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Journals of Therod Karynson - Part I of II

Mordun 1st through Ilyun 30th, 12881

The caravans are able to start again. However, it is late in the fall. Very few are willing to send out caravans so late. So it has happened that I am signing on with a caravan financed by a Lord Fallon, whom I know nothing about. Typically I don't like to sign on with something that I know little about. The caravan is large, though, which eases my mind.
    We are headed for Chalsea, which is a typical, if longer journey than I would like to make. The size of the `van means that there are six of us scouts. We are divided into three groups of two, each of us having an eight hour shift. My partner is a man named Urden. He's a tall, lanky disheveled man. We seem to work well together, although in all truth we have encountered no troubles. Urden is from some town in the northern mountains, and tells fantastic tales around the campfires late at night - tales of wolf-men and other fantastic happenings. I don't know whether I can credit such talk, for Urden seems a bit prone to exaggerating.
    The `van trip was entirely uneventful. We have arrived in Chalsea without seeing anything dangerous at all on the trip here, which I am thankful for. Unfortunately, we took a week longer then was planned for - four weeks instead of three. We have been paid an extra gold for the extra week, making it eight instead of seven, but now it is really late in the season.
    Standing around the caravan loading yard, it seems deserted. Normally bustling when I have been there before, the only activity now is our own caravan unloading onto a ship. I'm not sure what I should do now. I probably have enough gold to last the winter, with a little to spare, but I'm not sure how to get back to Tel'Akbar safely. I don't care much for walking back on my own. Some guards come over and prompt us to move along, as vagrancy is a serious crime in Chalsea. I wander over to Urden, and suggest getting a room for the night, as it is late.
    The prices in Chalsea are outrageously high. It is a silver for a normal room for a night. I can't afford to stay here for too long. I decide to talk with Urden about his plans. This is the first time that I've really talked with him, since we were scouting all the time before. Urden is really not very tolerant of other races, or religions, or much of anything. I'm not sure what he is tolerant of, except for money and power.
    Urden has headed out for the night, but I have decided to get some sack time and make an early start of it. He has heard some big talk about a town up north in the mountains called Castellan. Apparently there are a lot of monsters and ruins in the area. Some fellow was showing off a fancy magic sword that he had gotten up there, or so he claimed. Urden seems to have bought into it, though, and is all gung-ho for heading up there and claiming our fame and riches. I'm not so sure - it sounds overly dangerous. I think I might not have much of a choice, though. I agree, but want to look around and see if there are any other opportunities. I also think that it would be a good idea if there were more than two of us. Urden seems willing to go along with this. He has some disgusting notions though. There were a couple of scouts with us on the caravan - a half-elf and half-orc - that were receiving preferential treatment, and were very well equipped. When I mention that we might get them to join us, Urden started talking about killing them in their sleep and looting their bodies. I wonder about him - he seems to have an odd sense of loyalty.
    We split up, to look for others, and other opportunities. I head back down to the caravan yards, to see if there has been any improvement. There is one caravan headed out, but there are 50 men clustered around, all clamoring for jobs. It does not look promising. Looking around, I see that not everyone is packed around the caravan master. I spot a few I recognize from the caravan I came in on, and go over to talk to them. Gorn, a large muscular man that carries a large sword, says that there doesn't seem to be much opportunity for decent work. Armand, a quick-looking man with a staff and short sword, hasn't heard of anything, either. They've been discussing what it is they're going to do. I mention that we're considering going to Castellan out of desperation. They agree to come along, after some discussion of what exactly we're going to be doing. Gorn seems like my kind of man - quiet, yet sure of himself. He appears to be sensible and honest. I'm not so sure about Armand. His manner strikes me as a bit larcenous.
    It turns out that Gorn has worked with Urden before. Both Gorn and Armand think we should leave him behind, but I refuse. He is my compatriot, and I won't sneak off and leave him, even if I don't like him. We head back up to the main town, and meet up with Urden. He is a boor as usual, but I have the feeling that he is a good man underneath all of that. We decide to get out of Chalsea right away, since it is far too expensive to stay here for no good reason. I also want to get to Castellan before the snows hit.
    About an hour out of town, we are ambushed. It seems that some of our fellow mercenaries are even more desperate then we are. Eight of them, several from the same caravan than we came to Chalsea in, have decided to rob us, and know that we have money. It is a disgusting act that turns my stomach. Not two night ago we were all sitting around a campfire, swapping tales. We would have fought together. Now they are robbing us. My head is spinning. I can't stand losing the money I have earned, but I don't want to fight these men. The only plan I can think of is to throw my gold in the air and try and run while they're watching it. I throw one piece, to see if it will work, but their eyes don't follow it long. They do have some training after all.
    Armand has begun to taunt them. They do have some pride after all. Armand has gotten the leader to come and take the gold from his hand. We all obviously expect some trick. Then Armand does the most amazing thing that I have ever seen. Against a suspicious man, with two archers' arrows trained on him, against two-to-one odds, he pulls it off! Almost too fast to follow, he spins their leader around, and slits his throat. He then uses his body as a shield against the arrows of the archers. After that we all spring in to action, and the battle is joined. It is over shortly, and surprisingly in our favor. All the mercenaries-turned-robbers have been killed or routed, and all of us are still standing, and none of us seriously injured. I still cannot stand to loot the bodies of these, our former compatriots. Gorn also cannot, but Armand and Urden have no such qualms. I cannot stand to look.
    Most of us are lightly wounded, so I have patched us up as best I can. We have decided to head back to Chalsea to fully recover. I find myself staying in mostly, watching over the wounded. The people out in the streets seem somewhat hostile. I'm not sure what their problem is, but I don't want to risk a fight, since we had to leave our weapons at the gate when we entered.
    A couple of days have passed, and we are now ready to try and head north again. We collected our weapons from the gate without any difficulties, but the guard gave me a queer look as he gave mine back to me. I'm sure I've never seen him before, but it makes me nervous.
    To try and avoid any more surprises, Urden and I are scouting ahead off the trail. There's less chance of just one of us being spotted, especially if we're trying not to be, and are not on the road. There don't seem to be any more bandits, though. It's a good thing. I haven't been in combat in a long time. Even while in the army, if I wasn't scouting, I was busy tending to wounds, and so haven't done or seen any actually fighting in many years.
    We are making good time, and have reached the first of the abbey's. I seem to not be able to get enough sleep, for I am always tired. Urden, Gorn, and Armand all seem to be irritable.
    We are pushing on, trying to reach another abbey each day. It makes for a long trek, but I want to reach Castellan before the snow falls. I'd hate to be stuck outside in a blizzard.
    We have now left the last abbey. An hour or so out of it, we hear the sounds of battle up ahead. Not wanting to get caught in something that is not our business, Urden and I scout ahead, while Gorn and Armand follow at a reasonable distance. Urden and I come up to the din, and see a dozen or so orcs attacking a group of six armed men protecting three defenseless monks. It is clear that we must help them, or they will be slaughtered.
    Urden goes charging in with his axe, while I move forward and string up my bow. I let loose at a few orcs as I move up, wounding a couple and possibly falling one. Now they are all too close to our own men to shoot at, so I move over to protect the monks, and watch for where I may be needed most. The battle seems to be going well, for Gorn and Armand have joined us. The orcs are being taken out, and we shall have won in a few minutes. Then I notice that there are more things moving toward us. I'm not sure what they are, but I can see movement of another half a dozen shapes through the trees. I see that Armand has his back to them, fighting an orc, so a call a warning to him, and prepare to fire my bow at the newcomers as they come within range. It is five more orcs, as well as a huge wolf. The thing is enormous, standing as tall as I do at its haunches. I fire a couple of arrows at it, and see them strike home, but it hardly slows the beast. I shoot at a last straggling orc, before he closes into melee with my fellows. The monks are not being attacked, and a group of three warriors in front of me is being overwhelmed by the new wave, so I drop my bow, draw my short sword, and move in to help them. I draw off one of the attackers, but then the man on my left goes down. I'm exposed, and surrounded by orcs! In a panic, my sword blow goes wild, and my sword goes flying from my hand. Now I am weaponless, too!
