Updated: Nov 7, 2021
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 returning to the town of Tenbrim to see if they are able to meet and question the local priest. He is said to be one of the most knowledgeable men in the area, and may be able to give them some information about the strange events that have brought them here and led to their repeated encounters with monsters. However, he was not available on their last visit, reported to be about unspecified duties in the crypts beneath the church...
It was getting late on the day after the party left Rennet Manor when they reached Tenbrim’s main square, with the warm sunlight throwing lengthening shadows. The town appeared to be peacefully minding its business as before, but they could see Tibalt Throgsden, the head acolyte, sitting outside the church of Saint Terragnis looking pensive. He jumped up when he caught sight of them, coming over eagerly as they dismounted.
“Welcome,” he greeted them. “I was hoping to see you again. How have your travels been?”
“We have cleansed a great evil from the Valkyr Mausoleum in the Painted Valley,” Sir Gerigold said gravely. “It was some kind of thinking and moving plant creature that had settled in a coffin there and possessed the entire valley, and it was not permitting the ghost of Lady Rennet to pass on.”
The dwarf paled slightly, and they remembered that he had been particularly troubled before about the mention of undead.
“Well, thank goodness that you were able to stop it,” he said, then hesitated, before inviting them to come and speak to him inside the church. Hitching the horses to the rail on one side of the square, they followed him in.
Inside, they found themselves in a fine, large stone hall with wooden benches facing towards an altar. The room was lit by tall, stained-glass windows whose quality impressed Sir Gerigold. Hazard glanced a practiced eye over the stonework and noted its fine quality. Truly, it was an impressive structure.
It seemed that a service had recently finished, as the eight junior acolytes were moving around, clearing up and making the church ready again. Most were rather younger than Tibalt or even than Greynen and Morgaen, the youngest of the party – in their late teens or perhaps a few in their early twenties – and they were mostly human, although there were a couple of other dwarves.
“Is Father Reginald Baird returned from his duties in the crypts, yet?” Sir Gerigold asked. “We would very much like to consult with him on the strange events that have been happening.”
Tibalt glanced at the young acolytes he was responsible for. “If you wouldn’t mind stepping over here,” he said nervously, and ushered them to one side, even more ill-at-ease than he had seemed at the end of their first meeting. “Father Reginald – has not yet returned,” he admitted. “That was what I wanted to speak to you about. He had told me three days before you first arrived in Tenbrim that he had been investigating the well, through there –” he indicated a small door off to the side of the church, near the main altar, “and that he had made an important discovery in the catacombs beneath the church, which he needed to investigate. He told me that he might be some time – and warned me not to go down there myself. That was eight days ago, now – and he has not returned. I have always trusted him – I was already worried about him when we first spoke, but he had said he might be some time. However, it is now over a week, so I am –”
Suddenly, there was a loud crashing noise from somewhere close outside the church, closely followed by the sound of something smashing into pieces. It seemed to come from the direction of the small door near the altar. The party’s heads whipped round, and the eight acolytes in the room jumped – but Tibalt merely tutted and sighed.
“Tut, tut, they’re so clumsy all the time… Wait,” he said, sharply, glancing round at the acolytes, “you’re all in here, so what’s all that noise through there?”
Before anyone could react, the small door towards the back of the church burst inwards, and hideous figures swarmed into the room! A handful of squat, greyish creatures brandished swords and spread out, running straight for every acolyte at that end of the church, while a tight group of four taller creatures – unhealthily pale skin clinging tight to their bodies, with unnaturally long tongues hanging snake-like out of their mouths and their eyes giving off an unearthly green glow – barrelled straight up the centre of the church towards Tibalt and the party!
Greynen was the first to react, sending an eldritch blast down the room at the attacking creatures as the rest of them ran forward, spreading out to form a battle-line against the green-eyed monsters. Tibalt raised his hand and called for Saint Terragnis’ blessing on those who would defend her church, silver light shining from his palm to bathe the three closest members of the party, then seized what appeared to be a chunky processional wand of office, brandished it yelling “I must protect my fellow acolytes!” and charged straight at the invaders.
