Curse of the Crimson Throne

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.

Master of the Castle
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 8

Closet Cases

Having completed their exploration of the war tower to the northeast, the Crimson Blades emerge into the sullen mid-morning, the air cold and wet and lifeless. Undeterred by the thick air of menace and the gray clouds above, Laori skips along while swinging her spiked chain, her hooked armor jingling like a sack of coppers.

“Exploring this castle with you guys has been so. much. fun!” she squees. “I never get to do cool group activities like this! Where do we go next?”

“Those two out buildings on the castle balcony,” Arlynn points to their left.

“Let’s start with the smaller one,” Zandu suggests. “It’s less likely to have a big monster in it.”

“Plenty of room for lots of little ones, though,” Kyra pipes up.

“Why don’t you keep a lookout in our rear, Kyra?” Arlynn suggests. “We need someone with keen eyes to make sure we don’t get ambushed.”

“Is that a crack about me?” Remmy asks. “Because you could do a lot better.”

“We all know you have a singular vision for watch duty, Remmy,” Slim claps her on the shoulder, “but let’s give Kyra a turn. And guess this means I take point again, right?”

“Yep,” Egan nods.

With Kyra hanging back to guard their tail and slim in the lead, the adventurers approach the smaller of the two buildings perched on top of the stony bulk of the castle. Little more than a shack, the building has a small portico hanging over door. After checking for traps and locks, Slim gingerly pushes it open. Inside, the room is mostly bare, save for a few empty, overturned weapons racks.

Ashla searches through the ransacked armory, finding no sign that it has be entered recently, but also discovering that not all the supplies had been taken. She finds a rune-engraved brass athame, a ritual dagger which Zandu identifies as a +1 dagger of ghost touch. Though nearly useless against creatures of flesh and blood, the weapon is capable of dealing full damage to incorporeal targets. Slim quickly takes possession of it.

The party then turns its attention to the large building sitting on the castle’s second story, an oddly-shaped structure with three sets of doors. They split into two groups, with Irabeth, Egan, Remmy, and Laori positioning themselves by a smaller door while Arlynn, Ashla, Zandu, and Slim prepare to open a set of double doors.

Once Slim has cleared them, Arlynn simply yanks the door open, revealing a cramped storage closet . . . containing four ancient zombies that lunge at the paladin. Arlynn and Ashla swiftly reduce the closet zombies to a festering pile of meat, with the only casualty being Ashla’s sword, which goes flying during the fray and needs to be recovered.

“Are you okay over there?” Irabeth calls out from her position by the other door..

“Just cleaning the closet,” Arlynn assures her.

They call Kyra over and ask her to sort through the debris for any valuable supplies while the adventurers converge on the main door to the big building. Slim stealths around the corner to the third door, hopeful that it leads to the same room. Remmy positions herself at the corner, to relay information between the rogue and the rest of the party.

Skeletal Surprise

Irabeth kicks open the door, revealing a dusty sparring chamber, empty save for a few toppled-over combat dummies . . . and a band of skeletal warriors waiting for them. Silent save for the clacking of its bones, a skeletal minotaur guard lowers its horned head and charges the half-orc paladin, attempting to drive her off the castle wall.

The bony bulk of the creature forces Irabeth backwards against the battlements and Egan gets caught up in the fracas. Together, though, the gnome and the half-orc are able to push back against the horned attacker, bracing themselves against the stone crenelations. The minotaur guard is left standing half in and half out of the sparring room, blocking the entrance for the other skeletons. In the back of the room, a skeletal archer tries to feather Irabeth, but its shaft simply gets caught in the minotaur’s rib cage.

With nowhere else to go, one of the skeletons opens the second door, failing to notice Slim in the shadows, and walks right past him. The rogue waits until the skeleton is well out in the open before striking—but his rapier point just screeches across the bone warrior’s plate mail. As another skeleton charges him from across the room, Slim calls out “Remmy, I could use a hand!”

“On my way!” she replies, advancing towards the armored skeleton while Slim ducks a sword swing from its compatriot.

Around the corner, Arlynn steps sideways up the side of the wall to allow Ashla to slide forward underneath her so that they both can strike at the minotaur. The paladin is able to badly wound it and Laori gives it a good crack on the head with her spiked chain, but the undead creature is still standing. The minotaur skeleton makes another push to drive Egan and Irabeth off the the castle, but the odd pair hold their ground and the monster is forced to retreat back into the sparring room. There, Zandu destroys it and another skeleton with well-placed magic missiles

By the other door, Remmy has no better luck getting through the warrior skeleton’s plate, but she distracts it long enough for Slim to slip into position behind it and knoc out one of its vertebrae. The rogue then pirouettes to strike down the other skelton harrying him.

Only one skellie remains, the archer at the back of the room. Ashla, Egan, Irabeth and Arlynn all advance towards it. The skeleton knocks and looses another arrow, which glances off Arlynn’s gleaming armor. Behind them, Zandu pops into the door frame and fires a magic missile around them, blasting the archer to pieces.

The adventurers pause to catch their breath.

“Impressive work standing fast against the minotaur, Ser Irabeth,” Arlynn says.

“My mother always said I could stare down a charging bull,” the half-orc shrugs bashfully. “Never expected to actually do it.”

Asla pokes around the chamber, ripping open training dummies, peering beneath loose floor tiles, and sifting through piles of dust and debris. She finds a simple leather scroll case—empty—inscribed with the words “To Kessa, with love.” Zandu claims the artifact as his.

Kyra also returns, having thoroughly scoured the zombie closet while they fought the skeletons.

“Most of it was crap,” she admits, “but I did find this.”

The halfling woman holds up an ancient lute with lacquered inlays, stretching almost as long as she is tall. Though it has no trace of magic, Zandu figures the instrument could be sold for a pretty penny in Kaer Maga.

The sparring chamber connects to two more inner rooms. Egan, in the form of an Earth Elemental, scouts them out by traveling stealthily through the stone floor. After ascertaining that the rooms beyond hold no more monsters, the adventurers investigate, finding a narrow hallway and another castle smithy with cold, dusty forges and broken smith’s tools.

In the ashes of the long-dead forge fire, Ashla finds a three inch glass sphere full of swirling blue mist. Though the sphere itself is a mystery, Arlynn recognizes the shape within as a trapped soul. She struggles in vain to sense its aura, but the evil suffusing the castle is too strong.

“We will have to test it further outside of Scarwall,” the paladin says. “Zandu, would you mind if I stored it in your scroll case in the meantime?”

“Might be a tight fit,” the gnoll grins, offering the case.

“That’s what she said!” Egan, Kyra, and Laori all blurt out, collapsing into giggles.

As the laughter fade away, it is replaced by a low growling sound, which they soon determine is coming from Irabeth’s stomach. The half-orc shuffles her feet awkwardly.

“I had a light breakfast,” she mutters.

“It is past noon,” Slim offers. “Why don’t we break for lunch?”

“A good idea,” Arlynn nods. “Laori, we spoke before about a heroes’ feast . . .”

Laori’s Picnic

Rather than retreating into the gloom of the bone house with Shadowcount Sial and Asyra, the Crimson Blades choose to picnic in the courtyard of the castle. Laori sets about casting the heroes’ feast spell, pacing around the field erratically while intoning a prayer to Zon-Kuthon in Shadowtongue and periodically pricking her fingers on her hooked armor, shaking blood droplets onto the ground, and then sucking on the wounds. As she walks, the adventurers notice that she leaves shadowy footprints behind, eventually tracing out a sinister, sinewy pattern on the ground.

Once the ritual is complete, the shadow footprints meld into one another and then begin to rise out of the ground. Shadowy tables and chairs coalesce, along with disturbingly clinical utensils and plates. Also swirling into existence are man-sized shadow bunnies, who proceed to serve the meal and wait upon the party. Each adventurer is delivered something slightly different and tailor to their tastes—vegetarian dishes for Egan, meat-heavy meals for Zandu and Irabeth—-though all draw their inspiration from Nidalese cuisine.

“What kind of meat is this, exactly?” Arlynn asks warily.

“It’s whatever you want it to be!” Laori says. “Dig in!”

“I wonder what human tastes like,” Zandu murmurs, taking a bite.

The food, despite looking slightly sketchy, tastes delicious. Irabeth asks to try a bite from every plate, while Earth-Egan shovels his food off the table with a stony fist and into his cavernous mouth. The druid also pauses to gently pet one of the shadow bunnies. Ashla spies Sial looking down at them from the eye socket of the bone house at the other end of the courtyard.

As the meal progresses, the Crimson Blades feel more and more refreshed, as if a great weight were taken of their shoulders even as they filled their bellies. By the time the shadowy spread fades away, they are eager to continue their exploration.

Zandu points at the tower just off the courtyard. “I’ve been wanting to check that out for a long time.”

Hall of the Dead

The tower is filled with a spiral staircase that winds its way up until it reaches the open minaret at the top, which looks out across the ruined causeway and the third floor of the castle. The tower top is largely empty, but Ashla notices signs that with was inhabited by gargoyles fairly recently. Gazing out across the third floor of the castle, the adventurers also notice more gargoyle roosts but are unable to tell if the figures inhabiting them are mere statues or more foes. Ashla’s investigations also turn up a palm-sized block of salt, the presence of which puzzles the party.

On their way back down the stairs, Zandu notices a sliver of light peeking through a seam on the wall and uncovers a secret door opening onto Scarwall’s second floor. After ascertaining that the rooms previously cleared by Sial remained safe, the adventurers turn to the double doors leading into a large unexplored chamber.

Earth-Egan enters first, gliding stealthily through the stone to scope out the room. Thick wooden columns, their sides caked with dust, support the ceiling above the large hall. Between them, in the center of the room, sits a large fire pit, its ashes long cold. At the western end of the hall, in the center of a wide dais, is a great chair carved of oak and studded with iron rivets. Down one step and to the left of it is a smaller chair of oak, less elaborate. The druid sees no immediate enemies.

After he reports back, Arlynn warily opens one of the doors. Slim sneaks inside, seeking cover behind a pillar. The paladin, accompanied by a stealthy Earth-Egan, ventures into the center of the hall while the rest of the party waits just outside the doors. Slim leans a hand against the pillar he’d ducked behind, then pulls it back just as quickly, his fingers sticky with ectoplasmic residue. Arlynn notices something moving behind the smaller chair on the dais.

“We’re not alone here,” she says.

She reaches for her holy symbol, but the ghosts act first, gliding out from their hiding places in the wooden columns. Slim finds himself flanked by two angry spectres dressed in the tattered livery of castle pages, while three more swarm around Arlynn. Earth-Egan, safely em

Slim leans a hand against the pillar he’d ducked behind, then pulls it back just as quickly, his fingers sticky with ectoplasmic residue. An angry spectre of a man in a tattered page’s uniform slides out of the pillar towards the rogue as more ghosts emerge from the surrounding columns. The ghosts close in on Arlynn from three sides, while Slim is quickly flanked. The creatures’ spectral hands grasp at the rogue, draining away life force with every touch. The ghosts have a harder time against Arlynn, their translucent fingers clawing fruitlessly against her ghost touch plate armor.

While the two adventurers are distracted by the mob of ghosts, a third figure emerges from the small chair, a tall, vaguely humanoid spirit wrapped in three very solid-looking chains that dangle below him and clank against the stone tiles as he floats across the room toward Arlynn. The paladin recognizes his breed of undead from her studies at the War College: a chain spirit, a soul bound to the site of its death with the power to bind other dead souls to it. A chain spirit can also bind up to four “spirit anchors,” which grant it additional power including the inability to be destroyed so long as at least one anchor remains. With this flash of insight, Arlynn recognizes that the chain spirit is the being sustaining the curse on Scarwall.

“It’s Mithrodar!” she shouts.

The master of Scarwall reaches a ghostly hand towards the paladin’s heart, while his three chains rise up and strike at her like snakes. But as Mithrodar reaches out, Arlynn’s holy symbol flares with light, leaving the ghost disoriented, his spectral form wispier and less coherent. He snaps back to his small chair, where he floats confusedly.

Arlynn takes this opportunity to call upon Iomedae’s might and channel a bust of positive energy through the room. She then starts to retreat back towards the double doors.

“We have to fall back—he can’t leave this room!” the paladin calls out. “Irabeth, cover us!”

Slim dives past the grasping hands of the ghosts and tumbles out into the hall, while Irabeth—standing by the door—channels positive energy. Several of the ghosts are blasted to pieces and Earth-Egan rises out of the floor to call down a flame strike on the remainders, incinerating them.

The Crimson Blades regroup outside the chamber. Together, Arlynn and Zandu realize that Mithrodar had only three chains because they had already destroyed his fourth spirit anchor, the dragon Belshallam. Arlynn explains that Mithrodar can only be defeated after the other anchors are also destroyed. With this new-found knowledge, the party cautiously continues their exploration of the castle’s second story, wary of stumbling back into Mithrodar’s great hall.

The Spirit of Friendship

On the other side of the great hall, the adventurers discover what appears to be a meeting room. When they open the door, they find three richly dressed figures—two men and one woman—seated on the crumbling chairs around the moldering table, chatting casually in archaic Varisian. Upon noticing the party, the trio screams as the skin peels from their faces to expose skulls that crumple into dust and vanish. But Arlynn can her the lingering sound of a woman sobbing in the room and warns the party that a haunt still lingers.

