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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.”

Making a silent prayer to the Morninglord that he should only take as much damage as he could stand, Sir Gerigold took a run-up and leapt into the cave.

Sacs dropped, and with a loud splashing noise the acid sprayed – but his leap had taken him out of the range of some, and he managed to twist aside from the worst spray of others. He continued his charge far enough down the next leg of the tunnel to leave space for his friends, then collapsed against the wall, attempting to stay stoic against the pain. He was burned all over and felt terrible. Ragnar, closest behind him, bumped into him before managing to stop himself, which did neither of their injuries any good.

The others had managed to get clear through the cave – Greynen and Morgaen, starting further back than the others, had been sprinting for their lives to get through before the sacs could drop again, neither of them being sure that they would survive the damage that had been done to their more formidable companions. As they hurtled out of the cave into the tunnel, Morgaen felt a disturbance in the air as something dropped and heard the splashing sound right behind her – but she had just avoided being caught in it. Looking back, she saw the acid fizzling in thick pools, which rapidly vanished into the earth – and craning her neck, she could see the acid sacs refilling again.

Ragnar had managed to recover enough to call on his god’s power and heal himself and Sir Gerigold. He was not sure that they would have managed to stand that amount of damage without the spell Morgaen had cast before they entered the tunnel. But even with the healing, both of them still felt badly injured and the pain of the burns was intense.

“We are not going to be able to go much further without recuperating properly,” Sir Gerigold told the others. “I think we should take a short rest.”

“I’m not sure this is really the place for it,” Hazard said, drily. “We should find somewhere a bit safer, first.”

The paladin nodded and looked ahead down the tunnel. Up ahead, it forked, with arms going to either side. Cautiously, he went up to the fork and examined the two routes. The one to the left twisted round and narrowed, and he could not see through it from here. To the right, the tunnel went gently downwards again for about twenty feet, before hitting a natural stone wall and splitting again.

Morgaen took out a piece of paper and her pen and started drawing a rough map of where they had been so far. It was looking as if there might be quite a network of tunnels down here.

Hazard muttered darkly about Tibalt perhaps getting ahead of them and setting this up. He was still convinced that the dwarf acolyte had sent them down into the crypts beneath the church of Saint Terragnis knowing what was down there. The others ignored him.

They were not at all sure where to go. Ragnar and Sir Gerigold examined the floor; but all they could see were large insectoid tracks. They warned everyone else that these were definitely ankheg tunnels.

Morgaen suggested imagining that they were tiefling mages and trying to think which route looked more interesting. Sir Gerigold decided that the odd twisting passage to the left looked more curiosity-inducing than the relatively open passage down to the right and squeezed his large form into the narrow gap.

“Ah,” his voice came back. “Yes – this is definitely the more interesting bit of these caves… I’ve found the meteorite again. Quite close – I can feel the heat of it from here. It’s very narrow at this opening, I can’t see the whole cave – I’m just going to watch this place with darkvision for a bit and see if I can see anything obviously dangerous.”

After a few minutes, he declared it apparently safe – no obvious monsters or sacs on the ceiling – but, most interestingly, the meteorite appeared to be spitting out the amber shards. New ones kept falling out of it to lie on the floor.

Ragnar looked interested and rubbed his hands.

“Shall we all have a look?” he suggested.

Sir Gerigold squeezed through the gap, into the larger cave he had been examining, and the others followed.

It was a much larger space than the small cave with the acid sacs. Like the tunnels, it was about thirty feet tall and seemed to have been made by burrowing, but the meteorite had pierced the roof and continued going further downwards.

Ragnar tilted his head back and examined the ceiling – very carefully. But it appeared to be bare earth.

As the rest of them watched the meteorite, another amber shard appeared from part of the way up the meteorite. It seemed to flow out of it, somehow, as if it was moving through water – then, once it was far enough out, it fell to the floor with a tinkle.

Sir Gerigold walked up and examined both the shard and the meteorite. Pressing his hand against it, the meteorite was warm, but very definitely solid. He picked up the amber shard and held it against the metal – no. Both were solid, and however hard he pressed, the amber shard did not seem inclined to flow back into the meteorite it had just, before his eyes, flowed out of.

Morgaen stepped away from the party, finding an area none of them had trodden on yet, and examined the floor. To her delight, besides the usual ankheg tracks she found the same humanoid boot tracks she had seen in the crater – and they seemed to be heading for the tunnel that she and her friends had just exited. She reported this to the others, lit a candle and went back to the fork in the tunnels. Carefully examining the tunnel heading away from the meteorite, where they had not been yet, she found more boot tracks.

