Back at the Common House, the Freemen cheer at the sight of the unconscious Keris shackled up in her small clothes. Arlynn asks Black Marin, the leader of the Freemen, if they have a holding cell for detainees. She is given access to a chamber beneath the Common House basement, where Keris is locked to the wall. That night, the Crimson Blades enjoy drinks on the house for bringing down a notorious slaver.
The following morning, Arlynn and Slim venture downstairs to interrogate Keris. The Bekyar warrior accuses her sister of hypocrisy for leaving her caged and bound like a dog. Arlynn unlocks Keris’ handcuffs, surprising her, and then questions her sister about the slavers and their intentions, speaking in their native tongue.
Keris says that the Bekyars were looking to expand into new markets and particularly strike up business with the orcs of Belkzen, who have few outlets to sell their slaves and are thus willing to take cut-throat offers. As First Sword, Keris was needed to win the orcs’ respect by swatting down their champions. But that’s all over now that Arlynn took away her sword.
The paladin demands more details about the slavers’ leaders and plans for Korvosa. Keris says that the operation is being led by Shivkah, the Whip Hand, using Korvosa as a transfer point for moving slaves in and out of Varisia. She also reports that the Scorpion’s Kiss continues to operate in Varisian waters, but knows little more about its slaving route. Arlynn and Slim ask about the Bekyar’s use of the teleport circles and their connection to Ambassador Amprei. Keris says that Amprei gave the Bekyars access to a teardrop-shaped emerald that allowed them to activate the circles for smuggling slaves, but the alliance fell apart not too long ago thanks to the party’s meddling. She’s not sure what Shivkah is doing to resolve things on the Korvosa end.
Arlynn recalls that during her family’s flight from the Bekyar Nation, she was captured and taken into slavery. The paladin stares Keris straight in the eye. “Was that your doing?”
“I was trying to save you, all of you,” Keris replies. “The Master of Whips already knew about Father’s little scheme when I came to him to bargain for your lives. And then you and Father had to muck it all up trying to escape with your slave friends. Mother’s blood is on your hands, not mine.”
But she cannot meet Arlynn’s gaze.
Still, the paladin is surprised at this revelation, which forces her to reevaluate her understanding of the events of the Farimas’ escape.
Keris says that she spent years trying to repair the damage done to the Farima family name, finally winning her place as First Sword of the Bekyar Nation. But once again Arlynn’s meddling has destroyed everything she worked for, leaving her life shambles and her name a laughing stock.
“You took my sword,” Keris says. “That sword was my life and you took it.”
Arlynn says that Keris allowed herself to be enslaved by pride, wallowing in the glories of Bekyar society while ignoring the suffering her actions caused. But they are still sisters who both loved their mother and both lost her too soon.
“Iomedae’s justice is not without compassion,” Arlynn tells her. “I won’t leave you here to languish in a cell.”
The paladin retrieves the scroll of the mark of justice that she has been carrying for this eventuality and casts the spell on her wayward sibling, barring her from dishonoring their mother’s memory by harming innocents. Arlynn throws open the door to the cell and then, with an added flourish, presents Keris with her curved Bekyar greatsword.
“I give your life back to you, sister,” she says. “Wherever your path takes you, I hope you will try to make Mother proud.”
Keris gapes at the sword in her hands as if it couldn’t be real. For a brief moment, Arlynn thinks she sees a tear glisten in her sister’s eye. Then the older sibling’s face hardens and she tightens her grip on the sword hilt.
“I hope our paths never cross again,” Keris sneers and pushes past Arlynn in to the hallway. She takes a few steps towards the door, then looks back over her shoulder. “You’ve grown taller and your foreign goddess has given you power, but your footwork is as sloppy as ever, sister. Watch yourself out there.”
“And the same for you, sister,” Arlynn replies.
With that, Keris strides off, sword slung over her back. Slim turns to Arlynn and says in the common tongue “What just happened?”
Once Arlynn has brought the rest of the party up to speed on the story with Keris, they are approached in the Common House bar by the drow Shar. He carried their messages down to Korvosa and has brought news back.
Cressida writes that she passed along Slim’s information to Queen Ileosa, who has had Ambassador Amprei ejected from the city. The situation in Korvosa is only growing worse. Vimanda Arkona has become an avid supporter of Ileosa’s regime and the other Great Houses have chosen to acquiesce. The Archbanker of Abadar has also endorsed the Queen as a restorer of order in the city. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that Cressida’s own position as Commandant of the Guard is growing increasingly tenuous.
