We Yet Live

“We yet live…Kforedz.” Stephan would normally have addressed a ruling female as ‘my lady’ but found it difficult give this particular lady sported the head of a jackal. “Did you suspect that something in the crypt might have brought us to an untimely end?” The Traladarian did not expect an answer and simply smiled back at what he took to be a courteous acknowledgement from Kforedz.

“Indeed, we found the Tome and more beside,” interjected Hasan. “A great crypt lay below the temple, but buried lay no more. We were attacked by the dead, a great power from ancient days, but we repelled that assult and found this Tome.”

Miklos interjected, “Yes, it is very clearly outlining a religious ceremony of some type, but Hasan and I could not understand it. You will need to tell us what you read and what it means for the Vale as soon as possible. Come now, let’s begin. I will show you what we have learned ourselves. Come now, quickly, this knowledge is surely precious.”

“Easy, Miklos,” insisted Maruc. “Kforedz, I will remind you that you swore last night to bring peace to the Vale, and that never again will evil slavery stain the Hutakaa. That was the price of our services rendered — nothing less. We have done what we swore. Now you must tell us how this Tome will advance your cause and ours.”

Feldard hung back as Hasan and the humans spoke with the Hutaakan priestess. The dwarf knew he wouldn’t be needed for a while as they discussed the tome, so the dwarf found himself a quiet place to sit down and relax.. maybe find himself an ale or two to drink.

While those more astute in such things discussed the tome with Kforedz, Stephan monitored from a short distance just in case the situation turned sour. He longed, however, to join Feldard who seemed to have acquired a pint of ale and was actively reducing any stress he may have built up.

Kforedz anxiously studied the contents of the ancient book. The normally reserved priestess got visibly more excited as she continued her reading.

Ludo followed Feldard to look for a pint of ale, finding the tome he suspected would only be the first step. He thought about the challenges ahead. This valley seeped with a source of evil that need to be defeated. Thsts what drew the Sons of Night here.

This village was not the source of evil, nor was the Vault where they had located the book which Hasan had passed back to the Hutaakans. No it was somewhere else. He chuckled to himself, what was usually the source of evil? Money and religion. He smiled, he better not mention that to Maruc. The Hutakkans had very little money that he had seen, could it be the Tralder? Slaves usually had very little money, so most likely not. No it must be elsewhere in the valley, another settlement that they had not been told about. “Feldard, I suspect we will have to go deeper into the Valley on the morrow to find what we are looking for, there is more to this valley than meets the eye. If we had some horses or mounts we could move faster and cover more ground.”

* * * * *

“You have done it. This shall be our salvation!” she proclaimed to Miklos, Maruc and Hasan. “I need to speak to you all,” she said as she sought out the full contingent of adventurers.

“Tomorrow we must travel to the Temple of Pflarr and perform the Cleansing Ceremony. Please, will you accompany us?” She implored the heroes. “I fear that without your protection, we will not be able to perform the rites. If we are successful, the dead in the Valley will finally be put to rest and peace may be restored.”

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Restless Night and a Return to the Village

“‘Arrange themselves’?”, Stephan echoed Maruc and Miklos’ words they read from the ancient tome. “So the priests stood around at certain spots?” Stephan looked around the floor for spots. “I don’t see any spots.” Looking up, “I say we get out of here. The jackal heads up there will know what to do with the tome. Maybe they can stand around in spots. There’s naught else to learn here.” He turned and started up the steps to join Feldard at the top.

Ludo crouched beside Stephan and Feldard at the top of the stairs and gazed at the setting sun. “It took us most of the day to travel here. We know these lands are filled with the walking dead after sunset. Would you agree it would be prudent to stay here tonight and return to the village on the morrow at first light? Just a thought.”

Feldard looked out over the ruins as the sun began to set. He nodded at Ludo’s words. “Quite prudent. We’ll take turns at watch. You can have first. I’ll take the mid-night watch.”

With that said the dwarf moved back down the stairs to inform the others. “We’re staying the night. Rest while you can we’ll likely have undead visitors during the night.” He began pulling out some dried meat and biscuits from his pack as an evening meal then settled himself down to eat and rest.

“Well, Miklos, I see nothing,” a resigned Hasan complained. “Tomorrow, we shall return this text to the Hutakaa and see what they can make of it. When it comes time friends, let me do the talking. And keep those under your wraps,” the elf nodded at the jewels found by the Hutakaan grave.

