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Midnight Dreams and Other Miscellanyby Geoff Gander
Midnight Dreams and Other Miscellany is a thick pocketbook, bound in leather, measuring 7 inches tall and 5 inches wide, containing 145 pages. The book's title is stamped in gold along the side, while the covers have a stamped impression of a crescent moon. The publication date of this book is AC 1003, by J.P. Ironfoot & Sons, a respected, high-priced dwarven publisher in Selenica. The author, James Addelston, was unknown before the publication of this book; although he managed to attract Siddiq al-Azrad, a wealthy scion of that merchant house, as patron, which partly explains why he could afford Ironfoot's services. Approximately 30 copies were produced, some of which are still available in higher-end bookshops in Selenica and Darokin City.
To the casual reader, Midnight Dreams appears to be a collection of six average-quality short stories masquerading as fanciful accounts of epic journeys and encounters with strange monsters and bizarre phenomena. As this style of writing is not uncommon, most people who have read the book found it to be fairly enjoyable, and took it at face value. The stories, which appear after eight pages of praise for Siddiq al-Azrad's generosity, business acumen, and love of literature, are as follows:
Yath-Khe: This story relates the voyage of a Thyatian treasure-hunter who comes across a strange map in Raven Scarp, which shows a city, named Yath-Khe, near a great bay to the south of the Hinterlands. He tries to find out as much as he can about this strange city, but has little luck, save for cryptic references to great power and wealth. The adventurer follows the map, but finds that the bay has long since dried up, leaving a trackless desert. He then undertakes an arduous trek through the desert, and ultimately finds the city. In closing, the tale indicates that the seeker did not find what he expected, but instead found something horrible:
"And he came unto lost Yath-Khe in the wilds, and spake not of what he saw, lest the Evil Ones that lived therein steal away his soul. Ever after he gibbered of Yurrgh-Thal, Lord of the Worm That Gnaws, and looked not into the darkest caverns, lest he see the ever-eating Pestilence."
The Dancers of the Monoliths: This is an account of an adventurer's attempt to delve into an old legend concerning the Shadow Coast region of the Isle of Dawn. In the forested hills surrounding the Culaesar Bulge, there are scattered rings of ancient monoliths, carved from a variety of stone found only in the southernmost regions of the Great Escarpment. On certain nights during the year, figures can be seen from afar, dancing around fires near the monoliths to the faint sounds of drums and pipes.
The dancers, their music, and the fires vanish whenever anyone tries to get close to them. People have been seeing the dancers of the monoliths since the time of the founding of the Thyatian Empire, though it is commonly believed that the dancers have been there for far longer. According to legend, the dancers are the spirits of a culture that inhabited the Isle of Dawn before recorded time, who must awake periodically from their eternal rest to perform sacred dances in honour of their forgotten deities. Rumour has it, as well, that the treasures of the lost realm are buried near the monoliths. Intrigued, the adventurer trekked to the nearest ring of monoliths of the eve of the appointed time, and waited. The dancers and their strange music appeared after sunset, and the adventurer approached them silently and unseen with the aid of magic. He got close enough to see that the dancers were pale-skinned, their bodies covered with many tattoos; but there was no sign of any musicians. He saw that there was a strange, ornately carved gold box resting in front of the fire, and, unable to resist, approached it. Suddenly, he was deafened by a piercing shriek as his magical concealment was blasted away. Before everything faded to black, and he was blown away by a wind of incredible force, he had enough time to see the faces of the spirits become contorted with rage as they turned into spectral whirlwinds. He awoke hours later, with many broken bones, over a mile away from the monoliths. He managed to make his way to the nearest settlement, and told the people there of what he had seen.
While the younger villagers were fascinated by his tale, the older ones simply told him that he was lucky to have been sent away with a "warning", for the dancers of the monoliths do not like to have their private revels interrupted, and have killed men for far less.
Alazadar Goes to Davania: A tale of greed and danger, this story focuses on Alazadar, a sailing captain down on his luck in Athenos. On the verge of having to sell his boat to pay off some gambling debts, Alazadar meets a beggar, who offers to tell him a secret in exchange for a meal. Alazadar, feeling sympathy for the man, agrees, and the beggar proceeds to tell him about a great continent to the south, peopled with cannibals and filled with floating cities of gold. Alazadar, feeling cheated, is about to beat the beggar up when his victim shows him an ancient gold coin, claiming that the man who told him the story found it in ancient ruins on that strange continent. Never having seen a coin like it, Alazadar demands to know the location of the ruins, and afterwards gathers his crew for an expedition to Davania (of which he had heard only a little), hoping to strike it rich.
