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A Tale of Nightmares #16 - Through The Looking Glass

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

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. They have 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), wielding the sentient maul Earthshatter (also known as Verna)

·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 Thor (played by Alex)

The party have travelled to the town of Esra, continuing the journey which will eventually lead them to face the Dark Lord, Lord Soth, and have a chance to escape the curse he has placed them under. Meanwhile, they must take every opportunity they can to develop their skills – so while the party are staying at the Black Rose tavern in Esra, Sir Gerigold has reached out to the local guards (employed by the Iron Duke, Dmitry Tesura) to see if there might be work available for adventurers here.

Sir Gerigold walked back into the inn and checked for his friends. He could not see Greynen, but the others were all present – Hazard had appropriated a table in the darkest possible corner and was looming ominously there. Ragnar seemed to have just joined him with four or five tankards of beer. The cleric looked a little flushed and cheerful, but not as drunk as he might have been.

The tavern was filling up as the evening drew in, with both guards and citizens coming in a steady stream through the door. Cecil, the orc proprietor of the Black Rose, was busy greeting and serving the new arrivals. At the bar, Morgaen was rolling up a few pieces of paper and putting them away. She and Sir Gerigold went over to join the others.

Greynen was not there. Hazard told the others that he had left him in the church, deep in meditation. Sir Gerigold said that in that case, someone might have to go and fetch him soon, as they might have a job offer. He had spoken to a senior guard, who had agreed to let the Duke’s advisor, a mage called Ygrim, know of their presence in town – and had said that the mage would probably call on them at the Black Rose if there was anything for them to do.

While they waited, Morgaen went to buy a drink for a few of the off-duty guards to get them talking. Greynen eventually turned up, walking through the door lost deep in thought, and failing to notice the others wave and call to him – Sir Gerigold ended up having to cross the room and grab his shoulder halfway up the stairs to bring him out of his reverie and get him to join them.

Morgaen rejoined the rest of them, reporting that the guards mostly ended up facing low-level undead such as zombies and skeletons – more frequently than was reported in town, since the Duke wanted to avoid panic, but not generally more dangerous foes. The Duke was reported by his men to be a businessman, very much a man who kept agreements and the letter of the law. There had been some rumours that his daughter Yirina was old enough to start wanting a role for herself in his government, but she had not made an appearance recently, being stuck inside with some kind of illness.

Dramatically, the door creaked open. There was a temporary hush around the Black Rose as someone stepped in – a humanoid, swathed in a multicoloured robe with a deep cowl that made any other details impossible to see. The cowl moved as whoever was wearing the robe looked around the room – then, purposefully, he walked towards the party.

Conversation started up around the room again – scattered at first, then rising to a buzz.

Sir Gerigold stood to meet the figure bearing down on them.

“Greetings,” he said. “Do we have the honour of meeting the Duke’s advisor Ygrim?”

“Yes,” the figure said, in a masculine voice, “that is me.”

He sat and pushed his hood back.

Where his face should have been, there was a patch of darkness, filled with stars.

“It is a little loud in here, and rather too many listening ears for the business I want to discuss,” he remarked – and made a gesture, accompanied by a few words too quiet to be caught.

Everyone around them froze.

They looked round – the spell affected the rest of the tavern, as well. Where Cecil was busy pouring ale from a flagon into someone’s tankard, even the liquid hung suspended in the air. Time itself appeared to have stopped – everywhere but around their table.

Morgaen reached out experimentally – a foot or so away, it became difficult, although possible, to move her hand through the air.

“I assure you,” Ygrim said, “you are all perfectly safe. This is merely a precaution to allow us to speak freely.”

“It is a powerful precaution,” Sir Gerigold remarked.

Ragnar attempted to take an ale from a neighbouring table.

“Please do not attempt to use my time freeze in order to steal from people, or I shall have to arrest you,” Ygrim said, in a pained voice.

“I was just looking to see what happened if I tried,” Ragnar said, trying to sound injured, and carefully putting the tankard back.

“What is the problem you feel the need of such privacy for?” Sir Gerigold asked.

“The Iron Duke’s daughter, Yirina, has recently fallen – ill,” the mage said, with an uncomfortable pause before the world ‘ill’.

“The Morninglord gives me the power to cure disease, may I assist you?” Sir Gerigold offered.

“This – does not appear to be a normal sickness. It has not responded to the best efforts of our healers, so I have undertaken every divination I am capable of. It appears that the Duke’s daughter, heiress to the office of guarding Esra – no longer has a soul.”

“Is that even possible?” Greynen asked.

“I have heard that it is possible for people to lose their souls, perhaps through deals made with fiends – although how such a thing could have happened to Yirina, I could not say.”

Morgaen and Ragnar were looking incredulously at Greynen. Morgaen raised an eyebrow and mouthed ‘war-lock’. Ragnar grinned and gave the party’s warlock a double thumbs-up.

Greynen – warlock to the archfey Cyone, with archfey known to enter into pacts with mortals for whimsy or entertainment more even than fey politics, and certainly not the collection of souls – ignored them, pointedly.

