Extreme Makeover: Druidic Edition
The surviving Crimson Blades regroup at the Flameford, where they decide to reincarnate their fallen companion Zandu the next morning. As the new day dawns, they carry his remains into the guest yurt and Egan proceeds to perform the ritual. Eerie green light plays over the sorcerer’s body, which rises several inches from the ground, its limbs writhing and twisting in unnatural directions.
Slim announces that he has a “Do Not Reincarnate” policy. Kyra insists that the process is probably completely painless, eliciting a knowing nod from Egan. One bright flash of green light later and Zandu’s new body lies splayed out on the ground—a little taller and hairier than before, with more of a pronounced snout, the light and dark dappling of a hyena’s coat running from his head down his back.
Slim turns to Kyra. “I’m assuming this is a deal-breaker?”
“It’s… a challenge,” the halfling replies weakly. “I mean, look at the size of his teeth!”
“That’s what bothers you?” Slim snorts.
The party attempts to rouse the gnoll sorcerer, but he remains caught in a deep sleep. Egan believes that he will awaken with a day. Arlynn, however, senses that Zandu’s transition from the afterlife back to the material plane is taking unusually long, as if something were drawing out his passage.
A History of Ashes
Not long after the reincarnation, the Sun Shaman and Chief Ready-Klar return from the Kallow Mounds. Surveying the devastation left by Cinnabar’s ambush, they thank the Crimson Blades for their role in saving the Flameford camp.
The Sun Shaman says he can now share with them the knowledge they seek and asks them to meet with him in his yurt. Leaving their cohorts to watch over Zandu, the party joins the shaman around his sacred fire.
The Sun Shaman tells them that eight centuries ago, when the Sklar-Quah still dwelt in the green lands of the south, an ancestor of his left Varisia to join the warband of an outlander hero, Mandraivus, who sought to overthrow the tyrannical dragon Kazavon. The warband cornered the wyrm in its fortress of Scarwall and slew the monster, but its foul essence still lingered in its remains, threatening to return.
The warband’s most powerful magics could not destroy its last seven remnants, so Mandraivus had his companions each take one to bury in hidden sites scattered across Golarion, while he remained behind to hold Scarwall. The Sun Shaman’s ancestor returned a changed man, haunted by what he had witnessed, and bearing Kazavon’s fangs.
The Sklar-Quah buried the fangs in a secret chamber deep within the Grand Mastaba and stood watch over them for centuries, until the Chelaxians drove them north into the Cinderlands. Since then, the Sklar-Quah shamans have watched fearfully as the city of Korvosa grew over their ancient reliquary.
The Sun Shaman explains that a fragment of Kazavon’s soul remains lodged within the fangs, a seed of evil waiting to sprout into a mighty tree once it finds fertile soil. The shamans of old were able to resist the fangs’ psychic lure, but a weaker mind—like that of a petty young queen—would have no such defense.
The Sun Shaman believes that Queen Ileosa is has fallen under the sway of the fangs and warns that she now possesses two souls in one body—hers and one forged from Kazavon’s fragment—granting her tremendous power over her own mortality. The Sun Shaman has no answers for how to defeat her and suggests that the party perform the Blessing of the Ancestors to seek guidance from the spirit world. Zellara signals to the party that she would like to be the conduit for this ritual.
Irabeth’s Ghost Story
The ritual must take place two hours before dawn, so in the meantime the adventurers bring their cohorts up to speed. Remmy is shocked and dismayed at what has befallen the Queen, and even more so at the thought that it might not be possible to disentangle Ileosa from Kazavon. She tells them she needs some alone time to think about this.
Irabeth has a different reaction to the news.
“Kazavon,” the half-orc frowns. “I know about Kazavon.”
“You do?” the adventurers ask in unison.
Irabeth explains that eight hundred years ago, a warlord from Kazavon emerged from Ustalav to the east, defeating the rampaging hordes of Belkzen in battle after battle, until the orcs were driven into caves beneath the Kodar Mountains. Kazavon then built a castle, Scarwall, to stand watch over the mountains. Envoys from Lastwall praised him as a hero and arrived offering promises of an alliance, but he had the ambassadors flayed alive and sent his reply back on their skins: submit or die.
For ten years, Kazavon ruled from Scarwall as a sadistic tyrant, prone to impaling people alive by the thousands. His soldiers ranged across Belkzen, foraying into Lastwall, Ustalav, the Realm of the Mammoth Lords and even Varisia. No army could stand against him.
