Stepping through the portal, the party found themselves in the company of some very shocked patrons of a small tavern. Apparenting making themselves materialize through the tavern's kitchen, there was few attempts at food jokes, but, most of them fell flat. After their breif attempt on the comedy scene, they were approached by a man who claimed to be the Lord of the humble town, which he called Winterhaven. Feeling particularly punchy, the party attempted to make even more jokes about the name of the town, but, more than anything, they just made everyone feel awkward. It was at this point they got back to the quest at hand, trying to find Duke.
As luck would have it!, the Lord was happy to report, there was such a man that was travelling with an adventuring party that fit that description. Droning on about recent kobold troubles and a recent hanging of a goblin bandit lord, he mentioned that the party had ventured to the North, to deal with the evils in an old shattered keep, which they had apparently deemed the source of Winterhaven's most recent troubles. Thanking the Lord for his help, they placed a few coins on the bar for the disturbance, and began making their way towards the keep proper.
A short trip into the wilderness, they found the keep in question, in ill-repair and long-abandoned. They clambered to the top of the hill where the keep was located, and began their decent into the ruins. It wasn't long until they found a scene of carnage. Apparently the adventuring party that preceeded them wasted no time, destroying the denizens of the keep on their decent. Deciding that the best way to find the party in question would be to follow the carnage, they quickly decended down into the building.
The further they decended, the more grevious the gore became, passing long-dead corpses with recent wounds, presumably undead creatures of some variety before they were cut down for a second time. They passed hobgoblin bodies as well, all stripped clean of any valuables, the clear work of a group of adventurers. Further down they decended, until they made note of some motion in a large chamber. What they walked into was the biggest scene of gore they'd come across throughout the whole keep – unfortunately, for the preceeding adventurers, this wasn't the result of an act of heroism.
Piled up in the center of the chamber were the corpses of who they could only presume were the heroes that had cleared the way for them. In various states of mutilation, the bodies were supplying nearby grates with their blood. Only a few corpses remained relatively unmolested, one of which looked much like the errant Reuel. Across the chamber kneeled a heavily armored figure, caught in the midst of some prayer, with two skeletal figures standing guard at the base of the altar. To the north-end of the room was a fluxing portal, something straining and pressing against some sort of dimensional film, struggling to get free.
The party made no effort to sneak into the room, so, as they moved closer, the armored figure looked up at them, and let loose a heavy sigh, rolling his eyes. "There's just no end to it, is there?" A few of the party noted that they were only here for one of the members in the pile in the center of the room, but, the cleric didn't seem to pay much mind to their troubles.
"Well, I can't very well just let you leave, can I?" the man snapped at the party, "Let's make this easier for all involved, shall we? Just slit your own throats and take a nice, long nap amongst your friends." Taking this as a challange, Savina and Clease decided they weren't in the mood to talk any more. Drawing their weapons, they began moving forward towards the arrogant man.
Charging and leaping across the room, Clease was on the man before he could even bring his shield to bear. Ducking behind his altar, the cleric barely avoided Clease's huge axes as the alter was splintered and shattered to peices. Shaking off any aura of arrogance for the moment, he eyed the portal, and the runes that sat in front of it. Grabbing his ornamental mace from the ground, he darted towards the runes, commanding his skeletal wards to do the same. Savina quickly commanded the rest of the party to make sure he stays out of the runes, and charged forward to intercept, as did the rest of the party.
Just as most of the party lunged forward, from the shadows slinked an emaciated figure with a look of horror frozen on its face. While a lesser group would have fled from the sudden appearance of the creature, the party that remained near it stood fast. At least for the moment; making sure that the ghast was eager to strike at another creature first, the Arrow began lining up shots to bring the ugly thing to the ground. As soon as Haxxium began bringing some of his dark magics to bear on the ghast, Arrow let loose, feathering the thing.
In the meantime, Clease harried the cleric while he tried to get towards the runes, slowing him at every opportunity, while the rest of the party tried their best to work their way past the skeletal guardians. The skeletons brought their shields to keep the party from their master, making their advance nearly impossible, striking with frightening accuracy as they tried to pass. It was Durgin that broke their line, bringing his symbol to bear, the Light of Bahamut repelling one of the skeletons into the portal. It never returned.
With the skeleton fleeing into the fluidic portal, the beast from beyond it seemed roused, with a jet-black tentacle lashing forth, trying to drag Durgin in. Batting it away, Durgin scoffed at the idea of something trying to move a dwarf. Still, Savina was anything but pleased at the prospect of an alien force dragging people into the dark, she shouted for people try their damnest to stay away from the portal. And just as the cleric finally stepped into the runes, Savina shouldered her way past the skeleton and let loose with an arcane wave of thunder, knocking him right back out.
Haxxium was trying to join the fray, but was harried by the ghastly corpse, but quickly disappeared from the eyes of the creature, a trick of the fey. Confused, the ghast stumbled towards the last place he saw the knight, all the while being peppered with arrows and eldrich energy from Katerina. Before being able to turn to face his other assailants, Haxxium faded back into vision of the thing, and launched a bit of eldrich energy of his own, and with the combined assault of all three, it quickly crumpled.
Trying their best to ignore the skeleton that remained, the party all entered the fray with the cleric, who was proving to have far more resolve than one had ever expected out of a pasty human. Doubly so, as he seemed to be feuled by the runes, which he was able to snake back into past Clease, who was having the damnest time trying to get him away. This was exacerbated by the fact that the thing in the portal decided that beef was more palletable, and was trying to drag Clease into its unseen maw.
With the armored man within the runes, it was proving next to impossible to land a significant blow on him. Try as they might, they couldn't budge him from the circle of runes. To make matters worse, figures from the center of the room appeared to be moving, rising from the pile of corpses. However, the look of surprise even took the cleric, as the one who stood didn't seem to be dead in any fashion. Reuel had been faking it, and saw this as an opportunity to beat feet.
Shouldering past Katerina, the only figure in the way towards the exit, Duke ran at an abnormal speed, then halted, suddenly, and turned to watch the melee. The Arrow took a moment, considering if it was worth it to try to bring Duke down, but decided his time was best used trying to feather the more immediate threat. The entire group struggled together to bring the cleric down while the portal lashed out at them.
Without a word, Duke charged towards the cleric, risking being struck at by his persuers; but no one made a move at him, as he launched his way, head-first, towards the armored man. The sound of bone on metal rang through the chamber as the cleric went stumbling out of the circle, and the rest of the pary followed. Ignoring the strange looks from the party, Duke began what he had started, and ran out of sight before the cleric could regain composure.
Taking advantage of the sudden act of altruism from the key-theif, the party surrounded the cleric, and between the lot of them, kept him from advancing towards the runes any further. Flanking him on all sides and frustrated that they had lost their game once again, their weapons rang down on the overconfident cleric until he was a mess of leather in an armored shell. Stepping away from the fallen man, to catch their breath, they witnessed the thing in the portal go for the easiest of all meals, the fallen cleric. As soon as he was pulled within, the remaining skeleton fell to a pile of harmless bones.
Confused as to what had just occured with Duke, the party made their way out of the keep; they brought the bodies with them, scouring them for useful supplies and weapons, and then Durgin gave them a few passing words, in hopes that they had found their ways to a better place. Tired and sore, they limped back to Winterhaven, through the tavern, and back to the ball.