    I immediately flee, directly away from the orcs. One of them gives chase, and is right on my heels. I cannot shake him, and I am leaving any help behind. There is a large tree ahead of me, about 10 feet across, so I run beside it and loop around so that I am running in the other direction, back toward the combat. The orc is still close behind me. I see that the giant wolf is dead, as well as most of the orcs. I run right toward where my sword fell, for now the way is clear. I see that one of the orcs is fleeing. The orc following me ends up in the middle of Gorn, Armand, and two of the warriors. He only had a moment to register this before they all hacked him down.
    I must say that this was a harrowing experience. I was afraid for my life, being chased by an orc, and me with no weapons. I am certainly not used to this much hand-to-hand fighting. I must get a back up weapon.
    We talk to the monks, and find that they are travelling back to the abbeys. Luckily they had employed the six warriors as guards, or they would now be in an orc stewpot. The guards are not doing well, for four of them lie unconscious. Gorn and Armand were also badly mauled by the giant wolf. Urden and I seem to be all right. I may not like Urden, or respect him, but he is a good man to have beside you in a fight.
    I am concerned about the orcs, and whether there might be a larger band of them nearby, so Urden and I are heading off to track the orc who fled, while everyone else is heading back to the abbey to rest and recover.
    Urden and I follow as quickly as we can, but have not yet caught up. Night is drawing upon us. We bed down for the night, and then resume at daybreak. We are heading in a straight line northeast toward the mountains far on the horizon. At about midday, it seems clear that must be the final destination, so I convince Urden to head back toward the abbey. We make it back just at dusk, and help ourselves to a huge meal, and a long sleep.
    We spend several nights in the abbey, waiting for Gorn and Armand to recover from their wounds. My sleep is troubled. I often wake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, some unknown terror causing my heart to throb. I cannot think of what it is that is disturbing my sleep. Perhaps one of the monks is spying upon me.
    We are now headed out to Wereskalot. I don't like the idea of heading through Leah, though, with just the four of us. Everyone else agrees, so just before we get to Leah, we go off the road and curve around to the north, and find the trail on the other side. Gorn is wondering whether this is the right trail, but I am sure it is. It is strange that he is being so paranoid, since he is usually so level headed.
    We are heading along the trail about a day's walk from Wereskalot, when, from the west, we see a huge thing flying in the air toward us. It has huge leathery wings, attached to a lion's body, although larger than any lion I have ever heard of. It has a large tail, with big spikes sticking out of the end of it. Most disturbing of all is its face. For gazing out of the lion's mane is a human face. The expression, though, is that of an animal. This thing has only one thought on its mind. As it flies up to us, it suddenly dives down on Urden. As it dives it whips its tail around and shoots several of the spikes toward Urden. They strike him squarely in the face. So distracted, Urden is easy prey for the beast, and it bats him to the side, leaving large, bloody welts across his chest, then launches itself into the air.
    I take cover, but find myself behind a large stump. Not much defense from the air! My bow is ready, but now the monster is swooping down upon me! I duck down behind the stump, and feel the whoosh of the air as the thing's claws rake above me. It then launches itself into the air for another dive. I seem to be the only one with a missile weapon, and I am having trouble hitting it. My aim is off today. It must be because I am so tired.
    The monster next pounces upon Gorn, making a mess of him. It claws him with both paws, and takes a chunk of flesh out of his shoulder with its huge mouth. Gorn is still standing, but is not looking very good. Armand is rushing over to help him. The thing decides that it will not fly up, and is instead attacking Gorn again. Now that it is not moving, I finally hit it with an arrow. Two good shots right into its back. The things has made a mess of Gorn, though. He has fallen, after being slashed again by the thing. Armand charges in at full tilt, and rams his short sword into the things side, right up to the hilt! The thing cries out in pain, and launches itself into the air. I fire another shot at it, but it goes wide, as the thing is now fleeing.
    I see Urden is standing now, although his face is a ruin. I run over and check on Gorn. He is still breathing, although he is bleeding badly. We are only a day's travel from Wereskalot, but he is too large to move easily, and shouldn't be moved at all in this condition.
    The thing flew off to the west along the trail, so now I am not so sure that this is the way to Wereskalot. We make a shelter for Gorn and Urden, and I tend to their wounds, and then head down the trail to the west, to see if that lion-monster's lair is ahead. I range out for a few hours, but there is no sign of anything unusual, so I head back to the main group. We have made the shelter a few hundred feet off the road, so as not to attract that thing's attention, should it come back. Also it should discourage any other unwelcome visitors.
    Gorn will be unconscious for a few more days, so I decide to check that we're on the right trail. I head to the south, for the ocean should be only a few hours away. It is right where expected, so we must on the right path. I wonder what is happening, for that beast was heading straight for Wereskalot?
    A couple of days have passed now, and Gorn has woken up. His gaze seems to be accusing me of his wounds, but then he disguises it in his words. He seems to have little recollection of recent events.
    We head out, trying to make it to Wereskelot, even though Gorn is still badly wounded. We head out, staying a few hundred feet off the trail. The going is slow, but better to make it there alive. I have been running back and forth, keeping our bearing on the trail, and checking on the off chance a friendly caravan might be passing.
    About midday we came upon a strange sight. There are things suspended in the trees, about a dozen of them. They are about 7 or 8 feet off the ground. They consist of two poles, lashed between a pair or trees, with some sort of cloth bundle in the center. Not sure but that it might be the lair of that monster, or at least where it keeps its snacks, but still wanting to know what it is, Armand pokes at it with his staff. With the movement, a bony hand falls out of the lump in the center, and clatters to the ground. We all jump a little, and then realize that this must be some sort of odd burial ground. I want nothing to do with it, for disturbing the dead is never a good idea. Urden wants to loot them, and Armand seems willing to go along, but Gorn stands firm with me - we let them be, and continue on our way.
    We have finally made it to Wereskelot. We get an inn, so that Urden and Gorn can finish healing themselves. I head out to resupply my medical bag, and to find a spare short sword. The air seems electric, with all the people about, like the feeling I get before a lightning storm. I keep feeling someone's eyes upon me, but when I turn, I see no one watching me. I try whirling around, to catch my watcher by surprise, but I still cannot spot him.
    I manage to re-fill my medical bag, but can't find a sword that pleases me. The blacksmiths that I talk to all seem surly today, and are trying to sell me poor quality stuff at too high of prices.
    I spend the night tossing and turning. I am having horrible nightmares, that are waking me several times a night, but upon waking, I cannot remember what they are about.
    I head out to search for a sword again. The air feels even more charged today. The sky is clear, but I feel like it is going to start raining at any moment. I finally spotted my unseen watcher today. It is an old woman, seemingly innocuous, but I can tell that she is evil and means me no good by the beady look in her eyes, she keeps casting glances my way, keeping an eye on me, while trying to appear not to. Oh, but I am on to her! I make a few turns, but she is still following me. I duck into a side stall and wait. When she comes close I dart out and surprise her, demanding to know why she is following me! She has the gall to act surprised, and even puts on an act of crying when I threaten her. She runs off into the crowd, and I cry out after her not to mess with me, or she'll be sorry.
    I finally found a sword today, too. A nice one.
    Gorn and Urden are finally healed up. After getting some winter gear, and fresh provisions, we head north. Rather than going west and then northeast, we decide to head straight north, and catch the trail. No good will come from us following a main route.
