Curse of the Crimson Throne

The Story of Kazavon

Chapter Five: Skeletons of Scarwall

 
More than 800 years ago, as the nation of Ustalav was recovering from the rule of the Whispering Tyrant, the threat of an invasion of orcs from the neighbouring Hold of Belkzen was very real. For generations, the county of Tamrivena—known as Canterwall in modern Ustalav—held strong against the orcs, its standing army of rangers and the tactical genius of its leaders more than a match for the orc hordes. When command of Tamrivena fell to Count Andachi, it quickly became apparent that he had not inherited his father's and grandfather's gifts of tactics and eloquence. Mile by mile, the orcs pressed into Ustalav through Tamrivena, and Count Andachi grew desperate. Nothing he tried stemmed the orc aggression. His desperate requests to the government of Ustalav for reinforcements seemed mired in bureaucracy. Even his prayers to Desna seemed to fall upon deaf ears. And so it was with a desperation born of fear that he fell back upon his ancestors' one-time patron—Zon-Kuthon, god of pain and darkness. And in short order, his prayers were answered in the form a powerful and gifted mercenary named Kazavon.

The charismatic general took control of Tamrivena's army and whipped it into shape with his brutal discipline and knowledge of tactics and warfare, honing it into a military killing machine. When they marched into Belkzen, the undisciplined savages fell in waves. Tales of Kazavon himself riding in the vanguard and hewing his way through the orc lines while the arrows and blades of his foes bounced harmlessly off of him filled Count Andachi with relief. By the spring of 4043 ar, the orcs had been driven from their lands into the inhospitable foothills of the Kodar Mountains, bloodied and defeated. His task complete, Kazavon did not return to Ustalav. Instead, he set his forces to the construction of Castle Scarwall, from which he could remain vigilant over the surrounding lowlands. Yet in short time, Kazavon's true goals became horrifically clear. Diplomats from southern Lastwall traveled to Scarwall, bearing gifts of triumph and promises of eternal friendship. Their overtures of peace were met with violence as General Kazavon captured the diplomats, flayed them alive and had their skins stretched over frames; he painted these skins with his new coatof-arms, the fanged skull. The skinless dead were then animated and sent back south into Lastwall beneath these grisly banners with a counter offer—fall under Kazavon's heel or be butchered.

Some among Kazavon's own troops found his actions repellent, but Kazavon's army had grown over the years as his number of victories mounted. His ranks swelled with mercenaries—half of his force bore no allegiance to anything but their general's gold. Those soldiers who rose in rebellion were immediately quelled and executed, and those who attempted more diplomatic protest were tortured and fed to wild beasts.

Aghast at this turn of events, Count Andachi at last found his courage. He raised a new army, ragged and inexperienced, from the last remnants of his people and marched west to face his former general. In a bold offensive he laid siege to Castle Scarwall. Yet, with the next dawn, he was defeated by Kazavon's forces. Hapless Andachi was captured, publicly tortured and degraded, and ultimately executed. These grisly deeds completed, Kazavon turned his attention east toward Ustalav. For well over a decade, Kazavon ruled a nation of slaves, victims, and horror. Tales of fields of men impaled for the general's amusement, of mass executions, of Shoanti tribesmen hunted like wild animals and then forced to slay their own women and children in carnivals of torture and terror spread throughout the neighbouring regions.

Whispers of cannibal feasts and vampiric orgies trickled out of Castle Scarwall. More than once, the forces of goodly nations marched on Scarwall, yet such was Kazavon's strength that no army could face him for long. To a man, every warrior sent against Scarwall suffered the same fate as Count Andachi. Yet where armies failed, a small and secret cabal of heroes did not. Led by a heroic soldier named Mandraivus, this group of Lastwall mercenaries, Shoanti mystics, and Ustalavi arcanists discovered that one among Kazavon's minions was willing to betray the warlord. This was Kazavon's chamberlain, a man named Kleestad. The chamberlain gave Mandraivus the information he needed to strike at Scarwall when its defences were lowest (just before one of Kazavon's monthly debauches in his great hall), and directed the cabal to a secret entrance to the castle that Kazavon's guards didn't know about. As the cabal tore through Scarwall, laying waste to the warlord's minions and pursuing him to the castle heights, Kleestad returned swiftly to his room to gather his most valuable possessions and make ready his escape, but Mandraivus's band moved faster than he anticipated. By the time he had his gear, the castle alarm had sounded and he was called to Kazavon's side as the warlord prepared to defend his home. Kleestad feared that Kazavon knew of his betrayal and had called him to his side to execute him, yet before Kazavon could do much more than break both of Kleestad's ankles, Mandraivus arrived. The battle was furious, and in the end Kazavon fled to the Star Tower, giving Kleestad a chance to crawl into hiding.

