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A Tale of Nightmares Part 14 - Death in the Family

Updated: Jan 22, 2022

Dirty Secrets and Nightmares is a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD 5e) game set in a Ravenloft Domain of Dread, New Solamnia. Play takes place every Friday night at Dragons Keep Roleplay Club in Chislehurst, South East London. The Dungeon Master is Sam.

Five people previously unknown to each other have found themselves strangely transported to a land none of them are familiar with, 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), wielding the sentient maul Earthshatter (also known as Verna)

·Hazard Darkstar - A Male Human Rune Knight Fighter (played by Alexander)

·Greynen Falstaer - A Male Half-Elven Warlock of the Archfey, Pact of the Tome (played by Mark)

·Morgaen Nightbreeze - A Female Half-Elven Bard of the College of Spirits (played by Imogen)

·Ragnar son of Bjorn - A Male Human Tempest Cleric of Thor (played by Alex)

The party are searching for another group of adventurers called the Red Drakes – recently joined by Greynen’s sister Olaria. So far, one is definitely dead, and one (Talia) has been rescued from a trap that could have been fatal. The party are investigating a network of caves which seems to be the base of whoever has taken the others - but have come under attack!

The creature of sewn-together fur and rusty metal plates jerked its long, jagged leg viciously, flinging Talia’s limp body to the side. She fell almost at Greynen’s feet.

The warlock, unseen until then, invoked faerie fire. Green light sparked, outlining the creature’s form and making it an easier target. Hazard reacted to the unexpected attack by catapulting the nearest thing at the creature – a large, heavy wheel of cheese hurled through the air and smacked, hard, right into its bulging eyes. It recoiled from the impact, shrieking a challenge, as Hazard drew his greatsword.

Sir Gerigold had rushed in, swinging Verna in a huge arc; he missed, but let the momentum of the strike continue, whirling round in place to bring the maul round again and strike the creature with even greater force. Seeing the paladin blocking his path to the enemy, Hazard dashed left, rushing round the column of rock in the centre of the caves to come at the creature from the other side.

Ragnar summoned a glistening blue-white radiance around his hands, hissing like the electrical ‘fire’ which shone on ship’s masts to warn of a coming lightning-strike – he unleashed it at the creature, blasting it with the radiant force and adding that light to the green faerie fire outlining it. The creature howled in pain and retaliated – stabbing out at Sir Gerigold, who grimaced with pain at the damage but stood his ground between the creature and the unconscious tiefling witch. Greynen raised his hands, power shining around them, and unleashed it – two arcs of force curved round to hit the creature in both sides of the head, causing further damage, as Hazard ran up behind the creature and swung at it, connecting and then invoking one of his runes. Fiery chains appeared from nowhere, binding the creature. As it struggled, Sir Gerigold braced himself and swung Verna wildly at the restrained creature, trading accuracy for force. The maul connected heavily, and the paladin followed up with a mighty backswing.

One of the creature’s eyes popped loose, and many of the stitches holding it together were unravelling. A shudder went through its body – then it collapsed to the floor.

Morgaen ran to Talia’s side, getting the medical kit out. She started working to staunch the bleeding.

At that moment, a scream echoed through the caves.

Greynen stiffened, his eyes going wide with horror. He ran for the locked door, closely followed by Ragnar. The others followed – Morgaen pausing only to touch the skull on the end of her guitar, shout something at Sir Gerigold (who didn’t hear what it was, but felt stronger and faster immediately) and yell at Hazard, who was closest, to shut the damn door! Hazard ignored this, tearing straight after the others.

Greynen was shouting his sister’s name – “Olaria!” and slamming himself against the door, trying to force it open, but to no avail.

A laugh was heard from within, and a voice – “Well, it seems we have visitors! It could be a reunion for you, my pretty little one!”

Morgaen pushed past the others, pulling out her lockpicks – Ragnar grabbed Greynen, stopping his assault on the door so the bard could get through. She went to one knee, closed her eyes and focused for a moment – the lock clicked, easily. She stood back – Ragnar reached for his amulet to ready a spell but let Greynen loose in the process. The warlock kicked the door open.

The cave within was dominated by five tall, glowing vats. Tubes ran to them from bundles attached to the walls. Inside each one floated a vaguely humanoid figure, and there was a human woman bending over something next to the closest vat. She seemed to have just got down from doing something with it.

In that vat was a figure which would once have been humanoid – but all that was left of it was a torso, with a jagged scar across its belly. The limbs were all missing, with surgically-neat stumps. The figure’s face could not be seen – it was hidden by some kind of breathing mask – but silver hair was floating around its head, forming a halo around half-elf ears.

Greynen charged through the door, shouting “OLARIA!” and following this immediately with a spell. The figure next to the vat stiffened, freezing in an uncomfortable stance partly bent over, as the spell caught and paralysed her. Hazard was close behind him and grabbed the warlock’s arm as soon as he had finished casting, keeping him in the centre of the room.

“Dammit, Grey, don’t go charging in, it won’t help if you get killed! Who are you?” the fighter shouted at the paralysed woman.

Sir Gerigold was right behind them.

“He’s right – we should talk about this first,” he told Greynen, adding urgently as the warlock’s lip curled, “That’s – that’s your sister, there? She looks severely injured, Greynen – let’s not simply kill the person who’s done it, that does not necessarily help her!”