The bulk of the story relates the many incidents that occur on the way, from pirate attacks, to storms and encounters with sea monsters. Finally, Alazadar and his surviving crew reach Davania, and following the crude map they eventually find the site - a many-pillared temple of sorts of purest marble. Unfortunately, other treasure hunters are already there, and a fight ensues. The clamour of battle attracts the attention of jungle orcs, and Alazadar's party seizes the opportunity to grab as much unearthed loot as possible and retreat to their ship, while the other treasure hunters are being massacred. They cross the Sea of Dread once more, and retire comfortably.
The Dark Secret of Eastshire: This tale focuses on the account of a retired hin merchant, who used to run shipments of tobacco and rum along the coast from Thantabbar to Specularum. One summer day, in AC 981, a sudden storm hit the merchant's vessel, churning the seas near Harbourlee Rock, not far from Rollstone Keep. The skill of the sailors prevented the ship from wrecking itself, but it was blown off-course, and ran aground on the fringes of the Blight Swamp, in Eastshire. After the storm passed, the merchant and his crew inspected the damage, and saw that it would take several days to repair. Knowing that the Blight Swamp had a fearsome reputation, and there were no villages nearby where they could get help, most of the hin decided to remain close to their vessel and conduct the repairs, but some of the young ones went exploring. The next day, the crew were surprised to note that some of the young lads who went out had not returned, and so the merchant led a search party to find them. After many hours of searching, the party found themselves in a large clearing, where a hill rose out of the morass. At the top of that hill there was a ring of posts, to several of which small forms were tied. Drawing closer, it became apparent that the posts surrounded a deep pit that had been dug into the hill, and that some of the unmoving forms tied to the posts were the missing crewmembers. Unfortunately, they were all dead, with expressions of utter horror on their faces, and their bodies disfigured by strange puncture marks. Horrified at what they had discovered, the party beat a hasty retreat to their ship, but were intercepted by a band of ragged hin emerging from the surrounding swamp, who overcame them after a brief fight, and tied up those they captured to the remaining posts, including the merchant. The strange hin then lit torches, and began chanting in a strange language. One hin, who seemed to be the leader, cut his arm with a knife, and let the blood drip into the pit. As the chanting continued, the merchant sensed movement deep below, and soon a disgusting stench wafted upwards. Excited, the captors chanted even more loudly, and out of the pit rose what resembled a slug with many tentacles, before which many of the strange hin prostrated themselves. The thing then began to attack the captive hin, sucking the life out of them with its tentacles. Just when the merchant began to despair, some of his crew who had escaped capture emerged from hiding, and attacked the evil hin. The resulting confusion disrupted the evil ritual, and the monster began attacking indiscriminately, allowing many prisoners to be freed. Wasting no time, the merchant and his party retreated to the vessel, trying to cover their tracks as best they could, and helped the rest of the crew complete the repairs as quickly as possible. After several hours of working feverishly, the ship was repaired, and the crew managed to put her out to sea again - just as the sounds of angry pursuit were growing louder. After returning home, the merchant abandoned his route to Specularum, and picked up another to Athenos, which he ran until his retirement.
Midnight Dreams in Jahore: This story differs from the others in that it is the author's own. An adventurer, who had recently returned from Sind, regaled him with tales of his exploits in that exotic land. One story that interested Addelston in particular concerned the infamous opium dens of Jahore, which the adventurer visited frequently. Intrigued by the vivid descriptions of the dreams one could have by partaking of such drugs, Addelston managed to acquire some Jahorian Black (a variety of opium common in Sind) from the adventurer, and experimented with it. The dreams he had were nothing less than unearthly, with changing vistas, bizarre colours, and indescribable sensations. What stunned Addelston more than anything else was the appearance of a handsome, well-dressed man in his room, who proclaimed himself to be a friend, and offered to show the author things that no living person had yet dreamed of, and tell him secrets that even the greatest wizards and sages did not know. All Addelston had to do was take the goblet that was offered to him, and drink deeply the wine that it contained. The author took the goblet, and was about to drink the wine, but there was something in the man's smile that he did not like, and in the end he refused. With that, the man grimaced, and seemed to turn sideways, and disappear into the nearest corner of the room, and Addelston fell unconscious. When he awoke hours later, he began to think that the man had been part of his bizarre dreams, but then something caught his eye - there were drops of spilled wine near one of the corners of his room.
