The dwur of Karakast have inhabited the northern mountains of the Abbor-Alz for centuries. Yet those wild and rugged peaks have been hewn by other hands for countless years before the greatsires of the dwur first laid steel to stone. Though those ancient delvers are long since gone to dust, they have left testaments to their toil in the living granite.
Once such place is Echo Crypt – a vast labyrinth of tunnels and passages said to plunge and wind some two leagues into the Oerth. Several entrances to the Crypt lay in a narrow canyon a few leagues east of Karakast, close to the border between the Domain of Greyhawk and the Duchy of Urnst. Its original builders are unknown, even to the long-yeared dwur, though their sagas speak of it as a place of dread even in the elder days when the heroes of Karakast roamed far and wrought mighty deeds.
Unlike many of the other cairn complexes and necropolis that litter the Cairn Hills, relatively little of Echo Crypt has been explored or plundered. This is in part due to its vast extent – stretching over two leagues beneath the mountains by some estimates. Another reason is that most of the tunnels that make up this vast labyrinth are scarcely over two feet in height. These claustrophobic crawl spaces wind for miles forming a complex and bewildering network that links a number of large and apparently natural caverns. This maze has its own perilous ecosystem of creatures. Strange semi-transparent ropers, cloakers, and giant albino cave lizards haunt the large caverns. Chokers lurk in the narrower spaces and dwarven versions of gelatinous cubes, and other oozes, scour the tunnels for prey.
However, it is neither the narrowness of the tunnels nor the predators roaming there that deters so many from entering Echo Crypt. The complex takes its name from what the wise call, “a strange magical phenomenon,” though most common folk prefer to call a curse. Breaking the chill and eerie silence of Echo Crypt with even a fragment of a word can unleash terrible magics on the speaker. The sound of voices reverberates strangely within the passages, echoing unnaturally before rebounding in the form of spells such as shatter, shout, greater shout, silence, and even various power word spells. Some of the more intelligent predators lurking in the Crypt have learned to associate noise with weakened prey or carrion and are actively drawn to any source of noise. Understandably, the thought that the merest syllable might mean death deters many – especially clerics, wizards, sorcerers, and bards – from exploring the caverns.
Yet, explorers continue to make the hard slog through the wilds of the Cairn Hills to brave the Crypt’s deadly silence. It is greed that compels explorers to come to crawl on their bellies through the stygian darkness. Burial chambers lie scattered through the labyrinth like dew beads on a spider’s web. These chambers do not appear to have any standard design and vary from simple, rough-hewn widenings in the passage to complex tombs consisting of multiple treasure chambers and anterooms. Many of the tombs uncovered in Echo Crypt have yielded up rich hauls of valuable grave goods – precious metals, gems and jewellery, and no small number of arcane items. These treasures are often warded by traps (both magical and mundane) and unsleeping guardians (chiefly magical – though some crypts are warded by undead).
Despite these defences, the promise of wealth and fame has lured adventurers to Echo Crypt since the times when Greyhawk City was still but a minor jewel in the crown of the Overking of Aerdy. These were the days of intrepid looters such as Ybbil Siwel. Rumoured to be a disgraced Aerdi courtier who had his tongue cut out for divulging state secrets, he plundered many of the tombs in the upper levels of the Crypts. The secret of his success was that he only employed mutes as henchmen – a fact that led some to voluntarily have their own tongues cut out in order to join him. Siwel ultimately vanished with his entire company of looters while delving into the deeper reaches of Echo Crypt. Some say they lost their way in the bewildering maze and that their shades still crawl the inky tunnels fruitlessly seeking a way out.
Among the treasures recovered by Siwel and his ilk were several items of Suloise manufacture – some dating back to the halcyon days of the Suel Imperium. The noted Urnsian sage, Iquander of Nellix (now a resident of Greyhawk City) has claimed that this is evidence that the Crypt was used as a burial site by the Maure, the Suel people who first settled Urnst during the days of the Great Migrations. Specifically, a coven of necromancers known as the Archons of the Ruby Sorceress used the Crypt as their last resting place – relying on the unique properties of the site to protect their bones from plunder by rivals. There is some evidence to back up this theory – not only the Suloise items recovered from the Crypt, but the large numbers of mindless undead that appear to haunt the deeper depths of the complex.
Iquander’s treatises on Echo Crypt have found particular favour with a band of Suel mages claiming descent from the nobility of the Maure. Styling themselves the Archons ¬– in honour of their long dead ancestors – their stated aim is to see the restoration of the ancient glory of the House of Maure. One of their number, Drahcir Elraep, has taken up residence in Greyhawk City’s Foreign Quarter. For the past several months, he has been trying to recruit suitably qualified freeswords to make forays into Echo Crypt. The Archons are reportedly offering substantial rewards for Suel and Maure items recovered from the site. Elraep says that he intends to return them to their, "rightful place." Where that is, however, he refuses to say.
Thus far, however, he has had precious little to return. The first expedition vanished without trace – taking a substantial chunk of Elraep’s coin with them. A second party (having been subjected to substantial divinations) managed to scout out a number of entrances to the Crypts. They lost two of their number to strangely magic-resistant undead, before being forced to flee the area by an ogre warband upset at the trespass on their territory.
The word in Greyhawk is that Elraep has the determination and the coin to persist in his quest. Whether another expedition will have any more success remains to be seen.