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A Tale of Nightmares Part 9 - On the Road

Dirty Secrets and Nightmares is a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD 5e) game set in a Ravenloft Domain of Dread, New Solamnia. Play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club in Chislehurst, South East London. The Dungeon Master is Sam.

Five people previously unknown to each other have found themselves strangely transported to a land none of them are familiar with, and banded together to investigate what has brought them here - and survive. According to the locals, it is usually a peaceful place. This is not the party's experience, as strange happenings surround them and monsters stir.

The party consists of:

  • Sir Gerigold - A Male Half-Elven Oath of Redemption Paladin of the Morninglord (played by Paul)

  • Hazard Darkstar - A Male Human Rune Knight Fighter (played by Alexander)

  • Greynen Falstaer - A Male Half-Elven Warlock of the Archfey, Pact of the Tome (played by Mark)

  • Morgaen Nightbreeze - A Female Half-Elven Bard of the College of Spirits (played by Imogen)

  • Ragnar son of Bjorn - A Male Human Tempest Cleric of Odinson (played by Alex)

The party have heard news that Greynen's sister Olaria - missing for over a year, and the reason he made his warlock pact - may also have crossed into this strange land somehow. If it was her, she was in the town of Tenbrim only a few weeks before them, and set off to the northeast, towards the mountains. The party have set out to follow her.

Despite the strange ignorance of everyone in Tenbrim about the exact location or even the exact name of the town to the northeast, the road heading out of town in that direction seemed well traveled and maintained, and sources of water were present at decent intervals. The horses found it easy going and the party were making good time. Despite finding no signposts, it was easy to keep going in the right direction when the paths through the forest forked - there were enough trees that were sturdy enough to climb to give a sight of the Snowy Mountains, drawing gradually closer to the northeast. Greynen and Sir Gerigold even started a running competition on how fast each of them could shin up a tree and check the direction the party should go in.

Morgaen and Ragnar both experimented with minor magics – Ragnar learned to tap into his connection to his deity to give the same kind of advice and assistance that Morgaen could get from the spirits that now surrounded and followed her. Morgaen studied Ragnar’s connection to the power of lightning and learned to tap into just a small part of this, trapping a tiny spark of lightning in an object to cause it to shine with bright light, sparing their supply of torches.

They were getting to know each other better. Hazard’s practice of a strange daily ritual he still refused to explain had gone from being odd, to just being Hazard. Morgaen eventually ran out of excuses for avoiding a particularly popular Elvish song Greynen and Sir Gerigold had been asking her for – one so iconic that as a bard, she couldn’t possibly not know it – and confessed to them that as her elf father had not been around while she was growing up, she had learned Elvish only at bardic college and had an incredibly human Waterdhavian accent in the language, which she was embarrassed of in front of native speakers.

On the evening of the third day, the road wound around a cornfield where a lone scarecrow stood watch – but it wasn’t clear, looking at it, if the field was maintained or abandoned. The scarecrow was certainly very tatty, but that didn’t mean anything. In any case, there was no sign of a village or farmhouse nearby, and as it was getting later and the sky was beginning to darken the party decided to camp by the road again. They would search the area for any farm where people might be able to give them directions to the town of Wardwood, or possibly Wardenwood, in the morning. The road was sheltered by thick trees and bushes to the other side, which had been upsetting the more cautious among the party for a mile or so – but they could leave the road between them and the undergrowth in case of any attack, and camp on the verge between the road and the corn. Morgaen decided to be extra careful and started setting up a tripwire with her rope and crossbow so that whoever was on sentry duty would have some protection against anything sneaking up behind them.

She was just finished when she thought she heard a distant scream.

Her head went up.

“What was that?” she snapped.

“What was what?” Ragnar asked – he and Sir Gerigold had just come back from picketing the horses.

“I heard someone –” Morgaen started to say, taking up her guitar.

The scream came again – this time, everyone could hear it.

“Help! Anyone! Help me!”

A small female figure with short light-coloured hair, in rough working clothes, ran out of the trees on the far side of the cornfield.

