Monthly Archives: June 2012

Danger Has Come Upon Us

“We must bury these poor souls. No matter what their cause this is no way to be left to eternal rest. No wonder the valley is full of restless spirits.” Maruc lent closer. They have met a violent end. They do not look like normal men. Perhaps they have come from distant country?”

Avoiding the macabre scene Miklos turned aside. “A distant country? Ha! I’ll lay a bet that they are more local than we are. Ancient culture remember? They seem to dwindled somewhat though. Perhaps these are the degenerate offspring of the mighty Hukataan empire? All that remains of a once powerful culture.” Miklos thought for a moment. “With a fetish for carving Jackal-headed sculptures? Some superstition perhaps?”

Ludo stood back, he had no interest in burying bodies and kept watch. What Feldard and the others did not seem to realize was that the deceased had died suddenly and violently. Whoever did this was still out there and could be watching them. This place is evil, was the thought that flashed through his mind. This was the Valley of Death.

Feldard grumbled at the suggestion of burying the dead. “If these things start moving while I am piling rocks on them, I’ll blame you priest!” But the dwarf agreed, the dead did need to be laid to rest. He picked up the nearest rock and moved closer to begin burying the remains.

Hasan watched and listened. “To find here the shadows of the dead did not surprise me, but this is too strange. Do what you must, Feldard, but do it quickly. Let us stay together. Danger has come upon us.”

Nearer now, Feldard was wary and studied the bloodied remains more closely. The blood appeared quite fresh from a recent combat.

Suddenly, nine mounted warriors came into view. They were of similar appearance to the dead trio. These warriors were not mounted on horses, but rather giant lizards with long, spindly legs and toes flattened to form round, sticky pads. They rode quickly towards the group and their dead comrades.

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Night of the Restless Dead

Feldard paused a moment to study the slime trail, wiping his feet on the packed ground beside and pondering the size of the creature that made it. “Hasan, what manner of creature leaves behind a trail like this? Whatever it was, Feldard judged it to much larger than man-sized.

“Some greater undead can leave a foetid trail.” said Maruc uneasily. “Let us hope they are not hungry for our flesh.

Miklos winced. “Nice thought, priest.” He started to consider the use of widespread mage wrought lighting. He glanced at the trail. “Floating undead perhaps?”

Maruc shrugged. “Wraiths or Wights. They’ll simply suck your soul from your body. If we are really unlucky it might be a Spectre or Banshee. I don’t think demi Liches would remain out here. Of course I could be wrong. it might be a deamon?” Maruc peered at the landscape populated by restless shades.

“I for one don’t fancy sleeping out here tonight. Halav helps those that help themselves.”

“Nyet! This is all just…not good,” Stephan shuddered. He hefted his blade and shield, unsure what posture to take against the shades.

“How I long for a decent foe of flesh and blood, eh Feldard?” The Traladaran seemed to need commiseration. “To feel your axe bite into goblin skull…wouldn’t that be great. Just to kill the beast and have it gone. These…” he fecklessly gestured with is sword, “these things,” he nearly spat the sophomoric words, “these… vapors….they’re…well, I just don’t hold with them. Not at all a noble foe.”

Stooping to peer at the slime Feldard haphazardly discovered, “Seems like a slug’s trail. But a very large one.”

“Flying slugs? I hope you are right.” Maruc absently commented.

“A flying slug or a Demi Lich, who cares? In all that is holy, let’s get out of here before these undead decide that our flesh would make a tasty morsel. Lets keep walking until we find a village or town.”

“The dead fear the living, too, friends,” counseled Hasan. “They give us wide berth. We walk in dangerous paths, but we have nowhere else to walk. We have said before that underground is likely where we will find what we seek. A slug might lead us to that path more quickly than the road. Let us chase this animal, before it chases us.” And the elf took up the dwarf-discovered trail and searched it diligently. Finding nothing, he urged the companions forward, in the direction the trail suggested.

They continued to walk through the night, and the dead kept their distance throughout, eventually disappearing altogether just prior to when the sun began to rise. They did not discover any further evidence of what may have left the slime trail. The group had reached the edge of the western part of the valley. Another abandoned village was now within view, and appeared to be a place that would suffice to get a rest.

As they approached, they saw three dead warriors slumped near one of the empty buildings. They were short and muscular and wore lizard-skin armor. They were all bald, and actually had no hair on their bodies at all. Their weapons, which were quite crude, lay scattered on the ground about them, some of them were bloodied.