“However this has happened, Yirina is very ill and barely responsive,” Ygrim continued. “Once I had discovered the loss of her soul, I conducted my divinations again and found that somehow, a gateway to another realm has opened up in the lower reaches of the tower where Yirina’s rooms are located. I believe that there is some form of demon to be found through this portal.”

“That certainly sounds like something we can deal with,” Sir Gerigold said, leaning back confidently.

“The Duke does not necessarily require the fiend to be killed – his first priority is his daughter. If you can get Yirina’s soul back safely, however you choose to do this, the Duke will present you with an artefact in his possession. It is a potent and ancient sword, a longsword but no ordinary longsword – both magical and of a strange design, from lands that seem to no longer exist since the cataclysm that occurred before New Solamnia was created.”

The party agreed to come to the tower the next morning, once they had rested, and go through the portal in a search for Yirina’s soul.

Ygrim clicked his fingers – and a wave of noise rolled over them, as the interrupted conversations and drinking in the Black Rose carried on as if nothing had happened.

Later that evening, as the party went up to bed, Morgaen heard a knock at her door. Opening it, she found Greynen, who announced abruptly that they needed to talk.

He explained to her that during his meditation in the church of Esra, a voice had spoken to him – a voice which he believed to be the goddess of the mists – telling him a way he could potentially bring his sister Olaria’s spirit out of the mists to become a fey spirit which he could summon through his connection with Cyone. He would need Morgaen’s help, to conduct a séance at midnight – and to pass a trial.

He had come prepared for argument but found that the bard’s response was delighted curiosity. Morgaen felt regret that she had not been able to do more to help Olaria, either in preventing her death or when speaking to her spirit before she vanished into the mists. She was more than happy to help, after checking that the voice had spoken about Greynen passing the trial rather than necessarily everyone present. However, she did point out that ‘trial’ sounded as if whatever it was might be rather dangerous at least for him. So doing this tonight, when the party had collectively agreed to go and try to save the Duke’s daughter’s soul the following day, might not be the best professional adventuring ethics. Greynen saw her point and agreed to put off the attempt until after the task they had agreed to was completed.

Next day, they headed out early. Announcing themselves at the door of the castle, they were sent to see Ygrim, who started leading them down into the depths of the tower.

Sir Gerigold politely but firmly objected to going straight into the portal. He argued that the party ought to see Yirina first, to know what she looked like and get a sense of her before going looking for her soul. Morgaen added that they should also see if they could get any clues from her condition about what they might be facing. Reluctantly, Ygrim agreed to this, and showed them to her room, further up the tower.

Yirina was lying in bed, still and unresponsive to Sir Gerigold’s quiet, courteous greeting. The servant in attendance said that she had not moved for days, now. She was very pale, as if she was in shock – as if she had seen something to give her a great fright. Sir Gerigold tried to see if his divine power could do anything for her – but there was nothing. Morgaen checked around the room and located the girl’s diary. On reading it, she found confirmation of the guards’ suspicions that Yirina was starting to seek a greater political role in the town. Her writings, besides a general record of her days, mentioned her ideas about future steps that might be taken in reaching out to other local lords in different parts of New Solamnia. But there was no indication that the girl had started dabbling in anything arcane or demonic as part of this.

Giving up on getting anything useful here, they quietly bade the unresponsive girl farewell, and left the room.

Heading downwards, the party were shown eventually to a chamber a couple of stories below ground. It appeared at one point to have been a prison – there was a sturdy door with a small viewing-hole in it – but was currently a kind of lumber-room, with linen-draped shapes suggesting unused furniture.

One draped shape was standing in the middle of the room and was less dusty than the rest.

“It’s there – a mirror,” Ygrim said. “Once it is uncovered, there is some magic in the mirror and you should be able to use it as a portal into whatever demiplane has battened onto us here. Remember – the Duke’s concern is only the return of his daughter’s soul, however you find it best to achieve this.”

He stepped outside the room and shut the door behind him – but the party had a sense that he had remained just on the other side.

Morgaen spoke to the others for a minute or so. She reminded them of the challenges they had already undergone together, and expressed confidence that the skills they had developed would see them through this task, as well. She laced her words with magic, and everyone felt stronger and more prepared, more resilient somehow, when she had finished. Sir Gerigold followed this us with a prayer to the Morninglord to protect all of them from evil influences – then, as they all stood back, he pulled the cover from the mirror.

For a moment, it seemed to show the stone room and the door behind them – then the mirror shimmered, and suddenly they were seeing was a short stone corridor and a different doorway. Their own reflections were nowhere to be seen – but there was a figure standing there. A tall, thin figure in a robe of curious design, with a pointed face, a mane of blond hair and two narrow yellowish horns rising from his temples. He gave a slow smile on seeing them, displaying pointed teeth – then raised a clawed hand and beckoned to them, before turning and walking through the archway behind him.

