Having completed their exploration of the war tower to the northeast, the Crimson Blades emerge into the sullen mid-morning, the air cold and wet and lifeless. Undeterred by the thick air of menace and the gray clouds above, Laori skips along while swinging her spiked chain, her hooked armor jingling like a sack of coppers.
“Exploring this castle with you guys has been so. much. fun!” she squees. “I never get to do cool group activities like this! Where do we go next?”
“Those two out buildings on the castle balcony,” Arlynn points to their left.
“Let’s start with the smaller one,” Zandu suggests. “It’s less likely to have a big monster in it.”
“Plenty of room for lots of little ones, though,” Kyra pipes up.
“Why don’t you keep a lookout in our rear, Kyra?” Arlynn suggests. “We need someone with keen eyes to make sure we don’t get ambushed.”
“Is that a crack about me?” Remmy asks. “Because you could do a lot better.”
“We all know you have a singular vision for watch duty, Remmy,” Slim claps her on the shoulder, “but let’s give Kyra a turn. And guess this means I take point again, right?”
“Yep,” Egan nods.
With Kyra hanging back to guard their tail and slim in the lead, the adventurers approach the smaller of the two buildings perched on top of the stony bulk of the castle. Little more than a shack, the building has a small portico hanging over door. After checking for traps and locks, Slim gingerly pushes it open. Inside, the room is mostly bare, save for a few empty, overturned weapons racks.
Ashla searches through the ransacked armory, finding no sign that it has be entered recently, but also discovering that not all the supplies had been taken. She finds a rune-engraved brass athame, a ritual dagger which Zandu identifies as a +1 dagger of ghost touch. Though nearly useless against creatures of flesh and blood, the weapon is capable of dealing full damage to incorporeal targets. Slim quickly takes possession of it.
The party then turns its attention to the large building sitting on the castle’s second story, an oddly-shaped structure with three sets of doors. They split into two groups, with Irabeth, Egan, Remmy, and Laori positioning themselves by a smaller door while Arlynn, Ashla, Zandu, and Slim prepare to open a set of double doors.
Once Slim has cleared them, Arlynn simply yanks the door open, revealing a cramped storage closet . . . containing four ancient zombies that lunge at the paladin. Arlynn and Ashla swiftly reduce the closet zombies to a festering pile of meat, with the only casualty being Ashla’s sword, which goes flying during the fray and needs to be recovered.
“Are you okay over there?” Irabeth calls out from her position by the other door..
“Just cleaning the closet,” Arlynn assures her.
They call Kyra over and ask her to sort through the debris for any valuable supplies while the adventurers converge on the main door to the big building. Slim stealths around the corner to the third door, hopeful that it leads to the same room. Remmy positions herself at the corner, to relay information between the rogue and the rest of the party.
Irabeth kicks open the door, revealing a dusty sparring chamber, empty save for a few toppled-over combat dummies . . . and a band of skeletal warriors waiting for them. Silent save for the clacking of its bones, a skeletal minotaur guard lowers its horned head and charges the half-orc paladin, attempting to drive her off the castle wall.
The bony bulk of the creature forces Irabeth backwards against the battlements and Egan gets caught up in the fracas. Together, though, the gnome and the half-orc are able to push back against the horned attacker, bracing themselves against the stone crenelations. The minotaur guard is left standing half in and half out of the sparring room, blocking the entrance for the other skeletons. In the back of the room, a skeletal archer tries to feather Irabeth, but its shaft simply gets caught in the minotaur’s rib cage.
With nowhere else to go, one of the skeletons opens the second door, failing to notice Slim in the shadows, and walks right past him. The rogue waits until the skeleton is well out in the open before striking—but his rapier point just screeches across the bone warrior’s plate mail. As another skeleton charges him from across the room, Slim calls out “Remmy, I could use a hand!”
“On my way!” she replies, advancing towards the armored skeleton while Slim ducks a sword swing from its compatriot.
