Koriszegy Keep - Odd Little Post-Epilogue
"Why is it Vasily," Lana asked the Bishop quietly, "that your clergy are forbidden to enter the Keep? I have heard it said that the Three have no power within its walls. Is that true?"
Vasily shook his head. "I may not speak of it. If you have truly lifted the curse however it is a joyous day for all. I will inform the Patriarch of this glad news."
Back at the inn, Drewen said, "You didn't mention Piotr's sword to Vasily. That was probably for the best I suppose."
* * *
Back up the Westron Road they flew, nine days since setting out for the first time. Piotr resolutely insisted on riding rather than sitting upon the carpet which might have meant reliving his experiences in the Ether; consequently it took two full days to reach Radlebb Keep.
They approached the Keep. The other, ominous Keep. This time the sky remained blue and no supernatural winds picked up to hinder progress. There was still something unsettling about the ruin - it was not nearly so foreboding as it had been but there was still the air of sadness that Lana had felt before, hanging heavy about its crumbling walls.
Closing to within a hundred yards of the Keep there was no sign of life or indeed unlife.
They flew over the south wall, where the smashed remains of the skeletal guards remained undisturbed. Within the Keep everything remained as they had left it except for the rotting remains of two bears near the chimney. The corpses were peppered with arrows.
Lana set the carpet down beside the well and alighted to inspect the arrows. She wondered whether the surviving elves might have returned to retrieve their dead. No fletcher herself, the arrows looked well made but beyond that she could not determine whether they were elf-made. The dead bears certainly looked and smelled like they had been dead for weeks. As Lana was inspecting them, flames sprang to life in the fireplace.
Her shriek was heard as faraway as the village of Rugalov.
Nothing else appeared to be happening. Drewen had drawn near just in case but the bears remained dead, the sky remained blue, the walls remained crumbling.
"Show yourself, demon!" Vexed in the extreme, Lana brandished her dagger, remembering that she had shouted something similar the first time she set foot within the Keep.
Nothing happened beyond the flames persisting. There were no glowing-eyed creatures below, it occurred to her.
"I am of a mind," she announced to the others with severity, "to demolish that infernal fireplace. The rest of the place has crumbled whereas IT has stood for longer than is proper."
Piotr was by her side, sword drawn and visibly tensed lest some Immortal-forsaken creature should burst from the unnatural flames.
Channeling her anger into her magic, Lana pointed and sent an amber beam shooting into the midsection of the chimney, causing it to turn to dust and bringing the whole thing crashing down with a thunderous boom. Drewen raised his shield over his head and dragged Lana clear before she was crushed.
When the dust settled, there was a large pile of rubble where the chimney once stood. A fire burned on top of the pile.
With a cry of frustration Lana hurled a vial of holy water, which exploded as it neared the flames. In that moment she thought she saw shadowy figures dancing in the fire. Reaching into a pocket she pulled out an object, removed its fabric wrapping, held it up to one eye and spoke a single word in Traladaran.
Looking through her lens she stared into the fire. It was really very beautiful in a way. Her mind wandered. Vaguely she heard a gruff voice.
"Lana, what are you doing now? Don't you think nearly killing .... Lana? Lana? LANA!?!"
She came to her senses whilst clambering up the pile of rubble to reach the fire. Drewen was in pursuit.
"Lord of Darkness," she intoned now that she was closer to the flames, "Master of the Dead. We three have slain him to whom you gave power. By right of conquest we demand audience. Reveal yourself, Goat."
Drewen closed to within a foot but stopped stock still, completely horrified. He appeared to be considering whether he might knock Lana out.
Nothing happened in response to Lana's demand however the fire seemed very inviting.
Piotr's mouth was hanging open, practically outraged. He was a man of few words yet in that moment all of them failed him.
"Well," Lana turned from the fire and picked her way back down the mound of rubble, "clearly you can only lead a Goat to water. Shall we go down the well now?"
Drewen was staring. He looked very worried as he followed her down to the ground.