Coming back to the meteorite cave to report this, she found that the party had spread out. Ragnar had found a small cave opening off from the larger one, where there seemed to be a deep pool of some dark liquid. She could hear Hazard and Greynen’s voices – they had found another, larger cavern, opening off from the meteorite cave, and were examining it with darkvision. There were stalactites on the ceiling – this cave seemed to be natural rather than made by ankheg burrowing – but there appeared to be two clutches of large eggs on the other side. Greynen was reminded of a thing called an ostrich egg he had seen once, said to belong to a tall flightless desert bird. Morgaen walked over and joined them, heading into the cavern with Hazard to go and look at the eggs.

Walking round to the other side of the meteorite, Sir Gerigold had found that the amber shards were piled all the way around it. Then he had come across the opening to a couple of narrow tunnels. Looking in, he noticed with some disgust that there seemed be some kind of sticky, webbing-like material coating the walls – then, with horror, that further down the passage were several shapes, bulging out from the walls but looking like bodies pinned against them by the webbing.

He called out his discovery to the others – then, looking carefully for any traps or threats, he also realised that one of the shapes appeared to be humanoid, and female. Definitely female. And was that a strand of long red hair escaping from under the webbing?

“There’s a lady imprisoned down this corridor – perhaps still alive – I’m going in!” the knight shouted to his comrades.

His answer was a yelp from Morgaen and a yell of challenge from Hazard, as a cacophony of high-pitched, insect-like shrieks broke out.

Over in the larger cavern, the stalactites had come alive and started crawling down the walls. Darkvision had betrayed them – they were not stalactites, but young ankhegs, crawling rapidly down the walls to surround the invaders of their home. All of them had several shards of amber sticking out of their carapaces.

Morgaen backed away from the young ankheg closest to her and Hazard – it bit out at her but missed, and she settled her mind, marked it as prey and shot at it, hitting a crack in the carapace for extra damage.

Lady or no lady, Sir Gerigold was not about to leave his friends fighting without him. He arrived at a run and took in the scene in an instant, heading past Morgaen into the cave.

“Try not to kill them if you can help it!” he exhorted the others. But more of the young ankhegs were crawling down the walls, surrounding him and Hazard. One bit at Hazard, but its teeth slipped off his armour.

“Sune protects me!” the acolyte-architect shouted exultantly.

Another had reared back and sprayed out a line of acid – over Sir Gerigold, Morgaen and the just-arrived Ragnar. Morgaen took the bolt of acid full in the face as she exclaimed “Not the guitar!” and tried to shield her precious instrument from the attack. Two more young ankhegs hurled themselves on Sir Gerigold and Hazard – this time, the bites went home.

Ragnar sized up the battlefield and placed his ringing noise creating an explosive force far enough back to hit the creatures, but not his comrades. The young ankhegs shook and chittered, but none dropped – not even when Hazard followed this up by summoning his whirl of magical blades, and then hacking down on one of them. It dropped dead to the ground.

Greynen, at the back of the group, made a rapid assessment of the worst danger and the best angles of attack, and selected a target – first cursing it, then hitting it with an eldritch blast. Sir Gerigold, seeing that ankheg recoil and momentarily show its vulnerable belly, pounded it with the maul.

Morgaen sent another crossbow bolt into her prey, glanced around and called out the words of healing, the magic bolstering the injured Sir Gerigold. Just in time – another ankheg spat acid in a line over Hazard and Sir Gerigold, burning both of them further, and the one Sir Gerigold had just pounded took its chance as he flinched from the acid to leap up at him, sink its teeth home into his shoulder and wrap its many legs around him, making it impossible for him to move without falling over. The paladin staggered, but managed to keep his feet, trying desperately to get his arms free enough of the creature’s embrace to attack.

More of the young ankhegs were still swarming around Hazard, even after Ragnar cursed one of them and sapped more of its life-force with a spell that sounded like a bell tolling for the dead. The fighter was in trouble and started to back away – but one of the young ankhegs found a gap in his armour, fastened its jaws into his leg and clung on to him and to the wall, making it impossible for him to get clear of the others. A second joined it, wrapping itself tightly around his other leg while biting down.

Greynen, still back next to the meteorite, lined up another punishing blast of power. But at the critical moment when the magic shone around his hands, and he raised them to aim, something hit his head, then bounced off. The warlock whirled, his blast of power going awry and hitting the ceiling – but there was nothing, only the meteorite. Looking down, he saw another of the amber shards. By some chance – but was it chance? – it had come out of the meteorite and fallen on his head at the critical moment.

Rapidly re-gathering his magical strength, Greynen took a judicious couple of steps away from the meteorite.

Sir Gerigold had managed to work his arms out of the ankheg’s grasp just enough. Whirling the maul, he managed to twist round and somehow bring it down on his attacker, flinging everything he had, magic as well as strength, into the blow. Silver light glowed around his maul, trailing behind it as it flew – then exploding outwards as the maul connected with the ankheg. It screamed, badly injured – then tried to sink its jaws into him again.