Around the corner, Arlynn steps sideways up the side of the wall to allow Ashla to slide forward underneath her so that they both can strike at the minotaur. The paladin is able to badly wound it and Laori gives it a good crack on the head with her spiked chain, but the undead creature is still standing. The minotaur skeleton makes another push to drive Egan and Irabeth off the the castle, but the odd pair hold their ground and the monster is forced to retreat back into the sparring room. There, Zandu destroys it and another skeleton with well-placed magic missiles
By the other door, Remmy has no better luck getting through the warrior skeleton’s plate, but she distracts it long enough for Slim to slip into position behind it and knoc out one of its vertebrae. The rogue then pirouettes to strike down the other skelton harrying him.
Only one skellie remains, the archer at the back of the room. Ashla, Egan, Irabeth and Arlynn all advance towards it. The skeleton knocks and looses another arrow, which glances off Arlynn’s gleaming armor. Behind them, Zandu pops into the door frame and fires a magic missile around them, blasting the archer to pieces.
The adventurers pause to catch their breath.
“Impressive work standing fast against the minotaur, Ser Irabeth,” Arlynn says.
“My mother always said I could stare down a charging bull,” the half-orc shrugs bashfully. “Never expected to actually do it.”
Asla pokes around the chamber, ripping open training dummies, peering beneath loose floor tiles, and sifting through piles of dust and debris. She finds a simple leather scroll case—empty—inscribed with the words “To Kessa, with love.” Zandu claims the artifact as his.
Kyra also returns, having thoroughly scoured the zombie closet while they fought the skeletons.
“Most of it was crap,” she admits, “but I did find this.”
The halfling woman holds up an ancient lute with lacquered inlays, stretching almost as long as she is tall. Though it has no trace of magic, Zandu figures the instrument could be sold for a pretty penny in Kaer Maga.
The sparring chamber connects to two more inner rooms. Egan, in the form of an Earth Elemental, scouts them out by traveling stealthily through the stone floor. After ascertaining that the rooms beyond hold no more monsters, the adventurers investigate, finding a narrow hallway and another castle smithy with cold, dusty forges and broken smith’s tools.
In the ashes of the long-dead forge fire, Ashla finds a three inch glass sphere full of swirling blue mist. Though the sphere itself is a mystery, Arlynn recognizes the shape within as a trapped soul. She struggles in vain to sense its aura, but the evil suffusing the castle is too strong.
“We will have to test it further outside of Scarwall,” the paladin says. “Zandu, would you mind if I stored it in your scroll case in the meantime?”
“Might be a tight fit,” the gnoll grins, offering the case.
“That’s what she said!” Egan, Kyra, and Laori all blurt out, collapsing into giggles.
As the laughter fade away, it is replaced by a low growling sound, which they soon determine is coming from Irabeth’s stomach. The half-orc shuffles her feet awkwardly.
“I had a light breakfast,” she mutters.
“It is past noon,” Slim offers. “Why don’t we break for lunch?”
“A good idea,” Arlynn nods. “Laori, we spoke before about a heroes’ feast . . .”
Rather than retreating into the gloom of the bone house with Shadowcount Sial and Asyra, the Crimson Blades choose to picnic in the courtyard of the castle. Laori sets about casting the heroes’ feast spell, pacing around the field erratically while intoning a prayer to Zon-Kuthon in Shadowtongue and periodically pricking her fingers on her hooked armor, shaking blood droplets onto the ground, and then sucking on the wounds. As she walks, the adventurers notice that she leaves shadowy footprints behind, eventually tracing out a sinister, sinewy pattern on the ground.
Once the ritual is complete, the shadow footprints meld into one another and then begin to rise out of the ground. Shadowy tables and chairs coalesce, along with disturbingly clinical utensils and plates. Also swirling into existence are man-sized shadow bunnies, who proceed to serve the meal and wait upon the party. Each adventurer is delivered something slightly different and tailor to their tastes—vegetarian dishes for Egan, meat-heavy meals for Zandu and Irabeth—-though all draw their inspiration from Nidalese cuisine.
“What kind of meat is this, exactly?” Arlynn asks warily.
“It’s whatever you want it to be!” Laori says. “Dig in!”
“I wonder what human tastes like,” Zandu murmurs, taking a bite.