The party paused only for a moment – then Sir Gerigold walked forward. He stepped up onto the mirror’s base, then reached out to touch the mirror. It rippled as he touched it, feeling like cold water, and started to shimmer again with a strange light. The paladin stepped up into the mirror, his foot also going through, then the rest of him following, and the world went black for a moment – black with lines of shining symbols moving, racing around him somehow.

Back in the tower chamber, the others could not see Sir Gerigold through the shimmering, rippling mirror. It did not settle after a moment – one by one, they steeled themselves and followed.

As Morgaen, the last to go, stepped forwards, she heard the loud click of the heavy prison door being locked behind them…

The darkness and shining symbols lasted only a moment for each of them – then as each of them blinked, their front foot touched down on stone and they were stepping down from a mirror frame into a small, many-sided room with three doors. There was a chill in the air, colder than the other side despite how deep the room had been, and there were large wall-mirrors hung on nearly every wall.

In front of them were two humans – bald men, middle-aged, wearing boiled leather armour. Each of them had a cloak fastened with an ornate silver brooch in the shape of a hawk. Each was holding a longsword in a guard position, ready to attack or defend at a moment’s notice – and they were facing each other, clearly on edge. They had looked round as the party came through the mirror but had then rapidly switched their attention back to each other.

Sir Gerigold cleared his throat.

“Er – hello, good sirs –"

“Watch out!” one of them warned the party, slightly adjusting his grip on his sword. “That one, I don’t know what it is, but it’s imitating me!”

“What do you mean?” the other one protested. “I only just turned up! You’re the one who’s imitating me! Who are you?”

The party looked at each other, nonplussed.

Sir Gerigold suspected that some fiendish trick might be in play, given the circumstances. Placing his hand on his heart, over the holy symbol of the Morninglord blazoned on his surcoat, he entreated his god for enlightenment and opened his senses.

“I’m, ah, sorry to have to contradict you,” he said, “but you, sir,” pointing to the figure on the left, “I believe to be a reflection demon.”

“What? No!” the figure objected. “I’m a human warrior, my name’s Bronner –”

“No!” the man on the right shouted angrily. “I’m Bronner! There was this strange mirror, I stepped through and it brought me here – where are we?”

Greynen did not know about Sir Gerigold’s divine revelation and assumed pointing to one of them was a bluff. It did not appear to have worked.

“Shall we just attack both of them?” he suggested.

Both Bronners looked apprehensive, met each other’s eyes, and with unspoken agreement pivoted into a more defensive position against the party rather than each other.

“Come, now,” Sir Gerigold addressed the demon. “I don’t know why you have chosen to disguise yourself as this man, but as my friends and I are strangers here I don’t wish to attack you when you might have good reason for acting this way. Drop the pretence and speak openly, and perhaps we might be of assistance to each other.”

“Well…” the figure said hesitantly, “I’m not a reflection demon, honest, but that’s true enough – whatever’s going on here, maybe we can help each other. If you’d be willing to let me come along with you –”

“We could try to get them each to write a letter about themselves and see which one sounds more like a real person instead of a demon imitating them,” Hazard suggested.

“That’s ridiculous,” Sir Gerigold said flatly. “I know this one is a reflection demon – the Morninglord has enlightened me.”

That was the point at which Morgaen reached out with her magic, seeking to contact any spirits that might be able to help her work out what was going on or what ‘reflection demons’ were.

As soon as she did so, a flash of blinding light filled the room. The party threw their arms up over their faces, instinctively stepping back.

As the light cleared, they looked round.

Leaning against the walls, each just one pace from where Greynen had been standing before the light flared, were two Greynens.

They saw the others’ eyes widen looking in their direction, looked round – and jumped up.

“What the hell?” they exclaimed in unison.

“Oh, shit,” Morgaen breathed, scraps of knowledge coming together in her mind. “Everyone – reflection demons are particularly cunning fiends… and they can become an exact duplicate of someone. Even having some of their knowledge.”

“Right, we need to test which one is Greynen,” Ragnar said, hefting his warhammer. “I’ll attach whichever one can’t answer this. What’s my father’s name?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Ragnar, ask something I’m likely to know myself!” one of the Greynens snapped. “I’ve got no damn interest in your genealogy!”

Hazard, on the assumption that a soulless demon would not have a sense of humour, attempted to tell a joke. He was not good at jokes and this was not really the time. Nobody laughed.

“It’s bad enough I lost my sister without dealing with all this shit!” one of the Greynens said irritably.

The second Greynen immediately turned on him, raising his hands in a spellcasting gesture.

The Greynen who had spoken reacted like lightning, grabbing his handaxe from his belt and swinging at his double. Despite being hit and injured, the second Greynen managed to complete his spell – a blast of energy leapt from his hands, with such force that it pushed his attacker back, smashing into one of the walls.

Morgaen, still unsure which of the two figures was really her friend, turned on one of the Bronners – the one Sir Gerigold had identified as a demon. She mocked its intelligence in continuing to insist that it was not a demon despite a paladin’s identification, lacing her words with power to cause damage.

