Runequest Thursday #53 - Aquila and the Lurker in Shadow!

Clint Staples

One of the things I love about GMing a solo character is that you can play favorites. Because you don't have to switch attention from one player to another, you can treat the solo player to an experience that, I think, is in many way, much more like a novel, which often focuses on the point of view or experience of a singled protagonist.

The same thing goes with plotting elements and even treasure. The GM of a solo can lavish plot on that character, without having to weave in the threads of other PCs. You can also pace a game the way that works for the two of you, rather than having to take things slow because you have to make sure everyone is getting the share of Shiny Time[tm]. After all, a lot of fantasy novels hurl the protagonist into action beyond their ability early on, and that makes for a very exciting ride. Then the hero starts to 'catch up' to the plot as she gathers information, experience, even the physical gear needed to proceed.

If you have read any of my other posts on Savage North, you know that I am running a solo game for my wife, who is playing a young knight of the Gatan Empire, traveling in the North, in search of her lost twin brother. OK, you probably didn't know that last bit, but that is one reason she is adventuring so far from home, in an area that is generally hostile to sorcerers.

Clues and cryptic prophecy that Aquila discovered have led her to believe that she and her twin might be connected somehow to the rise of blood sorcery in the Savage North. Over the last several years, blood sorcerers, nasty fellows who gain power from all sorts of dark deeds and blood sacrifice, have been wreaking havoc in the Nordland, Sonderland, and beyond. Aquila recently uncovered hints that her brother might also be a sorcerer, schooled in those awful traditions, possibly acting as an agent of the Blood Gods, beings of terrible power that almost destroyed the North an age ago.

During the Last Session of my Savage North campaign, Aquila, on the trail of her brother, along with her traveling companion, the frostfolk maiden, Maethild, hiked up beyond the Icewall, into the Eagle Mountains to begin the trek across the Wyrm Tail Glacier toward Frosthold. As they reached the broad expanse of the glacier, they spied the ruins of an ancient keep on a promontory of rock overlooking the south. As it was nearing nightfall after a hard day of climbing, and because Aquila thought she might have detected the workings of old sorcery in the area, the pair decided to find shelter in the ruins.

On investigating, they found that only low walls and corners of the aged structure remained. Hoping for a roof over their heads, they kept looking and discovered a partially obscured staircase descending into the depths of the promontory. When Aquila checked, it appeared that this was the place from which the sorcery she had noted earlier originated.

Descending the worn stone steps, they passed through some sort of invisible boundary that they sensed rather than felt. The basement of the ancient keep was low ceilinged, dark, and damp, but immediately before them lay a long pale form on a raised stone bier, a fine longsword clutched to its breast. A pale blue light emanated from a short blade projecting from the sword's pommel, rendering the inhuman features all the more pallid.

Cautiously, Aquila and Maethild drew near enough to note the torn and battered armor, the death wounds on the body - nastly livid tears and strange circular gouges. The face was nearly human, but simultaneously more and less beast that man. A high brow and refined nose suggested intellect and refinement, but the angular cheekbones, thin lips and predatory teeth hinted at a more bestial nature. The stature of the figure too was impressive, even in repose. It was easily a foot taller than the imposing Maethild, who towered over the slight southerner Aquila.

Unsure how to proceed, the pair paused. But their next actions were decided for them as they whirled, alerted by a surge of magical energy, toward shadowed portion of wall to one side and a hint of movement in those same shadows. A long whip-like tendril, seemingly composed of shadow and iron, unfurled from what appeared to be another room, unseen until that moment. The tendril wrapped around Maethild, plucked her from standing as easily as one might a child hurling her to smash against the base of the stone upon which the pale form lay.

Aquila threw lightning at the questing tendril which even now sought her. The levenbolt writhed over the appendage, to no effect. The southerner's sword came into guard as the lightning flared out.

Another tendril joined the first, and the bulk of a massive body could be discerned in the shadows of the doorway. Prepared for a physical assault, Aquila was raised in the air by some eldritch force, slammed against the stones of the low ceiling, then dropped to the ground, her armor ringing as she struck.  Twin curls of black tentacle moved forward to attack.

