Monthly Archives: October 2012

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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Let Us See What Horrors Lie Below

“Your lack of faith is evident priests.” Maruc said dismissively, searching their frightened eyes. “If you believe in anything beyond your weak flesh you will follow us into the vault and lend us your aid. But I suspect you will fail not only yourselves but your god. If you wish to be of any service do not flee far from here, for we may need healing on our return.”

“We shall wait outside and watch for your return,” said a priest with shame and fright in his voice. The pair of Hutaakans retreated quickly away to a short distance away.

“Come friends let us see what horrors lie below.” Withdrawing his lightstone, Maruc boldly stepped into the archway and allowed his gaze to become accustomed to the gloom.

Miklos was less eager to enter but allowing the bulky woodsman to go before him, he followed behind.

“Rather lovely, isn’t it,” Hasan mused, taking a final peak at the temple’s facade that filled with gentle sworls, intersecting angles and the occasional hints of centuries-old pigments. “You really should think about painting it again,” he started to complain to the Hutakaa, then remembered that they had been too frightened to enter. He joined Maruc in crossing the threshold. The elf stood quietly and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Standing at the top of the stairs Ludo thought the Vault looked and felt like a tomb. He shivered and followed Miklos and Stephan down the stairs, At the bottom he muttered, “This place has the feel of death, tread carefully”. Fishing into his pack, he pulled out and lit a torch.

With the priest and elf in the lead, Feldard knew he’d be best served guarding the party’s backs, so he took up his rearguard position and kept watchful eye behind as the group entered the shrine. His dwarven eye for stonework took in the details of the shrines structure.

The art inside the shrine was of the same style as other Hutaakan relics, but the content was different from any other works they had seen. The interior walls were a panoramic the Hutaakan valley with a large temple in its center. The walls were split into two themes. To one side of the temple, the valley was bright and glorious. It featured an elf bearing a magic rod, riding upon a golden dragon into the valley toward a large Hutaakan temple. The other half was dark and wretched, with undead creeping everywhere across the landscape. In the center of the dark half of the valley, diametrically opposed to the elf, was a dark figure, entirely depicted as a black silhouette.

Stephan was not sure whether or not it was acceptable for him to draw his sword. Despite this place being a shrine, it nonetheless held a great sense of foreboding. He drew his sword taking his place among his comrades.

Miklos felt a tingling sensation emanating from the rod. It was ready to fulfill its purpose.

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The Vault of the Elders

Ludo turned to a Hutaakan priest nearby, “Who of your people was taken tonight? The scream that we investigated was not of the undead. I fear a greater evil is lurking out there, it will pick us all off one by one. Hasan you tell them, they listen to you, this land has a poison infecting it, unless they make peace with the Traldar their people and culture will be destroyed.”

The dwarf took a moment to catch his breath after the battle ended with the fleeing of the undead. He was wary about allowing the Hutaakan priests to heal his wounds but it was better that than wasting Maruc’s prayers or going without.

With his wounds tended, the dwarf took up a watch position near the group, his crossbow retrieved and loaded once more, and listened to the discussion adding in his own brusque opinion and comments rarely. “We are wasting time with all this talk. We should just get on with finding this Vault of the Elders that they spoke of.”

“Quickly now, build a great fire,” summoned Hasan. “We can talk all we want, but we need to handle him first.” The elf gestured at the twisted shape of the wraith he still held suspended in the air. “We shall give this one the pyre he craves.” The ancient Traladaran snarled his defiance as the party pulled together a great fire at the edge of the forest, but Hasan gently lowered the wraith into the flames. The elf thought he saw the winking wistful look as the wraith’s looks reformed before disappearing into the night sky.

With the last of the enemy eliminated, Miklos let the tension run from him. He was glad that this night would not yield more death. He was looking forward to an unbroken night. Such was not to be. He gathered his robe about him and curled up in the warmth of the fire and caught what rest he could.

As the fire cooled and peace returned to the deep Vale night, Hasan’s emotion waned as well. “Feldard, I think you are right. We should end this chase. The Kartoeba is a great foe, and the valley may never be free of it. But perhaps if we can bring peace to this vale and its woken dead, the vale can defend itself. Let us sleep and prepare for the Vault.”

Stephan was happy to receive the healing ministrations of the Hutaaka. They excessively used a strange unguent from a green bottle on all the wounds before applying dressing. As one of the Hutaaka was using this fluid on Stephan’s chest wounds, the bottle ran empty. He was shocked when, without warning the jackal-headed creature deftly continued the treatment by licking the numerous cuts. The act was unnerving but somehow poignant and the woodsman found himself grateful.

