:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - Legacy of Hutaaka ::

Legacy of Hutaaka

The setup:

Karnus and Ralindi have been riding together all day. Impressed by Karnus’ horsemanship, Ralindi proposes a race, halfway through he stops and ups the ante by suggesting they play the Skullhorn Dash, which involves casting Haste on the horses, but not on the riders. K holds his own for a while, but falls off eventually into some mud. Hilarity ensues. Karnus’ horse bolts off, still hasted into the forest. Ralindi and Karnus pursue the creature deep into the Dymrak, but K is surprised when eyes of the Staff of Hutaaka flare – it has detected something! Ralindi doesn’t take much persuading that a detour is worthwhile and the two venure north into the forest. They come upon a low hill and a camp set around an opening therein. It turns out that this is an archaeological dig led by Anya Terikovitch, who likes to think of herself as an expert in the legacy of the hutaakans. A genuine seeker of knowledge, she’s surprised but glad to meet Karnus, and eagerly shows him their work so far. She explains that she’s been meaning to seek out K and propose the creation of The Hutaakan Institute. K is impressed by her attitude and work.

K and R have arrived at a critical point; Anya’s team have uncovered a door that they believe leads to a hutaakan burial chamber. Karnus and Ralindi agree to assist in the exploration, and got with Anya to the door….

The massive door slid aside, grating against the stone as it went. Beyond lay a corridor, angled downward and engulfed in darkness. Karnus glanced at the others and drew forth his everglowing beam, playing the light down the passage, which extended beyond the illumination. He was about to step forward when Anya raised a hand. “Wait,” she said, “this is where I come in.” The archaeologist reached into her backpack and drew forth an everglowing beam of her own. She smiled at Karnus as she flipped the cap off. “Snap!” she exclaimed with an endearing grin on her face.

The rest of the group looked on as the woman played her beam across the surface of the floor, muttering to herself. Satisfied that nothing untoward awaited the party in the first few feet of corridor she advanced into the passage. After a few more feet she stopped, knelt, and removed a set of tools from her pocket, followed by a hammer and iron spike which she proceeded to drive between two flagstones that looked the same as any other to Karnus. Standing, the archaeologist beckoned the rest of the group to follow while she carefully scanned the next section of passage.

So the group proceeded for fifty feet. Every so often Anya would uncover a trigger or trap and deftly deal with it. Once the mechanism proved too tricky for the skilled woman to deal with, and she accidentally caused a massive blade to scythe down from the ceiling, but proving as agile as she was skilled the young woman rolled back just in time to avoid being cleaved in two.

A hundred feet into the passage, Karnus picked out a couple of statues at the extremes of his light’s reach, and pointed them out to Ralindi and Anya. “I think I’ve seen this trap before,” said the wizard, “those statues will either spring to life or start disgorging slimes if we get too close.”

Ralindi leant against the wall with his arms crossed, while Anya nodded in agreement. “What do you suggest?” asked the archaeologist.

“Best to deal with such things at range,” replied Karnus while Ralindi nodded in agreement. “If someone could trigger the trap we could deal with whatever is unleashed.”

Anya smiled and broke into a swift run, startling everyone else. “I didn’t mean like that!” exclaimed Karnus as the woman drew up to the statues. Sure enough, thick green slime welled out of the open mouths of the statues and glooped onto the floor in front of the adventuresome archaeologist, who promptly turned on her heel and ran back towards the rest of the group. “Feel free to kill it now!” she cried as she ran.

Karnus smirked, spoke a few words of magic and sent a jet of flame shooting past the fleeing woman. The blossoming fireball illuminated the corridor for a split second before the darkness closed in once again, leaving nothing of the slimes but a steaming stain on the floor.

As the group picked their way past yet more mechanical traps, one of the dwarves grunted. “The slope’s changed,” he said in his gruff voice. Now that he’d had it pointed out, Karnus realised that the passageway had levelled out. He took a few steps forward and found that the passage stretched for only a few dozen feet more before ending at a second door.

