Curse of the Crimson Throne

The Black Ship
Crown of Fangs, Part 1

Putting Affairs in Order

Having acquired the powerful sword Serithtial, the Crimson Blades have returned to Kaer Maga to prepare for their return to Korvosa. Zandu and Egan use magic transport their mounts and animal companions from the Sklar-Quah camp. Egan also takes this opportunity to collect his dragonhide breastplate from the Shoanti crafters.

In the city, Arlynn cares for the poor of the Bottoms while Nox reaches out to his contact with Amprei. Ashla seeks out the enchanters of the Tarheel Promenade to improve the spells on her swords and armor.

Once everyone has regrouped, they discuss their options for entering the city. Ashla is in favor of simply tuning invisible and flying over. But Nox believes he can present himself as a noble envoy from Cheliax, since he was not seen associating with the party during his time in Korvosa. He hopes to create an official cover that the others can take advantage of once they infiltrate the city.

In the end, it is decided that they will split up.

Egan wind walks the party and their mounts to the Blackbird Ranch on the outskirts of Harse, while Zandu waits in Kaer Maga with Nox before teleporting the freshly minted noble south to Harse and then rejoining the others at the ranch.

A Night in Harse

Nox rides into Harse on his newly purchased steed and stops at the village’s nicest inn, the Fighting Rooster, whose sign depicts the aforementioned fowl poised like a boxer. Inside, Nox calls for the best room in the inn and for their finest wine. He signs the guestbook with a flourish as Lord Aquilos Nox.

He chats with the innkeeper, a flashy man with a silk eye-patch, explaining that he is an envoy from the Empress of Cheliax on a mission to Korvosa to ensure that matters are put to right there. The innkeeper tells him that there are rebels in the city, but that he expects the Queen to bring them to heel soon.

A Hug for Laori

Hours before, the bulk of the party traveled to the Blackbird Ranh north of Harse, where they stabled their horses in the abandoned barn. They searched the ranch house, while while abandoned had been visited by at least one person within the past week. The Crimson Blades decide to keep a low profile and settle into the basement for the night.

Egan also takes this opportunity to awaken another tree, which they dub Treebeard.

Laori has been unusually quiet these past few days, a haunted look about her dark eyes. Whatever answers to her crisis of faith that she sought out in Kaer Maga were clearly not to her liking. She hunkers down in a corner of the basement, sitting with her knees pressed against her chest.

“Laori, you look like you need a hug,” Zandu says. He scoops her up into a warm, fuzzy embrace. By the time he lets go, her mood has improved appreciably.

“I know I said I’d bake you guys something once we got out of Scarwall,” the priestess says, “but I’ve been feeling so down I forgot to give it to you.”

She reaches into her pack and produces a surprisingly moist chocolate cake.

“I’m glad to have awesome friends like you, and I am with you to the end, or as least as long you can tolerate me.” Laori says.

“Tolerate you? Laori, don’t be silly," Arlynn proclaims. "We tolerate Zandu; we love having you around.”

“You’re one of us,” Ashla says.

“I’m really one of the Crimson Blades?" Laori asks, eyes widening. "Awesome! The last gang I was in had Sial in it.”

“Yeah, he was so grumpy,” Egan says.

“And into weird stuff too,” Zandu adds.

“Oh, its not weird,” Laori clarifies.

“Oh, well I thought with all the chains hanging up in the nu—“ Zandu starts.

“Zandu! Don’t be crude!” Arlynn stammers out. Composing herself, she says to Laori “I know things are confusing for you right now, but if you find that ZK is no longer a god you wish to follow, Iomedae will always have a place for you.”

“Arlynn, I’ll have to think on things,” Laori says, “but thank you for all your advice.”

“Take all the time you need,” the paladin says. “When Aroden disappeared, many of his faithful were also lost before the light of the inheritor guided them. So it shall be with you too Laori; you’ll find your way.”

With the elf maiden considerably cheered up and everyone full of cake, the party prepares for bed. Remmy and Kyra are left as the only two non-spellcasters who can stand watch. They determine the order of their shifts in the traditional Korvosan fashion, a game of Boulder, Parchment, Sheers. After a heated match, Remmy wins first watch.

The adventurers decide to rest for 12 hours to give the two women time to get a proper night’s sleep. After an uneventful night in the creepy abandoned basement, the party rises 4 hours later than usual. As Kyra scrapes together breakfast, they gather to decide their course of action for entering the city.

Their deliberations, however, are cut short by the bellow of a war horn coming from the direction of Harse…


Nox, meanwhile, rose at first, light, donned his noble’s outfit, and rides off at first light towards Korvosa. It is a bright and cheery summer day and he makes good time.

Several hours south of Harse, Nox arrives at a stone bridge across a fast-flowing tributary of the Falcon River. The clatter of hooves on the cobblestone is interrupted by the gentle thrum of a crossbow from the bushes up ahead. A bolt grazes Nox in the side, while two armed ruffians leap out from the bushes behind him. The ambushers rush him from behind, with one of them striking and wounding his horse.

Despite being caught without his armor, Nox wheels his stallion around and draws his sun blade. He can tell from their gear that these “bandits” are hired sellswords.

“You have no idea who you are dealing with!” Nox bellows. “I am a sworn representative of the Empress of Cheliax! Tell me who sent you and I’ll spare your lives.”

The ferocity of his challenge gives one of the ambushers pause. His companion gives him a queer look.

“C’mon, Marl, don’t just stand there!”

“Don’t use our real names, Wirt!” the shaken sellsword replies.

“Gentlemen, get your act together,” says the head sellsword, who emerges from the bushes on the other side of the river with rapier and buckler in hand. “You’re supposed to be professionals.”

Wirt hacks into Nox’s stallion, but the nobleman deftly leaps off the dying horse as it falls. Using its body to help shield him from the two sellswords to his rear, Nox retrieves his shield.

“This is your last chance!” he warns. “Aid me and be rewarded, or side against me and perish!”

“I’m not with them,” the sellsword Marl says, turning to face off against Wirt.

The lead ambusher gets in several solid cuts through Nox’s now-ruined noble’s outfits. The warrior responds by charging the man with his shield and forcing the leader off the bridge into the river.

“Die, fool!” Nox shouts. “Die and be forgotten!”

With Marl switching sides and his boss flailing in the river, Wirt turns tail and run. Marl apologizes for his role in the ambush, insisting that he didn’t know he’d be attacking a representative of the Empress. Nox, quietly relieved that the tide of battle had turned, goes to fish out the lead sellsword. But the man manages to swim to shore and flee into the forest. Nox and Marl take off after him. After a lengthy chase, Nox catches up with the sellsword and cuts “Not-Slim’s” head clean off. While looting the body, Nox retrieves a piece of fine paper with his description on it.

Afterwards, Nox questions Marl, who says the sellsword leader recruited him and Wirt in Korvosa for a contract to take out a lone nobleman riding south from Harse. He doesn’t know who the leader’s employer was. Nox recruits Marl as a bodyguard for 75gp a day, plus expenses. Marl also reveals that they took a cart up from the city, which Wirt thankfully hasn’t absconded with. Nox grimly recovers the chain barding from his late horse. Packing it and the loot up in the cart, they head south, with Nox now wearing his plate mail.

The Scorpion’s Kiss

Meanwhile, a few hours north, Egan wildshapes into a bird to investigate the horn blowing, while the rest of the party scrambles into their gear. Approaching the town of Harse, the gnome druid can hear the temple bells ringing a warning. A great black ship has sailed up the Falcon River, flying the baleful flag of the Bekyar Nation.

As Bird-Egan watches, raiders leap over the sides of the ship and run across the water into the town, twirling nets and bolas over their heads. A hulking brute of a man directs the raiders from the ship, while a woman with the air of a priestess surveys the scene from the quarterdeck towards the stern. Surrounding the woman on all sides are eight dead-eyed children shackled ti her waist.

Egan relays this information back to the Crimson Blades, who decide to approach by air and attack the ship directly. Egan wildshapes into a roc and carries Arlynn and Ashla, while Zandu casts fly on himself, an invisible Kyra perched on his shoulders. Irabeth, Laori and Remmy are dispatched into Harse itself to defend the townsfolk.

As they approach the ship, the party spies some dark shapes lurking in the rigging in the shadow of the black sails. Based on her knowledge of Bekyar tactics, Arlynn also judges this to be a very brazen raid. Not only are they striking in the heart of Korvosan territory, but they also appear to be personally directed by the Whip Hand herself, the woman on the quarterdeck.

Zandu dives down first, passing an alchemist’s fire to Kyra, who tosses it at the rigging, igniting the sails and tar-covered ropes. This provokes the creatures in the rigging to launch themselves into the sky. They are lanky fiends with mouths full of teeth and great bat-like wings. The monsters fan out to either side of the ship and start circling towards Roc-Egan.

The druid swoops straight for the ship, depositing Arlynn and Ashla on the main deck. The hulking Bekyar captain jabs a finger at Roc-Egan.

“Bring down that bird!” he commands his men.

A Bekyar at the forecastle wheels around a ballista to fire a harpoon at the giant fowl. But the shot goes wide and Roc-Egan successfully avoids getting caught up in the harpoon’s chain.

Death on Deck

The Bekyar captain hacks at Arlynn, but the paladin replies by lopping off his head. Undeterred, harpoon-wielding Bekyar crewmen close in around her. Ashla, meanwhile, charges up onto the quarter deck to confront the Whip Hand. Afraid that the Bekyar woman might harm the child captives, the ranger grabs hold of her in a grapple.

Kyra takes this opportunity to leap off Zandu’s back onto the main deck. Scraps of burning sailcloth drift on the breeze as the hungry flames lick their way down the rigging towards the hull.

The two fiends floating over the river turn and point at Arlynn. Dealy bolts of necrotic energy lance from their clawed fingers and strike the paladin, leeching away her life force. Roc-Egan attacks one of the winged monsters while the other continues to throw death bolts at Arlynn as she fends off attacks from the slavers.

The Whip Hand threatens to kill the children by channeling negative energy, but her attempt is thwarted when a terrified fish leaps out of the river and hits her in the head. It is then followed by the even bigger fish pursuing it, which knocks the Whip Hand prone. Ashla urges the orphans to join her in finishing off the evil priestess.

Elsewhere, things are not looking so bright. Zandu tries to keep the other fiend busy by attacking it with his claws, but the creature successfully casts a spell that paralyzes the sorcerer, Kyra, and Arlynn. The Bekyar ballista, meanwhile, manages to successfully spear Roc-Egan with a harpoon, even as the druid finishes off the second fiend.

While most of the Bekyars rush to the quarter deck in a last ditch effort to save their leader, one pauses by the helpless paladin.

“You don’t want to do that,” Ashla warns.

The slaver rams his harpoon through Arlynn’s heart, killing her instantly. As her paralyzed body hits the burning deck, the slaver gives Ashla a mischievous shrug and then flees the ship. After the ranger cuts down a few of his companions, the surviving Bekyars likewise retreat, scrambling across the river into the forest beyond. The last remaining fiend also teleports away.

Raising the Black Flag

Egan is able to quench the shipboard fire and they tow it to the dock, where they meet up with their companions and the villagers. Irabeth is deeply distraught at the sight of Arlynn’s body, but Laori insists the problem can be swiftly fixed. They will have to wait until dusk to do so, however, so that the lingering necrotic effects of the fiend’s magic can fade.

The body is taken to the temple of Erastil in the center of town, where it is laid in state as Irabeth stands vigil until the appointed hour. When the time comes, Laori calls upon the power of Zon-Kuthon to restore the paladin to life

Egan and Zandu, meanwhile, work with some of the locals to repair the damage to the Scorpion’s Kiss, having hatched a plan to use the ship to gain entry to Korvosa. The sorcerer also teleports back to Kaer Maga to pick up several more hats of disguise to aid the party in their plot.

Knocking on Korvosa’s Gate

It takes two days of travel for Nox and Marl to reach Korvosa, with the nobleman still uncomfortably nursing nasty wounds from the fight. They arrive at the North Bridge gate, where Nox presents himself to the Gray Maidens as the new liaison from Cheliax.

The faceless soldiers quickly summon Magistrate Petronicus, who assures him that the queen is bringing matters under control and offers to provide an escort to protect him from rebel agents. He offers Nox the abandoned Chelaxian embassy as a residence.

Petronicus also suggests that Nox contribute a small amount of blood to aid with scrying efforts should he be abducted by rebels. Nox turns down the blood drive, and requests an escort from the Korvosan Guard. He also asks for an audience with the Queen within a week and expresses the Empress’ concern over the instability in the city.

The squad of Korvosan Guards that arrives to escort Nox appear bedraggled, poorly equipped, and despondent. Nox chats with their commander, a long-faced man named Corporal Bendis, who shares information about the state of the Guard and the city.

He learns that the Guard is in a poor state, with its diminished membership including a number of questionable elements. Nox requests a permanent detachment of the guard to secure the ambassador’s residence until he can obtain more assistance from Cheliax. Bendis promises to assign the right sort to guard the embassy.

Your Lordship
Crown of Fangs, Interlude

A Social Call

After stepping out to make a social call, Nox makes his way to Kaer Maga’s Tallow District to hire a no-nonsense sellspell to send a message to Freya asking her to meet him at the Smiling Asp in one hour. He uses the ring she nicked as the conduit.

He seats himself at a booth in the restaurant, with a clear view of the entrance, and orders an ale. Freya slides into the seat opposite him a short while later, already cradling an ale of her own.

“You’re late,” he says.

“You’re early,” she replies. “I didn’t expect you back from that haunted castle for another few days—if ever.”

Nox says that his crazy companions created enough of a mess to get what they were looking for. He explains that he convinced them to give him the medallion early.

“Have you got the papers?” he demands.

“Perhaps,” she says. “Have you got the medallion?”

“Right here,” he says, laying it on the table. “A show of good faith.”

She inspects the medallion to verify its quality, then retrieves a slightly crumpled roll of parchment from inside her bodice and passes it to him.

“Signed and sealed by the Empress herself,” she explains, “House Nox has been restored to the official rolls of the peerage and your title as Lord of the House is conferred.”

Nox inspects the parchment, then stows it.

“You’re still here,” Freya notes. “I would have thought that you’d be trotting back your adventuring friends as soon as you’d gotten the paper.”

“Not just yet,” Nox says. “Tell me, what is the Ambassador’s standing in Korvosa?”

She seems mildly disappointed by his line of questioning, but explains that the ambassador has been ejected from the city but remains close by. It is a temporary state of affairs, as the queen is not likely to last long—if the Crimson Blades do not eject her, the Empire will not long tolerate her impudence.

Nox says that he is interested in taking the throne, but needs help from Amprei. Freya reminds him that the price of such aid is high. Nox says that he would be able to give the ambassador a chartered front company, with free reign to traffic cargo through the city. Freya says that the ambassador has cut ties to the “cargo haulers” that he is referring to, and may ask for something more specific.

Nox says he needs documents representing himself as a liaison from Cheliax and offers Freya a chance to produce them on her own, but she demurs, saying she is oathbound not to disobey the ambassador. Nox suggests that this would be in his interests, but she explains that she and her brother owe him their lives. It is her way as an Ulfen not to break this oath. But she promises to convey the message. Nox gives her two days. He rises to leave and she expresses mild disappointment that he wouldn’t share another ale with her, but he says he must decline for another time. She promises to hold him to that.

As he his about to leave the tavern, Nox checks to be sure he still has his papers, finding them still there along with an extra note in Freya sharp handwriting that reads “Ye of little faith.”

A New Deal

Later that day, a hooded stranger pelts Nox with a stone. Once he is drawn out of the Common House, Freya sidles up to him to let him know that Amprei has accepted the deal. All he wants in return is free access to the vaults below the castle and perhaps Nox’s assistance in obtaining what he is searching for. Nox agrees to help, so long as it doesn’t contradict his plans for Korvosa.

Nox also apologizes for attempting to suborn her earlier, but she brushes it off. “It is forgotten, you are ignorant of our ways.”

He cocks an eyebrow at this and her blue eyes twinkle.

Nox also offers to bring Freya along to serve as a liaison between him and Amprei’s contacts. She says she’d already planned on shadowing him and wonders if her presence might not be welcomed by the party. Nox wonders what he’ll say about this, but she assures him that he’ll think of something. “You’re a charming man. Kingly, even.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Nox says, tossing her a platinum piece.

He also asks if she’d be up for a little work on the side and she admits she’s free to moonlight so long as it isn’t betraying Amprei’s trust.

The Turned Worm
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 15

Wandering the Winding Tunnels

Having arrived at the very bottom of the Star Tower, Crimson Blades open the heavy stone door and step out into a natural tunnel. The walls of this cave look moist, yet are strangely dry to the touch, covered with a sheen of glittering mineral deposits.

With Earth-Egan in the lead, the adventures slowly walk down the winding cave tunnel, the cool, damp air sticking in their lungs. Ashla checks the ceiling warily for any hazards, but only finds stalactites. The half-elf ranger discovers something of greater interest on the ground, however: faint footprints, the most recent only a week old, of giant-sized humanoids with strange, four-toed feet.

She alerts the party that they might have company soon. Nox suspects the giants are the so-called Children of Rovagug they were warned about.

The party comes to a fork in the twisting path. Ashla suggests they investigate the right-most fork first, sensing that it might dead-end first. The tunnel gradually slopes downward, while Ashla discovers more sets of the four-toed giant footprints, almost all of them going in the opposite direction.

Dead End Drop

The corridor ends at a fifteen-foot-wide shaft that plummets into the darkness. A faint warm breeze flows up from the pit, carrying with it strange mineral scents. What appear to be a series of three-foot-wide handholds run down along the closest side of the shaft.

“Do we investigate further?” Arlynn asks the others.

“I’d want to know how deep it goes, first,” Nox says.

“Cast light on a rock and toss it down,” Ashla suggests.

They throw the lighted stone down the chasm and it falls, falls, falls until the light itself is no more than a pinprick. Ashla can hear a faint clatter as the rock hits the ground, then silence. Curious about what could lie below, Earth-Egan glides down the side of the hole, which drops down into a sizable cavern with half a dozen tunnel exits winding off in different directions.

The party decides to investigate the left fork before venturing deeper into the cave. Ashla notices that most of the strange tracks are heading in that direction. The further down the left corridor they go, the fouler and damper the air gets. Finally, they round a corner to step into an immense cavern.

The Children of Rovagug

The rank odor of decay, filth, and wet fur clings to the cool chamber with a palpable tenacity. A wide rocky shelf sits in the southern portion of the cavern, and upon this shelf are four crude, domed hovels, each nearly twenty feet tall and built from crude stone blocks mortared together with a nasty mix of mud, hair, and other assorted debris. Beyond, a silent lake of black waters stretches into the distance. Far out in the water, a single point of light glows just above the surface, a bright star whose radiance illuminates a few stony islands about seventy feet out in the lake.

The denizens of the stone igloos turn to face the intruders. The five deformed giants are covered with shaggy, black fur matted with filth and debris covers. Their arms split into two forearms at both elbows, each ending in a massive four-fingered claw. They let out terrifying screeches from the vertical, fang-filled maws that split their heads from what would be crown to chin on any normal creature. Their horrid appearance is matched only by their stench, a rancid combination of wet fur and decay.

Nox charges into the fray, knocking one of the creatures back into its stone hut. It crashes into the ill-mortared walls and the whole structure comes tumbling down. Nox avoids the worst of it, while the aberration is knocked to the ground by the cascade of stones.

Arlynn and Ashla are hot on the fighter’s heels, veering left to attack another four-armed abomination by the the tunnel entrance. The creature’s claws scrape against Arlynn’s armor, but in manages to grab hold of the paladin and squeeze. Earth-Egan glides into the wall and attacks the creature with his fists.