The armed figure grasped its head. “Aaaaah! What are you doing to me? Why are you attacking me?” it protested.

The other Bronner – the one Sir Gerigold had not identified as a demon – backed away from everyone, sword raised defensively.

“Come now, everyone, let’s all calm down!” Sir Gerigold attempted to persuade them all, making a peaceful gesture with his hands. “I’m sure we can sort this out peacefully –”

Hazard stepped between the two Greynens. He looked at both of them, and tried to tell a joke again.

Ragnar, exasperated, exclaimed “Oh, my god…” and turned to the mirrors. Drawing his warhammer Thunderbreaker, he swung, and smashed one of them.

“Whatever this is, it’s linked to the mirrors!” he called out. “Let’s get rid of them, first!”

“Not all of them!” Morgaen exclaimed, desperately. “Not the one we came in by!”

The Greynen who had been smashed into a wall by an eldritch blast picked himself up, hands raised appeasingly.

“Look, I don’t want to fight, alright?” he said, calmingly – then, too swiftly for anyone else to react, he dived for one of the doors, opened it, and vanished through it.

The second Greynen cursed, ran to the door and looked through it.

“The bastard demon’s gone!” he snapped. “There’s another room of mirrors in here, but he’s not here anymore! He must have gone through one of them!”

“If that was the demon,” Hazard said, suspiciously.

The remaining Greynen glared at Hazard and the others.

“Oh, really? First, he’s the one who ran away. Second, he hit me with an axe when I tried to blast him – and he hit me, I’m injured! I use that axe for firewood – when have you ever seen me try to hit anyone with it? I’ve got crap strength!”

Hazard thought for a moment.

“Good point,” he accepted.

The two Bronners had both backed away defensively into corners.

Morgaen questioned the one who Sir Gerigold did not think was a demon – he told her that he came from Esra, he had stumbled through the mirror when he was in the Black Rose tavern. He had taken it for a doorway, with the corridor behind it, and had gone through, to end up here. Morgaen told the others that she thought he was telling the truth.

This, with Sir Gerigold’s identification, was enough for Hazard. Immediately, he drew his greatsword and attacked the reflection demon imitating Bronner. It cried out in shock as the fighter swung at it, again – and again – and again – hitting it strongly enough to have killed most normal people. The creature was frozen at the surprise of the first few attacks, but then rolled with the impact of the final strike, and came smoothly to its feet again, next to another door.

“What the hell, I didn’t do anything to you!” it shouted angrily, and vanished through the door.

Ragnar ran for the door – finding darkness beyond. Touching the hilt of his dagger Ghost Eye, he saw another, larger room beyond. Its stone walls were covered with eyes, and in the far wall was an alcove which appeared to have stairs leading downwards.

The party split up, looking in both rooms for the disappeared demons.

Greynen walked into the room his double had vanished into. There were fewer mirrors in this room – at least, fewer intact mirrors, although there were a few empty frames. The six mirrors he could see had frames carved with animals – rabbits, squirrels, deer, mice, songbirds and hedgehogs.

Looking into one of the mirrors, he was startled to see an image both familiar and unfamiliar – a grubby urchin with dirty pale hair. It took a moment to realise that he was seeing himself as a child. The figure looked sadly at him – then started to raise a hand, as if to point towards him. Greynen tensed – but the figure in the mirror dropped its hand, after a moment, as if it couldn’t be bothered, after all. Instead, it went still and intent. After a moment, Greynen realised that its stance was mirroring his. He moved – the image moved. It no longer seemed to be acting independently, it was merely his reflection, but of himself as a child.

Back in the first room they had entered, Morgaen considered the possibility that the reflection demons might return. Taking out her disguise kit, she persuaded Bronner to let her mark his initial on his forehead with makeup, so that if his double turned up again they would all be able to tell which was which without waiting for Sir Gerigold’s identification.

This done, she realised that there was a third and final door in the room, which nobody had opened yet. Carefully, she opened it a crack.

A strong waft of sulphur came out.

Quickly, she shut it.

“I think there might be a demon in this room,” she said.

Sir Gerigold and Hazard were in the middle of an argument about whether or not Hazard had needed to attack the Bronner-duplicate reflection demon. Sir Gerigold was making the point that it had not, in fact, started attacking anyone, merely defending itself against threats.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. They are demons, you’re the one who said so, and demons are always bad news!” Morgaen cut in. “Specifically they are reflection demons, which are highly skilled at imitating people for their own cunning purposes, so the fact that they didn’t immediately attack doesn’t mean they weren’t planning something!”

At this point, they all realised that the image in the mirror did not show the room they had come from. Instead, it showed a narrow stone passage, that seemed to go on for much longer than the stone passage they had seen the horned figure walk through – and the mirror at the end of the passage did not seem very similar to the one they had come through. All in all, it seemed as if the way they had come into the room no longer led to where they had come from.

Bronner had been walking around examining the mirrors with Ragnar, but he also could not see anything which looked like the gateway he had come through – he could not even remember which mirror he had originally come through, since his attention had been immediately grabbed by the appearance of his duplicate. Nor could he get his hand or any part of him to go through any of the mirrors – they all now appeared solid.

