Thursday, June 23, 2011

Part Two of the Under City of Kravekos

Having learned of the Legend of the Gate of the Sorrows of Kravekos and the existnece of a Jennerak ruin beneath the old city, Chinka, Drakon and Eastwood made these things known to the Priest Synn and all agreed to enter the Maze if they could gain the king's permission. Straight away with the coming of dawn they went to Castle Kravekos and sought audience with King Garl and Queen Nemia. As soon as they made the cause of their pleas known to the Castle Guard, the astonished soldiers bustled them to the Great Hall where the sad an wizened old King heard them, attended by all his courtiers and nobles as well as his lovely Queen and a Bishop of the church of Illuvion. We now resume our tale where we left off in Part One, and from henceforth, the narrative will follow only the events of the actual game itself. While events are exact (even down to one of my players deciding to take dogs into the dungeon with them!), I have included player dialogue as best I can remember it, trying to leave none out, but in a few places adding some for the sake of clarity or interest.

Note: The game did not strictly follow a Holmes or AD&D rules format as it allowed multi-classed characters and m.c. humans at that! Eastwood is a human fighter-magic user played by my son Levi, Cardinal Synn is a human cleric played by my friend Juan, a school teacher, Drakon is a fighter-thief in training to become a bard, played by my friend Matt, another teacher, and Chinka was a Halfling fighter-thief played by laura, Matt's wife. I was the game referee this time around. The game lasted 3 sessions at about 10 or 11 hours total playing time and we had a lot of fun!

The Undercity of Kravekos
Part Two:
"Descent into Darkness"
by J.E. Becker

The entire assemblage within the Great hall of castle Kravekos fell silent as soon it was known to all what these strange outlanders desired of their liege. All ears and eyes were upon him and the four adventurers, amazement plainly showing upon the face of every courtier. Queen Nemia sat suddenly upon the very edge of her throne, forgetting her Queen's poise at the mention of the dreaded Under City. Her mind was filled suddenly with the faces and events of the distant past, and the vision of those sorrows cast their shadow upon her visage.

Perceptive courtiers saw a flicker of the same shadow upon the worn face of their beloved king, but only for the barest second, for he steeled himself against those emotions as quickly as they assailed him, leaving him with only a tired and weary countenance which seemed to express skepticism rather than hope at the heroes' words. Regarding this band of humans and the lone halfling with a jaded gaze, he rose slowly from his throne and descended a step towards them. Somehow, in spite of the years of sorrow, he still cut a kingly figure in the rays of the sun that fell upon him through the stained glass windows above.

"Am I to understand, then," he began, "That you four…persons…consider yourselves to be the conquerors foretold in the oracle's prophecy?"

"That remains to be seen, my Lord," said Drakon. "If we were to fulfill the words of his vision, then perhaps we are. If, however, we die in the attempt, then we were assuredly not the prophesied saviors."

"Quite logical," said Garl.

He looked over each of them again.

"But to my eyes, you seem an insufficient force. I sent a small troop into the pits twenty years ago, led by my best warrior and accompanied by a worthy court magician and a cleric of Illuvion… and they failed. And my own son, sole heir to my house, perished with them. Where so many of skill and noble blood failed, do you trust that you will overcome the evil?"

"My Lord," said Chinka respectfully, "We are willing to take the risks, and we could find out at last what really happened to your son. You would lose nothing in letting us go."

"You are a long way from the Shire, Little One," said Garl. "Don't you ever wish to see its fields and cottages again? I have sealed the evil up, set a gate and a watch it can never break through. All future Kings and Queens of Kravekos must take an oath to keep that watch faithfully. Why not let the demons sleep in their pits from now until the world ends?"

The Robber Mage Drakon nodded. "The demons sleep, my Lord," he said "But they may awaken. Would it not be better for us to find their lairs and send them to the darker pits of the Land of the Dead? Then the City could truly be free, and you would be celebrated for all time."

