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Friday, 13 August 2010

Redemption part 3

Our write-up jumps a bit because I didn't have time to write an entry after each week's game, but here's one last entry from a few sessions further on. The party was trying to help reconsecrate a lost chapel, in the course of which quest we were supposed to get absolution for our own sins. We'd had pretty fierce opposition from some antler-headed elves (...goblins, fairies, what-you-will) and my character, Gaius of Tamrac, was also being pulled in another direction by his former mentor, Cynewulf, who had the power to send Gaius's wife's soul down to hell each night. In this sequence, we had gone down into a pit out of Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Gaius had volunteered to squeeze down the narrow tunnel to try and find a way out... It still gives me a shudder.


As recounted by Gaius of Tamrac

When I speak of the horror, I do not mean the drumbeats above us in the darkness, or the slow trickle of black kobold-oil down the subterranean tunnel. I do not refer to the pit into which Escher nearly stumbled, and which we had to cross on a narrow, creaking plank.

I do not even use that term to describe the moment when Lucan lost his balance crossing the plank and, roped to him, I was dragged to the lip of darkness. We were both within a hair’s breadth of oblivion then.

But that was not the horror.

It came when we reached a narrow drain in the floor and I, as the most limber, entered first. I had to remove my armour and crawl along a passage that soon grew tight around me. It dropped then, doubling back on itself so that I now squirmed on my back. It grew tighter. I had only a firefly summoned by Lucan’s magic to light the way. Each breath became harder to take, hot foul-tasting air sucked into taut lungs.

A rope around my ankle was my sole link to the others waiting above. As the rope – some fifty yards in length – went taut, the dwarf Gork began to tug hard on it. I was pulled back sharply and would have broken my legs or my spine when he dragged me up the recurve, but by luck the rope snagged and snapped.

I waited, wondering whether to go back. Wondering whether it was possible to go back. A scuffling in the passage then, and I heard Escher’s voice. We decided to press on together. I first managed to twist around onto my front, and by dint of extreme contortions cut myself out of my clothing. Naked, armed only with a dagger, I resumed the crawl forward. Around us, the rough stone closed tighter.

And then without warning I came upon the horror. It was there in the tunnel ahead. A face fixed with a skinless grimace. A hand of tendons and white bone closed around the firefly. Utter darkness fell upon us like a rockfall.

I could hear that damned thing slithering towards me. No way to go back. Choking darkness. The scrape and tap of its dagger on the rock. The clatter of bones.

With my eye of night I looked for its aura – the only way I could hope to discern anything of it. The aura showed as a deeper absence against the indelible dark, a hole in the heart of a shadow. And then I felt its dead fingers brush my lips and in gasping silence I stabbed with my knife.

There was no way to parry; barely was it possible to aim blows. We lay stretched out at arms’ length, chopping at each other. I struck with my dagger in a chisel grip and felt the tendons of its forearm give way. Still it came crawling forward. I let go the dagger and pounded blindly, in panic, feeling my fists sink into gristle and soft bone.

Eventually it stopped moving. I noticed the pain of several deep cuts that I had not realized I’d taken. Sobbing with disgust, I crawled past the damned thing – the bits of it, I should say; like the evidence of an appalling murder that is no longer a body, but now only strips and patches of gore and skin.

As I squeezed past, my hands closed on a cold thin shaft. On the point of flinging it away from me, I realized it was not one of the creature’s fingers but the key we had come seeking. The cold iron key of the Black Cauldron.

Escher and I pushed on, feeling the weight of a million tons of earth and stone pressing down above us. The soul can be crushed by fear more certainly than rocks may break the body. You cannot banish fear; only the insane do not feel it. But you must hold your fear pent inside a tiny cage at the very back of the mind. If you allow it out, even for an instant, then the horror will come leaping at you like a great unseen beast in the blackness. And then you are lost.


  1. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is one of my favourite book and the chase through the mines is fantastic.

  2. I agree, Rudd. Alan Garner's work is amazing, and that book has a personal connection for me because my wife grew up on Alderley Edge. In fact, her parents' house was the one designated as belonging to the Morrigan.

    I dread to think what post-traumatic stress would have done to those kids, though. If Garner wrote a sequel with them as teenagers, they'd be as crazy as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.

  3. I visited Alderley Edge years ago. I spend a weekend with a friend whose family lived in Macclesfield. It was amazing to experience the place and see how well Garner evoked the setting.

    I'm not sure if you are aware of the sequel "The Moon of Gomrath". Not quiet as good as the first book but worth it for the chapter with The Wild Hunt alone. Garner seemed to gloss over any lasting psychological scarring the children may have had. :)

  4. I guess I'm imagining a sort of Tim Burton version of Moon of Gomrath :)

  5. I loved that book, in particular the sections in the caves. I always wondered if the tiny goblin caves in the Dragon Warriors adventure "The One-Eyed God" were drawn from there.

  6. Hi Kieran - no indeed, because I only read Weirdstone when I started going out with Roz (now my wife) who lent me a copy. And that was many years after writing DW.

  7. I really much dig up that book again and read it for old times inspired an adventure or two for me down through the years :)

  8. Have you read Garner's book Red Shift, Kieran? That's got some brilliantly disturbing ideas in it. Also The Owl Service.

  9. Yes, I had forgotten Garner's books too... and I also remember them as being scary. The Owl Service especially. As for Red Shift, I think my mum (who, to her credit, put us on to Brisingamen) banned me from reading it. Possibly too much sex. Some years later (but still before 20) I picked it up but could make neither head nor tail of it! +1 for Amazon Wishlist...