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The five companions had been apart for close to two months now, therefore when they reconvened they had many tales to tell one another of their individual adventures.
Drewen had remained in Threshold for most of his time apart from the group - renovating his cottage, meeting up with old acquaintances in the Twisty Beard tavern, and counting his hoard of gold. The companions joked about what little space remained under Drewen's floorboards to contain his treasures. During this time reports reached Threshold of violence to the north, where bands of bugbears were known to be at large. They seemed to inhabit a location which was wellknown to Drewen - the ruined tower known as Rezgale's Ruins, the site of Drewen and his companions' first ever adventure together.
Curious as much as concerned for the town's safety, Drewen packed his adventuring equipment, strapped on his armour and headed north. He was joined by two friends - Canerzon of the Town Guard (now risen to second-in-command of the local watch) and Stephen of Sukiskyn. Reaching the ruins, the three fighters entered the ruins beneath the tower. Not all was as it had been two years before when Drewen had last been here; many changes had been made to the dungeon's layout by its new inhabitants. The fighting that day was long and exhausting, even by the hardy dwarf's standards, and the companions decided to retreat back to Threshold. They carried several sacks with them, brimming with gold pieces, but their wounds were grievous and would take time to heal. The three had slain a good number of bugbears that day, and Threshold would be safe for at least a while longer.
During the trek back to Threshold, many questions remained unanswered in Drewen's mind. Where had the bugbears come from? How had they found the ruins, and how had they been organised enough to renovate the complex? Another puzzling fact was that Drewen had encountered no chieftain - so who was co-ordinating the tribe's activities? The answers to these question would become known soon enough.
Karnus had stayed in Threshold with Drewen when the other companions left for Threshold; the blue-robed mage sought Valtanivark's guidance regarding the practical uses of magical staves. The aging wizard expressed his regret that he could offer Karnus only limited assistance, since the Staff of Hutaaka was a truly unique magical item and would only reveal its mysteries to its one true master. Even though the Staff had clearly accepted Karnus as master, the blue-robed mage knew that he would need to work long and hard to unlock the staff's capabilites. This would take time AND patience...
In the meantime, the mage had a pressing matter to attend to. The wand he had acquired in the mountains above Threshold was causing him mental anguish. He had attempted to call upon its shape-changing powers during the fight against Golthar, but instead of becoming an eagle like he had intended, Karnus had instead been rendered almost catatonic. This was no ordinary wand, he had decided. When Karnus slept at night, he would experience unsettling dream sequences. In his mind's eye he saw a vast lake, which after several recurrences of the exact same sequence he suspected to be the Lake of Lost Dreams, in the far east of the Grand Duchy. Telling no-one else of his quest, and eager to rid himself of the wand's "curse", Karnus travelled alone across the expanse of Karameikos, trying to retrace his steps from the party's previous visit (when they had attempted to rid the Illya pixies of their evil curse, around two months ago).
Stumbling through the depths of the Dymrak Forest, Karnus was beset by hordes of goblins and dire wolves, which he fought first with magic (including an application of his newly-created Fireball spell and then with his cedarwood staff once his magical resources had been drained. After several such encounters, and bearing heavy injuries, he happened upon across a large cave entrance. Wishing to hide from his goblin pursuers, he ducked inside. Following a natural tunnel a short way, Karnus emerged into a massive cavern, the floor of which blinded him when the light of his torch fell upon it. The cave was piled high with gold. This was, it appeared, a dragon's hoard. And its owner was at home... thus Karnus became the first party member to encounter Korak.
Through words of false flattery and the offering of an expensive sapphire necklace the weakened Karnus was able to stall for time in the lair of the green dragon. Karnus felt certain that he had met his day, since the dragon's goblin minions were surely closing in upon him, and he was trapped in their liege's lair. Also, the dragon could have ripped him apart with one claw, or would only need to breathe to end the blue-robed mage's life. Finally however, salvation presented itself in the least expected manner - that of the wand.
Seemingly the wand felt an urge of self-preservation. Karnus was seeking to dispel its curse therefore it was in the wand's interests to keep him alive for at least a while longer. With a shimmer of sapphire magic, Karnus' lean form transformed into that of a tiny bird. Karnus' flitting form escaped the dragon's lair on speedy wings, the beast cursing and raging behind him.