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Scream From Over Yonder

Feldard was up and on watch when the scream sounded and the sound of it chilled the dwarf to the core, as he gripped his axe tightly – half expecting horrors beyond imaging to suddenly descend apon them. The scream was humanoid of that he was certain.

Feldard looked to elf, knowing that the sound would have woken the light sleeper. “How far do you guess it to be?”

The dwarf frowned trying to determine the direction of the scream – part of him wanting to seek out it’s source to give aid, but knowing that from the sound he would not arrive in time to help.

At the sound of the scream, Ludo was instantly awake. He was always a light sleeper and this empty land with its barren landscape and cold frigid air was making him nervous. Within the moonlight he watched his companions in turn, he could tell they were uncertain what was out there. He couldn’t tell how far away or even in from what direction the scream had emanated. “Well, we know something is out there now, which is a good thing isn’t it?” he left the question hanging in the still night air. He laid down back into his bedroll, and placed his sword at his side. The night was going to be long.

“We have no choice”, Hasan contributed reluctantly. We must discover what lies there.

Ludo reluctantly got up and expertly packed his bedroll, prepared to follow Hasan into the still night. “Hasan this is fool’s errand, we have no idea what we are walking into”. With his sword drawn he followed Hasan across the moonlit landscape.

Maruc was drowsy. “What’s going on?” he mumbled trying to shake the sleep from his head. He looked over a Miklos, still snoring. “Wake up wizard.” he booted the recumbent form of the mage.

“A scream. From over yonder.” Feldard pointed eastward. “Hard to pin point it though its echoing around the valley. I could be miles away.”

Maruc thought a moment. “Hasan seems to be confident we’ll find something, but its not in the direction we were going. Are you sure it wasn’t the scream of an un-quiet spirit? Designed to lure us to a unearthly grave?”

“Normal rules do not govern within these encircling mountains. We must be on our guard and trust to nothing.”

Maruc hefted on his armour and shield. “Hasan has never led us astray before and we might learn something of value. My opinion is we investigate. At the very least we should not split up. There is safety ion numbers as they say.”

Allowing Hasan a few moments to orient himself Maruc followed a few paces behind.

“The lightstones, Miklos” said Hasan as he grabbed for the be-dwoemered rocks.

“Heh!” complained Miklos as he registered the blow. “One more like that and I’ll leave you dangling in a cocoon on sticky silk!” Hasan looked at him expectantly. “What?” Miklos snapped shortly. “Oh, Light-stones. One second.” He rooted around in his pack and passed one to the elf then watched him stalk off silently.

“More excitement? What is it this time?” asked the mage.

“A scream according to Feldard.” chimed in Maruc, grinning, “And I didn’t kick you that hard. Hasan thinks he knows where it came from. You joining us or do you fancy being left here?”

Stephan sputtered awake hearing “..you fancy being left here?” Taking short but deep breaths he almost panicked seeing the party nearly ready to depart. Without asking, he bundled his rain-damp things, trying to catch up with his comrades.

“A scream? Was it a wildcat? A woman? Can’t the elf see in the dark?”

He readied his sword and shield and assumed a stealth march gait.

“This reminds me of the Battle of Fenmoor. We had to march two days in a drizzle. Hate being wet so much. Mud. Cold. Ugh.”

Miklos glanced around the uninviting landscape. “Give me a second to get organized.” He pulled his bedroll together and hurried after the group.

Brandishing his lit stone, the elf led the party toward the sound they had heard.

Except for the scream, the night had been unnervingly quiet and still, and now it was once again. It was difficult to know the distance or even precise direction of the scream, given the acoustics of the valley walls.

The group got a closer look at some of the dim shapes that had been moving around them. Hasan had the keenest night vision of all, and what he saw chilled him to the bone. The valley was practically crawling with undead. Yet, they did not move to attack, but rather retreated as they were approached.

Suddenly, Feldard’s boot slipped, and he momentarily lost his footing. His armor clanked loudly as he recovered his balance. Hasan’s eyes darted around to watch for any threat of attack from the restless dead. The distant shadowy figures that walked the valley continued to pay no attention to them, save for trying to stay out of their way.

The dwarf looked down to examine the ground, and saw a trail of slime that continued for a few yards and then petered out.

