Chapter 13 - The story so far...

In his last adventure our hero, Karadoc, defeated Bedwig (aka Gundon) the Giant in mortal combat after an epic struggle, suffering many grievous wounds. Even so, having already vanquished a clutch of terrible Dragons, having cut the dreaded Carbuncle into a hundred pieces, and having overcome a horde of eldritch Demons, his confidence was still high. The victory pay for all these missions was good, and he divided the next two months between resting and travelling.

Eventually he found his way to an unknown land, a place which hinted at former riches and power: this is where we find him. Inevitably, in his quest for somewhere to spend the remainder of his hard-earned cash, he chanced upon a run-down inn on the border of a vast, miasmal swamp. There he met with a gang of dwarves he hadn't seen for a decade: breaking his vow of sobriety, he quickly lost co-ordination and began to stagger. Was it Fate's hand that guided him towards the quartet of men debating earnestly at the corner table? Or was it simply one of those random events that determine our future?

Karadoc has never enjoved the company of humans after a group of them abandoned him to the mercy of an Orc ambush many years ago, so he instinctively reached for his axe. Cursing his luck, he realised it had gone missing in the last few hours, forcing him to fall back on his wits. He smiled as best he could, composed himself and delivered a long speech detailing who he was, what he had achieved, and how much he charged for his services. When he'd finished, he noticed that his audience was smiling, as though they'd found the answer to a pressing problem...

"Right there," the man said. "Across the swamp."

Even though it was late morning and the light was good, I squinted (my eyesight has never been great since my brother Hengest and me had an eye-crossing competition when we were younger. My mother always said it would stay that way), I shook my head.

"Nothing. "

I replied.

He looked angrily at me; the corners of his mouth tightened like a leather belt and his teeth began to grind together like an old sheep chewing grass.

"Across the swamp."

he insisted, like I was deaf.

"The ruin - Wulf and Carolus?"

I stared at him blankly.

"You must remember Dianos?"

It was one of those situations where one more vacant look on my part would have been rewarded with a knuckle surprise. Checking to see if he was armed - he wasn't - I feigned a strategic defence posture. He backed off.

"Let's get down to business."

I said, giving him a winning smile which tailed to penetrate his spongey human skull.

"You're saying if I took a boat across that bog, roughly."

''- northwards, thirty miles -"

"- right. You're saying there's a ruined castle there and I can make money."

"You can keep whatever you find,"

he' snapped, and looked even more annoyed. I waited for him to start foaming at the mouth but it didn't come.

"It's not that simple, though."

he insisted.

"You've got to know who you're dealing with."

I shrugged. If someone wants to shell out the readies to do a hatchet job, why ask questions?

"Let's get it over with then."

I offered. If I'd had my axe handy I'd have left him two toes for standing on, and gone for another jug and knees up; but I was in a good mood.

"Spin me the yarn, beanpole."

He glowered: if looks could kill, I'd have been making the trip home in a basket.

"It's a long story, but i'll keep it short for you."

He emphasised the word 'short' and looked me up and down. Some people don't recognise how near they are to a fist in the face. I confined my annoyance to an exaggerated yawn to keep him fresh: if he got boring I could always cut his legs off.

He coughed, adopted a rhetorical posture, and began.

"It was many years ago now... A much better time, when all was good with the world."

I stared at him hard. One more wistful musing and my dinner would be heading for his shoes.

"This is the tale of Wulf and Carolus."

No fanfares came, and it wasn't hard for me to look unimpressed, so he simply continued.

"Upon the death of his father, Wulf III gained the crown of this land. On the night of his coronation he exiled his half-brother Carolus to secure the purity of the royal blood-line - and ruled for many years. It was not to last. Carolus grew into manhood and avowed to seize the throne as his. In his middle age he returned, disguised, to Wulf's castle, and plotted to overthrow our king. He enlisted the aid of Dianos - a despicable, vengeful creature who had thus far served Wulf as Chief Advisor - and persuaded the Captains of the Guard through bribery and threats to take his side."

