27 Arodus 4708
That morning Balian, Puk and Quint enjoy the finer things in life. After an elaborate hearty breakfast they have their tired muscles and aching backs rubbed by an experienced masseuse and take a long, scented bath. They feel totally relaxed when they join Sjo at the small temple of Shelyn and accompany Lady Merisse Bromathan and her son to the rebel base in the Gray District. Illrem Bromathan is very happy to see his family safe and is relieved to learn that his brother is still alive, even though he is locked up in Longacre’s deepest dungeons.
The companions can use Illrem’s improvised study as their own conference room. They amass all the facts they know about the Acadamae, where according to the information they gathered, Ileosa’s infernal contract was forged.
Prestigious and highly esteemed, the famed Acadamae trains some of the finest wizards in all of Golarion. Isolated from the rest of the city and the world, the faculty opens its doors but once a year to outsiders, during the notorious Breaching Festival. The school attracts students from all over the world, as far away as distant Geb, and even - to the annoyance of the far-more ancient colleges there - Cheliax. The ten-year education is said to cost hands full of money, so only the privileged few make it to its classrooms. The Acadamae trains specialists in all eight schools of magic, but its primary focus lies in conjuration. Regardless of an apprentice’s focus every student at the college must pass a grueling exam in conjuration in order to graduate. Thus, the college does not allow its students to forsake learning of conjuration. Despite its towering tuition only seven out of ten students actually survive their decade of instruction. Rumors speak of those attempting to quit the school becoming test subjects for students of necromancy, but to date no one has verified these stories.
Nearly a town unto itself, the Acadamae provides its students and faculty with everything they need to live. The only people normally allowed within the Acadamae either teach at or attend the college. Instructors live in apartment suites within the walls for free, while the rent for students’ tenement flats and studios are included in their already expensive tuition. Students rarely venture outside the Acadamae’s imposing walls. Those who go out do so in groups as part of their studies, to shop at the Golden Orery, consult the Leroung library or attend service at the temple of Asmodeus. On rare occasions, students slink into one of the many taverns in the city to relieve stress, although it is far more common for them to sneak alcohol or drugs back onto campus. Since the state of emergency was declared in Korvosa following Eodred’s passing, even fewer people have left the school grounds. While most of the schools work together in relative harmony, an increasing animosity between students of conjuration and necromancy has led to several duels over the last couple of years. Since they are strictly against school policy, these magical combats also take place outside of the faculty walls. Students who attend the Acadamae usually have no interest in doing good works. Generally, they seek power at almost any cost. Many become swayed by the honeyed words of the devils they summon, and most of these lose any morality they had and slip inexorably into evil.
Shrouded in secrecy, the campus’s 30-foot-high walls only barely conceal the grand Hall of Summoning. This imposing building is one of the largest structures in all of Korvosa. Rebuilt only a quarter-century ago, the Hall of Summoning has only recently returned to full use as the primary locus of instruction. All students receive at least some tutoring at the Hall of Summoning, and it is in the massive, central summoning chamber that students must face their graduation exam. Surrounding this grandiose edifice are a number of ‘smaller’ buildings, including a hall for every school of magic. Each of them houses classrooms specially designed to facilitate their area of study. For the most part, these buildings architecturally reflect the nuances of the schools they house.
As the companions have already witnessed on several occasions a great number of imps make their homes on the Acadamae’s campus. These imps frequently take to the air, flitting about above the campus and across Korvosa. They tend to travel in groups, as the city’s pseudodragon population views them as foul representations of evil and petty sadism.
Each year, as spring turns to summer, the Acadamae of Korvosa holds the Breaching Festival: a day on which a dozen hopefuls try to enter the famed magical university’s Hall of Wards by whatever means they can, and in doing so earn extravagant wealth and the praise and admiration of an entire city. Yet no one has emerged victorious from the Breaching in over a century and a half, and a great many contestants have gone missing entirely after trying to bypass the school’s defenses. The dean of abjuration at the Acadamae sends out the invitations to the contestants. The top students from each of the seven other schools receive one, as do the leaders of the thieves’ guild and four other worthy candidates chosen at random. In addition to the invited participants, the annual event draws hundreds of onlookers, who fill the Acadamae’s grounds and stare in wonder at the secretive college’s otherwise closed campus. Students manning the gates prevent beggars and riffraff from entering the grounds, and as a rule no human child shorter than a dwarf may enter. These visitors are only allowed into the yard, where they witness the introduction of the participants to the festival and attend the start of the competition. The onlookers are not permitted to loiter about freely.
