Snakes and Sepulchers
a wave of dark, bristling energy obliterating the top of Barrow Hill.
After five decades of work, Grinmak the Dread Lich had finally completed his work.
Surveying the countryside with his one remaining organic eye, he was pleased with what he saw. Rolling pastoral hills, babbling streams, and lush trees. In the distance he could faintly make out some long abandoned standing stones that must have been erected to praise some long dead god. All in all, a serene, peaceful blanket to cover the maggot riddled hellscape that he had painstakingly carved out below. A rasping chuckle began to vibrate up his long dead vocal cords and by the time it escaped out of his creaking jaws it had turned into a full blown horrific cackle.
His other eye, a shining sapphire from which a faint bluish smoke emitted, saw what would be hidden from mundane mortal eyes. A thick lattice work of spells had been erected over the valley below where Grinmak now loomed. Once the last incantation had been uttered only the Eye Of Harron had the capability to discern the true nature of the landscape. From this day forth no power on this plane of existence would be able to scry into, teleport within, or even dig a hole in what would now be referred to as the Valley of Tears without Grinmak’s personal blessing.
“Mourther! Attend me,” Grinmak hissed.
A shambling form worked its way up over the lip of the blasted crater that Grinmak's last spell had caused. From the looks of it Mourther had lost yet another limb, this time his right arm, but Grinmak would construct another once they were safely down in his lab again. Otherwise the Lich was pleased that his manservant had not died a fifth time. Resurrection was a tedious business.
“Yes, Lord,” came Mourther's perpetually flat voice. Even when he was alive he had sounded like that.
“When I've used the Key Of Passage to return myself to my lair I want you to disguise yourself, go to the nearest town, and arrange to have this valley renamed. It's only fitting that the area above my abode have a proper name.”
“I thought you wanted your lair to be a secret, Lord?”
“I do, I do. It's just I can't go around telling my contemporaries that I dwell beneath the Valley Of Clear Blue Skies And Frolicking Bunnies now can I? You will do this thing.”
Yes indeed. For beneath the Valley Of Tears lay the greatest treasure of them all. It was not the library that would be the envy of every scholar on the planet. It wasn't the mountains of gems and coins that Grinmak had assembled over the centuries. It wasn't the magical baubles or devastating weapons. It wasn't even the slave race that Grinmak had brought into existence to do his bidding and worship him. No, the greatest treasure of all was the contents of a simple clay cup that sat in a humble cupboard filled with a hundred similar cups.
A simple cup that held Grinmak's eternal soul.
It was because of this wondrous, priceless phylactery that Grinmak had even constructed the labyrinthine dungeon that sprawled above it. And what a dungeon it was. He had never considered dungeon-craft to be much of an art form before, but his decades spent shaping one had changed his mind. It was among the more terrestrial levels filled with spiked pits, trapped doors, ravenously random monsters, and such things that he had found true inspirations.
One entire level constructed of only barbed chains.
An entire village, complete with peaceful human villagers and grazing animals, that would lull any invader into a false sense of security that would eventually lead to an ensorcelled belief that he or she had been living there all along and that it was truly home.
Fiery lakes filled with acid shooting sharks.
A level that would shrink any invaders down to an inch and then set common insects against them.
Those were but a few of Grinmak's many devious inventions. His phylactery was safe, his soul secure. Now he could continue the experiments and researches that had led him to pursue the path of undeath in the first place. It was time to begin poking at the spokes that held the universe together again.
Being its creator, Grinmak had of course devised a way past all of those cunning traps. Turning to his manservant, who seemed to have just noticed that his arm was missing, the Dread Lich extended a bejeweled, skeletal hand.
“Mourther! The Key Of Passage that I gave you all those years ago to keep safe, give it to me now.”
“You told me to keep it safe, Lord,” Mourther said as if Grinmak had forgotten his wits.
“I know what I said, Mourther,” the lich growled. “Now your charge is complete. Hand me the key.”
“But I kept it safe, Lord.”
Grinmak began to clench his open hand into a fist.
“You told me to keep it safe,” Mourther explained. “I noticed that you still had that cupboard. From when you were a child. You used to hide in it when your lord father was in the grips of one of his rages. I used to come get you when he left the grounds. I gave you hot cocoa. You always drank it while still in the cupboard. What better hiding place for something precious.”
“You put my key in that cupboard didn't you, Mourther?”
“I kept it safe, Lord”
Grinmak cast his eyes back over his surroundings. To one, everything was simple and peaceful. To the other, a complex, unbreakable wall of deadly enchantments that cut him off from laboratory, his library, and worst of all his very soul.