“Over here!” Sir Gerigold called, raising one hand high. With the other, he reached for his maul.

The figure stopped, and stared – she clearly hadn’t seen the party, and couldn’t tell where Sir Gerigold’s voice was coming from.

Stopping when she heard the offer of help may have been what killed her.

The thick branches of the grove of trees near her burst open, and a large, dark, bat-winged shape – human-sized, but most certainly not human – swooped down and grabbed her. She screamed, as the figure wheeled back up to a low branch of one of the trees it had emerged from – and as it landed, the party caught sight of a mop of bushy dark hair, over a long, overly large beak.

It plunged the beak into its victim, and the beak pulsed. The woman screamed again, once – then her body went limp. Worse than limp – as the creature withdrew its beak, the party saw to their horror that its victim was no longer even a body. A limp sack of skin, appearing to have no insides left at all, flopped for a moment to the branch then slipped horribly sideways and tumbled to the ground.

The bat-winged creature shifted – and even from that distance, the party could see that it was looking at them. It threw its head back, and gave a chilling shriek.

The bushes on the other side of the road, surrounding the party on two sides, started to rustle violently – and with answering shrieks, a clutch of small bat-like things, as small as birds but also with overlong beaks, flew out from all around them, and dived towards the party!

Morgaen reacted quickly. As she turned, she kicked the trap she had just set up, with a quick prayer to Saint Terragnis, and was rewarded with a strangled squawk as the crossbow bolt skewered one of the creatures despite the lack of aim. She spun towards two of the others, diving fast towards her and Hazard, and strummed a chord on her guitar which unleashed a wave of force - hitting the creatures in mid-air and blowing them into bloody shreds.

The large bat-like creature dropped from its branch, swooped, and started flying towards them across the cornfield in a series of unpredictable wheeling dives. As it flew, it shrieked again, the same challenging note – and in one or two places, the cornfield started to rustle. Worse, the rustling of the stems seeming to follow a series of squelching sounds. Looking in that direction, Sir Gerigold was horrified to see the limp remnants of the monster’s latest meal waver upright, a hideous bag of bones and skin – then start rolling into the cornfield, towards them.

Then the corn parted, dreadfully close – and a similar sack of skin rolled out, with a squelching sound, heading straight towards Hazard.

“We have undead coming in, too!” Sir Gerigold shouted to warn the others, before readying himself for the bat-creatures’ attack.

The skin-sack reared up next to Hazard, and raised a sagging arm. With a ripple over its entire body, it slapped, hard, at the fighter; but he raised one arm in time, and the new splint vambrace with Sune’s symbols engraved on it deflected the force of the squelching, horrible attack. Two more of the creatures, however, rolled out of the cornfield next to Hazard and Morgaen – that made three of them, surrounding the fighter and the bard.

Greynen shouted a curse at one of the bat-creatures diving on him and followed this up by unleashing a bolt of power at it. The creature splatted to the ground, dead, and the warlock ran to the left, getting clear of his comrades and the creatures attacking them – to opening up new angles of attack.

Hazard shouted his battlecry – his own name – and swung violently at the skin-sack attacking him. It dodged with another horrible ripple of its body and seemed to leer with laughter for a moment – but Hazard followed up with a mighty back-handed slash, which ripped through the creature, leaving one of its arms hanging only by a couple of strips of skin. Ragnar, on the other side of the group, carefully placed his thunderous spell again – and Morgaen and Hazard felt the force of the spell only as a wind on their faces while the noise of it boomed out, while the creatures right next to them were ripped and torn by it. The one attacking Hazard fell in shreds to the ground, but the two flanking Morgaen were still up, although seeming badly hurt. Ragnar hesitated for a moment, but Sir Gerigold was still being targeted by several diving bat-creatures, and a fourth skin-sack was rolling out of the cornfield on that side. The cleric ran to help the paladin.

Sir Gerigold made a leap in the air to try to hit an attacking bat-bird creature with his maul. He missed, but landed on his feet – and lifted his voice in an invocation to the Morninglord. A dim light shone around him, for a moment, and the diving creature hit it, being deflected off. But it wheeled around, to try to come in again.

