Caravan Carnivale

Series Finale - Prologue
A Restless Night

Some stories become legends only in the romance of hindsight; the banal and unglamorous moments glossed over by the pen of the skillful bard until all that’s left is bravery and resolve and historic impact.

Other stories carry the burden of legend even before they’re begun, however – and it is a uniquely heavy, particularly awful burden to carry.

It hung like a choking fog over the entire caravan – each morning meal a little quieter than yesterday’s, each evening’s drink around the campfire a little more contemplative and solemn. A peaceful night’s sleep was becoming a scarce commodity

The shoulders most directly pressed upon, of course, were the caravan’s adventurer owners – the brave but unlucky souls who stood at the gates of the journey laid out ahead of them. Though the weight was theirs to carry, it trailed behind them like a cold fog touching every member of the troupe.

Seven nights had passed since they’d returned at the helm of a strange and wonderful ocean vessel, sailed all the way from frozen Helheime to the balmy Sea of Sapphires. Seven nights of seagulls and southern sunsets and fresh fish – the coastal encampments were typically among the best memories available to a caravaneer, even if this one was underpinned with a pernicious dread.

It was on the eighth restless night – after the eighth contentious day of planning and evaluating and arguing over the path forward – that the strange dreams happened.

Later, it would be discovered that each member of the party had experienced the same thing: an extended pursuit of elusive sleep coupled with an eventual surrender to the idea that this bed – each adventurer’s own bed, a thousand times more familiar and comfortable than the wilderness camps they’d often endured – was entirely unsuitable for rest. Their vardos encroached upon them with an asphyxiating claustrophobia, and they needed more than anything to throw open the door and leave.

They were drawn to the open night air, to the crashing of waves on the rocky beach below the cliffs of the encampment. It was clear in their minds that there was no other place in the universe that they might find restful peace, and so each made their way – half entranced – down the winding switchback path to the cold misty beach below.

No memory of what they found at the end of that path remained in the morning as they opened their eyes, blinking in the salt spray with sore necks from sleeping on loose stones. The only memory was of a dream, a dream more vivid than any they’d ever experienced:

You’re in a room. No, a one-room cottage – a stone-walled, thatched-roof cottage with shafts of dusty evening sunlight poking through the gaps in the hand-hewn plank door and heavy wooden shutters covering the windows. The walls are covered with bunches of dried herbs, roots, and cooking utensils – mostly wooden, with a few hammered iron pans and pots picked out at random.

You can smell onions and carrots boiling, though you can’t see them. It’s nearly dinnertime.

A woman – her back to you – works at a rough wooden table preparing the meal. She’s cutting potatoes with a sharp knife. The knife’s handle is made from a deer’s antler, and was given to her by her mother who passed away six years ago.

She is humming pleasantly to herself; her wrists are covered in wooden beaded bracelets and her pale blonde hair is gathered in many braids collected under a headscarf.

You feel welcome and comfortable here. This is a good place, a safe place. Dinner smells good and simple and warm.

You are now focused on the contents of a cooking pot filled with cold, clear water. The rest is silence and black – the pot is the only thing in the world.

A woman’s voice speaks softly but with a sureness that communicates intimidating wisdom:

“There is no word to describe the emptiness within which reality exists,” she intones, “but know that there is such a space. A hollow void that exists only to contrast against the worlds that float within it.”

At this, a slender hand – beaded at the wrist – pours a tiny trickle from a vial of red oil into the pot, creating a shimmering round puddle on the water’s surface.

“There are realms in this space which exist unto themselves, and which are defined by energies more pure and powerful than any we know here in our world.”

Another vial – this one green – contributes a small disc of oil to the water’s surface.

“These realms are bounded by the rigors of their energies; defined so fully and perfectly as to exclude each other at every possible point of connection.”

The green puddle drifts ever closer to the red puddle, until they meet – forming a razor-straight line between them where the dissimilar oils refuse to mix. The hand adds a puddle of pearlescent oil to the mix, which follows suit – the three puddles now balancing around a symmetrical triad of border lines.

“The worlds are, however, aware of each other, jealous of each other. Each wants what the other has, and in turn desires to trade away their treasures for treasures of a more exotic nature. But they cannot. It is not in their natures to be able to penetrate the unbreakable barriers that separate them.”

The hand adds a fourth, black oil to the pot, and the four fields of liquid come together, forming four perfect quadrants arranged around a sharp cross-shaped boundary.

“There are great, old intelligences that dwell in these worlds. Architects and astronomers, strategists and librarians. Scholars and inventors. And once, long ago, they sought to pool their ingenuity, endeavoring to create a means by which they could partake of each other’s wealth. A realm bordered by all and built from the primal energies of all. A shared space where councils could be held and deals could be brokered. Our realm. The Prime Material Plane.”

With this, the hand adds a single drop from a smaller vial to the very center of the four-oil formation – as it lands, it retains its shape as a bubble separate to all but nestled in the middle, and begins to leach wispy strands of color from each of its neighbors. They intermingle and interweave.

“Representatives from each plane contributed to its creation, but none so intently as Gladanvrana, high vizier of the Plane of Shadow. As he toiled alongside his peers, he also scratched secret pockets into the unseen places of our world – scars intended to provide advantage to his kind when the realm was completed and access became a much-desired thing.”

You now are quite aware of being back in the cottage. You’re sitting on a bed whose frame is carved from logs and whose mattress is sewn from soft velvety hides stuffed with feathers and raw wool. It’s unbelievably comfortable in its primitive simplicity.