He walked over to the woman. She was wearing a strange mask with tubes coming out of it, and a bandoleer carrying several vials – she matched the description Talia had given them of the woman who had somehow subdued and abducted the Red Drakes.

Sir Gerigold hefted his maul, visibly, and then walked round behind the woman. Paralysed, she could not see him. He checked out the rest of the cave – the area closest to the door was clearly a living space, with an untidy bed and a table with the part-finished remains of a meal. To his right was a large metal cage – tubes and wires wound about it. Inside was a bulky figure, slumped and seemingly unconscious.

Hey, a voice echoed through his mind as the sentient maul reacted to what he was seeing, that’s my partner Bruga in there!

As Ragnar also walked up to the masked woman, hefting his warhammer, Sir Gerigold leaned in behind her and softly and menacingly indicated the advisability of answering their questions, and coming up with a way to undo whatever she had done to their friend’s sister and the other Red Drakes – fast.

The woman sighed, slightly – and suddenly dived and rolled behind the vat. Greynen’s spell was broken – she was loose! Hurdling the rolls of tubes, she dashed around the rear of the cave, taking cover behind the different vats as she went.

Morgaen checked out the tubes – they all seemed to run to the cage. With a dreadful foreboding of what might be happening to the Red Drakes’ half-orc leader, she ran over and started trying to peer inside.

Sir Gerigold was shouting, telling the woman to come back and talk to them, don’t make it worse for yourself.

A blue vial came tumbling through the air. It shattered on Sir Gerigold’s armour. A kind of potion splashed everywhere – and ignited. The paladin lit up like a human torch, yelling in shock and pain.

“Silly little child, now he’s burning!” a mocking voice echoed from behind the vats.

“Now you can get her,” Hazard said shortly, releasing his grip on Greynen’s arm. The warlock gestured – and a sharp cracking noise echoed out from the far side of the cave. They heard the woman scream – but the spell had not been focused on one target, but on an area. Cracks started running through the glass of the two large vats in that area – and the tubes juddered on the ceiling.

Hazard cursed.

“What are you doing, are you trying to bring the cave down on us, idiot?” he snarled at Greynen, then snapped out something in the giant tongue. He shot up, his body lengthening and stretching as his size swelled.

The cracks in the glass reached some critical point – first one, then the second vat, exploded outwards, The strange liquid in them poured out, bringing two strange-looking humanoid creatures with it. They had been floating peacefully moments before – now they screeched and thrashed, suddenly very active.

Hazard charged between them, sheathing his greatsword as he went, and lunged for the injured woman behind the vats. She rolled to one side, dodging him at first, but on the second attempt he grabbed hold of her.

Sir Gerigold ran up, trailing fire – whatever she had doused him in, it was still burning. He could feel his face starting to shrivel in the heat. Swinging Verna, he smashed the maul down on the woman’s armour-plated chest –channelling divine power the second time. She slumped in Hazard’s grip. Leaving the apparently subdued woman to the fighter, Sir Gerigold dived into the liquid that had poured from the vats, rolling in it and pouring it over his head. The flames covering him started to flicker and die.

Suddenly, the woman moved again – twisting in Hazard’s grapple, she looked straight at Greynen, standing in the centre of the room and clearly gathering more power.

“I would be careful what you do-oo!” she called out in a sing-song voice – and showed him her hand. She had managed to get hold of one of her potions again. Before Hazard could change his grip and stop her, she lobbed it at the warlock. It smashed at his feet – green fumes wound up about him and he doubled over, choking. The woman twisted again and looked up at Hazard – she seemed to be smiling, and said something which might have been, “Do your worst!”

Hazard was not paying attention – the creatures from the vat had struggled upright. One threw itself at Sir Gerigold – the second was clawing at Hazard, and its scratches left him feeling sickened. He set his jaw and tried to hold onto their creator – but she had got hold of another of her vials, throwing it again at Greynen. It hit his shoulder and shattered – a strange blue liquid spattering him all over again, before bursting into flame. Greynen fell to the ground, his body burning.

Ragnar had joined Morgaen at the iron cage. They had managed to pry through enough of the tubes to make out that they were all attached to needles running into the unconscious Bruga’s arm –and seemed to be pumping something out of her! Glancing up at the sound of Greynen’s body falling, he was horrified to see Greynen’s peril and shouted a healing spell. Then he climbed onto the cage and started furiously hacking at the tubes.

Morgaen grabbed a blanket from the bed in the corner and rushed over to Greynen – who was conscious and thrashing again since Ragnar’s spell. She threw the blanket over him to put out the flames, pulled him to his feet and looked over at the others. Hazard seemed alright, but the worse-injured Sir Gerigold was fending off the creature still trying to rake him with its claws. He was desperately holding it at arms’ length while trying to clamber to his feet – but the strange thick liquid from the vat was slippery underfoot.

“Well, get up, Gerigold!” she yelled, lacing magic into the words. Momentarily unable to think of any encouraging words, she went for sarcasm as a motivational tool instead. “Stop lying around wallowing in that goo! There’s no time for you to moisturise, we need you on your feet!”

Stung, the paladin shouted something back about doing his best under rather difficult circumstances!