Morgaen was less lucky – another of the creatures hit her from the side as she readied a spell for the two skin-sacks rolling up to her. She recoiled, crying out, as its beak drove into her neck, and the whole creature pulsed – drawing blood out of the wound. But the injured skin-sacks looked the more dangerous foes. She unleashed another wave of force at them, and they both exploded. Seeing the great bird-monster still wheeling towards them, nearly on them, she ran for cover behind Hazard. “We’re really going to need you to have our backs now – luckily it’s you!” she yelled back to Greynen, again putting magical strength into the words, gritting her teeth against the pain in her neck as the creature kept drinking. She couldn’t reach it unless she put down the guitar, and right now, she really didn’t feel like putting down the guitar.

The great bat-creature swooped in – this close, its body looked uncannily and horribly humanoid, although the wings and beak were most certainly not. It raked Hazard with its claws, shrieking, and the fighter recoiled not so much from the injury as from a feeling like burning acid which coursed through his body from where the claws met his blood. He raised his head, gritted his teeth and held back the pain enough not to cry out – but throwing his head back left him open to a terrible attack. The creature back-winged, and plunged its beak, or proboscis, into his body just above his collarbone – just as the smaller one had done with Morgaen, but much, much deeper. The pain of the stab wound was bad enough – but then the ferocious acidic pain ripped through Hazard again, as the creature pulsed, sucking blood from his body. He let out a small, strangled moan.

Such a sound from Hazard was surprising enough that Sir Gerigold spun round, despite the enemies pressing in on him. He raised his shield, bearing the Morninglord’s symbol, and shouted a holy rebuke against those who would make unprovoked attacks. The symbol shone – and a force ripped from Hazard, tearing into the creature. It recoiled, with a strange and horribly muffled squawk, as the force shoved it backwards and ripped its proboscis clear from Hazard’s body. The dark fighter, sweat coursing down his face, produced his own holy symbol – an amulet bearing the face of Sune, shown as a red-haired woman – and called a word in the strange language, not Infernal, he had started speaking after the Valkyr Mausoleum fell. From where she stood behind him, Morgaen could see a rune engraved on the back of it. The creature’s eyes went wild, hazy for a moment, when it heard the word that Hazard shouted – then it shook itself, gave a defiant screech, and started wheeling round, clearly intending another attack.

The two remaining skin sacks – including the one which had just very recently been the woman running and screaming for help – had rolled up to flank Sir Gerigold and Ragnar. Ragnar’s shield deflected the attack, but the second one managed to hit Sir Gerigold as he turned from aiding Hazard. The dim light shining around him brightened for a moment, then faded.

Seeing the fight, Greynen realised where his power could be targeted to greatest effect. He carefully shifted his curse from the small bat-creature he had first killed, to the much, much larger one attacking Hazard – and hit it with the most powerful blast of magic he could. Hazard, steeling himself against the damage he had taken, followed this up with a mighty swing of his greatsword, and hit the creature squarely as it jerked back from Greynen’s onslaught.

Surrounded by skin sacks and a single still-attacking bat-creature, Ragnar unleashed his crashing, thunderous power, and the two skin-sacks shuddered but stayed upright. Sir Gerigold swung again at the bat-creature as it dived in, aiming for his neck – and this time smashed it out of the air. He followed through, twisting round and bringing the maul down to try to smash one of the skin-sacks, but just missed.

The final small bat-creature was the one still attached to Morgaen’s neck – it pulsed again, drinking more blood, then detached itself and flew off, bloated. Morgaen lashed out unsuccessfully as it left, cursing as fluently as a bard could, but the creature clearly spoke no language and was blissfully unaffected. Morgaen was briefly tempted to run after it and blast it out of the sky. But the huge creature was coming round to attack Hazard again. She re-settled her guitar in her arms, flanking the fighter and striking a complex chord. Coloured light rippled from the strings and pooled in her hand – she raised her hand, and the coloured light flared out in rippling patterns, shining into the creature’s eyes. It shrieked and thrashed, lashing out at Hazard again – it knew where he was, roughly – but now it was blinded by the coloured lights, he easily avoided its attacks.