"Lana, I don't understand anything that you just did. You walked over to those dead bears then you just went mad. I don't know much about magic but I know when it's trouble and I know you don't go shouting things like," his voice dropped to a whispers, "'Lord o' Darkness' or 'Master of the Dead' in a place like this. What were you hopin' would happen? Is this that damn book again?"
"No it's not the confounded book," she replied, not too snippily, "we killed the vampire but things are still the same. Don't you see? All those creatures with the glowing eyes - those bears walked in here after we left, still possessed by the NASTY force that clings to this place. I was trying to draw it out, make it reveal itself. How else are we meant to fight it?"
Piotr's glare did not lessen any.
She regarded both her companions very seriously. "I haven't taken leave of my senses. Please believe me."
Drewen looked unconvinced.
"How exactly would we fight the Master of the Dead, Lana? Can I hit him with my hammer?"
"Well I've always placed great faith in your hammer..."
"But you seem to be saying he's MORE powerful than Koriszegy."
Piotr was looking thoughtful and his incensed state might have lessened a little. He still refused to speak however.
"Koriszegy went to great lengths to attract the Goat's attention and deliberately invited him in. They made a pact together... or a wish. We haven't done anything like that. I merely sought to lure him into the open."
Drewen shook his head. "Well, I suppose it don't matter so long as he don't show up. Anything down below will know we're here - that's for sure."
At this point they all noticed that a large section of the chimney had fallen on top of the well.
Lana sighed softly. "That'll need lifting."
She proceeded to imbue each of Drewen and Piotr with superhuman strength and magical flight. Both appeared less than impressed at her conduct but allowed her to bestow her enchantments on them, all the same. Drewen muttered something to Piotr about having seen Lana do plenty of crazy things in her time.
"Lana I see what you wish to achieve," Piotr finally managed as Titan Might pulsed in his veins, "but you and I must have a serious discussion."
Between them, with the power of Lana's enchantments coursing through them, dwarf and former paladin made short work of the rubble obstructing the well.
Lana bore the party's lightsource therefore Drewen descended ahead of her to preserve his Infravision. Also, he wanted to be able to stop her rushing forward if it were to come to that. Piotr watched Lana drop into the well, gently floating to its bottom. He followed but just before he descended into darkness he noticed that the fire had gone out.
Down below they found things much as they had left them. The bodies of the elves were gone. The remains of the ghouls had been burned. A few rats scurried hither and thither but did not appear to pose a threat.
Lana proceeded cautiously up to her Wall of Stone, checked the backs of two glowing coins and placed them on the ground before retreating. She proceeded to cast Haste followed by protective spells. Then, pointing, a pinprick hole appeared and rapidly expanded in the Wall's midst.
"Don't rush in," Lana murmured to her companions, never taking her eye from the hole for a moment.
They did not have to wait long for the first ghoul to come scrambling through the wall. It emerged from the illuminated tunnel and looked around, scanning the chamber for the the prey it sensed. The three companions stood in the shadows, directly opposite. For once, Lana mused, they were the things lurking in the dark that should be feared. The ghoul appeared more hungry than cautious and proceeded straight towards the intruders. It jumped up on the central table. Others had followed it. Lana permitted herself a smile - they were lined up almost perfectly. She began to cast her spell. As the lead ghoul leapt from the table and landed just five feet from her she wondered if she had delayed too long however her concentration did not waver. Drewen stepped up and sent the ghoul flying with a single swing of his hammer.
Lana aimed carefully and unleashed lightning which ripped through the ghouls on the far side of the table, filled the hole in the wall with deadly energy and extended into the chamber beyond.
Two ghouls on the table glanced back to see the destruction Lana had wreaked on the rest of their pack. They turned sharply and fled, scattering the dishes of rotten meat everywhere. They jumped down from the table and headed for the well.
"Arse!" Lana swore, it not having occurred to her that the ghouls might try to get out. Piotr had already drawn his sword and lost no time moving forward to intercept the creatures.
"Custard!" Lana next shouted.
"Arse-what?!?" exclaimed Drewen.
There was a brilliant flash of light from the entrance to the ghouls' lair.
