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The Keep Beneath the Dusky Star
From that silent place fear flows in unseen waves, like white fog. The shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. Through it's frowning walls and dark window openings there's a lantern of the spirit which none see by but those who bear it.
Centuries ago, when Thales Keep was still young, the lord Hoxunir Thale found himself awake in the middle of the night. Dreams of a golden chamber deep inside the mountain haunted his waking memory. He dressed himself and walked down the corridors of his keep, his lamp flickering in the draft. He found his way to the dungeon and entered. The guards and prisoners slept and he walked by them like a shade, disturbing no one. He descended into the ancient catacombs under the keep. He walked that ancient dark maze like he had lived there his entire life.
Deep inside the belly of the mountain he found a forest of gold, wrapped in dusk and shadows. Beside a brook of molten gold was a giant willow tree, drooping with thousands of gold leaves sparkling. And behold, from within came voices; some singing in high pitched tones, some screaming shrilly, some in alien languages and some in a deep rumble. But all spoke as one.
Hoxunir Thale was amazed and terrified as he listened to the voice. It asked him if he could remove the binding stones around the tree. It promised him life eternal for him and his descendants. Hoxunir Thale was no fool and made the voice swear an oath not to harm him or any other. The voice swore not to harm any living creature. Satisfied Hoxunir did what he was asked.
The Lord never forgot that night deep inside the cold mountain. On several occasions he tried to look for the golden forest. As the years went by and the signs of age appeared he convinced himself that it had been a dream. His son however, did not forget the words of his father. Whispered to him when he was young. You will live forever, as will your descendants.
When Hoxunir Thale died his son had his fathers corpse embalmed and laid to rest in the crypt. And thus it was that all descendants of the Thale line from there on were mummified and placed in a stone sarcophagus in vain hope for life eternal. Thales Keep slowly descended into darkness. The place was rumoured to be haunted by the dead. People said that years ago Hoxunir Thale had released an ancient spirit and made a bargain and thus cursed the keep. Strange things happened, perfectly sane people suddenly committed suicide. Guards became crazy, talking about ghosts from the past haunting the halls. Horrible accidents and mysterious disappearances. Over time the number of people living in Thales Keep dwindled, their communication with the outside world was slowly cut off. One day as servants secretly escaped the Keep, Lord Naberius Thale, number seven in line after Hoxunir Thale, leaped from the battlement to his death. That night the castellan of the Thales Keep withdrew into the dungeon and was never found again.
Herodom Thale son of Naberius took his fathers place as Lord. The Keep was now without clerks, knights, a marshal and all those needed to properly run a Keep. The few servants and old guards that remained did so because they knew no other life. The Keep became known as cursed and nobody went there anymore.
Herodom Thale was dying an ugly death and for all his skill and faith there was nothing the priest could do to prevent it. Nevertheless he busied himself by plumping the sweat-stained pillows that propped the old man up, and fussing like a fishwife with candle stubs and curtains to keep the shadows and the draughts at bay, and still the bedchamber was bitterly cold. Where there ought to have been a roaring fire the stacked logs and kindling remained unlit.
"Leave me", the old man whispered.
The old mans bones stood out against the sallow skin. There was no dignity in death for him. Death, he finally understood, was the great leveller. It had no respect for ancestry or nobility of blood, and his death was determined to be as degrading as it could be. A week ago he had lost control of the muscles in his face and his tongue had bloated so much so he could barely lisp an intelligible sentence. Most of the words he managed sounded like nothing more than drunken gibberish.
The shutters clattered against the stonework outside, splinters of wood tearing free. The wind howled through the eaves, moaning in high pitched chorus from the snarling mouths of the weather-beaten gargoyles that guarded the four corners of the high tower.
A jagged streak of lightning lit the room, throwing gnarled shadows across room. He was not alone. Thunder rumbled a heartbeat later.
Beyond green hills and lush forests lies a barren land, thinly populated and harsh, wild and pathless. Bushes and stunted trees grow in dense patches with wide barren spaces in between. The grass is scanty, coarse, and grey; and the leaves in the thickets are fading and falling,
Closer to the mountains among the hills the land becomes even more unfriendly. Here and there upon heights and ridges stands ancient walls of stone, and the ruins of towers with an ominous look. Men once dwelt here, but they left long ago for reasons lost to history. Even the hills have forgotten though a shadow still lies on the land.
Here in a deep valley, high in the mountains lie Thales Keep, believed to be haunted and cursed it is shunned by travelers. The valley is narrow, deeply cloven. Trees with old and twisted roots hang over the cliffs, and piled up behind into mounting slopes of pine-wood.
The Keep is nestled high in the mountains overlooking a pass that was once of strategic importance. The foundation of the keep is forged from the black rock of the mountain. The stone bridge from path to gate spans an abyss below. The keep is an impressive sight even though it has been abandoned and neglected for over half a century. Surrounding the Keep, is a rectilinear, tall stonewall. On each corner of the wall is a tower. The northern two towers are not free standing, but integrated into the cliff face.
The Keep can only be reached by the a switchback path that zigzags up a sheer cliff. At each turn of the path there is a stone figure, vaguely shaped like a man. Birds of prey make their homes in the mountain cliff, their shrill mournful cries can be heard at dusk as they circle above.
I have seen it, aye, indeed I have. Many years ago. There had been a mighty storm that had divided my herd of sheep during the night. All day I had been walking the mountains and dark forests in search of lost sheep. It was at the top of a mountain peak that I saw the Keep. I had no idea I was so close, the wind tore at my face and I was terrified. It felt like a hundred sleepless eyes were upon me. I turned slowly around with my herd and walked down the mountain path. I felt my neck tingle and prickle every step of the way, until I was out of sight. I know what you will say, that I did not see anything. And I did not, but I felt it. Aye lad, I felt it.
Elias - Sheperd
High up, crowning the barren summit of a black mountain whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest stands the old fortress called the Thales Keep. For centuries it's strong battlements have frowned down upon the wild and rugged countryside about, serving as a home and stronghold for a proud house whose line is older even than the moss-grown castle walls. These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of time, formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all of the land. Never has it's spacious halls resounded to the footsteps of the invader. What defeated that place in the end is lost to history, few maps mark it's place among the Thunder Mountains.
Jemarndan Khost - Historian
I have ventured into those dusky depths in search of gold and secrets. I wish not re-visit that place, even by tale, save for what killed my companion. We were looking for the entrance to the catacombs when it happened. Details stood out briefly, like black etchings on a background of blood. I saw my companion Barag, blinded by a great flap of scalp torn loose and hanging over his eyes, brace his straddling legs and drive his sword to the creature's guts. I distinctly heard him grunt as he struck, no blood marked his sword. The horror caught the blade with it's naked hands, and Barag tugged blindly and stupidly; then a pale arm hooked about his head, a knee was planted with cruel force in the middle of his back. His head was jerked back at a terrible angle, and something cracked above the noise of the fray, like the breaking of a thick branch. It looked towards me then, black teeth glittered. The face was inhuman; each line, each feature was stamped with evil--evil transcending the mere evil of humanity. The thing was not a human--it could not be; it was a growth of Life from the pits of blasphemous creation--a perversion from the void. I will say no more, begone with ye.
Goran(the Mad) - Retired Adventurer
Thales Keep with its clustered turrets and walls that could withstand an army, -- its labyrinths, its hidden stairs, its long mysterious passages -- passages that seem in many cases to lead to nothing, but of which no one can be too sure what they lead to. The front, with its impressive gateway and flanking towers would make quite a strategic location. Nobody claims it though, I wonder why.
The Adventurers have journeyed a desolate land and are now approaching the Thunder Mountains. They passed a village, crumbling and long since abandoned. Only a few houses where still somewhat erect, like rotting teeth slowly being devoured by slimy plants and time. The road, if road it can be called, have obviously been neglected for centuries. At places mudslides have torn away everything, leaving rotting trees and rocks. They sometimes spot cobbled stone hidden by dead branches and and yellowed grass proving that this was once a well travelled road in good condition.
Nestled between drooping trees they see a tiny hovel. The thatch roof is old and ill-maintained, the roof damp and rotting where it is not missing altogether. Creepers and sickly yellow moss clutch at the chinking between the log walls. The awning of planks that has once shaded the front of the structure are now drooped across much of the façade, one of its support poles is knocked down by some long past storm.
An old man glares at them from the door of the hovel, bearded and ragged, his face sunken and pale and revealing no emotion. "T'fwath", the stranger spits, "I wer'n yao, I'deh turn'n gao back fern the Gray Menner getchao." He turns and closes the door behind him. Crude emblems of superstition are painted on it.
When the Adventurers climb the last rugged hill they see the mountain range again, now suddenly close. The tall majestic peaks are crowned with snow, the slopes are rocky and steep and look nearly impossible to climb. Then they spot the zigzagging path leading up to the Keep. Even when it is distant, the Adventurers are still disheartened by the foreboding bulk of the Keep. Fog veils the mountain slopes in whirling patterns.
