The orphans Suesenn, Kaitsja, Samiya, Pliskin, and Jalen continued their trek towards the only clue about their past: the mysterious village Witchwood. Directed there as a safe place by their adoptive grandmother Kinley, the party set out over bog and field to find the strange town. With more enemies then they could count behind them, and more questions than they could ask before them, the party accepted Lotte’s offer to magically transport them all to safety, despite Arden’s brief, and too late, warning about her lack of control of the spell.
The spell was cast, and they were gone!
After a moment of complete sensory overload, the five orphans found themselves floating weightlessly in a magical sphere of light. Beyond the sphere was a vast, dark void. Here and there shadowy objects floating in the void, silently drifting in unseen currents. After a few moments of getting their bearings, Jalen and Samiya worked together to discover that the magical runes surrounding them were of Crealocheli origin and were creating a pocket dimension. What should have been a temporary stop mid-teleport (at such a small amount of time as to be instantaneous) somehow failed when the second portal to their destination never opened.
As they nerded out over the aspects of magic they were discovering, Pliskin, Suesenn, and Kaitsja experimented with the wall of the barrier. Poking it and prodding it to see if they could get through. Kaitsja came up with the idea to use her rope to catapult Pliskin through the barrier while Jalen used his wind tunnel magics to speed up Pliskin’s acceleration. The effect caused Pliskin to reach enough velocity and force to pop through the barrier out into the abyss, but also turned the inner bubble into a vortex of wind making staying inside uncomfortable.
Outside the Barrier, Pliskin found he could still breathe and explore, but that the current was slowly pulling him towards what appeared to be a floating island in the distance. Eventually cutting himself from the rope safety cord, he followed the current and drifted towards the island. Soon the rest of the party joined, teleporting or brute-force fighting through the barrier. As they did, a loud sound of static went through their minds, though they could not the majority of the message, a few words came through:
………Don’t……… arrier…. soon
Drifting away, the party eventually caught up with each other and linked arms as they approached the island. As they did, they were shocked to see their physical forms become slowly transparent, and then invisible, as each were pulled towards a still figure standing upon the odd scene atop the island.
After a moment of sensory confusion, the party found themselves standing in what appeared to be a great throne room. They all somehow knew it to be the Palace of Grandmill, and that they had been fighting through it for several hours to reach this moment. Each was holding odd weapons, not their own, and was clad in red and gold uniforms unfamiliar to them. They were stained with sweat, and when they looked at the other siblings they saw both their brother and sister… and other faces that were not their own. Jalen, Samiya, and Pliskin found themselves as knightly retainers, wielding blade and bow and sword for their noble lady. Kaitsja found herself in the body of Princess Enzia Regalus, the famously crimson haired, last princess of Ovid. Suesenn found herself in the body of her father, Chadwick, in his prime. Wielding his greatsword Dudebro to defend his lover Enzia.
Kaitsja pulled out her glowing royal sword, and shouted: “I’m the goddamn princess!?”
The party stood before Duchess Sadine Yentz, the other heir apparent during the Ovid Succession Crisis. Surrounding their duchess, the Royal Steamguard of House Yentz were ready to lay waste to the orphans. Kaitsja, as Enzia, called for Yentz’s head for her crimes, and the battle began. They fought a battle that has already occurred almost 17 years before, with the party defeating Yentz’s guards and Princess Enzia using her glorious royal sword to strike down Sadine Yentz to end the war of succession.
But just as the final blow was struck and Arden and the heroes of the Succession Crisis appeared on the south side of the chamber, disaster struck. Enzia was shot by the Maestro, mortally wounded she fell to Chadwick’s side.
Chadwick: No! No Enzia, you’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.
Enzia: Chadwick I…. I…
Chadwick: Don’t talk, don’t talk. DAMN IT SOMEONE GET A CLERIC
Enza: Chadwick… listen ~Enzia coughs and blood appears on her lips~. Our daughter. She’s safe.
Chadwick: Our…. daughter? We have a daughter?! No. Don’t tell me this now, not now.
