The party took what they could of the giant fish that had attacked them. Kelda gutted one and reached into its stomach, coming back with handfuls of fish guts that she handed off to the party. Though disgusted, the party cleaned off the guts to find a few gems and a magical ring had been in the fishes’ stomachs.
The caravan successfully crossed the Taraska river. After a few days’ travel on the other side, they found another pile of dead bodies, the bodies torn apart as though by a great beast, but many of them were marked with a three-taloned claw mark, much like the totem the ice trolls had carried. Interestingly enough, the bodies had been picked over after they had been piled, as well: their eyes had been removed, as well as many of their teeth. These were telltale marks of a raven picking over corpses. The party immediately thought of Wodes, the blood-feather raven that they had never gotten rid of back in Kalsgard.
Elsa and Marcel had an animated talk about what to do if it was Wodes. They considered perhaps Wodes was the one actually behind Marcel’s dreams, using whatever magic he had to play some kind of cunning illusion. Marcel wanted to kill the raven and be done with it, though Elsa wanted to try befriending him first, saying he might make a good animal companion or familiar. Meanwhile, Leo, out of earshot, found a single black raven’s feather. Seeing the stress that ravens were bringing to Elsa and Marcel, he hid the feather and said nothing to them about it.
The party considered asking Meckrin for some magical protection against possession or mind control from Wodes, but thought better of it. Meckrin was usually a perfect example of the cure being worse than the disease, after all.
The next day, Elsa started leaving corn along as a trail for Wodes to pick up on. She even left a note one day, saying that he had tried to kill them, so they had needed to kill his master. The note further said that Elsa was very sorry about killing his master, and if Wodes would care to join a smaller group, they would love to have him.
Then one night, things went wrong: in the cold of the northern night, Marcel had another dream. Elsa awoke to find Marcel wandering around the wagons. She asked if Wodes had something to do with this, and “Marcel” said that that pathetic crow was just a toy of a wizard and had nothing on him. He also said that he could see why Goti had had such a thing for her mother. Elsa took offense at this, but then Marcel said that he’d seed the goblin wandering around, and that she should probably look around for him. Elsa came under a powerful spell then, and went to go look for the goblin. When she ran into Leo, she said she was looking for Meckrin, and he suddenly came under the same compulsion to go looking around.
With Elsa and Leo busy, Marcel vanished suddenly, reappearing moments later across the caravan, clawing out a guard’s throat. Elsa and Leo, having found Meckrin by then, snapped out of their mind control and ran to try and stop Marcel. He disappeared into Maia’s wagon, only to be thrown out moments later, pursued by Kelda who bounded out after him, sword drawn.
Leo and Elsa attacked Marcel, though he moved incredibly quickly and vanished from sight like a ninja. Leo went in with Suishen, trying to attack with the back of the blade, but Suishen was not compromising on the safety of the Amatatsu heir. It partially dominated Leo, forcing him to attack with lethal force. After a brief but harsh battle, Marcel lay on his back bleeding. Leo lost his own battle of wills and became completely dominated by Suishen. He lifted the katana up, ready to cut Marcel’s head off.
Then as the blade came down, Maia’s voice interrupted with a sharp cry of “STOP!”
Leo froze in mid-swing, Suishen stopping mere inches above Marcel’s neck. Suishen hesited a long moment, before muttering “Suishen…heeds the order of the Amatatsu,” and releasing Leo from the domination.
Marcel awoke at that point, Omoyani chuckling and saying this was an interesting turn of events, and he couldn’t wait to see what they end up doing now. He receded, letting Marcel have control of his body again.
The story came out then, at long last: Marcel revealed that the nogitsune Omoyani had possessed him, and had been able to take him over in his sleep. The party wondered what they would do about him, and locked him up while they thought things out. Maia said that as much as she would have enjoyed watching Marcel get his head chopped off, but at the same time didn’t think he deserved it. Not yet, anyway.
Maia ultimately suggested using the Amatatsu Seal: she remembered that it had been able to bring her out of a coma that no one had been able to cure. There was a chance it could help Marcel, too, and it was worth trying.
They rested, waiting until morning. Then the party gathered a short distance away from the caravan, and Maia brought the Seal. She set it down in front of them all, and opened the warding box, revealing the Seal to the world for the first time since Brinewall. The party got a glimpse of the jade figure inside of the box, and then were blinded as it flashed with brilliant light.