The ankhegs were sinking their teeth deeper into the immobilised Hazard. Morgaen carefully shot one of the creatures grappling him, and it jerked, struggling to hold on. Ragnar, seeing this, ran forwards, holding his hammer amulet in one meaty fist. He dropped to one knee next to the injured creature and punched the ground with that fist – then raising it and the amulet high, crying out words in his own language.

There was the sound of thunder, and the injured ankheg exploded. Another, nearby, was picked up and thrown back, as if a giant invisible hammer had struck it.

That left one ankheg still grappling Hazard. He cried out in one of his strange languages – not Infernal this time, but the Giant-tongue he used for his runecasting – and suddenly his body swelled again, growing in size. The ankheg struggled, and for a moment looked as if it was about to drop off – but it managed to resettle itself, still clinging hard to Hazard’s leg. Hazard tried to swing his sword at it, but it was too close – he couldn’t see it well enough to get a good strike in. Seeing this, Greynen darted round him, calling out one of the Sylvan invocations he had learned from his patron. As at the Valkyr Mausoleum, a strange green light shone around the creature. It twisted, trying to avoid the spell, but could not do so without releasing Hazard – so the radiance settled and became luminous green flames, dancing over its carapace, along its legs and up and down its antennae.

But the ankheg that had been thrown back by Ragnar’s thunderwave had picked itself up. Chittering angrily, it ran back at Hazard, going for the open wounds he already had and dragging them wider. Ragnar slashed at it with a dagger as it went past, but missed.

However, Hazard had now finally managed to pry off the ankheg that had been grappling him all this time, flinging it away from him. Sir Gerigold, making a whirling dance in one place as he tried to keep his feet while getting his maul lined up with the ankheg attacking him again, had finally got the angle right. His maul connected with the ankheg clinging to him again, sending its body exploding off his body – and off the ankheg’s jaw, which ripped away from the creature’s head, remaining firmly fastened in Sir Gerigold’s shoulder. Yelling from a mixture of pain and triumph, the paladin kept his momentum going, sending himself and the maul whirling across the cave to connect heavily with the ankheg still trying to cling on to Hazard. The heavy weapon ripped the creature from Hazard’s leg and sent it flying ten feet, to smack into the cavern wall. It slid down and remained still.

One last ankheg – the one Hazard had flung off – was still moving. It had uncoiled itself, and now tensed for another attack. But a final crossbow bolt from Morgaen hit home as the creature gathered itself. It froze for a moment, then collapsed.

Sir Gerigold leaned on his maul, panting heavily. His skin was blistered and burned with acid. He reached up and ripped the ankheg’s jaw from his shoulder, sending more rivulets of blood trailing down his skin.

“Now,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’m having a short rest before we go any further.”

“Er,” said Morgaen, reloading her crossbow, “weren’t you shouting about an imprisoned lady just before these attacked? Shall we go and see if she is still alive?”

The paladin jerked upright.

“Oh shit yes,” he said, and set off at once.

The party circled the meteorite – Greynen at a distance, looking up at it suspiciously – and followed Sir Gerigold down the webbing-draped corridor, Ragnar’s shield lighting the way for them.

Injured or not, Sir Gerigold was out in front – but he and Ragnar conscientiously stopped and ripped open the other shapes they came to before reaching the humanoid with the long red hair. The webbing was odd – it was not in strands like a spider’s. Instead, it seemed to have somehow congealed on the walls in long streaks.

The first was a doe – a female red deer. It was deeply unconscious, and they could see that several of the amber shards were stuck into its body deeply, even into its neck. They left it held upright to the wall. The second shape was an adult ankheg. It also had shards of amber stuck into its body – but it was dead. It seemed to have been dead for some time.

When Sir Gerigold started ripping the webbing away from the shapely female form at the end, he uncovered the face of a young half-elf. She had pale skin, red hair and freckles. He ripped away the webbing from one arm, wincing as he realised that he had just re-opened some injuries – bite-marks, apparently – and narrowing his eyes as he spotted a shard of amber sticking out of her upper arm. He felt anxiously for a pulse – and just as he found it, the half-elf’s eyes opened, first blearily, then flying wide as she took in the people in front of her.

“Oh, thank Saint Terragnis – please, help me!”

“That is what we are here for,” Sir Gerigold said, courteously. He ripped away the rest of the webbing and caught the woman as she half-fell out. “May I ask what happened to you?”

“The wolves – they attacked me, it was out of nowhere. I thought of them as my friends, but they just suddenly came out of the forest and drove me here, down here – they had yellow shards sticking out of them!”

“Yes, I see,” Sir Gerigold said, nodding. There were wolf-bites to the woman’s arms and legs, but there seemed to be only the one amber shard sticking in her. Without warning, the paladin grabbed the amber shard in her arm and yanked it out.

She recoiled, crying out with pain and shock – but the paladin clapped his other hand over the injury, apologising courteously while channelling healing power. He showed her the amber shard.