The woman preparing dinner – now clearly the woman who had been speaking to you – walks to a wall cabinet and procures a large hand-thrown clay jar stoppered with a rough-hewn chunk of cork. She carries it back to the table. You do not notice her face, but are still drawn to her beaded bracelets. You’ve seen them before but it’s not troubling you that you aren’t able to place them.

“Gladanvrana’s greed – indeed, his very nature as a denizen of the Plane of Shadow – prevented him from obeying the laws set in place to govern access to the Prime Material. He and his foul brothers cheated and stole and misused the shared realm, and it was this treachery that led to new laws being laid down; laws which cut off access to our world from all but the most powerful of the lords of the Outer Planes. Presence in this realm was now a rare honor bestowed sparingly, and in this quiet absence of outside interference arose the native races of our land – elf and dwarf, man and gnome. These beings – each a mosaic of intermingling energies – carried inside them souls of unique power and beauty, souls which quickly became the most sought-after prize in the collected congress of realms. While Gladanvrana had lost access to his treasured Prime Material, the cracks and channels he’d carved into the world served to leach away the souls of the dead as they left their bodies behind. The devils and demons of the Plane of Shadow became brokers to all other realms for the shining diamonds that were mortal spirits.”

You are in a large mead-hall. The smell of roasted meats and sour ales haunts the air from prior feasts, though at the moment the hall is empty save for five figures at the head of the room – an older man sitting on a rough dais, his eyes swollen and red from fatigue and sorrow. A young woman with wooden beads on her wrists, dressed in white robes trimmed with marten fur. Two burly young men in lamellar hauberks, fierce-faced and armed with iron axes, standing on either side of the seated man with their gazed trained on the fifth figure: a stooped, hooded individual with a pale hand extended outward. You know that he is the Provost. He is Gladanvrana.

“He came to us as a miracle-worker, a traveling healer. The king’s young daughter had fallen terribly ill, and my medicinal knowledge – extensive as I’d believed it to be – had yet to do anything for her but ease her pain. With each day it became more difficult to deny that she was dying. He promised that he could answer the king’s prayers, that he knew exactly how to prevent the young Princess from dying.”

“He produced a contract – a very simple but clear pact promising that the King’s daughter would not die, and demanding as his reward ownership of an estate in the King’s land. He would own this land and serve as its Lord for as long as the Princess remained in this world, and would not submit to fealty under the King.”

“The King, even in his weary state, was a wise man, and knew deliberate wordplay when it was given to him. In an attempt to call the traveler’s bluff, he appended a clarifying clause: should the young Princess’ soul ever leave this world, the traveller would be expelled from the kingdom immediately and banished to wherever it was from whence he came.”

“The deal was struck, and we were damned. The Princess was sealed away inside a stone, frozen forever outside of time, neither living nor dead. Our King sank into madness and withdrew into himself. As the months wore on, the forest estate of the stranger became strange and dark, the woods themselves bending and twisting into a nightmare. Our home was swallowed up by rot and sorrow and frightful things. Our brothers and sisters became terrifying monsters, and even the King and his Queen were transformed into dark, ravening things.”

You are in the hut of the mysterious witch who gave Lusus his new arm. Her wrists are adorned with wooden beads, and her blonde braids have turned silver – though her face is still the face of a beautiful young woman. She speaks directly to you.

“The sum of my knowledge of the old magic was barely enough to prevent the curse destroying me; even not having suffered the worst, I was forever tainted – granted this unbearably long life but tormented at every turn by nightmares and waking visions. I have spent centuries in exile, studying and seeking communion with long-dead gods and monsters. I am driven by one task and one task only – to release Gladanvrana’s claws from our world and find some measure of redemption in death.”

You are back in the cottage. It is clear that the young woman preparing the meal is and always was the witch. You know that her name is Sulfada, and that she is the eighth daughter to proudly hold the same name as her mother, heir to a long family line of healers and mystics in service to the King. This place is the Guldenweald, a thriving kindgom of brave warriors and hard workers who make their home on the banks of the Silber river in a rolling field that will one day be swallowed up by the Schadenwaldt.

She uncorks the jar and pushes a wooden scoop inside.

You are now focused intently on the scoop, laden with dry rice. Everything is moving very slowly as she tilts the scoop to add the rice to the oil-seasoned bowl of water, which now boils over a cooking fire.

“Building our world was no simple feat – the energies from which it is woven were not made to be mixed. They clash against each other violently and unpredictably, and this led to many failed attempts before our realm was successfully created.”

The grains of rice begin sliding and tumbling down the scoop on their voyage to the boiling pot below. They collide and bump, but inevitably travel in only one direction: down.

“It was impossible to commingle these energies in their native states – the outer planes do not experience time as we do. The only way to keep the interwoven elements viable indefinitely was to bind them in a confining system of consequence – time that flows in only one direction.”

The grains rain down into the roiling stockpot, the surface of the water welling and bursting as each boiling bubble rushes upward. Little explosions radiate outward, colliding with other explosions. Grains of rice are carried in swirling currents from one side of the pot to the other, then back again.

“There is no time in the outer planes. There is consequence – actions have impact – but those impacts radiate in all directions. The future – though no such thing exists in the Plane of Shadow – affects the past just as readily as the past determines the future. It is impossible for the human mind to grasp. Simply know this: devils do not fear failure, because no failure is ever truly permanent for them. They can simply undo the knot and begin again.”

The stew is ready. She ladles it into a bowl that is set before you. The aroma is intoxicating and hearty, but you know that it isn’t for eating. You reach into the bowl and gather the stew into your hand – it has the texture of a warm, dry piece of soft-tanned leather – and when you unclench your hand it has become a tiny, seemingly empty blown-glass ampule. It’s warm to the touch and comforting.