The food, despite looking slightly sketchy, tastes delicious. Irabeth asks to try a bite from every plate, while Earth-Egan shovels his food off the table with a stony fist and into his cavernous mouth. The druid also pauses to gently pet one of the shadow bunnies. Ashla spies Sial looking down at them from the eye socket of the bone house at the other end of the courtyard.
As the meal progresses, the Crimson Blades feel more and more refreshed, as if a great weight were taken of their shoulders even as they filled their bellies. By the time the shadowy spread fades away, they are eager to continue their exploration.
Zandu points at the tower just off the courtyard. “I’ve been wanting to check that out for a long time.”
Hall of the Dead
The tower is filled with a spiral staircase that winds its way up until it reaches the open minaret at the top, which looks out across the ruined causeway and the third floor of the castle. The tower top is largely empty, but Ashla notices signs that with was inhabited by gargoyles fairly recently. Gazing out across the third floor of the castle, the adventurers also notice more gargoyle roosts but are unable to tell if the figures inhabiting them are mere statues or more foes. Ashla’s investigations also turn up a palm-sized block of salt, the presence of which puzzles the party.
On their way back down the stairs, Zandu notices a sliver of light peeking through a seam on the wall and uncovers a secret door opening onto Scarwall’s second floor. After ascertaining that the rooms previously cleared by Sial remained safe, the adventurers turn to the double doors leading into a large unexplored chamber.
Earth-Egan enters first, gliding stealthily through the stone to scope out the room. Thick wooden columns, their sides caked with dust, support the ceiling above the large hall. Between them, in the center of the room, sits a large fire pit, its ashes long cold. At the western end of the hall, in the center of a wide dais, is a great chair carved of oak and studded with iron rivets. Down one step and to the left of it is a smaller chair of oak, less elaborate. The druid sees no immediate enemies.
After he reports back, Arlynn warily opens one of the doors. Slim sneaks inside, seeking cover behind a pillar. The paladin, accompanied by a stealthy Earth-Egan, ventures into the center of the hall while the rest of the party waits just outside the doors. Slim leans a hand against the pillar he’d ducked behind, then pulls it back just as quickly, his fingers sticky with ectoplasmic residue. Arlynn notices something moving behind the smaller chair on the dais.
“We’re not alone here,” she says.
She reaches for her holy symbol, but the ghosts act first, gliding out from their hiding places in the wooden columns. Slim finds himself flanked by two angry spectres dressed in the tattered livery of castle pages, while three more swarm around Arlynn. Earth-Egan, safely em
Slim leans a hand against the pillar he’d ducked behind, then pulls it back just as quickly, his fingers sticky with ectoplasmic residue. An angry spectre of a man in a tattered page’s uniform slides out of the pillar towards the rogue as more ghosts emerge from the surrounding columns. The ghosts close in on Arlynn from three sides, while Slim is quickly flanked. The creatures’ spectral hands grasp at the rogue, draining away life force with every touch. The ghosts have a harder time against Arlynn, their translucent fingers clawing fruitlessly against her ghost touch plate armor.
While the two adventurers are distracted by the mob of ghosts, a third figure emerges from the small chair, a tall, vaguely humanoid spirit wrapped in three very solid-looking chains that dangle below him and clank against the stone tiles as he floats across the room toward Arlynn. The paladin recognizes his breed of undead from her studies at the War College: a chain spirit, a soul bound to the site of its death with the power to bind other dead souls to it. A chain spirit can also bind up to four “spirit anchors,” which grant it additional power including the inability to be destroyed so long as at least one anchor remains. With this flash of insight, Arlynn recognizes that the chain spirit is the being sustaining the curse on Scarwall.
“It’s Mithrodar!” she shouts.
The master of Scarwall reaches a ghostly hand towards the paladin’s heart, while his three chains rise up and strike at her like snakes. But as Mithrodar reaches out, Arlynn’s holy symbol flares with light, leaving the ghost disoriented, his spectral form wispier and less coherent. He snaps back to his small chair, where he floats confusedly.
Arlynn takes this opportunity to call upon Iomedae’s might and channel a bust of positive energy through the room. She then starts to retreat back towards the double doors.
“We have to fall back—he can’t leave this room!” the paladin calls out. “Irabeth, cover us!”