Enzia: It’s all been arranged. Arden has her safe. Ask him…. Ask…. ~coughs~
Chadwick: No, no no. i cant lose you.
Enzia: Promise… Promise me you will see that she is safe. Don’t let this… happen to her. Don’t let her be used.
Chadwick: You can see her safe yourself. You’ll be fine.
Enzia: ~grabs his head with her hand. Promise me.
Chadwick: I promise. ~Chadwick grabs her hand. His knuckles are white~. I’ll keep her safe.
Enzia: I love you, my big… dude… ~she smiles slightly, then her hand falls limply~
Chadwick: And I loved you, my princess.
Above them, the Maestro laughed and in his southern drawl calls down to the surviving retainers, Arden, the heroes, and Chadwick.
Maestro: I reckon this makes for one magnificent ending. Wouldn’t you say? Ah, the end of an era. The end of a crown. The end of… a country.
Chadwick: I’ll kill you, bastard!
Maestro: Oh, I have no doubt you’ll try. One day. But for now, I have most pressing business to attend to. So much chaos to sow, and so little time.
Chadwick, holding Enzia, just screams up at the air. Around them the Grandmill tower began to collapse.
Arden: That was the main hanger! We have to go! If we delay any longer they will set sail with the airships and Carillon will be doomed.
Chadwick: I won’t leave her!
Arden: You won’t have to. We’ll carry her together. But me must go.
The stones around them shook and collapsed, and one by one the figures vanished into the mists surrounding the island. The orphans found themselves once more in their own bodies standing on an empty island. Around them the banners of Grandmill billowed in nonexistent wind as they processed what they had just seen. Kaitsja reconciled the feeling of being killed, and, after some minor therapy from her siblings, they each decided to leave the island by jumping off with linked arms.
As they did, the currents pulled them towards another island, bouncing them off the outside of the magical barrier. As they brushed by it, their heads were filled with static once more until they momentarily cleared, revealing the voice of Lotte the Lucky:
…can you…. getting closer…. barrier stay within and…… track you down… ….Oh! There you are. Thought I lost you for a second. Let’s bring you back into your own place and time. This should be easy dears, I just have to– have —to —-
But then the current pulled them away, and towards an island that appeared to be covered in a quaint farming village:
Here the orphans once again found themselves pulled from their bodies and dropped into local peasants. Pliskin found himself in his own body, but as a young child. Samiya found herself holding her infant self as her own mother, trying to look after her other child Pliskin. Kaitsja found herself in the body of Old Miner McCray. Suesenn found herself in the body of a farmer who was having an epic battle against the crows eating her crops.
While Jalen found himself in the body of Angus, The One and Only Village Watchman of Stillwater.
Their everyday village live revealed that Pliskin and his baby sister were both the bastard children of a traveling swordsman who came to town infrequently to see their mother. Before more could be learned, however, the village was brutally attacked by bandits equipped in leftover Grandmill steam-armor left over after the war ended (only a few years before). The villagers were slaughtered one by one, and while Angus and Pliskin’s mother put up a good fight, soon Pliskin and his baby sister were the only living people in the village as the bandits approached him, weapons drawn. Around them the village was burning to the ground.
Pliskin attempted to run from the village, only to slam into two men: Chadwick and Arden, leading a small army of soldiers on the west side of the pond. On the east side of the pond, General Preacher and Rupert Boarhardt appeared, leading another band of militia. Together they began wiping out the bandits.
Preacher: We need a nation-wide militia. It’s the only way to bring order again.
Rupert: The guild should be enough. We just need more chapters.
~they leave to take out the soldiers~
Arden: Either way it won’t be enough. This will just happen again, with another pair of lords. We need a strong leader to unite-
Chadwick: No. I promised her.
Arden: If there was another way, I’d
Chadwick: To hell with you and your other way! I won’t let my child be used as a political pawn!
Arden: …if we do not use her, someone else will. Someone without her interests at heart. Once word gets out, and with no heir on the throne it will, someone will come for her.