“The lesson is over and my license to speak clearly is exhausted; the rest you must commit to memory and seek to understand.”

The young woman hovers above you, her clothing flowing as if she were underwater. Her mouth moves but no voice comes – you know, however, that she speaks the following words:

The blood of kings in frail cup
By father’s hand the line is cut
An oath undone but change not wrought
The trick replayed, the war ne’er fought

Her eyes grow more intent as she begins another verse.

Ply your steel against his pride
In flesh beguile his wrath to hide
Pull his hooves from sea to road
The devil’s harvest ne’er again re-sowed

Each member of the party awoke the next morning at sunrise, cold and wet with ocean spray. The dream scorched into their mind was had by all, and did not fade as the day moved on. Shivering as they climbed up the path back to the camp, they found Kolya pensive around the smoldering ashes of last night’s campfire.

“A strange woman was here…. or maybe wasn’t. I’m… I’m really not sure. I know I’ve seen her before but I can’t tell you where or when. She was just sitting here by the fire as the sun began to come up.”

Reaching into the vest pocket of his embroidered overcoat, he withdrew a small wooden box.

“She said to give this to you. To all of you.”

The box contained a single glass ampule, seemingly containing nothing. It was warm to the touch and filled whoever held it with a sense of comfort.

Episode Nineteen
Burning Down the House

Resolving to discover whether the Princess Zamarrid was in fact alive or dead – and to liberate her from her gilded cage in the Queen’s Palace if she was alive – the party set out for the Ebregoi countryside.

On reaching the sprawling estate of the Queen’s Palace, it was discovered that parties unknown had crudely fortified the ornamental walls and gates, and that the facility was under active guard. Closer looks revealed these guards to be Corvono foreigners clad in Ebregoi military uniforms – almost certainly mercenaries.

Infiltrating the grounds using their god-damned magic closet that I can’t be angry about because I gave it to them, the party made its way through luxurious rooms buried under inches of dust and disuse until they reached the uppermost suite of the palace. Lolth killed the two highly-trained guards while like absentmindedly checking her texts or something, and the party gained silent entrance.

There they found the Princess, alive and healthy but apparently having lived her life inside this one room for the past decade. She enthusiastically agreed to an escape plan, and was whisked away to the Caravan through the magic closet that totally has side effects that you don’t know about yet so there.

On the way out of the palace, the party decided to torch the place because nothing says “fuck the man” like burning down national treasures. Also something about making enough noise that the Prince couldn’t sweep it under the rug.

Back at the Caravan, Zamarrid told her story: of having been coerced into becoming the Prince’s child bride, of his sequestering her in the Queen’s Palace at age seven and locking her further and further inside its confines as her growing mind began to question the narratives he fed her, and finally of his abandoning her – she hadn’t seen him or spoken with him in nearly seven years. She was shaken but well-spoken, having clearly learned most of her worldview from the volumes of folk tales afforded her in her prison suite. A habit of actively talking to herself was explained away as a game she’d play in order to keep her language skills sharp, since nobody had spoken to her except the Prince for most of her adult life, and even him only once or twice a year.

In tow was the Ebregoi noble who had hosted the party, who was horrified and mortified to learn every detail of Zamarrid’s imprisonment and exploitation. While the party and the noble began to explore various options for deposing the Prince, Zamarrid insisted on only one priority: annulment of her marriage – this despite assurances from all that the Prince would not likely obey the resulting breach in the rites of succession and would not recuse himself from the throne.

Zamarrid remained steadfast: the only acceptable next step would be the annulment of her marriage, performed in response to the proof that the party could offer that Prince Asad had in fact murdered her Father the Sultan.

Episode Eighteen
It's a Rigged System

Returning to Nyburn’s workshop after one last pass through Hexum’s manor, the party delivered the Logic Engine. Nyburn was confounded by what he saw – an amalgam of his own work and that of other prominent tinkerers and engineers. Recognizing that the device in front of him would more than satisfy his Ebregoi investors, but unwilling to unethically profit from the work of his compatriots without their partnership, he asked the party to sail on ahead to Ebregos as messengers on his behalf.

During the week-long voyage, the party checked back in with the Caravan, interrogating Melchiore – now able to animate the wooden body of the Sir Egg doll he’d been transferred to – though not reaching any real satisfying results. Lusus made friends with the sailing crew, and learned a bit about Ebregoi current affairs.

Arriving, the party sought out the patrician family who’d invested in Nyburn’s invention. After a snotty encounter with the villa’s chamberlain, the lord of the house happened by and began conversation in earnest with the party. After discovering him to be a pretty cool guy, Alsahiir risked exposing his identity – a revelation that was met favorably and resulted in the party learning the story of Ebregos’ descent into organized crime and dictatorship under the corrupt Prince Asad abn-Aldhib.

Upon mentioning the Caravan Carnivale, the nobleman displayed curious surprise, revealing that a package had arrived just days prior addressed to the Caravan. The party opened the box to discover the severed and slightly dessicated head of Victol Bayar, along with a greeting card containing the message “Thinking of You”.

The head held a plastic ring between its lips, tied to a string that pulled on a spring-wound recording drum. The recording appeared to present the Provost hectoring an unknown listener about their lack of significance – deduction led the party to understand that the person being spoken to was Erich Schreiner. Another pull of the string produced a different recording – this one pointed directly at the party and serving as an invitation to enter the Akademion as guests.

