Cast of Characters
Wood Elf Barbarian – Red
Lord Malvolio Blackwold
Yuan-Ti Wizard – new DM candidate
Andelle (Ann for short)
Wood Elf Druid – new player convinced to try D&D by her wargamer sister and brother-in-law
Human Wizard – 12 year old boy
Dragonborn Fighter/Bard – older teen girl
Tabaxi Druid – lady with a baby
Lizardfolk Monk – guy married to Mistress Mau’s player
A soft whoosh of air stirring the room, Del opened her eyes to a cheekily grinning Grahz flying about boisterously on a broom. Round and round he circled, the bristles knocking over all manner of things: various metal contraptions rusting atop the tables, a sad pile of bones sitting in the corner, and even Bobby rushing after the little homonculous.
“Give me that back!” the wizard demanded, finally catching hold of the broom and shaking the little grey creature off of it before tying it to his backpack again. “How did you make it do that?”
Grahz grinned, his pointy needle teeth and fangs giving the expression a somewhat menacing appearance even as he shrugged his shoulders. Glowering in return, Bobby stomped off, following Andelle as she pushed over the table blocking the next hallway. While she listened closely at the door, though, Bobby walked right past, aggressively kicking open the second metal door and disappearing inside.
In not even a moment, a startled shriek punctuated by a muffled thump rolled back into the hallway, prompting the others to rush forward to the open door. The coal black and menacingly firey form of the Hellhound standing over the limp wizard launched itself forward to crash into Tyrone’s shield, nearly sending the Dragonborn sprawling, but with the help of Paladin Balthasar, he pushed the monster back. As the ashen creature struggled, fire spurting from its flaring nostrils, movement behind its clawed feet caught Ann’s attention; the brown fur of rats crowding around Bobby. One opened its mouth, sharp teeth snatching at the wizard’s robes, but Ann closed her eyes, turning her outstretched palm toward the ceiling. As if it were nothing more than open sky, the stones emitted shining rays of moonlight, the touch of their light causing the rats to shriek. In puffs of brown fur, they curled up one by one, limbs twitching and red eyes darkening.
Meanwhile, Del crouched low, dodging beneath the hound’s flailing claws and her companions’ struggles until she could grab the unconscious wizard. Quickly yanking him back out, she dragged Bobby away, hiding him around the corner in the nearby torture chamber and folding his arms across his chest. As she turned back, a rush of heat flooded the hallway, followed by the stench of burning hair and skin and another thud as Blackwald passed out, the pain of his skin bubbling and charing overwhelming him.
Del dove down the hall again, somersaulting beneath Balthasar’s sweeping sword and Tyrone’s stabbing rapier to grab Blackwold’s robes. She had barely moved him out from under the feet of the others before Balthasar’s sword sunk into the creature’s eye and it burst into a cloud of ashes.
Laying Blackwold next to Bobby, Del sat beside their lightly breathing bodies and wiped at the ashes on her face. Black smears taking the place of the specks, she intently watched the two, counting the rise and fall of each chest in turn. Bobby’s was shallower, the many slashes through his robes leaking more blood, but the acrid smell of burns poured from Blackwold. Del blinked hard at them and, for a moment, saw others in their place. A young friend that had been mauled by an owlbear and a clumsy acquaintance that had gotten caught in a forest fire were lying before her, blood and blackened skin covering them. Their chests were still; their eyes were glassy and unseeing. Del reached a hand toward the younger, the weeping wound where his innards intruded upon the outside world shining, the pain almost tangible.
“Let me heal them.”
Del jumped, the motionless visages of her dead kin gone, replaced with the two wizards again. She stared, wide-eyed for a moment before shaking her head and gesturing to the two potions hung at Ann’s hip – magical healing potions. The druid paused but handed Del one all the same, and as the thin liquid slithered down the wizards’ throats, char began to fade and wounds knitted together.
“What happened?” Bobby muttered, batting at Ann’s hands as the glow of the druid’s magic healed him further.
“You were foolish!” Del snapped.
“My robesssss!” Blackwold exclaimed, his cry cutting her off as the lush fabric crumpled, falling away where his fingers touched the burns. “Thessssse cossst a fortune!”
Del screwed up her face at him. “You can always buy new ones at market,” Ann cut Del off before she could say something cruel. “Let me double-check the doors next time.”
With that, her elfin body morphed into that of a large wolf, and she padded over to the next door down the hallway. Her sensitive ears flicked back and forth as she sniffed at the doorframe, but something else seemed to catch her attention. Her nose raised in the air, a scent apparently caught in it, she leaned hard against Tyrone and almost caused him to fall.
He looked down, a sparkle at the end of his finger as he pointed toward the large wolf. “What is it?” he asked with a frown, turning his head to the side as if to listen before a small smile showed his sharp teeth. “Ann says there are spiders in this room but that there is an awful smell in the air. She wants to know if she should follow it.”
