Chapter One: The Last Party
Once upon a time, there was a grand kingdom. It’s borders were vast, and It’s king was wise, and he was loved by many in his realm, though not all. Among these was his niece, Sadine, a somber woman born of a treacherous brother he had disposed in decades past. To appease her desire for power, he made her a Duchess of the great city of Grandmill and gave her great power, thinking that with such power she would be content in her place and allow his son to come of age and rule. But such was not to be.
His son, and his daughter in law, both perished and left him with only his granddaughter, a beautiful red-haired princess named Enzia, as a living heir. She was a wonderful woman, and was loved by many in his realm, though not all. Her aunt, a duchess of great power, had no desire to be ruled by a child, and was resentful. The King knew this, and called for a council of nobles to make his will for inheritance known.
And then the wise king was murdered, the night before this great council was to occur. The Duchess took her armies and sought out the murderer, blaming the Princess. The Princess was spirited from the city, her supporters blaming the Duchess for the murder. And in an afternoon the capital city, and the nation as a whole, became a conflagration of war and conflict.
Between these two heirs, the war continued for many years, with the Princess growing into a powerful woman and the Duchess into a power-hungry madwoman. There are many dark tales of this time. A great many died. A great many more lived through to suffer in the dark times of want and misery that followed. And with a single battle that destroyed much of the city of Grandmill both the Princess and the Duchess fell before the battle ended. The great nation was left without a ruler.
Years passed without an heir, and the great noble houses formed their own governing council to keep the peace while a suitable ruler was found. Nearly twenty years passed, and not a single heir was to be found. But then, with the power of a king in their hands, not many nobles seem overly concerned that the throne remains empty. Perhaps they weren’t looking all that hard. Or, perhaps, they were…
And as time passed, eventually such questions grew infrequent, because the world is filled with many problems, and some empty throne in a distant city is far from what concerns most folk day to day.
And today, just outside the small community of Barrelbog, some very serious business indeed is afoot in a dank, swampy hollow in the Barrelbog, an ignored region of the wide and mysterious Jones Swamp. As cut as cut off as one could be from proper society. Here, where towering oaks grow with oily sap from the brackish water, five young people, just on the cusp of adulthood, creep through the hidden dangers of the swamp towards a sinister looking cave…
Enter Chadwick’s Wards, each beginning with a custom D&D 5e background. Note: Tokens are player submitted, these images are not owned nor affiliated with Falleron.
Ovidic was always my favorite class growing up. There’s something so beautiful about the written word, so permanent, so dependable. Other brothers and sisters may have dozed, or daydream during story time or lessons but I was always attentive and taking notes. My writing is one way for me to move past some of the horrors that still haunt me — I still wake up some nights and need to write out my nightmares, I keep a journal of those. Also helpful has been the love and support of the other orphans, my brothers and sisters share two parents, Chadwick and Kinley, and a bond deeper than most blood-relatives share, I’d expect.
As I grew older, Kinley saw my insatiable thirst for knowledge and began producing more and more obscure and fantastic tomes. Typically works of nonfiction. I tend to be fascinated with foreign history, culture, and magics. The Fall of Brevardrim, the Itsy Bitsy Fae and the Whorrilaug, Meditations on Illusory Magicks, I was reading all of these when my siblings were tackling The Fool and his Brothers. I like to pretend I’m there, so much so that I need more books, now I’m actually speaking Brevardrim and Fae.
I’ve studied and scrounged and practiced and I’ve actually begun casting magic! This would not have been possible without Kinley. It certainly would’ve been possible; however, without most of the population of Barrelbog. Everywhere we go, I feel I’m eyed with suspicion — and thats fine, because I’m staring right back. I feel like I can maintain the upper hand, though, since I can control what they see, and what they miss.
Pliskin wasn’t sure where he came from or who his parents were and at this point he didn’t care. He arrived at the orphanage many years ago and was welcomed as part of the family. Pliskin was not one of the most talkative kids and often found himself reading through Kinley’s books or sitting outside and watching the many creatures of the swamp.