As the Adventurers start to ascend the mountain path birds of prey perch upon the heads of the vaguely man-like, stone figures. They eye the passing Adventurers with something akin to contempt, though the raptors take no action. This vigil becomes somewhat progressively disconcerting as the Adventurers make their way along the treacherous pass. At each stone statue, a bird or several birds, mark the adventurer’s progress with baleful eyes.
The Gate house looms over the bridge and has two vertical turrets that have a circular top with crenellations. A rusted portcullis is half way lowered from the first floor, which also has two murder holes and multiple arrow slits in the wall. On the muddy ground under the gate is a statues head, weather worn and broken. It has fallen down from the decaying stone of the battlement.
The cobble-stone courtyard is slowly reclaimed by the forces of nature. A curious species of black butterflies seem to be everywhere. Plants and mosses cover the stonework. Evergreen ivy bearing black berries creep up the walls on the inside of the battlements. One the ground, half-buried is a smooth stone plate bearing an inscription in fiery letters.
The doors to the keep are open and nearly rotted away. A nameless air of desolation fill the courtyard and the yawning gate opens in silent mockery of before anyone foolish enough to enter.
Rhythmic drips of water echo trough the great hall. This was once a place of life, now it is only a shell of it’s former self. Great banners hang tattered from the walls, junk and ruined items litter the floor which is covered by an ancient collection of beer, grease, fragments, bones, spittle, excrement of dogs and cats. Tables are toppled and rotten. Corroded wargear and armor are can be seen. Wild things have lived here before moving on. Animal bones and even worse can be seen in dark corners. The floor show signs of old camps as the stone floor is marred with black ash, and junk is left behind. It has apparently been quite some time since anybody entered here.
The ceiling is supported by a grand hammerbeam roof made of black timber. High up on the walls, under the roof narrow arched windows reveal little light. On the north facing wall towards the hall open up in a semi circular vault. Here are numerous intricate sculptures form a narrative of the many legends and fables. Chief among these are a bear and a wolf fighting, overlooked by an owl in flight. There is also a young boy, wielding a white spear bathed in the glow of a heart shaped, two-tailed thing.
Along the west wall is a majestic fireplace, large enough to walk and stand inside it. The fireplace has a curiously carved and elaborate overmantle in stone.
Whatever values that might once have been in the hall has been looted, decayed or fallen into disrepair. Dust is spread out like stars, floating in the thick air and glittering in the light of the Adventurers lamps.
In the middle of the hall lies a crumbling skeleton with a torn chainmail. All clothes and flesh have long since have rotted away. In the right hand it is a black ceramic tube that still contains oily fluid with a foul unidentifiable reek. In its other hand is a scepter of rusted iron, strange runes decorate its sides.
If the Adventurers touch the human remains or one of the artifacts they will feel their hearts pounding faster. Suddenly a man runs into the room screaming in a foreign language. He runs past the adventurers not even noticing them, eyes bulging, terror written in his face. When he reaches the the gate he simply vanishes in thin air, leaving no trace.
The Great Hall Encounters 1D6:
1 - A huge rat disappears chittering into some dark corner of the hall.
2 - One of the Adventurers bumps into a corroded wood table, it falls apart noisily as plates and mugs break upon the floor. The silence afterwards is eerie and the air seems even more stuffy.
3 - They notice a pair of sinister eyes watching them from above. A great black Owl is perched on a beam under the ceiling. The Owl takes to soundless flight further into the halls of the keep.
4 - The sound of the portcullis outside being lowered is heard. If investigated the gate is now firmly shut and no culprit is around.
5 - A muted hollow clang is heard echoing in chambers above the hall.
6 - If they investigate the walls they will discover that behind one of the tattered banners is a removable wooden panel. Behind it is revealed a cobweb-festooned place. In the panel are peek holes suggesting that this small chamber was used to spy on meetings and such taking place in the hall.
A long dank corridor leads from the Great Hall to a crossroad. From here silent rooms and lesser halls gloom in the half dark. The air is more dry and still, interrupted only by the occasional and sudden draft. The Adventurers will soon discover that there is a certain labyrinthine quality to the forgotten chambers, dark vestibules and halls of the first floor of the Black Keep. The passages are like the web of a spider, sometimes you are back where you started. Navigation without lamps or torches is impossible as the corridors have no windows.
The First Floor Rooms 1D10:
1 - The door to this room swings open easily, beyond the stone walls have been disguised by wood paneling, and the stone ceiling and floor are hidden by bright marble tiles. Several large chairs are arranged about the room along with some small reading tables. All the books in the shelves have been littered on the floor. Everything is covered in old dust.
2 - This hall stinks with the wet, pungent scent of mildew. Black mold grows in tangled veins across the walls and parts of the floor. Despite the smell, it looks like it might be safe to travel through. A path of stone clean of mold wends its way through the hallway. At the far end of the hall there is a small opening in the wall, it is pitch black on the other side. (On the other side is First Floor Room 10, the mold in this room is actually bioluminescent and poisonous to the touch, but when other light-sources like torches are in the room the mold does not glow.)
3 - This is an antiquated room hung with tapestry, very old tapestry of rude design, its colours faded into softness and harmony; between its folds here and there a panel of carved wood, rude too in design, with traces of half-worn gilding; the table is covered with strange instruments, parchments, chemical tubes, and curious machinery, all with a quaintness of form and dimness of material that speak of age. A heavy old velvet cover, thick with embroidery faded almost out of all colour, is on the table; on the wall above it, hangs something that looks like a very old outlandish mirror, the glass so dim and crusted that it scarcely reflected at all, on the floor is an old soft exotic carpet, worn into a vague blending of all colours.
4 - The Adventurers smell a briny like the sea as the door to this chamber is cracked open. Within the adventurers spy the source of the scent: a dark and still pool of brackish water within a low circular wall. The walls are covered from top to bottom with dusty curtains. They have now lost their original colour, but appear to have been dark purple. There is a small black hole in the wall. (Crawling trough this tunnel will lead the Adventurers to First Floor Room 8.)
5 - This small room is lined with benchlike seats on all the walls. The seats all have holes in their top, like a privy. Facing stones on the front of the benches prevent you from seeing how deep the holes go. It looks like a bathroom.
6 - There’s a hiss as this door is opened, there is a sour odor, like something rotten or fermented. Inside you see a small room lined with dusty shelves, crates, and barrels. It looks like this was once used this place as a larder, but it has been a long time since anyone came to retrieve food from it.
7 - The strong, sour-sweet scent of vinegar assaults the adventurers as they enter this room. Sundered casks and broken bottle glass line the walls of this room. Clearly this was someone’s wine cellar for a time. The shards of glass are somewhat dusty, and the spilled wine is nothing more than a sticky residue in some places. Only one small barrel remains unbroken amid the rubbish.
8 - It’s a grand room. The walls are wallpapered in a rotten green-beige, thick cobwebs fill the corners, and wisps of webbing hang from the ceiling and waver in a wind that can barely be felt. One corner of the ceiling has a particularly large clot of webbing within which a dogs bones are tangled. (If the Adventurers remove the cobweb they will discover a small tunnel leading too First Floor Room 4.)
9 - Tapestries decorate the walls of this room. Although they may once have been brilliant in hue, they now hang in graying tatters. Despite the damage of time and neglect, you can perceive once-grand images of great towers, magical beasts, and symbols of unknown meaning.
10 - The room looks like a holding cell of some sort, the floor is nothing but packed earth and the walls are covered in a madmans writings. At first inspection the scribbling seem to form words but after a closer look it becomes apparent that the words and symbols are meaningless. As to who did this, and to what purpose there is no clue. In a dark niche there is a small barred opening, a blue and eerie light shines on the other side. (The light is from the mold in First Floor Room 2, now glowing because the room is in darkness.)
The First Floor Encounters 1D6:
1 - A mad hollow laugh followed by footsteps is heard echoing trough the stone corridors. If investigated nothing is found.
2 - As the adventurers pass a large dusty mirror the last person to walk by see the shadow of an old man flash behind him.
3 - The adventurers chance upon a large ironbound chest, which is big enough for a man to fit in and bears a heavy iron lock. If the PC’s decide to open the chest they will see coins, silver and some even gold. Enough for a lifetime of wealth. If they stick their hands inside the chest and grab or touch the wealth they will find that they are holding human nails, thousands of them slowly deteriorating inside the chest.
4 - The Adventurers feel that they are being watched with disapproval, deepening to dislike and even enmity. The feeling steadily grow on them until they find themselves looking up suddenly, as if expecting a sudden blow. If they talk there is no echo, but their voices are muffled as by a heavy curtain surrounding them.
5 - The Adventurers hear a creeping and scraping sound ahead of them, a pale green light seem to illuminate the end of the corridor. As they approach it fades away just to show up again even further up ahead.
6 - A cold murmur, rising and falling is heard. The voice seems far away and immeasurably dreary, sometimes high in the air and thin, sometimes like a moan in the ground. A formless stream of sad, but horrible sounds. Heartless and miserable.
The First Floor Contents 1D6:
1 - A dusty bottle of wine.
2 - Rusty Tools.
3 - A necklace, cold to the touch.
4 - A small chest with coins of obsolete currency.
