A Last Warning
Egan, Zandu, and Irabeth make a quick jaunt back to the overlook where the treant Barky stands watch over Zellara’s Harrow deck. The Varisian fortune teller manifests, almost shivering with fear. She says that she can feel the anguish of countless souls rippling off of the castle and is quite thankful that she was not taken any closer. She urges the adventurers to break the curse if at all possible, in order to end the suffering of the dead.
But she warns that there is a great evil there that she can feel through the spirit world, particularly a “looming skull” resting in a “profaned temple” deep within. Zellara identifies the party’s magical items, including an enchanted greatsword Akeraum which Arlynn subsequently claims.
Breakfast with Laori
As darkness descends, Egan repairs the barbican guard tower’s structural integrity and the adventurers spend an uneasy night inside. Slim, Remmy, and Kyra take turns standing watch on the tower, occasionally glimpsing ghostly lights in the windows of the jagged castle that rises out of the center of the lake. Down below, Laori elects to rest with the party while Shadowcount Sial, disgusted with the orcs’ accommodations, retires to his bone house with his chain devil companion Asyra.
The next morning, Laori breaks out another set of baked treats, cupcake brownies that mix dark and light, symbolizing the new found partnership between the Crimson Blades and the Brotherhood of Bones. She chats with everyone, eager to reconnect with her “BFFs.”
Ashla, however, takes her aside for a private talk. The half-elf explains that Kazavon’s reign fell apart and people betrayed him because he tried to force the faith of Zon-Kuthon upon people. Laori says that so many people are afraid to embrace the ecstasy of pain, so they need to be shown the way. But Ashla retorts that true faith is voluntary, not forced, and that trying to make people accept your god will accomplish the opposite.
Laori starts to reply, then stops and thinks for a moment. “I guess I didn’t like it when people in Riddleport told me I was a freak. When I learned about how amazing ZK is, I traveled all the way to Nidal to get away from them.” She gives Ashla a small smile. “I guess I need to think on this a bit.”
The elf maiden is (relatively) more subdued for the rest of breakfast. Sial, who doesn’t partake in the meal, waits impatiently outside the tower for them to finish, Asyra idly twirling is long white hair around her fingers. The Shadowcount urges them to stop wasting daylight and asks about the party’s plan to enter the castle.
Slim is perfectly fine simply marching up to the front door. Arlynn agrees, noting that while they could fly in, that might leave them surrounded by enemies when they land. Sial deems the plan “pedestrian, but acceptable.” Irabeth and Laori are eager to burst through the doors, but for different reasons: the half-orc wants to start bashing skeletons, while the elf wants to explore the fabulous architecture.
The only approach to Scarwall is across a 400 foot stone causeway, extending from the cliff face by the barbican gate tower to the castle entrance. The bridge sits 80 feet above the dark waters of the crater lake and is lined with stone gargoyles every forty feet. Zandu ascertains that the gargoyles are not supernatural, but also that the bridge is saturated with a powerful evocation spell that seems to extend on to the castle. Slim, meanwhile, notes that the stonework seems to have weathered the past 800 years surprisingly well.
With those encouraging signs, the party sets out across the causeway, Arlynn and Irabeth in the lead, with the latter mounted on her steed Princess. The Kuthites take up the rear of the formation.
When they are halfway across the causeway, the gates of Scarwall creak open. From inside the castle, a clattering platoon of 16 skeletons emerge, dressed in full plate. They bear a variety of faded symbols and colors, some unknown, others—like the sword and halo of Iomedae—all too familiar. At the head of the column is a skeletal rider, a fanged skull sigil on his shield, mounted on top of a skeletal horse that is bathed in flame.
As the deathless sortie marches out towards them, the adventurers hastily prepare. Slim and Kyra stealthily move up, ducking behind two of the gargoyles. Zandu casts fly on Princess, while Egan summons a horse, “Spirit,” for Arlynn. The gnome druid then casts spike stones on the causeway before the skeletons. But while a few of them are slowed, the jagged and piercing stones have little effect on the advancing platoon. The rider, however, avoids the spikes entirely by ride his fiery mount up into the air overlooking the bridge.
“Irabeth, I think this one’s yours,” Arlynn says.
The undead cavalier lowers his lance and charges the half-orc, goring her with his spear and then moving past to wheel about. Irabeth and Princess take off to challenge him in a joust of the skies.
Down below, Zandu steps forward to hurl a lightning bolt that strikes down a string of skeletal warriors.
Arlynn spurs her horse Spirit into a charge down the causeway, but has trouble steadying her lance. The point dips and catches in a flagstone, vaulting her over the and sending the paladin crashing to the ground in front of the second rank of undead. The skeletons raise their swords, but before they can attack the helpless paladin, Egan brings down a flame strike that burns them to ash.
