Night of the 10th Day, 12th Month (Dance’s End) of 526 AF

The notes for this part of the chronicle were assembled after the fact by Professor Athjiari, who derived them from the sleep-mutterings of the various party members – primarily Oswyn.

OOC: Shimmin made a set of detailed notes session notes and sent them to me. The following primarily consists of them, with a few corrections and additions by me.

From Athjiari’s magical diary:

I explained to the party that the spell had summoned dreamweavers – spider-like residents of dream – into Vaclav’s subconscious. The dreamweavers would, without our intervention, trap Vaclav in sleep unless we could awaken him before the next day. Their intent would be to imprison him deeper and deeper in sleep by weaving dream-scenarios of particular import to him; the party’s task would be to find them and exterminate them. A minor difficulty is that the creatures can only be harmed by magic weapons – however, were Vaclav convinced that the party’s weapons were magical, that could be sufficient to force the dream-logic into shape.

I noted that dreams tend to be related to real life, and dreamweavers tend to draw on the dreamer’s own memories to create something convincing for them. Things will be exaggerated and twisted from their real-life ideas; often reflecting the dreamer’s own opinions, fears, thoughts and so on (conscious or otherwise). I urged them not to take them too seriously: some manifestations might, it is true, have reflected Vaclav’s deeply-held beliefs, but others may represent passing fancies he had considered and rejected.

Setting the party down to sleep in the conference room we had used earlier – partly, I admit, because it is in an area of the palace my employer does not frequent, I began swinging the incense and making the incantations. As often happens in co-dreaming, the party members tended to talk in their sleep; in particular, Oswyn, who I can only assume has a natural tendency to talk in sleep, proved particularly verbal…

The remaining notes are based on the Professor’s transcription of the party’s mutterings, primarily presented from the point of view of Oswyn (with his regionalisms set aside by Professor Athjiari).

…rain and thunder… a storm… mountains…

We are at the foot of a mountain, at the top of which Castle Barthory lies, (home of the Barthory family). Larger than life, more malevolent. Jumbled and crammed together, like a child’s incomplete picture of a complex and much-modified building they haven’t had time to map out. We don’t get damp or hear lightning, though… then we realise looking up that the sound is coming from inside the castle.

The rest of the landscape is endless mountains – unusual, but probably meaningful.

We start climbing the mountain. Vaclac is having THAT dream again – five years old, Danicia wakes him with a bucket of cold water on the bed (she actually did this once). Borysco has a heavy leather football and throws it at him – “think fast, Vaclav, dodge!”. They’re adults, he’s a mere child (though in reality they were all children). Denicia snorts: “come on, little brother” The bucket is never empty in the dream. The water is cold like the space between stars, and stings like the lash of a whip. He flinches away. “Why won’t you help me? Please, you’ve got to help me! The monkeys have stolen all my teeth and they won’t give them back! Why are you so mean?”

Brother berates him for allowing the monkeys to do it when he stringently warned him to watch out for monkeys, and throws the ball again. The argument turns into just water-throwing and ball-throwing, and spills out into the courtyard as we enter.

The codpiece of the male giant glitters oddly. I sling a stone at it, and shatter it. A hatchling black dragon bursts out, and the giant collapses in pain. The other giant is outraged and starts trying to catch the dragon under the now-empty bucket.

We explain quickly to Vaclav. Denicia captures the dragon, reaches into the bucket, and pulls out a long black blade glowing with dark energy. Scabbard shoots her in the eye – she falls, dead in one blow – and suddenly a castles-high Countess appears. “I warned you this would happen, Vaclav! I said Scabbard would betray us!”

“Run! Her breath is death! Get to the library, it’s the safest place in the castle!” (NOTE: This was actually an exclamation from Vaclav – a good sign, suggesting that contact had been made. – Athjiari)

She breathes out, and four spiders descend…

“Grab the sword! It’ll multiply!” shouts Vaclac. Jack does, and instantly it shrinks to his hand, while others appear in the hands of the rest (Vana’s is a hammer). Scabbard crams his into the crossbow, shrugging and thinking dream-logic, and it becomes a dart as he fires. It sails into one of the spiders, skewering it to the cobbled floor.

