The Haunted House

Some of you may remember, back at the dawn of time when I first started writing this journal of our adventures, I made an effort to infuse each entry with all the suspense, adventure and magic of a real fantasy novel. A worthy aim, but frankly not one that I either a) ever really came close to achieving or b) can be arsed striving for when I am have so many other important calls on my time. For god’s sake, in the time it takes me to try and think of a yet another term for a group of adventurers (at the moment I’m using party, band and ‘the companions’ on fairly even rotation) I could have watched 5 youtube funny cat videos. Or broken my own spider solitare record for the third time.

I say enough. From now on these entries will be much more closely modeled on my own mental processes, they will be poorly thought out pseudo summaries lacking in narrative coherence and laced with pun based attempts at humour. Able to be knocked off over a lunch break and proof read while watching Bondi Vet. I mention this decline in authorial integrity because the first part of this next entry, The Haunted House was written back when I had worthy goals and literary standards, (which is not to say that it is particularly well written, just because I had standards doesn’t mean I have to live up to them) and so I felt I should offer some explanation for the subtle shift in tone that may strike the eagle eyed reader as the piece goes on.

25/04/10 – The Haunted House

The companions stand, tightly bunched together, staring at a large and derelict manor house. There are no lights in the windows, the shutters are flapping and swinging wildly in the wind. The house is surrounded by an overgrown and decaying garden, the trees have no leaves and the grass is a sickly grayish green. A chill settles over the minds of the companions, a chill which has nothing to do with the wind. As one, they struggle to remember why they agreed to come here.

Four days earlier they had been standing in a hot and dusty arena, having killed gladiators, bloodied a dragon, and won the right to live from a figure whose face was hidden in shadow. Clerics appeared through doors on the side of the arena and lead the party to some well appointed rooms. Fuoca, the elf they had rescued, was lead away separately. They have not seen her since. The clerics healed the companions, then offered them food and a chance to rest. The party accepted both distrustfully, and stationed sentries throughout the night.

In the morning they were taken to an audience chamber, and before them on an ornate throne sat Queen Elas, a mysterious and reclusive royal, who has not been seen in public since the end of the last war. She admits that they were kidnapped on her orders, and that the trials they have suffered were at her instigation. She needed to test them, and they have passed with flying colours. The companions began to mutter amongst themselves, but the Queen continued as if she could not hear them. “You have proved a strong band, brave and powerful. I have a mission which I would wish you to undertake. A series of tasks which will test your bravery and power.”

The mutterings continued during this speech, grew louder, until finally Azura could no longer contain her anger. “You drugged and kidnapped us, tried to ensnare us in deadly traps, then watched as we battled against gladiators and dragons for your amusement. Why should we help you, or believe anything you have to say?” While many of the companions shared her sentiments, most were shocked that she would speak to such a powerful person with such a lack of circumspection.

Queen Elas remained outwardly calm in the face of Azura’s displeasure. When she spoke her voice was steady, but stern. “Since the end of the last battle, I have been directing all of my considerable power and wealth towards one aim, discovering the demons ultimate agenda. Why did they retreat so suddenly after their devastating attack on Thay? What did they hope to achieve? And who in the alliance was working with them, as certain events during the last war have left me in no doubt that there are spies among us, bent on our destruction. Recently I have come across a piece of draconic prophesy that seems to explain it all. The prophesy makes clear that there are dark days ahead, dark matters to be decided. Matters in which I cannot be seen to operate openly, and matters which will decide the fate of our world. And so I turn to you, with your skills, bravery and cunning, and seek to draft you in my service, the service of Sevarr. I have a mission for you. Will you undertake it?”

There is some discussion among the companions, many our still distrustful of the Queen and concern that she may be concealing her true agenda. But the chance to thwart the demons and their dastardly plans proved too tempting, and the party agreed to take on the mission.

“Very well,” said the Queen, “Your first task is to travel to the house of Dranor, a wizard formerly in my employ, now a thief and a traitor. He stole a book from my library and fled. The book was filled with dark magic, it described spells for raising the dead, and for entering undeath. Greatly do I fear the damage that may be done with the book in Dranor’s hands. I will give you maps that will lead you to his house, I will give you horses and supplies. Go quickly, find the book, and return it to me.