Remmy rushes into the chamber to assist Nox, but another of the split-faced horrors steps forward to slap the two fighters to the ground. Irabeth advances into the cave to help Arlynn with her foe, while Kyra hangs back at the tunnel entrance. Zandu steps into the chamber just far enough to haste everyone, then retreats back to Kyra’s position.

Laori steps inside and casts a spell, calling out “Oh great and cuddly ZK, send your adorable servants to aid us!”

A pair of shadows soon materialize to do the elf priestess’ bidding.

Strength of Arms

The prone aberration scrambles to its feet and claws at the sprawled form of Nox, to no avail. Across from him, Remmy is less fortunate, suffering a vicious claw attack. Nox fights back, cutting the nearest creature’s legs out from under it.

Kyra stealthily creeps into the cavern and throws her returning dagger at the abomination grappling Arlynn, but is not able to find a weak spot in its otherworldly anatomy.

Arlynn, meanwhile, punches her captor in its freakish face and then kicks off from it with both feet, knocking the monster backwards and freeing herself from its grasp. With a twirl of her twin blades, Ashla slices the aberration to ribbons, but is bashed against the far wall by its friend. Zandu races out to the shoreline of the black lake to line up a blast of electricity from his draconic breath, striking two of the creatures.

Although the four-armed aberrations batter the Crimson Blades around like bowling pins, the adventurers are able to wear through their defenses and drop them one by one.

As the party begins to converge on the last misshapen giant, the faint white glow from across the subterranean lake is blotted out by an enormous shape rising from the water.

The Abominable Slug-Man

The woken giant is a disgusting creature that is part immense worm and part humanoid, stretching over 80 feet of sickly pale flesh infested with rot and pustules. Dozens of spiky legs twitch along the length of his body, while his upper torso, bloated and pallid, is still vaguely human. The monstrosity blinks and surveys the battle, then takes a deep breath and spews out a terrible gout of acid that splatters across the cavern. All but Kyra and Earth-Egan, safely out of range, are coated in in the foul, stinging muck. Many of the adventurers are stricken with terrible nausea from coming into contact with the rancid bile. With an earth-rattling roar, the foul creature slithers onto shore.

“This must be the great evil that Zandu saw,” Arlynn murmurs, peering up from the cavern floor onto which she had been unceremoniously tossed moments before.

“You think?” Nox says, clapping his armored elbow to his face in a vain effort to staunch the odor.

“Yeb, debinitely him,” Zandu says, pinching his snout with a free hand.

Undaunted by the vomit dripping from her armor and the cave walls alike, Arlynn rises to her feet and retreats back towards the rest of her companions to share the righteous fury of her goddess with her friends through an aura of justice. As she moves, however, the creature reaches out to rake her with his huge clawed hand, crunching through her armor. At its foul touch, a wave of pain starts to well through the paladin’s body, but her holy symbol of Iomedae glows brightly and the agony quickly subsides.

Still repulsed by the foul stench, Nox, Ashla and Remmy climb to their feet. The last of the four-armed aberrations, meanwhile, knocks Irabeth ten feet through the air to crash into Laori and send them both tumbling to the ground. The giant then scuttles behind a clump of stalactites to stay clear of its gargantuan slug of an ally.

Serithtial Calls

As the stomach juices trickle off of him, Zandu retreats to the tunnel to catch his breath beside Kyra.

“You don’t look too good,” the halfling says, gingerly patting an acid-free patch on his leg.

“It’ll wash off,” Zandu shrugs.

In the cavern beyond, the great abomination lets out another roar. Kyra steps half-way out of cover to throw her returning dagger at it’s head, but the leathery hide proves too much for the small blade to pierce.

“Any chance you could magic that thing away?” she asks.

They watch as the monster simply shrugs of a bolt of called lightning from Earth-Egan.

“Probably not,” the sorcerer admits.

Out in the cavern, Arlynn shouts “I think we’re going to need a bigger sword!”

Zandu’s gaze turns towards faint light shining across the lake and starts to grin.

“Be careful,” Kyra says, reading his expression. She gives him a quick slap on the bottom. “I like you in one piece, even if it’s gnoll-shaped.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” the sorcerer says, casting fly on himself and swooping out into the cave.

Legendary Foe

The great abomination stretches out one terrible clawed hand, reaching across 20 feet to seize hold of Arlynn. As the claws dig into her flesh, a new wave of agony overcomes her, leeching at her strength even as it spills her blood.

Recovering from his initial nausea, Nox charges forward but is attacked by the lone surviving four-armed giant aberration, which grabs hold of him. Ashla closes in to hack at the slug-man’s slimy flank with her swords. After failing to harm the creature with his call lightning, Earth-Egan begins gliding through the cavern wall towards the shining light in the lake.

Remmy follows after Nox and slashes at the four-armed freak, while Laori slides out from beneath the apologetic Irabeth and rises to her feet. She commands her summoned shadows, but they appear reluctant to attack the creature. Arlynn realizes that the monstrosity must be imbued with the power of Zon-Kuthon, which is why the shades don’t wish to harm it. The elf priestess stamps her foot in frustration before sprinting toward the fray with her spiked chain twirling. Irabeth uses her celestial full plate to fly into the air and attack the creature head on. Every now and then, Kyra’s returning dagger zips out from the cavern entrance, but is unable to cut through the creature’s hide.

The monster is undaunted by the adventurers gathering to confront it. While squeezing Arlynn in one massive hand, the vile thing slashes at Ashla and Nox with its free claw, inflicting the same wracking pains in them as well. Arlynn calls upon Iomedae’s grace to heal herself and the others, but the goddess’ blessing cannot keep pace with the harm the gargantuan monster is dispensing with each lacerating touch.

“I know why you have come!” the abomination spits out. “But the sword is mine, and no other’s!”

Arlynn squirms free of the creature’s grip, falling 20 feet to cave floor with a loud clank. The monster responds by raking the paladin with its claws as she lies on the ground.

“Egan!” the paladin cries out as she struggles to her feet, dripping with foul liquids. “I could a healing hand about now!”

The druid turns around and glides back along the wall towards Arlynn. Earth-Egan extends a long, rocky hand out from the wall and slaps Arlynn on her shiny metal bottom to deliver the heal spell.

“Thank you, my friend,” the paladin says as the strength returns to her. The druid offers a thumbs up.

Laori sees that Ashla is likewise badly hurt and suffering from the aberration’s agonizing touch. The elf maiden sidles up to the ranger and provides a healing butt slap of her own.

“Eeeek!” Ashla cries in surprise. “What’d you do that for?”

“Everyone was doing it,” Laori says defensively. “I just wanted to be popular.”

Nox beheads the four-armed abomination grappling him and steps forward to stand side by side with Arlynn.

“Got any more of Iomedae’s wrath to share?” he asks.

“My connection to the goddess is dimming the longer we fight,” Arlynn says. “If we can’t bring this foe down quickly, our quest may be over.”

The Sword and the Gnoll

Zandu steers clear of the melee taking place in the center of the cavern, pausing at the water’s edge only to cast blink on himself for extra protection. As the battle

After casting blink on himself, Zandu floats over the lake towards the rocky outcropping the light is issuing from. As he draws near, the gnoll sorcerer can see that the source of the glow is a resplendent greatsword embedded deep in the stone. He braces himself and then tugs on the hilt. To his surprise, the blade slides easily from the rock. As he hefts it, the sword suddenly ripples in his hand, morphing into an elegant staff.

“Thank you, brave adventurer, for freeing me,” a melodious female voice speaks in the gnoll’s head.

“Do you change into any…‘other’…shapes?” Zandu asks suggestively.

Serithtial ripples a little, the head of the staff taking the form of a comely woman with her arms crossed, scowling at him.

“Just take me to the paladin!” she telepathically reprimands Zandu.

“Which one? The green one, the black one, or the guy that sometimes pretends to be one,” the gnoll zings back.

“Any of them would be better than you,” Seithtial says curtly

The Final Blow

Back on shore, the great monster belches out another gout of acid, dousing the party.

Arlynn, badly wounded, cries out “My strength is failing! May Iomedae protect us in this darkest hour!”

Nox, raising his shield to block a claw, “I’ll be damned if I’m dying here, Paladin! Death will come for me, but not today!”

The air behind Arlynn shimmers and Zandu appears in their midst. He presents the Serithtial-Staff to Arlynn with a flourish.

“Did somebody order a Holy Sword?” the gnoll quips.

From across the cavern, Kyra cries out “What the hell are you doing?! Get out of there!”

Bathed in the warm glow of Serithial, Arlynn drops her greatsword and proclaims “Iomedae’s light! I knew you wouldn’t fail us, Zandu!”

“As if you had a doubt, our sexy leading lady!” Zandu smarmly says.

Arlynn takes the holy weapon from him and turns back toward the creature, raising it aloft as it reshapes into a greatsword once more. “Now you will face the judgement of the Inheritor!!”

“Just stick it with the pointy end already!” Ashla exclaims, blocking claws with her blades.

The paladin takes a single swing with Serithtial as the glow from its blade extends into a great shaft of golden light that bisects the bloated behemoth, splitting him open and causing foul entrails to spill out before sizzling them away a moment later. By the time the cut is finishing only a smoking, bisected husk of the creature remains.

Nox wrinkles his nose. “And we thought it smelled bad on the outside . . .”

“Yes,” says Kyra, elbowing her way past to stand by Zandu. “Yes, we did.”

The mercenary sighs. “C’mon, Short Round, let’s start looting the area.”

“Just who are you calling round?” Kyra says, waving a hand over her slender, curvy physique. “That’s an offensive and pernicious stereotype about halflings.”

“My apologies,” Nox says with a smile. “I suppose next you’ll tell me you don’t have hairy feet?”

“Not a whisker,” Kyra says, slipping off a boot to reveal a delicate and hairless foot. She waggles her toes. “I shave!”

Ashla bursts out laughing.

Tales of Ancient Deeds

After looting the chamber, the party heads back up through the Star Tower. Outside, the moon still hangs high in the night sky. The Crimson Blades make their departure from Scarwall, learning from the gate guards that “King” Mardak already has designs on the orcish city of Urgir. Arlynn reminds them that Mandraivus’ tomb must be left undisturbed in order to prevent the curse from returning. The party makes camp out by the tomb, where Zellara is relieved that they’ve broken the curse and gained the sword

The following morning, Egan begins casting an awakening spell on Barky to make him a perpetual guardian of the tomb. Arlynn enters the tomb to pray and inform Mandraivus that the curse had been put to rest and Serithtial reclaimed. A sense of peace settles over the reliquary.

Arlynn also communes with Serithtial, learning the details of the first battle of Scarwall. Mandraivus and his companions had lured away Kazavon’s main army and then bribed the warlord’s seneschal, Kleestad, to show them a secret way into the fortress through the hidden quay below the rosette ballroom. Mithrodar, Kazavon’s castellan, died in the throne room when Serithtial pierced his liver, but his death bought time for the warlord to retreat into the Star Tower. It was there that Mandraivus and his surviving companions confronted the enemy and learned that he was no mere man but a terrible blue dragon. Arlynn witnesses brief glimpses of the battle through Serithtial’s eyes.

After the dragon was slain, Mandraivus and the others discovered that its essence still clung to its remains. Unable to destroy the dragon’s relics and worried that it might be restored to life, Mandraivus divided up the remains among his companions and had them each take a piece to be hidden for all time. He remained behind in Scarwall, and for a time the power his faith held the darkness rising out of faulty Star Tower at bay. But after Mandraivus was cut down, Rovagug’s foul energy mingled with the psychic wound of so many savage deaths to bring about the curse, which allowed the spirit of Mithrodar to return to power.

But before the curse could take hold, Kleestad emerged from hiding, crawling on broken legs to take Serithtial from Mandraivus’ corpse. Even as the sword burned his flesh, he claimed it as a prize for Zon-Kuthon. This cowardice and treachery angered the Midnight Lord, who struck Kleestad with a curse that sent him fleeing into the earth to live in perpetual agony as a worm. Serithtial was left in his clutches for eight hundred years, awaiting rescue. The sword has felt the stirrings of Kazavon’s soul in the young queen of Korvosa and is eager to be put to use again as a weapon of the righteous against the Kuthites. She bristles at the presence of Laori and the elf priestess keeps a safe distance from the weapon.

Crisis of Faith

Since leaving the Star Tower, Laori has seemed distant and distracted. The morning that Egan completes his awakening ritual, Laori rises to perform her ablutions but becomes more and more frantic in her self-inflicted injury.

When the party questions her, she explains that “I can’t feel Him hurting me anymore. The hurting means He loves me.” She casts a regretful look back at Scarwall in the valley below. “I should have gone with Ildervok.”

“Believe me, you made the right choice in staying,” Arlynn assures her. The paladin can sense that Laori’s evil aura has diminished.

“If ZK’s mad at you, perhaps you could atone?” Nox offers. “I bet getting the Midnight’s Teeth back would go a long way.”

“Yes!” the elf maiden says, a manic gleam in her ebony eyes. “That will make him love me again!”

“Or maybe ZK is just jealous of the friends you’ve chosen,” Arlynn says. “There are other gods who aren’t as fickle.”

“Jealousy is kind of his thing,” Laori acknowledges. “And you guys are super awesome friends. But ZK gets me. He understands how amazing pain is. Are there any other gods who do that?”

“Um . . .” Arlynn says.

“Are there any other Kuthites nearby?” Zandu asks. “Maybe you could consult with them to find out what you need to do.”

“There’s that stupid cult in Korvosa,” Laori says. “And there might be some followers in Kaer Maga. I guess I’ll check in with them when we get back.”

“About that . . .” Ashla says.

News from Korvosa

The night before, Ashla was having one of her usual dreams of wandering through a graveyard when Vencarlo Orisini emerged from behind a tombstone. He explained that he was contacting her via spell from Janderhoff and updated her on the situation in Korvosa. Cressida Kroft has left the Korvosan Guard and gone underground, where she is gathering a group of rebels to oppose the Queen. They are operating out of the Gray District, where Bishop Keppira d’Bear is hiding them. Vencarl and Neolandis Kalepopolis are preparing to join them and Vencarlo asks that the party meet up with them there soon. The time to strike against Ileosa is fast approaching Ashla informs him that they have the sword.

That morning, Ashla relays this information to the rest of the Crimson Blades

Afterwards, Nox pipes up. “Well, even more reason to get back to civilization. We need to stop in Kaer Maga first.”

“And to meet up with the Shoanti,” Arlynn picks up.

“And to get my armor,” Egan adds.

“And our pets and horses!” Ashla adds as well.

“Well great,” Nox says gruffly, “looks like we all have shit to do, so let’s get to it!”

Altering the Deal

Upon arriving back in the Common House, the party makes plans to collect their mounts and materiel from the Sklar-Quah, but before they split up Nox calls them all into his room for a private talk.

He tells them that he needs to ask for the medallion early. In return for delivering it, he will get his family’s title back, which he intends to use to leverage out the Arkonas. That would give the party a base of operations in the city—and, Arlynn notes, strike a blow against slavery given the Arkonas’ connection to the Bekyars.

But Nox warns them that his client is Ambassador Amprei. Irabeth growls that the ambassador kept her chained up below his mansion like a dog. Remmy doesn’t think Slim would have ever parted with the medallion and is loathe to see it handed over to Amprei. Nox assures her that it will only be used for intrigues in Cheliax, but Irabeth says that they know little of Amprei’s true intentions.

However, the rest of the party ultimately decides to accept the revised agreement. Begrudgingly, Remmy agrees to hand the medallion over. She takes the red-fletched arrows out of her quiver and then removes the false bottom to extract the gold disk with the green gem in its center. Nox is flabbergasted.

Ashla gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “We’re assholes.”

Kyra gives his thigh a friendly punch. “Welcome to the group, buddy!”

“You mean you had it on you the whole time?” Nox demands.

“A Varisian knows the safest place to keep your treasures is on your person,” Remmy says, handing him the medallion. “Kyra helped me rig up the quiver.”

“If only I could capture the look on your face,” the halfling chuckles.

“Your memory will just have to do,” Nox says, stowing the item. “Now, I have to go make a social call.”

Healing the Scars
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 14

Princess Returns

Having returned to Kaer Maga to raise Remmy and Laori from the dead, the Crimson Blades spend several days simply resting and recovering from their recent ordeal. Zandu goes out shopping for supplies and brings Kyra along, to get the excited halfling a new cloak of resistance. Arlynn spends her free time calling upon the power of her goddess to heal the sick of the Bottoms District.

The morning of their intended return to [[Scarwall], however, Irabeth steps out on the streets of Kaer Maga in a daze. When Arlynn inquires after her, Irabeth explains that she had a strange vision last night and feels she needs to go somewhere. The half-orc wanders off into the city, with Arlynn and Egan following warily behind.

Irabeth drifts towards the great walls of Kaer Maga, where a portly gnome has set up a shop selling massive hang gliders of wood and canvas. Perched around his shop is also an enormous flow of talking crows, calling out “Fly! Fly!” The gnome tries to sell them on his “man-kites,” promising that they “fly every time or your money back!”

Arlynn and Egan politely decline, while Irabeth takes a leap of faith off of the wall and emerges moments later on the back of a resurrected Princess. Laughing with joy, she cartwheels around the sky as the crows flutter off to join her and Egan takes wing as well.

Arlynn welcomes Irabeth and her mount back when they land, glad to see that the goddess has rewarded their continued devotion.

The Impossible Happens

Zandu teleports the party back to Mandraivus’ tomb and into the middle of a violent stand-off. A group of more than 30 orcs has surrounded Barky, snarling and brandishing their weapons just a stone’s throw from the treant’s long wooden arms. Barky explains that an army of orcs arrived at the gates of Scarwall and this smaller party marched up to confront him. He has kept them at bay by throwing stones at them, but is worried about their sharp axes. He warns that the orcs have sent a runner back to their main army.

Arlynn demands to speak to the orc leader, Warboss Mardak, who accuses the party of being spies from Lastwall seeking to rile up the evil spirits in the forbidden castle. Both Arlynn and Nox challenge the orc chief to single combat. The chief responds by insisting that they fight without weapons.

Eventually, Arlynn and Zandu are able to resolve the stand-off by proposing a strange alliance with the orcs: if Mardak and his men help them break the castle’s curse and allow them to retrieve the sword, they will turn Scarwall over to him. Arlynn also conditions the agreement on the orcs not tampering with Mandraivus’ tomb, which she claims is helping to suppress the curse. Irabeth, who acquiesces to the agreement only grudgingly, also demands that the orcs provide her with any information they might have on her father’s identity.

Once the deal has been struck, Mardak returns to his army’s camp by the barbican while the party spends the night warily resting within the tomb of Mandraivus. The following day, they meet up with the suspicious orcs and begin advancing up the causeway towards the castle. Mardak sends a wave of goblins in to secure the gates. After they’ve breached the perimeter, Arlynn suggests that the orc leader join them in fighting Mithrodar—which he unfortunately accepts.

Mithrodar’s Throne Room

Joined by Mardak and his bodyguards, the party rolls up to the Great Hall of Scarwall. Zandu enlarges Nox and Earth-Egan shapes a hole in the wall for the giant to advance through while Arlyn kicks down the door.

Inside, they find that Mithrodar has assembled a mob of zombies, skeletons, and skeletal minotaurs to help protect him. Big Nox clomps forward to breach their defenses with a few swings from his enlarged sunblade. Arlynn then steps into the gap to channel positive energy, obliterating the lesser undead and leaving only the skeletal minotaurs—and Mithrodar.

The chain spirit calls on Pegg and Loute, the pantomiming ghosts, who start dancing through the hall and inflicting their maddening appearance on the party. Mithrodar cackles and then drops through the floor, despite Arlynn’s best efforts to stop him.

