[Carrion Crown] In Defense of the Beast

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, joined by newcomer to the game and old friend Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Annie (Grift), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter arrived in the city of Leipidstadt just in time for the Trial of the Beast.

Even traveling with a full assortment of caravans, carts and followers on foot, the remaining four days to Lepidstadt seemingly take no time at. On arriving in view of the city, the Crooked Kin break away to find a place to pitch camp and attract some of the idle gawkers swarming the area in hopes of seeing the Beast burn in the Punishing Man[1] being built in the main square. Ringmaster Kaleb wishes the travelers well and thanks them again for their aid in the unhappy affair of Elise. Should the adventurers need any assistance the Kin could provide, they will find them somewhere around the city.

Back in the city of his birth, Solis leads the way through streets the teeming throngs of people packing Lepidstadt for the trial to his parents’ home, a respectable townhouse neighboring the university campus. Once the awkward introductions are powered through, the Lightwatchers offer a place to stay for those who need it; Grift makes noises about lodging at the Mundungus estate. The idle chatter also reveals more news of the Beast of Lepistadt: it was captured after breaking into the university, where it tore up a building and somehow stole a statuette, despite being subdued on the scene by the city guard. With belongings stashed, it’s time to discharge their final obligation to Professor Lorrimor.

After asking around at the University of Lepidstadt, they find the workshop of Montaign Crowl still in disarray. The professor sifts through the wreckage when they arrive. He is saddened by the news of Lorrimor’s passing — they don’t mention the probable foul play — but gladdened by the bequest of books to the university. He is outright astonished when Solis produces the golem manual purchased from the Unfurling Scroll in Ravengro, a university-owned tome which somehow found its way off campus — way, way off campus.

Crowl scrawls off a series of bank drafts: one for the delivery of Lorrimor’s bequest to be redeemed with Embreth Daramid, executor of Lorrimor’s estate and a judge in Lepidstadt, another for Kendra Lorrimor at Gunderson’s insistence for the purchase of the golem manual and another for a jaw-dropping 5,000 gold pieces to split among the party, also for the manual. There is a fleeting moment of regret in pointing out Kendra’s contribution to the recovery of the tome.

Dr. Crowl’s attention is consumed with restoring his workshop to order. He doesn’t have much to say about why the Beast chose his workshop of all the places in Lepidstadt filled with precious, fragile things. Callimachi scoops up scattered volumes and begins organizing, skimming them as he sorts.[2] The others follow suit. What they find mostly confirms information already learned.

After cleaning the workshop, the opportunity to examine the Beast’s path of destruction presents itself. A magically alarmed back door was ripped open. Heavy hob-nailed boot tracks crisscross the floor. The Beast seems to have burst in, stomped into a lecture hall and leaped down to the lecture stage from the gallery. Grift notices one of the upper windows seems to have been disturbed, but nothing’s broken. Almost as though someone let themselves out that way.

Curiously, the only thing missing is a sea sage effigy. Crowl describes it as depicting some sort of being hunched down, clasping its knees, almost glowering from its tentacled visage.[3] And despite the trail of debris through the workshop and lecture hall, the Beast managed not to disturb any of the other highly fragile objects arranged around the effigy in question. Crowl muddies the water further mentioning how the Beast remained quiet during its capture, in spite of its obvious feats of strength in breaking into the university.

Everything learned at the scene of the crime suggests that something doesn’t quite fit. The group floats the idea of interviewing the Beast directly. Dr. Crowl suggests they might volunteer to assist the defense, as Lepidstadt appears to have a completely crazy pioneer legal system where any bumpkin from the cabbage lands can swan in and lend a helping hand.[4] Crowl asks that if they happen to speak with the Beast, might they inquire after the sea sage effigy. It wasn’t found on the Beast’s person when it was captured.

At Daramid’s home, the judge takes care of the bank draft and brings up a task of potential interest to the travelers: the case against the Beast. It’s accused of killing children, villagers and a doctor, setting fire to a sanctuary for the disturbed and blinding the doctor’s assistant. And stealing a statuette. Embreth wonders if the deck hasn’t been stacked against the Beast, given the peculiarities at the crime scene, lack of positive evidence tying it to the three incidents — two villages and the sanctuary on Karb Isle — and the fact it somehow drew one of the most incompetent public defenders in the city.

