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Granny in the Gutter

Brym Stolchest's manor in the North Ward has fallen victim to foul witchcraft, and he's hired a team of adventurers to sort it out. Can they get to the bottom of the strange happenings before his daughter's 13th birthday party? Granny in the Gutter is a one-shot investigation adventure designed for a party of 3rd level characters and should take between 4 and 12 hours to complete.
Immeasurable thanks to u/XvFoxbladevX for granting me permission to expand upon the characters and story they presented in The Witch Below.
The full adventure is available at the Homebrewery or as a PDF download. This is my first time writing an adventure and my first time experimenting with Homebrewery, so while I'm proud to present this as a polished final draft I will happily accept critiques on either my conversion of scrawled notes into a format that someone who doesn't share my brain could pick up and play or on my use of the Homebrewery tool.
For those who prefer it, the adventure is also presented in abridged text format below. Enjoy!

Adventure Background

Before he was Lord Stolchest, Brym was a fieldhand with no family name. He had been raised an orphan in the sewers of the Dock Ward, one of many looked after by the hag Gran Magda. The world was a cruel place for orphans and terrible horrors were known to snatch their friends away into the darkness, but Granny kept them as safe as she could and they served her lovingly in return. Then one night Brym awoke to see Granny leading an orphan through a hidden doorway in their bedroom. When day broke and she sadly told the children that their friend had been eaten in the sewers overnight, he understood the truth: the monsters of their bedtime stories were a lie to hide the true monster in their midst. He fled the sewers and vowed never to return.
Years later while working as a fieldhand for the Stolchest Grain Company, Brym caught sight of his employer's daughter, Evelyn, and found himself smitten. Though he knew it would be impossible to court a young Lady of Waterdeep, he could not drive the thought from his mind. In desperation he turned to Gran Magda for help, whispering his wish in the gutter as he had heard men do when he was a boy. Granny heard his plea, offering him a loving marriage with the woman of his dreams at the cost of the couple's firstborn daughter.
Brym accepted the terms, and caught Evelyn's eye the very next day. To the shock of many of the Waterdavian noble families, the two were married and Brym took the Stolchest name and social station. Less than two years later, Matilda was born. He had steeled himself to part with her, but Granny's cruelty was in the waiting; she never came to collect and he bonded with his daughter as completely as any father would. Now, thirteen years later, Lord Brym Stolchest is the head of a happy family of three and a successful grain baron. The knowledge that his wife's love may be an enchantment does gnaw at him, but it seems genuine and she is happy, so he does his best not to think about it. He is comfortable in the noble lifestyle, tolerates the sneers of neighbors who did nothing to earn their own status, and has allowed himself to hope that Granny simply forgot her end of the bargain.
Last month, however, a series of misfortunes began to befall his manor, and he knew his time was up. He posted a contract for a group of adventurers, hoping he could convince them to dispatch Granny once and for all without having to reveal his own dark dealings.

Introduction

The party has accepted a contract from Brym Stolchest, a grain baron in Waterdeep. In the contract, he reports that his manor has experienced "a series of hardships" and offers a hefty sum to "heroes of discretion" who can solve the problem.
Stolchest Manor is lovely. A broad front porch welcomes visitors while a gated drive leads around the house to a courtyard with a garden, a fountain, and a small stable. Characters may note several additional details based on their Passive or Active Perception:
  • DC 10: The fountain in the courtyard is turned off.
  • DC 12: There is a faint smell of sewage in the air.
  • DC 20: There is a pigeon perched on the house across the street with a small bauble around its neck.
If the party knocks at the door, they are greeted by Ermak, a tired-looking male servant, who invites them inside and shows them upstairs to Lord Stolchest's study. Brym Stolchest is a broad man whose muscular physique appears at odds with his fine clothing. He looks as tired as Ermak does, but he smiles warmly and rises to greet the party.
Once introductions have been made, he tells the party of recent events at the manor:
  • About a month ago, the fountain in the courtyard began to spray sewage instead of fresh water. The Plumber's Guild investigated but could find no cause for such a strange occurrence. They've shut the fountain off.
  • A rat infestation seems to have developed around the same time. At first it was just the stables and courtyard, but they've been seeing them in the house, too. The Ratcatcher's Guild has been out several times, but they just keep coming back.
  • Last week, the cow started giving sewer water instead of milk.
  • Just yesterday the horse bit Lydia, the maid. The horse has been acting strange since, and Lydia has fallen ill.
After ensuring that the door is closed, Lord Stolchest lowers his voice and confides that he knows the source of the problem: His business involves carting grain from the Field Ward around the city to the Dock Ward, where it is loaded onto ships and sent to the islands off the coast to be sold. Parts of the Dock Ward are controlled by Gran Magda, a fairly powerful gutter witch, and she has been extorting him to pay protections for his caravans. He has no interest in tithing to any thug that asks, so he his hoping that the party will eliminate her. His drivers say she sends messages through the street urchins in the Dock Ward, so they would be the best place to start looking. He also asks that the party remain as discrete as possible; he doesn't wish to alarm his family or his employees unnecessarily.

Investigation: The Manor

Lord Stolchest

Lord Brym Stolchest is a large, well-muscled man in his mid-forties who always looks a little out of place among the finery of his lifestyle. He has an easy smile and an unpretentious manner that makes him considerably more approachable than most Lords of Waterdeep.

Insights

DC Observation
10 He was not born into nobility. His manner and physique suggest that he has spent time as a laborer.
12 He is sincerely concerned for his family's wellbeing.
15 He is not telling the whole story.
18 He is feeling a significant amount of guilt.

Additional Clues:

Matilda's 13th birthday party is tomorrow. Lord Stolchest does not volunteer this information because he does not want anyone to make the connection between Matilda and the events at the manor, but if pressed he will not conceal it.
He was raised by Gran Magda. It is difficult to convince Lord Stolchest to admit this information as it invites too many questions about what is really going on at the manor.
He promised his daughter to Gran Magda in exchange for her help wooing Evelyn. This information has a very real chance of ruining Lord Stolchest's life. He will admit it to the party only if confronted after they have talked to Granny, or if they do an exceptional job of convincing him both that it is the only way that they will help and that they will continue to help him even if he admits such a serious offense.

Lady Evelyn Stolchest

Lady Evelyn is a fine-featured woman in her mid-forties. In contrast to her husband, she is completely at home in her fine dress and elegantly coiffed hair. Her love for Lord Stolchest is genuine (though nothing short of defeating Gran Magda can confirm this for the party.)

Insights

DC Observation
10 Although she is worried about the events at the manor, she seems comfortable and forthright in conversation. She does not appear to be concealing anything.
12 She steers the conversation away from her husband's upbringing.

