Lilliana Bluejeans is in a predicament. One second she’s exploring a cave with her fiancée, the next minute she’s hit with a spell and is transported somewhere completely different.
She stands, arms crossed and lips pursed, in front of a large sign emblazoned with a familiar logo and the words Welcome to The Institute of Planar Research and Exploration!
Alright, fine. So the experimental wizard they ran into in that cave was messing around with planar magic. No big deal. She just has to wait for Aleena to call up her parents so one of them can come get her with the plane hopping belts. She’s trying to figure out what she can do to kill time when someone says, “are you here for the launch?”
She turns to see a pink tiefling in a red blazer with the IPRE logo on it standing behind her. “I’m sorry?”
“Are you here for the launch?” they repeat. “All Institute employees are invited.”
Lilliana wonders for a moment why this person assumes she’s an employee, but then remembers that she’s wearing the cloak Magnus made for her from an old IPRE robe that was too messed up to stay a robe. She instead addresses the other thing they said. “What launch?”
The tiefling gives her a quizzical look. “What rock have you been under?” They pull a newspaper from under their arm and hold it out, “the Starblaster launch.”
Lilliana feels the gears in her head come to a screeching halt. She takes the newspaper offered to her and stares. “IPRE Starblaster Launches Today!” is printed at the top of the page in big, bold letters and underneath is a picture of her family. They all stand together, smiling for the camera, though no one’s got their arms around each other except for Taako and her mom. They all look so much younger, Magnus and Lucretia especially. “This is happening today? ” She asks, looking back up at the tiefling in front of her.
“Yes, and soon. We should definitely get going.”
She can feel her heart pounding in her chest as she follows them. She clutches the newspaper, crumpling it in her fists, and looks up at the sky, grey and unmoving. The Hunger is coming, and Lilliana doesn’t know what to do. Should she say something? Should she let this play out? What will happen to her when the Hunger consumes this plane? Will she get sent home? Will she be trapped until her family stops it over 100 years from now?
She doesn’t even realize they’ve stopped walking until the tiefling that lead her here elbows her and says, “look! There they go!” She looks up to see her family, younger, excited, and adorned in red, smiling and waving at the crowd as they board the shiny new Starblaster, not yet marred from 100 years of exploration. She feels sick as she watches the ship lift up off the ground and into the sky, because she knows what comes next.
The Starblaster is barely out of sight when the first tendril comes down, slamming into the ground with a loud boom. Screams follow as shadows emerge from that tendril and the others that follow it. The crowd gathered for the launch panics and rushes to the closest Institute building. Lilliana is ushered along with them. Once inside, she sinks to the back of the crowd, still clutching the newspaper in shaking hands. She’s unable to look away as shadow monsters claw at the doors. She thinks of the bow she’s got slung over her shoulder, the quiver full of arrows at her hip, but she knows that even if she did fight, it’d be pointless. The Hunger is massive and relentless, she knows what it’s going to take to defeat it, and it’s much more than one multiclassed 25 year old half-elf ranger.
Then her vision fills with white. She feels disoriented and her skin prickles, but almost as soon as it starts, it stops. She blinks the spots from her eyes and is stunned to find she’s no longer in a building. Quite the opposite, actually. She finds herself in a forest, surrounded by trees. She can hear the chittering of animals nearby. She holds up a hand to block the sun as she looks at the canopy above. She can see the leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. Is this home? It doesn’t look like any Faerun forest she’s been in before but then again, she hasn’t been everywhere.
She shoves the Twosun newspaper into her bag and retrieves her stone of farspeech. Unfortunately for her, she gets nothing when she tries to use it. She doesn’t freak out yet, maybe she’s just out of range and won’t get any service until she’s closer to society. She exchanges the stone for the compass her grandpa Dav gave her when she first started adventuring, and follows wherever it says North is. As she walks, Lilliana doesn’t pay much mind to the noises around her. The chittering of animals is typical forest ambiance and she’s used to it. It only gives her pause when some of it starts to make sense. She stops in her tracks and listens harder.
She was never fluent in the animal language like her parents and Taako, no matter how hard her mother tried to teach her. She can’t get the full sentences, but she’s able to pick up some words being said, “strange… Strange animal… new animal? ...where? ...how?”
She’s not home. Far from it. She’s on the animal world. Cycle 1 of 99. As Lilliana realizes this, the anxiety of it all bubbles up inside her and comes out as a laugh. “Well,” she says, her voice laced with fear-induced amusement, “ fuck me I guess! ”
Lilliana survives the first cycle relatively easily. With her mediocre grasp of the language and the abundance of edible plant life, she’s really quite comfortable, relatively speaking. She avoids going looking for the others, even though a badger that befriended her said he’d heard tell of others like her. And although she’s physically comfortable, she spends the year battling with herself over the ethical dilemma she now finds herself with. She knows how this all ends. She knows how to defeat the Hunger. Why shouldn’t she seek out her family-but-not and just tell them? She doesn’t have any paper, but she makes a list in her head of why and why not.
She should tell them because then they don’t have to struggle through the next 100 years and those planes won’t get attacked and possibly consumed, depending on if they find the Light.
She shouldn’t tell them because they don’t have the artificing skills yet for Lucretia to put the light into the staff, Lucretia hasn’t learned and developed her shield spell yet, and if this all just plays out as it should, their lives will be so good . If she told them the answer now, the seven of them may never develop into the family she knows they can be. Her parents might never fall for each other, Taako will never meet Kravitz, Magnus will never meet Julia, and none of them will ever meet their wealth of friends that they have on Faerun. Lilliana would also very much like to go home, and during that first cycle, she comes up with a theory: if she lays low and lets this all play out as it should, she’ll make it to Faerun, and once she’s there it’ll only be a matter of time travel magic for her to be brought home, rather than planar magic.
So, Lilliana resolves that she’s going to keep the solution to beating the Hunger to herself and she’s going to stick it out through the cycles and make it home.
In the first populated cycle, Lilliana finds a bookstore. She lingers near the cash register and watches a few transactions take place. She takes note of the process and what the money looks like. Once she’s sure she understands it, she goes and finds what she came in for. She puts two blank journals and a pack of pens down on the counter. The cashier rings them up, and when Lilliana reaches into her bag for money, she conjures up a fake 20. The cashier takes it, gives her the change, and sends her on her way. She finds a quiet spot to sit and opens one journal to the first page. She makes a numbered list of 1 to 99. She labels and crosses out the first few cycles she’s gone through already, and labels the upcoming ones that she remembers hearing about.