Greynen clambered to his feet, trying to shake off the grotty feeling he still had from the poisonous fumes he had inhaled – it was no good. He ran unsteadily over to the vial that held his sister. Her eyes were open, and bubbles started coming from behind the mask. She seemed to be trying to communicate with him, but he could only hear a strange garbled sound. It seemed to be coming from somewhere above him – he looked up. There was a metal grid set into the top of the vat, with the tubes running through it – the sound was echoing from there.

Next to the grid, a strange glyph was etched into the vat. Greynen’s eyes widened as he remembered that besides passive protection, runes or glyphs could sometimes be drawn which would activate and trigger some form of spell under certain conditions.

“The vats are warded!” he shouted to the others.

Hazard was still struggling to fend off the creature from the vat while keeping hold of its creator – the difficulty made worse by the noxious, somehow acrid smell coming off it. Sir Gerigold, finally clambering to his feet, was having even more trouble, gagging at the fumes from the strange liquid – and where it had touched his burn injuries, they were going a strange colour, black lines rippling away from them. Shoving the creature away from him for a moment, he touched the injuries, silver light running into them from his hands as he tried to get his breath back.

Hazard picked the woman up and slammed her down onto the base of the nearest broken vat – into the shards of glass still sticking up from it. Pulling her head back, he tried to push her throat across a shard – failing at this, he slammed her down into the glass again. She was still moving.

“Who in the Nine Hells are you?” he demanded, infuriated that such an apparently puny opponent was still causing trouble after the amount of damage they had inflicted on her.

“My name is Karina Tosar – and I am winning,” the woman said, the crinkles around her eyes suggesting that she was smiling. “You haven’t killed me yet.” She got an arm loose again – and threw a blue vial across the room at Morgaen. The bard dodged to one side at the last moment – the vial rolled away to one side. Hazard cursed and tried to pinion the woman more closely, but the creatures were attacking again, one of them ripping into his arm. Karina twisted in his momentarily slackened grip, got hold of another vial and threw it at Morgaen again. This time, it hit; green fumes engulfed the bard, who turned pale and shuddered all over.

Ragnar had checked the vat Greynen was investigating – but he, too, could not see any way to get Olaria out without potentially activating the rune on the top. Now he ran over and grabbed Morgaen’s arm.

“Get clear, you’re poisoned!” he said. “Go see if you can get Bruga out of that cage!”

Morgaen managed to stop coughing long enough to strike a chord on her guitar – sending healing magic out to herself, Sir Gerigold and Greynen. Then she staggered over to the cage. Seeing Greynen examining the vat which held his sister, she encouraged him, as she started inspecting the lock on the cage. Greynen was still searching for some way, any way, to get his sister clear – the only thing he was sure of was that she would suffocate if she stayed in there without the tubes running to her mask (luckily, these tubes only went as far as the top of the vat and had not been damaged by Ragnar’s furious attack on the equipment). But the rune meant that she might well die if they tried to get her out.

One of the creatures stopped where it was, convulsing – then it collapsed, falling to the floor. Hazard grabbed his chance and finally managed to get his backpack off without letting go of the woman. He felt in it one-handed and removed a set of manacles, dropping them to the floor and waiting grimly for them to return to their usual size. Sir Gerigold, seeing this, decided to distract the woman from what Hazard was clearly attempting – he hit her with Verna again, two thundering blows.

The second blow dislodged something – and Karina’s mask dropped off. A strange line ran across her face – the skin of her mouth and jaw were a slightly different colour to the rest of her face. There was a small mole to one side of her mouth.

The attacks also loosened Hazard’s grip just enough for the woman to reach her bandoleer again – she threw a vial at Sir Gerigold. He cursed her in the name of the Morninglord as he lit up in flames again.

“Even when I’m pinned to the floor, I can take all of you down!” Karina shouted mockingly. “Please, just get your act together and kill me – you’ll be doing me a favour!”

The final creature from the vats, still standing, threw itself at Hazard, scratching and clawing at him again – and Karina managed to grab yet another vial. She threw it at Greynen, who was trying to scramble up the vat to inspect the top more closely – but Hazard managed to hamper her throw in time, and the vial rolled between him and Ragnar, a puff of green fumes coming up from the back of the cave.

Ragnar was barrelling towards them, clutching the already-singed blanket Morgaen had used to put out the flames when Greynen was on fire. He threw this over Sir Gerigold, and invoked healing magic. The creature tried to turn on him – then stopped, shuddered and dropped motionless as the other had. They did not seem to be able to survive outside the vats for long.

Morgaen had got the cage door open. She checked – Ragnar had definitely severed every one of the tubes running to Bruga’s body. She removed the needles and checked that this didn’t leave the half-orc bleeding out – then realised, her head clearing as the effects of the poison wore off, that she was not going to be able to pull the hefty Red Drake warrior out of there.

Greynen had seen what Hazard was trying to do. Still suffering the effects of the larger dose of poison he had inhaled, keeping himself upright against the wall, he lurched over and picked up the manacles – which had now, finally, shrunk to a size that could be used on a human. Hazard and Sir Gerigold saw that he had them, and both pinioned Karina. Greynen snapped the manacles shut – then froze in horror.

