Before the Storm (tbn) 4e

9. The Riddle Maze of Belkarion

Heading West, the party followed the edge of Blackthorn Forest to where Belkarion was known to make his dimesne.  While the forest proper was a magical in-between place halfway from the mortal world to the deep Feywild where the Court of Stars hold sway, this part of the forest was more on the mortal side of the world: enchanted, for certain, but under the control of a wizard rather than an archfey, and significantly closer to the mortal realm.

The entrance to Belkarion's realm was open wide: a great wide pathway through the thorn-covered hedges and black-barked trees that made up the forest.  This because of the wizard's reputation as a dealer in fates and fey-bargains, granting magical boons at steep prices: love for youth, a pair of legs for a voice.  Only the desperate would enter, for along the pathway hung numerous skeletons covered in thorn-vines, some obviously human, others more bestial.  Cautiously the party entered in, reminded by this of the danger and power the wizard promised, and the hazards perhaps of crossing him; as indeed they intended to.

Hanging in the middle of the path was a cage made of vines, inside of it a human man with red hair.  Obviously having gone insane long before the man could only repeat the same riddle over and over.  The party tried to release him, going as far as slashing at the vines and even guessing at the riddle.  The answer was beyond them, leaving them frustrated; the vines, however, grew long, sharp thorns to impale the trapped man.  As well, the enchantment that made his mind wander spread to them, making them lose consciousness and wander off the path.  Some time later they awoke, finding their legs and arms crawling with moving vines.  Freeing themselves, and finding the red-haired man gone, they went on their way.

 Getting to a clearing in the forest, the party found a large and opulent manor house in the midst of a barren field.  Belkarion was there, a silk-clad man with a twisted grey goatee and wearing a crown like a king.  He stood over a young boy with strange maze-patterns in his eyes.  This was Labrys, a boy "acquired" by Belkarion from the town the party had just left, right before the town had been destroyed.  He was drawing lines in the sand and placing gemstones on them, setting them up and moving them as though they were the party of adventurers, Labrys, and himself.

The party spoke to Belkarion, asking for the Brelani of Autumn Winds, and the Rose-destiny of the Bard in Owlbear form.  Belkarion accepted, though insisting they undertake the same task put before the bard: find the rose in the middle of his hedgemaze.  Fail, and their lives are his.  Likewise, if they failed Lanu would be added ot his collection of magical children, while if they succeeded Labrys would og with them.  Succeed and they also would get the rose to release the bard, and the Bralani of Autumn Winds.  Agreeing, Labrys touched the maze he'd drawn, and a massive hedge maze appeared in the garden.

Inside the maze they found it was its own magical realm, slightly apart from the rest of the world.  The maze shifted, and while one could move around its walls, going over the edge would simply transport the traveller to other maze passages.  The maze was guarded by magical creatures as well.  A large Minotaur statue took life and lumbered through the halls looking to charge at its prey, pushing them through walls and knocking them down.  Small creatures like feral halflings made of twigs, identified as Twig Blights, also wandered the maze, able to pass through the thorny hedge walls as if walking through air.  When the adventurers attempted to pass through them, the thorns cut at their flesh while the vines attempted to grab hold of their limbs.

Eventually the party found themselves at a stone archway in the maze.  Going through they were transported to yet another space-withing-a-space, this one a garden with a great tree in the middle.  The tree was covered with hundreds of flowers, but of the three different varieties none of them was a Rose.  When touched, each variety would sing out a riddle.  One-by-one the riddles were guessed, and each type of flower would vanish.  Finally the last riddle sent the last flow vanishing, leaving only a single glittering rose in the middle of the tree.  The party took it and departed the maze.

Outside, the clearing was bare but for Labrys still playing in the dirt, for Belkarion had fled into the house.  The party rallied and charged in.  Inside was a great library, with many magical glyphs drawn on the floor.  Also there were a dozen of Belkarion's apprentices: former students transformed into undead skeletal servants!  While they attacked, raking with claws from under their hooded robes, Belkarion flung magical bolts from his balcony, or teleported a party member into the air to drop them upon their friends.  Xtapa managed to climb the stairs, charging the wizard and ending his life.  As he died, his body disintegrated into bones, vines, leaves and roses.

The Bralani of Autumn Winds was found melded into the wizard's throne as if he was made of the wood of the chair itself.  After Belkarion's death, he was released, and offered the party the pendant Belkarion had stolen from him upon his capture, which Xtapa hungrily took and donned.  Other party members sorted through what riches were left, but the entire house and library had melted away without the wizard's presence, becoming a drab and derelect shell.

Quickly the party took the Bralani into Blackthorn Forest, guided speedily there by the forest's magic welcoming its current master back.  The Labyrinth was agleam with celebration, as the transfer of seasons was finally allowed to happen.  The Prince of Winter himself had arrived to accept the sceptre of office, ushering in the new season and restoring the balance of nature once more. 

However, after only a few days of partying the group was ushered out of the labyrinth, aware that the Prince of Winter hated mortals passionately (thus the killing cold of the season), even those who had assisted in his regaining the season.  With a promise of the harshest winter imaginable, for the slight the mortals (through the wizard Belkarion's mischief) had made, the party found itself escorted out of Blackthorn, the paths closed behind them as the first winter snows howled down from the skies.

 Capitalizing on this to get moving, the party sought out the caravan of the fortune-teller who owned the Owlbear-bard, intending to get him back to being human.  They found the caravan as it was packing up to leave, but when they released the bard from his bargain-bond, the fortune-teller revealed herself as a Hag, and attacked.  The quick reflexes of the wizard Raziel's sleep spell, and the mighty blades of Xtapa and Bahamus, slew the hag before she could down them with her shrieks.  Her minions fled, leaving the party with the Roamer's caravan and some strange objects: a blackened cube smelling of brimstone, covered in tiles made of glittering rainbow-light (which were easily plucked off its surface), was among the treasures, as were many ritual components.

The party looked out over the hillside towards Brightmoon below.  In the vale between them they saw numerous large iron towers being constructed, with massive flames at the top of the completed ones.  In the town itself they saw a massive construction at the baron's keep, and many forge-fires rising throughout the city, as well as army campires outside its walls.  Soaring above the city was a Red dragon, fires undaunted by the thick blizzard-clouds around it.  Brightmoon, it seemed, had been conquered.

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