The adventurers move on to an adjacent chamber, which appears to be a guard post of some sort. The room’s main point of interest is a chalkboard covered in scribbles written in Giant. Slim translates them to reveal that the board is a duty roster for the castle’s minotaur guards, tracking patrol shifts and the like. A note scribbled in one corner reminds the guards that they take orders only from Kazavon, not “puny Mithrodar” or “sniveling Kleestaad.”

While Arlynn pauses to use the adjacent garderobe, Ashla searches a nearby storage chamber, discovering a polished elf skull wedged in the rafters. She presents it to Laori, who cheerily adds it to her collection.

“Thank you, that’s so thoughtful,” the elf priestess says. “No one ever gives me cool things like this. You guys are like the bestest friends I’ve had in decades, maybe ever.” She suddenly looks up from the skull, and a touch of concern in her wide, dark eyes. “We—we are friends, right?”

“Of course, Laori,” Arlynn says.

“We love having you with us,” Slim nods.

“You’re totally our pal!” Egan adds.

Laori grins. “You guys are super special to me, you know. I really need find something awesome to give back to you!”

While the elf brainstorms gift ideas, they wrap up their investigation of the area by finding another abandoned bath. In it, Ashla discovers a leather pouch containing a strange red powder that Zandu identifies as the mind-enhancing (but addictive) drug flayleaf and claims the supply as his own.

Having explored the castle’s second story, the party prepares to depart. But first, Arlynn returns to the meeting room and dispels the haunt by channeling positive energy.

Enter the Gimps

The adventurers take a side door our onto the balcony of the unexplored western wing of the castle. They find a staircase leading down and follow it, eventually arriving in the entry room to the wing from the courtyard. Faced with several doors to choose from, Slim begins to check them each for traps before succeeding. But before he can complete his task, they are disturbed by some unwelcome guests.

Two bizarre ghostly figures emerge from one of the doors. Both wear identical outfits of formfitting black leather with tight, black leather masks covering their heads. Each mask has a stitched seam running from forehead to jaw line to seal it in place.

One of the ghosts stands no taller than a short halfling; one of his legs is missing, replaced by what appears to have been a chair or table leg. The other towers at just over seven feet in high, his abnormally long arms dangling down to mid-calf.

The freaks scamper over to Zandu and Irabeth, the nearest adventurers, gesticulating wildly as if struggling to communicate through some strange pantomime. As the Crimson Blades try to suss out what the ghosts are trying communicate, the gnoll sorcerer realizes that there is no message behind the gestures—only an attack on the psyche of all who witness them!

“They’re eating our brains!” he shouts, backing away.

At this news, Kyra flees the room, ducking behind the adjoining door. The short ghost tries reaches for Zandu, but its spectral peg leg inexplicably snaps and it falls flat on its face—three inches above the ground. Arlynn and Ashla take this opportunity to carve it up with their blades. Slim draws his +1 brass dagger of ghost touch and joins Irabeth in destroying the taller one in short order.

Taking stock of the damage, many of the adventurers feel woozy from the ghosts’ horrific pantomime. They party realizes that they will need plenty of restoration spells the next morning.

Open House in the Haunted Castle

Determined to press on, the Crimson venture deeper into the western wing of the castle. Beyond the entry chamber, a central hallway runs through the structure, with doors to either side. Most of the side rooms appear to have once been spacious single bedrooms, now home only to dust-covered dressing tables, sagging chairs, and dilapidated beds. Beneath one such ruined bed, Ashla fishes out a matching pair of minotaur leather bracers and boots, which Zandu identifies as bracers of climbing and boots of jumping. Kyra takes the boots, while Ashla straps on the bracers.

Scouting ahead of the party by traveling through the stone floor, Earth-Egan finds a group of zombies and skeletons lurking in a set of servants’ quarters. The druid provides the party with some acorn grenades and then slides back into the room, calling down an ice storm that batters the skeletons apart with heavy hail stones. Irabeth then throws open the door, so that she, Arlynn, Ashla, and Slim can pelt the zombies with the exploding acorns to eliminate the zombies.

In the adjacent storage chamber, amid the ancient detritus, Ashla inexplicably finds a sack of fresh turnips. Immediately suspicious, Zandu tries to detect magic but can sense no supernatural aura. As far as Earth-Egan can determine, they are fine, fresh turnips. Arlynn decides to take bite out of one of them.

“Ew!” Kyra cries out. “You’re supposed to wash them first, dummy!”

The paladin chews thoughtfully—aside from a rich earthy undertone, the turnip tastes like a sharp and healthy tuber.

“I bet you could do a lot with these turnips,” Zandu says to Kyra. “Mash ‘em up, heat em’ in water and stir with the spicy magic spoon and we could have some great stew.”

“Oh yeah, don’t even get me started on what I can do with these babies,” Kyra says, hefting one of the red vegetables in her hand. “Turnips are one of the Five Staples of halfling cuisine, you know.”

After stowing away the sack of turnips, the party continues to go door to door down the hallway. Disturbingly, nestled among the bedrooms are also several torture chambers, equipped with decrepit iron maidens, crumbling racks, and rusting cages. Laori complains about the poor state in which the interrogation gear was left.

“Just look at the state of that rack over there,” she says, pointing at crooked table strew with slack chains from the winch. “‘Be kind, rewind’ is like Torture 101. It’s a good thing Kazavon isn’t here to see this—he’d die all over again of shame!”

Wedged behind an iron maiden, Ashla finds a piece of parchment with writing on it in Shadowtongue which Slim translates as a prayer to Zon-Kuthon that also doubles as instructions for how to break a prisoner’s will. The adventurers return that to Laori as well.

Zandu asks if there are any items in the room she’d like mended and the elf priestess admits that the Iron maiden is of a particularly distinctive style, as well as being a relaxing place to slip away to for a few hours. They decide to return to the room later.

The last bedroom in the hall holds a water-logged journal by a diplomat from the ancient Ustalavian county of Tamrivena, there to negotiate a nonaggression treaty with Kazavon. According to Slim’s translation, the diplomat was concerned that his room contained a closet he can’t open—rightly so, since the room beyond was a pocket torture chamber.

Inside the small torture room, the adventurers find a mummified hand wearing a ring markets with the double-headed eagle sigil of Tamrivena.

The Curse of Kazavon’s Smile

Towards the end of the western wing, the party enters a parlor of some sort, set at the intersection of the long hall and an entryway marked by a pair of elaborate mahogany double doors. A pair of sagging, velvet-covered divans sit against the walls beneath a thick layer of dust. Standing against the northern wall is a marble statue of a man clad in elegant nobles’ robes, though his head is hidden beneath a rough leather sack.

Zandu detects an aura of enchantment about the statue and the Crimson Blades are immediately on guard. The sorcerer suspects the statue could be animated. With Kyra keep watch down the hall to ensure they aren’t ambushed, the rest of the party arrays themselves in front of the statue, while Arlynn spiderwalks up the wall to stand over it. Reaching down with a gauntleted hand, she snatches the sack off.

Her act reveals the stern, scowling face of a handsome human man with the flinty eyes of a warrior and a sneer of disdain over perfect, if somewhat overlarge, teeth. A wave of compulsion ripples over all who gaze upon the visage, though Arlynn and Kyra are unable to see the face from where they each stand. Ashla and Laori are unaffected by the enchantment due to their elvish blood, and Irabeth and Earth-Egan are able to shake off the momentary impulse. But Slim, Zandu, and Remmy feel an irresistible compulsion to walk to the back of the parlor and climb through a hidden trap door in the ceiling.

Seeing some of her companions acting strangely, Arlynn stuffs the sack back over the statue’s head, while Earth-Egan rises out of the floor to block their way with his huge elemental form. As the three ensorcelled adventurers struggle to find a way past the living wall of stone, Irabeth draws upon her divine mercies to banish the curse from each of them, one by one.

Freed from his compulsion, Slim recognizes the statue’s face from one of Salvator Scream’s paintings: the portrait of a grinning man peeling the skin off his hand to reveal blue scales beneath.

“It’s a statue of Kazavon,” the rogue says.

“Not for long,” Arlynn replies. “Irabeth, care to lend a hammer?”

While the two paladins batter the marble sculpture into elegant rubble, Zandu asks Slim to help investigate the trap door whose presence was revealed by the spell. The trap door leads to a small, nondescript tower chamber with four narrow windows that look out over the castle rooftops.

The room’s only feature is a single shriveled dwarven corpse huddled at the base of the west wall, its bony arms locked firmly around its bent knees, its parchment-thin skin dried and cracked in places, revealing the bones beneath. A bushy, gray beard still covers much of its skull-like jaw line, though portions have fallen out into its lap. Next to it is a small coil of string and a pile of tiny bones with a few black feathers interspersed among them.

A second trap door in the ceiling fifteen feet above opens onto the top of the tower.

Lost Soul Found

Once the party regroups in the parlor, they take a wary look at the mahogany double doors to the west, the last part of the wing they have yet to explore. Consulting their maps, they suspect the doors lead to the room with the large, rose-tinted stained glass ceiling.

“I’d bet my eyeteeth there’s another lord of Scarwall lurking in there,” Zandu says.

“I don’t think we can tackle anything big until we rest up and get healed,” Slim replies.

“There’s still a few hours left in the day,” Arlynn notes, pulling out the leather scroll case. “What say we find out more about that strange soul sphere?”

Earth-Egan uses wall of stone to create a walkable path across the ruined causeway and the party advances out of the castle to Mandraivus’ mausoleum. There, they consult with Zellara about the sphere.

“It’s some kind of a soul jar,” the ghostly Varisian explains, “but a very strange one. Usually the jars have lids so they can be used over and over again to trap souls and prevent them from passing on to their eternal rest. But open this one, you’d have to smash it.”

Away from the castle’s overwhelming aura, Arlynn detects evil on the sphere and picks up no sign of taint. But Zandu remains wary of releasing the soul within.

“There are all manner of powerful fey who might not be evil, but are still very dangerous,” the gnoll sorcerer warns. “Trust me, I know.”

“Champions are for challenges,” Arlynn shrugs, setting the sphere down on a flat rock. She hefts her warhammer in both hands. “And sometimes, Zandu, you’ve just gotta have faith!”

The sphere explodes into glittering crystal under the hammer’s blow and the blue mist swirls up into the air. It momentarily takes the form of a beautiful woman in long flowing robes, with two feathered wings sprouting from her back. She smiles at them and bows her head, before vanish up into the sun-streaked sky.

“See?” Arlynn nods. “We were right to release her.”

“But what was she?” Zandu asks.

“A cleric of Sarenrae?” Laori offers. “Those like their kind of vestments.”

“Cleric or no, I’m pretty sure she was a maftet,” Slim says. “Half human, half lion, and half eagle. Not sure what she was doing here; from what I hear maftets rarely travel outside of Garund.”

With the sun sinking low on the horizon, the Crimson Blades debate what to do next. Ultimately it is decided that Zandu will take a small group back to Kaer Maga to make trades while the rest of the party returns to the bone house to spend the night. After arranging a means of signalling the all clear to each other the following morning, the two groups part ways.

What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 7

Pick up the Bones, but Leave the Soul Alone

The storm that had been brewing all evening lashes the courtyard with rain and hail, forcing the Crimson Blades to seek shelter in the adjacent castle hallway. While they wait, Sial has Asyra cleanse him of the splintery remains of Groot the Treant, while Slim confronts Laori over a vision he had during the battle.

Eventually the downpour slackens to a drizzle, and Ashla takes advantage of this lull to get to work skinning a section of the Belshallam’s hide to craft into armor for Egan. Arlynn offers her dragon bane sword to assist, but Ashla declines, saying the blade is too unwieldy for the detail work. Egan supervises the skinning.

Irabeth tearfully picks through the battlefield, collecting the bones of Princess. Seeing her distress, Arlynn goes to comfort the half-orc.

“Don’t despair, Irabeth,” she says. “Princess was imbued with the grace of the Inheritor herself and her spirit cannot be conquered so easily. I am sure she will be return to you soon.”

“Are you sure?” the big woman says, wiping a tear from her face with a green hand. “I want her back so bad.”

“I’m certain of it,” Arlynn says, “so long as we are patient and stay true to the course Iomedae has laid out for us.”

“Back home, I grew up around horses, but Princess was the first one I got to call my very own,” Irabeth says, hefting the bag of bones. “She was more than just a beast of burden, she was a courageous partner and my final link to Lastwall.”

Irabeth kicks a gargoyle thumb across the puddle-strewn courtyard. “I pray that Iomedae sends her back to me as soon as I am worthy.”

“I understand your loss, my friend,” Arlynn says. “If anything happened to my bonded sword, I’d—”

“Princess is worth more than some stupid sword!” Irabeth bellows, her damp eyes blazing. She drops the bag and then clamps both hands to her mouth, shocked at her own outburst. “Please forgive me, Ser Arlynn, I should not have shouted so; I know you only meant to be kind.”

“Think nothing of it, Ser Irabeth,” the senior paladin says, retrieving the bag of the horse’s remains from the ground. “You are right. Of course Princess means more than any piece of metal. I pray she returns to you soon.”

“I must also apologize for my unruliness when you were treating with the dragon,” Irabeth says, tacking the sack from Arlynns hands. She shuffles her feet uncertainly. “I was mad with rage and you were right to stop me then. My anger still gets the better of me too often.” She looks up at the Bekyar woman. “I hope I have not shamed myself in your eyes.”

“Never,” Arlynn says, giving her a friendly slap the shoulder.

Irabeth perks up at that and grins. But Arlynn’s comments don’t stop her from drifting over to the dragon corpse, which she proceeds to kick savagely with the sharp pointed greaves of her celestial plate mail.