The King's face softened somewhat, as if something in the voices of the heroes had reached past his cynicism and disbelief and stirred forgotten memories of chivalry and valor.

"By Illuvion, I believe you mean it," Garl said, smiling. "Perhaps I underestimated you. If I were even a middle aged man again, I would willingly go with you."

"Your kingdom needs you here," said Eastwood. "Only grant us your leave to go, Excellency, and we will return with the answers you seek."

The King looked at his Queen. Some wordless communication passed between them, the kind engendered between lovers long bound together amid life's trials. He turned and fastened his eyes upon them.

"So be it," he said. "I, King Garl,  do grant you leave to pass beyond the Gate of Sorrows. But know this…when I built the Domed Gate, I commanded the old stair to be demolished, creating a shaft as deep as any of the Dwarves. And indeed, patrons of my court from Silver Hammer did, at my request, build a great chain and gears, the likes of which have never been seen. For twenty years, my men have oiled and maintained that chain and its levers. Inside the Dome is a cage. If you go down in it, we will raise it and lower it again  each day for seven days. On the seventh day, if you do not appear, we will count you among the dead and it will never go down again until some other takes the challenge. Knowing this, do you still wish to go?"

"Aye," said Drakon."We shall depart this very hour."

"Then it is done," said Garl. He turned to a chamberlain. "Bring me the Key to the Gate of Sorrows."

"Begging pardon, O great King," spake the  Priest Synn, gathering surprised looks from his companions. "If I may speak?"

"Say on," Garl said, looking at the cleric intently with all his court.

Synn bowed and smiled with the airs of a trained churchman.

"Be not wroth with my words, O King," he said, "But may I humbly inquire as to what reward might be bestowed upon those who hazard their lives on behalf of thy city? And what boons might we hope to receive at thy most gracious hands to take with us into the ruins of the Jennerak? We face perils undreamed of…what shall our profit be?"

Eastwood squirmed uncomfortably, and Drakon resigned himself to whatever reaction the old king might display, but Chinka smiled at the mention of reward and looked eagerly for the King's response.

Garl did not seem to take any offence whatsoever. He was a King who was wise in the ways of trade as much as statecraft and war, and he accepted that most men and women were motivated, to one degree or another, by such concerns.  

"Profit," he said. "That does lie at the bottom of most every endeavor does it not…even Kingdoms. Say no more, Son of Hextor. It goes without saying that you shall all be richly rewarded and honored if you return victoriously. As well, you may keep all treasure and magical devices you might find in the Maze…including the Sword of Lothia. As for boons, we have few to spare. What say you, Bishop?"

The white robed Bishop standing upon the dais regarded the rival priest coolly, but he called to a  nearby attendant and whispered something to him. The servant left.

"The Church sends you with its blessings," he said. "May Illuvion grant you speedy and safe return with abundant triumph. My initiate has gone to gather for you elixirs which were sent to the King from the High Seer of Avamere…they bring healing to those who are wounded. Likewise, a parchment with blessed runes which, when spoken by anyone with knowledge of the gods, will banish disease and plague from a body. These are all we can give you. Use them carefully and wisely."

Synn did not appear completely satisfied with the offerings, but he was wise enough to bow in acknowledgment of them and leave the matter.

"I have but one claim upon whatsoever comes out of the ruins," said Garl. "Any books or scrolls containing the writings of the Old Ones must be delivered to our sages, that the wisdom of the Jennerak may be known to men once more."

"It shall be done," said Eastwood.

"And now, let us sup and drink together," said Queen Nemia. "Come, and partake of these delights. You have a great journey before you." And she then began to serve the heroes herself, as though she were subject to them. So is the custom of the Northerners when they honor great warriors.

At her words and actions, a hopeful and optimistic spirit seemed to suddenly energize the crowd, and the adventurers found themselves  pressed upon as though heroes returning from a war. Somehow, in spite of great temptation, Chinka managed to refrain from collecting any purses or rings from the nobles who crowded her with well wishing.

