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 were in a bit of a crooked pickle, as the rustic Ustalavian adage puts it.
Sir Horace and Solis have Vorkstag cornered on the balcony overlooking the chemical factory floor, with Callimachi covering the dark stalker from below. Andris and Gea guard the ground floor door from Grine attempting flight into the walled yard — although with Grine’s spider climb-fueled nimbleness, the odds of stopping the dark creeper from going wherever he likes seem frustratingly slim. Andris can’t wait, however, and leaps down, providing Grine with an opportunity to slash from the shadows.
A combined volley drives Vorkstag off the balcony, landing hard on the jury-rigged plank catwalk between chemical vats. Callimachi presses the advantage, another bolt driving Vorkstag back again. The stalker bursts into phosphoric flame as he plummets, singing Lightwarden and leaving only smoking garments to crumple in a heap on the flagstones.
Recalling Solis’ warning they need at least one of this horrors alive, Kreitov begins to pull his punches with Grine and gets a bicep full of poison-laced hatchet for his trouble. The Ustalavian hunter takes hit after hit from the creeper as his allies race to assist. Callimachi pivots to rain down bolts from a distance as Horace races to the melee. The flat of Gunderson’s blade knocks Grine out for the count. Callimachi and Kreitov truss the little troll, wary he may play possum to lodge another poisoned blade somewhere inopportune.
After patting Grine down, Horace heaves him over one shoulder, eliciting a liquid gurgle. Alarmed, Callimachi checks Grine to find he’s drowning in his own blood from the inside. Iomedae’s faithful can’t do much, but the eidolon Gea knows her way around humanoids as well and stabilizes Grine before he expires by drowning. Investigation of Vorkstag’s stinking remains turns up a handful of curious black tubes, a number of which Grine carried as well.
While Andris keeps an eye on the prisoner, the other three adventurers check out the rest of the factory. Vorkstag’s chambers teem with books and bell jars of anatomical specimens, including the head and shoulders of someone who clearly has relatives in Morast. Ever conscious of the threat of the Lopper, Horace checks the closet. It holds an anonymous cabinet, which Solis notices has a faint aura of necromantic energies radiating from a small point within. Then the Taldane and the elf notice the faint “plip! plip! plip!” as something dark and sticky runs down the side of the cabinet.
Within, lined up as neatly as a row of fine suits, are nearly a score of skins, treated by some horrific alchemical process. Among the victims, they find what can only be Dr. Vilt, an old friend of the Lightwarden family, which sends Solis into a dead faint. Further, there is the skin of an eight foot tall mongrel man, displaying the same wounds described by the Morast villagers as inflicted on their assailant by the blood caiman. Tucked away in a drawer is a syringe holding a curious silvery gray mercuric liquid. Next to that is a ledger of customers, items and costs. This one not only names more influential people in the city, including Dr. Brada of Karb Isle and one Aron Vrood, previously linked to the cabal of the Whispering Way, but it definitively ties to the vivisectionist trade to Vorkstag and Grine. Plus the handwriting matches that of the ledger found in the chamber off the city sewers.
Revisiting Grine’s chamber with a less rushed eye reveals a strongbox beneath his bed. Gunderson attempts to disable the mechanism he finds, getting a faceful of poison gas for his trouble. A nearby bell jar full of acid holds a golden key, which a handy length of wire procures. The strongbox, opened by the golden key, hid what must have been Grine’s nest egg: a purse of cloudy diamonds.
“Gunderson, did you kill something? I heard a thump.”
– Alexandros Callimachi
Pressing up the tower ladder proves problematic. The snapdragon homunculi lay in wait. It’s almost farcical the way their bites put victims to sleep, only to pop awake again, as when, say, Callimachi falls down the ladder shaft to wake on hitting the floor, or Sir Horace moves in to press his attack. Gea puts an end to the matter, biting one in half and smashing the other with her tail. The homunculi sorted, the tower room yields up a few choice objets d’art, including a painting that Horace slices from its frame to roll up for easy transport and an enormous scrimshaw work made from a mammoth tusk, which Solis recognizes as a magical scroll of sorts, holding spells of bull’s strength, ice storm and phantom steed.
Opening the trap door to the next level of the tower triggers a sonic trap, leaving everyone clinging to the ladder as they recover their wits. At the top of the tower is a belfry covered in homunculi droppings because of course there’s a third of the nuisances up here. Gunderson falls asleep immediately, Gea goes to bite the thing in two and Callimachi, tired of playing exterminator, climbs back into the tower. Once Gunderson and Gea put an end to it, they descend as well.
