Tales of the Brunch Club 010 “Mean Thirteen”

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Welcome to Episode 10 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 9, The Brunch Club was summoned to Raif Brenton’s home where he and the Druid, Ulrich, asked for their help. There were a couple problems threatening the town of Boughmoor. First and foremost was a mysterious cave to the south which might be the source of incessant nightmares plaguing the town’s exhausted citizens. Second was multiple sightings of a large creature to the north which had been described as either a werewolf, direwolf, or something in between. They met two fellow adventurers, Chad and Thad, who hoped to claim the wolf bounty for their own. The owners of the inn where they were staying, Anne and Cooper, invited them to their daughter’s 13th birthday party. Later, Cooper confided to Vorjhon that he suspected something happened to Juni when she disappeared for a week several months ago, and was worried about her. The group proceeded to the cave. They discovered the source of the bad dreams, and freed it. It turned out to be an evil creature that resembled a large horse with firey hooves, tail, and mane. It escaped, vanishing in a puff of smoke before they could kill it.

And now, Episode 10: “Mean Thirteen”

The Brunch Club stared into the woods. They could see no sign, nor find any trail of the creature they had accidentally allowed to escape.

They stood in silence, trying to comprehend what had just happened.

“Technically,” began Salys, “We did what Ulrich asked us to. We removed the source of the dreams from the cave. If that thing moves on, the town is saved.”

“There’s no way to track it,” Vorjhon observed. “The best thing to do is report back to Ulrich and tell him what happened.”

“It’s getting dark. We should make camp,” Drusilla stated.

“We can’t, there’s no time,” Elora replied. “We need to get back, or we’ll miss Juni’s party.”

Drusilla disagreed. “It’s dangerous to travel at night. It’s not worth risking our lives over a birthday party.”

Elora insisted they risk it. “I’ve been thinking about what Cooper told Vorjhon. I’m pretty sure we need to get back.” She took a torch out of her backpack, lit it, and handed it to the dragonborn who was the only one of them without the ability to see in the dark. “Stay close. I’ll explain it to you on the way,” the ranger said as she strode into the forest, guiding them back to Boughmoor.

Elora might have lost all memory of who she was and where she had come from, but she could still remember things related to surviving in the wild and hunting the creatures that lived within. As she guided her friends through the darkening forest, she told them what worried her about Cooper’s tale.

She never fought a hag or witch before, that she could remember. But somehow she knew that they reproduced by kidnapping children before they turned thirteen. They would take the child to their den, perform a ritual, then return the child to their parents. Upon the child’s thirteentth birthday, it would transform into a hag. Once the transformation started, the first hag would arrive to claim its offspring and together they would kill the parents, and anyone else present. Afterward, the hag would take the child hag home and raise it as her own.

“That unnatural,” Vorjhon answered in a grave voice. “Is there way to save Juni?”

Elora said she either didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, but maybe Ulrich would be able to assist them.

They continued their steady pace through the forest for several hours until they arrived at a clearing. There was a fallen log and a few large rocks scattered around that made it an ideal place to rest. The group decided to sit and eat some rations to keep their energy up. The three women sat on the fallen log and Vorjhon sat on a rock directly across from them. He stuck his torch in the ground. He opened his pack to get his rations and was startled to see Elora jump up suddenly. He saw her point toward him and open her mouth as if to shout something. Her words were drowned out by the sound and pain of something large slamming into him from behind and driving him into the ground.

The torch next to Vorjhon went out as it toppled over into the dirt alongside the dragonborn. Before the light went dark, he could see a large claw at the end of a brown furry leg swiping at his head. He jerked his head to the side avoiding the blow. Unfortunately, in the darkness, he could not evade the strong jaw and sharp teeth of the creature as it clamped onto his shoulder and pierced the weak spots in his armor.

“Light please,” Vorjhon asked politely as he could with pain rippling through his arm.

Drusilla conjured three floating orbs of light and sent them into the center of the clearing. They saw a large brown bear, about the same size as Vorjhon, with its mouth locked on the paladin’s shoulder, attempting to shake him back and forth.

Another bear leapt into the well lit clearing from the darkness of the woods. It charged after the three women, now standing close together. Elora hit it in its upper front leg with a quickly drawn and fired arrow. Drusilla muttered a prayer and the sacred flame blessed upon her by the Raven Queen, materialized above the bear and engulfed it. The bear stumbled forward. It snarled with pain-fueled rage, but was unsteady on it’s hurt leg and missed when it went to bite Elora. The furious bear then took a swipe at Drusilla and missed her as well.