Additional Clues

Matilda's 13th birthday party is tomorrow. Lady Evelyn will happily share this information, she just doesn't realize that it is relevant.
Brym was a fieldhand when they met. Lady Evelyn is not bothered at all by her husband's humble origin, but she knows that he does not like to share it publically so she tries to skirt the topic.
The other Lords in the area, including her family, look down on Brym because of his ignoble upbringing. No matter how often she tries to tell him that she loves him for who he is and doesn't care what her family thinks, the topic upsets him so she does her best not to talk about it. She certainly does not suspect that it upsets him because he (incorrectly) worries that the only reason she feels differently than her family is because of Granny's enchantment.
Matilda talks to a "fairy godmother." While Evelyn believes this to be nothing but childhood fantasies, Matilda has sworn her to secrecy so she will not mention it unless she is convinced that it is relevant to the investigation.

Matilda

The Stolchest's only daughter is an enthusiastic twelve-year-old with her mother's natural refinement and her father's force of personality. She will happily chat with the party about her upcoming 13th birthday party and show them the dress she is planning to wear. Ordinarily it would be relatively easy to get her to talk about her "fairy godmother," but since Lydia got hurt she is ashamed and worried about getting in trouble, so she is much less forthcoming. If asked about the events, she will feign fear and say she's glad her father found strong people to take care of it.

Insights

DC Observation
14 She feels guilty when Lydia's illness is mentioned.
16 She is not as afraid as she is letting on.

Additional Clues

She has a "fairy godmother." Matilda mentioned her fairy godmother to her father once when she was very young and he became uncharacteristically upset. Since then, she has only confided in her mother, who doesn't seem to mind. Attempts to convince Matilda to tell the party what she knows will be considerably more challenging with her father present. Matilda is more likely to talk if her mother is present or if the party can convince her that she won't be in trouble. Unlike other members of the household, Matilda is less likely to share what she knows if the party tells her that it will help stop what's happening at the manor, but she will open up if convinced it will help Lydia.
If the party can convince Matilda to cooperate, she shares the following information:
  • She has been visited by a fairy godmother since she was little. This fairy godmother has always told her that one day she will be a princess.
  • Her father got very mad once when she talked to him about her fairy godmother, so now she doesn't talk to him about her.
  • Her fairy godmother has been visiting more often recently, and brought her rat friends to play with.
  • She taught her how to play tricks with the horse and the cow, but she didn't mean for anyone to get hurt.

Matilda's Room

If Matilda is friendly with the party and they have convinced her that she will not get in trouble, she will allow them to Investigate her room, which may produce several clues:
  • DC 12: Rat droppings in the corners.
  • DC 14: A partially-woven crown of branches and flowers under the bed behind some clothes. (A DC 19 Investigation suggests that it has been woven by rats.)
  • DC 16: A child's drawing (presumably a self-portrait) of a girl sitting on a high-backed chair and wearing a crown presiding over a swarm of friendly-looking rats.

Lydia

The family's maid is a slender woman in her early seventies. Currently, she is feverish and delirious as Ermak tends to her. While she cannot communicate with the party, they may be able to glean information with a Medicine check:
  • DC 12: Her symptoms are consistent with filth fever, a disease typically transmitted by sewer rats.
  • DC 14: Her bite consists of two opposed puncture wounds around the collar bone. A horse bite would have been expected to crush rather than penetrate. (A follow-up DC 12 Nature check can confidently identify this as the bite of a large rodent.)
  • DC 16: Her disease is progressing despite treatment. She needs magical healing.
If the characters have already encountered the horse (see "Courtyard"), a DC 16 Arcana check performed on Lydia will reveal that the same lesser lycanthropy that affected the horse may be taking hold in Lydia as well.

Ermak

The family's butler is a pragmatic man in his late sixties. He has worked for the Stolchests since before Matilda was born and likes them very much, but he is very concerned about the escalating misfortunes at the manor.

Insights

DC Observation
12 He is fond of the Stolchest family, but he's worried for their safety and his own.
14 He knows more than he is letting on.
16 He might give different answers if Lord Stolchest weren't present.

Additional Clues

He suspects Matilda may be responsible for the events. While he wants to share this with the party, he is worried that such an accusation may cost him his job. If the characters interview him alone and can convince him that they will not reveal his disloyalty to Lord Stolchest, he will confide in them the following observations. * Matilda plays in the stables often, and was there both when the cow began giving sewer water and when the horse bit Lydia. * The rats in the house seem to listen to her commands. * Once late at night he thought he heard her having a conversation with someone in her room.

The Courtyard

The back of the house opens onto a covered deck with stairs leading down to a courtyard. The flagstone space is dominated by a large fountain, which has been turned off and emptied. There are several planter areas growing a variety of flowers and herbs. In the back is a stable with room for several animals and their feed, as well as an attached shed housing a carriage and a workshop. A DC 20 Perception check will make note of a pigeon with a small bauble around its neck watching from a neighboring roof.

The Fountain

Characters examining the fountain are unlikely to find anything amiss other than a persistent sewer smell. Only a DC 23 Investigation check will reveal a small amount of unusual mildew that seems to be creeping up through the mortar.

The Stable

Entering the stable, the characters can see the cow and the horse in their stalls. The cow is behaving normally (although it continues to give sewer water if the players try to milk it), but the horse is facing the back corner of its stall and is chewing on something. From behind, it is easy to tell that the animal is unwell. Most of the hair has fallen from its tail, and its fur is mangy. If the characters are successful in getting the horse to face them, they will immediately note its unusual, beady eyes and its large, rodent-like teeth (it has been chewing the wood of the stall to try to keep them in check.)
Don't Look a Rat-Horse in the Mouth! The horse does not immediately attack the characters. However, if they get too close (such as by entering the stall to try to examine its teeth) it becomes aggressive. It will use its action to bite the character closest to it before attempting to flee the stable and gallop away down the street. (Use the dire rat statblock presented in the Appendix, although the horse has not yet completed its transformation.)

