4.2. And the Mountains

4.2. And the Mountains

Session Date: January 6th, 2020

And the Mountains

C. Coventry Carol

i) When a Child is Born

It was at this point that Gorodash also arrived at the inn. The horses were sound asleep in their stall, with Nobu the only remaining guard; it seemed the devils were no longer interested in livestock.

“Well!” said Father Stefan, after seeing the newcomers make short work of the two invading devils, “perhaps there is a ray of hope after all. Although perhaps it’s a little selfish of me to say this, but I wish you’d arrived a tenday ago, when our troubles first began. Then, perhaps, you might have been able to stop the bloodshed that claimed my very own chapel.

“In truth, it began the very night before you were to arrive–though we didn’t recognize the signs at the time. There was a great earthquake that woke us from our sleep. No one was hurt, and nothing was broken, but the snow that had long buried the monastery had slid away. But on top of that, every door and window in the town was unbarred and wide open. We didn’t much know what to make of that. In the end, we chalked it up to the tremors and went on.

“But the next night, on Solstice Eve, this terrible endless blizzard began. At what was perhaps midnight, every child in the town who was asleep abruptly started awake…in a different bed, in a different house. With a big, coal thumbprint on their forehead, black as night. And that got everyone proper scared. Knowing something out there, something that could get in any time it wanted to, had marked our children.”

“I started an overnight vigil at the local chapel to pray for strength and guidance…and to give you a more fitting welcome, I had hoped. We began to hear thunderous hooves upon the top of the church beams, and the rafters began to smoke. Then, a creature of whose size I had never beheld jumped through the stained glass portrait of Father Nicholas and lay waste to us.

“My spells had no effect on it, and it was able to kill three of our friends, using its long chain, before I’d shepherded everyone out.”

“A chain?” Asura asked suddenly, his ears perked.

“Yes…why do you ask?”

“Hmm. Perhaps it’s nothing,” Asura mumbled to himself. He remembered a story he had just read, a story about a man in a red coat that slew devils with a chain.

“At first, we tried to fend off the devils,” Father Stefan concluded, “but they cut down anyone who stood in their way. Eventually, we separated to as many different houses as we could and prayed for sunlight, or a deliverer.”

“Tell me, what do you know of this Father Nicholas figure?” Asura asked.

“Truthfully, not as much as I’d like. I only moved here a little over a decade ago, as a missionary from the Church of Lathander. The older tales of Coventry were passed down from generation to generation before I came here, and I’ve only learned them from such elders as Jakob (rest his poor soul). But I’ll tell you what I’ve learned in my time here.

“‘Coventry’–the name itself came from a monastery that stands on the side of Snowblind Peak. It was at one time a home to seclusionist clerics, who would send a caravan down to the village every tenday or so. That is, before it was buried in the avalanche.

“The most beloved of those from the monastery was one Father Nicholas, well-known for his love of children. Short, somewhat fat, and always dressed in his red cleric’s tunic, Father Nicholas could never pass a child without giving them a candy, some fruit, or even a simple toy he’d crafted himself. His heart was eternally good and generous…or so all the stories go. There may as much truth as embellishment these days, and some of the stories border on the fanciful.

“Not that I haven’t seen him with my own two eyes. Every Winter Solstice eve, Father Nicholas would come back to visit the children and fill up their stockings with fruit, candy, and small toys. He never appeared if people stayed awake to spy him, but he did his good deeds just the same. And he’d been seen by many through the years, though only from a distance…waving from his flying sleigh, pulled by caribou, as he returned to his home somewhere on Snowblind Peak.

“I’m sure you can see, as well as I can, that not everything about this story quite makes sense. Father Nicholas would be well over a century and half old by this point. Is it still him? Is it his spirit, carrying on his life’s work? Is it an avatar, a gift from the gods themselves? Well, no matter the case, no one could argue that he still did his work, and that Coventry has been kept safe these past one hundred winters. Until today.”

ii) Up on the Rooftop, Reindeer Pause

In the quiet silence following Father Stefan’s words, the sound of distant rolling thunder became steadily apparent. Guessing it to come from from the direction of Snowblind Peak, Gorodash stepped out to investigate. The blustery gales had lessened somewhat, and the orc could now see much further into the night than before.

