:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Valley of Hutaaka, Part Two ::

The Valley of Hutaaka

While waiting for his companions' paralysis to wear off, Drewen inspected the dead priestess' body. How she happened to be in this part of the Temple, or how the undead spirit had managed to enter her body, remained a mystery. However she did guard the golden altar bowl, which Drewen retrieved. She also wore a dazzling platinum medallion in the shape of a star, which Karnus took to hang around his own neck, and at the belt of her ceremonial armour was a length of rolled parchment. Rubbing the last of the stiffness from his limbs, Vasily read the ageing text and declared that the scroll contained several powerful incantations, not least of which was Raise Dead.

Vasily stowed the scroll with great care, hoping that its most powerful spell might never need to be used. He also respectfully unbuckled the magnificent suit of clerical platemail and slung this over one shoulder in a sack.

Kforedz's eyes gleamed with delight when the bowl was delivered to her a while later. She could now conduct the ceremony and in so doing would honour Pflarr, her people's long-neglected Immortal patron. Without warning however, there came the splintering of wood as Traldar warriors burst through the entrance of the Great Temple, weapons in their hands. Kforedz screeched furiously that no blood should be spilled upon the holy ground; so strong was her conviction that even the powerful Traldar vocals paused. Guri Ben-Gall stepped forward to speak with the priestess. After a short debate, with the Karameikan outsiders acting as neutral go-betweens, it was agreed that the ceremony should proceed as planned. Both sides would benefit from the undead presence being removed from the Valley, and the two races could renew their hostilities once the event had taken place.

The ceremony was completed in a remarkably short space of time. Immediately afterward, nothing seemed to have changed. But true enough in the weeks and months that followed, not a single undead creature could be found wandering within the Valley of Hutaaka.

The Threat of Kartoeba

All seemed well in the Valley. Yet the outlander companions felt dissatisfied and muttered amongst themselves - Kforedz had offered little reward for the services they had provided. She went as far to proclaim that neither she nor her people knew of any 'lost treasure'. The party retreated to Byxata to consider their next course of action. They seemed to have done all they could to help both the Traldar and the Hutaakan peoples. What else remained to be achieved? That night the answer came, as the town was assaulted by the monstrous black mass known as Kartoeba. Lana and Karnus guessed that the creature might be a gigantic black pudding, however its apparent intelligence was at odds with their theory. Rumours circulated that Kartoeba was the liege of the undead, and was enraged that he had been deprived of his minions by the ritual carried out by both the Traldar and Hutaakan people. As a result the monster's attacks on Byxata continued. He would burn an acidic path through walls, buildings, even cliffs in his pursuit of prey. Something needed to be done. But by all accounts Kartoeba was ageless, if not a demi-god, the personification of darkness and evil itself. None believed he could be injured, let alone slain. However the party wished to find out for themselves.

At dawn the next day, after a further attack by Kartoeba, excited shouts went up from the Hutaakan scouts. For the first time ever, the creature's acidic trail was clear enough to be tracked. The party of adventurers offered their services to Kforedz and her people - they would hunt Kartoeba, in return for a share of whatever riches the beast might be guarding. The priestess agreed and arranged for two members of her Order to escort the party. Shortly afterwards the companions made their way out of the town. The slime trail led in roughly the direction of the Great Temple, meandering out of Byxata and into the pasture and forest lands beyond.

It was while following the trail along a great forest that Threy's danger sense became aroused. The cleric barked a warning to Karnus who threw up his cloak, just in time to deflect a dagger thrown from above. The party raised their gazes and there, hovering above them, was the wizard Golthar. Lana instantly mouthed a spell, imbuing Karnus with magical flight. The blue-robed mage soared across the tree-tops in pursuit of their yellow-robed assailant.

All too quickly however Karnus found himself in a trap. As he began the incantation to summon glowing magic missiles, a sharp projectile buried itself in his side. Karnus howled in anger as his concentration dispersed. Far below in the forest, an archer stood, no doubt one of Golthar's minions, firing arrow after arrow at Karnus' form which was prone, seeing how he had stopped to cast his spell. Within the blink of an eye, Karnus soared high up, out of range. But Golthar was fleeing now also; Karnus growled and resumed his pursuit.

Gritting his teeth against the pain of the arrow shaft embedded in his side, Karnus gauged that he could cast a single spell before his opponent went out of range. But which? He had no offensive magic left, for his Magic Missile spell had been ruined by the injury he had sustained moments before. Then a smile crept across his lips. From his fingertips billowed an invisible stream of cancellation magic... Would the range prove too great for Golthar to be affected?

There came a confused shriek, as Karnus' opponent realised his ability to fly had been Dispelled. Golthar plummeted. Far down he fell into the forest beneath. Even from his distant vantage point Karnus heard the satisfying crunch as Golthar broke through the forest canopy to land on stony ground below. Karnus hoped this would incapacitate his opponent for a while. Smiling, he sped across the treetops to rejoin his companions.