The door to the courtyard of the compound beckons. Beyond the door, they can hear the clinking of a disconcertingly hefty chain. Everyone readies weapons while Callimachi blesses them all. The yard is empty at first glance. That clinking chain runs from the ramshackle kennel off around the corner, out of sight. Andris charges forward and around. A second later, the blade of his sword veritably clangs off something heavy and metallic. As the others race to catch up, they find Kreitov locked in combat with a horrendous amalgamation of rotting dog parts. Yes, it’s a canine flesh golem. Everyone’s stomach turns in revulsion and pity for the abused animal(s).
But pity does nothing to ablate the hound’s ferocious bite. First it savages Kreitov, then turns to Sir Horace as he weaves through the conflict to reach the other side of the flesh golem, ripping out a massive chunk of flesh as he passes. The benighted hound lunges again at the Taldane noble, burying its jaws deep in his neck. A fleeting expression of shock barely registers on Gunderson’s face as he crumples to the ground beneath the hound’s bulk, never to move again.
There’s no time for mourning as the hound snaps its rancid jaws, looking for fresh meat. Solis shouts for everyone to fall back before turning invisible and hastening away. Gea remains engaged with the golem, allowing Andris to break away. Callimachi launches a few token bolts as he retreats, but they do nothing against the adamantine-like hide of the monstrosity.
The body of their fallen comrade twitches, then begins to drag along the ground in some cruel parody of Horace joining the retreat. It is, of course, the unseen Solis doing his best. The hound seems perplexed as to how its kill is moving, but the eidolon keeps it sufficiently occupied for Solis to get Gunderson’s mortal remains away and place them in the care of Callimachi as he makes for the safety of the factory.
“Maybe I could lure it into a vat of acid.”
– distraught, Andris has a terrible idea
Feeling every blow as he feeds his companion vital life force to keep the hound at bay, Solis briefly peeks inside the ground floor of the storage building. The three sleeping mongrel men convince the elf not to press any further. He rejoins his compatriots in the factory. Bearing the body of their comrade and the evidence for which he died, they make their way back through the depths of the factory. They keep up a running conversation of what to do next throughout.
Solis wants to take Horace’s body directly to the temple of Desna. Ensuring they cast gentle repose sooner rather than later will be an advantage to bringing him back, depending on any instructions he left and their collective ability to afford such services. On arrival, Lightwarden practically throws himself in the arms of a surprised Aurosan, seeking a balm for the ache in his soul. Among his belongings, the Desnan acolytes find Sir Horace’s will, dating to before his arrival in Ravengro, stipulating the disposal of various heriditary belongings, including Corvelle, the Gunderson family blade. There are, however, no instructions in the will with regard to raising or otherwise restoring the Taldane to life.
Kreitov and Callimachi peel off on their own, heading straight for Judge Daramid’s home. They burst in, not bothering with the bell pull or any other niceties, to find her in dressing gown and slippers, with a cup of coffee. The breakfast table overflows with evidence: the ledgers, the mongrel man suit, the syringe, even the bound form of Grine himself, everything accumulated in the course of tracing the many depredations back to the dark stalker and its servile creeper. The barrage of evidence goads Daramid to action. Not only will she endorse the investigators’ actions, but call for an immediate investigation of the chemical works. Given the presence of the flesh golem in the yard, this could take some time, so the start of the trial will delay for at least a few hours.
The early morning noises of the city filter through the air, everyone slumps a little. The future looks much brighter for the Beast, but it was hard won at a cost no one was prepared to pay. The life of an adventurer is fraught with peril from the first step outside their door, but knowing that never prepares one for the shock of loss and the pain that carries on afterward.
 A quasi-hero? An opportunist? Some might quibble, but it’s not kind to speak ill of the dead, particularly in the former realm of the Whispering Tyrant.
 Hunter kept the combat time going throughout this development, so clearly something was up. Apparently putting someone down with nonlethal damage leaves them open to death from bleeding out anyway.
 Indeed, Toby found the whole grisly revelation exceptionally squicky, so kudos for channeling it into Solis.
 Ever the opportunist, that elf. Horace would be proud.
 Of course he left a will. This is Dan’s character. Remember the last will and testament of Lothar von Fasselstein?
 “What would Horace want?” was asked a few times — also “Did he leave ‘do not resurrect’ instructions?” — but it ultimately came down to Dan’s decision. The party certainly had the resources to swing a raise dead and restoration of the negative levels — especially if they leveraged rendering golem disposal services for the city against the cost of the raising. In the end, some time after the game broke up for the night, it was determined Horace preferred his afterlife, probably through use of the brass planchette or speak with dead.