- Judges/Luce alone
- Lich ceremony
- Faerun - Home
Her list of cycles takes up nearly two pages, front and back. She labels the next blank page with “Death Count”, because she knows it’s going to happen. She doesn’t have any sort of safehaven during these cycles. She appears on the surface of the prime material plane, and she’s there the whole year until the crew escapes during the Hunger’s attack. As a result, her death count adds up. The Hunger is the cause of about half her deaths, but oddly enough, it wasn’t the cause of her first.
Not all cycles are populated, and not all cycles have the resources needed to sustain her. Cycle 5 was unfortunately one of these cycles. She couldn’t find food anywhere. She had some reserves from the previous year, but they could only last so long, especially when she was burning so much energy walking all day to try and find anything she could possibly eat on this world. Her stored food runs out about a week in and from then on she’s running on empty. Eventually the pain of starvation isn’t even notable anymore. She gets thin, too. She doesn’t realize it until she stops to rest and looks down only to notice her engagement ring is gone. It’s meant to fit her perfectly, it’s not supposed to fall off, but she hasn’t eaten properly and she’s been expending so much energy, she’s lost weight and her finger isn’t the same size. She looks all around her and finds nothing. She tries to retrace her steps but she’s so tired and she’s been walking for so long. It’s gone. She sits on the ground, nothing but rock and dust, and sobs, dry. She can’t even cry tears. She hasn’t quite figured out the rules of her reset yet, so she doesn’t know if it’ll be there when the cycle changes. Lilliana brings her knees up to her chest and buries her head in them and prays to every god she can think of to please, please let her ring be there in the next cycle. She digs into her bag and pulls out her journal, filled with a few entries of the last four cycles, and flips to a new page. She scribbles out the ramblings of a starving, dying girl. It ends up being mostly apologies to Aleena for losing the ring and pleas for it to return. Eventually her hand shakes too much to write anything coherent, so she puts the journal back into her bag. “A few more minutes,” she thinks, “then I’ll get up and keep going.”
Needless to say, she never got up.
But when she resets in cycle 6, the first thing she does is look at her hand. To her immense joy and relief, there her ring sat, perfectly fitted to her finger. Her love isn’t defined by a ring, but it’s the one token she has.
Aleena is the love of her life and Lilliana misses her dearly. It’s been one of the hardest things, having to go from seeing her every single day, to knowing she won’t see her again for a hundred years. She misses her family too, of course, but she gets little reminders of them here and there. She has a photo from her birthday a few years ago that she had in her bag when this started, so she gets a reminder of their faces. If she dared, she could try and find them and get a snippet of their voices. For Aleena, Lilliana’s left only with memories. Early on into having her journals, she transcribed what Aleena said when she proposed, for fear she might forget. She’s only five years into this hundred year mess, and she’s already afraid she’s forgotten her face and voice and touch.
So, yeah. The ring is important.
Over time, Lilliana figures out the rules of her resets. She always resets with what she had at the start of all this, so if she loses her bow or some arrows (or her engagement ring), it’s not too big a deal. She also resets with any new item she has on her person. If she didn’t start with it, and she doesn’t have it at the end of the cycle, it’s gone. As a precautionary measure, she takes it upon herself to learn how to open up a demiplane she can use for storage, like her dad does. That way, she can put new stuff in it and she doesn’t risk losing it if she dies part way through a cycle.
That’s not the only new trick she learns over the years. She learns how to clean animals she shoots so she can cook and eat them, and how to get over the fact that it all tastes like shit since she has no access to spices or a real kitchen. She learns to preserve food for the cycles where there is none. She buys more journals when the first two get filled. She improves her aim with her bow until it’s perfect and hones her wizarding skills. Her enchantments get better year by year, as she uses them on populated planes to charm her way to food and shelter with no money. Her illusions get more convincing as she makes herself blend in and conjures fake money to pay for things when people get suspicious. Much like the crew, she grows immensely in skill and power.
Speaking of the crew, staying away from them is easier than Lilliana thought it would be. With each new reset, she gets dropped randomly somewhere on the new world and oftentimes the crew end up nowhere near her. By cycle 15, she could count on one hand the amount of times she’d seen the ship flying overhead. It’s not until cycle 21, the beach cycle, that she sees them again.
Just like them, Lilliana’s relaxing this year. This cycle has plenty of food that she can eat, and she’s able to boil the sea water into being drinkable. She explores, not out of necessity, but just for fun. She’s wandering through the foliage when she hears a loud, familiar laugh, followed by voices trying to talk over one another. She follows it, careful not to make herself obvious, until she can see through the trees to a stretch of beach, upon which the Starblaster sits. Next to it a fire is crackling and all seven of them are sitting around it. Her parents are next to each other talking, Taako and Magnus are having a heated debate, Davenport is sitting by watching it unfold, Merle is fiddling with some seaweed, and Lucretia is scribbling in her journal.
None of them notice her. They don’t even think to keep an eye out for someone lurking nearby, since this plane is unpopulated. So Lilliana just sits and listens to their voices. She watches them and tries to pretend she’s back home at a family dinner. She isn’t sure how long she lingers there, but once all of them retire for the night, she gets up and moves away from them. She knows they don’t stray far from that stretch of beach, so as long as she avoids it, she’ll remain undiscovered.
The cycles continue, and the years are long and lonely and hard, and Lilliana’s death count is consistently growing. She does, however, have some things to look forward to, not including getting home. Most notably, cycle 47. The Legato Conservatory. The one with the moment when everything comes to a head, and her parents finally declare that they’re in love. Early on in her century, Lilliana resolved that she doesn’t care what she has to do, she is going to be there for that performance.
Lucky for her, she doesn’t have to do much. The reset drops her right outside the Conservatory, and once she recovers from the bombardment of information from the mountain full of voidfish, it doesn’t take much convincing for the Legato faculty to let her come on as a student. All she had to do was kiss a few asses by saying how much of an honour it would be to learn under their professors and strike a deal saying that she’ll do a submission in a year’s time, and if it isn’t accepted by the mountain, then she’ll leave.
Throughout the year, she’s careful to avoid the others. They wouldn’t know her on sight and probably wouldn’t even come close to noticing that she’s out of the ordinary, but she doesn’t want to risk it. It pains her just to see them from afar, she’s sure it would hurt so much to have a conversation with them and to see them looking at her with zero recognition. So she focuses on her piece for the mountain instead.