At that moment, one of the last skin sacks threw itself at Ragnar. It hit into him, sending the cleric stumbling – then somehow it spread itself out, engulfing the Midgarder. The lightning of his god’s blessing flared up from his skin to protect him, but something about this stinking, wet wreckage that had once been a creature made the magic far less effective than normal. The skin-sack wrapped itself around Ragnar, covering his face and head, and clinging on despite his frantic attempts to dislodge it.

The huge creature was still thrashing blindly. Greynen picked his moment, summoned every bit of power he could, and hurled it at the creature’s throat. It shrieked once more, then crashed to the ground, dead.

Hazard, already gathering himself for another attack, wasted no time – he spun and hurled himself at the skin-sack still attacking Sir Gerigold, the unexpected attack nearly cutting it in half.

Ragnar’s frantic thrashing had at allowed him to get his head and an arm free. He ripped the creature loose, threw it to the ground and hit the ground himself. The silvery mists billowed up around him, and around a point further back towards Greynen – and when they cleared, the gasping cleric was a safe distance from his hideous assailant.

Sir Gerigold finished off the creature Hazard had just injured – then turned on the final one. As it tried to rise from where Ragnar had thrown it, the maul smashed down – and the creature exploded.

The party gathered in closer, breathing heavily – but there were no more enemies. The shaking of the trees, now, appeared to be nothing but the wind.

Sir Gerigold walked over and inspected the body of the great bat-winged creature. The body was, horribly, nearly human in its arms and legs – and without the distortion to allow for the proboscis, the face might have been human, as well.

“Something here seems to have made a man into a beast,” he said, revolted.

“Or possibly a beast into something more like a man,” Morgaen suggested, bandaging a pad of cloth onto her injured neck.

Greynen had rushed over to what was left of the body of the woman who had just been killed – the slim woman with light-coloured hair. He had a nasty feeling that he had caught sight of pointed ears – but as he got closer, he breathed a sigh of relief. The skin did once seem to have belonged to a half-elf, but the hair was definitely grey, not silver.

He turned as a thought struck him.

“She was running before the thing came out of those trees over there,” he said.

“And she was already shouting for help. You’re right, she was already scared before she even saw it,” Morgaen remembered.

The party looked at each other and took up their weapons or spellcasting focuses.

After a couple of minutes, when nothing else had attacked them, Greynen located a suitable tree, and climbed it.

“I don’t see any buildings – no village, not even a farmhouse,” he called down. “But – there’s some kind of haze, or mist, off in that direction. It’s really wide, I can’t see how far.” He shielded his eyes and took another look. “It’s yellowish, and I think something is glinting in it,” he added, then descended the tree. He went over to the sad remains of the woman who had screamed for help, and flipped the skin over, looking for the pockets of her clothes. The others looked on with distaste or outright revulsion – but this kind of thing, they had already realised, did not faze the warlock.

“What,” Hazard asked, “are you doing now?”

“Seeing if there’s anything on her that suggests she came from another world – that she came through that mist.” He came up with some copper coins. “New Solamnian coins, though,” he observed. “So probably not.”

“You said the mist over that way is yellowish,” Morgaen pointed out. “The mists near where we arrived in New Solamnia were thick and grey… And she didn’t come from that direction, did she? She came from the other direction.”

They walked over the field and found where the woman had run out. Morgaen tracked her footsteps backwards – and found that the woman had, originally, come from the direction over towards the mists. She had made a wide circle round the copse of trees where the great bat-winged creature had been roosting and seemed to have turned left and come out into the cornfield when she saw the open space.

Over where she had come from, a narrow path led off towards the mists, with the marks of running feet leading back that way.

The party were concerned to think that others might also be being in danger from whatever the woman had been running from. Several of them were injured enough, however, that it made sense to rest for a while, since there seemed to be no immediate danger, and recover their strength. But it also made sense not to camp near the suspicious mist without checking it out and seeing if anyone else needed help, and they planned to do this as soon as they were recovered. They moved a little way down the road, away from the dead bodies, and set up a temporary camp. The night was drawing in – but there was enough time to have some food and heal, aided by one of Morgaen’s magical songs, and then still have some light to make an investigation of the mists.