But the glowing pommel-blade of the sword clutched in the hands of the figure on the plinth flared bright, flung back the shadows. The tentacles withdrew, lashing, from the light, as the body rose from its resting place. Holding the scabarded blade before it, the stranger somehow forced back the lurking thing, until the bare wall, was exposed. There was no hint of the half-glimpsed room, or of the bulk of the creature Aquila had spied there - only bare, worn stone.

Aquila and Maethild gathered themselves, stood and turned to their erstwhile savior. Without a word, the figure, whose head nearly scraped the lowering stone slaps overhead, dropped to one knee and proffered the sword in its hands to the knight from the South.

Aquila looked down upon the gift, hesitant, eyes tearing in the harsh blue-white glare from the pommel blade. A low voice spoke, the words resonating strangely in her head, "I am only the bearer. I cannot draw it" Aquila did not move.

"Hurry," he said, his tone rising, "The Lurker cannot be barred forever!"

Aquila took the offered weapon, hilt in one hand, sheathed blade in the other. Instantly the stark light of the pommel grew weaker. Suspecting a trap, she stepped back, ready to strike him who might be her benefactor, or betrayer.

For his part, the stranger remained kneeling, hands held up in placation, "You don't know its secrets. But it has waited this day for an age. Draw the blade and learn." He rose an instant too late as a powerful tendril gripped him about the waist, lifted him from the flagstones and flailed, dashing the figure to the stones.

The knight drew the blade, which glimmered with pale blue flame as it came free of its scabard. A stride carried her to the tentacle and she brought the blade down upon it. The substance of the Lurker boiled away from the fire, and burned where it had touched. Its prize was loosed to fall heavily, half across his previous resting place, then tumble to the ground.

Maethild called her familiar, a stocky being of living ice that shambled to the attack alongside its mistress. Aquila, turned toward the resurging shadows and again saw the doorway, and the black endless expanse beyond, in time to parry a tentative thrust from another tendril. This too began to burn, as ghostly flames erupted from the point of contact with the eldritch blade. Aquila drove back the two appendages with whirlwind swings of the blade, striding through back mist and a cold more terrible by far than the that of the glacier the adventurers had lately quit, to reach the shadowed body in the doorway.

She felt the awful energy of the Lurker gathering, felt herself being lifted again, though no tendril came near. But the stranger half rose, and matched his will against the elder thing, and the power of its grip was broken. Aquila stumbled as her feet touched down, but she dove forward driving the blade deep into the massive body that was the terminus of the tentacles.

Blue fire burst from the wound, joining the twin blazes from the tentacles. Pinning by fire and the blade itself, the Lurker lashed madly in its death throes, unable to flee to the embrace of the outer dark. It blazed, and burned, and was gone as its flesh ran with smoke that burned upon the air itself. The doorway beyond, as though sentient, closed with a rush of fetid, icy air.

In the wake of the battle, the stranger identified himself as Raekir, one of the race who, an aeon before, had raised themselves as the Blood Gods. According to Raekir, he did not share in the ritual, and had been hunted, and finally all but destroyed by his former brethren. He has fled and fought them since, and witnessed their rise again from prehistory as they grew strong on blood sacrifice. Until he was trapped and bound by a cabal of sorcerers who, though unable to destroy him, could bind him to this forgotten place, where he has languished since, warded from leaving by the Lurker in Shadow. 

Raekir was reticent to speak of the blade, beyond giving its name - Cindershade. He hinted that he had forged it long ago, for another, that it was a potent weapon against the Blood Gods, and that the blade was now where it needed to be. He offered his thanks and his hand in a very human-seeming gesture, offering to make common cause against the Blood Gods, who, he claimed, would renew their war upon him in short order now that he was free. Aquila and Maethild agreed to at least a truce, still not entirely trusting this powerful being who admitted the devils of the North for his close kin. Raekir smiled, perhaps in understanding, said he would contact them again, then vanished in a burst of power.

Srill shaking in the aftermath of the battle, Aquila looked down at the weapon, Cindershade, still clutched naked in her grip.


Attached, you will find its write-up, and that of the Lurker in Shadow.