I hate to say it, but I was beginning to like this tale. Cheating, vengeance, bitterness a few gold coins and a bucket of blood and it would have made essential bedtime listening. The only part I didn't like was the storyteller, but he went on regardless:

"Carolus was appointed Ward Marshall, holding supreme responsibility for the castle's military organisation. Thus he was able to organise with ruthless efficiency the rebellion that would place him in power. Somehow Wulf got wind of the plot, and when the conspirators stormed his court one evening, his loyal personal bodyguard met the attack and a terrible struggle ensued. Three days of blood and anger spread through the castle like a disease; Wulf with his last few retainers fled to the higher floors of the castle, setting many traps behind him and unleashing his personal menagerie of hideous monsters to thwart the rebels."

"All was in vain. The Necromancer Dianos had anticipated the king and lurked in waiting on the upper floor of the castle. Using the unmentionable powers of the dead he destroyed the remaining bodyguard and left Wulf exposed to the mortal blows of Carolus, avenged at last."

Carolus sounded like the kind of man you wouldn't want with a knife in his hand when your back was turned - I liked him. But all good things must come to an end - which is why this story went on:

"But revenge was not sweet. With Wulf dead Carolus was placed on the throne, where he reigned for a year and a day in a castle that never saw peace - it was a time torn with dispute, with conflict."

"Jealous Captains vied for power; bands of warriors forged and broke Alliances in their quest for dominance."

"On the anniversary night of Carolus' victory a feast was held, but a great evil befell the celebrations. Without warning all the warriors were seized with madness and more blood was spilled. Like a flame devouring what it will, none cared whom they killed in their quest to quench an overwhelming urge to destroy. Carolus, sad Carolus, battled for his life but was trapped and fell under the sword of his own Captain."

"Daybreak brought calm, but it was a hellish peace. Only a few of the castle's occupants remained alive - myself amongst them. My companions and I fled in terror of the previous night. As far as we know only Dianos remains."

For a brief second I thought the story was finished, and I began to pick up my rucksack. Unfortunately, the teller was merely pausing for effect, his eyes wandering as he did so. He coughed again, and continued:

"Over the last two years Dianos has lived alone in the dark castle within this swamp. Ignorance has spawned rumour: some say the castle is still full of monsters, some say it is filled with Lord Carolus' treasure. All agree on one matter: Dianos is now the slave of his Necromantic art, an insane creature, possessed by evil. We have reason to believe he has been abducting people from surrounding villages to satisfy his black practices."

He paused again, and corrected himself.

"But we can't be sure, without further investigation: nor can we be certain that it was he who was responsible for the events of that dreadful night when Carolus died. All we know is that Dianos is a powerful magician, and a terrible opponent. You must not undertake your task lightly."

I shrugged again - giants, Necromancers, what's the difference? Up to this moment no figures had been mentioned, so I got straight to the point,

"And the payment?"

"As I said, some say the castle is filled with Carolus' treasure. This is no rumour: Carolus himself used enslaved dwarves to mine a large fortune in emeralds from below the castle, and there is more gold there than you will see again in your lifetime. Unravel the mystery, purify the castle, avenge us if you will - the treasure is yours to keep."

So, Carolus was a dwarf basher? I might have guessed. At another time I would have kissed the man good-bye with a boot 'n' forehead sandwich - but he'd mentioned gold, he'd mentioned emeralds; and he'd said they were mine for the taking. What was the catch?

In the time I had been thinking of these things he'd drawn a battered book from his leather bag, stained brown with old blood. He offered it to me:

"Take this."

he said, smiling in a way I didn't enjoy.

"Study it wisely. It could prove the difference between a life of riches and an early death."

I took it, and my human companion offered his farewell. When he was gone, I opened the book to the first page. It read 'This is the journal of Anselm'. I read no more: it was getting late, and I had a rowing boat to steal.

