A Tale of Nightmares Part 10 - Amber and Ankhegs

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 are trying to follow the trail of Greynen's sister Olaria, who may have been seen in New Solamnia a few weeks before. On the way, they have discovered a wide area is covered by a strange yellowish haze, caused by the impact of a meteorite. Creatures in the area have been strangely affected and become aggressive, and the party have saved a mage, Torvain, from attack by giant boars. His partner Iskoval has gone missing, so the party have agreed to investigate.

The yellow mist with its metallic glints was still hanging heavily in the air when the sun rose next morning. The party set off early, with Torvain sharing Sir Gerigold’s horse, aiming to cross the mists in an hour or so and leave the mage at his home while they searched for his partner Iskoval. Sir Gerigold asked if he was quite sure he would be safe there – the mage felt that he was, as he had not been attacked by anything until he was in the yellow mist, but added that he would make a note in his journal as soon as he got in to say that the magical item he was currently working on was the party’s reward for finding Iskoval. That way, if they helped his beloved to return but found him dead somehow, they would still get their reward.

Ragnar tried to draw him out on the nature of the magic item he was promising them, but the mage refused – it was not finished yet, and it was the nature of his method that the exact properties of an item might change before it was finalised. However, he felt that it would be useful for all of them.

They had been travelling for about half an hour, the lower halves of their faces wrapped to try to give some protection against the irritation caused by the yellow mist, when the land to one side of them started to open up. The mist stayed hanging in the air – but the land descended, revealing a forty-foot crater. In the centre of it stood a large chunk of something, a fifteen-foot spire of some strange material. Scattered all around it were more shards of amber. Off to the east was a line of smashed, broken and charred trees and other plants.

They were seeing the meteorite that had caused the yellow mist, and seemingly also the strange behaviour of the local animals.

Sir Gerigold and Morgaen dismounted and headed down into the crater to take a closer look at the meteorite. As they descended, they realised that they were by no means the first to come that way – the ground was thick with the tracks of animals, many types of animals including the marks of some strangely large insectoid creature. They seemed to range from recent to several days old.

“Is it attracting animals, do you think?” Sir Gerigold asked.

“Not only animals – look there!” Morgaen said, pointing just as Sir Gerigold noticed for himself.

There were also boot tracks in among the animal tracks – the marks of a medium-sized humanoid.

The two tried to follow the boot tracks, but they were soon lost in the layers of many animal tracks. They were getting far down in the crater, close to the meteorite, by this point and could see that the meteorite’s crater seemed to have intersected some kind of tunnel – dark, rough-edged openings loomed in the crater’s north and south sides. But they could not even tell which opening, if either, the boot tracks might have been heading towards.

“Iskoval’s tracks, do you think?” Morgaen asked. “Torvain said there were not many other people in this area.”

Sir Gerigold had walked over to the meteorite – this close, he could feel that something was radiating a gentle heat. The meteorite might have been made of iron, but he was not sure.

“Excuse me,” he said courteously to the bard, and spat on the object. It sizzled.

“Is it normal for it still to be hot four days after landing?” he wondered out loud.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Morgaen answered.

They stood, contemplating the meteorite.

This turned out to be a mistake.

About twenty seconds after Sir Gerigold had spat on the meteorite, a pair of giant insects burst out of the ground at the northern end of the crater.

Their comrades, on the rim of the crater, shouted a warning.

“Watch out! What in Hel are those?” Ragnar shouted, pointing.

“Ankhegs!” Hazard yelled.

And they were starting to scuttle down the side of the crater towards Sir Gerigold and Morgaen.

Morgaen encouraged her companion, again putting magical strength into the words, and ran for the left-hand creature. As it started to charge down the crater towards her, she unleashed a magical wave of force which pushed it back and upwards. It rolled and came to its feet, outside the crater.

Greynen, from the rim of the crater, cursed the ankheg to the right and sent magic blasting into it as Sir Gerigold charged it. Torvain, also, cast a spell at the creature, hurling a mote of fire. The creature recoiled, severely injured by the magic – and Sir Gerigold smacked it over the head, knocking it out.

He had seen shards of amber sticking out of the creature.

“They are affected by the shards, as the boars were!” he shouted to his companions. “Try not to kill the creature if you can help it! We should remove the shards and see if this frees them!”

Hazard had leapt from his horse and was running along the side of the crater, heading towards Morgaen and the first ankheg; Ragnar instead clapped his legs to his horse’s sides.

“Onwards, Jerry!” he whooped, sending the animal bolting around the rim of the crater – a longer distance, but he would get there faster on horseback.

The first ankheg hissed and mantled at the rim of the crater – then spat a stream of acid in the air, falling over Morgaen and Hazard. They both leapt aside from the main jet of acid at the last moment but drops still burned them.

