Curse of the Crimson Throne

Summary 22: Castle of a Thousand Corpses

Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall

 
From either side of the gate entrance, a dozen large crossbow bolts came flying from the darkness. On instinct, Rudolph and Panian put up their forearms, blocking almost all of them. Concealed behind the wall, there was nothing MOQ could do against the undead minotaurs. They thus looked to the gate barring the way in. Rudolph gave it a might bash with his sword and his teeth vibrated from the immense swing, but the bars held. Panian just smirked and gave the bars a headbutt, and the bars tumbled inwards. Duvafoodle, suffering from withdrawal at not using his rod in so long, pointed at the wall and activated his favored weapon. Suddenly the world seemed to fly away from him, as his form began shrinking, and shrinking, until he was the size of a mouse. Jansaadi fired a few arrows through the holes in the walls, hitting one unseen skeleton, but doing little damage. They in turn returned fire on her, hitting her several times.

After the gate, there remained a large door to be bashed down, which Panian did with ease. On the other side was a room full of corpses, most of which were orc, and all of which seemed fresh, but which had been magically preserved for over 10,000 years. As Rudolph and Panian moved, a few of the orc heads turned and screamed a terrifying scream that could wake the dead. And that seemed to do just that as a pile of corpses "walked" on broken legs and elbows and punched Rudolph's ribs. Another skeleton rose up from behind and lunged at the him, but he gave a quick backhand punch that sent it crumpling before plunging his sword into the corpse orgy that had sent his insides shaking. Panian chopped down, and sent body parts flying. Nearby, a zombie shambled forward, and so he sent a glob to spittle its way that sent the undead smashing into a nearby wall.

The corpse orgy kicked out with five feet, nearly crushing Rudolph's knee. Jansaadi battered the abomination with five arrows, while baby Duvafoodle screamed out "Fireball." The rooms was engulfed in flames, and Panian had to turn away from his friends to hide the drool dripping from his jowl as the smell of cooked meat permeated the room. He and Rudolph both became burned in the blast, but there would be time for vengeance later. He looked to the barely moving wall of corpses in front of him and gave it one last slash, ending the orgy.

After a few quick healing blasts from Duvafoodle, the four continued into the next room. There they came upon many skeletons, all orc, and all surrounding a human skeleton, still wearing the armor it had died in. There was something very special about the platemail, and Duvafoodle realized that it was a suit that only a holy acolyte of Iomadae would wear. His proximity to the armor seemed to trigger a response as several shadowy forms emerged from the walls and let loose a piercing scream, while an even greater malevolent shadow rose up from the human skeleton. This was Mandraivus, or what he had become. He looked at Rudolph and demanded he return his sacred sword. It was clear the castle had corrupted his spirit, only a second death could silence the former hero.

The three shadows, sensing a quick kill in Duvafoodle and Jansaadi, lunged at them. It was only because he was harder to hit that Duvafoodle was able to dodge two of the reaching arms, while Jansaadi too easily jumped away from harm. The wraith that was Mandraivus plunged its hand into Rudolph's chest and dragged away a part of his being, bringing immense pain. Duvafoodle called to Olidammara and sent a light the shadows way, causing them to turn away from the battle. Rudolph too, called to his patron and imbued his sword with divine energy that scorched the wraiths undead essence. Panian chopped his axe down, sending more dark wisps off of Mandraivus. Jansaadi fired off a volley of arrows, but they seemed to pass through the creature, dealing no harm. There was no defense as the wraith simply reached through parrying sword, and blocking armor, draining away life and healing itself. Duvafoodle aimed one of his eldritch healing blasts at the former druid and blasted it to oblivion. Duvafoodle then used his magic to heal his friends, including Rudolph's spirit. After the warlock told Rudolph of the holy nature of the armor, the crusader decided to don it as truly there existed no other such holy armor in all the realms.