Vaclav skirts around and gestures to a usefully-hidden servent’s door. “If we can get to the cupboard under the stairs, we can get to the library!” He flees, while Scabbard shouts “You need to stand and fight, your Lordship!”

Oswyn squeeze the sword against my spearhead, and despite some hesitation, manage to imbue it with the nature of the sword. Vana hurries after Vaclav, followed by Jack. The spiders nip at us. Oswyn and
Scabbard fight a retreat. Inside, Vana and Vaclav wait: “We’d better wait for the others. Otherwise the floorboards will open and swallow them whole. Don’t step anywhere I don’t step.” (Another muttering from Vaclav. In fact, at this point the narration was primarily picked up by Vaclav – Athjiari) Vaclav looks nervously down the corridor; the long distance seems to stretch away forever. Outside, Oswyn spits one of the larger spiders. The last of them seeps away into the floor… and seeps out of a wall beside Vana. She slams it with her hammer, and Vaclav takes the opportunity to try and kick it away, but it suddenly seems enormous. He draws back, convinced that if he hadn’t the foot would have been bitten straight off. Oswyn and Scabbard rejoin them just as this happens. It scuttles around madly, evading our attacks, until Scabbard drops a bolt right through it. The corridors around us seem less distorted now, somehow becoming less disorienting and threatening.

Scabbard sees a perfect opportunity and aims a kick at Vaclav, wondering if it will wake him up, but slips and has to regain his balance. The moment passes.

“Has anyone seen my teeth?” asks Vaclav. Oswyn tries to bluff him, reaching into a pocket and saying “Here you go!”

A sudden pain, and a monkey follows Oswyn’s hand out of the pocket, impossibly big. It’s wearing Vaclav’s teeth. It springs for Oswyn’s face, and scratches violently. Oswyn yells and flails ineffectually at it; Vana hefts her hammer thoughtfully, then sighs and heals him instead. Scabbard shouts a warning to hold still, and fires a bolt into the monkey’s head. It’s pinned to the wall, and the teeth dribble slowly out of its mouth. Vaclav rushes over, catches them and crams them back into his mouth.

“We should go and look for my mother. She’ll be in the top tower. She may BE the top tower. And there’ll probably be a chair. But it’s okay, because we can shoot her in the face.”

“And… why exactly would you do that?” Vana.

“Well, because she… the underwear… before the school… the song… you know, ‘Barthoryyy, Barthoryyy’…”

“You’re going to murder your mother because she made you sing?”

“No, it, I… look, it’s okay. We’re only going to shoot her in the face, you know. It won’t do anything. It’ll give me character. She always wants to give me character.”

“You want the character of the sort of person who’d shoot their own mother in the face over a song?”

Interrupting, Scabbard tries to convince Vaclav there used to be a battery of trebuchets outside the castle. The cool kids used to go and play there… but they bullied Vaclav. It’s a tricky argument. Perhaps they could fire them at his mother using the trebuchets – which are definitely there are ready to be fired?

He turns to Vana. “surely that’s alright?”

That sound… the wind howling off the icy moutnains… it’s the cool kids! The cool kids coming out to play! Their skin and flesh is mere ice, their long fangs and sharp claws are icicles, their breath freezes instantaneously. They grab the trebuchets and start winding them by hand.

“Oh, this is the bit where they start tormenting me with dung.”

The earth shakes under their apocalyptic tread. Vaclav suggests we run. There’s a crash and a rumble as one of the trebuchets is fired into the courtyard; a tower collapses, blocking the entrance we came through.

Oswyn shouts to move. We’re just near the library; we end up in the family history section, full of portraits of the family through the ages, since their ennoblement by Lorok. Vaclav checks the bookcases until he finds “Secret Tunnel: a history of routes through the Barthory castle” and pulls it to find a tunnel.

“Oh, it’s the University!” says Vaclav, cheerfully. “And all my friends are there!”

“Your Lordship, shouldn’t we go and confront your mother?”

