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A Tale of Nightmares 16b - Shadows and Stairways

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)

In the town of Esra, the daughter of the Duke has lost her soul. The party have gone through a strange portal to try to find the demon responsible, and are currently searching for the elusive Lord of Mirrors in a strange world of mirrored rooms, endless shadowy staircases, and sudden threats. They encountered an Esran man named Bronner, who ran away after an argument with Ragnar and now seems to have fallen victim to these threats, falling through a glass floor into an apparently endless void.

The argument ended unsatisfactorily for Morgaen. Ragnar stoutly refused to accept any of the recriminations, arguing that it was entirely appropriate to ask a random stranger who needed their help to pay what he could for the privilege. Eventually – as Hazard had expected – Sir Gerigold reverted to peacemaking and started trying to calm everything down.

Seething, the bard stalked off, and gave a curt warning before pulling the lever she had found hidden in one of the pillars. She was almost hoping that it would reveal a demon, and cause Ragnar to regret having caused the death of a possible ally.

The far end of the Hall of Mirrors shook, then rotated as either hidden gears or magic came into play. A huge demon’s head came into view – a giant bust of the creature they had seen before entering the mirror. Through its mouth, a staircase descended into the same nothingness as all the rest they had encountered.

The party gazed at it. The endless staircases into nothingness still unnerved them, and they decided to investigate the other side room first.

They spread out on entering and checked everywhere, but there really was nothing inside but the small side-table. On the table, an ornate silver hand mirror was lying face down. Morgaen was the first to pick it up.

A hideous face looked back at her.

“Excuse me!” the bard said and put the mirror face down again. She looked at the others.

“There’s a demon in this mirror,” she explained.

“Oooh – that’s interesting,” Ragnar said, and reached for it.

Morgaen, still irritated with the cleric, handed the mirror over without arguing. Let him be the first to take any risks associated with it.

Ragnar looked into the mirror, and the demon’s face stared back at him. He heard a voice in his head.

Another one! Who do you serve?

“Who do you serve?” Ragnar demanded.

I serve nobody – I am Bargamora!

“Well, I serve nobody either, I am here with my friends. The demon’s name is Bargamora, and he doesn’t serve anybody,” Ragnar related to the others, turning the mirror in their direction.

Greynen and Hazard waved. In response, they heard a guttural snarl in their minds.

Ragnar turned the mirror back and carried on with the conversation. Despite his irritation with their attitude, the demon was forthcoming with information – he was not exactly able to pick and choose who he spoke to. Bargamora had been imprisoned in the mirror by their elusive opponent, the Lord of Mirrors; he offered to give them a gift if they broke the mirror and released him, so that he could pursue his feud with their common enemy.

The party discussed this. Bargamora’s magic suggested he was an extremely powerful demon, so obviously there might be some risk involved in releasing him – but Hazard particularly felt that if one demon wanted to kill another, he had no problem with this. He took over the mirror from Ragnar and asked a few more questions, switching to Infernal to do so, which reminded the others that the architect-acolyte of Sune also had some unspecified experience with fiends which the rest of them did not share. Finally, he looked up.

“The gift would be a very powerful magic weapon – and he has given us his name,” he pointed out. “His true name – that shows desperation. He can’t easily harm us if we have that.”

Hazard spoke with authority, and the others were convinced. They stepped back. Ragnar took the mirror, and smashed it on the table.

There was a blur of magic as something unfolded. Bargamora’s hideous form appeared – larger than any of them, larger than Hazard when he invoked his rune-magic. He towered over them, panting and stretching.

“Free at last…” he growled – then reached out and picked up the shattered remnants of the mirror. In his hand, the silver lengthened, writhed and twisted, to become a long silver rod. The demon handed this to Ragnar.

“This wand will become a whip as a magic weapon, until its magic for the day runs out,” he said. “And you can use most of its magic all at once to hold a creature paralysed and let you do what you like to them – as was done to me before I was made prisoner… And if you find the Lord of Mirrors before I do, I hope you use it on him!”

He reached a hand out and ran a hideous claw in mid-air.

A gap in reality opened, and widened – a gateway into the Abyss. Through it, the party could see demons without number, swarming and fighting each other in a bleak landscape. Involuntarily, they each took a step back.