Arlynn’s follower Chammady writes that her sworn swords have been working with the Guard to maintain order while quietly helping people get away from the Gray Maidens. She remains confident that Iomedae will guide Arlynn to victory on her quest to save the city and eagerly awaits her return.
Zandu’s cousin Skender reports that he and the other cousins have been working with Cressida on the sly, setting up a series of safe houses and a network of informants to help people hide from the Gray Maidens and track their movements. Skender also reports that while the Cerulean Society publicly supports Ileosa, they don’t seem to be dedicating resources to aiding the Queen, instead consolidating their hold on Old Korvosa.
While they process this information, Slim’s new “apprentice” Freya Mikkelsdotter returns, dressed in a fresh set of good clothes. She tosses the rogue his 5gp back.
“It seems my former master developed a hole in his pocket,” she offers by way of explanation.
Slim suggests that Freya could carry information on Korvosa’s current events to Vencarlo at Janderhoff. Ashla is suspicious of involving this new acquaintance in such delicate matter. To address her concerns, Arlynn casts zone of truth and Slim questions Freya about her background and her loyalty to him.
The Ulfen woman explains that she was taken off her merchant ship by the Bekyars and ultimately shipped off to Kaer Maga, where the Katapeshi purchased her. Slim realizes that her ship’s captain was the man who left the message in the crate in Korvosa. Freya was separated from him early and doesn’t know his fate, though she’s certain his wife Signe won’t be happy to hear of what befell him.
Freya says that she owes Slim a life debt for releasing her from the grim fate she thought awaited her. She swears by Desna that his friends are her friends, his enemies are her enemies, and his secrets are her secrets.
Ashla is still skeptical, but the adventurers agree that Freya can be trusted to carry the message to their friends in Janderhoff. Slim suggests that before she leave, Freya should visit the Bekyar slave pens and spring their catch, offering work to any roguish types. After delivering the message, she should remain in the dwarven city until the party returns.
The Courtship of Ser Irabeth
Their business in Kaer Maga concluded, the Crimson Blades teleport back to the Flameford camp, where they soon encounter Kyra excitedly riding one of the large desert geckos the party had encountered earlier in the Cinderlands. The halfling explains that the Shoanti graciously provided two of the lizards, one for her and one for Egan to use as mounts. When asked about the whereabouts of the other cohorts, Kyra says Remmy is off bathing and points the party to the guest yurt where Irabeth is laying low.
The half-orc opens the tent flap a fraction and warily glances to either side before urging them to hurry inside. The adventurers bring her up to speed on the events in Kaer Maga, before asking after her own strange behavior.
“I’m hiding in here because Krojun and Sefah are both trying to woo me,” Irabeth confesses, blushing. “I’m not used to people competing for my favor.”
The Crimson Blades congratulate her on drawing attention from two different sides of the gender line.
“It’s flattering and they are both quite appealing,” Irabeth admits, “but they remind me too much of my old boyfriend.”
Slim starts to ask for more details, but is interrupted by Remmy’s arrival, spic and span in freshly polished armor. Arlynn asks if the party is ready to shadow walk the 300 miles to Scarwall.
“Yes please, let’s get out of here right away before they see me,” Irabeth nods vigorously. “Cursed castles I can handle.”
After deciding to leave their mounts with the Shoanti, the Crimson Blades gather in a circle and hold hands as Arlynn drinks one of the elixirs of shadow walking they had looted from Cinnabar’s body. They are transported along a coiling path of shadowstuff to the gray area where the Material Plane and the Plane of Shadows meet.
They begin walking northeast, towards their destination in the Kodar Mountains of Belkzen, the landscape whirling past them at a disturbingly fast rate. After hours of walking, the advenurers drop back to the Material Plane, arriving in the Kodar mountains only a day’s hike from Scarwall. Ashla is able to scout out a nearby cave to spend the night and Egan seals it with wall of stone so they can rest without fear of ambush.
The following morning, as the adventurers rise to greet the day, they are greeted in turn by a gentle tap-tap-tapping on the wall of stone. Egan warily peels back the wall, revealing Laori’s grinning face. Behind her stands the Shadowcount Sial and his chain devil bodyguard Asyra, who has her arms draped lazily around his shoulders, toying idly with the chain of the holy symbol of Zon-Kuthon that hangs from his neck..
