Thursday, July 21, 2016

Weighing the Soul of a Devil

Having returned to Chancel with two orphans rescued from being ground into bone meal by hags, Tristan made arrangements with the Sellvek family to have the youths taken care of. Tristan also had the unfortunate task of breaking news of Tarvin Sellvek's death to Luka, who had been cultivating his relationship with the White Ravens and pursuing other personal business in the interim. Tristan introduced Luka to Pen Bennett, an acolyte serving the faithful of St. Othric. The trio gathered to discuss a proposition put to them by Ivara Olashenko; Ivara claimed to have discovered the whereabouts of a supernatural being that they might use to fight against the forces of darkness coming to Krevborna from Barovia.

The meeting with Ivara was tense and fraught with disagreements and concerns. According to her research, the being in question was a devil trapped within an iron cage somewhere in a supposedly-haunted house near Krevborna's coast. This Driftwood House once belonged to a family of cultists, but had seemingly been abandoned and avoided for a generation or more. It was said that whoever released the captive devil therein would be granted some sort of boon: Ivara pushed the idea that they could ask the devil to fight against the new supernatural threat coming to Krevborna, effectively turning one evil being against another.

This notion was intriguing to Pen, Luka, and Tristan, but it was not an idea without real considerations. Pen pointed out the dangers of using evil as a tool, even if wielded for the greater good. Tristan worried about the trustworthiness of fiends; would such a creature honor its word once released? Luka fretted over the nature of the creature--if it had a soul and free will, would it not be wrong to force it into servitude? Ivara, for her part, pointed out that if those who wish to do good in the world were not the ones to utilize this opportunity, surely the coming forces of darkness would seek out this devil and gain its aid. Ultimately, the party decided to venture to the Driftwood House to investigate further.

Since Ivara was accompanying them south to the Driftwood House, Luka wanted to make sure that the young scholar would be as protected as possible. He took her shopping and advised her to purchase a leather jerkin and a pistol. Cue the training montage, as Luka took the time to take Ivara out into the woods north of Chancel for some target practice.

The party traveled four days, following Ivara's map, arriving at the Driftwood House just after sunset. The house was a ramshackle building built of driftwood planks situated at the top of a sheer cliff overlooking the sea. A massive dead tree loomed over the house, its bare branches reaching and skeletal against the night sky. Crooked sets of wooden stairs wound a path up the cliff to the house. Sparse outcroppings of tombstones dotted the ground before the house. The sound of waves crashing against rocks could be heard coming from below the cliff. Thick bunches of twisted roots erupted from the rocky ground. Luka reconnoitered the house, discovering that the door was being guarded by three figures in long coats, hoods and hats pulled low over their faces, each armed with some sort of jagged spear. (Luka theorized that these figures were the walking dead due to their shambling gaits.) He also noticed that the house's guards worked in shifts; the three would enter the house, only to be replaced by three different figures. 

The party held off on their assault until morning, where they wouldn't be fighting under the fickle light of the moon. Luka and Ivara positioned themselves behind tombstones to take shots at the shambling figures, hoping to draw them into charging so that Pen and Tristan could intercept them for a melee. Luka's shot hit its mark, and the creature let out a wet bellow of surprise, which in turn caused his companions to scream in equally wet rage. Clearly, these things were not the walking dead. In the battle that ensued, it was revealed that they were fish-faced men with bulging eyes and mouths lined with piranha-like teeth, and that their "spears" were actually vicious harpoons. 

Monstrous guardsmen duly dispatched, and no indications of more trouble on the way, the party approached the door of the Driftwood House, which Pen promptly kicked in. In the center of the room was a statue carved from driftwood of a kingly figure, wearing a nine-pointed crown, his long hair and beard intertwined with seaweed. Pen kicked this statue over as well, sending its crown rolling into the corner. The crown was retrieved and given to Ivara for safe-keeping. Further exploration of this floor--which involved the ever-belligerent Pen kicking in every door--revealed a room with chairs, a table, and a number of old books written in a language the characters couldn't read, as well as a kitchen where a dish was piled high with day-old fish.

Ascending to the second floor uncovered a far more gruesome tableau. The party found themselves in a room dominated by a table, upon which was a piece of oilskin or perhaps old sail that was draped across a lumpen form that appeared to be a humanoid body. Pen drew the cloth off like a magician performing a trick, revealing the corpse of a dark-haired woman dressed as a sailor, her midsection pierced through and her entrails spilling forth. Further inspection of the body determined that patches of flesh had been removed from one of her upper arms; the lower arm was still covered in tattoos of a nautical nature rendered in a very dark blank ink.

