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A Tale of Nightmares Part 4 - Dust, Ashes and Tentacles.

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. That is not the party's experience, as strange happenings surround them and monsters stir.

The party consists of:

  • Sir Gerigold - A Male Half-Elven Paladin of The Morninglord (played by Paul)

  • Hazard Darkstar - A Male Human Fighter (played by Alexander)

  • Greynen Falstaer - A Male Half-Elven Warlock (played by Mark)

  • Morgaen Nightbreeze - A Female Half-Elven Bard (played by Imogen)

  • Ragnar son of Bjorn - A Male Human Cleric of Odinson (played by Alex)

The party have been hired to carry the ashes of Eleanor Valkyr, their employer Baron Rennet's late wife, to her family mausoleum in the Painted Valley. It has not been a picnic to reach the mausoleum...

Morgaen used her thieves' tools to rapidly lock the door again -- Hazard and Ragnar were already dragging benches from the sides of the room. The bard jumped back as the plant creatures outside started thumping against the door, and Greynen used his darkvision to help Hazard and Ragnar find and barricade the door. Then Hazard lit a torch. The party waited tensely for a few moments, but the thumping did not appear to be making an impression on the stone door.

They looked around. The circular stone room was forty feet high, with a few more benches and shelves around it, and unlit sconces hanging from the ceiling about ten feet up. Off to one side, stairs began to wind upwards.

In the centre of the room, shimmering with light that was not only from their torch, was the figure of Eleanor Valkyr, Lady Rennet.

-Welcome,- the ghost said, with an echo to her voice as if it was coming from much further away.

Morgaen sketched a bow.

“Lady, we have brought your ashes with us,” she said, feeling a little awkward.

-Thank you-, the ghost said, not seeming to find this awkward at all. -I am still bound to them, as you see – you must leave my ashes on the topmost floor of the tower, where my family are laid to rest.-

“Lady,” Sir Gerigold said solemnly, “I am sorry to ask it, but could you tell us some more of the circumstances of your death? We were most confused by what had happened at Moldavia Manor, including where we found your body, and it might have some bearing on your being still bound to your ashes.”

The ghost looked down for a moment.

-Yes, I remember… the worms, they attacked in the cellar. During the party, the son of the late Count Moldavia lured a group of us downstairs into the wine cellar. Some of us simply died, others were – infected… However, I do not think this is the reason I am still here. Now I am dead I can sense things – and I can tell that there is some evil here, further up the tower, which seems to be preventing me from passing over. I think it is the same evil thing which has taken over the valley. I am afraid I think that you must defeat it in order to lay me to rest.-

This sounded like an alternative way to leave the mausoleum without having to fight their way through an overwhelming horde of purple fungi, so nobody had any objection. Sir Gerigold, Hazard and Ragnar were still injured from the fight outside, so they decided to wait for a while to tend their wounds before going up to search for the creature responsible for the valley being possessed. It was hard to rest at first, with the creatures banging futilely on the doors outside, but Morgaen struck up a tune to drown it out and let the others rest properly, aligning her playing to the Song of Creation and drawing out the power to help wounds mend more easily. Sir Gerigold, once he had recovered his breath, waited for a change in the music and then struck up a song in praise to the Morninglord. The knight’s performance made the others smile – although not perhaps in the way that he had intended, since he was comically bad. Morgaen grinned and adjusted her playing to account for this.

After an hour or so, the injured had recovered, and Greynen had regained his magical strength. After a short discussion between Ragnar and Hazard, the two without darkvision, about who ought to carry the torch, Greynen took it from them. With Sir Gerigold leading the way, they set off carefully up the stairs. Eleanor’s ghost anxiously watched them go.

Poking his head carefully above the level of the floor, Sir Gerigold saw nothing immediately dangerous about the second storey. It was dark, but he could see that it was just slightly less high than the ground floor, was mostly clear of any furnishings apart from a few shadowy objects on the other side of the room, and there seemed to be something different about the walls… However, nothing was moving. He beckoned the rest of the party up.

Once they were all there with the torch, they made a closer inspection of the room, and discovered that the shapes over the walls which Sir Gerigold had noted seemed to be vines, or possibly roots, twining down from upstairs. The vines were clinging to the stones of the wall, burrowing into them in places and causing damage, and there was an odd, damp smell to the room. The dust was thick, but there was a kind of moist haze in the air, possibly coming from the vines.