Slim dives past the grasping hands of the ghosts and tumbles out into the hall, while Irabeth—standing by the door—channels positive energy. Several of the ghosts are blasted to pieces and Earth-Egan rises out of the floor to call down a flame strike on the remainders, incinerating them.
The Crimson Blades regroup outside the chamber. Together, Arlynn and Zandu realize that Mithrodar had only three chains because they had already destroyed his fourth spirit anchor, the dragon Belshallam. Arlynn explains that Mithrodar can only be defeated after the other anchors are also destroyed. With this new-found knowledge, the party cautiously continues their exploration of the castle’s second story, wary of stumbling back into Mithrodar’s great hall.
The Spirit of Friendship
On the other side of the great hall, the adventurers discover what appears to be a meeting room. When they open the door, they find three richly dressed figures—two men and one woman—seated on the crumbling chairs around the moldering table, chatting casually in archaic Varisian. Upon noticing the party, the trio screams as the skin peels from their faces to expose skulls that crumple into dust and vanish. But Arlynn can her the lingering sound of a woman sobbing in the room and warns the party that a haunt still lingers.
The adventurers move on to an adjacent chamber, which appears to be a guard post of some sort. The room’s main point of interest is a chalkboard covered in scribbles written in Giant. Slim translates them to reveal that the board is a duty roster for the castle’s minotaur guards, tracking patrol shifts and the like. A note scribbled in one corner reminds the guards that they take orders only from Kazavon, not “puny Mithrodar” or “sniveling Kleestaad.”
While Arlynn pauses to use the adjacent garderobe, Ashla searches a nearby storage chamber, discovering a polished elf skull wedged in the rafters. She presents it to Laori, who cheerily adds it to her collection.
“Thank you, that’s so thoughtful,” the elf priestess says. “No one ever gives me cool things like this. You guys are like the bestest friends I’ve had in decades, maybe ever.” She suddenly looks up from the skull, and a touch of concern in her wide, dark eyes. “We—we are friends, right?”
“Of course, Laori,” Arlynn says.
“We love having you with us,” Slim nods.
“You’re totally our pal!” Egan adds.
Laori grins. “You guys are super special to me, you know. I really need find something awesome to give back to you!”
While the elf brainstorms gift ideas, they wrap up their investigation of the area by finding another abandoned bath. In it, Ashla discovers a leather pouch containing a strange red powder that Zandu identifies as the mind-enhancing (but addictive) drug flayleaf and claims the supply as his own.
Having explored the castle’s second story, the party prepares to depart. But first, Arlynn returns to the meeting room and dispels the haunt by channeling positive energy.
Enter the Gimps
The adventurers take a side door our onto the balcony of the unexplored western wing of the castle. They find a staircase leading down and follow it, eventually arriving in the entry room to the wing from the courtyard. Faced with several doors to choose from, Slim begins to check them each for traps before succeeding. But before he can complete his task, they are disturbed by some unwelcome guests.
Two bizarre ghostly figures emerge from one of the doors. Both wear identical outfits of formfitting black leather with tight, black leather masks covering their heads. Each mask has a stitched seam running from forehead to jaw line to seal it in place.
One of the ghosts stands no taller than a short halfling; one of his legs is missing, replaced by what appears to have been a chair or table leg. The other towers at just over seven feet in high, his abnormally long arms dangling down to mid-calf.
The freaks scamper over to Zandu and Irabeth, the nearest adventurers, gesticulating wildly as if struggling to communicate through some strange pantomime. As the Crimson Blades try to suss out what the ghosts are trying communicate, the gnoll sorcerer realizes that there is no message behind the gestures—only an attack on the psyche of all who witness them!
“They’re eating our brains!” he shouts, backing away.
At this news, Kyra flees the room, ducking behind the adjoining door. The short ghost tries reaches for Zandu, but its spectral peg leg inexplicably snaps and it falls flat on its face—three inches above the ground. Arlynn and Ashla take this opportunity to carve it up with their blades. Slim draws his +1 brass dagger of ghost touch and joins Irabeth in destroying the taller one in short order.
Taking stock of the damage, many of the adventurers feel woozy from the ghosts’ horrific pantomime. They party realizes that they will need plenty of restoration spells the next morning.