But a small band of adventurers led by the paladin Mandraivus managed to catch the tyrant unawares and slay him in his own castle of Scarwall. But with Kazavon gone, the orcs of Belkzen spilled out of their mountain redoubts and stormed the fortress, slaying Mandraivus. And that’s when the curse took hold.
“The curse?” everyone asks in unison.
Irabeth says that Scarwall is a haunted castle that even the orcs avoid. All who perish within its walls are said to rise again as unquiet dead, forever bound to walk its cursed halls. She says that in her home village of Tark, parents would tell naughty children they would be sent off to Scarwall if they didn’t finish their supper.
She shares a few folk tales about Scarwall: that Kazavon’s ghost stalks its halls, that it’s home to a powerful devil who flies out at night to snatch up nwary souls, and that its perched on a crack in the earth from which Rovagug’s foul essence leaches out.
Irabeth is surprised to hear that Kazavon is a dragon, however, for in all the stories she heard he was just a man from Ustalav.
Slim speculates that Kazavon might be the source of Salvator Scream’s disturbing dreams, particularly since his muse seemed to abandon him around the time Ileosa started going round the bend. Which would also mean that Kazavon is connected to the Church of Zon-Kuthon, given Laori’s interest in Salvator’s paintings.
Ashla wonders if Kazavon was a champion of the Midnight Lord, but Slim is certain there is more to it. After all, if the Kuthites were aligned with the dragon, it would have made more sense for them to have killed the party rather than aiding them.
Dawn of the Not-So-Dead
After a troubled night, the Crimson Blades awaken in the early pre-dawn hours. They are joined by Zandu, who comes to apparently suffering from tremendous aches and pains. He is surprised at his new body but quickly shrugs off the change.
“Could be worse,” he says, climbing to his feet.
“His fur is very soft,” Kyra offers awkwardly.
Slim cocks an eyebrow. “Really, Kyra?”
She gives a shrug of her own. “Hey, I’m working with what I’ve got here, trying to stay positive.”
Of greater interest interest to sorcerer is how his fur is flaking off in tufts in places, revealing blue scales beneath. He borrows a dagger from Kyra to confirm that the scales are tough as steel. Satisfied, he plops on his magic hat and shifts back to his human form. Kyra gives a visible sigh of relief.
While Zandu gets settled, Slim tracks down Remmy, who is seated by the western cliff face, staring off into the twilight and occasionally chucking a rock over the edge and onto the sharp stones below. Slim asks how she’s doing. She reminds him that she swore to protect the Queen and again insists that the party must find a way to free Ileosa from Kazavon.
“I suppose we’ll find out if we can soon enough,” Slim says, sitting down beside her.
“That’s what I’ve been praying to Abadar for,” she sighs. Her gaze flits to Slim’s scarf and she adds “Desna, too, just to tip the scales our way for once.”
“And if we can’t save her?” Slim asks. “Are you willing to do what must be done?”
“I can’t,” Remmy says, rubbing her temples with gauntleted fingers as if trying to massage away a headache. “It’s not that I don’t understand—I just can’t.”
“Think of all the people in Korvosa that Kazavon threatens,” Slim tells her. “Think of your parents. You’re pledged to protect more than just one person.” He lays a hand on her pauldron. “That’s what your armor represents.”
She thinks on this a moment and then nods, flashing him a tired smile. “You’re right. The city has to come first.”
She climbs creakily to her feet. “I’m with you to the end, Slim . . . and I won’t stop you from doing what needs to be done. Just don’t ask me to raise my sword against her. Please.”
She gives him a hug and then returns to the guest yurt to lie down. Slim rejoins the others, who have been discussing whether he has romantic feelings towards the Gray Maiden—talk he tries unsuccessfully to shut down.
As dawn approaches, the Sun Shaman leads the Crimson Blades out to the upper tier of Bolt Rock in order to perform the Blessing of the Ancestors. The entire Flameford tribe accompanies them to witness the ritual. The adventurers seat themselves in a circle around a small fire, holding hands, while the shaman drones out a chant for two hours, until the first rosy fingers of dawn creep over the horizon. At that point, the shaman slumps forward and the smoke from the fire swirls into the shape of Zellara.