Since the first festival in 4544 only one competitor has ever succeeded in passing the test. Only 7 years into the contest, Dyson Fordyce (the fourth son of the lord at that time) managed to step half a shoe beyond the building’s threshold, granting him a small fortune. Dyson donated half his winnings to his father, allowing House Fordyce to rise to the status of Great House (a title it only held for a century), and used the other half to ensure for himself a life of quiet luxury in the hills outside Veldraine. The next 157 never saw a new victor. Every year in which no one succeeds in breaching the Hall of Wards, the prize grows by a thousand gold sails, filling the current purse with over 150,000 gold sails.
The school of abjuration’s building looks relatively mundane when compared to the others, but its plain exterior hides the best-guarded building in Korvosa. Even the Mint of Abadar’s myriad defenses pale in comparison to those in place around and within the Hall of Wards. As such it is believed that the Acadamae’s biggest secrets are hidden in this building.
Armed with this information the companions realize that there are two more avenues to gather more intel: the Fordyce family and the thieves’ guild. Contacting the first source won’t be a problem, since the companions spent just last night in the company of one of the Fordyce nobles. Getting in touch with the Cerulean Society will prove harder, though. The companions have never dealt with this secret organization in person and have to rely on the rumors they know. The Cerulean Society is the only ‘legally recognized guild’ in this otherwise guildless city. They pay a hefty vice tax which allows them to conduct activities that border on the edge of the law. In exchange for this significant stream of tax income the city provides the guild immunity from prosecution as long as none of the crimes committed turn violent. Guild activities include a strong protection racket as well as drug trade. They also deal in sensitive information.
The thieves’ guild is not always the most powerful underworld group in the city. On occasion, a larger or more powerful group rises up and challenges the reigning thieves’ guild. The resulting gang wars pit the entrenched guild and its allies against the potential usurper and its supporters. This actually benefits the city, as it keeps both the Cerulean Society and its potential rivals from becoming too powerful.
The guild as it exists today is rumored to be in somewhat of a downward spiral. The current guild master, a man known as Boule, struggles to keep the organization from collapsing. More brute than brain Boule is respected by few, but feared by many. The man is noted for his bad temper and iron fist discipline. He’s a bad drunk with a strong desire for the mild stimulant from the Storval Plateau, Qat. His rule in the guild leans heavily upon his sense for sadism and cruelty. Never one to shy away from a fight, Boule can crush a man’s skull with his bare hands.
Some believe that Boule’s incompetence to lead is a clear sign that there is another power behind his throne. The name that is sometimes whispered is that of Glorio Arkona, whom the companions have dealt and allied with before. In their earlier transactions with the illusive noble from Old Korvosa he has alluded to underworld contacts himself, so the thought of him being the true ‘godfather’ of Korvosa’s Cerulean Society might not even be so farfetched.
The party decides to approach Glorio Arkona once more, but first they swing by House Zenderholm again, hoping to gain an audience with Lord Anaster Fordyce. Unfortunately the man is out for business, but his daughter Belinda kindly receives the heroes and turns out to be well versed in her father’s ancestral history, a trait not uncommon among nobles. Belinda confirms that ‘uncle Dyson’, as her ancestor’s younger brother is still called in the family, won the Breaching Festival 157 years ago, in 4551, when the competition was only seven years old. Dyson Fordyce was an Acadamae graduate who had specialized in illusion magic. He set a foot over the Hall of Wards’ threshold, thus technically fulfilling the stipulations of the contest rules, even though he never actually entered the guarded hall itself. Since his victory the rules for the Breaching Festival were tightened: they now require someone to actually enter the Hall through the front door and exit at the back. These stricter conditions have ensured that no one has won again.