Open House in the Haunted Castle
Determined to press on, the Crimson venture deeper into the western wing of the castle. Beyond the entry chamber, a central hallway runs through the structure, with doors to either side. Most of the side rooms appear to have once been spacious single bedrooms, now home only to dust-covered dressing tables, sagging chairs, and dilapidated beds. Beneath one such ruined bed, Ashla fishes out a matching pair of minotaur leather bracers and boots, which Zandu identifies as bracers of climbing and boots of jumping. Kyra takes the boots, while Ashla straps on the bracers.
Scouting ahead of the party by traveling through the stone floor, Earth-Egan finds a group of zombies and skeletons lurking in a set of servants’ quarters. The druid provides the party with some acorn grenades and then slides back into the room, calling down an ice storm that batters the skeletons apart with heavy hail stones. Irabeth then throws open the door, so that she, Arlynn, Ashla, and Slim can pelt the zombies with the exploding acorns to eliminate the zombies.
In the adjacent storage chamber, amid the ancient detritus, Ashla inexplicably finds a sack of fresh turnips. Immediately suspicious, Zandu tries to detect magic but can sense no supernatural aura. As far as Earth-Egan can determine, they are fine, fresh turnips. Arlynn decides to take bite out of one of them.
“Ew!” Kyra cries out. “You’re supposed to wash them first, dummy!”
The paladin chews thoughtfully—aside from a rich earthy undertone, the turnip tastes like a sharp and healthy tuber.
“I bet you could do a lot with these turnips,” Zandu says to Kyra. “Mash ‘em up, heat em’ in water and stir with the spicy magic spoon and we could have some great stew.”
“Oh yeah, don’t even get me started on what I can do with these babies,” Kyra says, hefting one of the red vegetables in her hand. “Turnips are one of the Five Staples of halfling cuisine, you know.”
After stowing away the sack of turnips, the party continues to go door to door down the hallway. Disturbingly, nestled among the bedrooms are also several torture chambers, equipped with decrepit iron maidens, crumbling racks, and rusting cages. Laori complains about the poor state in which the interrogation gear was left.
“Just look at the state of that rack over there,” she says, pointing at crooked table strew with slack chains from the winch. “‘Be kind, rewind’ is like Torture 101. It’s a good thing Kazavon isn’t here to see this—he’d die all over again of shame!”
Wedged behind an iron maiden, Ashla finds a piece of parchment with writing on it in Shadowtongue which Slim translates as a prayer to Zon-Kuthon that also doubles as instructions for how to break a prisoner’s will. The adventurers return that to Laori as well.
Zandu asks if there are any items in the room she’d like mended and the elf priestess admits that the Iron maiden is of a particularly distinctive style, as well as being a relaxing place to slip away to for a few hours. They decide to return to the room later.
The last bedroom in the hall holds a water-logged journal by a diplomat from the ancient Ustalavian county of Tamrivena, there to negotiate a nonaggression treaty with Kazavon. According to Slim’s translation, the diplomat was concerned that his room contained a closet he can’t open—rightly so, since the room beyond was a pocket torture chamber.
Inside the small torture room, the adventurers find a mummified hand wearing a ring markets with the double-headed eagle sigil of Tamrivena.
The Curse of Kazavon’s Smile
Towards the end of the western wing, the party enters a parlor of some sort, set at the intersection of the long hall and an entryway marked by a pair of elaborate mahogany double doors. A pair of sagging, velvet-covered divans sit against the walls beneath a thick layer of dust. Standing against the northern wall is a marble statue of a man clad in elegant nobles’ robes, though his head is hidden beneath a rough leather sack.
Zandu detects an aura of enchantment about the statue and the Crimson Blades are immediately on guard. The sorcerer suspects the statue could be animated. With Kyra keep watch down the hall to ensure they aren’t ambushed, the rest of the party arrays themselves in front of the statue, while Arlynn spiderwalks up the wall to stand over it. Reaching down with a gauntleted hand, she snatches the sack off.