    After about a day, we come across a large circular clearing, several hundred feet across. While we're standing upon its edge, trying to decide what to make of it, there is a large, inhuman cry. We look to the west, and there is the monster... the same one as before. I can tell because of the huge scar in it's side where Armand had stabbed it. We all dart back into the woods, to get into cover behind some trees, except for Urden, who is standing there in the open, challenging the beast, or some fool thing. Armand had bought a sling in Wereskalot, so we are trying to bring the thing down while it is in the air. Armand gets a few hits in, but I can't seem to hit it at all. The air seems rummy around me, and I can't see very clearly. The back of my head also feels like it's vibrating. I think that old woman in Wereskalot must have been a witch, and that she cursed me. Damn her! If I ever find her, I'll get my revenge.
    The monster has been diving down on Urden, and he looks a mess. He has slashes all over his body, and is bleeding badly. The monster hardly looks scratched. Slicked by his blood, his axe has gone flying from his hands. We all cry to him to get back into the safety of the woods, but he just woodenly pulls out a small hand axe. Armand and I are still trying to shoot at the thing, but to no avail. The thing swoops down upon Urden, and rakes him again with its claws. As it is momentarily there in front of him, though, Urden swings his axe with all his might and smacks the thing on the side of the head. It was already in the process of launching itself in the air, and is now flying, a hundred feet up or so, but is careening about. It flies for a few seconds, then plummets to the ground, right in the center of the clearing. There is a large, loud, hollow sounding thump as it hits. I rush out to look at Urden who, amazingly, is still conscious. While looking at him, all covered in blood, the earth spins around me a bit, and I feel like I might fall. I try to bandage him as best I can, but cannot make my mind focus.
    Urden and I join Armand and Gorn in the center of the clearing looking at the beast. It is clearly dead. Smacking it, though, it does not seem to be very hollow. We convince Gorn, as he is the heaviest of us, to jump on the ground, and see if we can hear a hollow sound. He does, gingerly at first, but then with increased confidence as the ground does not cave in beneath him. We can faintly, but clearly, hear it... a hollow echo beneath our feet. We dig down a few inches, about 4 or 5, and find a wooden planking covering some unknown thing beneath us.
    We resolve to explore this, as it seems just as foolish and dangerous (or promising) as going to Castellan, but is much closer. There is also less danger of running into human ruffians here. I am sure there are many dangerous types in Castellan.
    That night I have a nightmare. This time I do not awake. I cannot wake, even though I want to.
    The dream begins innocently enough. I am at home, in the army camp of my youth, with my mother. She has just been serving me dinner, and we are sitting down to eat. Suddenly, there is a cry outside, and then another. We can hear explosions in the distance. We rush outside to see what is going on. Off in the military section of the camp, there is a dirty orange glow, punctuated by flashes of blue and red. But close at hand there are scores of monsters running about. Ogres, orcs, bugbears, trolls, and more. My mind seizes in fear at the sight of the trolls. Suddenly the rest of the world is gone, and all I can see is two of the trolls, chasing down my fleeing mother. I can hear her screaming. They easily chase her down. They grab her by her hair, and dangle her in front of them. I can hear the laughter, cruel and taunting. I am paralyzed. I want to cry out, to go and help her. I am too afraid. I want to turn my eyes away, but I cannot turn away. I am held here, an audience to this scene. The troll holding her rips off her clothes. The other pulls out a knife, and begins. He makes long shallow cuts, running down the length of her arms and legs. I can hear her whimpering, as each new cut is made. The blood weeps from them, and trickles down her arms and legs, drips off of her fingers and toes, and collects in a pool beneath her feet. The trolls laugh cruelly at her as she continues to bleed. As her face begins to pale, the troll holding her hair holds her out, and the other one grabs an arm. The first one then shifts his grip to the other. They then pull, as hard as they can. My mother lets out an anguished scream, and then her right arm is pulled off. The troll holding her right arm curses, then grabs her right leg. The other grabs her left, and again they pull. My mother no longer has the strength to scream. She is shaking violently, and then I hear the bone in her hip pop. Her flesh stretches... stretches some more... and then her left leg is ripped off. The trolls laugh, and drop her into the pool of her own blood. They then walk off, clapping each other's backs, and laughing.... laughing.... Their laughter mocks me as I watch my mother convulse and spasm, and then lie still. Her eyes seem to be staring at me, questioning me. Why didn't you do something? Accusing me. Why couldn't you stop my pain?
    My eyes open. I am wide awake. My heart is pounding. I can still hear the laughter of the trolls in my head, mocking me. I can still see my mother's eyes, staring at me. Dawn has come. The air seems bright, brighter than it has in weeks. I can see the world around me clearly, oh so clearly now. It is as if a veil has been lifted from my eyes. I know now what I must do.

Nightsun 1st through Nightsun 16th, 12881

After awakening from my nightmare, I find myself unable to return to sleep. I am restless, anxious to begin my quest. My companions are are still sleeping - not surprising at this early hour. I decide to look for the lair of the lion-like beast that attacked us. I had looked, and found that the creature was a female, so it might have a nest nearby. Small feelings of guilt over leaving a young offspring of this creature unprotected to die are shooting though me. There might also be some items there, remains from previous victims, that might help me achieve my ends. I am sure that there will be something nearby. I find it suspicious that the creature was able to find us twice in so short a span.
    Starting to head out, I reach the west edge of the clearing. Something has put me on edge however, and I fear to tread further by myself. Instead, I continue on around the clearing, looking for any sort of trail - game or otherwise. There is nothing. There is also not any water anywhere nearby.
    By the time I return to our camp, the others are awake. Urden is still quite a mess from his fight with the beast, and is no condition to do any traveling. Armand and I are going to go off and look for the den, to keep us from being surprised later. The wooden slats are in the middle of the clearing, after all. Gorn is staying behind to watch over Urden, and to start building together a cabin. We very well could be here for a while.
    Armand and I head out, going west. After about 6 or 8 miles, Armand climbs up a tree and has a look around. He spots a large mound off to the north. We both feel that this could be something and so start heading in that direction. Shortly there is a loud roaring that frightens us both - it's coming from the direction of the "den." We agree that this is probably the den, and should take some measures to protect ourselves back at the clearing.
    Upon getting back to the clearing, however, we discover that Urden has been busily prying up pieces of the wooden slats that we had earlier uncovered. He has also cut and trampled a trail of grass leading straight to our cabin. The damned fool! It's a clear sign, like an arrow pointing us out. We "inform" Urden that the beast lair is not very far away, and that we heard a very loud roaring from it - we figure a beast larger then the dead one here. Very possible the dead one's mate. The dead one at the other end of the trail leading to our cabin.
    After a bit of thought, we decide to build a trap in case the monster comes and attacks us. We build a new cabin, and leave the old one as bait. We prepare two trees to fall right in front of the cabin. Hopefully we can drop these on the beast if it attacks. Urden agrees to be the bait - he keeps digging up the slats in the middle of the clearing. Urden is slowly improving under my care.
    Two days have passed. Urden has finally broken through the covering of slats, and there has been no sign of another monster. It seems likely that it won't be making an appearance.
    However, we have another problem. The wooden slats covered a hole. A deep hole. A dropped rock takes a while to reach the bottom, and the bottom is covered with water. After a bit of searching we discover that no one among us has any rope, or any means of taking light with us. We are ill-prepared for a journey into these depths. We do drop a burning piece of wood down the hole. About 20 feet or so down it strikes a ledge, then bounces off and continues down for another 50 or so feet, before landing in a shallow pool of water. We will need a lot of rope.
    We have decided that Armand and I will head back to Wereskalot, which should be a quick journey. Gorn and Urden are going to stay here. Urden is quite paranoid about protecting his hole from others. If we leave him here alone he will probably try and find some way down by himself and get himself killed. He is beginning to wear out my patience.
    Armand and I miss Wereskalot, but find ourselves upon the road to the east of it. We head in and purchase our supplies. A hundred feet of stout hemp rope, 50 torches, and four small bags to haul our treasure out in. We are being quite optimistic. We decide to head out east, feeling a bit paranoid. No one is following us. Urden's attitude seems to be rubbing off on me.