“The shards in the wolves, did they look something like this?”

She nodded, eyes wide and afraid.

Ragnar stepped in to ask the questions everyone else wanted to know, since Gerigold was so busy being polite. The woman was called Rosalina – she was from Tenbrim, but had not been back there in some time. She was training to be a ranger and had been spending time living off the forest. She had been a few miles further west when the meteorite hit and had come to find out what had caused the disturbance, but a local wolf-pack she had a wary friendship with had suddenly surrounded her and driven her to the crash site, before knocking her over and dragging her down a tunnel. Then the ankhegs had moved in, and somehow stuck her to the wall. She had felt a pain in her arm, but had not realised at the time that the amber shard had gone in. She had, however, started hearing voices in her head – telling her to surrender, and serve something called the Mindshard. She had tried to fight whatever it was in her mind, but the strain of this had caused her to start drifting in and out of consciousness. Now that Sir Gerigold had removed the amber, the voices had gone.

Ragnar asked if she had seen a blue tiefling – but she had seen nobody else in any of the times she had been conscious.

Morgaen had started checking out the webbing. On closer inspection, it seemed to be made of a mixture of acid and saliva, that had somehow reacted together and created the sticky, rubbery material. She told the others this, wiping her hand with distaste.

Checking around, the party found that there was a small cave at the end of the tunnel. A second short tunnel led back to the cave with the meteorite, but this one was not draped in webbing. It looked defensible, so they decided to camp there for a rest, to recover a little from the fight. First, however, Ragnar and Hazard investigated another tunnel, which seemed to branch out into a number of passages, a short way away – just to check that there were no further threats there. There were no threats, and no more webbing or trapped bodies either – but using the light of Ragnar’s shield to make a close inspection, a gleam of metal caught their eyes. Ragnar picked it up and eyed it happily.

“About fifty gold for workmanship like this, you think?” he asked Hazard.

“If it’s worth fighting a couple of mages for,” Hazard said, drily. “Look at the inscription, idiot.”

Ragnar did so, tracing the alphabet carefully – he could read it, but it was not the one he had grown up with, and took him a little more time.

“T, O, R, V – Torvain. Oh – it’s like the one Torvain was wearing which said Iskoval!”

They went back to the others and announced that Iskoval did seem to have been down here at some point in the last few days.

Sir Gerigold asked Rosalina if she knew the two mages, having been staying in the nearby woods, but she had not encountered them. He explained that they had to stay down in the caverns to look for Iskoval some more, and suggested that she stayed with them rather than heading up to the surface alone. The woman was still in a state of near-panic, and started talking about not spending another minute down here – she got to her feet, unsteady on her legs after the long imprisonment, and it seemed as if the suggestion to stay for longer would make her bolt off alone even before she had rested.

Sir Gerigold touched his shield, holding the Morninglord’s holy symbol, and whispered a prayer as he rose. He felt the god’s power rising in him, and took Rosalina’s arm. Smoothly, he started trying to calm her and persuade her to remain with the party, so that they could look after her, until they could take her to safety, feeling the exact right words coming to his mind. Not exactly the way he would have spoken – but some of the turns of phrase seemed to strike home with Rosalina far more than he would have expected, and he realised that the god was sending him ways to persuade her which either touched on past experiences or perhaps recalled family members or mentors, making her respond to his efforts to calm her down far more than he could have managed alone.

Rosalina sat back down.

“I’m out of my depth,” she said, “I know that now. I came out alone too early, I need more training before I’m ready to survive entirely by myself – I’ll stay with you.”

Sir Gerigold breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a short discussion about what to do with the deer. Sir Gerigold was in favour of removing the amber shards and letting it loose. Morgaen was far from convinced that being loose in these tunnels, or on the surface with an amber-possessed wolfpack around, would be kind to the creature. Ragnar was very convinced that he liked venison. The discussion ended with Ragnar doing a bit of butchery in a side passage; and finally, the party settled back for a short rest, to allow those who had been injured in the fight to heal.

This was Part 10 of 'Dirty Secrets & Nightmares', featuring Sam as Dungeon Master with a cast of Mark, Alex, Paul, Alexander and Imogen. Written by Imogen Solly.

Photographs sourced from Pexels unless otherwise stated. Many thanks to the artists for making these available. From the top, by: Roman Kirienko, Ankheg image (from WotC - Monster Manual), Kássia Melo, Lukas Kloeppel, Athena, Ignacio Molés, Ricardo Esquivel, Magda Ehlers, Dids, Vlad Cheţan, Eva Elijas, David Selbert.

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1 Comment

Paul Stebles
Paul Stebles
Feb 25, 2022

Another exciting adventure full of acid burns and fair maidens to rescue. Love the moment I forgot to rescue her, “oh sh*t”

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