Tales of the Brunch Club 009 “Nightmares”

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Welcome to Episode 9 of the Rescued by Dragons podcast, Tales of the Brunch Club: A weekly fantasy adventure based on a homebrewed Dungeons and Dragons campaign played by a group of friends in Portland, Maine.

My name is Dominic White and I invite you to picture yourself in a cozy, torch-lit tavern, ale in hand, gathered around a table with other listeners, waiting to hear the next chapter in the tale of… The Brunch Club.

But first, a quick recap of our previous episode…

In episode 8, The Brunch Club fought off giant spiders, zombie thralls, their Wight leader, and a giant crocodile as they pressed further east through the Lich Bog. Drusila retrieved a sterling silver sun pendant from one of the zombie corpses. They reached the end of the bog and arrived in the town of Boughmoor. Salys grew seriously ill with Eye Rot, which was cured with the assistance of Ulrich, the local druid. The party got rooms at the Laughing Pine Lodge. At the bar, Elora secured herself a date with a local hunter named Scott. Drusila learned the sun pendant might belong to the missing husband of woman named Maria. When Drusilla returned the pendant to her, Maria lashed out in anger at the news. Drusila returned to the inn where she shared a moment with Vorjhon as they both watched over a sleeping Salys.

And now…

Episode 9: Nightmares

The next morning The Brunch Club woke up to a curt knocking on each of their doors. A town guard announced the Raif of Baughmoor requested their presence as soon as possible.

Vorjhon started to refuse the invitation as one of their party was very ill, but Salys announced she was feeling much better. Ulrich’s treatment had worked wonders overnight, and while she didn’t feel like she was fully cured, she felt strong enough to accept the Raif’s invitation.

The guard directed the sleepy group to a house in the center of town. It was built in a matching style and made of the same rough pine as the rest of Boughmoor’s homes, but was taller and wider, giving it the appearance of authority.

The group was led into a sparse but large office that looked more like a rustic dining room than a seat of local power. Sparse decorations did little to soften the rough feel of the room. A man sat at the head of a large wooden table near a crackling fire. His eyes were cast down, looking at the various parchments spread out on the table. A large stuffed buck head above the mantle loomed over him. The slim man beneath it looked up when Vorjhon’s clanking armor announced their presence.

Dark circles rested under his eyes framed by deep crows feet. His weariness gave him the look of a much older man, though he couldn’t have been much over 30. He returned his quill to its holder and stood before approaching the group.

“I am Raif Brenton,” he greeted them, offering them his hand. The dragonborn immediately strode forward to meet Brenton with a firm, proper handshake. “Please sit with me while we wait for Ulrich. He should be here at any moment.”

The group sat around the table and waited for Ulrich to arive. The fireplace struggled to heat the large room. Raif Brenton made small talk with them as they waited for the druid.

“I have an office, but it doesn’t stay very warm this time of year. I prefer to do my work here.”

The group nodded politely, failing to hide their confusion at being summoned to the Raif’s home.

“I was hoping to wait until Ulrich was here, but I suppose you want to know why I requested your presence. Ulrich and I, he’s something of an advisor to me, wanted the assistance of some capable people to help us with a couple of problems near here that our small town guard may not be able to handle. Ulrich mentioned to me you all had just come through the bog and I figured if you could do that, you’re probably the best option we’ll have any time soon.”

There was a slight lull in the conversation before the sounds of the front door opening and boots approaching drifted through to the dining room. The druid’s orange hair was a tangled mess atop his head and the bags under his eyes were even more prominent than the first time the party had seen him only a couple a day before. He nodded to everyone before speaking.

“Pardon the delay, but let us begin now,” the druid greeted them, pulling out a chair and taking a seat at the table. “There are two maters Brenton and myself were hoping to discuss, let’s start with yours, Brenton.” The raif nodded before picking up the conversation.

The Raif began, “There’s been reports of a creature north of here in the woods. It’s been described as wolf-life, but bigger, more muscular and intelligent. Scott Smith, one of our local woodsmen, was the latest to report a sighting. His description fits that of a direwolf. The town has recently put out a bounty on the creature. The first party to bring me proof of the creature’s demise will be rewarded handsomely. It’s pretty straight forward. Track it, slay it, bring back proof, get paid. I’m afraid Ulrich’s concern is a bit less straightforward than mine.”