Chadwick: Then we hide her. Somewhere safe. Somewhere far from court.
Arden: And what about the rest of the children, Chadwick!? Think, damn you. You have dozens of bastards in nearly every town and hamlet in the kingdom by now. You’ll protect Enzia’s girl, but what about the rest? What about these two? Do you even remember their poor mother’s name?
Chadwick: Of course I do! (he breaks down in tears, holding the two infants). She was Samyia. I remember them all… I’ll hide them all!
Chadwick: …I’ll need help.
Arden: You can’t go to the guild for this. You know what Waverley will say. What she will do.
Chadwick: I’m not asking the guild.
The two men stand in silence for a time.
Arden: Fine. I’ll find places for them. On one condition.
Chadwick: Name it.
Arden: You will never know which was hers. It’s the only way to be safe.
Chadwick: You cruel bastard.
Arden: Do we have a deal?
Chadwick: …fine. If it means she is safe… that’s enough.
Arden: I’ll make arrangements. Now get these kids out of here. I’ll send word through Kinley once I’ve found a suitable place.
One by one the images of both fallen villagers, heroes, and bandits faded into the mists, leaving only Pliskin and Samiya standing around the place where their mother died shielding Samiya with her body. Memories long blocked flowed back into Pliskin. Wandering around the ethereal town, he found the wooden sword that he had attempted to use to protect his mother and took it with him.
After a long, grim silence the orphans left the island, floating once more into the ether as the currents of the void pulled them inexorably onwards. Passing by the magical sphere, they once again heard Lotte’s voice.
….can you hear me? good! Keep doing what you are doing! It is helping the signal. Oh my, It looks like the harmonics of this time combined with two of you to draw you back to an important place in your lives. No matter, It should be easy to lock onto the present now. I have your signature now, so no more body hopping! Now, I just have to concentrate and-
Once more they passed by, once more they approached another island, this one covered by a lovely, Adrian style manor.
The orphans remained as themselves this time, landing in a hall of great opulence as their clothes shifted and changed with the setting. A mighty desk dominated the mostly empty room. Each of the orphans found themselves standing at attention along the wall of the study, backs against bookshelves filled with dossiers and transaction logs for a thousand spies and thousands of persons of interest. They wore tightly woven blue uniforms, not unlike those of Lords Council Assassins that attacked the orphanage not so long ago. Behind a table was Arden, the spymaster general according to his plaque on his desk, though he bore none of the scars you have known him to have.
Before him was a very angry woman in black. everything she wore was black: her cloak, gloves, clothes, even the sheath of her sword and the metal of the hilt were laquered in black enamel. Only her pale skin and bright white hair marked contrast. This, they somehow knew, was Lady Morgaine Blackbriar, the Dark Lady of Taintsville. An ancient vampire who had ruled over the Lockwood for generations.
Standing silently behind his desk, a young woman with bright red hair and a viscous scar across her eye and cheek watched both Arden and Morgaine silently, but attentively as they traded words.
Morgaine: I am certain now that Lord Baptiste has the Crown.
Arden: So what if he does? It’s little more than a relic now. The Lord’s Council is the only-
Morgaine: The lord’s council is a farce. We both know it. Only Vincent’s Coin, your assassins, and the threat of my wrath are keeping the lords from sacking their neighbors. Vincent’s wealth will only go so far, and while I live eternal sooner or later you will die. Better we answer the question of succession once and for all.
Arden: There is no heir. Enzia was the last of the line of Worlen, unless you mean to acknowledge the Yentz bastard as legitimate-
Morgaine: The line of Worlen were usurpers and con-men, Charles included. Only holding the throne by sheer luck. My blood is pure, the last of the true line of Kinemos Regalum. With the crown I will take the throne and we will have peace and order.
Arden: The realm will not accept a Vampire Queen. Don’t forget your father’s fate.
Morgaine: My father was a fool. I am not. I am a queen. Your queen.
Arden: Only if you get the crown.