The trouble with animals is that they are naturally fearful of humans. Interested in their behavior, Pliskin would practice hiding his presence. At first it was difficult but he slowly became better at it, more confident in his ability. He began carrying a notebook with him in which he would write down the behavioral tendencies of the animals he observed. When a frog was preparing to strike at a bug, when a bird would change flight to dive, how the fish would swarm to escape the bird – all of the animals seemed to behave in predictable ways once he was able to patiently watch and understand them.
He reasoned that perhaps that predictability was due to the simple nature of these animals and began to seek out the swamp dragons. By this point he was confident in his ability to sneak unnoticed and began searching for signs of where a swamp dragon would be. After several unsuccessful visits he finally managed to spot one. It didn’t move at all, though. Perhaps it was dead. Excited at the prospect of getting a closer look at one of the elusive creatures, he got within three feet of it when suddenly it opened its eyes and snapped its jaws in an attempt to eat him whole. Pliskin fortunately managed to jump back out of the way in time but it wasn’t the most graceful escape and he knew the next attack would kill him for sure.
It was not meant to be Pliskin’s death, however, as a couple of the other orphans were also wandering in the swamp together and heard his yell. Running over, they began to hurl sticks and rocks at the beast in an attempt to distract it. The swamp dragon turned its attention towards the noisy creatures assaulting it and roared with rage. At that moment, one of the orphans hurled a stick like a javelin at the swamp dragon. The stick struck it directly in the eye and howled in painful fury as it ran off. Pliskin knew he was lucky to have survived and owed his life to his fellow orphans. He avoided the swamp for some time after that and decided that it was best to observe things from a safe distance.
When he did return to the swamp he found that he was easily bored with the animals. Their behavior seemed fairly predictable at this point and the ease with which he was able to hide from them was also unengaging. He began, instead, heading into Barrelbog to find anything interesting to do. Old habits die hard, however, and so he began observing the people of the village. Much to his dismay, it turned out that people began to notice him standing around and watching and would change their behavior or confront him directly so he shifted his strategy to hiding in corners and on rooftops.
It was from these locations that he was able to write notes down on the coming and going of the villagers. Keeping notes on them, he was able to determine their goals and began formulating how they might behave in certain situations. People were much more difficult to predict but just as with the swamp creatures, patterns began to appear. It wasn’t long that he became good enough to be able to predict the behavior of people he hadn’t encountered before. Observing and taking notes on people has become his favorite hobby although he does not generally speak of it. He can often be seen going back over his notes in deep thought.
Kaitsja has almost no memory of her life before she came to the orphanage, and she has no interest in the people that abandoned her. This has led to her having little empathy for what happens to people outside of the orphanage, and often little concern for her own well being. Of all the children raised by Chadwick, Kaitsja is surely the most reckless. She received a proper education from Kinley, but after a few close calls with the beasts that dwell in the swamp Chadwick decided to train her with sword and shield, to defend both herself and her siblings. She has heard many stories of adventure from Chadwick and his mercenary friends, but she is no fool about what mercenary work really is. She looks forward to coming of age when she can join up with the Boarhardt Guild to kill people and take their money, just like Chadwick and his friends.
Somehow this young woman has the strength of a swamp dragon. She is probably a borderline sociopath, mostly due to growing up hating the outside world for abandoning her, but she does care deeply for a few of her siblings.
Was born. Was orphanage’d. Was sneaky. Found stabbin’. …Had angst. Fought some assasins, got a scar from some soldiers.
Born in the Faewilds to Neith, a noble of the Winter Court, and a lesser noble of the Summer Court, Azmaranthe was raised alongside her older brother, Alvar, in their father’s home. Their mother died when Azmaranthe was young and her brother and father doted upon her, going out of their way to protect her and ensure her safety even when it was more of a hindrance to her than a benefit.
