This week in Carrion Crown, Annie (Grift), a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter returned to the table to resolve the question of the shadow figure soaring towards them in the midst of Morstadt’s marshy boneyard.
Andris signals the creature’s approach, drawing and nocking arrows as well, all in one smooth motion. As it nears, it becomes clear to anyone who wasn’t already certain they’re about to tangle with a manticore. Everyone takes cover. Some dive into open graves, heedless of the murk at the bottom. Others scramble into the shelter of scrubby pines.
Rather than landing or harrying from the air, the manticore banks hard. The slingshot maneuver gives a healthy amount of oomph to the hail of needles that launch from the monster’s tail. Some find their marks, but the “shit, let’s hide!” tactic pays off very well.
“Gone in a puff of glitter.”
— The passing of summoned allies
The encounter is somewhat reminiscent of the grim slog against one of Harrowstone’s haunts. Solis calls up an eagle to bring in some aerial firepower on the group’s side, but it is handily eviscerated by the manticore. It’s grim work all around. Andris, Horace and Grift take a number of grievous wounds in particular. Nothing takes the wind out of one’s sails quite like a giant spine through the shoulder.
Once the manticore touches down to engage in melee, Grift uses forbid action to keep it from taking off again. Gea moves in to tangle. It doesn’t go well for the eidolon. Solis has to focus on feeding his companion his own vitality to keep her present on the material plane. While the manticore is engaged, Andris takes the opportunity to check out the beast’s nest up in the pine tree. It also affords him altitude and vantage if the manticore manages to lift off. That never comes to pass, as Grift delivers the coup de gras without too much gloating.
“Didn’t do him much good.”
“Well, he saw what happened to him.”
In the manticore nest, Andris finds the body of a dwarf, dead a week or more, swathed in a multicolor patchwork cloak. Some personal effects — in particular a very nice flask of brandy and a purse heavy with platinum pieces — suggest this was a dwarf of some means. Elsewhere, in an old firepit that suggests someone was camping on the bone isle at some point, Andris stumbled across an empty glass vial. Trace remains in one smell of an extract of darkvision.
The hired boatmen slowly emerge from their hiding places. Lazeen recognizes the flayed face as that of Nan, a local poacher. His attitude is remarkably more subdued than the simmering cauldron of backwoods rage that had everyone biting their tongues previously. Andris reminds Horace of the discrepancies in Lazeen’s description of the thing that terrorized his village and the Beast they interviewed in Lepidstadt’s courthouse earlier that day. Solis supposes the raven sigil on the bag of surgical instruments might be the maker’s mark. There are twenty or so such artisans on Lepidstadt who might make such tools.
Before leaving the island, Callimachi conducts some basic cleansing rites of the malign influences hanging over the place. The body of the dwarf is consigned to a pyre. Then it’s an eight mile ride back to the city.
The group hits the cobblestones almost immediately to track down the maker of the surgical instruments. Surgeon’s Flats is a whole district of the city given to supporting the many forms of the medical and other less savory trades. Following leads and tapping Grift’s social connections, they go from the maker, Zbraslav Hora, to an auction house, to Radniche, a dealer in surgery supplies. His shop smells of pickled things. The usual sweet words and bright faces don’t do a lot to move Radniche. Finally Grift slides a pouch of gold across the counter; the merchant allows he remembers selling them to a dapper man all in black. That’s the only detail he can recall — until he’s reminded how unfortunate it would be for his name to be linked to the flaying of a villager. Radniche gives up the goods completely, pulling out the ledger showing that the set was sold over a year ago to Vorkstag & Grine, a chymical works here in the city.
The firm is a well-respected one. Nothing seems to stick to Vorkstag or Grine when it does manage to come to public attention. The factory is bounded by a high stone wall topped with glass shards. A gnome with bushy red hair, perhaps Grine himself, answers the first ring of the bell with hostility and a suggestion they all bugger off. It gets no better from there.
Daring the broad daylight, Horace finds he can’t jimmy the front gate open. Andris and Grift prowl the grounds; the ranger thinks he hears something big moving around on the other side of the wall. Solis and Callimachi split to consult their respective resources about the practice of flaying skin. Lots of evil things in Golarion like to wear skin suits, it turns out. It looks like they need more information to narrow down what’s going on here and if what happened in the boneyard is actually connected to the Beast is anyway — whether it committed the crimes or is taking the fall for someone else. At the university’s chymistry department, Solis learns Vorkstag & Grine trade mainly in acid and bleach in bulk. Horace’s inquiries with the police reveal no one is interested in poking their nose into those two gentlemen’s business.
As darkness falls, Grift and Andris fall back on the classic approach. Grift throws his duster up on the wall, then tries to scrabble up, boosted by Kreitov. That doesn’t work. Then Kreitov tries to climb up. That doesn’t work. By the time Callimachi strolls along, the two are leaning dejectedly against the wall, perhaps trying to climb it with their lips.
“Can I come back to the point that you seem to have found the world’s only ladder salesman?”
Then the Chaotic Quest for the Ladder begins. In the absense of a handy dray of kegs to commandeer, the adventurers go tromping off into the evening to find a supplier of tools. After rousting the shopkeep from his bed over the shop, shouted negotiations between the second story and the street net them a brand new ladder, for the modest sum of three gold pieces.
Enheightened, Grift ably scales the factory wall, where he reclaims the duster left to him by Professor Lorrimor. Peeking down in the courtyard, he can’t make out anything that might have made the sounds Kreitov detected earlier in the afternoon.
The night grows late. With the first day of trial proceedings tomorrow, it seems best for the junior volunteer justice defenders squadron to get some rest. After all, they’ve got an incompetent public defender to shore up in the morning.
 And this turned out to be Annie’s last week in the game, as she embarks on the traditional summertime ritual so many others share with her. Goodbye, Annie!