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.