Shifting perspective, it’s a late night at the Legato Conservatory, and Lup and Barry are headed for a practice room in one of the music buildings when they hear soft piano music floating down the hallway. It takes them a moment to recognize it, but when they do, it’s undoubtedly Barry’s half of their duet. Confused, they turn the corner to find all the practice rooms dark except one with the door cracked open, spilling light into the hallway. They creep up to the door and peek into the room. Inside, they see a young woman sitting at the piano. Her eyes are lidded as she looks down at the keys, her hands glide over the piano as she plays. She has music in front of her. It’s not theirs, but they know she’s playing their song.
“Hey,” the pianist startles and fumbles a note as Lup pushes into the room, “what are you doing?”
“Oh, shit,” she whispers. “I’m sorry, I-” she stands up from the bench- “I wasn’t- I have my own piece,” she grabs the sheet music off the piano and waves it, “I just- I’ve heard you guys practicing? And it’s a beautiful piece. I didn’t know you’d be here right now. I wasn’t going to steal it or anything. My submission is the day after yours, anyway.” She clutches the music to her chest. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have- sorry. I’m just going to go.” She ducks her head and brushes past Lup in front of her and Barry in the door. She’s only a few steps down the hallways when she stops and turns to them again. “Hey, um, like I said, my submission is the day after yours. If you came, it would… it would mean a lot to me.”
She doesn’t wait for their answer before turning and walking away again. Lup and Barry watch her leave until she turns the corner and they can’t see her anymore.
(Lilliana leans against the wall when she rounds the corner and slides down to sit on the floor. When she hears them start practicing a minute or two later, she closes her eyes and tries to pretend like she’s back home, sitting on the stairs as she listens to her parents play.)
Lup and Barry, still high on the rush of their duet, go to the mystery pianist’s submission. She catches sight of them when she walks on stage, and she almost seems to relax slightly. She sits down at the piano, takes a breath, and begins to play.
The music cuts through the haze that’s been over both of them since yesterday. It’s interwoven with loss and love and loneliness and longing. As she plays, it’s like there’s something missing. It’s composed for a singular piano, but it feels as if another instrument or two or three or more could join in at any moment. It feels as if the piano is searching for that other instrument, reaching out with it’s music, calling out to say I’m here .
The piece ends, and the pianist stands and takes a bow as the crowd applauds her. Lup and Barry don’t miss her looking over at them. They smile, Barry gives her a thumbs up. She takes the cylinder with the sheet music in it from her professor, heads to the mouth of the cave, and places it on the pedestal. Mere seconds after the light takes the music, it’s broadcast out again. The crowd explodes in applause. Lup and Barry are happy for her, though they never catch her name, and soon after they’re distracted by looking for the real Light of Creation.
As we focus once again on Lilliana, her century is passing almost as well as could be expected. She’s going to have a lot to work through when she gets home, she goes hungry more often than she’d like, and she’s a much lighter sleeper now (she’s been robbed and attacked in the night too many times, some incidents ending her year then and there), but her plan to stay undiscovered by her not-family has held up.
That is, until cycle 53. It’s a world that’s just filled to the brim with fruit and fish and drinkable water, but seemingly no people around to partake in it. Lilliana’s settling in for a fairly easy cycle when, a little over a week in, she eats some poison berries. Now, this isn’t the first time she’s accidentally eaten something fatal in a wild that she doesn’t understand, but this is the first time it’s come back to seriously bite her in the ass.
Unfortunately for Lilliana, near the spot she dies is a clearing, and in that clearing sits one silver interplanar ship. So when Taako, Magnus, and Lucretia are scoping out the area surrounding the ship, they find her cold and motionless next to a bush, her fingers stained purple. Lucretia makes a note in her journal not to eat the purple berries by the river. Magnus inspects her body, and Taako loots through her bag.
“They’ve got magic!” Taako says triumphantly, pulling out an ornately carved wand and holding it up. He looks back down into the bag, “but not much else.”
Lucretia kneels across from him and takes the bag for herself. Inside, there’s only some plantlife wrapped up and tucked away carefully, an old golden compass, a rolled-up piece of paper, and a small book.
“What’d you find?” Magnus asks, standing over them, holding the quiver of arrows Lilliana had strapped to her hip.
Lucretia hands the compass to Taako to inspect as she moves the bag out of the way and unfurls the piece of paper on the ground. It’s a map, handmade and a little rough, but it shows the creek and the surrounding forest.
“This is just a boring old compass,” Taako says. He turns it over in his hand and reads the message engraved on the back, “ To help you find your way in this world. Stay adventurous. Grandpa Dav. ”
“Taako,” Lucretia says, rolling up the map, “if we find the right people, we’re giving that back.”
Taako rolls his eyes and tucks the compass back into the bag. Lucretia hands him the rolled-up map to put away too and picks up the book. She flips through a few of the pages, not reading the words, but noting that it’s all handwritten and doesn’t fill the whole book. She passes it over to Taako, who puts it in the bag, then stands and slings the strap over his shoulder. Lucretia grabs the bow that was laying nearby and stands too.
“You think we should take the body?” Magnus says, glancing back over at it. “We could bury it back in the clearing.”
“Why bother?” Taako says. Lucretia hits him. He rolls his eyes. “Fine. We’ll bury it.”
Magnus hands the quiver to Lucretia and walks back over to Lilliana’s body and lifts it into his arms. The three of them return to the ship and explain to the others what they found. They use magic to dig out a grave and lay Lilliana to rest.
It’s later that night when Lucretia finally takes a moment to sit down and read through the journal. She hopes that it might offer some insight into this world. Instead, Lucretia opens that journal and throws an entire timeline askew.
The first entry has “Cycle 49” written in the top corner. It’s not very long, but it’s enough to give Lucretia pause.
God, I fucking miss Legato. I know I’m trying to get home and all, but I’d take playing piano and angsting about being so close yet so far from you guys every single day over THIS bullshit.
Why did I think serving the royal family would be a good idea? They’re so goddamn picky. This is the first time I’ve had access to a real kitchen in literally 50 years, but I know the shit I’m making is good! Like fuck OFF Lady Meredith, the fish is NOT overdone.
Anyway, I have to go prep for dinner and try not to put my head through a wall.
Love you, see you soon,
Of course Lucretia’s first instinct is that this journal entry is talking about the Legato Conservatory, but maybe not. Maybe there’s something here named Legato that also has music, and this world measures their days in cycles.
But the next few entries are also labelled with cycle 49. Then cycle 50, 51, 52, and only one labelled cycle 53. The things the entries talk about vary wildly. Some are inane descriptions of what happened in a day, some are complaints about people or environments or resources, and some are… incredibly emotional, talking about missing “you guys” and “home.” and other such things. Some entries are addressed to someone, typically shifting through Mama, Papa, and Aleena.
