Year of the Shadows

Session Twenty-One Notes

The Lost Valley of Hutaaka

[I’m writing this under the influence of antihistamines, so it’s entirely possible I’m going to forget big chunks of the adventure. Apologies in advance…]

At long last, the heroes arrived at the Lost Valley of Hutaaka…

  • …and promptly retreated. They realized they couldn’t leave Gagejolly out on the road on the other side of the gorge and have any expectation of returning to find him still alive. Plus, they’d been going for about 24 hours straight and needed rest and recuperation. And so they left the mysterious valley for the time being and made their way back across the gorge to rejoin Gagejolly.
  • The next morning, Phloyd tied a rope to Gagejolly’s left hock and cast levitate on him; they then pulled the floating horse across like a helium balloon in what was probably the campaign’s most ridiculous moment thus far. I’m not begrudging the players’ decision to do this at all—it was quite a clever use of their available resources, actually—but holy hell, this is when D&D just gets downright silly.

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“Let’s not go there.”

  • Having left behind a secured rope, the PCs easily ascended the wall and pulled Gagejolly down the other side. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was already descending below the steep slopes of the enclosing mountains. An ancient road wound its way among tall grasses, ferns, and stands of evergreens. Scattered here and there were clear ruins of a once-great civilization: shrines, monuments, fountains. At one such fountain, long since dry, they noted footprints that looked distinctly gnollish. Somewhere from off in the distance came the sound of shifting, falling rocks. Otherwise, there was not a sound to be heard in the valley—no bird chirped nor insect buzzed. It was eerily still.
  • The party pressed on along the ancient road, then followed a mountain stream for a bit before reaching a large lake fed by many such watercourses. At one point, William caught a bit of movement among the evergreens out of the corner of his eye, a shadowy form. He didn’t detect any evil about it, and so let it pass on unmolested. The valley was over twenty miles long, but no wider than six or eight miles at the most. About halfway along its length, at a choke point where the valley turned due west, they found a ruined arch spanning the road. Piled up against the structure were three short, bald humans. They wore leather armor and bore spears and axes of worked metal, and they were clearly dead. Phloyd went invisible as William rode up to investigate. The men had been killed by wounds sustained from spearpoint and clawtip. More of those gnollish footprints were about, and many led back up into the rocky hills.
  • At this point, a strange noise could be heard, a noise not unlike a multitude of sucker-pads. Indeed, that’s what it was, for a large group of massive chameleon-like lizards with suckers for toes emerged from the southwest wilds, each bearing as a rider another short, bald man. There was a tense moment where the riders nearly attacked William, taking him to be the one responsible for killing their kin, but William won them over with some smooth talk and appeals to logic. There was much grumbling about “mutts,” and the leader of the group said that he wanted to take William back to meet his leader, but not before they went after the mutts that must still be nearby.
  • William volunteered to ride along, and the still-invisible Phloyd caught him up and climbed aboard Gagejolly’s saddle. The party rode up into the rock-strewn hills and soon came under a mostly-harmless barrage of slingstones. Then a half-dozen jackel-headed men dressed in somber robes popped up from among the rocks, palms extended out before them, invoking some sort of chant. The bald men ran for it, overcome with magically-induced fear.
  • One of the bald men, a strange little fellow with an abnormally large chest and neck, stuck around long enough to unleash some sort of sonic attack upon the jackal-men, using only the power of his voice. The creatures clutched their ears in pain, giving the man enough time to wheel about and flee, imploring William to follow. The paladin, however, stuck around. He had seen jackal statues elsewhere in the valley, and had a suspicion that here were the valley’s original inhabitants.