Anya took nearly half an hour to disarm the various traps surrounding the portal, and it took the dwarves nearly half as long to get the massive door open. Eventually, though, the door swung open, revealing a large chamber beyond. Karnus and Anya stepped through, playing their beams through the darkness, which picked out the shape of Hutaakan forms placed throughout the darkness. Before either of them could gauge the size of the room, a gentle illumination grew throughout the chamber, rising quickly until the entire room was as bright as if the hundreds of feet and rock and soil above had been transparent.

The chamber was vast indeed. Easily two hundred feet across, the room was circular, with four massive statues of jackal headed beings placed equidistant around the circumference, sculpted as to support the massive domed roof a hundred feet above. The entrance to the room was between the legs of one of these gargantuan sculptures. The floor was an array of concentric steps, each 10 feet wide, interrupted by broad ramps that radiated from the centre to the base of each of the massive statues. The terraced floor led downward to a plinth fifty feet across. Ringing this plinth was a phalanx of statues, all with their arms crossed and facing a sarcophagus at the dead centre of the room.

Ralindi whistled softly in appreciation. “Not bad… not bad at all…” Karnus broke his own reverie long enough to grin at the man, who returned the wizard’s smile with one of his own, his eyes glinting.

Anya too was smiling as she moved into the massive chamber. In fact, every one of the party, including the stoic dwarves seemed overwhelmed by the room in which they found themselves. As a group they made their way down the ramp which stretched from the door down to the centre of the room. As they approached the plinth, Karnus counted sixteen statues spaced equidistantly around the centre of the room. He eyed them suspiciously, but they showed no sign of movement.

“This is amazing,” whispered Anya as she approached the ring of statues. “Who could have warranted such splendour in their burial? Imagine the artefacts we might find!”

Karnus furrowed his brow. To his eyes, the room was remarkably bare. There were no frescoes depicting the life of the buried individual, no evidence of their identity whatsoever. Something was also bothering him about the array of statues in the centre. The way they were arranged reminded the wizard of something…

“Why are they facing inward?” he asked of the archaeologist.

”What?” replied Anya.

”The statues. If they’re there to dissuade intruders, they should be watching the entrance, not glaring at the sarcophagus.”

“Perhaps they’re just symbolic. They indicate that the person was someone revered, someone who commanded great respect.”

Karnus wasn’t convinced. He moved cautiously to inspect the nearest statue, which depicted a hutaakan clad in long robes, augmented with armour here and there. The statue bore no arms, and stood with its arms folded, watching the central sarcophagus with its crystalline eyes. A quick glance around the room showed that all the statues were sculpted identically.

The group fanned out throughout the room. Several of Anya’s assisted retreated to the walls to see if they could find any sign of inscription upon them. Uli the dwarf and several of the labourers similarly moved to the walls of the chamber, seeking here and there for any sign of secret doors. Ungo remained with Karnus, Ralindi and Anya at the centre of the room, as the archaeologist inspected the steps up to the plinth for any traps.

Ralindi had been pacing around the ring of statues, and came now to stand at Karnus’ side, who began to explain his previous dealings with the legacy of Hutaaka. As the men spoke, neither noticed that Anya, previously so absorbed in her examinations, suddenly dropped her tools and stood, her hands slowly playing across her body as if examining it. She spent a lingering moment examining the shape of her head, before staring around the chamber as if seeing it for the first time.

The archaeologist slowly examined each and every member of the group, her gaze lingering the longest on Karnus and his staff. Karnus noticed Anya staring at him and, assuming she wished to contribute to the conversation, called to her to join them and share her observations of hutaakan archaeology. The woman responded to Karnus’ call with a look of confusion, as if she couldn’t understand a word he said.

Karnus glanced at Ralindi and stepped towards the young woman. “Is everything alright, Anya?”

The woman moved her mouth in an awkward manner, as if unfamiliar with how it worked. A few harsh choked syllables emerged from the archaeologist, before she seemed to regain her ability to speak. When she did finally talk, Karnus was astounded to hear her doing so in the tongue of the hutaakans. The wizard smiled, impressed at the archaeologist’s knowledge, though he didn’t call upon his staff to translate the words, believing her to be reading an inscription she had found.