But some use their names. The crew’s names. One talks about a little restaurant that “Taako would love. I doubt you guys ever found this one, cause I think if you did, he would never stop talking about it.”
Another one mentions a shop of handmade toys and figurines and “Magnus would go nuts for this stuff. I found one that was a little dog, so I swiped it for him. I felt bad stealing from a little shop like that, but I kind of don’t have money soooooo…”
When she gets to the last entry, she finds the page is marked. She knew there was something there to act as a bookmark, but when she sees what it actually is, she finds that the suspicion that she’s been trying to dismiss as way too crazy is… actually true.
It’s a picture. A polaroid, labelled at the bottom with “Lilli’s 18th birthday!” in what Lucretia recognizes as Lup’s handwriting. In the center of the picture is the girl they found dead earlier today, albeit some years younger, and standing around her is all of them. Lup and Barry are on either side of her, Taako’s next to Lup, Magnus next to Taako, and Merle in front of them. She stands next to Barry, and Davenport stands in front of her. They’re all smiling at the camera, happy as can be.
“Hey, Luce,” Taako says, pushing her door open. “Everyone here is useless, what should we have for dinner?”
“Family meeting,” she says, standing up from her desk and walking past Taako into the hallway, “right now.”
“That’s not dinner!” he shouts after her, but she’s already gone, calling through the ship for everyone else.
When Lucretia has everyone gathered in the common area, she wastes no time in handing over the picture and explaining what she found. Everyone, understandably, is shocked.
Lup laughs. “Do you know what this means?!” she says. “It means we’re going to get out of this!” She snatches the picture from Davenport and waves it around. “Eighteen years! That means no one-year time limit! We get through this!”
“And she knows how,” Davenport says. “Surely we must tell her what happened, right? She’s got to know how we did it. We could get her to tell us.”
And so, finding Lilliana is added to their list of yearly tasks, right alongside finding and studying the Light.
At the end of the year, when they all reset and they can start working on their newest objective, they find that some of the things they took from Lilliana’s body are gone. The bag, compass, picture, wand, bow, quiver and arrows are all missing when cycle 54 rolls around, though they’ve still got the journal. It takes them until almost the end of the cycle to track her down.
Lilliana didn’t even know she’d been discovered. She assumed that there had been people on that last cycle after all, and they took her journal when they found her dead. It’s late at night, and she’s walking down the street in a small town when the truth of the matter comes crashing down around her.
She jumps, startled by the voice calling out from behind her. She turns to see a young woman running up to her. “Lucretia,” she realizes as soon as she gets close. “What is she- why- what’s happening?”
“Are you Lilliana?” Lucretia asks.
“I might be,” Lilliana glances around the empty streets, trying to find a way out of this situation. “What can I do for you?”
“My family and I found this a while ago. I believe it belongs to you?”
Lilliana looks down at the object Lucretia holds out, and goes still at the sight of her journal. She looks back up at Lucretia, who’s watching her knowingly, her expression carefully guarded. She glances between the journal and Lucretia a few times, running the numbers in her mind of what she should do. After what feels like ages, she snatches the book from Lucretia’s hand then turns and bolts down the street.
She doesn’t get far.
She runs into someone and stumbles back a few steps. She looks up to see Magnus standing there, and before she can run in any other direction, he grabs and lifts her over his shoulder. “No!” Lilliana shouts. She squirms in Magnus’s grasp, trying to break free, but his hold stays firm. “Put me down! ”
“No can do, sorry,” Magnus says, walking down the street in the direction she’d come from.
Lilliana sends him a silent apology as she plants a hand on his back and sends a shock of magic through him. He shouts and his grip on her loosens enough that she’s able to break free and start running again.
She still doesn’t get far. She barely manages to cross to the other side of the street when her legs go stiff and she falls forward, her journal flying out of her hand as she throws her arms out to catch herself. She doesn’t have time to magic herself out before she’s hit with another spell and loses consciousness.
When she comes to, she’s bound to a chair with the crew standing in front of her. “Oh, god,” she groans, closing her eyes and tilting her head back to the ceiling.
“Sorry about the restraints,” Davenport says. “We wanted to make sure you wouldn’t react violently, considering you attacked Magnus.”
“Magnus attacked me first,” she says dryly.
She can practically hear Magnus getting indignant, but before he can protest Davenport says, “we just want to talk.”
“Well this sure is some fucking conversation, ” she says, looking back down at him.“Since when does talking start like this?! ” She shifts in the chair to accentuate the fact that they’ve tied her wrists and ankles to it.
“We just want to ask-”
Merle interrupts, “I cast Zone of Truth!”
Davenport huffs. “We want to ask you about the Hunger. About how we can defeat it.”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“Why not?” Lup asks, stepping into the conversation.
“You figured it out yourselves in my world.”
“So? If you tell us now, think of all the lives we could save. All the planes that won’t have to be ravaged by the Hunger.”
“Even if I did tell you now, you don’t have the things you need for it to work.”
“Then tell us what we need and we can get it!”
“Hmm… no, I don’t think I will.”
Then, suddenly, the room fills with smoke, and when it clears, Lilliana’s gone. Taako snorts from where he’s leaning against the wall. “That went well.”
It goes on like this. The crew go about their normal objectives, but whenever they get the chance to grab Lilliana and try to get answers out of her, they go for it. Lilliana, however, remains strong in her resolve. Merle can cast as many Zone of Truths as he wants, she’s not going to crack. It’s frustrating for all of them, but for Lup and Davenport especially.
Lup has seen world after world get attacked and destroyed by the Hunger, and if Lilliana has the key to stopping it, Lup wants it. She’s tried to talk Lilliana into seeing how much more good it’ll do if she just gives up the ghost and tells them. She just responds with, “I swear if you say greater good one more time, I’m gonna vomit.”
Davenport is mission-oriented. He wants to get his crew out of this vicious cycle of running and fighting and dying and resetting. He wants this all to be done. They all want to be done. The faster they’re out, the better. But Lilliana just insists, every single time, if they just stick it out and find the answer themselves, their lives will be so much better for it. “Things get hard and dark, but they work out so well in the end. You just have to trust me.”
They don’t find her often. Maybe once every couple of cycles, if that. Now that she knows they’re looking for her, she gets a lot better at hiding. She gets very good at blending in with the locals, she sinks into crowds and fades into the background.
