This week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter convened for the first day of the titular trial of the Beast.
Given the lateness of the hour and the next day’s proceedings, Sir Horace, Solis and Callimachi dissuade Grift and Kreitov from their quest to break into the facilities of Vorkstag & Grine. Everyone has to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to impress the panel of judges. The group disbands to their lodgings: Kreitov to the inn, Gunderson, Solis and Callimachi to the Lightwarden home, and Grift to the abode of one of his many Lepidstadt contacts.
“… Upholding this fine Ustalavian tradition of allowing uneducated yokels to conduct legal defense.”
— Sir Horace Gunderson
The next morning at the courthouse, Gunderson intercepts the defense counsel, Gustav Kapel, as he enters the building. The lawyer is flushed, disheveled and still wearing that ratty wig. While Kreitov and Callimachi make pointed comments about Kapel’s piqued complexion and suggest he’s too under the weather to properly defend his client, Gunderson fast-talks Kapel into faking a fainting spell. Once Gustav is down for the count, Sir Horace approaches the bench to volunteer as the Beast’s defense. He also secures an hour’s delay to review Kapel’s notes — which are paltry, coming in at half a disorganized opening statement, possibly written on a kebab wrapper — and visit a tailor.
Ever mindful of the effects of appearance and form, Sir Horace uses most of his extra hour to find and procure barrister’s garb, both for himself and his legal aide Alexandros of House Callimachi. He even goes so far as to ensure it’s of finer quality than that sported by the prosecution, Otto Heiger, and his team. One must outdress the competition, particularly when lacking in the legal department.
Judge Ambrose Khard begins the trial by reminding everyone that despite the many people the Beast has killed, only the crimes at Morstadt, Hergstag and the sanctuary of Karb Isle are to be examined. As far as setting a tone goes, that lays it all out on the table. Sir Horace takes the opportunity to remind everyone that while the crimes are true tragedies, it would be a greater tragedy to unfairly unnecessarily condemn the Beast. A miscarriage of justice diminishes everyone.
“A golden thread runs through the justice system.”
“From palm to palm.”
— Horace and Solis
The prosecution calls villagers from Morstadt, then the village elder Lazeen. The story is exactly the same as Lazeen related to the adventurers previously. During cross-examination, Gunderson takes the opportunity to point out the discrepancies between Lazeen’s account of the “marauder’s” appearance and behavior and the Beast currently held in the gaol below. Not only was the unknown marauder significantly shorter than the Beast and far more vocal in its promises of vengeance against the villagers, but the Beast shows no sign of the horrendous injuries inflicted by the blood caiman on the creature driven into the swamp that night.
While the prosecution brings up technicality after technicality, complaining bitterly about Horace’s cross-examination, there’s nothing substantive to which Heiger can object. That doesn’t stop him from blowing wind at the judges for a while.
Once the prosecution subsides, Gunderson calls his own witnesses: Solis Lightwarden and Andris Kreitov, both of Lepidstadt. They testify about their finding in the boneyard pointing to activity not connected to a golem like the Beast: the missing bodies, the year old campsite and the nightvision extract, both of which suggest someone other than a golem lurked in the swamp. Throughout all this, Heiger seems unconcerned by the evidence presented by the defense’s witnesses. He’s still confident having the trial in the bag.
Watching the gallery, Andris notices the angry faces glaring down at them. The crowd doesn’t take kindly to their open and shut burning being disrupted by a high falutin’ Taldorian noble and his grubby witnesses. Something’s going to burn at the end of this trial. That much is clear. Whether it’s the Beast or a swathe of homes and storefronts may not concern the mob overmuch.
On the trial adjourning for the day, Kapel emerges from the conference room where he spent the morning “recovering.” He shares the next day’s agenda for the trial: the murder of the children of Hergstag, as well as some details about the settlement. With the afternoon half gone, there’s precious little daylight left to snoop around an abandoned farming village. And somehow they cram in a visit with the prosecution’s witnesses, the spinster sisters Flicht, Garrow and Starle, who live just out Lepidstadt.
Careful questioning reveals that their description of the Beast matches that of the flesh golem imprisoned in the city. The sisters contend the Beast stole children, presumably murdering them, then carried one, Else, into the center of town, laughing as it did so. Gunderson and Callimachi quiz them carefully on the purported “laughter,” but can’t tease out whether it was genuine laughter or some misinterpretation of another sound, say, crying.