The party left the next morning, and after two days travel found themselves here approaching the manor house’s large and imposing front door. Pan, always the least effected by atmosphere, knocks. The door swings open. It was unlocked. The party moves inside, finds itself in a cold, dark and dusty hallway, with doors extending off it, three on each side. They try each door in turn, they all lead to rooms that seem to have been uninhabited for some time, everything is thickly coated in dust, and the kitchen (the third door on the right) is filled with rotting food. Only two doors lead to anything of interest. The first is the door nearest to the front door, on the right hand side. It leads to a room filled with wizarding accoutrements, with arcane symbols painted on the floor. But like the other rooms no-one seems to have been here for days, even weeks. The second door of interest is at the other end of the hallway, it opens onto a flight of stairs, leading upwards.

The party moves to the second floor, here they find another hallway, with only three doors leading off it, all on the left hand side. They try the middle door first, inside is a small bedroom, meanly furnished, with a narrow bed in the corner of the room. The bed appears to be occupied. Pan approaches it and pulls back the covers. Beneath them lies the corpse of a servant, his rigid features locked in a terrified expression. Disgusted at the sight, the party leaves this room as soon as possible. But before exiting, mindful of the nature of the book they have been charged to retrieve, Texh takes one of his long-swords and separates the corpse’s head from its body.

The room closest to the stairs seems to be the library, its walls on three sides are covered with rows and rows of books. The room is also shorter than the previous one, and the thought occurs to the party that perhaps the wall at the far end of the room is concealing a secret passage. Stout and Bethrana begin pulling books from the shelves, hoping either to locate the book that was stolen from the Queen, or that the removal of one of the other books will trigger the doorway to the secret passage. They are unsuccessful on both counts, although they do come across a number of interesting scrolls, each containing the incantations for a powerful spell. Three scrolls in particular were of interest, one called Speak with the Dead, another called Cure Disease, and most interesting of all Summon Dranor’s Chest. They also manage to open the secret passage, but unfortunately I cannot exactly remember how. Aaanyway, probably not that important, secret passage is discovered, the rear wall opens to reveal a set of wooden stairs, leading downwards.

Before descending down the secret passage, the companions have two more tasks to perform on the top floor. First, they search the final room, which turns out to be Dranor’s bedroom. There is nothing of interest to be seen, anything that could be removed is gone, and it is as dusty and cobwebb-ridden as the rest of the house. While in his room, the party decides to use the Summon Dranor’s Chest spell, out of nowhere appears a locked wooden chest. Prising it open, the companions find a bunch of treasure (Armour, Parchment with Design, Gloves of Venom, Crossbow, Retribution weapon, Horn of Summons, 1900 Gold pieces). The companions move all this, and the chest as well, into the bed of holding.

Second, they return to the servant’s bedroom and Dugery, in a trembling voice, recite the incarnation to Speak with the Dead. Lying on the bed, the servants head shudders into life, his eyes open but the irises are rolled deeply back into his skull. The spell is strong, but the link that binds the servants spirit to this plain is faint, Dugery only has time for one question. He asks, “What killed you?” the head answers, “Fear”. Then the face contorts, the eyes close, and he is gone.

By now the atmosphere in this house is starting to get to the companions, and a few of the members are frankly shitting themselves. Azura is becoming disproportionately distressed by even the mildest of horrific happenings and Bethrana so skittish that she is firing off fireballs at the slightest provocation. Dugery is so scared that he is beginning to rationalized everything that he sees, striving to deny that there are any supernatural forces at work in their surroundings, which in a land like Sevarr is right up there with putting a blanket over your head and assuming that therefore the monsters won’t see you. Dugery in particular is in trouble in the next encounter as the party goes back to the library, opens the secret passage, walks down two flights of rickety stairs to the basement and is immediately attacked by a flying dagger and a possessed wardrobe. The companions manage to subdue these in-inanimate objects, but Dugery spends the whole fight muttering under his breath about mass hallucination and hypnotic suggestion, even as he is reloading his crossbow.