One day while traveling through the Faewilds, she spotted a human boy who appeared to be lost and alone. Curious about the human–something she had never really seen before–she approached him. The two began to speak and before long became friends of a sort. For weeks Azmaranthe traveled from home to meet with the child, telling him stories of the Faewild and asking him questions about his land. The following day, she headed out to the spot where she had been meeting with the child to find an adult human there alone. The name, calling himself Wolfram, told her that the boy had taken ill and asked if she would like to see him. Agreeing, she followed him out of the Faewilds. Finding herself in a strange land that was colorless compared to the vibrancy of the Faewilds, she jerked back, eager to return to her home only to discover that she could not find the Faewilds. With little left to do, she followed Wolfram into town.
Finding herself bored, and with nothing better to do, she joined the Boardhardt Mercenary Guild. Not long after war broke out in Kingsbridge the mercenary guild was forced to flee. Fleeing the destroyed town, Azmaranthe was separated from her companions and found herself wandering the strange forests of Lockwood. She continued to wander alone for a while before she was approached by a woman who offered to help her. Azmaranthe followed the woman to a tower where she found herself suddenly confined to a room and studied like a lab rat. She slowly began to fade, unsure of how much time had passed or where she was. Day in and day out, she was left alone at the top of the tower, captured in bands of cold iron and visited only by the woman and her companion.
All of this changed one day, when a strange man entered the room from the window. Crossing toward her, he stared at her for a few moments as if unsure of what he was seeing before kneeling beside her and removing the shackles from her wrists. Eager to be free, she reached for the metal bands at her ankles only to have the strange man in front of her grab her hands, reminding her that it would hurt her more and pulling her free from the last of the shackles. He carried her from the tower and deep into the woods of the Lockwood. Still weakened from her ordeal, Azmaranthe spent weeks resting while the man, Kern, cared for her. Over their time together, the color seemed to return to his cheeks and his steps seemed to grow a bit spryer. The two eventually began to travel together, searching for a way back into the Faewilds and trying to find an explanation for Azmaranthe’s sudden inability to control her magic.
Over time, Azmaranthe’s powers grew even more unpredictable and out of control to the point that she frequently woke surrounded by the effects of her spells. Concerned for her, Kern suggested that the magic of the Faewilids might cure her. Upon entering the Faewilds, Azmaranthe collapsed and her appearance slowly normalized to that of a Fae. Glancing about trying to ascertain their location, Azmaranthe headed off, energetic for the first time in a long time and led them to her father’s house where she was reunited with her father and brother. For a time, they were happy and content, spending their days luxuriously lounging about the Faewilds and navigating their way through the complexities of the politics of the Fae Courts.
But this was not to last, the magics of the Faewild are tricky and those not of the realm are changed by it. It changed Kern, slowly turning him into a Fiendkin. Unsure of what affect this would have on him, Azmaranthe begged him to return to Falleron. Concerned that returning would harm her, Kern begged her to stay in the Faewilds and reluctantly they agreed to part ways with a promise that they would one day find each other again.
Parted from Kern for what felt like the first time in ages, Azmaranthe began to withdraw into herself and her magic once again began to spiral out of control. Worried that her unpredictable magic would harm her family, she retreated in the Faewilds. Overcome by loneliness, retreated deeper into the Faewilds. Once day, while meditating by a spring, she was disturbed by the sound of a hunt. Eager to see someone–anyone–and hoping that perhaps she was over her fear, she rushed toward the sound. Hiding behind a tree, she watched as the Wild Hunt neared her. Frightened, she raced away from the sight of the Hunt and wound her way deeper and deeper into the Wilds.
Coming upon a set of ruins, she paused to catch her breath before curiosity took over and she began to explore the set of ruins in front of her. Finding nothing but broken stones and half-erased messages scrawled across the walls, she crept deeper and deeper into the ruins until she came to a dead-end room at the very farthest recesses of the building. Crossing to the lone mirror seated prominently in the middle of the room, Azmaranthe touched it. Finding it to be fluid, she stepped through it to find herself in a familiar looking forest.
