The party descended inside the walls and spied two large stone jackal-headed figures flanking the gates in the archway. Giving them a wide berth, the group set off down the road into the valley.
It wasn’t long before they spotted a ruined village of stone buildings up ahead. Cautiously investigating the structures, they found them to be long-abandoned. A shrine of some sort stood on a hill nearby. As they approached, three huge black mastiffs burst out of the archway, their eyes glowing red and flame flickering from their jaws. Hell Hounds!
One beast badly singed Pavel before the group managed to slay them all. Roger and Martin busied themselves skinning them, reasoning that their pelts might be valuable. After healing himself a bit, Pavel looked around inside the shrine and found a loose flagstone. Underneath it was a cavity that appeared to have once hidden something, but was now empty. Frustrated by the idea of missed treasure, the party pressed on toward the west, which seemed to be the direction in which most of the valley lay.
The group spied many ancient pieces of architecture, including large arches built over the road, more shrine-like buildings, and abandoned villages. Many of the structures had carvings on their sides. Most were geometric patterns similar to those they had seen in Xitaqa. Others showed jackal-headed creatures. In some cases, the faces of the jackal-men were chipped off. Pavel felt this was right and proper, and chipped off some himself.
It was late in the afternoon when a piercing scream cut through the air, suddenly cut off. They couldn’t determine its source, however. As night fell, the party camped in an abandoned shrine. During Pavel’s watch, the cleric spied shuffling figures in the distance. It was too dark for details, so he threw one of his continual light stones toward them. It was still too far away for the light to reach, though. Roger commented on the light when he awoke, but Pavel kept his own counsel about its origin. The next morning, the trek west continued.
Later that day, the party came across yet another empty village. This one also had a fountain. The basin was dry and it had a broken statue of a mermaid in the center. Martin spied a patch of wet ground nearby. It turned out to be some sort of slimy mucus. In the middle of the ooze was a soaked and torn scrap of fabric.
The second day in the valley was drawing to a close when the group came to the edge of a lake. Another shrine stood not far from the water’s edge. Roger threw a light stone into the arched entranceway and undead skeletons poured out! The clerics’ turning ability and Ollimarus’s hammer made short work of the foul creatures, though.
As there seemed to be no other immediate threat, the party camped at the shrine for the night. So far, they had not seen a living soul.
The next morning, the valley remained eerily quiet. Roger scanned the coast of the lake with his spyglass for signs of life. He spotted what appeared to be another village a few miles away along the north side of the lake.
As the party hiked over to investigate, Martin spied large animal tracks of a curious sort in the mud by the water. They were over a foot across, and looked like a heavy tread with claws or toes spaced around the foot.
Nearing the ruins, the party found another small shrine on the hill, a dry fountain (this one with a fish statue), and a handful of broken down buildings. As the group neared the village, zombies and skeletons began to pour out of the shadowy doorways!
Pavel and Nitely Turned most of them, but they kept retreating into the buildings, and once out of sight from the holy symbols would resume their attack. Ollimarus’s hammer wreaked havoc and Roger’s arrows flew. At one point, an evil wight burst from one hut, lunging at Roger. Martin blasted it with three unerring magic missiles, leaving it wounded but still dangerous. The clerics’ holy power caused it to flee again, followed shortly by the dwarf’s flying hammer, which crushed its skull.
After the battle, the group found a brooch with a purple gem on the wight. They also discovered a stash of copper coins with an old sword bundled up with them. Leaving the coins (except for Wolfirth, who took a few handfuls), the group looped back around the eastern side of the lake and rejoined the road west.
Not long after they reached the road, Martin spied someone sitting among some rocks in the distance. The group immediately set off to investigate. Growing closer, they spotted more figures lying on the ground. They were squat, hairless humans, and quite dead. The one sitting had blood staining his jerkin and another had arrows sticking out of his back.
As the group investigated the scene, they heard the sound of riders. Several more of the bald men, riding horse-sized lizards, charged up, glaring at the party. Roger tried to assure them they were not responsible for the carnage, but his words fell on deaf ears and the strange men attacked.
The mounted warriors tried to make a good account of themselves, but the party was too powerful for them. Martin put several men and their mounts to sleep right away. As the melee continued, Roger spotted several jackal-headed men in leather armor approaching. There were also jackal archers on a nearby hill, firing at the bald men! One jackal-headed warrior shouted, “We’re here to help!”
With this strange turn of events, most of the mounted men were dispatched, but a couple were saved for questioning.
The jackal warrior put up his weapon and cautiously approached. He explained that his people were the Hutaaka, and had held this valley for centuries. Long ago, they had lived in the wider world, in the lands now known as Karameikos. It had been they –the Hutaaka– who had taught the ancient Trals the arts of smithing and advanced agriculture. A trade arrangement grew between the peoples where the Trals provided slaves and food to the Hutaaka, who in exchange taught the humans and sold them worked goods. All this seemed to offend Pavel’s sensibilities, as it contradicted Traladaran theology and history as he knew it.
When the beast man army came to invade, the Hutaakans warned the humans, then fled to their redoubts. Later, they retreated to their hidden ancestral home: this valley. Recently, the Tral slaves had rebelled and now the valley was split by factionalism.
All Roger seemed to care about was that the Hutaakans had enslaved men. He immediately drew an arrow and shot the jackal-headed warrior. The remaining few were cut down as well. The group then told the Trals –the bald men– to take them to their leader.