Once the dagger and wardrobe have been sorted out, the party finds that they seem to have reached a dead end, there are no door leading on from this basement room. However one of the basement walls (the one opposite the stairs for those keeping track in their heads) is made up of a series of rotten and insubstantial looking wooden planks. In an attempt to see what’s behind the wall Bethrana (skittish, remember) lobs a fireball at it. The planks go up like a mattress soaked in metho (that’s an expression, right?) and out of the flames surge two enormous nests of rats. The rats are a bugger to kill cos they keep slithering out of the way of the party’s blows and running up people’s trouser legs to gnaw on their kneecaps, but eventually they are all dead.

Behind all the rat corpses is another wall, as flimsy as the first. The companions decide not to have Bethrana burn this one down (possibly because they are beginning to suffocate from smoke inhalation) but instead the party chooses to burst through the wall dramatically, behind it they find Dranor surrounded by a group of undead buddies. (What is the collective noun for the undead? A pride of undead? Or a parliament maybe? No that’s owls. A lurch of zombies has a nice ring to it.)

Big fight, with the zombies being gross and terrify and dealing out lots of necrotic damage. I’m sure many feats of derring do were performed (and I’m equally sure that Stout probably failed to hit a fucking thing) but frankly this is all speculation since it was all so long ago and I’ve lost my notes. Eventually the companions manage to massacre every last zombie, kill Dranor and pry the Queen’s book from his cold dead fingers. Scoreboard reads Party 1 Lurch 0. Go team.

22/04/10 – The Arena
There is dust on the ground and the tang of blood in the air

The party is standing on a rising circular platform, watching as above them a gap in the ceiling begins to expand. It is hard to know when they first become conscious of it, but with the gap growing wider and the platform higher, sound begins to be heard from the world above, a ferocious, all encompassing noise, like a raging river or the wind blowing a gale. As the expanding mechanism locks, as the platform rises to meet it so neatly that you can hardly see the crack, the noise resolves itself into a wall of baying voices, their words indecipherable but their message clear. There is dust on the ground and the tang of blood in the air. The companions have entered the arena.

They are standing in the middle of a wide circular space, bordered by high stone walls. Above the walls they can see the stands, full to the brim with bloodthirsty spectators, and at one point atop the wall is luxurious looking tent, its form deliberately conspicuous and its occupants just as deliberately hidden. Looking back to ground level, they can see four dragon statues evenly spaced around the arena, carved so that they glower with malevolence. And they can see what everyone can see, the focus of this spectacle, six figures locked in battle. An elf stands in the centre of a group of five gladiators, the floor of the arena is littered with bodies whose garb resembles hers. Azura calls to her, “Sister, what has happened here?” The elf turns in surprise at her voice, but she has no time for long explanations. “Help me!” she says, then turns back to the fight, firing off an attack and injuring two of the gladiators. But they are still advancing, all five closing in around her.

Azura swings into action. A swarm of insects clouds the air around the head of the nearest gladiator, biting him freely about the face and neck. In anger he turns, leaving the elf he runs at Azura, who searches vainly for some concealment on the arena’s desolate surface. She considers hiding behind one of the dragon statues, but with no time to reach them, and the justifiable feeling that they may be more than just statues, she instead turns to meet her enemy head on.

Stout runs to her aid, but misses, and her anger at her own incompetence grows. The gladiator swipes at Azura, who hisses in fury and stamps her foot. The ground beneath her splits and the gladiator howls in pain as a jagged crack snakes below his feet and lava scorches his legs. He turns and runs towards the nearest dragon statue, and for a moment all Azura’s fears seem about to be confirmed. But Stout, screeching curses so foul they may not be repeated, charges at the gladiator, swings her axe and is overjoyed to feel the blow connect, and the iron bite heavily into her enemies flesh. Now almost too weak to stand, a final attack from Azura flies over Stout’s shoulder, and the Gladiator drops like a stone.

