Saturday, 15 July 2017

IV.32: The Demons' Prison

Beneath Haka’torvhak, in Khyber
Lharvion 6, 997 YK

We made the Undertake a Perilous Journey move last time—indeed the party have made two of those back-to-back. It’s time for them to be at their destination.

Show signs of an approaching threat: this is Eberron’s underworld.

The group moved in a bubble of silver light as they travelled deeper into Khyber. The throbbing veins of lava that ran through the caverns were the only movement that they saw, but faint sounds of hissing and screeching in the distance kept all of them on edge, anxiously watching for the next attack. Unlike the stillness of the natural caves that they had travelled through to reach here, these caves gave Vaalyun no sense of solitude. The legend that Nyseris told, of the malignant creator dragon Khyber imprisoned by Eberron at the world’s creation, had seemed fanciful at the time, but now that he was here Vaalyun could not deny that these deep ways did feel alive with some malign presence.

Vaalyun followed closely behind the two Templars, keeping well within the sphere of light cast by Anaya. Their journey down to Khyber had given the elf time to reflect on the past few months. He had started this journey back in Thaliost, many months ago now, in part because Esthana had saved his life back in the crypt, but also to learn more about their undertaking. He had learned more than he had expected, both about the nature of the Silver Flame and the forces that worked against it, and about himself. House Phiarlan was proud of its agents and its position as one of the Twelve, but the espionage business was not one that encouraged persistence or loyalty; the best Shadows worked secretly, and were always ready to cut their losses when an operation looked unprofitable. The Templars’ dedication to their cause, and willingness to endanger themselves for the greater good, was something that he had rarely seen before.

To stop himself from dwelling on their surroundings and the dangers that lay ahead, Vaalyun turned his thoughts back to the meeting with Taliesin and what had been revealed of the Prophecy. Could a prophecy formed, as the Dragons thought, by Eberron herself millennia ago really refer to him? Vaalyun had always been ambitious, and had no small opinion of his own importance in the world, but even he wondered that he could be a part of what lay ahead of them. If the Silver Flame’s teachings were true then the Overlords were gods of evil, sealed away to prevent harm to the world. What could he possibly do against them?

Every so often as they walked, Vaalyun would pull a notebook out of his jacket pocket, and look again at the text of the Prophecy mark that Taliesin had given them. Vaalyun had been learning Draconic from Nyseris during the journey, using their camp time to ask the lizardfolk to explain the words and grammar of their language; he had both the Draconic and Common translations of the Prophecy written down, and the margins were now full of notes that he had made about possible meanings of each part of it.

“We are here,” said Anaya. “I can feel it.”

Vaalyun looked up, quickly slipping the notebook back into his pocket. This rocky tunnel led out into another cavern around fifty yards ahead of them, just at the edge of Anaya’s light; Vaalyun saw that Nyseris had halted also, and was looking back to the Templars.

“Feel what?” asked Esthana.

Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities: This location is the very essence of Anaya’s whole religion: the Flame exists to bind the demons down in Khyber. It’s time to Introduce an Element from Ages Past: demons imprisoned since the Age of Demons.

“The Flame is here. I think we will see it soon enough.” Anaya nodded to Nyseris, who turned, and they began moving forwards again.

Discern Realities(Nyseris): 2D6(3 4) +1 = 8 Partial success.
What happened here recently?

Make a move that follows: we already saw these caverns in Anaya’s vision, 2 books ago.

They walked forwards, down the slightly inclined passage into the cavern. The cave was lit with a purple light from a cluster of Khyber shard crystals protruding from one wall. There were openings and tunnels leading into other caves to the sides and above them.

“There are markings–s on the stone here, of some clawed creature,” said Nyseris, who was kneeling down a little ahead of them, looking at the stone floor of the cave. “But these are old marks.”

As they paused, Vaalyun looked back down the tunnel that they had come from, wary of ambush. He did not not fully know what he expected to find down here but, if the cleric was right, there would be many evil and deadly creatures within the caverns here. Esthana had drawn her sword, and the silver flames flickered restlessly along the blade.

The ranger was on their feet again, moving through into the next cave, and the others followed. As they stepped through the opening, everyone turned to see a wall of blue and silver light which divided part off one section of the cave. As Vaalyun looked, something seemed to stir in the darkness beyond the barrier.