Across the room, there were more vines, more closely entwined – but it was still possible to see a number of portraits on the wall, and stone busts. Most of these were thick with dust, except where damp stains were developing – but one, off to the left, seemed to have been cleaned off recently. Curious, Morgaen set off across the room towards it.

All of the party had been too interested in checking out the room to notice a certain drowsiness growing on them, but now it became noticeable. As Morgaen got closer to the vines, she breathed in more of the odd, damp smell – then she felt her eyes closing. The others saw her fall at about the same time that they became conscious of a strange drowsiness, but they managed to shake it off – then saw, to their horror, a large bump in one of the vines starting to move. It squeezed down towards one end of the vine, bulged alarmingly for a moment – then, with a popping sound and a waft of the scent of decay, a purple fungus creature emerged from the vine!

Ragnar dashed over, shaking Morgaen until her eyes opened. She yelped and scrambled back when she saw the purple fungus starting to ooze towards her, but it was dispatched before she even had time to get to her feet – hit first by a bolt of eldritch magic from Greynen, this being immediately followed by Sir Gerigold’s warhammer, which splattered the creature all over the tiles. Hazard, close on the paladin’s heels, looked put out to have missed his chance to hit it as well.

The party walked over to the portrait, Morgaen vindictively kicking one of the vines as she passed it. They covered their mouths and noses as best they could and examined the one clean portrait.

It was of a certain Berenice Valkyr – there was no particular information on her portrait, but from the dates, and inscriptions on the nearby busts and other portraits, they could work out that she must have been Eleanor Valkyr’s grandmother. There was no apparent reason why this portrait, rather than the others, would be so clean. They noticed something else – a silver brooch or insignia on Berenice’s clothes in the portrait, which appeared like the insignia some of them were familiar with for different magical orders. Greynen rather thought might be a dark magical order.

Morgaen's shock and pique at being put to sleep were overcome by her usual curiosity and she went to look at the other portraits, cleaning them off to see if any of them also showed this insignia. None did, but clambering over the vines and disturbing the dust, she came across two intriguing objects. One was a silver statue of a raven – like the portrait, in this dusty room it was inexplicably clean. Morgaen inspected it carefully and cautiously, but nothing happened. She also came across a brass object, tangled in the vines – and, bending to pick it up, she stopped. It was a brass disk, covered in incomprehensible signs – a very familiar-looking type of brass disk. She warned the others what she had found, then touched it.

Immediately, they all shared another vision:

The knight with the crown-shaped helm was riding with other knights of his order, to attend their Council. On their way, the knights came across an attack by several ogres on a travelling party of elves, and came to the elves’ aid, killing the ogres. The elves thanked them and asked for the knights’ protection for the rest of their journey – the two groups went on towards where the Council was to be held, together.

One evening, the knight was speaking with a very beautiful female elf, late into the night when the rest of their companions were sleeping. He came to feel very at ease with her and stopped acting with the restraint appropriate to a married man… eventually giving in to temptation. Awakening the following morning to the knowledge he had done wrong, the conflict he felt was clear.

The party blinked and looked at each other as the vision cleared. Morgaen held the second brass disk a moment longer, then handed it to Ragnar. He stowed it away in his backpack, with the first brass disk and the silver urn containing Eleanor Valkyr’s ashes.

“I’ll check the Black Book later,” Morgaen said thoughtfully, “but we have other things to do right now… It is probably some kind of plant monster upstairs, with all these vines, creating and controlling the fungus creatures and possessing other creatures. But this also seems to be somehow connected to Berenice Valkyr, since her portrait has been cleaned off and looked at. Someone has been here more recently than any visit to lay the Valkyrs to rest, since both the portrait and this silver raven are clean rather than dusty. My guess would be that whoever came here is somehow responsible for the creature that has possessed the valley – and it might be connected to that dark magical order she is wearing the insignia of. They might even be connected to the Dark Lord who the Knight of the Rose told Sir Gerigold to stop, when we got these tattoos.” She touched her hourglass tattoo - the apparently magical marking that they all had on their left wrists, with the sand visibly moving on their skin, pouring away, but the level of it still unchanged despite the five days that had passed. “But we had better not hang about any more, now – not unless we want the effect of these spores or whatever they are in the air to build up and start making us sleepy again.”

