We departed Ravengro by carriage – livery service provided by the University, of course – and proceeded on our way to Lepistadt. It was good to be heading back to familiar environs, though I was sad to be separated from lovely Kendra. She would not be accompanying us, but would instead be staying with an old friend in another city. She was not keen on remaining in the town in which her father was killed, and did not seem eager to return to the University, which would hold additional memories of him. I understood perfectly, and have hope that when she is ready, we can create new memories of Lepistadt. Good ones. For my part, I have a fondness for Ravengro, as it is where she and I were finally drawn together.
On the way to the city, our travel was briefly interrupted by a travelling band of carnival types. This being Ustalav, I would have expected fog-wreathed gypsies, or perhaps three witches, but instead was treated to something that reminded me of Varisia. The quality of their scarves nearly matched my own, though they were still carnies on the road, and warranted some circumspect observation before I let my guard down.
The band was suitably carnivalesque, with representatives from several ethnicities, as well as the obligatory oddities that one could brand either as “unique” or “deformed,” depending on one’s level of cynicism. One of their pinheads had gone missing, and the other two were deeply affected by it. I believe it was Viktor who offered to help search for the missing girl, while Tumbledown wooed the bearded lady away from our admiring dwarf.
How exactly that whole thing played out is still a blur to me [player outof game for a bit…], as I do not particularly like being out in the wilderness, and I was wholly unprepared to find the pinhead dead and myself under attack, with the rest of the party, by three phase spiders. I had only my go-to defensive enchantments readied, and so relied heavily on my crossbow, though in fairness to myself, Viktor said I was a surprisingly good shot.
We returned the body to the entertainers, whose group went by the name Crooked Kin. They were suitably appreciative (and more than suitably, in the case of the bearded lady and Tallowfang), and accompanied us the rest of the way to Lepistadt. The rest of our party spent some time ingratiating themselves with the carnies, as such a nomadic, anonymous group as the Kin could prove useful in the future. I was not sure how, at the time, but their theory has since been proven sound. More on that later.
We arrived in Lepistadt to the news that the Beast of Lepistadt, the city’s venerable boogeyman, had been captured by the city guard during a break-in at the University. I was intrigued, and immediately made my way there. Having dropped my items off in my quarters, I went to examine the chambers that were affected. Noting only carnage and destruction, as would be wrought by something such as that described by the guard, I retired for some rest after the long journey.
Meeting up early the next day with my new friends, we decided to return the various books and whatnot that we agreed to, per the terms of Professor Lorrimor’s will, and collect our payment for them. One of the books went to one of the three Justices of the city, who, after paying us our due, asked if we might be able to further assist her with a matter that was weighing heavily on her mind. We were asked to investigate the crimes attributed to The Beast for which he was to be placed on trial for murder, and potentially sent to the Punishing Man. She did not believe The Beast would receive a fair trial – instead, she felt as though no matter what evidence was presented, The Beast would be consigned to the flames either by lawful authority, or by a mob. Her own sense of justice could not allow that, though her position would also not allow her to directly intervene. We were to be her secret surrogates. I was hooked.
Reactions all around were somewhat non-standard: Viktor, with a highly developed sense of duty to the law, understood the importance of a fair trial, but balked both at the thought of operating as a covert agent of the Justice (which straddled the line between legal action and extralegal influencing of a case), and at the very practical effect that defending The Beast would have on the population’s view of all of us. Tigerbalm thought it would be fun, though I am sure he knew just how boring and, therefore, dangerous such a proceeding could be to him. Korrik was all for defending The Beast, thought the crimes it was accused of conflicted fully with his basic sense of goodness. Wraith, being a pirate, I figured would want to stay as far away from the authorities as possible – but she agreed. Professor Kazare was intrigued. I suppose that is not actually an odd reaction from him.
I found myself intrigued as well. And the promise of payment for services rendered did not hurt.
We revisited the University crime scene to determine what had been done. It was quickly discovered that The Beast had taken a running start from outside the building, and travelled in a simple, straight line through the front door, down a hall, over a railing, and still straight from there. The room in which it was found was largely in disarray, and the guards we interviewed said that they had found The Beast sitting on the floor laughing.
