As I stepped into the common room of the inn, I noticed a young girl with her mother giving me the evil eye. I was dead tired and stunk to the heavens, but something about them glaring at me like I wasn’t the “Hero of Winterhaven” really ticked me off. I strolled up to the innkeeper and requested a hot bath be drawn and a meal be prepared for me immediately. Never taking my eyes off the two, I put on my coldest grin and walked right up to their table. Upon closer inspection, I toyed with the image of them both howling in my bedchambers as we instructed her young miss in the ways of “ill behaved madmen.” They seemed to get my point and cast their eyes back to their table.
“Something I can do for you ladies,” I spoke in what I hoped were tones befitting our newly gained status. They said nothing for a moment, but then the young lass spoke up. “My ma says that your lot are no more heroes of Winterhaven than she’s a dryad.” I couldn’t help myself and guffawed at her jest. She was dead on to my little song and dance. I can’t vouch for my companions as of yet, but she had me pegged. I composed myself again and took a chair at their table. I stared into the lass’s big blue eyes and waited for her or her mother to speak again. She just stared right back, but after a few moments she spoke again. “You hurt people for a living.” It wasn’t a question. I just nodded at her.
“My child means no harm, good sir,” her mother finally spoke.
“No harm done. Tell me, child, what else does your mother say about us?”
Neither had a comment for me, so I decided to spin them a yarn or two about what lie in store for their town.
One of the servers set my food before me. I took a much needed drink from my ale and began my story.
“Your town has been put in danger by Duvan. I’m sure that your mother has warned you countless times of the strangers that pass through this town. She has good reason to. Duvan has sold his immortal soul to conspire with forces that you have only glimpsed in your worst nightmares. The kind of dangers your own body forces itself to wake from. Real… EVIL. My lot, as you so accuse, have tried in vain to negate his ill advised actions. We tracked this madman to a cabin atop the mountain that your people have avoided for so many years. What we found up there was a powder keg set to explode. It just needed the fuse lit.”
A few other patrons of the inn gathered around. I took another drink and continued.
“We were warned by an elderly woodsman not to go after Duvan. He claimed that there were no answers at the top of the mountain. Only death… We couldn’t very well let Duvan consort with such evil unopposed, so we tricked the man and took an alternate path up the mountain. As we climbed higher our ears picked up all manner of whispering. The air hung heavy with dread. Not even the animals ventured up this far. All manner of wood had begun to turn to stone up there. Evil you could feel down to your very bones stirred upon this mountain. When we reached the cabin, we found countless signs of dark forces at work. Books of indescribable evil. Artifacts, potions, and powders that subdued you and lured you into an agreement with something that pulsed with evil from within the mountain itself. We found a trapdoor that led into a hell hidden within the mountain. It was down this trapdoor that we heard the ramblings of Duvan. He was speaking all sorts of gibberish, so we descended in hopes of getting to him before it was too late.”
Having emptied my cup, a stranger placed another before me. I nodded my thanks, and the stranger spoke to the growing crowd, “I never did trust that mad bastard.”
“You are wise to hold no faith in the man. As we traveled deeper into the labyrinth beneath the mountain, we were shown all sorts of horrors. Walls were carved with faces of the long dead that seemed to scream a warning to us from their stone prison. Paintings and murals of mortals and demons working together towards ungodly purposes. When we finally caught up to Duvan, he was kneeling at some sort of large pipe organ in a vast chamber. Duvan had undergone a horrible transformation since we last saw him. He had donned robes of some long dead cult. Most of his skin had begun to turn deathly pale as if to mimic bone. His eyes had rolled up into his head and he spoke to us in a voice that sounded like he had four or five other people inside with him. He damned us to a life of service to him and his foul gods. We tried to reason with him, but it was no use. Even the whisperings were getting louder. He must have felt he couldn’t bargain with us, so he banged upon the organ and fled deeper into the maze of tunnels. At once a horrible cloud of gas escaped from the pipes and we panicked. Poor Silas got a lungful of the stuff and almost died.”
It seemed as if the entire inn were hanging upon my every word by this point, so I pressed on eager to satiate their small minds. Hopefully I could convince that my lies were far easier to swallow than the truth.
