all the ravening undead, it's this figure that instills a growing sense of fear. Harrick looks away with an effort, pointing out the creature to Calder while wishing he hadn't seen it at all.
     When Calder takes the drawing stick from Falco and writes out his ideas in the dirt, the two begin a search around the edge of the circle. Eventually they spot them - four lumps of black wax within the writhing vines, each at a cardinal point. These must be the focus of the Unhallowing. Returning to the group, they reveal their findings as the night presses on.
     Again, Harrick spots the hooded figure, this time at a different point and closer. Like before he can sense the being's intense focus, but this time, he catches sight of features beneath the cowl. In horror he recognizes the badly healed, broken nose, the square, stubbled jaw of Ferrus Delv, his training sergeant from years ago, a man who inspired fear and awe in a young recruit. More, he can sense the hatred, the disappointment, the scorn from a mentor he once had earned the respect of. It's enough to send him into a wide-eyed, cold sweat. Enough to bring him to his weary feet and send him inching away, ready to bolt. And he nearly does, if not for the reassuring hand of the captain and solid thump to the chest that brings him around to his senses. Still, he can't chance another glance. When Calder looks, there is no one there. The purple tiefling flips off the darkness anyway.

     They are about to move onto their next plans when they see the horrible sight of a full sized skeletal warrior charging the circle. In magical silence it breaks the barrier and immediately catches fire with divine flame. Still it raises it's broken glaive and swats down at Cawyn, who narrowly dodges aside. Valiantly, if futilely, Calder and Harrick attack with arrow and sword, tiny weapons flying and hacking at a foe ten times their size. Falco attempts a spell of fire, but swoons with the effort. As the burning undead raises its weapon for a second swing, the flames finally take the last of its strength and it crumbles into a smoldering heap of broken armor and bones. Seeing an opportunity, Calder reaches into the receding flames to light an arrow and sends it into the nearest black candle. His aim is off, but the flame takes a nearby necrotic vine which catches alight long enough to spread to the candle. In a burning blaze, the black magic crumbles and melts away. In the waxes center, something falls free and disintegrates. Calder watches with tired glee, thinking, 'That worked better than expected. Lucky break.'
     With an effort, Harrick is able to wake Snap, who rises stiff and sore, but ready to help.
     Now they make a plan. With a focus for their actions, they use the sprite rope taken from the dead enemy in the rabbit warrens and tie off a few arrows. Though their arms are somewhat weakened, they eventually get the arrows into the lumps of black wax. The work is grueling, but they pull all three of the remaining candles out of the vines and into the circle. When they reach the grass inside the dolmens, they each light up and burn away. revealing jagged fragments of blackened bone. Calder is able to see one closely before it crumbles, and reads the infernal script upon it, or at least enough to see the cruel symbol of Sevos, a demon prince of pain, known as the Master of Torment. A first clue as to the evil power behind the scenes here.
     When the last candle is destroyed, sound returns in a rush. The wind, the rain, the river, the moans and snarls of the dead, the panting breath of the weary group, all return along with a surge of divine energy that pushes back the vines and staggers the nearest shambling minions. Oh how they want to rest, but there is still work to do, and everyone fears another flaming, skeletal intruder, or something worse. The three casters gather together and prepare to finish the reincarnation spell with Cawyn in the lead. Though they briefly discuss killing and bringing back one of their own number, or attempting to reincarnate the pile of bones before them, they eventually decide their surest bet is to increase the range and attempt to bring back Arys from his final resting place on the bridge. With a surge of old energy, the spell is finished and the power released. After a moment of silence, the bridge crumbles and falls. The group waits, but nothing else happens. Some literally drop where they stand and fall into exhausted sleep, yet others are able to keep watch until their turn comes.
