The Border Kingdoms
Chapter two - The Undercroft
A loud crack echos around the cold dark chamber as a fork of lightening leaps from Valnos’ wand to strike the dark spectre in the chest. The wispy form begins to disperse and fade with a faint sigh until there is nothing remaining. As soon as the spirit disappears, torches on the walls flare to life and illuminate the room. Piles of dessicated flesh and bone are scattered across the floor; remnants of the spectre’s servants in life as well as death. A large table dominates the sparsely furnished room, a body lay in a shroud atop it.
The feeling of dread experienced by the group as they entered this dungeon is instantly banished, and the quality of the stonework and scale of this chamber is clearly evident. The walls, floor and ceiling are covered with a light sandstone that differs so greatly from the surrounding bedrock that it must have been imported. The intricate pattern etched into the floor is now almost invisible in this light.
Aelar tends to the wounds of his companions then moves towards the body on the table. Knowing that the malicious spirit originated from this corpse he begins to cautiously investigate. The body appears to be well preserved and cleanly wrapped in a clean white shroud. The only adornment is a gold chain ending in a small cylinder around its neck. The Druid reaches out and takes the trinket, realising that the cylinder is actually a key that fits the strange concentric pattern on the doors of this dungeon.
As he takes the trinket, however, a second form coalesces above the table. This new spectre is nothing like its predecessor. A misty looking man composed of silver light appears. His face is stern and noble and his clothing is of the highest quality. He looks down at the assembled group. “Thank you my friends, you have released me from an ancient curse. Please forgive me for attacking you and raising my servants against you. My name is Lorn Valliorn de Gersayd and this keep was once mine, although I suspect you are the new owners?”
“We are a party of adventurers from nearby Emrys. I am Aelar, this is my soulbound companion Ylva.” Ylva, her haunches up in the presence of the spirit, barks at the mention of her name. “These are my companions, Korgul, Valnos and Risca”, Aelar gestures to each of his compatriots in turn.
Risca raises his Warhammer up to the centre of his chest and lowers his head in salute to the spirit, while Korgul merely grunts. “The honour is ours Lord Valliorn.” He breaks his salute and looks up to the spirit. “This was your keep M’lord?” He looks over to Aelar only to find the Druid lost in study of the key then looks back up to the spectre. “How did you come to be cursed?”
The spirit regards Risca with a look of interest. “There was a war between the Gods and the land was defiled by arcane energy. I had these rooms enchanted to protect me from its effects. It worked and I survived but found myself trapped here with no escape. We all died of starvation. There was something else below us. An ancient evil that possessed my spirit and twisted it to its own will. Many souls have been drawn here over the centuries. . . I was not myself. . . Many of the bodies you see here were travellers who were lured to their deaths to feed the one who dwells below.” Lord Valliorn’s expression remains grim as he continues. “I can feel it still, down there beyond the doors, but it no longer has control and cannot pass my wards. Again you have my thanks and are welcome to stay as long as you wish.” The spirit bows his head in thanks.”
In response to the invitation, Korgul nods and moves over to one side of the chamber where he opens his pack and begins to sort out his bedding.
“What wards do you talk of M’lord?” Risca points towards the floor. “Are these the runes you talk of?”
The Spirit nods slowly. “Yes, the seal protects these rooms from many things. As you can see age has not damage this place and no enemy can gain access while the doors remain closed. Your friend has the key.”
“So, if we were to open the doors leading down, we would unleash this ‘one who dwells below’ that you speak of?” Aelar, suddenly slightly more apprehensive, holds the key out at arms length, back towards Lord Valliorn. “If it can bend the will of those who die here, what is to say it cannot grow in power and reach further? Perhaps we should dig deep to find this thing and stop it’s darkness from spreading further?”
The apparition nods gravely. “An honourable quest indeed.”
Risca looks across to Aelar again. “Lord Valliorn… What can you tell us about this ancient evil below?” He then looks at the rest of his friends before making his bold statement. “We shall clear your home for you, to protect your spirit forever more.”
“There is little to tell for I do not know much of it, although it is powerful. It has never spoken to me as I speak to you now, I only knew its will, and I know it to be evil beyond imagination…”
Risca looks about at the rest of the party. He nods to Aelar and Valnos and to Korgul he raises his Warhammer in a warriors salute before turning back to Lord Valliorn. “You have our word.”
Korgul frowns privately at having his word given to another on his behalf but, sensing the inevitability of the situation, says nothing. Besides, if he had wanted a quiet life he could have found menial work in town. He concentrates instead on the abstract feel of the chamber, the way sound resonates from the particular stone of the walls, the colour and texture of the true flooring, gradually developing an instinctive appreciation of his environment, the better to notice when something is out of place, before allowing himself to rest.
“I thank you for your kindness Risca. That would free my soul for all eternity.”
Aelar looks up from the key in his hand, “You’re stuck here, tethered to this tomb?”
Lord Valliorn looks around at the ornately decorated room. “This is my home Aelar. The world outside will have changed more than I can comprehend after my centuries of incarceration. I have no desire to dwell anywhere other than here.”
“Still, if there is something down there that threatens the people, we should see to it’s destruction.”
Lord Valliorn approaches Risca and Aelar and seizes each mans shoulder with his hands chilling both of them slightly. “You seem to have noble hearts friends, and I would ask two things of you; Please allow me to remain in these rooms. I will trouble no-one and will be happy to help you with any. . problems you might encounter. Secondly, please look for my son while you are down there. He ventured into the catacombs to destroy the evil that dwells there and never returned. I would be eternally grateful if you were to return his remains and ensure his spirit is at rest. In return I will give you this.” He pulls forth a glowing sappire gemstone, the size of his translucent fist. “This powerful artifact is a Glowstone, it will be a light in the darkness and will help you in your battles below. Be warned though, its magic will only work once and then it will be spent. Use it wisely.”
Lord Valliorn hands the Glowstone to Risca and rises into the air, heading towards one of the rooms on the mezzanine floor above.