Anaya stepped up to the barrier, the silver flame around her hand rising in brightness until it flooded the chamber with light. The barrier seemed to glow brighter in response. The light revealed a creature trapped behind the barrier, recoiling from the Flame’s presence, its a serpentine body crouching down on a set of crab-like legs. The beast raised a giant pincer above its head, trying to shield itself from the Flame’s light. Vaalyun had seen this kind of monstrosity once before.

“A chuul,” said Anaya. “The creatures that attacked us in the jungle may have come from here.”

“They say that Masvirik is master of all creatures that slither in the dark,” said Nyseris.

A Little Help From My Friends(Anaya): 2D6(3 2) +1 = 6 Failure!
Use a threat from an existing faction or type of creature
Investigate(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 5) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Vague information

“Then the ones that attacked us are creatures of Masvirik,” said Vaalyun. “The Overlord—or his agents—struck out to try to stop us.”

“There will be many of demons imprisoned here by the Flame,” said Anaya. “It is as the Flame revealed to me. We must go on.” Looking to Nyseris and Esthana, she added, “Be ready—not all of the demons are bound.”

Make a move that follows: there should be flesh renders down here, by Anaya’s vision, and Esthana has experience with them.

The cavern floor sloped down in one corner and, at Anaya’s direction, they climbed down this way into the next cave. Lava flowed through its lowest part, but the dull red light from the lava flow was outshone by another wall of blue and silver light. As Nyseris moved close to the edge of the flow, the barrier responded to their presence, and the creatures beyond the barrier became visible. Two flesh renders, tall and thin with vicious claws for arms, snarled at the group from behind the barrier; one of them whipped its claws back and forth threateningly.

Anaya looked at the creatures once and then turned to follow Nyseris towards the next cavern, but Esthana stopped. Standing as she was near the edge of the lava flow, sweat ran down her face and hands as she stared at the renders; her hand moved to grip her sword hilt tightly. Vaalyun, who was following behind the others, stepped up to stand beside her.

“The Flame protects us all from the darkness,” he said quietly.

He and Esthana turned to look at each other. After a moment, he added, “If any of us is capable of surviving down here, it is you. I have never seen you lose a fight.”

“I don’t know,” said Esthana. “You are always ready to run away at the first sign of trouble. You might be out before the fight even ends.”

Vaalyun shrugged, affecting more ease than he felt. “A spy aims not to get caught.” He turned and walked after Anaya, and Esthana fell in beside him.

Familiar Prey(Nyseris): 2D6(2 5) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Vague information

They passed through several more caverns, each containing more demons imprisoned behind walls of light. One of caverns had a large section sealed off by the Flame, and at first Vaalyun could see nothing beyond the barrier; but when he glanced to Nyseris and saw the lizardfolk staring up with teeth bared, he followed their gaze and was alarmed to see a huge serpentine creature clinging to the ceiling within its prison. Perhaps forty feet long, the creature’s torso was several yards across, with pairs of clawed feet at intervals down its long body that gripped into the stone ceiling above. Its skin was dark blue but streaked with red and green marks. It lowered its head to look directly at Nyseris, and there was a sudden flash of light as lightning burst from its snake-like mouth. But the barrier held, flickering with blue light as it dissipated the energy of the demon’s attack.

Nyseris gripped their bow tightly, their hands glowing with silver light. “There are legends amongst my people of this creature—of giant serpents that can destroy foes with the power of lightning. But none has ever been seen on the surface, at least in this age.”

“Nor ever will be—unless we fail,” said Anaya. “These creatures have been imprisoned here for more than one hundred thousand years, since the Age of Demons, since the dragons and Couatl drove the demons down here and sealed them away. There must be thousands of these demons imprisoned down here.”

Fictional positioning: Vaalyun is the rearguard throughout this. We had an attack from the front which Nyseris detected in the last chapter; let’s have trouble from behind this time.

Discern Realities(Vaalyun): 2D6(5 6) +1 = 12 Success!
What is about to happen here?
What here is useful or valuable to me?
Who is in control here?

Something else had caught Vaalyun’s attention, however—a noise of something scraping against stone from the previous cavern. “Something is following us, Templars.”