The journal of Anselm (Extracts)

Third Day

Two days since I entered; two days without the sun. A long row across the black swamp, then I found a cavemouth at the base of the rock on which this ruin stands. It was a secret exit in Wulf's reign - he intended to use it in time of siege, though he couldn't have known about the enemy within the castle walls. There was too much peace until the last weeks; too much complacency. Like a tree heavy with fruit, we were ripe for shaking.

The cavemouth led to the old minings. The place is a labyrinth now, and sights I once took as familiar landmarks - corners of stone, an iron stain on a wall, a patch of wild fungus are now alien to me. The mine reeks of death: I find bones and old clothes everywhere, of people I may have known a dozen years ago when Carolus was killed. Memory patterns fade.

Things change: even when the slaves were here the mine was alive, full of sounds and activity. It's too quiet now, too calm.

Fifth Day

Another new development. Yesterday I thought I heard sounds like a great forge bellows, like some gigantic animal crying to be set free; but I wasn't sure. Today I know that those sounds are real. At noon I was sitting by a still pool picking at scraps of food when the roar rose again, quite audibly but it was muffled, and it must be some distance away. At its passing a half-felt breeze stole through the caves, warm and sweet.

Sixth Day

Is Dianos still here? I can find little evidence of his presence. Some of the old traps are still active, some of them Wulf's, others much newer and more devious. Many of the doors are now locked by mechanical and magical means, and I must continue to be vigilant if I'm unlock this labyrinth's secrets. Sometimes there are clues hidden in old parchments left here after the conflict; sometimes a switch helps - there has been nothing so far that I couldn't solve after some minutes' thought.

But why so many traps and tricks at every turn? Is it a sick man's dying joke, or does someone still not want prying minds to penetrate the castle walls? I must persevere and not let the atmosphere of this place fill my bones: the castle itself cannot be far away - just a few more twists and doors, a few more shadowed chambers. And when I reach it, what then?

There isn't much food left, although there appears to be a plentiful supply of ale - I drink too much of it! I have found too many dead rats: I was almost tempted to eat them at first, but they are gross, bloated things, many times natural size.

There are monsters here too, I am sure of it. Their tracks are everywhere: some I recognise as those of Wulf's own horde (or mutated species close in kind); others have crawled from the swamp and made this place their home and hunting ground. And then there are new ones, creatures I have never seen before, unnatural. I think I killed one this morning, but it scurried away, leaving only a foul-smelling bloody trail and half of one of its limbs. The struggle drained my strength; I don't know how much longer I can continue. If I am in dire need, there are plenty of old weapons still around, many of them in good condition.

Seventh Day

Some of these caverns lie below the waterline, and in the wet season (as now) are partially flooded. Last night I slept by a pool of water trapped underground, stagnant and too dark to fathom. I should have known better, but I was tired. It seemed like a few moments later when I was wakened from a terrible dream by waves lapping against my face. Long years of living as a fugitive have trained me to respond to danger with speed: I looked up to see a huge snake-like creature about to strike. My fingers were on the crossbow before I blinked; it was dead before I blinked again. It sank below the water with barely a ripple.

But at the point of despair I discovered salvation: hidden amongst the rocks by that same pool there were two potions still corked fresh in their flasks - perhaps left there by the dwarves? The faded script on one of them indicated that it would increase my stamina: I drank it and feel much refreshed. The other one has no label, and I cannot trust to taste it yet. There will come a time.

Ninth Day

This has been the most enlightening of all my days underground, I found a room that must have been an old guard-post in the past (though I can't recall it): it contained many useful finds. The emeralds and gold are worthless treasures - but there was armour there in the green and white colours of Lord Carolus; and a spell written on parchment. I cast it, and the words of the spell faded; in their place was a vision of the underground labyrinth, mapped out in its entirety. Necromancy, to be sure - but invaluable. I am now more hopeful: there's nothing between me and the castle but a few traps set to catch the unwary. I will not be caught: no that I know the way ahead, I will travel more slowly, examine everything more carefully.

I felt the breeze once more, much closer now, and much warmer. I fear this may be a dragon lair.