Piotr reflected for the third time in this last half hour on the wisdom of his choice in companions.
Hasted, Lana started lobbing holy water at the ghouls that might get away.
Piotr too dug holy water out of his pack. Drewen pursued the fleeing ghouls into the well. There came sounds such as "Hyaarggh" [sploosh] "Hyurrghh" [sploosh] "Wait for me!"
Advancing toward the hole Piotr and Lana found the smoking remains of a ghoul. Staggering around like a drunkard just beyond it was a lone ghoul. It didn't look like it had much awareness of the intruders' presence.
Lana eyed it warily as she hovered at the entrance to the tunnel and chucked the rest of her glowing coins into the main cave. "Do come along Drewen!"
Piotr had lost patience and advanced into the tunnel to slice the lone ghoul asunder. As he approached with the Light of Traladara in hand the ghoul seemed to become aware of the danger it was in and attempted to fight back but to no avail. A pair of swift, sure strikes and the thing was cleaved apart.
The chamber beyond was roughly the same size as the main one - perhaps a little smaller. It was certainly more uneven, more cavelike, with lots of shadowy nooks. There was little in the way of furnishings but there were lots of gnawed bones and the pleasing glint of coins. In the centre of the chamber was a dark pool, between five and ten feet across. Lana didn't see any more ghouls but there were three former elves shuffling mindlessly about. Seeing them, Piotr murmured a short prayer asking the Immortals to grant them eventual peace. Again, Lana heard him mention Ilsundal by name; she was reminded that the elven Immortal was a relatively new addition to the pantheon selected by the Church of Karameikos in order to attract demihuman followers and swell their ranks (albeit with limited success so far). Also, the elves' Patron had been put forward as something of an alternative to Zirchev, or so it was rumoured.
His brief devotions complete, Piotr waded into the zombies' midst.
Lana tapped her foot outside the tunnel. "Drewen! Get a move on!"
Drewen appeared, having stopped to clean a bit of ghoul off his armour.
Piotr advanced on the first 'zombelf' and cut it down. The other two closed in on him.
Reckoning Piotr might hold his own against a few zombies, Lana stepped into the chamber and set about floating her light into nooks and crannies. She also eyed the pool, having glimpsed it upon her first visit but not since.
Piotr cut down one foe and then the other. He hadn't broken a sweat.
Drewen followed Lana around the lair but there was nothing of obvious interest - just more bones and scattered coins.
Lana concentrated and intoned more words of magic. The water in the pool lowered by around three feet. Then its surface began to bubble and churn. Piotr tensed and Lana watched intrigued. Kartoeba came to mind... all three of them had been present on the river plain outside the City of Kelvin that day... then Lana remembered how quickly a hasted dwarf sent it back to where it came from.
The bubbling was becoming more violent. Drewen had backed away; so too now did Lana and Piotr, by a good fifteen feet taking them practically to the tunnel entrance and requiring them to stand clustered together.
As they watched a long serpentine column of water formed from the pool. At its end it sculpted itself into a grasping claw reminiscent of Koriszegy's hand. It reached out but it seemed the companions were a few feet beyond its grasp. Ever chivalrous, Piotr attempted to step in front of Lana to shield her.
"Wait," she said, not having engaged anything in melee plus she had her phantasmal images. "It may be that I am best protected of us all."
She took a step forward. "Hold, spirit," she called. "Will you speak with us?"
Piotr too edged forward with The Light Of Traladara held ready. From his expression he appeared to be giving thought to severing that claw.
As they drew closer the watery claw made a grab for Lana but it seemed she was still just out of reach.
"Are you willing to talk with us?" she persevered and waited for a response.
The water was not demonstrating any interest in conversation so she sent five amber missiles at it. They passed through and disappeared into the darkness at the end of the chamber. Lana tried flinging a stone however it too passed through, harmlessly.
Likewise a vial of holy water found itself tossed into the pool. Sploosh.
"What IS this thing?" Lana remembered Karnus emptying dust out of a pouch over the side of a ship... hadn't it been?