Bargamora gave a gruesome chuckle.

“Don’t worry – they won’t come through here!”

Then he launched himself through the rip in the air, massive wings unfurling and a roar erupting from his throat. Briefly, the party saw shock and consternation rippling across the assembled demons – then, even before Bargamora’s roar had ended, the gap twisted shut and was gone.

The silence was broken only by Ragnar’s happy humming as he examined their new magic weapon. However, after careful consideration of how much damage a whip could do, even a magic whip, compared to his warhammer Thunderbreaker, he handed it over to Greynen.

Gathering around the door into the next chamber, they listened carefully – but could hear nothing. Sir Gerigold eased the door open.

It opened onto a howling wind. It buffeted them – not hard, not badly enough to tear the door from the paladin’s grasp or force anyone back, but it was loud.

Strangely, some faint green fog could be seen, wisps of it blowing in the centre of the chamber.

Interested in this phenomenon, which was not at all how she thought fog should behave in a wind, Morgaen walked into the chamber. Checking the walls, she realised that they were full of tiny holes – opening onto somewhere else. The wind was coming through these, and they were creating the intense noise, much louder than the force of the wind alone would have caused.

She was in the centre of the chamber now, and it was difficult to hear – but even so, the bard sensed something, and the others saw her look round for a moment, a puzzled expression crossing her face.

Then her body jerked, convulsively, and her panic showed for just a brief moment before she was flung violently sideways and slammed, unconscious, to the ground.

Greynen’s eyes widened – he had seen the way she had moved, as if something had struck her. As Sir Gerigold rushed forwards, Greynen shouted an invocation, raising his hand. Something in the centre of the room was lit up, an outline of glowing green fire appearing where the invisible creature was standing over Morgaen. It did not seem to be humanoid.

The paladin invoked protective magic over Morgaen as he rushed forwards then dropped to one knee beside her, ignoring the threat from the creature. It had recoiled in shock and was twisting about violently, trying to get rid of Greynen’s faerie fire. He laid his hands on her and released a measure of healing magic. As the bard’s eyes opened, he yelled in her ear over the wind’s howl that she was warded, it should not be able to attack her so long as she did not attack it – get back!

The creature realised the glowing green flames were not harming it, gave up trying to shake them off and attacked again. Sir Gerigold managed to get to his feet just in time, the furious attack hitting him as Morgaen rolled clear. Ragnar attempted a spell, but it failed; Greynen was holding the Wand of Lashing they had just been given, and looking puzzled, as he had invoked its power of paralysis but the creature was still attacking, seemingly immune. Hazard was rushing forwards, growing larger as he did so, but he’d been on the far side of the other room and wasn’t close enough to attack yet.

The paladin flinched at the force of the attack – then managed to raise Verna, and struck back, seeing the outline of their opponent recoil as if surprised at the force of his attack. Behind him, he heard Morgaen yelling magic-laced insults over the wind and the creature flinched again – then Hazard also reached their enemy, striking it and then invoking rune-magic. Fiery shackles appeared from nowhere – and then disappeared again, as the creature somehow evaded their grasp. From Hazard’s face, he was cursing, although he could not be heard above the wind. As the glowing green light showed it gathering itself for another attack, and Sir Gerigold braced for the onslaught, Hazard pulled his holy symbol from around his neck, flipped it round and showed the creature the rune written on the other side.

It stopped – the green flames showed its head moving, to peer at the rune, and its body seemed to relax. No attack came.

Then Greynen hit it with a blast of power, and the wind seemed to howl louder for a moment. But only a moment. Sir Gerigold followed the spell with another mighty strike with Verna, and the green flames flickered convulsively, before dissipating into nothingness.

The party gathered themselves, then examined the room further. There was nothing except another of the staircases down into darkness.

Heading back through the mirrored hall, they gathered around the door that Bronner had vanished through. Sir Gerigold peered in – and noticed that the broken glass he had seen before was gone. The floor was again smooth and black, with no cracks or breakages to show it was actually a glass bridge over a dark void. He tested that there was something there by spilling a little water from his waterskin over it. Then, testing further, he smashed the glass next to the door, and closed the door.