“Hey, I’m working here!” Ashla protests, a few feet away.

“Sorry,” Irabeth shrugs, tromping off.

A Night in Scarwall

As the rain starts to pick up again, the adventurers decide to camp in the courtyard withing Sial’s bone house rather than brave the unknown space of the castle barracks. Like before, the bottom two floors are given over to the party (and Laori), while the top floor is reserved for Sial and Asyra.

The bone house proves to be an unpleasant refuge, with the damp fog and sheets of rain slapping through the arrow slits that line the walls of each floor. The storm does nothing to mute the stench of the decaying pile of dragon meat nearby, either. On the second floor, Zandu jerry-rigs a tarp to shield off the storm-ward side of the building, cutting down on the wind and rain. Egan chooses to wildshape into a huge earth elemental and sleep in the rocks below Barky.

Arlynn asks Laori to prepare a heroes’ feast in the morning. The paladin also asks if the unhallow effect on the castle is assisting the Kuthites. Laori says the effect is muted, as the castle’s denizens no longer belong to ZK. She also mentions that the entire bone house is an altar to the Midnight Lord, which does little to set the party at ease.

As storm and cold lash the tower, the adventurers (mostly) peel out of their armor and take to bed. On first watch, Slim stays dressed for battle and sets himself up in the right eye socket of the immense skull that caps the bone house, a cloak wrapped around him for a semblance of warmth. From his perch, he sees strange, ghostly lights in the castle towers and hears odd voices on the wind, but nothing that appears to notice the bone house.

Which is why it comes as something of a surprise when the putrid head of Belshallam, eyes glowing with blue flame, lunges down from overhead and bites him savagely. The rogue lets out a terrible scream that alerts the rest of the tower.

Evil Does Not Sleep

Ashla, already in armor, leaps to her feet and races upstairs. She passes through Sial’s chambers, where the Shadowcount, bound up in Asyra’s chains, is dangling from the ceiling, apparently naked.

“Figures,” the half-elf says as she scrambles up the ladder past them.

On the second floor, Kyra starts climbing the slippery outside of the tower, rapier clutched in her teeth and wind tugging at her black nightgown.

In the center of the tower, a pajama-clad Zandu casts haste upon the party to speed their defense against the threat. The warrior women on the bottom floor taken this opportunity to rush towards the top, passing a clumsily dressed Sial on their way up.

The dragon bites at Slim again, its foul stench leaving him nauseated, but he is able to avoid being snatched up by its putrid jaws.

Irabeth, armed with sword and board but wearing only her small clothes, arrives beside him and asks what’s the problem, but Slim can merely gargle and point upwards. They are soon joined by Arlynn and Remmy, both also half-dressed, and Laori, clad as ever in her hooked black ring mail and grinning with excitement.

In the courtyard, Barky the Treant lumbers towards the tower, while Earth-Egan rumbles up from the ground. They hammer the dragon with their enormous fists, which slap against its rotting, rain-slick flesh with a sickening splat.

When it Rains, It Pours

“C’mon, people, this isn’t a spectator sport!” Belshallam calls out and three spectres rise up from the rubble of the gargoyles.

After one failed attempt, Ashla climbs up the slippery skull tower to come face to face with the dragon. Kyra, meanwhile, has quietly crept up on the other end of the undead monster.

But the dragon lashes out with its claws, causing Ashla to loose her footing and plunge down onto the wet cobblestones below.

Two of the spectres, meanwhile, attack Earth-Egan, sapping at his life force. He tries to fight back but his boulder-sized fist are of little use against the ghostly apparitions.

The third spectre slides inside the bone house behind Remmy.

Following Ashla’s example, Arlynn uses her slippers of spider climb to walk up the side of the skull and confront the dragon. She feels a strange surge of divine energy flowing through her, the familiar radiance of Iomedae but also something darker and more alien guiding her swordhand through inventive new cuts and slashes.

“You should have stayed dead, abomination,” the drenched paladin shouts over the wailing wind and rain. Alrynn’s attack knocks the dragon off balance, its claws raking against the tower and wing flapping wildly to keep from tumbling off.

Kyra takes the opportunity to strike the creature savagely from behind, have braced herself against a fall beforehand. In the eye socket below, a thoroughly drenched Irabeth slashes at one of the flailing wings.

“Taste righteous steel, murderer!” she roars.

Slim, having recovered from his momentary revulsion, parkours his way up onto the skull top, drops the Vindicator and vaults onto the back of the dragon with his rapier drawn.

Night Flight

The undead creature lets out an unearthly roar and takes wing, lashing Arlynn with its claws along the way. Slim clings to it for dear life as the creature flies far over the crater lake that surrounds the castle.

On the ground, Earth-Egan, with an assist from Zandu, damages one of the spectres. The druid then sinks his elemental body back into the earth, successfully luring in one of the creatures where it can be destroyed. Ashla battles against the second spectre with her twin swords.

In the tower, Remmy freaks at the sight of the spectre, shouting “Ack! A ghost! I hate these things!”

Hastened by Zandu’s spell, she slashes three times and cuts it to ribbons.

Asyra and a fully clothed Sial retreat down to the ground floor, finally emerging to help Ashla against the remaining spectre.

As Belshallam flies off with Slim clinging to its rotting neck and Arlynn stuck on the tower roof, Egan bursts from the ground, his form shifting from huge earth elemental to roc. Arlynn grabs Slim’s discarded crossbow and Roc-Egan grabs Arlynn. Through wind and fog, the druid and his passenger chase the dragon out over the lake.

The dragon whirls about and after clawing at Roc-Egan, the wyrm flies back over the castle and beyond it, far out to the lake on the other side. Surprisingly sprightly for a corpse, Belshallam outpaces the druid, who can only fly back over the castle. Roc-Egan calls lightning down onto the dragon, to no effect, and Zandu’s magic missile proves just as ineffective.

Dangling from Roc-Egan’s claws, Arlynn looses four bolts from the Vindicator at the flapping hulk through the wind and fog, but only one of the shafts pierces the dragon’s decaying flesh.

Legs wrapped around its rotten neck and one hand gripping it for balance, Slim stabs at the creature with his rapier.

“It’s time to put you down on the ground!” he calls out.

“As you wish,” says Belshallam.

Dealing with Dragons

Its glowing blue eyes flaring, the great beast arcs around back towards Scarwall. The dragon tucks its wings back in a dives and then hurls Slim off its neck, intending to crush him under its bulk. But the rogue is just barely able to roll free of the impact.

Roc-Egan flies towards the dragon, releasing Arlynn who plunges down with her greatsword Akeraum, slicing off one of the monsters wings. Ashla charges across the courtyard at the creature, but slips on Slim’s hand and accidentally embeds her sword in the severed wing.

The druid then calls down a flame strike, but the dragon is able to resist the spell.

From the tower, Remmy looses arrows at the beast, while Laori vaults out of the left eye socket and onto the northern staircase, landing like a gymnast and then scurrying down the stairs towards the creature.

Kyra stands on her tiptoes to peer out an arrow slit at the creature below, glances down at her small crossbow, and then shrugs. “Well, I’m done.”

Sprawled before the dragon, Slim tries to leap to his feet but is not fast enough to avoid Belshallam’s slavering jaws. The teeth crunch through bone and guts, leaving the rogue sprawled on the wet ground at the brink of death.

“Ionas, nooo!” Remmy calls from her perch in the skull tower’s left eye socket.

Down below, Sial and Asyra are spurred into action. The Shadowcount hastens to the rogue’s side and casts a healing spell.

“Oh Midnight Lord, grant the mercy of your dark blessing to this . . . ally of your devoted servants,” the Kuthite intones, restoring the rogue to wakefulness.

Dispensing with magic, Roc-Egan becomes Earth-Egan again and attempts to fall upon Belshallam like a meteor, but the undead dragon proves too swift to hit and the druid merely impacts into the ground, rising up to pound on the creature with his fists.

Guided by the powers of light and dark, Arlynn slashes out with Akeraum and lops off Belshallam’s battered head with a sickly wet snicker-snack.

Ashla retrieves her sword and begins methodically severing all of the doubly dead dragon’s limbs. Earth-Egan simply tears and mashes the body into unrecognizable shreds. The Crimson Blades agree that they must do this from now on with any non-undead enemies in Scarwall.

Cold, wet, and wounded themselves, the adventurers limp back to the bone house, where Kyra has gotten a kettle of tea started. After Arlynn, Irabeth, and the Kuthites heal the group’s wounds and everyone has had a chance to dry off and warm up, they return to bed.

Slim hands the rest of his watch over to Remmy, who had wrapped him up in her blanket as well as his own once he returned to the tower.

“Keep an eye out,” he says as she heads off to her shift, now clad in her stern Gray Maiden armor.

“Always do!” she winks—or is it blinks?—back at him.

The Watchers on the Wall

Recovering from the disruption of the night before, the party sleeps in several hours later than normal and greet the morning sun grudgingly. Laori and Sial dispense restoration to everyone (save Zandu) over breakfast.

“We fought valiantly as a team last night,” Arlynn says, “though it was a little embarrassing to be fighting the dragon in my soaking wet small clothes.”

“I certainly wasn’t looking,” Irabeth blurts out.

“I was too busy getting chewed on to enjoy the scenery,” Slim jokes. Remmy pats him on the shoulder and he winces exaggeratedly.

“With all the rain and fog, you’d have to have darkvision to see much of anything,” Zandu declares, causing Kyra to smirk.

“I already saw too much on my way up the tower,” Ashla says.

“No one invited you to gape, half-breed,” Sial glares.

“Guys, gals,” Laori says, stepping between them and beaming, “you’re all beautiful. Now, let’s go hurt something together!”

Empty Kennels, Full Coffers

Since the Kuthites had expended so many spells, the party offers for the clerics to stay behind and rest up. Laori, however, elects to accompany the Crimson Blades.

“Somebody has to represent ZK,” Laori tells Sial, “and I know you and Asyra have super important Umbral Court business to finish together.”

“Your audacity is charming, child,” the count replies. “Be careful it does not get you killed.”

With Sial and the chain devil remaining behind with Barky, the adventurers adance across the courtyard to the site of the dragon’s den. The large chamber, perhaps once a stable or kennel, has been gutted. The floor is a tangle of broken beams, dung heaps crawling with vermin, and the occasional gleam of polished bone.

The whole chamber is shadowy and dim, the darkness seeming almost palpable. An archway to the north leads to a side passage ending in stairs going up, while a small room sits within the lair to the south. Slim approaches that room and after checking for traps, peers inside.

“I think we found the dragon’s hoard,” he announces.

Kyra suddenly appears beside him. “All right! Now this is the one part of the haunted castle that I like.”

Mixed among the mangled gear of what appear to be unfortunate past adventurers, the party finds chests overflowing with gold and silver as well as several magic items of note, including a staff of necromancy that Zandu swiftly claims and an enchanted small-sized suit of chain mail that Kyra holds up mournfully.

“The first normal-sized item we’ve found in this stinking castle, Egan, and neither of us can wear it.”

“I know!” the gnome replies. “It’s not fair, is it?”

“We can sort through this mess later,” Arlynn says, surveying the hoard. “We should press onward, explore that corridor over there. We’ve wasted enough of the day as it is.”

“We need to gather it up now, otherwise things might go missing,” Slim says, looking pointedly at Kyra.

“Hey now,” the halfling woman says, “there’s honor among . . . people of our particular profession.”

“True,” the rogue acknowledges. “But we’re still going to count the treasure now.”

Beware of Dog

After the party finishes collecting the loot, they head upstairs to investigate the broad tower in the northeast corner of the castle. After checking the door for traps, Slim pries it open revealing a bare, soot-stained chamber with two sets of stairs going up and down—and two fire-spewing Nessian warhounds the size of horses. The nearest monster gets right up in the rogue’s face and then huffs and puffs and belches out a sulfurous gout of flame that envelopes the whole party. Slim catches the full blast blast at point blank range.

The Crimson Blades rally and quickly dispatch the first warhound, while the second prowls around the back of the room and spits out its own spray of fire. Laori is sorely scorched and retreats away from the door to heal herself. Ashla clambers over the smoking corpse of the first Nessian to approach the second. Egan hits the remaining hell hound with quench, dousing its infernal fire. Shield raised, Irabeth presses into the room, trampling over the body to come at the fiend from its left. Remmy shoulders past Slim and into the room after the half-orc, stepping onto one of the twin staircases.

Which is when the third Nessian warhound bursts through the door to the southeast. The creature unleashes its own fiery breath across the room. Remmy takes the brunt of it, screaming as she roasts in her armor. The Gray Maiden is left swaying on her feet, barely alive.

“Remmy! Nooo!” Slim shouts, vaulting over the obstruction in the doorway to rush to her side. The rogue positions himself protectively between her and the nearest warhound, rapier held ready. Glancing over his shoulder, he asks “Are you all right?”

“Kinda feel like a reefclaw in a pot,” she says with a weak laugh. “You should find cover, though—it’s heating up in here and I don’t want you to get burned.”

The nearest warhound bites at Slim, trying to reach past him towards the scorched Maiden, but he is able to turn the attack aside with his rapier and riposte.

As Ashla closes in to strike at the second fiendish hound with her swords, Arlynn forces her way into the room and calls upon Iomedae’s blessing to heal the charred adventurers. Laori imbues them all with the wrath of Zon-Kuthon to sharpen their blades and strengthen their destructive spells.

The healing energy summoned by the paladin washes over Remmy, wiping away her most severe burns. Still a little shaky, she tries to move down the stairwell past Slim. He lets her pass, but asks “You sure you’re good to get back out there?”