She stops secretly hoping the ship landed near her. Before, it meant a possible glimpse of the crew, a small reminder of the family she’s trying so hard to get back to. Now, it means a risk of discovery and being bombarded with questions and lectures about the good of the universe.
Although, in cycle 82, she actively seeks them out.
It’s the cycle that her parents turned themselves into liches. She’s spent the last five debating on if she should try and find them and spy on the ceremony a little bit. She eventually resolves that yes, she’s going to try. So as soon as she opens her eyes on the new cycle, she sets out. It’s almost like fate when she arrives just in time. She lingers, hidden in the trees at the base of the hill, and looks up. She can’t see much for detail, but she sees their bodies fall and the red robe spectres rise up, Taako standing nervously before them, and she watches as those same spectres lower back down to the ground, and the bodies climb back to their feet. Like with the duet, Lilliana feels her heart swell at being able to see this important event in her mom and dad’s lives. As the three of them head back down the hill, Lilliana disappears back into the trees before they spot her.
The last time any of the crew and Lilliana see each other before the final cycle is in cycle 89. They’d triangulated a general area of where the Light could be, then split up to go find it. Lup, Taako, and Barry went in one direction, Lucretia and Magnus went in another direction, and Davenport and Merle stayed on the Starblaster, set down in a clearing.
Lucretia and Magnus haven’t been walking for long when they run into Lilliana. It’s a tense few moments at first, but Lilliana decides that she’ll help them search for the Light under the condition that they don’t ask her any questions. Then, not much time later, they’re attacked. A large, angry animal covered in fur, with red eyes, sharp teeth, and sharper claws stands in their path, staring them down. They fight it, and Lucretia and Magnus realize they’d never seen Lilliana fight in all these years. She’s remarkable . Impeccable aim, immense magical power, and a focus that can’t seem to be wavered.
The monster takes a swipe at them with its claws, but Lilliana isn’t quite fast enough in her reaction and gets thrown sideways, her bow falling from her hand and her remaining arrows scattering across the ground.
Magnus swings at the monster one more time and takes it down, leaving the three of them to catch their breath. He looks to Lucretia to give a clever one-liner, but she’s not next to him. She’s kneeling by Lilliana, who’s on her knees and has an arm across her stomach and clutching her side. Magnus walks over and says, “that was a nasty hit you took, you okay?”
Lilliana laughs weakly. “ Okay is a relative term. I’ve had worse, but I’ve certainly had better,” she pulls back the arm she’s got over her stomach to show her bloody hand and forearm.
“You should lie back,” Lucretia says, gently guiding her to lie on the ground. “Magnus, you need to run and get Merle. Quickly.”
“I could just carry her.”
“I don’t think moving her would be the best option right now.” She pulls off her robe and bunches it up, moves Lilliana’s arm out of the way, and presses it over the gashes the monster’s claws left behind. “You need to go. Now.”
Magnus nods and runs off, back in the direction they came.
“You really don’t have to do this,” Lilliana says, looking over at her. Her eyes are already foggy and a little out of focus.
“You’re bleeding and in pain. Of course I do.”
“I’m going to come back in a few months anyway, you should’ve just kept going.”
Lucretia shakes her head. “I wasn’t just going to leave you here to die alone. Even if we do come back, dying sucks.”
Lilliana shrugs as best she can lying down. “I’ve already done it seventy-two times. What’s one more?”
Lucretia pauses. Lets that sink in. “Seventy-two?” she whispers.
Lilliana hums an affirmative. “A lot harder to stay alive when you don’t have a spaceship.”
Lucretia never thought of it that way, but dwelling on it more, she’s struck with the realization that Lilliana is just as trapped as they are. She may have the answers to their problems, she may know when this will end, but that doesn’t mean she’s automatically going to have an easy time in the cycles. With the ship, the seven of them have a consistent place to rest and cook and plan. Lilliana’s been on the ground all day every day for the last 89 years. In that moment, Lucretia feels a wave of guilt wash over her for the way they’ve been treating Lilliana. “I’m sorry,” she says. She wants to say more, but she’s not quite sure what. She simply sits with her robe pressed against Lilliana’s wound, her blood blending in with the already rich red of the fabric, and she hopes that Magnus returns quickly.
Magnus and Merle are running back to where Magnus had left Lucretia and Lilliana when they see Lucretia walking towards them, carrying her robe and looking at the ground. “Lucretia!” Magnus calls. “I’ve got Merle, we can-”
“You’re too late,” she says.
“Are you sure?” Merle says. “I can still try to-”
“You can’t fix dead , Merle,” Lucretia snaps. She takes a breath. “It’s fine. She bled out, I buried her, she’ll be back next year.” She moves past the two of them, back towards the ship. “Let’s just go back.”
Magnus and Merle exchange a glance. There seems to be something more bothering her, but they don’t want to push, so they simply follow behind her and head back to the ship.
They don’t find the Light that cycle, but it’s merely three cycles later when they decide on the relic plan. After the crew votes her plan down, Lucretia wishes she’d told Lilliana about it the last time she saw her, just to see her reaction. She might’ve been able to use it to swing the vote in her favour. She shakes that thought away. Lilliana had been hurting and dying the last time Lucretia saw her, it wasn’t the time to try a thing like that.
Seven more cycles later, and they hit Faerun. The relics go out, and the Hunger’s scouts never show up. The crew breathes a sigh of relief. But then the relic wars start, and the damage is immense and constant. Lucretia sees and hears about all the tragedy happening down planetside and she thinks, “this can’t be it.”
This can’t be the final cycle. A world caught in such turmoil and destruction can’t be the happy ending life Lilliana kept telling them they’d reach.
Unbeknownst to Lucretia, Lup was also having this thought. She couldn’t let the relic wars just keep destroying this world like this. So, while Lup decides to find and hide her relic, Lucretia begins her work on the redaction. She isn’t sure if Lilliana is still around, she might be home, if this truly is the final cycle, but just in case, she sends a silent apology out to her as she drops the journal into Fisher’s tank.
Fortunately for Lilliana, the redaction has no affect on her. Unfortunately for her, the reason for this is not because her theory was right and she was brought home soon after touching down in Faerun. No, she was still very much in the wrong Faerun, but she was born into a world where the story Lucretia erases was already taken away and re-broadcasted. And if that’s not a good enough explanation, then just know that she remembers. It’s not important why, but it’s important that she does.
She’s a little over two years into her time on Faerun. It’s the easiest cycle for her to survive in, because it’s the one she knows . Even if it’s over 30 years behind the Faerun she last remembers, she has their money, she knows the geography, she knows where she’s going and what she can get and she can pay for a meal and a place to stay. No more lying or stealing or charming her way to necessities with magic.
