Pick up the Bones, but Leave the Soul Alone
The storm that had been brewing all evening lashes the courtyard with rain and hail, forcing the Crimson Blades to seek shelter in the adjacent castle hallway. While they wait, Sial has Asyra cleanse him of the splintery remains of Groot the Treant, while Slim confronts Laori over a vision he had during the battle.
Eventually the downpour slackens to a drizzle, and Ashla takes advantage of this lull to get to work skinning a section of the Belshallam’s hide to craft into armor for Egan. Arlynn offers her dragon bane sword to assist, but Ashla declines, saying the blade is too unwieldy for the detail work. Egan supervises the skinning.
Irabeth tearfully picks through the battlefield, collecting the bones of Princess. Seeing her distress, Arlynn goes to comfort the half-orc.
“Don’t despair, Irabeth,” she says. “Princess was imbued with the grace of the Inheritor herself and her spirit cannot be conquered so easily. I am sure she will be return to you soon.”
“Are you sure?” the big woman says, wiping a tear from her face with a green hand. “I want her back so bad.”
“I’m certain of it,” Arlynn says, “so long as we are patient and stay true to the course Iomedae has laid out for us.”
“Back home, I grew up around horses, but Princess was the first one I got to call my very own,” Irabeth says, hefting the bag of bones. “She was more than just a beast of burden, she was a courageous partner and my final link to Lastwall.”
Irabeth kicks a gargoyle thumb across the puddle-strewn courtyard. “I pray that Iomedae sends her back to me as soon as I am worthy.”
“I understand your loss, my friend,” Arlynn says. “If anything happened to my bonded sword, I’d—”
“Princess is worth more than some stupid sword!” Irabeth bellows, her damp eyes blazing. She drops the bag and then clamps both hands to her mouth, shocked at her own outburst. “Please forgive me, Ser Arlynn, I should not have shouted so; I know you only meant to be kind.”
“Think nothing of it, Ser Irabeth,” the senior paladin says, retrieving the bag of the horse’s remains from the ground. “You are right. Of course Princess means more than any piece of metal. I pray she returns to you soon.”
“I must also apologize for my unruliness when you were treating with the dragon,” Irabeth says, tacking the sack from Arlynns hands. She shuffles her feet uncertainly. “I was mad with rage and you were right to stop me then. My anger still gets the better of me too often.” She looks up at the Bekyar woman. “I hope I have not shamed myself in your eyes.”
“Never,” Arlynn says, giving her a friendly slap the shoulder.
Irabeth perks up at that and grins. But Arlynn’s comments don’t stop her from drifting over to the dragon corpse, which she proceeds to kick savagely with the sharp pointed greaves of her celestial plate mail.
“Hey, I’m working here!” Ashla protests, a few feet away.
“Sorry,” Irabeth shrugs, tromping off.
A Night in Scarwall
As the rain starts to pick up again, the adventurers decide to camp in the courtyard withing Sial’s bone house rather than brave the unknown space of the castle barracks. Like before, the bottom two floors are given over to the party (and Laori), while the top floor is reserved for Sial and Asyra.
The bone house proves to be an unpleasant refuge, with the damp fog and sheets of rain slapping through the arrow slits that line the walls of each floor. The storm does nothing to mute the stench of the decaying pile of dragon meat nearby, either. On the second floor, Zandu jerry-rigs a tarp to shield off the storm-ward side of the building, cutting down on the wind and rain. Egan chooses to wildshape into a huge earth elemental and sleep in the rocks below Barky.
Arlynn asks Laori to prepare a heroes’ feast in the morning. The paladin also asks if the unhallow effect on the castle is assisting the Kuthites. Laori says the effect is muted, as the castle’s denizens no longer belong to ZK. She also mentions that the entire bone house is an altar to the Midnight Lord, which does little to set the party at ease.
As storm and cold lash the tower, the adventurers (mostly) peel out of their armor and take to bed. On first watch, Slim stays dressed for battle and sets himself up in the right eye socket of the immense skull that caps the bone house, a cloak wrapped around him for a semblance of warmth. From his perch, he sees strange, ghostly lights in the castle towers and hears odd voices on the wind, but nothing that appears to notice the bone house.