Investigation: Dock Ward

Eventually, the characters will find their way from the opulent tranquility of the North Ward to the cacophanous Dock Ward. Urchins are common in this area, but to identify one who seems by be part of a larger organization requires a DC 12 Investigation or Perception check. Once a target has been identified, characters may attempt to remain hidden or start a conversation.
Following the urchin without being noticed requires a DC 13 Charisma (Stealth) check to blend into the crowd or a DC 16 Dexterity (Stealth) check to remain physically out of sight until the urchin ducks into a sewer (Point A on the Sewer Map.)
If approached, the urchin will deny any knowledge of Gran Magda, though a DC 10 Insight check will suggest that this is a lie. The urchin can be convinced to talk with a DC 15 Persuasion or Intimidation check, revealing the following information if asked.
  • "Granny in the Gutter looks out for us! We'd be dead meat without her!"
  • "Granny lives in the sewers and has lots of tough friends like Zip and Mr. Clanky."
  • "Granny sometimes makes deals with grown-ups who whisper their wishes into the gutter."
The urchins are well-trained that any adult asking to speak to Granny is dangerous. If asked to lead the party to her, the urchin will agree but will lead them through Slapsy's lair to be ambushed. This is a practiced deception, a DC 16 insight check is required to discern that the urchin is not being fully cooperative. He takes them in through Point A on the Sewer Map and uses the hidden tunnel in Slapsy's lair to scurry away while the party is being attacked.
Alternatively, the party may ask the City Watch for leads. They don't know much, but they can point the characters to a sewer access point that they might have seen urchins using (Point B on the Sewer Map.)
Granny's Message If the party spends any time investigating the Other Locations or fails any checks in the Dock Ward, Granny has time to prepare a trap. The party sees an urchin hurrying toward them across a crowded street while Zip (a quickling, see Appendix A for more information) hides behind a barrel 40 feet away (DC 18 Perception to spot, which should only be attempted if characters ask about hidden threats as the urchin approaches). If the party does not move to a less visible area, the urchin meets them within sight of four City Watch and motions for the party to gather around before whispering, "Granny says Brym knew the terms and now he has to pay up. You shouldn't meddle unless you want more innocent people to get hurt."
With the message delivered, Zip launches from his hiding spot, stabs the urchin, and uses his remaining 80 feet of movement to dart around a corner and out of sight. (Note that characters who did not previously spot Zip or beat him in Initiative are Surprised and unable to take reactions.)
The urchin screams and falls unconscious (use the rules for Death Saving Throws on this NPC), the Watch are alerted, and the blood-soaked party must balance stabilizing the urchin, convincing the Watch that they aren't to blame, and pursuing their assailant. The urchin is ignorant of Zip's role in the trap; if stabilized he sincerely believes that one of the party members stabbed him, though he will be confused as to why they then saved him.
Convincing the Watch that the urchin was stabbed by an unseen third party is difficult, but not impossible. The persuasion is made easier if the party moved quickly to help the dying urchin. It is more difficult if the child dies, the party fired weapons or spells through the street, or if any party members are aggressive toward the Watch.

The Sewers

If the party enters the sewers without an urchin to "guide" them, they must navigate for themselves. The slick stone is a challenging surface for tracking, but if they have entered through Point A a successful Survival check may reveal a subtle path where the algae has been worn down.
  • DC 13 shows the main path leading to the left and then up through Slapsy's lair.
  • DC 17 shows a more subtle, less used path leading right and then up and through the Shrieker Grove.
If the party entered through Point B they have no clues to help them; they must simply pick a path and explore it. If they explore an area not drawn on the map, roll a d12 on the Random Encounter table and resolve it as appropriate. Following the encounter, one character should make a DC 15 Survival check. On a success they recognize that they have gone the wrong way. On a failure, the party wanders for some time before coming upon a more regularly patrolled (and thus less suspicious) area of the sewers and turning back, a process which takes 1d4 hours.

Gran Magda's Scheme

Gran Magda is a green hag that rules this territory of the sewers. She takes care of between 20 and 40 urchins, whom she views as useful livestock. They are adept at running errands on the surface, and she occasionally harvests them for ritual components and potion ingredients. Most importantly, they form an excellent security measure: she always makes sure that there are at least a few around whenever any noble heroes come calling. With Zip's help, the children always seem to get caught in the crossfire, and saving wounded children is enough of a distraction for her to make her escape.
Her bargain with Brym is one of her greater achievements, but it actually took very little effort. She knew that Evelyn would fall for Brym's easy charm, she had only to facilitate their meeting and use a few well-placed Suggestions on her family to ensure they would be allowed to wed. Not only was this easier than maintaining a potent enchantment for years, but Granny thinks it will be much more gratifying to destroy a genuine love with her machinations. Of course, she allows Brym to believe that Evelyn's feelings for him are manufactured by her enchantment and delights in the way it has eaten away at him over the years.
Now that Matilda is coming of age, she intends to snatch her away and complete a ritual that will transform both Matilda and and her protege Iris into hags, creating a coven and vastly expanding her power. She hopes that the loss of Matilda will destroy the Stolchests' marriage in a storm of guilt and betrayal, ruining both of their lives.

Slapsy's Lair

The sewer tunnel widens into a chamber containing a large, deep pool of murky water. A narrow shelf of slippery rock extends around the north and west sides of the pool and there are no obvious exits.
If the party is being led by an urchin, he begins to clamber along the ledge with practiced ease. Characters moving along the ledge must succeed a DC 10 Acrobatics check or fall into the water.
Slapsy (a sewer octopus) lashes a tentacle out to attack the first party member walking on the ledge. He does not attack Small humanoids. As soon as combat starts, the urchin scampers through a small gap in the stone on the north side of the chamber.
Spotting the opening without the urchin requires a DC 12 Perception or Investigation check. It is possible for a Medium character to squeeze through, but trying to do so under duress requires a DC 15 Acrobatics check.

Crocodile Nest

A large, deep pool of murky water fills this room. Rising from it in the northwest corner is a large pile of mud and detritus. Old One Eye lurks inside of this nest while two crocodiles wait in the murky water. They attack any characters exploring around or within the pool, attempting to eat them or drive them out of the room. On their first turn of combat, the characters see the water rise as if something massive has entered the water from the nest. Old One Eye joins the crocodiles on their initiative in Round 2.

Shrieker Grove

Although there is no channel of water through this room, it is noticeably moist with an overgrowth of algae and fungi. A DC 15 Perception check will reveal two shrieker fungi amongst the overgrowth and a DC 13 Nature check can identify them. These fungi serve as an alarm system for Granny and the urchins.

Main Chamber

This is the general gathering and eating area for Granny's urchins. Tables, chairs, and toys are scattered about haphazardly and there are lots of drawings on the walls. If the party is expected, the urchins have all gathered in the Bunk Room and this chamber is apparently deserted. Unless he is otherwise occupied, Zip is hiding under a chair awaiting the party's arrival. When he spots them, he retreats to the Bunk Room to inform Granny and trigger Granny's Story. Spotting him requires a DC 18 Perception Check.
Granny's Story
As you enter the chamber, you hear something from the room to the north. An old woman is telling a story:
"...and with Granny's help, the little orphan boy grew up into a big, strong man. He got a good job working in the fields, but he still came back to visit Granny from time to time. One day, he asked for Granny's help. You see, he had spied a very beautiful woman who was rich and powerful. He wanted to marry her, but even though he was a strong, charming man he feared she looked right over him because of his humble job. He asked Granny to help her fall in love with him. And of course I helped! Just like I would help any of you. All I asked was that he give me a little gift to say 'thank you.' But when it came time to give Granny the gift, the man's heart hardened. He forgot all the good things Granny did for him, and he refused. He even hired dangerous adventurers to come and kill Granny rather than give her what he promised! And those dangerous people are coming here right now!"
You hear a chorus of terrified gasps coming from the room.
"But do not fear, children, for most adventurers are good-hearted folk. The man has tricked them into being mean to us, but once they know the truth I'm sure they won't want to hurt us."