The rest of the acolytes screamed and ran – or tried to climb up onto any ledge handy – not all of them fast enough. Three were struck down by the squat grey beasts attacking them, going strangely rigid and tumbling to the floor rather than simply collapsing. Their assailants grabbed them by the feet and started dragging them towards the small side door, back where they had come from. Morgaen, seeing this, ran to a window on that side of the hall, gathering the silver mist around her to leap ahead of the kidnapping monsters – but walls and roofs prevented her from seeing where they were going. She reappeared out of the mists further down the church instead, getting off a crossbow shot at one of the departing monsters, but it ignored the attack and dragged its victim out of sight through the side door.
Ragnar, Hazard and Sir Gerigold were laying into the four long-tongued creatures further up the church, Greynen supporting them with his blasts of magic and Tibalt furiously but ineffectively batting at them with his makeshift club. Ragnar grimly laid about him with his warhammer, hampered from unleashing his destructive waves of magic more by the fleeing acolytes in amongst the creatures he was attacking than by Sir Gerigold’s yelp for him to try to spare the windows.
Some of the acolytes had escaped the first attacks – most trying to flee up the church and make it past the fight to the main door. The paladin broke off from the main fight to go to the aid of an acolyte cornered between a couple of benches by one of the squat grey creatures. Thinking of questioning it after the rest had been defeated and giving even an evil creature a chance to redeem itself and turn to peace, he flung a net at it. The creature dodged, laughed and made another attack on the acolyte. This time, it hit its target – the acolyte stiffened and fell, and the creature grabbed them by the ankles to drag them off. This, however, allowed the paladin to strike at it unhampered by further consideration of his sworn word to resort to violence only when necessary. He drew his maul and bludgeoned it into the floor.
Another acolyte had been desperately dodging around the altar to avoid their attacker. They tried to make a break for it up the church, but the creature leapt over the alter and struck at them. They fell rigid, and were seized, the creature dragging them towards the side door. Morgaen carefully aimed both magic and crossbow at the grey creature, hurdling the benches to try to reach and block the door, but she wasn’t going to get there in time, and she wasn’t doing enough damage to stop it by herself. She needed more help, and everyone else was still too far away. She felt in her pouch for the half-burned candle she had used in her séance three nights ago and opened her mind, feeling for the presence of anyone else who might be able to help her and the acolytes – and knowledge came flooding in, the story of a former acolyte of Saint Terragnis who had abandoned his family to serve in the church under a false name. He had died of a sudden illness and wanted his family to hear what had become of him. It only took an instant for the story to form in Morgaen’s head, filling her with a strange energy – and she knew what she could do with that energy.
One of the green-eyed creatures had fallen already, and Ragnar struck out again at one he had already injured, hurling it across the hall towards his comrades. Tripping on Sir Gerigold’s fallen net, it fell across one of the benches, opening itself to attack. Sir Gerigold slammed a great blow down on its chest – and an instant later, Hazard’s greatsword beheaded it. A final fleeing acolyte fell to a squat grey pursuer just behind the melee – the paladin saw this and hurled himself at them, with Greynen circling the fight to add one of his blasts of eldritch magic. The creature fell.
Morgaen’s target managed to force its way past her through the side door as she struggled to reload her crossbow. It was heading for another broken-down door, across a small chamber – and she couldn’t risk the blast of thunderous force she could unleash, not with the injured and paralyzed acolyte right there beside the creature. Instead, she reached out to share the runaway ghost’s story and the energy of that story to her comrades – and Sir Gerigold, Ragnar and Greynen appeared, suddenly, right behind her. The silver-haired warlock quickly dodged around the others, getting a sight on the creature and blasting it just as it reached the door. It fell dead in a heap, the rigid body of the acolyte rolling to the side. Ragnar dashed past it, checked the small room to one side contained no ambushes, then stared through the door it had been heading for. A long, dark passage led away from it.