He had seen her face – the line across it, the clearly stitched-on skin over her lower face and jaw.

Reaching out with a shaking hand, he touched the mole to one side of her mouth – then seized his dagger.

What have you done to Olaria?”

Sir Gerigold grabbed Greynen and dragged him back, away from the woman, just in time – again urging the warlock not to kill the only woman who knew how the vats worked, how to keep Olaria alive right now!

Karina smiled; the small beauty-spot mole looked charming when she did so.

“She was a great subject. I used many of her body parts in my work, and then she had such a charming face, I decided I would keep it when I cut away her jaw. Yes, I really used everything from her which was worth having. You may as well dispose of what is left of her – she is useless now.”

While Sir Gerigold held Greynen back, Hazard dragged Karina over to a chair, over in the living area of the cave next to the bed. He ripped her coat and shirt to look at her arms – they did seem to be her own.

Karina explained, seemingly unconcerned despite the serious injuries she had taken, that she had used tendons from Olaria’s limbs for her specimens in the vats and had then fed what was left of the limbs to her creature – the one she had heard them playing with outside – it liked half-elf meat the most.

Morgaen swiftly reminded the others, looking at Greynen, that the woman had told them to kill her – she might be trying to provoke them.

Greynen had gone still. He told Sir Gerigold that the paladin could let go now – he wasn’t about to do anything without thinking. His eyes were fastened on the woman. Sir Gerigold let go, carefully.

“How can we help Olaria now?” the paladin asked Karina, voice carefully neutral.

“Let me go and she lives,” Karina said, shrugging. The movement made her cough—a thin trickle of blood started to drip from the corner of her mouth. “Kill me and she dies.”

Morgaen had her hand on the hilt of Mindsplinter, the amber shortsword left behind when they had destroyed the mind-controlling crystal on the other side of the mountains. Her eyes were part closed.

“She’s telling the truth,” she said, “she really believes Olaria will die if she dies.” She bit her lip. “And… she is telling the truth about Olaria’s arms and legs… She fed them to the creature. Although it was a lie that the creature likes half-elf meat, she doesn’t know or care what it likes, she was just trying to provoke us with that –”

Greynen turned abruptly and walked out of the cave.

“Kill me, then!” Karina said, clearly enjoying herself. “She has said it! I have done all of this, I am the evil person here!”

Sir Gerigold walked over to one of the two remaining vats. The creature in it had started to stir, tugging in a confused way at one of the tubes. He looked measuringly at Karina – then swung Verna at the vat. The maul smashed the class and connected heavily with the creature, which shrieked for a moment as it landed heavily on the ground, before Sir Gerigold brought Verna down heavily again on its skull. There was a sound somewhere between a crack and a crunch, and the shrieking stopped abruptly.

Now there was only one of the woman’s creations left.

Karina smiled at him.

“The only way to guarantee your friend’s sister gets out of here alive, is if I am freed,” she said conversationally.

Ragnar hit her, and she coughed up more blood. Sir Gerigold made a small, strangled noise, came over quickly and removed the woman’s bandoleer – there were still vials on it, and accidentally breaking these would not help anyone.

“What is the rune?” Morgaen demanded, eyes still partly closed, her hand still on the hilt of the sword. Karina said nothing – Ragnar twisted her nose, hard, to distract her from Morgaen’s mind-reading spell.

Greynen walked back into the cave.

In his hands were a selection of the surgical tools from the blood-spattered area outside. He walked up to Karina and gave her a cool, assessing look. Selecting a tool, he pulled her head back – and gouged one of her eyes out. As the woman screamed, Morgaen probed deeper with her mind-reading spell.

She paled.

“You’ve got something,” Greynen said, looking at her. “What is it?

Morgaen looked at Karina’s condition. The woman had been badly injured in the fight – now she seemed to be holding on to life only by a thread. But she was still smiling. Morgaen insisted that the warlock move away from the woman before she would tell him – he did so, but did not put the scalpel down. Hesitantly, Morgaen told him the full scale of what had been done to his sister – looking from him to Olaria as she did so.

Apart from taking Olaria’s limbs, to use the tendons and feed the rest to the snow-stalking creature, Olaria now had no jaw. She could breathe, could survive if she was taken out of the vat, but she would not be able to eat. The long gash across her abdomen was where internal organs had been removed – nothing she could not survive without, but her womb had been removed, the tissues used to continue the experiment that had created the four specimens in the vats somehow. Morgaen added – very quickly – that the rune would kill Olaria if Karina died. There was something else, but she wasn’t sure what – Karina was very sure there was not any way they could save Olaria without her going free.

Greynen set his jaw.

Sir Gerigold suggested they take a moment to think things over and calm down. He went over to the cage and hauled Bruga out of it, then summoning divine healing power to wake her up. The half-orc came back to consciousness, looking groggy. Her breath had the same dizzying smell as the other Red Drakes – the poison smell.

“What the – what’s going on now, who are you people?”

“Aww, what a waste,” Karina commented, with ragged gasps. “Such a strengthening treat she was making for my specimens. Do you know what protein is? So good for them!”