Bunk Room

This room holds 15 bunk beds of varying size. Sitting in a carved wooden rocking chair at the east end of the room is a kindly-looking old woman with a ramshackle golem standing behind her. There is a young child sitting on her lap and many more sitting on the bunks and floor facing her. They all look up at you, terrified as you enter.
"Now children," says the old woman, "these are the adventurers I was telling you about. Look, they're wearing armor and carrying weapons as if they mean to start a fight. What do we say about fighting in the bedroom?"
"We must never fight in the bedroom!" pipes up the child in her lap.
"That's right, Timmon. And why must we never fight in the bedroom?"
"Because we might get hurt!" From their place on the child's shoulder, the old woman's fingers grow long, with wickedly sharp nails hovering menacingly over his throat. She grins threateningly at the party.
"Very good, dearest."
If the characters are willing to parley, Gran Magda asks them what they have learned of Lord Stolchest and tells her side of the story. The key points are:
  • She raised Brym. After he grew up, he returned to ask Granny's help in wooing the daughter of a Lord of Waterdeep. She was happy to help, but love magic is challenging and doubly so when there are class dynamics and families to appease. She asked a high price: his firstborn daughter. Brym willingly agreed to the terms.
  • The time has come for her to collect. She will not say how she is going to collect Matilda nor what she intends to do with her, only that she "will love her as one of my own."
  • If it is obvious Lord Stolchest has asked the party to kill her, she asks, "what dear Brym thinks will happen to his loving marriage if I'm not around to maintain it?"
  • "As an incentive to do the right thing," she asks the characters what they would like as a reward for standing back and allowing her to collect Matilda as promised. She has coin and magic items (see Granny's Bedroom), but she would prefer to make a more interesting deal (which is left to the DM's discretion.)
If combat breaks out, the NPC's attempt the following:
  • Zip stabs as many urchins as possible (as in Granny's Message.)
  • Mr. Clanky releases his prepared Fog Cloud and Gran Magda uses the Hide action to guide both of them through the secret door behind them. Characters whose Passive Perception exceeds her check hear them go and learn the location of the secret door. Otherwise, it takes a DC 15 Investigation or Perception check to spot.
  • On Round 2 Gran Magda and Mr. Clanky make it to the Crocodile Nest. If not immediately pursued, Granny sends the crocodiles down to flank the characters through the Main Chamber while Old One Eye stays to guard the retreat. The shriekers alert the party that something is coming at the end of Round 2.
  • On Round 3 Gran Magda and Mr. Clanky continue their retreat, and the crocodiles use their full turn to arrive in the Main Chamber. This is terrifying for the urchins, who know the crocodiles are not as well-trained as Slapsy is.
  • If Gran Magda and Mr. Clanky put good distance between themselves and the party, Gran Magda uses her superior knowledge of the sewers to make good her escape. She joins Iris in the Transformation Chamber (see Birthday Party.) If they are hotly pursued, Gran Magda will send Mr. Clanky to lead the party in one direction while she uses her Invisible Passage ability to sneak off in another.

Granny's Bedroom

In this cramped room Gran Magda's true nature is laid bare. The walls are entirely covered with hangings made from small human bones and skin and decorated with runes or crude images painted in blood or stitched with dyed sinew. Gran Magda's "bed" is a rusted claw-foot bathtub that is filled with an opaque mix of sewage and coagulated blood. In one corner a ritual circle is carved into the floor and embellished with arranged bones and teeth. Stashed in a series of armoires and in precarious piles on the floor is a dizzying array of bizarre and disturbing artifacts. Characters taking time to search the room may find some or all of the items detailed in Appendix B at the DM's discretion.

Birthday Party

If the party does not defeated Gran Magda on the day they took the contract, her plan culminates at Matilda's 13th birthday party.

Set-Up

If the characters arrive before the party starts, they can observe Ermak directing contracted servants and caterers as they decorate the courtyard. Characters may note an abundance of fragrant flowers, which are partially succeeding at concealing the sewer smell.
Should the characters look for her, Matilda can be found playing in her room in a green gown. She tells the characters with a huff that she's not allowed to go play in the courtyard before she is formally introduced to the party. The woven crown is hidden beneath the bed as noted in the initial exploration of the Manor. If the characters had previously discovered and confiscated the crown, the rats have woven a new one for her in the interim.
The guests (almost all Lords and Ladies of Waterdeep and their families) begin to arrive around noon and set their lavish gifts in tableau within the dry fountain, which has been prepared for the occasion. Gifts include lovely dresses glamoured with sparkling illusion magic, wonderfully filigreed jewelry (some of which is enchanted), a fine set of quill and ink, and an ornate wooden chair carved with a flower motif. This last is the "gift" of Lord Lachten, who owes Gran Magda a favor for unrelated reasons.
The tone of the party is one of preening cordiality. It is clear to any character with a Passive Insight of 11 or higher that the guests are here to flaunt their own wealth and to judge the Stolchests rather than to celebrate Matilda's birthday with any sincerity.
The Princess Chair Around 1pm, the hired band begins playing an entrance tune and all eyes turn to the patio. Matilda emerges, dressed in a beautiful green gown and wearing a woven flower crown. She gives a warm wave to the onlookers but quickly lets her excitement take her and rushes to the gifts.
"My princess chair!" she exclaims. "Just like Fairy Godmother said!" She jumps happily into the chair and, with a titanic crumbling noise, the masonry of the fountain gives way. Matilda tumbles into a deep pit with the chair and the rest of the gifts, still laughing delightedly.
The Flower Crown
The crown woven for Matilda's birthday allows Gran Magda to dominate her with no save or concentration required. Despite this incredible power, Granny needs it only as an additional failsafe and, ideally, as a means to taunt Brym before her victory.
Taking the crown before Matilda puts it on upsets her greatly. Once she has put it on her head its fronds weave their way through her hair. Removing it requires a DC 16 Sleight of Hand or Strength check, made with advantage if Matilda is grappled.
Should the characters succeed in removing the crown, Matilda's genuine excitement will still cause her to sit in the Princess Chair and trigger the fountain's collapse. However, she will be appropriately terrified through the rest of the encounter, struggling to break free from the chair and screaming for help rather than laughing and taunting the party and her father.

Mayhem

Characters who approach the edge of the pit quickly can see that Matilda has fallen through the floor of the sewer as well into a deeper tunnel. As they watch, the chair sprouts a set of wooden, spider-like legs and scampers off into the tunnel with Matilda.
Two swarms of rats boil up from the pit and converge on the terrified party guests. If Lydia has not previously been cured of her disease, she lurches onto the patio as a fully transformed rat man. If the horse has not been tended to, it bursts from the stable as a fully-transformed dire rat.