In the distance, four fiery trails sped through the air in their direction. However, unlike heavenly comets, these looped and danced around each other as they approached. The sound of thunder grew louder.

A booming voice suddenly echoed between the buildings, drawing the rest of the Shining Blade heroes from the inn. As they listened, deep demonic tones directed the swirling points of fire:

“Now, Dasher! now, Crasher! On, Smasher and Blitzen!
Torch up each rooftop; there’s fresh meat for mincing!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

In response, the four lights impacted on the roofs of four nearby buildings. In their flaring light, the group could make out what seemed to be magical caribou, wreathed in flame. Where their hooves pranced, the snow melted, and the wooden timbers of the houses began to smoke.

The heroes hurriedly chugged a few potions and prepared to defend the town.

The “reindeer,” or whatever they truly were, didn’t seem intimidated by the adventurers. A Sacred Flame and Guiding Bolt from Asura missed both their targets, as did a Mind Sliver from Shudder.

Gorodash was luckier with a javelin, and Grigori’s scrolls of Magic Missile were inerrant, but their targets barely flinched.

One of the floating beasts responded to the affront. Galloping five feet above the snow, it rushed down the street towards the adventurers, attempting to bowl them over with its sparking hooves. Luckily, Asura, Rock, and Grigori predicted the charge and dodged out of the way.

This time, Shudder was ready with a more potent spell. As with the hellhounds before, a Phantasmal Force took hold of the reindeer’s mind. In its thoughts, it had been nailed to the ground by three mystical spears.

A second reindeer thundered down the road, but Rock, Asura were again able to easily evade it. Perhaps it was Father’s Stefan’s prayers suddenly taking hold, or perhaps the favor of Lathander finally shone upon the village. In any case, only Shudder took a hoof to the chest, knocking the wind out of her chest and her form to the snow. Yet even she was able to maintain the concentration on her spell.

His warhammer in hand, Asura clipped each foe as it barreled past, and he spun to concentrate on the one threatening Shudder. Reeling from the blessed assault, and bleeding gouts of flame, the beast instead took to the air and withdrew.

Its compatriot, still pinned by Shudder’s psychic effect, was not so lucky. Unable to understand how it had been trapped, it whinnied in fear and rage as Rock began tearing into it with her giant bear claws.

Fortune (or divine favor), it seemed, also shone on Grigori. A third reindeer that had been stoking a fire atop a building finally leaped into the air and dove at the dwarf. Thanks only to an instinctively-cast Shield did Grigori narrowly avoid an early demise. Sparks still flew off his magical ward within an inch of his face, and his life flashed before his eyes.

iii) The South Wind

Unfortunately, it at this moment that a new and terrible foe entered the fray. Only Gorodash was in a position to see the huge shadow appear from the south, bounding effortlessly from rooftop to rooftop. Its final leap carried it to the tavern itself, where its impact shattered a wooden wall into splinters.

That wall had been the outer boundary of the storage room, where the young were still cowering. As shrill cries of terror enveloped the night, Gorodash quickly remembered the priest’s words: it could get in any time it wanted to, and it wanted their children.

Even for those who could not see the beast, the new sounds of mayhem were unmistakable. Gauging that she’d already dealt mortal wounds to the reindeer, Rock used her ten-foot bear height to pull herself onto the roof. There she lumbered to the south side of the inn, where the new monster awaited her claws.

(She had not been mistaken in her estimates; the reindeer would eventually shake itself to death.)

Unable to see the newcomer on the other side of the tavern, Grigori stepped in through the front door. There he found the monster standing tall in the broken storage room. Priest Stefan had placed himself between the threat and the villagers, unsuccessfully defending them with what little magic he knew. The fiend already held a child in its hand, perhaps intending to place him in the iron cage on its back.