    Several days have passed. I have become lost. My attempts to re-find the clearing have been in vain. It should have been right around here, but it is not. I have no reference point to guide me, and no clue as to which way to go. Armand volunteers to climb a tree and have a scout, but there is nothing recognizable nearby. I take my best guess, and strike out (author's note: at this point I rolled a die and went in a random direction).
    After a few days of this, Armand thinks that he has spotted the mound-like thing that we thought was the den of the lion-beast. With this reference, I pick a new direction to head with increased confidence.
    Unfortunately, we still haven't found anything, although I'm sure that it should be close. There also seems to be a lot of smoke around, and we can smell the odor of burning wood. Armand climbs another tree, but slips and falls a few feet. He seems a little bruised but all right. He picks another tree to climb. From the top of this one, he reports that our clearing might be to the northeast, but that the smoke makes it hard to see - the smoke is also to the northeast.
    On the way down, about thirty feet up, Armand slips and falls. I rush over and have a look, but he is not moving. He is breathing, but deeply unconscious. I briefly consider trying to find the clearing, but am afraid of not finding Armand again in the dark. I decide to stay put and tend to his concussion, sprains and bruises.
    During the night it starts to rain. I cover Armand as best I can with my blanket, but he really needs to be out of the rain and warm. In the morning his condition has not improved much. I cover him up as best I can, and head out to see if our clearing is nearby. Remembering my failure to find it in the first place, I leave marks with my knife so I can find him again. After a few minutes walk, I am greeted with the site of our familiar clearing. Here it is!
    Just then a hear the sound of a branch begin broken behind me. With visions of another of the lion beasts filling my head, I dart forward, snatching a quick glance behind me, and try and get behind some cover. I catch a glimpse of a white shape, roughly man-shaped, as it darts behind a tree. I take cover behind a tree also, and think for a minute, listening. I hear whatever it is trying to creep up around behind me. Ha! Like I would fall for such an obvious trick!
    I creep away from the tree silently, backing away to get a look at whatever it is. Suddenly an animated skeleton springs out, viciously swing a long sword at where my neck was a few seconds ago, embedding the blade deeply into the tree. As it tries to yank the blade free, the old tarnished blade gives way, breaking the sword in two.
    Sizing up my situation, I realize that I have a problem. My short sword will be of little use against something that has no flesh to pierce. Likewise neither my bow nor my sling will do any good. I back away from the thing, casting my gaze around desperately searching for something. Then I see another of the un-living creatures off to my left, not wielding a weapon, but making clawing motions with its bony hands. This is not where I want to be.
    Finally I spot a stout branch, about four feet long and a couple of inches across, laying on the ground on the other side of the sword-wielding skeleton. I charge that skeleton, barging it aside, trying to get to my makeshift club. My maneuver must have taken it by surprise, for its blow was easily dodged. I pick up my improvised weapon, get my back against a tree, and prepare myself. I will not let my life end here, before I achieve my vengeance. Parrying with my sword in my left hand, a lay about bashing the skeletons with the stick in my right. A couple of hits score against me, but in the end the skeletons lie in scattered pieces littering the forest floor. I viciously grind the still twitching hand of one of them into bits. \
    Remembering Armand, I rush to the cabin, and find Gorn and Urden sitting there talking. I quickly rouse them and head back to find Armand.
    As we approach Armand's still body, we see a ghastly, shambling humanoid shape making its way toward him. We rush to intercept it, but it reaches him first, and starts gnawing on his stomach. I charge into it knocking it off of him, and impaling it with my sword. It picks itself up and tries to swat at me with its sharp claws, which I nimbly avoid, and then sinks its disgusting teeth into my shoulder, punching through my leather breastplate and into my skin. I feel a cold wave pass through me, and nearly freeze, but the adrenaline pumping through my body keeps me upright. I still feel faint, however. The dripping wounds inflicted by the skeletons, followed by this things ghastly touch have inflicted their toll. I try to keep it away, and get away from it, but it is following me still. Gorn and Urden have joined in, but Gorn has accidentally thrown his sword in the bushes (again), and Urden cannot seem to hit. The thing is still following me, but I ward off its attacks. While I am thus distracting it, Urden strikes it down from the side, felling the foul thing. I sit down, panting, while Gorn tends to the gnaw marks in Armand's belly.
    We have gone back to our little cabin, which Urden and Gorn have built up quite nicely in the time we have been gone. None of us are in very good shape. Gorn and Urden report that while we were gone, one of those zombie-like things attacked them. We decide to rest and heal for a few days.
    Several days have passed, and we healing. Our food supplies are starting to run low, however. Urden and I head out hunting, and fortune is with us, for we fell a good sized buck.
    Gorn and I are waiting beside the hole in the meadow tonight. I suspect that the undead things that have been attacking us are coming from it. We build a fire, and hunker down for the night to wait. Neither of us are very sleepy. As the moon crests the mountains, rising up, we see that the pedestal down below is moving down. It passes out of sight, so we drop down a burning branch from our fire. It comes to rest on the pedestal, but now it has moved all 50 feet downward, down near the floor. The movement was completely silent, and seemed eerily unnatural. Neither Gorn nor I are even close to feeling sleepy now. As the moon passes at it's highest point, we check the hole, and find that the pedestal is rising, rising even higher then it was before. It comes to rest right next to us, although there is nothing upon it - tonight. My suspicions seem confirmed - this was where the things must have come from. After pausing for only a couple of minutes, the platform lowers itself back down, coming to rest in it's usual position - about 20 feet down.
    That seems to be all for the night, so Gorn and I head back to the abin. As we approach, I realize that we have been setting no watches during the night. Those undead things could have been coming upon us while we were sleeping! I curse my own stupidity, and resolve to be more careful in the future. Tonight we have a watch.
    The next few days pass uneventfully. We are ready to head down the hole. Early one morning, we prepare our torches and rope and set out...

Nightsun 17th, 12881

Let me tale you a story, a cautionary tale. Take heed of my experiences, and learn what things dark and sinister lie under the ground.
    It all began after my companions at the time and I had found a secret underground dungeon. We made our preparations, and set out - seeking riches and glory in a dark hole in the ground.
    We were all standing around the hole, below which seventy feet of rope stretched downward toward the water-covered floor below. None seemed eager to be the first down.
    "Who's going to be the brave soul, then?" I asked.
    After much shuffling of feet and casting of glances about, Armand spoke up. "I'll go, as long as no one falls on me."
    With that he grabbed hold of the rope and nimbly shinnied down, quickly moving out of sight. Shortly we heard faint splashing sounds, and knew that he had made it safely down. I followed, and then Urden, all without incident. Gorn started to lower his bulky form last, and the rope creaked ominously, but held.
    Armand and I had been busy trying to light a torch (fine adventurers that we were, we were too poor to afford a lantern!). As our efforts with flint and steel finally paid off, we could dimly make out our surroundings.
    We were at the center of a large hallway running east-west, standing in about 6 inches of water. We could dimly make out large pillars, like the one beneath our hole, off in the distance (about 20 feet away, all we could see by our dim torches). The hallway we were standing in was about 30 feet across, and to the north was a narrow crack in the wall - about a foot and a half wide.
    "Well, which way should we go?" asked Gorn.
    Gorn and Armand both looked at me, pointedly ignoring Urden.
    "I don't like the idea of walking in this water," I said. "We can't see the floor beneath all this murk, and I don't like the idea of fighting while wading in half a foot of water. I say we go through the crack."
    In my mind, though, I was imagining greater treasure being hidden in small secret places, like that crack. Never mind the danger, for I was keen to find glory, and in a hurry.
    "I don't want to be the first through there" chimed Armand. "I came down the rope first."
    Looking at Gorn's Bastard Sword, and Urden's Battle Axe, I knew that neither of them could fight effectively in such a small space.