“Gotta stay between your squishy self and the big monsters,” she says. “Besides, I know you’ve got my back!”

Remmy advances towards the third Nessian warhound as Water-Egan gushes into the room. While Ashla finishes off the second hound, the gnome druid pours his huge elemental body over Arlynn’s head and onto the third fiend, enveloping it completely. The Nessian, badly hurt, breaks free of Water-Egan’s clutches and retreats backwards into the room it came from. But it can’t escape a barrage of Zandu’s magic missiles and is finally brought down.

Fighting in the War Room

After regrouping, the adventurers search the tower’s second floor while Slim warily creeps upstairs. He enters into a darkened hallway, with doors to the left and right. Returning below, he informs the party of his discovery. They leave Laori, Irabeth, Remmy and Kyra below to investigate the top of the tower.

The leftmost door opens into a storage room full of dusty, crumbling crates and barrels. The door on the right opens onto a large room whose walls are festooned with ancient,
crumbling maps of the surrounding regions marked with fortifications and troop placement. Pushed to one side of the room is a wide table, its top fashioned into a large sandbox bearing a number of small wooden tokens apparently representing troop types and concentrations.

Also within is the decayed hulk of a half-orc in full plate wielding a war hammer.

Slim melds into the shadows and opens the door, which alerts the undead creature to ready for battle. When Arlynn steps through, wearing a mask of the mantis to see in the dark, the zombie warrior charges her and strikes true with his warhammer. The weapon releases a percussive blast of sonic energy that rocks the paladin back on her heals.

Zandu tries to blast the monster with scorching rays but misses both times, while Egan attempts to slap him with heat metal, to no avail. However, the combined blows of Arlynn, Slim and Ashla soon cut the deathless warlord down to size.

Arlynn claims the zombie’s warhammer, while Slim and Zandu inspect the maps, carefully retrieving and mending the most valuable items. Ashla, meanwhile, investigates the last room of the tower and discovers a bear skull carved with strange runes. She presents it to Laori as a gift once they return below.

“Aw, thank you!” the elf priestess says. “It’s so cuuute!”

Smite of the Smith

To complete their investigation of the tower, the adventurers tramp down to the ground floor, uncovering more barracks and storage as well as a smithy. Arlynn and Slim step warily into the smith’s chambers, while the rest of the party hangs back as Laori and Egan use speak with dead and speak with animals to converse with the bear skull, which proves smarter than average.

As she steps deeper into the chamber, the hairs on the back of Arlynn’s neck stand on end. Moments later, a rust-chewed smith’s hammer sudden floats up from the dusty floor and hurls towards the paladin, slamming into her painfully. More broken smith’s tools begin to swirl around her in a ferocious storm of steel.

Recalling her lessons at the War College in Lastwall, Arlynn calls out “It’s invisible!”

She and Slim activate the see invisibility function of their headgear, revealing the angry poltergeist of a brawny, Kellid woman in a smith’s apron with a slave’s collar around her neck. She appears to be directing the telekinetic barrage. Arlynn and Slim attack her with their enchanted swords and despite the challenge of harming a ghost, manage to dispel her, for the moment.

The two of them return to find the rest of the party chortling over an especially good joke the bear skull told about life in the Janderhoff circus. The skull belonged to the bear Tredeg, who was once the companion to a Dwarven ranger from the Mindspin Mountains. The bear and its master both met a sorry fate in Scarwall at the hands of Kazavon, eight centuries ago.

Look to the Skies!
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 6

A Cunning Plan

Flush with the knowledge that the dragon Belshallam, one of the lords of Scarwall, lairs within a chamber on the eastern end of the castle courtyard, Ser Arlynn crafts an elaborate plan to ambush the creature. At the same time, the Crimson Blades determine that they will rest in the castle rather than risk being ambushed by orcs at the barbican.

As part of the operation, that afternoon Egan seeks out another nearby tree for Barky to animate into a new treant, Groot. The two walking plants proceed to march up the causeway, tearing large chunks out of it as they go. Inside the castle, Slim, Kyra and Ashla fortify the barracks area near the gates that they cleaned out earlier, while Shadowcount Sial, Asyra, and Remmy stand guard.

Outdoors, Zandu casts fly on Arlynn and the two treats and hitches a ride on Groot, while Egan wildshapes into a roc and picks up Laori as a passenger. Irabeth uses her celestial plate mail to grant fly to herself and Princess. Together, they all rise up above the castle exterior and float over to the courtyard. Arlynn’s plan is to set the two treants down there with Egan to keep them company and then ambush the dragon the following morning. It is late afternoon as they make their flight, the summer sun already dipping below the sharp peaks of the Kodar Mountains to the west. The shadows grow long and storm clouds gather on the western horizon.

As the strange procession drifts over the Scarwall courtyard and begins to descend, some of the large, four-armed gargoyles that line the castle heights shudder to life and rise to attack them. Edgar the Raven flutters from Barky’s branches, squawking excitedly. Egan calls on him to warn the others.

Steel and Stone

Three gargoyles converge on Irabeth and Princess. Two others go after Roc-Egan, while the last one attacks a treant, its claws shearing through the thick bark. One of the four-armed brutes grabs hold of Laori, pulling the elf priestess off of Roc-Egan and carrying her high into the air above the courtyard.

“Friendly, aren’t you?” she coos, her hooked mail scraping against his stone skin.

The gargoyle releases her with a flourish, expecting the elf to plunge back to the ground. Laori grins and air walks a step away from him. She hits the gargoyle with slay living, which sends deep cracks through his stony form but does not destroy him, causing her to pout.

Down below, the trio of gargoyles surrounding Irabeth and Princess lash out with a dozen clawed hands, slashing the poor horse to pieces and grabbing the half-orc from her saddle. Irabeth struggles in vain to free herself and save her dying mount, while Arlynn rushes to assist her. Barky also tries to help, but ends up clumsily smashing a hole in the second story of the castle’s south wing.

On the other end of the castle, Edgar the Raven flits through an arrow slit and careens through the barracks area being fortified by Slim and the others.

“Attack!” the bird squawks. “Courtyard! Attack! Courtyard! Nevermore!”

The rest of the Crimson Blades abandon their preparations and race through the castle halls, Slim outpacing the others.

Tipping Point

In the courtyard airspace, the gargoyles deal an impressive amount of damage to Groot, but get battered by lightning spells from Zandu and Egan. In the east, Arlynn and Irabeth chip away at their trio of gargoyle foes. The two treants’ tremendous reach also makes it difficult for the gargoyles to maneuver in support of each other, dividing the courtyard into two zones of combat.

High above the main fray, Laori is once again grappled by her gargoyle brute assailant, who seizes her with all four of its arms. In response, the elf maiden cuddles up against him, a twinkle in her pitch black eyes.

“It’s so romantic up here,” she sighs, “away from everyone else. Just you, me . . . and ZK!

Laori jams her holy symbol into the creature’s face as a wave of negative energy crackles off it in all directions. The gargoyle crumbles into dust under the barrage.

Down below, Slim arrives at the doors to the courtyard and sets up at an arrow slit with the Vindicator. He is soon joined by Kyra, who likewise sets up at an arrow slit, and Ashla, who waits by the doors for an opportunity to join the fray. Remmy, is not far behind, huffing along in her Gray Maiden full plate. She advances out into the courtyard and is followed by Sial and Asyra, who just sit back and watch the battle play out.

Waking the Dragon

As the gargoyles’ numbers dwindle, Zandu lets out a roar to intimidate them. An answering roar issues from the double doors to the east, rattling the very foundations of the castle.

Moments later, the dark bulk of the huge umbral dragon Belshallam bursts from its lair in the eastern courtyard and flies up to perch on top of the donjon to the north, looking down at the figures floating below. Behind it rises the ominous shape of the black star tower.

The dragon spouts burst of dark fire across the courtyard that leeches the life out of everything it touches. Groot withers under the assault and his shriveled husk comes crashing down over the southern doors to the courtyard. The dead treant lands on Sial and Asyra and pinning the count beneath its branches. While the two paladins weather the dragon fire, the floating body of Princess is reduced to bleached.

“Nooo!” Irabeth roars, her eyes blazing with rage. She hefts her lance and flies around to flank the dragon from its left, shouting “Zorraath ziimûrz!”

Arlynn approaches Belshallam from the right, where she is joined by Laori. At Egan’s direction, Barky lands next to the withered trunk of Groot, lifts the tree up off of Sial, and hurls it at the dragon. Unfortunately, the wood simply bounces off the creature’s scaly snout.

The last remaining gargoyle barrels into Zandu and drives the both of them through the second story of the castle’s south wing, where they land into a hallway.

Slim tosses the Vindicator to a confused Asyra. “Hold this for me, I’ll be right back.”

The rogue deftly parkours up Barky and the side of the building to leap through the hole after the gargoyle.

Egan casts air walk on Ashla, who starts advancing up and out towards the donjon.

With enemies closing in on all sides, Belshallam turns himself invisible.

Death from Above

Inside the castle’s second story, the gargoyle grabs Zandu and shakes him around and claws at him with three arms while attacking Slim with his claws. Together, though, the sorcerer and rogue are able to bring him down, though the Zandu’s arcane power is almost depleted.

Outside, Belshallam reappears flying high overhead. He wheels about, dives down, and sprays the characters in the courtyard with black fire. Egan and Zandu reply with with lightning spells, but to their horror the magic has no effect.

The two paladins, Arlynn with her greatsword and Irabeth with her lance, charge up into the sky to attack the dragon, who fights back with teeth and claws.

Down below, Zandu offers to cast fly on Slim, but the the rogue instead convinces the sorcerer to teleport him over the dragon and drop him onto its back to kill it up close. Zandu thinks this is insane and so is happy to be a part of it.

But when the gnoll casts the spell, he feels like he’s being slammed into a brick wall. He is left standing in the castle, head spinning. But Slim, however, experiences something different. The room and Zandu seem to recede off into the distance as the rogue feels himself stretched further and further across a dark void and squeezed painfully in into a smaller and smaller space. As the room fades from view, Slim glimpses a terrifying visage leering at him from the darkness—a face with ashen white skin, its lips torn away, an eye gouged out, and its skin stretched pack tick against its skull by frightful piercings. Before the rogue can recover from the stark terror of that moment, he snaps back into place, emerging from the shadow beneath Edgar’s wings as the terrified bird flies over the dragon.

The shadow dancer falls onto Belshallam’s back, but fails to gain purchase. He starts sliding down its sleek scales, losing his rapier in the process, but manages to cling to the dragon’s tail. He spies his sword caught between two of the spines on the dragon’s scales. He struggles to climb towards it.

The dragon roars, its cry sending shudders of terror through all who see it, save the the paladins. Zandu panics and attempts to teleport, crashing into another invisible brick wall. The sorcerer then hits himself with fly and flees across the lake to the barbican, where he huddles for the rest of the battle.

Meanwhile, Arlynn hacks at the dragon, nearly severing the creature’s tail.

“Hey, watch where you’re swinging that thing!” Slim shouts it.

“If you fall, we’ll catch you!” Arlynn cries back, still slashing at the dragon with her bloodied sword.

Talking at Dragons

Bleeding from a dozen wounds, Belshallam suddenly raises its claws meekly. “Mercy! You can have all my riches if only you spare my life.”

“The only mercy you’ll get is a swift death!” Irabeth roars, leveling her lance, but Arlynn holds out a hand to restrain her.

“Steady, Irabeth,” the senior paladin says. The half-orc whirls on her, but the murder in her eyes quickly fades under Arlynn’s gaze and she lowers her trembling lance point.

The Bekyar woman nods at their scaly foe. “If the dragon wishes to treat with us, let him speak—on the ground. Now.

Together, the dragon, Slim, Arlynn, and a mortified Irabeth descend to the courtyard, where they are quickly surrounded by the rest of the party. Slim recovers his rapier and perches on the dragon’s neck with his sword ready, while Arlynn challenges it, sword raised.

“Tell us, wyrm, why should we spare you?” the paladin demands.

“You can take my entire treasure hoard!” the dragon says. “And I have information, I can help you!”

“He’s one of the lords of Scarwall,” Ashla says, “we need to kill him to break the curse.”

“She speaks the truth,” Arlynn says. “Unless you know another way the curse can be undone?”

The dragon looks like it wishes to speak, but stays silent.

“Just kill him!” Ashla insists.

Slim shakes his head. “Hold your horses—sorry Irabeth—he could know something important.”

“Tell us about Mithrodar, then,” Arlynn asks, growing frustrated.

Again the dragon falls silent.

“He’s under some kind of enchantment,” Egan surmises. “He couldn’t tell us even if he wanted to.”

“Then we have no other choice,” Arlynn says, raising her sword.

At this, Belshallam launches himself into the air while spewing out a sickening black cloud that envelops the adventurers, leeching the strength from their bones and blinding Arlynn, Asyra, and Remmy. Only Slim, on the beast’s back, is unaffected, and instead clings for dear life as the dragon rises higher and higher.


Irabeth swoops up into the air after the creature, while Slim decides that he needs to bring it down. Belshallam roars and snaps at the half-orc paladin, while Slim tries to find a weak spot in its scales.

Blinded but determined to join the fray, Arlynn floats up towards the sound of battle, but misjudges the height and starts swinging her sword through thin air a good thirty feet below the fight.

Finally finding a loose scale, Slim spears the Belshallam through its skull with his rapier and its lifeless body begin tumbling end over end towards the ground.