Morgaen ran up the side of the crater towards the ankheg again, strumming the chord that gathered coloured light in her hand and cast it at the creature’s beady eyes. It jumped back, screeching in surprise as it was blinded.

“Better get over here with that maul to knock it out if you don't want it dead!” she shouted over at Sir Gerigold. “I don’t think Hazard’s greatsword will do that!”

Greynen switched focus to the ankheg being charged by Morgaen, Hazard and Ragnar, and unleashed another blast of magic. It could not see to dodge – the attack hit it squarely. Ragnar arrived at a gallop, charging in and hitting it with his warhammer, but it regained its feet after stumbling and made a rapid, violent clicking noise.

Torvain, back on the rim of the crater, had nervously taken the reins of the others’ abandoned horses.

“Er… you’re alright without me?” he asked Greynen, the only one close enough to hear him. “Fighting isn’t really my thing…”

Sir Gerigold knew he might have little time before the ankheg he had knocked unconscious recovered. He inspected the shards of amber carefully, but he could not work out how to remove them without killing the creature – they had pierced it deeply.

The first ankheg had suddenly gone still. It tapped a foot on the ground, then looked straight at Ragnar only five feet away on the horse. Somehow, despite its blindness, it knew where he was. Then it leapt at him. The horse screamed and bolted – Ragnar fell from the saddle, the ankheg’s jaws fastening in his shoulder as they both crashed to the ground, and it pinned him down with its weight.

Then it shrieked again, recoiling with a convulsive leap as lightning leapt at it from Ragnar’s hammer-amulet – and crashed to the ground, lying still.

The cleric rolled to one side and looked at his fallen foe.

“Shocking... isn’t it?” he observed, panting. Then he looked up at the others. “Gerigold… wanted us not to kill them, right? To try to take the amber out? S’not dead. Just enough of a shock – to put it down.” He lay down again and breathed heavily.

Morgaen knelt next to the creature. Inspecting the shards, she managed to tease them out of the ankheg using her dagger, without causing too much damage.

Sir Gerigold was having more trouble with the other one. Ragnar, who knew something about medicine, went to help him with it once he had recovered his breath and managed to extract the amber shards without causing potentially fatal injuries to this ankheg either. That left them with two unconscious but stable ankhegs. Sir Gerigold explained that as he did not think the monsters would have attacked them unless the shards made them do it, he was obliged by his oath to try his best to spare their lives. The others had no issue with this; Ragnar adding that the ankhegs did not look edible, so there was really no point in killing them if they didn’t have to.

Sir Gerigold carefully laid his hands on one of the ankhegs and released a small amount of healing power into its body – then stepped back, hurriedly. The creature picked itself up, looking dazed. It looked about it, seeing its recent attackers, then started backing away up the side of the crater again. Sir Gerigold went to the second ankheg and gave that one a small measure of healing power as well. It joined its companion, both of them backing up to the north side of the crater – then they turned, and burrowed into the ground.

“There,” Sir Gerigold said, pleased with himself. “We do not always require force.”

Morgaen and Hazard looked at him strangely.

“Yes we did,” Morgaen pointed out. “We had to knock them out to get the shards out of them. Which does prove that it is the shards affecting the creatures around here,” she added.

Ragnar had gone to collect Jerry, soothing the frightened horse and leading him back to the crater. He realised as he walked back that there were shards of amber scattered everywhere – around the crater, but more thickly within it. Leaving the horse with Torvain, he headed into the crater to join his friends again, picking up any particularly nice-looking shards as he went.

“What are you doing?” the paladin demanded, seeing Ragnar with a bunch of amber shards under his arm.

“Well, the weird insects didn’t have any money, but these look valuable,” the cleric said, matter of fact.

“You realise they were controlling monsters to attack us and are probably cursed?”

“Mmmm… I’ll do a divination on them,” Ragnar said, and sat down to do this while the others rested for a few minutes after the fight. After he had conducted the ritual, he sat up excitedly.

“Hey, these things are great! They’re not strongly magic, but there is magic around them – it seems to be nearly every school! Enchantment, illusion, evocation, all the rest, all mixed together!”

“Leave them!” Sir Gerigold advised.

Ragnar looked hurt.

“But they’re probably very valuable!” he objected. Picking up his haul, he carefully stored the amber shards in his horse’s saddlebags.

The party discussed whether the strange magical aura around the shards, coming from the meteorite, made it more likely that this was something to do with the Dark Lord – who was probably Raistlin Majere, the knight whose story they were seeing and who Torvain had heard of as a powerful mage who battled a god. On the whole it seemed more likely that if there was so much magic attached to this thing, there might be some connection to him – or to whoever the Dark Lord was.

The party also discussed whether to investigate the tunnels right away, since they had found boot tracks that might be Iskoval’s. However, it was not clear how old the tracks were, and the mage had been missing for several days. They decided that an few more hours were unlikely to matter and rode on, heading for Torvain’s house. It was about half an hour away, on the horses, and they would be able to rest and eat there and recover some strength after the fight – outside the yellow mist which was starting to seriously irritate their throats. Greynen, particularly, did not care to head down a tunnel straight away without enough time to recover the magical strength he had expended against the ankhegs.