Even as Azura was worrying that the dragon statues might conceal some secret menace, on the other side of the arena Texh and Oriana were seeing that fear come to life. Moments after Azura had summoned the first swarm that enraged her nearest gladiator, Texh had sprinted towards the two furthest gladiators, who were standing by another of the dragon statues, both armed with tridents and nets. Texh unsheathed his two swords, their blades flashed in the sunlight, but his first strokes went awry. In response one of the gladiators drove his trident through Texh’s foot and into the ground, pinning him to the spot. Seeing Texh in trouble Oriana charges over, snarling, and sinks her teeth into the gladiators arm. He howls in pain, and while he is distracted Texh manages to free his foot, then swings his swords upwards as one, slashing deeply at his chest. The gladiator falls, dead, to the ground.

But as Oriana and Texh look up in triumph they see that the cold stone eyes of the dragon statue have been turned to face them. They just have time to notice the second gladiator, not mourning his companion but grinning manically as he operates some mechanism at the statue’s rear, then suddenly the world is filled with flame. Oriana manages to dodge the stream of fire shooting from the dragon’s mouth, Texh is not so lucky. But his scorched limbs only give him more incentive to prevent the gladiator from firing again, and the two companions quickly converge on the lone gladiator and take him out before he fires another shot.

Meanwhile in the centre of the arena, Wry and Dugery are dealing with the final two gladiators, who are still locked in battle with the lone elf. Wry runs over and begins a charm offensive; he flirts with the elf magnificently, and goads the gladiators with ease. But unfortunately he seems to have a little trouble actually, you know, hitting anybody. Dugery, watching from a safe distance, sighs with amusement and frustration and keeps firing, now bolts from his magic crossbow, now vials of healing admixture to stop Wry’s flailing from getting him killed.

At this point we shift perspective, and see the world through the eyes of these final two gladiators. Until now they have been too absorbed in their own battle to take much notice of those going on around them, but at this point they look up, and see warriors advancing on them from all sides. On the right is Oriana growling menacingly, and Texh battered but grimly determined. From the left comes Stout, ecstatic that she actually managed to hurt somebody, and Azura fierce in defense of her kin, tail lashing to and fro. They see Dugery firing healing and hurt in equal measure, and are startled as Wry, whose foppish antics had been the stuff of ridicule, suddenly begins to do damage. But most terrifying of all is the elf, Fuoca, who has watched her friends die in this dreadful arena, and now the tables have turned. She is vengeance personified.

Where did these gladiators come from? Have they too, at some point in the distant past, ascended fearfully on a rising platform into a dusty world of violence and death? Have they lived since that moment in constant fear that this day would come, when they would be beset and bested by a superior foe? In these last moments, as memories of previous battles with different endings come rushing back, enveloping them like a thick and choking fog, can they have seen their deaths coming? Known who struck the final blows? Can their deaths, in the end, have been anything but a relief?

As the last of the gladiators falls, the cheering from the crowd increases. Although the companions loathe these bloodthirsty animals, the exaltation in their cries seems to sing in their blood, and the party stands triumphant. But then, above them, they hear the beat of wings. The arena goes dark for a moment, as something flies across the sun. The companions look up and watch as through a miasma of howling winds and swirling dust, a silver dragon lands on the ground before them.

The dragon lands gracefully and with a ground shaking thump. It screeches, it breathes a blast of cold wind that chills each companion to the marrow. Each member of the party, now terrified, already exhausted, searches within themselves for the last of their strength. Stout, Wry and Oriana charge at the dragon which, despite its size, writhes as nimbly as a snake, evading their blows and seeming little injured by even the deadliest of their strikes. Azura’s summons her hawk, the ground bristles with Dugery’s fiendish contraptions, and yet the dragon still lays about it with deadly accuracy, swiping with its claws and freezing the companions with the malevolence of its glare. In desperation, Fuoca tries to teleport the dragon to a weaker position, but succeeds only in bringing it closer to her. Azura runs to one of the dragon statues and attempts to fight cold with fire, but is unable to engage the controls. Then, when all seems lost, Texh sneaks up behind the dragon and strikes at its back with his fearful killing blow, know as the Jaws of the Wolf. The dragon feels Texh’s blade biting deep, and blood running down towards its tail. It takes flight, then hovers above the arena. The dragon looks at each of the party in turn; they brace themselves for another attack. But instead the dragon lowers its head and dips its wings, it bows, and then it flies away. The companions look at each other in confusion, but the head of the spectators turn as one to the floating tent. A hand emerges from the shadowy entrance, fingers clasped, thumb extended to the side. It pauses a moment. Then the wrist turns, the thumb is raised, and the companions know that the fight is finally over. The reasons behind the fight, and their kidnap, and the true provenance of the elven stranger they have rescued are, like the figure in the tent, still shrouded in shadow.