“I didn’t know you spoke hutaakan too. Your pronunciation is excellent for someone who never heard the language.” Anya once again stared at the wizard, this time the gaze was more disdainful, as if she was insulted by Karnus attempt to revert to Thyatian. As the woman rebuked him loudly in Hutaakan, Karnus furrowed his brow and called upon the mental link he shared with his staff. Suddenly the torrent of harsh, incomprehensible syllables was translated for the wizard alone.

”… give me the staff, human.” Anya completed her sentence and stood with her arm outstretched. Karnus responded by levelling the staff at the explorer, its eyes flashing dangerously.

“I think not,” began the wizard, by now convinced that he no longer spoke to the plucky archaeologist. “Who are you?”

The young woman smiled slyly at Karnus as he spoke in her tongue. “Welcome, scion of Xaphorteq.“ she said, “strange fate it is indeed that should bring you to my resting place. I am Ptanophix, archmage of Hutaaka and erstwhile apprentice of he who crafted that staff.”

Karnus raised his eyes in surprise. “You possess the body of one whom I call friend. I must ask you to vacate it.”

The young woman smiled and turned on the spot, before pacing gently away from the wizard. “But I must have a vessel if I am to impart the legacy of my people. Perhaps you would offer yourself in her place…?”

“Unlikely.” Responded the wizard.

Ptanophix’s eyes lingered on Ralindi for a second. “Your companion, then?” Ralindi, who had been calmly watching the exchange, raised an eyebrow at Anya’s penetrating gaze, but said nothing.

“Absolutely not.” Karnus kept his staff trained upon the woman as he replied.

“A pity. Of the remaining beings here, she suits my purposes the most, so here I must remain, unpleasant as it may be.” The woman once again raised a hand to her face, evidently disgusted at the unfamiliar shape of her head.

The possessed archaeologist stepped towards the wizard, her gaze resting on the Staff of Hutaaka. “You appear to have shunned the normal hutaakan methods of cheating death,” observed the wizard as she approached.

“Oh yes. Such horrors were not for me. I shunned the nightmarish undeath that awaited the honoured among my society, and chose to carve out my own immortality.”

”Very impressive,” replied Karnus, “so you were alive during the war? You knew Xaphorteq and Baqaphix?”

A faint smile came upon Anya’s features. “Oh yes, I was Xaphorteq’s most skilled apprentice.”

“His journal doesn’t mention you.”

“That brings me great sadness, for we were opposed for a long time. A difference of opinion. He must never have forgiven me.”

“What ‘difference of opinion’ would that be?” By now the remaining members of the group had heard the conversation, and were gathered round, staring in concern at their expedition member. Ralindi moved amongst them, quietly explaining that Karnus had the situation under control.

“Oh, there were many.” The hutaakan responded to Karnus’ query. ”We were both brilliant mages, but our methods differed greatly, as I’m sure you can imagine. And then there was the war. He saw such potential in the Traldar, where I saw none. He saw them as saviours, where I saw only betrayal. That staff became the symbol of his hopes for humanity,” Ptanophix regarded Karnus’ staff with narrowed eyes. The staff’s eyes blazed in return. “The Staff of Hutaaka. Imagine the insult when Xaphorteq gifted such a fine weapon to a lowly human.”

Karnus raised an eyebrow, “Zirchev?”

“Zirchev.” Anya turned away from Karnus, as if to hide the anger upon her face. “An arrogant, spoiled brat. Xaphorteq saw such potential in him, but he was ultimately… limited. The doom of hutaaka rests on his shoulders.”

“I’m sorry to hear you thought so little of Xaphorteq’s human apprentices.”

The woman turned back to Karnus and smiled condescendingly . “You should not feel ashamed at the limitations Pflarr has placed upon your kind. But tell me – what became of my people? Did they ever return from the valley?”