    "I guess I'll go first then," I sighed " since it was my idea to go this way."
    I crabbed sideways through the crack with my short sword held in front of me, brushing the cobwebs out of the way. The ground slowly sloped up, so that we were no longer walking in water. After about thirty feet, the crack ended.
    I came out into a large hallway, although not as large as the one we'd left. It was about 20 feet across. We could just dimly make out the shadows of the ceiling. The floor was made up of large stone blocks, each about 10 feet across, so that the the hall was only two blocks across.
    The hall seemed to dead end at our crack, which struck me as odd. Nevertheless, we resolutely marched onward, me in the center of the hall and Armand moving along the right hand wall.
    After a short distance, Armand whispered to us. "Look at this," he called. We went over, and in the center of the block in front of him was a small hole, only an inch or two across. Wanting to know what it was, I gingerly put my weight upon the stone block, ready to leap off at the slightest ... well anything.
    Nothing happened.
    I then decided to have a closer look at the hole in the center, to see what it was about. As I crept closer to the center of the slab, the rock shifted down a bit, and a loud 'Click' echoed throughout the hall, startling us all. I leapt off the stone, but needlessly, it turned out. Again, nothing had happened.
    I spent a while longer examining the hole, but could learn nothing more.
    "Let's quit f--ing around here," said Urden. "Let's go find some loot."
    Just up ahead was a break in the corridor. To either side a smaller hallway lead off, with smaller, reddish brickwork, highly polished. But the most memorable things were the large statues flanking the entrances to the hallways. Large winged women, with their wings swept up over them, seeming to hold up the roof, they faced us in the main corridor from either side.
    "Let's go down here," I said, pointing to the right hand branch. My mind was buzzing with the thought of what sort of riches would be down such a fantastic and rich-looking corridor.
    "Uh-uh," complained Urden. "Let's go this way", he said, pointing on down the main corridor. "It looks like there's bigger stuff down here."
    "This looks richer, though," I replied. "We should go down this way."
    I headed down the corridor, followed by Armand and Gorn. Urden took a few steps down the main hall, then grumbled and followed.
    Down about twenty or so feet we found another pair of statues, just like the first, but staring into a room beyond. As we approached, we heard a faint scrabbling sound in the room beyond.
    "Let's go quickly, before they can get prepared," I whispered, then put thought into action and moved into the room. More soft shuffling sounds came from beyond our torchlight, off in the room.
    Armand and I circled around the room, but found nothing. The sounds retreated off down another hallway.
    In the center of the room, though, were four of the large stone slabs set in the floor - the same size as out in the main hallway. These stones, however, had large circular areas raised up in the center. Looking at them closer, I found that two of them had the same divot-holes in the center - the two closet to the two exits from the room.
    Quickly leaping to the wrong conclusion, and without thinking more about it, I stepped onto the stone closest to the exit we had notnot come in.
    I had thought that the stones had something to do with the passages we could go through, and that they were de-activating some sort of trap.
    I was very mistaken.
    Before I knew what had happened, the stone had given way beneath me. More than just falling, it actively sped away, and the stone above me moved down towards me at a great rate.
    After falling a short while, I slammed into the ground. My ribs cracked, and my entire body felt bruised. I lay there stunned for a short while, then roused myself.
    "You stupid imbecile!" I berated myself. "What were you thinking!" A quick glance around confirmed that I had no way of returning the way I had come. "The first rule of scouting is to not act until you know as much as you can," I quoted to myself. "What would have my teachers thought of this foolhardy move? As smart as to attack an orc on site, without knowing if he has a hundred companions following him." My voice sounded hollow and empty in the large room I was now in. I would surely been whipped for such a stupid blunder while I was in the army. My eagerness for glory had gotten the best of me.
    "All right, then, what's done is done," I tried to convince myself. "Now let's try and get out of here."
    The room I was in was large, and I was in the center of a series of circular steps rising up. Heading south, hoping to get back to the large entrance hallway, I counted twenty steps until I came to the wall, which was part of a large arc. There was a hallway heading south out of the room.
    Remembering my earlier mistake, and determined to know my surroundings before committing myself, I circled the room. I discovered one other exit, to the northeast, which quickly turned to a natural stone cavern. Not wanting to venture from the dungeon proper into a cave system, I returned to the southern hallway.
    This hallway was about ten feet across. After about 30 feet or so, it opened up into a much larger passage. An odd sound drew me forward. As I approached the source of the sound, I discovered a large chasm cutting across the passage, at the bottom of which was a river of mud, flowing quickly along.
    Such an amazing sight didn't distract me much, intent as I was to get out of that place. Across the mud-river was a sturdy rope-bridge, which I began to cross. Part way across, the flickering light of my torch revealed the shape of a skeleton standing at the far end of the bridge.
    I stopped immediately, but the thing made no move. While trying to decide what to do, I saw another skeleton running toward us on the far side. This one, though, had glowing red eyes. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to make a hasty retreat, hoping that the thing wouldn't follow me too far.
    Sadly for me, it did, as well as the other one that had been standing guard. I raced back through the smaller tunnel, into the circular room with the skeletons hot upon my heels. Heading straight for the other exit out (and glad that I had explored this room earlier), I gave a quick thought to my options. I didn't like the idea of running pell mell into something much worse than the situation I was in now.
    As soon as I entered the tunnel on the far side of the circular room, I decided to turn and try and make a stand rather then risk falling down a pit (or possibly something far worse). Only the glowing eyed-one was still close by, so I readied myself, trying to gauge how fearsome of an opponent it was.
    As its sharp claws scratched across my arm as I desperately tried to dodge away, I realized that this opponent was too much for me in my weakened state. I started to back away down the tunnel, praying that I might be saved.
    As I stepped backwards, I heard a sharp click and my heart nearly burst out of my chest as a large metal door came slamming down in front of me, cutting me off from the skeletons, as well as cutting off part of the skeleton I had been facing. Vindictively, I ground it into the dirt floor.
    Suddenly, in the silence, I become aware of the sounds of heavy breathing behind me in the darkness. Slowly, almost afraid to, I pivoted around to look at this area - one I had not laid eyes upon yet.
    I could see little but the natural rock walls sloping away from me, but could still hear the sounds of several deep breaths from on my left. Heading off to the right, I began to pass them, and began to hope that I might be able to pass by these things, when I began to see some bones scattered on the floor. Moving on I saw more bones. A lot more bones. Really big bones. Really big bones that had been snapped in half. Then I came to the end of the cavern - a blank wall that extended off to the left - right where the sounds were coming from.
    At this point I realized that whatever these things were, they must be asleep, so I decided to try and sneak out without waking them. Moving along the wall, the bones began to heap higher, making my way more difficult. As I crept ever-so-slowly along the wall, picking my way through the bones, I made out the next wall, and a pair of doors set in them. Unfortunately, there were large piles of bones stacked up against them.
    Looking at the doors more closely, though, I saw that they opened out, and that the furthest door (the one closest to the sleeping things) had the least bones stacked in front of it.
    Making my way towards that one, my foot slipped on a bone, and the whole pile shifted with a clatter. Suddenly the loud breathing noises all started to breathe in unison. I didn't much care for that, so I raced quickly towards the door, trying to push it open. As I did so I saw a most terrifying sight.
    It looked like a dragon from the tales, except that instead of one head it had seven. Not that they were small heads, mind you. Each was the size of a wagon, easily capable of swallowing me whole. With a surge of desperation and panic I pounded my shoulder into the door, and it swung open, releasing me from the deadly den.
    Behind me the creature hissed and roared. It snaked its head through the opening, but I made quick my escape, for its body was far too large to pass through the double doors.
    Looking around, I found myself in a large natural cavern with a floor made of sand, much like a beach. Seeing nothing immediately threatening, I slumped against the wall to catch my breath and tend to the scratches from the skeleton with the glowing eyes.
    After a few minutes, I roused myself.
    "The torches will only last for so long," I chided myself.