Hazard and Tibalt were left facing two of the green-eyed beasts, both injured but still dangerous. Hazard touched the rune inscribed on his chest – a burst of fiery energy sprang from it, forming a shape in the air for a moment, then rushed towards the creature, wrapping around it to form fiery chains, holding it in place. The creature screamed in pain. Tibalt started swatting at it with the wand of office, and Hazard turned to the other.
Sir Gerigold glanced back – three acolytes had been dragged away by the creatures and were no longer to be seen, but this one in the small chamber was safe now. Meanwhile, Hazard was facing two of the things, even if the strange runes he had now started using were helping him, and there were two injured and paralyzed acolytes lying helpless nearby if either of the creatures turned on them. He ran back up the room, bludgeoning the fourth long-tongued creature from behind as Greynen also turned and hit it with his magic. It fell, and Hazard instead turned his greatsword back to the creature he had imprisoned in fiery chains, making short work of it.
Meanwhile, Morgaen had lit her candle at the sconce burning in the small chamber, and she and Ragnar charged down the passage, heedless of danger, trying to catch up with the three remaining monsters and their victims. At the end of the passageway was a spiral stair – scuff marks on the walls and the central pillar suggesting that things had been tumbled down there. Morgaen and Ragnar ran down and down, round multiple turns in the stairs. Ragnar reached the bottom first and hesitated for a moment, unable to see in the darkness, but when Morgaen caught up with the candle they examined the room where the spiral staircase ended.
They were too late – there was nobody there, neither the things nor the acolytes they had taken. A few old wooden tables stood around the walls, with unlit sconces on the walls, and there was nowhere to hide. They examined the ground – drops of blood, either from the injured acolytes or from the creature Morgaen had shot before it vanished, led across the room towards a dark hole in the ground, about ten feet wide with a battered stone ledge around it. They walked over, carefully, Morgaen holding the candle and using her darkvision to see the darkness beyond its light as shadows.
Far down the hole, a circle of dark water waited, ominously.
The creatures had taken the acolytes down the well.
Upstairs, the rest of the party took a moment after the last creature fell, breathing heavily.
“Oh, my goodness,” Tibalt exclaimed, distressed. “They – must have come up from the well downstairs! I thank you for all you have done so far – please, do anything you can to save the others!”
“Is there anything you can do to help us?” Sir Gerigold asked.
“I – have only very little magic granted to me, so far – I can heal any of you who need it now, but anything more –”
“They came up from the well,” Greynen interrupted. “Do any of these creatures – look like Father Reginald?”
“NO! Most certainly not!”
“The squat ones look like ghouls to me, and I think the long-tongued ones are ghasts,” Sir Gerigold put in, trying to change the subject. “That would explain the way the acolytes were paralysed, but it is strange and concerning that they were taken. Neither ghouls nor ghasts are known for taking prisoners.”
“Their eyes are still glowing,” Greynen noted, interested. He squatted down next to one of them to inspect this phenomenon, pushing his spiky hair back from his face. “They definitely seem to be dead – properly dead, I mean – ah. Look at these.”
He drew his dagger and dug something out of each of the creature’s eye sockets, showing them two green, glowing stones. The others watched him, aghast.
“Want one?” Greynen offered Hazard, who looked disgusted. “I suspect they’re magic. Probably some form of controlling device.”
They advised Tibalt to dig the emeralds out of the rest of the creatures’ eyes, in case they otherwise reanimated them, and to ask the rest of the townsfolk if they had heard of or seen anything like them before. Before they went to try to catch up with the others, Tibalt laid his hands on Hazard and invoked divine magic – but it seemed to be true that he had very little. Hazard only felt a trickle of healing power entering his body.
“Thanks for patching the scratch,” he said, drily, inspecting the several deep claw-wounds that were still showing.