Which is why it comes as something of a surprise when the putrid head of Belshallam, eyes glowing with blue flame, lunges down from overhead and bites him savagely. The rogue lets out a terrible scream that alerts the rest of the tower.
Evil Does Not Sleep
Ashla, already in armor, leaps to her feet and races upstairs. She passes through Sial’s chambers, where the Shadowcount, bound up in Asyra’s chains, is dangling from the ceiling, apparently naked.
“Figures,” the half-elf says as she scrambles up the ladder past them.
On the second floor, Kyra starts climbing the slippery outside of the tower, rapier clutched in her teeth and wind tugging at her black nightgown.
In the center of the tower, a pajama-clad Zandu casts haste upon the party to speed their defense against the threat. The warrior women on the bottom floor taken this opportunity to rush towards the top, passing a clumsily dressed Sial on their way up.
The dragon bites at Slim again, its foul stench leaving him nauseated, but he is able to avoid being snatched up by its putrid jaws.
Irabeth, armed with sword and board but wearing only her small clothes, arrives beside him and asks what’s the problem, but Slim can merely gargle and point upwards. They are soon joined by Arlynn and Remmy, both also half-dressed, and Laori, clad as ever in her hooked black ring mail and grinning with excitement.
In the courtyard, Barky the Treant lumbers towards the tower, while Earth-Egan rumbles up from the ground. They hammer the dragon with their enormous fists, which slap against its rotting, rain-slick flesh with a sickening splat.
When it Rains, It Pours
“C’mon, people, this isn’t a spectator sport!” Belshallam calls out and three spectres rise up from the rubble of the gargoyles.
After one failed attempt, Ashla climbs up the slippery skull tower to come face to face with the dragon. Kyra, meanwhile, has quietly crept up on the other end of the undead monster.
But the dragon lashes out with its claws, causing Ashla to loose her footing and plunge down onto the wet cobblestones below.
Two of the spectres, meanwhile, attack Earth-Egan, sapping at his life force. He tries to fight back but his boulder-sized fist are of little use against the ghostly apparitions.
The third spectre slides inside the bone house behind Remmy.
Following Ashla’s example, Arlynn uses her slippers of spider climb to walk up the side of the skull and confront the dragon. She feels a strange surge of divine energy flowing through her, the familiar radiance of Iomedae but also something darker and more alien guiding her swordhand through inventive new cuts and slashes.
“You should have stayed dead, abomination,” the drenched paladin shouts over the wailing wind and rain. Alrynn’s attack knocks the dragon off balance, its claws raking against the tower and wing flapping wildly to keep from tumbling off.
Kyra takes the opportunity to strike the creature savagely from behind, have braced herself against a fall beforehand. In the eye socket below, a thoroughly drenched Irabeth slashes at one of the flailing wings.
“Taste righteous steel, murderer!” she roars.
Slim, having recovered from his momentary revulsion, parkours his way up onto the skull top, drops the Vindicator and vaults onto the back of the dragon with his rapier drawn.
The undead creature lets out an unearthly roar and takes wing, lashing Arlynn with its claws along the way. Slim clings to it for dear life as the creature flies far over the crater lake that surrounds the castle.
On the ground, Earth-Egan, with an assist from Zandu, damages one of the spectres. The druid then sinks his elemental body back into the earth, successfully luring in one of the creatures where it can be destroyed. Ashla battles against the second spectre with her twin swords.
In the tower, Remmy freaks at the sight of the spectre, shouting “Ack! A ghost! I hate these things!”
Hastened by Zandu’s spell, she slashes three times and cuts it to ribbons.
Asyra and a fully clothed Sial retreat down to the ground floor, finally emerging to help Ashla against the remaining spectre.