When Mandraivus and his remaining companions cornered Kazavon in the Star Tower, they discovered his great secret—Kazavon was no mere man, but rather a powerful blue dragon that had taken human shape with the blessing of his dark god. Assuming his true form, Kazavon attacked the cabal, and a long and bloody battle ensued His scales deflected most of their attacks, just as the weapons of the orcs had bounced off of his armor during the initial campaign in Belkzen, and his claws and lightning breath made short work of many of their best and bravest. It was Mandraivus, wielding the sacred sword, who was able to slip through the dragon's guard and deliver the fatal blow. With Kazavon's death, his forces abandoned the castle and the dragon's dark empire crumbled.

Even in death, Kazavon's corpse seethed with dark energy, beginning to knit back together toward life once again. Mandraivus left his sword impaled in the dragon's skull while his companions disassembled the body and burned the remains. After the smoke cleared, seven fragments of the dragon's skeleton proved impossible to destroy. They continued to rattle and shake of their own malignant will. Mandraivus ordered seven of his remaining followers to each take one of the relics and scatter to the corners of the world to keep the fragments forever separate. Mandraivus remained behind at Scarwall with only a few loyal retainers in order to watch over the castle itself and prevent it from being reclaimed by the minions of Zon-Kuthon. Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived. The orcs confined to the nearby mountains by Kazavon's armies took note of the death of their enemy and rampaged forth across Belkzen once again. A portion of the horde attacked Castle Scarwall, which was defended only by Mandraivus's small and inadequate force. The defenders were quickly overwhelmed, but as Mandraivus was slain, the curse of Scarwall took hold. The wholesale slaughter of first Kazavon's armies and then Mandraivus and his soldiers had suffused the fortress. In an instant, the orc invaders found themselves facing a host of vengeful spirits and slavering undead. It is said that only one of the orcs survived to make it across the causeway from the castle, the flesh of his face blanched completely white from the horror he had barely escaped. He brought word to his people of the haunting of Castle Scarwall, and the tribal warlords declared the site forever taboo, leaving it to the bloodthirsty spirits who now claimed it as their own. Yet one of Kazavon's thralls had survived—Kleestad, both ankles broken, managed to stay in hiding during Mandraivus's short reign. Barely subsisting on rainwater and bugs, Kleestad felt the curse of Scarwall engulf the place, and knew by the silence that followed that Zon-Kuthon had finally smote the intruders. He emerged from hiding to find Scarwall empty and silent, and as he crawled from chamber to chamber, was met only with further evidence of slaughter. He eventually found his way into the first floor of the keep, where he discovered Mandraivus's body slumped against a wall. In his hand, Mandraivus still held the blade he'd used to slay Kazavon. Kleestad, half mad and deluded, took up the blade in his hand, and heedlessof the pain as the holy weapon burned his evil flesh, called out to Zon-Kuthon to witness his triumph—Kleestad had claimed the blade as his own.

Yet Zon-Kuthon was not pleased. Instead of rewarding Kleestad, he cursed him. He had betrayed Kazavon, and as he had spent the last several hours crawling through the slaughter like a worm, Zon-Kuthon transformed the chamberlain into a monstrous wormlike beast and hurled him into a lightless vault deep below Scarwall. Also to this prison went the sacred blade Iomadae's Hand, still clutched in Kleestad's hands. Today, the last thrall of Kazavon lives on in this underground prison, and in a final ironic twist of fate, has become the guardian of the very blade that laid his master low.

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