Her act reveals the stern, scowling face of a handsome human man with the flinty eyes of a warrior and a sneer of disdain over perfect, if somewhat overlarge, teeth. A wave of compulsion ripples over all who gaze upon the visage, though Arlynn and Kyra are unable to see the face from where they each stand. Ashla and Laori are unaffected by the enchantment due to their elvish blood, and Irabeth and Earth-Egan are able to shake off the momentary impulse. But Slim, Zandu, and Remmy feel an irresistible compulsion to walk to the back of the parlor and climb through a hidden trap door in the ceiling.
Seeing some of her companions acting strangely, Arlynn stuffs the sack back over the statue’s head, while Earth-Egan rises out of the floor to block their way with his huge elemental form. As the three ensorcelled adventurers struggle to find a way past the living wall of stone, Irabeth draws upon her divine mercies to banish the curse from each of them, one by one.
Freed from his compulsion, Slim recognizes the statue’s face from one of Salvator Scream’s paintings: the portrait of a grinning man peeling the skin off his hand to reveal blue scales beneath.
“It’s a statue of Kazavon,” the rogue says.
“Not for long,” Arlynn replies. “Irabeth, care to lend a hammer?”
While the two paladins batter the marble sculpture into elegant rubble, Zandu asks Slim to help investigate the trap door whose presence was revealed by the spell. The trap door leads to a small, nondescript tower chamber with four narrow windows that look out over the castle rooftops.
The room’s only feature is a single shriveled dwarven corpse huddled at the base of the west wall, its bony arms locked firmly around its bent knees, its parchment-thin skin dried and cracked in places, revealing the bones beneath. A bushy, gray beard still covers much of its skull-like jaw line, though portions have fallen out into its lap. Next to it is a small coil of string and a pile of tiny bones with a few black feathers interspersed among them.
A second trap door in the ceiling fifteen feet above opens onto the top of the tower.
Lost Soul Found
Once the party regroups in the parlor, they take a wary look at the mahogany double doors to the west, the last part of the wing they have yet to explore. Consulting their maps, they suspect the doors lead to the room with the large, rose-tinted stained glass ceiling.
“I’d bet my eyeteeth there’s another lord of Scarwall lurking in there,” Zandu says.
“I don’t think we can tackle anything big until we rest up and get healed,” Slim replies.
“There’s still a few hours left in the day,” Arlynn notes, pulling out the leather scroll case. “What say we find out more about that strange soul sphere?”
Earth-Egan uses wall of stone to create a walkable path across the ruined causeway and the party advances out of the castle to Mandraivus’ mausoleum. There, they consult with Zellara about the sphere.
“It’s some kind of a soul jar,” the ghostly Varisian explains, “but a very strange one. Usually the jars have lids so they can be used over and over again to trap souls and prevent them from passing on to their eternal rest. But open this one, you’d have to smash it.”
Away from the castle’s overwhelming aura, Arlynn detects evil on the sphere and picks up no sign of taint. But Zandu remains wary of releasing the soul within.
“There are all manner of powerful fey who might not be evil, but are still very dangerous,” the gnoll sorcerer warns. “Trust me, I know.”
“Champions are for challenges,” Arlynn shrugs, setting the sphere down on a flat rock. She hefts her warhammer in both hands. “And sometimes, Zandu, you’ve just gotta have faith!”
The sphere explodes into glittering crystal under the hammer’s blow and the blue mist swirls up into the air. It momentarily takes the form of a beautiful woman in long flowing robes, with two feathered wings sprouting from her back. She smiles at them and bows her head, before vanish up into the sun-streaked sky.
“See?” Arlynn nods. “We were right to release her.”
“But what was she?” Zandu asks.
“A cleric of Sarenrae?” Laori offers. “Those like their kind of vestments.”
“Cleric or no, I’m pretty sure she was a maftet,” Slim says. “Half human, half lion, and half eagle. Not sure what she was doing here; from what I hear maftets rarely travel outside of Garund.”
With the sun sinking low on the horizon, the Crimson Blades debate what to do next. Ultimately it is decided that Zandu will take a small group back to Kaer Maga to make trades while the rest of the party returns to the bone house to spend the night. After arranging a means of signalling the all clear to each other the following morning, the two groups part ways.