Sir Gerigold made the introductions, telling Bruga that Talia was outside – badly hurt, but alive. Then, most reluctantly, he said thank you to Verna and put the sentient weapon back in Bruga’s hands. The warrior spoke silently with the maul for a few moments – then pulled herself up. She walked over to the vat, and placed a hand on it, looking at Olaria for a moment. Then she turned a grim glare on Karina.

“Any of you seen a red dragonborn around here? His name’s Garlan.”

“We… have not come across him yet,” Sir Gerigold said.

“Well, if he’s alive, he’s probably meditating anyway – looking for him can wait until we’ve sorted this,” the Red Drakes’ leader said.

“I’ve got something,” Morgaen said quietly. The bard had been sitting on the bed without speaking for some time. “There are… a lot of ghosts around here.” She looked at Karina. “Understandably. One of them has given me their story – I think I can do the same thing I did for Talia, outside. Move Olaria out of the vat without touching the rune in any way. I think she’ll survive that. Can someone move – that – away from the bed?”

They dragged the chair to the other side of the room – Karina still smiling and telling them that whatever they tried, Olaria would die, the rune would kill her if she died.

Morgaen walked over to the vat, and told Olaria what was going to happen – then passed the energy of the ghost’s story to her. Olaria vanished – reappearing a moment later on the bed. Flat on her back, no longer floating, her body looked even more wrecked. Morgaen rushed to her side and started seeing what could be done for her.

Greynen’s face twisted, and he dug the scalpel into Karina.

“Greynen, stop!” Sir Gerigold exclaimed, grabbing for his wrist. The warlock jerked back, evaded his grasp and dug the scalpel in again.

Karina started laughing. Coughing up even more blood, she laughed and laughed.

A rune had started glowing on her skin.

On the other side of the room, Morgaen yelled.

“Whatever you’re doing, stop! It’s not the rune on the vat, there’s a rune glowing on Olaria –”

“You lose,” Karina breathed at Greynen, and died.

Olaria’s body started to disintegrate. They tried magic, and one of their healing potions – Morgaen put her amulet of Saint Terragnis on Olaria’s chest and tried prayer – but in less than a minute, there was nothing left of Olaria but a strangely-shaped pile of ashes on the bedsheet.

Greynen turned and walked out of the cave. The others could not look at his face.

Ragnar investigated the rune on the vat again. Taking the lid off, he brushed it with his hand, and pronounced it fake. They stood in silence for a few moments. Then Morgaen carefully folded the sheet around the ashes.

Sir Gerigold, Hazard and Bruga broke the last vat, killing the creature within. Then they went back out into the rest of the cave system.

Talia was still lying where they had left her. Now that the fighting was over, Morgaen used healing magic to wake her up. The witch came back conscious with a start – as far as she knew, the creature was still attacking – but seeing it lying dead, and her leader Bruga alive and well, she was ecstatic. Hugging Morgaen, she thanked her for saving her life again. Morgaen helped her up then extracted herself from the hug, explaining briefly that Olaria was dead.

The others were looking out of the open door.

A storm had blown up – even this far inside the cave, they could tell from the momentary flashes and the rolls of thunder how harsh the weather was outside.

The door had been pushed wide. Greynen was nowhere to be seen.

They decided he might not want to be looked for right now. However, there was still one of the Red Drakes missing – and one room that they had not yet investigated. They walked round to the abattoir-like cave with bits of animal limbs and organs hanging on hooks. Bracing themselves in case the creature they had caught sight of within attacked them, they pushed up the bar and Hazard kicked the door open.

Inside were several large wooden cages – at least half a dozen. The largest one was closest to the door. Inside it was a hippogriff – the source of the brown feathers they had seen through the crack under the door. But the creature was dead and seemed to have been so for some time. The first few cages contained either nothing, or dead animals.

Then Bruga exclaimed with delighted relief.

“Garlan! Get your ass up, boy! We’ve saved yer!”

“Ah, Bruga,” a red dragonborn, seated cross-legged in one of the heavy crates, said in a slightly disoriented voice – he too was clearly suffering the effects of the poison. “Of course, I would if I could, but as you see I’m just a bit hampered at the moment…”

Once they had got the dragonborn mystic out of the cage, Ragnar wandered off to eye the dead hippogriff speculatively.

Outside, Greynen was sat in the shallow entrance to the owlbear cave. The wind was driving the rain in at him, and the crackling lightning would have been too close for comfort at times – if he had been in a mood to care.

He was reaching out for his connection to his patron before he even left the cave – but it took at least an hour sitting out in the rain until he was cold, tired and wet enough for the physical exhaustion to numb his feelings. Then, and only then, could he feel the connection again. It took a little time after that for Cyone to speak to him – but barely anything compared to how long as he had had to sit and wait for her to notice him a few times before.

I am sorry, my child.

She already knew.

“I need to know how to find her – her soul,” Greynen said. “I need to bring her back.”

I cannot help you – her soul is gone. She is wandering through the mists that surround you, I cannot reach her.

“I need to find her!”

You will never see here again in this life, Greynen. There is nothing I can do about that.

The others continued waiting for Greynen to return – passing the time as best they could. Ragnar ransacked the caves, filling the Bag of Holding with a good amount of medical equipment. Hazard and Sir Gerigold helped Bruga and Garlan look through the crates, and they located the cargo the Red Drakes had been carrying for Nim Graygos – the large, heavy crate, which he had told them contained a mysterious broken sword.

