[Carrion Crown] The Seven Victims of Brother Swarm

Trial of the Beast coverThis week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Sir Horace Gunderson), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter picked up the action in the twilight of the swampy village of Hergstag.

Where there’s one wraithspawn, there’s likely to be more. The adventurers unanimously elect to fall back to the village. It’s too dark for running around in the swamp, courting the tetanus-laden embrace of further bear traps. Once in the boundaries of Hergstag, the chapel calls for attention. The small, white structure stands in the middle of the settlement. And the three sisters alleged one of the ghostly children was prone to hanging around the chapel grounds. Approaching the house of Desna, Solis discerns some sort of magical aura within. It’s bright and golden and of a variety unknown to the mage.

Meanwhile, Andris splits away from the main group to take a circuit of the chapel. Stalking through the headstones of the churchyard, he finds those of the murdered children. Only Elise and Karin’s show signs of interment. The other four stand as memorials to the lost. The broken strains of childish singing drift through the night air to Andris’ ear. He can’t place the language, but the tune itself is rather like a hymn.

“Mom wouldn’t allow it to be spoken in the house.”
— Andris never learned Varisian

The singing catches everyone else’s attention as well. They catch up with Andris to proceed together toward the source. In the cornfield beyond the graveyard, glimpses of a pale figure can be caught between derelict cornstalks. She idly sings a hymn to Desna as she runs, though her voice never wavers with the exertion. Solis casts light on Gea’s head and send her into the field to clear the way. As Gea approaches, the girl casts a glance in their direction. The empty black pits of her eyes betray nothing in the magical light.

Drifting through the cornstalks, the wraithspawn reaches out for Gea. Its dolorous touch misses the eidolon by mere inches as Gea happen to twitch just the right way. Perhaps the error throws the shade off-balance, as she flees into the depths of the cornfield — or, everyone silently considers, this is another baiting maneuver, like what caught poor Kreitov by surprise.

The sensible frame of mind taken earlier holds firm. The investigators fall back to the chapel. Trudging through the open grass, they can see the white streak of the wraithspawn cut ahead of them, angling to reach the chapel first. The casting of the timely gained haste by Solis puts them right on the spectral heels of the former little girl.[1]

Smashing down the front door, they burst into the chapel to find the sanctuary overgrown with plantlife. The overhead beams and pews sag from decay and humidity. Two figures dominate the scene. In mid-air hangs the wraith child, writhing and silently screaming in agony. Before her, on the floor, stands a man with white tattoos bright against his dark skin, clad in a blue surcoat. And he is very confused about what’s going on right now.

Andris and Callimachi leapt to the fore of peppering the undead spirit with magical fire. After a beat, the figure in blue joins in. In short order, the restless child of Hergstag dematerializes, hopefully never to be seen again.

“Can you heal us?”
“And he’s pretty!”
— Andris and Solis value different qualities in a cleric

The man in blue introduces himself as Aurosan, a cleric of Desna from Lepidstadt. With all the attention the ongoing trial has brought to the crimes of the Beast, the temple sent him to Hergstag to reconsecrate the village chapel. He was just completing the rite as the wraith child flew through the wall, neatly trapping her within the grace of the Great Dreamer.

Aurosan points out that the wraith that spawned these fiendish child shades likely still haunts nearby. Callimachi brings up that given wraithkind’s weakness in sunlight, its lair is probably underground. In this swampy area, there aren’t any cellars or subterranean structures. There is, the group realizes, the hill, the only raised mound of earth in this swampy expanse is just outside the village.

Scouting the road out of the village, Andris finds what first seems to be a fallen scarecrow. Closer inspection reveals a gruesome sight: a traveler who fell prey to another bear trap. Moreover, the remains are nearly mummified. That’s not the kind of decomposition action one finds in a swampy environment. It’s more like the victim of having one’s life force drained, which Aurosan confirms.

A shadowy figure awaits at the foot of the hill. From this distance, it looks like a scarecrow, much as the last did. To be safe, Andris puts an arrow through its head — which turns out to be rotten pumpkin. Aurosan takes advantage of the pause to provide spiritual support in the form of bless and aid.

“You guys all need to make Will saves to avoid being enamored by Aurosan.”
“I fail deliberately.”
— Hunter and Toby

Probing the scarecrow’s remains reveals a plank-covered opening down into the hillside. Below, in a small chamber, light from above picks out four crumpled forms on the earthen floor of the crevasse. Andris jumps down first to inspect the cave, but lands badly, having locked his knees instead of folding with the impact. As he staggers to his feet, he looks up. Silhouetted against the moon is a ragged mass of shadowy fluttering tendrils. Within the mass of darkness languidly blink six pairs of eyes. This must be the swarm referred to by the spirit moving the planchette. The wraith swoops down on Aurosan, which he handily dodges.