Esthana drew her sword, taking a step back in the direction that they had come from to put herself in the path of whatever followed. The blue and silver flames that ran along her blade flared fiercely, as if reacting to the presence of demons nearby. Anaya and Nyseris joined Vaalyun.

Vaalyun tries to transfer his +1 (acting on his Discern Realities) to Esthana.

Aid(Vaalyun): 2D6(1 3) +1 = 5 Failure!
Turn their move back on them: put yourself in the line of fire
A Little Help from my Friends(Anaya): 2D6(4 1) +2 = 7 Partial success.
Exposed to the common danger
Interrogator(Aided)(Esthana): 2D6(4 1) +1+1 = 7 Partial success.
You’ll have to prove it

Well, I was hoping to resolve this without a fight, but the party got their low rolls in there. If they can prove to the creatures that they are strong enough to beat them, then they will get what they want—safe passage through the demon caves (Interrogator is her enhanced Parley move, which uses her strength stat).

Make a move that follows: I’m using, as serpentine creatures, as the basis for these lesser demons. One has magic, and we just established that the larger creature uses lightning, so...

“The Flame, Templar—these creatures must be afraid of it.” Vaalyun stood behind Esthana, and drew his wand—just in case.

Defy Danger(DEX)(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 6) +2+1 = 11 Success!
Defy Danger(DEX)(Esthana): 2D6(5 6) +3 = 14 Success!

Three giant snake-like creatures emerged into the light from the dark opening behind them, their scales glittering darkly in the silver light. One looked towards Esthana and opened its mouth, and both Esthana and Vaalyun leapt out of the way as the creature unleashed a bolt of lightning which streaked across the chamber.

Anaya has +1 forward from A Little Help from my Friends.

Volley(Anaya): 2D6(5 1) +1+1 = 7 Partial success.
Put yourself in danger; deals d6=6 damage (4 after armour)
Cast a spell(Magic Weapon)(Nyseris): 2D6(1 5) +1 = 7 Partial success.
Lose the spell
Volley(Nyseris): 2D6(2 2) +2 = 6 Failure!
Deal damage: 2d8k1+4 = 11 damage, 10 after armour

Nyseris is at 11/21 HP.

Aid(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 1) +1 = 4 Failure!
Monster move: cast a spell, Hold Person
Hack and Slash(Anaya): 2D6(2 4) +0 = Failure! Monster move: Constrict

Well, the dice are consistent I guess: Esthana has to save everyone yet again.

The other two snake demons moved quickly towards them. Anaya loosed an arrow at the first, scoring a hit just behind the creature’s head. Nyseris, their bow glowing with silver light, also loosed an arrow, but it deflected off of the creature’s scales. The demon lunged at the ranger before they could take another shot, sinking its large fangs into the rangers side and knocking them to the ground.

Seeing the second snake demon moving towards Anaya, Vaalyun went to raise his wand to attack the creature, but he felt his limbs freeze. The snake hanging back in the opening was staring directly at him, and he realised that it had cast some spell to hold him in place; he could only watch as the second snake quickly seized Anaya, wrapping itself around her before bringing its head up before hers.

Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(4 1) +3 = 8 Partial success.
Deal damage: d10+d6=6, 2 piercing; Deal damage: 2d8k1+4 = 11 damage to Anaya, 10 after armour

Anaya is at 7/17 HP. But Esthana cuts the snake’s tail off, so it cannot fight Esthana and attack Anaya next round.

Defy Danger(DEX)(Esthana): 2D6(3 6) +3 = 12 Success!
Deal damage: d10+d6=5 damage, 2 piercing

Killing the snake constricting Anaya.

The demon was crushing Anaya in its coils, but Esthana was back on her feet now and rushed to help her friend. The creature tried to knock her down with a sweep of its tail, but the Templar was too fast, ducking under the blow and then bringing her sword down on the creature’s tail, severing it with one stroke. Lightning flashed once more across the chamber, as the snake demon at the opening tried to strike down the Templar, but Esthana sidestepped the blast and drove her sword into the head of the demon holding Anaya, cutting short its hiss of pain. Blue flames from her sword burst out around the wound, spreading over the demons body, consuming it and leaving only ash behind.