11/04/10 - Kidnapped!
The proper adventure begins, finally.

DND Journal

One by one the party awoke, blindfolded and bound at the hands and feet. Some had no idea how they had come to be here, just a memory of a brief stinging sensation and a sudden blackness. Others remembered watching helplessly as their companions collapsed, wordless, to the ground, before darkness overcame them as well.

Wry is the first to act, managing to shuffle his way over to the next prone body, Stout, then maneuvering his blindfold into position near her hands, so she can remove it. He sees his companions about him, bound, in a smallish room with stone walls. Everyone’s belonging have been taken, including all their armour and weapons. Wry frees himself from his bonds, then helps the others to do the same.

The door to their prison is solid looking, and locked. Pan orders Tink to fly into the lock mechanism and manipulate it from within. Her ministrations are successful, and the door swings open. Running in front of the cell is a hallway, at the end of which can be seen a pair of booted feet, which are attached to an unconscious guard. The party searches him but finds no weapons or identification, so steps over him and continues down the passage.

They come to a medium size room with high ceilings. Two tall and menacing sets of armour lean against the walls to the left and right, each with a long sword grasped in its gauntleted hand. There is a door in the wall ahead and on the floor in the centre of the room is a small bag. Opening it they are surprised to discover that, despite its size, it contains all of the party’s weapons and armour. “A Bag of Holding!” they exclaim in wonder. Once they have all put on their armour, and once they have managed to stop Pan climbing in and out of the Bag for fun, they turn to leave. At that moment, the suits of armour come to life, moving as one they heft their swords and swing them into an attack position.

The ensuing fight is swift and decisive, with most of the party performing well. Stout is the notable exception, she flails wildly but does not manage to land a single blow. It should be noted that while being clumsy enough not to hit anything, she is also nimble enough not to be hit herself, but this doesn’t do much to salve her wounded pride. However, the most important thing is that the fight is soon over, and with a minimum of damage to anyone not entirely composed of metal.

The companions continue on, out the door and down a hallway into a gigantic circular room. In the centre of the room, marked on the floor is a broad circle. Within it are the symbols of four gods, each associated with one of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Evenly spaced around the wall are four doors, each also bearing an element symbol. After examining the symbols and the room for awhile, Pan opens the door marked with the Air symbol. Behind the door darkness falls like a veil. Light from the large room does not expose anything of what lies beyond the door, and any object that passes through the doorway immediately disappears into the impenetrable blackness. Pan is the first to go through the doorway, and he calls back that once you pass through the blackness, the room ahead becomes visible. He is standing on a platform, attached to which is a length of thick wire, which stretches tautly straight ahead and then disappears into another wall of darkness. Below the wire lies more darkness, with the disquieting feeling of unknowable depths.

Azura is the first to try her luck on the wire. She claws her way onto and across this and each of the three subsequent wires without too much trouble, and the first three times she passes through the blackness she finds herself on a new platform, attached to which is another length of wire stretching off into the darkness. Pan manages to follow Azura onto the first and second platforms, but falls attempting to reach the third. The rest of the party, who prudently remained on the platform near the door, hear him scream as he falls, and for a moment all mourn the loss of their cheery and fearless companion. Then from somewhere high above them they hear an answering scream, and suddenly Pan tumbles into view, narrowly missing other member of the party as he falls hard onto the stone floor. He jumps up, shakes his head from side to side and says “Weeeeeee!”, then has to be physically retrained from heading off after Azura again. Moments later she has reached the final platform, which juts out from a stone wall, set into which is yet another Air symbol. Azura touches the symbol and it glows blue. Sensing that this means she has passed the test, Azura begins to make her way back to the others, and almost reaches them safely, but a momentary loss of grip while attempting to reach the second platform swiftly deposits her back amongst her companions. She lands with a catlike grace (understandably) but is still shaken by the experience.