Solis enacts a new casting of haste — and spends the rest of the battle hucking acid bombs, having exhausted his complement of spells. The hail of arrows, bolts and positive energy bursts makes short work of Brother Swarm.[2] The black form lashes out at the adventurers, landing wounds, but it’s for nought. Andris in particular made an impressive showing with his archery skills. Perhaps the worse his legs are injured, the better marksman he becomes.

As the group catches its breath, the question is now what to do with what are indeed the remains of four young children, mummified in a similar fashion to the corpse on the village road. They were all victims of Brother Swarm. Interment seems the proper thing, but the prospect of utilizing speak with dead to compel testimony in the courtroom tomorrow comes to the fore. There’s concern about the sheer gall of such an action provoking the already agitated people of Lepidstadt to rioting fury, but the lure of truly exceptional testimony proves much too enticing.

“‘We don’t clean. We add new wings.'”
— Andris on the Lightwarden estate

Despite the darkness of the hour, they hie it back from Hergstag to Lepidstadt, the way illuminated by light spell upon light spell. The soft beds at the Lightwarden home are blessed comfort after a long day of tromping around the swamps of Ustalav. Solis in particular is concerned about Aurosan’s well-being — and ensuring he appears at the courthouse tomorrow, having offered to provide testimony about the distinctly non-golem-like nature of the ills plaguing Hergstag.

The next morning, Gunderson goes out extra early to procure the services of coffin maker. Four platinum pieces later,[3] everyone arrives on time and whole at the Lepidstadt courthouse for the second day of proceedings in the trial of the Beast. Aurosan is present, to Solis’ delight.[4] The gallery is once again packed with onlookers, many of them glaring down at the volunteer junior defense league squadron. The judges saw fit to bring forth the Beast itself today, secure in an immense iron cage.

After the prosecution’s witnesses give their account on what they saw in Hergstag, Sir Horace gets to work. Through cross-examination, he points out the holes in the story Heiger’s attempting to weave. The undisturbed nature of Karin’s home doesn’t mesh with the Beast’s immense size. No one saw the Beast do anything but carry Else’s body into the village. No one can definitively describe the Beast as laughing. In fact, at the sound of Else’s name, the Beast makes a shuddering, sobbing sound. At Gunderson’s prompt, the sisters admit it is very much like the sound they heard seven months ago.

“Do you swear to tell as much of the truth as someone paid you to tell?”
— Solis Lightwarden

Once through with the prosecution’s witnesses, Horace turns to his own. Andris provides his opinion as a man of the wild about the rundown nature of Hergstag, the untouched state of Karin’s home, and the presence of the wraith and its spawn. Aurosan’s testimony augments the defense’s case for wraiths. Prosecution objects to relevancy, but Horace promises all will become clear shortly, at which time he moves to the discovery of the children’s bodies in the hillside.

On the conclusion of cross-examination of Andris and Aurosan, Gunderson approaches the bench with prosecutor Heiger for a short sidebar. He outlines the plan for a court-appointed cleric to cast speak with dead on the children — after an appropriately sensitive viewing and grieving period for the bereaved — asking that the courtroom be cleared for a private session in deference to the families of the deceased. Heiger rather gleefully jumps in to point out that evidence rendered in a private session isn’t considered valid in Ustalavian law. Any channeling sessions must be performed in view of the public.

Horace hems and haws briefly, but decides the value of the testimony outweighs the danger of inciting a riot. Once a cleric of suitable prowess is secured and sworn in, it transpires that of the four sets of remains brought back from Hergstag, only one is a suitable candidate for the spell, that of Rachel. The others’ existence as wraithspawn was never terminated, so they are still undead. The child’s spirit, once brought forth, essentially confirms what the defense team suspected: she was lured up to the hill by her “friends,” really already wraithspawn themselves, fell down into the cave, where the wraith set upon her.

The courtroom erupts in furor at this revelation. The gallery is filled with shouting, catcalling citizens. Handy debris starts flying. Judge Kard bangs his gavel, shouting for order. Suddenly it seems as though the trial may not make it to the third day.

[1] During the alacritous walk, Toby let us in that she found out from Hunter that spirits contacted through the brass planchette can lie. “Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

[2] As Hunter let slip the creature was called.

[3] We are so beneficial to the Lepidstadt economy, what with 10 gold piece ladders and platinum piece coffins.

[4] Solis probably never let him out of bed.

2 thoughts on “[Carrion Crown] The Seven Victims of Brother Swarm

  1. Pingback: [Carrion Crown] Adventurer’s Holiday 2: Weekend at Vorkstag and Grine’s | Held Action

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

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