“No,” replied Karnus, “I’m afraid there are precious few hutaakans alive today. Their society stagnated in its isolation, and they were engulfed by war with their erstwhile slaves.”

”Fools.” Ptanophix’s hands clenched into fists as she contemplated the fate of her kind. “I told them that retreat to the valley would be the end of our noble race!” She turned a furious gaze upon Karnus. “I offered them another way – a different path that would have seen us emerge victorious. Instead they chose cowardice and a slow death.”

“You would have had your people stay, and fight alongside the Traldar?”

“The Traldar?” Anya’s possessed form laughed in surprise. “Foolish human, the Traldar were the cause of all our problems. Like all your kind they were an arrogant race with ideas far above their station. They thought themselves our equals, where they were little better than trained animals.”

The woman fixed the wizard with a penetrating gaze. “No, human, I would have had my people fight alongside the gnolls. They were closer to our kind than your human progenitors. They were where out loyalties should have lain. The knowledge of the Hutaakans combined with the brute force of the Gnoll – we would have been unstoppable! All your foolish kind would have been swept aside before our combined might!” Ptanophix smiled haughtily as the wizard processed this shocking admission.

“But, surely the gnolls were invading your lands. Weren’t they pillaging everything in sight?”

“We could have made them understand. They were our cousins, not blasphemies as the priesthood would have had us believe, but kin! I spent time with them, taught them our ways – they had such potential!”

“You lived among them?” Karnus looked around the chamber, as if seeing it for the first time. He smiled as he came to his conclusion. “You betrayed your own kind! Sided with the Gnolls against your own people. That’s why your tomb is anonymous – you were expunged from the history of hutaaka!”

The woman glared at Karnus. “No matter. Now a new day dawns for Hutaaka. I will lead my people to greatness once again – even the remnants of Hutaaka will be all that’s required to harness the power of the gnoll, and together, we shall reclaim our lands!”

“And you really think I’ll let you?”

“You cannot stop me, human! Give me the staff and I will grant you a swift death.”

“If you’re so confident, take it from me.” Karnus raised his hand in preparation for casting a spell. Ralindi saw his motion and quickly whipped his dagger out from his sleeve. This alarmed the other members of Anya’s expedition, and they suddenly started shouting for Karnus to back down. Though the wizard didn’t lower his hand, he was suddenly reminded that Anya’s body would be the recipient of any harm he directed at Ptanophix.

The possessed woman looked around her at the shouting humans and dwarves, disgust writ large upon her face. “So be it! Your flawed staff would merely have made things easier. I can do it the hard way.” With that, she skipped daintily up the steps, crossing the rings of statues and making her way towards the sarcophagus that presumably contained Ptanophix’s mortal remains.

As she passed between a pair of the statues, the sculpted hutaakan forms slowly began to move. The activation spread around the ring of statues, each sculpture turning its head to regard the sprinting human, their eyes glowing with a menacing yellow light. As Ptanophix reached the sarcophagus at the centre of the area, a barrage of magic missiles, one for every crystalline eye in the ring of statues, shot at the woman, who staggered and cried at their impact.

Karnus watched in horror as the woman was subjected to wave after wave of bombardment. The wizard judged that the glowing shard of light must not be true magic missiles, as many of them missed their target and those that did seemed not to cause great damage, but the sheer number unleashed meant that nobody could last for long.

Two of Anya’s assistants ran up the steps, thinking to retrieve their friend. The statues nearest them turned to regard the newcomers, showering them too with magical projectiles. Ptanophix staggered to a halt beside the sarcophagus, still reeling from the multiple bolts of magic that impacted on and around her. The woman stretched a shaking hand over the cover of the tomb and spoke a single word which Karnus, watching in horror, could not hear. Suddenly, amid a blaze of indigo light the cover stone disintegrated, its dust falling into the now open sarcophagus. As the dust fell, a long slim object floated up through it. Ptanophix lunged forward through the obscuring dust, pulling the object to her. As she pulled it free of the dust cloud, Karnus stared in shock at the staff which was revealed. It possessed a long shaft of dark wood, possibly mahogany, but stained so as to be almost black. Topping this shaft of wood was a jackal’s head, crafted in gold, with glowing indigo eyes. Karnus couldn’t stop himself from glancing at the staff he bore, whose counterpart Ptanophix now thrust into the air. The eyes of the staff flared with a deep, hot, purple light, and suddenly the barrage of yellow magic missiles ceased, leaving the two assistants unmoving upon the floor, and Ptanophix panting before the open sarcophagus.