Knowing that he would have to mind the innocents, Grigori put away his scrolls and dug deep into his own learned magic. An empowered Magic Missile struck only his foe, leaving the child untouched. However, Grigori’s triumph soon turned to horror when the fiend grinned evilly and lifted the boy in his hand.

“Strike me all you wish,” laughed the devil, taking the boy’s head between his massive fangs. “This shall be your only reward.”

Grigori was struck by a sudden recollection–an image in his mind of a cocktail party he’d once witnessed, where a particularly strong individual impressed others by opening a champagne bottle with his teeth.

Except, now, this was no cocktail party. And that was certainly no champagne bottle.

After drinking its fill, the vile fiend threw his victim’s limp body to the floor. As a woman’s ear-splitting sobs punctured his shock, he noticed one more disturbing fact: the devil’s wounds were closing with this new infusion of innocent blood.

Rather than being a deterrent, these heinous actions only served to enrage the heroes. Rallying the others and throwing caution to the wind, Asura raced into the tavern towards the foe. He expertly dodged two more flying reindeer charges (aided by Grigori’s Protection from Evil and Good) and joined Grigori and Gorodash at the front lines.

The battle would not be easy. Grigori tried to cast a Lightning Bolt from a scroll, cursing as he mispronounced a word under the stress. The spell fizzled and the scroll was wasted.

Similarly, an Inflict Wounds from Asura missed its mark, a Dissonant Whispers from Shudder slipped off its mind, and a Compelled Duel from Gorodash was simply ignored. As a fiend, the monster had significant magic resistance.

The heroes had more luck with physical attacks. Rock’s bear claws struck hard and struck often, and Gorodash called down holy vengeance on the fiend through his Divine Smites.

Staggering under the sudden onslaught, the beast swept up two more wailing children in its claws and leaped backwards to a nearby rooftop.

“Not badly struck! Of course, you’ve accomplished little today–other than also dooming these two to close these fresh wounds.

“And now you know what all your mortal struggling and writhing will come to in the end: naught!”

Their foe was already well out of reach, racing away from roof-to-roof. Even in the dark, the group could see the beast raising another child to its mouth, to feast.

“Not so fast, you despicable cretin,” Grigori hissed. Still livid over his failed Lightning Bolt, and the Magic Missiles that had indirectly caused the death of a child, he raised his hands one last time.

“Sleep,” he commanded.

The devil’s innate magical resistance did nothing to stop this new tactic. Caught in a weak and bloodied moment, the fiend’s body betrayed him. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he tumbled limply through the air…slamming face-first into the edge of a nearby building and tumbling to the ground.

iv) Angels in the Snow

The adventurers sprinted through the snow to the body of the devil. Its own bounding speed had worked against it, and the final impact with the stone wall had been enough to smash its skull, finishing it.

Nearby, two smaller forms also awaited. One still twitched–thank the gods–and there was a tiny intake of air before a cry of pain…a sound most blessed to their ears.

But as to the other, their hearts could only sink with grief. The child’s small form lay far too still.

Session Date: January 13th, 2020

D. Go Tell It on the Mountain

i) What Child is This?

Asura instinctively cast both Spare the Dying and Healing Word on the dead girl, but to no avail. Adventurers such as he had been trained to hold back the grim specter of death, even for a brief moment, during the fevered pitch of battle. Simple villagers–and certainly, a child such as this–would have had no such schooling. Her soul had already passed to the next plane.

“I have an idea,” Asura said, never one to simply give up, “but first we need to pack her in snow.” Quickly, he buried the girl in the largest drift he could find, as the others put out the roof fires.

Then, Asura went to ensure the other villagers were safe…and console the one distraught woman. It had been her boy, it seemed, that the monster had consumed. Sadly, Asura could do nothing for him.

Father Stefan watched the gathering tempest with trepidation as the heroes performed a rest and vigil. “It seems that monster you felled was not the source of the storm. Look.” He pointed up to where the same bony devils that Shudder had spotted were now circling the valley–perhaps waiting for the time to strike.