Pursuit

The pit is comprised of a 15 foot drop to the level of the sewers followed by an additional 15 feet to the tunnel below. Characters can descend one level carefully at the cost of their full Movement speed. Lord Stolchest takes a different approach, grabbing his maul from within the stable and vaulting into the pit without a moment's hesitation. This maneuver requires a DC 15 Acrobatics check to leap down over the slick debris. On a success, the character descends both levels with their full movement and lands safely. On a failure they fall the whole distance, taking 3d6 bludgeoning damage and landing prone.
By this time the chair has begun to scamper down the tunnel at a rate of 40 feet per round, aiming for a lighted cavern 120 feet away. The water from the sewers above is running down this path as well, making the rocks slick and complicating pursuit: A character can treat the area as difficult terrain, moving at half speed with no chance of failure. Alternatively, a character beginning a Move or Dash with which they intend to move their full speed must make a DC 10 Acrobatics check. On a success they move as intended. On a failure, they advance only 5 feet before falling prone and forfeiting the remainder of that action.
The chair can be attacked (AC 14, 30 hit points, resistance to piercing damage from nonmagical weapons, +4 to Acrobatics checks should the characters attempt to Grapple it.) Attacks that miss by 5 or more strike Matilda instead. This risk will be obvious to the characters, and they can choose instead to attack cautiously, taking Disadvantage but removing this risk.
Characters who come close to the chair will see that has grown tendrils to restrain Matilda at the wrists and around the midsection. Freeing her requires a DC 16 Strength check that can only be attempted if the chair is not moving. If the flower crown has been removed, Matilda assists the character to grant Advantage of the check. Otherwise she resists, imposing Disadvantage.

Transformation Chamber

The tunnel continues east before opening into an ancient chamber approximately 40 feet across. Similar tunnels feed into the room on the opposite side. The walls are decorated with hangings made of bone and skin and hundreds of candles illuminate the space. In the center of the chamber is a 15 foot deep pool, which is beginning to overflow as the sewage runs into it through the tunnel (forming areas of difficult terrain). A dais rises ten feet above the water's surface. Gran Magda stands atop the dais with Mr. Clanky beside her. Iris stands in the shallow water on the north end of the pool, commanding two crocodiles. Zip lurks in the shadows on the south side of the cavern.
If Matilda has not been freed from the chair, it plunges with her to the bottom of the pool. Gran Magda asks Iris to "entertain the guests" while she begins the transformation ritual on her first turn. Iris uses her first turn to cast shield of faith on Gran Magda before using thorn whip to pull party members into the deep water.
Lord Stolchest uses his turn to leap into the water and attempt to free Matilda, paying no heed to the crocodiles.

Objectives

Gran Magda's goal is to complete three rites of a transformation ritual. If she is concentrating on the ritual at the beginning of her turn, she completes a rite. If she completes the third rite while Matilda is under water, both Matilda and Iris are irrevocably transformed into green hags, forming a coven. At that point, all three will attempt to use their Invisible Passage to flee into the Undermountain through the passages to the east and the party will have failed.
The party can interrupt this goal in several ways:
  • If they break Gran Magda's concentration, she cannot complete a rite on her turn and must begin concentrating again. Previously completed rites do not reset.
  • They can remove Matilda from the pool. To do so, they must release her from the chair with a DC 16 Strength check as in the Pursuit section. If the crown has been removed, Matilda will Help (canceling the Disadvantage incurred by being under water.) If Matilda is still wearing the crown, she will resist attempts to free her and attempts to grapple her and drag her to the surface. If Gran Magda completes the third rite while Matilda is out of the water, the ritual will be completed immediately at any moment that Matilda is submerged in water and Gran Magda is concentrating.
  • If Iris is killed, the ritual cannot turn Matilda into a hag. Rather, it will shift her alignment to chaotic evil and grant her arcane abilities (she will use Iris's statblock.) This change can be reversed with a Greater Restoration spell. She and Gran Magda will attempt to flee and eventually seek a new victim to complete their coven.
  • If Gran Magda is killed, the ritual is stopped. If Iris is still alive, she will attempt to flee into the Undermountain. She will lose her powers over the course of a week but will seek a new evil patron.

Resolution

No matter the outcome, the characters should have a strong influence Lord Stolchest's fate after these events: If they have a good relationship, he is grateful for their help and trusts their judgment regarding if and how to tell the real story to his wife. Even if their relationship is tense, their knowledge of the truth gives them significant leverage over his decision.
If he confesses to Evelyn she is deeply hurt, but they will be able to reconcile with enough time. If the characters reveal the truth to her and she believes Brym would have continued to conceal it from her, she is be heartbroken and ends their marriage. She returns to her family with Matilda and Brym flees the city for a life of anonymity, destitution, and regret. If Evelyn is not told the truth, she takes Brym at his word. Their marriage continues and Brym is deeply relieved to discover that her love has been genuine, but his secret continues to gnaw at him.
submitted by BrittleCoyote to DnDBehindTheScreen