The others agreed. Getting back into their former order – Sir Gerigold first, Ragnar next, then Greynen with the torch, followed by Hazard and Morgaen – they headed up the stairs, Sir Gerigold again sticking his head up first, seeing nothing immediately dangerous and heading cautiously into the room to get a closer look, followed by the others. The paladin also had one hand poised and the words of a blessing for battle half-formed in his mind, ready to cast. This time, the room was only thirty feet high, up to the roof – there were no further stairs. Four lamps hung from the roof beams, dangling ten feet above the ground. This time, there were no busts or portraits – three coffins were arranged in a semicircle on the other side of the tower, flanked by sets of shelves with many silver urns set on them. Vines were everywhere on the other side of the room – especially tangled about the central coffin. They burrowed into the walls and floor, leaving loose stones strewn around. Sir Gerigold walked out into the room as quietly as he could – and for a big man, his half-elvish grace could still make him surprisingly quiet when needed. However, he was followed by Ragnar, who managed to accidentally kick one of the loose stones and send it spinning and clattering across the floor. The others, following him, abandoned the attempt to be silent and focused on scanning the room, instead.

Vines were everywhere on the other side of the room – especially tangled about the central coffin. As they checked the room for any threats a couple of the party noticed these vines quiver. Then, as they warned the others, more vines erupted from the coffin! They latched onto the wall, and a dark mass hauled itself out of the coffin, crying out in a horrendously distorted, apparently female voice,

I’ve been sleeping, waiting for you, Eleanor!”

The mass of green tentacles uncoiled, revealing the horrendous truth that the tentacles were, themselves, alive - attached to the vines, or tendrils, which the creature had embedded across the upper two storeys of the tower. It laughed at them, writhed – bumps slid down the vines – and four purple fungi plopped out across the room, between the party and the green-tentacled creature.

Sir Gerigold called out his blessing like a trumpet, silver light shining on himself, Hazard and Greynen as he did so. Morgaen called out “Looks like we’ve finally found something worth the damage you can do!” to Sir Gerigold and ran in to a point just out of range of two of the purple fungi. She strummed her guitar and summoned magic into the notes, sending a thunderous force out from her to slam into her targets - one of them was blown clear across the room, crashing into two of the others. Hazard followed up as Morgaen retreated out of harm’s way, charging in and attacking the clearly damaged purple fungus.

Eleanor!” the green, tentacled creature shrieked. “You were made so perfect – only to die!” It cackled with hideous laughter – and lashed out at Hazard, catching the fighter a harsh blow. He reeled but stayed standing, as the vines coming from the coffin pulsed, and another purple fungus emerged.

Greynen called on his magic, and bright light surrounded the creature – it writhed, but could not throw it off, its tentacles now lit up with dancing green flames which made it stand out in the dim light at the edges of the torch’s illumination. Ragnar ran in, casting another thunderwave at the main group of purple fungi, and with damage already done Sir Gerigold, choosing his targets carefully, managed to dispatch two of them in two mighty blows of his maul. The way was nearly clear for the party to attack the creature – but now the remaining fungi had started lashing out with their tendrils, targeting their attacks against Hazard, who retaliated. Morgaen shouted a compliment of Greynen’s skill in fixing of the faerie fire on the creature, seeing him take this praise and gather his strength – then unleashed her words and her magic at the creature, attempting to unsettle it and throw off its next attack.

“You try to mock me, little girl?” it shrieked, and laughed at her, then clambered further up the wall, pulsed its body and spat a mouthful of spikes towards Hazard, who twisted aside just in time.

I saw something horrible in the tower,” the creature said, in a voice which sounded strangely like Valdemar, the Painted Valley’s keeper, “but I can’t remember what.” The vines pulsed again – this time, three more fungi plopped out of the ends of the vines.