“Goood morning, awesome people!” Laori calls out, rushing to hug Slim and then as many others as will allow her. “It’s so amazing to see you all again after so long! It’s been, like, weeks!”
She reaches into her pack and starts pulling out fistfuls of yellow tusks. “While we were waiting for you, I got you all presents. Here, have some orc teeth!”
“Thanks . . .” Arlynn says, looking to Irabeth.
The half-orc takes the teeth and nods in approval. “It’s good to see you’ve spent your time killing many orcs.”
“Oh, I haven’t killed any orcs,” Laori says, passing out the last of the teeth.
“Then how did you . . .” Egan asks.
“I cut them out of their mouths, silly,” Laori giggles. “We ran into a few orcs on our way here. Well, whole villages really. Do you like them? I wanted to be sure I had enough for everyone.”
“I take it this is no chance meeting,” Slim says. “You and Sial are on your way to Scarwall, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Laori says bashfully. “See, we’re both members of the Brotherhood of Bones.”
“We have been tasked with reclaiming the Fangs of Kazavon,” Sial says, “sacred relics of one of the Midnight Lord’s greatest champion, and returning them to their rightful place in Nidal.”
“I knew the Church of Zon-Kuthon had to be connected to the Midnight’s Teeth,” Arlynn says.
“We know you seek a weapon, Serithtial, that can break the power the Fangs have granted to Ileosa,” Sial tells the party. “The Umbral Court of Nidal shares your goal, as it is insulting to have these holy relics held in the clutches of a petty queen. Serithtial lies within Scarwall, a haunted castle with defenses against those who do not embrace the Midnight Lord, but the sword itself is deadly to his servants.”
“Which is why we’re going to have the most awesome, ass-kickingest team up in the history of ever!” Laori interjects, bouncing up and down. “We all work together like BFFs to crash the castle and recover the sword, then you guys take down the Queen and we bring the Fangs back to Nidal. It’s going to be ama-a-azing!”
“Yes,” Sial adds. “Spectacular.”
The Crimson Blades quickly huddle to discuss the offer. After a brief debate, they agree that the Kuthites can be trusted to hold up their end of the bargain and could provide valuable assistance in the castle. Laori is ecstatic at the news and pulls out a set of brownies she baked for the occasion, half light and half dark.
“They represent our super special friendship,” she explains, passing them around. “They’re really good!”
“Laori,” Ashla asks, “what can you tell us about Kazavon?”
“That he was totally awesome,” the elf priestess squeals. "See, eight hundred years ago the orcs of Belkzen started invading neighboring kingdoms like Lastwall and Ustalav and stuff. Nobody was able to stop them. So this one count guy in Ustalav prays to ZK for help and Big Z—like he always does—answers his prayer. This badass mercenary general named Kazavon just shows up to lead the count’s armies—and he drives the orcs back! Out of Ustalav back into Belkzen, all the way up to their smelly holes in the mountains. Because Kazavon was actually a star player on Team ZK.
“So Kazzy builds a big castle, Scarwall, on a site sacred to the Midnight Lord to watch over the land so that the orcs never come back. And then he starts spreading ZK’s completely awesome teachings, with lashings, and thumbscrews, and impalements and all sorts of cool stuff. His faith is so pure and devoted, nobody can stand against it. But he was betrayed by one of his own men, who let a gang of mercenaries into Scarwall and I’m pretty sure you know the rest. Kazavon dies, the orcs come back, and the curse takes hold.”
“What do you know about the curse?” Arlynn asks.
“It is said that the souls of all who perish within Scarwall’s grounds are permanently bound to the castle,” Sial replies, “cursed to walk its halls as restless dead. What caused this effect, we do not know, but it has prevented the Church or anyone else from reclaiming the ruin.”
Once the party finishes their breakfast, they and the Kuthites begin trekking through the dark, rocky foothills of the Kodat Mountains towards their destination.
The Dark Castle
Castle Scarwall looks every bit as foreboding as the legends say. Dark walls rise from darker bedrock to steep rooflines set with gargoyles and minarets. Battlements look down from towers and defensive walls, and many dark carrion birds perch among these and soar above them. Mists rising off of the black tarn obscure the lower portions of the rocky island, giving the whole an ethereal appearance. Surprisingly, even though the structure is many centuries old, its walls and roofs remain intact with no visible breaches or obvious signs of damage. A ghostly glow lights some of the windows and arrow slits, and now and then, faint flickerings betray the motion of creatures within.