    Moving off along the right hand wall, I could soon hear the sound of running water off in the open darkness to my left. Leaving that for the time being, I decided to explore the extent of this cavern that I had found myself in.
    After a few minutes of slogging along the sandy floor, the rough-hewn rock wall on my right gave out. Ahead of me I could see the smooth shape of a fitted stone wall. Excitedly I hurried forward, for the stones were the same large stones that I had seen just past the entrance of this damnable place. There even appeared to be a passage through the wall off to my left.
    As I drew closer, my heart sank, for the large passage was barred with a sturdy steel portculis. Behind it, in the dim flickerings of my torch, I could dimly make out another one.
    Continuing along the wall, I came to the end of it after only another minute. I then saw the rough hewn natural stone walls again ahead of me.
    After a few more minutes along this wall, which gently sloped away from me, I came to a 10 foot wide rectangular hole cut through the rock. Just inside this passage both the floor and walls were made of small, reddish bricks - something new. About 10 feet down this passage were a pair of huge metal doors.
    They were about 12 feet high, smooth except for a number of small rivets decorating them - and a pair of decorative gargoyle heads sprouting out from the door about 9 feet up. There were no handles of any kind. Looking a bit more closely I could see that the doors opened toward me, and an exploratory shove confirmed it.
    Leaving the doors for the moment, I continued my exploration of large cavern with the sand floor. Continuing along the right hand wall, I soon came back to the two doors leading into the multi-headed dragon's lair. I could still hear it hissing with displeasure at my escape.
    Next I decided to find the source of water sounds that I had heard earlier. It didn't take long, and soon I was standing in front of a well of burbling water out in the middle of the room.
    The well was made of fitted stone, and was circular in shape. The stone glistened somewhat - in my flickering torchlight it sparkled and danced. Poking at the liquid inside, I could feel cool water.
    Cupping a small amount in my hand, I tested a small amount. It tasted as cool, refreshing water, so I drank enough to assauge my thirst.
    Imagine my surprise - but pleasant surprise - when I found that my wounds were miraculously closing of their own accord. The scratches from the skeleton vanished, and the aches and sprains in my legs lessened. Eagerly, I drank more of the water, until I felt fully fit again.
    "This could come in handy," I murmured to myself. I quickly dumped out the contents of my waterskin, replacing its contents with the water from the well. My spirits uplifted, I returned to the two metal doors in hopes of getting through them.
    My hopes were as quickly dashed as a wave is dashed upon the rocks. I pushed, pulled, and pried, but could not get any leverage upon the large, heavy metal doors. I tried to push one hard, hoping it would recoil enough to give me some leverage, but to no avail.
    Dejected, walked back to the two portculli, in the slim hope that I could find a loose or corroded bar to pry open. I yanked on them all, but they were all sturdy.
    Mindful of my limited number of torches, I next decided to quickly explore the entire interior of the cavern. After a bit of back and forth traveling, the only thing of note I had stumbled across was a deep, 10 foot wide funnel-shaped depression in the sand. It looked suspiciously like a burrow of some sort, so I carefully kept my distance.
    "What are you going to do now, Therod?" I posed to myself, wracking my brain. "Going back to that many-headed dragon is an option, I suppose, but only when I'm sure I want to commit suicide. I suppose it would beat starving to death."
    I grinned humorlessly to myself.
    After a few minutes of thought, I came up with a plan. The metal doors seemed my best bet, but I couldn't open them. Sooooo.... I would have to get something else to open them for me. My plan was thus:
    Stick some lit torches in the sand, one by the well, and one by the entrance to the doors. Rap on the door loudly with the hilt of my shortsword, then go and hide in the deep shadows of the cavern. With my bow ready, of course. Hopefully anything that came through the door would see the other torch, and head towards it, leaving me free to avoid it and head through the door, hopefully picking up my torch on the way out. Even if it didn't work perfectly, I would still be able to shoot at whatever came through easily and from a distance.
    I put plan to action, and retreated into the shadows to wait. I was worried about the time though, especially after a bit of time had passed with no response. I was burning two of my precious torches, and was not getting any closer to the surface.
    I decided to try and hurry things along, and so went and rapped loudly on the doors again, and then retreated quickly into the shadows. Still nothing, and my torches were burning down. Deciding that it might take a while for something to come, I decided to conserve my torches, and so collected my torches, and retreated to the far side of the depression - putting it between myself and the doors. Still I waited and nothing was coming.
    I decided that there must not be anything nearby on the other side of the door, or at least nothing that was going to come and open the doors.
    So, I decided to go and have another look at them. I was exploring the walls near the doors, looking for anything that help me, when I heard the spine-wrenching sound of metal grating on metal. Turning quickly, I soon heard it again, coming from the other side of the door. The doors weren't moving yet, but the sounds continued.
    I quickly planted my torch in the sand near the entrance to the cavern, but decided I wouldn't have enough time to go and plant the decoy torch, so I contented myself with hiding in the dark.
    Soon one of the doors began to open, as if the being behind finally figured how to open it. Then I saw a hand reach out around the door. It wasn't any sort of normal hand, though, not this. Six inch long, gleaming metal claws tipped the fingers of an unnatural, dessicated-looking hand. First one hand, then a second. Then a third. I felt a chill as I realized that there must be more then one of these unnatural creatures.
    Finally the door open enough to admit the creatures' bodies. Their revolting bodies were as disturbing as their hands. Misshapen, twisted bodies, with hands and legs of different lengths. First one of the hideous creatures passed through the doors, then a second. I held my breath, but no more came.
    They moved with a somewhat awkward gait, but did not move slowly. Their mismatched eyes peered about in the gloom surrounding them. They reminded me of guard dogs, for some reason. Taking careful aim with my bow, I let loose an arrow at the nearest, only to have my bowstring snap as I pulled back my bow.
    At the sound, both of the creatures perked up, looking in my general direction. Determined to be somewhere else, I moved at a right angle to them as I strung up my bow.
    Taking aim again, I let loose, although my shaking must have disturbed my aim, for the arrow clattered against the far stone wall. Luckily, the sound drew their attention, so they were both facing away from me.
    One of the creatures moved off, exploring the sound my arrow had made, while the other stood guard by the torch. Quickly loosing a couple of arrows at the one remaining in the lit area, I finally saw one strike home, causing the creature to stagger slightly.
    Now they were both definitely looking in my direction, although I was still moving after loosing my arrows. They both started to move in my general direction, though, as I loosed another arrow at the thing I had already wounded.
    I was gratified to see it strike it square between the eyes, snapping its head back. The thing tumbled to the ground, but the other paid no mind, now moving very, very quickly towards me. I quickly put my bow away, and had just drawn my sword when the thing was upon me. I could hardly see a thing around me in the dark, but could hear the air being sliced by its sharp claws. Trying to fend the ghastly thing off, I moved off towards the torch, so I could at least see what I was fighting.
    The foul thing had no trouble fighting in the dark however, for its razor sharp claws struck home, rending through my armor, slicing my flesh. All my attempts to block its strikes were in vain.
    I made my bloody way to the torch, and snatched it up, still trying to fend off the creature.
    Now up close to the disgusting thing, I could see that it appeared to be sewn to together, with stitching joining the various mismatched pieces of it.
    I didn't stop to gawk at it for long, though. Waving my torch at it to keep it away, I struck at it with my sword, but the creature was too far away.
    Around and around we danced the dance of death, me trying to keep it away with the torch while trying to lay my sword upon it. I was finally rewarded when I laid open its belly with my sword. Distracted by my success, I almost didn't see the thing's right hand arcing in towards me.
    I desperately tried to block it with my torch, and succeeded. The things sharp claws sliced through my light, though, dropping it to lie sparking fitfully on the brick floor.
    Thus distracted, my sword flew from my grip, flying off behind the creature in the cavern. Twisting desperately to avoid its sharp claws, I quickly drew my spare sword, glad that I had bought it in Wereskalot before coming to this dark hole.