Approaching a cave in the swamps outside Barrelbog, the children work together to avoid getting stuck in the swamp’s quicksand and tanglevines. Arrving at a cave, they coax out Beauty, a massive, pink-skinned swamp dragon that Samiya has taken as a pet. Beauty is in trouble as she has a loose tooth, which causes her to snap angrily at the children. Working together, Kaitsja manages to pin down Beauty, while Samiya falls back into Susen, pushing her deep into the quicksand of the swamp. Pliskin, seeing an opportunity, uses his bow to “shoot out” Beauty’s tooth through her nose, which only leads to greater pain and danger as now the swamp dragon is bleeding profusely. After some misadventures, the Orphans manage to numb the pain using the blood of the Swamp Shoebills that frequent the area and bring Beauty back to the town veterinarian, general store owner, tax collector, and three time most eligible lizard-folk bachelor Crocardo.
Crocardo heals up Beauty nicely, and just as the Orphans escort their beloved pet back home to the orphanage they are caught by their guardian, the Mercenary Chadwick, and their teacher, the Witch Kinley. After being scolded to never, ever go into the swamp by Kinley, Chadwick declares that they are ready to be considered adults and to join him on his adventures in mercenary work. To celebrate he decides he is going to throw a party, and sends letters to five family friends to join them for the celebration:
Enter the Mercinaries, Chadwick’s companions from the legendary Boarhardt Guild. While Chadwick has long since retired from their formal work, he still occasionally takes odd jobs with the guild and has several friends working within it:
Note: Tokens are player submitted, these images are not owned nor affiliated with Falleron.
John Clonter was incapacitated and thought dead when he grappled Sadine Yentz until she was (nearly?) dead during the succession crisis.
Feeling abandoned by his comrades, he in turn abandoned the guild and eventually found work on the docks until he was granted passage as crew on a ship. Although he hoped to make contact with his brother again he was unable (for some time?) to due to the life of a sailor. [[After the fact, he realized he was present for some major events of his brother’s life.]]
Later (at some point?) he met up with the guild [[and his brother?]] and coordinated on their behalf a discounted passage system with ***…(the guild of dockworkers & oarsmen? guild of shipping? Captain Gethatshitdone? )…***. As long as Boarhardt members served as crew during the voyage, either as muscle or as their abilities dictated, they wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of passage. However, the passage might not be as direct as desired.
As John aged, he found solace with his brothers war companions after his passage and helped to fund (in a small way) the Chadwick’s Orphanage for Misguided and/or Abandoned Cool Little Dudes/Dudettes!. Occasionally visiting when his life at sea sets him free.
Arius never knew his mother and barely remembered his father. What he did remember, however, was the nights in Kingsbridge during his childhood spent looking for scraps, after his father had abandoned him. With the fires in the city and a call from Lady Enzia his father left, never to return.
Arius didn’t blame his father for his disappearance and instead embraced his father’s positive attitude.
Finding food or clothing wasn’t as difficult as one would think. The challenge was holding onto it. Arius wasn’t the only orphan boy roaming the streets to survive – any given orphanage was beyond capacity due the burning of Kingsbridge. One night, he came across a large boy beating on a much smaller boy in an alley, apparently to take his belongings. Arius ran to the defense of the smaller boy and fought the larger off. With a smile, the smaller boy provided Arius with some of his food and thanks.
Proud of what he had done, Arius found that he could survive and even enjoy seeking out other orphans in trouble and helping them however he could. Over time, Arius would help anyone in need and was always sure to brighten their day in exchange for his basic needs. He would help someone repair a roof, party and drink with them after, and move on the next day. It was an enjoyable life but began to grow old after a short time. Arius grew tired of the city and felt a need to explore.
He decided to take his few belongings on the road and became a wanderer. He travelled all over the kingdom of Ovid, all the while helping people and accepting their charity. The task rarely mattered; he was as open to helping paint a fence as he was confront a group of bandits. All that mattered was that he was helping good folk, making the world a little brighter, and (if he was being honest with himself) having a great time. People were often glad for his company and told him he was a strange mercenary, a term that Arius would always deny, insisting that he simply worked on donations.
