The Caves of Madness
The wrinkled old dwarf stares sourly at you for a few moments after you make your request. "Why, in the name of Kharox, do young people have such morbid curiosities?" he grumbles aloud. Seeing your insistence, he shakes his head, but grudgingly begins his tale.
Drogan Kuldrin had started his working life as the son of a lowly miner. Unlike his father, he showed a natural ability with fine tools and served his apprenticeship as a gem smith. He had a knack of knowing the perfect cut to make the most of any raw gem he worked with, and soon built a reputation as being the finest gem smith in Khordal.
Drogan's son, Havlar was a different matter. He showed nothing of his father's skill and little interest in the traditional crafts. His father grew increasingly irritated at his son's lack of interest and direction in life and frequent rows erupted between the two, who were both equally stubborn when the mood took them.
In fact, though sadly his father never realised, it wasn't that Havlar had no interest in learning a trade, but more that he didn't believe he would ever live up to his father's expectations and high standards. He desperately wanted his father to be proud of him but felt nothing he could do would earn his father's praise or approval.
Mainly to avoid his father, Havlar would spend a great deal of time with his elderly grandfather, Theolan, who told fabulous tales of some of the first gem mines he helped sink deep into the Khordal mountains.
"Veins of Mythril as thick as my arm and rubies the size of my fist!" he would boast. It was such stories that planted the seed of an idea in Havlar's mind. If only he could discover such wealth as his grandfather had - his father would have to be proud of him them. After all, there were still vast areas of unexplored territory deep under Khordal. Surely, he thought, some must bear hidden treasures?
Once planted, the idea soon started to grow and take form. Havlar quickly packed a few provisions, including his grandfather's old mining lamp and spare lamp oil. Without a single word to anyone, he strode out of his family home and down towards the last area of tunnels his grandfather had worked before his retirement several years ago, near the Hall of Whispering Kings.
As he descended deeper through Azbad Lisel, past the entrance to the Hall of Whispering Kings he looked in awe at the tunnelling handiwork of his grandfather. "There has to be more…" he thought to himself as he strode on deeper into uncharted territory.
The darkness became steadily more oppressive the deeper he went. The walls looked more rugged - naturally crafted rather than shaped by miners harvesting the fruits of the mountain's core. The air smelt dank and musty, as if no breathe from the surface had descended thus far for centuries. Onwards he strode with grim determination not to stop until he'd discovered the kind of wealth that would make his father proud and assure his future was a comfortable one.
The caves and tunnels twisted and turned, rising and falling in random directions. At each turn Havlar's hopes lifted as he thought he glimpsed the glint of precious metal or gems caught momentarily in the feeble light of the miner's lamp he held before him. However, each time he got close his heart sank as all that lay before him was worthless grey rock.
For many days he toiled deeper into a maze of caves so complex that even his heightened sense of direction became useless. The deeper he wandered, the more a strange sense of detachment from reality overcame him. Finally the last dregs of oil burnt out in his lamp, leaving him confused and surrounded by a chilling, all-enveloping blackness. It was almost three weeks from the day he left until the search party lead by his father finally found him.
He was in a catatonic state, staring blankly at the floor as he shuffled up out of the twisting caves and tunnels far below the Hall of Whispering Kings. There was no hint of recognition and no change in his expression as his father clasped the son he feared dead to his chest, thanking Kharox for his return.
However, once back in his family home Havlar's condition showed no improvement. He spoke to no one and continued to stare blankly into space, oblivious to the attempts of friends and family to reach out to him. His father spent much of his personal fortune acquiring the services of the most accomplished clerics in all Khordal in a vain attempt to rid his son of the madness that had befallen him. Despite all efforts no-one every managed to discover the cause of the damage inflicted on Havlar's mind, or find away of returning him to his senses.
Theories ranged from evil curses to toxic gas, but none were prepared to return to test any such hypotheses lest the same fate befell them. Hence Havlar took to his grave the secrets of what became known in Kharolian folklore as Caurak Qosirki - the Caves of Madness.
Thanks to Sarah Pightling for this contribution!