Salys, seeing her friends were handling the one bear, jumped behind the log for some cover. She crouched down so she could still see over the log and sent three missiles of bright green magic energy at the bear attacking Vorjhon. The impact of the missiles made the bear release his vice-like grip on the dragonborn’s shoulder as it looked up to see where the attack had come from.

Using this opportunity, Vorjhon rolled out from underneath the bear, stood up, and brought his heavy warhammer down upon its head. It was not a killing blow, but the bear did stagger a little. It shook its head as if trying to clear it’s mind of the effects of the wound against its skull. It lunged at Vorjhon again with its powerful jaw, but he was able to push away the half dazed animal’s attack with his shield. A weak swipe of the bear’s claw slid harmlessly off his armor.

Seeing the bear wasn’t paying attention to her, Salys stood up from behind the log and conjured a bolt of fire that engulfed the bear, killing it.

The bear near Drusilla and Elora lunged at Drusilla who managed to block the attack with her shield, and then stab it deep under its outstretched front leg with her sword.

Elora put the badly wounded beast out of its misery with an arrow through the heart.

The group converged in the middle of the clearing, peering around them into the woods, waiting for more bears to attack, but none came. After a few moments of waiting Vorjhon used his healing touch to repair his wounded shoulder before they wordlessly gathered their gear and continued their walk toward Boughmoor.

They arrived in the mid morning. They were exhausted but knew they had no time to sleep. They first went directly to Ulrich’s shop because they wanted to find out if the druid would know of a way to save Juni from the Bog Hag’s terrible plans. The town was already awake with residents milling about in streets focused on their daily business. This didn’t keep the townsfolk from noticing the well armored trio of three women and a large silver dragonborn walking with purpose through the square.

Ulrich’s shop was open, and they entered. The druid was alone behind a counter, slightly bent forward. He had a kind smile on his face and looked to be talking to a small, sickly looking plant in a plain clay pot. As Ulrich spoke to it, its stalk straightened a little, and its brown, drooping leaves became green and plump.

When he looked up from the plant to the group that stood before him, his expression changed from kindness to concern. “I didn’t expect you back until tonight at the earliest,” he said with some disappointment in his voice. “Did you find the cave?”

“We did,” said Elora, curtly, bristling at the implication that they had lost their way. “But we needed to get back. We think Juni’s in danger.”

The disappointment in Ulrich’s voice turned to hope when he asked, “So you did find the cave! Was the glowing orb there? Did you free it? Are we done with the dreams?”

They told Ulrich about freeing the beating heart in the cave, and described the beast that it transformed into upon being released.

Vorjhon apologized for allowing it to escape. “That was tactical error on my part. It was first creature I saw that could vanish into thin air.”

Ulrich clasped his hands together with index fingers pointed up. He rested the tips of his index fingers on his lips and thought for a moment.

“You are not to blame. You could not have known. What you encountered is called a Nightmare. Quite frankly I’m surprised you all saw one and lived to tell me about it. They have a frightful reputation.”

“Do you think it may have taken off and will leave Boughmoor alone?” asked Salys.

“Possibly,” answered Ulrich, “Especially if it thinks the person or entity that trapped it in that cave is still around. I have no idea who in Boughmoor would be capable of such a thing though. Either way, we shall hope for the best. It’s all we can do for now. You were saying something about Juni?”

Elora told Ulrich the tales she heard of witches and hags stealing children and turning them into their offspring. Vorjhon mentioned his conversation with Cooper and the innkeeper’s concern for his own daughter. Drusilla asked if there was anything the druid could do to help her.

Ulrich put his lips to his forefingers once again. He spent a few seconds in thought before replying. “On one hand I could write this off as backwoods superstition. On the other hand we have a Nightmare to the south, a possible Werewolf to the north, and a Bog Hag to the west. Boughmoor seems truly surrounded by evil magic these days. I should be surprised by nothing.”

“But if it is true, is there anything you can do for Juni?” asked Drusilla with urgency in her voice. “Is there anything we can do?”

Ulrich sighed. “I know I don’t have the means to cure her. But maybe, and this is just a guess, a long shot really, but if you kill the original hag before the child’s transformation is complete, perhaps Juni will revert back to being the little girl she was. But I honestly don’t know. It’s out of the scope of a small town Druid. This is a different kind of magic.” He looked down at the group’s sorceress. “What do you think, Salys?”

“I don’t have a clue,” the gnome replied with a shrug. “I don’t know how the fuck my own magic works.”

“Anything worth try,” Vorjhon answered solemnly.

“We need to warn Cooper,” said Elora. “And try and stop the party.”