9

I lost my son in a freak accident twenty years ago, and now he's a king

I lost my son in a freak accident twenty years ago. He was only seven. I was devastated. My life never returned to normal. Not only was I burden with grief, but shame as well. Back when it happened, I was so focused on my career that I didn’t spend any quality time with my boy, so little – in fact – that I didn’t really got to know him. I always told myself I worked so hard for his sake, to ensure him a bright future. But what he really needed at that time was a father.
Close to what would have been his twenty-seventh birthday, one of his old teachers reached out to me and said she had found some of my son’s drawings hidden away in some old storage at his school. I knew he liked to draw, but I couldn’t remember ever having seen one of his drawings. I felt my shame bubble up from the bottom of my chest. The teacher spoke in a soft, understanding voice. She knew what had happened to my son, she had been there that faithful day when I hadn’t. I hadn’t been there for him. The thought intruded into my mind. I wanted to cry.
“Do you wish to come and get them?” the teacher asked.
I did. It was a chance to get to know my son at least a little bit more. The next day, I drove down to the school and met the teacher – now close to retirement age – at the front doors. I usually avoided this part of town. Just seeing the school made it all come back to me, all the memories from that day; the phone call about the accident, the commotion at the school where the parents were first informed of what had happened in more detail, my sons pale face as I held his dead body in my arms against the will of the police officers and with the tears running down my face. Tears that were back now. The teacher hugged me out of sympathy.
I followed her inside. The kids played outside at the schoolyard and in the corridors, unaware of the terrible incident that had happened at this place twenty years earlier. Some of them looked at me with curious eyes, wondering how a tall, well-built man such as myself could have trouble holding my tears back. A part of me kept looking for my son among them, almost expecting his face to peek out from a corner. The room where it had happened was torn down for safety reasons and was now a part of the dining room, but the absence of it was just as palpable to me. I stopped and watched the area where it had been, the activity room where my son had taken his last breath. He died doing what he loved: drawing with his friends. Three other kids had lost their lives together with him that day. They were never able to find sufficient evidence for it, but in the absence of a better explanation, the investigation settled with carbon-monoxide poisoning.
“This way,” the teacher said with concern in her eyes.
She brought me to the school’s musty attic and gave me a box filled with standard A4 papers that my son had drawn his creations on. I thanked her.
“You know,” the teacher said, “he really put his soul into these. I’ve never seen a kid being so happy to draw.”
I thanked her again but didn’t say much else while leaving the school in a hurry. She didn’t mind, she understood my inner turmoil.
I didn’t look at the drawings until I came home later that evening. It was already dark outside. I poured myself a glass of brandy, something strong to cool my nerves. I sipped on it while I looked at the box laying on the coffee table in front of me. Carefully, after I had gathered enough mental strength, I opened the box and placed the drawings in my lap. They were cheerful, filled with figures he had painted with either colorful sharpies or crayons. He had talent, and not just the kind of talent that only a parent can see. I went through the drawings one by one. They all contained the same kind of characters: geometrical shapes with tiny arms and legs and cute smiling faces in different exotic environments. On some of the drawings, he had written short texts. His writing wasn’t as neat as his drawings, but still readable. “Welcome to Snorbatron, the world of the Snorbees” it said on one of the drawings. He never told me about this, I thought. He had an entire fantasy world in his head that I never knew about. It was amazing to see these images, these remains of the content of his mind.
I had been afraid that the drawings would reveal some inner struggle because of my absence as a father, and it made me glad to see how happy he seemed to have been given how joyful the drawings were. But then I reached the last drawing. The hair in my neck stood up when I saw it. It also depicted the Snorbees – in this case jumping around inside a jungle – but they were all screaming out of terror and running away from something. A few of the characters – some of the red circles that looked like humanoid apples – were lying dead on the ground with their insides ripped out of them. And in the middle of it all, there was a tiny, anonymous door standing on a grassy platform that floated in the air.
Could this have been what he drew that day, his very last drawing before he lost his life? Perhaps the carbon-monoxide poisoning made him confused before… I shook my head to escape these thoughts. My eyes fixated on the little door. There was something about it that felt a bit off, almost menacing, although I couldn’t say why. I moved my hand over the drawing, felt the old paper under my fingertips and moved them toward the door.
It was cold, somehow. I wanted to remove my finger from it, but my arm refused to move. Something wasn’t right. I felt immensely tired. It became difficult for me to keep my eyes open. I tried to fight it, but to no avail, and just a few seconds later I nodded off to sleep.
I woke up to the smell of rotten flesh. Right in front of me, laying in some unnaturally light green grass, was the cadaver of… I couldn’t believe it! It was one of the Snorbees, a blue, spherical being the size and shape of an orange. I stood up. I was in shock, unable to think clearly, but I still managed to realize that something impossible had happened… I had been sucked into the drawing!
The jungle around me was dense, but I never got the sense that it was large, and the sky seemed to hang only ten or so meters above my head. The door – now normal-sized – stood in front of me. I was just about to open it in an attempt to escape back to reality when I heard crying. It came from a child. Could it be?
I jumped off the platform that was floating a meter above the ground and slowly walked in the direction of the crying. The humidity was suffocating, and it smelled awful; a mixture of decay and feces. It was eerily windless. The thick, white clouds in the sky didn’t even move. A group of small red and furry balls with large doe-like eyes ran out of the bushes – screaming with squeaky voices – and stopped in front of me. I stared down at them in shock and in turn, they stared back up at me equally frightened. Then they took off into the bushes, screaming even louder.
I kept moving forward a few meters until I saw an opening a short distance away from me. That was where the child was. I hid behind the trunk of a palm tree, carefully watching with my heart beating rapidly in my chest. I hadn’t dared to express the thought to myself, but after entering this strange place and after hearing the crying child I only felt one thing: the intense hope to see my son again. But I didn’t recognize the child. It was a young girl – the same age as my son had been at the time of the accident – and she wasn’t wearing any clothes, although the dirt that covered her body made it difficult to tell.
“But I don’t want to eat more!” the girl said.
“Cry-baby, cry-baby!” the voice came from a grown man out of view. “You have to eat them! Don’t be like the fools, you hear me? I’ve told you what happened to them!”
There was something childish about the man, in the way he expressed himself. What is going on? I couldn’t hide forever, I thought and stepped into the opening. The man stopped in his tracks, obviously shocked to see me. He had a long, messy, and blood-soaked beard. He was naked, exposing his emaciated body under a layer of mud. There was blood dripping down on his thin chest from the beard. The limp body of one of the strange, furry beings hung lifeless from his hand, with a large bite taken out of its side. I let my eyes climb from his thin hand to his tired, fatigued face. There were dark circles underneath the eyes, and on top of his head, there was a shiny golden crown. He spoke first:
“D-daddy?”
Of course… I could see it in his eyes.
“How–” I approached him, tears running down my cheeks, trying to embrace him. “You’re alive… here?”
He took a step back, hiding behind the little girl. The girl looked at me, her lips trembling out of fear. I stopped.