“So, scion of Xaphorteq,” Anya’s battered form winced as she straightened up, “you see I crafted a true Staff of Hutaaka – one that will never be wielded by one of your pathetic race!” She once again thrust the staff into the air, and became bathed in purple light. When the light faded, Anya stood dressed in dark robes, trimmed with purple. The possessed woman looked down approvingly at her new outfit. “Much more fitting,” she exclaimed. Gripping her staff, she took a step forward toward Karnus. “Now, human, I’m afraid your time is up.”

As the woman stalked towards Karnus the statues ringing the platform turned to face the outside. As they turned around, Karnus could see that the warm yellow glow in each eye had been replaced by violent purple. Ralindi, standing beside Karnus, quickly cast a spell, while the shocked wizard looked on at the now-possessed statues.

“You see now, boy,” leered Ptanophix, “it is simplicity itself for me to turn the works of Xaphorteq against you!”

“Protective Arms, Blue,” urged Ralindi in Glantrian from Karnus’ side.

Karnus quickly snapped out of his shock, summoning a shield around himself as glowing purple magic missiles shot out in all directions from the possessed statues. Anya’s erstwhile assistants screamed as they were bombarded with magic, and Karnus could but watch as, one by one, the unfortunate expeditionaries fell to the floor. Karnus and Ralindi were thoroughly protected from harm – it appeared that the limited form of magic missile which the statues shot could not penetrate the shield spells they wore about them.

Ptanophix laughed heartily as the wizards stood amid the carnage. The statues began to move towards the pair, still shooting their ineffective missiles. As they approached, the nearest statues raised their fists to smite the magic users. Quick as a flash, Ralindi hurled his dagger at the nearest statue, lodging it in its chest. The stone fractured, sending cracks across the living status, but the thing continued to lurch forward. Ralindi followed his dagger with a barrage of magic missiles, and the statue froze and toppled, shattering as it hit the ground.

Karnus unleashed a flight of magic missiles of his own, one of the few spells he possessed which would affect the living statues. The target of his onslaught staggered from his magical attack, but continued on until it stood next to the wizard. Karnus deftly turned aside both of its fists, then delivered a vicious blow of his own to the neck of the statue, fracturing it and decapitating the creature.

Ptanophix continued her cackling as the wizards were surrounded by the living statues. “Back to back, Blue!” cried Ralindi as he retrieved his dagger and leapt to stand at Karnus back. The two Wizards of Glantri stood with their backs to one another, unleashing their magic upon their foes. Fire flashed in front of Karnus, ice blossoming before Ralindi. A wall of stone appeared from nowhere to trap several of the creatures, while a green beam reduced one of the statues to dust. Multiple images of both wizards sprang simultaneously into view as the casters completed their spells in unison. Ralindi called out commands in a confident tone and Karnus followed his orders, breaking off from his fellow wizard to engage a foe then returning to him when the statue was defeated. Karnus’ summoned images began to dwindle, until once again only his shielding spell protected him. The wizard, having exhausted his supply of spells which would work on the living statues, stood guard as Ralindi unleashed his still formidable arsenal of magic, bright flashes of multicoloured magic reflecting throughout the chamber.

Eventually, only a few of the living statues represented any threat. As Karnus stepped forward to engage them, Ptanophix, smiling no more, muttered the words to a spell and lifted into the air above the central platform. “It seems I underestimated the potential of humanity,” said the possessed woman, “you pair have much power at your disposal.”