Hack and Slash(Nyseris): 2D6(4 3) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Deal damage d8=1, negated by armour. Monster move: Constrict
Defy Danger(Str)(Nyseris): 2D6(3 4) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: drop your weapon and you can grapple with the creature without getting crushed.

Nyseris was still struggling with the other snake demon, stabbing at it with their spear. But the weapon was not suited to close quarters, and they could not get a strong enough stroke to drive through its scaly hide. The creature began to coil its body around the lizardfolk, and Nyseris had to drop their spear to grapple with the creature, wrapping their hands around the creature’s body and straining to keep it from pulling tight around them.

Cast a Spell(Cure Light Wounds)(Anaya): 2D6(3 5) +3 = 11 Success!
Heals d8+7=11 HP; back to full
Aid(Nyseris): 2D6(4 1) +1 = 6 Failure!
Deal damage: 2d8k1+4 = 9 damage
Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(5 3) +3 = 11 Success!
Deals d10+d6=5 damage, 2 piercing
Volley(Anaya): 2D6(6 3) +1 = 10 Success!
Deals d6=2 damage, negated by armour

Second snake is at 3/10HP. The snake demons have lost over half of their HP total, which is enough to fulfil Esthana’s Interrogate move earlier I think: she has proved they have the Flame on their side. Plus Anaya just healed herself with the Flame.

Esthana ran over to the lizardfolk, and with two precise strokes of her sword stabbed into the creature’s body as it strained against Nyseris’ grip. The creature hissed in pain, releasing Nyseris and dropping to the cavern floor. It slithered quickly back towards the opening from which it had come. Anaya loosed one last arrow at the fleeing creature, which did not break through its scaly skin. Vaalyun suddenly staggered forward as the magic that had held him was released; the other snake creature had also fled.

Cast a Spell(Cure Light Wounds)(Anaya): 2D6(5 3) +3 = 11 Success!
Heals d8+7 = 9 damage

Nyseris was at 2/21, but is now back to 11/21 HP. The party has a lot of healing, which makes it hard to keep down.

Anaya had drawn on the Flame to heal herself; now she walked other to Nyseris and the light of the Flame surrounded her once more as she called on its power again to heal the ranger. Blood was pooled on the floor around Nyseris, flowing from several deep wounds that the snake demon’s teeth had made in their hide; but their wounds closed with the Flame’s healing, and Nyseris was able to stand again and retrieve their weapons.

“How many more demons do you think are free down here?” asked Vaalyun.

Discern Realities(Anaya): 2D6(4 2) +3 = 9 Partial success.
What is about to happen?

“Many more than that,” said Anaya. “Perhaps even more than there are imprisoned here. But demons are capricious creatures without their leaders, and it appears that they fear the power of the Flame. As we have proved that we are a danger to them, they will be reluctant to attack again.”

“Then we should move on while we can,” said Esthana.

About ten minutes later, after they had passed through a dozen more caverns containing trapped demons, they came to an opening into a much larger tunnel leading down deeper into Khyber. The tunnel was dimly lit by Khyber dragonshard crystals, fixed in sconces at intervals along the tunnel; this was the first sign of civilised habitation that they had seen since they left the surface.

Anaya leaned heavily against a rock, setting down her shield. “This must be the tunnel that the Blackscales use to reach Rhashaak’s prison. It is not far now; I feel the Overlord’s power flowing through these caves.”

Esthana glanced back in the direction that they had come from, but going back was hardly an option. There would be no safety while they remained in Khyber, and they had come too far to turn back now.

“I need to commune with the Flame before we face Rhashaak anyway,” added Anaya. “We should rest before we go down to meet the Overlord’s servant.”

Nyseris quickly found a smaller cave, out of sight of the main tunnel, in which they could rest for a while. Anaya sat down, leaning against a rock, and closed her eyes, taking the symbol of the Flame that she wore around her neck and clasping it in one hand. Esthana leaned against the cave wall opposite her, watching her fellow Templar with concern. Vaalyun rested as well, sitting near the entrance, away from the cleric so as not to disturb her prayers.

The party needed to make camp, so Anaya can swap spells for the denouement.