“That doesn’t seem like something Anne will allow,” Drusilla said. “She may dress like a beautiful tropical fish, but she seems stubborn as a mule when it comes to pretending everything is fine with her daughter.”

None of them knew what a beautiful tropical fish was, but then again, none of them were from the far away coastal lands Drusilla once called home.

The Brunch Club asked Ulrich to tell Raif Brenton about their encounter with the Nightmare then headed to the Laughing Pine Lodge.

They were tired from lack of sleep and a day and night of marching through the woods, but knew they had to push through the exhaustion. They hoped to share their concerns with Cooper and Anne, then at least get a few hours of sleep before the party started. Cooper was gathering firewood outside the Laughing Pine Lodge. He looked up at them and they were surprised to see a broad grin on his face. This was the happiest they had seen him look since they arrived in Boughmoor.

“Friends!” he exclaimed as they approached. “Wonderful news! Juni seems to be back to her old self!”

“That is wonderful news!” said Vorjhon as he began loading up his own arms with firewood to lend Cooper a hand. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Cooper, answered. “This morning she woke up laughing and singing and said she couldn’t wait for her party! I have to admit, I woke up in a good mood too. It was the first time I’ve slept through the night in ages. Whatever you did to stop the dreams must have worked. The whole town’s in a good mood. In fact we started the party early!”

“What?” Elora asked, surprised.

The group then became aware of a pair of loud voices speaking over a chorus of hoots and laughter.

Cooper continued, “Yup. These two strangers, adventurers by the looks of them, like yourselves, came in to rent rooms. They sat down and ordered breakfast and drinks. Juni came down and they started telling her stories of all of the beasts they killed and battles they fought in. Soon other people came in and started listening to the stories and ordering drinks and food. Juni was having such a good time we decided to start the party early”

“We don’t think the danger is over yet, especially to Juni,” Drusila warned.

“Nonsense!” Cooper said blissfully. “The nightmares have stopped. All she needed this whole time was a good night’s sleep, like the rest of us!”

Vorjhon sighed heavily as Cooper continued to stack logs onto the pile of firewood cradled in his arms. “We hope you are right. But just in case something happens, we need you to get everyone to safety.”

“Especially you and your wife,” added Elora gravely.

“You guys are worrying too much,” Cooper laughed while tossing the rest of them a few pieces of firewood. “You’re all heros. Now come in and enjoy the party.”

Before The Brunch Club could say any more, Cooper walked back into the lodge shouting at the group, “The heroes of Boughmoor are here!”

They followed him in and placed the logs on either side of the burning hearth at one end of the room.

The laughing crowd of people in the room quieted down a little as four more adventurers, of varying sizes, entered the room carrying logs for the fire. The two adventurers who were entertaining the dining room with tales of their heroic deeds were Chad and Thad, the same two men they had met on Raif Brenton’s doorstep the day before. “Woah hey! It’s the dragon born and his women!” Chad said.

Drusilla walked up to him, jabbed her porcelain white finger into his chest and said in a voice dripping with dark menace, “Call us ‘his women’ again, and the next tale your friend tells, will be the one of your death.”

The crowd burst out in laughter, the loudest laugh coming from Thad. “I wouldn’t mess with her bro! She’s scary!”

“Woah, it’s cool, spooky lady,” Chad said, holding up his hands to indicate he meant no offense.

The crowd laughed again.

Vorjhon felt a tug at his tabard and looked down. Juni stood at his side with a smile on her face.

“Will you tell us a story?” she asked him in a voice full of hopeful expectation.

He hesitated and looked around the room before getting on one knee to talk with Juni at eye level. “I am not good at telling stories,” he told her, but before the disappointment could show he said cheerfully, “but I know someone who is! Salys! She very good story teller!!”

They both looked at the red-headed gnome in purple robes, smiling widely. Salys smiled sweetly at Juni, then not so sweetly at Vorjhon. Before Salys could get too mad though, Vorjhon continued. He spoke slowly as he walked around the room, as if he was looking for inspiration. He borrowed a green cloak from a party guest who didn’t seem to mind loaning it to the towering dragonborn. “Salys will tell you the exciting tale…” he threw the cloak over his shoulders, and walked over to a table with some bowls on it along with a large pot of soup. “… of the time fearless Cleric of Raven Queen used nothing but ladle…” he picked the ladle up off the table and tossed it to Drusilla. “…to defend our camp from vicious…” he bent forward, flipped the hood over his head and held two small bowls on either side of his head as though they were bulging eyes. He finished his sentence with a dramatic foreboding in his voice, “bullywuuug.”

