Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Into Castle Ravensloft, Part 2

(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
[Editor's Note: click here to read Part I]


He called it, simply, The Vault.

In any of the texts left by the Guthrevyn family, he had never seen reference to it anywhere. He had found it a few years after Sir Gunnar walked off into Fairy to marry a Princess. Pyr had been mapping out the rooms, or what was left of them. He wanted to have a complete detailed map of Haze and the Castle. It may be useful, even necessary, one day. He was able to map the castle “easily”, but Haze itself will take a lifetime. And maybe someday he might find the village of Haze somewhere in the mists.

And so it was on one of these mapping expeditions he found The Room.

There was an alcove, just beyond the left hand bookcase when you enter the room. It’s not readily noticeable as an entryway, until you get to where Pyr had placed the chair. It was well hidden for an archway in plain sight. The door was narrow and the bookcase deep. There used to be a tapestry over it and Pyr had replaced it, being very careful to find some extra around the castle and store them, so if this one tore away, he could replace it with one just as old and worn.

Inside the alcove was, from foot to ceiling, small wooden compartments for scrolls, components, items that would either aid in casting or were items for research. Or so Pyr had observed. His best guess is this was the tame version of what was in the Vault, meant for idle dabbling or curiosity. He had a friend come through here with detections, disenchants… the whole lot. Nothing of straightforward magical or malicious intent lay on or in the compartments. There is a small desk in the center of the room. There are 9 symbols on it, one in each cardinal direction and one in the center. The average person would probably use the table ponder the objects in the compartments, not even thinking about the markings.

The table is, like so many things here, more than it looks like.

He faced the far wall, his hands on the table. touching the center symbol. He had never found anyone who knew what the symbols meant. So speculating either original or potential use (or re-creating them for any use) was out of the question. Assuming they were just part of the combination for the Vault was enough.

The wall of components in front of him slid into the floor. Behind it was a large metal door, which had the same 8 symbols on it, the ones he did not touch.

Now began the fun part.

Pyr quickly runs through the multi-step, multi-layered puzzle that allows you to try and find the combination for the door. It wasn’t easy at all. Finding how the solid wood table will allow you to twist each symbol, but only in a certain combination, otherwise they either reset, cause a trap to go off, or just outright kill you. You need to know when to flip it as well, revealing multi-colored gems. The combination and method was not straightforward, like one puzzle then the next.

Once done, the next stage occurs. You have a time limit to find 8 reflecting prisms in the cabinets within reach to your left and right. Each one works on only one positioned stone. The prisms are never in the same place as last time, even if you put them there yourself. However there is a pattern. Again, doing it within time and doing it in order is critical.

Then the final step: you have a light from every stone hitting the proper prism which reflects onto the proper rune on the steel door. Oh, and those runes are never in the same order either.

Now you are able to try the combination of the lock. The symbols loosen on the metal door and you can rotate the circular drums of each rune. Each drum has 10 runes on it (not 8). You not only need to get them in the right order, but you need to do it without stopping the combination in a way as to duplicate the runes. Bad things happen if you do.

Pyr had been lucky all that time ago: in one of the compartments, he had found a thick scroll explaining the process, what might happen when you screwed up, and the like. And they also recorded the number of tries... and deaths… of each step they took. Needless to say, they only got through half way of the combination lock, although they had discovered the “trick”

Somehow Pyr didn’t think they got inside.

Regardless, after only a few times working with the combination (which was painful only twice. He dodged what seemed to be the Disintegration Rune trap), he had memorized the sequence and burned the “map”. “When I die,” he thought, “no one should be able to go in here. Not if they value their soul.” Pyr was not afraid of what would happen to him: this place was his... "inheritance". But he was bent on making sure this place was forgotten when he went to the Summerlands for good.

Pyr snapped his mind back to the present. He finished the combination and the last tumbler clicked into place. The whole alcove peeled away, left and right, and a wall descended over the entrance. You were suddenly in a very spacious, high vaulted room. It was well lit with candles that never seem to burn out. There were stacks upon stacks of tomes, display shelves with items, some with glass around them; some displayed openly, parchments upon a few tables. It would compete well with any storehouse of learning.

And almost everything, every surface, was covered with red glowing runes. The tomes only have the spines glowing. The parchments just glowed on their own with no visible runes. And on the farthest wall from where he stood was a giant sculpture that looked like a monstrous demon was trying to pass through the wall into this plane. You could see the strain on its face, the one hoof, and the fingers of its left hand; part of its chest and of course its massive face, straining to pull the rest through. It is very clear it was a sculpture, because it was part of a fountain that sat below it on the library floor. Even from here, it is clear the fountain had once been bubbling with blood, not water, and that it sprayed from the demon’s jaws and into the fountain’s pool.

Pyr assumed someone thought it was beautiful, powerful, reverent, or funny. Pyr was betting on Funny.

The one aspect of this room that seemed out of place was a clear walkway without runes that went from the door to one of the desks, then to a string of metal, human sized doors on the right hand wall.

That small fraction of the room was what Pyr had been able to clear in 10 years worth of work. It was enough.

On the desk was a few disenchanted books written in common. There mostly were history about ER, once then Ravensloft, how the country functioned, maps of the out land, when what was built, who owed taxes, etc. Some were bits of Realms Lore, but usually just scraps. Like how to build a flesh Golem. Problem is you can’t build one without components that are not found in the Realms any more. So the spell was mostly useless. But it stayed in this place, just in case.