“Well, we were not intending to go back immediately, anyway,” Sir Gerigold said, putting a good face on things. “Not before finding Yirina’s soul. What’s through this door?”

“I think the demon may be through here,” Morgaen repeated, “and can I say again, demons are always bad news. I should not have to say this to a paladin.”

Sir Gerigold ignored this loftily, opened the door and stepped through.

Light from behind them glittered softly over what appeared to be mirrored surfaces, forming a long, columned hall. The smell of sulphur wafted over them strongly. Then Sir Gerigold thought he saw something, a dark shape, glide up one of the walls. It was in the corner of his eye – his head jerked round as he tried to get a proper look at it, but he was too late. If there had been anything there, it had moved too fast and was gone. Looking up, he could see no movement, nothing but the columns stretching up into what seemed to be only shadows.

Perhaps it had only been a trick of the shimmering light – but he did not think so.

He backed out of the room.

“There could be demons in there,” he announced.

“I already said that,” Morgaen pointed out, drily.

Sir Gerigold, ignoring this as well, walked over to the door Ragnar had investigated, to see what was in the final room.

Hazard had sloped off into the other room to see what was keeping Greynen. He found the warlock still considering his child-reflection – which was bringing up bad memories and trapping him in a grim reverie.

Interested in the phenomenon and unconcerned with bad memories (as far as he was concerned, everyone had those), Hazard walked over to one of the other ornate mirrors – the one engraved with hedgehogs – to see if it showed him the same thing.

He considered his child-self. It appeared to be considering him back, intently – then raised a hand for a moment, before pointing downwards.

Looking down, Hazard found a silver chalice at his feet which had not been there before. It was full of a thick, viscous substance, which seemed on first examination to be a healing potion. Smiling slightly, he poured out the water from his waterskin, and put the potion in its place. He set the chalice down at his feet for a moment to seal his waterskin and sling it back in its place – when he looked back, the chalice had vanished.

Hazard looked at his child-reflection and raised an eyebrow. Its eyebrow raised at exactly the same time. He raised a hand, and the child raised a hand. Like Greynen’s reflection, whatever magic had briefly caused his image to act independently and give him this gift was over – this was now just a de-aged reflection.

Sir Gerigold examined the room he had entered, seeing shades of grey with his darkvision. It was cross-shaped, with four wide bays coming off a central area. He had entered through one of the bays, and could see an archway ahead of him, with a set of stairs leading downwards.

He walked to the centre of the room and looked to either side. In each of the bays was a tall, full-length mirror standing in an ornate frame. Walking towards the one to his right, he struck a pose. He had a strange feeling of unease for a moment, a slightly nauseous dizziness – then it passed, and he went back to inspecting his reflection. Ah – still keeping up a good appearance, despite the challenges he was facing. He swished his long blond hair back over his shoulder.

As he did so, he caught sight of something in the mirror.

There were three shapes on the ceiling – three vaguely humanoid, but distorted, sloick-looking shapes.

And two of them had long arms extending swiftly down towards him, giving off a sickeningly sludgy noise as the creatures’ arms extended unnaturally, seeming to unfold from within!

Just in time, the paladin threw himself to the side. The two attacking creatures’ arms glanced off the mirror, striking it with a clang.

In the next room, Morgaen and Ragnar heard the noise, and rushed to the door. Morgaen cast her light spell on Ragnar’s shield – but they still couldn’t see anything.

“What’s going on in there?” she called out.

“Slime monsters!” Sir Gerigold’s voice echoed back, breathless but matter-of-fact. “Help, please!”

Ragnar charged in, raising his amulet, while Morgaen dashed across towards the other room.

“Gerigold’s found slime monsters!” she yelled in at the door. “Come on!”

Ragnar careered into the centre of the room, gathering a crackling, glowing energy around the hand holding his amulet. The third creature dropped down slightly from the ceiling, reaching for him – he unleashed the force he had gathered, and it rocked slightly, a singed smell rising from it, but then the unnaturally arm whipped back towards him, slapping him hard. As he recoiled from the impact, its gruesome fingers seemed to unfold even further – they wrapped around the cleric, and then he was lifted into the air. He yelled a curse, lightning leaping from his body – but although the creature’s hand convulsed, it did not let go.

Greynen and Hazard had raced over as fast as they could, coming to a breathless halt as they saw Ragnar’s kicking legs.

“They’re on the ceiling!” Greynen yelled.

Following the other two, having stopped to ready their crossbows, Bronner and Morgaen took aim and tried to shoot the creature hanging onto Ragnar without hitting the cleric. The arrows flew wide – and seemed to vanish into the shadows above, rather than hitting an actual ceiling.

Sir Gerigold had regained his feet, holding Verna ready, and called on his god to protect him. A shimmering light seemed to surround him. With this and Ragnar’s shield, he could see the creatures seeming to leer down at him, seeing no way the knight could attack them with his maul.