While the rest of the party finishes off the ghosts and minotaurs, Earth-Egan sinks through the stone floor to chase after the chain spirit.

Aware of the threat from Pegg and Loute, the Crimson Blades quickly bring them down. The minotaur skeletons put up a fight, trying to barrel over the adventurers, but eventually their bones are cleaved to pieces.

Cornering the Rat

The screams of Mardak’s orcs echo throughout the castle as the unbound chain spirit tears through them. Judging from the echoes, Nox reckons that Mithrodar has retreated to the ballroom. The Crimson Blades race towards the western wing of Scarwall, passing the bodies of a squad of orcs (which elicits only a sneer from Mardak).

The adventurers catch up with Earth-Egan just outside of the ballroom. While the others plan the attack, Zandu hangs back with Kyra, altering self into halfling form and getting flirty with her.

Earth-Egan scouts ahead warily, sensing that Mithrodar has retreated to the far end of the ballroom. Arlynn tenses herself to rush inside, but Mardak charges in first. The orc warlord swings at the chain spirit, but accomplishes little. Arlynn advances after him, attracting the attention of some spectres that swarm around her. However, the paladin is able to draw a circle of protection against evil around Mithrodar, trapping him in place.

Nox then moves into the room, holding his sunblade aloft to weaken the spectres. The remaining spectres swarm out into the hallway to attack Ashla and Irabeth—and interrupting Halfling-Zandu and Kyra’s cozy chat. However, the rest of the party is able to defeat the angry spirits.

Within the ballroom, Nox cuts down the bound Mithrodar. The chain spirit wails and shrieks as he is defeated, and then his body twists and spirals as if caught in a vortex. A heartbeat later, he is gone. After a few moments, the walls of the castle begin to shimmer and brighten as the shadows that cling to every inch of the cursed structure fade. The sound of countless sighs whisper in the ear, and the oppressive sense of menace overlaying the structure fades.

The Last Ghost of Scarwall

A few moments later, a small luminescence forms before the party. It rapidly increases in brightness until a figure manifests before them, a confused-looking human male in early adulthood. He wears finely cut, if long-out-of-style clothing and is clearly a nobleman of some sort.

As the figure looks around and notices the adventurers, his ghostly flesh strips away, revealing raw muscle and bone below as if he were being flayed by invisible knives. However, after being reduced in such a horrible fashion, his skin reappears a moment later only to start the process all over again.

The ghost introduces himself as Count Andachi of Tamrivena and thanks them for what they have done today. He confesses that it was he who sent Kazavon into Belkzen and when the warlord went rogue, the young count waited long before attempting and then failing to stop him. Kazavon had him skinned alive for his trouble, leaving his soul bound to the foul castle.

Andachi describes Mandraivus’ defeat of Kazavon, his decision to split up the dragon’s relics, and his efforts to contain the castle’s evil which were undone by the orc attack eight hundred years ago. Andachi praises the party for breaking the castle’s curse, but senses their work is far from done.

“I have dwelt in Kazavon’s echo for too long not to feel his strength, his influence, take seed in your queen, so far away,” the ghostly count says. “Strange names that I do not know are in my head. Korvosa. Ileosa. Your own. Kazavon quickens in your home, and you must recover Serithtial if you are to cast him down as surely as you have cast down his presence here. Yet the agents of the Midnight Lord know of the threat Serithtial poses to his child. While they cannot destroy the sacred blade, nor even take it far from this place without invoking the wrath of Iomedae…they can hide it.”

“I can still feel a presence in this place, a power linked to the Midnight Lord," Count Andachi warns. "It remains in the Star Tower, once Kazavon’s inner sanctum. I see that here, in the deepest heart of Scarwall, your goal lies hidden. A fragment of Scarwall’s curse lingers there, lodged and stubborn. When the curse held sway, this way was blocked to you. Now, seek it out, and it shall lead you to your goal. And now, with my time here at an end, your time shall at last begin….”

The end of his speech coincides with the completion of one of his ghostly mutilations, except this time his form does not rejuvenate. Instead it crumples and slowly fades from view.

Arlynn, Nox, and Zandu pointedly question Laori and Sial about the ghost’s claims that Kuthites hid the sword. The two clerics claim to know nothing of this, though they acknowledge the sword is a great danger to their church and were it not for the greater need to recover Kazavon’s relics, it would be best to leave it hidden.

Into the Star Tower

The Crimson Blades rest for the remainder of the day in the western wing of the castle, secure inside Sial’s bone house. The adventurers rouse at midnight and dine on another heroes’ feast provided by Laori. Then they make their way across the courtyard to the donjon and advance into the Star Tower through the secret door on the second floor. Egan confirms that despite its obsidian-like appearance, the tower is not made of stone.

Exploring the interior, they stumble across a bloodstained bedchamber. Ashla deduces that the room is the scene of a centuries-old crime, seemingly untouched by time. A human was murdered here, slowly and painfully, but the body is nowhere to be found.

The adventurers come across two sets of stairs, one leading up and one leading down. They take the upper staircase first, which takes them to the cavernous top floor. The room stands empty, save for a footscrew lying on the floor, which they destroy.

Choose Wisely

After searching the empty upstairs, the Crimson Blades head down below onto a strange new level of the tower. The walls and floor of this chamber have a strange organic texture, appearing almost like black decaying flesh streaked with glistening swaths of blood. Four pillars carved to look like coils of entwined arteries and spinal cords support the ceiling—nails and surgical tools are embedded in these pillars at key and painful-looking positions. At the base of the stairs is a ten-foot-diameter open shaft filled with thick bluish mist. Zandu and Kyra hang back on the stairs, while the rest of the party warily explores the room.

As they approach the well of blue fog, a voice suddenly purrs inside their minds. “Welcome, travelers, to the Star Tower of Scarwall. I am Ildervok, custodian of this place for the past eight centuries. Long have I waited for a mortal to venture into the tower and take up the post of Curate. One of you must fill this role before the rest may continue.”

The adventurers look around, but cannot see the speaker. Zandu reacts by turning invisible himself, while Kyra uses her ring of invisibility.

“I sense two followers of the Midnight Lord among you,” Ildervok says. “Surely one of them will volunteer for the hallowed position of Curate.”

Sial jabs a finger at Laori. “It should be you who volunteers, Disciple Vaus, to atone for your sins. You’ve grown far too close to these heathens and have strayed from our Lord’s calling.”

“I’ve been carrying out ZK’s command to retrieve the relics of Kazavon,” Laori retorts, “while you’ve done nothing but complain and dally with your chain devil. You’re the one who should be Curate, you old sourpuss! It’d be the first useful thing you’ve done in this castle!”

“What exactly is the Curate anyway?” Ashla calls out to Ildervok, while Arlynn quietly casts discern lies.

“The Curate is the living soul of this Star Tower,” the creature intones. "The Curate lives until the End Times, or until violence necessitates a replacement, and watches over the Star Tower. The Curate is the Star Tower. It is an honor to even be considered for the role, and to be selected and reject it is to spit in the Midnight Lord’s eye.”

As the two clerics continue to trade insults, Nox steps forward. “Sial, you’re the senior cleric here. The honor and the duty really should go to you.”

The Shadowcount ignores him, glaring instead at Laori. “Impudent child! You will fall on your knees and beg to be Curate by the time I’m finished!”

Sial whips out his spiked chain while Laori grabs for hers. Nox draws his own sword.

“If it’s coming to blows, Sial,I’m standing with Laori,” the mercenary says.

“Everyone calm down!” Arlynn shouts. She casts her gaze about the room, looking for Ildervok. “If you need a Curate to sustain the Star Tower, we can go find you one. I’m sure Mardak would be happy to volunteer a goblin.”

“No, it must be one of you,” the creature chuckles. “And it looks like your Kuthite friends are about to resolve the question, one way or the other.”

Spells fly and swords flash as Sial and Asyra battle with Laori and Nox.

“If there is no other way to resolve this, then so be it,” Arlynn says, marching forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mercenary and the elf. She swats aside an attack from the Shadowcount. “You are outmatched, Sial. Take your place as Curate and I swear we will carry out our promise to return the Midnight’s Teeth to your church.”

Wounded and short of breath, Sial throws his spiked chain to the ground. Beside him, Asyra retracts her chains.

“Your promises are as hollow as your loyalty, paladin,” Sial sneers. He calls out to the darkness. “Ildervok, take me under your protection! I will serve as Curate.”

Ildervok congeals out of the shadows, taking shape as an enormous bat-like creature shaped of utter darkness with tiny red pinpoints for eyes.

“It is good to see such piety still exists even in the most wayward soul,” the creature smiles. He turns his malevolent gaze towards the elf maiden and extends a clawed hand black as night. "Dark Disciple Laori Vaus, you are welcome to journey with me to Xovaikain and testify against the traitor Sial in the palace of the Midnight Lord himself.

“Oh,” Laori blinks, gaping at the hand. “Wow. I, uh, don’t know what to say…”

She glances back at the Crimson Blades uncertainly.

Nox shakes his head. “Don’t do it, Laori.”

“Would she be able to return to us once her testimony is done?” Arlynn asks the nightwing. She concentrates her discern lies spell on him.

“Perhaps,” Ildervok says. The paladin can feel the lie like a slap in the face.

“Stay with us, Laori,” she urges. “After all, someone still needs to return Kazavon’s teeth to Nidal.”

Laori nods. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Mr. Ildervok, but I can’t go with you. I have to serve ZK here, on this quest, with my friends.”

“Your decision has been noted,” the creature says coolly. It reaches out with it’s claws to collect Sial and Asyra, but hesitates before departing. Its red eyes survey the Crimson Blades. “Know that you have nothing further to fear from the Midnight Lord, heroes of Korvosa. He desires that Kazavon’s spirit be removed from your petty young queen as much as anyone, for such a fate does not befit even a fragment of one of his mightiest warlords. The blade you seek has been taken by the Children of Rovagug who dwell deep below the Star Tower. If you step into the shaft of blue fog, you will be transported to those deep chambers where the weapon has languished. I trust you can see to the rest.”

With that, the creature collects Siall and Asyra in its talons. As it vanishes with the two of them, Asyra can be heard saying “Finally” in Shadowtongue

Left alone in the Star Tower, the party takes stock of the situation. Arlynn collects Sial’s abandoned spiked chain.

“I just— I wanted to thank you guys for backing me up,” Laori says to Nox and Arlynn. "I don’t know if I made a mistake or not turning down Ildervok’s offer.

“You didn’t,” Arlynn interjects.

“But now that it’s done, I’m with you all the way to the finish,” the elf concludes. “You guys are the best friends I’ve had, like, ever. Way more cool than Sial. Blech.”

Gravity Falls

While the dispute between the Kuthites rages, Halfling-Zandu and Kyra sneak across the chamber to the well of blue fog and leapt into it. They immediately began falling through the fog, with Kyra holding onto to Halfling-Zandu for dear life (and perhaps a bit more). The sorcerer’s ring of featherfall activates and they gently float through the mist for just a very short while before emerging at what seems to be the bottom of the tower.

Once the fate of Sial and Laori is determined, the rest of Crimson Blades realize that the gnoll and the halfling are missing. Guessing where they’ve gone to, the rest of the party makes their own leap into the blue fog. They emerge at the bottom of the tower as well, but not all at the same time. Laori takes significantly longer to fall through the mist than the rest of them.

The blue fog covers the ceiling of the bottom chamber, which is otherwise completely bare. Its only feature is a single stone door at one end. Once the Crimson Blades have regrouped, Zandu throws the door open with a gesture.

In the Bag
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 13

Under the Big Top

Returning to Kaer Maga once more, the Crimson Blades apparate into their designated “landing zone” in the Common House, their arrival disrupting some sort of public meeting going on.

Black Marin glares at the adventurers for a moment before pounding onto the table set up on the stage, hammering the Freedmen assembly back into order. “All right! Any new business?”

One man gets up to complain about the refugees crowding into the district from the Korvosan lands to the south, while another questions the continued Shoanti military build up. Arlynn steps forward to assure the crowd that the Shoanti pose no threat and to pledge that she and her comrades are committed to restoring order in Korvosa.

After the meeting, Arlynn uses her newly acquired rod of splendor to erect an impressive tent filled with victuals just outside the Common House to feed the poor. She and Egan stand outside dispensing healing to those in need. A curious Laori ends up joining in at their urging, though the elf maiden keeps handing Kuthite pamphlets to everyone who arrives.

Nox’s Shopping Trip

Back in the Common House, Nox recruits Kyra and Irabeth to help him follow up on a tip about a relic of his family. Having heard that the family’s sun blade Vigil was somewhere in Kaer Maga, Slim investigates at the Downmarket. He is directed to an antiques stall operated by a Taldane man in Qadiran robes named Telmaro, who welcomes their interest but says he has not seen the sun blade. Telmaro points Nox to the half-elf antiquarian Lelur, who keeps a shop on the Tarheel Promenade district of the city.

The trio treks to the Tarheel, where they find the shop bedecked with heraldry. Inside, the elderly proprietor excitedly examines Nox’s ram shield, praising its fine craftsmanship. Nox says it was part of a matching set of Arma Solari given to his ancestor by the Church of Aroden, which impresses Irabeth.

Nox asks if Lelur has a matching sword. The half-elf retrieves the weapon and displays it, launching into another spiel about its quality and storied history. Nox glances at Irabeth to see if Lelur is telling the truth and the half-orc gives him a nod. The mercenary then steers the old man back onto the topic of purchasing the sword, leaving Kyra to do the haggling.

Zandu and the Skulls

Zandu enters the shop just as they are preparing to go check out a Vudran shawarma place. The gnoll sorcerer presents Lelur with the three dozen talking skulls obtained from the devil’s tower in Scarwall. The half-elf identifies them as representing half the peerage of Lastwall and Tamrivena from 800 years ago. The biggest find of the group is Count Andachi of Tamrivena.

Lelur recalls that the young count, harried by the orcs of Belkzen, sent an army under the command of a mercenary named Kazavon to quell the green horde only to have Kazavon grow into an even greater threat. Count Andachi ultimately raised a second army to march against Kazavon, but was defeated and slain.

Zandu nods along with the tale, then sells the enchanted remains to the half-elf. He suggests that Lelur arrange the skulls in a special corner of his shop under a silence spell so that their talking won’t be disruptive. The gnoll then tags along with Nox and the others on their way to the Vudran restaurant.

Against the Slave Lords

Once everyone has reunited at the Common House, Arlynn asks around about the disturbances to the south and learns that Bekyar slaver in a black ship are raiding up the Falcon and Jeggare Rivers unchecked by Korvosa. Arlynn consults with the rest of the Blades about the possibility of asking the Shoanti to combat the slavers. Black Marin warns that inviting the barbarians south could have unpredictable consequences.

Arlynn asks him what the Freedmen and Kaer Maga can do to help the people being preyed upon by the Bekyars. Black Marin pledges that the Freedmen will help people seek refuge in Kaer Maga, but notes they lack the resources to confront the slavers directly. Arlynn ultimately concludes that they will have to deal with the slavers once they have finished their task at Scarwall.

That night, Ashla has a vision from the Lady of Graves telling her to “beware the jeweled skull.”

Entering the Donjon

Teleporting the next morning, the party returns to Castle Scarwall and approaches the donjon, a squat, square fortress at the back of the castle that is loomed over by the adjacent Star Tower and its leering Zon-Kuthon symbol. There is no entrance to the ground floor of the donjon; instead a staircase leads up to two great double doors on the second floor. As they reach the entrance, when Sial warns them not to touch the door.

“Can’t you sense it?” the Shadowcount asks. “There are overlapping forbiddance effects on this building.”

Sial explains that the spells bar any but a follower of Zon-Kuthon from entering, but also prevent Kuthites from leaving. This is why Sial and Laori struck up their alliance with the party. When the Kuthites enter the donjon, their passage will lower the forbiddance effect for a brief window, during which the Crimson Blades can follow. When exiting, the reverse is true.

After Kyra has checked the donjon’s heavy double doors for traps, Sial throws them open and steps inside, with the rest of the adventurers hustling after him. They find themselves in an eerie foyer, with a basin of water at one end—a dagger lying at the bottom of it. Laori explains that the design of the foyer suggests that the donjon must be some kind of temple to ZK. Kuthite priests would cut themselves and wash the wound in the water as a ritual of purification upon entering. But Laori and Sial both sense that the site has been profaned and is no longer sacred to the Midnight Lord.

The donjon interior is utterly dark, causing Nox to activate his sunblade and Zandu to cast light on Arlynn. The Crimson Blades begin prowling the abandoned halls of the donjon, wary of any danger. As they explore the corridors, they run up against the slick black walls of the Star Tower jutting into the donjon at an angle. They come to the conclusion that the donjon was built around the Star Tower.

Symbol of Pain

Arlynn and Kyra get slightly ahead of the party, investigating a door to a side room. After the halfling picks the lock, the paladin throws the door open. Beyond they find a small chapel to Zon-Kuthon, with a grisly statue of the Midnight Lord staring back at them from the far end of the chamber. A strange glyph is inscribed on the statue’s forehead and it flares with a bright red light as their gaze falls upon it. A wave of overwhelming agony ripples out from the statue, washing over not only Arlynn and Kyra, but the rest of the Crimson Blades nearby.

Despite the pain, Arlynn spies something lurking behind the statue. While Kyra struggles to try to disable the glyph, Arlynn advances into the room and challenges the shadowy figure to show itself, while the rest of the adventurers hasten to assist her. The creature lurking behind the statue is an undead being dressed in the tattered finery of a priest of Zon-Juthon, its teeth filed to points. The mummified cleric casts another harmful spell but is swiftly brought down by the collective fury of the Crimson Blades.

The adventurers retreat beyond the reach of the symbol of pain until its effect burns out and then return to search the chamber. The back wall of the chapel is in fact part of the Star Tower, where Ashla notices a secret door. After Kyra unlocks it, they peer inside, seeing what appears to be a meeting room with doors leading off to left and right.

The party decides to leave the Star Tower for now and continue scouring the donjon, where they expect to encounter another lord of Scarwall.

Five Unlucky Ghosts

On the opposite side of the donjon’s second floor, the Crimson Blades step into what appears to be a small lounge and library. While Nox lingers to investigate, the rest of the adventurers continue down the hall, finding a series of five priestly cells holding the tattered remains of their occupants.

Back in the lounge, five sinister shades ooze out of the dark corners of the room towards Nox, surrounding him only to be repulsed by the brilliant natural light of his sunblade. Nox calls a warning to the others and although some of the shades manage to flee to the relative darkness of the hallway, the adventures make short work of them, with Nox dispatching three of the shadows personally.

Heartened by their easy victory and the discovery of hidden treasure in the library coyly stashed within a book titled On Vaults and Treasure Chests, the Crimson Blades descend to the ground floor of the donjon.

Into the Shrine of Midnight

The bottom of the temple-keep proves to be dominated by a massive shrine to Zon-Kuthon. After Earth-Egan scouts out the chamber, the party warily enters, on the lookout for danger.

This vast chamber is floored in gray slate and supported by thick pillars of obsidian. Torches mounted on the pillars burn, yet their flames are strangely dim, barely lighting the cathedral-like space. The pillars themselves are decorated with skulls and bones—tiny white pinpoints of light seem to dance in the eye sockets of each skull. To the northwest, a tall statue of a skull-headed man dressed in dark robes stands behind a black marble altar, on which lie heaped mounds of ashes, bits of bone, and a single skull, its teeth and eye sockets set with glittering gemstones. Jagged, barbed chains dangle from the statue’s eye sockets. Thick black curtains hang from the walls of the chamber.

