December 30, 2000
Ratarko and the Chamber of Souls - By Ratarko
Kicking stones in front of him, the dwarf squinted against the sun. Why, oh
why, did he force himself to engage in all these adventures? His mother kept
telling him to stay home, be a tailor, marry that ugly wretch Laztrolla from
down the street, "Now there's a nice girl, my boy, a real catch." He sighed,
remembering that the "nice girl" Laztrolla was one of the main reasons that he
left home. He would find her knocking on his window at the most odd hours
(noon, for instance! The gall!), always pushing herself up against him,
talking in that high-pitched whining tone of voice. He was glad to be rid of
Catching sight of movement on the road ahead, the dwarf dashed behind a large
boulder to the side of the path. Hearing the creaking of wheels and the
snorts of horses, he poked his head up to catch a glimpse of what was passing
A trade caravan, lead by an elf in wealthy dress, rode atop a brilliant white
steed. Behind him, bells rang and children sang in a train of covered wagons
stretching for several hundred feet. There didn't seem to be all that many
armed guards, so he decided to make his presence known.
"Hail there!", the dwarf began, approaching the elf with no weapons drawn, "Be
ye in need of a guide? I know these lands as well as any man, and can surely
lead ye to wherever ye may be going."
The caravan leader raised a hand, signaling the caravan to stop. It slowed
down, then came to a stop just a few scant feet behind the leader's horse.
"And who, pray tell, are you, dwarf? And why would we ever want a guide
as...common as yourself?"
"My name be Ratarko, and I've been travelling these lands for a long while,
said Ratarko, a smile on his lips, "and ye be headed north, the way I be
going. As for why ye'd want me along, I be a seasoned adventurer, with many
skills, and a practical use of magic." Ratarko raised his right hand, a
glowing ball of blue flame danced upon it. In addition, the dwarf patted the
short sword dangling from his hip.
"Well, it does seem our little friend here does possess some skills we might
be able to make use of," the elf said to the curious onlookers from the caravan
that came to the front of the line, "I think that you may lead us, for the sum
of two hundred gold crowns."
"Three hundred fifty."
"Very well." The elf counted out several coins in a large pouch, placed them
in a smaller one, and threw it to Ratarko. "Your term of employment begins
now. We are headed to Castle Prontac, to meet with Earl Bretlin over some
goods that he ordered. I expect you to take us to the very gates of the
castle, for the outrageous price you are being paid for your services."
Ratarko nodded. He walked up next to the elf's horse, tied the money pouch to
his belt, and started to walk.
Battles with banelars, kobolds, and even the occasional ogre met our friend
and the caravan. Sun sprites, trolls, and gnashers fell at his feet. Four
weeks later, early in the morn, they arrived at the gates of Castle Prontac.
It stood high in their view, its majestic walls seemingly stealing the breath
from the onlookers. Penants flew from the towers, though they were the color
of blood, not the powder blue of Bretlin. Ratarko looked at the elf, and the
elf looked back. How strange.
No one answered the call for the gates to open, though soldiers were seen
pacing the battlements. After a time, the dwarf decided to open the gates for
himself. Opening slowly, with a loud creaking sound, the heavy oak doors
opened wide, and all gasped at the sight of the courtyard. Head after head
were on spikes, sticking up from the ground. The first one visible was the
decomposing head of the Earl's youngest daughter, Istryannia. Her young face
stared blankly at the newcomers, the life long gone out of the once bright
blue eyes that must have once sparkled brightly.
Silence. No one moved. A breeze blew threw the courtyard, thankfully
carrying the stench of decay away from those at the gate. The elf, after a
long period of silence, broke the quiet.
"Where is the Earl? What of his eldest child, Terromnis?"
No one answered. The sound of marching soldiers in heavy mail came to their
ears, and seemingly getting closer by the second.
The elf continued, "This is no fight of mine. I may be able to sell these
goods to another, but they are definitely not worth my life, nor the lives of
those I lead. You are welcome to come with us, Sir Ratarko, but this is not
our fight, and I do not plan to fight it."
Ratarko shook his head. There was evil afoot, and he felt things had to be
put right, not to mention take advantage of a possible opportunity for
profit. He said his farewells, watched the caravan start to turn around, and
entered the courtyard, hiding behind an overturned wagon, just in time to
watch six armed guards enter the courtyard. The six humans in chain mail,
armed with large, deadly looking bastard swords, marched to the gate. Seeing
that those who had called were leaving, they waited until they were certain of
their departure, then proceeded to close the gate. They, after a time,
marched back from whence they came, and Ratarko, sneaking, followed them as
silently as he could.
