Ysbel steps to the fireplace and touches the old man on the shoulder, then raises her voice a little. “Pappy! Here’s someone who wants to hear all about how you cleared out that dungeon when you were young.”
The old man starts out of his snooze and looks up at the girl, then squints at you. He uses his arms to straighten himself in his seat and squirms back and forth a little bit to get more comfortable. When you step closer, you see a pair of crutches lying next to him and note that he has a peg on his
right leg. At a second glance, though, you realize that his other leg isn’t folded underneath him; it’s missing completely, cut off at mid-thigh. A small lute lies along the left side of his chair, and one of the pottery mugs stands close by on his right, placed on the broad hearth surrounding the fireplace.
“So yer interested in an adventure, eh?” Pappy begins. “I can tell ye about some adventures. I’m a bit dry though; bring me a beer, if ye’d be so kind, girlie.” He passes his mug to Ysbel, who shakes her head at him, smiling.
“Pappy, it’s way too early in the day for you to start on the beer. I’ll get you a mug of water from the rainbarrel, though; it’ll be cool.” Ysbel starts off on her errand and Pappy smacks his mouth a few times experimentally, then turns to you.
“Did ye know that we’ve a dungeon practically in sight of our watchtowers? The Mouth of Doom, they call it, out in the middle of the forest to the south of us. Oh, my friends and I found it right enough, nigh onto fifty years ago now. I suppose it was a nice enough little dungeon, and it gave us a thrill or two, but it was nothing compared to the granddaddy of all dungeons!”
Pappy’s voice is raised, and he shakes his fist in the air. “Rappan Athuk – now that was a dungeon! My friends and I were well known at one time, though not the stuff of bards’ tales. We were powerful, and we made our presence felt. We fought malicious specters down there, and nasty creatures with big mouths that lived in heaps of trash. We battled an undead king to a standstill, though there were no winners that day and both sides crept away to lick our wounds. In fact, we got further below that dungeon than anyone else I’ve ever known. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now but I was a powerful wizard once, back before I lost my legs – and half my mind.”
Ysbel returns just then with the mug of water. Pappy takes a small sip, then downs a larger swallow with a grimace and sets the mug carefully on the hearth. Ysbel takes up her scrubbing again at the other end of the room but appears to be listening in to Pappy’s story as well.
“We weren’t about to just waltz in the front door, so we found ourselves a different entrance. It wasn’t easy going, but we got right down into the thick of things without those fiends being aware. Once down we had some trouble finding our way around; there was a confusion of low tunnels, and the darkness was so thick our lights barely allowed us to see. We followed a winding river through several caverns; one was filled with spiders, undead creatures, and nasty trolls, which was where we lost Sister Gabriola. Another cavern had a purple worm the size of a small village. To this day I think we could have just walked away quietly from the creature, but ye might know that our rogue Renfrew couldn’t leave well enough alone! He was the first one poisoned, and by the time we could pull away and tend to him, he was already dead,” Pappy says as he shakes his head.
“The levels of the dungeon proper may be made of worked stone, but down deep, where we were, it was all natural caverns. There was one especially huge one, where the ceiling was lost high above us and our lights made little bubbles of brightness in the great dark. In that situation, ye know there are always beings watching you, usually to yer hurt.
“While we were there we fought the most vile creature I have ever seen.” Pappy’s eyes narrow, as if envisioning his opponent of years past. “Out of the darkness floated this giant mass, as large as I was tall and covered in eyeballs and mouths. It turned out those eyes shot out beams of magic like those from wands! We fought like demons ourselves, I can tell ye. Our knight got up close to try to stab it with his greatsword, and discovered all those mouths were full of sharp teeth. I tried several of my specialties on it, only to realize it was more than a match for me; ye may imagine my shock when it took some of my own spells from me! We had to get cunning, especially when it tried to run away after we injured it. We finally defeated it, though, and found the treasures it had taken from other hapless victims. I recall the battle fondly now, as one of the last times I was able to use my most powerful spells and keen intelligence before something in that vile place diminished them forever.