The wars stopped some months ago, so she could only assume Lucretia had done the redaction as expected. With the world now peaceful, Lilliana wanders. That’s when she finds the staff.
She wasn’t actively looking for it, she simply stumbled upon it by accident. When she realized she was stuck in Faerun for the time being, she vowed to stay as far away from the relics as possible. She knows they’re dangerous, and she doesn’t know what kind of resistance to the thrall she might have, if any. But she reaches the end of the cavern she decided to explore, and there sits the bulwark staff, guarded by a semi-translucent bubble. She turns to leave, but in her mind she hears, “hey, where are you going? Don’t you want to go home?”
Lucretia reaches the spot she knows she hid the staff and freezes. Standing before her is Lilliana, the bulwark staff in her hand. “What are you doing?”
“I’m admiring the amazing woodwork of this staff,” she says. “It must’ve been carved by a master carpenter.”
“You need to put that down.”
“Oh, Lucretia,” she moves her gaze from the staff over to Lucretia, “I don’t need to do anything.” Her voice is smooth and her tone is chilling. She sounds confident. Relaxed. Nothing like she sounded whenever she was pleading with them to work out the Hunger situation on their own.
Lucretia walks slowly towards her. “Lilliana, that staff is very dangerous-”
“Oh, I know , Lucretia,” Lilliana doesn’t move, and she stares Lucretia down, “a staff that can make a shield so impenetrable that nothing can get through. Not enemies, strangers, merchants, tradesmen, fresh air.” She observes the staff again, turning it in her hand. “But,” she says, “you were so close-minded in creating it.”
Lucretia needs to get the staff away from Lilliana, but she’s overcome with curiosity at that statement. “What do you mean?”
“The Light of Creation is what the gods of the gods used to create all of existence. It is pure, unfiltered magical energy. Even one seventh of that is an incredible amount of power, and can be used for so much more than just creating a fancy bubble. In the hands of the right person, it could be a very powerful arcane focus.” She waves the staff and suddenly Lucretia can’t move. She tries to break out, but the spell holds strong.
“Lilliana-” Lucretia chokes out.
Lilliana grins and walks past her, “I’ll see you later, Luce.”
Despite her failure in obtaining the staff, Lucretia still tries for the bell in Wonderland, only to have to bail without it. Some years pass, and she gets the Bureau of Balance, as well as its floating moon base, up and running. She’s feeling good about it when, one day, she walks into her office and finds someone already there.
Lilliana sits on her desk, facing the door, staff in hand. Lucretia looks her over and it’s like she hasn’t aged at all in the last few years. She looks exactly the same, except for the hand in which she’s holding the staff. On that hand, Lucretia can just see some jagged lines, almost like scars, curling up from her palm over her fingers and the sides of her hand. “Hey, Luce,” she says casually, “nice place you got here.”
“Why are you here?”
“What? A girl can’t come and admire her aunt’s cool new moon?” At Lucretia’s silence, Lilliana’s placid smile grows a little sharper, a little more mischievous. She slides off the desk and says, “I just wanted to come and wish you luck on your mission, is all. It’s a shame what happened with Wonderland, but I’m sure with the Bureau you’ll make leaps and bounds in your progress.”
“What do you know?”
She laughs, “what don’t I know, Lucretia?”
Then she vanishes into thin air, leaving Lucretia alone once again.
Almost a year passes, and in that time, she doesn’t see or hear from Lilliana again. Fisher has its child, she implements the redundancy and seeks out the boys. As expected, Killian brings them back up to the base, thankfully with the gauntlet in tow. Lucretia worried about Lilliana getting her hands on another relic. From the last time she saw her, it seemed she still only had the staff, but there was really no way to know. But the boys were able to get the gauntlet, which gives Lucretia some hope that, maybe, she can get the rest of them.
That hope gets squashed after the boys come back from the oculus mission empty handed.
“It was super weird,” Taako says. “We’re just standing there waiting for the ball to come get us, when this girl from the train shows up, uses magic on us, then steals the thing!”
Lucretia tries not to panic. “What did she look like?”
“Uh… blonde? Half elf, wearing a red cloak, had a cool staff.”
Lucretia’s heart races.
“Was it a red robe?” Magnus asks.
Lucretia hesitates for a moment, debating over her answer. She settles on, “yes, that was a red robe.” She needs them to be cautious, and maybe this is the way to do it. “Boys, you need to listen to me very carefully. That young woman is very, very dangerous. If you encounter her again, do not, under any circumstances, try to fight her. You will not win.”
With the power of two relics in her hands, Lilliana must be incredibly powerful. She also knows the boys, to an extent. She knows how they function, how they fight. She would know how to take them down. Lucretia would like to think that she has enough of herself left not to hurt them, but being taken by the thrall, there’s no way to know for sure what she’ll do. So Lucretia does what she can, and she tries to instill that fear into the boys. “If you see her again, just run, you understand? She’s very, very powerful. Moreso than anyone else on the planet.”
Then their next mission comes. The gaia sash. Once again, they come back empty handed. They tell her about Bane, how he tried to poison them then drank it himself and a red robe ghost rose from his body and gave them a creepy speech. Then, once he left, the girl from the train showed up and stole the sash.
“There was another red robe?” Lucretia asks, her mind running a million miles an hour.
“Yeah!” Magnus says. “I tried to punch him and it didn’t work!”
“Okay,” she says. “Okay. Alright. Boys, remember what I said about the girl?” The boys stare at her blankly. She sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose. “I told you to run away. Don’t try to fight. This goes for that red robe spectre you saw, too. Don’t talk to either of them, don’t interact with either of them, just get as far away as possible.”
Then candlenights comes. This time the boys come back with the stone, but-
“It’s empty,” Taako says, tossing it to Lucretia.
She catches it. “Empty?”
“Yeah, the red robe showed up and said some spooky shit, then after he left, red robe junior showed up and did some funky magic with it and now there’s no thrall. Shit’s empty.”
She turns the stone over in her hand a few times and sighs. “I was afraid of this.”
“Afraid of what, ma’am?” Angus asks from her side.
“Before the relics, the red robes had a… magical power source, of sorts. A very strong one. And instead of using it to create one big weapon, they split it up into seven smaller ones that we now call the relics. It seems that our thief is looking to put the power source back together again.”
“What happens if she does?” Merle asks.