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An Unsettling Night

“Hmm, an impressive sight,” wondered Hasan. “Much larger than the Elyan ever managed. This was once an great society. But gone now. Let us press on, warily now, for I fear the spirits we will meet next will be less simple than these.” The elf crooned a last time at the snakes the party had disturbed and sent them on their way with a flick of his bow. The elf turned and walked soundlessly west.

Ludo followed on behind Hasan, the land seemed lifeless and barren, except for some simple widelife, what ever was here was still well hidden, hopefully as they explored further the local people would make themselves known and would be friendly.

Stephan followed Hasan’s lead wishing they had mounts to trek faster through these barren lands. The surroundings were worse than barren land. The abandoned nature of it–with the neglected houses, buildings and shrines–sent a message. A message of warning. This did not seem like a place in which to tarry.

Feldard was ill at ease as they traveled westward now. He kept glancing back over his shoulder, twitchingly – keeping watch was a good thing to do when one is on rearguard; but he was doing to more oft than watching ahead where he and the others were going and found himself stumbling over rubble and debris which did his dwarven pride no amount of good when he noticed the elf chuckling at him. “I don’t like this place – I feel as if we’re being watched.” Was all Feldard could say in response to the elf’s questioning glance.

“Keep your chin up, Feldad,” muttered Miklos, “And your head on your shoulders, too. Before we leave this place, we’ll need all our wits and all our brawn, I am sure of it.”

Maruc walked steadily, but he too kept a careful watch. “We must know more of this strange place, even so, Miklos. Imagine the power. The Duke himself will be curious to know of this place, when we next return to Specularum.”

Maruc stopped at a footprint. “Odd, I would have thought all tracks would have been eroded? There is someone alive around here.” he turned to Miklos. “What sort of footprint would a Jackal headed man leave?”

“Indeed Maruc, I am more concerned about the other tracks, they are very strange, some large creature. They follow the same path. Hunting perhaps? We have discovered little of value here, I fear this side of the valley has no secrets to offer. Let us see down yonder, it opens up a little down there.” Miklos made his way down the western path.

The adventurers travelled eastward until it became time to make camp. They followed their usual protocal and made preparations for nightfall. As unsettling as the valley was during the day, it was even moreso at night.

As those who kept watch scanned for threats, they caught glimpses of distant dim shapes moving slowly through the gloom. Then in the middle of the night, all were awakened by a faraway blood-curdling scream that echoed off the eastern walls of the valley.

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Very Strange Indeed

Maruc looked at the statue. “This doesn’t look like weathering damage. It has been deliberately vandalized. Wouldn’t you agree Feldard?”

“Who would deface a statue and desert a village? That’s more to the point.” said Miklos. “How do empires crumble? From within mostly. I fear civil war is what brought the Hukaatan culture to its end.” He glanced sadly about the decrepit buildings. “Alas the chances for finding our answers have worsened!”

Stephan cautiously walked around the ruined statue. Debris from the defacing still littered the area. He found on one side a broken finger with an intricately carved ring. The ring bore a symbol that appeared to be a crescent moon and two stars.

Taking out his own Hutaakan he’d found years ago, he compared it to the remains of the larger. The two were very similar but of course, detail was lost in the smaller. Try as he might, he could not discern a ring on the finger of his statuette. But the cape on the figure’s back also had the same moon and star pattern.

“It seems they wanted to remove the face as a priority. And the ears.” He looked around for any remains of the jackal head but found nothing.

Ludo shrugged his shoulders at the question that Miklos raised, “Whoever did this wanted to erase whoever lived here completely, if they did this to the locals what will they do to visitors? I suggest we be on our guard. I wonder where the people who lived are, or where the bodies are buried.

“Very strange, indeed, Miklos,” said Hasan, studying the wreckage. “It is hard to believe their great magic, which kept outsiders at bay these many years after they disappeared did not save them. A job from inside the walls, it is clear. Let us continue on into the central valley, to see how far the revolutionaries were able to push things.”

Feldard nodded his agreement to Maruc’s question.

While Ludo checked around for tracks, Feldard kept watch in the distance for sign of any threat. His mind kept going over what Miklos had said about the Sons of Night. What could draw them here? Power obviously. But what manner of it. Some magical weapon? Some lost lore? Perhaps, question was where to look for it now. Not rural villages he surmissed. A stronghold, temple or a library seemed more likely places to keep such a thing.

As they proceeded on the dwarf kept watch for such a building.