“I sadly suspect a voyage to the old monastery must be braved…that is, if you feel up to the challenge.”

Fortunately for the father and the village, the heroes were both willing and prepared. (Only Gorodash would stay behind, to protect the residents if more devils should appear.) The adventurers took stock of their supplies and departed for the summit of Snowblind Peak, a trip that the priest estimated would take roughly six hours. He said what blessings he could before they departed.

ii) Baby It’s Cold Outside

The edge of the blizzard bit much more fiercely, as soon as they’d left the relative protection of the buildings. Rock-in-Water was the only member who’d prepared for a lengthy excursion in the mountains; her Ring of Warmth kept any effects of frostbite at bay.

The others were not as fortunate, and they took turns riding atop Rock as she assumed her bear form, huddling for warmth in her fur. Still, the icy wind blew straight down the slope into their faces; and by the halfway mark up the slope, all travelers besides Rock were stumbling and shivering uncontrollably. When an icy cave showed to their left, the heroes agreed to seek refuge within–at least, until their could feel their limbs again.

The sight within made them double-guess their decision.

The body of a man dressed in a bloody cape was just inside the entrance. Further in, a summoning circle had been completed, using the blood of three children, whose drained bodies lay adjacent. Atop a nearby boulder, what appeared to be a devil sat so motionless that it may as well have been a statue.

Rock’s bear nose only detected the smells of the fiend; the others were long dead and mummified by the cold.

The man near the door had died from vicious wounds, perhaps made from claws or talons. He held three items of note:

• A letter written in a language no one could read, but that caused the hair on everyone’s neck to stand up.
• A bloody knife, likely used for the infernal work here.
• A mysterious key, danging from a chain about his neck.

“I have a good idea what script this is,” Grigori stated, “and I’ll be able to read it clearly, if we have ten minutes to spare.”

Keeping an eye on their unmoving host, the party guarded the dwarf wizard. He drew the appropriate runes on the ground, then carefully translated the page letter-by-letter. It was not an easy task; the author was not a native infernal speaker, and there were numerous basic errors. Still, what he at the end read chilled him to the bone.

“Well, at least we’re gaining a better understanding of what began this cataclysm,” Rock noted. “Now let’s go see if we can scrub out that summoning circle.”

A voice welled up from the throat of the devil as they approached. “It has been a long time…a very long time, indeed…since anyone has visited my little cave.”

“Were these people here,” Grigori asked, gesturing to the four bodies at hand, “were these your most recent visitors?”

“Yes, precisely,” the devil said, its eyelids finally sliding open. “And it has been one hundred years exactly since I was last entertained by their death throes.”

“And who are you?”

“I am an abishai,” answered the devil. “Do you know what an abishai is?”

Thinking back on their training at the Order, the adventurers recalled that abishai were devils who (among other things) specifically tempted mortals into signing infernal contracts–contracts that always favored the forces of hell. In fact, abishai were often mortals who’d fallen to such a ploy…long dead, subsumed into hell’s machinery, and eager to trap their own souls.

The fiend held up one bony talon as Grigori opened his mouth again. “I may be willing to answer more of your questions, mortal, on one condition. Life as a devil can be oh-so-boring, with so many rules and regulations to be followed. The sheer routine of it all can be soul-crushing, you understand. Some of us enjoy livening things up, where we can.

“What would you say to a game of chance? For each time you win, I will freely and truthfully answer one question of yours. But should I win, then you must freely and truthfully answer one of mine.”

In response to Asura’s sudden gaze of suspicious fear, the abishai continued. “I give you my word as a devil that while you are here in this cave, I will do you no harm. The consequences of my game are only as I’ve stated.

“After all, what are we devils, if not bound by our word? Little more than demons. And it is very unwise for any creature to breaks its oath while within the nine hells.”

The four stared at the devil, searching for any “tell” that might reveal an ulterior motive. While it was difficult to gauge such a dissimilar creature, he did not appear to be lying. If anything, he was speaking only the precise truth–exactly what they needed to hear, in other words, and nothing more.