Morgaine: Precisely. Do try to decide where your loyalties lie, my good Arden. I wouldn’t want to have to doubt that Adairian opportunist in you once the realm is mine.
Arden: I shall keep that in mind, my lady.
In a flurry of motion, Lady Blackbriar and her Night Watch attendants left the study, leaving the orphans, the young woman with red hair, and Arden in silence. After a moment, Arden snapped his fingers.
Kino: Sire! ~The redheaded woman is young, perhaps 14, she salutes as she stands before his desk.~
Arden: My dear child, there is no time to waste. ~Arden is furiously writing a letter~. What we have planned for has come to pass. This must get to Lord Baptiste immediately.
Kino: I shall request a mailbot at once-
Arden: No. You shall deliver it personally. Then go to the safehouse.
Kino: But, sir.
Arden: No quarrels, child. There is no time. The capital shall not be safe by nightfall. Be brave, like your father.
Kino: Yes, sire.
Arden: If… If we do not meet again, I want you to know…
Kino: I know, sire. Do not worry. I am brave.
Arden: May the Fool grant you safe passage.
~Kino bows, takes the letter, and leaves. For a time Arden stares blankly at the door, before eventually talking.~
Arden: Compassion forgive me, for all that I’ve done…. Paiges, come. We must make haste. The carriage awaits.
Arden rushed out of the office, leaving the orphans (the paiges he was commanding) alone in his office for a moment. Upon examining the room they found the Sun Book of Domesday, one of the lesser books that the orphans knew was in the possession of the owner of the Master Book in their own time. Upon investigating the maps in the room they found strings and notes pinned to it about dozens of active operations. Some were taking down bandits. Some were preventing conflict by intefering with local politics. In investigating the book and the map, the part found two items of interest to them:
They also found a dossier for Vincent DuBious, the famous magus and swordsman whose exploits and wealth have been legendary for generations. The dossier had details, though vague, of his fighting a god for sport, of his marriage to the Duchess of Winterark, of his taking over of the Bank of Ovid and becoming fantastically rich, of his help in establishing the Lord’s Council and becoming the master of coin for the realm. It oddly ended abruptly, stating only:
Vincent has not been seen publicly since his failure to acquire the master book two years ago. It is suspected that he has retired to his summer home outside of Mullenstone.
Following Arden into the antichamber outside, they overheard Arden speaking with Izaya, a shifty looking man who looked increasingly nervous. Izaya begged Arden for help in protecting his men, part of the Stovepipe Gang, a work crew helping to rebuild the city of Kingsbridge after the war and later turned into a city-wide network of informants for Arden’s spy network. Izaya was worried that Waverley Boarhardt was aware that they were spying on her, and that some of his men had started to go missing. Arden promised to send support as soon as he could and promised to meet him at the capital.
Exiting the building, the party helped Arden into his carriage and then hopped aboard as his agents but before they could leave they were ambushed by assassins in the garb of the Lord’s Council. After a desperate fight against their numbers and superior military hardware, they ultimately were unable to stop an assassin from successfully setting off a bomb, killing all but Kaitsja and Pliskin (and presumably the past specter of Arden). As Kaitsja and Pliskin came too, they saw the assassin that blew up the carriage’s body melted into chromatic silver, then reformed into the mirror-like body of the Horn-Helmed Knight. Moments later it shifted and became Vincent DuBious, and walked away.
Before the party could ask questions, the island vanished beneath them and they found themselves once more awake and alive as they drifted through the great beyond. As they drifted in the currents, Lotte once more made a connection through their minds:
Arden stared for a moment, and then left Chadwick with his thoughts. As the party attempted to approach him, a giant swamp dragon appeared and attacked the party. Astounding everyone (as to the people in the vision they appeared as children ranging from 2-5), they defeated the beast and found a tiny, pink, baby swamp dragon on it’s back. Samiya named it Beauty, and the island and the vision immediately faded.
As the party drifted to one final island, Lotte called out to them from beyond:
There is only one more area of interference. Whatever anomaly is blocking your return is there. Good luck children!