As Belshallam flies off with Slim clinging to its rotting neck and Arlynn stuck on the tower roof, Egan bursts from the ground, his form shifting from huge earth elemental to roc. Arlynn grabs Slim’s discarded crossbow and Roc-Egan grabs Arlynn. Through wind and fog, the druid and his passenger chase the dragon out over the lake.
The dragon whirls about and after clawing at Roc-Egan, the wyrm flies back over the castle and beyond it, far out to the lake on the other side. Surprisingly sprightly for a corpse, Belshallam outpaces the druid, who can only fly back over the castle. Roc-Egan calls lightning down onto the dragon, to no effect, and Zandu’s magic missile proves just as ineffective.
Dangling from Roc-Egan’s claws, Arlynn looses four bolts from the Vindicator at the flapping hulk through the wind and fog, but only one of the shafts pierces the dragon’s decaying flesh.
Legs wrapped around its rotten neck and one hand gripping it for balance, Slim stabs at the creature with his rapier.
“It’s time to put you down on the ground!” he calls out.
“As you wish,” says Belshallam.
Dealing with Dragons
Its glowing blue eyes flaring, the great beast arcs around back towards Scarwall. The dragon tucks its wings back in a dives and then hurls Slim off its neck, intending to crush him under its bulk. But the rogue is just barely able to roll free of the impact.
Roc-Egan flies towards the dragon, releasing Arlynn who plunges down with her greatsword Akeraum, slicing off one of the monsters wings. Ashla charges across the courtyard at the creature, but slips on Slim’s hand and accidentally embeds her sword in the severed wing.
The druid then calls down a flame strike, but the dragon is able to resist the spell.
From the tower, Remmy looses arrows at the beast, while Laori vaults out of the left eye socket and onto the northern staircase, landing like a gymnast and then scurrying down the stairs towards the creature.
Kyra stands on her tiptoes to peer out an arrow slit at the creature below, glances down at her small crossbow, and then shrugs. “Well, I’m done.”
Sprawled before the dragon, Slim tries to leap to his feet but is not fast enough to avoid Belshallam’s slavering jaws. The teeth crunch through bone and guts, leaving the rogue sprawled on the wet ground at the brink of death.
“Ionas, nooo!” Remmy calls from her perch in the skull tower’s left eye socket.
Down below, Sial and Asyra are spurred into action. The Shadowcount hastens to the rogue’s side and casts a healing spell.
“Oh Midnight Lord, grant the mercy of your dark blessing to this . . . ally of your devoted servants,” the Kuthite intones, restoring the rogue to wakefulness.
Dispensing with magic, Roc-Egan becomes Earth-Egan again and attempts to fall upon Belshallam like a meteor, but the undead dragon proves too swift to hit and the druid merely impacts into the ground, rising up to pound on the creature with his fists.
Guided by the powers of light and dark, Arlynn slashes out with Akeraum and lops off Belshallam’s battered head with a sickly wet snicker-snack.
Ashla retrieves her sword and begins methodically severing all of the doubly dead dragon’s limbs. Earth-Egan simply tears and mashes the body into unrecognizable shreds. The Crimson Blades agree that they must do this from now on with any non-undead enemies in Scarwall.
Cold, wet, and wounded themselves, the adventurers limp back to the bone house, where Kyra has gotten a kettle of tea started. After Arlynn, Irabeth, and the Kuthites heal the group’s wounds and everyone has had a chance to dry off and warm up, they return to bed.
Slim hands the rest of his watch over to Remmy, who had wrapped him up in her blanket as well as his own once he returned to the tower.
“Keep an eye out,” he says as she heads off to her shift, now clad in her stern Gray Maiden armor.
“Always do!” she winks—or is it blinks?—back at him.
The Watchers on the Wall
Recovering from the disruption of the night before, the party sleeps in several hours later than normal and greet the morning sun grudgingly. Laori and Sial dispense restoration to everyone (save Zandu) over breakfast.
“We fought valiantly as a team last night,” Arlynn says, “though it was a little embarrassing to be fighting the dragon in my soaking wet small clothes.”
“I certainly wasn’t looking,” Irabeth blurts out.