He stopped, hiding in the shadows with a look of horror on his face, as he
heard a man, faintly, shout, "To the Chamber of Souls with this wretch! He
shall know the suffering that comes with spying! Treasonous bastard!" The
Chamber of Souls was known throughout the land, as a remnant of Duke
Throeburggh, a nobleman of ancient times who entrapped his enemies in a
magical prison of crystal for all eternity. Earl Bretlin, according to the
gossip, had locked the room, and thrown away the key. Why, or whom, would he
be putting its evil back into use?
Finding himself in a room the shade of pitch, Ratarko found himself very
uncomfortable. Moving quickly west, he entered a corridor shining blue. He
was bathed in the blue light, and it permeated his clothing. He shone as blue
as the sea. Feeling very conspicuous, he moved west, and entered a large
intersection. To the north, he spied a large, ornamented stairway of the
purest gold; to the west, the bedchambers of an officer of the guard, or so
he thought, as it was decorated in armor and sword; to the south, a set of
stairs decended into the depths of the castle. Deciding to go south, as that
is where he heard tales of the Prison of Souls being, he descended the stairs,
moving as silently as possible, attempting to hide in the shadows.
Reaching the base of the stairs, it was all Ratarko could do to not shudder, as
he heard the wailing and moanings of dozens of people. Inching his way to the
east, he could see a bright glow coming from underneath a door that was
slightly ajar. Opening it just wide enough that he could peer through, he
spied a wonder: Crystals of every size, shape and color, and trapped inside
each, stood a person, struggling to get out.
Seated at a desk with his back turned sat the dark form of a man. Quill in
hand he wrote in a large, leather bound tome. Nodding to himself, he peered
into one of the crystals.
"You will tell me what is hidden in the Riddle Room, child, or you shall
remain in that bauble forever!" sneered the human. Ratarko could still not see
what or whom was trapped inside the crystal that was in front of the evil
Ratarko boldly stepped into the room, and cleared his throat.
"Would ye kindly tell me what the hell is going on here?"
With a roar of anger and surprise, the man lept up, throwing the chair behind
him, reaching down to the table. He raised a rod, fashioned from ivory and
hematite, pointed it at Ratarko and chanting "Ilfyn Llem So-"
Light. Blinking his eyes, holding out his shortsword, Ratarko blinked.
Around him stood some twelve, ragged soldiers. The largest one, covered in
scars, was obviously their leader. He extended a hand, with a smile.
"My name is Captain Zorzisc. I am the leader of the Earl's Elite Guard. Our
priest, Brother Vangid, summoned you here by the power of Lena. Don't be
alarmed, we're friends." A genuine smile grew on his face, as Ratarko re-
sheathed his sword.
"Who was that in the Chamber of Souls? A human, tall, dark..."
"Sounds like Steward," the Captain replied. "He's the monster," he spat upon
the ground, "that took this castle from Earl Bretlin. As you can see, there's
only about a dozen of us, but we fight him every day, in whatever way we can.
We may not be much, but it's better than doing nothing. Will you aid us in
our quest to cleanse this fortress of the evil that calls itself Steward?"
Ratarko bunched his brow. He came here only as a guide for some traders, not
to get in the middle of a war. However, something similar happened in a
neighboring dwarven kingdom some years ago. He had sat that battle out, and
never forgave himself when his brother Yittark died on the field of battle.
"I will help. In exchange, I want land. A title, also, if the Earl be so
willing. What can I do?"
The Captain nodded. "I'm certain that that can be arranged."
"As a dwarf, you are more resistant to the magiks that Steward draws upon.
When you saw him, did he have a rod with him, about two feet long, it would be
black and white?"
"That is the Rod of Unllyr. Its use is how a person is trapped inside the
Chamber of Souls. If you could get it from him, by any necessary means, we
could use it to trap him inside one of the crystals forever. His forces would
collapse without leadership, and the good Earl could once again reign justly
over his lands." Zorzisc spoke most passionately.
"It's possible, I suppose. I'll do it. In the case that I'm unable to get
the Rod to ye, if it should even come into me possession, I might be having to
use it against him meself. He started chanting some words I knew not the
meaning of...methinks it was 'Ilfyn Llem' somethin'."
The Captain's smile became a face-covering grin. "Yes!" he shouted. "We had
known some of the command words, but our spy was captured before he learned
them all. We knew all but the first one. The correct command word would be,"
he pulled a scrap of parchment from a bag, "'Ilfyn Llem Sonti'."
The dwarf stood up. "I guess I'd better be on my way. I'll try me best to
get to ye if me gets it from him. Till then." Ratarko promptly left.
About ten minutes later, Ratarko, sneaking back to the large intersection,
headed south once again to decend into the Prison of Souls. Trying hard to be
silent, the dwarf didn't hear the guard come up behind him until it was almost
"INTRUDER!" shouted the guard. He was dressed in heavy chainmail, a red cloak
draped across his shoulders. He wore a large, golden medallion across his
chest that signified he was an officer. He lunged, his sword already drawn,
at the surprised dwarf.