As they camped, the air brought sounds towards them from the direction of the mists. The distant cry of wolves, and a closer noise of pig-like grunting.

“There’s a hint of metal in the wind,” Greynen said, raising his head as a gust hit them. “Tangy. Possibly blood.”

Ragnar sniffed.

“It just smells of pig to me,” he said.

Greynen shook his head – not disagreeing, but in response to what he was smelling. The scent of blood was starting to burn in his nostrils, and he could not understand why the others could not smell it.

Morgaen had made a ritual casting to tune her senses again and explained to the horses what they were going to do. She had been worried about their reaction to walking towards potential danger – but these were the horses which had been locked in a stable at Moldavia Manor while others around them died of fright at the smell of something outside, and which had been possessed by the plant monster in the Valkyr Mausoleum. They were not now, therefore, easily fazed – and it turned out that they preferred the idea of being near the party to being left on their own at the road. As the party set off up the track, the horses wandered along a safe distance behind them with the baggage, taking mouthfuls of grass from beside the path as they went.

After about seven minutes’ walk along the trail, they started to see the yellow mist through the trees ahead of them, metallic glints sparkling silver in the lengthening twilight. It did not go up into the sky in the same way as the mists they had encountered near Rennet Manor and the Painted Valley; it was a low haze that had settled over the area, and they could also dimly see into it for a short way.

They checked on the edge – once bit, twice shy and although this did not look much like the mists they had become lost in outside the Painted Valley, the party were not inclined to venture in without careful consideration.

Ragnar walked up to the mist and blew on it – it moved slightly, then flowed back, still hanging heavily in the air.

At that moment, a loud squealing noise erupted up ahead – and a male voice screamed in pain.

Throwing aside caution, they rushed forwards into the mist.

Morgaen cast her light-spell on her guitar as she rushed forward, but she still could not see far, despite desperately looking for the cause of the noise. She reached out for any spirit that could help her – and found the unquiet spirit of an angry thug, who had lurked on this road waylaying travellers some time ago and did not care for anything but himself to be making it dangerous now.

Sir Gerigold shouted out a blessing on himself, Ragnar and Hazard, then followed her, the metallic shards in the mist burning his eyes. Then Ragnar shouted a spell and a great gust of wind erupted at their backs, tearing past them to blow away the mist and reveal a giant boar standing in the middle of the path. It was staring away from them, so far noticing neither them nor the wind, and looked clearly aggressive and angry. Several unusual things glinted, seeming to be stuck into different parts of its body – Morgaen thought they looked like amber.

Hazard and Greynen were running up behind them now, avoiding Ragnar’s blast of wind. Hazard, unhappy that there was another fight on hand when he was not fully recovered from the damage he had taken from the great bat-creature, was swearing furiously in Infernal – Sir Gerigold, having just blessed the man in the name of the Morninglord, flinched – and Greynen, flanking them to the other side, unleashed an eldritch blast of power at the boar.

That got its attention. Squealing in surprise, it whirled round, saw them – and charged, trumpeting a challenge. But Ragnar’s wind was doing more than pushing away the mist. The boar was struggling to make headway against it, the wind pushing it back even as it struggled forwards.

Further on in the mist, another boar squealed a challenge – and a man yelled. There was a sickening thump, meat on meat, then a brief flare of light as a flame seemed to shoot out in the mists ahead and to the right.

Morgaen dodged out of the powerful wind behind her and circled the boar, looking for anything else she could see – but there was nothing. She unleashed the power of the highwayman’s story at the boar, hearing it squeal as the force of the ghost’s unrighteous anger hit it. Its red eyes found her – so she did not hang about to see how much she had damaged it, gathering the silvery mists around her briefly and reappearing back with her friends. The boar kept charging forwards into the wind.