The vast chamber is supported by thick pillars of obsidian. Torches mounted on the pillars burn, yet their flames are strangely dim, barely lighting the cathedral-like space. The pillars themselves are decorated with skulls and bones—tiny white pinpoints of light seem to dance in the eye sockets of each skull. At the far end of the chamber, a tall statue of a skull-headed man dressed in dark robes stands behind a black marble altar, on which lie heaped mounds of ashes, bits of bone, and a single skull, its teeth and eye sockets set with glittering gemstones. Jagged, barbed chains dangle from the statue’s eye sockets.

Ashla spies the skull on the altar and recalls her vision from the other night. The rest of the party, however, remains more suspicious of the two statues, recalling their experience in the chapel upstairs. But after thoroughly searching the shrine and finding no other threats, the adventurers circle back to the skull.

Drawing closer, Arlynn suddenly recognizes the jeweld skull as some sort of powerful undead creature. She tip-toes back to the others to quietly inform them of her discovery.

The Bag Man Cometh

The Crimson Blades are leery of confronting the creature within the shrine, but they suspect that it could be another lord of Scarwall which they need to defeat to break the curse. Zandu suggests that he could try to use mage hand to snatch hold of the skull and drop it into a bag of holding. He speculates that might be enough to break the creature’s connection to Mithrodar.

While most of the adventurers look at Zandu askance, Arlynn notes that if the plan works they could take the creature out onto the hallowed ground of Mandraivus’ tomb and kill it there. They decide to give the plan a try.

The rest of the party retreats to a safe distance while Arlynn creeps back over to the altar and holds out the bag of holding. Sweat trickling down his fuzzy head, Zandu carefully summons forth a mage hand and then swipes at the skull.

Its two enormous ruby eyes flare with red light as the sorcerer’s telekinetic fingers close around it. The skull tugs against his mental grip as an unnatural breeze stirs up the debris on the altar. But with surprising deftness, Zandu stuffs the enraged undead into the bag of holding in Arlynn’s hands.

The paladin claps the bag shut and the party races from the donjon, scarcely able to believe their good fortune.

Swords Against Death

Using magic to speed their escape from the castle, the Crimson Blades carry the bag with the increasingly irate undead out to the tomb of Mandraivus and Ionas. Arlynn and Egan suggest opening the bag into a contraption of shaped tone into which holy water could be poured, by the idea is dropped. Instead, the adventurers close ranks into a tight circle, into which Arlynn releases the bag.

A frightful, piercing wail issues forth from the bag, slamming into the party like a cyclone. While most of them are able to brace against the keening howl, Zandu can feel the spirit blessing the Sklar-Quah ancestors imbued him with burning away as it wards off the deadly cry. But others are not so lucky.

Kyra claps her hands over her ears and turns deathly pale, her face twisted in agony. A wave of pain also washes over Arlynn through the shield other link between them. The halfling collapses to the ground and the amulet around her neck flares with white light before crumpling into dust. She still breathes, but faintly.

Remmy and Laori also grasp at their ears in futility, before falling over stone dead.

Zandu grabs Kyra and rushes her away from the bag of holding.

The jeweled skull rises out of the bag, aglow with deathly crimson light. As it starts to spit out another spell, Nox strikes it with his sunblade, cleaving the skull in two.

Zandu pours a healing potion down Kyra’s throat and nurses the halfling back to wakefulness. She is so traumatized, she doesn’t even take part in the looting.

Arlynn and Egan, meanwhile, check on Remmy and Laori. The paladin asks Sial if he can raise their fallen companions and the Shadowcount grudgingly agrees, though only if he is paid for the privilege. Sorting through the jeweled remains of the skull, Egan also finds a massive diamond that would be suitable as a casting component for a raise dead spell.

They Live!

After storing the bodies of their friends in the bag of holding to protect against rot, the Crimson Blades eat a cold meal and spend a grim night barricaded in Mandraivus’ tomb.

Zandu makes sure to bed down by Kyra, but the halfling isn’t interested in sleeping in her custom bed and instead huddles up against him.

The following morning, the adventurers teleport back to Kaer Maga, where they secure the remaining spell components. Then, in a private room in the Common House, Sial grudgingly calls upon the dark power of Zon-Kuthon to restore life to the two dead women.

Remmy and Laori draw breath again, still frail after their ordeal. The party decides to spend some time in the city while they recover.

Devil's Tower
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 12

Top of the Morning

Secure in the bone house that rises through the ballroom’s shattered skylight, the Crimson Blades enjoy their first undisturbed night in Scarwall for quite some time. On watch duty, Aquilos Nox, Remmy, and Kyra all notice that the castle seems more subdued and less threatening, with virtually no spectral manifestations all night long.

After all the precautions they had taken, it’s a surprise and a relief when Laori stretches contentedly as she rises from her trance, apparently none the worse for wear. She carefully shakes out and folds up Zandu’s orange cloak of resistance before retrieving her ceremonial dagger to begin her morning ablutions.

Downstairs, Kyra asks after Zandu’s health as he gets up.

“You took a long spill in the drink there,” she says, giving his scaly knee an uncertain pat. “You sure you’re okay? Not coming down with anything?”

“I’m fine,” the gnoll sorcerer insists. “Out on the lake, I was more worried about gargoyles and the big worm than the water. That stuff just shakes off.”

“You gotta admit, drowning’s a pretty nasty way to go,” Kyra says with a shiver. “That’s how my dad died. He might also have been eaten by a sea monster. So that lake’s kinda a twofer on my nightmare scale.”

“Well, don’t worry,” Zandu says, laying a clawed hand on her shoulder, “I’m steering clear of that lake from now on.”

“Thanks,” the halfling grins, wrapping her small fingers around his. “I don’t want you going anywhere—who knows what you’d come back as next time.”

“Hate to interrupt this touching moment,” Ashla intrudes, “but there’s a haunted castle that needs cleansing and we’re wasting daylight.”

“She’s right,” Nox agrees. “I say we poke our noses into that last lonely tower on the third floor.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Arlynn nods.

“I thought that was the plan all along,” Zandu says.

As the adventurers assemble by the bone house door, Remmy hangs back, nervously rubbing the bloodstained kapenia sash still tied around her left arm.

“Guys, I think I’m going to stay behind,” she says. “Two fights in a row, magic’s muddled my mind. I mean, an imp managed to put a spell on me. I used to swat those things aside when I was on the Guard, but now . . . I think what was done to me, my indoctrination, it’s left the door to my head wide open. And I don’t want to be a liability.”

“Well, if that’s your choice,” Nox shrugs. “But take it from me, sooner or later you’re going to have to face your fears. Hiding from them is no solution.”

“Will she be safe here alone?” Arlynn asks Sial.

The Shadowcount shrugs. “The door to the bone house answers only to me. Though of course, spectral creatures have proven able to breach the sanctum.”

“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” Remmy insists.

“Fine, she’s staying,” Ashla taps her foot impatiently. “Can we go kill some devils now?”

“Wait!” Laori hollers. “We haven’t had breakfast yet!”

Casing the Joint

The lonely tower rises 60 feet above the roof of the main keep of Scarwall, capped by a small cupola, where the last surviving gargoyle brute had taken refuge during the previous day’s battle. The only other entrance appears to be a single door accessible via a narrow stone causeway.

The Crimson Blades move into position on the walkway, save for Zandu, Kyra, and Sial who hang back inside the main keep. Earth-Egan earthglides inside the tower to scope it out.

The interior of the tower is completely hollow, with no stairs or ladder leading up to the opening high overhead. A shallow pool of stagnant water from past rains has formed in the center of the floor. The few furnishings include a wide bed swathed in rotten bedclothes, hanging several feet off the floor, supported at its corners by chains hanging from a series of iron support beams above. To the side a large gilt throne stands upon a short dais before a series of manacles inset into the floor. A series of alcoves climbs the wall in a spiral. Within each stands a statuette, art object, or polished skull.

Perched on top of the bed’s iron hangers, its gaze fixed on the door, is a male chain devil.

Earth-Egan quietly slips back outside and tries to alert the party.

“Does anybody speak rock?” Nox asks.

“I’ll learn it later,” Zandu says dismissively.

After failed attempts at pantomime, Earth-Egan finally gives in and uses ghost sound to warn them about the chain devil.

As the party considers this information, the druid and the ranger also spy a gargoyle lurking among the heights. Earth-Egan raises a huge stony fist to point it out. The gargoyle squawks in surprise and flees, with Nox sending several arrows after it.

A Stubborn Door

Determined not to be caught out in the open in case the gargoyle returns with friends, Arlynn prepares to kick down the door—but Nox gets there first.

“I’m the one who knocks!” he shouts, slamming into the door. The door fails to budge. Nox and Arlynn then try out their battering ram, but it, too, fails.

“Here, let me try,” Zandu offers, casting open/close on the door, but it rattles against it’s lock. The sorcerer then tries to detect magic to see if there is a spell upon it. he picks up nothing from the door, but senses several auras of illusion beyond.

“We might have invisible enemies waiting for us,” he warns, “if we can ever get past this thing.”

“Why don’t you consult a professional?” Kyra suggests in a strained voice. She elbows her way past Nox’ armored thighs, muttering “’I’m the one who knocks.’ In my line of work, you never knock when entering uninvited.”

“If you were three feet taller and ten stone heavier, you might change your mind,” Nox says, cocking an eyebrow.

“Thank the gods for small favors, then,” she says.

After a moment of inspection and jiggling the lock with her thieves’ tools, Kyra breaks the bad news. “This door was made to hold off invaders. Reinforced steel bands all around it. You could pound against that all day and get nowhere. And this lock is master-class. I can get it open—probably—but it’ll take me a while.”

“We can always cut through it,” Arlynn says, taking an experimental swing with her greatsword.

“Or,” Ashla says, “Egan can just move the wall away from the door.”

The druid stone shapes the bricks away from the door, but it still stands there determinedly. Nox gives it a shove and it teeters over with a creak to clang against the floor.

Make it Rain

The hollow tower beyond appears completely empty. Sensing something’s up, Earth-Egan uses create water to produce an artificial shower inside the chamber. The cascade of water water reveals five invisible shapes floating in the room—two small ones in each corner, 20 feet in the air, two larger ones near the center 40 feet in the air, and one large one in the very center, 50 feet in the air. The rain also reveals that there is something perched over the door.

Shield ready, Nox ventures into the room—provoking an attack from the chain devil hanging above the entrance. Arlynn responds by stepping inside and spiderwalking up the wall to confront the chain devil.

The invisible figure floating at the very top of the chamber casts chain lightning, the crackling bolt arcing across to strike all of the assembled adventurers save Zandu and Sial.


Before the smoke can clear, one of the little invisible beings in the corner reveals itself as a green-skinned imp. The tiny fiend suggests to Nox “Why don’t you just sit this one out? It’s way over your head.”

“No, you sit this one out!” the mercenary shouts back.

The imp shrugs. “I gave you a chance.”

“Oh, you’re gonna regret that,” Nox says.

Zandu creeps out onto the causeway to cast haste on the party before retreating back inside the keep. Not one to be left out of a fight, Irabeth charges into the room and activates her celestial full plate in order to fly.

The two large invisible creatures close in on Arlynn as she stands perched on the wall. One of them briefly drops its invisibility to slash at her with its claws, revealing a large skeletal body with bony wings and a scorpion’s tail. The paladin’s armor shakes off the blows, but nearby she can hear the other fiend casting a spell.

With a sharp crackling sound, a wall of ice rises up to seal off the door to the tower. The frigid barrier continues to wend its way around the causeway, sealing in Ashla and Laori while creating a hefty barricade in front of the tower.

Kyra responds by leaping up onto the ice and scrambling over to the tower. She climbs up to an arrow slit and leans inside, dagger at the the ready.

With several swift strokes, Ashla cuts through the ice wall snaring her. Nearby, Laori bashes at ne end of her prison with her spiked chain, while Asyra steps forward to tear down the rear of the ice wall with her own chains.

Inside the tower, the other half of the party continues the fight. Earth-Egan reaches out with one stony finger to tap Nox with air walk. The mercenary uses his new-found powers to charge up and across the chamber at the green imp. He smashes it into the wall with his shield until it turns to mush.

On the other side of the tower, the chain devil tries to trip Arlynn ut the Bekyar woman keeps her footing. The paladin retaliates by cutting down the chain devil and the creature winks out of existence, revealing it to be a summoned creature. Arlynn activates the see invisibility feature of her mask of the mantis, just in time to parry attacks from the two floating bone devils.

In another corner of the room, a second imp—a brown one this time—appears to once again try to charm Nox.

“Why don’t you head back to camp, get some rest,” the fiend suggests.

Nox levels his sword at the imp. “You’re next.”

Gravity is a Harsh Mistress

From high up above, the adventurers can hear the chief devil casting another spell. Arlynn feels the press of invisible walls closing in on her, but she throws them off like a furious mime.

At ground level, Ashla steps through the hole she slashed in the ice, suffering a cold shock as she does so. The half-elf then begins cutting through the layer of ice closing off the door.

Earth-Egan launches his massive fists out of the stone wall, smooshing the second imp much to Nox’s dismay. But the druid’s wild swings jostle the wall beneath Arlynn and leaving paladin struggling to keep her feet. Sensing an opening, the bone devils try to finish the job and successfully knock her to the ground with a clatter.

Swords Against Deviltry

Outside, Zandu casts spiderwalk on himself and easily strides up onto the ice, stopping near Kyra. The halfling looks from him to the small arrow slit above.

“You’re going to tease me again, aren’t you,” she says resignedly.

Laori finishes battering her way through the ice and moves up to stand beside Ashla at the tower threshold.

Inside, another bone devil suddenly warps into existence near Nox. After this backup arrives, the chief devil above suddenly utters words of devastating foulness, syllables so unrighteous that they tear open deep psychic wounds in the party.

“Someone cast air walk on me!” Ashla calls out.

“Sorry,” Laori says, stepping into the room and up into the air, “I already cast it on myself.”

The elf maiden joins the fight against the bone devils, while Ashla moves to help Arlynn to her feet.

In the air above, the bone devils flash in and out of view as they attack Irabeth and Nox. The mercenary is briefly grappled.

Sial and Asyra stride through the passage in the ice wall, halting at the tower threshold. The Shadowcount then calls upon the dark powers of Zon-Kuthon to hold the summoned bone devil. Freed from the creature’s grasp, Nox brings it down.

Up above, the chief devil unleashes a new, terrible spell that leaves Zandu stunned and paralyzes their companions. This spell is quickly followed up by another that leeches the water from the room, leaving many of the adventurers badly wounded. Arlynn is able to channel the divine mercy of Iomedae to keep everyone alive, but their situation is clear.

“We have to kill that devil!” the paladin says.

Devil’s Downfall

Earth-Egan tries to dispel the creature’s invisibility, but it resists his magic.

Recovering from the effects of the spell, Zandu alters self in to the form of an incredibly handsome halfling and spiderclimbs through the arrow slit, past the helpless Kyra. The sorcerer uses blindsense to point him towards the chief devil’s general location. He then lets fly with his dragon’s breath attack, spewing lightning out of his pint-sized mouth.

The chief devil responds by closing in and slashing at him with terrible claws, all the while remaining invisible.

Unable to reach their main antagonist, Ashla climbs the inside of the tower wall, using the alcoves as hand holds. She tries to jump onto the floating but immobilized Irabeth, hoping to use the half-orc as a perch from which to attack the bone devil grappling Nox.

Unfortunately, another invisible bone devil is in the way. Ashla instead finds herself grappling with an invisible foe, 30 feet off the ground.

Earth-Egan dispels the paralysis on Irabeth. The half-orc, Nox, and Ashla make short work of the remaining bone devils—including Ashla’s unwilling mount. The half-elf leaps off her perch as it falls and manages to grab hold of Irabeth’s boot. The junior paladin hoists her up.

Arlynn, meanwhile, runs up the side of the tower wall towards the corner where the chief devil lurks. The fiend slashes at her, but Arlynn deflects the attack so forcefully that it throws the devil into a tailspin, sending it crashing to the floor.

“The lord of Scarwall is on the ground!” Arlynn shouts. “Keep her there!”

Emerging from the stone wall, Earth-Egan hammers the chief devil with two fists. Irabeth lands Ashla nearby, though neither can see the creature.

Devil’s Demise

Taking advantage of this confusion, the chief devil leaps back into the air and flees to the opposite corner of the chamber. Arlynn hastily calls out it’s new location. Following her directions, Nox and Irabeth rise up to hem it in, though neither is able to strike it.

In a move both courageous and foolhardy, Arlynn charges across the ceiling in her slippers of spiderwalking and then hurls herself onto the demon below, sword-first. The two of them crash to the ground, getting tangled up in the chains and metal frame of the hanging bed.

Arlynn pins the devil to the floor with her greatsword, but her triumph is cut short as the hanging bed’s surprisingly heavy mattress slams into her with a loud clank, spilling coins out of its ruptured seams.

Arlynn charges across the ceiling and crashes down onto the fiend with her sword. The two of them fall to the ground, getting tangled up in the hanging bed and its surprisingly heavy mattress.

Zandu, still shaped life a halfling, scoops Kyra into his arms and starts spiderwalking her to the floor, letting out a tremendous roar as Arlynn attacks, which shakes Kyra free from her paralysis.

“Now that’s a one-liner,” she smirks, cuddling up against him as he carries her down.

The Dead Dragon’s Treasures

Having vanquished their foes, the party sets about looting the chamber, finding a number of valuable artifacts, a mattress full of coins, and a bunch of talking skulls, one of which they recognize as coming from the same archaic province as Ser Eccholt. Ashla also finds a number of extraordinarily large dragon scales lying around. Kyra pops the gemstones off the throne and Arlynn, Zandu, and Nox have a lengthy debate as to how to remove the gold gilt.

“So, how many more of these lords of Scarwal are left?” Nox asks, nudging the now-visible devil corpse with his boot.

“I’m not sure,” Arlynn admits. “We could always go and check, I suppose. But maybe there’s another way.”

She turns to the elf priestess. “Laori, the last time you saw Mithrodar in your dreams, how many chains did he have?”

“Mithrodar came to me again last night, shook his two creepy chains, told me he’d make me his slave, yadda yadda yadda,” Laori says. “I told him to fuck off—my friends have my back. And ZK, of course.”

“Yeah!” Nox says. “Way to go, Laori!”

“So that means we only have one lord left,” Zandu muses, still halfling-shaped, as Kyra ruffles his hair curiously. “Three guesses as to where it is.”

“The donjon,” Arlynn grimaces.

“Or the Star Tower,” Nox offers.

“I think that before we go anywhere else, we need to head back to Kaer Maga and unload some of this loot,” Egan says, resuming his gnome form. He hefts a crumpled ball of gold leaf bigger than his head.

Hurricane Egan
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 11

Into the Castle Heights

Though weary from their fight with the skeleton warrior and the nightlong vigil that preceded it, the Crimson Blades advance across the bridge that Earth-Egan had created, emerging onto the main balcony of Scarwall’s third story. The main structure of the third story, and the enormous tower looming behind it, await the adventurers, while around them stone gargoyles perch, gaping blankly ahead.

Leaving Sial and Asyra outside to guard the bridge, the rest of the party warily enters the main structure, which is divided by a long hallway running east and west. Doors sit at both ends and run along each wall. Arlynn, Zandu, Irabeth, and Laori go left, while Earth-Egan, Nox, Ashla, Kyra, and Remmy go right.

The left group discovers an abandoned torture chamber. Amid the ruined racks and rusty chains, Arlynn unearths a strange metal box. She passes it over Zandu, who fails to detect any magic on it.

“Kyra, honey,” the gnoll calls down the hall, “we’ve got something you need to look at!”

“Oh my way!” the halfling hollers back. While she scampers over to the torture chamber, the rest of her group discovers a private balcony overlooking a walkway leading to the tower.