The scorched trail of slime wound through the valley until a cliff-face of sorts. At the top a small opening could be seen. Karnus carried Lana to the clifftop, then the mages waited while their armour-clad companions made the slow ascent. Karnus regaled Lana with news of what had become of Golthar. The yellow-robed mage was still at large, however, and would need to be apprehended. Both mages took deep breathes in anticipation of the inevitable.

Into the Lair

Reaching the top of the cliff-face, the companions lit torches and entered into the cave complex beyond. They uncovered a labyrinth of twisting passages, all of which seemed to lead in circles. The air in these tunnels assaulted the nostrils of each hero - acrid and unpleasant. No doubt Kartoeba was not far away.

The companions in their desperation began mapping the corridors, going so far as to hammer iron spikes into the earth as an attempt to keep from wandering in circles. Two carrion crawlers were encountered, then a third which appeared on the roof of the passage directly over their heads. Threy was hit by a tentacle and fought hard to counteract the paralysis of the monster's poison. After hours' more searching, when all seemed lost, the companions turned one final corner. A large cavern was ahead. Drewen was first to step into the cavern and found to his displeasure that its floor was wet with acid, as the sole of his boot began to dissolve, giving off a powerful, acrid stench.

Entering, the companions stepped carefully around the sides of a large pit which almost blocked the entrance to the cavern. Moments later their foe struck. But it was not Kartoeba who challenged them.

Yellow robes descended from the cave's dark ceiling - Golthar had healed himself and returned to inconvenience the party. He was crazed and unaware of the presence of the murderous Kartoeba close to hand. Lana's hand closed around the hilt of her dagger. She did not wish to waste magic on a pathetic and spineless upstart such as this enemy. Instead she invoked a Fly spell and soared to meet the enemy, steel clenched in one hand. This time, she vowed, he would not get away...

Golthar's timing could not have been worse. As the companions were distracted by the wizard's appearance, they did not notice two enormous black tentacles snake out from the oily depths of the pit, to wrap around the waists of the hutaakan priests who accompanied the party.

Karnus was eager to join the fight against Golthar, but had depleted his supply of spells. Instead, he took hold of his newly-acquired Wand of Polymorphing in an attempt to transform into a huge eagle and fly after Golthar. No sooner however than the mage's fingers had closed around the wood of the wand, a shock pulsed through Karnus' body. He convulsed, not understanding what was happening to him ... somehow the wand refused his command. Karnus was left momentarily catatonic.

Lana soared upward as soon as her flight came into effect. Golthar hurled several of his flimsy stiletto daggers, however his adversary managed to dodge each missile with ease. Golthar then glanced up, and ascended into a massive dark chimney in the cavern's ceiling. Lana gave chase, and the two shot out through the roof of the temple. Golthar glared as Lana closed the distance, discarding his supply of small knives and drawing out the massive blade he had taken from Gacctis' body. A vicious dagger-fight ensued in the skies above the Valley.

Lana fought with a frenzy. She wanted Golthar to feel the cold, piercing feel of steel, the same as the dozens of innocent homesteaders whose lives and kin had been savaged by the blades of Golthar's greedy minions. Golthar wrapped both hands around his blade and lashed forcefully at his opponent. Lana dodged poorly, and could not help but howl in agony when the dagger sank hilt-deep into her back. By this point she had taken enough. She wanted nothing more now than for Golthar to be on the receiving end this one last time. She slashed out, fighting to retain her control. She landed one deep blow, then another. One final time she struck. Finally Golthar turned tail and flew away, out of dagger range. Lana was left with no choice but to cast a Magic Missile. Golthar had a Shield in effect however. The first missile fizzed harmlessly against the wizard's defences. As did the second. The third however had the desired effect.

The Demise of Golthar

"AAAARRGGGHHH!" Golthar's eyes rolled in their sockets as the missile's energy ravaged his body. He plummeted. Lana tried aiming a slice from her dagger at the straps holding her enemy's spellbook within its pack, but to no avail, as the bonds were made of thick leather and refused to come apart. Golthar descended rapidly, down into the temple beneath, smashing through the ancient roof tiles. With a crash, his limbs became entangled in a metal cage hanging from a chain in the centre of the ceiling. The combined weight proved too much for the chain to support; it snapped and Golthar fell again, this time he landing with a splash on the acidic floor of Kartoeba's lair. Lana allowed herself a second to catch her breath before pursuing.

