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.