The opaque, grey dust settled at the feet of our heroes. They caught their breath for a moment as the soldiers looked to them for guidance and direction. Our five heroes questioned their next move; the Crooked Keep now lay motionless on the side of a hill overlooking the famed Shadowfell city. Its black chitinous legs crushed beneath the weight of the single dark stone bastion and curled around the tower’s base shadowing the double doors.
Finn was the first to move towards the doors, “I believe we must place the gemstones inside to unlock this arcane mechanism. Then we will be able to find this, Kalarel, and Vanguard’s sister.” He said as he drew a large red gem from inside his robes. It fluttered away from his outstretched hand and locked into the left door. “Who has the other one?” Everyone turned to look at the halfling. “Fine. Here.” He said. And he gave the Wizard a large blue sapphire from inside his pack. Finn affixed the second gem into place and the ancient doors creaked open revealing a great dark maw.
Orsik, not one for patience, was the first to enter. “Get outta mah way, Vanguard, I smell runes!” He said in his most polite tone. “He can smell runes?” replied Vanguard, looking at his companions. They shrugged. Leif nodded.
Upon entering a foyer – decaying flesh was certainly the smell most pervasive, not runes. They found two staircases and decided to ascend the latter into a vaulted room. There they stood in about two inches of decayed flesh, eye to eye with a bunch of gross zombies and their pet plants. After initially not taking the plants too seriously, our heroes rethought their strategy after both Vanguard and Orsik were taken hostage and then swallowed whole by their botanical mandibles.
Rusty and Leif made short work of the zombies while Finn saved the other two from the Little Shop of Horrors. Now covered in sap, the heroes had escaped the enveloping vines of the first plant…the other rested still inside the other stairwell. Screw that, we’re going to take this staircase. And travel upward, deeper into the castle they did.
They traveled through a fleshy hallway of pressing putrescent growths, and past a massive slug in the middle of an electronic dance party that oozed necrotic juices. Underneath the defeated carcass of the beast was a sight most welcome (for Orsik and Leif at least). There was a glowing rune and a massive hammer crowded around the desiccated corpse of a Seeker – apparently, some type of engine or “battery” for the Keep. Orsik gobbled up that rune to boost his powers just as fast as Leif took some practice swings with the hammer, envisioning another type of battery. “Huh, I think I like this hammer!” exclaimed Leif. Just then, starting slowly and growing louder and louder, the hammer began to scream. And then its screams grew into an incessant wail whenever Leif touched it. Too bad for everyone else, Leif refused to let it go.
After acquiring some new goodies, the heroes came to an especially cold, winding spiral staircase. Rusty felt as if the life was slowly being drained away as he quietly came to a pair of ornately carved doors, each punctuated with a wrought iron door knob, shaped like a bulbous rams head skull. “Yep, this must be the place.” Leif delicately bellowed over the deafening screams of his hammer.
Throwing open the double doors, our heroes came face to face with their enemy. Kalarel and his monstrous bride, Sagebrush, sat together on a throne, patiently waiting for the UTA’s arrival. Vanguard stared blankly as Kalarel placed his hand seductively on Sagebrush’s bony thigh. It’s probably for the best that he didn’t have his memories. “Hah, welcome, welcome! The UTA is here to stop my plans once again, how delightful. We will bend Gloomwrought to the will of Orcus. You fools left it exposed!” he said. The Lich King continued his blabbing about Orcus Prince of Undeath, destruction of Gloomwrought, etc. until Orsik interrupted, “Your undeath is disgusting, prepare your bodies!” And with that, he rushed to face them and the combat began.
Sagebrush multiplied a couple times and proceeded to fly around like a banshee while Kalarel created barriers, frustrating Rusty immensely. Finn pushed Sagebrush through a flowing green portal. “Get off my plane!” he exclaimed. Everyone got to beat the shit out of Kalarel and then, right as Rusty was walking up to end his bony undead life, Finn blew him to shit! Talk about off-pissing!
“I think we’re done here…” Vanguard said in a grim voice. They separated to search the room. Vanguard found a dollhouse and the others found a large bone-made chest. Rusty sat in the throne and pouted, while Leif quickly smashed the chest to smithereens. In that moment, a dark shadow crept over Rusty. Vanguard turned around and saw a massive winged demon swipe down to grab the Halfling out of the chair. Under his breath he muttered to himself as he raced into action, “I guess we’re not done here.”