Thus the party passed one last pleasant hour, and as they ate, the gifts of Illuvion's sect were brought to them, and the gilded, rune covered key which would open the way into the Underworld was entrusted by the King to his Captain, who would escort them. When this was done, the castle guards escorted them out of the palace and into the avenues of Kravekos.

To their astonishment, the streets were lined with citizens of every class and occupation, all looking at them with wonder, fear, and admiration. Word had crept out of the Castle into the city. As they strode through the streets toward the way to the Gate of Sorrows, people warmly saluted them, some even threw flowers, and they heard many amazing exclamations.

"They are the ones spoken of in the prophecy!"

"Look, three Men and a Shire dweller face the Ancient Evil alone!"

"See how fearless they are!"

The Guards firmly pushed aside anyone who got too close, but even they seemed elated that after two decades, someone was willing to brave curses and monsters to regain the honor of their city and to destroy, rather than contain, all that might threaten it from those obsidian depths.

Soon they had passed through the derelict section of Kravekos and come to the end of the plaza that contained the Domed Gate. Guards busied themselves with setting a wide perimeter between the citizens and the steps of the ramp. The heroes were about to pass through when a baying of dogs was heard.

Chinka, Drakon and Eastwood looked in wonder as a peasant woman called to Synn, leading behind her a pack of sleek, gray guard dogs. Synn waved at her and they met together. He took the leashes of four of the dogs and motioned to her to follow him towards the Gate.

"What meaneth this?" Drakon exclaimed.

Synn smiled at him. "Meet my Gray Company," said the priest. "I bought them yesterday in the markets. They cost me well but I deem it worthy. While we were feasting I sent word for them to be brought here."

"Whatever do you want with a pack of curs!?" Drakon said. "And at this moment, of all times?"

"To protect my person, of course" said Synn. "And to use their eyes and noses in the Under City."

Chinka laughed.

"You cannot bring them into the labyrinth," she said. "They will have every creature in those cellars upon us in an hour."

"Nay, Good Lady," said Synn. His tone implied that he did not consider her to be good or a lady. "These dogs have been trained by the finest handlers hereabouts. They will not betray us unless something or someone is near enough to be a threat, and then we will be desirous of a warning."

Drakon began to argue the point, then realized it was futile. He knew the churchman all too well.

He was rescued, however, by Elegot, the Captain of the Guard, who happened to be following closely.

"Master Synn," he said, "I regret to say that the cage cannot hold your party and these animals as well."

Impatience showed in the cleric's eyes.

"Then can you not lower the cage twice?" he asked.

"Nay," said Elegot. "It is great labor. I am afraid you can take only as many as will fit in the cage with you on the first descent."

Seeing there was no choice but to assent, the Priest of Hextor begrudgingly chose three dogs from out of the pack and made arrangements with Elegot for the keeping of the others.

"See that they come back to me, I charge you, Captain," said Synn.

Elegot nodded, scarcely able to conceal his own growing displeasure with the manners of the Priest. As he turned to a pair of soldiers at the perimeter's edge and bade them take the dogs, one of the men-at-arms  who had seen the display shook his head.

"What's with that one?" the man-at-arms asked Elegot.

"He worships Hextor, the God of War, Slaughter and Discord," replied the Captain. "Some say the high priests of that faith are assassins and poison makers, whatever their declarations of loyalty to Avamere. Mark me--behind his courtly gestures lie dark and selfish ends."


The archway that spanned the Domed Gate was ornately and intricately carved with reliefs of the likenesses of the men who had died beyond its threshold those many years ago. Chinka reached out and ran her fingers across the image of one handsome and youthful warrior--the detail was so great that his chain mail hauberk and the studs on the rim of his helm could be clearly discerned. So could the short beard he wore. Below his place in the arch was inscribed the name Evald and the title "Son of Garl."

"He was young," Chinka said. "And handsome. A pity."