“I was too busy getting chewed on to enjoy the scenery,” Slim jokes. Remmy pats him on the shoulder and he winces exaggeratedly.
“With all the rain and fog, you’d have to have darkvision to see much of anything,” Zandu declares, causing Kyra to smirk.
“I already saw too much on my way up the tower,” Ashla says.
“No one invited you to gape, half-breed,” Sial glares.
“Guys, gals,” Laori says, stepping between them and beaming, “you’re all beautiful. Now, let’s go hurt something together!”
Empty Kennels, Full Coffers
Since the Kuthites had expended so many spells, the party offers for the clerics to stay behind and rest up. Laori, however, elects to accompany the Crimson Blades.
“Somebody has to represent ZK,” Laori tells Sial, “and I know you and Asyra have super important Umbral Court business to finish together.”
“Your audacity is charming, child,” the count replies. “Be careful it does not get you killed.”
With Sial and the chain devil remaining behind with Barky, the adventurers adance across the courtyard to the site of the dragon’s den. The large chamber, perhaps once a stable or kennel, has been gutted. The floor is a tangle of broken beams, dung heaps crawling with vermin, and the occasional gleam of polished bone.
The whole chamber is shadowy and dim, the darkness seeming almost palpable. An archway to the north leads to a side passage ending in stairs going up, while a small room sits within the lair to the south. Slim approaches that room and after checking for traps, peers inside.
“I think we found the dragon’s hoard,” he announces.
Kyra suddenly appears beside him. “All right! Now this is the one part of the haunted castle that I like.”
Mixed among the mangled gear of what appear to be unfortunate past adventurers, the party finds chests overflowing with gold and silver as well as several magic items of note, including a staff of necromancy that Zandu swiftly claims and an enchanted small-sized suit of chain mail that Kyra holds up mournfully.
“The first normal-sized item we’ve found in this stinking castle, Egan, and neither of us can wear it.”
“I know!” the gnome replies. “It’s not fair, is it?”
“We can sort through this mess later,” Arlynn says, surveying the hoard. “We should press onward, explore that corridor over there. We’ve wasted enough of the day as it is.”
“We need to gather it up now, otherwise things might go missing,” Slim says, looking pointedly at Kyra.
“Hey now,” the halfling woman says, “there’s honor among . . . people of our particular profession.”
“True,” the rogue acknowledges. “But we’re still going to count the treasure now.”
Beware of Dog
After the party finishes collecting the loot, they head upstairs to investigate the broad tower in the northeast corner of the castle. After checking the door for traps, Slim pries it open revealing a bare, soot-stained chamber with two sets of stairs going up and down—and two fire-spewing Nessian warhounds the size of horses. The nearest monster gets right up in the rogue’s face and then huffs and puffs and belches out a sulfurous gout of flame that envelopes the whole party. Slim catches the full blast blast at point blank range.
The Crimson Blades rally and quickly dispatch the first warhound, while the second prowls around the back of the room and spits out its own spray of fire. Laori is sorely scorched and retreats away from the door to heal herself. Ashla clambers over the smoking corpse of the first Nessian to approach the second. Egan hits the remaining hell hound with quench, dousing its infernal fire. Shield raised, Irabeth presses into the room, trampling over the body to come at the fiend from its left. Remmy shoulders past Slim and into the room after the half-orc, stepping onto one of the twin staircases.
Which is when the third Nessian warhound bursts through the door to the southeast. The creature unleashes its own fiery breath across the room. Remmy takes the brunt of it, screaming as she roasts in her armor. The Gray Maiden is left swaying on her feet, barely alive.
“Remmy! Nooo!” Slim shouts, vaulting over the obstruction in the doorway to rush to her side. The rogue positions himself protectively between her and the nearest warhound, rapier held ready. Glancing over his shoulder, he asks “Are you all right?”
“Kinda feel like a reefclaw in a pot,” she says with a weak laugh. “You should find cover, though—it’s heating up in here and I don’t want you to get burned.”
