“The one who derives advantage from the crime is the one most likely to have committed it.”
Pharast 22nd, 4711
Having enjoyed the hospitality of the Crooked Kin after their run-in with the Feaster in Watery Shadows, the party resumed their journey to the city of Lepidstadt along with their new-found friends. It was a sunny day, a rarity for Pharast in Ustalev, especially in the mountains. The city could be seen ahead as they approached from the west, following the last remnants of the Mountain road.
Off to the left of the city, a curious site could be seen. It was a series of standing stones arranged in a two alternating circles. The rings of menhirs were moon-white and surrounded a twisted, 16-foot-tall central spire of black rock. A most curious sight especially given its proximity to such a large city.
As the group meandered through the streets, Kaleb and company parted ways with the group, the former heading off to find the town center. Kendra Lorrimor and Vincent DuMont also went their own way – Kendra claiming to be tired and wanting to rest. Vincent suggested that they meet up later at the Purple Stallion Inn, and the party moved onward looking for directions to the University of Lepidstadt. Given the number of students and teachers, it wasn’t long before they found themselves on the campus, looking for the offices of one Dr. Montagnie Crowl, to whom they were to deliver a trio of books from the library of Professor Petros Lorrimor.
A Beast in the Night
Heading into the Department of Antiquities, the party was led up into the second floor workshop/library of Dr. Crowl, which was in state of disarray and destruction. Chairs, shelves, glassware, pottery, wooden figures, book, scrolls, and more were strewn about the room. While clearly efforts were currently underway to clean up the mess, it looked like a tornado had passed through the room.
Torquemada, Ryszard, and Haza were introduced to Dr. Montagnie Crowl, who apologized for the terrible state of his office, explaining that it was a bittersweet thing – for while his office was destroyed, it had paved the way for the capture of the legendary malevolent monster, the Beast of Lepidstadt! The doctor went on to explain that it had been caught after breaking into the building and stealing a curious relic called the Seasage Effigy. The Beast had been subdued by the local guardsmen and taken to the city jail, where it awaited it’s trial and subsequent burning, but there was no sign of the Seasage effigy.
Haza though it was passing strange that the Beast had been subdued in this room after stealing this idol, but that it had not been found or recovered from the person of the Beast, but to this point Dr. Crowl had no answer. He remained convinced that the idol was not valuable monetarily, and that it would only be a matter of time before it was recovered, given it’s unique appearance.
At this point the Doctor returned to business, asking to examine the books that the party had brought him at the bequest of Professor Lorrimor – the tomes On Verified Madness, Serving Your Hunger, and The Umbral Leaves. Torquemada was curious about the tomes, and the doctor explained that they all were tomes concerning great evils, and that they were best kept safe from harm and especially from those who would seek to exploit the knowledge contained within to do great evil.
Having concluded their business with the good doctor, the party asked if he knew of the whereabouts of one Judge Embreth Daramid. Crowl knew of her by reputation, and gave the party some general ideas where the local judges lived. Taking their leave, the group soon found themselves in a well-to-do district near the town center. A couple of inquiries led them to a fine three-storied brick townhouse. The brass door knocker clanged out it’s announcement to those inside, as the group waited for a response.
A good Judge of Characters
The door opened to reveal a stern woman, well into her sixties, with gray hair pulled back tightly into a bun and icy blue eyes. As the party introduced themselves (Torquemada the Holy Inquisitor of Iomedae, Ryszard Paladin of Iomedea, and Haza of Katapesh, she curtly cut them off and said that she had no interest in joining their temple and started to close the door. Talking quickly, Torque explained that they had been sent to find Judge Daramid on an errand for Professor Lorrimor.
“Ah, you are they. But I was told that there would be four of you,” said the Judge.
The party explained that there had been a fourth, but that she had gone her separate way back in Ravengro.