Kalarel had risen yet again, this time as a demonic beast clutching the halfling in his clawed red hand. Leif’s voice could be heard from in the corner of the room, “Well, you wanted to hit something!” With little regard for his life, Rusty repeated stabbed the demon in his face and eyes, nearly felling the demon right there. Kalarel was done with the smallest member of the group and proceeded to fling him across the room. Just then Orsik came flying in with his maul, glowing with runic symbols! “DIVINE RUNE OF THUNDER!” he shouted as he smashed his maul into Kalrel’s chest sending him flying backwards.
Finally, finally, he was defeated. And all that was left was a blackened brass ring that vibrated with the fury of its previous master. A phylactery, indeed. “We smash it now! It must be destroyed!” opined Orsik. “It cannot be destroyed here, but yes, we will destroy it.” Finn calmly responded. “Sagebrush!” Vanguard yelled, in a rare moment of clarity, now making haste for the mysterious portal. He dove through the thick green mist as his friends stood mouths agape at the situation.
They hung their heads; quickly they gathered their things along with the dolls from the dollhouse and the Ring of Fury. Then trudged their way towards the portal. “Guess he got his memories back” Finn muttered as they walked through the mysterious portal.
The portal bubbled gently as they stepped through into a vaguely familiar hallway. As the four of them were about to step out into the light, they spied Vanguard’s cloaked visage. A finger to his mouth, “Shh, quiet” he mouthed to his friends. Seconds later, a patrol of Deathless Watch strolled down the hallway. The five heroes convened and tailed them for a bit coming to a metal door, etched with dragon motifs. Rusty clearly remembered this door; it was one that he failed to outsmart when they were in the Hall of Ancients. And now seemed like a perfect time to crack this masterwork door open.
As the halfling worked, Leif tried his hardest to not touch his hammer and the others kept their eyes peeled for Deathless Watch. Click. The door was opened and they stepped carefully inside. Vanguard saw his sister, his expression was emotionless but deep down he was not prepared to do what he had to do. Vanguard also saw a massive skeleton of a dragon. Its slower half was carved into a throne. The skull had two large rubies in place of eyes that filled the room with a foreboding red light. Before the throne, lying motionless on the ground was a figure dressed in finery. Rusty and Finn, sensing danger, immediately went off to flank Sagebrush while Orsik and Leif formed a “wall of man!” to prevent intruding Deathless Watch. Vanguard, frozen for a moment, inched forward and drew an arrow from his quiver. “Yes, this must be done.” He thought to himself.
Sagebrush cackled with delight and multiplied once again. Simultaneously, the draconic throne roared to terrible unlife – it was a Dracolich, Uinrylm, “the hated corpse” or the Hall of Ancients! In somber draconic tones he revealed himself as the mastermind behind Kalarel’s plotting to overthrow Gloomwrought. The heroes good luck had run out, their attacks were missing left and right, the Deathless Watch were knocking at the doors, and Uxinrylm was using his powers of mind control to dominate each of our heroes in turn.
After trading many blows, Sagebrush was nearly defeated. “The doll!” Vanguard yelled as a laser from Uxinrylm hit him square in the chest; his eyes went black. Orsik held on to the five dolls, “Uh, hmm…” Orsik, bloody and beaten, chose the doll with a small toy boat sewed to its hand and ripped it in half. A resounding wave of force knocked him to the ground and his head fell backwards to bang against the cold stone tile – he was out cold. Lowing his defenses, Rusty dropped to a knee to help his friend. Uxinrylm took advantage and shot another beam that hit Rusty right in the back. Again his eyes fogged over with the grey light of domination – he drew his dagger to slay the dwarf. He raised the Dagger of Ursh with both hands above his head and with a flash he went for Orsik’s heart.
The sound of metal against metal echoed through the hall. Orsik’s maul had met the dagger only an inch before his armor, he opened his eyes, as shocked as the other heroes. Orsik stood up as Rusty came again to his senses. Powered by his growing collection of Runes, Orsik now appeared to hold near immunity to death! The heroes defeated the remaining members of the Deathless Watch and they convened to take down Uxinrlym. Rusty dodged a bony wing and hopped up into the throne itself. Opening his legs, he stabbed the seat cushion with all his might as Finn sent a fiery blast to ensnare the dracolich. Moments later, Uxinrylm was defeated. Orsik toppled backwards and crashed again to the floor, this time unconscious – even his new powers had their limits.