Greynen handed the two removed emeralds to the distressed dwarf as they left the church’s main hall. They lit a torch and headed down the corridor the others had vanished along, finding the stairs and hoping, as they descended, that their comrades had not gone too far and run into trouble.
They found Ragnar and Morgaen still in the cellar at the bottom of the stairs. Ragnar had got out the dagger which gave him nightvision while turning his eyes white and milky, and was leaning over the well, peering down. Morgaen was standing further back.
“They went down there,” she told the others. “There’s a blood trail.”
"This'll be that well Tibalt mentioned, there's water at the bottom," Ragnar reported. “I reckon it’s about forty feet to the waterline, but I can’t make out how deep it might be after that.”
The others also peered down. The well widened out after about twenty feet, and the water seemed to have a current flowing through it. They could not see anything else.
Hazard picked up a piece of rubble from the floor of the storeroom and dropped it down the well. There was a sploosh as it hit the water – but nothing to suggest how deep it was. He shrugged at the others.
“Someone will have to go first to find out what’s down there,” he said. “I’ve got a rope.”
“Who’s the lightest?” Sir Gerigold asked.
The others all looked at Morgaen – shorter and slighter even than Greynen. She took another step back.
“I – can’t,” she said, turning pale. “I – don’t think I can go down there –”
“What is it?” Hazard asked.
“I can’t see into that water – I can’t go down into it. There was this time when I was young – I don’t want to talk about it – but I can’t just go down into – dark water, alright?” She bit her lip. “I can call for guidance for whoever does go down. To make the climb easier. But – at least I can’t go first. Not knowing what’s down there.”
“Right,” Sir Gerigold said. “Hazard, give me the rope.” He made it fast to a large, heavy wooden bench that was bolted to the wall, and went to the edge of the well. “Can someone check my knot?”
Morgaen steadied herself a little and did so.
“It’s secure,” she announced, then closed her eyes, gesturing and speaking under her breath. “And you have help on the way down.”
Sir Gerigold nodded briefly and let himself down backwards over the edge.
He walked backwards down the wall, the climb not proving difficult but his instincts screaming out that going backwards into darkness quite possibly containing ghouls was a bad idea. Sternly, he governed his fears, and his heartbeat stayed under control – a little faster, perhaps, but not the strange pounding he had unexpectedly experienced when entering the abandoned Moldavia Manor.
When the sides of the well broadened out, he had to start going down hand-over-hand; he scanned the ground around the bottom of the well, saw no threats, called up as much to his comrades above, and descended. There was another stone ring in the middle of the ground, visible above the water which flowed through gaps in the ring and then out of gaps on the other side. Around the ring, the water seemed to be shallow, and flowing sluggishly.
Carefully, he lowered himself the last few feet, reaching out and setting first one boot, then the other, on the ring of stone. He transferred the rope to his left hand and drew his maul, then glanced around him – the walls seemed strangely uneven, but there was no movement to be seen, no immediate threat. “Still nothing,” he called up, then carefully set one foot outside the stone ring. The water there was shallow, barely up to his ankles. Still holding one-handed to the rope, Sir Gerigold carefully lowered one foot into the dark, slowly-flowing water inside the stone ring.
It only went about halfway up his shin – just about deep enough to fill a tipped-over bucket.
“And it’s not deep,” he called up. “Less than a foot -- only enough to get your feet wet, Morgaen. It’s – well, it’s not very nice down here, but it’s safe to come down, so far. Who’s next?”
Greynen took up the rope – Morgaen repeated her whispered incantation seeking the guidance of spirits, then turned her back to the others and walked over to one of the tables. In the torchlight, they could see that her pointed ears had turned red. They turned back to watching Greynen’s descent.
Greynen, less athletic, made harder, slower work of the descent than Sir Gerigold. He nearly lost his grip and had to cling on for a minute when the sides dropped away and he had to change to hand-over-hand rather than rappelling down the wall, but the moment passed, and he managed the rest of the climb successfully if slowly, legs as well as arms wrapped around the hanging rope.
