Upon returning to Rhuun, the party separated to visit their respective spell-casting employers. Bannath, Mordakis the Silent, Syl, Malbane the Green, and Reddannon returned to Jethal the Hexmaker with the skull of Athkul, while Mars Markus, Presto, Anwar, and Ravener stopped at Dhamel of the Sapphire Eye’s abode to give up the deceased sorcerer’s left hand. While they collected their various rewards, Bannath informed Jathal of their encounter with Dhamel’s minions, a fact that the Hexmaker took great interest in, rewarding the snake priest with additional coin. Malbane unwrapped the head of the guardian creature the trio had slain in the tomb’s main temple and asked if Jathal could identify the beast. After a quick inspection, Jathal pronounced it one of the “tomb herd,” but provided little more information. Over at Dhamel’s, Presto inquired about the possibility of learning new spells from the corpulent sorcerer. He of the Sapphire Eye invited the novice magic-user to return for training when he was ready.
Both parties returned to Qytuul’s caravanserai, their missions completed. As they entered the establishment, Malbane recognized a pair of faces in the common area. These two iterant adventurers, Azerran and Yodahlla, were old acquaintances of Danek, and had come to Rhuun seeking to join up with the (unknown to them) recently deceased fighter. The sad news was revealed, but with the forthcoming investigation of the mysterious Temple of the Goat looming, an invitation to join the group was extended to these newcomers. It was quickly accepted.
The following morning, Reddannon announced that since the coming evening was the night of the full moon, his present was required at the shrine of Uun. His mute dwarf companion, Mordakis, would be accompanying the moon priest since his crude sign language is only fully understood by Reddannon and he often needs him to translate.
With a full night’s rest behind them, Malbane and Anwar each prepared an incantation that would allow them to read the magical script inscribed on the brass tablets they recovered from Athkul’s tomb. Under the spell’s effect, the book reveal itself to be the Brazen Tablet of the Viscous Mother, a grimoire of unknown power but almost certain to contain rare magics and uncommon lore. The script was stilted and archaic, and it would require several days’ study to unravel the grimoire’s complete contents. Deciding that the lure of unknown magics was worth the time and possible danger required, both of the minor sorcerers decided to remain in Rhuun to work on the Tablets while the rest of the party investigated the Temple of the Goat. Ravener, one of the party’s fighters, chose to remain in town for his own purposes as well.
With the roster finalized for the expedition to the temple, the party reequipped for overland travel through the desert and pooled their funds to purchase a mule to help carry their load of food, water, and (hopefully) treasure. After naming the beast (Gladys) and waiting for the cool of night to fall, the adventurers headed out the town’s northernmost gate and onto the hardpan desert.
By midnight the party had reached the Hills of Scowling Bones and, aside from a jackal’s howl in the night, encountered nothing on their journey. Dawn saw them erecting crude shelter against the rising sun, but the day passed uneventfully. Come nightfall, the adventurers returned to the trail on a northward course.
Meanwhile, back in Rhuun, Anwar and Malbane made the first bit of progress deciphering the Tablets of the Viscous Mother. Obviously written by a madman, the plates contained copious information on the appearance and qualities of various forms of slimes and oozes—revolting reading to say the least.
Back in the hills, the party came across a series of buildings located at the bottom of a broad valley. A stepped pyramid rose towards the sky and was flanked by a pair of 120’ tall statues, each of which depicted a hermaphroditic goat/humanoid hybrid. Presto and Yodahlla elected to sneak down for a closer inspection of the site while the rest of the party and the mule sought concealment.
Carefully working their way down into the valley, the duo noted that the air grew moist as if an oasis or other body of water lay nearby. In the light of the two moons above, they were able to make out more details of the temple complex before them. At the bottom of the valley was a small lake filled with black, brackish water and dying plant life. The temple complex sat in the center of this foul body of water, its building rising above the black, still surface of the lake. The stepped pyramid was surrounded by a defensive wall and connected to a half-score of plain stone buildings by a web of walkways that rose 2’ above the water. A large central plaza lay in the center of the complex and the only access to the site was via a slick ramp flanked by two strange statues—-things that can only be described at 20’ tall tentacled trees.