After going into another room, they came upon a laboratory with jars containing, what could only be described as tiny souls. Upon a wall, they saw a halfling imprisoned in a net. Seeing MoK, she asked them for help, as her capturer had left the lab. Thinking the situation strange for a living person to be in a dead castle, they questioned her further. She said her name was Alima and that she had been captured by the night hag Malatrophe when she snuck into the castle in search of the dragons hoard. As they freed the girl, Panian suddenly reflected back upon his harrow reading, in which he saw an evil halfling placing beakers on shelves. He grabbed the Alma by the throat and demanded she reveal herself for what she was. Smiling, the halfling transformed into Malatrophe. Seeing she was overmatched she offered information for her life and her prized soul jars. She also wanted to capture the soul of the dragon Belshallam.

According to her, the castle was linked to a chained spirit named Mithrodar. He had four chains, all of which were bound to four spirits within the castle. By slaying the spirits, one could slay Mithrodar and exorcise the castle. She knew only of three sprits anchors. One was the dragon. Another was General Castothrane on the second level while a third was the demon Nihil who dwelt in central tower. Low on spells and strength, MoK decided to spend a few hours outside castle Scarwall to rest up; leaving Maltrophe in her laboratory.

MoK returned soon after to go over the plan. Malatrophe would call down her friend dragon into the courtyard. Once dissertated, MoK would surprise attack it, and try to bring it down in a few seconds. As planned, Maltrophe moved into the open air and called to Belshallam in draconic tongue. On cue, Panian charged past the night hag and swung his mighty, raging axe. Through the dragon the axehead went, not bringing blood or pain, only frustration as Panian had just slain an illusion. The real Belshallam in turn emerged from the shadows where he had been hiding in plain sight, and breathed forth a blast of negative energy and blackened his soul. Luckily, the Shoanti war paint protected the barbarian from some of the effects.

Jansaadi fired a few arrows, with two finding seems in scales. Panian tried to retaliate, but his blade bounced off the wyrm’s armored hide. Those strikes did however break off a few scales and Rudolph stabbed his blade into the exposed flesh. In a rage of its own, Belshallam bit and clawed at the crusader, even slamming its wings down and whipping its deadly tail to crush bones. Everyone was shocked at the massive onslaught, with Rudolph beaten but still standing, despite the many wounds he had just sustained.

Duvafoodle prepared to fire is rod, when suddenly he was struck from behind by five magic missiles fired by Malatrophe. The night hag had no intention of siding with the adventurers who would have ended her soul harvest and likely her own infernal life. Duvafoodle turned on the betrayer and fireballed her, watching angrily as she used the flames to wash her own skin. Jansaadi, turned her bow on the night hag, but her arrows barely pierced the black skin.

Panian swung his axe again, finally drawing blood. Rudolph too swung his blade, but by then the dragon had turned its exposed plating aside. Smiling, Belshallam clamped its jaws upon the crusader and shoot him back and forth, before throwing him back to the ground. Only a slight breath remained in the warrior. Malatrophe again fired more missiles into Duvafoodle, foiling any spell attempts. The gnome thus blasted lightening from the rob, but again the hag simply laughed as the bolt past over it, doing little harm. Knowing that the dragon was the main threat, she turned her bow on the dragon, wounding it with three arrows.

The dragon bit down upon Panian, but he was expecting it, and jumped back while uppercutting with the axe blade. Belshallam reeled back in pain at the surprise strike, and was simply to stunned to bring its other attacks around. Malatrophe looked on in shock at the dragons reaction, and it was in that moment that Duvafoodle blasted her in the face with more lightening, this time truly hurting her. Swearing an oath in her infernal language, Malatrophe charged at the old gnome and bit him on the cheek. He tried to push past the pain to heal himself, but couldn't do so. He was able to jump out of the way as she tried to bite him again.

Jansaadi fired arrow after arrow into the dragon, and watching as the combined wounds were making it weaker and weaker. She watched as Panian was clawed and tailslapped, but how he stood his ground and retaliated with axe strikes that seemed to be inflicting even more garish wounds. Barely standing, Belshallam again lashed out in desperation, hitting Panian with a bite, claw, wing, and tail. Now both he and the dragon were teetering on the edge of death. A last arrow from Jansaadi finally brought the dark wyrm of the sky down to the ground. From the dragon's leg, a now visible purple chain suddenly shattered, and it was clear that one of the spirit anchors was gone. With one more menace standing, Panian charged at the night hag and decapitated her in one swing of his great axe. Seeing his friend on the brink of death, Jansaadi used her wand to heal her big friend. They then looked upon their fallen commander and noticed with relief that he still breathed, although barely. A few quick healing blasts brought him to his feet. And a few hours of resting outside the castle, brought everyone to full health.