“Many of us were injured at that point and ye can be certain it was hard to find a safe place to rest and heal. We thought we had found a place, isolated at one side of the cavern, but we were wrong. That quiet corner turned out to be guarded by huge metal statues of bulls which came alive when we got close. They put out a gas that turned my companions to stone, some temporarily but some permanently. I myself was affected for a time. The stone effect wore off but before I could recover myself one of the bulls trampled me, breaking both my legs. Sir Marlett and the elf Daresiel had both been turned to stone and the bulls trampled them also, breaking up their bodies so we had no hope of recovering them.” Pappy shakes his head again. “My remaining two companions got meself and our badly wounded dwarf out of there, and patched me up well enough that I could use my emergency scroll to take us out of that foul pit completely. We ended up back at our camp in the forest, though, and without our two healers the others managed to save my life, but not my legs. At that I suppose I’m better off than Gulim, who died of his wounds.
“One thing we never did locate was the evil temple everyone claims is there. I think somehow we passed it by and went straight to the caverns that lie below it. I don’t remember everything that happened to us beneath that twisted temple, though parts of it still give me nightmares. The worst was that even after we left, the reek of its evil continued to work on my mind and body and gradually stole my strength, my health, and most of all my intellect. I eventually learned to mend shoes, and other things I could do without need of my legs, but these days I just play a few tunes on my little lute and dream about striding through the forest in days gone by, wishing I had never heard of that accursed place.”
Pappy stops to stretch out his leg, and begins to absently rub his left thigh. “If ye be wanting to explore that foul dungeon, allow me to offer ye some pieces of advice. There’s no doubt that the most important part of any adventuring party wanting to take on Rappan Athuk is the wizard. Ye
need one who is powerful, with plenty of offensive ability. He also needs good magic items; it’s worth a bit of sacrifice by the fighters or the rogues to see a magic-wielder well equipped. A good selection of fire spells would be helpful; they’re always good against the undead and there’s a powerful lot of those waiting there in the dark.
“Now, any group wanting to explore the depths of Rappan Athuk is going to need rope, and lots of it. Ye don’t find easy stairs leading from one area to another; no, it’s down sheer drops and over rocky cliffs – and then of course it’s all to do again in reverse if ye ever want to get out. I know what yer thinking,” Pappy’s voice changes, becoming higher and slightly whiny. “What about that wizard? Can’t he just fly us all down?” He clears his throat and resumes his normal tone. “Well, to be sure he can, if ye want him to use up all his spells and have nothing left to use in a fight when ye get to the bottom. It’s better to use mundane means wherever possible and save the magicks for when ye need them most. We used our rope skills several times in difficult situations. Once we had to climb down a cliff as rats were trying to gnaw our lines!
“Another thing ye need of course is lots of light sources. Torches won’t make it, either, though it might be okay to have a few if yer in a pinch. No, ye need some source that lets ye keep both hands free! It’s no good trying to climb down that rope I mentioned a bit ago with a torch in hand – that’s a good way to take a long fall. ’Twon’t do to just carry it in yer teeth, either, as the rogue Renfrew once tried. He thought he was so clever, and so much more nimble than the rest of us – until he caught his hair on fire.” Pappy’s speech slows slightly as he reminisces. “We called him Renfrew the Red after that; I don’t think his hair would ever have grown back, even if he had lived.”
Pappy reaches for his mug and takes another drink, then sets it back down. “I’m afraid I’m worn out with all this talkin’. Though it’s nice to have an audience, I don’t usually talk this much in a week. Thank ye for listening to my adventures, but I’m in need of a little rest now.” The old man settles himself in his chair, then leans his head on one hand and his eyes drift closed. You start to turn away when you hear him mumble softly, “And whatever ye do, don’t go down the well.” You raise your eyebrows at this one last piece of advice and then walk out into the fresh air.