Barely reacting in time, Ratarko drew his sword and parried the strike in one
single, fluid motion. The clang of steel on steel rang loudly through the
room. Using the guard's momentum against him, Ratarko lept to the side, and
pushed the guard, who stumbled, before righting himself. Swords met once
again, with parries and strikes, lunges and wild slashes. Eventually, the
better swordsman of the two won out, and the guard fell to the ground, his
heart pierced. Looking up quickly at the sounds of men running in heavy
armor, Ratarko rushed down the stairs.
Moving as silently as his shadow, he passed two guards who flew past him,
heading upstairs to find out what the commotion was about. He met with no
resistance, finding himself once again at the door to the Chamber of Souls.
This time, he found the door wide open, again, the back of a man was to him.
Stab him in the back? Go straight for the rod? Make a distraction? All
these thoughts ran through Ratarko's head. He opted for the second choice,
tried to sneak, slowly, up behind Steward.
The evil sorcerer was hunched over, staring into a mirror. As the dwarf
sneaked up behind him, he could see himself in the mirror, every bit of his
equipment being scanned; from the rare Dragon Crystal he kept in his Bag of
Holding, to a crumb of cheese that was buried deep inside his beard.
It was then that he spied the rod. It lay on the table, not more than a foot
from where he stood now.
He quickly snatched it up, and jumped back. Steward shouted for the guards.
"Vas Corp HUR!" screamed the invader of Castle Prontac, sending a massive
shockwave straight at Ratarko. The dwarf felt himself lifted, and thrown far
across the room, landing on a pink conical crystal. He stiffened as he felt
it pierce through his armor, through his flesh, and as he watched it protrude
through his abdomen.
Steward, smiling, walked confidently towards the mortally wounded dwarf. A
look of first amazement, then fear, crossed his face, as Ratarko weakly, with
the last of his strength, raised the rod to point at Steward.
"Ilfyn...Llem..." He spat up blood, and his grip on the rod loosened, almost
dropping the artifact to the ground, "...Sonti..." The rod came to life,
growing hot. It glowed with the brilliance of a thousand torches, with the
radiance of a thousand balls of light. Lightning crackled at its tip, growing
in size until it formed a ball of raw, pure energy. Steward raised his arms
up in a vain attempt to protect himself, as an arc of unadulterated magic shot
from the Rod, encapsulating the evil mage.
The Rod moved of its own volition, moving its prisoner at a great rate of
speed towards a grey trapezoidal prism. The sorcerer diminished in size,
until he was just a tad smaller than the crystal, and he disappeared. The Rod
grew silent, falling to the ground. In a plume of smoke, a necromancer
appeared, and all light in the room was banished, along with the light in the
Lights. Voices. Blurs. Blurs that became human, voices that became those of
men. He was being shaken, and he heard his name called, his full name,
Ratarko Unth-Draggar. He blinked. Standing above him was his mother.
"You...you died too?"
"No, son." She smiled warmly at him. "yer back with yer father and I. Some
human soldiers came here with ye on wagonback. They said ye suffered some
most grievous injuries, but that they'd had healed ye. We were worried, son,
we thought ye might not come back to us."
"Yes, dearie, headed by a priest, who said that he'd had healed yer wounds,
that he brought ye back from the dead. I don't wanna talk about that right
now, ye knowin' I don't like magic, and all. I'm just glad ye're back with
yer father and I, safe and sound, at home. Oh, me nearly forgot. The priest
left ye a scroll. I didn't want to open it, so here it is, son." She handed
him a scroll, rolled, and sealed with the mark of Prontac.
To the Most Brave Ratarko:
It has come to my attention that you are the one responsible for the
liberation of my castle, lands, and people. I owe you a debt that, perhaps,
can never be paid in full. I was told by the Captain of my Guard that you
would like to receive lands in payment for your courageous deeds. While I am
greatly appreciative, I have but a small kingdom, and all the lands that I do
rule over are inhabited by other Lords. However, as for your request for a
title, I have decided that you shall be the Lord Protector of Prontac. While
it is a title in name only, it is hereditary.
To Lord Protector Ratarko!
The dwarf closed his eyes. Not even an acre. Dirty humans. Getting up out
of bed, he made his way, in about the time of an hour, to the surface, where
he squinted against the brightness of the sun, surveying the landscape. No
more adventures for this dwarf, he thought. I'm done.
A screech filled the air, a screech that made him tremble in its volume. A
giant green dragon swept above him, carrying in his talons the most beautiful
dwarf he had ever laid eyes upon, her figure feminine, her whiskers, gorgeous.
"Damn it", he muttered to himself, and went to get his equipment, and
provisions for his next great adventure.
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