When they opened the door again, the bridge had not reformed. Apparently it needed a little more time than that. They would not be able to count on any breakages caused by one person being repaired in good time, so they could easily get separated for a long period if they tried to cross one at a time. This did not appeal to the party.

Morgaen took a copper coin from her pouch, rubbed it between her fingers whispering an invocation until it shone with light, then flipped it into the centre of the room. In the light, it was clear that the glass ran smoothly from wall to wall.

But she was sure that something had moved, beneath the bridge, when she tossed the coin. She could see nothing now, so put her hand on Mindsplinter’s hilt and cast her sense out – no. There was nothing within ten feet of them, at least.

The room was at least fifty feet long, however, possibly sixty.

“I think there’s something under the glass,” she told the others. “I saw something move when I threw the coin.”

“The place where Bronner went through the floor was some distance from the entrance,” Sir Gerigold remembered. “The glass was cracked, but it did not break under his weight at first – the hole was about fifteen feet in.”

They discussed what to do next. It certainly seemed like a dangerous room, and that was a heavy-looking door at the other end. This could easily be the entrance to a prison. They needed to investigate.

Fastening together two ropes, they tied one end of the hundred-foot length to the nearest pillar in the Hall of Mirrors. Greynen tied the other end around his waist and prepared to run, taking the rope with him for his own safety and to let the others cross after him if he made it but the glass shattered in the process. Sir Gerigold, Hazard and Ragnar held onto the rope, ready to pull him back if necessary, and Morgaen stood out of their way, peering round the side of the door to watch Greynen’s progress and shout out to the others if he went through the glass, or cast any spells she could to help him.

Greynen took a run-up, and was moving fast as he leaped over the broken area by the door and landed on the glass further in. Fine cracks ran out every time either of his feet touched the glass, but the warlock was moving with big strides and keeping ahead of the cracks.

He was nearly to the door when Morgaen caught sight of movement just ahead of him, and shouted a warning.

“Watch out – it’s under the wall!”

Hazard dropped the rope and stepped to one side, peering round interestedly.

“Is he dead?” he asked.

An ugly brown arm punched through the glass from underneath, rapidly unfolding and extending, as one of the creatures they had fought before clung beneath the door that Greynen was heading for. Sir Gerigold, seeing the danger, started hauling on the rope to pull Greynen back.

“He’s being attacked, pull!” he yelled.

“What by?” Ragnar demanded, starting to haul on the rope with all his strength as well.

“Slime monsters!”

– but they were too late. The horrible hand had grabbed the warlock, dragging him down through the glass into the darkness below.

Greynen reflexively struggled against the creature’s grasp – but there was no need. As soon as he was through the glass, the creature let go.

Greynen looked down – into nothing.

The blackness went on forever, and he was falling.

The rope was still around his waist, but he did not wait to see if his friends could pull him back past a groping slime monster. He shouted a spell, calling on the power of Cyone, and silver mists wrapped around him as he fell.

The others saw silver mists gleam, and then Greynen appeared, looking pale and shaken, on an uncracked area of glass to one side of the door. Cracks started radiating around his feet again, and between him and the door was a gaping hole in the glass where the hand had come through.

The end of the rope was still tied around his waist, but a hanging end was cut, as clean as a knife. The rest of the rope dangled loose through the hole in the floor.

Hazard cursed and pulled a set of pitons from his pack. Hurriedly he started to put on climbing boots, telling the others that he would climb round for Greynen.

“Look, you missed him! Clumsy poltroon, can’t do the one thing you’re designed for!” Morgaen yelled at the slime monster, putting magic into her words again. The slime monster seemed to recoil slightly, shaking its head.

Sir Gerigold took a more direct route.

“JAVELIN!” he yelled in warning, and threw first one, then another, down the hall at the creature. Both missed – striking the glass squarely and opening the hole further. Ragnar, frantically hauling the rope in, shouted at the paladin, who muttered under his breath and made a spellcasting gesture. Light shone briefly around Greynen, warding him against further attacks.

But the creature did not care for the javelins, even if they had not hit – it scuttled away under the door, into the darkness, and was hopefully out of attack range.