Before speaking, the druid rose and shut the large dining room door. As he returned to his seat he took a deep breath and spoke.

“You are free to turn down this request, but we could use your help with another matter as well.” He paused, letting the words hang in the air. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that people around here seem a bit… tired. Sluggish, quick to anger, on edge. At first we thought it was just hard work and long winter nights sapping our energy, but then the disturbing dreams started. None of us told each other about the dreams at first, but when we started to speak of them many of us realized we were all having the same, unnerving dream. Deep in the woods a tree grows atop a cave. There’s something calling to us in that cave. In the dream, we are drawn in by a voice, a strained voice, full of fear and desperation. In the dream there is a wicked looking mass of corrupted tree roots, wrapped around something pulsing with energy like a heartbeat. None of us recognize what it is, but we all agree it is the source of the voice. It pleads with us to set it free. The dream oozes with malice, but we sense good energy in that cave as well. I’d go investigate myself but I am so exhausted. I don’t know if my powers will be enough.“

Ulrich paused for a moment. His deep breath emphasising his weariness.

“I’ve spoken with the wildlife and they’ve told me this cave exists, and its location. Its an eight hour walk to the south on the way to the coast.”

“I fear the town will eventually be driven mad unless the dreams cease. It’s been so long since any of us have slept through the night. Please, will you consider helping us?” The druid looked upon the group with hope in his tired eyes.

Drusilla began to speak, “This could be a powerful magic that may be beyond our…” but Vorjhon’s optimistic voice cut her off.

“Of course we help! With both tasks! We not ignore people in danger.And we not refuse druid who saved our Salys from terrible Eye Rot. ”

Drusila rolled her eyes as Vorjhon shook Ulrich and Brenton’s hands. While the paladin was reassuring the two officials that the group would get to the bottom of things, Salys interjected. “We’ll get paid for the dream thing too, right?” she asked in a tone that implied the answer better be yes.

Drusilla and Elora agreed they would help the town with the wolf and the mysterious cave, but first they needed to get brunch.

As they descended the steps of Brenton’s home and headquarters, they were greeted by a pair of muscular men ascending the stairs toward them. They wore leather armor with fur pelts draping their shoulders.

“Hey there!” One greeted them. “Are you here for the wolf bounty too?”

“Don’t waste your time guys, we’re gonna collect that bounty first.” said the other, confidently.

“Greetings!” said Vorjhon, extending his hand and introducing himself and the party. “Wolf is on our to do list, but if you kill it first, well done!”

“Whoh! We haven’t met many dragonborns! I’m Chad,” he said shaking Vorjhon’s hand tightly as if trying to show off his strength. Vorjhon did not engage in the contest of machismo, but returned the hand shake with polite firmness.

“I’m Thad,” said the other, shaking Vorjhon’s hand next, but without the show of strength Chad had displayed.

“It’s a pleasure to meet fellow adventurers!” Vorjhon smiled. The exchanged a couple more pleasantries before The Brunch Club went on their way and Chad and Thad disappeared into the Raif’s home.

“They seem nice,” Vorjhon said cheerfully.

“I hate them,” Drusila stated.

“Same,” agreed Elora.

“Dicks,” offered Salys.

While they were eating brunch at the Cold Boulder Tavern, Drusilla suggested they do some investigating around town and ask some of the other locals about their dreams. Maybe the townspeople could recall more details that might help them. Elora commented that it would be good to get some more information about the supposed dire wolf while they were at it.

They decided there was no time like the present and should start questioning their fellow brunch patrons sitting around them. Salys was the logical choice to do the asking. Her messy, flaming red curls, smattering of freckles, 3 and a half foot tall frame, and natural charisma made her the most disarming of the group.

There were only a few other patrons in the tavern at this time. Salys pointed out a man sitting by himself. “How about I start with him?”

Elora recognized him as a bar patron she beat in a darts tournament their frist night in town. She remembered his name was Phil because she beat him in the first round and dubbed him “First Round Phil.” Salys tried to get some information from him, but he seemed as thick as a slab and was stubbornly uncooperative. Phil was adamant that he hadn’t seen the dire wolf or dreamed of an ominous cave.

Salys moved on to another diner. She was a large, rather rough-looking woman whose body seemed to be fighting against the seams of her old clothes. When Salys introduced herself the woman merely grunted. She was as cooperative as Phil had been. The only information Salys could get out of her was her name, Helga.