Ragnar, Sir Gerigold and Hazard, unable to reach the creature with their weapons, kept up a barrage of blows against the purple fungi, trying to clear the area and make sure none of their targets could get near Greynen and Morgaen. With the clear target given by the faerie fire, Greynen hit the creature with a blast of magic, and Morgaen, mystically branding the creature that had insulted her word-skill as prey, added a crossbow bolt that hit the creature right between what seemed to be its eyes – not killing it, but doing considerable damage. The creature scuttled round on the ceiling, as the fungi attacked the three melee combatants again. Hazard, taking heavy damage, knocked back a potion of healing one-handed before attacking once more.

The creature spat out spikes – first at Ragnar, then at Hazard – then jeered “I can’t believe it wasn’t insulted by my mockery!” in a voice eerily like a distorted version of Morgaen’s. The bard flinched, then her jaw set and she took aim again, as the vines pulsed out even more fungi. Greynen delivered another eldritch blast – and this time, the creature shrieked at the impact and writhed as thick black blood started to ooze out of the injury, dripping down the wall. The others kept smashing at the purple fungi. Hazard, who had taken the most damage, breathed heavily and tried to get his second wind. Sir Gerigold, seeing his condition, dispatched the closest fungus to the fighter – then backed up, keeping a wary eye on the creature, now thirty feet above him.

“Coward!” he shouted at it, pouring all the righteous scorn he was capable of into his voice. “Come down and fight – unless you prefer leaving your offspring to die for you!”

This seemed to touch a nerve. The green light rippled and moved, as the creature pulled itself round on the ceiling and started to descend, eyes fixed on the paladin. Morgaen complimented his insult technique before loosing another crossbow bolt, and the paladin hefted his maul with grim confidence – then the creature gave a hideous cry and flung spikes at the paladin, the vines writhing violently and releasing four more purple fungi – entirely surrounding Sir Gerigold! Greynen flung another eldritch blast across the chamber, but despite another hit with considerable damage, the creature merely gave an angry neigh and focused its strange eyes back on the surrounding paladin, clearly gathering its strength for another attack.

Ragnar slammed one of the purple fungi away from Hazard, and stepped between the fighter and the others, turning to face their two remaining opponents.

“I’ve got this – help Sir Gerigold!” he shouted.

Surrounded, the paladin lashed out mightily and again managed to use the weight of his maul to strike first one, then another creature with blinding speed, but a writhing mass of tendrils was rising from the others about him. Decided that prudence was a virtue, he ran through the space he had just cleared, but was lashed – embarrassingly, on the posterior – as he retreated, hearing the creature’s mocking laughter at his retreat.

Hazard, seeing Ragnar holding two creatures back but Sir Gerigold getting clear of his predicament by himself, took a deep breath and focused himself. reaching for a trick he had held in reserve. The vines had loosened stones from the wall and floors of the tower – and there was one of the loose ones, right there by his foot. He shouted out the words of a spell and stamped – the stone brick catapulted upwards, through what appeared to be the creature’s mouth, and right out the back of its head! Black blood spattered on the wall behind it as it screamed, half-fell – but caught itself, and turned baleful eyes on Hazard and Sir Gerigold, the two tall warriors now standing close to each other in the centre of the room, on guard.

You, sir, have insulted my honour!” it snarled, its voice even more distorted but somehow still having Sir Gerigold’s tone and inflection. It writhed, and Sir Gerigold prepared to deflect the spikes with his shield -- but instead the creature lashed out at the pair with its tentacles, grabbing them and smashing them on the floor. Hazard rolled clear once the vicious assault was over, coming back to his feet in a rush – but Sir Gerigold did not move.

Greynen kept his focus despite his comrades’ peril, took aim – and unleashed a viciously accurate blast of magic.

The creature screamed out in agony – the purple fungi dropped, withering, to the floor. Those still standing felt a moment’s exultation. But instead of dropping with them, the parent plant creature flung its tentacles back and hauled itself up the wall again, black blood oozing everywhere. It clung to the wall, its tentacles starting to burrow into the stone, and the vines running from the coffin started to pulse even more violently, ripping themselves loose and also starting to work their way deeply into the stones of the tower.

Living, I have been your plague – and dying, I shall be your DOOOOOOM!”

It convulsed and flung itself, hard, from side to side. The burrowing vines also beginning to thrash violently. The whole tower started to shake.