The mist cleared away as they rode up a gentle hill, coming to the mages’ hut. It was a small, neat stone structure, with brightly painted shutters and a well-kept garden, separated from the surrounding forest by a tall metal fence. Behind the hut were various outbuildings. Torvain vanished inside, promising them a meal before they went back to look for Iskoval, and that once they were gone he would continue work on the magical item he would give them if they found his partner. Pressed for details on the magical item, he would not say – he explained that he was working at the moment with dimensions and portals, but he could not be sure exactly what he would end up with due to the experimental nature of his work. However, he had a vague idea of the properties that the object he ended up with was likely to have, and he was sure that they would find the result of his experiments useful.

After their meal, and healing as much as a short rest allowed, the party walked back towards the crater site. They left the horses with Torvain – Morgaen also decided to leave some of her costumes in her saddlebags, and to bring some climbing equipment that she had bought in Tenbrim instead.

At the crater, Morgaen and Greynen eyed the northern tunnel – near where the two ankhegs had burrowed into the ground – and proposed that they should explore the southern tunnel first. It was now a couple of hours since they had been here, so the ankhegs might also have recovered a bit and it would not necessarily be seen as friendly to follow them, even if they were now free of being possessed.

Morgaen examined the southern tunnel. It was only about five feet wide, but rather taller, nearly thirty feet, and the sides looked as if it had been made by burrowing. It went downwards for a short way, then curved round – she could not see very far. Casting her light spell on Ragnar’s shield, she also strummed her guitar and cast a spell of toughness and resolve on Sir Gerigold, Hazard and Ragnar. With the light blazing from his shield, Ragnar headed down the tunnel first, the others behind him.

As they passed the bend, the tunnel continued downwards, and an odd moisture began to gather on the walls. Soon, they were positively damp, but there did not seem to be anything else odd about them despite none of the party having come across anything similar before.

Suddenly, the tunnel widened. Ragnar gestured to the others to wait, then walked out into the small cave, shining the light around it. On the opposite side, he could see the tunnel continue – but there seemed at first to be no reason for this open space.

That was when a large, purplish-red sac dropped to the floor next to him and exploded, showering the cleric in acid. He jumped back and cursed – only to find more sacs dropping, all around him, all of them also showering him in acid.

Ragnar cursed and looked up. On the ceiling, the only place he had not looked before stepping out into the cave, was a large, bulbous sac, seemingly filled with some type of liquid. Around it, covering half the ceiling, were many other, smaller sacs, which seemed to be attached to the large one by a web of tendrils. They were flaccid at first – but as he watched, six or seven of them bulged, rapidly filling with something. It only took seconds for them to become large, hanging somehow attached to the large sac. He reported this to the others.

“Ragnar, get back here now!” Sir Gerigold shouted – but it was too late. The sacs were dropping again, and more acid splashed up around the cleric, who roared in pain.

He could still hear Sir Gerigold calling out, and, one arm thrown about his face, managed to scramble in that direction. The paladin hauled him into the tunnel with the others. He was covered in acid burns, badly injured. Sitting against the wall, panting, he reached for his god’s power, but found that he did not yet have the focus necessary to channel the healing power. The acid burns felt horrific.

Sir Gerigold squeezed past the cleric, taking the glowing shield for a moment, and looked cautiously into the cave. There were scraps of membrane littering the floor, and small patches of acid fizzling away into nothingness. Marks on the walls and floor suggested that this was not for the first time.

On the ceiling, more of the tiny sacs were filling, bulging, and starting to hang precariously. It seemed that any footstep in the main cave would set them off.

Sir Gerigold hefted a javelin and despite the difficult angle, managed to fling it at the largest sac which seemed to be refilling the others. He had made a good cast – the sac was ripped apart, and deflated, acid spraying everywhere and falling in a fine mist over the cave. Sir Gerigold jumped back from it and managed to avoid injury. After a moment, he looked out again.

The sac had somehow knit itself together, despite the damage caused by the javelin, and was refilling again. After about six seconds, it was as full as ever and ready to once again refill any of the smaller sacs that were triggered.

The party discussed what to do for a few minutes – but there seemed to be only one realistic plan, and that was to make a run for it. The first of them through the cave would trigger the sacs to fall, and everyone else would run through as quickly as possible, hoping to make it before the acid sacs could refill and drop again. Sir Gerigold and Hazard were the strongest of the party – and Sir Gerigold was already at the front. He was a little pale, but resolute.

“Make your moves as soon as they have broken, then,” he said. “And back up a little, first – I’m going to try a running jump. If I land further into the cave before I trigger them, I might escape some of the spray from the ones closer to us.”