“Take my hand!” Irabeth shouts, reaching for Slim as she zooms past. His hand brushes against her gauntleted fingertips, but then they are too far apart. The half-orc wobbles in the air in a wide arc, trying to turn herself around for another pass.

As it plummets, the dead dragon crashes into Arlynn, who gets tangled up in its bulk. Thinking she is being attacked, the Bekyar woman excitedly fights back.

“There’s no escape, you treacherous monster!” she shouts.

“Arlynn, it’s dead!” Slim shouts. “Fly me out of here!”

“What?” the senior paladin calls back, sword clanging against dragon scale.

Below, Egan wildshapes into a huge air elemental and turns himself into a cushion of air that catches the falling corpse and its two unwilling passengers. The druid gently settles all three to the ground, while up above purple lightning streaks across the sunset sky.

Ash and Bone
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 5

Everybody Loves Zandu

After building the memorial to Mandraivus and teleporting back to Kaer Maga for supplies, the party settles in for the evening. Laori once again stays with them, regaling them with blood-curdling fairy tales from Nidal, while Sial and Asyra quickly retreat back to the bone house.

Zandu approaches Laori, offering her a hug, which she’s happy to reply. He asks her to cast lesser restoration on him, which she cheerfully does. Zandu then notes that there are some appealing aspects to ZK’s philosophy and offers to help her with any worship practices that involve two people.

“How do you feel about manacles?” Laori asks.

“On you or on me?” he replies.

“Either one, I suppose,” she says, furrowing her brow. “Though I would be more experienced with the cat-o’-nine-tails—it’s all in the wrist, you see. Hmm, I’ll have to think about it.”

She walks off, flicking her wrist and making swishing noises.

Kyra then taps Zandu on the knee.

“We have to talk,” she tells him. “About the whole . . . fur issue.”

She takes him out on the tower balcony for a private chat.

“I’ve been really trying to see the silver lining here,” the halfling woman confesses, “but I’m not sure . . . I guess I want to know how permanent this whole thing is.”

“Unless we come across an archmage or powerful cleric willing to cut a steep discount, I’m afraid the fur is here to stay,” Zandu says. “And I understand if it’s a turn off, Kyra.”

“Yeah . . .” she admits, shuffling her feet.

“But you’re still willing to keep working with us, right?” the sorcerer asks.

“Of course!” she says, perking up. “It’s not like I have anywhere else to go! I got pushed out of my house, my job and that bitch of a queen is trying to wreck my hometown. We need to put her in the ground, fast!”

Fly by Night

On watch that night, Slim continues to be creeped out by the presence of the Castle, whose towers rise above the thick fog covering the lake, occasionally flickering with eerie green light. But his attention is drawn to some odd shapes moving in the distance—man-sized or a little larger, prowling on all fours with odd humps on their backs. He hears a bird call ring out from their direction. Slim heads downstairs and rouses the others.

From his description, Egan guesses that the bird call was a mourning dove, which should not be awake at this hour. Ashla sends a raven to quietly alert the count and Asyra.

While Arlynn and Irabeth scramble into their armor, with assistance from Ashla and Remmy, Egan takes owl form and flies out to investigate.

Owl-Egan finds the tracks of what look like several mountain lions, prowling along the foothills overlooking the barbican tower and causeway. Knowing that mountain lions are not pack hunters, Egan follows the trail, nearly losing it at one point.

After picking it up again, Owl-Egan sends a raven back to the camp to inform the others of his discovery and his plans to follow it.

Owl-Egan catches up with the prowlers a half-mile from camp, in a narrow canyon. They are three goblin warriors mounted on albino mountain lions. The goblins appear to be having an argument in their own tongue.

Owl-Egan sends up dancing lights creating a floating arrow-symbol over his location.

Seeing the symbol, Slim races out in that direction, while Zandu, Arlynn, and Irabeth (atop Princess) fly out to investigate.

Upon spying the goblins, the adventurers quickly huddle to come up with a plan for capturing them. But Zandu’s black tentacles seize hold of all three goblins and their mounts, allowing them to interrogate the captives.

Speaking Orcish, Slim and Irabeth translate for the others, with Zandu occasionally interspersing comments in broken Orcish.

The goblins claim to be scouts for the Skullcrusher Clan of Orcs. The orcs were roused after hearing that a terrifying band of outlanders were attacking orcish settlements, with one particularly frightful she-elf taking teeth. “Laori,” the adventurers all say in unison.

The scouts say that they were dispatched by Warboss Mardak to check in with the Deadwatcher orcs who stand guard over the forbidden castle, to see if they had witnessed any suspicious outlanders. They scouted the area and tried the code signal, but heard no response. Spooked by the castle, they retreated back, but then got into an argument over whether they should get closer to the barbican to confirm the Deadwatchers’ fate. One goblin brags that he was turning around to go back. “Me bravest goblin!”

The adventurers consider what to do. Arlynn suggests killing the goblins and attacking the orc camp directly, to eliminate the threat to their rear. When questioned about the number of orcs at Mardak’s camp, the goblins begin counting on the fingers of their free hands.

“One… two… three… many! Many orcses and some ogreses and a few more goblinses and warbeasts!”

Slim instead says that they should just intimidate the goblins into reporting back to Mardak that everything is fine at the Deadwatchers’ camp. Although its a gamble, the goblins seem eager never to return, and they are ultimately released to flee back to their master.

The Watchers on the Wall

Nonetheless, upon returning to the barbican the adventurers do what they can shore up the defenses using Egan’s magic and homemade traps to repair the wall, spike the earth, and generally make it unpleasant to attack.

After sleeping in so that the spellcasters could recover their spells, they decide to leave Kyra behind to tend the fort.

“Aw, really?” she protests. “I don’t get to go back into the nasty haunted castle crawling with angry ghosts? That’s just a damn shame!”

She jumps up onto a hammock she’s strung up in the ruins of the barbican. “I’ll just have to manage somehow.”

Arlynn and Slim also approach Shadowcount Sial about staying behind to keep watch for orcs.

“A trifling task, but if it will let you and your jittery friends sleep better at night, then so be it,” Sial says.

“Don’t worry, Si,” Laori says, “keeping watch here is incredibly important! You’re the rearguard! While we’re inside, facing unimaginable horrors and winning glory for the Midnight Lord, you’re keeping our seats warm and our backs safe! We couldn’t do it without you!”

“Pray you never have to, Disciple Vaus,” the Shadowcount mutters.

A Three-Course Ambush

Returning to the creepy halls of Castle Scarwall, the Crimson Blades continue their explorations. After searching through the decayed ruins of an old barracks section, where their greatest discoveries were a stuffed weasel, a small bronze idol, and a dusty latrine, they move on to the castle kitchens.

Entering from two different doors, they find the room empty save for a few crumbling tables, a butcher’s block, and three large ovens at the end of the room. A staircase in the southern corner leads upwards.

Arlynn scans the room for any haunts and notices thin curls of smoke whisping up from the otherwise darkened ovens. Zandu brings up detect magic, sensing a necromantic aura. The two paladins slowly advance on the ovens, swords drawn. The others file into the kitchen, save for Ashla—guarding the rear—and Slim, who nervously hangs back in the doorway of the room.

As Arlynn and Irabeth draw near, the three ovens appear to well up with fire, which seems to pour forth, filling the room while fiery figures swoop through the blaze, clawing at the Crimson Blades. Most of the party recognizes the illusion for what it is, but Slim in the doorway is aghast and poor Remmy is screaming.

“I’m on fire! Put it out, put it out!” she cries as one of the burning shapes caws at her.

A moment later, the flames die down, but Remmy’s burns are real. As the last of fire seeps away, Arlynn spies one of the flaming shapes slip back into the ovens. Moments later, the scorched outlines of two people detach themselves from the wall and flare to life as great swirling clouds of ash, bone, and fire. Zandu warns that these creatures are known as Cinder Ghouls.

Thinking quickly, Egan casts a wind wall across the room, barring the Cinder Ghouls from closing with the rest of the party. The creatures are able to force their way through the wind wall enough to claw at Arlynn and Irabeth, though the paladin’s armor shields them from any great harm. The paladins call on Iomedae’s fury to strike down the undead monstrosities.

Meanwhile, in the doorway, Slim suddenly feels his apprehension about the haunted castle fade away and a strong sense of reassurance well within him, a sense that someone was watching over him. His crossbow Vindicator suddenly glows with a golden light.

“Is this your doing?” he calls out to Arlynn

“The Inheritor grants strength to all of us,” she shouts over her shoulder, still staring down the monster of shadow and flame before her.

“Yeah, but is this your doing?” Slim asks again.

Arlynn turns away from the fight for half a second and shrugs.

While the Crimson Blades are distracted by the Cinder Ghouls, a dread wraith steps out from the opposite wall to attack them from behind. Laori moves to attack it and lands a powerful blow with her spiked chain that unleashes a spell of some kind, but the creature is able to drain away a large chunk of her life force.

As the adventurers scramble to react to this new threat, the wraith also drain life force from Zandu as well. The sorcerer replies with a maximized lightning bolt and Remmy follows up with a powerful blow from her enchanted longsword—before the wraith bats it from her hand.

The dread wraith then seeps back into the wall, trying to replicate Mandraivus’ strategy. Arlynn calls out to Slim to see if any of the creature is exposed on the other side of the wall. Slim realizes that a creature the size of the dread wraith could not possibly fit within the castle’s inner walls. Gleaming crossbow at the ready, he quietly slips over to peer into the adjacent room.

Sure enough, the wraith’s spectral rump is billowing out in the open, while its head and shoulders lean into the stone wall. Slim lines up his shot and lets fly, his holy crossbow bolt striking true. The creature yanks back its head in surprise and embarrassment before evaporating entirely.

Touched by a Goddess

Afterwards, Slim consults with the others about his experience with the crossbow. Irabeth insists that it must have been Iomedae, who is known to imbue the weapons of righteous men facing down danger to save their friends. The half-orc describes a similar experience she had as a girl.

“When I was two and ten, a band of orc raiders attacked my home village of Tark,” she explains. “The bells sounded and everyone ran for the temple holdfast, but not all of us made it. I knew that a few other girls had been tarrying by the river and would never return in time, so I stole out through a second story window to rescue them.”

Irabeth stares into the middle distance, as if caught in the moment once again. "The orcs had cornered them on the outskirts of town and the big green brute of a leader was toying with them. I challenged him, he laughed. I hit him with a rock, he cut me with his sword. So I hit him harder until his skull split open. I scooped his sword up and got between his gang and the village girls. There was a solid dozen of them and I was swaying on my feet from loss of blood.

“That was when the sword began to glow with a beautiful golden halo and for just a moment all my anger and fear was swept away and I knew everything would be all right. The orcs ran, frightened of the twelve year old half-breed, and I lapsed into unconsciousness.

“When I awoke, the priests explained that it was Iomedae’s presence I had felt. She had lent me a trace of her divine grace—me, a clumsy ill-tempered half-orc. It was that moment which set me on the path to entering Her service.”

Irabeth claps a hand on Slim’s shoulder. “You should be deeply honored, Ionas, that the Inheritor would lend you a touch of Her strength to conquer your fears and defend your friends.”

Haggling for Information

After scouring the dusty pantry, the Crimson Blades investigate a set of double doors to the north, which open onto a bare chamber with three doors and a staircase leading up. Two of the doors lead to empty rooms, but the third is another matter.

When Arlynn ventures inside, a voice calls out to her for help. The paladin releases what looks like an elderly halfling woman hanging from a net on the wall. The halfling spins a tale about being captured by a black dragon and handed over to a witch. She urges Arlynn to follow her upstairs to the witch’s room, where they can destroy her crystal ball to weaken her before she returns.

Lurking in the shadows, Slim smells a rat and bursts forth with his rapier drawn. Soon, Arlynn’s sword as well is pointed at the “halfling,” who assumes her true form as the Night Hag Malatrothe. She praises the rogue for his perceptiveness and offers to bargain with them for information.

Arlynn demands to know where the hag would have led them if her charade had continued. She admits she would have taken them upstairs into a trap, where they would either have survived or perished. She notes that they are in a haunted castle and should be ready for life-threatening peril around every corner. But since they were wise enough not to be fooled, they might stand a chance at surviving.

Malatrothe guesses the adventurers are here to slay one or more of the lords of Scarwall. She can provide information about them in exchange for being allowed to tag along and snatch their souls once they are slain. She intends to take the souls with her back to Abaddon to trade. She emphasizes that the lords of Scarwall are evil creatures who more than deserve whatever punishment is coming to them. For example, she notes that one of the four lords of the castle is a devil.

After huddling to discuss their options, the Crimson Blades present Malatrothe with an ultimatum: they will spare her life in return for some of the information she has to offer. She accepts, telling them about the dragon Belshallam who lairs in the former castle stables on the eastern end of the central courtyard.

Before leaving, Arlynn demands to know if Malatrothe has any innocent souls in her possession at the moment, but she denies it. Concluding that the hag is telling the truth, they leave to her devices.

They scope out the courtyard through an arrow slit in the wall, noting the large double doors hanging loose at the eastern end of the field. They fall back to the barbican to regroup and plan their next move.

The Ghost of Mandraivus
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 4

Comparing Scars

While the others hold down the fort at the barbican, Zandu, Slim, Egan, and Kyra teleport back to Kaer Maga in order to sell loot and make purchases. They also dispatch a message to Arlynn’s sworn swords in Korvosa.

As the party prepares for another night in the barbican tower, Sial and Asyra retire to their bone house while Laori once again sticks with the Crimson Blades.