Ragnar ran to Sir Gerigold, summoning sparks of lightning to dance around his hand. He dropped to one knee, slapping the knight on the chest. The magic sprung from him, shocking the paladin awake.

Morgaen took careful aim, and landed another crossbow bolt, knocking a huge chunk from the creature’s head – but it only laughed at her as black blood exploded from it. The party realised there would be no way to finish the mortally wounded creature off entirely before the tower collapsed on them – the only thing to do was to try to escape, and pray that they made it in time.

They started running for the stairs, finding it hard not to get in each others’ way – Sir Gerigold deliberately held back rather than risk shoving or trampling his smaller comrades. The distorted laughter echoed behind them. Ragnar, stumbling against a wall at the bottom of a flight of stairs, threw himself further down to hit the ground with his hand, then shouted words of power, raising his hand high – and mists wrapped around him, taking him further onwards in a great leap. Morgaen, in the middle of the group, jumped onto the banister out of the way of the others and called out the words of the same spell, disappearing in a silvery mist as she dropped but reappearing to land on her feet at the top of the next flight of stairs before dashing onwards. She reached the ground floor ahead of the others, and frantically dragged their barricades away from the door.

Eleanor’s ghost was drifting towards her.

“We killed the creature keeping you here, but now there’s a bit of a problem!” Morgaen gasped out, getting the door open.

The ghost nodded emphatically, making shooing gestures towards the door as the shaking intensified. Pieces of rock started to fall from the ceiling, the beams creaking terribly.

Morgaen flung the door wide and ran for the path they had arrived by, narrowly avoiding slipping on the collapsed remains of the purple fungi lying thickly outside. Greynen put on a final burst of speed, dodging nimbly past Ragnar and Hazard to escape the tower just ahead of them, and followed Morgaen.

The whole tower collapsed in on itself, upper floors crashing into the lower, and falling outwards to cover the entire clearing, with a great crashing sound, dust – and possibly ashes – rising everywhere, and as the roof crashed down on the rest, a final distorted screeching laugh of triumph – abruptly cut short.

Greynen and Morgaen, pulling up round the bend in the path when they realised the tower’s ruins were not going to fall that far, breathed hard, the bard unslinging and carefully checking her guitar. Then they smiled at each other with relief – looked around for the others – looked back towards the tower – and, eyes widening, stared at each other as they realised that there was no one else to be seen.

The others had not got out.

Immediately, they bolted back the way they had come, hurdling over the outlying rubble until they reached the great pile of stone and beams and clambered up the side where the door and stairs had been. They scanned the wreckage desperately, at first seeing nothing but stone, broken wooden beams and twisted, crushed strands of vines.

A few strands of long golden hair glinted in a beam of sunlight. They bolted over – Sir Gerigold, furthest behind on the dash outside and further up the tower when it collapsed, was near the surface of the rubble. Greynen darted off again, looking for the others, while Morgaen made a quick decision, strummed the guitar and called the words of restoration again. Sir Gerigold’s hands twitched – his face was hidden, but she heard a gasp, then several deep breaths, and the stones moved.

Well, he would have to get himself out, or stay there for a bit – she had to help find the others. She jumped up and scanned the rubble again.

“I’ve found Hazard!” Greynen shouted, standing a short distance away and pointing down. Morgaen clambered over the stones towards them, squashing any ends of vines within reach as she went and reaching for her magic – but she only found a feeling of grey fatigue, deep within her. She realised, with grim recognition, that there would be no more spells for now – she had exhausted her magical strength.

She reached instead for the healer’s kit in her pouch, and managed to worm down next to Hazard, shifting just enough rubble to let her staunch his most serious wounds and stabilise him. He would probably be fine there until she could get Sir Gerigold to help extract him. She looked for Greynen again.

Sir Gerigold, trapped under the rubble, felt his considerable strength returning to him with the magical healing. He gathered himself and exerted a great effort. Stone and wood erupted upwards as he shoved it aside, executed a sharp sit-up and came smoothly upright, planting one foot triumphantly on the stone surrounding him and stepping up onto it as an admittedly dusty but still heroic-looking conqueror. A sunbeam lit him up as he emerged – he smiled with relief at the Morninglord’s greeting, then glanced around to see how he could best help the others.