    Fencing with it for a while more, I saw that the thing's blood was a most disturbing shade of blue, and that instead of proper innards, the thing had strange tubes running around inside of it. The thing's blood continued to pump out onto the floor, but it took no notice.
    I scored a few more minor wounds upon the creature, but its slashing attacks were beginning to tell upon me. I retreated back towards the door, and still fending it off, pulled it shut with my free hand.
    Once on the other side, I unstoppered my water skin to take a drink of the healing waters. Instead of water, though, coarse sand filtered into my mouth. Choking it out, I forlornly realized that this be some part of its magic - and where a lot of the sand in that room had come from. So much for that plan.
    I then decided to try and finish the creature. It must be getting weak, with all of the blue-blood stuff that it had lost. I pushed open the door a bit, and tried to stab at it but missed. The creature, however, darted a hand in through the crack and slashed me along the side of the face.
    Fighting the dizziness that threatened to overcome me, I quickly pulled the door shut. Panting in the dark, I could feel the blood slowly oozing from my wounds.
    As the roaring in my ears slowly subsided, I became aware of a faint scrabbling or chittering-like sound behind me. Feeling a sense of deja-vu (hadn't I just done this with the skeletons and that multi-headed dragon like thing?), I slowly turned around. Nothing was there but pitch blackness.
    So I set out trying to light a torch with flint and steel, hearing the sharp metallic sounds echoing off the walls around me. Behind me the creature, still trapped on the other side of the door as I had been, grated its claws against the door in an agonizing squeal.
    Finally my torch lit, its welcome light showing me my surroundings. I stood in a short hallway, leading to a pair of ruined wooden doors framing the entrance into a larger room beyond. The chittering sounds came from the room beyond.
    Determined not to let whatever it was making those sounds come upon my unawares, and emboldened by the thing's unwillingness to seek me out in the dark while I was trying to light my torch, I set out into the room, short sword in hand.
    The room was not overly large, but was comfortable and high-ceilinged. I guessed it to be around 40 feet to each side, with the ceiling about 20 feet up. There were no furnishings save a large table set in the center of the room. In the opposite corner to the one I entered was a door leading out, and a small (about 2 feet across) tunnel.
    From the door came a most ferocious smell. "Phew," I gasped, "I wonder what died down here." Suddenly the phrase didn't sound so funny to my ears, after I realized that it would likely be me dying down here.
    Trying to get a little rest, and to think of a plan, I gathered some of the ruined remains of the doors, and started a small fire. I then snuffed out my torch, conserving it against future need. Mindful of the creature on the other side of the door, and wary that its long claws might gain purchase on the door, I set to blocking the door, only to find that there was a place for a bar to be set. Finding a large piece of wood from the ruined door, I barred the door, and then rapped quietly on the door. Immediately came the sounds of the creature on the other side. I relaxed, content that the creature was not making use of the healing spring in the center of the room.
    Sitting down beside my small fire, I tended to my wounds and took stock of the situation. I now had only one weapon, having lost one in the previous room. I had food enough for a while, but now had no water. I also had only four torches left, and was seriously wounded. If I could only make it back to the healing spring, my chances would be much better, but that thing was still there, thwarting that plan.
    Before I went back, however, I decided to explore my current surroundings a little more carefully. That stench was still coming from the unused door, so (breathing through my mouth) I went down to find the source.
    I found a large corpse, vaguely humanoid, but quite decayed. It was lying on its front, and the back had been gnawed upon. Maggots crawled around on and inside of the thing, although heavens knows where they came from. Poking around in its belt pouch, I found a pair of large gloves and a small bag of curious spiked things, rather shaped like jacks. Caltrops they are called, though I didn't know that at the time. There were also a couple of iron spikes, and a small bag of some sort of tools, although they seemed to small and delicate to be of any real use.
    Finding little of use there, I returned to my fire, and my plan. First, I wrestled the table around, and turned it on its edge, so that it was blocking off the entrance leading to the metal doors. I then piled up more of the scrap wood from the ruined door, creating an obstacle course for the creature. To the top of the barricade/table I placed a long piece of wood, serving as a ramp.
    I then unbarred the metal door, and pushed it open a crack - just enough for the creature to get a hold of and eventually open the door. I then made my way as quickly as I could over the scattered wood fragments and up my ramp, kicking it off after using it.
    I then readied my bow, nocking an arrow and training it upon the door where the creature would come through. And come through it did. As it peered around the door, I let fly with my arrow, which struck the creature squarely in the chest. It slumped down without another sound, finally still. Thank goodness!
    I happily returned to the sand-filled room and retrieved my lost short sword. I then returned to the sparkling well in the center of the room, and drank from the soothing water. Some of wounds closed, but not all of them, so I drank again, filling my belly with the cool liquid. This time nothing happened. Not sure what had changed, but not wanted to push my luck further, I headed out. At least now I could go through the doors.
    I passed through the room with my cold campfire, and went past the decayed corpse in the middle of the hallway.
    Ten or twenty feet beyond the corpse the corridor branched. To my right a set of stairs descended. Opposite this was a tightly bound door. Ahead of me the corridor continued, but became a set or stairs rising up.
    Not far past the branch, I noticed some sort of strange device set into the ceiling. It looked like some sort of metal grooves running along the center of the hallway.
    After examining the door, I found that I could not open it at all.
    "Well, let's see," I said to myself. "Do I want to go up or down?" I chuckled softly to myself. "Up it is, then!"
    Setting on up the stairs, I soon came to an odd sight. I could see that the stairway made a right turn, but could just barely make this out. Strung all about the turn were pieces of old, brittle looking hemp twine. Peering around the corner I could see a large cylinder. A cylinder of death, that is!
    Four feet thick, and filling the entire corridor, it was studded with nasty looking spikes all around it edge.
    I quickly and easily came to the conclusion that I would not want to get hit by the thing. I figured that the grooves in the ceiling must be how it slid down, and that the twine was the means to set it off. The twine was thickly packed, so I could not move past it without jiggling the mass.
    Yet another twisted puzzle, created by whatever deviants had made this place. I resolved to simply set off the trap from a safe distance. No thief am I!
    I moved down the corridor to a safe distance, and unlimbered my bow, and tried to shoot out a string. After a couple of tries, I finally parted one, but nothing happened.
    I sighed wearily. It must be only some of the twine that set off the trap.
    Then inspiration stuck! I went back and found a small piece of the wood from the ruined door, back where I made my campfire. I carefully wedged the wood in between some of the twine, but touching several of the strands. The piece hung out past the lip of the stair edge by several inches.
    I then lit the end of the board, and retreated to junction and waited.
    After a couple of minutes, the flames reached the tinder-dry twine, and I could hear the whooshing of flame, and the snap-snapping of twine parting. Then came the sound of mechanical things working, and the grind of metal.
    I could hear the large cylinder as it crashed into the wall at the corner. What a monster! Fearing the traps age, as well as the massive weight of the cylinder, I stepped a short ways down the stairs, to be better out of the way.
    As I had suspected, the cylinder's weight was too much for its supporting chain, which snapped when it reached the end of the groove set in the ceiling. The cylinder rolled for a ways down the corridor, further mangling the corpse down there, and making a tremendous racket. That trap was now well and truly disarmed!
    I moved on up the stairs, fearing what might have been drawn by that racket.
    Just past where the cylinder must have been, I found a metal door. It seemed quite sturdy, and had spikes holding it in place. The spikes were not merely wedged in, though. Instead, they were more like a bolted door, locking the door. There were two of the bolts, holding it securely in place.
    While examining the door, I heard a low, load moaning behind me, coming from down the corridor. Something must have been attracted by the noise, and was coming up the stairs! Fearing something like the thing we had faced (the one that had tried to feast upon Armand), I resolved to open the door and quickly escape.