Maruc bent over the pale glow of a yellow candle, that emitted a sharply piney smell a it burned. The cleric prayed for the cleansing of the tomb and the might of Halav to strengthen his hand as he brought justice to those who brought the foul dead to haunt such places. When the priest finally ended his reverie, he joined his friends in a modest meal of salted pork and smoked cheese. “Yes,” he agreed with Feldard, “We should stay. I suspect our Hutakaan guard have long fled their posts.”

“Who could blame them?” Miklos interjected. “We face foes greater than any web have before. We were fortunate against that mummy, but the next time may not go as well. The Hutakaa and even more the black Darkers have much to answer.”

Stephan eyed the door, ensuring that it could at least be barred in a fashion with an ancient but seemingly stout plank of wood left discarded in a dusty corner.

“Da,” he said as if some great decision had been reached. “By Halav, I’m not happy to pass the night in this place.” Looking to Maruc, “You’re sure that Halav has cleansed this pit?”

“Yes, Stephan,” Maruc rested a reassuring hand on the woodman’s shoulder. “Though dark forces have long been at work here, I feel Halav’s strength in my prayers. He has provided. We are safe for now.”

Stephan took some measure of comfort from the priest’s words. Maruc, despite wielding remarkable ferocity in battle, could sooth the more grievous of wounds to the soul.

Miklos did not seem appeased by the priest of Halav’s words. “Might Halav also remove the smoldering remains of that mummy and provide some proper bedding?” Maruc’s return gaze at Miklos was withering. “Of course,” Miklos uncharacteristically stammered, “Mighty Halav has delivered us and we… I… am grateful.”

* * * * *

It was a restless night in the crypt. The party was troubled by strange ghostly noises, distant wailing and the like. Those who were able to sleep were troubled by nightmares of unseen ancient evil and hordes of undead.

At daybreak, they were all quite eager to leave the Hutaakan ruin. Their Hutaakan guides were long gone, but Hasan had no trouble retracing their route back to the Hutaakan village. The normally reserved jackal-headed humanoids actually showed some signs of excitement at seeing their return.

Kforedz and her flock assembled to greet the heroes.

“You have returned!“ she exclaimed. “We had feared that you had met your end inside the Vault. Have you found the Tome?”

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Any Pictures?

“Now we must face the dilemma. Can we trust the Hutakaa with this Knowledge? We must, for only they can act on it,” proclaimed Hasan. “But what we seek is the same, and so we should examine this ourselves first. Miklos, help me unbind this, that we may study for an hour or two in the confidence of this tomb. Dead men tell no tales,” Hasan laughed, nodding at the remnants of their opponent.

The dwarf, while not pleased at more idleness, knew that the elf prince had a point. “I’ll keep watch up top.” And the dwarf headed back to the entrance of the tomb to keep alert watch while those with the skill, read from tomb to see if it held the knowledge they sought. The clue to why the Sons of Night were so hell-bent on finding this valley – and more importantly, how to stop them.

Ludo shrugged his shoulders, “for what its worth, this place gives me the creeps, the presence here of Undead reinforces to me that evil is infecting the land, no wonder the Sons of Night are interested in this place, I suspect they crave the source of power that cloaks this land, the relics here will lead us to them. We had best be on our guard.

Maruc if possible I suggest you clense this temple, the creature destroyed will return otherwise. I will wait with Feldard but do not tarry too long, twilight is upon us and we are a long way from safety.

Stephan used his lightstone to scan the walls of the crypt. He searched for anything odd about the walls, but saw nothing. He then shined the light in the sepulcher from which the mummy had emerged.

He looked over at Hasan and Miklos huddled over the tome. “Can you make anything out?” They ignored the ignorant question. “Any pictures?” Stephan asked with mock eagerness.

They treated the ancient pages of the book with care. Unfortunately, it was written entirely in Hutaakan. There were no pictures, per say, but at the end of the book, there were several diagrams, seemingly to describe how priests were to arrange themselves when performing rites and ceremonies.

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The Knowledge of the Elders

Feldard looked hard at the still burning remains and wrinkled his nose at the terrible smell. He coughed at the stench and smoke. Burying his mouth and nose behind his arm, he strode past its corpse to take a look at the stone case it had emerged from.

Feldard would leave the objects on the pedestal just behind him for the mage and priest to look over. “Don’t touch them until Ludo has a chance to check for traps” he warned, as the dwarf noted the humans heading towards the pedestal even as he was thinking exactly that.