Salys attempted to chat with the rest of the patrons, but no one was helpful. She returned to the table with a dejected look on her face. “Sorry guys. I guess they don’t like gnomes around here.”

“Nonsense,” Vorjhon said between bites of brunch. “They are exhausted and irritable. Is only explanation for not talking to cheerful Salys. Do not take personal.”

Elora sat up suddenly in her seat, eyes locked on the doorway. She stood up from the table and said she’d be right back as she strided away. Salys and the rest of the party watched her walk over to the man who had just entered the tavern and sat a table by the crackling fire.

Vorjhon, Salys, and Drusila kept quiet so they could eavesdrop on Elora’s conversation. They recognized the man as Scott. The one Elora had met the night before at the bar. They pieced together that he must be the ‘Scott Smith’ Brenton said had seen the dire wolf. Elora asked him about the dire wolf and about the strange dreams happening around town. He told her he was sorry but hadn’t had the dream she mentioned, but he did see the wolf she was talking about.

He had trouble describing it to her as it was so odd- unlike anything he’d seen before. Its ears were longer than a normal wolf’s and slightly pointed. It had long fangs and evil eyes. It walked like a hunched over man but he didn’t think it was a werewolf. It still moved on all fours and seemed more bestial, even though it did have humanoid aspects to it. He was also sure it wasn’t a dire wolf. He’d seen one before. This was a sort of mixture of the two. “Sorry I know that wasn’t very helpful.” he finished, and gave Elora an apologetic shrug.

“Don’t worry about it.” Elora assured him, “this is more than we knew a few minutes ago. It’s helpful.” She paused and bit her lip before continuing. “So, when we get back from hunting, do you want to get together for round two?. The other night was a lot of fu…”

“Let’s talk about that later! Scott said, abruptly cutting her off. He gestured at the older man sitting across from him at the table. Elora hadn’t even noticed him when she sat down, but now saw the salt and pepper hair and deep wrinkles in his skin, and the same rugged jaw as Scott. He had an amused smile and knowing look in his eyes. “Elora,” Scott continued, “this is my dad. Pops, this is my, uh, new friend, Elora.”

Elora’s face flushed red as Salys’ hair.

“Ah. Hi, um, Scott’s Dad. I- I should probably be going now before I make this any worse. Bye Scott. We’ll talk later.”

Scott smiled but looked more embarrassed than happy. “Sorry” he said.”See ya ‘round.”

Elora walked as quickly as she could back to her table. The few steps across the tavern felt like an eternity. She flushed an even deeper red as she heard Scott’s dad speak.

“Hot damn, Scott, that one’s a beauty!” he said with no effort to keep his voice down.

Elora got back to the table and found her friends feigning interest in anything but her. Drusilla’s and Salys’ cheek muscles strained as they struggled against breaking into wide grins.

“We can go now,” Elora announced, without bothering to sit down.

The group decided to visit some more of Boughmoor’s shops and taverns and see if anyone else would talk to them about the strange dreams. Everyone they spoke with, despite looking like they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in days, refused to admit they were having the nightmares.

“It’s like they don’t want us to help them,” Salys observed.

“It natural to be wary of strangers,“ Vorjhon said. “Especially when exhausted as these people are.”

“You’re like what, 23? Stop acting like you’re so wise,” Salys teased him as she tried to give him a playful shove.

Vorjhon chuckled.

Boughmoor was a small town, so it did not take them long to complete their interrogations. They decided to return to the tavern, get an early dinner, and retire to their rooms to discuss their plan for the next day.

During dinner in the tiny dining room of the Laughing Pine Lodge, they made small talk with Anne and Cooper, the Lodge’s owners. Anne’s hair was the color of fresh straw. She wore a white dress and bright pink and blue earrings. She seemed to personify a summer breeze despite the early Winter settling in around them. Cooper was dressed in more simple, utilitarian garb, befitting his responsibilities of handling the chores around the Inn.

“I’m glad we were here when you came back! Anne said. “This weekend is our daughter Juni’s thirteenth birthday. We’re throwing a special party for her. Cooper and I were hoping you could be there as a surprise for her!”

Cooper explained, “Juni loves adventure tales and we were hoping, if it’s not too much trouble, that you might share some stories of your adventures with her.”

