Exploring High Pass Keep

6th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

After being attacked on three occasions while ascending up to the High Pass Keep, the last part of the path ran alongside the wall of the keep, towards the main gate, which sat in the wall at an akward angle.

The best way to describe it, is as if the wall the at encircled the keep at me cut top to bottom by a very fine edged sword, and pulled apart, one end of the cut having been moved outward, and the other having been moved inward. The gate had been placed right in between. The approach of the gate as previously stated, was along the exterior wall on our left hand side, moving through the gate would put us within the keep’s interior courtyard, this time moving along the interior wall on the right hand side.

The wall itself was very well created. The masons had taken great care in chiselling the stones so that they fit together precisely without need for any mortar. The gate was without a door or a portcullis, which made me wonder just how long the keep had been sitting empty. Had all the wood rotted from its hinges, or had the keep never bothered to close the wall off with a door at all? I decided it must be the former, since why bother having a keep if the latter was true.

When we reached the gate, we took a moment to look southward. Quentyn seemed especially moved as we could see all the way down the pass, down the Galena foothills and we could just make out the edge of the Thar. These lands were all his. His to rule. His to guard. His to keep. It was an awesome responsibility.

I decided to do a little bit of maths. We had likely travelled about 3 league a day for about eight days. That’s 24 leagues. Considering for six yards you gain in altitude, you can see about a league further in distance on a clear day, I reckoned we were at about a 144 yards (a dozen dozen!) in altitude compared to the Thar.

Jago had found more tracks at the gate, probably all belonging to the undead creatures we had fought on the hillside. It was clear that the source of the undead was definitely this keep, which confirmed the rumours that the place was haunted. Jago had spotted several collapsed buildings, probably barracks, stables, granaries, etc. at one point, and a courtyard overgrown with weeds. He had also spotted the movement of several other undead creatures.

As people were setting up defensive positions along the gate, utilising it as a natural funnel, I noticed the warmth of the bloodstone and detected an unnatural nervous energy within myself. Was the demon in the stone getting exciting at the proximity of the evil within the keep? Was this excitement affecting me in subtle ways that I had not noticed before?

With a great banging noise we made our presence known. David and I were taking up the rear as the undead emerged from the courtyard. To my horror one of the undead had scaled the wall from the inside of the courtyard and had plummeted recklessly on the path behind us.

The battle was short and brutal. There were a few minor wounds sustained on our side, but the discipline the people in our company displayed was too much for the undead to overcome. David put the power of his god on full display and turned three of them away, one of which tried to scramble back up the wall, but was pulled back down and destroyed. The other two came back after a minute or so just to get their skull caved in by the waiting soldiers.

It is good to know that when David drives these undead creatures off, it is for a short time only. It seems to be a good crowd control technique to give us some temporary breathing room when we’re being overwhelmed. I should be prepared with offensive spells in order to make full use of the panic he causes among the undead.

While the rest were regrouping, tending to wounds and getting ready to continue, I crept through the gate to take a look inside the yard. It was eerily quiet except for a low thrumming sound coming from somewhere inside the tower, sitting at the back of the yard.

The keep seemed old. Very old. At least two centuries old, judging by the decay, but judging by the style of build is is likely more like four centuries old. This realisation made me have even more respect for the artisans who created the masonry for the outer wall. Here and there you could see the discolouration of patched up stones, but the fact that the wall stood at all was a marvel.

When the others came into the yard I shared that I heard a low thrumming sound, which only Jago could hear too. I’m glad he heard it, because with the possibility of the demon influencing me I could never be entirely certain that what I saw and heard was real until another confirmed it.

I told Quentyn about how old I thought the keep was and the relatively small amount of effort it would cost to fortify and inhabit the keep again. Relatively small compared to what it would cost to build a new keep, but probably still beyond the capability of the Glister coffers to cough up.

In order to start my study of the undead, I decided to investigate the bodies of the undead creatures. I concluded that they were not a species unto themselves but rather had once been people. Most of them, perhaps all of them, had been human. I couldn’t make out other races, but there was a possibility that some of them had been half-elven, perhaps half-orc.

I asked David whether he thought the bloodstone was feeling unusually warm. I was looking for some confirmation that the demon in the stone was responding to the surroundings, but he couldn’t confirm. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something inside that stone was getting palpably excited at arriving at the keep.

We found the tower of the keep to be completely gutted with most of the organic material long decayed. The floor of what likely was the cellar of the tower was terraced and ended in the back of the keep with a large stone door. The door had the lifelike face of an older man of eastern decent set in its surface, like a decorative knocker. Above the door it read “your master” in large scripture.

Observing the magics cast in the door, it was clear that it was designed to prevent entry. There was an intelligence built into the door which was expressly designed to interact with, likely as a way to verify a person’s credentials before allowing people to go through.

David asked whether the master in question could be Zengyi the Witch-King, since he ruled over these lands long ago, so I uttered the name. The pupilless eyes of the face opened and the face said “No, you are not” before closing its eyes again. The voice was raspy and sounded as if it had not been used in a very long time.

I asked the door who its master was and it responded that its lord was Sigmar, the lord of these lands. Quentyn recognised the name as that of one of Zengyi’s lieutenants which he had heard in an scary story his wetnurse had told him once.

I spent some time talking to the door, trying to convince it that Quentyn was now lord and master of these lands and the keep, but unfortunately it would not share any more useful information nor allow us entry.