Embreth considered that for a moment, and then invited the party inside, leading them into a small sitting room and disappearing into the back of the house, where the sound of a whistling kettle soon filled the air. She reappeared a few minutes later, bearing a silver tray of fine china. Tea and scones were served, and after everyone was refreshed, Judge Darmid spoke about the death of Professor Lorrimor and asked to see the book that the party had brought her – The Manual of the Order of the Palatine Eye.
Torquemada asked her if she knew what was contained in the Manual. Embreth replied, “Yes, of course,” before taking the book and exiting the room. She returned a few minutes later, laded with three fine leather pouches, heavy with coin.
“Your payment gentlemen, as agreed.” Inside each – 100 platinum Crowns. A small fortune.
“Would you like to double your payment?” asked Embreth, peering at the group over the tops of her reading glasses.
“Petros obviously trusted you, and I begin to see the reason for his trust. Maybe I can trust you also? For an additional fee of 100 Crowns, of course.”
Judge Daramid went on to explains that she believes there is a cancer in Lepidstadt, a darkness lurking behind the shadow of a scapegoat. For many years the people of Lepidstadt have laid all their ills at the door of a creature known as the Beast of Lepidstadt — murders, thefts, and terror have all been attributed to the Beast, but Judge Daramid knews that many stories were exaggerations or simply untrue. She also knew of some people have different stories to tell about the creature—about its kindness and humanity, of how it has rescued loved ones or helped those in distress. Now that the time has arrived for such kindness to be repaid, however, no one dares to step forward and challenge the Beast’s reputation.
As a judge, Daramid has to maintain a keen sense of justice, and she fears the Beast will not receive a fair trial. The people of Lepidstadt have blamed the Beast for too much and for too long, and they want it to pay for its crimes, whether those crimes are real or imagined. In addition, the judge has some concerns about the crime for which the Beast was finally apprehended — the break-in and theft at Lepidstadt University. However, to publicly announce her suspicions could put her at great risk, both professionally and politically. As one of the three justices presiding over the Beast’s trial, she is unable to openly intervene, other than insisting that the Beast be properly defended in court.
“What I really need is a group of people without local bias to uncover the real truth about the Beast and its alleged crimes. The Beast’s legally appointed advocate, a barrister named Gustav Kaple, is hopelessly over his head and needs help — ideally someone to gather evidence about the Beast’s alleged crimes and stand up in court to be questioned by the prosecution. Such speakers must have bravery in spades and silver tongues to match, to ensure that if there is more to the Beast’s story, justice will be done. However, if the Beast is indeed guilty, then I can rest easier at night knowing that we gave it a fair trial.”
Accepting the terms of this agreement, Daramid suggested that the group hurry over to meet up with Gustav Kaple and meet with him and his client. She gave them directions to the nearby Courthouse, telling them that they were expected.
“Wait,” said Ryszard. “How do they know we’re coming?” But the Judge was already holding open the front door and ushering the group outside…
Meet the Beast
Judge Daramid’s directions soon led the group to the Main Entrance of the Lepidstadt Courthouse. Ornate pillars supported a balcony 15 feet above. Beneath the balcony, wide steps led up to a huge, ironbound door. Printed public notices were posted on a wooden board next to the door. Presently, these notices detail the upcoming trial of the Beast of Lepidstadt in long-winded legal language.
Entering through the heavy door, the party was quickly beset by a guardsman who tried to escort them back outside, stating that the trial was not due to begin for another day. name-dropping Judge Daramid quickly changed the guard’s attitude, and they were signed in as Court Defenders and directed upstairs to the Defense Chamber.
Where they met the s-se-seemingly inept, overworked, s-s-stuttering barrister, Gustav Kaple.
Gustav was happy to meet the party and gladly explained the circumstances leading to the Beast’s capture at the University and outlined the legal process involved in the trial:
- Typically, the clerks arrive early to prepare the courtroom and chambers. Other members of the court arrive as the time approaches 10:00 a.m. The three justices arrive in black coaches with several guards in attendance.
- 10:00 a.m.: The trial begins.