“I’ve found Ragnar and he’s alive too!” Greynen shouted triumphantly, beckoning to both of them with one hand. In the other, he was clutching Ragnar’s beefy left fist, feeling his pulse.

Sir Gerigold and Morgaen started making their way over as fast as they could, but before they could reach them, Greynen felt a skip in Ragnar’s bulse – then a strong, almost convulsive double beat – and finally, nothing…

He looked up at the others as they arrived. He did not need to say anything – his face said it all.

Then, he felt Ragnar’s wrist jerk in his grip again. He stared down in shock, and dropped the hand, which fell to the ground. Sir Gerigold and Morgaen saw, as he did, the sand in the hourglass finally changing, running backwards and filling up the top of the hourglass.

The level of sand stopped rising when it reached a third of the way up the bulb.

The hand twitched – the rubble shifted. Sir Gerigold started hauling the rocks away from Ragnar’s body, helped by the others, and the cleric emerged, gasping. He stared up at them.

“I should be riding with the valkyries,” he said, confused and rather upset, “but something has sent me back here…”

They compared their tattoos, and he saw that his had filled up where the others' had not. He was even more confused.

Given that Ragnar seemed rather upset to have a mysterious resurrection instead of securing the heroic death he hoped for, it seemed insensitive to start a long discussion about this now. They went back to where Hazard was buried and all helped to dig him out.

The dark-haired fighter woke up blearily, and started speaking in a language none of them understood for a few moments, but then realised they didn’t understand him. He rolled over and sat up.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

It was at that moment that the last of the vines finally stopped twitching – and the birds started singing.

The five horses who had had the suspicious black streaks on their tongues came trotting round the bend in the bath, whinnying gladly. Morgaen dropped down to see them and got licked round the ear by one of them for her pains – she recoiled, but it gave an excellent chance to check out the animal’s tongue. It was normal.

When they turned round, Eleanor Valkyr’s ghost was drifting over the rubble.

-I thank you for all you have done, both for me and for my husband,- she said, gravely. -I think that child, Jenny, who you took to Rennet Manor will help him greatly… and I may now pass on to be with my family. Please, scatter my ashes here, where the ashes and bones of my ancestors may rest peacefully if in less grandeur than before, and for cleansing our resting place of this evil,- she added, holding out her hand as a light starting to shine around her, -as the last of my family, I bestow on you our Blessing of Luck.-

A warm, gentle breeze seemed to come from the light around the ghost – it surrounded all of them, soothing their skin and ruffling their hair, with a pleasant warmth growing inside them as well as out. Then the breeze was gone – but the warmth inside remained in each of them for a moment longer, before dwindling, but leaving behind a feeling that it was still there, a gently protective presence within them.

The light continued to shine around Eleanor’s ghost – she smiled. Then they could no longer see her face as the light around her brightened. When the light dimmed, she was gone.

They approached Valdemar’s cottage cautiously – but the keeper of the Painted Valley also appeared to have shaken off the baleful influence successfully. They were all trying to get a look at his tongue as they greeted him – made easier by his lack of teeth – and the black mark there had also vanished. He appeared confused more than anything else, and did not appear to have any idea of what had happened while he was under the creature’s influence. He could not even remember their arrival and was upset that he had not properly welcomed guests. Sir Gerigold explained that he had been under the influence of a creature which they had just killed and asked if they could stay at the cottage that night, as it would be too late by then to get back to Tenbrim or go on elsewhere.

“It’s a bit dusty, but you’re welcome,” Valdemar said, helpfully. “I’ll see if I’ve got any food – there’s probably some mushroom soup I can put on –"

“No mushrooms for me, thank you,” Morgaen said, firmly.

“No, no, they’re good ones, I’ve been eating them since I came here. If you’d like to take a walk while I get that on the stove, there’s the Valkyr Mausoleum down that path, locked up but it’s a very handsome building –”

“Ah – no, there isn’t,” Greynen said. “It’s now a pile of rubble.”

They explained where the creature had been, and what had happened when they killed it.

Valdemar stared down the path, to the empty space where the tower’s spire should have risen.

“Well,” he said, slowly, “I’d better start looking for a new job, then…”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary,” Sir Gerigold said consolingly, thinking of what a dire prospect this might be at the man’s time of life. “There is, you see, a considerable amount of clearing up to do.”