5 - A lamp fastened to a staff and a leather pouch filled with oil.
The floor is cold flagstone in the spacious kitchen rooms, the ceilings are very tall with shelving high up on the walls. The air is less stifling here and there are several windows and a door that seems to lead out to a garden. On the shelves are jars and pots shrouded by cobwebs that softens all sharp outlines. Dried bundles of weeds and herbs droops from the ceiling amongst rusty meat hooks and leather straps fastened to the roof beams.
Big timber worktables and large chopping blocks are placed along the stone walls. Glazed earthenware crocks, dull meat knives, mortar and pestles still stand arranged on the pockmarked tables. In the lower shelves are dusty long handled frying pans, corroded weighing scales, roasting forks, skimming spoons, rolling pins, and cheese graters. In the center of the room is a deep fire pit crowned with a huge cauldron.
There in a gloomy dark corner stand a nude female, a greasy mass of night-black hair set off the paleness of her shriveled body. The woman suddenly start to lope along in a disjointed, simian manner. As she comes into the light of the adventurers lamps the reason for her awkwardness can be plainly seen. She possesses a second pair of arms where legs should be, growing down from the waist, and ending in hands in lieu of feet, somewhat splayed, and long-fingered, with talon-like nails gripping the earth. The horrific creature stumbles towards the adventurers, in the blink of an eye, she flips and assumes a headstand position, reverses her joints and crawls up the wall and out one of the arched windows.
Going trough the outer door a herb garden is revealed, it is a pool of shadows, rotting and tangled with brown withered growths. Low spreading trees wave darkly. Sooty walls enclose the small patch of earth. A deep stone well leaves a gaping black hole encircled by a broken iron fence. From here, the sheer bulk of the Keep is oppressive as it looms over the adventurers. On high towers gargoyles gleam frostily, nestled on battlements.
There are no signs of the creature. But the adventurers feel a waiting menace brooding here, like a burning glare of unseen eyes. There is a subtle scent lingering in the air that make the short hairs on their necks instinctively bristle like hunting dogs bristle at the scent of an ancient enemy.
The large hall is cool and damp, the stone walls have supporting timber structure. On the floor is a web of mats of woven straw, moth eaten blankets, rushes and mattresses stuffed with straw and rotting furs. Debris like broken chamber pots, ruined coffers litter the hall. There are several fire pits in the middle of the room. Along both walls are beds, some no longer more than rotting heaps of wood, at the far end wall is a great fireplace.
The Adventurers notice fresh looking prints in the dust on the floor. Disturbingly, the prints seem to be of hands instead of feet. Closer inspection reveals the "hand-prints" seem to have claw-mark extensions. Silence reigns supreme, until a tiny beetle crawls from one of the chamber pots, and proceeds to scurry out of the room.
The Adventurers hear a low mumbling, rising and falling. Sometimes the voice chuckles or sounds heartbroken. Upon further inspection they find man seated on the floor on the far end of the room, behind a bed. The man does not look at the Adventurers, nor does he even acknowledge their presence. He just continues to turn the pages of a small leather bound book, reading sentences out loud. His face is that of a young man, but dead. Pale and slightly luminous.
He turns another page.
"I know that my forefathers rest in the crypt, in great coffins of stone. I overheard the blacksmith talk with some of the servants, about the curse, Thales Curse. My curse... I wonder what Ainen is doing now? I hope he thinks of me, I miss him with all my heart!"
His hand moves slowly towards his chest, his face looks heartbroken, but he continues to read.
"The smith said that the keep was built on unholy grounds. They were all whispering so it was hard to make out every word but they talked about the ancient people that lived here before us Thales built this keep. Apparently the savages worshipped a god that lives inside the mountain. They said there are catacombs under the dungeon, predating this keep. I will ask my father about this tomorrow."
The ghost mutters in muted whispers to himself and turns another page.
"I did not talk to my father today, but I met Ainen. He is back! I love him so."
The ghost smiles and wipes a single tear before going on.
"Ainen said there are stories about when my family built this keep. That my ancestors had to fight the savages while they were building. He said that this keep is built over their burial grounds. The very thought makes me shudder with dread. I have been having these strange dreams lately also. I see gold glittering in the dark and hear a queer but beautiful song...
...I tried to talk to my father yesterday, when I mentioned the catacombs he forbid me to pursue the subject. I was so mad at him so I asked him about our curse. I asked him what it is that Hoxunir did, why people say this place is cursed. Why people claim to have seen the dead wander these halls. I have never seen him so angry, he started screaming and beat me again and again...
...When will this frightening howling cease? I curse the day I was born in this cold dank place... I overheard father and mother argue. Now I know that the entrance to those catacombs is behind a hidden door in the crypt, and that the candles are somewhere in the Trophy Room. With one of those I can find my way. Tonight, I will go where my father forbids...."
After those last words the ghost will slowly vanish, the last thing the Adventurers hear is a distant sobbing. If the Adventurers attempt to speak to him while he is reading his long lost loves diary he will not take notice of them. The only thing that will make him aware of their presence is if they try to take the book. If they do, he will scream: "No, you will not have her dying words, they are for me." Then, he sounds the horn hanging at his side, when no guards come he will vanish with a sad sigh.
Thin streams of wan light, from cracks in the stone-work roof cause the shadows in this room to dance. Even more so than in other chambers of the Keep, layers of dust carpet every object. A particularly thick odor of rotting scents and musk permeates the chamber.
Along the walls of this large room, hang tokens of bygone years. A tapestry of sewn wolf pelts, dozens in all, decorates one wall. A monstrous boar’s head, huge yellowed tusks still jutting, soulless black eyes staring down at the adventurers, as if begging for salvation. Another wall sports a macabre looking brace of moss-covered elk-horns, entwined into a tapestry of sharp, gruesome edges.
Once plush, but now moth-riddled, divans and arm-chairs form a small circle in the center of this chamber around a low table. On the table is a yellowed parchment with these words scribbled: "...Ummas was wrong, the relic does not ward of spirits. It holds the power of release... I dare not go to her, all I have left to guide me is a single stub, and that will not burn for long in the dark catacombs. We deserve our eternal prison. ~Herodom." A chest in the norhtwest corner is unlocked, and holds a collection of oddly shaped knives, needles, and hooks.
In one corner of the room is a stuffed human without body or facial hair. He has a robust form with grey milky spotted skin pulled taut and stitched at the joints. The head is low, flat and elongated. The eyes and mouth are stitched shut. Rot grub and larvae of unknown parasites, wiggle and slither beneath the stitched skin.
The mouth wriggles as if to speak, only tiny white worms crawl forth and drop towards the floor.
If the Adventurers go over the uncovered walls of the room, inch by inch. They will, after much futile fumbling, locate a hidden spring, and the door of a sealed room swing open. It is little more than a cupboard, though a man can easily concealed himself in it, in time of need. Doubtless it has been built primarily for such a purpose. From the narrow gloom the moldiness of dead ages rushed upon the Adventurers.
An unnatural shadow seems to flicker within the small room. The shadow possesses an unnatural thick blackness. Like a pool of tar. Suddenly, it seems to swell upward from the floor and take on a third dimension before disappearing with a mournful sigh.
A dusty oil painting of a woman in the bloom of life with a sullen smiling mouth. She is attired in a old traditional dress and looks sad and beautiful at the same time. On a shelf beside the portrait, is a single candle stub. (This is the last candle of those mentioned by the ghost reading a diary in The Barracks and by Herodom Thale in the note.)
The great room is moist and a foul smell lingers here. Huge oaken bookshelves are placed in a geometric pattern resembling a miniature maze. Along the walls are small reading chambers barely visible in the dusky dark. The ceiling was once a very fine one, carved and gilded. The wood is now spotted with black moss patches dripping with a foul liquid, leaving rotted stains on the floor. The floor moans and squeaks as the adventurers move around. Many of the bookshelves were ravaged by fire long ago, but somehow the flames did not spread to consume the entire room. In the middle of the room is a statue of an unknown scholar, it's upper body broken off and lying at the feet. There is a small corroded bronze plaque with the inscription: "Knowledge is Power".
The adventurers suddenly hear the rising sound of books burning, distant but near. The light from their lamps grows dim and red. A whispering voice speaks with obvious strain:
"Darkness drank this place and it's memories long ago, leave before shackled and chained to it for eternity".
Immediately a rapid, monotonous muttering arise from every lonely chamber in the room. The temperature drops, and the Adventurers vision grows blurry, as if a thin layer of pus covers their eyes. A horrific apparition slowly stumbles towards them, The clanging of a flail joins the muted mutterings of their surroundings. A bleached hood covers its face trough which can be seen loathsome and fear-frozen eyes, luminous and blazing in the darkness. Every angle in its body is slightly askew, as though all his bones and joints had once been broken, and re-set in haste. He flickers in and out of existence as he approaches pulling the monstrous flail with both hands. The Adventurers feel as if a heavy burden has fallen on them, a weight and responsibility they they have never known before. Blood drains from their hands and feet, they grow numb, as if withering away.