- 10:10 a.m.: Opening of the Trial. Chief Justice Ambrose Khard commences proceedings by laying out the rules of the court.
- 10:30 a.m.: Opening Statements. Prosecutor Otto Heiger will outline his case. Barrister Gustav Kaple then will make his case for the Beast’s innocence.
- 11:00 a.m.: Witnesses for the Prosecution.
- 12:30 p.m.: Witnesses for the Defense.
- 2:00 p.m.: Court Recess.
Gustav then informed the party that the prosecution is using three recent crimes attributed to the Beast to convict the creature of murder:
- The murder of 10 citizens of the village of Morast a year ago.
- The slaying of six children in the farming community of Hergstag 7 months ago.
- The arson attack 4 months ago at the Sanctuary on Karb Isle, which resulted in the deaths of Doctor Brada and his patients and the blinding of the doctor’s assistant, Karl.
Gustav seemed clearly over his head, and had not spoken to any of the prosecution witnesses nor did he have any evidence to show that the Beast was innocent of any charges. He suggested that since the trial would proceed in order of the charges arrayed against the Beast, that starting in Morast would be the most effective route. However, he first suggested that the party check out the scene of the initial crime at the University before proceeding.
The party agreed that the University was a logical starting point, but first wanted to meet with the Beast itself. Gustav did not wish to spend any further time with the Beast than necessary, and it was only the threatening gaze of Torquemada that made the entrance hall guard take the group down below to the jail.
The 8-foot tall abomination sat in an iron chair, bound with no less than a dozen sets of manacles. Stitching held together this grotesque patchwork of flesh and bone, beast and man, though the wires were so taut they looked as though they may fly apart at any moment. Its mouth was twisted in a permanent sneer, and a shock of lank, dark hair clings to its scalp. The creature slumped in its chair, a despondent expression upon its monstrous face.
At first, the party had little success in questioning the Beast. It remained in its chair, and did not respond to any of their questions. However, when asked directly why it killed the children in Hergstag, it quietly responded, “I didn’t do it.”
Although the creature resembled a legendary arcane creation – the flesh golem – the Beast was clearly something else entirely. It was intelligent, and capable of speech.
However, not much more information was forthcoming from the Beast. It refused to say where it was, other than “living in the swamp,” was unwilling to discuss whether it had killed anyone, and was equally close-mouthed about it’s origins.
It simply repeated its refrain, “I didn’t do it.”
Ryszard promised the Beast that they would do their best to see justice done, and they left, heading back to the University of Lepidstadt and the Department of Antiquities.
The front door was closed and locked, but lights could be seen coming from the second floor library, and knocking at the door soon led to another meeting with Dr. Crowl. He was surprised to see the group again, and even more surprised when they mentioned that they were there at the behest of the Court Defense.
Crowl was quite willing to allow the group to investigate the scene of the crime, although he warned them that a good deal of cleaning up has already taken place. The trail of the thief is easy to follow — the Beast broke in through the back door, then passed through the auditorium on his way to the workshop where the Seasage Effigy was kept. The back door to the Antiquities Department was originally locked with a superior lock, but it is clear that the door was recently damaged. The 1-inch-thick iron door was currently locked with a makeshift padlock and only crude repairs have been made.
The simple wooden door leading from the back door foyer into the auditorium had been broken off its hinges, as had the far door leading to the workshop. Paneled in oak, the auditorium contains a sunken, 5-foot-deep central area lined with books, tribal fetishes, and curiosities. A small stage and lectern stood in the center of this area, which is edged with a low oak rail, worn smooth from the touch of years of students gazing into the Master’s lecture room below.
The high–ceilinged workshop/library was lined with mostly empty shelves, and a trio of great leaded windows looked out over the university lawn. A staggering array of books, scrolls, maps, and curios, including shrunken heads, tribal masks, and bits of pottery, lay scattered all over the floor, apparently pulled from the shelves. The room is otherwise crowded with overturned tables, desks, and cabinets.