Morgaen changed the magic in her words to praise and encouragement.

“Come on, Grey, you can manage a little hole like that! Mage-hand the door open and jump for it!”

Greynen gestured, clearly trying to follow her advice – but the door was too heavy and did not move. The cracks around his feet were still spreading outwards – then, next to him, another hand exploded through the glass.

There was another slime monster under the floor.

Greynen ducked to one side, just in time – the creature’s hand glanced off a glowing shield that appeared from nowhere. It howled at the touch of Sir Gerigold’s spell and yanked its hand back. But more glass was broken, and they all knew another attack would come.

The others could see the warlock gather himself on the treacherous glass – then he hurled himself at the far door. They knew it was further than he could usually manage, and so did Greynen, but staying in place was not an option. His boots slipped for a moment on the narrow stone ledge, but his shoulders had slammed hard into the door as he landed, and it opened just enough. One hand found the doorframe, one boot was in the narrow gap, then Greynen was pushing the door the rest of the way open. He had made it to the next room.

“Beautiful jump,” Hazard said, approvingly.

“We won’t tell him, though, will we?” Ragnar said, grinning with relief as he coiled in the end of the rope.

Greynen found himself in a round stone room. The walls were covered with carved words. Not sentences, but random words in different languages. Straight ahead of him was another of the staircases into nothingness. There were no other doors, apart from the one he had come in by.

Chiselling away on one of the walls was a crouching figure. It turned as Greynen came in, revealing a grinning, purple-skinned face.

Another demon?

There was a yellow cloth wrapped over the figure’s face, covering its eyes, but it appeared to be sniffing in Greynen’s direction. It made a wordless, interested noise, put down its chisel and started to get up, still sniffing over in Greynen’s direction.

The warlock stood very still.

Morgaen took careful aim and shot a crossbow bolt at the second slime monster. She missed, shattering more glass – but the creature still scuttled away.

“I meant to do that,” she announced. “I’ve cleared the way… if we tie something to the end of the rope, could one of you throw it as far as the door? Then Greynen could get hold of it and tie it to something there.”

Ragnar started rummaging in the Bag of Holding.

“No, not heavy enough… Hippogriff head, probably too heavy and I’m not throwing that…”

“I’ll climb over there,” Hazard announced – he had got the boots and his climbing gloves on. He stood and made for the door.

“Take the rope, take the rope!” Morgaen urged, seeing him about to leave without it. She held it out.

“Nah, I don’t need it – I’m good at this!” Hazard announced. Before Morgaen could argue that she meant, take the rope so the rest of us can use it to get over or Greynen can use it to get back, he had reached out, taken hold of the brick wall by his fingertips, and stepped out boldly, digging with the toes of his boots.

He found, too late, that the brick behaved very differently to the stone he was more used to climbing. His feet and hands scrabbled for a moment – then he dropped like a stone, disappearing into the darkness below to a despairing cry from Morgaen.

I told you to take the rope!

Ragnar turned and banged his head against the pillar.

In the stone room, as the purple demon sniffed, and sniffed, and came closer to him, Greynen cast a minor illusion – the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. The demon stopped and looked towards the stairs, hesitating for a moment – then looked back at Greynen and grinned.

It knew it was an illusion, and it knew who had cast it.

Greynen stepped to one side, carefully, trying to get some more space between him and the demon. It sniffed, trying to track where he had gone, but did not seem to become hostile.

As he sidled along the wall, words jumped out at Greynen in languages he knew, from among many he did not. Fire. Spiders. Loneliness. My own failure.

He heard Sir Gerigold shouting from the other side of the cracked and shattered glass room.

“Greynen? Grey! Are you alright?”

“Yeah…” Greynen shouted back, pausing as he did so. “We have company,” he added, “but he – she – it, doesn’t seem aggressive.” He started moving sideways along the wall again, as the demon tilted its head, pinpointing where the noise had come from, and started sniffing again.

On the far side of the glass floor, Ragnar was looking down at the hole where Hazard had vanished.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said formally. “We will never forget the time he spent with us. Right, what do we do next?”

Morgaen was looking carefully at the cracks and trying to calculate if the damaged glass would hold her light weight safely. She was not confident of this. Sir Gerigold joined her.