Ludo carefully made his way back down the steps and passed the charred remains. “Stephan, pass some light over here .”

Stephan retrieved his fallen sword and shield and hastened to direct his lightstone where Ludo needed it. He watched as the rogue took on a cat-like caution in examining not only the objects but the pedestal itself.

Snorting, Stephan tried to rid his nostrils of the acrid burnt smell. He was eager to move on.

Hasan mused, “So, the complaint grows truer. The dead walk, even in hallowed halls. We must know more.” The elf joined the party’s careful search of the room.

tomeAfter the thorough search was complete, it was clear the only objects of interest were covered in dust on top of the pedestal behind the curtain. There was a ring and a necklace, both made of gold, on either side of a tome, no doubt The Knowledge of the Elders of which they came here to seek. The front cover of the tome was emblazoned with the Hutaakan Holy Star, the symbol of Pflarr.

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Fire the Dead

“By all that is Holy,” exclaimed Ludo, “its a Mummy! He threw his torch at the creature, turned and pushed Hasan, quick back up the stairs, we should fight this thing in daylight.”

Maruc’s voice filled the room, catching the mummy’s mirthless gaze. “The wrath of Halav releases you, spirit. Rest yourself and lie down again.”

The creature did not retreat.

Feldard had no experience with such an undead before. But what he did know was that all other undead fell readily enough under the onslaught of his axe, so while Ludo urged retreat, Feldard pressed forward to meet this ‘mummy’ full on. He had his armor now.. the thing was little more than walking bandages.. it didn’t even carry a weapon. This should be easy. “Don’t go far my friends, I’ll be done with it in a minute or so.” How clueless he was.

Sure, with its slow lumbering, the dwarf was able to get first strike, and by the dwarfs reckoning it should have been a good one too. However, the thing before him barely acknowledged the gaping wound to its bandage-covered corpse before swinging at him in return. It is fortunate that Feldard’s armour blocked the majority of the blow ,but the strength behind it threw the dwarf into a nearby wall, knocking his breath from him. Feldard shook his dizzied head back into focus as he pushed away from the wall unsteadily. Ok.. maybe not so easy to fight.

Stephan was initially relieved to allow Feldard to take care of the, what was it Ludo called it? A mummy? He lingered back as a reserve troop as Feldard closed on the mummy. Stephan stifled a yell when he saw the dwarf hurled so easily across the room.

“For Feldard!” Stephan bellowed as he engaged the musty undead with is sword. With the bandage-wrapped monstrosity momentarily trapped, Stephan was able to land two strikes on the mummy. He felt the blows were sound but the impact of it felt strange and did not have the devastating effects he’d hoped. This momentary surprise cost him dearly as the mummy grabbed at his sword–no blood, no pain–and wrenched it from his grasp. The blade clattered across the stonework. Faster than expected, the mummy finished its attack with a roundhouse pummel that, like Feldard, sent Stephan sprawling. It was all he could do to roll to his feet. Unshielded–somehow, his shield had come loose and now lay useless on the flagstones. In one fell swoop, the mummy had managed to completely disarm him. He was grateful, laughingly, to still be wearing his chainmail.

Hasan swung brazenly, oblivious to the danger. The elf’s glad whistled through the air and sliced neatly through the tattered cloth. The mummy turned unhurriedly toward yet another attacker, stretching his arms out to wring Hasan’s slender neck.

“Clear the way prince!” Miklos called. The elf leaped and rolled away. The mage had been waiting for an opening, and now with the warriors out of the way, he cast a web spell and snared their frightening foe.

“Burn it!” the woodsman shouted. “Fire the dead!”

They did not have much time for the creature’s claws were already hard at work slicing through the webbing. They quickly stabbed the bundle of webs and wrappings with their torches, and it quickly came ablaze. The horror was a threat no more.

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What Are We Waiting For?

Hasan winced as he heard the sounds rise up from below a third time. “No mistaking it, is there?” he asked tentatively. The elf’s companions saw his concentration drift away and heard soft tones of an ancient Elvish melody emerge under the elf’s gulping breaths.

“Well what are we waiting for?” the dwarf inquired from his position at the back, as the party seemed to hesitate before the open doorway.

“The way forward has opened. That is what we wanted, right? Lead the way on, or I shall.” Feldard stated impatiently. Yes, he could hear the sound of stone on stone from far below. From the sound of it, whatever was moving, was quite large. In fact, in some ways, it reminded him of the statues they’d faced earlier at the entrance to the Valley itself. That there might be other stonework trials to pass wasn’t surprising to the dwarf.