The party endeavored to work towards undermining the Ebregoi government; first by planting rumors in the local populace about the return of Alsahiir, and the possibility that he is not the traitor that twenty years of propaganda have labeled him as. Lusus joined a local crime syndicate as an enforcer in order to infiltrate. Finally, the party discussed options with like-minded nobles keen on deposing Prince Asad, and it was decided that the next step would be to investigate and hopefully liberate Princess Zamarrid, sequestered in the Queen’s Palace in the countryside – and rumored long dead among the noble courtesans.

Also, Lolth reached out to her father, which ended just as badly as it always does.

Episode Seventeen
Hostile Takeover

Disembarking in Tolia, Fo made haste to rent a room and provide the party with a new magic door by which to travel freely to and from the Caravan. The party stepped from the brisk autumn chill of Amstreiche into the summery breeze of Tolia, seeking out Quoben Qualls’ uncle who had designed and built the Silver Hurricane mechanical armor-suit.

This uncle – Nyburn Volnutt – turned out to be the sole proprietor of an engineering atelier, where the evidence of his genius (and lack of practical sense) was apparent in the scattered projects and prototypes cluttering his workspace. The party asked about details on the Silver Hurricane suit, and Nyburn expressed remorse for its loss – and little sympathy for his reprobate nephew Quoben. He also let slip that his most recent endeavor – funded by wealthy interests in Ebregos – had run aground in the wake of some industrial espionage by an inscrupulous competitor: the prototype for his Mechanical Logic Engine had been stolen enroute to his Ebregoi investors by agents of Phaddeus Hexum Memor, a notorious manufacturing baron from Acquardente, half a day’s ride to the north.

The party took notice of a peculiar clockwork boat prototype in Nyburn’s workshop and began a conversation that led to Barabal introducing the concept of the screw propeller, promising to revolutionize sea travel by removing wind as a primary concern for propulsion. Nyburn set about thinking on a way to make a practical version of the mechanized ship, and the party set out to retrieve the logic engine.

In Acquardente, Fo put on his best air of nobility and infiltrated P.H. Memor’s facility under the auspices of being a wealthy and demanding potential customer. There he discovered Memor’s latest product: small gnome-sized rotund automatons articulated for menial labor. A glitch: whenever the machines found themselves too close together, they began to stutter and pop – a gentle nudge to set them on a direct collision course led to a bright flash and both machines falling to the ground inert and smoking – also revealing some sort of magical crystal power source inside.

Via a magic door quietly drawn by Fo behind a heavy curtain, the party emerged in a moment of surprise, with Lolth grabbing Memor and absconding with him back to the Caravan. There he was interrogated, proving to be stubborn and arrogant but keen on working out a deal that would see him provided with direct trade access to the frozen North. The party returned to his mansion for a smarmy business dinner, where more automatons served them food while demonstrating the troubling proximity glitch.

After dinner, Memor took the party down to one of his workshops – dark for the evening – where the assembly process for his P.H. Memor Automats was carried out. When discussion turned to the Logic Engine, he became suspicious and turned on the party, donning a large and intimidating mechanical suit not entirely unlike the one built by Nyburn Volnutt. When he attempted to activate the machine by attaching crystals like the ones driving the Automats, an unexpected reaction caused a large green explosion, demolishing the suit and kerploding Memor’s entire torso. The explosions triggered a chain effect, and in the distance pops and bangs could be heard across the complex. Crates of crystals inside the party’s location detonated as well, showering the room with glittering shards.

The explosions left the air thick with a green fog, which began to waft its way down to the docks – Fo followed it while the rest of the party returned to the Big House to search for the Logic Engine in Memor’s study. The party ransacked the study, liberating a tidy sum of gold and blueprints that revealed Memor to be a career intellectual thief – most of his designs having in fact been stolen from other less successful inventors. Key among them was a schematic for a military version of the Automat, code-named “Sluggernaught”.

In the dockside warehouse, Fo found a colossal crate, which exploded in a brilliant pillar of green light before he could get it open. The party scrambled down to the pillar just in time to see it fade away, revealing the contents of the crate: an enormous bronze automaton clearly built for war. It lurched to life, took a few moments to figure out its own body, and then proceeded to attempt to smash the party into bits.

Lindy took a punishing blow, distracting the giant while Alsahiir and his genie managed to wind a rope around the monster’s knees. This was able to knock it down, granting easier access to party members who scrambled up to the glowing pods on its shoulders, breaking off their covers and revealing racks of crystals inside. Destroying the crystals, the party managed to bring the giant to a halt, and pried open its chest to reveal a highly-developed iteration of Nyburn’s logic engine concept. Alsahiir was able to do some quick reverse engineering to determine that the machine as designed was built to use the crystals – infused with human souls – not as a control mechanism but a fuel source; the unexpected overload of soul energy had allowed the collective tortured souls to exert their will through the metal body via means not accounted for in the machine’s design.

Catching their breath, the party resolved to spend the night cleanly extracting the logic engine from the giant using tools scattered about the warehouse.

Episode Sixteen
Ocean's Six

Arriving in Fiumargo, the party’s ship was greeted by harbor patrol, who conducted a search of the vessel claiming to be screening for wanted criminals matching the party’s description – criminals held accountable for the destruction of the Loessian royal palace and the unknown status of the Duchess of Loesse. The descriptions given in the warrant were uncannily accurate, including names and physical characteristics, but the warrant was oddly issued by the Soramian embassy – not any Loessian agency. A handsome reward was attached to each listed member of the party – 2,000 gold pieces, dead or alive.