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  • The jackal-men recovered from their state of shock and regarded William coolly, remaining poised for a fight—until Phloyd materialized out of thin air atop William’s head, brandishing the gold needle! At this, the jackals issued a collective gasp and immediately let their guard down. Introductions were made, and the jackal-men insisted on taking WIlliam and Phloyd to their fortified town of Byxata, where they could meet the high priestess of Pflarr, Kforedz.
  • By the time Byxata came into view, the sun had set and the sky overhead was growing dark. The jackals hastened their step, claiming that the valley was not safe at night, though not explaining much more. Byxata turned out to be a modest settlement of several dozen one-story stone buildings surrounded by a 20-foot stone wall. Many jackal-folk were about, and they all stopped to stare curiously at William and Phloyd. It was obvious that outsiders rarely came to the valley, although the escort had mentioned something about another group arriving a couple months prior and taking up with “the Wreckers” (as the jackals called the little bald men), since which raids had increased.
  • William and Phloyd were introduced to Kforedz, a stately priestess with silvery fur. She answered more of their questions, explaining that once her people had kept a horrible beast in check within their sacred temple grounds. With the coming of the Wreckers from lands beyond, however, the jackal-folk had been driven from their temple and the creature had subsequently escaped. “Many more horrors now stalk these hills as well,” she said portentously.
  • At this point, the gate lifted and another patrol of jackals returned, this one bringing a Wrecker prisoner. Kforedz took a few minutes to dispatch orders as to how to deal with the prisoner, leaving William feeling distinctly uneasy. “What are you going to do with that prisoner?” he asked when Kforedz returned. She dodged his question, instead inviting the PCs to accompany her and her priests to a nearby sacred shrine, where she hoped to enact a ritual that might bring a bit of relief from the nightly depredations. The PCs agreed to come.
  • The ceremony was interrupted at midnight by a large group of shambling dead, a mix of skeletons and zombies, both jackal-folk and Wreckers. The priests deserted Kforedz and fled back towards Byxata, but William easily turned a good number, and then he and Phloyd dispatched the rest with a combination of skill at arms and magic missiles from one of Phloyd’s looted scrolls.
  • As morning came, Kforedz was dejected—she knew her ritual had done nothing. She lamented that the true ritual was contained only in a book entitled Secrets of the Elders, a book that lay beneath the Vault of the Elders. She had a key, she said, but did not know how to operate it, and so the vault remained sealed. The PCs, naturally, volunteered to give it their best shot.
  • On their way back from the shrine, however, the party was intercepted by a dawn patrol of Wreckers mounted atop their strange giant lizards. With them, also lizard-mounted, was a full-sized human wearing chain armor and a horned, masked helmet. They paused only briefly before charging down the rise, clearly intent on dispatching the party. Phloyd acted quickly, withdrawing one of his scrolls and intoning the lightning bolt spell written thereon. He angled the spell so that it would bounce off a nearby boulder and catch the group in the flank, and he pulled it off in such a way that every last man and lizard was fried to a crisp in a twinkling. The thunderous reverberation echoed down the valley as Tim lamented Alex’s choice of specialty. (“Why not an Evoker? Whyyyyy…?”)
  • As they approached the village, the PCs noted the body of the Wrecker prisoner that had been brought in the night before. Unceremoniously dumped in a gully about 50 yards from the walls, it bore unmistakable signs of having been tortured to death. William felt increasingly uneasy about allying with these jackal-folk, and he and Phloyd sadly ruminated on the nature of genocidal wars and moral gray areas and so forth.
  • At her hall, Kforedz presented the key, which turned out to be a metal cylinder with runes etched along its length. Phloyd used his cryptographical skills to discern that it was actually a magic scroll of sorts, and that it contained versions of knock and continual light. Kforedz dispatched two of her recalcitrant priests to accompany the heroes, who set out once again in the late afternoon after spending most of the day resting.
  • The vault was a small shrine with a black marble altar. There was a stone trap door in the floor behind the altar, set flush and with no visible handles or hinges. Phloyd cast knock from the metal “scroll” and the trapdoor slid to the side. He then cast continual light and just like that had himself a little flashlight. At the sight of the musty, gloomy stairs leading steeply into the earth, however, the two priests turned tail and ran away—clearly this was shaping up to be a pattern!
  • The PCs descended by themselves and found a 20-foot-square room at the bottom. On the far side was an ancient tome, a necklace, and a ring upon a shelf. In the center of the room, lying on the floor perpendicular to the shelf, were the mummified remains of a jackal-person. Phloyd assumed wraithform and invisibly floated across to the tome, but he would be unable to grab it until he became corporeal again, and the PCs knew well enough to anticipate the mummy would not remain still for long after that happened. William hefted his Headsman’s Blade and stepped inside…
  • Sure enough, as soon as William entered the room, the mummy sprang to life and launched itself at the paladin. They collided violently, and seconds later the mummy crumbled to pieces, its head removed by William’s magical blade. William, however, was now sporting a nasty wound beneath a tear in the chainmail protecting his armpit, and the wound was rapidly turning black. Mummy rot! Phloyd materialized and grabbed the book and the treasure, and they were soon hustling back to Byxata.
  • Along the way, they spotted a massive trail of slime crossing the road. Kforedz had spoken of the “Thing from the Pit” that had escaped the Temple of Pflarr and now haunted and hunted the length of the valley. Surely this was its spoor! Hastening on, they made it back to Byxata by dark. Kforedz was [retroactively…ahem] able to heal William of his mummy’s curse by calling upon the power of Pflarr.
  • With the book and its ritual in hand, plans were made to venture to the ruined Temple of Pflarr. It was situated uncomfortably close to the Wrecker’s home base of Ronkan, so Kforedz proposed heading out after dark—the Wreckers were known to be superstitiously terrified of the night, and would not be patrolling outside their walls. There was a greater risk of running afoul of some of the valley’s less wholesome residents, yes, but the temple was not far away. The PCs agreed to this plan and set out that night with Kforedz and two acolytes.