In the torture chamber, Kyra reaches for the box but the paladin intervenes.

“Let’s examine it outside,” Arlynn suggests. “Irabeth, you and Laori keep looking around.”

The half-orc and the elf priestess continue investigating, while the three of them head out onto the main balcony.

The Trap is Sprung

Over on the private balcony, Ashla finds a set of tiny bone pipes, barely bigger than a whistle. Earth-Egan also detects strange little footprints in the dust. Ashla recognizes them as the tracks of at least three imps, maybe more. The faint scent of brimstone in the air suggests that they were here moments ago.

Out on the main balcony, Kyra delicately turns the metal case over in her hands.

“Hmm, no traps,” she frowns, “but it definitely has a hidden catch. Let me see about getting that open . . .”

As the halfling reaches for her thieves’ tools, there is a grinding sound from the hallway. Slabs of slate gray stone seal off the center of the hall.

“We’re being cut off!” Arlynn warns, rushing over to the blank wall where the door inside once stood. She runs a hand over the stone surface and then ducks back, her sword out. “It’s all an illusion!”

“Um, looks like we’ve got bigger problems,” Kyra says, dropping the box and drawing her rapier.

A trio of four-armed gargoyle brutes have risen from their perches to swoop down towards the five adventurers on the main balcony. One dives down towards the paladin, grabbing at her with four hands, but Arlynn easily ducks beneath its grasping claws. Zandu and Sial are not as fortunate, as each is seized by one of the brutes.

Just as Arlynn turns to face the new threat, a clawed hand lashes out at her through the stone wall illusion. As it scrapes against her armor, the Bekyar woman takes in the deep green color of the fingers and the thick coat of needle-like spines and realizes that she is being attacked by a Hamatula, better known as a barbed devil.

“We’re being attacked by a devil!” she calls out. “I think it’s a lord of Scarwall!”

“We’ve got devil problems, too!” Irabeth hollers back as another, bigger barbed devil steps out of the illusion. The fiend seizes hold of the half-orc with its spiny hands, raking her with its claws.

Out on the private balcony, another trio of gargoyle brutes swoops down from the tall tower to attack. The first gargoyle dives at Ashla, but she simply steps to the side and the monster careens into the wall and falls twenty feet onto the roof below. Earth-Egan takes a swipe at the creature, to no effect. The second gargoyle, however, successfully grabs hold of Ashla, while the third catches Nox in its clutches.

Imp’s Advice

In the hallway where Remmy had been keeping watch, a scrawny green imp winks into view. The Gray Maiden raises her sword, but the imp suggests a different course of action.

“You can sit this one out,” the little devil soothes, “your friends have this under control. Another sword would just get in the way. They don’t need you.”

“They don’t need me,” a glassy-eyed Remmy repeats, slouching against the door frame.

Outside, another imp appears hovering near the main balcony. This one, a small brown creature, suggests to Asyra that “Your master and his companions can take care of themselves. Just sit back and give them a chance to enjoy Zon-Kuthon’s gift of agony.”

The chain devil stops twirling her chains and relaxes her stance.

A third imp, this one a bright sickly yellow, appears on the other side of the main balcony. The fiend calls out a suggestion to Kyra.

“The big people can take care of themselves,” he says. “No reason to risk your neck, just stay where you are and you’ll be safe.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that it mind,” the halfling says, quietly pulling out a dagger.

Grabby Gargoyles

Arlynn steps backward, her greatsword pointed at the illusory wall.

“Come and face me, fiend,” the paladin challenges. She draws upon her aura of justice to grant the strength of Iomedae’s righteous fury to Kyra, Zandu, Sial and Asyra.

Completely ignoring the friendly imp’s advice, Kyra tumbles into a corner and tosses a dagger at the gargoyle grasping Zandu. Unfortunately the gnoll sorcerer is in the way.

“Oh, shit!” Kyra groans. “Sorry! I’m not mind-controlled or anything! . . . Though maybe that makes things worse.”

“It’s okay, Kyra,” Zandu calls back. “Just a flesh wound!”

While Asyra examines her nails, the gargoyle brute grasping Sial lifts him high in the air. The Shadowcount berates his bewitched bodyguard all the way up, until the gargoyle drops him.

“Don’t just stand there, you small minded fool—help me!”

He crashes down onto the roof, smashing a man-sized dent into the wooden shingles.

The same gargoyle as before makes another run at Arlynn, but once again fails to catch hold of the determined paladin. The third gargoyle, meanwhile, carries Zandu high into the air and just a little to the west, letting go of the sorcerer over the caldera lake. His smug satisfaction turns to frustration as the sorcerer gently feather falls a languid thirty feet.

Asyra suddenly shakes her head and gives a startled look around before rushing out onto Egan’s roof-bridge to help Sial, extending her chains out to grasp him.

As he slowly drifts down towards the water, Zandu casually leans back and directs a lightning bolt at his attacker.

Three Fights for the Price of One

Back on the main balcony, the hamatula takes Arlynn’s bait and steps out of the illusion to confront her—a scrawny, hunched-over figure bristling with green spines. The barbed devil slashes at Arlynn with its claws, but does little more than scuff her armor.

As the hunched figure strides past, Kyra lunges out with her rapier to try to sneak attack it, but her blade is unable to pierce its bristles, which loosen and spray back at her with the strike.

“Ow! Damn it!” the halfling cries, pulling back a sword hand full of spines.

Inside, the big hamatula strengthens its grip on Irabeth and squeezes her onto its barbs. The half-orc lets out a roar in agony.

Over on the private balcony, one gargoyle lifts off with Nox, while Ashla manages to wriggle free of her captor. The gargoyle that tumbled to the roof rises up from its fall and gets two fists full of Earth-Egan, causing it to flee into the sky. The one carrying Nox drops him onto the balcony railing. The mercenary shouts in pain, but he’s able to cling hold to the railing and not fall further.

Earth-Egan casts flame strike on two of the gargoyles and then extends a stony hand out through the balcony floor to give Nox something to stand on. He gestures back inside with another stony fist.

The Devil You Didn’t Know

Following the druid’s advice, Ashla retreats inside. She comes to stand by Remmy. She notices the Gray Maiden’s glassy-eyed stare and tries to get her attention. Remmy stares blankly off into space for a moment before blinking—or winking?—and shaking her head clear.

“What? Why am I . . . ? What’s going on?” Remmy says blearily, before fixing her gaze on the now-empty hall. “That godsdamned imp put a spell on me, didn’t he? I hate those little buggers! Do you know where he went?”

Ashla raises her hands in a shrug—swords and all.

“Watch where you point those things!” Remmy chastises her. “You’ll put someone’s eye out—and I’m out of spares!”

Sounds of clanging swords and Irabeth’s shouts of pain echo up the hallway.

“Sounds like they could use our help over there,” Remmy says, “but they’ve blocked off the corridor.”

“It’s just an illusion,” Ashla assures her. “You can step right through it.”

“All right then,” the Gray Maiden says, raising her shield. “For Korvosa!”

She marches through the illusory wall—and right into the claws of the third hamatula waiting on the other side. It snatches her in its claws and she lets out a shriek of sheer terror. Down the hall in the side room, Irabeth struggles vainly to free herself from the big devil’s clutches, while Laori lashes at it with her spiked chain.

“Why did it have to be devils?” the elf grumbles. “I’m all kitted out to fight undead!”

Over on the private balcony, Nox hoists himself up over the railing and comes to stand beside Earth-Egan, ready for any gargoyle to come swooping down.

Duel with the Devil

Out on the main balcony, Arlynn steps sideways to flank the hunched devil with Kyra.

“You’re not the only one who can count on help from little friends,” the paladin says, striking with her sword. “Prepare to meet your end, lord of Scarwall!”

Kyra also attacks but once again fails to strike true, suffering from the hamatula’s vicious barbs.

“Damn it!” the halfling grits. “Thanks Arlynn, but if it’s all the same I’m going back to chucking daggers.”

Unfriendly Arms

The same unlucky gargoyle tries for a third time to carry off Arlynn, but overshoots and manages to pick up the hunched devil instead, dropping it immediately. The gargoyle flies off in shame.

The gargoyle harassing Sial lands near the Shadowcount and claws him with four arms. Asyra responds by lashing him with all four of her chains.

The gargoyle that dropped Zandu roars at the sorcerer in Terran. “IF YOU WON’T FALL RIGHT ON YOUR OWN, I’LL DO IT MYSELF.”

The four-armed brute drops like a stone and slams into the gnoll, driving him into the caldera lake. Zandu flails about in the cold water, struggling to surface.

In the hallway, a terrified and screaming Remmy struggles vainly to free herself from the third barbed devil as it squeezes her onto its spines. Across the hall, Irabeth also strains against the clutches of the big hamatula impaling her on its barbs and calls upon Iomedae’s blessing to heal her wounds. Laori imbues her with the strength of a bull. Outside on the main balcony, the hunched hamatula reaches out with two stringy arms to lock Arlynn into a death grip.

Gale Force Gnome

Over on the rear balcony, the gargoyles dive down to attack Earth-Egan’s exposed stony hand.

The gnome druid responds by casting Control Wind to summon a hurricane-force wind that swirls around the Scarwall heights, centering the eye of the storm on the heart of the building. Caught off guard, the gargoyles struggle against the wind. The imps, meanwhile, are tossed about, their wails of surprise dopplering around the castle.

Unfortunately, Asyra and Sial are also caught out in the storm. The winds blow them across the roof, with Sial very nearly knocked off the building.

Down on the water, the waves get choppy, but the gargoyle circling above manages to stay aloft relative unaffected unaffected. Beneath the troubled water, Zandu struggles against the churning tide. Unable to fight his way to the surface, he retrieves the bottle of air from his handy haversack to avoid drowning. As he does so, the gnoll notices something big and dark and angry surging up towards him from the depths below.

Fiendish Fight

In the hallway, Ashla races towards Remmy’s screams. She steps through the stone wall illusion to emerge right beside the Gray Maiden as she struggles against the clutches of the barbed devil. The half-elf lays into the creature with steel, but her swords have trouble biting through his spines and each strike comes back with a hand full of sharp spines.

At the other end of the castle heights, Nox retreats back inside the balcony doorway. He drops his sword and shield to draw his bow.

Still gripped with supernatural terror, Remmy struggles against the third hamatula’s spiny grip, without success. Despite Laori’s support, Irabeth remains caught in the same position. The elf priestess frowns and takes another swing at the barbed devil.

“Why. Won’t. You. Hug. Me!” she shouts.

Epic Property Damage

Her sword pinned by the creature, Arlynn punches the hunched devil in the face—her fist backed up by Iomedae’s divine might. Behind her, Kyra tumbles up onto the roof of the hall overlooking the main balcony and chucks a dagger in the hamatula’s hunched back. Just beyond the main balcony, the wind howls past, peeling off shingles, boards, and other debris.

With a terrible screech, the barbed railing along the balcony is ripped free by the hurricane. The tangle of sharp metal scythes around the building, lashing the remaining gargoyles. Arlynn glimpses a three imps—brown, red, and yellow—impaled on the whirling strand of spikes before the mess tears into Sial. Carried on by the storm, the wire lashes around the great tower, catching the gargoyles by the rear balcony.

At the sight of this disaster, the hunched devil, reeling from Arlynn’s righteous left hook, releases the Bekyar woman and retreats back into the hall. The paladin slashes after it with her greatsword, but the blade goes flying through the illusory stone wall and hits something beyond with a wooden thunk.

“Stand and fight you, coward!” Arlynn bellows after the retreating hamatula, before turning around to eye the Kuthites. Shouting over the wail of the hurricane, she asks “Count Sial, how do you fare?”

“I’ve been picked up and thrown around by a bloody gargoyle and a bloody hurricane!” he snarls back, clinging to a rattling section of the rooftop as the wind sets his long, white hair whipping about his face. “I could use some of your vaunted healing powers right about now!”

The Grip Tightens

Inside the hallway, the other two barbed devils continue to squeeze Remmy and Irabeth against their deadly spines, inflicting grievous wounds on the two women.

Over on the rear balcony, the remaining gargoyles swoop out of the storm to attack Earth-Egan. The druid strikes back with stony fists, while Nox fires arrows.

Out near the main balcony, the two remaining gargoyles seek shelter from the storm. The one that had been harrying Asyra and Sial retreats down Egan’s bridge to the castle loft. The gargoyle that had failed to catch Arlynn seeks shelter in a side room on the castle heights.

Out on the storm-wracked roof, Asyra crawls across the shingles until she is close enough to catch Sial with her chains and start pulling him towards her as the wind continues to hammer at both of them.

In the chilly waters down below, Zandu decides it’s now or never. Kicking himself up to the surface, the gnoll sorcerer takes four claws to the face from the gargoyle waiting just above. He shrugs off the damage and casts fly on himself, while the great bulk of the creature beneath him surges up with frightful speed.

On the private balcony, Earth-Egan casts call lightning storm, which strikes down one of the gargoyles with one powerful bolt. The gnome druid then earth glides through the stone of the castle heights towards the main balcony.

Meanwhile, Nox stows his bow and retrieves his sword and shield.


In the hallway, Ashla continues to strike at the third hamatula, but still struggle to inflict any lasting harm to the fiend, all the while collecting more searing barbs in her hands and arms. Beside her, the mind-numbing fear finally drains away from Remmy and the Gray Maiden slashes the barbed devil with her holy cold iron longsword, cutting through its vile defenses with ease—but still picking up barbs. The young woman is now bleeding profusely from dozens of puncture wounds.

Irabeth unwittingly follows her example and lands a devastating blow with her mithral longsword, backed up by the holy might of Iomedae.

“Squeeze all you like,” she shouts, “I’ll still cut the life out of you first, fiend!”

“How is everyone doing?” Arlynn calls out. “Irabeth, are you all right?”

“Bloodied but still in the fight,” the half-orc calls back.

“I could really use some of that ol’ healing magic,” Remmy calls out weakly.

Arlynn looks over at the wounded Sial and Asyra, still struggling against the hurricane, and then turns reluctantly back towards the hall.

“Egan, get out here and help the Count!” she hollers, advancing towards the building. ’Irabeth, how far are you from the balcony door?"

“About five feet.”

Arlynn positions herself by the door and then raises her empty sword hand to channel the healing blessing of her goddess. The energy washes over her companions in the hallway, soothing their wounds.

Never Bring a Spell to a Sword Fight

Kyra swings down from the rooftop and tumbles through the illusory wall, rolling past the devils, and across the hall into the room that they had emerged from, where she springs to her feet, lobs a dagger at the third hamatula, and then ducks into the shadows. Arlynn’s missing greatsword sits embedded in the open chamber door.

In the hall, two of the devils press their captives onto their spines yet again. Remmy cries out in agony as the barbs undo Arlynn’s work. The hunched over devil, badly wounded itself from its fight with Arlynn, casts a spell that lances two scorching rays across the hall at Ashla. The half-elf is only mildly singed, thanks to her ring of fire resistance.

She drops her longsword and extends a hand to Remmy, reaching for her holy cold iron longsword.

“Mind if I borrow that?” Ashla asks.

“Sure,” the dark haired girl says woozily.

Fresh sword in hand, Ashla cuts the third hamatula badly.

Snatched from the Jaws of Death

Earth-Egan continues to glide through the castle stones until he reaches the two Kuthites. The druid takes hold of them with his huge rocky hands and shields them from the hurricane with the immovable bulk of his earth elemental body.

Out on the lake, Zandu zooms past the furious gargoyle, just ahead of the snapping jaws of the enormous tarn worm that bursts from the water beneath him. The frustrated worm bites the gargoyle and drags it under, while the sorcerer struggles through the high ind towards the castle.

In the side room off the hallway, Irabeth continues hacking away at the big barbed devil, while Laori supports her with healing magic.

A Paladin is Never Unarmed

Determined to get back into the fight, Arlynn steps through the illusion and into the hallway. She tries to retrieve her greatsword but the hunched devil grabs hold of her. The angry paladin responds by decking the fiend with her gauntleted fist, shattering its skull with her holy wrath.

“Scratch another lord of Scarwall!” Arlynn boasts.

“Yes!” Irabeth shouts from the other side of another illusory wall. She grins at the big fiend grasping her. “You hear that, you overgrown hedgehog? Your master is slain, and soon you’ll be next!”

From her position in the doorway, Kyra tumbles out to throw another knife at the third barbed devil.

“Let’s wrap this up, people,” the halfling says, “I’m kinda running low on daggers here.”

No Quarter for the Wicked

The third devil squeezes Remmy one more time, leaving her barely on her feet, and then retreats back into the doorway of its chamber. The big hamatula shifts its position to put Irabeth between it and the illusory wall covering the hallway, then presseses the half-orc against its spines again.

Ashla closes in on the retreating hamatula and catches it in the doorway, slicing it half to ribbons with her new sword.

Out on the main balcony, Earth-Egan sets Asyra and Sial down inside the eye of his hurricane. The druid then moves forward down the bridge he’d shaped to pursue the gargoyle in the loft, striking it with call lightning.

In the hall, Nox moves up to face of against the barbed devil, sword and shield ready. Remmy retrieves Ashla’s sword and hangs back, still shaky on her feat.

Outside, Zandu presses through the storm to fly up to the second floor entrance to Scarwall. He begins races through the corridors back towards the third floor, brushing past a couple of perplexed ghosts.

In the side room, Irabeth continues to press the attack against her grappler, with Laori adding her spiked chain back into the mix.

In the hall, Arlynn tugs her greatsword free from the door and cuts down the devil in the doorway. Kyra springs over the piny body and tumbles out into the hall, where she lines up a knife on the last hamatula gripping Irabeth.

“Hamatula? I Hardly Knew ’Er!”

The big barbed devil abandons his captive and tumbles out of the room, dodging the half-orc’s parting sword swing. The devil scrambles up onto the roof. Earth-Egan gives chase, gliding up onto the roof as the fiend scrambles across the shingles towards the tall tower that rises beyond. The druid calls lightning onto his foe, but the hamatula shakes off the spell handily. Despite the swirling gale, the barbed devil leaps up onto the tower wall and begins to climb.

Which is when Zandu pops out of the third floor, floating up over the rooftop to the very edge of the hurricane’s eye. The gnoll sorcerer huffs and puffs and spews lightning at the retreating devil, frying it in a crackle of blue energy.

Loose Ends and Secret Doors

While the rest of the party regroups, Nox goes hunting for one of the surviving gargoyles, tracking the wounded creature to one of the old torture chambers in the heights. With his shield and sword, the mercenary batters the brute down.

After joining with Irabeth to channel their goddess’ blessing onto the party, Arlynn investigates the remaining rooms in the tower heights. In one chamber, she uncovers a funerary urn with markings from Lastwall, but no legible writing.

Elsewhere, she notices some missing space between two rooms. Kyra determines that the secret door is not trapped and quickly unlocks it. The cramped chamber beyond holds a rolling desk, against which a simple walking stick leans. A search of the desk finds numerous rare spell components, of which several thousand gp’s worth in gems and diamond dust remains.

Goblin Trouble

Once the hurricane dies down, the adventurers head back out to consult with Zellara. The ghostly Varisian woman can sense no magical purpose behind the urn, but she identifies the walking stick as in truth a staff of conjuration, which Zandu promptly claims.

Kyra gets the mysterious metal box open and finds that it is full of buttons and levers. Nox recognizes it as the control mechanism for an elaborate torture device he’d seen in Cheliax, though no other components of the device remained in the torture chamber where box was found.

Next, the Crimson Blades investigate the traps they’d laid around the barbican at the causeway entrance. Right at the front of the barbican they find a dead goblin, slain by the swinging log trap. Laori casts speak with dead so that the adventurers can interrogate it, with Irabeth acting as a translator.

