Curse of the Crimson Throne Book 5: Skeletons of Scarwall
Author lukkychukky

More than 800 years ago, as the nation of Ustalav was recovering from the rule of the Whispering Tyrant, orc invasions from the neighboring Hold of Belkzen became a constant threat. For generations, the county of Tamrivena (known as Canterwall in modern Ustalav) held strong against Belkzen. When command of Tamrivena fell to Count Andachi, it quickly became apparent that he had not inherited his predecessors’ gifts of strategy or eloquence. Mile by mile, the orcs pressed into Ustalav through Tamrivena, and Count Andachi grew desperate. His pleas to the government of Ustalav for reinforcements were mired in bureaucracy. Even his prayers to Desna seemed to fall upon deaf ears. With a desperation born of fear, he fell back upon his ancestors’ onetime patron—Zon-Kuthon, god of pain and darkness. In short order, the count’s prayers were answered in the form of a powerful and gifted mercenary named Kazavon.

This charismatic general took control of Tamrivena’s army and whipped it into shape with his brutal discipline and knowledge of battle tactics. When the army marched into Belkzen, the orcs fell in waves, and by the spring of 4043 ar, the orcs had been driven into the Kodar Mountains, leaving much of central Belkzen abandoned.

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. In a short time, Kazavon’s true goals became horrifically clear. Diplomats from southern Lastwall traveled to Scarwall, but their overtures of peace were met with violence as General Kazavon flayed the diplomats alive, then had their skins stretched over frames; he painted these skins with his new coat of arms: a fanged skull. The skinless dead were then animated and sent back south into Lastwall beneath these grisly banners with a demand to fall under Kazavon’s heel or be butchered.

Aghast at this turn of events, Count Andachi at last found his courage. He raised a new army from the 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 met defeat before Kazavon’s forces. Andachi was captured, publicly tortured and degraded, and ultimately executed.

For well over a decade, Kazavon ruled a nation of slaves, victims, and horror. Tales spread throughout the neighboring regions of fields of people impaled for the general’s amusement, of mass executions, of Shoanti hunted like wild animals and then forced to slay their own lovers and children in carnivals of terror. Whispers of cannibal feasts and vampiric orgies trickled out of Castle Scarwall. More than once, the forces of virtuous nations marched on Scarwall, yet no army could face Kazavon’s strength.

However, where armies failed, a secret cabal of heroes from the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye would not. Led by a paladin named Mandraivus, this group discovered that one among Kazavon’s minions was willing to betray the warlord: his chamberlain, Kleestad. The chamberlain gave Mandraivus the information he needed to strike at Scarwall when its defenses were lowest. As the cabal tore through Scarwall, Kleestad returned swiftly to his room to gather his most valuable possessions and ready his escape—but Mandraivus’s band moved faster than he anticipated. By the time Kleestad had his gear, the castle alarm had sounded and he was called to Kazavon’s side. Kleestad realized Kazavon knew of his betrayal and had summoned him to be executed. Before Kazavon could do much more than break Kleestad’s ankles, though, Mandraivus arrived. The battle raged, and in the end Kazavon fled to the Star Tower, giving Kleestad a chance to crawl into hiding.

It was during this fight that Mandraivus’s group discovered the warlord’s great secret—Kazavon was no mere man, but rather an insane great blue wyrm who preferred living as a human rather than a dragon. During the battle, Kazavon was forced back into his draconic identity as Mandraivus struck a lethal blow with his magical sword, Serithtial.

Yet Kazavon’s corpse did not lie quiet. It seethed with dark energy, beginning to knit back together once again. The cabal used fire and acid and holy light, but in the end, seven skeletal fragments proved impossible to destroy. Mandraivus ordered his remaining followers to each take one of these relics and scatter them to the corners of the world. Mandraivus remained behind at Scarwall with a few loyal retainers to watch over the castle itself and prevent it from being reclaimed by the minions of Zon-Kuthon.

The victory proved short-lived. The orcs regained their strength and attacked Castle Scarwall soon after Mandraivus’s cabal scattered. The defenders were overwhelmed, and as Mandraivus was slain, the curse of Scarwall took hold. The slaughter of first Kazavon’s armies and then Mandraivus and his soldiers had suffused the fortress with negative energy, and an instant after they seized the castle, the orc invaders found themselves facing a host of vengeful spirits and slavering undead. Only a single orc survived to make it across the causeway from the castle, the flesh of his face blanched completely white from the horror he’d witnessed. He brought word to his people of the haunting of Castle Scarwall, and the tribal warlords declared the site forever taboo.

Yet one of Kazavon’s thralls had survived the twin massacres as well—Kleestad, both ankles broken, managed to stay in hiding during Mandraivus’s short reign. He emerged to find Scarwall empty and silent, and as he crawled from chamber to chamber, found further evidence of slaughter. He eventually made his way into the first floor of the keep, where he discovered Mandraivus’s body slumped against a wall. In death, Mandraivus still held the blade he’d used to slay Kazavon. Kleestad, half mad and deluded, took up the blade in his hand, and heedless of the pain as the holy weapon burned his evil flesh, called out to Zon-Kuthon to witness his triumph as he claimed the blade for his own.

Zon-Kuthon was not pleased. Instead of rewarding Kleestad, he extended Scarwall’s curse to envelop both Kleestad and the sword. The chamberlain 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 known as a pharmakos (see page 475) and hurled him into a lightless vault deep below Scarwall. Also to this prison went the sacred blade Serithtial, still clutched in Kleestad’s hands, its once-potent magic suppressed and locked away by the curse on the castle above. 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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