Sir Gerigold had been alternating between talking him down through his fumble and glancing down the two dark corridors leading off from the well chamber. He let go of the hanging end of the rope only when Greynen was near the bottom, and the warlock swung himself over agilely over the edge of the well, landing with a light splash in the sluggish water around it. He also glanced around for threats, then smiled appreciation at Sir Gerigold. The knight did not reciprocate – and after a moment, Greynen realised why.
There was a darkness that went beyond physical darkness at the bottom of the well – a heavy and cloying presence which left Greynen acutely aware of his mortality. He reached out, for a moment almost in panic, for the sense he always had of his archfey patron’s mystical connection to him, and found it still there– whatever this was, he was not cut off from the Lady of Dreams here. But this did not ease the indifferent, waiting presence of the darkness around him.
“Not very nice,” he said caustically.
Sir Gerigold did not rise to this.
“You keep watch on that one,” he said, gesturing to one of the tunnels.
Greynen turned to it. His darkvision, in shades of grey, was somewhat blurred, less distinct than his usual vision – the uneven shape of the walls was a particular problem to make out – but he could just make out that the tunnel bent to the right after about thirty feet instead of ending. He settled himself, steeling his nerves against the oppressive darkness, and stood keeping watch on the tunnel.
Ragnar came next, the strongly built warrior-cleric clambering slowly but securely down to join them despite being unable to see in the darkness.
“You’re nearly at the bottom,” Sir Gerigold told him, quietly.
“Less than a foot deep, you said?”
Ragnar let go of the rope and landed heavily in the well, knees bent, water splashing up onto the stone ring. He clambered out, grasped the dagger, then put his pack down and pulled out a torch. He fished in his pouch for his tinderbox. Greynen took it and lit the torch Ragnar held out to him, and the cleric held the torch high for the three of them to see their surroundings more clearly.
The walls around them were made of bones. Hundreds of bones, thousands, in different sizes but all yellowed with age. All of them human.
Ragnar paled noticeably as the oppressive atmosphere of the charnel-house they found themselves in pressed down on him. The other two had hoped that having the torch would give them some relief from the sense of threat surrounding them – but if anything, seeing what was there, what the entire place was, made the lurking, death-promising presence even stronger.
The rope started jerking as another of their companions started the descent.
In the cellar above, Morgaen had left her guitar wrapped in her coat on the table and walked back over to the well. She tersely suggested to Hazard that she had better go next – in case being last meant she could not, in fact, make herself join them. The fighter shrugged and stepped back.
She took hold of the rope, stood on the edge of the well and tried to settle herself. She told herself firmly that the water she could see at the bottom was not deep. But her nerves were still raw and jangling from when she had faced the idea of having to go down into dark water after the missing acolytes -- when the memory of the tight grip around her ankle and the crushing pressure around her chest as she had struggled for breath had come rushing back. Her chest was tight now, her breathing shallow. She stood on the edge of the well, holding the rope, and for a long, long moment she could not move.
Hazard did not say anything, or change his expression, but knowing she was under observation was what forced Morgaen into action.
If I don’t go now, he’ll think – they’ll all think – that I can’t.
Pride briefly got the upper hand over fear. She gestured and whispered for guidance in the task to follow, leaned back over the edge, then stepped backwards down the well. The first few feet were tricky as she settled into the technique, but she had a sense of someone experienced at her shoulder, telling her what to do with her hands and her weight. As she kept stepping backwards, however, despite telling herself repeatedly it’s not deep, the water’s not deep, she started to feel something else. A waiting presence – not malevolent, but terrible. Even more terrible because it did not feel directed at her, but merely waiting, indifferent to whatever scrap of life appeared before it. Her own fears imagined this presence in the well beneath her, and despite knowing that the dark water was not the death trap she had taken it for – knowing was not feeling. Her sense of the depth of the water, and the dark waiting threat she imagined could be found in it, kept growing with every backwards step. She stared grimly at the stones of the well, keeping her eyes focused on the stonework and telling herself that stopping and going back up would be worse than carrying on. Suddenly, there was nothing underfoot – she kicked, sickeningly, in midair and her weight swung the rope and her body against the side of the well as she lost her grip with the other foot and clung desperately. She had been focusing so hard on making herself keep going that she had forgotten to check how far she had gone.