Vanduard privately picked up a toy doll from Orsik’s pack, a small woven doll with a green smock and a wooden toy sword. He knew this to be her favorite toy in childhood, a match to his own. This was the closest thing he had to a sister now. “Sagebrush,” he whispered, “I’m so sorry. I love you dear sister.” In one smooth motion he tore the doll down its midline. A trail of black smoke issued forth followed by a forceful gale which reverberated through the hall – with the destruction of the phylactery Sagebrush was no more. With his hard rough hand he wiped a singular tear from his eye.
“We need a break” Rusty panted as he huddled over Orsik next to Vanguard. Finn examined the body as footsteps could be heard growing louder from outside. “Prince Rolan?” the wizard stated. “Yes,” answered the voice from outside. It was Feluria, the deva consort of the Prince. “he was using the undying power of Uxinrylm to cheat death. You must leave him to his fate.” Orsik, barely able to breathe agreed with this statement. Feluria communicated with Leif telepathically for a moment afterwards; Finn’s nose bled slightly and he coughed the words “Orphan Knight!” clutching his temples. And so our heroes left Rolan to perish, installing Feluria as Gloomwrought’s new defacto monarch.
She then told the five saviors of Gloomwrought that more was needed of them. The Raven’s Eyrie was in dire need of their help while the leader of the Ghost Talon, Oristus, was starting riots in the streets, attempting to create an independent state in the Docks. Our heroes must choose. Upon learning more about the Raven’s Eyrie situation, they learned that Nira was presumed dead and the Sorrowsworn, Olivex was attacking the Hooded Lantern!
After a brief debate, the heroes rushed off to the Raven’s Eyrie. There, they saw a sight most foul. Lying half submerged in the Sorrowmere, High Priestess Nira was face down and bleeding from the eyes and mouth. An acolyte stated that she has sought guidance but then suddenly collapsed, sending her lieutenant, Olivex, into a murderous frenzy against heretics. Orsik tried to revive her while the others thought of a plan. Finn said that they must get to the Hooded Lantern to stop Olivex, killing him and his followers if they must. Vanguard and Leif tentatively agreed. Orsik argued firmly against killing the Sorrowsworn commander and that he must consult the Raven Queen in this matter. Surprisingly the voice of reason, Rusty piped up: “Finn, you, Vanguard and Lief run over to the Hooded Lantern. I’ll stay here with Orsik while he consults the Raven Queen. We’ll meet you there when he’s done.”
The dwarf set his maul against a stone pillar and waded into the pool of blood. When he emerged his eyes were wide and a mixture of fear and anxiety covered his face. “Well, what did she say?” the halfling said. “Uh, um, no, not much.” replied Orsik deflecting the question as best he could. “Let’s get to the Hooded Lantern! Now!” he continued. And they ran to meet their friends. Unknown to the others, the vestige of the Raven Queen that Orsik had sought counsel from previously was no more than Nerull, dethroned god of death, in disguise! He brooded over this quietly as they rushed to the Hooded Lantern to meet their friends.
They found them in the Sun Courtyard in the midst of combat. Olivex was swinging wildly at the priests of Pelor as Finn, Vanguard and Leif tried to talk him down. He seemed unwilling to listen to anyone’s pleas until Orsik the Seeker exclaimed that Nerull, the dethroned god of death had returned! It was he who first spoke to him in the Sorrowmere, disguised as a giant black raven! There Nerull said to Orsik that the Raven Queen had been deceiving him. Nerull accused her of building a “horror engine of flesh and fear,” that Orsik was fated to power through sacrificing his body and providing the gathered death runes as engines. She would use this device and Orsik’s sacrifice to retake the realm of Pluton in the Astral Sea.
Nerull demanded that Orsik bring the god-killer rod to Farad Exitis, to destroy the Raven Queen once and for all! Upon hearing this, Olivex stood down. The five intrepid heroes stepped outside looking south towards the Docks. They were too late, for the Ghost Talon were already successful in their revolt. Smoke billowed from the far off buildings as two figures raised a red flag of independence over the somber Gloomwrought skyline.