Returning to the larger room, the party finds that the air symbol on the floor is also glowing blue. They decided to tackle the Earth door next, and stepping through the blackness they find themselves in a small room, empty except for a table, on which sits a puzzle with simple rules and a difficult objective. Each member of the party attempts to solve the puzzle in turn until, while watching Stout’s thick fingered fumbling, Wry suddenly sees the solution. As expected, solving the puzzle causes the Earth symbol in the floor to glow, and buoyed by their success the party now feels brave enough to tackle the room marked Fire.

Behind this door they see a hallway leading to an open space with a signpost in the centre. The companions move towards the signpost, with Oriana, Pan and Wry at the front. As these three near the signpost, a wall of flame springs up behind them, separating them from the rest of the party.

Suddenly alone, the three begin to examine the space around them. They can see that the signpost has four arms, three of which point to corridors ranching away from this central area, and the fourth point back to way they came. The arm of the signpost pointing back towards their companions is labeled Frustration, the one to the left says Confusion, to the right is Danger, and straight ahead, Victory. At the end of each passage, crackling and casting sinister shadows, are three more walls of flame.

Pan wonders allowed if the walls of flame might not be like the walls of darkness with which they have now become familiar. Maybe these walls will also disappear once you have moved through them. To test this theory he moves away from the signpost and charges straight down the corridor towards Victory. However, as soon as he begins to move, the head of the signpost begins to rotate, and the second before he hits the wall of flame, it comes to rest. The arm pointing at the corridor has moved down now reads Danger, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, its wall of flames turns out to be distinctly flammable. On the other side of the wall Pan drops to the ground and rolls, he hurries to remove all his armour and clothing, and then piles it up and pisses on it, to douse the flames. He re-dresses, then examines the space he has found himself in. The walls either side of him are identical to those on the other side of the flames, and ahead of him is a third wall, equally bare. A dead end.

Meanwhile, back at the signpost, Wry and Oriana are studying the mechanism attached to the rotating head, and the area around the based of the post. With some arcane insight and a bit of trial and error, they were able to establish that the floor around the post was pressure sensitive, and the removal of weight from within this area would trigger the signpost and cause it to spin. Once Pan returned through the flames (mildly protected from a second scorching by his still damp clothes) the companions decided to split up, each moving simultaneously down one of the corridors not leading back to their friends. They set out, Wry towards Danger, Oriana Frustration, and Pan, once again towards Victory. This time, because they have been careful not to trigger the rotating mechanism, the flames disappear as Pan reaches them, and he find a now familiar Fire symbol waiting for him. Pan touches the symbol, and even as the other two swear and swat at their scorched limbs the flames behind them vanished, and the way back to their friends and the central chamber is once again clear.

The final room is clearly designed by the same twisted mind. This time it is four party members (Dugery, Pan, Texh and Wry) who are trapped away from the rest, in a sealed room that four fountains disguised as statues begin rapidly to fill with water. The four companions feverishly try to disable each of the statues, either magically, mechanically or with brute force. Eventually they are successful, but not before the water has risen to a level far above the halfling’s head, or before it has begun to swirl like the insides of a murderous, man-sized top loader. The Water symbol appears, and glows, and it is a relief to all that a near drowning seems to have washed some of the pungent urine smell out of Pan’s clothing.

Back in the large circular chamber, the companions are uncertain about what their next move should be. They have now tried all of the doors out of this room without finding an exit. Unable to think of a better option, but wary about triggering another trap, the party moves towards the centre of the room, where all four symbols are now glowing like beacons. Once the last member had stepped inside the circle there is a clank of machinery, the floor beneath them shifts, and the circle inexorably begins to rise. They look up and feel fresh air on their faces as above them a circular gap opens and widens, pulling them towards the next stage of their adventure.

To be continued.


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