The souls looked into them; just being able to look back felt draining. Their wills exhausted as they attempted to thwart the incorporeal foes. As the souls lashed out, screaming, howling, and slashing with their sharp claws.
When Rorik, Roach, Chadwick or Qilynn are contacted by the sharp claws of the Harrowing Souls, they don’t feel as much pain as they assumed they would. It is instead their wails that hurt the four adventurers, they cringe at each scream, trying not to drop their weapons and give in to the sound.
It was the midst of battle, Rorik was breathing erratically as his axe felt ten times heavier than it had before when Chadwick pointed out to a Harrowed Soul not far from him. “Dudes!” Chad yelled, gathering the attention of his party. But it had been too late.
Just as the adventurers struck down the last of the souls, one had whispered an ancient enchantment that had not reached their ears. From the sharp, tangled and blackened bush that defined the sides of the path, the sound of chains could be heard, clanging throughout the area. It seemed heavy, accompanied by the footfall of a man.
Out from the bent, necrotic trees came a man entirely wrapped in chains, his black eyes barely visible beneath them, and the parts of his skin that peeked out of the chains were of charred flesh. “My souls, my souls!” he loudly yelled out.
Startled by his arrival, Chadwick and Roach were unable to gather themselves before two sets of chains came hurling out from the man, this Chained Soul Master, and wrapping tightly around their bodies. Chad was able to wriggle free as Roach received the full brunt of the cold, thick metal against his skin; he hissed at the pain.
Qilynn and Rorik engaged themselves with this ‘man’ and made quick work of his flesh and chains, forcing him to release Roach as he defended himself. It was not a long battle, though it was trying, and at the end of it the party was bloodied, heaving heavy breaths, and desperately hoping for a chance to rest their weary bodies.
“Not much further, friends,” came the old, calm voice of Virgil chiming in their heads.
Wearily, the four adventurers continued the trudge along the winding path, its edges thick with the necrotic brush of trees, long stopped of their growth. They listened carefully, warily, their eyes and souls on the tips of their swords, axes, and daggers.
Suddenly, from just within their sight, the adventurers spotted what looked to be an old, dilapidated cabin. It was small, perhaps 20 feet in its entirety. It was surrounded by prickly, thorny appearing bushes. Qilynn paused when they came within 30 feet of it. “Virgil, are you in there?” she quipped curiously, as they approached as a group but with great caution.
She was answered with total silence.
And then, a small snap in the thorns outside of the cabin could be heard, just by its poorly constructed door. “Who goes there?” Rorik demanded, readying his axe.
Some infernal muttering could be deciphered, and then, out of the thorns rose two Imps. Their bodies a bright crimson colour, their beady eyes were alit with excitement or perhaps a devious joy, it was difficult to discern. “We go here,” they muttered in response, giggling and speaking under their breaths in Infernal to one another.
Qilynn caught the odd word of Infernal but she couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. The Imps appeared playful in their nature, they continued to exchange words with one another under their breath as the characters regarded them.
“Will you let us inside?” Roach attempted asking the Imps, lowering his axe for affect.
“Inside? What, here?” quipped one of the Imps.
“We can’t let you in here, see, it’s our job to stay outside and keep him in and you out.”
“Him? Hrm, do you mean Virgil?” Qilynn asked.
The Imps looked at one another and then nodded at the four adventurers. “What would it take to let us pass?” Roach continued, desperately wishing to avoid another fight as his body ached, his wounds barely healed.
After a few more infernal natters, one of the Imps flew forward slightly, his tiny wings fluttering in the wind. He must have been an eighth of the size of the smallest of the party – but the party was smart enough to understand that size did not determine the threat. “Something…shiny,” the Imp drawled, the other’s eyes lighting up at the thought of a shiny.
The four adventurers looked at each other. A shiny? They hadn’t even woken up with gold coins in their pockets, whatever could they give that wasn’t valuable to them?
Roach dipped down and picked up a pebble from the road, he tossed it nonchalantly to Chadwick who, for once, seemed to immediately understand. As silently as possible, he cast a spell upon the pebble turning it into a blinding light. Then, he cast Mage Hand and attempted to withhold his sudden alarm. The hand that was conjured was that of a large, skeletal, decaying disembodied hand. With it, he offered up the pebble which was now emitting a beautiful light that was nearly blinding against the drab environment.
The Imps immediately lit up. “Shiny!” “Beautiful!” They said at the same time. One of the Imps quickly snatched it from the Mage Hand and they began fluttering off together, nattering back and forth as they didn’t pay the adventurers any mind.
Roach sighed with relief. “Let’s proceed,” he informed them, taking out his axe to make quick work of the brittle but sharp vines that covered the door to the cabin. Once finished, the four knocked. There was a simple and familiar voice responding saying, “Come in.”
Cautiously, they entered the cabin. Its walls were drab and made of an odd, grey coloured wood. Within the cabin there was some uncomfortable looking brush put together to create a bed of sorts, it reeked of wet sweat, and there was also a long table along one wall. Upon it was a large collection of sticks and twigs.
In the corner of the cabin sat who was assumed to be Virgil. He was a frail, skinny old man wearing nothing more than a loincloth. His body was racked with scars, new and old, and his hair was a greying brown, unruly. Virgil’s eyes were frantic as he peered about the cabin, his knees drawn up to his chest, his hands wringing themselves around a beautifully crafted, silver dagger. Virgil’s body shook with what could only be described as terror as he greeted the players.
“Hi, friends, you must be whom I’m waiting for,” in person, his voice was trembling. Much unlike his telepathy.
“Er, yes. My name is Qilynn, this is Rorik, Roach, and Chadwick,” she introduced them, edging only slightly closer to him. “What are you doing here, Virgil? What are we doing here?”
“In Limbo? It’s the beginning of Hell,” Virgil explained gravely, “I was damned here long ago and given this place of refuge, this home,” he said bitterly, gesturing wildly to the cabin around him before he continued to clutch the dagger, “As I attempt to assist all mortals who venture, so I was given it as a gift.”
“By who?” Rorik inquired.
“Whoever damned me here, whoever brings mortals here, I do not know the answer to either of these,” Virgil admitted. “But I will help you the best I can, on my word, to escape this Hell,” he spat.
“As I have been. I will guide you when I can, and here,” Virgil reached across the floor and underneath his makeshift bedroll. From it, he withdrew what appeared to be a scroll. He handed it to the party. Roach took it in his hands and began to examine it, unfurl it.”A map,” Virgil explained, “The best I’ve drawn of Limbo. From here to the Gate.”
“The gate?” Qilynn questioned.
“The gate to the Citadel. There you will begin to find the way out of Hell. I cannot follow you there as I am not permitted, I will simply end up back here in this forsaken cabin.”
Roach was studying the map before a sudden realisation hit him. He recoiled and passed the map to Rorik. It was made of a thin, smooth material, it felt leathery as Rorik moved it between his fingers. The features were etched in, carved with what looked to be a sharp object. “Is this – is this human skin?” Rorik scowled at the map.
Virgil, a smirk creeping up his face, looked up at them, his eyes gleaming, “You make due with what you can find here in this wasteland, friends.”
To Be Continued