Under questioning, the dead goblin admits to being part of a scouting party sent by Mardak. The goblin says the orc army is only a few days away. The Crimson Blades share some worried looks.

Arlynn suggests that they play upon the orcs’ superstitions about Scarwall. They scatter about some bones from the castle and pose the goblin to make it seem like he was killed by ghosts. Kyra gets really into the scheme and also rigs up a fake ghost shape floating in the barbican tower window using a white sheet and some rope. After Ashla covers any sign that the party was, there, they decide on where to spend the night.

Bedtime for Laori & Friends

With the orcs so near, the party concludes that it’s not safe to camp outside. However, Zandu worries that Laori could be in danger if they rest in the castle. They ultimately return to the ballroom, where Sial sets up his bone house, the skull tower rising through the broken glass skylight.

After Kyra treats them to a surprisingly tasty turnip soup, the Crimson Blades ready for bed. Arlynn, Zandu and Egan all give Laori items to strengthen her will to resist Mithrodar if he haunts her dreams again. The elf priestess is touched by their kindness. Worried that her hooked chain mail might damage Zandu’s orange cloak of resistance, the elf maiden strips out of it for the first time they’ve known her. Beneath it, she wears some loose black jammies embroidered with smiling skulls.

“Of course,” Zandu says at the sight of the pajamas.

The adventurers arrange for Laori to bed down at the very top of the tower, where the people on watch can keep an eye on her for any trouble. For extra security, Arlynn will lie down nearby.

“You guys are like the best friends I’ve ever had who aren’t one-eyed torture gods,” Laori says as she sits down in the lotus pose to begin trancing. “I am going to bake you sooo many cookies when we get back to Korvosa.”

“There’s no need to pay us back, Laori,” Arlynn tells her, unfurling a bedroll. “You’re our friend and friends look out for each other. . . . But if you feel that you must repay us, I’d like extra chocolate on mine.”

“No almonds, either,” Nox grunts from his perch in the skull’s left eye socket.

“Done,” Laori yawns, tugging the orange cloak around herself as she closes her obsidian eyes.

Never Get on the Boat
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 10

Restless Spirits

Having recruited Aquilos Nox, the adventurers regroup at the Common House to plan their next move. Determined to learn more about the creature that killed Ionas “Slim” Tils, Arlynn questions a rather rotund priest of Cayden Cailean. The half-drunk priest explains that the creature is known as a danse macabre and forms at the sites of terrible bloodshed, manifesting out of the psychic anguish. It is an embodiment of death itself and seeks to absorb the souls of other creatures—even other undead—into its eternal dance. The priest is impressed that they survived an encounter with it.

“Not all of us,” Arlynn says.

The priest warns that unless the bloodstained site it haunts is hallowed, the creature will return to unlife within a manner of days. This puts a wrinkle in the party’s plans, particularly since hallow takes 24 hours to cast. They decide to wait two days, with Zandu teleporting some of them over on the first day (after the first round of restoration spells are dispensed) and then bringing over the rest of the gang on the morning of the second day.

Kyra takes this opportunity to note that if she will be taking on Slim’s technical duties, she will need some upgraded equipment. Zandu says he’s been setting aside some money for that very purpose and provides her with 9,000gp, with the promise of more to come. The grateful halfling rushes off to make purchases, after briefly consulting with Remmy on one or two points.

After a restful night at the inn, Zandu takes Arlynn, Irabeth, Remmy, and Egan. The gnome druid sets to work laying the foundation’s for Slim’s tomb. Back in Kaer Maga, Laori briefly commandeers the Common House’s kitchens to do some baking. Nox lounges in the tavern, occasionally chatting with Kyra and listening to the local gossip.

Final Farewell

On the second day, Zandu teleports the rest of the gang back to Scarwall bright and early in the morning. Before continuing on into the castle, the adventurers first hold a funeral ceremony for their departed companion.

After placing the rogue’s body in a sarcophagus, the adventurers rise to say their farewells. Nox slouches disinterestedly at the back of the group.

“Slim, you rugged bastard, you left us,” Egan says wistfully.

“From the moment he walked into the Sticky Mermaid, I knew he was trouble,” Arlynn says. “But he was a great contribution to the Crimson Blades—even though he killed Jolistina. He will be missed.”

When it comes time for Laori to speak, the elf maiden is just bawling and has to lean on the sarcophagus for support. Shadowcount Sial watches her with a sneer of disdain.

“Disgusting,” he says, as he and Asyra walk away from the ceremony.

“I taught him to shadow dance,” Laori says. “I told him ZK would protect him! I told it’d be all right! And then I couldn’t even help him when he needed it!”

Egan and Arlynn try to comfort her as best they can.

“We must take heart,” the paladin says, “for Slim has gone on to a better place.”

“But he’s not here with me,” Laori sobs. “Every friend I ever have always leaves me! They walk away, or they die or they grow old and then I’m all alone.”

She throws herself over the sarcophagus and clings to it like a life raft. “Waaah! Slim, why did you have to go?”

After Arlynn finally pries the elf loose from the stone casket and helps her away, Irabeth steps forward to say a few words.

“Were it not for Ionas Tils, I’d still be chained up like a dog underneath Ambassador Amprei’s mansion,” Irabeth says, giving Nox an icy look.

“And if it weren’t for him, I’d still have a sister,” Nox heckles.

“We did not always see eye to eye,” the half-orc continues, ignoring him, “but we stood side by side against the forces of evil. His life will be long-remembered and his loss leaves a hole that can never be filled. May he rest peacefully in the eternal reward he so rightfully earned.”

The junior paladin is followed by Kyra, who rolls over a big rock up to stand on top of.

“As the person here who’s known Slim the longest, aside from his mortal enemy over there, I’d like to say a few words,” the halfling says. She lays a hand atop the sarcophagus as she continues. “I’ve known a lot of big people in my time, but Slim was one of the few who truly had the heart of a halfling.”

Kyra backflips up on top of the stone tomb. “Always looking for trouble, he grabbed life by the horns and rode it like a zombie dragon. He was loyal to his friends, death to his enemies, and a royal pain to just about everybody.”

She hops back down beside the coffin and pats it gently. “I know he was carrying a lot of hurt around inside him and I hope he’s finally found the peace that eluded him in life. I’ll miss you, buddy. A lot.”

The final speaker is a teary-eyed but stoic-faced Remmy, clad in her Gray Maiden armor with Slim’s bloodstained black and red kapenia tied around her left arm.

“Ionas was my friend,” she says. “He believed in me when no one else would. He helped me through some . . . issues and was always there for me when I needed him.”

She turns her eye towards the sarcophagus as she continues. “He wasn’t born in Korvosa and he didn’t live there very long, but no truer son of our great city has ever trod the rich earth of Varisia. I will never forget him, or his sacrifice, and I’ll make sure no one else does, either.”

Turning back to the gathered adventurers, Remmy says “Slim was Varisian, of the Tils’rahanarz, and while none of his family is here to say farewell, Zellara and I felt it was right to send him off to his eternal rest the Varisian way.”

Zellara manifests beside Remmy and together the two of them perform a Varisian funerary dance in front of the stone coffin. The ghostly fortuneteller flows as if made of water, while Remmy shifts stiffly through the steps, hampered not merely by her armor but also lack of practice. As they dance, Zellara sings a traditional song.

“Climb to the palace, climb to a star.
Lie down to sleep for you know who you are.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Egan seals the tomb and then dispatches an animal messenger to seek out Slim’s cousin Vittora in Janderhoff and inform her of his passing.

The Thing in the Lake

Having laid their friend to rest, the Crimson Blades ready themselves to return to the castle in order to banish the danse macabre for good. Leery of attracting attention by flying overhead or marching back through the many darkened halls to the ballroom, Arlynn suggests instead that they sail across the lake on a swan boat.

After Ashla finds them a safe goat trail down the cliff face to the waterline, the senior paladin casts the feather token into the lake to summon forth the boat. Zandu doesn’t bother heading down with them, instead waiting for the boat to be summoned and then launching himself off the cliff to feather fall down onto the deck.

“Show off!” Kyra shouts at him as he drifts down. The halfling herself steps onto the boat gingerly and scrambles away from the sides to the center of the craft. She clings to Zandu’s leg with one hand, as if fearful that something would drag her into the lake.

Most of the adventurers pile onto the boat, while Egan wildshapes into a water elemental. The druid travels beneath the boat as it magically propels itself across the waters towards Scarwall. The sky is clear and a cool breeze undercuts the summer sun, but as ever silence hangs heavy in the air. They keep a close watch on the castle, wary of an attack from the skies. They spy some movement on the rooftops of the southern wing, causing Zandu to cast fly on Arlynn and Ashla.

So it is something of a surprise when a gargantuan tarn worm bursts out of the water in front of of the boat. Ashla flies out to fight it, but the creature snaps her up in its jaws and swallows her. Zandu hastes the party as Arlynn and Irabeth fly up to fight the worm. On the boat, Nox, Remmy, and Kyra let fly with arrows, while Laori calls down a flame strike on the creature. Water-Egan sloshes forward to pound it with two soaking fists.

Inside the beast’s gullet, Ashla spies a glowing gem lodged in in its flesh. Swirling within the gem, she realizes, is a trapped air elemental. After smashing the gem, she and the air elemental carve their way out of the creature’s flank and burst out above the water line. Water-Egan exploits this injury, his fists flowing in through the wound.

While Nox, Remmy, and Kyra continue to pelt the tarn worm with arrows, Zandu strides out to the front of the boat and throws his hands up to cast fear. The great worm recoils in terror, allowing Arlynn to press the attack. With four savage blows from her greatsword, she severs the monster’s head, which hits the water with a tremendous splash that drenches all involved.

Water-Egan takes this opportunity to flow through the creature’s innards, searching for any other treasures lodged within. He finds a few odd trinkets: a mosaic tile with a multicolored, glazed surface; a silver spoon with an M engraved on the handle; and a gemstone that looks like a lump of coal when examined by anyone else. Egan puzzles over this last find, but no one is able to provide much information beyond the fact that it must come from the elemental plane of earth.

With the tarn worm slain and Ashla fished out of the water, the adventurers continue sailing towards the spur of rock at the center of the lake on which Scarwall rests. From the air, Arlynn and Ashla spy what appears to be the submerged pillars of an ancient quay at the far western end of the complex, right near the ballroom.

After hauling the boat onto the pillars and disembarking, Ashla uncovers an ancient hidden path up the cliff to the castle, half crumbled from the passage of time. On their way up the winding trail, Arlynn discovers an ancient platinum coin bearing an unfamiliar face on one side and the same rampant eagle design as Ser Echolt Crommerand’s tower shield on the other.

Translating the inscription, Zandu explains that the coin was minted in the old Ustalavian County of Tamrivena during the 12th year of the reign of Count Andachi, 800 years ago. The sorcerer figures the coin could be worth twice as much to a collector.

After the path reaches the top of the cliff, it runs over to the side of the ballroom and stops dead. Ashla searches for a secret door until Kyra pushes her aside.

“Found it!” the halfling announces. After checking for traps, she gently pushes the door open. “After you, Miss Paladin.”

Scarwall Social

Arlynn steps into the chamber warily, which sits just as they left it, save the holes on the floor and the walls seem to have shrunk. Not spying an immediate threat, the Bekyar woman waves Irabeth and the clerics into the room to consult.

It is Laori who draws the best bead on the status of the danse macabre, warning that the creature’s presence is strengthening. The elf priestess says that it is be a close call whether Egan can complete the hallow ritual before the undead spirit is able to manifest again.

Zandu, however, expresses sublime confidence that Egan will see them through. The gnome druid gets out his incense censor and begins the arduous task of hallowing the blood-strained chamber. The rest of the adventurers gather in the center of the room, Scarwall’s grim sense of foreboding already sinking in.

“Anybody got a deck of cards?” Kyra asks.

Zandu magics some into being. “Not sure how long these will last, but they should work.”

“All right!” the halfling cheers. “Now, who’s up for some three dragon ante?”

“I’ve never been much for card games,” Arlynn says. She holds up a leather strap. “Who’s up for some sredna instead.”

“I’m in!” Irabeth volunteers enthusiastically.

“What the hell is sredna?” Nox asks.

“It’s a Shoanti game,” the half-orc explains. “A test of strength and endurance.”

The fighter watches the two paladins strap their heads together and crouch down on all fours to start the tug of war. Nox shakes his head and nods at Kyra. “Deal me in.”

After a half-hour struggle, Irabeth remains the party’s sredna champion, to her delight.

“Maybe we could pull one of those tables over here and play a game of knivesies,” Arlynn jokes, dusting herself off. “Without the gambling, of course.”

“Knivesies?” Laori perks up. “That sounds awesome! I know a knife game from Magnimar, but I keep missing!”

She lays her left hand splayed on the floor, whips out her sacrificial dagger, and in a flurry of steel drives the razor sharp point between each of her fingers. She frowns in consternation and holds up her unscathed hand. “See?”

“Perhaps cards aren’t such a bad idea after all,” Arlynn muses.

The hours pass and the games change from Three Dragon Ante to Towers to Egorian Hold ’Em. All the while, Egan continues o walk the room, swinging his censor and chanting in druidic. He is often shadowed by Ashla or Remmy, as both abstain from the merriment to maintain constant vigilance.

As afternoon becomes evening, Laori produces the project she was baking in Kaer Maga: special funerary cakes made of a deep rich chocolate, with grinning sugar skulls on top. The treats completely spoil their dinner, but no one complains.

“To Slim,” she says, raising a cake in a toast.

As evening turns to night, the adventurers debate whether they could risk sleeping within the castle. Their deliberations are interrupted by a shriek from the elf priestess. Laori is huddled on the floor, her hands clapped over her ears. She looks up at them with fear in her ebon eyes, her face pale as death.

“He’s back,” she says. “Tried to grab me with his chain again.”

“Mithrodar,” Arlynn grits.

“Why does he keep going after Laori?” Zandu demands. “Why not me—or Nox, somebody who’s never been here before?”

“Hey, pin that target to your own back, pal,” the mercenary says.

“The chain spirit has clearly found the weak link,” Sial sneers.

“Oh, fuck you, Sial!” Laori shouts back.

“There’s more going on here,” Zandu insists. “Arlynn? Irabeth? Any ideas.”

The two paladins share a look and then shrug in unison.


Arlynn urges the clerics to get some rest so that they can be fresh and restored the following morning. Sial and Laori lie down at opposite sides of the ballroom. While Asyra stands watch over her charge, Arlynn beds down near Laori so the elf would benefit from her aura.

“I’m not going to sleep in this haunted castle,” Zandu declares.

“Same here,” Nox agrees.

In the end, the rest of the party stays up all night either on watch or lounging around with a growing sense of unease. Even as Egan continues his rounds, a sense of menace seems to build up in the chamber. By the time Arlynn and the Kuthites wake in the following morning, the tension is palpable, as the room has cooled by several degrees despite the summer sunlight streaming through the rose-tinted skylight.

As the sun rises overhead, the shadows in the ballroom seem to lengthen. The adventurers gather around Egan in the center of the chamber, weapons ready, as the gnome’s chanting swells to a crescendo. When the druid utters the last phrase of the spell, a wave of green light flares out of him and sweeps across the room to sink into the stones. Caught in the flash, visible for only the barest moment, is the hooded reaper shape of the danse macabre, which vanishes under the pulse of light.

The ballroom seems to brighten immediately, the sense of menace completely banished. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

“Laori, why don’t you summon up a lunch for us,” Arlynn asks, rubbing her belly.

After casting restoration on herself to undo the damage of Mithrodar’s attack, the elf priestess conjures up another heroes’ feast, complete with man-sized shadow bunny attendants. The party digs in, feeling replenished, though the lack of sleep continues to weigh heavily on many of them.

Cold Steel, Burning Skull

Following their meal, the Crimson Blades march as a group up to the castle heights on the third floor. Given two sets of stairs going up, the adventurers choose to take the southernmost route first.

The creaking stairs lead into a long chamber has inward-slanting walls, like an attic. Many old barrels and boxes, broken and empty, are stacked at the base of the walls. The adventurers are not alone—a warrior in full plate, carrying battleaxe and shield, with a flaming skull for a head. With Ashla in the lead, the Crimson Blades charge forward.

The skeletal warrior retreats out one of the side doors in the alcove, stepping outside onto the balcony before any of the Crimson Blades can engage him. Nox pursues outside, careful to keep the warrior between him and the wall to avoid being bull rushed off the side. Remmy and Kyra follow a few paces behind, with the halfling taking cover in the shadows of the alcove. Arlynn joins the fighter out on the balcony, while Earth-Egan flows into the stone wall. The skeleton hacks at Nox with its axe, slicing through the mercenary’s armor to bloody him.

Inside, Ashla moves to join the impending melee, but is ambushed by a shadow. She fights back with her undead bane sword. Laori joins in with her spiked chain, which releases a burst of positive energy when it collides with the shade, while Zandu blasts it with magic missile from his position in the stairwell. Together, the three of them bring the shadow down in short order.

Out on the balcony, Nox, Arlynn and Remmy hem the skeletal warrior in and begin hammering him with blows. Earth-Egan takes a swing of his own, but the creature ducks its flaming head. The druid’s stony fist carries carries on over the wall’s edge, dragging the rest of Earth-Egan with it. He plunges down into the rocky ground below, landing with a sharp splat but largely unscathed.

On the rooftop, Kyra ducks out of the doorway to throw a dagger at the skeleton, but the blade glances off its gorget. The halfling mutters a curse and retreats back into the shadows. Nox, Arlynn, and Remmy renew their attack, beating through the warrior’s defenses. The skeleton responds by bull rushing Arlynn off the battlements, but as he drives the paladin backwards Nox cleaves his burning skull in two.

Arlynn and the skeleton tumble down to the ground below, with the paladin colliding with an enormous clank, followed by a second clank as the warrior’s remains land on top of her.

Inside, a second shadow emerges, lashing out at Zandu in the stairwell. Nox and Irabeth rush to his aid, while the cramped staircase makes it difficult for the rest of the party to assist. The shade sinks into the floor, lashing up at Nox and leeching the vitality from his limbs. Drained of strength, the mercenary clatters to the ground under the weight of his armor. Irabeth reached to help him, but thinks better of it and instead calls on her goddess to last the area with channel positive energy. Unfortunately, it is not enough to bring the spirit down.

Earth-Egan, having moved up the stonework back to the third floor, surges in to attack the creature as it lurks within the floor. The stair tiles beneath Nox rumble, while all the fighter can do it wait it out. Finally, Earth-Egan rises up from the floor, victorious.

The adventurers are soon joined by Arlynn, who spiderwalked up the side of the building with the skeleton’s gear stowed safely in her bag of holding. Laori restores Nox to health and the Crimson Blades regroup.

Determined to press on while they have daylight, the party has Earth-Egan to shape a path through the stone wall to the next section of the third floor.

Blood and Oaths
Skeletons of Scarwall, Interlude

Signing on with the Crimson Blades has been a whole lot of hurry up and wait for the last day and a half, with Nox having little more to do but enjoy discounted drinks at the rowdy Common House bar. After the lunch crowd thins out, Nox takes his leave from a conversation with Kyra and heads to the latrines. After doing his business, he is set to leave when a figure in a dark green cloak shoves him back inside the stall, a knife to his throat.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” Freya whispers in his ear. “Care to explain why the hell you’re in here drinking with the Crimson Blades instead of carrying out our benefactor’s commission? You do remember who you work for, yes?”

Nox lets out an audible sigh as he pulls Freya’s hand and knife away from his throat, “Indeed, although I’m glad at least you had the decency letting me finish pissing first, unlike last time.”