“I think anyone will go through the cracked glass now – speed getting over it is probably more important than weight. I had better be the one to run with the rope,” the paladin said, starting to tie the rope around his waist.

“I’ll give you all the magical help I can for it,” Morgaen agreed.

Hazard was falling – falling endlessly. He had tried to stifle a scream as he fell, not to let that be the last that was heard of him, but as the fall went on he started to hear screaming all around him, the terror of other lost souls waiting for death, and at some point he became aware that he was screaming, too.

He landed with a massive crash, staring up at a ceiling, and darkness came over him. After a while – he had no way of knowing how long – he was looking at the ceiling, awake again. He knew he was badly hurt. He could taste the coppery tang of blood in his mouth. After some time, he became aware that he was lying on something. Something soft. When he moved – painfully – he could smell more blood.

Turning his head to the side, he saw mirrors.

He was back in the first room they had entered – the atrium. There, next to him, was the door to the Hall of Mirrors.

He rolled onto his side. Painfully, he clambered to his feet, ignoring the screaming from his ribs.

He looked down onto the thing he had landed on.

It looked as if it had once been Bronner. But now its head was crushed. Hazard wondered, feeling detached, if that had been a result of the fall, or if Bronner had been lying here badly injured from his own fall, possibly unconscious or trying to get his breath back, when Hazard had come out of nowhere and landed on him. He wiped brains off his pauldron and opened the door to the Hall of Mirrors.

The others, getting ready for Sir Gerigold’s attempt to run across and join Greynen, heard a scratching noise and whirled round.

“Odin’s beard!” Ragnar exclaimed.

“Aahh! It’s Hazard!” Morgaen cried out, thinking she was seeing a ghost. But something didn’t seem right – she reached for her sense of the spirit world. “And he’s NOT a ghost!” she added, incredulously.

“I meant to do that,” Hazard announced, and tried to walk towards them. He flinched at the pain. “I found Bronner,” he added, trying to cover up his hesitation.

“Is he alive?” Morgaen asked, hopefully.

Hazard looked down at the blood on his armour.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” he said.

“Odin’s beard!” Ragnar repeated.

On the far side of the glass, the purple-skinned demon had pinned down where Greynen had got to, and was closing in on him, still sniffing. Just when Greynen was starting to reach for his power, it stopped. Reaching down, it pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill. Tilting its head, it looked in his direction for a moment, its grin turning to a considering frown – then it gave a satisfied-sounding sigh and started either writing or drawing on the paper, starting to smile. After a moment, it put the quill away and briskly rolled the parchment up, starting to grin again. Then it turned and headed towards the stairs.

Greynen had been rapidly calculating whether letting a demon do something that didn’t seem immediately dangerous was worth starting a fight with it. The problem was that he had no idea what it had done.

He reached for his magic and cast a paralysing spell. But the demon merely stiffened, tilted its head, remarked “Ah!”, grinned at him again and carried on walking towards the stairs.

Breaking into a run, Greynen dashed around the creature and got to the top of the stairs first. He stood at the top of the stairs, arms wide, blocking it from leaving. One foot slipped, just a little, near the edge of the dark depths surrounding the stairs – he felt dizzy for a moment, then shrugged it off.

The demon stopped – sniffed – and looked exasperated.

Back in the Hall of Mirrors, Morgaen had finished casting spells to help Sir Gerigold. Ragnar had been questioning Hazard on whether he had bothered to take Bronner’s ten gold pieces when he found his body and was exasperated to find that he had not done so.

Sir Gerigold took a run-up and jumped the first gap in the glass – to land squarely on the centre of the glass bridge, in exactly the same place where Greynen had landed.

Where the glass had already cracked under the warlock’s light weight.

It shattered instantly under the weight of the heavily armoured knight. He fell.

Unlike Hazard, the paladin was attached to the rope, and Ragnar was holding on as an anchor. But Sir Gerigold's weight dragged him as far as the door before he dug his heels in.

“Gerigold!” he yelled. “I’m slipping – if you fall, get Bronner’s gold!”

“I’m still here!” Sir Gerigold’s voice echoed back. “The rope’s holding!”