Crouching as low as he could while keeping the bowls pressed to the sides of his head, he comically attacked Drusilla, who mimed an exaggerated version of the fight that took place one of their nights in the bog.

Salys, happy she didn’t have to make up a story on the spot, stood on a stool and narrated the battle, forcing her friends to act out some ridiculous pantomimes.

Finally she ended the tale, “And then Drusillas struck the bullywug on the head, and when he fell down, she hit him again, and again, and again…”

“That’s not how I remember it!” shouted Vojhon, covering his head with his arms as Drusilla whacked him repeatedly with the ladle.”

“Quiet bullywug! It’s not your story!” laughed Salys, and continued, “And again, and again, and again, and again, until…” she paused, everyone stopped laughing and looked at her. “Until the bullywug lay slain, covered in cranberry sauce!”

Vorjhon dramatically rolled over and played dead. Drusila stood triumphantly over him, placing her boot on his chest, and bowed to Juni.

The birthday girl shrieked with delight and the crowd cheered and laughed.

“That was epic!” Chad shouted.

Vorjhon returned the cloak, bowl and ladle to their places and The Brunch Club began to mingle with the party guests, all the while keeping a close eye on Juni.

They became more watchful as the early Winter sunset approached then passed.

“When is this supposed to happen?” Salys asked Elora as the four of them chatted in a corner, taking turns watching Juni.

“I don’t know. I’d have thought at sunset. Maybe midnight? I can’t recall any more details other than what I told you,” Elora answered with frustration at the edges of her voice.

“Maybe it happens the minute Juni turns thirteen,” Salys suggested.

Vorjhon excused himself and walked over to the bar where Anne and Cooper were still pouring drinks and preparing food for the remaining party guests.

“I am curious,” he asked the couple. “What time of day was Juni born?”

“In the morning,” Anne replied. “A little before noon, if I remember.”

“Excellent,” said Vorjhon. “That is good news.”

“Why?” asked Anne.

Vorjhon noticed a look in Cooper’s eyes that he inferred mean ‘don’t mention anything about a bog hag.’ “Um, silly dragonborn superstition. Morning baby is good omen.”

Cooper smiled and nodded, satisfied with Vorjhon’s quick thinking.

“Juni was born in morning, before noon,” he told his friends when he returned to them.

“Maybe Cooper was right,” Salys said. “Maybe we did save the day.”

“Cheers to us,” said Drusila, raising her class. They touched glasses, but before the rims reached their lips a bone-chilling, cackling laughter seemed to rush through all the windows and fill the room.

“Finally!” said Juni. Her voice was loud and impatient. “She’s here.”

“Who’s here, honey?” Asked, Anne with a worried brow.

Juni’s expression turned into an exaggerated, menacing smile as she stared at Anne. “My real mother.” Her voice sounded older with every word. “And we’re going to kill you all.”

In the time it took for her to bend her knees and then lunge at the confused Anne, Juni had transformed from a small 13 year old girl to an ugly, decrepit looking hag nearly six feet tall. Her hair fell out leaving nothing behind but random gray whisps on her scalp. Her soft hands became elongated bony fingers with nails like talons.

Fortunately Vorjhon had used the precious seconds to cross the room, circle behind Juni, and grasp her hag form in a powerful bear hug, pinning her arms to her side. She squirmed violently trying to escape, but the paladin held tight. “Cooper!” he commanded, “Get Anne and the others out of here. Now!”

Vorjhon’s intimidating voice seemed to snap Cooper out of his shock. He shouted at everyone to leave, pushing them out the door. He had to pick up and carry Anne, who had fallen to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably.

Thad ran toward Vorjhon with a great battle axe lifted over his shoulder, ready to strike.

“No! Wait!” Drusilla shouted at him. “If we kill the first hag, Juni might turn back to normal.”

“What first hag?” asked Thad.

One of the windows in the room burst inwards. The window jamb and surrounding wall shattered into splinters as the bog hag careened through it, looking for its corrupted offspring.

“That hag,” Drusilla said, stating the obvious.

“Are you sure that’ll work?” Thad asked.

“No,” Drusila answered honestly.

Thad gave an accepting shrug of his shoulders. He charged at the creature who had landed in the middle of the floor, standing over 6’ tall in the center of scattered glass and wood shards.

“Hurry!” Vorjhon shouted. “This one stronger than she looks.” Juni’s hag form struggled against Vorjhon’s grapple. She was indeed stronger than she looked. It took all of the paladin’s effort to keep the writhing, skinny witch restrained.

Thad swung at the original bog hag and connected, but his axe merely grazed its arm.