“It would make Juni so happy!” Anne beamed.

Salys immediately took them up on the offer. “We would LOVE that! We have some ‘adventuring’ to do tomorrow, but we should be back for it!”

They all agreed they would be there for Juni’s party, finished their dinner and went up to Drusilla’s room to discuss their plans for the next day.

It was decided they would head south and deal with the mysterious cave first, as that seemed to be the bigger threat to the town at the moment.

A knock at Drusilla’s door interrupted them. Drusilla opened it to see a tearful, but apologetic looking Maria standing at the threshold.

“I’m sorry for accusing you of murdering my husband,” she said softly. “I don’t know why I did that.”

Drusilla invited her in and they all made room for her. She sat on the edge of the bed next to Salys. Drusilla sat on the other side of her.

“I was just so angry,” Maria continued. “Not at you though. At Nathan. I always told him not to go too far into the bog, but he kept saying that’s where the good hides were.” She paused. She took a deep breath. She burst into tears and fell against Drusilla who embraced her.

“I lost someone close to me recently,” Salys said,. “It’s not a long term solution, but wine was helpful at the beginning.”

Maria nodded her head.

Elora poured her a glass and Maria drank it down quickly. Elora refilled her glass and suggested she sip this one.

“Thank you,” Maria said, taking a big sip. “This town is cursed,” she muttered, almost to herself.

“What do you mean?” Drusilla asked.

“It’s cursed. The dreams. The wolf…”

“You’ve had the dreams too?” Salys asked.

“Yes, everyone has. They just don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s the bog hag. I know she’s doing it. She probably killed my Nathan too.”

A sharp look from Drusilla told everyone not to mention how Nathan really died.

“Bog hag?” Vorjhon inquired.

“Yes. A witch who lives in the bog. No one’s ever seen her, but there have been stories. I bet she’s the one who took Juni too. She did something to her. I know it.” She muttered some more things they could not hear under her breath then tried to take another sip from her now empty glass.

Drusilla looked up at Vorjhon.

“I find more wine,” he said, obeying Drusila’s unspoken command.

Vorjhon found Cooper cleaning up the small bar adjacent to the inn’s dining room and asked if he had any bottles of wine he could buy.

Cooper did, and handed them to the dragonborn, who paid for them and tipped well.

Vorjhon asked Cooper in a soft voice, “Forgive me for asking, but we heard Juni was missing for a week. Will you tell me what happened?”

Cooper leaned toward Vorjhon and replied quietly. “I wanted to say something to you all earlier, but Anne doesn’t want to talk about it. Juni likes to play on the edge of the bog and catch frogs. We always told her to stay on the road and never go into the bog, and she’s always been a good, obedient child, so we never really worried about her. One night when she didn’t come home we got worried. A bunch of townfolk helped us search the woods, but we never found her. We were starting to give up hope, but then one morning a week later, we found her asleep in her bed.”

“That’s wonderful. I’m glad story have happy ending.”

“That’s what I thought too,” Cooper said, still keeping his voice down. “And that’s what Anne still wants to believe.”

“But you don’t?” Vorjhon prodded.

“Like I said, she was always a good kid. Funny, smart, social, talkative, like her mother. But when she came back she was different. She talks very little now. She never smiles. She still does her chores, but when she doesn’t have anything to do she sits in her bedroom and stares out her window into the woods toward the bog. I have to be honest with you Vorjhon. She scares me a little.”

“Again, forgive me for asking, but do you think this has something to do with Hag in bog?”

Cooper sighed heavily. “I’m not a superstitious man, Vorjhon. I don’t believe in fairy tales of witches no one’s ever seen, but I have to admit it’s been nagging at me. I don’t know, maybe it’s the bad dreams making me crazy, but I’m worried about her birthday party. It would make me more comfortable if you and your friends were there.”

Vorjhon placed one of his large, silver hands on Cooper’s broad shoulder. “We leave tomorrow to try and stop dreams. We will do our best to return for Juni’s birthday, and I will pray to Bahamut and Silver Flame that Juni will be safe.”

Cooper thanked him. Vorjhon returned to the room where he found Maria asleep on Drusilla’s bed. He quietly told the others about his conversation with Cooper and they agreed they should get as early a start as possible to give themselves a better chance of getting back for Juni’s party on time.