Readying for bed, Remmy unbuckles her armor, stripping down to a simple tunic and exposing the nasty scars that spiderweb across her face, arms and legs. This piques Laori’s interest and the elf maid sidles up to her.

“Where’d you get those cool scars?” Laori chirps.

Remmy gives her a blank stare and the priestess presses on. “I’ve been thinking about about getting some scars done—do you have anyone to recommend?”

Slim tries to derail the line of conversation, but Remmy interrupts him to reply “The scars were a lesson, to teach me my place and to punish me for disobedience.”

“What did you do to deserve this . . . punishment?” Slim asks.

“I abandoned my post,” she says. “After the Queen inspected us, all the Gray Maiden recruits were taken below the castle to train. But after a while recruits started getting taken away and never returned. I thought that was fishy, so I tried to slip away to report to Cressida or Sabina. It was a mistake and I paid the price for it.”

Oblivious to the awkwardness, Laori gets right up in Remmy’s face, peering at the scarification. “Ooh, that looks like erinyes’ handiwork—we don’t get a lot of that in Nidal.”

“What’s an erinyes?” Egan asks.

“Um,” Arlynn starts to reply, but Laori cheerily cuts her off,

“Fallen angels lured down into the Nine Hells,” she says. “They become really angry devil ladies.”

Laori reaches for the Gray Maiden’s eyepatch, but Remmy swats her hand away.

“The Six Sisters did this to me,” Remmy says, gingerly touching a scarred cheek with her own hand. “They were in charge the final training and discipline of the Maidens. But they were just women, I swear.”

“Nuh-uh,” Laori shakes her head.

“Remmy,” Ashla asks, “did the Six Sisters do the same thing to Sabina that they did to you?”

“No, they never touched Sabina,” Remmy says, gazing into the distance. “She got her scars some other way . . .”

“Why not?” the ranger persists. “Isn’t it unfair for the Gray Maiden commander not to undergo the same experience as her troops?”

“Sabina has the same scars and the same loyalty we all do,” Remmy says, starting to get worked up. “She visited me when I was recovering from my punishment, asked how I was doing, asked me what had happened, and made sure I was treated well. She cares for all of us, for the city, and for the Queen!”

“Okay, I think that’s enough questions for one night,” Slim says, stepping between Remmy and the others. “We should all get some rest, got another big day tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Remmy says. She brushes past him to crawl into her bedroll, while Laori looks around quizzically for a moment.


The next morning, the elf priestess breaks out another meal for the party, unveiling a platter of biscuit rolls with sausages stuck in them.

“Who’s up for some kids-in-a-blanket?” she grins.

“What in Iomedae’s name are kids-in-a-blanket?” Arlynn asks, fixing Laori with a stern look.

“Oh, it’s an old Nidalese recipe,” she explains, passing out the treats. “You wrap a bit of biscuit dough around a little sausage—like a blanket, right?”

The adventurers take the rolls uncertainly, turning them over in their hands as if checking for traps.

“What. Kind. Of. Sausage?” Arlynn asks.

“Pork,” Laori says. “And some sweet spices. It’s better served fresh from the oven, but it should still be good.”

“D’finitely pork,” Irabeth agrees, licking her fingers.

Laori makes sure Remmy has an extra helping of the sausage biscuits, but otherwise keeps her distance from the Gray Maiden, who eats in silence.

After the meal, the party regroups outside the barbican tower to meet up with Shadowcount Sial and Asyra. Arlynn suggests that they split up to investigate the castle more quickly. The count and his chain devil would explore the upstairs while the Crimson Blades and Laori would investigate the ground floor.

“A simple strategy, but it could get this task concluded more swiftly,” Sial grudgingly agrees. He nods at Laori. “Do call out if you get in over your head, Disciple Vaus.”

“Oh I will, Si,” she smiles back at him. “After all, your head’s big enough for the both of us.”

The Death Chamber

The Crimson Blades press past the Scarwall gatehouse and through the double doors, where they are greeted by a stomach-churning scene. Bodies lie everywhere, orc and human alike. Many corpses are riddled with arrows and crossbow bolts, and a few appear to have perished while locked in mortal combat and still clutch at weapons embedded in various parts of each others’ anatomy.

A particularly large mound of bodies lies in the northwest corner, a heap of carcasses in a tangle of limbs. Strangely, while the room reeks of death, the bloodstains on the walls and floor seem incredibly ancient.

Arlynn wades forward into the room, while the rest of the party lingers near the door. Her investigation causes the heap of corpses in the corner to stir to life, skittering forward on dozens of arms and legs. As it draws close, the paladin can see that the bodies within it appear to have fused together into a single tangled mass.

“Welcome home, my wayward children,” the creature calls out from multiple mouths as it approaches, multiple arms outstretched. As it draws near the party, the mass of bodies lets out a piercing shriek that slams into the adventurers win intense pain. Egan recognizes that the horror is a living abomination of some kind, immune to the party’s anti-undead effects and weapons.

Arlynn, Irabeth, Remmy and Laori close in to strike the creature, but it lunges forward, seizing the elf maiden in its grasp followed by the other three women one by one. Even so, they manage to hack at it until Zandu is able to finish the creature off with a lightning bolt. The steaming corpses twitch with leftover energy while a strange black ooze leaks out of their mouths onto the stone floor.

Laori gives the mound of flesh an angry kick. “That’s for pulling on my ears, you grabby creep!” She turns back to the group, frantically rubbing her fingers along the tapered points of her ears. “I hate it when people touch them without permission.”

“I hate it when people grab at my legs,” Arlynn says, polishing her greaves where the corpse pile left a grimy hand print.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to hug a person,” Laori nods. She gives the corpse pile another kick. “You do it wrong, you end up dead.”

Slim and Ashla gingerly search the bodies in the room, finding little of value but discovering a corpse wearing the signet ring of House Arden of Lastwall, who they conclude was the kidnapping victim.

Mandraivus’ Fall

Continuing their exploration, the adventurers press forward into another hall, this one scattered with bones, many still grasping ruined weapons and wearing tarnished scraps of armor.

Arlynn, leading the way, hears the faint sound of clashing swords and battle cries echoing through the room. She recognizes the sound as the telltale sign of a haunt and cleanses the chamber with a blast of positive energy. While the other Crimson Blades gather around the two doors at the back of the room, Arlynn and Laori investigate a skeleton slumped in the corner—the only one still wearing a full suit of armor.

Their approach stirs awake a wrathful spirit swirls up from the bones to take the shape of a huge, shadowy warrior in armor with glowing red eyes. The wraith fixes its gaze on Arlynn and declares “Serithtial is mine! You shall not have her!”

Arlynn tries to reason with the spirit, saying that the party has been sent by Iomedae to recover the sacred weapon for a just cause and put and end to the curse of Scarwall. But this only enrages the wraith even more. The armored figure steps backwards, into the stone wall, and then lashes a shadowy arm out at Arlynn.

Egan uses shape stone to peel open the wall and expose the wraith, but inadvertently attracts the attention of five minotaur skeletons in the hallway. As the skeletons converge on the intruders, the wraith sinks into the floor. Moments later, its incorporeal hands claw out of the floor, grasping at Arlynn’s legs.

While the paladin focuses on striking back against the wraith, an invisible Slim tumbles out into the corridor beside the minotaurs.

“Watch out, Slim!” Laori calls out in his general direction. “Oh, who am I kidding, you’ll be fine.”

The elven cleric calls down a flamestrike on the corridor, destroying three of the skeletons while Slim deftly avoids the pyre. The shadow dancer finishes off a fourth skeleton, while Zandu knocks out the last one with a maximized lightning bolt.

Arlynn patiently waits for the wraith’s hands to lash up out of the floor again. This time, she dances out of the way and lops one off at the wrist as it emerges. The wraith unravels, pouring out of its wounded wrist like steam from a tea kettle.

“Keris did say I had to improve my foot work,” Arlynn jokes.

With the undead put to rest, Arlynn and Irabeth examine the armored skeleton, which is wearing a gleaming breastplate embossed with elaborate protect runes and the holy symbol of Iomedae.

“This must be Mandraivus,” the half-orc whispers.

“How so you know?” Arlynn asks.

“Who else would be wearing such sacred armor?” she replies.

Arlynn asks her to put on the slain hero’s celestial plate mail. Irabeth complies, but expresses doubts over the fact that he was corrupted.

“If even a champion as pious as Mandraivus could be twisted to evil, how can someone like me hope to follow in his footsteps and triumph?”

Slim and Ashla insist that Mandraivus’ corruption took centuries. Arlynn reassures her that she is as stalwart a servant of Iomedae as they come. The senior paladin pledges that they will conquer Scarwall will the Inheritor’s blessing.

A Hero’s Funeral

Using one of the smashed doors, the party carries the champion’s bones outside. Zandu, Slim, and Irabeth make a quick trip to Kaer Maga to sell items and purchase some supplies. The paladin in particular seeks out a ceremonial sword to return with.

Once the party has regrouped, they garb Mandraivus’ bones in ceremonial armor, place him atop Princess and carry his remains out to Zellara’s hiding place in a solemn procession. When they arrive, Egan uses wall of stone to build a small reliquary to Iomedae, marked with her sword and halo symbol, looking down upon the dark spires of Scarwall in the crater below.

Arlynn and Irabeth then inter Mandraivus within the tomb, bearing the gilded sword Irabeth acquired. The two of them then draw their swords and kneel before the tomb, reciting the Paladin Code of the Inheritor.

During the ritual, Laori whispers to Slim: “When does the ceremonial blood-letting begin?”

“I don’t think Iomedae does things that way,” he whispers back.

“She would,” the elf grumbles, sheathing her sacrificial dagger.

As the ritual concludes, the dark clouds that seem to perpetually swirl over Scarwall and its caldera abruptly part, sending golden rays of light across the waters of the lake and up onto the hillside, illuminating Mandraivus’ tomb for a brief moment before being subsumed again by the gray mass overhead.

A Bone to Pick
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 3

A Last Warning

Egan, Zandu, and Irabeth make a quick jaunt back to the overlook where the treant Barky stands watch over Zellara’s Harrow deck. The Varisian fortune teller manifests, almost shivering with fear. She says that she can feel the anguish of countless souls rippling off of the castle and is quite thankful that she was not taken any closer. She urges the adventurers to break the curse if at all possible, in order to end the suffering of the dead.

But she warns that there is a great evil there that she can feel through the spirit world, particularly a “looming skull” resting in a “profaned temple” deep within. Zellara identifies the party’s magical items, including an enchanted greatsword Akeraum which Arlynn subsequently claims.

Breakfast with Laori

As darkness descends, Egan repairs the barbican guard tower’s structural integrity and the adventurers spend an uneasy night inside. Slim, Remmy, and Kyra take turns standing watch on the tower, occasionally glimpsing ghostly lights in the windows of the jagged castle that rises out of the center of the lake. Down below, Laori elects to rest with the party while Shadowcount Sial, disgusted with the orcs’ accommodations, retires to his bone house with his chain devil companion Asyra.

The next morning, Laori breaks out another set of baked treats, cupcake brownies that mix dark and light, symbolizing the new found partnership between the Crimson Blades and the Brotherhood of Bones. She chats with everyone, eager to reconnect with her “BFFs.”

Ashla, however, takes her aside for a private talk. The half-elf explains that Kazavon’s reign fell apart and people betrayed him because he tried to force the faith of Zon-Kuthon upon people. Laori says that so many people are afraid to embrace the ecstasy of pain, so they need to be shown the way. But Ashla retorts that true faith is voluntary, not forced, and that trying to make people accept your god will accomplish the opposite.

Laori starts to reply, then stops and thinks for a moment. “I guess I didn’t like it when people in Riddleport told me I was a freak. When I learned about how amazing ZK is, I traveled all the way to Nidal to get away from them.” She gives Ashla a small smile. “I guess I need to think on this a bit.”

The elf maiden is (relatively) more subdued for the rest of breakfast. Sial, who doesn’t partake in the meal, waits impatiently outside the tower for them to finish, Asyra idly twirling is long white hair around her fingers. The Shadowcount urges them to stop wasting daylight and asks about the party’s plan to enter the castle.

Slim is perfectly fine simply marching up to the front door. Arlynn agrees, noting that while they could fly in, that might leave them surrounded by enemies when they land. Sial deems the plan “pedestrian, but acceptable.” Irabeth and Laori are eager to burst through the doors, but for different reasons: the half-orc wants to start bashing skeletons, while the elf wants to explore the fabulous architecture.

Welcoming Party

The only approach to Scarwall is across a 400 foot stone causeway, extending from the cliff face by the barbican gate tower to the castle entrance. The bridge sits 80 feet above the dark waters of the crater lake and is lined with stone gargoyles every forty feet. Zandu ascertains that the gargoyles are not supernatural, but also that the bridge is saturated with a powerful evocation spell that seems to extend on to the castle. Slim, meanwhile, notes that the stonework seems to have weathered the past 800 years surprisingly well.

With those encouraging signs, the party sets out across the causeway, Arlynn and Irabeth in the lead, with the latter mounted on her steed Princess. The Kuthites take up the rear of the formation.

When they are halfway across the causeway, the gates of Scarwall creak open. From inside the castle, a clattering platoon of 16 skeletons emerge, dressed in full plate. They bear a variety of faded symbols and colors, some unknown, others—like the sword and halo of Iomedae—all too familiar. At the head of the column is a skeletal rider, a fanged skull sigil on his shield, mounted on top of a skeletal horse that is bathed in flame.