Zandu suggests that the party not take Zellara with them into the castle, given everything they’ve heard about the curse. The sorcerer fears that their ghostly friend could find herself bound to Scarwall.
Zellara manifests to tell the party that she is willing to take the risk, but she understands if they wish to leave her and the Harrow Deck outside.
Ultimately, Egan animates a treant—‘Barky’—to stand watch over the Harrow Deck, which the druid embeds safely within a rock overlooking the fortress. With preciouslittle daylight remaining, the adventurers nonetheless decide to press onward.
One Does Not Simply Walk into Scarwall
As dusk falls over the caldera, the Crimson Blades advance down a crumbling road towards the ruined barbican than defends access to the castle causeway. Only one of the two stone watchtowers still stands, while the other has collapsed into a heap of cracked stones and half-standing walls. About 120 feet away from the barbican, a shout rings out in orcish from the watchtower. Egan wildshapes into a bat to investigate, reporting back that the standing tower is defending by at least a half a dozen orcs.
The Crimson Blades quickly come up with a battle plan. The Kuthites offer to assist, but the adventurers prefer to take the lead. Slim and Kyra advance stealthily, taking cover in some heavy brush near the tower to await the signal. Zandu casts fly on himself and Irtabeth’s steed Princess, while Arlynn, Ashla, and Remmy advance just outside bow range of most of the orcs, though the biggest on lets fly a few goose-feather shafts from his longbow. It is Egan who gives the signal to strike, summoning a stone giant on top of the crumbling tower—with predictable results.
When the dust settles from the caved-in tower roof, the stone giant is standing firm over two confused and battered orcs on the tower’s second story. Slim and Kyra take this opportunity to snipe at the orcish archers on the balcony before scurrying for cover in the nearby ruins of the second tower.
Arlynn races towards the main tower, using Keris’ slippers of spiderwalk to stride a few feet up its side. Ashla and Remmy rush up to her and she begins harrying both of them up the side of the building. Bat-Egan flutters closer to the building, while Zandu lets fly with a lightning bolt.
The orcs on the balcony and down below fire back with their arrows, but are rattled by the display of raw power. The stone giant proceeds to rough up the orcs in the tower’s second story. Irabeth, seated on Princess and floating 25 feet in the air, proceeds to charge the orcs on the balcony, striking the chief orc with her lance.
The chieftain barks an order and the orcs begin retreating back into the tower, but when the chieftain is struck down the remaining orcs on the balcony panic and leap to the ground. Slim wings one with his crossbow and Irabeth rides them down.
Arlynn, Ashla, and Remmy perch unsteadily on the crumbling walls overlooking the collapsed tower room. They slash down at the two hapless orcs below. One of the orcs shoves Remmy, knocking her off the wall. The Gray Maiden avoids a long fall by clinging hold of the wall with her shield hand. The other orc tries to pull the same trick on Arlynn, but she kicks him in the head and then lifts up Remmy while Ashla and the stone giant finish off the orcs.
Kyra creeps into the downstairs of the gate tower, soon followed by Slim, while Irabeth circles the building watchful for any escapees. Three orcs remain holed up in the bottom floor of the tower. The stone giant leaps downstairs, followed by Remmy and Ashla, while Arlynn spiderwalks down the ceiling. But when the paladin takes a swing at one of the orcs, her sword catches on the stone giant and goes flying.
Remmy surges forward to assist her, shouting “Die you monst—oops, sorry!”
Her own sword clanks against the giant and goes flying. The orcs burst out laughing at the sight. Kyra cuts the chortling short by pinning one to the wall with a crossbow bolt, while Slim’s Vindicator jams. The rest of the Crimson Blades close in and make short work of the remaining orcs.
Afterwards, as the party investigates the ruins of the barbican, Irabeth inspects each of the orcs’ corpses, one after the other. When asked why, she simply says “I’m looking for my father.” But he is nowhere to be found among the dead.
After ascertaining that the barbican is secure and looting what valuables they could find from the orcs, the party burns the bodies as the long stone causeway stretches before them towards the looming towers of Castle Scarwall.