     In his dreams, a fully restored Cawyn is standing at the center of the circle and the sun shines down from a cloudless sky. Before him stands a faelinarie woman of incredible fairness and beauty. She resembles the illusory form of the banshee, like a nobler relative of the ghost. In her hand is the twisted wand. When she speaks, it is with the voice he heard in his head upon the bridge. He as no doubt this is the spirit that aided him.
     "You have been most brave and kind. Finish the rite of the circle. Take of my body and take of my power, but only if you swear to pledge yourself to the death of the tainted Laird Turath. The Huntress demands No less!”
     With that, she begins to sag and crumble as the sun quickly sets. In a moment, she has returned to a pile of grass and moss covered bones. When Cawyn wakes, it's to find that dawn has arrived, and the clouds have indeed receded. He and his friends are rested. A vast hoard of undead, minus the shadows, ring the circle, standing silent and still, but with crimson eyes locked on the group. Far more then last night.
     There is nothing for it, but to continue. With the dream fresh in his mind, Cawyn prepares the rite. Standing at the altar, he calls out the name of his Goddess, "In Cynwen's name I Call You. By Her Body and by Her Blood I compel you!" He pours the phial across the bones. With a second surge of druidic energy the bones begin to glow with a soft, blue light. Eventually, the glow has settled into four rib bones and the rest of the skeleton grows more brittle and breaks. When Cawyn, Calder and Falco pick up a bone, the glow travels along their arm and into their chest, releasing a fresh conduit to their magic and curing some of their remaining exhaustion.
     But there is one bone remaining. Is it for Harrick? Or maybe Arys' new form? Cawyn looks at Snap and recalls his medallion shining in the murk. He thinks back on their earlier discussions and wonders aloud, "Perhaps it is for you Snap. Perhaps it is time you stop denying Her?"
     Snap hesitantly takes the rib and feels the power surge into him. There are tears in his eyes when he looks up, but also confidence.
     This moment of elation lasts a minute before a new realization kicks in. With the second rite enacted, the divine energies of the circle have been greatly diminished. The vines are reaching further into the circle and the undead horde has grown more active. When they look up they see the twelve foot cloaked figure under the nearby dead tree. It spreads its arms, revealing a gaunt body wrapped in cruelly barbed chains. Harrick flinches as it points at the circle and whispers, "Attack." With a rush the hoard advances, crashing through the vines toward the still tiny crew.
     But then, from the woods comes a sleek form in a gray and white dappled coat. An elegant creature with the body of a tall goat, a flowing mane and tail, a silky beard and a long, twined horn on its forehead. With a powerful rush it skewers a skeleton from behind and leaps high over the advancing enemy, landing with a grass churning slide.
Image result for traditional unicorn
     As the demon screams in rage, the unicorn lowers its head and offers up its nose, which the surprised crew is ready to board. As the last grabs hold and the first of the undead beasts arrive to claw at its flank, there's a flash from the horn and the circle is empty, the hoard left raking at air and stone.
     Somewhere else, in a small, cramped glade in the forested valley, the Unicorn and five small adventurers appear in a burst of light. As they rearrange themselves, finding better seating upon the graceful nose, Calder looks into the creature's eye, "Arys?"
     A vigorous nod from the Unicorn almost dislodges Harrick and the group smiles in relief. Happy to have found their reincarnated friend they breathe a sigh of relief and look about, ready to plan their next actions and follow through on Cawyn's promise.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Silent Bones