"His soul is no doubt in the glad halls of the great warriors," said Eastwood. "It was very brave of him to have played his ruse."

"He would have made a fine king one day," said Drakon, but he was more intently studying the relief of another warrior, a towering Northman who clutched a great sword very prominently depicted and marked with the name "S'rd Voca un Lothia"…Old Common for the Talking Sword of Lothia.

The Gate itself consisted of the finest adamantine overlaid with electrum decorations. It was cut into two arched halves by an almost imperceptible seam and a single key slit in its exact center. The electrum gildings were runes and magical symbols which Eastwood, the only user of arcane arts in the party, immediately recognized as glyphs of warding whose enchanting had been the work of powerful wizards. He had not seen a notable presence of spell casters in Kravekos, even in the King's court. Perhaps the mages of Kravekos liked to be inconspicuous. He stored that thought carefully away.

"Even demons would be hard pressed to break beyond these glyphs," he said.

"Very true," said Elegot. He pulled the runic key from his surcoat. "None but the gods themselves can open the door without this key."

Chinka arched an eyebrow. "No door or lock made by men is fool proof, Captain," she said.

"Perhaps," Elegot replied. "Be it as you say, neither man nor demon has passed the door since it was set. But behold!"

Elegot set the key into the key slit. Suddenly, the key, the glyphs, and the seam began to glow with an eerie blue light. All stepped back in wonderment, but as quickly as it had appeared it was gone. There was a sound of rasping metal, and the doors moved slowly inward of their own accord.

Beyond them lay a circular domed chamber about eight feet in height and about fifteen feet in diameter. The sun plainly illumined its interior.

The walls were plain, smooth white stone, but from the ceiling by an adamantine chain there hung a large round cage, made of the same adamantine. It's top was bell shaped. The cage might admit seven to eight full sized men very closely positioned. The portion of the cage which faced the magic gate had no bars. Its bottom was woven more closely with bars than its sides to give sure footing.
Below the cage bottom and directly aligned with its edges was a smooth round hole which dropped away into impenetrable darkness. There was not even a hair's space between the bottom of the cage and the lip of the hole..the whole thing was a marvel of Dwarven craftsmanship. From up out of the pit there arose cold, dank air that smelled of stone and water and time.

The party entered with Elegot and the dogs, which, oddly enough, seemed merry, as if on a hunt.

Chinka's nostrils sniffed at the air.

"Odd," she said. "A lot of water down there somewhere, or I'm a goblin."

"Indeed," replied Elegot. "That much was learned when the shaft and cage were constructed. The Dwarves did go to the bottom several times. The lower entrances are natural caves, yet oddly have flagstone floors. They are of a make that dates them in the time of the Old Empires, so those folk knew of the Undercity. They inscribed the floors with warnings not to disturb the Old Places. The true threshold to the Jennerak ruin lies much farther in. The Dwarves were investigating only as far as the King's edict allowed for their work… they heard an underground river. But a strange spectral figure was seen in the distance, and it struck fear even into those dungeon delving folk. They finished their lower works and never did a soul from Kravekos set foot therein again. But that is all that is known of the labyrinth."

"It is enough," said Drakon. "The time has come."  

After the heroes made one final check on the soundness and security of their arms and amour and their supplies, they bid the Captain farewell and steeling their nerves against the shadows of the black pit, stepped over it into the cage. When they and the animals were situated, Elegot saluted them.

"Farewell, brave friends," he said. "The levers for the cage are operated from a room built onto the back side of the platform. I go now to command their release. After I close this door, may Illuvion bring you back in seven days time or this is our final meeting."

"We shall return, mark that," said Synn. "By the might of Hextor, though, and not of Illuvion."

"As you desire," said Elegot. Then, he stepped back, spoke a word of command that no one in the party recognized, and the Gate of the Sorrows of Kravekos swung to with the ringing of adamantine, plunging them a darkness as deep as that of death.

End of Part One

No comments:

Post a Comment