Valdemar visibly cheered up.

“Aye, there would be, at that. Thank you for that point. I’d best get on with it. But maybe tomorrow,” he added, looking at where the sun was on the horizon.

The next day dawned, and Sir Gerigold went out to meet it. He left Ragnar on watch – noticing as he went that Greynen seemed to have something tucked under his arm which he didn’t remember seeing before, and that Morgaen appeared to have a half-used candle carefully set up beside her. He remained outside for some time in prayer, until the others came out and joined him. Greynen was carrying a strange-looking tome, and Morgaen had a distant look in her eyes. Hazard seemed to have somehow marked two unusual symbols on his armour.

“I have come to a decision,” Sir Gerigold said, turning to them. “In front of you all, I am ready to affirm my oath – I swear to serve the Morninglord by trying to bring peace above all, turn those who have erred to the path of light, and slaying them only to protect the innocent they would otherwise harm.”

Ragnar flexed his arms.

“I feel stronger, today,” he announced. “I feel that despite not accepting my death yet, my god has blessed me with greater wisdom and strength to serve him.”

Greynen showed them his tome.

“My patron gave me this,” he said. “She appeared to me in a dream – she said that she is pleased with me so far, and that she is granting me more magic. This was here when I woke up.”

Morgaen looked down.

“I think I should tell all of you…” she said slowly, “Do you remember when I lied to Libran Moldavia, pretended I could hear his father trying to talk to me? Well… this may have come back to bite me, or perhaps it is our experience in the mausoleum trying to help Eleanor Valkyr… There are other spirits around here, not yet able to leave this world for the next, and last night I started – to be able to hear them. They can advise me – and I can tell their stories, so that they can finally pass on.”

They looked at Hazard, who was wearing his usual unconcerned expression.

“Are we going to Tenbrim or back to Baron Rennet first?” he asked, refusing to be drawn out about the new symbols on his gear.

They decided after a little discussion to report back to the Baron first and let him know that his wife had passed on. Travelling back past Moldavia Manor, they stopped for a short rest, and Morgaen decided to get over her distaste for the murky lake by seeing if anything happened when she tried to fish in it – but nothing took the bait, either fish or giant worms. During the halt, Ragnar examined the silver raven Morgaen had found in the mausoleum, aligning his senses and discovering that it had an aura of conjuration magic around it. However, he could not find any markings so still did not know what it might be used for, although he suggested that perhaps it might summon a message-raven. Morgaen took it back, after decided nothing was going to happen with her fishing, and racked her memory for any similar magic items she had encountered in her travels or studies. She thought that from the way it was formed, it was likely to be activated by throwing it into the air and calling a command word, but she had no way of knowing the command word. She also remembered to check the Black Book from Tenbrim, to see if the story the book told had now changed – and it had. The book now showed them the same vision as the second brass disk. Morgaen wondered if the elf in the vision might be connected to the elf who had wandered disoriented through Tenbrim some years ago, and the party decided to go back to Tenbrim after visiting the baron for further investigations and to see the priest at the Church of Saint Terragnis was available to speak to them yet.

The next day, after camping halfway between Moldavia Manor and Rennet Manor, they arrived a little before noon. Percival opened the door again – but he assured them that the Baron was now fully recovered, thanks to Sir Gerigold’s magical healing. He was in the garden round the back of the manor – with Jenny. Montressa Wend, however, was not recovered – in fact, he had worsened, seeming to lose his mind, and was now remaining unconscious. It was difficult even to feed him.

They left the horses with the servants and went upstairs to see if there was anything they could do. The drunkard they had brought back from Moldavia Manor was still in the same guestroom, but now it had a sour, sickroom smell. The once-fashionable Montessa Wend the Third Esquire was slumped on the bed, stains around his mouth and on his clothes from where the servants had had to try to get food down him with limited success.