“From what we know of the surviving Hukaatan relics beyond the valley underground is where we are most likely to find answers Miklos.” Maruc suggested turning away from the statue. “I agree with Hasan, we will need to hunt around before we can make any further judgements. I hope the valley holds friends and not the un-quiet spirits of a lost culture.”

The group set out to explore the western part of the valley. An uneasy feeling of strange desolation permeated their surroundings. Stephan felt as if he was being watched. Hasan thought he heard distant sounds, but no one else could pick up on them. Ludo’s palms began to sweat. Feldard’s back developed an annoying itch between his shoulder blades. Miklos thought he saw a dark shape out of the corner of his eye, but whatever it was, if there was anything at all, left no trace.

Every now and then, they came across footprints on soft stretches of ground. Some appeared human, others were human-like but narrow and clawed, and then there were the large prints of some form of animal which not even Hasan could identify.

They came across many decaying buildings in the valley, some standing singly and others in close village-like structures. They also found more various defaced and smashed Hutaakan statues, shrines, fountains and arches. After a little over half a day’s journey, they came to another shrine. As they approached it seeking clues, a trio of rock snakes emerged from inside of its cracked facade. After being momentarily startled, the elf quickly distracted and then calmed them with the movement of his bow. Despite the threat, it was actually a relief to see something else alive in the valley.

From their new vantage point about six miles in, they could see from the valley walls that there was an entire new larger side of the valley that opened up to the west.

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Deserted Village

As the party made its way northward towards the center of the valley, passing by decayed buildings and shrines to ancient dieties and idols, Feldard frowned and moved forward to nudge the mage who seemed all giddy at the ancient ruins about them. “So remind me again.. what was the purpose to our being here?”

Feldard’s question to Miklos perked his interest. He moved closer to hear the answer while maintaining vigilance of their surroundings.

Ludo crouched down beside a rock keeping a look out, he was interested in what the others had to say. His reason for being here was quite straight forward, he felt a debt had to be paid to the others for saving his life, plus there was the added benefit of some riches and fame to be gained. This land had been hidden for hundreds perhaps thousands of years, who knew what riches could be found here?

“This is a place reminds me of the Elyan. A people who hid themselves behind great guardians and walls. I must know more of their fate, to know my own better,” intoned Hasan, in an uncharateristically somber tone. “Let us not pass these shrines lightly. It is early in the day. I would see more of them.”

“Similar and probably as ancient, Hasan.” said Miklos taking in the sight. “Save the birds, it looks like we are the only visitors here many long years. To protect itself, apparently unmanned for so long must have taken very powerful sorcery. I recommend caution within the valley. Hukaatan culture to our experience so far has been somewhat defensive as you say. Note the villages and shrines dotted about, nothing too big. I’d have expected something more…ah… ostentatious? Especially of a culture that spanned many leagues into the world beyond? Something more the size of Specularum? Even leveled to the ground Specularum would leave some scars that are not evident here. Still, experience tells us that they constructed mainly underground, I suspect there is more to the place than meets the eye.”

The mage turned to Feldard, “We are here to ensure that the Son’s of Night have not been here before us and to determine what they were after. There are many secrets here, I do not believe that the Hukaatan’s were evil but held magics coveted by men of evil. We must seek to understand why they were searching for this land. So far we have only conjecture. We need facts.” he looked back down the valley. “Some facts may be well concealed.”

“See that village yonder, its not too far let us see what it has to offer some road wary travelers?”

Maruc shaded his eyes. There were quite large altars dotted around the valley below them. “If we get the opportunity I’d like to take a look at those shrines, it will give us a clue as to what type of people the Hukaatan’s were, usually you get life scenes and whatnot? Remember the Elyan Temple? Lots of artwork.” the elf eye’d him, “Ah, Hasan of course you do!”

He followed Miklos’s sight, the village was quite close. “Yes of course, we shall take a look at the village ahead. Perhaps we can find out why the Hukaatan race faded? Let us hope it wasn’t some vile pestilence eh?” Maruc cheerfully shouldered his shield, followed the others and began to wonder why his armour wasn’t bothering him anymore.

It did not take long to descend down into the valley and the first abandoned village. It was truly deserted. Amongst the building structures, they found nothing but mundane eating utensils and tools for daily living, bowls, cups, bone combs and the like. In the center of the village was a Hutaakan statue. It was defaced and smashed.

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