When we last left our heroes, they were gazing in bewilderment at the altar in the hidden chamber at the center of Kazak’Tul. An orb of inky darkness hovered above this altar with an ominous black rod floating within it. After a moment, Orsik broke the silence by stepping up to the altar and reaching for the rod. To his horror, as he grasped one end of it, a massive fist appeared at the other end. This fist was followed by an arm, and then a torso, as the towering form of a Death Giant emerged from the orb!
The dry, cracked skin of the giant and his stiff movements indicated that it’s dead flesh had been reanimated, and that it was far from the height of its powers. It put up quite a fight, nearly cleaving Rusty in two with its mighty greataxe, but the UTA ultimately prevailed. In the aftermath of the battle, Orsik took the rune inscribed on the giant’s back and applied it to his own. As soon as he had branded the fourth of the seven Death Runes on his body, he was seized by the very shadows at his feet and lifted up into the the air. His eyes glowed with a bluish light, and, finally, he crumpled to the ground. Orsik rose to his feet, his expression inscrutable, and announced simply that he had foreseen his death, and that he had accepted it. He would speak no more for the rest of the day. Heavy shit.
Orsik and company next made their way back down the mountainside to the tiny Shadar-Kai village nestled below, where they were told that Ypaugh would be waiting for them at the Dead Man’s Cross. They spent the night here, and then made the trip to the eerie site early the next morning. Ypaugh, however, was nowhere to be found. Vanguard was able to find his tracks, but they abruptly and mysteriously stopped near the cross. A query to the Dead Man indicated that their acquaintance could be found in the direction of Gloomwrought, but our heroes decided to trek out in the direction of Kalarel’s stronghold to scout out his forces first. On their way there, they happened upon a caravan of wagons belonging to an itinerant band known as the Vistani. These wanderers explained that they had indeed seen undead in the area; in fact a swarm had overtaken a shrine of great significance to them. If the UTA could journey to this shrine and retrieve sorely needed medicine for the Vistani, they would gratefully bestow gifts upon them and point them in the direction of the fortress they sought. So the adventurers decided to do just that. Not far from there, atop a small ridge, sat the shrine. It was indeed surrounded by a ragged crew of zombies, and a banner of Orcus had been planted outside. Crouched in one corner, our heroes also spotted a squat, slimy humanoid clutching its stomach. Perhaps of greatest note, however, was a familiar face. Though his limbs had been lengthened, and he had been given wicked claws, the orc surveying these troops was unmistakably Irontooth.
Flashbacks of his death at the hands of this bloodthirsty creature washed over Rusty, but he steeled himself against his panic and quietly sneaked into the shrine to retrieve the medicine. Astute readers, remembering that teamwork has not historically been the UTA’s strong suit, will probably ask if this is the point in the story when Leif derails Rusty’s attempt at stealth by hitting something with a hammer. AND THEY WOULD BE CORRECT! TEN POINTS FOR GRIFFINDOR! Lief charged into the crowd, valorously smiting zombies left and right. The remaining members of the UTA were then forced to intervene, and a rollicking battle ensued. To the surprise and consternation of the UTA, the shuffling crowd of zombies arranged itself into an organized group of soldiers, and attacked in unison. Irontooth hacked at our heroes with his fearsome claws, and the slimy little dude in the corner slunk over to behind Vanguard. Before everyone’s favorite ranger (No, not Dizzt Do’Urden) knew what was happening, the creature stood up and pulled its hands from its stomach. Vanguard’s keen eyes picked out two unusual things at this point. First of all, an exposed mass of entrails hung where the creature’s belly should have been. Second, these intestines were writhing and snaking their way over to latch themselves to Vanguard! Ever fleet of foot, the Last Son of Matthallal managed to escape the foul thing’s coils, but Lief and Orsik weren’t as lucky, and they would remain tubed up for the rest of the battle.
Tommy Tubes drew strength from our heroes as he digested them little by little, and he thus proved exceptionally hard to kill. As if these grotesque enemies were not enough, an enormous sandworm then crashed the party, eager to devour the living and the living dead alike. Finn managed to drive the beast away by conjuring lightning serpents, and our heroes managed to slay the rest of their enemies. Deducing that the banner planted on the ridge was what controlled the zombies and organized their attacks, Finn decided to seize it as proof of the undead menace to Gloomwrought. As the fray drew to a close, Rusty found the medicine the Vistani had sent them for, a mysterious yellow powder. Almost showing uncharacteristic restraint, Rusty then turned to leave. But the siren song of other people’s stuff, was, as always, too much for Old Rust, and he scooped up a handful of a mysterious blue powder as well before leaving the shrine. Hawk-eyed Vanguard spotted some blue residue on his companion’s sleeve, however, and confronted him. Finn was able to identify this powder as dry dust, a magical substance capable of absorbing vast quantities of water for transport. After some discussion, the UTA decided that the good even a small handful of this dust could do for Gloomwrought was worth what it would cost to the Vistani (and what it might cost to them). Stuffing a few handfuls of the dry dust into a pouch, they returned to the Vistani and delivered the medicine. As far as our heroes could tell, the Vistani were unaware that anything was amiss. And they rewarded our heroes with a magic cloak, a sack that produces food, and directions to Kalarel’s lair.
Our heroes next set out to find Ypaugh. As they approached the Dead Man’s Cross, they were startled to discover that a building they had never seen before had appeared there. This mysterious structure turned out to be a magical traveling inn called ‘The Black Lantern." Ypaugh was waiting for the group there with a proposition. Promising to discuss this matter in the morning, the merry band of adventurers went off to their well-deserved sleep.
Not all of them slept well, however. Rusty was awakened in the middle of the night by a visit from that most unwelcome of guests, the demonic emissary Azuzu. Though pleased with Rusty’s recent theft, the Demogorgon camp was growing impatient with Rusty’s lack of devotion to the cause. Where were the blood sacrifices, the indiscriminate violence, the mayhem he was expected to sow? Azuzu impressed on our halfling friend the importance of holding up his end of his bargain with the Prince of Demons, and to drive the point home, left him with a tail. Finally, Rusty was asked to choose one of Demogorgon’s two personalities to pledge his loyalty to: Aameul, the scheming, conniving side, or Hethradiah, the raging berserker side. Rusty chose Aameul, mostly because he suspected that was who Azuzu served, and he didn’t want to be eviscerated on the spot. What is the nature of the request Ypaugh has for the UTA? Who will they be able to convince to join in their defense of Gloomwrought? Will Hethradiah be tots jealous that Rusty chose Aameul? Find out in our next installment of the Uncomfortably Tall Adventures!