Chad lunged at it from behind with a two handed sword. He missed. The hag spun around and used it’s claws to slash across Chad’s stomach, that sent him stumbling away in pain, arm over the wound, trying to keep his insides from falling out.

Drusila saw this and held her own attack. Instead she ran over to Chad and restored him with divine healing magic.

“Thank you, spooky lady,” he said trying to smile through the pain.

Elora and Salys moved to the opposite corner of the room to get as far away from the hag as possible. Elora nocked an arrow, but her eyes were having trouble focusing and her bow arm shook. They had no sleep since yesterday morning, this was their 3rd fight in 36 hours, The exhaustion was beginning to take its toll. She steadied her arm, blinked her eyes until they focused, and let her arrow fly at the creature. She cursed as the arrow missed the creature’s head, but at least it drove deep into the hag’s chest, causing a fair amount of damage, Elora hoped.
Salys fired a barrage of magic missiles at the hag, all of them hitting their target. It screamed in pain as each attack impacted against its withered body.

Drusilla summoned a spiritual raven to fight by her side and sent it at the hag. While the raven with the glowing purple aura pecked and swiped at it, Drusila stabbed the swamp witch in the side with her sword.

The hag howled in obvious pain. It appeared to wobble slightly on its spindly legs.

Thad saw this as his chance. He strode toward the wailing monstrosity and swung his axe upward. The blade tore through the hag’s abdomen. The axe’s momentum carried it clean through the chest, splitting the rib cage in half right up the sternum.

The hag collapsed to the floor with a shocked gasp, then lay motionless and silent in a puddle of its own gore.

They gathered around the body, staring at it, waiting to make sure no evil magic would make her come back to life.

“Um, guys,” Vorjhon interrupted them. “I don’t think it worked.” The dragonborn still held the struggling Juni Hag in his arms. She had not reverted back to her human form. Instead she let out an agonizing, furious scream at the site of her dead mother. She was fueled with desperate fear and anger now and began struggling to break free even harder. “I don’t think I can hold her much longer,” Vorjhon warned.

“What now?” Thad asked.

Before anyone could answer, Juni hag vanished.

“Where’d she go?” shouted Chad.

“Shit! Not again,” Salys cried.

“She’s still here!” Said Vorjhon. “I still have her.”

“They can turn invisible?” Salys asked Elora.

Elora merely shrugged, nocked another arrow, and took aim. She held her shot though, not wanting to hit Vorjhon accidentally.

“The hell with this little bitch,” said Chad. He ran toward Vorjhon and swung his great sword at the empty space above the paladin’s arms.

Juni must have seen him coming and ducked because the side of Chad’s blade sailed unabated into Vorjhon’s chest.

He cried out in pain, and Juni broke free from his grasp.

Elora fired her arrow in the direction of where she thought she heard footsteps but all she hit was the wall behind the bar.

Salys ran behind the bar and found a sack of flour. She tossed it over the bar and shouted, “Drusila!”

The lunar elf caught the bag, sliced it open, and spun around, spraying flour in all directions.

None of it seemed to land on the invisible Juni, but they could now see footprints running toward the busted out window.

Salys fired magic missles at the direction of the prints as they appeared in the flour. Green bolts of energy flattened upon impact and Juni’s screams filled the room, but after a short pause, the footprints kept moving.

“Do it again!” shouted Elora.

“I can’t,” Salys answered. “I’m tapped out.”

Elora shot an arrow a few feet above the rapidly moving foot falls but it hit nothing.

Vorjhon, Drusilla and Thad raced to the hole in the wall, but the footprints reached the base of it before they did, and it suddenly all was quiet.

Vorjhon said a quick prayer and reached out with his divine sense to detect if any evil creatures were within thirty feet of them.

“She is gone.” he sighed, sounding defeated as he clutched his hand to his chest.

“Can you heal?” Drusilla asked.

“No. I am too tired. But it not fatal wound. You?”

“Yeah, I think I have a little left.” The cleric muttered a prayer and Vorjhon’s wound closed, but did not fully heal.

“Sorry,” she said. “That’s all I have.”

“Thank you. Do not worry. I will heal in morning.”

The Brunch Club, along with Chad and Thad went outside to see if they could find any sign of Juni, but it was night now and she was invisible. Even if they could pick up her trail, she’d reach the safety of the bog before they could catch up to her.

Vorjhon stared into the forest and growled, “Second time in two nights evil vanished in thin air.”

“Yeah,” Salys agreed. “That sucks.”

Vorjhon sighed again and his face became melancholy. “We must tell Anne and Cooper.”

“That will also suck,” said Salys.

This tale will continue next week in Episode 11

Episode 10 was written by 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!