They left a note and some gold for Maria. Salys invited Drusilla to share her room as they all went to rest up for the long walk into the Southern woods in the morning.

Setting off before sunrise, the ranger Elora, aided by Ulrich’s directions, guided her friends through the woods toward the cave. It was a bright sunny day and cool enough that they could keep a brisk pace without getting too warm. They stopped once for a quick lunch and as they approached their eighth hour into their march, they spotted a lone tree sitting atop the cave, silhouetted by the low Winter sun behind it.

They cautiously approached the tree.

“Wait for moment,” Vorjhon said holding out his hands as they stood at the cave’s entrance. He muttered a few words under his breath and the symbol of Bahamut on his shield glowed faintly.

“What are you doing?” Salys asked.

“He’s trying to detect if there is good or evil in the cave,” Drusila explained. It’s an ability some paladins and clerics are blessed with.”

“Anything?” asked Elora.

“No,” Vorjhon answered. “Either nothing there, or something too far away for me to sense. I will go first if Drusila will make light to guide me in darkness.”

Drusila muttered her own prayer and three floating orbs of light illuminated the cave. They ventured in.

They were about a hundred feet into the cave when they saw a small, faintly glowing red dot in the distance. They approached it carefully. When they got closer, they saw the tangled, corrupted mass of roots twisted around a large, glowing, beating heart. It was more teardrop shaped than a human heart, and much larger as well.

It made no sound as it beat. After a few moments they could each hear a rhythmic pulsing sound growing in their minds. It got louder and louder, drowning out any of their own thoughts. “Heeeelp meeee,” a soft voice whispered over the relentless heartbeat.

“What should we do?” Salys asked, trying to concentrate over the sudden pounding in her head.

“We set it free,” Vorjhon said.

“What if it’s evil?” Drusilla asked. She began reciting her own prayer of detecting good and evil, and evil was strongly in their presence. “It’s bad. We should kill it,” she said without hesitation.

“But Ulrich said he could sense good in the dream,” Salys remembered. “What if the branches are evil and they are trapping the good inside?”

“I agree with Drusilla,” Elora said as she raised her bow and notched an arrow.

“Wait.” Vorjhon held up his hand in front of Elora. “If Salys right, we kill innocent creature.”

“I aaaam gooooood” the voice said again in their heads, softer, and sounding more desperate, as though it was getting weaker, even though the pulse in their head grew louder. Their minds then heard the word “Unicooooorn,” with the last syllable elongated and trailing off into silence.

“Oh, it’s lying,” Elora said, raising her bow once again.

“I have idea,” offered Vorjhon. “You three stand behind me blocking exit. I will free it. If it good, we have done right thing. If it evil, you kill it before it escapes.”

They agreed with this plan and got into position. Elora took careful aim. Salys held her hands forward. Her eyes and hands glowed a phosphorescent green, ready to unleash a barrage of magic missiles if needed. Drusilla took a well balanced fighting stance with her shield and sword. She muttered a prayer but left the final word on her tongue, ready to unleash a sacred flame upon a possibly evil foe.

Once Vorjhon saw they were ready he approached the glowing heart and began hacking at the branches around it. They crumbled easily under his strong swings and heavy war hammer. The tangle was so thick it still took him a few minutes to clear the branches away sufficiently.

He stepped back, also getting in a defensive stance.

The remnants of the branches fell away from the heart as it floated in mid air. They waited. The heart pulsed in time with the throbbing in their heads. After a few moments the throbbing turned to laughter. The heart began to grow and change shape. The sound of laughter faded from their minds as it began to fill their ears and echo all around them, bouncing off the cave walls. The heart morphed into a black horse at least 20 hands high. Its mane, tail, and hooves were bathed in red, orange and white fire. “Thank you, fools,” it laughed, then disappeared in a puff of smoke before any of the party could attack it.

After a moment of stunned silence they heard the same laughter behind them at the mouth of the cave. It faded quickly in the distance.

They ran back as fast as they could, but when they reached the mouth of the cave, not even Elora could find the creature’s trail. They stood quietly, trying to assess what just happened.

Vorjhon broke their silence when he observed, “That can’t be good.”

Our tale will continue next week in Episode 10.

Episode 9 was written by Brian Messmer and Dominic White.

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Thank you very much for listening Please join us next week to find out, along with the rest of us, what‘s going to happen next!