He gives her a bit of a glare as he continues, “Obviously there was a problem, and I dealt with it. I’m not that idiot Raven, who hides behind shadows and empty promises. Our employer knows what to expect from me, and knows that I get results.”

Nox pauses a bit to give a look around the general vicinity, before continuing in a lower tone, “As I said, there was a complication. Slim’s dead, happened before I got here, in Scarwall.”

“I’m sorry you were cheated of your revenge, Aquilos,” Freya says, a tinge of sadness in her pale blue eyes. “I know what that’s like.”

“Figures,” Nox began to say with a tired look in his eyes, " he’d been playing hands with borrowed time, it doesn’t surprise me that it caught up with him. At least he finally got what he deserved."

Knife suddenly gone, Freya claps him on the shoulder. “And I know you are a man of honor, who keeps his word above all else. But you’re no spy.”

With her other hand, she dangles his coin purse in front of his nose and he angrily snatches it back. The Content Not Found: ulfen woman grins, but the smile never reaches her eyes.

“I never claimed to be,” he replied, clearly not amused, “you know I hate all that cloak and dagger business. I prefer…”

Nox grabs Freya’s butt with one hand, pulling her close to him while pinning her against the sides of the stall, his other hand grabbing a few platinum coins she had tried to palm and hide in her cleavage, “…a little more shock and awe.”

A bit of a lecherous grin streaks across his face for a moment but fades quickly as he lets her go, and steps out of the stall.

“As for the medallion,” he starts to say while turning back toward her, “all I know is the Blades have it somewhere, and only way I get it is if I help them out with their little Korvosa problem. I see it as a win-win, in light of recent events, but it means a delay in the plan. Its cleaner than Amprei could hope for, and he’ll have his record cleaned with Korvosa after we deal with their Queen.”

Nox pauses again to light a bit of tobacco. "It changes what he promised me, however, " he said, “now that Slim is dead. I’m sure he had a contingency plan in place, didn’t he?”

“You do know your shock and awe,” Freya smirks, tugging up the top of her shirt and smoothing the wrinkles from her clothes. A familiar ring gleams on her left hand as she brushes some loose strands of blond hair from her face. “But someday you’re going to put those big hands where they’re not welcome. When that happens, you’ll lose more than a few trinkets.”

She tosses the ring of protection back to him, then leans forward to take a whiff of the tobacco. The Ulfen woman closes her eyes and exhales the smoke slowly. She holds out a hand to borrow the pipe.

“As you say, there have been complications,” Freya speaks in a low voice. “And of course, our benefactor is willing to up your fee in compensation for your loss.”

She cocks her head curiously. “But that’s not quite what you’re looking for, is it?”

Nox gives her a little nod, admiring her handiwork as he passed over his pipe.

“You assume much, for someone of your status, " he begins in a stern, tense voice, that relaxes in his next breath, “but yes you are correct. Money has been of little consequence to me. Money can buy a life to take, but not to restore.”

Nox turns away from Freya to grab something tucked away beneath his armor, and quickly faces her again, a sealed letter in hand, "Once I have the medallion, I will expect these to be processed. "

He motions for the pipe as he extends the letter to her, “I would prefer that you didn’t open it, so if you really must know I suppose there’s no harm in telling you: it’s a formal request to restore a minor house’s standing in the official records, and to move that house’s holdings to the colony of Korvosa, no further compensation required. I’m quite confident that it should please him to know that this quest for the medallion will cost him no further in gold. Don’t you agree?”

The Ulfen woman takes a long draw on the pipe and then breathes out a perfect ring of smoke that catches Nox’s head in a hazy halo. Freya admires her handiwork through half-open eyes.

“Mmm, the good Chelaxian stuff,” she murmurs, reluctantly handing the pipe back to him. She takes the letter, turning it over in her hands to smirk at the crest pressed into the black wax seal.

Nox nods with the return of his pipe, taking a second long drag from the pipe himself. “Not just any Chelaxian stock, but from the last of my family reserve. Our land produced the best crops in Westcrown, or so I’m told.”

Taking a last drag from his pipe, he empties it soon after and places it back into his coat pocket.

“Paperwork has its own price, as you should know,” Freya says, tucking the letter inside her shirt. She pulls her dark hood back up, draping her eyes in shadow. “Our benefactor won’t be happy about this complication, but I’m sure he’ll accommodate your request. You’ve given him little choice.”

“A small price for a man like him,” Nox says flatly while pulling out a small, walnut sized sack of coins, holding them lax between two fingers, “only that it’ll mean a fortune to me is what will annoy him.”

The Ulfen rogue presses past him into the hall, dragging a pale finger across his chest as she does. Face half-shrouded by the cloak, she turns back to smile sadly at him. "You’ll get your reward—but I think a mercenary’s life suits you far better than idle nobility ever will.”

His fingers no longer in possession of his coins, Nox immediately snaps his arms into place, crossed firmly against his chest.

“My restored title doesn’t mean I shall be idle,” he declares. “No, far from it, there will be much bloodshed and scores to settle before I will be able to rest again. I’m sure we’ll be in touch then as well, so stay alive…”

“Watch your back out there, too, Lord Nox," Freya says.

“That was my grandfather’s name,” he smiles. “I like the sound of that. I’ll like it more when it rings true.”

Danse Macabre
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 9

Shopping Trip

Zandu, Kyra, and Egan teleport back to Kaer Maga, apparating into the Common House. The boisterous guests barely bat them an eye before turning back to the drinking, gambling and shouting as a Dwarvish folk band tries to play over the ruckus.

The sorcerer and the halfling head to Downmarket, shouldering they way through the bustling crowds to seek out the appropriate merchants to sell off the party’s Scarwall loot. Kyra is unusually quiet and sluggish, with dark rings under her eyes and a pallid complexion—lingering effects of the ghost attack from earlier that day. As they get close to wrapping up their purchases, Zandu suggests that rather than spending the night in Kaer Maga, they could teleport right back to Scarwall.

“But the beds here are so soft,” Kyra groans.

“We could get you a halfling-sized bed here and take it back,” the gnoll says with a grin.

“I can live with that,” the halfling woman perks up. The two of them take a stroll over to Mattress Alley to finish their shopping, neither noticing the armored figure casually tailing them through the tangled crowd.

Egan, meanwhile, wildshapes into an eagle to soar over the city, looking for Shoanti craftsmen. Spying several leather workers with the shaved heads and flame tattoos of the Sklar-Quah, the druid lands and assumes his gnome form. He asks if the Shoanti would be able to turn the dragon scale hide that Ashla skinned into a suit of full plate for him. The Sklar-Quah craftsmen say it would be an honor to aid one of the heroes from the greenlands who accomplished so much for their clan.

Next, Egan tries to find a merchant willing to carry a letter and some supplies down to Arlynn’s followers in Korvosa. But few are making the journey these days. Word out of the city is bad: Gray Maidens on every corner, press gangs scouring the streets for laborers to work on ever more elaborate monuments to Queen Ileosa, and a mountain of taxes and tariffs choking the life out of trade. Egan is forced to track down some of Lord Farima’s merchant connections in order to find someone who will make the journey.

Twilight covers the city by the time the trio reunites, but it is still early enough for Zandu to bring them all back to the outskirts of castle Scarwall, a small bed stowed away inside their bag of holding. They reappear back on the overlook by Mandraivus’ tomb, the dark towers of Scarwall laid out in the lake below. From the center of the castle, by the bone house, they can see the brilliant orange glow of a bonfire.

“What in the Hells is going on?” Zandu asks.

The Ritual of Stardust

After parting ways with the Kaer Maga group, the rest of the Crimson Blades return to the Scarwall courtyard. After borrowing Irabeth’s axe, Slim parkours up onto the roof on the castle donjon to break up the dessicated remains of Groot and tosses the firewood down to Remmy, who stacks it in a pile in the center of the courtyard. Arlynn asks what they are doing and Remmy explains that it is the summer solstice and thus the day of the Desnan Ritual of Stardust.

“I thought you weren’t a religious man,” Arlynn says after Slim returns from the roof.

“I’ve never paid much attention to the gods,” he admits, “but these days the gods seem to be paying a lot of attention to me.”

At dusk, Slim lights the bonfire, sending flames and smoke licking skyward. He sings a few Varisian travel songs, with Remmy haltingly joining in on a couple of the better known ones.

“Dance on the windsong, dance on the breeze.
Soar to the clouds but smile on the trees.”

Arlynn, Irabeth, and Laori also take part in the revelry, while Ashla watches from a distance and Sial and Asyra dismissively retire to the bone house.

The senior paladin performs a traditional Bekyar circle dance around the fire, while Irabeth flails about enthusiastically and Laori glides across the courtyard like a spiny ballerina.

By the time that Zandu and the others return to camp, the fire has burned down to embers. Led by Slim, the adventurers toss sand mixed with powered gemstones onto the glowing coals.

Traditionally, this closing part of the Ritual of Stardust is a time for make proclamations of love and friendship and of promised journeys to come, with the twinkling of the sand mirroring the night sky and demonstrating Desna’s witnessing of the pronouncements.

Arlynn approaches her half-orc companion and claps a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Irabeth, my friend, these past few days have been difficult, at times even enough to question whether this task might be beyond us. But whenever my own resolve has wavered, I have always drawn hope from your indomitable spirit. I want you to know that we could not have made it this far without your steady sword and unflinching courage.”

“I, er, don’t know what to say,” the half-orc replies, her face turning a brilliant red as she looks down at her steel greaves.

“You don’t have to say anything, your sword speaks well enough,” the senior paladin says. “Side by side, we will cleanse this castle of evil, once and for all!”

“Yes!” Irabeth says fiercely, clapping a hand over Arlynn’s. “I’m honored to serve with you, Ser Arlynn, and I swear by the Inheritor’s light that we shall break this curse together.”

“Get a room, you two!” Zandu calls. Arlynn shoots him an annoyed look, while Irabeth’s blush starts creeping back.

“Guys,” Laori says, “I know you’re not really on board with the ZK thing—though you should really give him another chance—but I just want to say again that it means so much to me that we’re all superpals. I’ve got your back, is what I’m trying to say.”

“We make an awesome team, Laori,” Slim agrees, “and I know we’re going to beat this castle.”

“Sounds like you’re getting over your fear of the place,” Arlynn notes.

“After everything we’ve gone through, yeah,” the rogue says. “In fact, tonight I pledge before the watchful eyes of Desna the Great Dreamer that I will not rest until we have kicked Mithrodar’s wispy ass and cleansed this castle of its evil curse!”

The other revelers let out a cheer.

Links in the Chain

With the ritual complete, the adventurers retire to the bone house for the night. On the second floor, Zandu and Kyra set her small bed frame out beside his bedroll and she flops down on the mattress with a sigh. Up in the skull tower’s right eye socket, Slim once more takes the first watch.

The castle is eerily still, with none of the flickering lights or strange noises the party had grown accustomed to. As the night stretches on, the silences grows more and more oppressive—until it is broken by a piercing scream from inside the bone house.

Laori sits bolt upright from her bedroll on the second floor of the tower, screaming wildly. As the Crimson Blades stumble into the room, the elf priestess peels back the chain mail on her arm and begins slowly cutting her pale skin with a ceremonial dagger.

“Laori, what’s wrong?” Arlynn asks.

She rocks her head back and forth, muttering “Abandon your tears, abandon your tears.”

Arlynn tries to judge whether the elf is under a spell, but concludes that she’s merely in a state of pure panic and is trying to cope. Slim, arriving from his post above, takes the more practical step of seizing her knife hand. Laori struggles with him, but he manages to get the blade away from her.

After collecting herself, the elf explains that she was attacked in her dreams by Mithrodar.

“He grabbed me with one of his chains—and it didn’t hurt!” Laori says, shivering. “ZK’s chains always hurt, that’s how I know he loves me, but Mithrodar’s chain was just cold, the kind of cold that burrows down into your soul. The chain started coiling around my neck and I tried to shake it off and that’s when I woke up.”

“Perhaps Mithrodar was trying to create a new spirit anchor,” Arlynn murmurs.

“But why Laori?” Slim asks, still holding the elf maiden’s hand.

“Maybe his powers only work on evil beings,” the paladin speculates.

“It’s not about of good or evil,” says Sial, descending from upstairs dressed in a fresh hakama. “It’s about strength of will. Clearly, Mithrodar has found the weak link in the group.”

“If that were true, why not go after me or Zandu?” Slim protests. “We have to have weaker wills than an anointed cleric of ZK.”

Sial smirks at the rogue. “I suspect Mithrodar is looking to anchor his immortality on a firmer foundation than someone who could be bowled over by a stiff breeze.”

They are interrupted by a tapping sound on the outside of the bone house. Earth-Egan is outside, peering in through the second story arrow slit. Arlynn assures him that the danger has passed. Zandu and Kyra go back to bed.

Earth-Egan turns away from the tower and stops short. The walls overlooking the courtyard are lined with ghosts—from ragged slaves to men-at-arms to women in elegant gowns, all glowing an eerie pale green. The spectres all have their gaze turned toward the bone house.

“Guys, we’re kinda surrounded by ghosts out here,” Egan’s disembodied voice announces inside the tower.

The adventurers crowd over to the arrow slits and peer out. As far as Arlynn can tell, the ghosts are giving off no sense of malice and are instead watching the tower intently.

“Leave us the fuck alone!” Slim bellows, raising his repeating crossbow to fire off bolts in the general directions of the spectres. The crowd of ghosts fix their gaze on him before fading away like smoke on the wind.

“Feel better?” Arlynn asks.

“Yeah,” Slim grits, setting the Vindicator down. “I’m going to stay up with Laori a little while, make some tea. You should get to bed.”

Arlynn eyes the elf priestess, still shivering with fright, and says “I think I’ll bunk up here the rest of the night, just to be safe.”

While the paladin sorts out her sleeping arrangements, Slim shares some warm tea with Laori and makes small talk about her favorite kind of crumpets. By the time they move on to playing with shadows, the elf maiden has become more of her cheerful self.

“Thanks for staying up with me, Slim,” she says, dispelling the last of her shadow bunny conga line with a flick of her wrist. “I think I’m ready to go back to sleep. But we have to stop Mithrodar, as soon as possible. I don’t want to be his puppet monkey!”

“Never,” Slim assures her.

She wraps him in a firm and pointy embrace. “You’re a good friend.”

After an awkwardly long hug, Laori curls back up on the floor and yawns. “Night-night! Don’t let the hellwasps bite!”

Slim returns to his post, troubled by the thought of what a hellwasp might look like.

Fortune’s Favors

Ashla awakes later that night, disturbed by the faint strains of violin music. Peering out the bone tower window, she sees Scarwall’s many ghosts, writhing against the chains that bind them to the castle walls. Her keen half-elven eyes also allow her to glimpse a fire on the distant hillside overlooking the castle. Her pointed ears perk up, having found the source of the strange music drifting across the caldera lake.

The ranger leaves the bone house, walking slowly but determinedly towards the fire and the haunting tune. It what seems like no time at all, she finds herself standing outside Mandraivus’ tomb, where a large bonfire has been built, much like the one Slim built earlier that evening. Around it dances Zellara, moving with a fluid grace in tune with both the music and flickering tongues of flame. The Varisian ghost stops her cavorting as Ashla draws near.

“Good, you have come,” she says. “Today is the summer solstice, sacred to the goddess Desna, blessed patron of those who wander. But as the hinge point between summer and fall, it is also holy to the goddess of beginnings and ends, Pharasma. It is She who has drawn you here, my friend. Scarwall is an abomination to the Lady of Graves and she is determined to give her servants every tool to overcome it.”

Zellara produces her Harrow deck and removes four cards from it. “I have already performed the Choosing, but the goddess of fate has decided that you should get a second draw. Please, pick a card.”

Ashla shrugs and takes one of the cards.

“The Midwife,” Zellara says. “A conduit to creation, though she does not create on her own. She is a key that lets new life or knowledge into the world, and her heart can see the good in even the worst situation.”

“Better than the ‘Mute Hag’,” Ashla shrugs.

“Now shoo,” Zellara chides, “back to your earthly body before Mithrodar catches wind of your wandering spirit.”

As the half-elf stumbles back towards the castle, the fortune teller calls after her “I don’t let just anybody get two cards, you know!”

Taunts and Haunts

The following morning, the Kuthites cast restoration on the adventurers to undo some some of the lingering damage left by the ghosts. Laori also uses the spell on herself, which seems to banish the ill effects of Mithrodar’s dream incursion.

But Arlynn and Zandu are determined to keep the chain spirit from attacking her again. The paladin shouts through the remaining hole Barky gouged in the wall two days prior, calling out the master of Scarwall.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size, you gutless coward?” she demands.

“We’re coming for you, asshole, once we get your other three anchors,” Zandu says. “Try and stop us!”

“I’ll kick your ghostly ass anywhere, any time,” Arlynn says. The paladin clangs a fist against her breastplate. “Combat me, bro!”

The air rushes past the paladin, trying to pull her in through the hole, but she shakes it off.

After they are done harassing Mithrodar, the Crimson Blades assemble by the bone house. They decide to explore the last room in the castle’s western wing, where they suspect another of the lords of Scarwall lurks. In order not to take any chances, they decide to take everyone along, leaving only Barky to hold the courtyard. As they march through the winding corridors of the western wing, they hear whispering voices calling out to them.

“Turn back. Don’t go. You’ll die.”

“Can you be more specific?” Ashla replies.

“What awaits in the far room?” Arlynn adds. “Answer us, spirits.”

“Death. Only death.”

“Oh, fuck off then!” Slim shouts at them.

Zandu lets out a draconic roar that echoes down the hall.

“Norgerber’s bloody balls!” Kyra swears, clapping her hands to her ears. “Tell me when you’re going to do that next time!”

As the echoes fade away, so to do the whispering voices. The adventurers finish their walk in silence, arriving at the twin mahogany doors that lead into the very last room of the wing.

Bloody Ballroom

Slim checks the doors for locks or traps and finds neither. Arlynn cautiously pushes one of the doors open with her sword and when nothing jumps in her face, the rogue follows suit.

Beyond, they find a grand ballroom constructed in a floral shape with a high, vaulted roof of intricately wrought glass panes bearing a slight rose tint but nevertheless providing a breathtaking view of the sky above. Clover-shaped pillars support key portions of the roof above the polished floor of stained cherry, and a wide dais provides room for an orchestra to play or stage performance to occur. A few broken chairs have been pushed into the corners, but otherwise this room appears empty.

Using detect magic, Zandu picks up a good-aligned enchantment aura coming from beneath the floorboards at the center of the room, perplexing him. Arlynn, meanwhile, scans the pillars for signs of spectral undead and finds none. With no enemies in sight, Slim creeps into the room, testing the floorboards as he goes. Right over the site of the aura, he finds a loose board. On close examination, he realizes that the wood isn’t cherry, but oak—oak that has been stained red by repeated bloodshed. The rogue uses his crowbar to pry the board free. Beneath, Slim finds a large wooden board under a thin layer of cold topsoil.

Arlynn, flanked by Irabeth and Remmy, advances over to Slim’s position. Ashla also steps into the room, while Earth-Egan slips into the wall and Zandu lingers in the doorway with Laori. Kyra and the other two Kuthites hang back in the hallway to guard their rear.

Slim passes his crowbar to Remmy, while Arlynn draws her own crowbar. The two women pry out more floor boards, ultimately revealing that the wooden board beneath is the lid to a coffin. Slim takes his crowbar back and pries open the lid—realizing as he does so that he forgot to check for traps.

A skeletal figure in armor is laid out in the coffin, clutching a sword to his chest over a tower shield with an unfamiliar Ustalavian sigil. The skeleton grabs Slim’s arm and gasps “It’s a trap!”