Morgaen sat down and dug in her backpack for the book – Tamalain and Other Poems – which she had been carrying since their second day here. It was still the only work of literature she had encountered, and she was reading it for escapism although occasionally it also gave interesting background information on New Solamnia. But after rummaging around in her backpack, it was the black book she had acquire in Tenbrim, The Chronicles of Raistlin Majere, which she had brought out. She tried to hold it one-handed while searching for the book she wanted – and the Chronicles fell open in her hand.

There was writing on the pages.

There had never been writing on the pages. The book had shown them the same visions as the brass Disks of Fate they had been finding, but there had been no writing in it before. Now there was.

It said, I am not the Dark Lord.

Morgaen considered this. They had assumed that Raistlin Majere must be the Dark Lord’s name, since the book, named for him, was showing them visions of a knight’s descent into evil. But the mage Torvain had had an idea that Raistlin Majere was the name of a powerful mage, not a knight. This had not been conclusive, however – the green slaad Zurgal had warned them that the Dark Lord was a powerful spellcaster as well as a fighter, although he had added that the Dark Lord was powerful in casting such spells as he knew, which did not sound much like a mage.

She picked up her pen and ink, and wrote, Who is?

More writing appeared beneath hers, as if another pen was tracing the pages.

You’ll find out.

The writing – the strange handwriting, and her own – faded away.

Morgaen tried to tell the others about this, but they were busy searching through the stores to get some trail supplies together and did not seem to take much note of the occurrence. But Morgaen decided that if the book was talking to them, there was something else to find out – they had found a Disk of Fate at every other place they had faced a serious danger, so it would make sense for another one to be here.

She went back into the cave which used to hold the vats, the centre of Karina’s activities, and started searching. There was no Disk in any of the chests or cases she searched – while she was at it, she piled up Karina’s notes in the middle of the room, to be burned later. But when she investigated the remains of the vats, one of them turned out to have a false base. When she pressed down on the correct place, a kind of tray slid out – and a brass disk fell to the floor.

She picked it up, careful not to touch it with her bare skin – that had always triggered the visions before – then carried it out, waving it over her head at the others as she came out of the door.

“I told you there would be another Disk here, somewhere!”

They all looked round – and saw Greynen standing in the entrance passageway, soaked to the skin and with a blank expression.

“Er – I found this,” Morgaen said, showing it to him. “Shall we – find out what it shows us?”

“It doesn’t really matter anymore,” Greynen said, his voice flat and emotionless. He picked his bag up from where he had left it lying, took it to the most distant corner that didn’t have bloody stains in it, unrolled his bedroll and lay down with his face to the wall.

“Maybe just leave the lad a while,” Bruga suggested quietly.

Everyone had started to feel incredibly tired – especially the Red Drakes, still under the influence of the poison. Ragnar rallied a few people to help block the entrance – so the caves were secure and nobody had to keep watch – and then everyone turned in.

Before he did so, Ragnar sneaked along the passageway to the room with the animal cages. There was a muffled hacking noise as he separated the hippogriff’s head from its body – then he propped it up for the night, to make sure that this time the head he wanted was quite dry and drained of blood before he put it in the Bag of Holding.

Morgaen waited until the others seemed to be asleep. Then she lit a candle and went quietly back into the vat room, where Olaria’s ashes were still lying, and closed the door behind her.

She placed the wrapped ashes on the floor, set the candle in front of the bundle, and sat opposite it. Holding her guitar with one hand on the skull over the scroll, she opened her mind.

Opening up to whatever spirits might be present was one thing – that was easy, now. Searching for one particular spirit was something she had not done before – it might not be possible. She told the explorer’s spirit still connected to the skull who she was looking for, waited, and hoped.

When she opened her eyes, there was a female half-elf in leather armour sat in front of her. There was a small mole on one side of her mouth.

-Oh, hi. You’re with my brother, aren’t you?- the spirit asked, and craned her neck, looking around.

“Yes,” Morgaen said, feeling instantly guilty. “He’s not here, he’s… well, he’s either asleep or unconscious, right now I’m not sure which. I didn’t know this would work – I didn’t want to promise something I couldn’t deliver. Er… can you wait while I get him?”

-I don’t think so, somehow.-

“He’s a warlock now, he made a pact with an archfey because he wanted to find you… What happened to bring you here?”

-I don’t know – I was in a forest, and then I woke up next to this wall of mist. There were strange sounds – I didn’t try to get back through it. I just started walking – I found my way to this town called Tenbrim, then someone mentioned the Red Drakes had gone off with Nim Graygos and I decided adventuring might be the best way to find some friends and make some money in a strange place.- She smiled sardonically.

“Just a few weeks ago, then?” Morgaen asked, brow creasing.

-Yes, why?-

“He’s been looking for you for longer, so time is clearly strange between this world and ours … but that’s not important for you right now. Is there anything we can do for you, do you know?”

-I can find my way, I think… it seems like there’s a long way to go from here, but I can hear my gods’ voices sometimes, when I listen. I’m pretty sure I can find my way. Tell my brother I would have asked him to kill me anyway. I… wouldn’t have wanted to live like that.-

“Is there anyone else you’d like me to say anything to?”