“Anything she wants,” Lucretia says. “With the whole thing, she’ll be more powerful than a god. She could-” Lucretia pauses, staring down at the rock in her hand, having a realization she really should’ve thought about years ago- “she could rip a hole in reality.”
Of course. Of course that’s what she’s doing. She wants to go home, and with the power of the Light, she could try and open a portal to get there. There’s no telling what it could do to this reality though, and that’s what frightens her. The Hunger is one thing, having a hole ripped in the fabric of this world’s existence seems like a much harder problem to fix. Lucretia has a plan for one of those things, and no idea where she could start with the other one. So, all she can do is keep trying to collect the other relics, and she’ll deal with Lilliana when she gets to it.
Two more relics, two more chances.
She sends the boys for the cup, they come back empty handed. She sends them for the bell, the Hunger just barely looming overhead, and that’s when things get interesting.
When the boys entered the tent, the tracking from their bracers was lost, making them disappear off Lucretia’s map. Angus watches the map carefully, and when their names reappear, he wastes no time in calling them. “Sirs? Sirs, are you there, you’ve been out of—sirs? You’ve, you’ve been offline for a while, are you there?”
But instead of one of the boys answering or their stones going offline, a frantic voice unfamiliar to Angus comes through, “hey, kid, is Lucretia there?”
Lucretia’s head snaps up from where she had been doing some paperwork to keep her hands busy. Angus says, “I’m sorry, who is this?”
“My name is Barry Bluejeans. Is Lucretia there?”
Lucretia stands and walks over to Angus. She holds a hand out for the stone, which he gives to her. “Barry?”
“Lucretia. It’s Lilliana, she took the bell.”
“Son of a bitch,” she says under her breath. “I knew this would happen,” she says to Barry.
“You did?! ”
“Yeah, I figured she’d show up, considering she has all the other relics too.”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line, and then, “what do you mean she has all the other relics?! I thought you had them! The boys have been collecting them!”
“She- did you seriously not know? She’s shown up after every one of the boys’s missions and stolen the relic. The only one I have is the gauntlet.”
“No, Lucretia, I didn’t know . I didn’t think she was still here! ”
“Well she’s here, and thralled, and very powerful, and no doubt on her way for the gauntlet, so I need you and the boys-” she stops. “The boys,” she says. “Barry, are they okay?”
“Alive, mostly. Magnus is a mannequin, but we can figure that out later.”
Lucretia lets out a relieved sigh. “Okay, so I need you and the boys up here as soon as possible. I’m going to need the backup.”
Once she hangs up, she heads back into her private office and disables the lich ward. Moments after she returns, there’s a frantic knock at her office door. It opens to reveal a frazzled Davenport, Carey, and Killian. “Uh, Madame Director?” Killian says. “Pretty sure there’s a red robe on base.”
“Lucretiaaa,” comes the sing-song taunt from the main room outside her office, “I’m here for my gauntleeeet.”
She steps out of her office into that main dome, and pauses at the sight of Lilliana. Fundamentally, she looks the same. She hasn’t aged a day since the last time Lucretia saw her, but generally she looks like a mess. Her hair is loose and wild, her eyes have an unnatural intensity to them, almost like they’re glowing, and the jagged lines Lucretia had seen just barely curling onto the back of her hand last time now climb all the way up to her elbow.
“There you are!” Lilliana says, her voice chipper. “I would like the gauntlet now please. I’ve let you hold on to it long enough.”
Lucretia pulls out her wand. “I’m not going to do that.”
“Oh, Lucy, you’re not going to try and fight me, are you? Just give me the gauntlet, and this all goes away.”
“No. Lilliana, I know you want to go home, but we don’t know what could happen to this reality if you use the Light to try and get there.”
Suddenly, Lilliana gets angry. The glow in her eyes flares brighter. “So what?! You read my journal, you blew my cover, you fucked up the timeline, so you need to give me the gauntlet so I can fix it! ”
Then the door slams open and in comes Taako, Merle, mannequin Magnus, and lich Barry. “Lilliana, whatever you’re doing, it needs to stop,” Barry says, floating towards her.
Lilliana scowls. “Stay away from me!” she shouts, swinging the staff towards Barry, throwing out a spell that sends him flying backwards.
And thus, the fight begins.
“Don’t kill her!” Lucretia cries after Carey and Killian execute a particularly intense move. “She’s just- she doesn’t need to die, we just need to get the staff away from her!”
No one is quite sure how long the fight goes on for, but oh, what a fight it is. Several against one, and yet it could still be anyone’s game. Eventually, Barry gets close enough to get a hand on the staff, and uses a wave of force to throw Lilliana backwards, her hand slipping off the staff. She hits the wall hard and falls to the ground. She pushes herself up and makes a run for Barry, but Lucretia intercepts her, holding her as she struggles to get away and go for the staff.
“Barry!” Lucretia shouts over Lilliana’s demands for the staff back. “You need to put it away! Remove the temptation entirely!”
Taking the hint, Barry opens up his storage demiplane and puts the staff in. As it closes, Lilliana breaks out of Lucretia’s hold, and runs towards him. But she stumbles and falls to a knee. She climbs back to her feet, chest heaving as she seethes with anger, but her heavy breaths slow, her scowl fades, she blinks a few times and her eyes clear. Her anger melts away and instead her face is painted with pain and desperation. She reaches out to Barry, “papa-” and she collapses.
Lucretia rushes forward and catches her before she can hit the ground and lowers her gently to the ground. Magnus, still a mannequin and mind swirling with vague memories, comes over and kneels on her other side. Barry hovers overhead.
Lilliana isn’t unconscious, but she’s disoriented. Her head is pounding, her whole body aches, and it feels like the world is swimming. She can feel a hand on her arm and one on her back. She can hear voices, too.
“-do we do now?”
“We have the entire Light, if you just let me put up my shield, we could be okay.”
“Please, Barry. We can’t keep doing the cycles.”
Lilliana looks to where Lucretia and Barry stand, and listens for a moment as they argue over what to do about the impending apocalypse. She tries to pull herself to her feet, but someone next to her brings her back down and says, “no, Lilliana. Stay down. Just rest.”
“Maggie?” she says weakly, looking over only to be met with a featureless wooden face.
“-sever all of this world’s bonds!”
“Cut off the Hunger,” Lilliana says, looking back at Lucretia and Barry. They stop their arguing and look at her, perplexed. “Put the last piece into the staff and cast the shield around the Hunger,” she explains. “It’ll cut off all of its bonds and free all the planes inside.”
Lucretia opens her mouth, closes it again. “Huh,” she says.
“Huh,” Barry says.