“Son,” I said. “You don’t know how much I’ve missed you. My boy… my boy… my boy…”
I cried so hard I couldn’t talk.
“Where have you been, Daddy?”
I could see tears forming in my son’s eyes as well.
“I didn’t know,” I said. “I held your body in my arms. You were dead. We buried you!”
“Oh,” my son said, “um…”
“What,” I said, “what is–”
“Maybe that’s why we couldn’t return,” he said. “You moved us away from the door. We used to play here when the teachers didn’t look, but one day we couldn’t go back.”
“But this isn’t real,” I said. “This is… this is magic, this is–”
“I made this place,” he said and stepped forward.
“You made it?” I asked.
“Yes, I just wish I could remember how I did it…” An expression of sadness overtook his face for a moment, but then he smiled almost manically and exclaimed: “I’m the king of Snorbatron!”
“Where are the others,” I asked, “and who is this little girl?”
“I don’t know,” he said, blushing heavily, and continued in a regretful whisper: “She came out of Linda’s foo foo.”
I looked at the little girl, speechless.
“Dad?” my son asked, afraid of my reaction.
“Where’s Linda now,” I continued. “Where are the others?”
“I’ll show you!” he said and then he looked down at the little girl with an angry frown and said: “Go away now! I don’t want to play with you anymore. My dad is here!”
The girl quickly skittered away and disappeared among the trees. I wanted to stop her and tell her she didn’t need to be scared, that I wasn’t going to hurt her, but I was distracted by all the thoughts spinning around in my head. My son adjusted the crown, smiled, and wiped some of the blood from his beard with his arm. And then he began walking, taking childishly large steps.
“I grew out of my clothes a long time ago,” he said. “But my friends didn’t. You’ll see. They were such fools.” He laughed and yelled: “Watch out, the king is coming!”
The creatures hiding in the bushes screamed in their falsetto voices, utterly terrified. After a short walk, pushing through more and more bushes, we came to what turned out to be the edge of the jungle. At first glance it, looked like the jungle continued, albeit much denser, but in actuality it was an impenetrable wall made out of trees and thorny bushes. I could see all the way to the other side.
“This place can’t be much larger than a football field,” I said.
“It seemed so much bigger before,” my son said. He stood close enough for me to smell his breath. It was foul. “It’s almost as if it has shrunk.” He smiled at me, revealing half-rotten teeth.
“No, son,” I said. “You grew up.”
“I-I guess so.”
I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder, to show my sympathy, but there was something in his small, sunken eyes that made me hesitate. Something was wrong, not just with this place but also with him. I thought about the little girl, tried to understand how she fitted into all of this.
“Well, here’s Daniel,” my son said and pointed at something sticking out of the wall. “He tried to escape from me while we were playing royal tag.”
My heart sank. It was a sneaker, attached to the bones of a leg. He must have tried to push his way through the thorny bushes, desperate to get out of this place, and gotten stuck in the wall.
“For the love of God,” I said in disbelief. “He’s dead.”
“He was a fool, they both were,” my son said. “Except for Linda… she was okay, I guess.”
“Why were they fools?” I asked. “What happened here?!”
“They didn’t want to play with me, said I was stupid and that my world was boring. Trust me, Dad, they were real cry-babies.”
A look of contempt appeared on his shabby face.
“Y-you didn’t hurt them, did you?” I asked.
My son didn’t say anything, he just stared down at his dirty feet and blushed, just like the school-boy he had been back when… when he vanished.
“And your other two friends?” I asked. “Where are they.”
“Jonas is over here,” my son said. “He tried to take Linda away from me, so I pushed this boulder right on top of him!”
The skeleton of a boy, dressed in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, lay on the ground. A large rock had been tipped over the head.
“You murdered him!” I yelled, out of anger as much as out of shame as a father to what was clearly a deranged man.
“I saved Linda!” he said.
“Where is Linda now?”
He blushed again, unwilling to speak.
“Well?!” I said. “Where the hell is she?!”
He teared up. “I-I didn’t know what to do, Daddy…”
Her mummified body leaned against a tree in the middle of the jungle. She was naked, and her legs spread apart. By the looks of it, she couldn’t have been older than fifteen years old.
“She just kept bleeding from her foo foo,” my son said, now crying softly. “We were supposed to be king and queen.”
“I’m so sorry all of this happened to you,” I said. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you, that I–”
“It’s okay Dad,” my son said. “You’re here now, aren’t you? Now we can finally play together… Forever!”
He smiled again, switching from one emotion to its opposite in less than a second, almost as if his sadness had been nothing more than a mask that he could replace with another in an instance. Was this who he had become after spending his entire life in this confined jungle, or was this who he had been when he arrived here all those years ago? I was still in shock, especially after seeing Linda’s body, but I was finally able to connect the dots. The little girl, I understood who she was now: my granddaughter.
“We need to get you and that little girl out of here,” I said. “This isn’t… This isn’t real, son. We need to get back to the real world.”
“I don’t want to go back to your stupid world with all the boring rules and mean teachers who tell me what to do!”
I looked at him emphatically, but also with concern in my eyes.
“You’re an adult now,” I said. “It will be different for–”
“Here I make all the rules!” my son shouted. “Here I am the king!” He laughed manically. “Let me show you my castle, Dad.”
There was genuine pride in his eyes when he talked about it. He truly believed his own megalomaniac words. The castle, hidden away in a glade of palm trees, stood on a small island in a pool of gleaming water. It was made out of light blue rocks, just like from a fairy tale, but it was the size of a play castle. Two fluffy, potato-sized figures stood guard at both sides of the gate. They held tiny spears in their little hands and both of them were cross-eyed.
“That’s Florb and Plorb,” my son said. “They work for me, so I don’t eat them…” He looked at them with a threatening stare and added: “…unless they disobey me!”
He laughed, and the creatures said something incomprehensive in a language that sounded like pretend-english on helium. Even though I couldn’t understand them, I could still see that they were trying to sound cheerful while hiding an absolute terror.
“Wait here,” my son said and crawled inside the castle.
“Listen, son…” I said, but he was gone before I could finish the sentence.
“This is going to be so fun,” I heard my son giggle from inside the castle. He came out of it with a longsword.
“Woah,” I said and took a step back. “What are you planning on doing with that?!”
“Relax, Dad,” my son said and fixed the crown on his head, “It’s a game, I used to play it with the cry-baby all the time, but she’s always whining and well, crying. It’s so annoying.”
“She’s your daughter, doesn’t she have a name?”
“Daughter?” He looked like a living question mark. “What are you talking about? She came out of–”
“I-I know, Linda’s foo foo…” I closed my eyes out of frustration and embarrassment. “Didn’t the teachers tell you about… you know… the birds and the bees and all that?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he insisted. “Do you know what he’s talking about, Florb?”
The creature known as Florb looked up at my son like a shameful puppy and uttered some nonsensical sounds.
“Me neither,” my son said. “But her name is cry-baby, because she’s crying all the freaking time.”
“Who raised her?” I asked. “How did she survive?”
“The Snorbees took care of her underground,” my son said.
“My god,” I said. “And now you’re forcing her to eat them…”
“Enough about the cry-baby!” my son said in sudden anger. “I want to play royal tag now, and since I’m the king you’re it!”
He raised his sword.
“I don’t want to play any games!” I said. “I’m your father, you have to listen to me! You can’t just order people around like–”
“But that’s what you did, Dad,” my son said, now smiling. “You told me what to do all the time and never let me do anything fun!”
“I-I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you truly needed me,” I said. “I mean… I’m sorry I wasn’t a better father to you. But this… this isn’t right. If you don’t want people to hurt you, you should understand that they don’t want to be hurt either.”
