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B10 – NIGHT’S DARK TERROR
18-20 FYRMONT OF 1005 AC
HUTAAKA, THE LOST VALLEY.
The strength and anger that take possession of me before the battle is by my side. Shango  be praised for this gift. It’s only because of my blessings that I bested the steel statue guarding the tower, located on the Stone Bridge, that allowed us to overcome the River Foamfire. I lifted it and threw it down in the thundering waves of the waterfall. We know for a fact that I did not destroy it but at least it allowed us to move on and not to give up and die at the hands of the ancient Hutaaka guardian. The young traladaran, Dan, fell the other statue repeatedly hitting it with the magical shield donated by Rheddrian, a weapon offense more than defense today. Our journey lasted all day and the next, apart for a well-deserved rest after the long chase by the Gnolls. The Old Road soon became a narrow and dangerous path, characterized by numerous and deadly pitfalls. Landslides, edges hanging in the air, unsafe and unstable bridges were not the only dangers. The most remote and unexplored part of the Black Peaks, is inhabited by hostile creatures, lethal predators like the griffins who attacked us when crossing a bridge or the huge lizard who nearly ate my arm with a single bite.
In the end of our long journey, we finally reached Hutaaka, the Lost Valley: its doors, carved in white stone and covered with bas-reliefs defaced by time, did not constitute the slightest obstacle. Thanks to the magic of the shield we passed above it and this has also allowed us to avoid its stone guardians. In the Valley we were hit by a deafening silence. Not the slightest sign of life, an animal, an insect, nothing. In front of us there were miles of land, unexplored for centuries, uninhabited and barren. High rock walls rose up almost vertically encircling everything like a sort of great bowl. Small clumps of sparse and bare trees, twisted by time and illness, were the only hints of color in a world otherwise made of shades of gray. Stone, rock, ruins of ancient buildings. Nothing else. And the silence, absolute and painful. We passed the first night in the Valley inside a few dilapidated and abandoned buildings. Only the white and gray walls remained, with peeling plaster and ravaged by time and damp, but no door, no window, no furnishings. It was definitely a wise decision because soon after the nightfall came the fog, an opalescent milky mist at first, then gradually more and more of a wall impenetrable to view, able to hide the presence of a person only a few paces away. During my turn I saw, first, the shadows of the walkers. Only later we learned what they were. At that time, for me they were or rather could be the signs of the only living beings spotted so far. The fear of the fog, the mystery tied to their quick appearances and equally sudden disappeared in the impenetrable haze, suggested from the start not to draw their attention but to remain hidden instead, cowering in our beds, inside the house.
The next day, with the arrival of the first rays of sun, we continued to explore the ancient valley. Going inside the valley we began to bump into more and more well-preserved residential areas and stone artifacts. Arches, fountains, sacrificial areas, small temples. We also began to spot the first animals, marmots, small rodents, lizards and snakes. Finally we saw the bodies. They were near an old building, three men, but none of us had ever seen such people. They were small, a little bit taller than a dwarf or an elf but of stocky build, with broad shoulders and big, disproportionate, heads. They were completely hairless, with eyes small and glassy in death, occurred just a few hours ago. Their bodies had several wounds inflicted them with short accuminate swords, spears or arrows. It was the girl, Marjana, the first to notice the presence of hunters behind us. “We have visitors” said the girl. There were some of them, half a dozen I seem to recall. They were of the same race of the three murdered men. They rode big lizards with jointed legs, webbed feet like those of frogs and elongated and tapering necks. The Traldar warriors, as we learned later to call the human inhabitants of the valley, rode them using saddles and bridles as if they were horses. It was only thanks to Dan and Marjana, who spoke a more modern version of the ancient language of Traldar, that we were able to speak with the inhabitants of the valley all the time of our stay. I confess that for long stretches I watched the two young people talk to our guests without understanding any word and that, often, after a while I began to wander elsewhere with the eyes and with my attention to try to make sense of my presence there.
Perhaps the affinity that binds me to the world of reptiles and dragons pushed me immediately to want to have one of those impressive lizards to be able to move more easily in the valley. Hampered by the difficulty to communicate fully with Traldar, our relationship with them has never been simple and clear, even in the days that followed. After clarifying however that we had nothing to do with the death of the three Traldar hunters we found, we learned from the group that had intercepted us of the existence of a second faction of humanoids in the Valley. The hutaakans, cruel jackal-headed humanoids and ancient lords of the valley. We soon discovered that the two races lived in a constant state of conflict with attacks, murders and mutual and continual retaliation. At the insistence of the group we were led to Ronkan, a small fortified outpost, surrounded by stone walls and located near the north face of the valley. Here we met the whole Traldar clan, less than three hundred souls of men, women and children and able to deploy a hundred warriors, if necessary.
We met Guri-ben-Kaal, their king, although this was not the name by which they called him. The hatred for the “dog-heads”, so called in disdain for the hutaakans, is palpable and seen in every gesture or word of the imposing Traldar. Imposing for its race course. It is slightly taller than Adrik but perhaps twice as wide. It has two strong and muscular arms that closely resemble tree trunks. The belly is prominent and in contrast with the two short legs. The thick neck is adorned with a large golden collar and precious stones, his symbol of command. His face was deeply scarred and I believe that makes him even more formidable and respected, in the eyes of his people. He talks all the time of the curse that afflicts its people, of the horrific sacrilege casted across the valley by the Hutaakans, guilty in his opinion of having awakened the dead with their blasphemous rites. The walkers, so they call them, are corpses reanimated by the entropic energy mastered by the priests of the “dog-heads” and that now infest the valley. So we accept to undertake for them the journey to the Singing Pool, a sacred site which is located in the south of the valley. A place inaccessible to them as it would require to spend a night outside the walls of Ronkan, in the heart of the valley and at the mercy of its terrors. There, we will have to recover the miraculous water that they will use then to complete a ritual that can break the link that binds the undead to the valley itself. Adrik and Titus follow with interest the description of what we have to do. I look around, I look at the palace, the wives of Guri-ben-Kaal, the tapestries and golds of the Traldars. Nothing of value. At the end, before we leave him, I hear him say to Dan, Adrik and the others a single warning. I can only understand that what is telling us terrifies him deep in the soul. Even the eyes of the other Traldars present, show a deep fear whenever he pronounces a word, a sound. “Kartoeba“. He repeated it several times and each time the terror in his eyes and in his voice is higher.
“Kartoeba?” I ask Marjana, grabbing the girl by the shoulder. She turns and looks at me in the eyes, perhaps for the first time. “What terrifies him so much?”
“Kartoeba, the thing that dwells in the pit. The dark terror of the night. “
- Name by which the inhabitants of the Serpent Peninsula revere the Immortal Thor.