The metal doors were Vaults within the Vaults. There had been 5 vaults not sealed when he found them. Why ward something you haven’t used yet? And it was a path to them that had been made. Because it was there he stored his items.

And just so it is understood, "not sealed" does not mean "not Warded". There were instructions left on the opening and closing of the doors, with notes to "Lock" them some time in the future. Pyr never intended on finding out how to "lock" this or any other part of this room. What enchantments they had put on the doors was enough.

And what the King placed here were Evil items. Items too powerful to really exist in the Realms, items meant to be forgot. All of which had either been given to Pyr, or been asked to safeguard. And no one asked for them back. So they all go in here.

He pondered that unless the people that used this room tip-toed slowly around this place, casting protection after protection, they most likely had some kind of ward that allowed them safe passage through the room. Either a mark on their skin, or an item. Whatever it may have been, there was no record of it. Except maybe somewhere in the stacks.

He walked over to one of the vaults and placed his left hand on it, saying an incantation. The door opened.

Inside were several Items. The Staff of the Planes, that lets you go anywhere from anywhere. The Skull of Necromancy, which allows you to summon a virtual army of wraiths, vampires and zombies so many times in an hour. A Wish Coin, an Amulet that controls Goblins. An item that befriends treants. A wand of DeathWish, a Sword of Scalping, a piece of Minerva’s Chest, the known whereabouts and phrase one can use in the Seelie Fae to create a Wayland Bomb, some broken pieces of wood with some runes on them and a rotting Wayland blade, snapped in two.

In the middle of this vault is a small platform, about chest height. There is nothing special about it, or so it seemed.

Pyr took a musty brown bottle out of his backpack. There are some faded elfish runes on the outside, but it is unclear what it says. Pyr gently places the bottle on the stand. He had thought he would have need of it and had brought it down to Chimeron some months back. But now it was time to return it. Maybe some day it will be brought out again.

He closes the metal door and sighs. It’s a long way to come alone, and a long way to return. These trips are the kind no one can know about, or follow him. The ride is quiet. There is no sound save the slithering things in the darkness near the end. Everything else is a deafening stillness.

He looks around the room again. As many times as he has been here, there has been only one item that truly disturbed him deep inside. It is a silver mask that looks like a woman in her early 20s. It is on one of the desks on its side, like someone had been looking at it and had just put it down. The woman’s face is one of stoic power. The way it is angled on the desk that day, it is clear it is either a mask or a helm, but the how thin it is and the look on her face indicates it must be a drama mask. A drama mask that encases your head fully in steel. They are usually clay, but it is not uncommon or unusual.

The Mask of Achlys.

There were several things slightly wrong with the mask. The first was that it was in a different position every time he came. Today it was looking at the stack of books. That was not uncommon either in the Vault: there were many objects here that shifted positions when you were either not there, or you were not looking.

The second is there was no dust around it, no decay. There is a scroll near the mask: the part nearer the mask was whole and almost new. The other was yellow and black with dust and age. The perceptible ring around the mask was only marred by a single drop of blood that hung on the forehead of the mask. It wasn’t easy to see, but after being here many times and viewing it from many angles, it becomes clear. Because the blood is fresh against the silver sheen.

Third was the skeleton on the floor just in back of the desk it was on. This is a place of evil, sure. And there were many body parts around. But they were on display. This was some kind of researcher left on the floor. So it begs to question what happened with this mask that was so frightening to those powerful evil mages who used this place that they would not clean up the body in one way or another? He was sure there had to have been other accidents or experiments. Why this one?

Fourth was the slight wind. You could see candles and paper around it blowing towards it. Not a torrent, just enough to ruffle the paper.

The man/ mage must have been seeking some kind of revenge for what the mask had done, Pyr surmised. And in that stupid mistake of rage a powerful curse came out of it. One so horrible and undoable the Wizards let the mask and the body be.

There were many, many items of great and “stupid powerful” items here. But he was sure it was the worst.

But most importantly the items in the Vault were dormant, waiting to be activated.

Except this one was still “on”. And it’s the only other place/ item not warded.

The mysteries here were always oddly interesting to ponder. What was the power or curse of the coin balancing on its edge in one of the display case? Why was a small bronze frog statue in a well secured cage covered heavily with the magical wards? Why was one of the books occasionally removing itself from the shelves and placing itself somewhere else in the stacks?

The ultimate lesson he believed is this was the best place to store powerful items that should never see the light of day ever again.

And why, you may ask, since it is very possible something in the room, or something from outside the room, will use the items to its advantage. The answer is written on the floors and walls. They created powerful curses and wards to contain the evil for study and possible use. This place doesn’t protect itself from “good” it protects itself from *everything*. They knew if anything they could not control got out; it could release all the other evils, or just crush them. And they were in this for their own power, not to be foolish and be a slave to the knowledge and what they discovered.

These items couldn’t be in a safer place. Nothing was getting in, nothing was going out.

Except down the path he created. But there was one trigger he had discovered, should the items in the metal rooms be compromised. A rune re-set all the wards of the Vault if the incantation used was incorrect. A Restoration if you will. That and the Metal Rooms seem to be in a pocket dimension. The room behind it is obliterated and a new one is restored to it's place.

One day, he knew, that as secure as this place is, nothing is impenetrable.  He will have to set up a final solution.  To collapse the Vault in the same manner as the smaller ones.  But that day is not today.

With one more look around, Pyr closed the inner Vault, closed the main door, took up his items and made his way to his horse to leave.

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