Karnus braved the forest for a while longer, until at last he arrived at the Lake, once more in human form and carrying the wand in his hand. He stood expectantly on the lakeshore yet nothing happened. Nevertheless he felt drawn toward a small island in the middle of the lake. Without further ado Karnus immersed himself in the freezing waters and began to swim.
Half way across the Lake, Karnus was certain that he could feel a presence below him, malevolent and immensely powerful. It was toying with him, feeding off his fear and revelling in its position of superior power. Undeterred, Karnus swam on toward the island and arrived unharmed. Looking around, the mage could see nothing but a single tree, its branches withered and almost dead.
The tree was calling to Karnus. He touched the wand to one of the branches, and instantly it melded into the dying wood, forming part of the tree from whence it had been hewn at some point in the past! Before Karnus' eyes the tree began to heal itself, dark and cracking wood regaining a healthy, verdant state.
After several minutes the bark of the tree came apart and a beautiful young woman emerged. She explained to Karnus that she was a dryad, a woodland spirit, from whose tree another wizard had stolen a living branch. The stolen branch became the Wand of Polymorphing but a part of the dryad's spirit was trapped inside, and would not become free until the wand was returned to the tree. Karnus had sacrificed the wand, but he was rewarded nonetheless with a magical spell scroll, and an aging tapestry, left by the wizard who had created the wand. This man had spoken of going in search of a Lost Valley, but must have perished along the way and lost his magical items. (This was how Karnus and Lana had found the "random scroll and wand" atop the bridgehouse outside the Valley of Hutaaka.)
Karnus was overjoyed at both gifts - especially the tapestry, since it was a similar item that had led the party to the Gates of the Lost Valley. Perhaps this second tapestry would lead Karnus to a place where he might unlock the secrets of the Staff. That is, if he could find Threy, who was looking after the enchanted needle...
To read a version of this story written by Alastair himself, click here.
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The clerics' exploits
Both Threy and Vasily underwent trials of faith in the months following the return from Hutaaka.
Vasily, having displayed rapid acquisition of clerical magic, was becoming more and more in demand by his Church - had such cleric as he been only a few years older than Vasily's nineteen years he would have been given a bishop's mitre. With his innnate curative spells, and the supplemented power of his Staff of Healing, Vasily found little time to participate in any individual pursuits. This included, unfortunately, clerical spell research - the Thunderball spell which Vasily had been researching for over a year now, and for which he had finally obtained a spell component (the bottled breath of a Traldar Vocal), was caused to fail dismally. Also weariness set in on the Beasts' Day feast, when Vasily was distracted from protecting his Patriarch against some insane members of the Cult of Halav, led by the rogue cleric Sergyev.
Threy, who had been deserted by his Immortal patrons, found himself robbed of spell-use and his turning power against the undead. Threy needed to find some new faith which he could believe in wholeheartedly, and dedicate his life's service to, but no matter how far into the wilderness he strayed, still he heard no voices and no deities revealed themselves to him. In a state of despair, cold, weary and alone, Threy returned to the familiar surroundings of the Flying Ferret Inn, thinking that all hope for new direction had been lost.
It was in the company of others, however, that Threy found both purpose and a new strength. He had given his life in the battle against Kartoeba, and it was most because of this heroic and selfless act that Threy's anarchic Patrons, although in need of such accompished priests as Threy to coax the dwindling flame of their cause, had decided that Threy's path diverged from their own. Threy realised that he had no need to be alone any longer. For a long while he had made a pretence of hostility to the ideals of his more lawful-minded comrades, but their ideologies were having a marked effect on his own beliefs and behaviour. It was in the company of his friends, working for a common purpose, that Threy suddenly found himself with the strength to cast a spell. In accepting the fact that he truly did have friends, and that such company was to be cherished, Threy's powers returned.
(more detailed description of this on the next page - see Hutaakan ruins outside Threshold).
The party reforms
The five party members regrouped and exchanged tales of their individual exploits over mugs of ale and fine wine in the cosy surroundings of the Flying Ferret Inn. More than one of them had been looking forward to time apart from the group, as an opportunity to reflect on past months, to relax and unwind in different surroundings. Back together again however, new adventures awaited them.
Read about the party's subsequent adventures HERE