Leo, Elsa, and Marcel opened their eyes, to see they were standing all alone in a sparse, snowy forest, with no sign of the caravan, the Seal, or anyone else. Leo tried to ask Suishen what had happened, but the sword was eerily silent. Its blade would not even catch fire.
The party realized that perhaps they weren’t in the real world anymore, and decided to investigate. Seeing a copse of trees nearby, Leo, Elsa, and Marcel headed over. In there, they heard voices speaking from the air, whispering “betrayal” and “failed us.” Then undead creatures started clawing their way out of the snowy ground and attacking.
As they fought, Leo remembered the copse of trees as a place where he’d guided travelers years back, and where they’d been ambushed by Ulfen raiders, leaving him as the only survivor. The undead were after revenge on him, trying to suck out his life force. Even worse, the snow covering the trees was poisonous, and dropped onto anyone who walked too close, sapping the party’s strength. Still, the party managed to pull together and fend off the undead.
The party’s vision clouded, and the forest changed before them, thawing out and becoming a dry, temperate forest. As the party walked, the woods gave way to a village, full of farmers and other peasants just waking up and starting the day’s business. Elsa recognized the village as the one she’d grown up in.
None of the villagers noticed the party, and passed through them like ghosts. The same was true of the buildings: Marcel stuck his head through a wall, getting a look at a pair of farmers getting dressed before pulling back out, disgusted.
One building was material, however: Elsa recognized it as her house. However, she had already concluded that whatever was happening, it was going to come to them killing something, so she was impatient to kill something.
The party walked into the house, where they found a woman trying to comfort a crying baby. Unlike the rest of the villagers, the woman could see and hear the party. Something was still off, though: she was acting distracted, trailing off mid-sentence. She said she had used to be an adventurer, but had retired and had taken in this baby that had been left on her doorstep. Marcel made funny faces at the baby, finally getting it to stop crying.
The mother spoke with Elsa, continuing to seem distracted, but her voice changed mid-sentence, saying “I never wanted you in the first place.” Elsa felt something in her pocket then: a note that read “20 gold to kill the woman.” She didn’t show this note to the rest of the party, however.
Elsa, finally deciding enough was enough, slashed at the woman. Her claws caught the woman’s throat, tearing off her flesh and organs like they were a mask, leaving a skeleton: armed, armored and attacking.
The fight was on, as the party faced off against the skeleton. As they fought, a group of farmers ran in, shouting “murderer” and “monster” at Elsa. The farmers looked like they were animated dead, their bodies rotting as they fought with rusty pitchforks and hoes. Marcel blasted quite a few of them with a fireball from his necklace, and followed up with an alchemist’s fire, which successfully set the house ablaze.
The skeleton destroyed and the farmers put down, Elsa grabbed the baby and was about to run for safety when the roof caved in. The party found itself buried under burning rubble, choking on smoke and burning. Elsa couldn’t find the baby she’d been carrying, but she could hear a young girl screaming nearby, screaming “daddy! daddy!” in Tien.
The party dug itself free as fire elementals detached from the burning building and attacked them. The party tried to fight them off while Elsa jumped through the flames of the burning building, going for the child she could hear. Elsa found the girl: a Tien girl about five years old, yet unmistakeable as a child Maia. The girl was screaming as she watched a Tien man fighting fire elementals. The man was struck down and immolated as the fire elementals piled on top of him. Elsa tried to dig the girl out, but her hands passed through the girl. As Leo and Marcel caught up and killed the last of the fire elementals, the building’s door broke open and a young Arach charged in. He scooped up the young Maia in his arms and ran out to safety.
Everything went dark again, and the party found themselves sitting in darkness. They saw an evil twin of Marcel grinning at them. Evil Marcel jeered that the story did have some good parts, but plenty of bad parts, too.
The party asked why the oni were trying so hard to kill Maia. The evil Marcel just shrugged, saying it wouldn’t matter if he told them, since they’ll soon be dead anyway. He explained that the Jade Regent wanted Maia dead. He said she is the last pureblood of the last noble family, and that it certainly wasn’t a coincidence she could use the Seal the way she could.
The party accused the evil Marcel as being afraid of the Seal. The evil Marcel rolled his eyes and said it was time to move onto the second act of the play.
Marcel replied, simply, with “bring it.”