This 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 faced the unenviable situation of a courtroom full of angry Ustalavian citizens. The junior volunteer defense squadron having poked still more holes in the prosecution’s case — and with the indecency of calling up the ghosts of children to do so — those looking forward to the roasting of the Beast in the fiery punishing man could perhaps be expected to react poorly to the subversion of their expectations.
Instead, after a few bits of thrown trash, the gallery viewers all filter out into the plaza. Andris, having been observing covertly from the gallery, notices one knot of citizens who seem especially disgruntled by the day’s turn of events. The tracker follows at a distance, after giving his fellow junior justice defenders the high sign from the gallery. Callimachi catches the signal and leads the way from the courtroom itself.
As Andris leads the quartet through the streets of Lepidstadt, Horace airs his concern about burning daylight on drunken Ustalavian pickle farmers when there is still the sanctuary on Karb Isle to investigate. Karl warned them of ghouls and ghasts infesting the island since its abandonment. Confronting those monsters in the dark holds little attraction for anyone. However, given the simmering rage in the courtroom gallery, Callimachi argues it can’t hurt to spend a little time observing them. Finally, the ruffians pick a seedy tavern to drink and sulk.
The nominal defense team of Gunderson and Callimachi decide to wait outside. They were at the front of the courtroom all day. These toughs stared daggers at them long enough to surely remember their faces. Andris and Solis enter the tavern separately. Inside, the alpha of the pack of clods is loud and unsubtle about his dissatisfaction with the prospect of the Beast being acquitted. With little hope of the city guard arriving in time to quell any outbursts, Andris takes matters into his own hands.
Kicking over a table with a resounding crash catches the attention of everyone in the tavern. Kreitov excoriates the gang of toughs for presuming to subvert the course of justice. The truth will out, which is the correct course of action. Mob justice is no justice at all. This sounds great, but then the leader of the ruffians recognizes Andris as a witness for the defense. He leaps up and charges Kreitov. The hunter doesn’t even blink, punching him straight in the nose, sending the goon spinning into the crowd. With their leader so easily taken down a peg, everyone else shuffles their feet and studiously avoids eye contact with anyone else.
Meanwhile, Solis observes all this from his position by the bar. As the confrontation builds, he presses the bartender about a back exit to the place. Once Andris has made his show of force, the elf and he both hustle through the kitchen, meeting Horace and Alexandros in the alley beside the tavern.
Having gone above and beyond their civic duty in maintaining the peace of a city surprisingly short on law enforcement officials, considering its size, the adventurers take advantage of the remaining daylight to visit Karb Isle. Given the warnings of Karl, they enlist the assistance of Aurosan, priest of Desna and rather handier against the undead than, say, an inquisitor of Iomedae. Callimachi points out that as a respected member of the Lepidstadt clerical community, Aurosan’s testimony will lend weight to whatever they find in the remains of the sanctuary.
In fact, little remains at all of the sanctuary. Just as Karl told them, the entire place burned that night. There’s little left on Karb Isle to search. The most recent traces of activity are the graves of the patients and Dr. Brada — and those are merely memorials, the bodies themselves never having been found. Slithering through the rubble, Gea finds a hatch opening into a shaft heading down into the earth. An atrocious stench wafts up from the hole, worse than anything mold or slime could produce.
Callimachi tosses some light-enchanted pebbles down the shaft. Surprised hissing and scrabbling over stone betrays the presence ofsomething down there. Alexandros informs everyone that ghouls are diseased and to watch out for physical contact, as they might contract ghoul fever. And ghasts are even worse.
“They’re about to be killed by a Gunderson, the finest honor a monster can receive.”
— Sir Horace
The prospects below the adventurers are grim. Sir Horace and Andris go first, of course. At the bottom of the shaft, they find themselves encircled by ghouls and ghasts — and which is which, no one can tell in the gloom. Landing on the balls of his feet, Kreitov neatly cleaves a ghoul in twain. Together, Kreitov and Gunderson carve a swathe through the undead beasts as the other descend the shaft, assisted by one of Solis’ summoned dire rats. All things considered, the battle is a bit of an anti-climax. No one thinks they may have contracted ghoul fever — though it’s slow-acting, so that could yet take someone by surprise.
Inspection reveals the ghouls’ chamber is by itself. There are no obvious passages or other means of egress aside from the shaft. The spartan chamber is decorated by a sort of chandelier of decapitated heads, hanging over the remains of their bodies. One of the heads looks to be that of Dr. Brada, going by descriptions of the man. In addition to personal effects among the bodies, they find a strongbox, inside of which are charred papers bearing the Vorkstag & Grine letterhead at the top, as well as a vial bearing the firm’s mark. Any more information the papers might have offered is since lost to the flame. The few traces of writing still visible in the ash and char suggests these were more than simple invoices. And what would a sanctuary for the deformed have been doing with the chemicals manufactured by Vorkstag & Grine?
Brada’s head is wrapped up to be brought back to the city. During the journey back, the debate centers over what to do with the head. Aurosan can arrange for a priest of Desna to cast speak with dead on Brada, but they’ll only get a handful of questions before the spell terminates. Additionally, that will preclude the spell from being used on Brada’s head again for the following week, too late to do any good in tomorrow’s court proceedings. And as prosecutor Otto Heiger was quick to point out, testimony from the dead is only admissible when presented in front of the open courtroom by a certified cleric. So they can know what Brada may say in the privacy of Desna’s temple, or they can take their chances and find out along with everyone else tomorrow in the courtroom.