After returning to the castle, they continued exploring and came across Belshallam's treasure horde. This they gathering up before moving on. After a quick foray with a group of undead minotaurs, they came to a hallway. There two ghosts approached them, while three wraiths materialized from the back wall. The ghosts seemed to be miming a play that Jansaadi couldn't help but sit down as the magic seized her mind and she was compelled to watch their show.

The ghosts lunged forward, their touches grabbing pieces of Rudolph’s soul away while one of the wraiths also did the same. Duvafoodle used Olidammara's aid and turned three of the five wraiths away. Rudolph destroyed one of the remaining ones, while Panian charged at a ghost and wounded it with a perfect swing. Again the undead all targeted Rudolph, draining more and more life away. Duvafoodle sent a blast of energy that healing his friend and hurt the undead. That was enough as Rudolph dispatched one of the ghosts. Panian injured the second ghost. Yet still it floated in its undead state, and it reached into Rudolph's chest again, this time smiling as it plucked the last vestige of soul that Rudolph had remaining. The crusader simply dropped dead.

Throwing caution to the wind, Duvafoodle used a new spell called revivify to bring life back to his dead comrade. Now within the wraiths range, Duva felt the undead hand reach in and pluck one of the few vestiges of life the old man had remaining. Panian's weapon strikes passed through the undead, meaning it was now or never for the old man. He prayed to Olidammara for all the aid he could give. The prayer was answered through the haunted halls, and Duvafoodle turned both the ghost and the wraith. From there, it was a simply matter to dispatch them.

After healing up again, MoK decided to continue onwards, coming to a room with a simple statue of a man in middle of the room, an old cloth covering its heads. Not trusting anything, Panian smashed the stone rubble. They were then free to continue onto the next room, where they could hear music, as though from a dance.

As they entered, it seemed as though they were in a ball room as phantoms danced among each other. The music seemed to be coming from all around and there was a sudden urge to join the dancers as several put out their hands in an offering of a waltz. It was from the ceiling that the expected menace flew, its scythe making a single downward to slice that nearly severed Panian's shoulder blades from his back. That blade drained away some of his life force as had most of the other undead in the castle.

The dance macabre was the dance of death in its purity, and it again sliced at Panian, drawing a line of red, with the wound bleeding soul energy. Duvafoodle sent a rare divine spell his opponents way, and it became clear why, as he missed with his searing light ray. Jansaadi, her hatred for undead burning as much as ever, hit the macabre three time with arrows. Rudolph summoned divine wrath to bring godly pain to the undead thing. Panian meanwhile raged to his own gods and was able to hit the thing with a mighty cleave. Still the macabre floated, and it again slashed its scythe twice, draining away even more of Panian's life. Duvafoodle knew that once his friend's rage wore off, the shock to his system from the undead would kill him. He thus used a restoration spell to bring back some of his friends life. Rudolph meanwhile used the power of his helm to bring more divine wrath onto the dance macabre, ending its life.

With the first floor explored, they went up one of the many steps to the second floor. After only a few rooms, they came to a blank room with a simple throne. Sitting there was General Castothrane, one of the last three remaining spirit anchors. Panian charged it right away, but the skeletal warrior deflected the strike. After analyzing that simple parry, Rudolph too charged in, avoiding the simple blocking sword and cutting Castothrane's ribs completely off.

From behind, a pair of shadows emerged from the wall, but one was impaled to death by arrows fired from Jansaadi's bow. Duvafoodle blasted the room with a fireball spell, burning everyone. Panian, adding another notch to his axe for the number of time he would get even with Duvafoodle eventually, slashed at Castothrane, nearly downing him. The undead got in one small strike on Rudolph before the crusader finished off the General. He fell, and a phantom chain materialized, before breaking off.

Now there remained only two more spirit anchors, before Mithrodar could be finally confronted. Once done, the star tower could be entered, and the Hand of Iomadae could finally be claimed.

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