"My spells won't affect it," she said, sounding disheartened. "It's like the poltergeist all over again. But our weapons were strong back then," she gestured to Piotr's sword, "and they may be stronger now. What do you say? Shall we engage the creature directly?"
Piotr was all for that and nodded. Advancing, he sliced his blade through the water. It seemed to recoil. Drewen hurried forward as Piotr reversed his swing and struck the thing again. Then Drewen connected with his hammer, scattering a thousand droplets of water in all directions. The watery appendage writhed and withdrew into its pool.
Ever curious, Lana approached and shone her light upon the surface. Her light penetrated the dark water just enough to see that there were sparkling objects at the bottom of the pool.
The water was bubbling again.
Focussing through the silver ring she wore, Lana's will pulled one of the objects - a gemstone - from the pool and into her hand. She inspected her prize - an opal.
The arm emerged from the pool once more. It made a grab for Lana but missed as she ducked and withdrew.
Piotr swung for the arm again. His blow and another from Drewen sent it back into the pool.
Lana scurried close and set her sights on another prize. It lifted out. A small diamond.
She had enough time to try again. Another opal.
The arm reformed.
Lana dodged again, weaving out of the arm's way to allow Piotr and Drewen's weapons an opening. They both hit but it wasn't enough. Their magically enhanced speed however gave them the edge and as they both swiped their weapons again they both hit.
Once again the claw withdrew into the pool.
Lana marvelled at the creature renewing itself each time it returned to the pool. It seemed to her that there was no sign of it weakening, and that the pattern might continue indefinitely.
Such thoughts passed through her mind as she set about retrieving further prizes. A rusty horseshoe. Another opal. Piotr and Drewen waited, poised to strike. Then, no sooner had the claw emerged than Drewen and Piotr drove it back. Lana retrieved another opal and finally a gem unlike any she had seen before. It was a warm golden yellow; the colour of the summer sun.
She saw no further glints at the bottom of the pool therefore it was time to back away and think about collecting coins off the floor. Lana walked about, scooping up handfuls of coins, all of which were electrum bearing the familiar tower symbol. Piotr and Drewen joined in during rest periods. When the claw emerged they put it down, three successive times. Eventually Lana's enchanted bag was full to the brim.
"Are we done here?" she asked. "Shall we withdraw beyond the thing's reach?"
Piotr nodded. "I shall be pleased to get my breath back."
Drewen too was breathing hard. "I hate things that won't stay down. Is that thing even alive or some sort of magic?"
Lana considered the evidence. "It renews itself constantly... suggesting magic. I had thought some spirit might have animated the water but even spirits should weaken under continual assault. My magic might freeze it... but I am loathe to cast spells when we can avoid danger by other means."
"What do you make of this gem I found? Isn't it a fetching colour?"
Drewen's eyes widened. "Not sure but I think that's a tristal."
"That's a pretty name."
"Last saw one that colour twenty years ago - belonged to a gnome. You'd need better eyes than mine to say how much it's worth but the really good ones can fetch more than diamonds."
"You don't say?"
Drewen looked around. "Well, that was much easier this time. Are we finished?"
Lana frowned. "We should return to the surface while we can."
They returned to the main cave and ascended up the well.
Back up above, it was a lovely summer's morning. The fireplace was still a pile of rubble.
"I don't believe our work here is done. If we are to stand a chance of lifting the curse, properly... it'll need to be at night."
"What's worrying you Lana? I mean, the place is still spooky and there's that weird water thing down below but it can't leave its pool and we destroyed the vampire. Piotr put that sword through his heart. What more is there to do?"
"I just have this feeling. I thought killing the vampire would end the curse. But you both saw the flames in the fireplace, didn't you?"
Piotr nodded his agreement.
"There's more to be done. The first time I came here the Keep transformed itself at night. I vote we stay till nightfall and see what happens."
"If that is what we must do to reveal any remaining evil," said Piotr, "then so be it."
Drewen pulled a face.
A long, long day followed with little in the ruin for distraction. If only it were winter, Lana thought, they wouldn't have needed to wait so long for sunset. She took to piling up electrum pieces in tall stacks.
