A Tale of Nightmares Part 11 - The Mindshard

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 searching a strange network of tunnels beneath the impact site of a great meteorite that fell from the sky a few days ago. Animals in the area have started behaving strangely, with shards of a substance that appears to be amber sticking out of them – and the amber shards appear to be being produced by the meteorite. Someone has also gone missing, a blue tiefling mage called Iskoval, whom the party have been searching for, although so far they have found and rescued another prisoner- Rosalina – instead. During her imprisonment, she had been hearing voices telling her to surrender to something called the Mindshard…

Morgaen spent an hour or so as they rested playing her guitar, weaving a magic that helped the others to recover more completely. Once she had completed the enchantment, she felt rejuvenated herself, and a little restless. She got up to stretch her legs and went back to the ankheg cave to examine the eggs – she had been going to have a look at them when the clutch of young ankhegs attacked and remembered that she had not done so yet.

There were two clutches of eggs, both nestling in depressions in the ground with the large white eggs surrounded by a kind of gel. Morgaen stuck her hands in to examine them – unlike all the hatched ankhegs they had seen so far, there were no amber shards in the eggs. They did not appear quite hardened yet – Morgaen calculated that even the slightly older clutch was some time from hatching.

Getting up and wiping her hands, she turned round and froze.

A large adult ankheg was standing at the entrance to the cavern, watching her.

Morgaen grabbed her guitar – but as she hefted it, the ankheg turned around, and rather than attacking her walked into the meteorite. As it made contact with the surface, the meteorite seemed to ripple and change density for a moment, appearing liquid as the creature walked in – then it hardened again.

Morgaen walked back to the cave where the others were, and told them – incredulity in her own voice – what she had seen. Rested and ready to continue their investigations, the party came out into the main meteorite cavern. Sir Gerigold touched the meteorite again – again, it was solid. He picked up a piece of amber and this time did not attempt to push it into the meteorite, as he had before – he attempted to walk into the meteorite instead. This, and his subsequent efforts to press the shards into the meteorite at different angles, all failed. To all appearances, the meteorite still appeared solid. But at intervals, it continued dropping out more amber shards, which again flowed out as if the meteorite were liquid.

Rosalina, backing off from this strangeness, spotted another tunnel. She pointed it out, and said she was sure that she had come down that way – she seemed strongly inclined again to leave the caverns at once. Sir Gerigold stopped investigating the meteorite to again persuade her to stay with them.

Ragnar had drifted back to the small cave with a pool of green acid that he had originally spotted when they first entered the cavern.

“Hey,” his voice drifted back, “there are things at the bottom of this pool of acid! A glass bottle and a glass box!”

The others followed him into the side cavern, and peered down. It was difficult to see through the green liquid – especially since getting close was difficult with the fumes – but there certainly seemed to be something down there.

“It looks,” Ragnar said, squinting, “as if the box has another of those brass disks…”

At this, all thoughts of going to look at once for Iskoval vanished from the party’s minds. The strange brass disks which seemed to appear everywhere they went were giving them visions of the story of a knight, who might be the Dark Lord they had been warned to stop when they received the strange curse-tattoos on their wrists.

Greynen attempted to fish the glass box out at once with his mage hand cantrip – but after a few attempts, he reported that the weight of the acid on top of the box was making it too much for his mage hand to move. Morgaen attempted to plait some kind of rope out of the webbing on the walls, to be able to fish the things out, and even contacted spirits for guidance, but gave up muttering about bakers with no idea how to plait anything but bread.

Sir Gerigold, who had examined the slope in the floor of the caverns, got very excited about the idea of digging a channel to drain off the acid and use it to melt the meteorite – but had to admit, when this was pointed out to him, that this would be very much harder when nobody had a shovel. He asked, a little hopelessly, about the possibility of glass bottles. Ragnar delightedly produced a bottle of the fine wine he had 'salvaged' from Moldavia Manor, and chugged it, before filling it with acid and pouring the acid over the meteorite. They watched expectantly, but the acid seemed to have no effect. And if that was the case, spending all that time emptying the pool bottle by bottle would just be opening them to being attacked by something under the strange meteorite's control.