“It is good to see all of you again in person,” she smiles. “I carry a message for you from the spirit world, but first I would like to perform a Harrow reading to help guide you through the path to come.”
Zellara reads their fate in the cards. Peering into the past, she sees that a hidden secret was revealed, but that those who acted the revelation did so imprudently, leaving a lingering danger that looms over the rest of the spread.
In the present, Zellara sees that they have earned the loyalty of many, but glimpsing into the future she sees an impregnable obstacle and the threat of divided loyalties. Nonetheless, it is the path the party must take in order to save the city they all hold dear.
Next, Zellara delivers her message from the spirit realm, which takes the form of a cryptic song. One of the names she mentions catches Arlynn’s attention: Serithtial. Irabeth’s comments about Mandraivus had already jogged the paladin’s memory and she recalls that Serithtial was a sword imbued with Iomedae’s grace that had been carried by the holy warrior.
As she finishes her song, Zellara smiles again, although this time her smile seems somewhat sad or bittersweet. Each adventurer feels a sudden upsurge in their souls as the spirits of the dead infuse them with energy to aid them. The Shoanti stand amazed as the ritual ends and Zellara fades into darkness.
Later, Irabeth sketches out a “rough” map of Belkzen from memory, identifying Scarwall as located in the foothills of the Kodar Mountains deep in orcish territory.
Shopping Spree in the City of Strangers
Before striking out for Scarwall, the adventurers decide they must return to Kaer Maga to sell their plunder and resupply. But rather than brave a crossing of the Cinderlands in the summer heat, they decide to have Zandu teleport the five of them back to the Common House, while their cohorts remain behind at the camp. It takes two trips by the sorcerer to get them all there, but eventually they apparate into the main hall of the tavern-temple.
From there, the Crimson Blades travel to the marketplace to make their sales and purchases. Ashla seeks to have her swords enchanted, while Arlynn borrows some money from Egan to boost her armor. Slim, meanwhile, scopes out the slave markets, looking for a potential recruit to free. There are a diverse array of slave mongers at the market place, but one stands heads and shoulders above the others—literally. A Bekyar woman in plate mail with a face similar to Arlynn’s is overseeing the auction of a collection of slaves, while more Bekyar guards look on.
Slim quietly alerts Arlynn, who is inspecting the shops nearby. She recognizes the woman as her estranged sister Keris. The rogue offers to eliminate her where she stands or says they can do things “quietly.” Arlynn requests the latter, and soon enough Slim is speaking to Keris himself, claiming to be acting on behalf of a master who is seeking particularly strong and burly slaves. He asks for a private meeting that night and suggests the Sorry Excuse, but Keris insists on the Smiling Asp.
His business with Keris done, Slim returns to studying the slave markets, looking for a suitably roguish captive. Finding one he is satisfied with, Slim waits until she has been purchased and then approaches her new owner, a pudgy man of middling years dressed in a colorful mixture of Qadiran and Jalmerayan robes. Slim chats him up, commiserating about the challenges of slave trading, and convinces him to share a drink at the Sorry Excuse. While there, Slim offers to purchase the slave from from the trader, but rather than haggling suggests a game of chance to determine the cost. They play a game of “Duck, Dodge, or Parry” and the first round goes to Slim, halving the cost of the slave. But when he tries a second time, the trader catches him cheating. Slim then produces a dagger, saying the trader can take the deal or lose his life.
“My bodyguards might have something to say about that,” the trader intones casually, as two burly fellows rise up from the table behind him. But the trader waves them back to their seats and gives Slim a warm chuckle. “You’re my kind of scum. I came to this city looking for a little entertainment and a dash of excitement, which you’ve thoroughly delivered this evening. Take the girl, you have won her squarely if not not fairly.”
He rises to his feet and tosses Slim 5gp “for your trouble.”
“If you are ever in Katapesh and in need of work,” he says, “seek out Taledoro at the House of Many Numbers.”
Slim then presents his bill of sale for the slave, a slender Ulfen woman of less than twenty winters, with scraggly blond hair. She is skeptical of him at first, but he tells her that she’s not his possession but rather his apprentice. He tosses her five gold and tells her to get cleaned up and wait for him at the Common House.
“Call me Slim,” he tells her.
“I am Freya Mikkelsdotter,” she replies, palming the coins.