Sir Gerigold leapt in the air briefly and let the blast of wind carry him forwards, sweeping rapidly towards the boar. He made a mighty attack with his maul – but the boar’s thick hide deflected this. Dodging round behind the creature to flank it, however, he distracted it, and both Ragnar and Hazard, running in, managed to land their attacks on the mighty creature. Greynen also hit it with another blast of power.

With Ragnar’s dash forwards, mists further along the track started to clear. Another giant boar was visible, momentarily – before squealing angrily and dashing off to the right. Another fiery bolt of light appeared for a moment – then it was gone. Morgaen circled the fight and ran forwards to investigate again.

At that moment, the boar they were fighting lost its feet in the wind and slipped backwards – smashing into Sir Gerigold and knocking the paladin from his feet, to tumble backwards with it. The boar got to its feet first and attacked the paladin as he lay winded on the ground, goring him badly.

Morgaen was dashing into the mists off the path, out of the wind. The glowing guitar made it slightly easier to see – not much, but just enough. The great bulk of the second boar appeared in front of her, circling a human figure in white robes who was moving awkwardly, limping as if badly injured. The boar seemed injured also, with singed fur and burn marks, but was still agile and dangerous. She slung her guitar at her side and shouted back to her comrades – “Over here! Another one, and it’s attacking someone!”

Sir Gerigold rolled away from the boar that had gored him as it turned to meet his companions’ renewed attacks. He clambered to his feet, let the wind blow him further down the path, then rushed towards the sound of Morgaen’s voice.

Ragnar smacked the first boar hard over the head with his warhammer. It reeled, dropped to its knees – then screamed out, scrambling back up.

“You’ll be pork scratchings if you don’t go down and stay down!” Ragnar shouted at it indignantly.

Hazard swung his blade at the staggering creature’s neck – this time, when it went down, it did not move again. Greynen, seeing it was dead, started running along the track after the other two.

Sir Gerigold got far enough along the path to see the second boar – not close enough to attack. Seeing the danger that the stranger was in, he shouted a challenge in the name of the Morninglord, requiring the boar to attack him, nobody else – despite the injuries he had taken already. But something went wrong and the boar only shook its head slightly, otherwise ignoring him. It charged again, straight at the man in white robes. Light flared around him briefly but scattered as the boar hit him. He cried out as it knocked him to the ground. The boar squealed in anger and trampled him, hooves smacking into his body with meaty thumps.

This time, unlike in the crypts, when faced with an apparently dead body Morgaen did not hesitate. She shouted the incantation of health, as powerfully as she could – and felt the magic take hold of the man’s body. He was not yet dead. She called this information to Sir Gerigold, and hefted her crossbow, releasing a bolt at the boar. This distracted the creature, which turned from its apparently dead foe – and before it could realise he still lived, Sir Gerigold rushed in, wielding his maul powerfully. The creature nearly collapsed – but like the first, it hauled itself up, squealing angrily. This did not last long. Sir Gerigold flourished the maul and brought it down again with its own meaty thump, caving the creature’s head in just as Greynen got within sight, magic shining around his hands. He abandoned the spell, and called back to Ragnar and Hazard that the fight was over.

The man they had saved pushed himself up from the ground but remained seated. There was definitely something wrong with his leg. This close, they could see that he was a bald man, and his white robes – now covered in mud and blood – were ornately trimmed in gold, with magical symbols.

“Thank you, I – I thank you,” he panted.

“How long have you been in this mist, sir?” Sir Gerigold asked, after checking the boar was definitely dead this time.

“I come from the north – I have been walking through it for some time, it is far-spread and I do not know where it ends. My name is Torvain, I live a short way out of the mists to the north. If you know where it ends, take me where the mist is not, if you please!”

Ragnar walked up to join them, the wind still blasting out from him blowing the mist away. He moved it all around them, clearing a narrow area each time – there seemed no further immediate threats.

“Are you alone?” Sir Gerigold asked, anxiously.

“Yes, I am – I’m looking for my partner. He has been missing for four days – I came out here looking for him.”

“What does your partner look like?” Hazard asked, joining them in time to hear this.

“He’s very distinctive, he’s a blue tiefling with horns and very sharp white teeth – his name is Iskoval, and he is a mage, as I am. You would know him if you had met him.”