Karnus meanwhile was making a concerted effort to safeguard Golthar's pack, inside which the mage's spellbook was contained. Kartoeba was getting nearer and nearer - Lana shouted a warning for Karnus to be careful and defend himself. Meanwhile Drewen, Threy, Vasili and Stephen were wading in for combat. Lana cast a Mirror Image and hurling spells from a short distance. She sent a trio of Magic Missiles, impacting on one tentacle holding Vasily in place, which released the cleric. She then saw that Threy was in danger; he too had been seized by a tentacle and was in danger of being dragged into the beast's maw. A bolt of lightning erupted into Kartoeba's mouth but this was not enough to prevent Threy from being pulled in and bitten almost clean in half. Threy collapsed, letting out a garbled shriek before going limp and motionless. Drewen roared with fury. Lana screamed. Their companion of so long, of many hard-fought battles and adventures, the cleric Threy, was dead.

The cleric had lost his life in hand-to-hand combat, defending his companions, people with whom he had travelled for a long while in search of a common purpose. His comrades fought bravely to vanquish the entity which had stolen their friend's life. The tide was not turning in their favour however. Stephen and Vasily were wrapped in tentacles, unable to move. Drewen too was being pulled closer toward the hideous mouth, ready to bitten at any second. Lana's dagger was doing some damage, but nowhere near enough. In desperation her hand moved to her belt, where she grabbed a vial of liquid she had been saving for some time. She had barely a second to spare as she downed the contents in one, then felt herself being hefted aloft by one of Kartoeba's innumerable black tentacles. The tentacle lifted her by the ankle to dangle upside down. The acidic touch burned the flesh of her leg, but as the potion provided her with increased physical strength, she made a final, frenzied slash with her dagger toward the top of the beast's body. Her blow impacted with magically imbued force. Kartoeba reeled in pain, its tentacles sagging limply. Lana and Drewen fell to the ground, and Stephen and Vasily managed to crawl away from the beast's maw. Kartoeba was dead. But at what terrible cost... Threy was gone.

Without a moment to spare, Vasily remembered the clerical spell scroll he had taken from the high priestess in the Great Temple, written in Traladaran script. One of the incantations might be able to restore the Threy's lifespark, considering that he had passed from life mere moments ago. With a humble prayer to Halav beforehand, Vasily spoke the words to the powerful spell, which vanished from the parchment as he read.

Within seconds, there came the barest of flickers from Threy's eyelids. The cleric was alive! The companions embraced him happily.

Lana presented her friends with a strange-looking implement - a bar of solid silver, engraved with runes. She had found this object sticking out of the glutinous mass which constituted Kartoeba's head. What use could it provide? In the meantime, a search of the back wall yielded a rusting ladder, leading far up to the ceiling of the high chamber. Finally. As her companions began climbing the ladder, with Threy slung over Stephen's broad shoulders, Lana used the remnants of her Fly spell to reach the top of the ladder within a few moments. Here she found a trapdoor in the ceiling, barely large enough for a human to fit through. Willing magical light to appear in the hilt of her dagger, Lana steadied herself at the top of the ladder and pushed hard to heave the trapdoor open. Trembling with anticipation, she emerged into the room above... and was blinded by what her light illuminated.

At last...

The room was piled to waist height in sheening gold and silver coins, interspersed with gems, statuettes, and ingots of precious metals. Rich tapestries adorned the walls. A table stood in the centre of the chamber, bearing a small fur pouch, a quill pen, a ball of golden yarn, a ring, a small sack and other assorted items. Beside the table stood a throne of solid, sheening gold, inlaid with various gemstones. What drew Lana's attention most was a six-foot cedarwood staff leaning in one corner of the room. The staff was topped with the silvered effigy of a hutaakan face whose eyes swirled with a colourless expression. A magical staff.

The treasure of a lost civilisation was theirs.

Drewen had reached the top of the ladder as she could hear him complaining that she was blocking the entrance to the room. Lana pulled herself through the trapdoor and collapsed at one side to survey the treasures. Drewen joined her and could only gape, speechless, at the riches before them. This was what they had been questing after for such a long time. Untouched for a millenium... Both Lana and Drewen urged their companions to reach the top of the ladder and survey the treasure.

Stephen and Drewen sang and danced with one another at having uncovered so great a hoard. Karnus reached the top of the ladder next and pulled himself through the trapdoor. Catching sight of the staff, he ran eagerly to the corner of the room and let his hands caress the smooth surface of the enchanted wood... Within an instant the grey eyes of the silver head swirled their last, and turned to pure sapphire. The staff had chosen its master.

Seeing this happen, Lana's mouth fell open in surprise. She felt numb initially. Yet in truth she accepted that Karnus should be the true master of this weapon, for it was he who had toiled long and hard, guiding his fellow party members through the expanse of the Valley and acting as liaison with the Hutaakan and Traldar peoples. It seemed only logical that he should be granted the legacy of the forgotten empire's magic.