But was that not, indeed, the way of devils?

Rock was against the idea of the game, on principle. No good would come of dealing with a devil whose ilk murdered and consumed children for sport. But Grigori reminded her that, regardless, this abishai had been nothing but polite and civil in their dealings thus far. He felt it an excellent opportunity to patch some holes in their understanding of what had happened in Coventry.

Once the dwarf wizard had accepted the devil’s offer, the abishai pulled out five knuckle bone dice, likely fashioned from one of the victims of the cave. The rules were simple. The devil would state a number between fifteen and twenty-one, and Grigori would guess if the sum rolled would be less than or equal to, or above the stated number.

When they were finished, Grigori had won a total of three times, and the devil two. Their questions and answers went as follows:

Grigori: “How were you connected to the events in Coventry?”

“This ‘Sorel’ here was my mark. I sensed the corruption in his heart, and I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (Whether I promised him personal gain, riches, or spite, I can’t even remember; mortals are always so predictable.) But I directed his hand in writing a contract and in performing a ritual–a ritual that ultimately summoned the Toymaker, of course.”

He shook his head with disdain. “Amateur.” Whether this referred to the cultist or the summoned devil was left up to interpretation.

Abishai: Do you know where you are?

In response to Grigori’s floundering, the devil continued. “You stand in Cania, the eighth circle of hell.” Asura’s eyes bulged with surprise.

Abishai: What do you expect to do when you reach the monastery? What do you expect to find there?

“Hey, that’s two questions,” grumbled Rock-in-Water, but the devil only glowered at her briefly. Again, Grigori could give little in answer, but only because they had yet planned little.

Grigori: What is your name?

“Interesting,” replied the abishai. “Very well. My name is Brelgreroth.” Each party knew that this alone would not be enough to command the devil (via, for example, true-naming magic), but it would be enough to refer to–or even, summon–him.

Grigori: How do we stop the ritual?

Brelgreroth responded with a question of his own. “Tell me, oh mortal: what do you know of blood magic?”

“Hey, you’re not allowed to ask a question,” Rock interjected. “It’s your turn to answer!”

Brelgreroth regarded the druid quietly for a time. “Your tabaxi friend might be well-suited for the court of the fey, should she have a mind to,” he noted. “She enjoys following the letter of the law, more than the spirit thereof. I am simply assessing the dwarf’s relevant knowledge, so that I may answer more completely.”

Though any mortal could be used for blood magic, the devil explained, children were the most useful. They had not yet reached the “age of accountability,” and, as such, their souls had not yet been claimed by any god or goddess. To give an analogy, their blood was like the purest water for humans: ideal for cooking, potion-making, or any other number of pursuits.

“Wait,” said Rock-in-Water, her mind working quickly, “what would happen if we were to, say, baptize the children before they were used in the ritual? Then they’d be devoted to a god.”

The devil nodded a reply. “That is certainly one way–though not perhaps the only way–to interfere with such a ritual. As you’ll recall…we devils often enjoy a game of chance.

“But I believe I’ve grown tired of our little game. Whatever you plan to do at the monastery, do it quickly. I had told the Toymaker, when he was summoned, that I would remain here until he had completed his work in Coventry.” He sighed to himself. “It was, perhaps, not the best choice of words. And I wish an end to this waiting…one way or another.”

The heroes rested for two hours before venturing back into the storm–just enough time to fully recover feeling in their extremities. True to his word, Brelgreroth attempted no violence; though, too, he offered no help.

iii) Masters in this Hall

The group’s trip to the peak was better shielded from the wind than their first half, and only Grigori and Asura had begun shivering by the time the monastery was in sight. As they traveled, they discussed what they needed to do to formally baptize each of the children. Though he was not a devout church-goer, Asura was confident he knew how it was done, and that his patron deity Torm would hear his requests. And, luckily, they still had three bottles of holy water with them–water literally pulled from a baptismal.