It looked increasingly as if someone might have to dive down into the pool to recover the box and vial. Greynen was up for having a go at this and had in fact already stripped off. Morgaen suggested that he at least cover himself in the webbing, which being made out of acid might give him some resistance, but then Hazard – who had been looking bored of the discussion – pointed out that he could just use his catapult spell to get at least one of the things out of the acid.

There was a slightly embarrassed silence, and then a few of the party spread out along one side of the pool of acid. After a quick discussion, they decided to at least get the brass disk out, since the glass vial looked as if it might break if Hazard catapulted it. When Hazard invoked the spell, the glass box flew out and smashed on the cavern’s wall, the brass disk falling to the floor. Sir Gerigold kicked poured water over it to neutralise the acid.

Greynen was just saying he’d better go and get dressed again, when Ragnar impatiently grabbed the disk from the floor.

Again, the vision unfolded before all of their eyes.

After the appropriate six-month mourning period following his wife’s death, the knight was married to the elf maiden Isolde – who appeared visibly pregnant to the few guests who attended the ceremony.

One month later, he was summoned to the city of Palanthas by the High Justice, where a panel of knights of his order charged and found him guilty of the murder of his first wife, thanks to the testimony of his healer, Istvan. Sentenced to death, he was rescued from public beheading by a group of his knights and fled to his great stronghold Dargaard Keep. Not wanting to attack the fortress, his order banished the knight to Knighthund.

Confined to his realm, sentenced to death at the hands of the Knights if captured outside of his lands, the knight fell into a deep depression. Concerned about her husband's welfare, Isolde prayed to Mishakal (goddess of healing) to save her husband. The goddess charged her to tell her husband that there was a chance for his redemption, for the gods had need of his service. He should travel to Istar, to prevent the Kingpriest there from calling down the gods' wrath in the form of the fiery mountain that would bring about the Cataclysm and destroy their world. Furthermore, if he was killed in the attempt to stop the Kingpriest, Mishakal and Paladine (god of the divine power of majesty and of leadership, and patron of souls striving for both greatness and for redemption) would raise him from the dead to allow him to succeed in his quest, and although he would be killed in the attempt, he could die peacefully, with full honour.

The party blinked or shook their heads as the vision cleared. Several of them looked over with interest at Rosalina – but she had not shared the vision with them, and was only confused and a little scared at how they had all seemed to look into the distance at something else for a moment. Ragnar asked her if she had heard of Paladine or Mishakal, but she was as baffled as they were.

“I believe I have an idea of which of our deities Paladine might be a name for,” Sir Gerigold said, slowly. “Torvain told us of a deity called Takisis, and I thought that name was connected to Tiamat… the name Paladine makes me think of Bahamut, the good dragon god. He has the same domains as this Paladine.”

“I think so, also,” Morgaen said. “One of my tutors at college was a dragonborn who followed Bahamut, and I think she may have mentioned that name at some point… I can’t be sure, but I think so.”

They walked back out into the main meteorite cavern, Ragnar pocketing that disk along with the others.

Morgaen pointed to the narrow crack they had come in by.

“I found tracks heading down that way – and it’s the last place we haven’t looked, now,” she said. “Iskoval has certainly been down here, so this way next?”

“There’s one more thing I want to try with this meteorite before we move on,” Greynen said. He walked over, picked up one of the shards of amber – and stuck it into a thick part of his leg. He winced and grit his teeth, but it was sharp enough to go in without great force, so didn’t do too much damage.

“Are you entirely sure that’s a good idea?” Sir Gerigold asked dubiously.

“Not hearing any voices so far,” the warlock reported. Walking up to the meteorite, he stuck his hand out.