Sir Gerigold tried again to lay his hands on the man and heal him, but whatever this affliction was, it did not seem to be a disease that the paladin could cure. Ragnar tried forcing some of the fine wine he had taken from Moldavia Manor down Montressa’s throat, reasoning that this should get a response from the drunkard if nothing else did, and Morgaen tried playing her Song of Rest to see if music could get any reaction. Nothing they tried did anything to wake the man. The party were saddened when they realised that even with the evil thing in the Valkyr Mausoleum gone, something was still capturing Montressa Wend’s memory – the creature they had fought seemed not to have also been responsible for the terrible events at Moldavia Manor.

Next, they went down and out to the garden. The Baron was throwing a ball for Jenny, who was playing enthusiastically – then she saw them, and her face fell. The baron handed her the ball, patted her head and spoke to her for a moment, then walked over.

“Welcome, welcome,” he greeted them. “Did all go well?”

“Ah – there was a slight hiccup,” Sir Gerigold said. “Your wife is laid to rest, but you might have to renovate her family mausoleum.”

The Baron’s brow creased.

“What happened?”

“There was an evil creature living there, which was preventing her from passing on, and it pulled the building down when we killed it…”

The Baron looked down, and nodded. He did not appear to have any trouble accepting this – but then, his wife had been killed by giant worms which nobody had ever seen before.

“Does – the child know about her mother?” Sir Gerigold asked, delicately.

“Yes – I felt I should tell her. She cried a lot, of course, but she let me be there for her – we are both grieving, after all. She does not seem to know of any other family, so I am going to keep her here. It is – good for me to have someone to look after, at this point.” He nodded at them again, more briskly. “And it is good of you to have taken care of my troubles again – and of my sickness. I felt much better as soon as you had visited, and now I have recovered my strength, even from the slight indisposition that had been plaguing me before you first arrived. I hope that you will dine here – and allow me again to reward you.”

Now that the Baron seemed fully recovered, Sir Gerigold took the opportunity to ask him – the only man who had seemed to know anything useful about the mists, even when half out of his mind in his sickness – if he knew anything about the tattoos they had all been afflicted by at Moldavia Manor, when the dying knight who arrived with the unnatural storm had turned to sand before the paladin could heal him. He showed him his own tattoo and explained how Ragnar’s hourglass had started to fill up more with sand after he suffered what had seemed to be a fatal accident. But the Baron had never heard of anything like this.

“At the mausoleum,” Morgaen said, “the creature we fought was living in the coffin of one Berenice Valkyr, your wife’s grandmother. Her portrait had clearly been cleaned off and looked at, far more recently than everything else in the mausoleum – the events seemed to centre around her. Is there anything you can tell us about Berenice Valkyr?”

“Yes, I do remember something abut her,” the Baron said, with distaste. “The Valkyrs gave her a place in the family mausoleum when she died, but most of the family had not been on speaking terms with her for some time before that. She was said – very quietly – to have been part of an evil sorcerous pact with a nameless dark god… to have been experimenting with awful things. But I don’t know anything else – I don’t think I was ever told more than that.”

The party thanked him for answering their questions, as Percival came out of the house. He was carrying a long, polished wooden box – it had all the signs of having been hastily cleaned off, with dust still around the fittings. He opened it to show them. Inside were five potion bottles.

“I do not get about as much as I used to – there was a time when I expected to need these potions of healing, but I never did,” the Baron said. “I hope that you will accept them as a gift from me, in thanks for your efforts on my behalf – I suspect that you will need them far more than I will.”

They accepted the potions happily – it did indeed seem likely that they would need as much healing magic as they could get, in this strange world where danger seemed round every corner for them but so unexpected by the residents.

After dining at the manor, they mounted again, and set off for Tenbrim – to try to meet Father Reginald Baird, of the church of Saint Terragnis, hoping that he could answer some of their increasingly pressing questions about the strangeness surrounding them, the mists, and the hourglasses measuring their lives in a way they did not yet understand.

This was Part 4 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: Anirudh Kashyap, Elīna Arāja, Honaycon Gonçalves, Ekaterina, Felix Mittermeier, Joachim Schnürle, KM L, Pixabay, Paul Theodor Oja, Sanej Prasad Suwal, Fillipe Gomes, Jonas Ferlin, Pixabay, Pixabay, Dana Shvetsova, Mauricio Artieda, Rodnae Productions.

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1 comentario

Paul Stebles
Paul Stebles
05 nov 2021

Another fantastic read, good stuff!

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