Caravan Carnivale

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Episode Eleven
Powderkeg

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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Episode Ten
Seeing a Witch About an Arm

The party made its way to an inn and barricaded themselves inside a room to catch their breath and examine their pockets full of loot. Many shiny treasures were revealed, some magical. Some magical but drained of their power, mere shells that hinted at their original purpose. One of the items triggered a memory from Fo, which seemed like a good avenue for getting Lusus back to two-armed status.

That night, an intruder attempted to intrude, but was easily noticed by the unreasonably alert party. Seriously, people should not be that perceptive. Don’t even get me started on rogue stealth.

The intruder proved to be a ten-years-older Kolya, who proceeded to bring the party up to speed on the downward spiral experienced by the Caravan Carnivale in the years after their expulsion. Dima had met an untimely and somewhat suspicious end, and Kolya abandoned the scene not long afterwards, choosing to devote most of his days to discovering the secrets behind what Management was up to. His trail of clues had led here, to Aureigne, and to the mansion that seems magically linked to Management’s vardo.

After catching up with Kolya, the party set out at dawn to meet up with a witch Fo knew to be meetable in the countryside outside the city. Farms were passed by, including some that had hung slaughtered livestock across their scarecrows while doors and shutters on farmhouses remained tightly shut. Taking part in a strange ritual in the woods in the foothills outside the farmland, the party accessed an otherworldly pocket dimension where the witch sat inside a thatch hut.

She was a hot witch, not an ugly witch – and had the party compared notes on what they’d seen when they looked at her, they’d have all come up with a different picture. Y’know. Sexy witch stuff.

The witch understood what was being asked of her, but needed two things: an arm to give to Lusus, and payment that she insisted the party would find in the vicinity of the creature currently owning and using that arm.

The party waited until dawn and set out to track down the creature – a shapeshifter who they’d spotted the night prior moving between a wolflike form and a humanoid shape – in its home territory further up the mountain. Following its trail, they discovered an opening in the ground which led to a bone-strewn cave. An old man and young girl were inside, beaten up but alive as though they’d been brought back to devour later. The young girl was hoisted up and out of the lair, but moments into lifting the old man he revealed himself to be the creature, and pulled an unsuspecting Alsahiir into the opening. The party dove in after him (save for Barabal, who supported with magic from above, and Lolth, who studied the scene waiting for a deadly opening to present itself), and managed to wound the creature and remove its arm. It attempted to flee through the cave mouth, only to be knocked prone by Barabal wielding its own severed limb; Fo hoisted Lusus’ heavy battleaxe high and decapitated the monster. Black blood was like everywhere.

The little girl had apparently run away during the hectic fight; she was nowhere to be found. Down in the cave, the witch’s price presented itself: another young girl, this one wearing outdated fine clothing and encased in a transparent cloudy crystal the size of a small coffin.

The party returned the arm and crystal to the witch, who kept her end of the bargain – after a long, heady, sweaty ritual Lusus once again had two arms – though one was black-skinned and equipped with feral claws at the tips of its fingers. The party left the witch’s hut to return to the real world, and upon leaving the perimeter of her property, the ground beneath the hut shuddered and erupted, revealing a giant earthen humanoid shape that seemed to wear the thatch building as a hat. It walked away into the mists with enormous slow strides, eventually fading from view. Y’know. Weird witch stuff.

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Episode Nine
To Heck and Back

The giant wave crashed into the deck, shattering timbers and smash-cutting the scene to black.

When the party awoke, they were bobbing gently on a calm sea lit by sunset, clinging to debris and flotsam. After locating each other (and noticing a few oddities, such as a hazy phantom arm attached to Lusus’ stump), a makeshift raft was pulled together and the party sat for hours – noticing that the sun did not move at all in the sky.

After some time passed, a ship appeared on the horizon, moving towards the party. As it approached, it became clear that this was a large ship. A very, very large ship. Like, the biggest damn ship ever.

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Birds swarming above the ship began swooping down to pluck bodies from the water; soon the party was being similarly fished out, realizing that the birds were actually large winged humanoids wearing hoods that hid their faces. The creatures deposited them on large marble balconies on the flanks of the ship, high above the water. There, they witnessed the other souls harvested from the water trudging ahead in long lines, tended by non-winged large humanoids dressed much the same as the flyers.

Stepping out of line, the party met no resistance. Marching further in, they spotted the Red Queen – though she didn’t look exactly like herself – dragging behind her a small child. The party followed her to the prow of the ship, and watched as she argued with the apparent captain of the vessel.

After she stormed out, the party spoke for a while with the captain, who spoke mostly in cryptic non-answers to seemingly simple questions. He did manage to confirm that the ship was ferrying mortal souls to some kind of marketplace, and the party decided that being traded as commodities was not to their liking. The captain secured the doors to the chamber, determined to hold on to the party.

A burst of shadowy smoke filled the room, and when it cleared a tall grey-skinned humanoid with a red right hand appeared. The being demanded the release of Lolth’s soul, and advised that should she demand the release of her companions’ souls, the captain would be wise not to protest. The captain, nonplussed, offered to the party that if they could reach the stern of the ship by the time the moon rose, they would be free to go. At this point the party noticed that the sun had been steadily setting since they’d boarded the ship.