The courtyard of the monastery was empty. Light and noise emanated from the largest structure at the trear. Asura pulled out a Potion of Clairvoyance that he had been saving for just such a circumstance. With its magic, he was able to peer directly into the building and discern what lay in store.

A devil tinkered at an array of workshop tables, each covered with some kind of children’s toy. He could see tops, cork rifles, toy trains, dolls, nutcrackers, rocking horses, toy soldiers, and every manner of bauble to entice young children. He also noticed, however, that each contraption was carefully inscribed with devilish runes–instruments of pain and torture, most likely.

More disturbing was the giant runic symbol in the center of the floor. There were places for five sacrifices, but only three had been filled. Three children kneeled in stony rigidity, either through fear or magic. Only the subtle pulses on their necks indicated they were still alive.

In the corner, the long-dead corpse of an ancient hero was visible. A skeletal form, dressed in iconic red cleric robes, had been nailed to the wall by several dozen spears. Well, at least this morbid sight answered one hanging question: it had not been Father Nicholas at the center of this new reign of terror. In fact, it may not have even been he these past hundred Solstices.

Combat was a very real possibility. Shudder received a Bear’s Endurance from Rock, Grigori boosted himself with a See Invisibility, and Asura was the recipient of both a scroll of Haste and an Oil of Slipperiness (items they’d recovered from the burnt chapel earlier).

Had they known what would happen within the confines of the monastery, however, they need not even have bothered.

“Ah, welcome, welcome,” the devil declared as soon as Grigori had entered the hall. He spoke without even looking up, as if he’d been expecting them. “You certainly took your time ascending the mountain. I also see you’ve dispatched my ‘dispatch,’ as it were. I had sent my minion Krampus to collect more children, but I gather he won’t be returning.”

“No, he won’t,” returned Grigori, with as much bravado as he could muster. “And I take it there’s no way we can persuade you to stop…whatever it is you’re doing here?”

“Of course not. It is both my will and my right to drag all of Coventry straight to hell. And my plans have been delayed for far too long…one hundred years to be precise. Imagine! The nerve of this mortal!” Here the devil pointed an angry finger at the long-dead corpse of Father Nicholas. “Challenging me to a game of chance, as he lay dying! In my moment of triumph! But of course I accepted.”

“What was the wager?”

“Ah, that is both the most interesting and most vexing thing of all! This cleric wagered me that if I won, he would not challenge my claims to Coventry. Ah, but if he won…then I would spend the next one hundred years indentured. Not devouring the children, as I had a mind to, oh no. Instead, I would take his place: protecting and gifting the little maggots!”

The silence that followed was laden with implication–both with who had won that little game of chance, and who had been the real “Father Nicholas” so joyfully welcomed each winter.

“Well, no matter. I’m finished playing second fiddle to a fool; and it was, in the end, but a delay. Though, as you can observe,” he said, gesturing to the three children on the five spots, “I’m a few sacrifices short of a full circle. In that sense, we’ve reached something of a stalemate: I don’t have enough innocent blood yet to finish my machinations, and you have no hope of undoing my progress thus far.”

In what would unfortunately prove the devil’s point, Asura approached the giant magical circle. He could recognize some of the larger runes from his studies in the Order as being from the school of conjuration, but the wards and bonds encircling each child were too complicated to read.

Asura gently placed his hand on the nearest child, to see if it was possible to pull him from the circle to baptize him. As soon as he made contact, however, the boy burst open. It was like watching a jack-in-the-box spring to life in thrilling animation–except that it was a spectacle constructed from living flesh and bone.

“Ho ho ho!” the Toymaker guffawed in evil glee, as Asura withdrew in horror. “Did you think I’d not ward my machinations? Well, no matter to me! The blood has been spilled either way.” The magical lines of the circle glowed with power wherever they had been splashed, unaffected now by Asura’s holy water. “Perhaps we can come to, ah, something of an accord. Perhaps we can decide on something that each of us wants, hmm?”