Forward they zoomed, landing in a fabled building that none of them had ever seen directly before, but that many a story they had been told concerned: the Boarhardt Guild.
Here they found themselves appearing as fabled adventurers of old, and witnessing a celebration a year after the end of the Succession Crisis. At the center of the chamber were Arden, Lady Blackbriar, Vincent DuBious, and Waverley Boarhardt as they discussed important matters of the day:
Vincent: And so, to conclude, the reconstruction is coming along swiftly and effectively. The construction teams have put nearly all of the common rabble to work, and with our war-chest looted from Castle Chimera and Grandmill we have the fortunes of two noble houses at our disposal.
Lady Blackbriar: Well, I’m sure your accountants are taking their share, at least.
Vincent: Naturally. The bank always wins, my good Dark Lady. And I am the Bank.
Arden: And what of General Preacher’s militia?
Vincent: We’ve recruited another five thousand, they should begin training at Crownbridge Castle this week in fact.
Waverley: This is unnecessary. The last thing the people need is displays of military bravado. The war is less than two years ended. Give the land a chance to heal.
Arden: How can it heal when it’s being overrun by bandits?
Lady Blackbriar: It’s the lords duty to keep their holds safe. It alwasy has been. The Lockwood has no such troubled.
Waverley: Then why have my men been hired out against this Lockwood Liberation Front?
Lady Blackbriar: We have those terrorists in hand. I’ll thank you to keep your mad dogs on their leash.
Waverley: Those ‘mad dogs’ saved this kingdom.
Lady Blackbriar: Only after destroying half of it, much of it being my own forces.
Vincent: Ladies, please. If there is a fight, let it be over me.
Arden: No one knows how much the guild sacrificed better than I, Waverley. I was there when the hall burned down. I was there for most of the campaigns. No one can doubt our contributions….
Waverly nods appreciatively
Arden: But… a nation should not need to rely upon adventurers for stability. A strong, centralized army is what we need.
Lady Blackbriar: And who would lead this army? You? Are you Adarians so brash to think you can steal away the throne?
Arden: I don’t want the throne. I want order. The answer is a council.
Waverley: Your answer for government is bureaucracy?
Vincent: Don’t knock it till you grifted it, my dear Waverley.
Arden: You are both right. A council of lords would give us the ability to bring in tithes and taxes to support the nation once more, and with those funds we can rebuild all that has been lost. It also allows us to keep closer tabs on the individual lords and ladies to ensure…
Lady Blackbriar: …To ensure our plotting is at a minimum. Is that it? Replace the threat of the King’s justice with a council of squabbling bureaucrats? Preposterous.
Arden: Being the eldest noble, you would chair that council.
Lady Blackbriar: Hmmmm… That does have… a certain appeal.
Waverley: And what of the guild?
Arden: How about it is the official mediator between houses? Not just the premier mercenary guild, the mercenary guild. Singular.
Waverley: With carte blanche for my guildsmen when on contract.
Arden: But only if the contract is filed to the Lords Council to allow it to know what is going on.
Vincent: Of course, I’ll remain the bank. To everyone.
Arden: Of course.
Waverley: Then let us drink to this shining new future!
Arden: Indeed! To the start of a new Ovid!
~takes a sip~
Arden: Wait… no. This isn’t right. I’ve been here before. Something is wrong!?
With a sudden realization of the universe not being real, all of the figures in the guildhall aside from the orphans shattered like mirrors, revealing a Temporal Anomaly and several Shades of Doubt. The party let loose with their best attacks and drove them from the guildhall, striking down the Temporal Anomaly and breaking the interference preventing Lotte from communicating with them.
Lotte: I’ve locked onto your location! return to the shield and Ill get you home!
The party swam against the currents and returned to the barrier, eventually figuring out a way into the barrier and, beyond that, through a large portal to a pastoral looking village in the mountains. As they fell through, the void closed behind them. But despite all the truths, horrible and painful, they learned in the void of time and space, they still had more questions than answers.