The nearest warhound bites at Slim, trying to reach past him towards the scorched Maiden, but he is able to turn the attack aside with his rapier and riposte.
As Ashla closes in to strike at the second fiendish hound with her swords, Arlynn forces her way into the room and calls upon Iomedae’s blessing to heal the charred adventurers. Laori imbues them all with the wrath of Zon-Kuthon to sharpen their blades and strengthen their destructive spells.
The healing energy summoned by the paladin washes over Remmy, wiping away her most severe burns. Still a little shaky, she tries to move down the stairwell past Slim. He lets her pass, but asks “You sure you’re good to get back out there?”
“Gotta stay between your squishy self and the big monsters,” she says. “Besides, I know you’ve got my back!”
Remmy advances towards the third Nessian warhound as Water-Egan gushes into the room. While Ashla finishes off the second hound, the gnome druid pours his huge elemental body over Arlynn’s head and onto the third fiend, enveloping it completely. The Nessian, badly hurt, breaks free of Water-Egan’s clutches and retreats backwards into the room it came from. But it can’t escape a barrage of Zandu’s magic missiles and is finally brought down.
Fighting in the War Room
After regrouping, the adventurers search the tower’s second floor while Slim warily creeps upstairs. He enters into a darkened hallway, with doors to the left and right. Returning below, he informs the party of his discovery. They leave Laori, Irabeth, Remmy and Kyra below to investigate the top of the tower.
The leftmost door opens into a storage room full of dusty, crumbling crates and barrels. The door on the right opens onto a large room whose walls are festooned with ancient,
crumbling maps of the surrounding regions marked with fortifications and troop placement. Pushed to one side of the room is a wide table, its top fashioned into a large sandbox bearing a number of small wooden tokens apparently representing troop types and concentrations.
Also within is the decayed hulk of a half-orc in full plate wielding a war hammer.
Slim melds into the shadows and opens the door, which alerts the undead creature to ready for battle. When Arlynn steps through, wearing a mask of the mantis to see in the dark, the zombie warrior charges her and strikes true with his warhammer. The weapon releases a percussive blast of sonic energy that rocks the paladin back on her heals.
Zandu tries to blast the monster with scorching rays but misses both times, while Egan attempts to slap him with heat metal, to no avail. However, the combined blows of Arlynn, Slim and Ashla soon cut the deathless warlord down to size.
Arlynn claims the zombie’s warhammer, while Slim and Zandu inspect the maps, carefully retrieving and mending the most valuable items. Ashla, meanwhile, investigates the last room of the tower and discovers a bear skull carved with strange runes. She presents it to Laori as a gift once they return below.
“Aw, thank you!” the elf priestess says. “It’s so cuuute!”
Smite of the Smith
To complete their investigation of the tower, the adventurers tramp down to the ground floor, uncovering more barracks and storage as well as a smithy. Arlynn and Slim step warily into the smith’s chambers, while the rest of the party hangs back as Laori and Egan use speak with dead and speak with animals to converse with the bear skull, which proves smarter than average.
As she steps deeper into the chamber, the hairs on the back of Arlynn’s neck stand on end. Moments later, a rust-chewed smith’s hammer sudden floats up from the dusty floor and hurls towards the paladin, slamming into her painfully. More broken smith’s tools begin to swirl around her in a ferocious storm of steel.
Recalling her lessons at the War College in Lastwall, Arlynn calls out “It’s invisible!”
She and Slim activate the see invisibility function of their headgear, revealing the angry poltergeist of a brawny, Kellid woman in a smith’s apron with a slave’s collar around her neck. She appears to be directing the telekinetic barrage. Arlynn and Slim attack her with their enchanted swords and despite the challenge of harming a ghost, manage to dispel her, for the moment.
The two of them return to find the rest of the party chortling over an especially good joke the bear skull told about life in the Janderhoff circus. The skull belonged to the bear Tredeg, who was once the companion to a Dwarven ranger from the Mindspin Mountains. The bear and its master both met a sorry fate in Scarwall at the hands of Kazavon, eight centuries ago.