Shadowcount Sial finaly steps into the fray, calling up a glowing wire-frame cube that surrounds the back ranks of skeletons and flares with an eldritch light that tears them to pieces.
Kyra takes pot-shots at the skeletons, but has trouble harming them with her bolts. Slim, meanwhile, stealthily moves up the causeway, looking for an opportunity to use his undead bane weapons. Laori summons a shadow to defend Arlynn, while Ashla and Remmy finish off the front ranks of skeletons.
Floating a hundred feet over the dark waters of the crater lake, Irabeth and the skeleton knight continue to spar. The undead rider retreats back towards the castle, his steed leaving a trail of flame as it moves.
“We’re not not finished, yet, you abomination,” Irabeth shouts. “You’ve yet to taste Iomedae’s wrath!”
With that, the green-skinned paladin and her white mare surge across the sky after the deathless knight. Her lance-point finds its mark and smites him with a terrible wound.
Down on the causeway, with the last of the skeletal warriors dispatched before her could strike them, Slim sighs, pulls out his Vindicator crossbow, and shoots off the undead knight’s head. The rider’s body sags off the saddle and dangles by one stirrup. But the skeletal nightmare seems as determined as ever to fight.
Arlynn calls for them to lure the creature back to bridge so they could retrieve the rider’s body. Remmy looses an arrow to get the nightmare’s attention, but it flies between the beasts ribs and emerges on the other side with its fletching aflame.
The skeletal nightmare then charges down at Slim, who calls out for help. Laori cheerily appears by his side, slapping the creature with her spiked chain and unleashing some sort of magical effect that further weakens it. Zandu unleashes black tentacles to snare and crush the nightmare skeleton and the party begins picking through the remains.
Once everything is accounted for, they proceed further down the bridge towards the looming, jagged bulk of Scarwall.
The heavy wooden gates of Scarwall hang open, revealing a torchlit tunnel beneath the think outer wall. The Crimson Blades hesitate outside the threshold, while Slim stealthily scouts ahead. The tunnel opens onto a a hallway leading to a pair of closed inner doors. The stone walls to either side feature arrowslits for archers, while the chamber floor is lined with the bone of long-dead orcs.
Slim motions Arlynn forward, and when the paladin detects evil on the bones, she is almost overwhelmed by the malice that saturates every square inch of the castle. Simply standing in its halls gives Slim a sense of tremendous unease, as if something great and terrible were watching him.
The two of them advance across the hall to the closed double doors on the opposite end, which Slim determines are not locked, but barred from the other side. Arlynn waves the others in and suggests using her portable battering ram. She detects evil through the wooden doors in the room beyond. Remmy, Egan and Zandu approach the double doors, with Ashla, Irabeth, and Kyra not far behind.
Then, from overhead, they hear the whirring of gears and clattering of chains as two heavy portcullises thunk into place. Arlynn, Slim, and Remmy are pinned between the metal great and the double doors, while the other Crimson Blades are trapped in the hallway and the Kuthites are locked outside. The scrape of heavy, skeletal footsteps can be heard from the adjacent rooms and enormous crossbow bolts fly out of the arrowslits, one of them badly wounding Egan and striking Irabeth.
Scrambling for a way out, Slim shimmies up the portcullis and squeezes through the narrow gap in the ceiling through which it descended. He emerges upstairs in a room dominated by a large winch being operated by two skeletal minotaurs. The rogue quickly ducks into the shadows.
Outside the entry hall, Sial nods to Asyra, who steps forward and gestures with her hands. Up above, Slim can see the chains hauling themselves up as if of their own according and hanging slack in their hoists. The portcullis rises ten feet in the air and Sial sweeps inside, followed by a giggling Laori. The chain devil goes last, her attention still focused on the portcullis.
Ashla rushes over to one of the arrowslits to attack the minotaur skeleton beyond, hacking at it with her undead bane sword. Upstairs, one of the skeletons by the winch pulls a lever, dumping a load of freezing oil on top of the trapped adventurers. The second skeleton draws an enormous crossbow and fires down through a murder hole at the Crimson Blades below. Lurking in the corner, Slim bites back a curse.
Egan uses shape stone to open up a passageways through the stone walls, allowing Arlynn and Remmy to escape their entrapment and reach the minotaur skeletons behind the arrowslits. The two warrior women advance into the room on their left.
Zandu, meanwhile, casts black tentaclesin the room on the right, but the slimy tentacles have trouble gaining purchase on the sleek bones of the minotaur skeletons.