"I believe you are right," Piotr told her quietly at one point, while the sun blazed. "There was a time the Immortals saw fit to let me SEE evil, plain before me. Though that sight is no longer my own, I am in no doubt as to what those flames represented." He stared around himself. "We will draw the last of the poison from this place and allow it to heal."
All three of Lana's stacks toppled at the one time.
They dedicated the rest of their time to treasure splitting. Lana declared that she would like some tower coins for posterity (stating that they would go in a glass jar in her nicknacks cabinet) however she declined anything beyond that.
"Why?" asked Piotr semi-dubiously.
"Oh no reason. None." Hmm. "Okay - it's just that I feel I did quite well from the last division, maybe too well and maybe more than my fair share." She made a flappy-hand gesture at the handful of pretty, shiny gems.
Two opals and the tristal went to Piotr, the diamond and the three remaining opals went to Drewen.
When sunset finally came the companions stood together near the ruined west wall, watching the light slowly die. They turned to face the Keep's interior, ready for just about anything. Each of their shadows stretched out before them. Piotr's gaze fell upon Lana's shadow - a hulking, horned monstrosity.
He drew his blade and readied himself for... he did not know what. Hacking a shadow apart?
"What's wrong Piotr?" asked Drewen.
"Her... shadow! Look! Do you see?!"
Lana gave him a what-the-Hell-are-you-on-about look.
Drewen glanced at the ground. He and Lana looked at each other - puzzled.
"What? I suppose it does flatter her around the hips."
"That's kind of you Drewen. What do you see Piotr?" asked Lana, unsettled.
"The likeness of... a demon! Bloated with great horns."
Lana nodded. "The place can play tricks on your mind AND on your eyes. We must remain on guard."
For all their friendship, Piotr looked as though he were considering whether Lana herself might be the demon. His grip on his sword hilt tightened as he watched the shadow. Moments passed and with a tense facial expression he hurled a glass vial at the ground. It smashed, spraying holy water in every direction; nothing happened.
Lana stared at him wondering whether he had become the thrall of another phantasm... or was his other sight returning... if the latter that would mean something was badly wrong.
"Show yourself fiend!!" Disconcertingly, Piotr shouted the words directly at Lana.
"Really?!?" She reached for her lens, looked through it but saw nothing.
Nor did anything appear in response to Piotr's challenge.
All was quiet.
The sun set, night fell and all remained quiet
The three waited silently. Lana experimented with floating her light in circles around herself.
"Well this is all somewhat queer and disappointing," said Lana through a yawn.
"Lana," asked the mouthpiece of the DM Drewen, "what exactly was the 'curse'? How do you know it isn't gone? How will you know when it is?"
Lana thought long and hard. Images from Koriszegy's accursed book filled her mind while she did so. Might *it* have been the focus, she wondered? Or was she wrong to suppose that a curse needed a tangible anchor?
"Maybe there's nothing more to be achieved here," she said faintly.
Piotr looked at once incensed and like a child whose Yule celebrations were in the process of being cancelled. "But we haven't lifted the curse?"
"We have no means to draw it into the open. The undead are gone. The enchanted pool is there for anyone foolish enough to venture down the well..." like us, she thought, "but the place as a whole is far less dangerous." Her gaze passed to Drewen. "I believe we should declare ourselves done here."
And partly beaten, though she did not say so out loud. She realised she was too tired to think straight.
"Unless..." she mulled over the possibility in her mind, "the curse IS gone and there's just a residue, a scar, an echo to taunt us... but nothing more?"
Drewen nodded in understanding.
"Like when you wake up from a really bad dream and it sticks with you until you've had a few ales?"
Lana laughed loud and at length. "Oh Drewen yes. Please let that be exactly what it's like."
Piotr stared at the pair in bewilderment.
"Yes," Lana gave both her friends a smile. The warmest, most genuine smile she could manage. To her mind at least, it was an expression of her thanks and an apology for getting carried away in parts. "Let's go home."
Piotr grumped and muttered something that equated to oh alright then.
The carpet departed.
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