By the time they reach Hergstag, it’s nearly dusk. With the information gained from the sisters, the group makes a beeline for the home of Karin, the child who died in her home. The house is securely boarded up and in surprisingly good condition, particularly given how the swamp has become to reclaim the settled spaces of the village. The interior of the house is equally undisturbed. Given the Beast’s twelve foot frame, the lack of signs of forced entry or even uncoordinated movement is rather telling.
“I’ll save you!”
— Solis and Callimachi
Gunderson pulls out the brass planchette used to such grotesque effect by Darius and Grift back in Ravengro. Only this time, Callimachi acts as the conduit. Fortified by a host of odds-improving spells cast by he and Lightwarden, Callimachi lays his fingers on the planchette, resting lightly on the crude talking board scrawled on the floor of Karin’s bedroom.
“Who killed you?” he asks. Instantaneously, Callimachi is ridden by another being. His eyes change color, his body goes rigid. S-W-A-R-M the planchette spells out. “Swarm of what?” elicits N-O-T-H-I-N-G. “Who killed the others?” brings the conversation back to S-W-A-R-M. “Is the swarm nearby?” MAYBE.
Scanning the horizon outside the farmhour, Andris notices a black silhouette in the cornfield. Gea casts dancing lights on the field to illuminate the figure, but it disappears just as they play across the untended plants. Kreitov and Gunderson dash out into the field. Solis and Gea hang back to mind Callimachi, still channeling the spirit of the dead girl.
While Gea’s spell distracts Kreitov, Gunderson can see the figure lurking on the edge of the swamp bordering the farmland. The silhouette retreats further into the swamp, soon swallowed up by the twilight gloom. The two pause for a moment, wondering whether the figure is entreating them to follow . . . or luring them into a trap.
“One of those possibilities involves me hitting things with my sword.”
— Andris Kreitov
Kreitov takes the lead now, following the dark figure into the swamp. When it stops in a clearing, he and Sir Horace slow to approach more cautiously. The figure’s features become more apparent: black hair, grave white skin, shadowed eye sockets. Kreitov’s caution is justified when the rusty teeth of an aged bear trap snap shut around his leg. To the tracker’s credit, he doesn’t howl too loudly and keeps a solid grip on his bow at all times.
Once its deception pays off, the creature moves in to attack. Kreitov and Gunderson flail at it with mixed results. Once Solis, Gea and Callimachi burst upon the scene, the inquisitor blurts out that it must be a wraithspawn. Regrettably, its key weakness is sunlight, which will be in marked short supply for the next ten or twelve hours. Failing that, the adventurers fall back on time-tested methods. Unfortunately they’re all short on ghost touch-enchanted ammunition on this outing. Callimachi’s one remaining magical bolt goes wide into the swamp, never to be seen again.
In spite of the bear trap secured around one leg, Kreitov punches arrow after arrow through the wraithspawn. The final one tears away whole etheric strands of the full torso apparition. As the wraithspawn lunges at Kreitov in retaliation, Horace slices it in twain with Corvelle Seamripper.
As the investigators regroup and tend their wounds — the wraithspawn did an exceptional job draining the lifeforce of those it touched — questions abound. The presence of a wraithspawn suggests that of the wraith itself. And is that wraith part of the swarm to which the spirit in Karin’s home — which was never absolutely identified as that of Karin — referred? How will the adventurers get back to Lepidstadt in time for the morning session of the Beast’s trial with a ten mile ride ahead of them?
With the night black as pitch, the group decamps for the village chapel. Not only is it reputedly a haunt of one of the murdered children, perhaps its hallowed ground will offer some modicum of protection until daylight arrives or they must depart for Lepidstadt, whichever comes first.
 Retroactively amended from Lightwatcher, because Toby liked it better.
 And we never saw Grift again. What fate befell that poor, bespectacled oracle of bone, we’ll never know.
 Hunter let us in on the fact that golems see in the dark naturally, and thus wouldn’t need something to bestow the ability.
 Because herp derp, he’s got the best Will save. Apparently somewhere along the way he realized Iomedae’s probably got not beef with channeling ghosts.
 And with the slaying of a wraithspawn, we dinged for fourth level! This is the first time a character of mine has earned its way to fourth level in a Dungeons & Dragons-esque game of any kind.