A Chance Meeting on the Road to Selenica: This story concerns the account of a dwarven adventurer returning to his home in Selenica after a profitable jaunt to Darokin City, where he had sold a large number of goods found in a goblin lair in the Cruth Mountains. Not far from Dolos, the he was caught in a rainstorm, and sought shelter under a small outcropping of rock nearby. While he waited out the storm, the dwarf saw another figure plodding up the road, and called out to him, as there was enough room for two in his shelter, and the storm showed no sign of abating any time soon.
The figure, a cloaked man, entered the shelter, thanking the dwarf for his kindness. At first nothing was said, but before long the man asked the dwarf where he was heading, and after hearing the dwarf's response the man's face lit up with interest, as he was from Selenica as well, and had been away from home for a long time. As the conversation progressed, it became apparent to the dwarf that the man, Ioric, was an adventurer like himself, and soon the two began swapping stories. What struck the dwarf as being slightly odd, however, was that he had not heard of the man or any of his exploits, as Ioric was clearly a warrior of great skill. The conversation continued anyway, and the dwarf cast aside his suspicions, knowing that many heroes pass through Darokin regularly, and that Selenica was a big enough city that he might easily be unaware of some of its more famous human citizens - especially if they had been away for many years.
Eventually, the storm ended, and the two travellers prepared to resume their journeys - the dwarf to Selenica, and Ioric to "the westlands" as he called them. Thanking the dwarf for his hospitality, Ioric gave him a golden pin, saying that it was the sign of his house, and should the dwarf wear it and call upon his family for aid, it would be given. Again the dwarf thought this strange, as the name of Ioric's house was unfamiliar to him, but he brushed these thoughts aside; there are many minor houses in Darokin, after all. The two parted ways, and the dwarf thought little about the encounter until he finally returned home. While walking through the streets to his home, he was accosted by an old man, who pointed at the pin and asked the dwarf where he got it. The dwarf replied that a fellow traveller gave it to him, telling him that it was the sign of his house.
The man paused, an finally told the dwarf that he had been lied to, or he had seen a ghost - Ioric was indeed a great hero of Selenica, but he died almost 400 years earlier, not far from Dolos. He had been journeying to the wild lands of western Darokin, but he was killed by bandits, who had taken advantage of a great rainstorm to ambush him.
The short stories found in Midnight Dreams are all based on actual events. Seeking inspiration, the author scoured the taverns of Selenica, Darokin City, and Athenos in search of interesting people who would be willing to share some of their stories in exchange for a pint of ale or two. Although he doubted the veracity of some of the tales, Addelston knew that they were unique enough that he might be able to use them to find a good patron, and make a name for himself as an author. PCs of a more literary bent may already have heard of Addelston, who lives in Selenica, and is becoming increasingly well known there.
If the PCs have ever confronted any of the phenomena that lie behind the stories, they may find Addelston's attempt to make some money off of what he sees as harmless entertainment objectionable. If confronted, Addelston will probably think that the PCs are delusional, and if they share their experiences with him in the hopes of convincing him that his "harmless stories" are based on reality, they may hear about the publication of another book in a few months' time.
Midnight Dreams is most useful as an adventure hook. PCs can find the book, or buy it in a shop, and may become sufficiently intrigued by the stories to investigate them further, to see if there is a kernel of truth to them. In this way, the DM has up to six plotlines available, which in turn can lead to campaigning in exotic locales - and the players will probably think it was their idea to pursue these leads.
An interesting twist would be a campaign in which the PCs know all about the strange phenomena described in Addelston's book, but, for whatever reason, do not wish such things to be widely known in order to protect people from "the truth". This would be especially relevant in the case of Yath-Khe. In such a campaign, the PCs might be tasked with suppressing the book, eliminating any evidence, and possibly convincing the author to write about other things, instead.