Dec. 19, 572pfk
The Tiger Vale, Northern Manawyn
Cursed Faelinarie Village

     Exhausted, with the rain starting to fall and the wind whipping the dead trees, the diminutive group looks left then right from their precarious perch at the center of the fae bridge. From one direction, the two horrid looking zombified badgers begin scuffling toward them, from the other, the clicking armor and bone of a towering full-sized neran warrior in leather armor heralds it's approach. Quickly realizing they have little hope against the skeleton, they formulate a desperate plan.
      Calder points out an area in the bridge between them and the approaching giant, a spot where the rotted, interwoven roots of the druidically crafted bridge are weakest. Giving Falco the signal, he lets loose with a barrage of arcane fire, weakening the spot further. With little time left, they all turn to face the badgers, sending up another prayer that they are strong enough for one more battle without rest.
     Harrick is the first into the fray. He hacks with nothing more than spirit, his physical strength having been drained horribly by the shadow sprites. Yet still, he and the others battle on, all the while casting nervous glances backward at the skeleton's cautious advance.
     When Harrick is brought low by the teeth of a badger, Calder focuses past the too familiar pain to channel a last spell of healing. Behind them, the skeleton reaches the weak point... and with a silent step it crashes through the floor of the bridge, only catching itself a moment before falling with a splash into the swift flowing river. Bolstered by the sight, the crew finishes off the last badger before wearily falling to the rooted floor of the bridge for a quick breather.
     They only rest a few moments, gathering their remaining strength while they decide their next course. With the whispered words, "You must reach the Circle for my aid," still rolling through Cawyn's mind, it seems they have only one choice. With weary steps they make their way once more toward the druid circle.
     After stopping at a mouse burrow along the way, where they procure dry material and pine sap for fire arrows and torches, they continue onto the circle. They have vague notions of burning their way through the necrotic thorns, though Snap seems doubtful.
     In the trees, Falco and Harrick see more shadows gathering.
     Once more looking at the imposing wall of thorns and strangling vines, they amend their plan. It's another mad dash around the hill toward the fallen dolmen - a bridge over the vines. Looking to the trees they see that another giant skeleton, this time a withered Syvani with a pitted longsword is making its way through the underbrush, Shadows circling.
     In the full-out sprint Cawyn goes down more than once, but Falco is there to support his friend. At the steepest part of the hill, Calder looses his footing and shoots toward the river, bouncing painfully off a rock before splashing in and getting swept away. Snap slips as well, but manages to catch himself at the river's edge.
     Sending Cawyn and Snap ahead, Falco races downriver, scaling a boulder and reaching out with his makeshift torch. Calder desperately reaches for the branch and his hand slips, but his tail lashes out and catches the lifeline. With a grunt and arching swing through the water, he reaches the shore.
     There's no time for breath catching now. Looking up they see the skeleton has freed itself from the tangling undergrowth and is taking giant strides across the grassy hill, the three shadows racing before it. Just as it reaches the Tiefling and the Kirith-Syvani, just as it's blade descends, it's bony foot slips in the same mud that sent half the party downhill. The pitted longsword crashes into the mud only inches from Calder as the skeleton slides down into the water.
     Again they run, hounded now by the three sprite shadows. By this point, Harrick has climbed the rock and his helping Cawyn and Snap up. Another couple acrobatic jumps and some quick muscle work by Harrick sees them all safely atop the dolmen, but not before the shadows have a last go at Snap, bringing the ex-ranger low before Calder pulls him to safety. Luckily, it appears the dolmen is warded by the same protections as the circle. The shadows hover menacingly, but don't attack again.
     One by one, the group climbs the broken monolith and plops down into the dubious and magically silent safety of the druidic circle. As Harrick tends the wounds of Snap, the more religious and arcanic leaning members of the group begin investigating the circle they have fought so hard to reach.

They learn the following key points:

- There is a Silence Spell laid over the whole circle, lending an oppressive feel to all their actions.

- Warring divine energies fluctuating between evil and good, making a psychic buzzing in those with the gift.

- There are Faelinarie remains tangled in the grass and moss at the center of an almost complete Reincarnation Spell. Stone and metal chalices are filled with spicy smelling unguents and colored gemstones are laid out in ritualistic patterns.

- There are Words carved on the standing stones in the oghm runes of the druids:

1. "by Her guardian"

2. "by Her name"

3. "with Her body"

4. "by Her blood" (on the broken dolmen)

- Sprite shadows, faelinarie and armored skeletons, as well as dozens of undead beasts gather around the edges of the circle, pressing and testing the boundaries, all while the vines writhe and twist.

The night presses on as the weary crew tries to communicate their findings, all without speaking. Have they found sanctuary, or their final resting place?