Using various forms of stealth and trickery, the party managed to evade the search of the ship and subsequently bribe the crew into letting them ashore without incident. Wanted posters were plastered heavily throughout the harbor, with magically-accurate depictions of each member of the group. A tenement shack was acquired on the cheap and Lusus set about fencing the party’s appropriated valuables.

Barabal and Lolth teamed up to infiltrate the local convent where Lolth’s mother (now Sister Amalia Benevona) was reputed to be staying. After a few days of intrigue, Lolth was able to confront her mother – now in her late eighties and holding the office of Grand Abbess of the convent – and lay to rest the true story of her estranged childhood; rather than having been abandoned as was believed, Lolth (nee Gracia) had been sold off by her unaccepting grandparents, who framed the entire thing as a burglary abduction. Understanding the gravity of her knowledge of Lolth’s true name and feeling a great deal of relief at having learned her daughter to be alive and well, Sister Amalia offered to take poison in the name of keeping her secret safe. Lolth was left with no option but to agree.

Fo secured passage aboard a Tolian freighter headed eventually to Ebregos – a two-month journey with a stopover in Tolia. The first two weeks of the journey passed without incident, with Lusus hiring on as an unskilled but eager deckhand and Fo making connections with crew and passengers alike. One night during the second week, Fo swore he saw the sails of a ship on the horizon in a flash of lightning; he would spot the same vessel again several days later.

During a violent storm, two mysterious passengers seemed to have joined the population of the middle deck, dressed in Corvono clothing and keeping to themselves. Fo noticed them and investigated, reporting their suspicious arrival to the Captain. Sailors were sent to investigate, and were greeted by a four-hundred pound gorilla smashing his way into the passage between the passenger cabins. Fo magically alerted the rest of the party, who were passing time back at the Caravan by use of the magical door system.

Deftly making his way above decks (with the gorilla in hot pursuit), Fo used his magical skills and acrobatic prowess to trick his pursuer into sliding helplessly over (and through) the stern railing at the back of the aftcastle; the gorilla plunged into the rough water below.

Then a sniper guy! Then a beefy punching woman! Then the rest of the party arrived via the magical door system, encountering yet another foe below decks: a large heavily-armored figure swinging a dangerously heavy mace.

The fight raged on, with the party coordinating to eventually disable the armored figure (slowly discovered to be more machine than man), cripple then kill the sniper, confuse then kill the beefy punching woman, and scare off the gorilla, who had managed to rejoin the fight. And had also managed to learn how to talk, somewhere along his personal journey.

The gorilla sailed off aboard a smaller vessel that had pulled behind the ship, and the armored figure was opened up to reveal a small roguish gnome named Quoben, who had been piloting the bulky suit of armor the entire time. Quoben knew when he’d been beaten, and gladly revealed the names and natures of his fallen compatriots – a team of high-class bounty hunters who’d been tipped off to the price on the heads of the party.

Negotiating a cautious but peaceful arrangement to stay on the vessel until it reached Tolia, the party returned to the Caravan. Quoben was confined to a vardo where he revealed that the suit of mechanical armor he’d been using to hunt bounties was stolen from his uncle in Tolia, who had designed and built it.

The party resolved to spend a little time in Tolia before setting back out for Ebregos aboard a different ship.

Episode Fifteen
Skeletons, Closets, and Mismanagement

Stunned and speechless as he attempted to take in his newfound freedom, Victol stumbled his way through an attempt at gratitude before announcing his plans to set out in the morning to rendezvous with Erich and play the part he’d intended for the Duchess: earning his way back into the Akademion with the young summoner as his offering. Lusus laid out the implication that verbal gratitude was perhaps insufficient, at which point the exhausted Victol chuckled and handed over two magical rings he’d been wearing. He then disappeared inside a door he’d conjured, apparently leading to a safe resting space.

Midway through the night, after the party had dispersed (save for Lolth and Lusus, who had been keeping secret watch), Victol emerged from the door and began circling the wagon in which he’d been trapped for more than thirty years, eventually lighting it on fire with a simple spell. He watched it burn to ashes as the caravan gathered – until the sun was rising – and then retired again to the magical door to rest.

Around noon he emerged again, carrying travel packs and quietly making his way around the back of camp to the horses. On the way, he was knocked out cold by an unexpected Kolya, who began binding him in anti-magical restraints.

Kolya explained that he didn’t remember how he traveled the nearly 800 miles to the Caravan’s current location, nor did he remember where he acquired the restraints; he only remembered an odd crow flying into his attic room, then flashes of images as he walked through a wooded area, collapsed into a pond, and awoke on the banks of a river nearby in Amstreiche. Shaken but determined, he pressed on with his indictment of Victol and his insistence on a traditional Aromasta trial for the crimes of betraying and murdering his own people. Lindy strongly concurred.

The remainder of the party talked Kolya into calming down, and had Lindy take him to the center of camp where she would introduce him as the new manager of the Caravan. While this was happening, they attempted to interrogate Victol inside a commandeered vardo. This interrogation went poorly; removing his mouth restraints allowed him to cast a charm spell that held Lusus in full sway; leaving the scene and returning later, Lolth and Barabal made a second attempt, which ultimately resulted in Victol convincing them to let him go in the name of saving the world from the fate represented by the Akademion; according to Victol, the Duchess had informed him that the things in motion were far further along than he’d ever believed. He also informed the party of a cache of valuables in Silbertal including information that he’d gathered as a contingency weapon against various party members. Restraints removed, he teleported away – and Lolth, Lusus, Alsahiir and Barabal attempted to make the scene look like he’d managed a wily escape without their cooperation.