Quint senses that Belinda is not revealing everything she knows and prods her to continue. It takes some subtle help from Sjo to get her to talk. Belinda admits there is more, but she swears the companions to secrecy. Uncle Dyson never actually won. Being a cum laude graduate in illusions, he somehow managed to use his guile to make it seem like he went over the threshold, but he never really did. His trickery worked and that is how he won. So, Belinda concludes, in the 163 years since the competition started, no one has ever managed to triumph, not even Dyson Fordyce.
The party’s next stop is House Arkona. The companions use a dimension door to get into Old Korvosa, so they can avoid the Gray Maiden patrol on the bridge. Lord Glorio is as hospitable as ever. He has heard rumors, he smiles, of remarkable things that happened in the city during the last few days and compliments his guests on these achievements. Sjo returns the compliment by expressing his admiration for how well Lord Arkona is always informed.
“In fact”, the healer states, “we have come to take you up on your kind offer of help and possibly use this intelligence network of yours. You see, we’d like to learn more about the Acadamae and ways to get into this secluded bastion of magic. Survivors of the Breaching Festival would be a great source of information and if we understand correctly, the thieves’ guild sends a competitor every year. No doubt their century and a half of experience must have amounted to a great pool of knowledge. Is there any way in which we could benefit from this know-how? Could you get us in touch with someone within the guild?”
Glorio smiles confidently. He will contact his sources and arrange a meeting, he states. He will let the companions know when it is set up. Balian says he can leave a message at Tenna’s B&B. Quint almost spoils the party’s good relations with Lord Arkona by indirectly suggesting that he is the thieves’ guild real kingpin, earning his party members’ angry glares in exchange. The bard’s diplomacy was definitely off today, maybe the perfumes of this morning’s bath got to his head. Fortunately Arkona ignores this remark and merrily sends his guests off.
Another dimension door gets the party back to the mainland, where they reconsider their options for finding out more about infernal contracts. The temple of Asmodeus is still under lock-down and our friends seriously doubt whether priestess Tyresha will still be in place. Although she did not take part in their raid two nights ago, she was partly involved by instructing the Gray Maidens at the door to let the mysterious ‘inquisitor’ and his bodyguards pass. Since the queen will be most displeased by the destruction of her blood clone operation, she might very well direct her rage at Tyresha, lacking the real ‘culprits’. They finally decide to go with Balian’s earlier suggestion to seek advice outside the city and head to Kaer Maga instead. This way they won’t risk more exposure inside Korvosa.
28 Arodus 4708
The next morning Quint uses his last scroll of teleportation to zap the party to Kaer Maga. They make for The Flame that Binds, the magic shop where they conducted some business before. Its owner Carthagos is a powerful magician of his own right. Being a bloatmage he is definitely not an Acadamae graduate, but he might still know more about infernal contracts in general or be able to refer the companions to someone else in Kaer Maga he does. They are lucky, because the obese man is actually quite knowledgeable in planar matters. If the visitors promise him more business, he freely offers them what he knows about deals with devils.
An agreement with a contract devil can only be broken in two ways. When a contract is signed, a second copy manifests; one copy is retained by the devil and the other is given to the mortal. Mortals are free to do whatever they please with the lengthy, obviously evil documents, while contract devils typically keep active contracts with them at all times. Should both copies of a contract be reunited, they can be destroyed. Any effects caused by the contract are canceled or reversed and the mortal's soul goes to its normal place of rest after death and can be resurrected as normal. Merely absconding with both copies of the contract is not enough to break it - as long as the copies exist, the signer's soul remains forever damned.
Alternatively, a second mortal might be allowed to adopt the terms of a contract - with its soul replacing that of the original contract signer after death. The mortal who seeks to pay the debt of another must contact the contract devil who holds the relevant contract. The contract devil has a choice of whether or not to allow one mortal to pay another's debt, but values religious and good-aligned souls over others. Shrewd manipulators, contract devils often only agree to allow one mortal to pay another's debt in return for some service or proof of worth. If a contract devil agrees to accept another soul in payment, the original contract signer retains all of the benefits of the contract, but is released from damnation and may be resurrected as normal. The new signer, however, receives no benefits, cannot be returned to life upon dying, and spends an eternity in Hell after death.
Carthagos also reveals more on contract devils, also known as phistophili. They are immune to fire and poison and possess a high resistance to magic and weapons that are not enchanted with ‘holy’ magic. When confronting one of them, the opponent had better prepare!