Dance of the Dead

Eerie violin music fills the air as the ballroom comes to life with dozens of ghostly dancers, dressed in rich clothes, who circle around the ballroom. At the center of the swirling mass, descending from the ceiling, is an enormous figure at least twelve feet tall, a skeletal being dressed in a black hooded robe with an enormous scythe.

Among the dancing figures, Arlynn sees her mother, who reaches to draw her into the dance. Zandu rushes to dance with his late wife. Remmy, Irabeth, and Kyra are all pulled into the dance, as are Sial and Asyra. Laori hesitates, but then sees two dark-haired elven figures approaching her.

“Mommy? Daddy?” she says, taking their hands.

A ghostly Valria reaches for Slim’s hand, but he recoils from her. She continues to dance around him beckoningly. Earth-Egan ignores a ghostly vision of his father who tries to pull him into the dance, while Ashla bats away the spectre of her old mentor.

Slim runs up the side of a pillar and springs off it to attack the floating horror with his rapier, tumbling to a safe landing on the other side of it.

“En garde, motherfucker!” he shouts.

Ashla, meanwhile, tries to cut down the spectre dancing with Arlynn, but her sword passes through it harmlessly.

“The dancers are just illusions!” the half-elf calls out.

That one’s real!” Slim says, pointing at the hooded reaper with his ghost touch dagger.

Ashla glares at the figure floating ten feet in the air. “Egan, give me a way to get up to that thing!”

Unable to dispel the phantom’s hold on the rest of the party, Earth-Egan casts air walk onto Ashla.

The looming hooded figure swings its fearsome scythe at Slim, passing through the rogue’s armor to tear away a piece of his life force with its cuts.

Taking stock of the situation, Slim realizes that the dancing ghosts mark the boundaries of the creature’s aura. He figures that the best way to free people from its sway is either to move them out of the dance or move the dance away from them. Choosing the latter option, Slim leaps through the air to attack the creature again.

“Come and get me you big bastard!” he shouts, trying to lead the hooded figure towards the back of the room and away from the hallway where several of the Crimson Blades are caught in the dance. But he takes grievous wounds for his trouble.

Ashla strides up into the air to attack the reaper head on, slashing at with her twin enchanted swords. The phantom strikes back, but its scythe clangs against her ghost touch armor.

Searching for some way to help his companions, Earth-Egan uses wall of stone to morph the hallyway into a slide arcing away from the ballroom. As the floor shifts beneath them, the dancing adventurers in the hallway—Zandu, Laori, Kyra, Sial, and Asyra—lose their footing and tumble down the slide. The five of them, along with the rubble from Kazavon’s statue, land in a heap a short ways outside the aura of the dancing figures.

Shaking off chunks of statue, Kyra rises to her feet first but hesitates at the sight of the swirling dancers. Zandu gets up next and casts haste on the five of them and Earth-Egan. The druid then melts a hole in the stone wall, forming a ramp leading all the way up into the hooded figure.

Swinging her spiked chain, Laori charges towards back into the room but as soon as she steps back into the aura she is mobbed by ghosts and drawn back into the dance. Kyra has to step forward and pull her back to safety. The halfling then lets fly with a magic stone, hurling it through the hole opened by Earth-Egan to crack the hooded figure in the back of the head.

Killed by Death

In the ballroom, Earth-Egan sinks into the ground and then rise out of the hole in the floor, reaching out with a huge hand to scoop up Arlynn. The paladin, still trapped in the dance, struggles futilely to break free.

Her twin swords whirling, Ashla presses her attack on the reaper, trying to keep its attention. Despite his wounds, Slim launches one more leaping attack against the hooded figure, striking it with his rapier. But this move draws the phantom’s ire. Dark robe billowing behind it, the reaper swoops over to the rogue and slashes out with its scythe, cutting him down.

Zandu looses a maximized lightning bolt at the murderous spectre, but his spell passes through it harmlessly to splatter against the far wall.

“It’s resistant to spells!” the gnoll calls out in fear and frustration.

Earth-Egan deposits Arlynn outside the circle of dancers and then reaches for Remmy. The paladin surges towards the looming figure, but as soon as she steps back into the aura she is once again swept up in the dance. Earth-Egan’s massive shoulders slump wearily.

Ashla’s twin swords draw their own elliptical dance through the air as they snake past the hooded giant’s defenses to whittle away at his spectral core, their blades slick with ectoplasm. But the great reaper turns away from the ranger—inviting more blows—and instead swoops over slash at the druid’s hulking elemental shape. The hardy gnome is able to resist much of its life-leeching attack, however.

The phantom’s movement shifts the radius of its aura of dancers, creating an opening for Zandu out in the hallway. In order to seek a better vantage point with which to target the creature, the sorcerer alters self into a halfling—much to Kyra’s delight—and then uses his small form to scramble out an arrow slit onto the clifftop outside the castle.

“C’mon, Kyra,” he shouts, “I can fly you up to the skylight!”

“You don’t have to tell me twice!” she says, scrambling after him. She tumbles out onto the cliff, but her face falls upon seeing that he’s resumed his gnoll form. “Aww, way to get a girl’s hopes up.”

“Spell only lasts a few minutes anyway,” Zandu shrugs. “But with a little more practice, I can get twenty minutes out of it.”

“I could maybe work with that,” Kyra says coyly, sidling up to circle an arm around his thigh.

Back inside the ballroom, Earth-Egan gently releases Remmy back to the floor. He then puts his massive stony fists up in a boxer’s stance before letting fly with a flurry of jabs and hooks that pound into the phantom thanks to his magic fang. The druid clobbers the spirit until its supernatural soundtrack goes warbly.

Zandu flies Kyra up over the rose-tinted ballroom skylight and drops her softly onto the roof. The halfling twirls her sling and tries to launch another magic stone through the skylight at the hooded creature below. But the enchanted stone merely bounces off harmlessly.

“Damn it!” she shouts, stamping her foot in frustration—which causes cracks to spiderweb through the glass. “Damn it!”

In the ballroom below, Ashla’s half-elven eyes light up on Slim’s body and flare with rage.

“It’s time to finish this,” she says, dropping her short sword and gripping her longsword with both hands. Moving at a relentless pace, she marches through the air towards the hooded skeleton, unflinching as its scythe screeches against her ghost touch armor. With one mighty swing of her sword, she cleaves the figure in half.

The ghostly music screeches to a halt as all the dancers in the ballroom turn towards the floating halves of the phantom. The crowd of spectres then rises up to claw the creature to shreds before sinking back below the bloodstained floor boards.

Fallen Shadow

The Crimson Blades then gather around Slim’s broken body, with Remmy cradling his head in her lap. The scythe’s final blow destroyed much of his equipment and rent open his armor.

As a somber mood sets over the group, Arlynn checks futilely for a pulse. She then tries to determine if his soul has been trapped by the curse of Scarwall, but she cannot tell. The paladin suggests that they should carry his body out of the castle in a bag of holding to keep it from rising again as an undead.

“Can’t we just bring him back?” Laori asks, her puzzled gaze flitting from grim face to grim face.

“He said he didn’t want to come back,” Egan explains. “DNR—Do Not Reincarnate.”

Remmy gently closes his eyes and breaks down in tears.

“You know, there is a bounty on him,” Zandu says, his ears perking up. “We could take him back to Kaer Maga and collect it.”

“It’s what he would have wanted,” Remmy sobs.

To help protect against undeath, Arlynn pours a flask of holy water down Slim’s throat, while Kyra tilts his head up.

“Man, this sucks,” Kyra says, “but it’s not exactly a surprise, the way he always charged into things. There’s a reason I always hang in the back.”

Zandu pulls the medallion from Slim’s neck. “Well, he certainly won’t be needing this where he’s gone.”

The gnoll starts to hang the medallion around his neck, but Remmy snatches it from him.

“That’s not yours to take!” she says.

“Hey, I was just holding it for the group,” the sorcerer replies.

“I can do that just fine myself,” the Gray Maiden says, tucking the medallion under her armor.

Tempting Fate

Taking stock of their losses and wounds from the battle, the Crimson Blades decide to retreat entirely from Scarwall for several days in order to recover in Kaer Maga. While Sial packs up the bone house and Zandu flies Barky out of the castle, Arlynn pays a solo visit to Mithrodar.

The paladin casts protection from evil and magic circle against evil on herself before stepping into the great hall. The chain spirit drifts towards her, its three chains rising up to dart ominously around her. Arlynn notes with some dismay that three chains still remain.

“Foolish, coming here alone, little paladin,” Mithrodar says.

“The Inheritor protects,” Arlynn shrugs, ignoring the rattling chains. “But nothing will shield you, spirit, from the justice you so richly deserve. We will destroy each of your anchors and when you have nothing left to cling to we will destroy you as well.”

“You will all die,” Mithrodar answers, “and I will claim your souls just as I claimed your friend’s.”

Arlynn smirks. “For all the centuries you’ve tainted this place, you’re still just the same puny weakling you were in Kazavon’s time.”

Two of the chains lash out at her and while the paladin fends them off, a third snakes around her ankle and pulls her to the floor.

“Who is the puny one now, mortal?” Mithrodar sneers, rising up in the air.

Arlynn clambers back to her feet, shaking off his attempt to trip her again and instead walking purposefully out of the hall.

“The end is coming for you, Mithrodar,” she calls over her shoulder, “and I pray to the goddess that I will be the one to strike the final blow.”

Unwanted Man

It takes Zandu three trips with teleport to bring the entire party to Kaer Maga, apparating them into the Common House. By this point, the Freedmen have simply marked off a square of the floor in chalk where the adventurers keep appearing. The patrons do eye the three Kuthites warily, but no one raises a fuss.

“Never thought I’d say it,” Egan shakes his head, “but I’m glad to be back in Kaer Maga.”

After securing lodging for a party their size, the adventurers head into the city to seek out a bounty office. Ashla leads them into the commercial kaleidoscope that is the Downmarket District. It’s close to noon on a hot summer’s day, but as ever the commercial district is packed. The half-elf leads them through the crowds to a large pavilion run by three Chelish brothers with oily black hair and pencil thin mustaches. Huge boards are staked out front with dozens of bounty notices and wanted posters pinned to them. The back of the pavilion opens onto a shanty, from which a cool breeze softly wafts. At a desk out front, a lizardman riddled with ritual scars is counting out a collection of ears for one of the brothers, while another makes notes in a ledger.

Zandu strolls right up to third brother and says “We’ve come to turn in a bounty. This man, I believe, is wanted by three different parties.”

The gnoll reaches into the bag of holding, grabs Slim’s body by its collar, and lifts his lolling head out for inspection. As he does this, a tall, broad-shouldered Chelish man with dark hair and blue eyes emerges from the back of the shop, a sword at his side and a shield slung across his armored back. His eyes flare at the sight of Slim’s head and he charges over, demanding “What the hell is that fucker doing here?”

Zandu quickly drops the head back into the bag.

“Friend of yours?” the sorcerer asks.

“I was going to kill him, but looks like I’m too late,” the tall man growls. “Tell me what happened to him.”

“We found him in Scarwall, dead,” Zandu shrugs. “Ghosts must have got him.”

The bounty hunter spits on the ground. “More than the bastard deserved.”

Remmy backhands him with her gauntlet. The bounty hunter massages his jaw a moment, but otherwise ignores the affront.

“Man, what’d he do to get you so worked up?” Egan asks.

The bounty hunter glares at the party and explains “That fucker got my sister killed.”

“I’m afraid you revenge will have to go unfulfilled,” Arlynn says.

“I was hired to find Ionas,” the bounty hunter explains, “killing him was just a bonus.”

“Welp, here he is,” Zandu says. “We’re happy to fork him over in exchange for the bounty; you might even get a finder’s fee out of it.”

The mercenary laughs. “The stiff isn’t worth anything dead or alive. The bounty is for the medallion he carried. Now, where is it?”

“We just found him like this,” the sorcerer says. “I don’t know anything about a medallion.”

“Don’t play games with me, Zandu,” the bounty hunter says, jabbing a finger in the gnoll’s chest. “I know all of you ran with him. Now, where is the medallion?”

“And how did you come by that information?” Asha asks quietly.

“I ran into an Ulfen wench on the road to Janderhoff, carrying this rag,” Nox says, pulling out Slim’s black and red scarf, now stained with blood. “She put up a good fight, for a woman that size.”

“So she’s dead then,” Zandu surmises.

“Stop stalling and give me the damn medallion,” Nox growls.

“You think he’d tell me where it’s hidden?” the sorcerer says.

Laori starts jumping up and down with her hand raised like an eager schoolgirl. “I know, I know! Why don’t we just ask him? That way we can find out if his spirit is trapped, too.”

The bounty hunter’s gaze flits from the bouncing elf to the bag of holding and back. “Fine. We’ll do it right here. Kel, can we use the back room?”

“Just throw a tarp down, Nox,” says the fixer.

The bounty hunter leads them into the shanty behind the pavilion. The room is crowded with stacks of parchment, a few battered chairs, and two wobbly tables. A rune-encrusted, man-sized safe sits off in a corner, slowly sucking heat from the room.

Zandu throws a tarp over the less cluttered of the two tables and the party then lays out Slim’s body. Remmy fusses over it, adjusting his collar, crossing its arms over the chest in stately repose, and combing his blond hair back into a semblance of order.

Nox watches with an almost clinical sense of interest, pointing at the gashes in the armor. “That looks like a scythe’s doing, you can tell from the long, arcing cuts. Nice to see he got the treatment every weed deserves.”

Laori stands over the corpse, nicks a finger on her spiked armor, and dribbles it over the body while intoning a short prayer to Zon-Kuthon. The light in the room seems to dim, while the chill rises to the point where the adventurers can see their own breath in the summer air. The elf then lightly slaps the corpse’s cheeks.

“Hey, Slim, you in there?” she asks.

Last Wishes

The body opens its glassy eyes. “Yeah. Not exactly where I expected to be.”

Nox grabs Slim by the collar. “Where’s the fucking amulet?”

“Aquilos?” Slim asks. “What’s this asshole doing here?”

“We tried to turn your body for the bounty and that’s where we met him,” Zandu says.

“Slim, he killed Freya,” Remmy says.

“I’ll start killing your friends off until you give me an answer.” Nox threatens. The Crimson Blades share a confused look as all ten of them reach for their weapons.

“Do you want me to kill him for you?” Remmy asks the corpse.

“Nobody’s killing anybody,” Slim declares. “Aquilos, I’m sorry about Valria, but the plan was her idea. I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

“A fat lot of good you were, then,” Nox spits back. “Now where’s the medallion?”

“In a safe place,” Slim replies. “If you want it, you’re going to have to take on a new contract working with my friends here. Help them finish their quest and they’ll give you the medallion. That’s the only way this is going to work.”

Nox glares at the body a moment, then looks up at the party. “You were always a pain in the ass, Ionas. All right, I’ll join your little crusade—so long as I get a share of the loot.”

“Man with a heart of gold,” Slim mutters.

“Ionas, are you all right?” Remmy asks, pushing past Nox to clutch his cold hand. “You’re sure you don’t want to come back? I should’ve been there to protect you, but I failed again!”

“Don’t blame yourself, Remmy,” the corpse says. "I’m doing good. Desna’s taken me to her home in the stars, and Valria’s here, too. I should really get back to her.

His voice starts to fade as he continues. ""Promise me you’ll see this thing through, Remmy—Scarwall, the Queen, all of it. And remember what we talked about."

“I- I promise,” she says shakily.

“Watch out for yourself, kid,” he whispers. “I’ll catch you on the flip side.”

With that, the body falls still.

Contract Killer

“Well,” Nox says, stepping around the table, “let me introduce myself. Name’s Aquilos Nox. I’ve been up and down this side of Avistan, by I originally hail from Cheliax.”

“And what is it exactly that you do, Nox?” Arlynn asks.

“Mercenary work,” the tall man says. He draws his steel shield and bastard sword. “This is my bread and butter.”

“Those are terrible names for weapons,” Egan snickers.

“They’re not— Never mind,” Nox grumbles. “I guess I should also let you know who my client is—Ambassador Amprei. He’s not the biggest fan of you lot, but he wants that medallion more than anything else.”

“What happened to the other fellow, Raven?” Arlynn asks.

“The ambassador doesn’t like failure,” Nox shrugs. “So that’s my story. What do the rest of you have to say for yourselves?”

“Zandu, sorcerer, and a fellow Chelaxian.” The gnoll extends a clawed hand. “I believe we’ve already met.”

“Ser Arlynn Farima, servant of the Inheritor and savior of Korvosa,” the senior paladin introduces herself.

“Egan, druid. Gnome, too, actually!”

“Ashla Blacktree, ranger.”

Nox looks at Remmy. “And who are you supposed to be, aside from the stiff’s fangirl?”

“Remmy, Gray Maiden,” she spits back at him.

“You’re a little far from the Mad Queen’s side, don’t you think?” he says.

“We’re on a mission to save Korvosa and Her Radiant Majesty,” Remmy replies, “so there’s no better place for me to be.”

Nox laughs. “Now there’s a lost cause if every I’ve heard one. Last I saw, your gal Ileosa had gone completely ’round the block.”

Remmy lays a hand on her sword, but Kyra deftly slips between the two of them.

“Kyra, halfling,” she says, clasping Nox’s sword hand. “Formerly of the Cerulean Society. Oh, and co-owner of the Sticky Mermaid.”

The mercenary finds himself shaking her hand. “The tavern in Old Dock? I’ve been there a few times; it’s good place.”

“Not anymore,” the halfling grimaces.

“It burned down,” Zandu explained. “Torched by a mob.”

“They killed Peaches,” Arlynn adds.

“Damn, I liked Peaches. Real character, that one,” Nox says. He shrugs. “So, where to next on this glorious quest for justice and goodness?”

“Back to the Common House to rest up, I suppose,” Arlynn says.

“We’re in town to recover after getting our asses handed to us by a bunch of ghosts in Scarwall,” Zandu explains. “Then it’s back to the haunted castle to fight more undead.”

“Sounds like I need to ask for more money,” Nox grumbles.

“You wanna talk about more compensation?” Kyra pipes up. “Help us out and might be I’ll forgive your tab—because you better believe I kept those records when I left town.”

Nox laughs. “I like you, short stuff. You’re all right.”

“Everybody likes me,” Kyra shrugs. She slaps his armored knee. “Now c’mon, let’s get a drink and catch you up on the whole sordid story.”

Shield Story

Trying to get more information on the skeleton buried beneath the ballroom, Arlynn and Zandu seek out heraldry experts to look at the tower shield. They eventually arrive at a shop bedecked with shields and flags. The elderly half-elf proprietor is excited at the sight of the shield—a little too excited, as he frequently gets drawn into tangents discussing the cdraftsmanship of the shield and other details of his profession. Arlynn and Zandu keep him more or less on track and he is able to provide more details about the shield and its owner.

The rampant eagle design is a symbol of the old Ustalavian County of Tamrivena, now known as the County of Canterwall. The colors indicate the shield belonged to a knight of the extinct House Crommerand, and the motto etched into the back of the shield (“He who laughs last”) indicates that the shield belongs to Ser Echolt Crommerand of Tamrivena, who lived 800 years ago. Arlynn asks if he was a paladin of Iomedae.

“Hmm, it’s said he was a pious man,” the half-elf explains, hunched over his books, “but whether he was blessed by the gods the histories do not say. He was lost with all his men during Count Andachi’s war with the old warlord Kazavon.”

Zandu also has the half-elf identify some other items recovered from the castle. The blue pennant with the silver dragon emblem is said to bear the symbol of the Silver Crusade, a faction within the Pathfinder society dedicated to the mission of the good deities. The pewter griffon badge, meanwhile, is the sigil of the Griffin Knights of Taldor. The sorcerer leaves these items, as well as some jewelry, with the heraldry expert as payment for his services.