Instead, he turned, and struck the wall hard, Verna’s voice echoing in his head – Leave it to me, laddie!

A shockwave rippled through the wall, up to the ceiling. The creatures screeched as their handholds became unsteady. One lost its grip, falling, and hit the ground hard. Before it could move, Sir Gerigold was swinging the maul down on it, pounding it into the floor.

The creature clinging to Ragnar dragged him over the ceiling, towards the second mirror on the other side of the room. It shifted slightly, holding onto the ceiling with strangely limber legs. This freed its other arm – it took careful aim and punched the struggling cleric, dazing him for a moment. In that moment, it dangled him with one arm in front of the mirror, and with its second hand pried open his eyes, forcing him to look into the mirror.

Dangling upside down, Ragnar felt the same slightly nauseous, dizzy sensation that Gerigold had felt when he looked into the other mirror. Then he shook it off, gathered himself – and again unleashed lightning on the creature grappling him. That caused it to recoil just enough for him to get an arm free – but his attempt to smash the creature in the face with his warhammer failed, as it held him just too far away.

Greynen had lined up an eldritch blast on the creature and was chanting something under his breath. When he released the magical energy, it slammed into its target, knocking it back towards the opposite wall – once, and again. To Grey’s frustration, it carried Ragnar with it – but the creature was clearly in trouble. It scrabbled at the wall, trying to get a grip, but instead slid down, carrying Ragnar with it, to collapse and die on the floor. Ragnar extricated himself from the suddenly limp grip, swearing.

The creature Sir Gerigold had been pounding exploded under the force of the maul, brownish-grey sludge spattering the floor. The paladin straightened up, drew a javelin and flung it at the final creature, which had regained a secure grip high up on the wall. It dodged, and the javelin bounced back – but Hazard and Bronner’s crossbow bolts both hit. The creature shrieked fury, its unnatural arm rippling down towards them and catching Hazard with a hefty punch. As he reeled, dropping his crossbow and trying to draw his greatsword, the hand wrapped around him, yanking him in front of the mirror. The sword fell from his hand as the world seemed to spin around him – he saw stars for a moment, as a blinding light flashed, before Hazard was dragged upwards by his captor.

The others had recoiled from the light – then looked taken aback.

Hazard was struggling in the grip of the creature above, but was also standing on the floor with them, ready with his greatsword.

“Come on, everyone, let’s get rid of it!” the version of Hazard on the floor encouraged them all. “Why did the hedgehog fall out of the tree?”

Morgaen and Ragnar looked at each other for a moment, shrugged, and sent a crossbow bolt and a spell respectively at the creature up the wall. Both hit; the creature went limp and fell. The version of Hazard it had been holding also fell, landing with a crash of armour.

Greynen looked at the version of Hazard who was standing, holding a sword.

“This one’s holding a sword!” he pointed out. “But Hazard dropped his sword when it grabbed him!” He pointed down. “It’s still here!”

The version of Hazard holding the sword scowled at him.

“More of your crap? You nearly lost us the voyage here on the riverboat, now this too?”

The version of Hazard who had been dropped by the monster clambered upright.

“Yeah!” he agreed, temporarily siding with his double against Greynen.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Sir Gerigold said to the Hazard holding a sword, “but I am really quite sure that you are another reflection demon.” Following the unprovoked attack by the slime monsters, he was less well disposed towards the denizens of this place than he had been. He swung Verna, hard – teeth flew – and again, knocking Hazard’s head clean off. The body collapsed to the ground – shrivelling into a rather smaller, greyish form.

Turning, Sir Gerigold smashed the mirror.

Morgaen checked the body of the creature that had pretended to be Hazard. It had grey, scaly skin and clawed hands.

She headed for the stairs.

“Someone smash the other mirror,” she suggested, and heard a crashing noise behind her as Hazard did so. She gazed down the stairs – they went on as far as her darkvision could see, smooth and identical stone steps heading on down into the darkness. To either side, also, was nothing but darkness – no walls could be seen. She held out a hand to one side – and reached into nothingness.

She came back into the room.

“It looks like most of the mirrors in this place risk sending a reflection demon to imitate one of us,” she pointed out. “Those creatures held Ragnar in front of one, too – Gerigold, that thing where you said you were sure the one imitating Bronner was a demon, what was that?”

“The Morninglord permitted me to sense its true being,” the paladin said with satisfaction.

“Yes… Did you do that back in the castle? When we visited Yirina?”

“Ah – no… No, I didn’t.”

“So all we know for sure about the girl who is sick back at the castle is that she doesn’t seem to have a soul,” the bard went on. “Do demons have souls?” she asked Ragnar.

The cleric shrugged, and looked at the paladin.

“No,” the redemption paladin said uncomfortably, adding – oath-bound – “but that’s not to say they might not be able to regain one!”

“So it’s possible that the sick girl up in the castle, who doesn’t seem to be normally sick, is actually a reflection demon pretending to be sick as a way to imitate Yirina more easily,” Morgaen suggested, “and we might not be looking for Yirina’s soul here – we might be looking for the real Yirina. It’s something to bear in mind.”