Sir Gerigold helped the man up and supported him to start walking out of the mists – Ragnar laid his hands on him and gave him further magical healing to make it easier, but Torvain still needed the paladin’s support to walk.

Morgaen hung back, telling the others to keep him talking; she focused on reading his body language and tone of voice. Despite his pain making it harder to be sure, she was convinced that he was telling the truth, and that he was indeed just walking through the mist in search of his missing partner – and was nothing to do with the great bat-winged creature that had attacked them, looking as if some magic had transformed it to its final form.

Once they were out of the mists, they spoke further. Torvain told them that he and Iskoval lived to the north, about an hour away if they rode. Several days ago, Iskoval had set out on a journey to go and get more supplies from Tenbrim – Morgaen noted that when she asked in Tenbrim about wizards, nobody there had known about any, so the two either disguised their calling when they went to the town or perhaps their last supply run had been long enough ago for the strangely forgetful townsfolk to have forgotten their existence. However, later on the day when Iskoval had set out, there had been a strange occurrence – something had dropped from the sky, landing in the woods near the two mages’ home and causing a tremor to run through the ground.

The party remembered the strange tremor which had struck soon after they had entered the crypts below the church of Saint Terragnis, in the evening four days ago.

“I heard of a thing dropping from the sky before,” Greynen remembered. “It looked like a giant rock – but it was made of metal. People call them meteorites. Have you seen the thing that fell?”

“Yes – I was following this track through the woods, and after I had been in the mist for an hour or so, I came to a strange new crater. There was such a thing as you have described, standing in the centre of it, embedded in the ground. I didn’t stay there to investigate – I thought I saw wolves, and there was something odd about them, some strange yellow shimmers in their fur – as there were in the giant boars that just attacked me. The wolves were moving away from me, but they were moving with purpose – I, well, I am more skilled at making magical objects than fighting with magic, it is Iskoval who is more of the fighter between us. I carried on searching for him.”

“Do you think that your – partner – would have carried on for Tenbrim, if the meteorite fell on the day that he left? Might he have stopped to investigate it?” Greynen asked. “We have just come from Tenbrim, and we met no-one on the road – well… there was one half-elf woman, with short grey hair, whom we saw – briefly… But certainly no blue tiefling.”

“I am surprised to hear that there was anyone, there are few people around here – but I am fearful for Torvain. The animals have started behaving so strangely since the meteorite fell. I never had a problem with the giant boars here before, they would always leave you alone if you left them alone – and at one point, in that mist, I thought I saw wolves travelling far more purposefully than I would usually expect, with the same strange yellowish glints in their fur as I saw in the giant boars.”

The party looked at each other.

“I noticed that, too – there seemed to be something stuck in them,” Morgaen said.

Greynen and Ragnar walked, carefully, back into the mist, to where the carcass of the first giant boar lay. Greynen found one of the yellow things – yes, it seemed to be something deeply stuck into the boar. He could not haul it out alone, but with Ragnar’s help he managed to extract it, and carried it out for the rest of them to see.

It was a long, thin shard, which seemed to be made of amber. Ragnar’s eyes lit up at the thought of how many of the things seemed to be stuck in the two giant boars. And more of them around, if the story about the wolves was true. He examined them carefully when the others suggested, strongly, that carrying around shards which appeared to have changed the behaviour of the giant boars and wolves was not a good plan, but there was no magical aura to the shards of amber.

Hazard had asked, while they were gone, for clarification – whether partner in this case meant the two mages were research partners, or whether they were in a relationship. Torvain clarified that yes, they were romantic partners. They saw that he was wearing a gold ring, with the letters ISK engraved on it – the rest of the inscription was hidden but it was presumably his partner’s name.

Morgaen had been racking her memory – something about the situation made her think she had heard something about this before.

“Do you remember, when we first met Tibalt in Tenbrim –” Hazard snorted at the dwarf acolyte’s name – “I asked him about the name of this land, New Solamnia? That there must have been an old Solamnia? He didn’t mention Azarumme – but he said there had once been an old Solamnia, which was destroyed by the gods. Destroyed in a great cataclysm, with fire from the sky.”