    I used one of the spikes I had found on the corpse it to pound out the upper bolt, hammering upon it with the pommel of my short sword. When it popped out, I noticed the door bulged out quite a bit, as if some great weight were pushing upon it. The moaning was getting louder behind me, though.
    So, I stepped to the side of the door, and continued working on the door, this time working out the lower bolt. I almost had the the thing worked out. Turning, I could see some ghastly looking undead corpse shambling up the stairs toward me.
    Staying well clear of the door, I waited until the thing was about 20 feet away from me, then popped the final bolt free. The door sprung open like a shot, and a mass of stone came rushing out, catching the undead thing full force in the front. It was smeared onto the floor.
    Looking past the door, I could see that the stairs continued on immediately on the other side, and that the stones must have been piled up on the stairs, waiting for some fool-hardy adventurer to open the door. Fortunately I wasn't quite that fool-hardy - and had been lucky.
    I had managed to use one trap to kill a potentially lethal enemy, but I wasn't out of the crypt yet. I continued up the stairs, my heart rising with each step. I was getting closer to the surface, at any rate!
    At the top of the stairs, though, the passage just ended. It was rather odd, the stairs continued up, but the ceiling stopped rising with it. After some examination, I found a concealed lever off to the side of the passage.
    After pulling the level, the "ceiling" at the end of the stairs slid back, revealing a brightly lit room. The room was long and narrow, with two odd torches set high on the wall, flanking the stone slab that had just slid back. The torches (made of metal upon closer examination), burned with an odd blue light.
    The room had an large entrance opposite the stone slab by which I had just entered. While I was exploring, the stone slab slid back out, closing off the way I had come. After some experimentation, I found that pulling on one of the metal torches (the right-hand one), caused the stone slab recede again.
    Of more concern was the fact that this room was covered with large round cylindrical stones - with small divots in the center. These were very similar to the one that had sent me plummeting down into depths of this accursed place.
    Being much more cautious this time, I went and retrieved some of the stones that had turned the zombie into paste, and used their weight to set off whatever this triggered.
    Fortunate for me! When two of the weighty stones had been placed upon one of the platforms, they suddenly shot up into the air, grinding against the ceiling. Huge stone pillars now filled the room, and the stones had been shattered to bits. I would surely have been crushed had I stepped onto it myself.
    Avoiding the centers of the stones, I made my way into the next room.
    The next room was very large, perhaps sixty or seventy feet to a side. There seemed to be some sort of well or fountain in the center, although I couldn't tell for certain, because of another feature of the room.
    Cutting off the quarter of the room I had just entered was a curtain of iron bars, firmly set into the floor and ceiling of the room. I pulled and pulled on all of the bars, but could not find any loose ones.
    Looking more closely at the object in the center of the room, I could dimly make out a lever standing in the middle of whatever it was. Pulling out some spare twine I had lying in the bottom of my pack, I fashioned a rough lasso.
    It took many tries, but I wasn't really going anywhere else. Eventually I hooked the end of my twine about the lever, and gently pulled it. When I did so, I heard a rattling sound above me. At the same time, a pair of floor sconces on the far side of the room sprang to life with life.
    I turned around to see a large, heavy portcullus drop down behind me, cutting off any escape. Not that I particularly needed to escape back that way, I thought.
    However, I changed my mind when I noticed the oily substance rising out of the fountain in the center of the room. It slowly rose up, and spilled over the edge of the fountain. Eventually the level in the room would raise to the point where it would be ignited by the sconces on the far side of the room, burning me alive.
    Having no other recourse, I began to search for some other way out of the room, knocking on the two walls where something could be concealed, searching for some hidden passage out of here.
    My desperation was rewarded, for on the right-hand side of the room was indeed a small secret passage. Unfortunately, it was small, and not a passage, but a room, only about five feet square. In the center, amidst a few bodies, was another lever.
    Cautious of pulling another lever, especially one surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies, but needing to do something to avoid otherwise certain death, I pulled out my bow. Leaving it unstrung, I looped the bowstring around the lever, then used the bow to pull the lever while I stood safely outside.
    When the lever was pulled, spikes silently and deadly sprang forth from the walls, sure to impale anyone standing in the room. Fortunately for me, the lever also caused a section of the floor in the large room to sink down. The oil began to pool in this new recess, then soon caught fire, filling a large part of the room with a wall of flame.
    Looking through the bodies of the unfortunate adventurers who preceded me, I found a scattering of items. There was a servicable suit of chain mail, a welcome sight, since my leather armor had been torn up in the fight with that misshapen thing. Most things had decayed away, but I found a short sword that seemed oddly light, although the grip had rotted away. I also found a few rings, two of them tarnished, but the other two in perfect shape. Also among the bodies was a small pendant, made of some sort of opalescent white stone into the shape of a tear drop. There were also a few gems and a scattering of coins. And finally, and a very welcome sight, was a crowbar. I humble tool, but it could very well have been the most useful thing I found in that room.
    Humbly thanking the departed spirits of the corpses in front of me, I gave them the best burial I could in this place, arranging their bodies neatly, and covering them with my blanket. I said a few words on their behalf, and prayed that their spirits would not haunt me for using their belongings.
    I then spent a couple of minutes crudely wrapping the hilt of the new short sword with spare scraps from my shredded leather armor, trying to at least make it usable.
    I then took the crowbar and began prying at the bars that were fencing me in. With the added leverage of the bar, I was finally able to work loose one of the bars, moving it enough that I could slip through.
    The room, having a huge wall of fire in its center, was now quite well lit. There were two staircases leading from this room, one opposite that way I had come in, flanked by the two sconces, and the other in the center of the left-hand wall. Both of the staircases led upward.
    Feeling better about the staircase without the ostentatious entrance, I decided to take the left-hand exit. Moving up, peering about in the flickering light of my torch, I noticed that one of the shadows upon the wall did not move as the others did.
    It crept past me, moving down the stairs. Fearful of leaving such a thing at my back, I followed it down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, it suddenly rushed along the floor at me, then detached and become a solid, three-dimensional shadow! Its tendrils whipped around at me, narrowly missing.
    Startled, I swung my sword at it, and struck home. Gratifyingly, bits of the shadow creature spun away, and it recoiled. Moving past it, and further down the stairs, I re-entered the room with the wall of fire, hoping that the shadow creature would fear such a bright light.
    My hopes were dashed when the creature pursued me into the well-lit room. Waving my torch at it, trying to ward it away, I struck at the creature.
    I scored another hit upon the creature, and then it struck me. As it did so, I could feel its chill touch draining me, leaving me weakened. I could feel the weight of the chain mail I was wearing, pulling me down.
    Desperate, I lashed out at it again. Let this be a lesson to you. If you act in desperation, your situation may well become even more desperate. The crude leather wrappings of my sword hilt came undone, and the sword went flying from my hand. The creature quickly moved its body over the weapon, so I drew one of my spares.
    I struck at the creature, and struck home, but my weapon merely passed through the creature's body, not having the same effect as before. The other sword must have been magical, and now it was lost.
    Well, I still had the torch in my other hand, so I struck out at the creature with that, hoping that the fire would have more effect. Fortunately it did, as bits of the creature melted away. The creature retreated a bit, and I was able to retrieve my magic sword.
    The unwrapped hilt bit cruelly into my hand, making it difficult to swing the weapon, but I had no choice. The creature had hit me several more times, and I was now having trouble standing under the weight of the chain I had donned.
    Finally I maneuvered so that the shadow was between myself and the fire wall. I then swung wildly, driving the creature back into the wall of flame. The creature writhed and then vanished.
    Drained, I let myself collapse under the weight of my armor. Then I pulled myself over through the bars of the room, and into the small secret room, taking care not to disturb the dead or the lever. I took off the chain I had been wearing and tightly pulled the door closed behind me.
    I had just managed to do this, when a final wave of dizziness overcame me, and I fell into a deep sleep.