His hand stuck into the meteorite as if he was sinking it into thick liquid. Eyes bright with discovery, the warlock looked round and grinned at the others – then stuck his head into the meteorite.

He backed out again a moment later. His head and hand were wet.

“It’s a bit murky in there,” he reported, “but there’s this sort of dirt path inside – going up and going down.”

After a moment’s discussion, the party decided that searching for Iskoval where Morgaen had found the tracks was more immediately important, and they would leave investigating the strange meteorite until they had checked everywhere else. Ragnar carefully removed the amber shard from Greynen’s leg, the warlock finally put his clothes back on, and then they headed off down the tunnel they had come in by.

Morgaen took the lead down the narrow tunnel, checking for any more sign of the booted footprints she had seen – but not everywhere had the kind of ground to show footprints. The tunnel became rockier again, leading up to a narrow crossroad at a blank stone wall. To one side, the tunnel wound around a corner and then dwindled into a mere fissure in the rock.

To the other, it opened up into a winding cavern, roughly divided by a tall angular stone down the middle. The party split into two groups, and headed cautiously down towards the end of the cavern. The light from Ragnar’s shield showed that the two halves of the cavern came together again – in a wider space which should have been open, but which was filled with a pile of rough, scaly skin.

Ragnar knelt to investigate them, as a few of the others held back.

“Ankheg husks, I think – I guess they cast their skins like snakes,” he said, sticking his hand into the pile and shifting a few around.

As the skins rustled, they seemed to do so further back, as well. Ragnar and the others tensed, pausing for a moment. So they all heard it – a disembodied, soft voice, frantically urging “Get out of my head, get out!”

“I hear someone skulking!” Ragnar exclaimed, and waded into the ankheg skins, shoving them aside. “Where are you?”

The skins rustled again – then over to the left, several jumped aside at once as something they couldn’t see started moving, fast. Something cold brushed past Hazard and Morgaen – Hazard swung his greatsword at the possible attacker, but missed. Morgaen grabbed instinctively at the invisible figure as it brushed past her, but it wrenched itself free. However, the delay for just a moment had allowed Sir Gerigold, on the other side of the cavern, to put on a burst of speed and get back to the tunnel. He was standing in the entrance to the cave now, arms wide and braced against the sides. Nothing was getting past him.

“Whoever you are, we’re here to help!” he called out.

Hazard was swearing in Infernal again, standing ready with his greatsword and not looking particularly helpful, with Ragnar and Greynen also braced for another fight behind him.

“Iskoval, we’ve found your ring!” Morgaen called out – taking a guess on who they had encountered. “Torvain sent us!”

There was a pause.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” the disembodied voice asked, sounding hesitant and confused. Everyone relaxed a little. But not much – this was a mage potentially possessed by the amber shards in the same way as the boars, wolves and ankhegs.

“We know Torvain’s name, don’t we? And we know it’s your ring because it’s just like the one he had with your name on,” Morgaen said, turning on all her persuasive talents. “He’s worried you haven’t come back, and we had just come from Tenbrim and hadn’t met you – we all thought you might be down here. We came to find you.”

There was a ripple in the air, and a blue tiefling appeared. It was Iskoval --- he had bright blue skin and, as Torvain had mentioned, very white teeth. Torvain had not mentioned that they were sharp white teeth – Iskoval would have looked far more intimidating than he had been described, if he had not also had an amber shard driven deeply into his neck. His eyes were wide and he looked more than a little disoriented.

Hazard pulled out the ring he and Ragnar had found, and flipped it to Iskoval. The tiefling checked it, and put it on again, with a sigh of relief. Then he looked at them warily again.

“There’s something down here – something to do with that meteorite,” he said, anxiously. “I keep hearing this voice – in my head –”

“Yes, it’s something to do with the amber shards,” Morgaen said, as soothingly as she could. “Probably a good idea not to just yank that one out, though” – she added, quickly “—not where it’s gone in… Let me have a look? Right… Ragnar, I’m going to need help. Even better, you take the lead and I’ll help…”

The shard was very deep, and dangerously close to the tiefling’s jugular vein, but Ragnar and Morgaen had enough experience removing the shards by now to somehow manage it without causing further damage to the injured mage.