The horror will not be destroyed easily. The Adventurers are at a disadvantage as his presence afflicts them with lessened senses, stamina and vision. If a weapon apparently hits or stabs the specter as it flickers the weapon will continue straight trough without doing damage. It moves awkwardly but surely and the flail is very much real. If one of the unfortunate Adventurers connect with its terrible gaze they will be mesmerised and unable to move until the spell is broken. If they survive and manage to destroy the apparition it will simply disappear, a deep sigh is heard as the flail slams on the floor.
The muttering ceases and the and the lamps of the Adventurers return to normal.
On the floor beyond the statue lies a skeleton. The brittle bones are scattered in a tangle of rags and deteriorating equipment. By it´s outreached hand lies a huge leather book, pockmarked and old.
The tome is an index listing every single weapon of Thales Keep. All weapon from the armory, every personal weapon favored by Thales lords over the centuries. When the Adventurers flip the dusty pages they will find a loose parchment of special interest hidden in between the frail pages.
Parchment in Weapon Index Book
I, Ummas Thale, fifth in line after Aduscian Thale, write these words as an attestation that our curse is now at an end. I have acquired an artifact that will break the curse within these walls. For generations our once proud keep has dwindled. The dead walk the halls at night and steal the life-force and sanity of the living. Thales Keep has become a name of dread and caravans avoid this region. No longer do people live in the valley below.
I, Ummas have ventured far and wide in search of answers. At the borders of distant Uxamon I heard tales of a relic in the possession of the Order of Izdreph. The White Knife of Um. A dying monk swore to me, Ummas, that this knife repels and drives away spirits of the dead from their vessels. After long dealings with the wine-skinned monks of the Order of Izdreph the knife was finally in my possession.
The blade seems to flow naturally from hilt to tip, being made entirely of a strange, silvery steel.
I have ordered that a statue of the Blindfolded Goddess shall be built in the garden, in her hand The White Knife of Um shall be. Thus the ghosts and daemons that haunt our ancestral home shall be driven away.
~Ummas Thale, Fifth in line, thirtyseventh year of Andalon~
The black double doors are slightly ajar, revealing a big outdoor garden dominated by a labyrinth of thorny bushes and withered growths. The garden is completely dead, encircled by naked stone walls, devoid of green, leaving only a sad, grey and muddy landscape. Stagnant pools are inhabited by fat disgusting toads with golden eyes. They are brown and warty with sickly yellow and milky patterns. Their low, throaty grunts fill the silence. The soil is dark and fecund and shadowy oaks stand like sentinels at the labyrinths edge. A cold mist hug the ground, wild scrubby heaths of scanty grasses and thorns. There are several dark openings in the outer wall of the revolting labyrinth.
In the dark thorny corridors the Adventurers see gray transparent shapes moving, hooded heads with blazing eyes turn in a rickety manner, as if searching for something. Sometimes they stop and wave, listening before continuing their eerie stumbling walk in between the dead walls.
Once inside the labyrinth the Adventurers will not see where they are going. They will have to slowly make their way towards the middle by retracing their steps when they meet a dead end. The dense thorny walls are impossible to penetrate. Noise will attract the specters. If they are close to one, their vision will blur and their hearts will pound faster. The Adventurers will probably conclude that they have very little chance of success against many of these creatures at once. So thus a horrid game of hunters and prey develops in the thorn labyrinth. If the Adventurers manage to be perfectly still and make no sound the hooded shades will be perfectly blind to their whereabouts.
In the middle of the labyrinth is a small opening with a marble pool, voiceless and crumbling. In the black water is a statue depicting a blindfolded woman with a silver dagger gleaming frostily. The weatherworn statue is covered in diseased moss and green slime from the stagnant water of the pool.
The Adventurers enter the dark, stagnant water filled with floating pale weeds to acquire the knife from the blindfolded statue. Immediately the disgusting toads start shrill cries of alarm. In the dark corners of the thorny labyrinth the specters begin to lope towards the middle. They flicker straight trough the thorny bushes dragging their menacing flails trough the thorn trees with loud snapping sounds. A wild chase begins as the Adventurers attempt to escape the Pale Garden with the White Knife of Um.
The wide stone stairway is sound and undamaged, the steps broad and shallow. The air is more dusty, at the top the Adventurers find an arched passage with a level floor leading into the dark.
A flurry of bats suddenly flaps through the doorway, their screeching barely audible as they careen past the Adventurers heads. They flap past them and into the rooms and halls beyond.
The great doors swing open into an empty wooden hall.
The Adventurers hear sounds of whispering and weeping, and the rustling of clothes, as of people moving in their sleep and about to wake.
To their left is the open door of a spacious dining-room, and in front the hall runs, ever narrowing, a long, dark passage that leads apparently to the top of the tower stairs. The broad uncarpeted staircase rise in a sweep before them, everywhere draped in shadows, except for a single spot about half-way up where light comes in through a crack in the turret roof and fall on a bright patch on the boards. The shaft of light sheds a faint radiance above and below it, lending to the objects within its reach a misty outline that is infinitely more suggestive and ghostly than complete darkness.
The doors slams behind them with a roar that echoes prodigiously through empty halls and passages. But, instantly, with the echoes, another sound makes itself heard;faint voices and sobbings flee away before them into the interior of Keep.
As the adventurers explore the upper floors, they feel something resent their intrusion, watching them with veiled eyes; whispers follow them; shadows flit noiselessly to right and left; something seems ever at their back, watching, waiting for an opportunity to do them injury. There is the inevitable sense that operations which went on when the room was empty had been temporarily suspended until they were well out of the way again. The whole dark interior of the old building seems to become a malignant presence that rise up, warning them to desist and mind their own business; every moment the strain on the nerves increased.
The Upper Floor Rooms 1D6:
1 - There is not a stick of furniture to be seen. Bare walls, ugly mantel-pieces and empty grates stares at the adventurers. There is no apparent source of light, no windows, curtains of tapestry drawn everywhere -- no lamp visible, no fire -- and yet a kind of strange light lingers, which makes everything quite clear.
2 - Out of a gloomy dining-room the Adventurers pass through large folding doors into a sort of library or smoking-room, wrapped equally in silence, darkness, and dust. The window is half blocked up by old armour and rusty weapons. The walls are covered by old dusty tapestries and large heavy chairs in red damask are positioned around a low beech table.
3 - The room, a large and lofty one, with an arched roof, has somewhat of a sombre character from being wainscoted and ceiled with polished black oak of a great age. There are mirrors and faded paintings on the walls, handsome but rotten furniture, and marble chimney-pieces, ; but these merely appeared as bright spots on the dark background of the Ash woodwork. The blackness of the walls and roof seemed absolutely to swallow up the rays of the adventurers lamps, like the mouth of a cavern. There is a vast antique hearth in the middle of the room.
4 - A small and square room with a rough table, on it several tallow candles. It smells of musty calf, for the books on the shelves are very old. A few novels and crumbling paper sheets is scattered on the heavy table. The wall is discoloured and very dark, a family crest above the small fireplace is tarnished and dull. In the back of the room, clumped against the wall, are several torn sacks, now long empty.
5 - This is a small storage room. Debris, old barrels, ruined boxes and rotted furniture of numerous sorts litter the room in no particular order. The dust-carpeted and debris-strewn wooden floor shows sign of not having been disturbed for a very long time. The smell of putrefaction hangs thick in the air.
6 - The scent of earthy decay fills this room. Smashed bookcases and their sundered contents litter the floor. Paper rots in mold-spotted heaps, and shattered wood grows white fungus. The walls are an ornate pattern of bricks and the floor is a patchwork of small rugs.
The Upper Floor Encounters 1D6:
1 - Shaded, grey skinned women walk towards the Adventurers. They are all nude, nodding and waving with soft movements, inviting the Adventurers to come closer. They whisper in perfect unison. "We are as frightened of the Keep's cavernous vastness as of its corridors' enclosure ... Join us, comfort us ... Keep us company ... for all time."
2 - As the Adventurers open a door an old wrinkled man, bearing a lighted candle in his hand looks up. His fingers tremble with palsy and shadows flickered behind him in the dim hallway. He speaks in a raspy and shaky voice. "I am the caretaker. I must find our lord, he has been gone for so long. I no longer recognize this place." His mouth and nose starts to bleed and a wet gurgling can be heard as he flickers out of existence. One of the Adventurers feel a cold invisible hand touching his/her neck.
3 - A young woman is coming towards the Adventurers in the narrow corridor. Walking with a languid grace trough the dark corridor, her beauty is like that of some opulent and dazzling lily. She walks past them and disappears in the gloom further down the corridor. They hear a fragile but lovely voice calling gently. "Ainen? Ainen? Where are you Ainen?" (The Adventurers may recognize her from the hidden portrait in the Trophy Room.)
4 - The room is narrow and lofty, on the floor is the ghost of a boy, his face burrowed in his pale and transparent hands. His body is shaking with silent sobs. Suspended in the air above him is another child, hanged from a ornate bell. The boy gasps and open his eyes languidly. After a moment he speaks. "No, I ain't ... any good ... any ... more." Then, from shame, he begins to weep, the tears furrowing down through the bloodstains on his face. "He was too ... too ... too heavy for me."
