[Carrion Crown] On the Road to Caliphas

Cover of Ashes at Dawn.This week in Carrion Crown, a Dan (Auberon Crane), Geoff (Andris Kreitov), Joey (Thadeamus Straw), Toby (Solis Lightwarden and his eidolon Gea) and Tyler (Alexandros Callimachi) and GM Hunter struck out on the road to Caliphas.

. . . Only having once completed their shopping errands, of course. After a retreat to the Stairs of the Moon in the Shudderwood to help Solis convalesce from his sharp break with good ideas, the adventurers return to Lepidstadt to pick up commissioned items and release Thadeamus Straw from the cell in which he slaved away, crafting wondrous items for his new “friends.”

“Don’t take any wooden pickles.”
— advice from Judge Daramid

The dark rider’s letter spoke of Caliphas, so that’s where they head, urged on further by Judge Daramid, who suggests checking in with the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye’s membership there. Viktor the coachman happens to be available for hire, so there’s a familiar hand at the reins as they travel across Ustalav to the nation’s capital, a hive of debauchery and excess, by all accounts.

The first night, sleeping by the roadside, Andris hears a coach passing by during his watch. When he investigates, the coach instantaneously halts. The door opens, as if in invitation. Andris, for once in his impulsive life, stands his ground. The coach moves on. In the morning, Viktor is shaken to hear of the incident, recounting the old tale of the black carriage, whose chosen passengers disappear after its second passing.

“Why would you ask questions? They’re already dead. Aside from ‘What’s that worth?'”
— a Dan

Later, as the coach approaches a bridge, as Gea and Andris detect the scent of rot, they catch sight of dire wolves stalking through the trees. Across the bridge, a mounted figure blocks the way. Unflappable, stoic Viktor is at a loss, so as Callimachi yells, “Drive!” Kreitov grabs the reins, whipping the horses into a frenzy to cross the bridge.

The horses gather steam. The rotting dire wolves keep pace initially. Crane and Callimachi awkwardly fight them off from inside the coach. Once they build up a lather however, the now-panicked horses leave the undead monsters well behind. The figure ahead in the road smartly moves out of their path.

“This went differently in my head. *urk*”
— Andris Kreitov

As the coach passes, Kreitov gets a good look at the figure, noticing it lacks a head. And that it’s astride a fiery, smoking nightmare of a mount. Andris’ impulsive nature returns from its holiday. He launches himself from the coach in a flying tackle of the headless horseman. They struggle briefly before the Ustalavian hunter finds himself bodily lifted by the throat into the air.

The horses have their full head as Viktor clings to the bench for dear life and the reins flap uselessly. Solis crawls out of the coach to take charge of the situation once Callimachi gives him a boost. Thadeamus looks back to block the wolves’ progress across the bridge with a wall of ice. Crane rolls from the runaway coach while Gea flies overhead, both making to join the fray against the headless rider.

Looking back down the road, Callimachi gestures for Straw to move the two of them back into the action via dimension door. This has the unintended side effect of putting them right in the path of the ghoulish dire wolves creeping out of the river, but not before Callimachi gets off a bolt of searing light on the rider.

The nightmare breathes gouts of smoke as its rider swings an improbably long flail through the air. Andris, Auberon and Gea are at it hammer and tongs to put the rider down, even forcing him to dismount.

Once the horseman and wolves are dispatched and Solis has reined in the frothing horses, reflection suggests this was a dullahan, a sort of fairy. Checking its possessions, Andris receives yet another shock of searing pain as he discovers a particular amulet reacts negatively to his touch — and that of anyone else in the group. Almost as though it were opposed to being in the possession of someone who might be called “good” . . .[1]

[1] And that’s all that happened that night. Despite the brevity of the recap, that was a long-ass fight against the dullahan and ghoulish dire wolves. Some very nice cinematics, with the runaway coach and Andris leaping off to confront the rider. Apparently we missed some expository dialogue, but you’ll have that when putting the NPCs on the defense. Apparently the dullahan didn’t expect to be charged by a rattletrap coach with a wolf and a snake on the roof.

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