“Hold on, hold on,” voiced Ludo, “Let’s not be too hasty, give me a moment to look for any traps, these Hutakkans are pretty keen on keeping there heritage and valuables a secret from prying eyes. I would not be at all surprised to find that they had left some surprises for anyone investigating this vault.”

The thief approached the perimeter of the stairwell. The distinct of death and decay wafted up from below. He did not find any traps.

Feldard’s pragmatic impatience did much to dispel the foreboding feeling that had been growing in Stephan. The heavy-sounding, stone-on-stone grating echoed about the chambre. “Da,” the Traladarian said as some sort of declaration. “Sounds like more stone portals opening for us. We are bidden to go forth.” Yet, he made no move to actually lead the party into the depths. He looked to Miklos, who prominently held the rod.

While he waited for the mage to begin the groups’ descent, he got out his light stone, fixing it into the wire contraption he’d devised on his helm. There. Now he stood ready to enter the gloom.

The cave was a dry one, at least at this level, with none of the wonderous cave formations he’d seen in the Valkos Mountains years ago. Good, he thought. He preferred, all things considered, remaining dry. He checked, however, his flask to see how full it was and was happy to discover it brimming.

Another, very distant, stone grating sound beckoned the companions. This time, however, there seemed to be more of a cracking quality to the cave’s voice. “This hole is speaking to us. I don’t speak cave.” His words, though absurd, nonetheless somehow made sense.

“Nor Do I, Stephan,” laughed Miklos. “But Feldard does speak cave and fortification better than most, and it seems he wants to go. Lead on Master Dwarf.”

Maruc smiled thinly at his friend’s wit and stepped forward with the dwarf. “Go on, friend, this is your world, not ours. But Ludo is right to guide us cautiously.”

They moved cautiously down the ancient steps for thirty feet. At last they reached the vault, a 20-foot square chamber. A half-opened stone coffin was in the center of the room. It was etched with the familiar geometric pattern motif, identifying it as of Hutaakan origin. Behind the coffin at the rear of the room was a pedestal with some dust-covered objects upon it.

The lid slowly slid completely off the coffin, falling to the floor with a loud thud. A heavily decayed, bandage-swathed creature crawled its way out of it.

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The Vault of the Elders

Ludo gazed into the gloom at the dark figure and held his torch higher to cast more light into the room and to clear away any cobwebs within his vicinity. “Come on Miklos, lets get what we came for and leave”.

“A dragon for a steed!” marveled Hasan. The young elf’s grey-green eyes consumed the painting. “I wonder what powers that rod brings. Methinks this one is but a pale shadow of its master. Not a shadow like that, of course,” the elf concluded, gesturing angrily at the dark images across the way. “Go ahead, Miklos, but if you fail, let me try.”

The dwarf took note of the artwork for a moment. “I’m getting an inkling now of why the Sons of Night are so interested in this place,” he commented drily as he positioned himself by the entrance, facing outward – keeping watch behind the group while Miklos decided how best to proceed.

Stephan too took in the dramatic artwork. “I’m just a simple soldier, but I’m getting the feeling that Hasan needs to take the rod.” As he spoke, the woodsman maneuvered away from the side of the chamber that depicted the dark figure. He could not look long at the figure as its blackness seemed to draw him in. Icy tendrils seemed to envelop his heart. He gritted his teeth, forcing himself to look away from the dark silhouette.

He noted the Hutaaka seemed to be gone for the most part; having positioned themselves just outside the doors to the vault. Hefting his sword and shield, he looked to Miklos who had a wondrous look on his face as he gazed at the rod.

Miklos withdrew the rod he held and felt its power grow. The young mage smiled at his friends watching eyes. “It really is an elementary application of force, you see,” the mage began. “All triggered by great mental strength and channelled through a command word. At least, I believe so.” The mage’s eyes closed as he added his power to that intrinsic to the rod. The mage quietly spoke the trigger word his study with Hasan had divined, “Oppna.”

A stone trapdoor behind a large altar opened at Miklos’s command.

Maruc watched warily. “The lack of faith these priests show, it disturbs me. They seem to know their immortal’s reach has weakened. We may be challenged here, even in their sacred place. On guard, Stephan.”

Steep, ancient steps lead down into the gloom. For a few moments, nothing could be heard except the sound of the party’s own anxious breathing, but then a sound from below, like stone grating on stone broke the silence.

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