“And what gives you the right to come here and do with these people and this village as you will?” challenged Rock-in-Water. A plan was slowly forming in her mind.

“Why, the poor sod that summoned me in that ice cave, of course. It was by his hand that I was called to the material plane, and by the blood he spilled that I was given my authority.”

“And what contract was written? What were the final terms of it?”

“Ho, ho, ho,” guffawed the Toymaker again. “Ironic that you should ask me of the terms. You in fact possess a copy of that very contract.”

“This letter?” Rock pressed, pulling the cultist’s scrawling from their pack. “The very same letter that is barely readable, with all its errors? Is this really legally binding?”

The devil’s eyes flared with sudden anger, before his mouth twisted into a cruel sneer. “Well, if you would like to formally protest the legality of that document, you’re more than free to summon the Infernal Court and plead your case.”

Rock’s quick response surprised everyone present. “Yes. I would like that very much.”

iv) No Small Wonder

Their resident cleric and adherent to law and righteousness begged her not to do this. Devils were never meant to be trusted, much less interacted with at length, particularly on their own turf. However, Asura was outvoted by all three others present, and the Toymaker made the appropriate gestures.

A chasm immediately appeared between the tiles of the monastery room; sulfur and ash spewed forth as a titanic form lurched into the air.

“I am Minos, Supreme Judge of the Infernal Court. I have been summoned to adjudicate the execution of an infernal contract. I have the will, the power, and the authority to do so. This court is now in session!”

Asura visibly blanched. The apparition towered above them, literally stooping down to fit within the confines of their giant room. The stone columns vibrated with each syllable spoken by the colossal being. “Good grief, he’s big.”

“Would the appellant state the nature of their grievance?”

Grigori held up the cultist letter that he had carefully translated. The toy workbenches would now serve as makeshift courtroom tables. “This devil here has operated beyond the limits of the contract that–“

“Silence, mortal! The dispute is between the devil and the tabaxi only. You may serve as council, but you may not address the court.”

“Oh, uh, I…” Rock stammered, faltering for the best words to speak. She was a quick and observant tabaxi, who might notice things others didn’t, but her brain was often too flighty for precise oration. Luckily, Grigori leaned in close and whispered measured phrases into her ear.

Rock began again. “I wish to present a formal complaint that this devil here, the ‘Toymaker,’ has operated outside the boundaries set for him in his infernal contract with the human ‘Brother Sorel’. Specifically, in that the intent of the original contract references humans and other mortals who are no longer on the material plane. To, uh, say nothing of the questionable legal language.”

“Do you possess a copy of said contract?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“You may approach the bench.”

The massive arbitrator took the cultists’ letter in two nails and studied it carefully, as one might study an interesting insect. Then he turned to the Toymaker. What followed was a short interrogation by the supreme judge of the increasingly-flustered devil, surprisingly all conducted in the Common language. In short, Minos pointed out that while the Toymaker had in fact been granted full rights to do with the monks and villagers as he wished, those monks and villagers who were now long decades dead. Those living today did not fall within either the wording nor the intent of the original document.

“But,” sputtered the defendant, “I was unable to exact my plot, because I in turn lost a bet to the mortal Father Nicholas–“

“That is no concern of the court. How you squander your opportunities is beyond the scope of this arbitration.

“This is sloppy…even by your standards, Toymaker.”

The last sentence had muttered, perhaps the judge speaking only to himself. Whatever the case, Supreme Judge Minos drew himself up to his full height (or as much as he could, considering the location) to give his verdict.

“It is the finding of this court that the devil ‘Toymaker’ has indeed breached the stated statutes and limitations of his infernal contract, such as they are. This court thus decrees that all remaining influence from the Toymaker on the material plane be henceforth withdrawn and dispelled, and that all involved parties and their possessions be immediately returned to their native realms.

“Does the appellant find this ruling amenable?”

“Yes, Your Honor. And may I just point out what a fair and just figure you have been in all this–

“Tabaxi, I have three hundred forty-two thousand, six hundred and eighty-one other matters still to attend to, none of them pleasant.”