5 - The Adventurers hear a queer and faint sound whose cause and location baffle them. They identify it as a sort of scratching, such as would be made by the claws of an animal on solid woodwork. The sound is muffled and far off at times; then it seems to draw near, as if it were in the next room before silence once again reigns. If the next room is inspected the Adventurers see fresh hand-prints in the dust.
6 - The sound of a lute is accompanied by a distant voice is heard echoing trough the chambers and corridors of the upper floors. The melody is achingly sad and melancholic. The source of the maudlin song is impossible to find. After some time the music dies out.
The Adventurers see circles and symbols of chalk and silver powder on the floor, black candles tip the edge of the intricate patterns. Two wiry men with dark circles under their eyes and a haunted look to their face, are struggling with a rather large silver mirror with ornamental lions on the rim. It seems they are positioning it towards a large oaken door.
"Careful, you morons!", a third man wheezes before turning towards the Adventurers. The sinister man is tall, dark haired, braids with silver jewelry hang down like hands on his pale and naked chest. His sunken eyes are like burning coals, seeking each of the Adventurers eyes. He lifts a warning hand, his nails are long and glassy, almost like claws.
"I am Thenebra. You would be wise indeed to leave this place if you can. There is nothing here for you but weeping and gnashing of bones."
His yellowish teeth snap shut at the end of each sentence.
Thenebra is a rogue necromancer that has made his way into Thales Black Keep, drawn by dark legends. He is a master of his craft, a renegade and outcast from an unknown city and time. He is here to bind ghosts into specially prepared ceramic jars. It is something of a specialty of his, to enslave the undead, and he is quite thrilled by the magnitude of power at work here. He believes that he can unveil the secrets of this place. He has already bound one ghost, as is evident from a rune covered, black lacquered ceramic jar that lies on the floor. It is covered in frost, and a steady stream of arcane curses can be heard muttered from inside the jar.
Thenebra is raving mad, but he is also lonely and misses conversations with others than his two minions. He will talk to the Adventurers for some time while the two pale men set up the mirror, but not reveal any secrets. He comes across as mentally deranged and creepy, he speaks in metaphors if asked about Thales Keep.
"...She is to the dead like sap to flies. They are ensnared here, writhing and voicing hollow cries of despair, as her blood darkens, fusing with our world, hardening into a glassy puddle, they are doomed to an eternity in this murky prison... Her shepherds, the Maidens tend her flock, they feed her with life... Long ago a savage people called on her and locked her inside the mountain, I, Thenebra will unlock her door and take her as mine!"
After some time, Thenebra, obviously bored with the conversation, steps inside the pentagram and utter an incantation. Mystical blue flames suddenly surround him and he crosses his arms, a palm on each shoulder, and closes his eyes. His voice is low and steady as he whispers blasphemous words. Within seconds it is as if the walls themselves answer, eerie whispering and distant screaming growing ever closer.
Thenebra is using his necromantic sorcery to summon dormant ghosts of these halls, and every minute he does so another ghost will appear, heading for the PCs. The first ghosts are fairly weak, but slowly, as Thenebra continues his incantation their number will grow. Ghostly hands claws at the Adventurers. The only salvation is to break through the mystical flames somehow, and then kill Thenebra. The mystical flames are cold, and therefore, ironically, ordinary flames are the only things that will quench them.
If the Adventurers decide to leave the mad necromancer alone before he grows tired of them he will let them go and resume his insane task at hand.
A loud banging is heard from behind a wooden door. A muffled voice cries out and begs for help. The door is locked, when the Adventurers bash the door in they hear the voice sobbing. "Finally, it has been so long." A figure is crouched in a fetal position in a dark corner of the small room. The head looks feebly toward the Adventurers, still hidden in the darkness. "Thank you." It reaches a shadowed hand towards them.
When it enters the light of the Adventurers lamps they see a skeleton hand with taut, mummified skin. The shambling black corpse raises itself and starts to stumble towards them, the clothes nothing but faded tatters. The limbs are twisted by rigor mortis, flaky dust sprays from the skin as the joints creak. "Thank you, thank you." As the creature shambles closer the Adventurers see a pale, transparent and slightly luminous shape twisting within the corpse.
This sad creature was once a priest. He had been present at the deathbed of the last Lord of Thales Keep. After being dismissed by the dying man he had tried to leave, but spirits of the Keep had stalked him, threatened and cornered. In panic the priest had barricaded himself in the small storage room. There he had died by heart failure as ghosts had slammed on the door, howling and tormenting him. The priest does not know he is dead, nor does he remember what happened to him after he left Herodom Thale. He is struggling to animate his corpse.
If the Adventurers strike with their weapons when he approaches he will cry out in imagined pain and lose control over his former body. When he finds himself still erect and sees his withered corpse on the floor he will become quite insane and start gibbering. His pratter seems meaningless at first but if the Adventurers listen, it will start to make sense. If he is interrupted he will flicker out of existence and not return to haunt the Adventurers. (In a pouch hanging from his belt is the key that unlocks the Tower Room Door.)
"...Herodom spoke words of madness. Cursed, cursed stone ... Lurking fear and whispers in the darkness. Bah! Dying men, bursting with sin ... They will find the door locked, locked! Forests of gold within the dark womb of the mountain ... Life eternal promised. Life..."
The ghost whimpers and mumbles, looking confused. Not seeing the Adventurers.
"...I would not have come if not for my demanding gods. Thales black curse they call it. Aye. No one is immortal. Hubris it is. I had heard that the Thales believed that they would live forever ... No ... This place was cursed even before the Thales. The pagans worshipped the mountain in blood soaked rituals ... Dark, dark, dark times. But everybody knows Aduscian Thale made a pact with something. But the shepherds, the shepherds of the dead. Her minions, they take from the dead and feeds her ... She ... She is from beyond the frozen stars, a realm of eternal dusk ... Gold in shadows..."
Suddenly he looks up, eyes frozen in fear.
"No, no! They come for me. She devours us all!"
The priests fades in shadows and disappears. The corridor is eerily silent as if the entire structure is holding its breath.
A creaky miniature-staircase of crumbling stone leads to a door at what appears to be the highest point inside the Keep. The room beyond is strangely spherical, and quite unlike the other rooms of the Keep in general appearance. A dome is overhead in place of a ceiling, and the stone floor is carved and painted to resemble the night sky. It is deep blue and dotted with stars and planets of all sizes and shapes. In between are abstract astronomical lines that join the stars in constellations.
The peculiar curved walls are studded with what looks like globular stones each the size of a human head. Each stone, and there are dozens at various heights, are fitted into circular nooks. If any of these stones are removed, the PCs will notice openings into the sky. These were no doubt used by the Thale lords for examining and gazing upon particular areas of the night sky.
A large stone table, resembling a giant sun-dial, sits in the center of the room. On it, covered by the ever-present dust, are worm-eaten parchments and scrolls. On a small desk is a silver Dioptra and a golden Astrolabes used for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky. A cold wind blows trough the chamber, making the ceiling and walls creak and the equipment jingle and resonate, producing intermittent gleams.
There are notes scattered on stone table, the words seem to be that of a feverish mind, and are mere snippets. If brought together they will read as follows:
"I have divined that the stars are made of ice…is that why the nights are cold?"
"When will the Mother-of-Moons shed her light? When it is too late?"
"I have found the Dusk-Star! It can only be seen when the..."
"Will this splendid sight again greet our distant children’s eyes?"
"Men are but dreams of the gods."
"So vast it is! My mind cannot comprehend the firmament..."
"What is real? What is shadow?"
The rusty Orrery, composed of gears, models of planets and moons start do ring with the sound of a vibrating bell, louder and louder. If the Adventurers touch it it will start whirring, grinding, jingling, it begins to spin, at first slowly, then faster. The room becomes blurred. A lurid voice speaks. "The boundaries of the seen and the unseen are sometimes interchangeable."
A great blazing wheel appears, churning slowly backwards. The walls and floors dissolve in a seething, unfathomable gulf, and then...
...They find themselves on the great hill where Thales Keep has yet to be built. The hilltop is crowned with a circle of little naked gasping trees. Stretches of shiny white appears on the night sky as falling stars frequently mark a younger age. A number of shapes loom in the center, gathered around an immense bonfire.
No snow is falling, but great whirls and clouds of flakes, sweep up from the ground by the frantic winds streaming down the mountain slopes. The covered land is blue with the sheen of an unearthly satin, and there is no other hue save the black lowlands, which seems incredibly distant. One light gleams in the distance.
The bonfire burn with an indomitable red light, and the snow-flakes are made blood-color as they fly through the circumscribed territory of the flames.
The figures are vermin-gray, wholly devoid of hair, but marked with faint, etiolated rings like those of creatures that has lived in darkness. They are human but possess the heads and brow of anthropoid apes, semi-canine mouths and jaws, arms ending in twisted hands. They wear jet-black robes with golden swirling patterns. Their eyes shine with an animalistic glow, reflecting the light of the roaring bonfire. No one sees the Adventurers. One of them looks up toward the stars and speaks with a high pitched and screeching voice. The language is alien, but somehow, they understand his words.