Kolya was devastated; a decade-long quest for justice had almost resolved but was now as far away as ever. Lindy was suspicious and pissed.

In an attempt to locate Victol and Erich, the group headed to Rivage-Martel, where they learned of a Soramian cavalry dragnet that had set out just a day prior on all roads leading out of the city. Not wanting to get involved, and overcome with curiosity about the personal details that Victol had managed to accrue about them, a new course was set for Silbertal. A week on the road saw them pass the Caravan (also on its way to Silbertal but moving much slower) before arriving in the city where the story began.

The ruined Schreiner household had long ago been pulled down and replaced with row houses; Ol’ Schappie’s general store was shuttered permanently. The church in town was now finished. The party located the building that Victol had indicated to them as the storage site for his goods, and infiltrated.

Crates of valuables and trade goods filled the room, valued at approximately 2,000 gold. The chest containing each party member’s dossier was located where Victol had promised – along with several other mysterious items, including an amulet of silence, a short sword +1, and a pair of bracelets that when worn would prevent any creature from traveling between planes.

The party waited for the caravan to arrive, then set out for Corvona to move the newly-acquired merchandise, hiring a small cargo vessel to sail them across the southern coast. The voyage was peaceful for a change, except for Lindy’s occasional seasickness.

Episode Fourteen
(Dank) Dungeons and (Dead) Dragons

Setting about to spring their incarcerated comrades from the hoosegow, Lusus, Lolth and Barabal did recon on the Countess’ castle in Rivage-Martel. There were too many guards in the front, but the river running under and through the castle foundations seemed like a good point of entry. With Lusus and Barabal hiding in the otherdimensional closet accessed with the magical chalk holder looted from Bayar’s mansion, Lolth scaled the back wall of the capital fortress and gained entry through an old sluice gate that served as exit point for the river. Infiltrating a bit inside the waterworks until the rooms became a bit more open, she stumbled across the dessicated remains of some enormous creature, wired into machines in the walls by way of massive leather-clad cables.

Summoning Lusus and Barabal, who were able to identify the creature as a blue dragon – notorious to those in the know as a natural generator of powerful electricity.


Meanwhile, Fo, Alsahiir and Lindy searched their cells for any means of exit. The rooms were unsually well-maintained, and fitted with impenetrably-installed heavy security doors far more robust that what one might expect from a castle dungeon. After a few hours of inspecting and knocking and brainstorming, the trio ran out of ideas.

At this point, Lindy noticed a sizeable defect in one of the walls of her cell, a large gap in the corner that she might be able to squeeze through uncomfortably. Doing so, she found herself in a pitch-dark passageway that seemed impossibly located and sized for what she’d observed of the layout of the cell block on her way in. In the distance, a light seemed to mark a way out.

Approaching the light, it became clear that Lindy was chasing a lantern, not a door or window. Reaching the lantern, the room around her began to come into brighter focus – leaving her standing with blood-covered hands in front of an eviscerated castle guard inside the dungeon’s sentry office. Relieving the corpse of its keys and retrieving her companions’ gear from the adjoining armory, Lindy made her way back down to the cell block and released Fo and Alsahiir.

The rescue part headed up a great spiral staircase; the prisoners headed down. Both groups met in a passageway attached to the cell blocks, near a pair of large iron double doors which led to larger holding cells seemingly fit for animals. A weak voice called out for help from one of the rooms – Lindy used her keys to open the door and the party swallowed back their suspicions and reluctantly stepped inside to investigate. After an eternity of haunting silence, the giant form of a lion was seen crawling on the ceiling – it dropped and gored Lindy, beginning a brutal fight ultimately won by a combination of holy magics, brutal assaults on feline gag reflexes, and a handful of flaming rats.

Torn up but resolute, the party endeavored to make its way downstairs and out the river exit – only to be confronted by the Countess herself when traversing the sizeable laboratory she’d made in the castle’s ancient cisternum. Intrigued and annoyed at the party’s escape and slaughter of her leonine specimen, she trigged the activation of an electrically-enhanced clay golem which proceeded to charge the party in a blind rage, trailing an electrical cable behind it.


Fo and Lolth maneuvered stealthily behind the creature while the rest of the party prepared to confront it head-on. With Fo rushing to trace the power cord to its source, Lolth executed a well-timed sneak attack, sending the charging giant crashing to the ground from its own unbalanced momentum. With the monster downed, the party chipped away at it, suffering electrical burns with every blow. Downstairs, Fo located the source of the power being fed to the golem and disabled it, weakening its electrical abilities. Finally, Alsahiir attached a grappling line to one of the giant’s ankles, dropping the other end into the steadily-churning machinery just below grates in the floor. The line pulled the golem into the works, finishing it off.

Alsahiir took some chunks for later.

Downstairs, a visibly angry Countess arrived to investigate the cause of her machines’ failure, finding Fo and shooting magic at him until he countered with a classic “jump down and get naked” gambit. This bought the rest of the party time to arrive, at which point Lindy started violently vomiting black fluid onto the damp stone floor.


As the black fluid made its way unerringly toward the corpse of the dragon, Lusus retreived the powderkeg the party had stored in the magic closet and stuffed it under the enormous corpse, lighting it and running like hell. The explosion was enormous and gross, collapsing the room and throwing chunks of mummified dragon everywhere.

The party reached the sluice gate and jumped into the river below, just in time to look back and see the castle structurally fail and collapse into itself.