Over time, Arius found himself gravitating towards the forests of Ovid. Enjoying the peace and serenity of the wilds was a pleasure with which the city, with its noise and people, could hardly compete. He learned to live in the wilds and even cared after animals he found. One day, on his way towards a village, he heard a cry of pain in the woods. Rushing to the source, he located an elfkin who had broken her leg in a tumble down a small cliff. Amongst jokes about the grace of the elfkin? Arius managed to splint the leg for the elf and carried her back to her home in the forest. He offered to remain to help take care of her until it healed and she accepted.
Over the next 3 months, Arius would prepare food, maintain the house and gardening, and spend time laughing with the elfkin and making sure she was in good spirits. What he did not realize, however, was that the elfkin had healed her leg using her magic and had been simply keeping Arius around out of curiosity and fun from the very beginning. At the end of three months, the elfkin revealed to him what she had done. Expecting confusion, perhaps even rage, the elfkin was surprised by his laughter. Arius laughed to tears and bid the elf farewell since she had no more need of his help. Admiring his spirit the elfkin offered her payment. Instead of giving him gold she would teach him to use the power of light to help those in need and to bring joy into the world if he swore to uphold an oath:
“Kindle the Light. Through your acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair.
Shelter the Light. Where there is good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world, stand against the wickedness that would swallow it. Where life flourishes, stand against the forces that would render it barren.
Preserve Your Own Light. Delight in song and laughter, in beauty and art. If you allow the light to die in your own heart, you can’t preserve it in the world.
Be the Light. Be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair. Let the light of your joy and courage shine forth in all your deeds.”
Arius took the oath and spent the next year with the elfkin learning to use this power. He parted ways with the elfkin as he had originally intended, with laughter. He then continued on his travels, now empowered to perform even greater good. It was not long after this point that he found himself in Barrelbog encountering Chadwick and his orphanage. There was a terrible storm, and flooding threatening to ruin the orphanage. Joining Chadwick and the others, Arius managed to stem the flow of water away from the orphanage. The night of, there was a great celebration, in which Arius was more than happy to participate.
Feeling a great deal of empathy towards the many orphans and getting along wonderfully with the idiotic but seemingly good-natured Chadwick, Arius was glad to donate a great portion of his own savings to support the orphanage. Satisfied with the condition of the orphanage but anxious to return to the road, Arius left, promising to return to visit everyone.
Arius continued on his travels visiting strange places a meeting wonderful people while helping the poorest village with their sick to battling terrible monsters. Arius had been recently contracted to find and eliminate a large group of raiding goblins. After succeeding in the battle, he joined the raucous celebration in the local tavern. Amid drinks jokes, he was approached with an invite from Chadwick for a party. He left for Barrelbog that night.
In life, Kareese had been a musician, pretty but not beautiful, making a living playing the harp and piano in taverns in Carillon. It was there she met the love of her life, the most beautiful man she’d ever seen, Orfeo, a member of the night’s guard. After a brief courtship, they married and she gave birth, hanging up her lute to focus on the young family. A decade passed, she now looked after a family of five, and an increasingly distressed husband. The work of a Watchman is never easy, but her usually calm and collected husband was the most scared he had ever been after the murder of Lord Silverbell. One night, determined to escape horrors he was not willing to discuss, Orfeo asked Taric, a family friend, to smuggle them out on a carriage out of town. The carriage did not make it past the checkpoint guarding the eastern edge of Carrillon, Taric, betrayed his smuggled cargo in exchange for what, Kareese never found out. She witnessed the carriage door being opened, a volley of musket fire, and as she lay bleeding out she watched her husband unleash a terror he had not revealed in their twenty years of marriage.
Kareese awoke the next morning alert and on fire. Everything hurt, and everything was so very, very bright.
Orfeo lay next to her in a pool of blood. Her blood? His blood? He had always been quiet about his past. She felt cold, alone, confused, depressed. Her solitude bore her great pain, and she couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of her husband killing himself to save her. Perhaps he had felt his time on this world was long enough, and considered it a mercy to let her live on. Maybe he hadn’t realized just how much of himself he would have to give to bring her back. She fled.