“We took a short rest, made sure Silas was alright, and took up the chase. All manner of crypts and tombs lie beneath that damnable mountain. I’d even go far as to say that mountain was alive! It’s voice crept in our heads. Louder and louder it got. It wanted us to go mad and give in. Cael’s prayers didn’t seem to ward of any of the hate and vileness of the place. Finally we found ourselves in a room with all sorts of vines blocking further progress. It seemed that the vines were the source of all the whispering, so we hacked at them in hopes of shutting them up for good. If only it were as easy as weeding your garden… These things were alive and strong as twenty men! They would grab you and squeeze you like you were their long lost, spurned lover come to pay a visit. With much bloodshed, we finally hacked them all until they either gave up or were dead. The whispering ceased and our morale seemed to surge.”
“Deeper and deeper we went. Tombs and temples long forgotten. It wasn’t long after our business with the vines that we began to hear low groans and shuffling sounds coming from behind the endless doors that seemed barred from the outside. Whatever horrors were behind those elaborately carved doors, we were certainly NOT going to release them! Leave it to Duvan, however… He seemed to be freeing everything down there. After dispatching ghouls and other such fiendish undead, we began to notice mysterious writings that none of us could decipher. All was soon revealed as we uncovered an artifact that allowed us to read the strange script. DUVAN KU! It was written everywhere. Surely our bumbling yet likeable old man Duvan was not the embodiment of an ancient evil? Oh how wrong we were…”
I couldn’t ignore the growling in my stomach, so I took my meal and continued the story in-between bites.
“Chamber after endless chamber. Hallway upon hallway. We feared we were lost! Our dread was multiplied tenfold as we watched Axis open up a sarcophagus to reveal a wooden box that held a vicious trap. Duvan’s mad cackle echoed all around us as we watched his body slump to the floor before we could even warn him to stop. Bronn was so angry that he picked up the box and dashed it upon the chamber walls. I noticed a liquid seeping from a broken bottle and drug poor lifeless axis towards it. Surely this would be the antidote for the trap’s poison!? Alas, it was not. Poor Axis’ body grew to enormous size as I fed some of the liquid to him, and we were forced to flee the chamber for our lives! Loud snapping and squishing noises signaled the end of our friend. What a way to go, huh? We all swore loudly that DUVAN WOULD PAY!”
“Several chambers later and our enemies slain thus far, we were beginning to feel the effects of this place dwindling our will. Duvan would appear out of the shadows and mock us, only to vanish as we tried to pursue. Duvan knew our resolve was failing and took no hesitation as he twisted our own group against itself. We were taking a small rest in some sort of ancient altar room when Bronn, in a fit of blind rage, grabbed Silas by the neck. Bronn, speaking in tongues long since gone, lifted Silas up to place him on the alter as a sacrifice to the Duvan Ku! Reasoning with him was lost, so we bashed him over the head and he soon came to his senses. Oh how weary we had become. This place was driving us mad. There was a point where we were all lured to what appeared to be a bottomless chasm. Duvan stood opposite to us across the chasm and laughed. He claimed if we threw ourselves in, all would be forgiven. Given our weakened mental state, it seemed likely to just end it all here, but we snapped out of it and shrieked every insult in every language we could fathom towards Duvan. Anger bolstered our resolve and we found our second wind!”
“Luckily our journey was coming to a close. In a room much like the others that we’d come upon in this maddening place, we found Duvan’s accomplice. He materialized out of thin air and stood before us. Bronn launched an attack and the creature dodged as if Bronn were moving under water. A VAMPIRE, my mind screamed in disbelief, yet here it stood as plain as the day that would burn it to cinders! Maximus was the creatures name, and he stood there calm and collected as Duvan strolled casually into the room. Duvan told us of his plan to raise an army of undead along with the help of Maximus. He swore the realms would fall before his mighty force of death! According to Maximus there were terrible places scattered all around the realms that held horrors exactly like the mountain we had trudged through. What could we do against such powerful creatures. We were at a complete loss, so we threw ourselves at our enemies! All our efforts were for naught. The harder we fought, the more our adversaries laughed. Exhaustion set in and we all collapsed. When we awoke, we found ourselves bound in the very cabin that sat on top of the mountain. I freed myself and my companions, and with much haste, we fled down the mountain in hopes of warning Lord Padrag in time.”
“But where are your companions,” one of the locals asked.
“They are conversing with Padrag even as I speak. We will have a plan, my good citizens. The heroes of Winterhaven will not let you down,” I spoke to the crowd. I just hope we get the hells out of here before they find out what really happened…