-No – it’s just been me and my brother. For a long time. He always looked after me when we were children… I won’t tell you to tell him not to blame himself.- She smiled again, sadly this time. -That would be a waste of breath.- Suddenly, she looked round behind her. -I can hear their voice again – I think I can – one of my gods. I can’t hear it always – I’m going. This isn’t a good place to stay around if you’re supposed to be somewhere else, I might lose the connection – I’m going, now.-

Morgaen was sure she didn’t blink, but just as if she had, the spirit was gone.

They set out early the next morning, planning on making it as far down out of the mountains as they could. The storm had brought a change in the weather – much of the snow had melted. This was lucky, as Nim Graygos’ crate was as unwieldy as he had described – it was no wonder the Red Drakes had had to pause their journey with it in the deep snow.

Morgaen had quietly given Greynen the message from his sister – he had said, quietly, that being told she would have wanted to die even if he hadn’t activated the death rune was not a lot of comfort. He had not said much at all since then.

There was a further sorrow for the rest of the Red Drakes at the pass, when they collected Logus’ body from what was left of the snow.

Heading downhill after that, with better weather, the going was much faster. They reached the river at the Frost Falls a little after midday. The change in the weather had caused snow and ice to melt, and the river was deeper than before, but between Hazard’s ability to grow to giant size and Garlan’s ability to shapeshift into larger and stronger forms, they did manage to get the crate over it without having anyone swept downstream. After a night camping in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, far down enough not to be bothered by the mountain apes, they reached the river again.

Nim Graygos was delighted that they had managed to save so many of the adventurers he had sent into the mountains – it was not, after all, good business to have a reputation as the trader with fatal errands. He was even more delighted to have his cargo safely delivered. He paid them the substantial reward he had promised, and the remaining three Red Drakes started preparations to fulfil the rest of their contract with him and safely escort him and the crate to Tenbrim.

There were several other traders besides Nim waiting at the landing-place, now – since the cold snap had ended, and the river had unfrozen, Nim explained that one of the large riverboats which plied up and down from the coast was now expected. The carters and traders present were here to take consignments of goods, and any passengers who wanted to travel with them, to the towns, farms and villages for which this was the closest landing place. After this, the river’s course became hard to travel along for many miles.

The party – except for Greynen, who no longer seemed to care – had discussed their next move while coming down out of the mountains. Bruga, Garlan and Talia had agreed that the town of Esra, which they had had mentioned to them as the next big town on the other side of the mountains, was worth a visit for the Black Rose tavern. More importantly, Morgaen’s map suggested that the significant locations in New Solamnia seemed to make something of a circle – from where they had passed through the mists, around eventually to Dargard Keep, the home of the Dark Lord. If they kept on following the route they had heard of, via Esra, the small town of Wardenwood where Nim Graygos had obtained the broken sword, and the city of Palanthas, they would eventually work their way closer to the Dark Lord. Since their meeting with Zurgal the slaad, the cursed sandtimers scarred into their arms had ceased being a peculiarity and become a deferred sentence of a fate worse than death. With nothing else pressing to attend to, working their way closer towards a confrontation that might save them even if it might destroy them seemed the only way.

They decided to wait for the riverboat, and take passage to the other side of the Snowy Mountains. Nobody was keen to walk back through the mountains and see what else they might encounter.

Before she left, Bruga walked up to Sir Gerigold.

“Verna and I have been talking,” she announced. “I was leading the Red Drakes on this adventure, I was responsible for our losses… I reckon I’m done with this job. I’m going to finish the contract, then I’m going to retire. Of course, Verna isn’t the type to retire. She says you’re good with a maul, so… if you want her company, she’d like to join you.” She held out the sentient maul.

Sir Gerigold was, of course, more than delighted to have Verna join him on his journey. He gave Bruga his own non-magical maul to use on her journey and to keep in her retirement and insisted on sharing some of the reward money Nim Graygos had given him with her – not that he had to insist hard. The half-orc bade Verna and him goodbye and good luck together. Nim Graygos had bought a pony-cart from one of the locals while they were gone, and he and the Red Drakes headed off along the road towards Tenbrim, Talia turning and waving to Morgaen as they left.

The party gathered around where their horses were tied to the rails, settling down to wait for the riverboat.

Morgaen brought out the brass Disk of Fate.

“Shall we see if it tells us who the Dark Lord actually is?” she asked, carefully.

They looked at Greynen – who shrugged.

“Whatever,” he said.

Morgaen touched the disk.

After contemplating Mishakal's message, the knight accepted the chance to redeem himself as the gods’ champion, even though it meant leaving his wife Isolde and their newborn son, Peradur (named for his great-great-grandfather). With three of his most loyal knights - Wersten Kern, Caradoc, and Colm Farold - as escorts, he set off for Istar to stop the Kingpriest.

But while on the road, the knight encountered the same group of elves that had been traveling with Isolde years before. The three elven maidens told the knight that Isolde had been unfaithful and that her child wasn't his. Enraged, he killed them, then rode back to Dargaard Keep with murder in his heart.