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  • The temple was a magnificent ruin, silvery in the moonlight. Entering the front set of double doors, the party was immediately assaulted by a group of jackal-headed zombies and skeletons. William and Kforedz stepped forward, the former brandishing his symbol of Tyr, the latter merely her upturned palm. Half the shambling undead were turned to ash by the power of their divine invocations, and nearly all the rest fled. Those few that remained were easily cut down.
  • From the small antechamber, the party ascended a wide set of steps to anoter double-doorway. Coming through, they entered a massive chamber, its high domed ceiling letting in amble ambient light through several massive cracks. More light was provided by a circle of blue flames some 10 feet high that ringed an unnaturally dark pit in the center of the chamber. Over the pit was hung a man-sized iron cage. On the far side of the temple, the nave contained a 30-foot jackal-headed statue carved of onyx, looking down on a massive black marble altar.
  • As the PCs poked around and kept an eye out for trouble, Kforedz and her acolytes ascended to the altar and enacted the ritual. No further horrors disturbed the group, and the ritual was completed in due course. Kforedz was smiling as she came back down from the altar. “The dead of the valley are now at peace,” she said. “But the Thing from the Pit still roams free—this ritual has no power over it.”
  • The solution was obvious: the PCs had spotted the Thing’s trail earlier that day. They needed to track it and kill it. Kforedz agreed, and they all set out, still taking advantage of the night and the Wreckers’ superstition, especially now that the valley was actually free of roaming undead.
  • As they left the Temple, however, Phloyd noticed Kforedz looking back at the massive statue. Following her gaze, he saw that the statue was set upon a circular slap in the floor—almost as if the thing was meant to rotate on a pivot. Phloyd said as much, but Kforedz dismissed the idea immediately. “It’s a huge statue! There’s no way it could be moved.”
  • The trail was easily found (it’s hard to miss a 10-foot-wide track of goo) and followed into the hills. Presently, it disappeared into a natural cave opening. “The whole valley is criss-crossed with these ancient caves,” said Kforedz. “The Thing must use them to move around unseen.”
  • With their “flashlight” in hand, the party entered the cavemouth and began following the twisting, turning passages. The slime trail guided them whenever they reached a split or junction, and, after a half-hour or so, they emerged into a large cavern. The floor was ankle-deep (or knee-deep in Phloyd’s case) with slime. There was a hole in the ceiling ringed with blue flame, and a strange sort of observation gallery protected by a double bank of iron bars off to the side. Phloyd surmised that this had been the Thing’s original chamber, and that they were under the main temple itself. Sacrifices would have been placed in the metal cage and lowered down through the pit, while priests observed from the safety of the viewing gallery. Kforedz took umbrage with this theory, protesting that her ancestors could never have engaged in such barbaric activities, but there was little time to argue: in that moment, four tentacles burst out from the very tunnel the party had emerged from earlier!
  • The Thing had managed to double back through a side tunnel and ambush the party. William, Kforedz, and the two priests were all ensnared in the monster’s grip, and were being dragged through the muck back towards a slimy, yawning maw. Phloyd cast color spray twice, managing to stun the creature on his second try, but not before one of the priests met a grisly death in the Thing’s mouth, the horror’s acidic saliva dissolving the priest’s flesh before he could even die of repeated chomps.
  • As soon as the Thing recovered from getting sprayed, it flung out its tentacles again. William and Kforedz hacked and bashed their way free, but the other acolyte was crushed to death by the tentacle’s rubbery grip. Phloyd, too, was caught up this time, but he had drawn his wand of wonder and aimed it squarely at the Thing’s mouth. “Zabbalas!” In an instant, the Thing was encased in a ball of pure darkness. This did not seem to perturb the monster one bit, however, and Phloyd was mere feet away from being pulled into the mouth. William watched helplessly as Phloyd disappeared into the dark sphere now surrounding the Thing. Then he heard a gnomish voice: “Zabbalas!”
  • The wand had this time launched a fireball point blank into the Thing’s mouth, and that was the end of that. It was also the end of Kforedz, sadly, as she was caught full in the face by the backblast, but somehow both William and Phloyd escaped, albeit considerably singed…

Comments

That wand…

Session Twenty-One Notes
 

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Session Twenty-One Notes
sirlarkins sirlarkins

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