They thought about this, uncomfortably, for a moment.

“But basically we’re still searching this place,” Hazard said. “Right. Come see what Grey and me found through here. The mirrors in the other room don’t end up with reflection demons, they show how you looked as a child, and mine gave me some sort of potion – I’ve got it here.”

“Even if it looks like a healing potion, don’t go drinking it until I’ve identified it,” Morgaen advised. “Shall we go and look at these mirrors?”

“I am not sure that is a good idea, it may not be the best use of our time –” Sir Gerigold started.

“Were you not always this good-looking?” Ragnar asked, with glee.

“That is not it!” the paladin snapped. “I just don’t think this is a good plan, that is all.”

“Maybe, but I really, really want to,” Morgaen said, heading for the other room. “This would be a magic I haven’t seen before – and it doesn’t sound like it’s dangerous. Not immediately, anyway.”

Morgaen paused on entering the other room, and thought for a moment she could hear a breeze – then there was nothing. Going up to one of the mirrors, she looked in.

An image of herself as a child appeared. Her reflection was just joyfully picking something up – the first proper book she had read. The small girl looked up for a moment, and seemed about to raise a hand, but then caught sight of the page and was soon engrossed in the book again. Once it finished the page, it put the book away in a bag slung over its shoulder, then started imitating Morgaen’s movements. Its independent activity seemed to be over. Smiling, Morgaen turned away from the image and looked for the others.

Sir Gerigold had followed them into the room and had ended up in front of one of the other mirrors, either deliberately or by accident. Eyes lighting up with glee, the rest of the party crowded behind him. The paladin attempted to stand in front of his reflection for a moment before giving up. Gerigold as a teenager appeared to have gone through an ugly duckling stage – the reflection in the mirror had a regrettable haircut and an acne problem. It appeared to be attempting to deal with the acne problem by squeezing it, and despite raising its hand for a moment went back to this activity without pointing at Sir Gerigold. Then, it too stopped its independent activity and started mimicking the paladin’s movements in the mirror again – but too late to stop Greynen from starting to urge the paladin to step away from the mirror, now! The rest of them could see their own reflections deeper in the mirror, but only Sir Gerigold was reflected in his younger days.

Partly from curiosity, partly from the off-chance that another mystery potion might be forthcoming, and partly to change the subject away from his teenage appearance, Sir Gerigold asked Verna – since the maul was inhabited by the spirit of a dead dwarf – if she thought her own youthful appearance might be reflected in one of the mirrors if he held the weapon in front of it. Verna was up for the experiment, and Sir Gerigold stood to one side of another mirror, holding Verna in front of it, as the others peered in from the side again.

Verna’s youthful, dwarfish self appeared in the mirror – showing her memory of her first kiss, shared with a dwarf boy too young to even have sideburns yet, let alone a proper beard. Sir Gerigold relayed the maul’s commentary on the memory to the others.

Ragnar then stepped in front of the final mirror, and the others got to see his teenage self, very full of himself – about the time, Ragnar explained, of his first raiding voyage with his father. His chest puffed up with remembered pride.

No potion resulted from either experiment – only Hazard had gained some kind of tangible benefit from the experience.

They examined the staircase leading from this room. Like the one in the room where they had faced the slime monsters, it seemed to lead down indefinitely into the darkness.

After spending a little more time considering this, and deciding that they did not feel like investigating the strange stairwells unless they had to, they gathered again in the small octagonal atrium-chamber where they had entered this strange place. Cautiously, they prepared to investigate the great columned chamber; the same room where Morgaen had smelled sulphur and Sir Gerigold had seen something dark moving swiftly up the wall.

The paladin opened the door, and they all filed in. Ragnar – coming last – raised his spell-lit shield high.

The light was reflected and re-reflected from a thousand mirror-shards set into the walls and floor, coming at them from all sides in a ferociously vivid glare. Most of the party reacted quickly and shielded their eyes, as Morgaen ended the spell on the shield. Greynen, however, had been looking upwards at the critical moment, trying to see anything moving in the shadows at the top of the columns – he was just too late, and cried out, staggering back blinded. Bronner took his arm and helpfully steered him back out into the atrium to recover.

Using darkvision – Ragnar’s being granted by his magic dagger, Ghost Eye, and Hazard’s by his rune-carved amulet – they investigated the room. Morgaen particularly relied on her nose, sniffing around to try to locate the source of the sulphurous smell she had noticed earlier.

Two doors led off, one to either side of the hall. Sir Gerigold went to the one on the left and opened the door. A long, very dark room, with what appeared to be a pitch black floor, led off towards a stone doorway – at least sixty feet away.

Investigating the pillars to the left of the hall, where the sulphur smell seemed to be stronger, Morgaen found a hidden lever in one of the pillars. She alerted the others – but before she could pull it to test what would happen, the centre of the mirror-mosaic floor erupted in flames, and with a ‘poof!’ noise, an imp appeared.