Hazard ran over and grabbed the rope behind Ragnar.

“We’re both holding the rope now!” he shouted down. “Climb up!”

The rope strained and shuddered as the paladin started to shin back up towards them.

The demon had tilted its head and was looking at Greynen, considering. He demanded to know what it had done with the parchment, but got no answer. The demon made a gargling noise of disapproval, then put two fingers to the side of its head.

Greynen felt an alien force start to invade his mind. He gathered his strength to resist, but somehow this attack slipped through his defences. A blinding light burst from his mind’s eye, the same light that had blinded him in the Hall of Mirrors, and he yelled aloud in protest. As it cleared, he saw only darkness. Somehow, the demon had reached into his mind and blinded him.

Then its hands were on him – he stiffened, prepared to resist, but the demon only stepped past. It was not interested in him, it was leaving with whatever it had written, or drawn, on the scroll.

Blindly, he reached for a weapon – and the cool metal of a still-unfamiliar form met his hand.

The others heard Greynen yell. Morgaen cast a spell to help Ragnar as he and Hazard started furiously hauling Sir Gerigold up, and called out.

“Grey! What is it?”

Only curses answered her. She threw down her pack, dug in it furiously and started putting her climber’s boots on.

Sir Gerigold was still climbing hand over hand, even as the rope rose with him. As he reached the top, he pushed off the wall and flung himself clear onto a different part of the glass bridge – a part with no white tracery of fine lines, this time. It started to crack under his weight – but he got his feet under him, and just as a piece of the glass broke, and fell, the knight was charging down the hall towards the far door, and Greynen’s voice. A grey-brown arm smashed through the glass beside him as another slime monster attacked, but he was moving too fast. It grasped thin air and disappeared – waiting for the next to try to cross an increasingly broken bridge.

Greynen could feel the magic in the wand Bargamora had given them, and he unleashed it. Then it was a whip in his hand – he lashed out, blindly, towards where the demon had passed him. He heard the whip cut flesh once, twice – but the demon only grunted, made a complaining noise, and kept walking. He crouched at the top of the stairs, rubbing his eyes and cursing, as the footsteps got further and further away.

At last, after seconds that lasted far too long, his eyes cleared and he looked down.

The demon was nearly thirty feet ahead of him down the stairs – but as it walked, the stairs were no longer going down into darkness. A doorway had materialised out of nowhere, silver lines of magic tracing its shape as it appeared from the shadows – then there was a stone arch, runes cut all around it, with the light of lamps or candles shining through it.

The demon stepped through.

Greynen got his feet under him and ran. He hurtled down the stairs, heedless of falling into the darkness on either side. Silver lines started to glow in the runes and outlining the shape of the arch, but as they shone brighter, Greynen was three steps above. He launched himself into the air, and through the door.

Sir Gerigold could feel the glass breaking under every step, but so far he was moving fast enough to keep ahead of the collapse. He put on a final burst of speed, reaching slightly less cracked glass just for the moment he needed to push off more strongly, launch himself across a ten-foot gap, and land in the room beyond.

There was no sign of Greynen – nothing but the room carved with words, an abandoned chisel by one wall, and another archway to stairs leading downwards.

Sir Gerigold still had rope to spare. He dashed across the room, and stared anxiously down the stairs.

Nothing. For a moment, it looked a bit different than before – were those fading lights? – but it might just have been a trick of his eyes after the sprint over the glass.

No Greynen.

Behind him, he heard breaking glass.

Hazard had still had his pitons on. He had reached for the bricks – more cautiously, this time – and, still eschewing the rope, started climbing round the walls. A slime monster’s arm smashed the glass next to him, but Ragnar was waiting. There was a sound like a distant horn blowing, and the ends of its hairs blackened. An even worse smell than usual wafted over him as the creature recoiled in shock.

There were very few areas of uncracked glass left, and it did not look possible to run straight over anymore – anyone trying would have to try to avoid cracks and broken areas, which would slow them down and risk the glass breaking under them.

Sir Gerigold was hauling the rope in, hand over hand.

“Climb along the rope,” he called to the others, tightening the rope and fastening it around his waist as he used his maul to brace himself in the doorway. “Verna and I can take the weight.”