"I call upon the daughter of the dusk star, join us, descend from the great well of stars"
His eyes are electrically brilliant with strange knowledge, and yet somehow also vaguely furtive, as if there dwells behind them a morbid and macabre fear.
In the middle of the fire a dark and growing orb appears; as the flames are touched with unclean webs of shadow where shadow should not have been. The atavistic gray-skinned men start to drool fluorescent glop with a slow, twisting movement of their lips, like a voiceless gibbering. Numerous arms reach out from the swelling orb in the fire, in rickety movements clawed hands reach towards the night-sky, forming a ghastly crown over the shadowy orb. Inside, shriveled and parchment skinned bodies writhe in a snaky mesmerism around two gleaming disks that start unwinkingly, luminous and whitish. The terrible white gaze rises and connects with the Adventurers eyes. At that moment, the gray-skinned men all go silent. A distant drumming sound is heard, like the pulse of a heart, immeasurable in size.
Suddenly, like an oppression that persists even in the depth of slumber, the Adventurers are dragged down with a formless, ever-clinging weight into gulfs beyond the reach of fathoming. The abhorrent vision fades, leaving only darkness.
They awaken in the observatory, shivering cold, and drenched in sweat. The floor beneath them is sanely horizontal once more. The orrery whirring has stopped. Silence reigns.
A spiral staircase built into the wall snakes its way up, on the steps are glass shards from broken vials. Small arched openings with iron grates appear as the Adventurers slowly ascend the narrow staircase. At the top is solid, black oaken door firmly locked.
As the Adventurers unlock and open the door the room comes alive with light and music. A sourceless, cold glow suffuses the chamber, and a wild harp they cannot see plays horrible, disharmonic sounds before fading away and leaving the room in complete silence..
The lofty tower chamber is furnished like a lords bedroom. A large elaborate bed, with ornamented canopies, richly-embroidered hangings, rotting linen sheets splits the room in two. On the walls are several cracked oil paintings depicting stern and noble men. On the floor is a huge bear pelt with a stuffed head. On the bed is a mummified corpse, its jaw wide open and slightly askew.
The Adventurers see an old man looking at them from an old mirror on the wall. A face, ghostly and terrible, like one of the dead; and while he looks, a crowd of other faces join behind, all looking at the old man, some mournfully, some with a menace in their terrible eyes. The mirror does not change, but within its small dim space there seems to contain an innumerable company, crowded above and below, all gazing at him. "I am Herodom Thale, last sire of the keep, cursed and chained to my earthly remains for all eternity." The old man in the mirror reaches out a hand toward the Adventurers, "Only with the White Knife of Um can..."
Suddenly the window shutters are shattered, splinters of wood and animal-skin spray the room. A blurred shape enters and crawls up the wall in movements to fast for the eye and mind to comprehend. Like a horrible spider the creature observes the Adventurers from a dark corner of the room before dropping to the floor and smashing the mirror. Reeking of mold and decay it moves slowly and menacing, facial features are virtually non-existent, aside from a wide and smiling toad-like mouth lined with large shining black teeth. Greasy and tangled hair hang down the shoulders and cling to pendulous breasts, dark blue veins are visible in the whitish fish-like flesh.
The creature will attack the Adventurers with lightning speed, attempting to disembowel them with the yellow claws protruding from the fingers on all four hands. It is ambidextrous, using all four arms with equal ease. It will climb the walls and the ceiling and drop down on the Adventurers from above, attempting to smother them in embrace as well as chewing at their faces with the obsidian-like teeth in its foul mouth. If they wound the horror no blood will spray fourth, only gleaming black flesh will show. For each cut and wound they manage to inflict upon the creature it will only become stronger, faster and more ferocious. The only way to destroy it is severing the head at the neck.
The creature falls limp to the ground, the ghastly head rolls a few paces before settling, a fat blue tounge hangs out of the toad-like mouth. The skin starts to ooze and the skin falls back revealing hundreds of small openings from which black muck pours fourth. Screeching noises are heard as the carcass boils away to a nasty puddle and disappears. On the stone floor are specks of golden dust that take to the air, floats out the door and down the stairs...
"...Release my soul, use the White Knife of Um on my human remains and follow her maiden, the golden dust will guide you to her chambers, deep in the mountain. There you will find my ancestors, release them from their prisons of the flesh and end this curse lest it spread to darken our world. Make speed..."
As the knife enters the chest of the corpse of Herodom Thale a great sigh is heard as the spirit is released, the corpse starts to burn sluggishly and without flame.
The Awakening of the Past and Flight of the Living
As the Adventurers follow the mysterious fog-like cloud of golden dust trough the stone corridors of Thales Keep they find the place utterly changed. Torches line the walls, carpets cover the floors, mold and decay is no longer present. The interior of the Keep looks young once again. Voices are heard conversing about everyday life behind closed doors. At the end of an opposite corridor they see a guard walking by briefly. Following the gold dust past an open door they see a study, by a desk is an old man reading, he looks up and smiles at the Adventurers as they jog past. Suddenly a door opens and children run past, oblivious to their presence and occupied with playing hide and seek. As the Adventurers hurry along they can hear the faint voice of a distressed maid attempting to locate the little rascals.
They follow the cloud across a lofty stone gallery, the Great Hall is visible below, now seen in all its past glory. Hundreds of torches and lamps burn merrily, banners wave proudly from the ceiling. Men and women dressed in their finest are making idle conversation on the great tables. Food and drink is abundant and musicians are playing tunes that have not been heard in centuries. A man dressed in green silks, look up at the gallery as the Adventurers hurry past. "Join us" he cries, "Take your place amongst us as is only right, you are after all, our guests of honour."
The golden dust picks up pace at the First Floors, men and women look queerly at the Adventurers as they strive to keep up. Their faces are happy but their glares show the fire of death, hidden under their smiles and bright eyes. The hairs on the Adventurers necks bristle at each encounter with the apparently living men and women from the past.
The golden dust disappears around a corner, on the other side the Adventurers see that it has escaped them, ahead is the entrance to the dungeon.
The door to the dungeon is a forbidding slab of stone that hangs upon rusted iron hinges, and is ajar in a queerly sinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocks. On the stone is carved these words:
Hast thou observed him who belieth religion?
That is he who repelleth the orphan,
And urgeth not the feeding of the needy
Ah, woe unto worshippers
Who are heedless of their prayer;
Who would be seen at worship
Yet refuse small kindnesses
Behind the stone door a crumbling stone staircase with ruined and rusted iron hand-rail lead down to the chilly and moist dungeon below. Moss grows in patches on the rheumy brick and stone walls. The roof is dark and wet, dripping with slimy water. A subtle, frosty mist and ghastly, sickish smell is in the draught of the hallway. White fungous growths occasionally spring up on the muddy earth floor. The fungi are grotesquely formed. Some are rotten, slightly phosphorescent and glow in the dark in a manner that reflects in the dark muddy pools of the floor.
The Dungeon Rooms 1D6:
1 - This circular dungeon chamber is low on air, making it hard to breathe for the adventurer. Within are twelve stone slabs somewhat elevated from the floor. On two of the slabs the shackled skeletal remains of men lie spreadeagle. If the adventurers inspect the men, they will notice that their ribs have been fractured, likewise their skulls.
2 - This is a large hall with arching ceiling wherein narrow shafts to the surface can be seen. At daytime these shafts lead sunlight down, and sometimes at night moonlight as well. The result is narrow strips of light shining down on the cobblestone floor. The floor itself contains numerous cells, rusted iron bars screeching dangerously should anyone step on them.
3 - A large rotund holding cell features a central round shaft leading deep, deep down into the mountain. It is not possible to see the bottom of it, and should anyone try to climb down they will first encounter a ledge some 150 meters down. A small crevice in the wall opens up into a tunnel that will actually lead them to the catacombs.
4 - The adventurers stumble upon an underground river. The lordlings of Thales Keep have constructed a stone bridge over the river and at some time a small boat seem to have been docked there, but it has long since rotted away and sunk beneath the water. Downstream a distant thunder can be heard, evidence of a waterfall. Swimming upstream is nearly impossible due to the strong currents. If they manage to get upstream they will reveal another cavelike room with a dock of sorts some four hundred meters away. In that room an entrance leads to the outside of the castle, just by a waterfall that feeds the river. (A rusted iron chest by the docks hasn’t been found by looters throughout the centuries and contains 20 antiquated gold sovereigns.)
5 - This narrow room has stale air and slippery floor, water dripping regularly from the ceiling. It feels positively claustrophobic in here. Looking around the adventurers notice torture equipment, a stretch bench, small spikes on the wall and a skeleton prone on the floor with a pickaxe embedded in the back of its skull.