Torquemada could easily tell that the back door was clearly forced open from the outside, while Haza discovered the remains of fine silver wire and a tiny bell attached to the door, obviously the components for an alarm spell. While several people had walked through the area since the break-in, Torque was able to discern the tracks of a large, heavy creature in iron-nailed boots.
Despite the mess in the workshop, Ryszard noticed that one area in the room appeared to be untouched, in stark contrast to the damage seen elsewhere in the department. Indeed, the pedestal that once held the Seasage Effigy is crowded with small fetishes and delicate mother-of-pearl fish carvings that are undamaged. Meanwhile, Haza investigated the workshop’s windows which had clearly not been opened for many years, as evidenced by the build-up of grime around them. However, a closer inspection revealed that the center window, though now shut, had no such grime, and opened easily while the others were effectively painted shut.
As the night was getting long, the party opted to retire for the night, seeking out food and bed at the Purple Stallion inn, where Kendra and Vincent were waiting.
Good food, good drink, and a good night’s rest awaited.
Pharast 23rd, 4711
The Morass of Morast
As the first rays of dawn began to fill the skies, the party was already awake and preparing for their day. They first headed over to the Courthouse, finding Gustav asleep on a pile of papers. Upon awakening, he listened to their discoveries at the University break-in, but urged them to make haste to Morast, as the trial was to begin at 10:00 AM tomorrow!
Morast was a small hamlet in the Dippelmere Swamp about 8 miles due east of Lepidstadt. The party was able to follow a narrow trail leading from Lepidstadt to the village. The village itself was a miserable collection of 20 or so wattle-and-daub hovels built on stilts above the swamp and connected by soggy wooden boardwalks. The villagers apparently make their livings fishing and occasionally bringing in a blood caiman (a variety of crocodilian with a red-scaled head that is native to the north).
Some general questioning was met with close to open hostility, but the good grace of Paladin Ryszard was able to make some headway with the insular villagers after asking to speak with the village elder Lazne, whom Gustav had said was the star witness for the Morast portion of the trial.
Coming to discover that the village they were talking to currently was the aforementioned Lazne, Ryszard was able to pursue him to retell his tale of the Beast’s apparent attack on Morast.
About a year and half ago, villager began to disappear, their homes broken into and their bodies dragged away into the swamp. Sometimes a body part was found, but no complete corpses were ever found. Thus, suspicious fell upon the legendary Beast, for it was well known to rip men limb from limb. Lazne claims that at first the Beast only took lone villagers who were outside at night, but soon became bolder and began to attack houses. These attacks only ended when Lazne organized the villagers and set a trap for the Beast about 6 months after they started. He recalled that night well. The villagers were lying in wait for the Beast, who attacked just after nightfall. Armed with torches, the locals attacked and wounded the creature —a huge, hulking brute about 7 feet tall. The Beast took to the water, but the swampers gave chase in their boats, pursuing it to the village boneyard, where it was attacked by a blood caiman. Lazne grinned as he recalled how the Beast yelled oaths and curses that even the worst whore in Lepidstadt would blush to say as the gator attacked it, and describes the deep bite wound the gator made on the Beast’s shoulder as it dragged the Beast under the water. Although the Beast’s blood tainted the villagers’ burial ground, forcing them to abandon it and build another, the swampers thought it a small price to pay for the thing’s death. Hearing that the Beast actually survived was all that Lazne needed to tell his story to the authorities, and he was looking forward to seeing it burn.
The group asked permission to view the old boneyard, and Lazne agreed, after hitting up the group for a rental fee for the coracles and pilots needed to row them.
Threat from Above
A while later, the party sat in the small boats looking at the old boneyard. It was a tiny, miserable island rising from the swamp, a tangle of trees covering its dour, reed-choked surface. Hundreds of fetishes hung from the trees—simple, roughly humanoid figures made of sticks and bound with twine. Larger fetishes were planted in the ground on various parts of the island, leaning drunkenly in the soft mud.