As the deathless sortie marches out towards them, the adventurers hastily prepare. Slim and Kyra stealthily move up, ducking behind two of the gargoyles. Zandu casts fly on Princess, while Egan summons a horse, “Spirit,” for Arlynn. The gnome druid then casts spike stones on the causeway before the skeletons. But while a few of them are slowed, the jagged and piercing stones have little effect on the advancing platoon. The rider, however, avoids the spikes entirely by ride his fiery mount up into the air overlooking the bridge.

“Irabeth, I think this one’s yours,” Arlynn says.

The undead cavalier lowers his lance and charges the half-orc, goring her with his spear and then moving past to wheel about. Irabeth and Princess take off to challenge him in a joust of the skies.

Down below, Zandu steps forward to hurl a lightning bolt that strikes down a string of skeletal warriors.

Arlynn spurs her horse Spirit into a charge down the causeway, but has trouble steadying her lance. The point dips and catches in a flagstone, vaulting her over the and sending the paladin crashing to the ground in front of the second rank of undead. The skeletons raise their swords, but before they can attack the helpless paladin, Egan brings down a flame strike that burns them to ash.

Shadowcount Sial finaly steps into the fray, calling up a glowing wire-frame cube that surrounds the back ranks of skeletons and flares with an eldritch light that tears them to pieces.

Kyra takes pot-shots at the skeletons, but has trouble harming them with her bolts. Slim, meanwhile, stealthily moves up the causeway, looking for an opportunity to use his undead bane weapons. Laori summons a shadow to defend Arlynn, while Ashla and Remmy finish off the front ranks of skeletons.

Floating a hundred feet over the dark waters of the crater lake, Irabeth and the skeleton knight continue to spar. The undead rider retreats back towards the castle, his steed leaving a trail of flame as it moves.

“We’re not not finished, yet, you abomination,” Irabeth shouts. “You’ve yet to taste Iomedae’s wrath!”

With that, the green-skinned paladin and her white mare surge across the sky after the deathless knight. Her lance-point finds its mark and smites him with a terrible wound.

Down on the causeway, with the last of the skeletal warriors dispatched before her could strike them, Slim sighs, pulls out his Vindicator crossbow, and shoots off the undead knight’s head. The rider’s body sags off the saddle and dangles by one stirrup. But the skeletal nightmare seems as determined as ever to fight.

Arlynn calls for them to lure the creature back to bridge so they could retrieve the rider’s body. Remmy looses an arrow to get the nightmare’s attention, but it flies between the beasts ribs and emerges on the other side with its fletching aflame.

The skeletal nightmare then charges down at Slim, who calls out for help. Laori cheerily appears by his side, slapping the creature with her spiked chain and unleashing some sort of magical effect that further weakens it. Zandu unleashes black tentacles to snare and crush the nightmare skeleton and the party begins picking through the remains.

Once everything is accounted for, they proceed further down the bridge towards the looming, jagged bulk of Scarwall.

Castle Crashers

The heavy wooden gates of Scarwall hang open, revealing a torchlit tunnel beneath the think outer wall. The Crimson Blades hesitate outside the threshold, while Slim stealthily scouts ahead. The tunnel opens onto a a hallway leading to a pair of closed inner doors. The stone walls to either side feature arrowslits for archers, while the chamber floor is lined with the bone of long-dead orcs.

Slim motions Arlynn forward, and when the paladin detects evil on the bones, she is almost overwhelmed by the malice that saturates every square inch of the castle. Simply standing in its halls gives Slim a sense of tremendous unease, as if something great and terrible were watching him.

The two of them advance across the hall to the closed double doors on the opposite end, which Slim determines are not locked, but barred from the other side. Arlynn waves the others in and suggests using her portable battering ram. She detects evil through the wooden doors in the room beyond. Remmy, Egan and Zandu approach the double doors, with Ashla, Irabeth, and Kyra not far behind.

Then, from overhead, they hear the whirring of gears and clattering of chains as two heavy portcullises thunk into place. Arlynn, Slim, and Remmy are pinned between the metal great and the double doors, while the other Crimson Blades are trapped in the hallway and the Kuthites are locked outside. The scrape of heavy, skeletal footsteps can be heard from the adjacent rooms and enormous crossbow bolts fly out of the arrowslits, one of them badly wounding Egan and striking Irabeth.

Scrambling for a way out, Slim shimmies up the portcullis and squeezes through the narrow gap in the ceiling through which it descended. He emerges upstairs in a room dominated by a large winch being operated by two skeletal minotaurs. The rogue quickly ducks into the shadows.

Outside the entry hall, Sial nods to Asyra, who steps forward and gestures with her hands. Up above, Slim can see the chains hauling themselves up as if of their own according and hanging slack in their hoists. The portcullis rises ten feet in the air and Sial sweeps inside, followed by a giggling Laori. The chain devil goes last, her attention still focused on the portcullis.

Ashla rushes over to one of the arrowslits to attack the minotaur skeleton beyond, hacking at it with her undead bane sword. Upstairs, one of the skeletons by the winch pulls a lever, dumping a load of freezing oil on top of the trapped adventurers. The second skeleton draws an enormous crossbow and fires down through a murder hole at the Crimson Blades below. Lurking in the corner, Slim bites back a curse.

Egan uses shape stone to open up a passageways through the stone walls, allowing Arlynn and Remmy to escape their entrapment and reach the minotaur skeletons behind the arrowslits. The two warrior women advance into the room on their left.

Zandu, meanwhile, casts black tentaclesin the room on the right, but the slimy tentacles have trouble gaining purchase on the sleek bones of the minotaur skeletons.

Irabeth rides Princess into the center of the hall and calls on Iomedae’s wrath to strike down the walking abominations. A wave of brilliant positive energy flies out from her, gliding through the stone walls to sear the four skeletons in the adjacent rooms and rising up through the floor above to strike the two minotaur skeletons by the great winch. Slim takes this opportunity to step out of the shadows and sneak attack one of the skeletal guards. His undead bane weapon shatters it, but its companion converges on him with a great axe.

Downstairs, Kyra stands on her toes to look through an arrowslit at the room on the right, sees the black tentacles, and shakes her head.

“Hells no,” she says, “I’ve already seen that wood cutting.”

She scrambles up the portcullis and joins Slim upstairs, but has second thoughts at the sight of the looming minotaur bones. She’s soon joined by Egan, who wild shapes into an air elemental and seeps up through the murder holes. The Scarwall guard, meanwhile, wounds Slim with its enormous axe.

Down below, one of the minotaur skeletons in the left room looses a crossbow bolt at Laori. She groans enthusiastically as the bolt strikes her and grins back at him. “Ooh, you’re a feisty one! I’m going to grind you into bone meal and bake a cake!”

She calls on ZK to burn the heathen dead with divine fire, filling the room with a brilliant flame strike that obliterates her foe and scorches the guard facing off against Arlynn and Remmy.

Across the hall, another skeleton tries to shoot a crossbow bolt at Ashla, but his ancient crossbow breaks. After Zandu blasts apart his companion with two scorching rays, the Scarwall guard drops his useless crossbow and retreats upstairs, batting aside a flailing tentacle.

Meanwhile, Asyra the chain devil abandons the first portcullis, which drops back into place, and strides down to the second one, raising it up so that Ashla can travel through one of Egan’s tunnels to brave the black tentacles and head upstairs after her quarry. In the left room, Arlynn strikes down the remaining minotaur, and she and Remmy tromp upstairs.

In the winch room, the downstairs minotaur emerges from a side room. Slim notices it is standing beside some chains left slack from Asyra’s trick with the portcullis. He glances back at Air-Egan and Kyra, then nods at the minotaur skeleton facing him.

“Guys, you deal with him,” he says, “but first watch this, it’s going to be really cool.”

He vaults onto the winch, dodging the greataxes of the guards, and then lashes out at the new skeleton, pretending to miss while actually using his blade to loop chains around it. He calls down to Asyra to let the portcullis drop. The chain devil considers this for a moment, then shrugs and lets the gate fall. The chains snap taut, scattering minotaur bones across the room. Air-Egan then surges forward to punch out the remaining minotaur skeleton with gale-force fists, reducing it to a heap of bones.

Trust the Skull

The Crimson Blades loot the skeletons’ oversized weapons and then examine the orc skeletons. Amid the rusted armor and tattered clothes, the only items of interest are a human skull painted with arcane symbols, a halfling skull with sharp filed teeth, and a ransom note from 800 years ago.

Zandu can’t make heads or tales of the skulls, so Arlynn consults with Sial. The Shadowcount dismisses the human skull as a tribal good luck charm and the halfling skull as the work of a bored orc. Ashla suggests that the halfling could have been a barbarian. Slim tosses the skulls to Laori, who slaps them out an arrow slit with her spiked chain.

The ransom note, written in an archaic and ill-lettered hand, warns the Arden family of Lastwall that their eldest son is held hostage and won’t be returned in one piece unless his father provides the necessary ransom.

Laori offers to get more info on the ransom note by casting speak with dead on the skull of the orc bearing the note. The skull tells them that the ransom was a trap to lure the head of House Arden into an ambush. But the orcs perished before the plan could be carried out.

Arlynn asks about the orcs’ attack. The skull explains that after Kazavon fell, the clans surged out of the Kodar Mountains. They thought the castle would be easy to seize from its handful of defenders, but Mandraivus and his men put up a tremendous fight. Many greenskins were slain before the adventurers were finally overcome. Then the curse struck.

Slim asks about the curse and other dangers in Scarwall. The skull laughs that they are already in Mithrodar’s clutches. He rules the castle, chaining all who enter its walls through the anchors of his servants, the lords of Scarwall.

Ashla surmises that before confronting Mithrodar, they must first find and defeat these lords. Unable to think of any further questions, Slim suggests Laori bat the skull out the window.

“Wait,” Laori says. The elf maiden stares at the orc skull intently. “Now, let’s talk recipes.”

Only after extracting several unusual orcish baking recipes does the cheerful elf maiden smash the skull.

The Crimson Blades and the Kuthites then debate whether to split up to cover more ground.

The Gates of Scarwall
Skeletons of Scarwall, Part 2

Questioning Keris

Back at the Common House, the Freemen cheer at the sight of the unconscious Keris shackled up in her small clothes. Arlynn asks Black Marin, the leader of the Freemen, if they have a holding cell for detainees. She is given access to a chamber beneath the Common House basement, where Keris is locked to the wall. That night, the Crimson Blades enjoy drinks on the house for bringing down a notorious slaver.

The following morning, Arlynn and Slim venture downstairs to interrogate Keris. The Bekyar warrior accuses her sister of hypocrisy for leaving her caged and bound like a dog. Arlynn unlocks Keris’ handcuffs, surprising her, and then questions her sister about the slavers and their intentions, speaking in their native tongue.

Keris says that the Bekyars were looking to expand into new markets and particularly strike up business with the orcs of Belkzen, who have few outlets to sell their slaves and are thus willing to take cut-throat offers. As First Sword, Keris was needed to win the orcs’ respect by swatting down their champions. But that’s all over now that Arlynn took away her sword.

The paladin demands more details about the slavers’ leaders and plans for Korvosa. Keris says that the operation is being led by Shivkah, the Whip Hand, using Korvosa as a transfer point for moving slaves in and out of Varisia. She also reports that the Scorpion’s Kiss continues to operate in Varisian waters, but knows little more about its slaving route. Arlynn and Slim ask about the Bekyar’s use of the teleport circles and their connection to Ambassador Amprei. Keris says that Amprei gave the Bekyars access to a teardrop-shaped emerald that allowed them to activate the circles for smuggling slaves, but the alliance fell apart not too long ago thanks to the party’s meddling. She’s not sure what Shivkah is doing to resolve things on the Korvosa end.

Arlynn recalls that during her family’s flight from the Bekyar Nation, she was captured and taken into slavery. The paladin stares Keris straight in the eye. “Was that your doing?”

“I was trying to save you, all of you,” Keris replies. “The Master of Whips already knew about Father’s little scheme when I came to him to bargain for your lives. And then you and Father had to muck it all up trying to escape with your slave friends. Mother’s blood is on your hands, not mine.”

But she cannot meet Arlynn’s gaze.

Still, the paladin is surprised at this revelation, which forces her to reevaluate her understanding of the events of the Farimas’ escape.

Keris says that she spent years trying to repair the damage done to the Farima family name, finally winning her place as First Sword of the Bekyar Nation. But once again Arlynn’s meddling has destroyed everything she worked for, leaving her life shambles and her name a laughing stock.

“You took my sword,” Keris says. “That sword was my life and you took it.”

Arlynn says that Keris allowed herself to be enslaved by pride, wallowing in the glories of Bekyar society while ignoring the suffering her actions caused. But they are still sisters who both loved their mother and both lost her too soon.

“Iomedae’s justice is not without compassion,” Arlynn tells her. “I won’t leave you here to languish in a cell.”

The paladin retrieves the scroll of the mark of justice that she has been carrying for this eventuality and casts the spell on her wayward sibling, barring her from dishonoring their mother’s memory by harming innocents. Arlynn throws open the door to the cell and then, with an added flourish, presents Keris with her curved Bekyar greatsword.

“I give your life back to you, sister,” she says. “Wherever your path takes you, I hope you will try to make Mother proud.”

Keris gapes at the sword in her hands as if it couldn’t be real. For a brief moment, Arlynn thinks she sees a tear glisten in her sister’s eye. Then the older sibling’s face hardens and she tightens her grip on the sword hilt.