Soon he was asleep to the sounds of the crackling pyre.

Maruc sank back exhausted and and enthralled at the mighty power of Halav. The creatures had retreated from His power as Maruc knew they would. This was a testament to his growing favour with the immortal and he would strive even more to the furtherance of His goals.

He watched with satisfaction the banishing of the wraith, then turned to the Hutaakan priests. “Your faith is lacking, attend to your god with more piety so that you can fore-fill His purpose.”

He gratefully sunk into slumber with his friends, the morrow would require all their strength.

In the morning, the party departed for the Vault of the Elders, accompanied by two Hutaakan priests. The journey was uneventful, and by late afternoon they had reached their destination. This shrine was similar in style to the others they had seen, but larger and more structurally sound. The doorway to the shrine was open. The priests explained that the entrance to the vault was inside.

The Hutaakans had become quite fearful at this point. They had wondered why they had not rushed out to save their captured brethren the previous night. Now the answer was clear. It was because they were terrified.

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I Have Never Seen Such Anger!

Feldard was quick to fire off his crossbow bolt at one of the horde chasing the rogue. Purposefully avoiding aiming towards his companion as he did so. “Move faster Ludo!” he bellowed out, attracting the attention of the undead. In another moment, the dwarf had reloaded and fired off a second bolt towards the horde – not that his bolts seemed to have much affect. He wouldn’t have time for a third shot so the dwarf dropped his crossbow and unshouldered his axe, moving forward at a run towards the undead. The dwarf was so much into his usual battle mode that he was unmindful of the fact that he wore no armor this time. No doubt he would be reminded soon enough.

Upon hearing Feldard’s encouragement Ludo increased his speed and angled his flight towards his companions. “Back to the village!” he yelled as he ran. “The living dead are attacking!” When Ludo met his companions, he turned and loosed an arrow at the nearest Skeleton and then resumed his flight.

Stephan, armed with only his sword and no armor, launched forward as Feldard completed his last crossbow shot. Ludo burst from the darkness imploring them to retreat, a tactic the Traldarian thought might be the wisest course at this point. He held his ground, however, to allow the others to gain distance.

Hasan watched as the ancient dead approached. “I have never seen such anger! These bitter souls long for their rest and to bring their unrest to us all!” The dead leader’s pantomimed rage chilled more than any animal’s primal scream. Hasan gathered magical energy from the cool woodland air, the hard, rocky soil, the hardscrabble trees that surrounded the dead. The elf’s brow bent as he pulled at these natural forces and lifted the leader up off the ground and away from his forces.

The elf had hoped that raising the wraith high into the air would have some effect on its undead brethren, but it did not for the skeletons and zombies continued their charge.

Feeling strangely fleet of foot due to the lack of armor, Stephan actually enjoyed a brief dance with the dead before fending off to make an escape. It was just as Maruc was declaring Halav’s power that a vapid zombie raked the woodman’s chest with sharp, dirty claws. The pain seared but his feet found balance and strength, allowing Stephan to begin his retreat to safety.

Maruc was not surprised. He had wondered how long the sleepless dead would summon the courage to assault his friends directly. He strode purposefully forward next to the stout dwarf. Producing his holy symbol from beneath the folds of his cloak, steadfastly he cried, “By the holy power of Halav Reincarnate upon the carven throne in Specularum, I call upon His Celestial Transendancy to cleanse this land and drive forth unto the blackest pit those denizens not worthy to tread His soil!”

Miklos stood back to give Maruc room the work his blessing. He kept his spell in reserve in case Halav was not so swift in His answer.

The priest had progressed to the point where he was able to destroy lesser undead at will. He had expected to see the skeletons turn to dust, but instead the first wave of them merely stopped their progress and retreated back into the night, but reluctantly at that. The cleric continued his holy invocations. This could take awhile.

Thankfully, Hutaakans that had been positioned to guard the wall joined the fight. Their priests attempted to turn the dead, but their power of faith was not up to the task. Only Maruc’s intonations seemed to have any effect as the rest of the skeletons retreated, then finally the zombies.

In the time it took for the dead to be turned, the three companions caught in the melee had all been wounded. Though the Hutaakans had not been able to turn the dead, they were quite capable healing any of the group who was willing to accept their offer of laying hands.

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