As they pass through the city gates, the conversation becomes more hushed as the topic turns to burgling the Vorkstag & Grine factory. They are now linked to two of the Beast’s alleged crimes, as surgical instruments sold to Grine were found in the Morstadt boneyard. But is that enough to warrant breaking into the factory? Callimachi is resistant, wanting to run down all possible legal avenues of investigation before resorting to climbing over the wall.
The knots of people slowly growing and wending their way through the streets of the city put the question of Vorkstag & Grine to the side. People trickle out of alleys and homes carrying torches, pitchforks and other implements of mob justice. And they all head in the direction of the Lepidstadt courthouse. The wave of vigilantism the adventurers glimpsed gaining speed this afternoon seems to be coming to a head. Bidding Aurosan well and ensuring he’ll be in court tomorrow, the adventurers race ahead to the courthouse.
The rent-a-guards at the courthouse are singularly unimpressed by the news of a mob convening on their post. In face, they seem rather serene about the notion of quietly stepping out the back door and letting the mob get on with its business in peace. Sir Horace practically twists the arm of the lead guard to lead him out on the portico as the first line of defense with Solis and Gea. Callimachi and Kreitov take the high ground of the second floor balcony over the portico.
The night is still and quiet. But only for a moment longer. A mob seventy people strong surges into the square. In addition to torches and pitchforks, there are cudgels and crossbows. Toward the rear, one can spot ladders bobbing above the crowd, their price tags flapping in the breeze. Horace addresses the mob, calling on them to let justice be served properly. This grand experiment of a palatinate ruled by its citizens must not be marred by the consequences of short tempers and heavy hands. His words sway some and they melt back through the crowd to go home. But far more of the mob stays than departs. Then the leader steps up, shouts a bit and the crowd surges forward.
As self-respecting adventurers of a reasonable level of skill and might, the following is kind of embarrassing. While the mob has no qualms about using deadly force, the junior volunteer defense squadron restricts themselves to the flats of their blades and non-injuring spells. Callimachi is more than a little frustrated by the seemingly paltry dweomer of his hold person wand, though it does keep one crossbowman out of the fight for a while. Gea and Horace merrily wade into the fray and have at whomever happens to be at hand. Solis summons fire bug after fire bug to slow the mob down.
“Get in here!”
“Why? We’re winning!”
“Nothing I do makes you happy.”
— Andris and Horace
The lead guard decides his skin would be better served on the far side of the courthouse’s thick portal, which he bars behind him. Fortunately, Andris comes vaulting down the stairs seconds later. He angrily shoves the guard up against the wall before unbolting the door and calling to the others to fall back. However, too many interesting things are happening on the portico. There, the ladder-bearers approach the building. As ladders are planted in the ground, Horace cuts through their bearers. The one ladder whose holder isn’t cut down finds hot cinders raining from above as Callimachi smashes a flask of alchemist’s fire on its upper rungs.
After more mop-up in that manner, the remainder of the mob realizes they’ve all left the kettle on, which is a tremendous fire hazard and really the number one cause of fire in Lepidstadt. They disperse immediately. Horace rounds on the lead guard, but rather than bitch him out for cowardice, demands to know if he recognized the ringleader. The guard’s uselessness continues uninterrupted. Something about the mob seems premeditated. There were crossbowmen in the crowd, not just the usual rock-throwers. But they’ve gone now and there’s nothing more to be done.
As everyone cools off, the burglng of Vorkstag & Grine comes up again. If they’re to cast any doubt on the Beast’s supposed atrocities at Karb Isle, the evidence will have to come from that chemical factory, which was somehow linked to Dr. Brada and the sanctuary, given the vial and burnt papers found earlier in the evening. The party is exhausted, however. Solis’ complement of spells is completely spent. And Callimachi is still unconvinced it’s acceptable for them to take on the role of vigilantes so lightly, especially when they just beat back a whole mob of vigilantes.
It’s decided there is just enough time for an early morning attempt on the Vorkstag & Grine compound. If Solis gets his much-needed rest starting right then, he’ll be ready to go shortly after dawn. Meanwhile, Gunderson and Callimachi plan to make one last attempt at doing this on the up and up. Vorkstag and Grine seem to have most of Lepidstadt’s high society and law enforcement communities on their side, or at least afraid to oppose them directly. There is, however, Judge Daramid, the one who secretly commissioned them to investigate the Beast’s case more closely in the first place. If she’s impartial enough to recognize when a golem gets the bum’s rush, perhaps she may be able to grease a few wheels in getting the city guard on their side, or maybe some kind of writ of inspection.
 I assumed the yokels would launch into a riot right then and there. Before we got the game going that evening, Hunter drew out the courthouse on a battle mat, which was a total first in this campaign. But no, it didn’t quite go as I expected.
 Once Solis found a hat of sufficient brim area to hide his ears.
 We joked it was the same fire bug summoned over and over. “Oh, goddammit, not this elf again!”
 And with the close of the session, we dinged fifth level!