Making their way back to the Caravan to report the unfortunate outcome of the mission, the party was surprised to see the Countess exiting Victol’s vardo. After some icy stares and a zinger were exchanged, she used vampire powers to fade into the night – leaving the party looking into the wagon at a stunned, overjoyed Victol Bayar, back in the flesh.

Episode Thirteen
Entrepreneurship and the Clink

Fleeing from Aureigne under the threat of a presumably furious Mother Superior, the party met up with agents of the Caravan Carnivale in a country farmhouse half a day’s ride from the city.

Once there, a canvas-wrapped package was opened, revealing the same ornate doorframe the party emerged from in Bayar’s mansion after entering Management’s vardo. Stepping back through the unmounted door, the group emerged in the midst of the Caravan Carnivale – set up for business in the farmlands of southern Loesse.

Keeping his word on transfer of ownership on the Caravan to the party, Management began working on the wooden doll containing the spirit of Nicostrato. The party, meanwhile, began using their newfound status as caravan impresarios to curry favor with the notoriously untrusting rousties and performers. Food and drink were purchased and given out, and a dunk tank was built to humiliate Radu, Dima’s even more unpleasant successor.

After no success communicating with the spirit of Nicostrato, Management amended the deal: the Caravan Carnivale would become the sole purview of the party only after travelling north and orchestrating audience with the Countess of Loesse, Isabeau de Rivage-Martel.

Riding ahead of the Caravan and nearing Rivage-Martel (the capital city of Loesse) the party learned of a diplomatic envoy from Soramia currently visiting the Countess en masse. Disguised Soramian soldiers occupied the local tavern, and the party narrowly escaped conflict by sneaking out of a second-story window.

Hearing of the Soramian presence, Management became distressed. The party elected to ride ahead into the capital and make contact with the Countess as envoys, in the hopes of securing audience and sealing the deal for ownership of the Caravan.

Upon arrival, Fo, Lindy and Alsahiir presented themselves as noble couriers and gained access to the castle, where an inscrutable chamberlain kept them waiting for an extended period of time. Upon expressing displeasure, the party was escorted “to the Countess” – in truth, to the castle dungeons.

Putting up a fight, the three managed to hold their own versus six castle guards displaying unnerving traits not unlike vampirism – before the fight was stopped by the Countess herself, along with a contingent of additional guards.

Fo, Lindy, and Alsahiir were forcibly dragged to the dungeons, and locked inside cells that had been retrofit to be stronger and more securely sealed than any castle holding cells they’d seen before.


Episode Twelve
Dealing with Devils

Early in the morning, a note slid under the door of the party’s room at the inn. “Join us for breakfast” was written in a neat, calligraphic hand – no other breakfast invitations had been received during the party’s several-day stay. This place was nice enough, but it wasn’t that nice.


Downstairs, Mother Superior was waiting in the oddly-empty main hall of the Inn, sitting across the table from six plates full of breakfast, and next to a sunked-eyed child who looked like it hadn’t slept in days.

Mother Superior extended a bargain: three answered questions in exchange for Alsahiir’s performance of the soul transfer ritual discovered in the cave below Management’s mansion (to re-install the soul of Melchiore Nicostrato into some form of functional body). The party negotiated three questions up to five, and the deal was struck – backed by an infernal contract that held Alsahiir liable for delivery of services under pain of… something supernatural and awful. By her apparent nature as a Devil, Mother Superior was held equally liable for answering her five questions – one immediately.

For their starter question, the party asked why she wanted the soul restored; she answered that she’d sunk a lot of time into cultivating something in it, something that she intended to reap a reward from but that she’d been cheated out of when Nicostrato was killed before his time. After answering, she took her leave.

Lusus asked around town, and discovered that the mansion had once been the apex of the city’s social scene, about 15 years ago. A young and popular elite owned the mansion, and threw the best parties. Just as quickly and mysteriously as he had appeared, he then disappeared – though the mansion was always kept secure even after his disappearance by various Aromasta individuals seen through windows or entering the house after dark.

The ritual would take five days, and was performed at the laboratory that had been found deep below the mansion – each day, the party asked a question.

Question #1 – Who/what is the Provost, and what is his deal?

The Provost is a Devil, just like Mother Superior. He is tasked with granting entry to the Akademion, a school where mortals are taught the magical arts by a faculty comprised of outsiders from the Plane of Shadow and beyond. He’s apparently also quite the visionary, according to M-Supes.

Question #2 – Who is Management?

Management was once an Aromasta man named Victol Bayar, who hated the transient life of his people and especially hated the unkind treatment he received from polite society on account of his heritage. He dreamed of running away from his meager roots and becoming someone so powerful that he could sit at any dinner table in Astarta. He was also preternaturally gifted in the magical arts, and was thus able to secure entry into the Akademion.

Once there, however, he suffered a strange crisis of conscience, and intentionally sabotaged an educational ritual, ultimately leading to the expulsion of himself and four other students – an alchemist, a necromancer, a student of the old natural magics, and a summoner. These four, upon expulsion, conspired to place a curse on Bayar, trapping his soul forever in a wooden vardo.

Expulsion from the Akademion is generally a one-way street, though mention was made of re-entry for those who bring the Provost a particularly valuable prize.

Question #3 – What’s the deal with Erich?

He’s a gifted summoner, which is rare. Rare enough to qualify as a particularly valuable prize. When asked if Erich could be used as a weapon against the Akademion, Mother Superior took pause, before shrugging off her train of thought with a self-soothing “No, no mortal could cause any harm to the Akademion.”