Irabeth rides Princess into the center of the hall and calls on Iomedae’s wrath to strike down the walking abominations. A wave of brilliant positive energy flies out from her, gliding through the stone walls to sear the four skeletons in the adjacent rooms and rising up through the floor above to strike the two minotaur skeletons by the great winch. Slim takes this opportunity to step out of the shadows and sneak attack one of the skeletal guards. His undead bane weapon shatters it, but its companion converges on him with a great axe.
Downstairs, Kyra stands on her toes to look through an arrowslit at the room on the right, sees the black tentacles, and shakes her head.
“Hells no,” she says, “I’ve already seen that wood cutting.”
She scrambles up the portcullis and joins Slim upstairs, but has second thoughts at the sight of the looming minotaur bones. She’s soon joined by Egan, who wild shapes into an air elemental and seeps up through the murder holes. The Scarwall guard, meanwhile, wounds Slim with its enormous axe.
Down below, one of the minotaur skeletons in the left room looses a crossbow bolt at Laori. She groans enthusiastically as the bolt strikes her and grins back at him. “Ooh, you’re a feisty one! I’m going to grind you into bone meal and bake a cake!”
She calls on ZK to burn the heathen dead with divine fire, filling the room with a brilliant flame strike that obliterates her foe and scorches the guard facing off against Arlynn and Remmy.
Across the hall, another skeleton tries to shoot a crossbow bolt at Ashla, but his ancient crossbow breaks. After Zandu blasts apart his companion with two scorching rays, the Scarwall guard drops his useless crossbow and retreats upstairs, batting aside a flailing tentacle.
Meanwhile, Asyra the chain devil abandons the first portcullis, which drops back into place, and strides down to the second one, raising it up so that Ashla can travel through one of Egan’s tunnels to brave the black tentacles and head upstairs after her quarry. In the left room, Arlynn strikes down the remaining minotaur, and she and Remmy tromp upstairs.
In the winch room, the downstairs minotaur emerges from a side room. Slim notices it is standing beside some chains left slack from Asyra’s trick with the portcullis. He glances back at Air-Egan and Kyra, then nods at the minotaur skeleton facing him.
“Guys, you deal with him,” he says, “but first watch this, it’s going to be really cool.”
He vaults onto the winch, dodging the greataxes of the guards, and then lashes out at the new skeleton, pretending to miss while actually using his blade to loop chains around it. He calls down to Asyra to let the portcullis drop. The chain devil considers this for a moment, then shrugs and lets the gate fall. The chains snap taut, scattering minotaur bones across the room. Air-Egan then surges forward to punch out the remaining minotaur skeleton with gale-force fists, reducing it to a heap of bones.
Trust the Skull
The Crimson Blades loot the skeletons’ oversized weapons and then examine the orc skeletons. Amid the rusted armor and tattered clothes, the only items of interest are a human skull painted with arcane symbols, a halfling skull with sharp filed teeth, and a ransom note from 800 years ago.
Zandu can’t make heads or tales of the skulls, so Arlynn consults with Sial. The Shadowcount dismisses the human skull as a tribal good luck charm and the halfling skull as the work of a bored orc. Ashla suggests that the halfling could have been a barbarian. Slim tosses the skulls to Laori, who slaps them out an arrow slit with her spiked chain.
The ransom note, written in an archaic and ill-lettered hand, warns the Arden family of Lastwall that their eldest son is held hostage and won’t be returned in one piece unless his father provides the necessary ransom.
Laori offers to get more info on the ransom note by casting speak with dead on the skull of the orc bearing the note. The skull tells them that the ransom was a trap to lure the head of House Arden into an ambush. But the orcs perished before the plan could be carried out.
Arlynn asks about the orcs’ attack. The skull explains that after Kazavon fell, the clans surged out of the Kodar Mountains. They thought the castle would be easy to seize from its handful of defenders, but Mandraivus and his men put up a tremendous fight. Many greenskins were slain before the adventurers were finally overcome. Then the curse struck.
Slim asks about the curse and other dangers in Scarwall. The skull laughs that they are already in Mithrodar’s clutches. He rules the castle, chaining all who enter its walls through the anchors of his servants, the lords of Scarwall.
Ashla surmises that before confronting Mithrodar, they must first find and defeat these lords. Unable to think of any further questions, Slim suggests Laori bat the skull out the window.
“Wait,” Laori says. The elf maiden stares at the orc skull intently. “Now, let’s talk recipes.”
Only after extracting several unusual orcish baking recipes does the cheerful elf maiden smash the skull.
The Crimson Blades and the Kuthites then debate whether to split up to cover more ground.