The two scouts returned to report and soon the entire band descended into the valley and approached the entrance ramp. After some initial attempts to stir the tentactled statues into action by pelting them with slung stones, the adventurers tentatively ventured onto the raised walkway with their eyes peeled for danger. The party quickly darted towards the large plaza in the center of the complex without incident. Tactics were discussed with some favoring a direct investigation of the pyramid, while others wished to explore the outlying buildings first. It was eventually ruled that leaving the unexplored structures at their back might not be the wisest course, so the party headed towards the largest of the outlying buildings.
As they approached the structure by way of one of the 10’ wide raised walkways, Yodahlla, at the head of the party, caught site of four bulbous batrachian eyes glaring up at him from the murky water to the left of the platform. Wishing to avoid confrontation, he edged towards the right-hand side of the walkway in an attempt to put as much distance between himself and the gigantic frogs that lurked below the water’s surface. Alas, this tactic met with two more frogs suddenly launching themselves from the water on that side of the walkway and landing amidst the party with wicked claws and viscous fangs slashing.
Once the adventurers were engaged in battle, the two frogs on the left sank beneath the water and disappeared, leaving their croaking brothers to do battle. Yodahlla suffered grievous wounds during the fight, but the killer frogs were dispatched in haste and the party paused to take a breath—one that was quickly interrupted by the reappearance of the initial pair of frogs, who launched themselves from the water as if to avenge their slain froggy friends!
This second melee almost ended the life of Yodahlla. Had it not been for two near-miraculous interventions of his shield [David rolled two natural 20s back to back on his save vs. death when using his shield to block the damage that would have killed him. I ruled that a natural 20 means that you not only avoid taking damage but the shield itself does not splinter as normal, allowing it to be used again], the Old Blood fighter would now certainly be food for frogs deep under fetid lake’s surface. But Mog was with him this day and the frogs soon joined their brethren in death.
After a twenty minute break to bind wounds and partake in some well deserved vino, the party continued on to the large building ahead. The stone door failed to open under their efforts, seemingly having been knocked off kilter by their initial inept attempts to pry it open. Rather than make the long journey back and around to the building’s other entrance, the party moved to investigate a smaller but closer building instead—-a decision that would prove to be fatal for one of their number.
This smaller building seemed to be an odd shrine of ancient origin. The building was divided into three 20’ x 20’ chambers, each separated from one another by open archways. These rooms held numerous low altars placed below niches that contained smaller versions of the tentacled trees depicted at the complex’s entrance. Other than this, the building appeared empty.
As the party was about to leave the structure through a second exterior door they had found, Presto poked his head into one last unexplored room. As the rest of the party watched in horror, a ghastly creature suddenly appeared from thin air. Loathsome of form, resembling an albino hybrid of lobster, mantis, beetle, and crab with a carapace covered by dozens of teeth-filled mouths, this beast pounced upon the curious sorcerer and, in an eruption of fine red mist, Presto was no more.
The party fell upon this creature with missile and melee weapons, quickly cutting down the beast before it could slay another of their number. After gathering what still-useful equipment they could from the slain sorcerer and thoroughly examining the beast for treasure, the party prepared to depart this grisly site. That’s when Mars Markus noticed one last alcove in the building, a much narrower chamber that held only a larger altar and idol, and lay beyond a final archway. Probing cautiously ahead with a 10’ pole, Mars felt the wooden shaft grow suddenly cold in his hand and, once removed from the chamber, noticed a fine rime of frost on the stave’s end.
Boldly, Yodahlla volunteered to enter the room and, after tying a rope to himself and anchoring the line to Gladys, he stepped beyond the archway. Immediately his form was subjected to a blast of frigid air that inflicted minor damage upon him. He wisely retreated and the party debated on their next course of action.
After preparing a grappling hook and line, the party managed to snare and then topple the statue in the room beyond, breaking it into two pieces. However, the chill remained. They chose to throw the corpse of the slain lobstrosity into the chamber as a final test. After doing so, they noticed that it began to smoke and mist as if slowly dissolving away—-a most curious development.
Although unconvinced that the alcove didn’t hold additional treasure or secrets, the party nevertheless pressed forward, leaving the building of many altars behind. A short stretch of raised walkway later, the party faced a third building. This one was squat in construction with a much lower roof than the previous structures. Its surface was covered in a slimy film and numerous patches of water mosses clung to the ancient sandstone blocks. Another stone door separated the adventurers from the building’s inner secrets, but they chose to return to the house of altars to reconsider their next step…