Ragnar checked the knot tying the rope to the pillar one last time. Then, grasping the rope securely he eased himself off the doorstep, swung his legs up and started monkey-climbing upside down along the rope. The rope strained, but held firm. Morgaen had her climber’s kit on but took the further precaution of tying her own rope around her waist and looping it securely around the rope that Sir Gerigold was holding. Then she copied Hazard’s example and started climbing round the side of the room.

She made it a short distance before she found, as Hazard had before her, that the bricks were a very bad climbing surface. With a cry, she fell from the side of the room, smashing through the glass and dropping into nothing. Her safety rope went taut as her weight added to Ragnar’s on the central rope, and it swung convulsively. Sir Gerigold grunted and looked worriedly at the knot around his waist – but it was holding. Verna was keeping up a commentary of dwarven proverbs about steadfastness in his head.

Hazard, moving carefully, made it to the far side of the room and ducked under Sir Gerigold’s arm to get safely into the round stone chamber.

“Where’s the warlock?” he asked, looking around.

“Gone, somehow,” Sir Gerigold said tersely. “I think he must have gone down the stairs but I couldn’t see him anywhere when I got here. He’s still conscious, at least – the spell I set around him is still active.”

Hazard nodded and looked over at the stairs.

“I’ll be back if you shout,” he said, and headed towards them, picking up speed. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he was running. Sir Gerigold listened nervously for the sound of him slipping and falling – but the footsteps stayed even and regular as they retreated downwards.

Ragnar was scrambling rapidly along the rope, as a slime monster’s hand smashed through some of the remaining glass. It clutched for him – but the cleric had got as far as he needed to. He shouted an invocation, let go of the rope and punched the cracked glass beneath him with a fist. As it smashed, the silver mists gathered around him, and he reappeared just behind Sir Gerigold.

Morgaen had managed to climb hand over hand up her safety rope and reappear from beneath what was left of the floor. As she clung to the long central rope, trying to get her breath after the fall, yet another of the slime monsters grabbed at her. The bard yelped, flipped upside down to avoid it, and started scrambling along the rope as fast as she could. Now she was the last one left in the room. The others could see shapes moving under what was left of the floor, but Morgaen put on a surprising burst of speed, and Ragnar reached out to drag her in before anything else could attack.

Greynen landed on a carpeted floor, in a large room full of shelves. The glow of light intensified behind him, and then faded. He was standing in a library, twenty feet high, with shelves all the way up the walls – a balcony halfway up, reached by spiral staircases, allowed access to the higher shelves. On the ground floor were six desks. At two of them, purple-skinned and blindfolded demons identical to the one he had chased in here were working. Two more of the creatures were moving around the balcony, stopping at different shelves and putting away or taking out books and scrolls.

The demon he had attacked and chased here had stopped and looked over its shoulder as it heard the thump of his landing. It sniffed in his direction. Greynen tensed – but it grinned at him again, commented “Aah!” and then started walking towards the nearest spiral staircase.

The warlock darted a glance over his shoulder. The silver light around the archway was gone – it was now just ornately-carved stone. Through it, he could see a staircase.

Like all the other staircases they had seen in this place, the staircase now led downwards. Looking through, Greynen could see that again, it seemed to go on at least as far as he could see with his darkvision.

Somehow, he did not think he would easily find his way back to the room he had just left – or the others.

He looked around again. All five demons were ignoring him.

He sidled over to the nearest bookshelf – they were still ignoring him.

Keeping an eye on the demon he had followed, he checked out the titles of the books. Most appeared to be in collected works of several volumes. One shelf had Magics of the Nine Princes of Hell, the next along had Magics of the Great Wizards of Faerun… and there were several areas with scrolls piled up, but they had no obvious labels, other than a few strange and incomprehensible symbols on the shelf.

The demon walked up the spiral staircase to the balcony. Another came to meet it. There appeared to be some strange, wordless communication between them, then the demon from the stone chamber handed its colleague the scroll it had written in front of Greynen.

Greynen’s eyes narrowed.

He watched as the two demons parted – the one from the stone chamber walking back down the spiral stairs and heading for a desk, the other walking along the balcony until it came to a shelf full of scrolls. It consulted the symbols, nodded to itself, moved a small ladder on runners and climbed up, placing the scroll it was carrying with the others. Then it started walking further along the balcony.