She heard voices below but ignored them – she focused on the spirit-voice her spell had brought to her, managed to adjust her grip, and finished the rest of the descent hand over hand with her eyes firmly closed, focusing on climbing and nothing else. Sir Gerigold grabbed the rope and pulled it over to the side, steering her to the ground outside the well. When she opened her eyes he was standing in front of her.
“Just breathe for a minute,” he suggested, quietly.
Morgaen nodded, and breathed deeply to steady herself, then looked up the wellshaft. She could just see Hazard’s form at the top with her darkvision. She whispered her spell again, and waved at him; he swung himself easily out into the shaft. Morgaen stepped round Sir Gerigold to get out of the way.
Her eyes widened as she saw what the walls were made of, and as the sense she had had of the dark, waiting presence in the crypts came crowding back into her mind.
This was a bad, bad idea. Something terrible is going to happen.
Sir Gerigold came over again when he saw Hazard had nearly reached the ground, but the dark-haired fighter seemed far less affected by the atmosphere of the crypts, and the sight of the piles of bones, than the rest of them. As the sense of dread which had almost overwhelmed the others hit him, he merely raised an eyebrow.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“We can find no tracks,” Sir Gerigold said. “The water flowing everywhere makes that impossible. But there is this door.”
The other three were stood to one side, where the bones gave way to stone. There were narrow lines tracing the shape of a double door – but no handles, and no keyhole. Instead, a distubingly realistic pair of stone hands protruded from the door – holding between them, across the centre of the doorway, a stone bowl. Green flecks of magical light were dancing over it.
“There is writing below it,” Sir Gerigold said with distaste. “It is in the Infernal tongue. I recognise it, but I do not speak it.”
“Infernal? I know that one,” Hazard said, interested, and headed for the door.
Sir Gerigold looked taken aback and seemed about to say something – but decided to leave it. How and why an acolyte of Sune, goddess of beauty, had learned Infernal was perhaps a discussion for another time and place.
Hazard pushed through the others and crouched to inspect the writing. Morgaen saw that he was down, and her spell of guidance was no longer needed, so took herself to one side and started casting a spell to detect magic. Her hands shook as she took her flute out of her pouch, but holding the instrument and humming to herself while fingering the notes she used to cast the spell seemed to steady her nerves somewhat.
Hazard traced the writing in the flickering light of the torch.
“Pay now the toll of the living,” he pronounced, “lest ye enter the domains of the dead too rich in life.”
They discussed the possibilities – the obvious one was to put blood in the bowl. But not knowing what would happen, or if doing so would have any other effect, made that seem like a bad idea. The dark atmosphere had everyone, except possibly Hazard, on edge, and made them disinclined to take the risk, especially when they also had no way of knowing what was behind the door.
When Morgaen finished her spell, there was a further disturbing discovery. The door was not magical. Despite the green flecks of light leaping over the bowl, and its disturbing message, there was no magical aura coming from it at all.
Greynen tried spitting in it, to see if that was enough ‘life’, but nothing happened.
Morgaen, still very pale, rolled up one sleeve and took hold of her dagger.
Sir Gerigold grabbed her arm.
“What are you doing?”
“We won’t get anything done by standing around, so let’s get on with something!” the bard argued.
At that moment, a tremor rippled through the chamber.
It began with a disturbance in the water – then they could hear the sound of thousands of bones juddering, just slightly, against each other. It was like nothing any of them had ever heard before – or ever wanted to hear again. The smell of the old bones wafted over them as the walls trembled…
The bones settled again and were still.