Judge Daramid already has one agent on the case, Andris Kreitov, a local tracker of some repute. With the trial preliminaries concluded and three days of testimony to go, she’d be happier with some eyes and minds in the mix. And if anyone asks, she’s not involved. Naturally, as that sort of involvement would compromise her ability to adjudicate fairly in the case, being one of three judges on the bench.

“You want to help? Why?”
“Justice, Gustav.”
— Sir Horace knows all about justice

Kreitov is found at his lodgings in the city by the simple expedient of Sir Horace hollering his last name into the crowded common room, The tracker happens to be partaking of a simple meal. He’s young, curiously impassive for his age. Everyone talks rings around who their employer is before decamping to a more secluded spot, an alleyway which Grift recalls for its particular dampening effect on stray shouts. Notes on what Daramid told them all compared, the five set off for the courthouse, to meet with the defense, Gustav Kaple, and the defendant, the Beast.

“And at second level, you get mage hand with happy ending.”
— no context for you

The barrister comes off more than a little inexperienced. He stammers. His wig is askew. He’s not terribly up on his law. When the question comes up “Why were you chosen for this case?”, he doesn’t even have a good answer for that. When Solis brings up the question of whether the Beast is even considered a being capable of committing murder of its own free will, Gustav blinks perplexedly at the notion.

That vacant facade of an expression on the lawyer’s face doesn’t dissuade Gunderson from grilling him further in the details of the case, then suggesting maybe Kaple needs some time in the city baths to look good and relax before the proceedings tomorrow. At first the lawyer isn’t even bright enough to take the out when it’s handed to him on a silver platter, but by the end of the conversation he’s caught on and thinks that Horace’s way with words could sway the courtroom like no one else. Gunderson doesn’t immediately jump on board with this suggestion.

“Next time, don’t skin an elderly beaver and try to make a wig out of it.”
— Grift to Gustav Kaple, Esq.

As duly authorized volunteer junior members of the Lepidstadt Justice Squadron,[5] the adventurers make their way to the Beast’s cell in the courthouse cellars. It’s chained to an iron chair, bolted to the floor in the middle of an iron cage — possibly the drunk tank pressganged into service. The Beast is quite subdued for something accused of wanton murder, arson and rampaging through the streets. It doesn’t respond to prompting at first, seeming not to care about how it feels — even in light of the visible effect of truncheons about the head and shoulders — or give any indication of hunger or thirst. At most, the Beast rumbles “Didn’t do it” and “Go now?”

Solis’ practiced eye confirms the Beast is magical. Probably a flesh golem, as it seems constructed out of a half-dozen different beings, most notably having the arms of an owlbear. Puckered stitches draw the Beast’s mouth into a permanent sneer. Whatever the Beast did, as a golem it did so on someone else’s orders — excepting for those rare times with golems go berserk of their own accord. The Beast is unsurprisingly mute on the topic of who last issued it an order or what that might have been.

“Lepidstadt’s legal system seems to run on bribery and ‘enh.'”
— Sir Horace

Given the confirmation of suspicions about the Beast’s nature, the next step is to interview witnesses. Karl Tapers, former assistant to Doctor Brada of the Karb Isle sanctuary, now lives by himself in a cottage on the river’s edge. He gets on quite well by himself, blinded as he is. Grift leads the conversation, finagling his way into Karl’s confidence with a fictitious past. He is surprisingly upbeat, all things considered.

The night of the fire at the sanctuary, all he saw was an enormous shadowy figure shambling through the flames. The fire itself seemed to come out of nowhere. No one ever determined its cause. Many patients died in the fire, while Dr. Brada’s body was never found.[6] Horace brings up ghasts repeatedly, but Karl takes no particular notice. A few gold pieces are left where Karl should find them — presuming he navigates by touch.