Perhaps fearing that the corpse would rise to attack them, Pen chopped off the woman's head and made to throw it through a gap in the roof. However, as he hefted the decapitated head aloft, an inky blackness began to pour from its mouth, pooling and coalescing on the floor. As the black fluid arose, it formed a human-like shape--its face briefly took on the appearance of the decapitated head, then morphed into the face of someone that each character in the room knew who had died. The effect was chilling, but as the thing struck at Pen the group did their best to fend it off. A difficult melee commenced, with Luka being grasped by the thing as it sapped some of his life away. Nevertheless, some quick halberd work from Tristan sent the thing splattering about the room in a shower of inky gore.

Continued exploration of the upper floor brought the party to a disused bedroom. At the foot of the bed was a strange box-shaped lump of white crystal. Pen hacked at it, splintering bits of crystal off, but the group was no closer to figuring out what it was. Ivara examined it further with a dagger, then tasted it...whatever was inside was encased in salt. Working diligently to remove the salt encrustation unveiled a simple wooden box within. Pen threw caution to the wind and opened it...and narrowly dodged a stream of liquid that shot from the box, casting a film of hardened salt on the wall behind him. A few bags of coin, a bottle of black ink in a stoppered bottle, five sculptures of eels with ravening maws carved from bone, and a brooch depicting some sort of botanic motif were found inside.

The upper floor sorted as well as could be, the group descended the stairs into whatever was below the Driftwood House. And a long descent it was; the stairs seemed to go down and down without end. The air took on the clammy, briny smell of the sea as they went deeper into the cliff upon which the house rested. Finally, he stairs ended in a wet, slimy chamber carved from the rock of the cliff. An iron gate was to the left, a wooden door to the right, and a circular pool sat at the center of the chamber. A heavy chain was attached to the floor of the chamber, the end of which went down into the pool.

Ivara explained that the pool was what they had come looking for; the devil's cage should be attached to the other end of the chain--it was probably kept submerged for containment purposes. Luka scouted the iron gate and found that it led to a sodden hallway that stretched off to the sea--during high tide, the entirety of the chamber would be flooded. Luka and Ivara stood ready by the gate, while the muscle-bound Pen pulled upon the chain. 

The cage was nearly freed from the murky pool when the iron gate was heard to swing open--more of the fish-like men had emerged from the sea. One of them wore a strange mockery of a pope's mitre; his moist chanting sent waves of spectral, icy oceanic water cascading around the party, while his compatriots speared and bit at them. When one wounded Luka, it went into a hungry rage, but the party carried the day.

Picking up where he had left off--having used his sword to keep the chain in place--Pen hauled the cage free of the pool. Inside was a black cocoon of wings that unfurled to reveal a horned, red-eyed, and fang'd being within. Only Ivara could speak the devil's language, so she relayed the party's questions and the fiend's answers. Here, all those moral quandaries and conflicting motivations that were discussed before the party set out again reared their heads. Bickering, differing views, competing beliefs! Ultimately, Luka decided to cut the Gordian knot by walking up to the cage and firing into the devil's head while it was trapped within. The fiend became a sulfurous black mist that quickly began to dissipate, but Ivara again spoke it's infernal language and seemingly trapped it within an iron flask. 

The group left the Driftwood House ablaze behind them as they left.

Back in Chancel, the group discussed possibly finding a religious rite to destroy the devil within the flask. But what might that require of them?

* * *

The spoils:

XP - 513 each

Treasure -

  • Copper, silver, and gold coins in the sacks that amount to 167 gp each for Pen, Luka, and Tristan.
  • Five statues of ravenous eels carved from bone (worth 125 gp in total; Ivara would like to study them further despite them being non-magical; she requests these in lieu of receiving a cut of the other treasure--let me know what you guys think about that).
  • The bottle of blank liquid turns out to be a bottle of magical tattoo ink; if you ask the right people you will be able to find a tattoo artist who can use it to inscribe a permanent enchanted rune upon one of you that is a persistent magical effect.
  • The brooch with the botanic theme is a brooch of shielding--it gives resistance to force damage and immunity to magic missiles.

Inspiration - everybody did a great job hitting their ideals, flaws, etc. in that last scene in the underground chamber, so everybody starts the next session with Inspiration.

Renown -