Greynen walked swiftly up the stairs and along the balcony. He kept an eye on the demons, but they seemed to be ignoring him. He climbed up the ladder, inspected the scrolls until he was sure he had the correct one, then opened it.

Hazard had run to the top of the stairs and looked down. Through rune-magic, he could see twice as far in the dark as the half-elves – but for whatever reason, Greynen seemed to have moved fast down the stairs and gone further even than he could see.

He started running down the stairs, two at a time, rhythmically chanting “Shit, shit, shit, shit!” to himself and keeping his eyes out for a slender, white-haired figure ahead of him.

Twenty feet down, there was a shimmer in the darkness ten feet ahead of him – and a line of silver light arched over the stairs. A stone archway appeared.

Hazard skidded to a halt, grabbing for the sides of the arch and stopped himself just before he ran through it.

The wind inside the room was howling. It was a bare stone room, with slightly wispy green mist around the middle. A familiar room – the one where Morgaen had been attacked by the invisible creature.

There was no sign of Greynen.

Back in the stone chamber, Sir Gerigold was using Morgaen’s pitons to fasten the rope securely to the wall in case they needed to use it to cross the room again.

Morgaen and Ragnar were inspecting the carvings and reading out words to each other in different languages. Ragnar commented that they all sounded like things that people might be afraid of. Morgaen remembered a few of the stories she had learned about demons, and the heroes who had faced them – some liked to display prizes they had won from former opponents, to put fear into the next to try to face them. This room, displaying many fears in many different languages, might be a demon’s collection.

Hazard appeared back through the archway.

He did not have Greynen with him.

“Any sign of him?” Sir Gerigold asked, worriedly.

“No,” Hazard said, shortly. “And if you go down about thirty feet, a door appears. It opened onto that room where we fought the invisible thing, but the stairs were going down to that room, and when we were there, the stairs were going down from that room. I don’t like this.”

They all went to the top of the stairs and looked down. Sir Gerigold started walking down, to test this phenomenon. As he got to twenty feet down, the magical light appeared again, and another archway appeared.

“That one’s different,” Hazard commented.

“How can you tell from here?” Morgaen asked, trying to squint through.

“Different stonework.”

“It doesn’t look that different to me.”

Hazard looked disgusted. He did not dignify this with an answer.

Sir Gerigold looked through, then walked back up. He was looking thoughtful.

I got the room with the mirrors that showed us our reflections as children,” he told them. “Again, the stairs are going down to it now – they were certainly going down from it when we were there before!”

“That imp – he said the Lord of Mirrors was using the mirrors and stairways in this place to hide from him,” Morgaen remembered. “So maybe the stairways lead to a different place each time, unless you know some magic to take you where you want to go.”

“In that case, Greynen could be anywhere,” Sir Gerigold said, grimly.

“He could be anywhere,” Morgaen said hopefully. She walked back to the other door and shouted across the dark room towards the Hall of Mirrors.

“Grey! Are you there? We’re still here!”

There was no answer. No figure appeared at the far door.

Sir Gerigold walked down the stairs again. The silver light shimmered, and another archway appeared – this time into a room they had not seen before. They had seen all the rooms on the first floor they had entered, but this was different, a bare stone room with a thin, frameless silver mirror on the wall.

“I’ve found somewhere different!” he shouted back to the others. “It can take us to another part of this place, then we can look for Greynen and Yirina! I’m going in!”

Before any of the other three could argue, he had stepped through the door. The light started to glow brighter again.

The others charged down the stairs to the sound of Hazard swearing, and piled through the door together, just before the glow intensified and then faded. Once again, there was nothing but an endless stairway downwards…

This was part 16 B 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: Francesco Ungaro, Ivan Bertolazzi, Vladimir Konoplev, cottonbro, Misael Garcia, Anthony DeRosa, Julia Volk, Stephan Müller, Henry & Co., Yaroslav Shuraev, Artem Podrez, Francesco Ungaro, Evgeni Lazarev, Ivo Rainha, Adrien Olichon, Xi Xi.

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