University staff noted that only one thing was missing from the room – a statuette of a creature with a twisted form, the origin of which was unknown. The Beast did not have the statue on it when it was searched at the scene. Wraith made an interesting discovery when she noted that there was no dust on one of the window frames in the room, high above the floor. Staff indicated that those windows were never opened, and never even cleaned, but the clean window swung open effortlessly. This led to a hypothesis that The Beast was somehow controlled and used as a distraction by the actual thief of the object. Of course, this had no bearing on the three cases being pursued at the trial, so we filed the information and moved on.
Our next step was to interview The Beast. It was enormous – a flesh golem of large size, and not constructed with any particular aesthetic in mind. But it simply sat in the cell to which it was confined. It answered our questions, but managed to resist my attempts to detect its thought patterns and ascertain whether it was more intelligent that it seemed. It seemed only to have childlike intelligence, though also childlike innocence. It dawned on all of us that, a) this was not a raging monster, but a confused creature that honestly did not know what was going on, and, b) that there was no way six guards could have subdued it if it did not want to be subdued. It claimed to have no knowledge of how it got to the University, and that all it could recall was sitting in a field, eating butterflies, and then suddenly being in the University, where it was scared and befuddled. So it sat down and began to cry.
Also, it did not like questions about its “father,” which I thought might be useful. As my knowledge of the arcane is rather extensive, I knew that only the creator of a golem is supposed to be able to issue commands, and so knowing who its “father” was might give us a lead. There are, I am sure, other means of controlling a golem, but what they might be is anyone’s guess. And, oddly, this golem was intelligent. Not bright, but certainly not mindless.
After a fairly fruitless interview, we pointed out a couple of inconsistencies to the guard captain – not the least of which was that he should not have survived an encounter with an enraged golem. That seemed to snap him to a certain awareness that not all may have been as it seemed with The Beast. It was a good start, but with only three days worth of trial upcoming, we had a lot of ground to cover, and not a lot of time in which to cover it.
Our first stop would be in Morast, where a number of townsfolk had gone missing, and where the townsfolk claimed to have run The Beast out of town during its last incursion. The elder of the town said that The Beast had escaped into the swamp, where it was set upon by a blood caiman and dragged under while cursing like a sailor. This brought skepticism from us, as we had met The Beast, and our druid confirmed that no mere alligator native to the swamp would have had the size or power to drag down a golem of The Beast’s size. We also determined that if The Beast had been coming into town to drag people out of their houses at night, there would have been far more damage done to the stick-and-mud huts, but no such damage existed. Further, we noted that The Beast had neither scars from a bite, nor the capacity to curse (“use bad words” as it put it). Doubt was growing.
So we trekked into the swamp, because that is always a good idea in a country like Ustalav… There was a small graveyard on a small island a little way from town, and the graves appeared to have been recently disturbed. There was also a manticore, which was dispatched with all speed, and in the nest of which we found a partially consumed dwarf corpse. It did not appear to have anything to do with our investigation, so we left it.
What did have some bearing on our investigation was the number of disturbed graves – six of them. Six is the number of bodies needed to create a flesh golem, so there was some speculation that someone had created their own monstrosity out in the swamp. This was further reinforced by the finding of a set of exquisite surgical tools, and the face of a lady from town. With six disappearances, in addition to the disturbed graves, I posited that there might be a number of golems loose in the swamp, but had no means of testing the theory.
We went back to town in time to present the evidence that we had found. Viktor thought that a known face – mine – backed by the reputation of the University might be the best presenter of the evidence to the judges. I am still humbled that our paladin thinks so highly of my rhetorical skill, but, sadly, I was absolutely terrible in my presentation. Against his personal desires, Viktor then took the reins to salvage what he could from the opening round of the trial, and was successful in getting some of our message through the heads of the judges and a handful in the observers’ box – that The Beast did not commit the crimes in Morast.