I found myself growing frustrated at my lack of helpful divination spells. I find myself jumping from one situation into the next, all of which require different spells, from different schools and different areas of specialisation. Often I find myself wanting to become a diviner, then a transmuter, then an invoker before getting fascinated by the idea of becoming a summoner. Ugh. It’s frustrating and tiring. It seems I am destined to become them all!

We decided to return to base camp. I handed the stone to David and decided I should rest properly if I was going to prepare the right spells to help us through the next day.

7th Day, 2nd Ride, 9th Month, 1374th Year

The first thing I did the following morning was prepare my spells. I once again bemoaned the lack of divination spells in my repertoire, so I decided to prepare for an auxiliary combat role instead. We’d likely have to open the door using our wits, and whatever was behind it was going to be dangerous and prove hostile.

The entire camp was moved into the courtyard of the keep. It was more secure and we’d have everyone on hand should they be needed. The Glisterians went to prepare the camp while the rest of us gathered in front of the door. David was maintaining we should collapse the tower onto the door and bury whatever evil was behind it. He had first come up with that idea the day before, but I did not take him too seriously. I still didn’t take him seriously, but he seemed to consider it more in earnest than he did yesterday.

Round after round the door rebuffed our attempts to get it to open itself and I could feel the frustration in our group grow. Ser Fosco had already given up participating but stayed because his lord had asked him to be there. But it was Quentyn who really seemed to lose patience, he’d rather solve problems he could swing a sword at. I must say that I was enjoying this puzzle, much more so than fighting those undead creatures from the previous day.

In a moment of frustration Quentyn, now enraged, yelled at the door to submit to his authority and open the door, demanding the door recognise him as the lawful lord of the keep. The door in turn, in an act of defiance I found astonishing, shot back that he didn’t recognise Quentyn as its master, but rather that the door itself was his master. “I am your master,” it said, and apparently that was the trigger to unlock the door. We had meant to convince the door to say the words carved above the keystone, rather than us convincing it to accept us as its master.

A little anti-climatically, the door opened and we found a staircase running straight down for a dozen or so steps before reaching a landing and curling around on either side onto another two stairways going down again. When we went down, we made sure that everyone was carrying a torch. We quickly realised that the two staircases leading further down from the landing merged behind the initial staircase into a broad staircase leading into another room.

The thrumming sound I had heard had become quite clear to everyone since the door had opened, but now it was clear where it was coming from. In the middle of the room was a sphere of swirling blue magical energy, hovering about seven foot in the air. Next to it was another undead creature, similar to the ones we had already defeated, but with a far more patient and cunning demeanour.

It was emaciated, with white pupilless eyes, wearing a set of brigandine armour made of leather and metal or bone plates reaching until just above the knee. In its right hand it clutched a thick staff or club, and in its left hand it held a metal ankh aloft, stuck into the magical orb.

The rest of the room was relatively empty except for a bunch of debris. There were several doors that we never had the chance to investigate before all hell broke loose. You see, once we spotted what we later called “the guardian”, we had started talking to it. This ranged from attempts to ask it to identify itself and demands it lay down its arms. Nothing really seemed to garner a response, until Quentyn moved forward rather threateningly.

The first thing the guardian did was pull the ankh from the orb. Upon the release, the orb ejected a violent gust of wind, which sent the debris that had been laying around the room in every direction. I was hit with flying shrapnel rather painfully, but worst of all, the torches we held were extinguished, which plunged the entire room into darkness save for the soft glow of the magical orb.

After that initial wave of shrapnel had hit, I was too disoriented for the pain to recognise the other waves of magic that hit us. There was one that I I felt but couldn’t make out its effects, before a third and final wave of magic hit, which started to pull at ferrous objects of significant sizes so violently that they flew from us, straight for the orb only to disappear in flashes of blue-white light. I lost a dagger from my belt as it flew into the orb, and later I saw that Godric and Ser Fosco had lost their swords.

David, who had lost his wicked chain to the orb, made an excellent decision in that chaos, and called upon the power of Illmater to illuminate the room. The effect was absolute and much, much brighter than any light I was capable of producing. I was immediately able to asses the situation; several soldiers had lost their weapons, David was disarmed, and to my horror, Quentyn was struggling to keep himself from being pulled towards the orb. It seemed his chain mail armour was being pulled into the orb just like our weapons were.

Luckily, while the shields our soldiers carried were rimmed in steel bands, they were predominantly made of wood and remained in hand. Quentyn was being helped by Godric to free him from his armour. Without too much finesse the leather straps keeping the armour in place were cut and the armour shot towards to the orb, to be annihilated.

I was still at a distance and I saw our soldiers moving in on the guardian, so I wasn’t able to unleash the fiery devastation I had prepared for that morning, but I could incinerate the guardian more slowly.

Flaming Sphere
Zu’u ag hi voth aan krein do yol
I burn you with a sphere of fire

The fight was very hectic. Weapons were handed off to those who had lost theirs to the magnetic attraction of the orb. Improvised weapons were found, like Ser Fosco picking up a random femur big enough to have belonged to an ogre, in order to smash it to dust across the shoulder of the guardian. In the end, Quentyn managed to disarm the guardian who let go of its weapon. The weapon ended up in Quentyn’s hands and he used it to strike the killing blow, caving the guardian’s skull in.

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