Sir Gerigold remembered that here, finally, they had a mage. Someone proficient in the magical arts and more likely than anyone they had yet encountered to know something about Dark Lords and magical tattoos. He rolled up his sleeve, showed Torvain the animated hourglass tattoo there, and explained that they had all received these on their second day in New Solamnia, after being strangely transported from their home worlds. They had encountered a gravely wounded knight, who had told him to “Stop the Dark Lord!” before turning to sand and blowing away – and they had magically received the tattoos at that moment. Only Ragnar’s had changed, the bottom of the hourglass filling up by about a third when his heart had stopped, and then he had come back to life. If Torvain knew anything about all of this, they would be most grateful for the information.

Torvain was, unfortunately, astounded – he had never seen such things, or heard of any Dark Lord. But he could confirm that the hourglass seemed to him to be powerful magic, that it must be a powerful being who could set something like that on them – it seemed to him to be some sort of curse.

This was not comforting news.

“Have you ever heard,” Morgaen asked, “of a knight called Raistlin Majere? We have been having visions of his story, since we have been here – it seems to be connected to whatever has brought us here.”

Torvain’s brow furrowed.

“I have never heard of a knight of that name… But I have heard of a Raistlin Majere. He was a powerful mage – he was said to have battled a god, Takisis, and then to have wandered off into the afterlife, seeking to become something more than he was. But it is only a hazy tale, a story I might have heard in childhood – there is nothing more to it, I am afraid.”

Sir Gerigold and Greynen were looking struck by something.

“What?” Hazard demanded.

“That name, Takisis – I hear it, and it – rings a bell. I don’t know where I’ve heard it before – but it makes me think of another name,” Greynen said, and hesitated.

“Tiamat,” Sir Gerigold said, with loathing. “The dragon-goddess in the Abyss. That name makes me think – I also cannot remember where I may have heard it – but that name is connected to her.”

Morgaen touched her amulet of Saint Terragnis.

“Who?” Ragnar asked.

“She is the mother of evil dragons,” the bard explained, “who dwells among darkness and demons, and wishes to rain destruction and death on all life.”

Ragnar’s eyes widened. “Nidhogg,” he muttered, and touched his hammer amulet.

It was now becoming properly dark. Morgaen scouted around and found a campsite, far enough from the mist and shielded by thick undergrowth to keep out the breeze that carried the disturbing smells. They camped for the night with Torvain, who offered to lead them back to his house the next day and to craft a magical item for them if they could find what had happened to Iskoval.

After their meal, they discussed what they had learned – it seemed likely to them that the Dark Lord they had been warned of on their second day here might be this Raistlin Majere, and that for some reason the brass disks and the black book were showing them his story and how he came to become whatever he now was. Morgaen was firmly of the opinion that knowledge being power, it was unlikely that these things were being planted by the Dark Lord to lead them into a trap – it was more likely that something was arranging for them to have this information and therefore have some advantage over him. It also seemed to the party that the meteorite falling now, recalling the destruction of old Solamnia, might be linked to whatever plans the Dark Lord had that they might be supposed to stop – that they might have been brought here for this purpose, now that things were happening and there was danger to New Solamnia.

That night, they set a very careful watch.

This was Part 9 of 'Dirty Secrets & Nightmares', featuring Sam as Dungeon Master with a cast of Mark, Alex, Paul, Alexander and Imogen. Written by Imogen Solly.

Photographs sourced from Pexels unless otherwise stated. Many thanks to the artists for making these available. From the top, by: Skitterphoto, Ivars, Lisa, Maria Pop, Pixabay, Meryl Katys, Taha Hassan, Bas Masseus, Johannes Plenio, Cláudio Marques, Rheo Ryan Balbuena, João Cabral, Narsimha Rao Mangu, Nataliya Vaitkevich, Roberto Nickson.

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1 commentaire

Paul Stebles
Paul Stebles
30 déc. 2021

Another great read Imogen, brilliant blog!

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