My son pretended to yawn. “I didn’t understand any of your boring words. I’ll count down from ten – even though I can actually count down from a hundred! – and then I’ll come after you. Okay?”
“No,” I said. “Let’s try to get back, there must be a way–”
“Ten!” my son yelled.
“Why aren’t you listening to–”
“Nine! Eight!”
“Hey!” I tried, but it was useless.
“Seven!”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” I said and walked backward.
“That’s it, run! Six! Five!”
There was no way to get through to him. I turned around and ran into the jungle, hearing my son counting down to zero and then charging after me screaming like a maniac. I was panting. My first thought was to find the door again. I wanted to get out of this nightmare. My son had lost his humanity or never gained it in the first place. However much it hurt me to admit it, there was no hope for him – even if there was a way to get him out. I kept frantically searching for the door, thinking about this, when I accidentally stepped on one of those creatures. It squeaked like a dog toy under my foot. I looked down at it. It crawled half a meter before it died. I thought about how they had taken care of my son’s daughter, my granddaughter. I couldn’t just leave her here…
“I’ll find you!”
He was close. I tried to remember in what direction the girl had run as I pushed through the mysterious, make-believe jungle. The miniature creatures, the so-called Snorbees, were running crisscross in front of my feet and some of them were even flying around with the help of tiny propellers on their heads. The reflection of my son’s crown glistered in the corner of my eye. I turned around. He leaped forward, swinging his sword in front of him and in doing so cutting some of the flying creatures in half, which made him laugh uncontrollably.
“Oh, this is fun!” he yelled. “You won’t be able to get away!”
“Why can’t we play later?!” I yelled while running toward the corner of the jungle where I thought the girl might have hidden from her lunatic father. “We can try and get out of–“
“But I’ve already waited years for this, Daddy!”
I found the girl on a floating platform. She sat under a palm tree with blue leaves, petting one of the apple-like creatures. She froze with fear when she saw me. My son was approaching fast. I couldn’t afford to lose a single second.
“D-don’t be afraid,” I said as calmly as I could, which wasn’t very calm at all. “Is that your apple friend?”
The red creature nestling in her bosom turned around and looked at me with its uncanny large eyes, and then it cooed and gurgled and giggled. But as soon as it heard my son's cries of manic enthusiasm it covered its face in the girl’s chest.
“It’s not an apple,” the girl said. “It’s a Hoppitoss.”
“Listen,” I said. “We need to get out of here.”
“The King says it’s impossible to leave,” the girl said. “That we are trapped here forever.”
“There’s a door on a platform just like this one, but a bit higher up in the air,” I said. “But you know what? I can lift you up there, and we can exit that door together. It leads to the real world.”
“The real world?”
“Just trust me,” I said and gave her my hand. “Let’s go before he finds us, shall we?”
She took my hand and got down from the platform, still holding her little friend against her chest. I was ready to run to the door, but as soon as I turned around my son appeared through the bushes, his sword dripping with blood.
“Found you!” he said and joyfully attacked me with his sword, not to hurt me but still too close and too intense. “What are you doing with the cry-baby?”
“We are leaving,” I said. “She deserves a normal life!”
His smile vanished in an instant.
“You aren’t leaving,” he said. “It’s against… It’s against the law. That’s right. It’s against the law!”
I picked up the girl in my arms. I had to be smart, I thought. My poor son might have looked like a grown man, but inside he was still seven years old.
“If you let us go,” I said, “I’ll come back and play with you forever. Daddy just needs some time to rest. And you know what, I can even bring you some new friends, how does that sound?”
He thought about it, giving me some hope, but then he said:
“You’re just trying to fool me. I’m not a fool like the others!”
“Please,” I begged. “If you hurt us, you’ll be all alone, you don’t want that, do you?”
“I’m not gonna hurt you, Daddy,” he said and laughed. “It’s just a game, I wasn’t gonna–“
“He’s lying,” the girl said. “He always hurts–“
“Shut up!” my son yelled furiously. “You little bitch.”
The girl started to cry.
“Boohoo!” my son said. “Cry-baby! Cry-baby! Cry-baby!”
“That’s it,” I said, “we’re leaving!”
He blocked our way, holding the sword in a tightened grip and breathing his disgusting breath in our faces.
“I decide who comes and goes,” he said. “I’m the king!”
I pushed him aside and walked past him. His eyes teared up as he frowned in rage, just like a schoolboy with a hurt ego.
“Who’s a cry-baby now!” the girl said and stuck her tongue out.
“Don’t provoke him,” I said, but it was too late.
He stomped his foot in the ground, and then he screamed out of mindless fury with the sword held in front of him. And then he charged at us, still screaming as much as he was crying. Just like that, he had forgotten everything he had said about not hurting us. I held the girl tighter and ran as fast as I could. My son was right behind me. I could hear the swooshing from the sword being swung from left to right. His childish tantrum had made him lose control of himself completely. The girl held her friend, the Hoppitoss, by the arm. It looked back at my son, sticking it’s little tongue out just as it had seen my granddaughter do.
“I’ll kill you!” I heard my son yell. “I’ll freakin' kill you!”
Just before we reached the platform with the door, I tripped on an exposed root on the ground. We all fell into the stinking mud. My son raised his sword above his head and looked down on us with a sadistic smile growing on his face. He let the sword fall. I was sure there was no hope for us, but just as he was about to strike us several creatures jumped out of the trees and landed on his head. He fought them off – bit one of their stomachs opened and tramped one of them to death – but the distraction gave us enough time to stand up. I threw the girl up on the platform and climbed up on it myself. The girl opened the door, exposing only darkness on the other side.
“No!” my son yelled. “Don’t leave me here!”
He grabbed my leg as I was crawling toward the door.
“Go inside,” I said to the girl. “I’m right behind you!”
She stood there for a couple of seconds, hesitating, but then she took a step forward. Her body fell to the ground, lifeless. Just like I had found my son back when I thought he had died.
My son was heaving himself up on the platform. I crawled to the girl, fearing she was dead. She didn’t have any pulse. No, no, no. Maybe my son had been right, I thought, maybe it wasn’t possible to ever leave this place. My son was just about to stand up. I put myself on my back and said:
“I’m so sorry.”
After that, I kicked him in the face as hard as I could. He fell off the platform. I could hear him bawling his eyes out on the ground. I stood up and was just about to pick up the body of the girl when the door, somehow, sucked me out just as it had sucked me inside earlier.
I woke up with my face on the table. For a split second, I thought everything had been some kind of fever dream. But then I saw her, standing in the middle of my living room, curiously looking around. I took a deep breath of relief. Her body had stayed in that world just as my son's body had stayed in this.
I mourned my son again because it felt like I had lost him a second time – even though I knew he was still alive in that enchanted drawing – but at the same time, I rejoiced with a happiness I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Because I had saved her, I had brought her back, the granddaughter I never knew I had.
I contemplated throwing the drawing in the fire, ending my son’s misery once and for all. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Partly because I didn’t know what type of connection might have remained between the drawing and my granddaughter – maybe she would vanish if I destroyed it – but also because I didn’t want to kill all those noble creatures, the Snorbees.
So instead I framed the drawing and hung it up on the wall. The glass covers the little door, making it impossible to enter it without taking the drawing out of the frame. I do think about going back inside someday, trying once again to talk some sense into my boy. But I don’t want to risk getting separated from my granddaughter. I wasn’t there for my son, but I’ll be damned if I fail to be there for her.
Her fun-sized, goofball friend – the Hoppitoss – can be a real nuisance sometimes, but it’s growing on me.
submitted by Odd_directions to nosleep