The afternoon after Question 3 was asked, a note appeared from thin air in front of the group. Apparently sent by Management, it offered an apology and entreated the group not to complete the ritual as instructed – offering also a way to break Mother Superior’s contract.

Meeting with agents of Management’s outside of the city, Barabal, Lolth and Lindy spoke with Management himself via the strange bell jar liberated from Mad Morrigan’s sunken house. Management explained that his actions, while not always upright, were driven by desperation to break his curse and to thwart the Akademion’s greater purpose. As a show of good faith, he offered (as reward for bringing him the soul of Nicostrato) to sign the ownership of the Caravan Carnivale over to the party.

Back underground, the ritual proceeded apace, with Mother Superior watching expectantly. Lusus and Alsahiir pressed the final question:

Question #4 – Why did Barabal’s name appear as an aberrant result in the ritual journal found under the mansion?

Mother Superior didn’t know the specifics, as she wasn’t present for any of what happened here, but she did confirm that Barabal is very obviously out of place to those who can see more than the obvious. She doesn’t belong here, and was pulled here by something unnatural.

Returning, the rest of the party engineered a ruse to allow them to communicate the stakes to Lusus and Alsahiir; a staged “accident” caused the ritual to fail spectacularly, and an enraged Mother Superior – noticing that the contract no longer prevented her from harming the party – attempted to strike Alsahiir down.

Lusus punched a little kid, which ended the fight.

The party escaped on horseback, heading to a rendezvous point in a village two days’ ride east from Aureigne, where they would meet up with agents of the Caravan.

Episode Eleven

Returning to Aureigne from their visit to the creepy arm witch, the party met up with Kolya, who was in something of a panic about major action going down at the much-discussed mansion. Observing from a rooftop blind across the street, the party witnessed the house being emptied, while a second stream of heavies were carrying massive amounts of gunpowder inside the house. All the action was being directed by the same old Aromasta lady who the party had attempted to interrogate two nights prior.

Infiltrating the house stealthily, Lolth discovered that the barrels were not being carried into the house at all, but through it – and into an old wellhouse in the back gardens. From there, a heavy but somewhat ramshackle lift was lowering them down into some unknown space below.

Meanwhile, Lusus tailed one of the loaded wagons as it left the mansion – each seemed destined for a different city gate – and accosted the drivers. Initimidation accidentally bled into dismemberment, and both drivers proved too fragile to survive what experts call the Boradovan Hot Lights. From the rooftops, Fo managed to recover the wagon, which was filled with fine housewares which would ultimately fetch a very nice price at a local fence.

Back at the mansion, Lolth made her way into the wellhouse and down the widened well shaft to discover a vast cave beneath the grounds. Powderkegs were being received by additional heavies on the cave floor, and carted from there into a side tunnel that lead further underground.

All outbound carts had been loaded; the last barrels of powder were being unloaded for transport to the wellhouse. Suddenly, an unkempt little girl, around six or seven years of age, appeared in the street in front of the house. The old Aromasta woman approached her to apparently ask her what was wrong, and met an untimely demise; from the shadows behind the girl, a familiar figure drew up, though this time dressed in black instead of red; a sinister caricature of the local Sisters of Saint Agata, iconic nuns whose mission sees them running orphanages and halfway houses for wayward youths. Making her way effortless through the porters in front of the mansion, the figure walked purposefully but calmly through the mansion and into the back gardens. The party followed at a distance.

Her nonchalant slaughter continued down the wellshaft, until no Aromasta were left alive on the premises. Following her into the caves, the party encountered a long, winding boardwalk that allowed passage through a neverending natural limestone cave formation. Bridges formed a switchback over a deep, wide chasm as the tunnel wound further and further downward – every thirty yards or so, a powderkeg was set and fused. Fo cut these fuses at every keg.

Reaching the bottom of the chasm, the party discovered an ancient construction – a giant well atop a dais, filled with churning, glowing blue water. Constructed around this well was a more modern laboratory built from worktables, bookshelves, and equipment racks. Hanging in one of these racks were rows of intricate wooden mannequins in various states of completion – the most complete were skinned in leather covered in silk, and looked uncannily human from even a short distance. Each resembled the man recognized as Victus Auguste, most recently spotted preserved but apparently dead inside the sealed iron coffin once located in the mansion above.

The Red Queen – now known as Mother Superior – was rifling through the contents of the laboratory with frustrated fury.

“Where is it?!?”

Upon detecting the party (apparently by smell), she became enraged and prepared to do battle – but before she could cover the ground between her and the group, something happened; she looked upward and cursed before dissipating and fading away.

Alsahiir studied the work journal of the laboratory, and learned things. Firstly, that while he could never have built this experiment on his own, he did recognize a critical error that seemed to be causing its failure; armed with this journal and the reagents it described, he was confident that he might be able to successfully carry out the procedure – a procedure meant to install a disembodied soul into an artificial body.

Secondly, Barabal’s name was recognized among a record of test subjects, with a unique comment: “extreme aberrant result”.

The party filled several canteens with water from the well – confirmed by Alsahiir’s genie to be a link to the Elemental Plane of Water – and made their way back up the caverns to the surface. Had the powderkegs detonated, the resulting collapse might have destroyed a quarter of Aureigne; to assist in making sure this didn’t happen, each powderkeg was smashed open on the way up, exposing the explosive within to cave damp and neutralizing the threat.

Topside, the party retired with full brains and empty stomachs to their inn, which was packed with evening revelers. A full round of very expensive booze arrived just as they sat down – apparently purchased by the well-dressed man who raised a glass to them just before disappearing behind the milling crowd.


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