It glared round at them – then threw itself backwards and yelled with frustration.

“Yaaaa, where the bloody hell is he? I need to collect his debt!”

“Who are you?” Ragnar demanded.

“Me? I’m nobody, a mere servant of the Archprince of the Flame, I’m just here to collect! The Lord of Mirrors owes my master four heroic souls – plus interest!”

Ragnar and Sir Gerigold looked at each other. Ragnar growled a name under his breath – Tchernabog. Sir Gerigold nodded, grimly. They both knew that name.

The imp, having had its tantrum, was eyeing them with more interest.

“What are you lot doing here, then?”

“Looking for the master of this place. As I believe you are,” Sir Gerigold said.

“Is he supposed to be found here in this room?” Morgaen asked.

“Him? He’s using all the mirrors and stairways in this place to hide from me, I’ve been all over and I keep ending up in the same old places – and he’s not there!”

The door opened and Greynen and Bronner walked back in.

“What’s going on in here?” Greynen demanded.

The imp looked at the new arrivals, looked around at the rest of them, appeared to be counting, and grinned.

“Four heroic souls, you said?” Morgaen asked for clarification.

“Yeah – plus interest!”

“How exactly is the Lord of Mirrors –” Sir Gerigold began.

In a puff of sulphurous-smelling smoke, the imp vanished.

They looked round at each other.

“Yirina may have been the bait – and we’ve taken it,” Morgaen said grimly. “And I’d better tell you, it’s possible that Ygrim knew – I didn’t tell you this at the time, because we walked into that situation with the reflection demons, but when we walked through the mirror I heard someone locking the door behind us.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Bronner, especially, shifted his weight repeatedly, and looked very unhappy to have stumbled into all of this.

“Well,” Ragnar said, assuming a breezy manner, “what’s through this door?”

He walked over to the second door, and opened it. Inside, it was dark again – with his hand on Ghost Eye’s hilt, he reported that it was a small room, smaller even than the atrium, with nothing in it but a side table and another door. Maybe there was something on the table, but that was it.

“Perhaps we should discuss whether we continue at all,” Sir Gerigold said, reluctantly. “We could always just leave – go back through the mirrors in the atrium to get out of this place, since it is possible that it is a trap for us.”

“It didn’t look as though the mirror was leading to the same place anymore,” Morgaen pointed out, “and besides – Bronner can’t get through any of those mirrors, for some reason. We can’t leave him here!”

“That’s his problem,” Greynen said. “Not ours. We didn’t bring him here. No offence meant,” he added to the warrior.

“True, but it might become our problem,” Ragnar said. “How much money do you have, Bronner?”

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Morgaen protested.

“Because if you pay us, it’s worth our while to let you tag along,” Ragnar explained further.

“Well, I – I’ve got ten gold…” Bronner said, hesitantly, taking his money pouch from his belt. Ragnar held out one meaty hand.

Sir Gerigold deftly intercepted the handover and gave the money back to Bronner.

“It is not necessary,” he said, glaring at Ragnar. “We do not require payment to let you come with us.”

Ragnar argued that they ought to, and Bronner said nervously that he didn’t mind paying so long as that made everyone happy, but the paladin insisted.

“Well, have it your way,” Ragnar said sulkily. “Just remember I’m carrying the Bag of Holding, and how much is in the Bag!”

He opened it, suddenly, to illustrate his point – whatever that was.

The bloodied, blinded owlbear head appeared suddenly, as if from nowhere.

This spooked Bronner even more.

“Look, I – I don’t want any trouble, right?” he said, backing away – then, before anyone could stop him, turned and ran for one of the doors.

He vanished through the door Sir Gerigold had investigated – the one leading to the long, dark room with an incredibly black floor.

“Bronner!” Sir Gerigold called after him. But it was too late.

There was a smashing sound, and a loud yell – which became a scream – which dwindled rapidly, the sound vanishing to nothing.

Sir Gerigold ran for the door.

The incredibly dark floor now had a broken area. It was clear that the whole floor was in fact glass, over the same kind of dark nothingness that the stairs seemed to go down into. Somehow, in his dash into the room, Bronner had fallen through. Sir Gerigold called his name experimentally, but not with much hope.

There was no answer. He was gone.

Hazard sat down next to one of the pillars and waited patiently, without getting involved, for the argument to die down. It would have to, he reasoned, so that they could all get on with trying to get out of here alive, with or without the missing Yirina.

This was part 16 of 'Dirty Secrets & Nightmares', featuring Sam as Dungeon Master.

With a cast of Mark, Alex, Paul, Imogen and Alexander.

Written by Imogen Solly

Photographs sourced from Pexels unless otherwise stated. Many thanks to the artists for making these available. From the top, by: Drigo Diniz, Ksenia Chernaya, Pavel Danilyuk, Lucas Allmann, Eric Torres, Tima Miroschnichenko, Octoptimist, Cottonbro, Francesco Ungaro, Eduardo Romero, Dorran, Tima Miroschnichenko.

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