The party wondered how they would ever transport such a mass of riches back to their home, which lay around a hundred miles away. First and foremost, Drewen claimed the beautiful golden throne, which took up a large portion of the bag of holding. Next the gemstones were pocketed, then Lana selected a coronet made of solid platinum and inlaid with sapphires. Karnus pocketed a large ruby as a spell component. Vasily and Threy took care of the other peculiar items - the quill, the bag, the scarab brooch, the spool of sheening gold thread and so on, and after this golden coins were crammed into every possible pocket, sack, and backpack. Still a sizeable amount of gold and silver coins remained.

But how were the companions ever going to leave the chamber? The tiny trapdoor which had served as their entrance was too small to accommodate bulging sacks, and the long rusty ladder would pose a considerable danger. The party cast light around the walls of the treasure room, but could find no other doors or exits... save for a small recess in one wall which appeared large enough for a finger to fit inside. Tentatively, Lana produced the engraved silver tube which Kartoeba had been guarding for centuries. Poking the length of metal into the wall, there came a series of heavy mechanical sounds, and with a rumbling not heard for one thousand years, a section of wall slid back. Daylight flooded the chamber through the hole high up in the Temple roof. Sure enough, the companions were standing in a section of the Great Temple of Pflarr. All this time the treasure had been hidden behind the altar area, more or less under their noses.

Hastening out of the crumbling temple, it seemed the civil war had reached a crescendo. Fights were breaking out across the Valley. Amid the turmoil of the two races' hatred for one another, the party returned to Kforedz to report their good fortune in finding the treasure, and inform her people that there was still much gold and silver within the temple, for indeed the treasure to which the companions had claimed was but a fraction of the overall hoard. At this point the priestess revealed her true colours. All along Kforedz had known the whereabouts of the treasure, but had not dared face the mighty Kartoeba, guardian of the riches. She admitted exploiting the party, first using them to help her annihilate the undead hordes, then to exterminate Kartoeba. Not even Golthar remained to steal her treasure. Now Kforedz wanted not only the treasure which remained in the Temple, but all the riches which the party had removed. With a maniacal chanting, she used her fading clerical magic to summon a horde of undead zombies, which she ordered to strip the outlanders of their hard-earned treasures. This proved a futile endeavour however, as Kforedz's fellow priests turned against her, shocked by her perverted misuse of clerical magic. With the arrival of the belligerent Traldar tribe at that very same moment, all hell broke loose.

Thinking it sensible to escape while their foe was distracted, the party took hold of their treasures and began the journey to depart the Valley.

Leaving the Valley

On their way out of the mountains, the companions heard weapons clashing a short way off, and glimpsed the occasional flash of magic. They soon encountered the cause - a skirmish on the river plain between gnolls on the one hand and a familiar couple on the other. One, a green-robed figure, swooping down from the skies and sending glowing bolts of magic into the midst of her enemies; the other a musclebound fighter, wrestling his foes with his bare hands. These could only be Halia and Retameron Antonic, the overseers of Verge not far to the east. Their village had been plagued by the gnoll tribes for weeks now. The party gave a cheer and charged to join the Antonics.

For their assistance in chasing the gnolls from Verge, the companions were invited to the Antonics' home. Spending a couple of nights there, all the companions benefited from the chance to have a thorough wash and brush-up. Over a sumptous dinner the companions told the Antonics the reasons for their long absence, and the history of the Valley. Halia, an avid geographer, was astounded by the reports and even suggested that the adventurers might sell their story to other treasure-seekers. The companions thought it best to leave the Valley in peace for a while longer. The inhabitants were caught up in racial war, after all.

A return trip was made to Threshold. The wizard Valtanivark, won over with wonder at his young friends' tales, agreed to examine the party's newly-acquired magical items, making a kind pretence of owing his apprentice a favour for past service. Drewen returned to his cottage in the town, Vasily to the shrine of the Church of Traladara, and Lana, Threy and Karnus were offered lodgings in Valtanivark's Tower. The long quest was finally over.

A change would do you good ...

That night in her old bed Lana tossed and turned, unable to sleep, her teeth gritted as if fighting some invulnerable opponent. In the back of her memory she vaguely remembered an appointment she had made with the Thyatian mage Hadrian. The offer had been to visit the wizard's home at Kantridae in the faraway Empire of Thyatis, where Hadrian would instruct her on how better to defend herself with the dagger. What a perfect change, she thought. Teamwork was all well and good, but she fancied some time to herself.

Without a second thought Lana grabbed her belongings and booked passage with the elfmaiden Cardia to leave for Specularum as soon as possible. Hadrian would be arriving in the capital any day now, and she could not afford to miss him. Vasily also had expressed a wish to return to his home city, as the Beasts' Day festival would start soon and his clerical services would be called upon. Mage and cleric therefore jumped aboard Cardia's flying carpet and were soon speeding southward, toward new adventures.

This ends our adventure based on the module Night's Dark Terror

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