There was no evidence of fresh blood in the bowl, it was quickly agreed, so it was unlikely that the missing acolytes were in there. They should search elsewhere. Now. At once.
They set off down the western passageway from the chamber.
The stream of water had run away under the bones and they were on dry-ish ground again. There was still no evidence of any usable tracks, but they kept going and after about fifity feet and a couple of turns in the winding passageway, they came to a fork. One passage to the right led slightly upwards, with a deep pit yawning in its opening. There was another passage off to the left.
They all felt drawn to the gaping pit to the right. Trying to see if it led even further downwards, if there might be some sign of the ghouls and their victims descending it, they gathered around and inspected the edges.
As Hazard and Morgaen, the last to arrive, joined the others around the pit, the edge they were standing on lurched alarmingly. They threw themselves back – but more of the ground collapsed under them, sending the pair hurtling downwards! The others jumped back just in time – then approached again, very cautiously, calling out anxiously for them.
Hazard and Morgaen had fallen thirty feet. The path they had been walking on was also built on bones – the pit was a gaping maw down into them, and now another scar ripped down from where they had fallen, to the bottom of the pit where the bones were packed tighter again. Both of them had been hurt – Hazard less seriously, but the injuries he had taken when the ghouls attacked had opened up again. He muttered something under his breath about gods who couldn’t take a joke about their acolytes’ lack of healing abilities.
Morgaen had to reach for her magic to heal both of them before they could think of getting out – but it looked as if trying to climb up would only dislodge more bones, and it turned out that the others did not have a rope. Hazard’s had been left hanging in the well, and Morgaen’s was down the pit with them. Luckily, one of the new cantrips Greynen’s patron had recently gifted him with was mage hand, letting him carry one end of the rope up so that Sir Gerigold and the others could pull Morgaen and Hazard out of the pit.
Backing away from it as soon as they were clear, those further down the corridor could feel a difference in the air – there was more moisture in the air again, but different to the cold dank atmosphere of the wellshaft. They could also hear more water lapping at the ground, somewhere along the rising corridor. Still walking carefully, checking ahead and behind, they headed up the rise.
Sir Gerigold and Greynen were the first to be able to see their destination. In the light of the flickering torch behind them, they spotted open water, and noticed an odd smell – a sulphurous smell. The walls of piled bones opened out, revealing a larger cave. More than half of it was covered in water. It seemed to be a natural spring.
They checked for a moment and scanned the area. That was when they noticed the bodies.
Limp figures in white robes – two humans and a dwarf – were floating face-down in the water, their skin deathly pale. Thin trails of blood had ebbed out from their wrists but were already spreading out and becoming lost in the water around them.
The others followed them out of the tunnel – except for Hazard, who held back to watch their rear. Sir Gerigold and Greynen moved silently along the edge of the spring, giving the others space to see what had become of the missing acolytes.
“Should we get them out?” Greynen asked hesitantly.
“They are dead, and I am not sure about that water… This could be a trap,” Sir Gerigold said. “Perhaps we could pull them in somehow without getting into it ourselves.”
Morgaen, nervously checking how deep the water looked, noticed something.
“That one at the back – they’re face up,” she said, pointing. “Do you think they might –”
As she spoke, the acolyte moved – thrashing for a moment, then their body went still and they slipped under the water.
Sir Gerigold, potential trap or not, ran out into the sulphurous water and grabbed the acolyte’s body. He hauled them to shore, and Greynen cast a cantrip that should have preserved any spark of life that was left. They all tried to see if there was anything they could do to save the acolyte – but it was too late.
They had died in the water as their would-be rescuers hesitated on the shore.
The party had failed to save even one of the kidnapped acolytes.
This was Part 5 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: Mitja Juraja, Robert Stokoe, Cottonbro, Merlin Lightpainting, Francesco Ungaro, Cottonbro, Dids, Cottonbro, Omer Shatz, Cottonbro, Deann DaSilva, Athena, Mitja Juraja, Cottonbro, Katrina Rodriguez, Patrick Porto.