“…well… we could go that way, I suppose.” A dank, cramped, cobweb-filled tunnel leads away to the portrait room. She likes to go there to relax. “But look, this way!” A small glittering unicorn rides across the University tunnel. There’s a bright light at the end, and the rustling of spellbooks – you can tell, because they’re tingly.

“Do your dreams normally end with you going to see your friends? Or punching your mother in the face?”

“Gods no, but… you could do it!” He looks longingly down the shiny tunnel.

We head the other way, pushing him along. “Can’t let Scabbard go alone now.

“No… and mother really doesn’t like him,” says Vaclav unhappily.

As we approach the portrait room, there’s a babble of conversation: Countess talking to the portraits? We see them leaning out of their frames to chat to her; but there are thick webs spun in front of the frames. There are spiders crawling in and out of her hair. She is trying to tell them how Vaclav is getting on, and how she thinks she’s done as a mother; just as he arrives, she talks about how terribly disappointed she is that after so long teaching him to be careful, he fell victim to such an obvious trap in the dungeon, and he really should have known better considering he already knew how to deactivate it.

He steps inside and sags slightly. “But… I just wanted to be like Scabbard.”

“And he hangs out with the byblow – the family shame!” She points at Scabbard, who is trying to sneak around behind her. “He’s the one who lured him off the path – the vile, dirty-”

He tries to shoot her in the face. He fails. Spiders crawl out of her hair, and as they do, she falls to the floor in a foetal position, shivering and crying.

Jack is bitten, contorts, and suddenly fades from sight. Owsyn swivels and stabs the one approaching Vaclav; one springs at Oswyn, but misses. Vaclav stares at Jack in horror, then shouts “But Scabbard’s the only brother I have who LIKES me!” and fires at Scabbard’s spider. He misses. Scabbard shoots another, but the rest of us are ineffective. Jack’s spider scuttles over to bite Vaclav, evading us; he winces in pain but remains awake. Oswyn kills that one too, ignoring the one clambering on him. Vaclav tries to shoot Oswyn’s spider, but he’s distracted trying not to look at the patch on the wall that isn’t there, he knows there isn’t one because he’s never seen it.

Scabbard vaguely notices that Vaclav’s avoiding looking, but it’s just a portrait. He doesn’t see anything obviously interesting about it, so doesn’t learn anything.

“Vaclav, how’re we to get Jack back?” says Oswyn, striking at a spider ineffectually. It bites him, but despite a tingling he stays awake.

“I think I can send us into a deeper state of sleep with a spell – but we should deal with this matter first, I think.”

Vana remains locked in battle with a spider; neither can make progress, until Scabbard manages to kill it with a bolt. Vaclav shoots the other, but despite injuring it he can’t kill it. Eventually we manage to bring it down between us.

Jack is confused. He remembers being in a fight, but can’t remember much about it. He’s on a battlefield; he hears fighting, and horses charging, dying. The uniforms, he will realise later, seem too antique to be his own experience of the war, a couple of centuries out of date; but right now they seem perfectly natural. He fought in this war, surely; part of a mercenary company. A woman reaches down and lifts him from the bloody mud; his captain, in fact, he now remembers. He’d been struck down with a cudgel.

“Jack, are you alright?”

“Fine, thank you m’lady.”

“Good. I need all my men with me for this fight. You understand? Listen, remember when you signed up and I said I’d call on you when I need extra strength, to give so that I might win the victory?”

“…honestly, m’lady, no. I took a bit of a crack on the ‘ead.”

“But I need you now. Will you do something for me?”

“As you command, m’lady.”

She raises her helmet and says “Jack, look at me.” He makes eye contact, and things go fuzzy…

The spiders are destroyed. The portraits brush themselves down, the countess stands up and between chokes and tears says: “See, this is what I was saying before; despite the influences he allows into his life, which I personally disapprove, Vaclav has forged a team who are able to accomplish great things. He has even set Scabbard on the right course. I think he may be the one able to free our family from the guilt, the curse which has followed us down the generations since our founding.”

Vaclav turns to us with a look of bafflement. “I don’t remember this…”

Scabbard: “It’s all a dream, your Lordship. Perhaps you should send us to sleep so we can help Jack?”

The countess intervenes. “I must tell you what to do to escape this dream.”

