Our tale began in the city of Punjar. After a long night of gambling an Elven Avenger named Beiro found himself in possession of a strange clay idol that depicted a squat eight-eyed god with one hand raised as if to cast a spell. Unable to determine if the idol had any real value, he stuffed it away in his goods and thought nothing more of it until he awoke the next morning to find that one of his hands had grown webbing similar to that of a frog. He consulted with his friend Krystalle, a Gnome Sorcerer, and they were able to determine that the source of the mysterious changes to his hand was a curse. This curse, however, was not so easy to remove. As the day wore on and they did research into the lore of the region, Beiro became convinced that his condition was somehow related to a local legend about an ancient archlich named Skoulous. The locals scoffed when he began asking for more information about the stories, but they told him that if he wanted to go chasing after old wives tales he should seek out what was rumored to be his old keep in the Great Black Salt Marsh.
Beiro convinced Krystalle and their two companions Daar (a Dragonborn Barbarian) and Zachary Wolfe (a Human Swordmage) to join him on his “fools errand” and they set out to seek the ancient keep of Skoulous the Undying.
The Great Black Salt Marsh was unforgiving territory to explore, and they had an early encounter with a group of giant swamp crocodiles. After dispatching the beasts, Daar got the idea to split open their corpses to see if there was any treasure inside. Much to the surprise of his companions he actually found a jewel-encrusted amulet in the gore that spilled out from the belly of one crocodile. Despite many semi-ritualistic post-combat disembowelment rituals in the time that has passed since then, Daar has not been able to strike gold in this fashion again.
Upon arriving at the ruins of the keep the adventurers were surprised to find that far from being uninhabited the grounds of the ancient structure were teaming with humanoids in the midst of a barbaric ritual. While attempting to sneak up to get a closer look, they were attacked by a group of giant frogs who were hidden in the upper reaches of a ruined gate house.
Once they were past the frogs they were able to ascertain what was happening in the ruins. A witch with a wicked looking dagger was in the midst of performing what appeared to be a sacrificial ritual! She stood over an altar with a young female halfling strapped to it, while behind her a half-ogre beat out a steady rhythm on a large drum. Dozens of crazed, scantily clad humans danced in a frenzy around them. The adventurers rushed in to stop the ritual, but not before the witch plunged the dagger deep into the chest of the unfortunate woman. As the witch fell to their attack, she screamed out “You are too late, fools! Already my master has breached the vault! I give my life for Skoulous, so that I might live forever!” Her screams drew the attention of a crazed Dwarf who made a career out of taming the wild swamp crocodiles, but the party was able to handle the additional threat he and his pets introduced to the fight as well.
Realizing that there was more to this story than myths, the adventurers decided they needed to press on into the keep. They did their best to tend to the wounds of the halfling, but despite the fact that she was physically healed she did not awaken from her coma. They briefly considered heading back to Punjar with her body, but the curse seemed to be taking a strong hold on Beiro. His skin had become dark and mottled, and his companions noted that he was emanating a cruel, almost predatory aura. They knew they needed to press on and could not afford to go back to Punjar. They rigged up the body of the halfling on a litter and plunged into the keep.
Within the keep they encountered, traps, rats, and an Ochre Jelly before finally encountering Malaki the Mad the Mad, a black robed priest of Orcus who was intent on reviving Skoulous! Malaki the Mad had the phylactery of the ancient lich, and the party arrived just in time to interrupt the ritual. Once Malaki the Mad and his guardians were dispatched, they shattered the phylactery and the curse was removed from Beiro.
Once they returned to Punjar the party still had the issue of the Halfling to deal with. They took her to several healers, all of whom declared that she was in perfect health. Despite that fact, she remained unconscious for days. Finally they went to see a mystic who informed them that while her body was whole her soul was trapped with Orcus. He said that the dagger that had been used against her could be used to bring her back, and he gave them a ritual to perform that would steal her away from the Demon Lord’s realm. The ritual, however, had to be done in a place where the boundary between the two worlds was weak. The mystic told them of an archaeological dig a few days away where some Dwarves had uncovered an ancient temple that should suit their purposes.
When they arrived at the dig they were horrified to discover that it had been overrun by a group of kobolds and White Dragon Wyrmling that was leading them. After they had killed the monsters they discovered the butchered remains of the Dwarven diggers and their one living companion, a cleric named Falkrunn. Falkrunn agreed to help the party complete the ritual if they, in turn, agreed to help him hunt down the hideout of the creatures that had killed his friends.
Orcus was not quite so co-operative, however, and as Krystalle performed the ritual he extended his reach from the Shadowfell to bring the bodies of the recently dead back to life. As the spell went on the party fought to keep her safe from the horde of the undead. They prevailed, the spell was cast, and the dagger throbbed with the life force of the accursed woman. The party kept their promise to Falkrunn, and on the way back to Punjar they found a tower that housed the rest of the monstrous regiment and put them all down.
Upon returning to Punjar and the shop where the mystic lived they learned that the only way to reverse the ritual was to plunge the dagger back into the halfling’s chest. Several “You do it!’, “No, YOU do it” exchanges later, an exasperated Krystalle yelled “I’LL DO IT” in her childish voice and plunged the dagger home. The halfling immediately bolted upright, screaming incoherently. They were able to eventually calm her down and convince her she was no longer trapped with Orcus, and Falkrunn was able to remove the dagger and heal her wounds again. Back in her body, the halfling introduced herself as Myra, and when she was able to she told them the story of how she had come to the ruins in the marsh.