Upon his unexpected return to the keep, Isolde rushed to meet him, holding Peradur. They met in the great hall and he confronted her with the lies whispered into his ear. He had abandoned his quest to stop the Cataclysm – while they argued, it began. Shockwaves caused a chandelier to fall from the ceiling, crushing Isolde and Peradur. Trapped and dying underneath the chandelier as their servants fled the Keep around them, the elf tried to give her husband his son - but the proud knight refused to take the child, condemning them both to death.

In her dying moments Isolde screamed in anger “I gave you all my love and you leave me and your son to die. For this atrocity I curse you. You will live one life for every life lost"!

The knight died in the flames of Dargaard Keep, whose fire was so fierce even the stones burned. However, Isolde's curse was heard by the gods. He awoke to find that his flesh was burned and the pain was strong as he moved, his skin breaking off in pieces with each step. In no time at all, however, his flesh was gone and he was nothing more than a skeleton covered in black armor, yet somehow in constant pain, with eyes that burned with a bright orange flame.

Thus rose the Death Knight – Lord Soth…

After the vision, the party looked at each other, sickened again.

They carefully did not say the Dark Lord’s name.

Later that day, there was a buzz of excitement at the landing-place as one of the traders caught sight of the riverboat’s masts above the trees. It slid neatly to its mooring at the far end of the jetty, and the crew tied up, starting to offload cargo as the boat’s officers found the traders responsible for different consignments.

Morgaen went to find someone in authority, and came back with the news that passage for them and their horses to the other side of the Snowy Mountains would be twenty gold pieces each, but since they were adventurers, in the event of the ship being attacked they could get five gold off.

Sir Gerigold attempted a further negotiation, turning on his charm with the female first officer, but Hazard – feeling things were going poorly – decided to cut in and try to intimidate her into giving them a better deal. Ragnar, overhearing him describe what they might do as a party to people who annoyed them, thought they were describing what any river pirates or bandits could expect and joined in enthusiastically – which did not help. Even more catastrophically, Greynen came out of his reverie long enough to chip into the discussion, and the warlock’s dead-eyed face and emotionless air worried the first officer enough that she turned and started walking away towards the nearest group of sailors, starting to gesture towards them. Sir Gerigold, sensing the possibility that they would end up walking over the mountains after all and having to leave their horses behind – and who knew how much harder it would be to travel on the other side of the mountains without them – called on his god for support, went after her and managed to smooth things over – describing Hazard and Ragnar’s social skills as ‘rough’ and explaining that Greynen had recently suffered the loss of his sister and was really not himself. Faced by the paladin’s full charm subtly augmented by the Morninglord’s divine power, the first officer relaxed enough to say that the possible discount was off the table, and Sir Gerigold had to swear to watch his friends and make sure none of them tried anything – and also agree to spend some time with her, ostensibly to let her know more about their recent adventures.

Morgaen and Sir Gerigold breathed sighs of relief as the horses were loaded and agreed that next time they wanted a discount on something, Sir Gerigold would do the negotiations and Morgaen would distract their friends until he was finished.

On the ship, Sir Gerigold noted that two of the sailors were watching Greynen carefully. There was a tension in the air – until the evening, when Greynen acquired a bottle and shut himself in his cabin to get drunk.

With the amiable intention of lightening the mood and making things between their party and the crew more friendly, Sir Gerigold volunteered Morgaen, their bard, to entertain everyone with music and singing. Morgaen’s eyes narrowed, and she proceeded to entertain the entire crew – and hugely entertain Ragnar and Hazard – with her new comic song, ‘The Knight Whose Face Fell Off.’ Between songs, she explained pointedly to Sir Gerigold that if he again volunteered her as a performer without asking her, when they got back to Faerun she would work her way down the Sword Coast to Elturgard and sing embarrassing songs about him in every tavern frequented by his order.

The journey lasted about five days – winding through canyons and passing through impassable-looking marshes. Not being volunteered for any more music, Morgaen started playing cards with a few of the crew, and started picking up gossip about Esra – about the excellencies of the Black Rose tavern, run by an orc called Cecil, and the peculiarities of the local mage, who walked around in a mask without anyone ever seeing his face. She also asked them if, in their travels, they had ever come across a certain symbol, sketching the symbol of the dark magical order which Berenice Valkyr seemed to have been a member of before her death and the occupation of her coffin by a plant monster – the sailors drew back from it, one of them admitting that he had heard of the order, something to do with a desire to gain dark magic, from dark gods. But they knew no more than that.

One more thing happened. After a day or so, Morgaen opened the Black Book again – it had started to unnerve her, but she felt she ought to keep more of an eye on it, now that it was talking to them. Opening it while the others were asleep, she watched the latest vision again.

When it cleared, there was writing there again.

So now you know. This is the Dark Lord.

Morgaen hesitated, then picked up her pen, and wrote, Thank you.

The writing faded away.

This was part 14 of 'Dirty Secrets & Nightmares', featuring Sam as Dungeon Master.

With a cast of Mark, Alex, Paul, Imogen and Martin. With Martin stepping in as temporary player for 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: Elizaveta Dushechkina, Pixabay, Pedro Dias, Marek Piwnicki, cottonbro, Ron Lach, Elizaveta Dushechkina, cottonbro, Matthew Henry (on StockSnap), Engin Akyurt, cottonbro, Mikhail Nilov, cottonbro, Elizaveta Duschechkina, S Migaj, Pixabay, Inge Wallumrød.

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