Tenth Day

Despair. I found a room I thought contained no trickery: in my eagerness I rushed across it, and stumbled. The floor opened beneath me, and in the fall I dropped the map. I had a potion whose label hinted that I would have great jumping ability I drank, but the reward was not enough. After a few hours I managed to find my way out again anyway, but I now have no guide other than my confused memory. I see lines and doorways in my mind, but I cannot be sure they aren't imagination. How could I have been so stupid?


There is much magic about this place: I can feel my fingers shiver when I touch certain objects or enter new caverns. But no magic can help me now: I am trapped in a corridor hewn from the stone, and the door at its end is impassable. I have tried for hours to find a way through - some hidden button, some gargoyle's tooth, a key, a gem, a spell to open it - but all no avail. The only clue I have is the fungus, which grows everywhere in the caverns but he spreads at an incredible rate - it seems that each time I come back to the corridor there more.

Eleventh Day

In a chest in a hidden cave there were more spells, more potions. I am now equipped with magic to combat the evil creatures around me: nothing dares stand against my fireballs, my power to freeze and harm. I can slow their movements, kill them, do what I like. It see as if someone ripped up the Book of Magic and scattered its leaves in these caverns - it's just a pity the spells have a limited lifespan. The potions are the same: if I want to run like the wind, I am a mere mouthful away - but I must save what I have. I might need it for later.

Still no way through this door.

Thirteenth Day

The harder I look, the more I find abandoned in this place. Am I being lured into a larger trap, something beyond these petty diversions? More potions to confuse me, to fill the holes in my mind where the map should be: I am convinced one of the flasks contains poison; another appears to protect me from attacks. My confidence is high, my strength good. If I could pass this corridor, everything would be simple.

Yesterday evening I came across another room I hadn't encountered before; on its walls there were runes and foreign script - a language I had never experienced. What can I do to understand it? Is it important?

No magic can unlock this door.


I did it! Patience was its own reward: I kept coming back to have another look at the problem, and now the way is clear, I almost laughed when I passed through the rough archway: it was so simple! The puzzler's mind is twisted in ways I cannot begin to comprehend.

The warm wind is nearer now, and stronger. First there is the bellow (now frighteningly near) - a hollow roar from some pained creature. If it was the air and the echoes come to life in my mind, I would feel more at ease with this task; but I know that the sound comes from a living thing. I have a feeling I may have disturbed something which would rather be left undisturbed.

If I could find my way to the castle, I feel sure the task would make more sense. By now my companions will be thinking of sending a search party - none of us knew that it would be this hard. Hopefully by the time they arrive we can celebrate together.


The noise grows louder, the air warmer. But I am prepared for anything Dianos may have set against me. A few more turns, a couple of rooms, and I will know.

The Payoff - Back in Wulfheim

The great quest is over, Dianos is dead. Your patrons and your reward are waiting in the seedy backwater of Wulfheim.
The dim lights of the Charon Arms are the only sign of life coming from the darkened village. Why was the village so quiet?
Before leaving for the castle it had been packed with the dreggs of society. The Village of Wulfheim sits upon the edge of a vast miasmal swamp, dominated by the shadow of Castle Wulf. Once a busy trading post, the village has declined into little more than a collection of huts.
The Charon Arms, at one time a byword for hospitality now caters for the few locals who remain and any travellers who have strayed from the King's Road. The Innkeeper, the once famed Thelonius Alewurt, has suffered the same fate as his village, journeymen will find no welcome at the Charon Arms these days.
During its days of importance, the villagers built a large temple in Wulfheim. This religious institution flourished under the patronage of the great King Wulf II but was savagely purged when Lord Carolus came to power. Fearing for their lives, all but a handful of the priests abandoned the temple. Despite its obscure location, rumours persist of its mysteries, of hidden treasures and of the passages that spread far below its floors.

....Wulfheim, a den of iniquity, your patrons, your reward.

The glimmering lights of the crumbling tavern remind you of the pleasures awaiting.