Ralindi shouted to the still fighting Karnus, “I don’t know what she’s saying, but I’d give real money to shut her up.” Karnus grunted in agreement as he felled another statue.

“Some of those spells I had never even seen before,” continued the hutaakan as Karnus paced back to the Ethengarian wizard. “I look forward to learning them when I take your spellbooks for my own!” The woman levelled her own staff at Ralindi, who was busy finishing off the last of the living statues, his back to the deadly purple glow in the eyes of the staff.

“No!” cried Karnus as he dove toward the man. Twin beams of dark, livid purple energy shot from Ptanophix’s staff, driving toward the off guard wizard. Karnus didn’t know what those beams would do to the Glantrian, but he was sure it wouldn’t be good. He brought up the Staff of Hutaaka and stepped in front of his companion, placing himself in the path of the rays. From his own staff leapt twin energy beams of brightest sapphire, meeting the oncoming purple energy in an explosion of colour.

Karnus focussed all his will power into driving back Ptanophix’s deadly attack. The blue and purple rays battled with one another, neither side able to gain a decisive advantage. His brow furrowed by concentration, Karnus looked through narrowed eyes at the woman standing several yards before him, her own face contorted with the effort of maintaining her attack. Suddenly, Ralindi’s dagger arced through the air between the two, slicing a delicate cut into Anya’s arm. The woman winced and gripped at her wound, instantly causing the purple beams to wither and die. Karnus own sapphire energy leapt towards the possessed woman, but she dove out of the path of the rays. The disintegration beams instead hit one of the massive statues which helped support the roof, removing its leg and causing the rest of it to collapse into rubble.

Ptanophix looked around her as the roof far above the trio began to crack and splinter, sending large chunks of masonry down on the mages. She stood and made her way quickly toward her sarcophagus, but before she could get there Karnus sent dual bolts of stunning energy at her, causing the hutaakan to reel away. Ralindi ran to Karnus’ side. “We’ve got to get out of here, Blue!” he shouted as the masonry crashed down around them.

The stunned Ptanophix managed to fix Karnus with an evil glare. “You…” her speech faltered from the effects of the stunbolt. “Hutaaka… will rise… again.” She drew herself up and shouted a single word, the sound of falling masonry obscuring what she said from Karnus. Ptanophix’s staff’s eyes shot forth a short pair of beams, which sketched an oval shape in the air before her. As the portal formed, Karnus’ eyes widened, and he dashed toward the fleeing mage.

”No!” cried Ralindi, bowling into Karnus and knocked him to the ground as the roof collapsed even further. The pair staggered to rest upon the sarcophagus, and Karnus could only watch as the possessed archaeologist flung herself through the portal, which closed behind her with a clap.

“Blue!” shouted Ralindi, “we’ve got to go!” Karnus nodded mutely, but happened to glance down at the open sarcophagus. Reaching in, Karnus quickly retrieved a couple of objects, then followed the running wizard, who deftly dodged the falling rock. The two ran up the passageway as the booming behind them signalled the final collapse of the chamber and triggered the slow disintegration of the entrance tunnel.

Panting, the wizards staggered out through the doors into the tunnel, running the tortuous extra yards to the end of the earthworks put in place by Anya’s now dead team. Emerging into the dim evening light, the wizards sprawled on the ground and stared round at the hill as it collapsed in on itself, obliterating Ptanophix’s prison.

Ralindi lay laughing on his back, exhilarated by their escape. “Quite the adventurous little country you have here!” He sat up and grinned at his companion, but Karnus didn’t return his smile. Instead he was staring at the collapsed hill, grimly assessing the extent of the evil that had been set free that day. The wizard looked at the Staff of Hutaaka, whose eyes no longer blazed in warning. “I failed,” mumbled Karnus.

The man shuffled over to sit by Karnus. “You’ll get another chance, Blue – that much I’m sure of.” The wizard stood and offered a hand to the prone wizard. As he hauled Karnus up, Ralindi clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on – things to be done!” Karnus nodded at his companion, and together the two slowly walked away from the collapsed hill.

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