“I hope our paths never cross again,” Keris sneers and pushes past Arlynn in to the hallway. She takes a few steps towards the door, then looks back over her shoulder. “You’ve grown taller and your foreign goddess has given you power, but your footwork is as sloppy as ever, sister. Watch yourself out there.”

“And the same for you, sister,” Arlynn replies.

With that, Keris strides off, sword slung over her back. Slim turns to Arlynn and says in the common tongue “What just happened?”

Merry Messenger

Once Arlynn has brought the rest of the party up to speed on the story with Keris, they are approached in the Common House bar by the drow Shar. He carried their messages down to Korvosa and has brought news back.

Cressida writes that she passed along Slim’s information to Queen Ileosa, who has had Ambassador Amprei ejected from the city. The situation in Korvosa is only growing worse. Vimanda Arkona has become an avid supporter of Ileosa’s regime and the other Great Houses have chosen to acquiesce. The Archbanker of Abadar has also endorsed the Queen as a restorer of order in the city. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that Cressida’s own position as Commandant of the Guard is growing increasingly tenuous.

Arlynn’s follower Chammady writes that her sworn swords have been working with the Guard to maintain order while quietly helping people get away from the Gray Maidens. She remains confident that Iomedae will guide Arlynn to victory on her quest to save the city and eagerly awaits her return.

Zandu’s cousin Skender reports that he and the other cousins have been working with Cressida on the sly, setting up a series of safe houses and a network of informants to help people hide from the Gray Maidens and track their movements. Skender also reports that while the Cerulean Society publicly supports Ileosa, they don’t seem to be dedicating resources to aiding the Queen, instead consolidating their hold on Old Korvosa.

While they process this information, Slim’s new “apprentice” Freya Mikkelsdotter returns, dressed in a fresh set of good clothes. She tosses the rogue his 5gp back.

“It seems my former master developed a hole in his pocket,” she offers by way of explanation.

Slim suggests that Freya could carry information on Korvosa’s current events to Vencarlo at Janderhoff. Ashla is suspicious of involving this new acquaintance in such delicate matter. To address her concerns, Arlynn casts zone of truth and Slim questions Freya about her background and her loyalty to him.

The Ulfen woman explains that she was taken off her merchant ship by the Bekyars and ultimately shipped off to Kaer Maga, where the Katapeshi purchased her. Slim realizes that her ship’s captain was the man who left the message in the crate in Korvosa. Freya was separated from him early and doesn’t know his fate, though she’s certain his wife Signe won’t be happy to hear of what befell him.

Freya says that she owes Slim a life debt for releasing her from the grim fate she thought awaited her. She swears by Desna that his friends are her friends, his enemies are her enemies, and his secrets are her secrets.

Ashla is still skeptical, but the adventurers agree that Freya can be trusted to carry the message to their friends in Janderhoff. Slim suggests that before she leave, Freya should visit the Bekyar slave pens and spring their catch, offering work to any roguish types. After delivering the message, she should remain in the dwarven city until the party returns.

The Courtship of Ser Irabeth

Their business in Kaer Maga concluded, the Crimson Blades teleport back to the Flameford camp, where they soon encounter Kyra excitedly riding one of the large desert geckos the party had encountered earlier in the Cinderlands. The halfling explains that the Shoanti graciously provided two of the lizards, one for her and one for Egan to use as mounts. When asked about the whereabouts of the other cohorts, Kyra says Remmy is off bathing and points the party to the guest yurt where Irabeth is laying low.

The half-orc opens the tent flap a fraction and warily glances to either side before urging them to hurry inside. The adventurers bring her up to speed on the events in Kaer Maga, before asking after her own strange behavior.

“I’m hiding in here because Krojun and Sefah are both trying to woo me,” Irabeth confesses, blushing. “I’m not used to people competing for my favor.”

The Crimson Blades congratulate her on drawing attention from two different sides of the gender line.

“It’s flattering and they are both quite appealing,” Irabeth admits, “but they remind me too much of my old boyfriend.”

Slim starts to ask for more details, but is interrupted by Remmy’s arrival, spic and span in freshly polished armor. Arlynn asks if the party is ready to shadow walk the 300 miles to Scarwall.

“Yes please, let’s get out of here right away before they see me,” Irabeth nods vigorously. “Cursed castles I can handle.”

After deciding to leave their mounts with the Shoanti, the Crimson Blades gather in a circle and hold hands as Arlynn drinks one of the elixirs of shadow walking they had looted from Cinnabar’s body. They are transported along a coiling path of shadowstuff to the gray area where the Material Plane and the Plane of Shadows meet.

They begin walking northeast, towards their destination in the Kodar Mountains of Belkzen, the landscape whirling past them at a disturbingly fast rate. After hours of walking, the advenurers drop back to the Material Plane, arriving in the Kodar mountains only a day’s hike from Scarwall. Ashla is able to scout out a nearby cave to spend the night and Egan seals it with wall of stone so they can rest without fear of ambush.

Surprise Breakfast!

The following morning, as the adventurers rise to greet the day, they are greeted in turn by a gentle tap-tap-tapping on the wall of stone. Egan warily peels back the wall, revealing Laori’s grinning face. Behind her stands the Shadowcount Sial and his chain devil bodyguard Asyra, who has her arms draped lazily around his shoulders, toying idly with the chain of the holy symbol of Zon-Kuthon that hangs from his neck..

“Goood morning, awesome people!” Laori calls out, rushing to hug Slim and then as many others as will allow her. “It’s so amazing to see you all again after so long! It’s been, like, weeks!”

She reaches into her pack and starts pulling out fistfuls of yellow tusks. “While we were waiting for you, I got you all presents. Here, have some orc teeth!”

“Thanks . . .” Arlynn says, looking to Irabeth.

The half-orc takes the teeth and nods in approval. “It’s good to see you’ve spent your time killing many orcs.”

“Oh, I haven’t killed any orcs,” Laori says, passing out the last of the teeth.

“Then how did you . . .” Egan asks.

“I cut them out of their mouths, silly,” Laori giggles. “We ran into a few orcs on our way here. Well, whole villages really. Do you like them? I wanted to be sure I had enough for everyone.”

“I take it this is no chance meeting,” Slim says. “You and Sial are on your way to Scarwall, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Laori says bashfully. “See, we’re both members of the Brotherhood of Bones.”

“We have been tasked with reclaiming the Fangs of Kazavon,” Sial says, “sacred relics of one of the Midnight Lord’s greatest champion, and returning them to their rightful place in Nidal.”

“I knew the Church of Zon-Kuthon had to be connected to the Midnight’s Teeth,” Arlynn says.

“We know you seek a weapon, Serithtial, that can break the power the Fangs have granted to Ileosa,” Sial tells the party. “The Umbral Court of Nidal shares your goal, as it is insulting to have these holy relics held in the clutches of a petty queen. Serithtial lies within Scarwall, a haunted castle with defenses against those who do not embrace the Midnight Lord, but the sword itself is deadly to his servants.”

“Which is why we’re going to have the most awesome, ass-kickingest team up in the history of ever!” Laori interjects, bouncing up and down. “We all work together like BFFs to crash the castle and recover the sword, then you guys take down the Queen and we bring the Fangs back to Nidal. It’s going to be ama-a-azing!”

“Yes,” Sial adds. “Spectacular.”

The Crimson Blades quickly huddle to discuss the offer. After a brief debate, they agree that the Kuthites can be trusted to hold up their end of the bargain and could provide valuable assistance in the castle. Laori is ecstatic at the news and pulls out a set of brownies she baked for the occasion, half light and half dark.

“They represent our super special friendship,” she explains, passing them around. “They’re really good!”

“Laori,” Ashla asks, “what can you tell us about Kazavon?”

“That he was totally awesome,” the elf priestess squeals. "See, eight hundred years ago the orcs of Belkzen started invading neighboring kingdoms like Lastwall and Ustalav and stuff. Nobody was able to stop them. So this one count guy in Ustalav prays to ZK for help and Big Z—like he always does—answers his prayer. This badass mercenary general named Kazavon just shows up to lead the count’s armies—and he drives the orcs back! Out of Ustalav back into Belkzen, all the way up to their smelly holes in the mountains. Because Kazavon was actually a star player on Team ZK.

“So Kazzy builds a big castle, Scarwall, on a site sacred to the Midnight Lord to watch over the land so that the orcs never come back. And then he starts spreading ZK’s completely awesome teachings, with lashings, and thumbscrews, and impalements and all sorts of cool stuff. His faith is so pure and devoted, nobody can stand against it. But he was betrayed by one of his own men, who let a gang of mercenaries into Scarwall and I’m pretty sure you know the rest. Kazavon dies, the orcs come back, and the curse takes hold.”

“What do you know about the curse?” Arlynn asks.

“It is said that the souls of all who perish within Scarwall’s grounds are permanently bound to the castle,” Sial replies, “cursed to walk its halls as restless dead. What caused this effect, we do not know, but it has prevented the Church or anyone else from reclaiming the ruin.”

Once the party finishes their breakfast, they and the Kuthites begin trekking through the dark, rocky foothills of the Kodat Mountains towards their destination.

The Dark Castle

Castle Scarwall looks every bit as foreboding as the legends say. Dark walls rise from darker bedrock to steep rooflines set with gargoyles and minarets. Battlements look down from towers and defensive walls, and many dark carrion birds perch among these and soar above them. Mists rising off of the black tarn obscure the lower portions of the rocky island, giving the whole an ethereal appearance. Surprisingly, even though the structure is many centuries old, its walls and roofs remain intact with no visible breaches or obvious signs of damage. A ghostly glow lights some of the windows and arrow slits, and now and then, faint flickerings betray the motion of creatures within.

Zandu suggests that the party not take Zellara with them into the castle, given everything they’ve heard about the curse. The sorcerer fears that their ghostly friend could find herself bound to Scarwall.

Zellara manifests to tell the party that she is willing to take the risk, but she understands if they wish to leave her and the Harrow Deck outside.

Ultimately, Egan animates a treant—‘Barky’—to stand watch over the Harrow Deck, which the druid embeds safely within a rock overlooking the fortress. With preciouslittle daylight remaining, the adventurers nonetheless decide to press onward.

One Does Not Simply Walk into Scarwall

As dusk falls over the caldera, the Crimson Blades advance down a crumbling road towards the ruined barbican than defends access to the castle causeway. Only one of the two stone watchtowers still stands, while the other has collapsed into a heap of cracked stones and half-standing walls. About 120 feet away from the barbican, a shout rings out in orcish from the watchtower. Egan wildshapes into a bat to investigate, reporting back that the standing tower is defending by at least a half a dozen orcs.

The Crimson Blades quickly come up with a battle plan. The Kuthites offer to assist, but the adventurers prefer to take the lead. Slim and Kyra advance stealthily, taking cover in some heavy brush near the tower to await the signal. Zandu casts fly on himself and Irtabeth’s steed Princess, while Arlynn, Ashla, and Remmy advance just outside bow range of most of the orcs, though the biggest on lets fly a few goose-feather shafts from his longbow. It is Egan who gives the signal to strike, summoning a stone giant on top of the crumbling tower—with predictable results.

When the dust settles from the caved-in tower roof, the stone giant is standing firm over two confused and battered orcs on the tower’s second story. Slim and Kyra take this opportunity to snipe at the orcish archers on the balcony before scurrying for cover in the nearby ruins of the second tower.

Arlynn races towards the main tower, using Keris’ slippers of spiderwalk to stride a few feet up its side. Ashla and Remmy rush up to her and she begins harrying both of them up the side of the building. Bat-Egan flutters closer to the building, while Zandu lets fly with a lightning bolt.

The orcs on the balcony and down below fire back with their arrows, but are rattled by the display of raw power. The stone giant proceeds to rough up the orcs in the tower’s second story. Irabeth, seated on Princess and floating 25 feet in the air, proceeds to charge the orcs on the balcony, striking the chief orc with her lance.

The chieftain barks an order and the orcs begin retreating back into the tower, but when the chieftain is struck down the remaining orcs on the balcony panic and leap to the ground. Slim wings one with his crossbow and Irabeth rides them down.

Arlynn, Ashla, and Remmy perch unsteadily on the crumbling walls overlooking the collapsed tower room. They slash down at the two hapless orcs below. One of the orcs shoves Remmy, knocking her off the wall. The Gray Maiden avoids a long fall by clinging hold of the wall with her shield hand. The other orc tries to pull the same trick on Arlynn, but she kicks him in the head and then lifts up Remmy while Ashla and the stone giant finish off the orcs.

Kyra creeps into the downstairs of the gate tower, soon followed by Slim, while Irabeth circles the building watchful for any escapees. Three orcs remain holed up in the bottom floor of the tower. The stone giant leaps downstairs, followed by Remmy and Ashla, while Arlynn spiderwalks down the ceiling. But when the paladin takes a swing at one of the orcs, her sword catches on the stone giant and goes flying.

Remmy surges forward to assist her, shouting “Die you monst—oops, sorry!”

Her own sword clanks against the giant and goes flying. The orcs burst out laughing at the sight. Kyra cuts the chortling short by pinning one to the wall with a crossbow bolt, while Slim’s Vindicator jams. The rest of the Crimson Blades close in and make short work of the remaining orcs.

Afterwards, as the party investigates the ruins of the barbican, Irabeth inspects each of the orcs’ corpses, one after the other. When asked why, she simply says “I’m looking for my father.” But he is nowhere to be found among the dead.

After ascertaining that the barbican is secure and looting what valuables they could find from the orcs, the party burns the bodies as the long stone causeway stretches before them towards the looming towers of Castle Scarwall.