In the months that passed, Kareese picked up her lute again, with a purpose. One night in a rowdy tavern, she met the members of the boarhardt guild, and after some time, decided to take up adventuring. She’d need to get stronger if she were to avenge the death of her family. Kareese has been working on and off with the Boarhardt guild ever since.
Ukko was born in a small village just below Grandfather mountain. The clans that live in the area surrounding Grandfather have always had a close connection with the Mother of Storms, as her temple on the mountain is the center of her worship in the Genevian Highlands, and the villages nearby rely on the warnings of her priests. Ukko was born during the strongest winter storm in a generation, as the whole village took shelter. After the storm had passed and the paths cleared, Clerics of the Stormherald came to the village to proclaim that the child was blessed. He was taken to the temple for training as soon as he was old enough to be separated from his mother.
A few time each year a great thunderstorm would roll across the mountain, and all of the acolytes and trainees would gather in the courtyard to meditate and feel the storm around them. It was during one of these storms that he discovered his magical connection to the storm raging above. His teachers took this as a sure sign that he was meant to serve the Stormherald, and from that moment on his commitment to cause was unshakable.
Many years later, he found himself approaching the end of his Training. His masters were impressed by the ease with which he could channel the tempest. They were certain that he would face the final test with ease. He was required climbed to an altar high up in the clouds on grandfather for three days, to commune with the Goddess and feel the true might of the storm. There on the slope of grandfather, meditating on the altar of Calamity during the strongest storm of the summer, a bolt of lightning struck Ukko directly in the chest.
He awoke in the temple three days later, and though the skies had cleared outside, he could still feel the storm raging on within him. The masters debated for some time over whether the lightning was a sign of displeasure or a blessing, but in the end he was raised to a full Cleric, and he was allowed to serve the goddess as he saw fit. The routine temple life on Grandfather was no longer enough for him. Within him raged the destructive fury of the storm, so he left the mountain to bring the storm to the people below. He fought with his Clont cousins against the Brevardrim, and in battle the storm found release for a time. When peace came he traveled back to the temple for a time, but with each storm that passed outside, the storm within him grew, and he soon left to seek regular conflict in Ovid.
It was not long before he ended up with the Boarhardt guild. Their “Kill First and Ask Questions Later” and “Burn it Down” approach was a great place to find like-minded individuals. The life of wandering suits the cold winds blowing in his mind and the battles provide an outlet for the destructive fury building in his heart. In a short time he felt closer to his brothers and sisters in arms than to any family he had every had. Though Chadwick and many other companions have left the mercenary life, Ukko has come to accept that a life of peace will never satisfy him. He continues to work with the Boarhardt Guild, stopping in to check on Chadwick and his orphanage whenever he can.
Across the world, these friends each got summons at the end of previous missions. Ukko and Karese are introduced by killing off the information broker and leader of the Stovepipe Gang: Izaya. After bringing his remains to Lady Waverly Boarhardt, commander of the Boarhardt guild, they receive a letter from Chadwick through the mailbot transit system and let Waverly know they are taking a short leave of absence. Waverly is surprised to hear Chadwick is alive, but wishes them well. Across Ovid, Aurius and John Clonter finish saving the village of Mullenstone from an undead invasion from the local watchtower, to the gratitude of the only surviving member of the town council, a young man named Stirling. All four get on a steamship and head to the village of Barrelbog.
Meinwhile, in the Faewild, Azmaranthe gets ambushed by the Wild Hunt and is chased through realm after realm, finally opening a portal and dropping right on top of the party as they arrive at the Barrelbog Docks.
Together, the five mercenaries fight off the hounds of the Wild Hunt until they have secured the docks with only minimal civilian casualties. Reconnecting after a great amount of time, Azmaranthe is surprized to see John Clonter’s age showing, and is horrified to realize that over 30 years had passed since she went into the Faewild. As she takes in that time change, a small army of mailbots, seeking her over the last thirty years, deliver a large pile of undelivered mail, the last piece of which is an invitation to Chadwick’s party.