6 - The corridor opens up into a large room, one wall missing, revealing a view of the valley below. Pillars secure the ceiling while small slits in the floor just by the edge gave the ancient defenders of the Black Keep the possibility to hail arrows down on any fool that would ascend the cliff face from below. An underground river gushes out as a waterfall some ten meters below, cascading down, hitting the cliff face multiple times before it settles down in the valley. (The river from Dungeon Room 4)
This place is a circular stone chamber with a sooted domed roof, the walls are of ancient granite, discolored by time and dampness. In between dark blocks of granite are huge sarcophagi, eight in all. The stone lids are decorated with funeral carvings, the specific lords name and the crest of the Thale family, a two headed crow. One sarcophagus is open and has no carvings. The air is damp and odorous.
If the Adventurers open the lids they will find that all the stone coffins are empty. Whispering and hissing voices fill the air.
"...She has taken them... Into the womb of the mountain... Shhh... We give her life... Yes we do... all of us... But they are what binds her to our world... She is the lighthouse in the dark... and we are but moths drawn to the flame... Herded by her shepherds, her terrible four-armed maidens... There is a road descending into the darkness... but hidden yes... Shhhh..."
There is a secret passage in the vault that appears to be a part of the granite wall. If pushed the door will open and reveal a passage. The passage twists round a few turns, and then begins to descend. The stone steps are crumbling with age. Bleached skeletons hang from black iron shackles in twisted positions. It goes steadily down for a while before it becomes level and open. The air grows colder and stifling, at times the Adventurers feel currents of cooler air upon their faces, issuing from half-guessed openings in the walls.
The stone stairs are replaced by pale porphyry stairs that wind downward through dizzy, nadir-cleaving chasms and along glassy scarps. The stairs open up in a vast, dark and arboreal grotto. At the far end, past murky pools are massive columns supporting a cavernous opening. Behind the dark pillars is an ancient gate; and beyond the gate are dim and seemingly endless reaches of an empty corridor. The earth beyond the stairs is slushy and patches of a dark-blue moss grow everywhere. Ancient pieces of carved ivory, broken clay pots and stone tablets are half-burried, littered all over the massive cave-floor. Strange images are incised on the walls, gray-skinned men bow before a red and dusky star and a snake covered in fur writhes and coils in between the different images. At its tail is a large and alien city, earthly towers reach up toward the sky and mingle with the divine towers of heaven.
Crossing the repellent subterranean lake is very dangerous. The strange moss hides deep pools of ice cold water and the Adventurers have to wade knee-deep in the miry mud. On the other side waits the gate, carved in dark glass and seemingly untouched by the passage of time.
Out of the darkness inside a woeful and beseeching whispering can be heard. Like hundreds of ancient voices. Once the Adventurers light the candle stub the voices will be silenced.
A flight of worn steps wind down into the reeking sepulchral gloom; after descending the steps, the Adventurers find themselves at the bottom of a hewn vault with deep shelves of stone on either hand. The shelves, run away into darkness revealing this spot to be a junction of tunnels, all leading deep into ancient catacombs. Recesses are cut into the walls containing bodies embalmed in gray and shriveled funeral garbs, anthropoid skeletal faces wrapped in shadow seem to observe the Adventurers from the dark openings. A breed of slightly luminous and pale flowers grow among crumbling bones and putrefied urns. If inspected the strange flower is revealed to be nearly transparent and very delicate, breaking up even by the most tender attempts to touch one.
The only way to navigate the catacombs is by lighting the wax stub found in the secret room in the Trophy Room. The tiny candle flame will sputter and wave in the direction the Adventurers need to go. If the flame is snuffed out the Adventurers will hear the woeful voices and have terrible visions. The longer the candle remains unlit while they are in the catacombs the greater the risk is of going insane in the horrible darkness. The stub will burn out quickly so the Adventurers need to walk fast, but they should not run or the flame might go out.
When the candle stub is nearly spent the Adventurers see a distant but warm light at the end of the tunnel.
The Adventurers enter a enormous mountain cave, in the darkness a vast forest of gold gleams and glitters. Gold leaves are flickering. Slow and lazy rivers of liquid gold snake their way trough the dreamy landscape. Shadows are flickering like kaledisecopes and quiet pleasing murmurs fill the warm air.
As the Adventurers walk among the the shadowy and golden trees they observe that there is no cave ceiling above, just black emptiness. A terrible feeling that something is wrong and evil engulfs them as they hear soft singing ahead.
A golden, baroque birdcage hangs from one of the smaller willows in the Forest of Gold. Inside the beautiful cage, jingling with tiny bells in the breeze, is a human head, fitted tightly inside. The head is animate and quite alive, seeming no worse for wear, other then missing its body. The head opens its eyes as it sees the Adventurers, and speaks, "What a shame fate has brought you to this horrid place. Do not let the gold fool you. Ye are cursed now, as I am. This place is nothing but poison and venom, asps and vipers. I welcome thee to the realm of the Dusky Goddess." The head close its eyes, as if taking a nap and start humming a strange but soothing tune.
In a brook of molten gold is a huge willow tree, the branches droop sadly, thousands of narrow leafs sparkle in the half-dark. Before the willow are seven altars of stone overgrown with creeping shrubs. On six of the seven neolithic altars are mummified human remains almost hidden by twisting vines and willow roots. Golden seeds flow on lazy gushes of wind, drifting in circles before they are swallowed by the stream.
The darkness underneath the willow grows blurry and a towering shape comes forth, standing over the Adventurers like a tower of dread, casting them in shadow. Liquid and luminous whitish discs glow where eyes should have been on the elongated face, the black lips are pulled taut in a horrible smile, revealing thin white teeth. The body is seemingly feminine with a pair of lush breasts cupped by inky black nipples. The skin is coarse and has a dark blue hue that glitters in reflection of the golden forest. Four articulated and multi-jointed arms with clawed six-fingered hands stand out in ugly contrast to the curvy and feminine body, the lower pair of arms are where legs should normally be. Along all four arms are multiple opaline and lidless eyes, all following the movements of the Adventurers.
A swarm of voices assault the Adventurers. "Please, you have traveled long, sit, rest. Forget your worries and fears, you are safe here, with me." Suddenly there are low tables with exotic food and drink before them. Ripe fruits, spicy wines and tender meat are lined out on silver platters. Soft cushions and pillows are arranged in between lamps and burning incense. "Give me the White Knife of Um, it is a thing of small worth to you, but for me, it holds salvation. With it I can open the door to my own realm, and go back to where I belong."
The voice of the Dusky Goddess holds the power of command and her illusions are many. She will strive to make the Adventurers placid and co-operative so she can bind them without the use of force, for such is her ways. If the Adventurers succumb to her or give her the knife she will banish them to the frozen valleys of the Um-Galgesh a realm of snow and ice where they will toil in all eternity amongst thousands of white emaciated creatures. Filling buckets of slushy ice water out of a great lake only to pour it back. If they resist her or try to reach one of the stone altars she will become infuriated and her maidens will appear. Now three in number, wrapped in a glowing green witch-light.
The battle to banish the Dusky Goddess and lift the curse will consists mainly of of resisting the lure of her terrible voice and dodging the ferocious attacks of her maidens. United the maidens are at their most powerful, working together almost as one entity. The emerald witch-light that flows from them fills the Adventurers with dread and hopelessness, if they succumb to the spell they will simply give up and huddle on the ground in fear and madness, their minds filled with alien images and feelings beyond comprehension. The maidens are terrible in their swiftness and adroitness and their strength is superior to that of man. If they manage to grapple one of the Adventurers they may break bones like twigs. They fight like a pack of wolfs, retreating only to attack from another angle, the longer the Adventurers are engaged in fighting the maidens the nearer they are to succumbing to the will of The Dusky Goddess and her commanding voice. For each Thale Lord they release with the White Knife of Um the pitch of her voices will rise and the maidens scream in infernal unison like millions of ghoulish locusts. The Adventurers will see blinding white flashes in their minds and terrifying vistas of reality.
As the Adventurers release the last spirit a great sound of thunder is heard and black seas of infinity seem to rise and swallow everything, suddenly, all is still. The Dusky Goddess is now a crumbling statue of stone as are her maidens and the forest of gold. All is gray and lifeless.
Everything starts to slowly dissolve, revealing strange and distant stars, red clouds and alien constellations. They find themselves in an ancient valley covered in a spectral half-light, giant trees squirm and twist grotesquely, the gray ground stretches damply from trunk to trunk, sometimes disclosing the mould-stained stones of buried temples. Drops of water fall from the stars above like summer rain.
Slowly this world turns to stone, bit by bit the valley is transformed. The purple twilight, iridescent arbours and glowing roses turns dull and gray. Old gardens and enchanted woods are dying.
At the end of the valley is a mighty vine-grown wall of glowing amber stone, stretching across the shadowy groves. A huge bronze door dominates the wall like an antique cyclopean eye, strangely carved, depicting moons, stars and somber men with horned foreheads
As the the twilight realm turns to stone and crumbles in a retarded tempo a great yawn is heard. Behind them a unwholesome and horrible void opens its enormous mouth. The brittle stone world disintegrate and is slowly sucked into the abyss, forcing the Adventurers towards the ancient wall. As they make their way towards the bronzed gate, sand and putrefied stone whistles past them and drift into the unknown depths. A great hum from beyond increases in intensity as they approach the wall. The Bronze door is slightly ajar, revealing a gleaming portal.