Iskoval held very, very still as the shard finally slid out – then let out a sigh of relief.

“The voice is gone,” he said, leaning back against the wall of the cavern. “The Mindshard – whatever it is.”

Sir Gerigold introduced Rosalina, and explained her experience.

“It was a bit different, for me,” Iskoval said. “I was outside when the meteorite came down – the shards, they flew everywhere in the cloud from the impact. I blocked a few of them, but that one got through. Then I couldn’t keep away from here – the voice made me come down into the caves. It – it seemed to want me to go into the meteorite – but I managed to hold off from that. This was the furthest away from it I could get down here – but I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t make myself go back to the surface – it was wearing me down, I could feel it.”

“What does it want?” Greynen asked.

Iskoval shook his head – confused.

“It wants to bring everything together – it wants to dominate everything. I could feel it waiting, it didn’t mind waiting for me to give in – it thinks it can somehow bring everything here and dominate this entire world, given time.” He looked around, nervously. “I… think it might be a good idea for us to leave now… in case whatever it is knows that the shard is out…”

They set out – going through the meteorite cavern again, very carefully, in order to leave by the northern tunnel. This tunnel turned out not to have exploding acid sacs. Sir Gerigold glared at Greynen and Morgaen, who had argued for entering through the southern passage to be further away from where they had seen ankhegs, but the warlock ignored this and the bard argued that logically, based on the available information, it had still been the best decision at the time.

They were unhindered leaving the tunnels, and did not see the wolf pack on their way through the woods towards Torvain and Iskoval’s cabin. But once they were out of the haze again, they all felt better, and not only because of the relief from the persistent slight acrid taste of the haze.

Torvain, taking a break from whatever he was doing, saw them coming and rushed over to welcome his partner. He thanked the party for finding Iskoval, Sir Gerigold telling him that there was some great evil in that place – something from another realm. The mages invited all of them to stay the night again, although Torvain apologised that the experimental item he had promised them was not yet finished.

Ragnar tried to be a good guest by giving the mages the meat he had taken from the deer, and they all ate venison stew that night – although he did also get chased out of the workshop by Torvain when he blundered in offering to ‘help’ so the item would be finished faster.

The party had to decide what to do next – and they slept on it, but the next day Sir Gerigold was still firmly in favour of confronting whatever evil the Mindshard in the tunnels was. The others felt that since one of the disks had been there, the Mindshard might be somehow significant to their being in New Solamnia. Morgaen had now cast a divination on them and identified them as ‘Discs of Fate’, telling the story of a certain individual they had been aligned to, but was unable to tell how many more there might be telling the story of the knight. The Black Book she had found in Tenbrim – the Chronicles of Raistlin Majere – was now also showing the vision of the knight’s second marriage, trial, escape, banishment and divine mission. This latest vision, suggesting a cataclysm of fire from the sky needed to be averted, certainly seemed to be linked to the story they had heard in Tenbrim of how New Solamnia arose after Old Solamnia was destroyed by fire from the heavens; and the meteorite might be some harbinger of a similar cataclysm, somehow tied to the Dark Lord – probably the knight, who was apparently called Raistlin Majere – which the party might perhaps have been brought here to prevent.

The decision was to go back, despite the danger, and investigate the meteorite itself and the strange way in which the shards of amber allowed creatures to enter it.

Rosalina and Iskoval joined them. Rosalina told them that she would be going back to Tenbrim to continue training in the safer woods around her home before setting out further again. Sir Gerigold asked if she was sure that she would be safe on the road – thinking of the great bat-like creature they had killed by the cornfield – but Iskoval said that since he still had to make his supply run to Tenbrim, and Torvain didn’t intend letting him out of his sight again for a while, they would all three travel together, when they left in a few days.

He hesitated.