Make Camp(party): Heal up
Level Up(Vaalyun): +1 Cha; Student of the Prophecy: Spout Lore and Discern Realities can now reveal information about the Prophecy

To pass the time, he took out his notebook to read the section of the Prophecy one more time. They did not need Anaya’s connection to the Flame anymore to tell them of the danger here; harsh cries of demons echoing through the caverns kept it foremost in their minds, and lent new urgency to Vaalyun’s speculation. He wished that he had asked Taliesin to communicate with Argonessen to see if there was any more information available about this fragment of the Prophecy, though he supposed that the dragon should have known if there was.

Nyseris was standing only a few feet away from him on the other side of the entrance, alert and with an arrow at the ready as they watched the next cavern for movement.

“Nyseris, you said that ‘sjach’ is the Draconic word for ‘shadow’?”

Sjach” said Nyseris with emphasis, though keeping their voice quiet; Vaalyun could not match the pronunciation from a lizardfolk throat. “This is not the time for lessons.”

“And ‘whedab’ is darkness?”

Nyseris eyes flickered to the elf for a few seconds, and they nodded impatiently.

“The Prophecy seems to use ‘whedab’ to mean tainted.”

“There is no difference, vaecaesin. The darkness that obscures the light of the Silver Flame is corruption.” Nyseris’ hands twitched as another demonic cry echoed through the caves.

Student of the Prophecy(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 1) +2 = 5 Failure!
Front move(Blackscales): Spy on someone with a scrying spell

Well that’s unfortunate.

I never actually wrote out the Grim Portents for Rhashaak; I am using my GM move here to rework that chain of events now. They were:

  • Learn a ritual that can free Rhashaak. DONE.
  • Start tracking Anaya’s movements. DONE.
  • Begin the ritual. DONE.
  • Seize Anaya. Done but...
  • Bring her to Haka’torvhak. FAILED.
  • Use her to complete the ritual, freeing Rhashaak.
  • The Blackscales would gain the upper hand over the gul siksta and take control of the jungle, eventually leading to Masvirik’s release (as Prophesied).

Our heroes prevented Anaya being brought to Haka’torvhak, preventing this plan at the time; but now they have delivered her themselves. So we delete the “Seize” and “Bring” steps, and replace them with a step “Prepare for Anaya’s arrival”, which is the move that they just got to make. So the Blackscales are now ready for her—ready to complete the ritual.

That sets the stakes up perfectly. I had thought to have the Blackscales be no more than a brief warm-up prior to the real battle with the dragon, but now the party has to fight both. The party are good, but their chances have to be worse now. Vaalyun doesn’t get the info that he wants, but he will have a second chance to use that move—as a Discern Realities—once he can see the dragon first hand.

Commune(Anaya): Sever, Bless

Vaalyun frowned. He felt sure that there must be something more to learn from the Prophecy’s words, but still nothing seemed to suggest a specific course of action that might aid them in the struggle ahead. He looked across at Anaya, and saw that the cleric had opened her eyes now. “Well, cleric? What does the Flame tell you?”

Divine Guidance(Anaya): Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: You can cast sever to separate Rhashaak from his taint, but if the taint is inside his mind them doing so will likely kill him, or leave him with nothing of his own mind remaining.

“The Flame does not speak, but can reveal its strength to me. The Flame here is strong, and it has the power to strike at corruption. I believe I can use it to burn away the taint where it touches living things; I am only unsure whether the subject can survive the process. Rhashaak has been under the effect of this corruption for tens of thousands of years, and that impurity will run deep. Using so much of the Flame’s power against him may kill him.”

“Legend says that Rhashaak first came here to watch over us,” said Nyseris. “Death would be better than what he has become.”

“Yes, but...” Anaya trailed off, clearly dissatisfied with that outcome. After looking at the ground for a moment, she continued. “The Flame has brought us here and given me the power to do this; there is no turning back now. We must have faith that the Flame’s actions will be right.”

“We will be at your side, come what may,” said Esthana. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes. It is time to meet Rhashaak.”

End of Session(party): We’ve found some of the demons imprisoned since the Age of Demons; I think that counts as learning something new about the world

Anaya: 2 failure, session goal; at 5XP.
Esthana: 0 failures, alignment goal, session goal; at 2XP.
Nyseris: 2 failures, session goal; at 3XP.
Vaalyun: 3 failures, session goal; at 2XP.

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