At the Sign of the Smiling Asp
That evening, the Crimson Blades begin drifting into the Smiling Asp, a small restaurant by the main market quarter. Zandu arrives first, in gnoll form, taking a seat at a table next to a strange creature wrapped in robes and turban. It ignores him and continues staring straight ahead, while the murky mixture in the bowl in front of him slowly vanishes. Egan arrives next and tries to find a table, but finds most of them occupied by Bekyars. The gnome ends up taking a seat at Zandu’s table. Ashla lurks outside, while Slim proceeds to saunter inside.
Keris is seated at a long table in the back, accompanied by a henchman. Slim announces the arrival of his master, “Novennia of House Videllos,” and Arlynn enters the bar, having been disguised using Zandu’s magic hat to resemble a Chelaxian noble. Keris is surprised to see a Chelaxian going so far out of her way to buy slaves in Kaer Maga rather than back home. Arlynn attempts to spin a response, but Keris quickly sees through the ruse and orders them to leave. At that point, Arlynn unmasks herself and demands justice for Keris’ crimes.
The elder Farima sister leaps to her feet and challenges Arlynn to a duel in the “Circle of Iron” the following day.
“I’ve waited a long time for a rematch, little sister,” Keris says. “The chance to prove once and for who the superior swordswoman is by writing my name in your blood.”
“You will pay for the terrible things you’ve done,” Arlynn tells her. “For what you did to mother.”
“That was father’s doing, and yours!” her sister shouts back. “You both stained our family name and it has taken every ounce of my strength to shake it clean. I am First Sword of the Bekyars and tomorrow, when I gut you, no one will deny that I am a true Farima.”
“You think slaving and murder will cleanse the family name?” Arlynn asks. “Your friends the Arkonas were eating the slaves you sold them.”
“Well then they’re terrible people,” Keris shoots back. “But their money’s still good.”
The Circle is Now Complete
The following day, the Crimson Blades head for the Circle of Iron. Like all temples to Gorum, the god of battle, it is built like a fortress—a huge, blocky box with few windows, surrounded by a low curtain wall. Guards at the gate demand to know if they will be participating in the day’s worship as combatants or merely as spectators. Arlynn acknowledges that she will be fighting and learns that Keris is a familiar face at the Circle. Slim asks if spectators can gamble on the fights.
“Of course you can gamble!” the Gorumites say. They note that Keris is the heavy favorite in today’s bout against Arlynn, which is not even her first fight of the day.
The paladin is separated from the others and led downstairs, passing a long line of other prospective combatants—a bewildering mix of races and cultures, including twwo people trying to convince the Gorumites to let their armored gorilla participate. The combatants who are slated to face each other are filtered into separate waiting chambers, where Arlynn prepares to cross swords with her sister for the first time in more than a decade.
As the rest of the Crimson Blades approach the temple, Egan shifts into cat form to move around unobtrusively. Inside, the main floor of the building overlooks a large circular fighting pit with a blazing bonfire at its center. A set of stone bleachers overlooks the arena, while across from them stands a shrine to Our Lord in Iron. The crowd is a mixture of Gorumite faith and assorted gamblers and bloodsport enthusiasts. By the entrance, a bookie takes down wagers on the day’s fights. Slim and Zandu both bet on Arlynn’s victory, and Slim also places a wager on Arlynn’s behalf.
Arlynn isn’t slated to fight until later that day, so the party witnesses several bout between other combatants, ranging from duels to the death to bare knuckle boxing. Finally, the half-orc master of ceremonies gets to the main event.
“Ladies and gentlemen, have we got a show for you today! Two sisters, once separated by a thousand miles and sea of blood, face each other in the Circle of Iron for the first and last time. This fight is to the death!”
Arlynn and Keris each enter the arena through separate doors, which sit across from another set of large double doors. The crowd cheers for the slaver, while booing Arlynn and Korvosa.
“You suck and your queen’s gone mad!” one heckler calls out.
“Everyone knows she’s crazy,” Zandu shouts back.
Keris circles around the central fire pit, glaring across the flames at Arlynn. When the half-orc signals them to fight, the elder sister moves swiftly around the flames, seemingly unencumbered by her plate mail.
But something in Arlynn’s gaze throws off her stride and instead of pressing her attack, she spiderwalks up the side of one of the arena’s support pillars. Arlynn proceeds to smite her with Iomedae’s fury, but Keris is able to weather the savage blow. She strikes back at the paladin and manages to trip her.