“Er, uh, yes, Your Honor. Thank you, Your Honor.”

What may have been a smirk tugged at the corner of the judge’s cavernous maw.

“You may yet make a fine devil yourself, one day, tabaxi. This court is now adjourned!”

With that, the supreme judge of the infernal court impacted his gavel with the force of an avalanche. The ears of the four heroes rang, and their eyesight blurred. The walls of the monastery seemed to swirl about, as if they would crash down upon them.

When their vision finally cleared, they were still in the walls of the monastery, but all traces of the devils had been removed. The magic circle in the center of the room had been erased, the Toymaker and all his benches and gadgets were gone, and even the sulfuric smell that had hung about the structure had faded.

Outside, the blizzard had completely dissipated. Instead, bright sunlight streamed in through the monastery windows.

“Well!” declared Asura, dusting himself off, “that certainly was a thrilling…and unexpected…finish. Please don’t ever do that to me again.”

Under the Hood: Defeating the Toymaker

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The Toymaker (a hastily-cobbled new villain after the untimely demise of Krampus) was not intended to be an easy encounter. For one, his stats began with the “Abjurer” from Volo’s Guide to Monsters as a base: a CR 9 encounter as a 13th-level spellcaster.

For another, the Toymaker had had plenty of time to draw up wards in the monastery; any initial damage dealt to him would have been diverted instead to the trapped children (each with 2 HP), until all three were dead. This would have completed three-fifths of the final ceremony, and any mortal blood spilled in an ensuing fight would have finished the remainder. Consequently, it was possible to win a combat with the Toymaker and yet still lose, as the completed ceremony pulled Coventry and Snowblind Peak permanently to hell. Though the party would have been deposited in the material plane for later adventures, a sense of failure would have hounded them.

One method of defeating the Toymaker was to challenge him to a game of chance (in this case, Liar’s Dice), and win. (This avenue was mentioned both by Brelgreroth and the Toymaker himself.) If this had occurred, the following rules would have come into play:

  • The stakes: Should the Toymaker win, his ritual is completed, and Coventry and Snowblind Peak are dragged down into hell. The PCs are free to formulate their own demands should they win, but they must do so before the start of the game. (One such demand could be that the Toymaker return to his task of safeguarding the city of Coventry, as he had done these past one hundred years.)
  • If the heroes win a round, they can choose for one of their number to take the place of one of the children.
  • If the Toymaker wins a round, he can choose a party member to take either of the two empty spots in the ritual.
  • Additional rule: if there is a hero taking the place of one of the children, the Toymaker might offer the option of instead rescuing a hero trapped in the ritual, no replacement necessary (ala dodgeball).
  • PCs who break their promises or the rules of the game are at disadvantage on all attacks, saves, and checks until they return to the material world. Hell is, after all, a strictly lawful plane.

However, as the session today would prove, there was a third manner in which one could send the Toymaker packing…as long as one was passingly familiar with the mechanics of hell.

E. Ding Dong Merrily on High

Mission Report – DR 1522.12.31

…having dispatched the fiend in a rather unorthodox manner, the party returned to the village to take stock. Roughly a third of the villagers still survived, of all ages. Most notably, Father Stefan still drew breath, and his presence will likely go far in helping Coventry reestablish itself.

The students returned to Order Headquarters in Lyrabar with one more in tow–the preserved body of a seven-year-old girl who had died during the events. The party had offered to use a portion of their next Requisition Note to pay for her revival; I made sure the necessary paperwork was filed for their request.

Although unable to complete their original mission due to unforeseen circumstances, our students were still able to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Ultimately, they saved over a hundred lives that would otherwise have been lost to the nine hells.

As such, I declare that our graduates have successfully completed the mission comprising their final examination; and, as per my authority, they are to be instated as full agents of the Order, with all rights and responsibilities pursuant.

To Light and Truth!

–Major Thormond

Shining Blade Training Academy
Order Headquarters, Lyrabar, Impiltur