Running to the back of the enormous vessel, the party passed the still-inconsolable Red Queen, who barked something in a foul ancient language, stirring the ship’s crew into hostility. Fighting their way past the demonic shiphands, the party reached a great doorway at the rear of the ship, and on stepping out onto the rear balcony, were pulled at great speeds away from the ship, back towards the “sun”, which instead proved to be the light-filled mouth of a great tunnel.

Fade to white.

The party awoke one by one on a cold, rainy shore. A makeshift shelter was constructed and a fire built. In the morning, the party headed inland and found a road. Heading south, they passed a group of Loessian military riders, who advised them that the nearest town was the Amstreiche city of Meersenteim. Asking on a hunch, Fo inquired as to the date – only to learn that ten years had passed since the battle at sea.

The party headed for Meersenteim, only to discover an unexpected sight as they approached town: the Caravan Carnivale, set up and in full operation on the outskirts.

Alsahiir and Lolth infiltrated the camp in disguise, determined to locate Dima and exact revenge – while Lindy took a more covert approach towards finding her old vardo. Fo headed into town to meet up with an old acquaintance, and Barabal chose to hang back and tinker with her alchemy.

Various forms of mayhem ensued, with the ultimate outcome being Lolth taken into custody after surrendering at the sight of Erich Schreiner, now seventeen years old and under the full influence of Management. Bound and blindfolded, Lolth was led inside Management’s caravan, and set up for interrogation in the elegant mansion that she’d previously seen inside.

The party mounted a rescue attempt, conning their way into the wagon and fighting their way to Lolth. They momentarily captured Erich, but could not do much interrogation before Sir Egg extracted him from the premises.

Filling their pockets with various and sundry items from the crates stacked throughout the house, the party discovered a strange steel coffin. Inside was the perfectly-preserved corpse of a young man in his mid-twenties, who Fo recognized as Victus Belare, a celebrated socialite in Aureigne, Oraleon that he’d met when he was very young.

The pounding of many angry feet down the hall meant time to flee, so the party made haste through the hole in the wall that Sir Egg had made to retrieve Erich….

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Episode Eight
I saw that in a movie once...

Disguised as a member of the crew, Fo made his way above decks to see the Red Queen signaling to the ship in the distance responsible for the recent holes in the hull. He blended in with the panicked sailors attending to the rigging, making his way to the captain, who he stealthily dispatched with several critically painful stabs. The captain’s death seemed to trigger a reaction in his gaudy silver pendant, creating an explosion strong enough to knock the body several yards away. The skies got a little cloudy.

Seeing the captain dead (and hearing the explosion), the crew were dumbfounded – but the Red Queen was clever enough to know something was up. She slipped back below decks and prepared to eviscerate the remainder of the party – but was ultimately caught unawares by a vengeful Lusus and the devastating divine magic of Barabal. The Red Queen melted away in a gory display, seemingly no more for this world.

Above decks, the once-captive Marid genie belonging to the captain had materialized amid what was now a raging rainstorm, at her natural looming size of twelve feet tall. Her first action was to unleash a punishing ice spell that killed most of the crew and froze Alsahiir within a formation of ice securely rooted to the deck. Most of the party was able to duck behind cover to mitigate the damage.

Aboard the other ship, Lolth made her way stealthily to the captain’s chambers in the aftcastle, where she found Melchiore Nicostrato watching the proceedings above the party’s ship intently. In barring the door she accidentally revealed her presence, but ultimately the unprepared Nicostrato was unable to adequately defend himself; Lolth did unkind things to his neck meat with her blades, and he slumped over dead. Doing her best impersonation, she ordered the crew to open fire on the genie, and they did so – scoring a near-miss that sent her sprawling to the deck.

Lusus took this chance to light a powderkeg below decks.

The genie dissolved into the sea, and an enormous whirlpool formed, drawing both ships into its spiral. The lit powderkeg, rolling in response to the tilt created by the whirlpool, blew an enormous hole in the starboard hull of the party’s ship. Lolth convinced the helmsman of her ship to maneuver into an orbit that would create intercept opportunities between the two ships, and on the first of these Fo and Barabal managed to buckle swash and swing over to Lolth’s largely undamaged ship.

Lusus and Lindy managed to break Alsahiir free of his icy prison, and used a cargo net to secure his unconscious body. A grapple line was thrown from the other ship on the next intercept pass, which was secured to this net. All conscious party members swung to the deck of Lolth’s ship, and Alsahiir was pulled along (accrusing many bumps and bruises along the way), towed behind the ship.

While reeling him in, the party met resistance; the Marid was pulling him back. Using the block and tackle hanging from the yardarm, the party was able to best her strength; Fo shot a flaming arrow into a powderkeg bobbing in the whirlpool and the genie reacted in pain – issuing a parting statement that nobody could understand (but that Fo felt strongly from his linguistic skill was an apology), she disappeared into the sea. Off against the horizon, an unimaginably huge rogue wave was closing on the ships.

The party chose to secure themselves to the rails and rigging above deck, and braced for impact… as the wave loomed large over the deck, Lolth noticed the beaten, broken form of the Red Queen gathering up Nicostrato’s remains and opening a portal to places unknown.

To be continued…

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