Already outside the city walls, it seems sensible to move on to investigating the scenes of the Beast’s alleged crimes. A year ago, it picked up ten residents of the village of Morstadt before being driven off into the swamp, assumed to be dying. Three surviving villagers from Morstadt are the first witnesses the prosecution plans to call.[7]

“Does anyone have Perform (Banjo)?”
“I have Pretty Mouth +10.”
— Hunter and Annie

After an eight mile slog through the marshlands, the investigators find Morstadt a sorrowful cluster of slanty shanties. To their surprise, they also find Lazeen, the village elder who was reported to be testifying for the prosecution quite soon. The elder has the manner of one who easily maintains an easy, simmering rage all his waking hours.[8] He lazily chews a wad of swamp grass in one cheek. Grift attempts to do the same as a friendly gesture, but is completely unprepared for the repugnant taste and odor. He retches up all the grass and more, much to Lazeen’s amusement.

Lazeen confirms much of what they ask. The Beast came at night, taking villagers one by one. Then it progressed to attacking the hamlet itself. In response, they lay in wait up in the boneyard. When the Beast came by, they drove it into the water as it screamed and cursed, promising revenge. That last detail caught everyone’s attention, as the Beast in the cell was barely verbal at all, let alone likely of promising vengeance against anyone. Further, the elder relates, a blood caiman surged out of the water, savaging the Beast and dragging it off into the swamp. This doesn’t jibe with the complete absence of scars or other wounds on the Beast currently held in Lepidstadt.

It takes persuading, but Lazeen takes the adventurers to the boneyard itself, a stretch of marshy ground rising up out of the swamp. Fetishes hang from every branch of every scrawny tree or shrub on the glorified sandbar. Gea takes notice of a curious sort of nest wedged in the branches of one tree. They steer the boat to land as far from that nest as possible.

In the scrub, they find not only a hidden boat, but in the gunwales discarded clothing and a roll some leathery material that, on inspection, turns out to be a human face. A rope secured to the boat leads to a submerged sack in the swamp. The discoveries are ever more grisly, as the sack holds a lantern, gag and rusty knives. Then Gea finds the leather doctor’s bag thrown away in the brush, stocked with a full set of surgical implements decorated with silver and amethysts.[9][10]

“Sounds like a great date waiting to happen!”
— Annie on the “goodie” bag

A shout from Andris catches everyone’s attention. At least half a dozen graves lay open in the boneyard. The markers give no indication of how long they may have been there. Apropos of nothing, Callimachi notices that the water flooding the graves and local acidity may contribute to slowing the decomposition process.

And then the shadowy winged figure lazily flies out of the nest on which everyone’s kept one nervous eye. What could it be?

[1] Let’s be honest. It’s a wicker man and if we’re very lucky, Christopher Lee will get his kilt on and sing “Sumer is i-comen in! Ludé sing cuckoo!” as someone burns.

[2] Geoff, while not part of the action yet, wasn’t short on ideas.

[3] As in: this guy.

[4] Even if counsel for the defense isn’t incompetent.

[5] No badges were issued.

[6] It was around here that Annie posited the doctor was behind it all.

[7] The first suggestion of disposing of all the proscecution’s witnesses didn’t fly.

[8] “A slimy Jack Palance,” Annie suggested.

[9] Is someone operating on lycanthropes?!

[10] Also . . . remember footnote 6?

8 thoughts on “[Carrion Crown] In Defense of the Beast

  1. One other quote: “I’m a Ranger and I forgot to take Knowledge:Nature?” Fortunately, Hunter is open to a few minor revisions.

  2. Thanks for letting join the fun. I had a good time. Hopefully, Hunter will let me swap some skill ranks around so I won’t be a Ranger without Knowledge:Nature. 😛

  3. Pingback: [Carrion Crown] The Manticore and the Gnome | Held Action

  4. Pingback: [Carrion Crown] Barristers by Day, Wraithspawnbusters by Night | Held Action

  5. Pingback: [Carrion Crown] Drunken Pickle Farmers | Held Action

  6. Pingback: [Carrion Crown] Interlude with the Judge | Held Action

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