“You might have put on some muscle, little sister, but your footwork’s still sloppy,” Keris chides from her position on the iron pillar.
Despite Keris’ opportunistic attacks, Arlynn clambers back to her feet and lashes out with her greatsword, slicing a red gash through a weak point in Keris’ armor.
“Cease your slaving ways and seek forgiveness for your crimes, Keris!” Arlynn pleads with her. “The path you are walking now will only lead to your destruction.”
Behind them, they hear roars and shouts echoing from beyond the double doors to the arena, which are soon straining at their hinges.
Badly wounded, Keris knocks Arlynn over again and tries to escape, but the tumbling paladin bashes her with a spiked gauntlet and they tumble together in a heap.
The double doors burst open and the armored gorilla leaps out onto arena, halberd in hand, shouting “Kill them all” in a Mwangi jungle dialect that Arlynn recognizes.
The Apes of Wrath
Slim asks the bookie if the gorilla’s disruption is proper procedure, only to feel arcane fingers probing his mind. He manages to shake them off and notices a blond woman not far away surreptitiously casting a spell at him—one of the people who had accompanied the gorilla to the Circle of Iron.
The woman is soon joined by a scrawny Mwangi sorcerer and a strange, extremely hairy dwarf, all of them converging on Zandu. Ashla steps forward to aid him, while Zandu casts spells from the bleachers and Cat-Egan tries to get closer to the blond woman.
In the fighting pit, Arlynn takes her sister’s sword and then draws upon the healing grace of her goddess to prevent Keris from bleeding out.
“I called on Iomedae to bring you back from the brink of death,” the paladin tells Keris as she comes to.
“I spit on your whore of a goddess,” Keris snarls back hoarsely. She rises to her feet, arm cradling a wound in her side.
Arlynn calls out to her one last time. “Keris, you have to stop hurting innocent people. It’s not what mother would have wanted and you know it. Help me end the slave trade in Korvosa—if not for the sake of your soul, then for mother’s sake. That has to be worth more than an empty title and a trail of broken lives.”
A flicker of uncertainty crosses Keris’ face as she looks from Arlynn earnest eyes to her confiscated sword and back again. Then her expression hardens again.
“This match was inconclusive,” she declares, nodding at the interlopers. “I hope you get out alive, sister. I want to finish things for real this time.”
She limps up the side of the pillar and up onto the main floor of the temple.
The armored gorilla ignores the two Bekyar sisters and instead hauls itself out of the arena, urging on the beasts following it. The warrior ape then forces its way up through the bleachers, knocking Zandu off the side, where he feather falls to the bottom behind Slim.
A four armed girallion emerges from the broken double doors and has soon hoisted itself up to attack Ashla. The half-orc Gorumite lambasts the fleeing crowd, only for a loose lion to pounce on him. Cat-Egan decides enough is enough and seals the doorway with wall of stone.
The blond woman, meanwhile, succeeds at snaring Slim with her spells and drawing him over to the door. But Cat-Egan is able to bring her down with call lightning, breaking the spell. The dwarf, meanwhile, wildshapes into a tiger and attacks Zandu, who responds by unleashing his inner dragon fury and clawing back.
With her greatsword still locked in one hand, Arlynn stands no chance at climbing from the arena and must instead take the long way around up the stairs. Meanwhile, the wounded Keris links up with her Bekyar henchman upstairs and tries to escape. Slim intervenes to stop her, but she knocks him over and continues limping towards the stairs. Cat-Egan manages to shock her into unconsciousness with another call lightning.
Meanwhile, as his allies perish around him, the vile gorilla seizes hold of Slim and proceeds to haul him out of the temple. However, the slippery rogue is able to wriggle free as Ashla, Arlynn and Zandu close in.
Glaring at the party with beady eyes, the gorilla declares that “You have made a powerful enemy today.”
He attempts to make his escape by climbing the iron-plated facade of the temple, but comes hurtling back to the ground thanks to another well placed call lighting from Cat-Egan. The gnome is able to dodge the smoking body as it smashes back to the earth and soon the party’s attention turns back to Keris, lying unconscious by the stairs.
The lone remaining Bekyar slaver turns tail and runs at the sight of the adventurers, leaving Keris in their care. The adventurers collect their winnings—and their prisoner—and return to the Common House.