There is no time to celebrate, however, as the local tyrant, Lord Mayor Sigmund, arrests the lot of them and throws them into the local jail for assaulting his docks. Kareese was separated from the rest of the party, but quickly took advantage of her talents in seducing the guard and sealing him in her cell, taking his kees to free her companions. After preparing for a showdown with the local lord in his throneroom, they found Chadwick had paid their bail and settled things down. The local lord hates Chadwick and blames him and his mercinary friends for attracting the bandits that have been raiding the town for years.
Exploring through the Lord’s Tower they found Lady Sigmund, the lord’s wife, locked in their bedroom. Speaking with her the party discovered she had odd gaps in her memory and seemed compelled to not leave the bedroom for any reason. A quick detect magic identified a pendant she had been given years before that kept her under Lord Mayor Sigmond’s control. Releasing her from the spell, they discovered she was Lady Lisandra of Baptiste, one of the daughters of a great house that controlled the city of Highchurch. Freeing her from the spell, the party smuggled her through town to the safety of their steamship and promised to escape with her after Chadwick’s party.
Switching back to the perspective of the Orphans, their party begins with the Mercenaries visiting, and a great number of party games and entertainments are enjoyed by all. Chadwick grills out steaks and tosses more than a few to Beauty, who wallows in the nearby swamp happily. Kinley even seems less surly than usual (though she doesn’t allow anyone near her precious Apple enrgaved journal). The day culminates with the singing of birthday songs (with the orphans all celebrating at once as none know their exact age or birthdate) and the blowing out of candles. As they do, however, Samiya notices a shadowy figure behind Chadwich and shouts a warning.
And then there are assassin’s everywhere. Kinley shouts for the orphans to get their weapons from upstairs, but by time they arrive at the top of the stairwell the Assassins are already entered through the upper windows. Cutting down one with great effort and cost, they hear Kinley shout for them to flee through the swamp, and know that if things have gotten that bad they are in serious trouble. As they scamper over the roof, they see a small army of soldiers, led by a Horn-Helmed Knight, that take aim with their muskets and give chase.
Exhausted with the soldiers on their heels, the orphans resolve to make one last stand by Beauty’s cave, but their friendly beast is nowhere to be found. Through Jalen’s clever illusions, Pliskin’s sniping, and Kaitja, Suesen, and Samiya attacking the soldiers as they approach wave by wave, they manage to bring down their assailants, with one exception. Every time they cut down the Horn-Helmed knight he gets back up, attacking yet again. After the third time of it standing, they are all ambushed by the local bandits, which manage to tie up all six of the, the kight included, and take them back to their base.
The local bandit leader is a lecherous man who, it turns out, has been under Lord Mayor Sigmond’s pay for years, stealing what (and who) he wants from the locals and giving a cut to the mayor. He seems to find all five of the orphans to be attractive options for his… entertainments. But given their current stamina decides to take their gear and throw them into a jail in the basement of his hill fort to let them “stew a bit” before taking his pleasure.
With only one sleeping guard, and the Horn-Helmed Knight stalking back and forth in the jail opposite of them, the orphans seek a way to break free. After trying everything in the book, they manage to push the guard backwards towards the knight’s cell, only to see her impaled by the Knight’s sword, which is mysteriously back in his hand. Now able to get the keys from her corpse, they try communicating with the Knight, and while they manage to do so in the Fae tongue, it is clear the knight would kill them if they got close.
The orphans find a door to the north of the jail cells which is locked and clearly trapped, covered in strange runes depicting a rampant lion on a shield and blast marks where it had clearly refused entry to the bandits in the past. Not willing to chance it, the orphans instead sneak through the fortress to recover their weapons, nearly getting away clean before waking half of the fortress. After a short battle, they emerged victorious and poked their head outside.
And witnessed a bloodbath. A well dressed old man smoking a cigar is now leading several hundred of the soldiers and has surrounded the bandit fortress. Above them on the ramparts, the local bandit leader attempts to fight back. The orphans close and seal the door, realizing there is no escape out the front door.