We turned to the anatomists in the city’s body-dealing district – yes, there is such a place, and yes, it is because this country is just that twisted – in order to find the manufacturer and then the purchaser of the tools we had found. We chased a lead down, Wraith wheedled some information from a man who found her enticing, and then prepared for the next day’s proceedings.
Prior to court starting, we went out to Hergestag, where a number of children had gone missing and begun haunting the town, and of which one was returned (dead) by The Beast – a girl named Elsa. Witnesses – three of them, sisters all, whom I thought should have been discussing this while gathered around a boiling cauldron and sharing a single eye – stated that The Beast had been lurking in the area, and on the day that he brought Elsa’s body back to town, he was laughing very heartily before being chased away. We noted that its mouth was twisted into a permanent grin, and when we approximated the sound it was making when it was crying in its cell, the
witche sisters confirmed the sound as the laughter of The Beast. We filed that away as something to demonstrate for the court. We also determined that the last child to die had done so quietly in her bed, after The Beast had been force to leave the area. Elsa, also, had trauma consistent with a bad fall, rather than a snapped neck or crushed body as one might expect to be the result of a golem injury.
Arriving at Hergestag was disheartening – it was separated from the road by a large field of corn. Not even a dank swamp in the middle of vampire country is quite a daunting as a field of corn that one must traverse in order to get to a village from which children have been mysteriously disappearing. It was almost as if we were being written into a horror story.
Naturally, when the child wraiths came at us in the corn, after Korrik had been caught by the leg in a couple of bear traps, I felt vindicated in my loathing of Ustalav.
We dispatched several – though I will say that employing a wand full of magically generated lighting in the middle of a dry cornfield might not have been the best idea that I have ever had. Still, with the danger passed, we moved into town. Searching the houses, we discovered that there was no indication of forced entry into the final girl’s home, and that The Beast would have been incapable of quietly killing her in her sleep. Her name was stricken from the list of potential Beast victims. We also found another wraith child in town, and dispatched him – noting that when he occasionally flashed to his pre-wraith state, he appeared to have severe leg injuries as well. Plus, he was a wraith – we had the epiphany then in order to have become wraiths, the children would have needed to be killed by a wraith. Thus, The Beast could not have killed them. But, of course, we had a 2/3 hostile pool of judges, and therefore would need convincing evidence to present.
We trudged up the hill to survey the countryside, on the off chance that we had missed anything, and surreptitiously discovered that there was a hollow in the hill. Thinking that it might lead to a lead, the decision to head down into the hole was made, and it turned out to be quite productive. Painful, also, and draining in a “touched by a wraith” way. The last of the children attacked us, as did their creator – a many-eyed thing that disturbed me far more than the “children – no, wraith- no, wait, children – no, definitely wraith” things we had been dealing with. When it finally expired, however, the children were freed, and we were able to determine that they had probably fallen to the bottom of the shaft, shattered their legs, and been drained of life. Not something The Beast could have done.
We made it back to Lepistadt in time to deliver our evidence, and in this case, Viktor stood and delivered as powerful a series of case-crushing statements and questions as we could have dreamed. The prosecution looked shaken, and the justices appeared to be softening in their pre-judgment of The Beast. The observers, however, were upset and restless.
I remained behind at the courthouse to keep an eye on the gathering crowd, while the rest of the party chased down their newest lead in the anatomists’ district [player out of game for a bit…].
When they returned, they did so with two gentlemen in tow – a Mr. Vorkstag and a Mr. Grine. They were thoroughly disagreeable – particularly when they party showed me what they had found in Vorkstag’s possession. It was a cabinet full of the skins of various Lepistadt citizens. Skins that he could wear, in order to take on their appearances. I was fascinated, yet nauseated. But, with his cabinet in our possession, Vorkstag was willing to confess his crimes, and drive a nail into the coffin of the prosecution the next day. We were quite confident, after our interview of him, and our interview of the witness from the Sanctuary, and our various other leads and evidence, that The Beast was being given a fair trial, and that he would ultimately be exonerated.
I then described to the party the mood of the mob, and we made preparations to defend The Beast, and the courthouse, through the night.