“But… aren’t you me?”

“Yes, but you know how you respect your mother’s advice.”

“…let’s say yes for the time being.”

“Particularly when it comes to family matters. Tricky matters of family politics which you would normally trust to me.”

“…yes?”

“When you cast that sleep spell, you will go into the dream you dream every night but don’t remember. We all do. A curse that pursues us down the generations, and has brought terror to our family down through the ages. In this generation, in waking life, I have never encountered it; only in nightmarish dreams we cannot remember. But it is stirring in the waking world, and you must understand it in order to fight it. It is coming for us. All you must do is step through the portrait. The one we have all sensed somehow, but never confront; hoping it’ll pass down to another generation.”

She gestures. We see a portrait frame that depicts a raging battle. Vaclav turns slowly with an expression of dread; his eyes slide away several times before he finally looks at it. “Ah.”

“One of the Suppressions of Lorok. Putting down those who objected to the disappearance of Queen Chand.” It’s all consistent with history.

“I… know that painting.” He turns. “This isn’t your burden. You’re very kind to have come to find me in my dreams. I’m very appreciative, and I must go and find Jack, but I couldn’t ask any of you to share this burden.” He looks hopeful. We tell him not to be daft (except Scabbard, who insists it’s just a dream so it doesn’t matter). We step through… and the style of our outfits subtly shifts to fit in.

There’s a lull in the fighting. The line is being held. Jack is covered in mud, wounded and bleeding from the neck. A woman in mercenary uniform is cradling him gently. Oswyn and Vaclav rush forward; Vana starts praying to the Smith to intervene in this grievous wound. The woman looks up, and in the light of torches there’s the glimmer of saliva on her fangs, and a smear of blood around her mouth. Vampire.

“Get away from him!” shouts Vaclav, grabbing his crossbow.

“A braver and bolder entrance than usual; and you’ve even dreamed up some friends. Now, I don’t want to waste too much time here… what’s the latest on the tunnels under the palace?”

“Shoot her!”

Scabbard bursts from a pile of corpses and strikes at her, but though he’s certain the dagger will plunge between her shoulder blades, she whips round, sizes the arm clutching the dagger and bites down into it at the wrist. He drops the knife; she spits his own blood back at him, and throws him to the floor. She dodges Oswyn’s attack, acknowledges that they’re real people, and asks to parley. She has no desire to trap one of her own descendents in here. She promises not to visit Vaclav in his dreams again, provided we will write her back into the family history. “I have no delusions of getting you on my side, but the least the family can do is acknowledge all I did for them.”

As she’s speaking, Scabbard attempts to raise and fire his crossbow one-handed. “Die, bitch!” It goes wild. As she deprecates this, Vaclav raises a cloud of fog.

“Ah yes, privacy is essential for such a negotiation.” She moves to stand over Jack’s body. Vana rushes forward regardless and heals him, leaving him barely conscious in the middle of a cloud of fog and under a vampire. Though Jack squirms away, we end up with Scabbard prisoner and hypnotised, and Vaclav forced to accept her terms. The mist disperses, and she tells us to wait while she gives orders to her troops. One by one, the torches are dropped and gutter out; it gets darker and darker. As Scabbard begins to feel more himself, the sounds of battle fade away into the pitch darkness…

The Professor’s own notes continue:

…I was at my wit’s end as to how to stop the bleeding that had spontaneously sprung from Jack’s neck – and now Scabbard’s – despite the help of the best healers the chapel of the Messenger had been able to provide. Then, Vana began speaking in a different voice – a voice stronger than the mumbled prayer to the Smith she’d been uttering so far, and somewhat more androgynous than her usual voice, consistent with an intervention of one of the Higher Principles such as the Smith. “Summon Horatio and Constance from the Chapel of the Smith,” it intoned, “and tell them to commence an exorcism on these two. That is the only way to stop the bleeding.” The party began to awake after the two priests of the Smith had completed their exorcism and were patching up Jack and Scabbard’s wounds. Based on the party’s recollections and their sleep-talk I am sure that they were on their way out of the dream in any case, but I have a terrible suspicion that without this precaution, the two Jacks would have remained slumbering…

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