Most notably, an enormously large nest was spotting high in the boughs of a trio of tangled trees on the northwest side of the isle. It was there the party opted to investigate first. Unfortunately, when they reached the trees, the nest’s occupant peered out at them – it was a manticore!
The lion-like creature dove from the next, flinging tail spikes at the hapless party, who struggled to mount an attack. But the manticore did not land, only flying by overhead and flinging more spikes. Around and around the trees it flew, it’s missles striking home again and again. Realizing that melee combat was out of the question, Torque and Ryszard began to respond in kind, slinging arrows and crossbow bolts at the monster while Haza devoted his divine power to healing and restoring his friends. That was a luxury the manticore did not have as it was struck again by arrows and bolts. Finally, and with a final flick of its deadly tail, it turned and fled over the trees deeper into the swamp.
The manticore’s nest was obviously a recent construction, and contained the corpse of a dwarf traveler. The corpse wore a colorful patchwork coat with numerous pockets holding:
- oil of keen edge,
- a package of bodybalm
- a silver hip flask still containing a fine brandy
- a crimson felt purse containing 31 pp and 22 gp
- a masterwork shortsword
- a wand of ghost sound (22 charges)
Now that the immediate threat was dealt with, the group had time to thoroughly investigate the small island. And what they found surprised them.
Clues in the mud
First, Torquemada identifies six graves in the boneyard that appeared to have been tampered with, sagging into the ground as though they had collapsed from below, and leaving wide depressions in the muddy earth. After obtaining permission from Elder Lazne to exhume the graves, under the watchful eye of the Paladin, these six graves were found to be empty, while all of the other graves were undisturbed.
While searching the southern end of the boneyard, Haza came upon the remains of an old camp. Around a small firepit were a waterskin (still half full of wine), the aged remnants of some trail rations, and a curious glass vial. The bottom of the vial contains the dried remains of a green substance that smells vaguely of carrots, which Torque identified as the substance not as a potion, but as an alchemist’s darkvision extract.
Nearby, Ryszard found a swamp coracle hidden in the trees and brush along the southwest shore of the island. Dried blood was noticed in the bottom of the boat, which contained an oar, a moldy leather travel bag with a damp artisan’s outfit (a shirt, breeches, shoes, and a cloth apron) inside, and a vile object that appeared to be a detached human face!
In addition, a length of rope stretches from the boat into the waters below. The rope was attached to a heavy sack. This sack was very large (big enough to hold a Medium-sized humanoid) and had dried blood soaked into its fabric. The sack held some rope, a gag, a rusted lantern, a trio of heavy knives, and a rusted shovel.
Finally, in the undergrowth nearby, Torquemada found a leather-bound case filled with fine tools, made of silver with amethyst handles, lost in the undergrowth nearby. It appeared to be a surgical tool set, such as those used by physicians and chirurgeons.
Nothing else was to be found, but before the party left for the return trip to Lepidstadt, they asked Lazne if the dwarf or the detached human face were at all familiar. While he found the whole proceeding distasteful, morbid curiosity overcame his natural reluctance, and he looked at the corpse, saying that he had never seen the dwarf before. However, when he saw the face skin, he remarked that it looked like the trader Nam Kleben. He was a trader that had started appearing in Morast about 18 months ago, but who had not been seen for a year or so.
The face reminded Torquemada of a creature he once read about during his training. It hailed from the First World – a fey known as a skin stealers. These legendary beings were bent on destruction and gruesome murder. When left to their own devices, these gangly beings are unpredictable and spontaneous; when assigned duties from some higher, stronger power, however, skin stealers rumored to be adept at performing complex assassinations and spy work.
After burying the dwarf corpse and saying a few words to Sarenrae and Iomedae, the group rode with the swampers back to Morast and heading back along the trail to Lepidstadt.
Tomorrow, the Trial of the Beast would begin!