As the others nodded, the wolf padded back out through the torture room and past the hallway they all had come down. She wove through a tumble of black iron cages, looking into the empty rooms with the rotting corpses of spiders and the rust monster as she passed them. She stopped when the hallway branched, her nose snuffling around the edges of the first door after she cast a glance at the second.
“What is it?” Tyrone asked again when she looked back at him, his face showing his concentration before he turned back to the others. “Ann says there is something dead behind this door, but the smell goes through here.”
The others discussed it amongst themselves, and Del paused at the other door for a moment. Eventually, she opened it and came back with armfuls of gold, splitting it out before stopping to listen.
“Sssssamhain sssssayssss there are three ghosssstssss on the other sssside,” Blackwold hissed, nodding towards the door.
“Oh! It’s probably the people that used to live here!” Del exclaimed. “They must need help moving on.”
Blackwold wrinkled his nose. “Maybe, or they could not.”
“It’s worth a try,” Balthasar smiled.
“I would go first, but I am bad with words,” Del stated, looking off to the side with am twinge of shame. “I have never been a good negotiator.”
“Let the nobles go first!” Blackwold smiled, a flourishing gesture imbuing his robes with magic, the cheery sparkles making the burnt holes sew themselves back together and disappear. Thusly, Blackwold and Tyrone stood in front with Del slightly behind, and they pushed the door open.
Inside the room, three translucent figures worked diligently, one bent over an alchemical station, its hands phasing through the dried and rotten herbs. Another sat at a writing desk, its legs stuck through the broken edge of the wood while its arms wobbled as if to scribble words on nonexistent paper with a nonexistent quill. The last stood at a tall table, hunching as if to study a book, its arm moving every once in a while to turn a page although the book had long ago turned to nothing but dust.
“Hello, friendssss!” Blackwold sang as he, Tyrone, and Del stepped over the threshold into the room, but the remainder of the greeting died in his throat, nothing more than a whisper of air passing his lips. The room had turned to ice, and the three translucent things had stopped, stone still. Their eyes store ahead into the distance for a moment, seeing nothing, not even their rote tasks for that second. Then the three heads turned, slowly, menacingly, all the way around. Milky eyes locked onto the three entering the room. Arms reached out. Mouths opened, in unison, in a silent scream until jaws distended horribly.
Translucent bodies launched themselves, arms flailing through the living intruders. Ann rushed in, a flurry of fur and fangs, mouth biting through nothingness but coming away filled with ice and cold. Blackwold gestured violently, magic sparking off his finger tips as lightning and flying though another as it came towards him, wrapping its cold, clammy arms around him.
The ghost disappeared, Blackwold shrieking loudly before rushing out of the room: “Dirty peasant! Get it off! Get it off!”
Del and Tyrone advanced, each slashing and stabbing with their thin blades. White chunks of translucent ghost-flesh splashed this way and that, splattering the floor and walls before fading, evaporating off into nothing. A sword through a milky, white eye saw one disappear; while, a blade through the neck of the other turned it to nothing as well.
Del shook what little white globules of ghost remained on her sword and shivered, her eyes lingering on the stations where the ghosts had floated each in turn. Long gouges scored the surface of the writing desk, etching sadness into its grains, the worn seat of the chair showing how much time someone had spent there. Broken glass littered the alchemical station, dark smears across the crystalline surfaces and wood showing stains the shapes of hands sliding across the top of the station and down the side. The table was scattered with torn and burn pages, tiny peices of rotten or dried paper littering the floor around it.
“Come on,” Tyrone prompted, snapping Del out of her thought and ushering her into the next room beyond.
In there, Bobby was staring at a set of five switches set into a wall, and Balthasar was looking at a short row of iron bars set into the wall. Beyond the metal, the small maze they had all stumbled into at the beginning stretched out. On the other side of the room, Ann stood pointing down a staircase, her long wolf snout aimed into the darkness below. Blackwold stood near her side, a length of rope going through his thin hands as he reeled up a large leg of mutton before casting it back down. Hazudra and Mistress Mau were coming back into the little sitting room from which the stairs descended. A little hallway led farther back into two little bedrooms and a miniscule closet, and the two had brought some gold out. They sat down in the sitting room to parse out the money, and Tyrone sat Del down in one of the old chairs before going to help the others count.
Del stared down at the old fabric, twisting her fingers in the long, dusty threads. The lumps in the little chair were clearly shaped to a person who had long before sat here. One arm of the chair even held a stain, barely off colored, as if that person had regularly had tea there. Del could almost feel them there, sipping at the cup, the faded book on the table a favorite read or even a diary.
Del shivered again, slowly leaving the chair to sit on the stone floor. If she were going to regain her focus, she needed to not be where she could so clearly feel the energy of this place’s long forgotten residents.