Returning to the trapped door, they detect strong magic coming from the seal and decide to all touch it at once, hoping that whatever damage is taken will split across them evenly. Instead, the door glows with a radiant light and swings open. Inside they find a series of chambers, all with trappings of the old sigil of a rampant lion on a shield, and indications that this part of the fortress dates back hundreds years or more to the earliest days of the Kingdom of Ovid, back when the village of Bentley was the capital.
They also find a sealed book, safely hidden behind a ward of the same nature as the door, which they are able to open when all five touch it at once. Flipping through the pages of tome they are surprised to find the entire book empty, save for a specific, and singular, line of arcane runes running across the top of each page as if a header or decorative border. The sole page breaking this trend is the first, upon which they find a loop of leather holding a brass pen. The border of the first page has a single line written upon the top in an unfamiliar script. After some discussion on linguistics, the party discovers it to read: “You hold a Book of Domesday, report:”
Jalen writes his name in the book, and the following exchange occurs (as recorded by Jalen):
Master Page, Me
In retrospect I was way too brash with this…but we were finding all sorts of incredible gear, and a magical book comes around without words but with a pen and you just get excited and want to lay claim to it, and then…it replies to you.
Master Page, He Who Watches:
Who holds the book of Oak?
I just told you who….
Master Page, He Who Watches:
Where are you?
Master Page, Me:
In a bandit camp a small distance from Barrel Bog. Who is this?
In retrospect I was way too excited to question this book.
Master Page, He Who Watches:
Barrelbog, of course. Perfect.
Apple Page, Kinley
This is Kinley, listen well children for these may be my last words to you. Do not come home. Barrelbog is burning..
Wait a second. Clearly I don’t know how this book works, how could Kinley know I was talking to the master page? It happened too fast for me to question it in the moment. I’ll need to do more research. Can everyone read everyone’s messages? What benefits does the master page receive?
Apple Page, Kinley
Chadwick is dead.
Apple Page, Kinley
Remember what I’ve told you about the swamp?
Apple Page, Kinley
Ignore it. It is your only hope now. Use everything you know and flee. Stay together and make for the village of Witchwood. Avoid towns and major cities. Trust no one, least of all the owner of the Greater Book..
Master Page, He Who Watches
Kinley, please. This is not of my doing.
Apple Page, Kinley
NOT. TRUST. HIM. Remember that others are watching, always the Greater Book, but the other pages have owners as well. Use no names. Speak nothing to reveal your identities. There is no time. I love you, my children. Remember, Witchwood. Find a woman named—.
I need to record this. I need to keep going.
Apple Page, Kinley
Blood pours out onto the pages.
Whomever owns this book now is not to be trusted. And will be made to pay, just as soon as we figure out how.
Master Page, He Who Watches
Witchwood is three days carriage ride from Jones Landing, or many more by foot. I will see what I can arrange to speed your travel. Be brave children, but know there are other forces at work here than those who would kill you. I will provide a map for you on the Book of Sun.
Sun Page, He Who Watches
<Map of Ovid, with Witchwood marked>
Kinley said this man was not to be trusted. What interest does he have in our making it to Witchwood? How in the world could he speed our travel? None of this makes sense.
Master Page, He Who Watches
Your guardian speaks well to warn you of danger. For all she knew it is I that attacked the village. No words can prove my veracity, so I shall not try. Suffice to say I, too, have a vested interest in your lives. So long as you hold that book, what accurate information you can provide me will be well compensated in turn. Questions answered. Answers found. I do not control all of the books, but I can say this from reading them. Others write of you. Often. Be wary what you write on the other pages, for many of the tomes are unaccounted for
Master Page, Me
One final time. Who are you?
Master Page, He Who Watches
I’m the one that will be watching..
Many terrible things have happened very quickly, but they’ll continue until we can sort out the riddles we’ve been presented with. As we interact with the various pages, I plan to write them down, with theoretical owners.
He Who Watches:
Master Page, Sun Page
Kinley and Chadwick’s Murderers, the mystery assassins or their financier:
With this bitter knowledge in hand, the Orphans manage to sneak away through a sealed back door, taking a tunnel deep into the swamp and safely from the battle and into the unknown. With nobody left at the orphanage, and strange assailants chasing them, their future is uncertain.