Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Into Castle Ravensloft, Part 1

(This is a re-post of a story originally written for the printed version of the View some 10-15 years ago)

Into Castle Ravensloft by Steven Matulewicz


There is a fog that surrounds the top of the Mountain of Eagle’s Rook. They call it the Purple Haze, because of it’s odd red and blue hues. But it’s a name left over from a much darker time. Supposedly there is a village in there. Maybe more than one. But the people there are rarely seen.

Traveling through the Haze is almost impossible. The main road twists and turns around sheer cliffs. You cannot see more than a few feet in front of you, especially with the color of the mist. Unless you know the terrain well or find a Guide, preferably a native to the Haze, you are more likely to die or starve than make it through. Or back out the way you came.

This is why so many years ago the uncle to Sir Gunnar Guthrevyn made his castle Ravensloft above the Haze and on top of the mountain. An invading army would loose a good percentage of their people, their supply line would be non-existent and if the invaders use the Haze as cover, there was an enchantment placed on it at the time to make people forget their way.

The castle is now in ruin, left as such after the last battles when Sir Gunnar took the lands from his Uncle and re-named the land Eagle’s Rook. He made a home of the well fortified city and Keep of Ravensloft at the foot of the mountain. It is arguably the best built and defended city in the Realm. Fully self sufficient, and with the economy of the supporting villages and the massive storehouse ability of the Granary, this walled city could sit for a very long time against a siege. Arguably for half a year. So it is said.

Unless it’s an undead horde that numbers so many that they climb on the backs of the slain to eventually run over the walls. Leaving you no resort but to burn the city to keep them from corrupting the dead. That, however, is another story.

So the Castle of Ravensloft sits silent far away from the hustle, bustle and security of the new Eagle’s Rook, only the Haze to defend it as it slowly rots away. Large beasts and the undead are fabled to roam its old halls. And why would they not? Most people of the Realm feel it’s crazy and pointless to go to this place, to risk the travel to and back, for nothing save a few hungry beasts.

Which is why the lone rider on a jet black horse coming up the main road through the Haze had been a surprise. Any beast there would instantly know the smell of fresh meat. And any who had lived there (been trapped there?) for any length of time knew to steer clear of the rider. It was his land. His castle. He had been there many times. And those that had come after the rider had not lived to boast about a kill. The very walls seemed to stir and move when he approached. A smart beast would know to stay hidden.

The rider navigated the horse into the ruins. The horse had been there many times and did not balk at the close, narrow corridors they traveled. And even if it had been his first time, one could see the stallion was a well trained War Horse. Very little would frighten him. Very little would keep him from protecting his Master.

The shadows waited.

There were many rooms through which they traveled, and even the best trackers may have become lost. But the rider moved on. Musty tapestries hung loosely in the breeze, or even rotted on the ground, well beyond saving or stealing.
After some time, perhaps as much as an hour since they cleared the Haze, they came to a hidden set of steps leading down into the darkness. It is here the rider dismounted and left his horse behind. Although perhaps you could see the rocks cleared away wide enough to let a horse through, the air that came up below was an electric storm combined with a sickly, sulphurous stench. The smell of old drying blood and of evil.

Without a torch, the man walked into the dark. He knew where he was going, how many steps, where to turn, and what door to open, what key to use and what pressure plates to press to release the hidden rooms. The darkness was like a blanket smothering him. But he did not deter from the path nor did he start a light. He knew better than that. Too many things down here that guard its secrets. And most of those things would eat your innards before you had time to draw breath in wonder at the hulking weight crashing into you. Like in the Haze, unless you stayed to the path you would not live long. Light would bring it’s own horde of creatures flocking to you, path or no. Also he didn’t need to see the spikes, pits and other traps Guthrevyn left behind. No, the complete dark is far, far better. Better for them to believe you are one of them. Better to stay within the Rule of this place. For the most part. This is about survival, not fear. There is a very fine line between bravery and stupidity and this is one of those places crossing the line doesn’t make you brave.

Besides. He is not here to kill. Rather it was these things that protected the Realms from itself. Why ruin a perfect guard and deterrent? Besides, these things were not evil per say. They are not demons. What they are is, well, pure animal. Violent and parasitic in cases. Easily used for evil, but not evil unto themselves. That is why Guthreyvn put them here in the first place. For evil means, but if any used magic to detect evil, they would find none. A slippery line, he knows. But an essential one.

He slides a wall aside and light flashes on him and the chamber behind him. A good dozen things scamper and slide away from the light. He moves quickly through as larger things thud through the hallways towards the shiny thing on the floor and ceiling (it usually means LUNCH). He closes the door behind him.

The magical light of this room casts an ugly green and yellow luminescence, making the room even more run-down than it seems. There are rotting chairs, a broken table; very old black colored blood stains on the floor and walls, some books fading away to dust on the shelves. The stone floor makes a muffled sound as he walks, like the stuffy room didn’t want even the slightest sound to disturb its death and decay.

The only item out of place here is a velvet lined chair. It was outlined in green and white (or it would be, but the light made it look black with a snot colored lining). It was definitely new, made in the past year or so. The rider removes his cloak and hood, placing them on the back of the chair.

King Pyr DarkWillow surveys the room.

He turns and sits a moment, relaxing from the journey. Not exactly the easiest thing to accomplish, even after so many times here. The snow and icy rain didn’t help. There was on part of the road most people don’t know about, but he had measured out: the road shrinks to a quarter of its size as it crosses a chasm, then does it again in a mile or so as you pass over the same river. You can tell you are near a chasm because the fog becomes thicker and visibility comes down to almost nothing: something to do with the moisture or wind patterns through the chasms, horizontal openings in the ground (they are caves, but it’s like a large the size of a town was shoved deep into the earth. Not exactly cozy), river paths and the like. If you are on horseback, you wouldn’t feel the drop until it was all ready too late. Pyr had set up warning stones for his and his people’s benefit, but you would need to know what to look for. To have a lantern-lit path through this would be foolish. For several reasons.

The greatest one being the Castle should never be restored or used by anyone or any thing as a purposeful den of evil… or good for that matter, ever. Even in ruins, Castle Ravensloft was formidable and easily defendable. In a hundred years, he might have a different view. But it has only been 16. The lichen had just begun to move up the walls.

Besides, even with all this in place, there is one thing here that is still evil. And it is not something a group of smart adventurers, or even an army of them, would ever be able to completely remove. In fact, unless one of them is verse in Ancient (and He stresses Ancient in his mind) magics, runes and wards, you might have a chance of surviving. That and you are traveling with a very evil and dangerous person.

And that is why he was there.

He called it, simply, The Vault.

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