As the Adventurers enter they see a white void of illimitable space. A thunderous sound, like that of a waterfall, loud and unrestrained, is heard.
The Adventurers find themselves in a dense and coiling mist. A muffled figure bearing a lit lantern in one hand and a translucent horn in the other is walking towards them. The figure, approaching slowly, is revealed by the dim yellowish lantern as a wine-skinned man garbed in a flapping robe of greenish silks and crowned with a pointed, crimson and elaborately embroidered hat.
He opens his mouth and greets them in a foreign tongue, showing rows of rotting teeth. The thick fog retreats a little, creating the illusion of a domed room with walls and roof made of swirling mist. The man looks at the Adventurers. His eyes are deeply slanted and close together. He speaks in a hushed, yet, firm voice.
"The White Knife of Um belongs my order. Hand it over, or the bear burden of the dark lantern, forever."
He reaches out with a black-nailed hand, his skin glittering like ripe grapes in the light of the lantern.
The Aftermath - Outcome I
If the Adventurers give the relic to this strange man he will examine it thoroughly before looking up again, smiling at each of the Adventurers. The pupil in his left eye retreats horizontally until hidden behind his heavy lids, leaving only white.
"You did well wanderers, take this relic as a sign of the gratitude of the Order of Izdreph."
He gives the Adventurers the translucent horn with both hands while bowing slightly.
"This is the Horn of Mingooquel, in a time of great distress and peril you may use it and you will receive help and aid."
He turns around and walks away, after a few steps he is swallowed by the white fog, leaving only the eerie light of the lantern. The Adventurers hear mutterings and mumblings. Pale and transparent shades appear on all sides, walking slowly in the trail left by the wine-skinned man. Hundreds of ghosts pass, all following the blurred light of the lantern bobbing in the distance.
After a length of time, the last of the marching dead in the macabre parade will walk past, to be swallowed by the white wall of fog. The silence is absolute. When the misty carpet lifts the Adventurers will find themselves in the valley below the keep, an eastward sun casts its brilliant beams on the towers and battlements of Thales Keep and just above the horizon, a small red star can be seen.
The Aftermath - Outcome II
If the Adventurers turn down his proposal and keep the knife the wine-skinned man will sigh heavily, his pupils dialates and slowly retreat behind the eyelids in opposite directions. His blank eyes stare at them for a while, and he starts gibbering in a strange clicking language before turning around to walk away. After a few steps his lantern goes out leaving only fog and silence.
A few heartbeats they see shadows approaching on all sides. Monotonous whispers fill the still air, the shades come closer and join each other in a circle, surrounding the Adventurers. All around them are pale and slightly transparent ghosts, their eyes dark and hollow.
When the mist finally lifts the shades become unfocused and slowly disappear. A red westward sun illuminates the keep from behind the jagged peaks of the Thunder Mountains, leaving Thales Keep a twilight gloom of black. Above is a single star, red and dusky.
From all directions muted whispers and rustling of clothes are heard, following the Adventurers.
The room is dimly lit with a few gold lamps, their tiny flames create a deep red light. Suspended by sparkling silver chains are hundreds of wind chimes that tinkle even though the air is perfectly still. The floors are covered with a huge crimson carpet with geometric patterns embroidered with gold threads. Along the ochre stone walls stands several engraved panels of red bone.
The strange panels depict amongst other things a pole tent with seven burning torches protruding from the top. A horned man with a sombre face is preaching to a crowd of men. All the men are turned away from the viewer and have pointy black hats. Slithering out of the tent opening is a snake with flowing fur. The head resembles a bearded lion with human eyes, it kneels down before the horned man.
In the middle of the room stands the wine-skinned man, head bowed, as if in deep thought. An uncanny voice speaks, stopping at the end of each word. "Has everything unfolded as I foretold?" The wine-skinned man replies in hushed whispers. "Obscuring, as if a dream her presence my lord." The room darkens, gnarled shadows are thrown across the walls. "Good, good. You have done well, loyal Herodom. In time they will come to us, in their search for answers. And we have time, oh yes, all the time in the world."
"All the time in the world."
The shadows disappear and the lighting is returned to normal. The wine-skinned man bows deeply and leaves the room.
The idea behind Keep Beneath the Dusky Star was to create to create an ambient piece in the form of a dungeon where it was possible for character drama to develop, a place where ambience reigned. Where the past was slowly unveiled, each piece of the puzzle fitting into a grand drama. A travel into the heart of darkness so to speak.
The Keep Beneath the Dusky Star is playable in different genres of RPG, you can use it in dimension rift games, in classic CoC horror games, in dark fantasy, urban fantasy and so on. The dungeon layout mimics a sandbox environment where the GM should use the tables, happenings and different rooms when it is appropriate according to what the players do and where they go. The GM should not simply go trough the dungeon step by step as if reciting a manual.
The dungeon can be played as a one night session, or spanning several sessions. There are two more games in creation that act as sequels to the story-line, but, the sequels will be arranged so that the GM can continue his/her campaign and connect the following episodes at a later time. The images are made in GIMP, a wonderful and free program(more images may be added later).
I hope you enjoyed reading The Keep Beneath the Dusky Star and that you might consider running the game sometime.
First of all I would like to thank Murometz and Ancient Gamer for all their support and assistance. They listened to my rantings in chat, they offered thoughts and ideas based on all the crazy tid-bits of fragmented information I sent them via PMs. They added wonderful ideas and even took the time to write amazing parts, adding to the piece as a whole. But most of all, without their continued encouragement this might never have seen the light of day, and for that I am grateful.
The roots of the Keep go back to 2008 when I read [2778|The Noil Ruins] by Scrasamax and saw how he implemented tables. This inspired me to create an old-school dungeon using tables and thus the seed was planted.
Other splendid pieces of work that have inspired me are in no particular order; [2988|The Turgid Sands of Nesseraum], [2780|Mountain of Boats], [5339|The Lost City of Akelor].
CaptainPenguins excellent dungeons like; [4560|The Altar of R'gu], [4383|The Cursed Keep Of The Wastelands] and the beautiful [138|In the House of the Yellow Priest] where also pieces that I read several times while I wrote this.
Mike, my favorite aspect of this dungeon is how you consistently keep a creepy and "moody" atmosphere going throughout the sub. The dust and shadows and restless spirits. The ancient curse of the melancholy Thale lords and their doomed scions. The secrets of the Dusky Star.
The weight of ages and tragedy hanging over the keep is palpable. Great work.
I'm impressed with the amount of time and energy that must have gone into this. It took awhile, but I enjoyed working my way through it. I'm a little intimidated by the thought of playing it out - I don't think my GMing skills are strong enough to do it justice. You did an excellent job of maintaining the spooky atmosphere, of building up the mystery and carrying it to its fruition.
Some of my favorites: the old man warning the travelers early on, the four-armed creature scampering about and able to attack from any direction, making it through the labyrinth, the scene played out in the mirror, and the references to the keep being built on an old burial ground.
This couldn't possibly get any less than a 5/5. And congrats on the Golden.
Thank you for your review Mystic, I am glad you enjoyed it. If you are interested in GMing it but a bit intimidated by maintaining the ambience needed to run a horror session, take a look at some fine articles on the subject by Moonhunter:
[1277|BOO!!! Horror effect in a game...]
[2034|Lazy's man guide to constructing a CoC or Horror adventure]
Just the sort of evocative, yet not too specific thing I was looking for. Will report back with a playthrough....
Michael Jotne Slayer
The Keep Beneath the Dusky Star Forks
The Keep Beneath the Dusky Star Hall of Honour
The Hall of Honour is bestowing your mark upon a submission that you believe is frick'n awesome. It is so good that you want to be known as one that would jump in front of dragon's breath in order to protect the scroll it is written on.
This will also highlight it on the front pages of the site for 24 hours to give it well deserved recognition.
You are allowed to vote HoH on the same submission up to the level you are
“ Diseased people, (leprosy or any other such fear inducing disease) when traveling, will often times wear a cloak that entirely covers their body and ring a bell as they travel, used as a warning for any others to stay away. Could be used for a disguise or safe passage. ... you meet strangely cloaked people, sometimes ringing a bell. 'Please give us something to eat, mighty heroes!' This is time to show how good they are.”
“ A large river that is continuously covered in a thick layer of fog. There will be either a rope ferry to get across or possibly a boat that is rowed across by worshippers of the water elementals. It is very thick fog to the point where it even muffles voices even at close range and visibility even beyond a foot is almost impossible.”
“ After the PCs defeat (or force the rapid retreat of) a villanous necromancer/demon summoner, they discover a book. This book outlines how to summon a demon whose power increases according to the size of the summoning circle used to summon it. And after the PCs examine a map of the country, they find that the layout of the cities and roads match up with the required summoning circle. In fact, the final road that would complete the circle is currently in construction.
With anyone who can find out about the circle and the ritual to summon the demon able to somehow make the final road/line, and destruction of the cities and roads currently in existence out of the question (unless this is an evil campaign- that removes the moral quandary), how are the PCs going to solve this problem?”