“Yeah,” Lilliana says. She looks to Magnus, “there should be a spare body for you in the back room of the Fantasy Costco. Garfield grew one with the hair and blood you gave him in a body-growing machine. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know.”
Even without a face, Magnus’s confusion is apparent. “Uh. Okay?”
“Lup is in the umbrella,” she says to Barry. “She was killed as she was hiding the gauntlet and it ate her because her lich form is literally made of magic.”
Barry barely pauses before snatching the umbrella from Taako. Taako doesn’t have time to be indignant before Barry breaks it in half. Then in a moment, there’s a second red robed lich among them.
Lilliana looks to Taako and Merle, barely acknowledging the new presence. “I know you guys have understood about none of this conversation, but Merle, Pan hasn’t abandoned you. There’s something coming, and it’s cut off the connection between the planes, meaning your connection to Pan has been cut off. Taako, you need to go down to the remains of Phandalin and turn the circle of black glass into sapphire. It’ll open a mirror into the astral plane and reopen the connection between all the planes. It probably won’t work the first few times, but that bag Istus gave you in Refuge should open up and provide you with what you need to have the power to do it. Kravitz will be okay once it’s done.”
“Why are you doing this?” Lup asks, Barry in her arms. “You were so adamant about not giving us answers before. Why now?”
Lilliana laughs bitterly. “I’m so fucking tired,” she says. “I’m done. I want to go home.” She addresses Lucretia next, “you need to inoculate the others and get them caught up, including Magnus when he gets his new body. Magnus, there’s a baby voidfish, although I’m sure you already knew that, and you need to take it down to Fisher, the big one downstairs. Once they’re reunited, well, you’ll see what happens.” She looks around at the people staring at her. Some in awe or shock (Lucretia, Barry, Lup, mannequin Magnus), most in deep, deep confusion (Taako, Merle, Davenport, Carey, Killian, Angus). She settles on Lucretia, “you guys are a day ahead of my family when they dealt with this. The Hunger shouldn’t touch down here until tomorrow. If you do what I told you, and you do it now, you could save people they couldn’t.”
That statement pushes the inoculated and dead folks in the room into action. They follow every instruction Lilliana gives them until everyone everywhere hears the story and song. At her insistence, all seven of them board the Starblaster and take off. She would’ve gone with them, but she’s exhausted. The power of the Light had been sustaining her ever since she found the staff, keeping her in a form of stasis. She didn’t age or sleep or eat. Losing that power, those years of not taking care of herself are catching up to her. As skilled a fighter as she may be, she’s not sure she would last against the Hunger in her current state. Instead, running on adrenaline and residual magic, she stays on the ground and helps prep the Bureau and it’s employees, just in case the Hunger touches down early. As she gives orders, they all look at her with a sense of awe, because she was in the story too. Just barely, only mentioned when she was discovered and the handful of times the crew saw her, but she was there.
Lilliana doesn’t stop until the sky clears and the unmoving grey storm above them is washed away, leaving behind a bright blue sky. A cheer goes up through the base, and she just stands there and looks up. Moments later, the crew reappears in front of them. A little worse for wear, but looking relieved nonetheless. Lucretia holds the staff, although the white of its wood seems lesser than it used to be, as it’s no longer imbued with the power of the gods.
“By the way,” Lilliana says, trying to stay steady on her feet, “for the purposes of bragging rights, Taako’s the one that came up with putting the shield around the Hunger in my timeline.”
Taako laughs triumphantly as Lucretia approaches Lilliana. “Thank you,” she says.
Lilliana shrugs and is about to say that all she did was fuck up the timeline in Faerun, but she’s interrupted when a sharp wind blows through. She feels a tug of magic deep in her chest and looks up. Right above her, stark white against the blue sky, is a swirling portal. A rip in the fabric of reality. Her eyes water as she stares straight at the blinding light of the tear. She hears a familiar voice shout something, and it comes from above her, from through the portal. She lets out a choked sob and looks down at her hands only to see them unraveling into threads of white light.
The seven birds and the surrounding Bureau employees watch as Lilliana is broken down into all the bonds that weave together to make her. As each thread unfurls, it’s pulled up and through the portal, until she’s gone completely, the portal closing behind her.
Lup, Barry, and Aleena watch carefully as the ritual circle drawn into the grass in front of them glows white. Lilliana has only been gone for three days, and she’s very capable of taking care of herself, so they’re not too worried, but still. They worry only as parents and financées can. But mere moments later, Lilliana appears, standing in the middle of the circle.
Delighted, Aleena runs and scoops her up into her arms, spinning her around. When she puts her down, Aleena pulls back to plant a kiss on her and ask her what happened, but looking closer at her makes her pause. Lilliana stares at her with disbelief in her eyes. Her cheeks and eyes are sunken, and as Aleena has her arms around her, she can feel that she’s thinner than she should be. She’s about to ask what happened, with a lot more concern laced into it, when suddenly Lilliana’s knees give out. Aleena holds on to her and lowers them both to the ground, cradling her in her arms. “Lilli?” her eyes are closed and she doesn’t respond. “Lilliana?!”
Lup and Barry rush over and also try to get a response, but to no avail. They call Merle to come and help. As Barry opens a rift to go get him, Aleena lifts Lilliana into her arms to bring her inside. She’s lighter than before, concerningly so. It’s not long before Barry comes back with Merle. He evaluates her and says, “you should take her to the hospital. I think she’s in a coma, she needs doctors and shit.”
Luckily, with the power to create rifts, the four of them are quick to arrive at the hospital. Doctors and nurses act quickly and get her set up in a room and connected to fluids and monitors. “She’s extremely malnourished, dehydrated, and exhausted,” a doctor says to them once the initial rush to take care of her settles. “What happened?”
“No idea,” Aleena says. “We got into a fight with this guy, she was hit with a spell and she vanished. Then when we got her back, she collapsed.”
The doctor nods, noting it down. “How long was she gone?”
The doctor pauses. “Three days?” Aleena nods, but the doctor shakes their head. “That’s not possible. Even if she didn’t eat, drink, or sleep for three straight days, she wouldn’t be this bad.” They sigh. “Alright, well, what about the injury on her arm? It seems relatively new, although it’s already fairly scarred over. Any idea where it came from?”
Lup, Barry, and Aleena all share a look with one another. “The what?” Aleena asks.
The doctor looks at them, a little confused. They walk over to where Lilliana’s laying in the hospital bed and lifts up one of her arms.
In the confusion and concern of her return, none of them noticed the jagged lines that mark her hand and arm like strikes of lighting. The ones on her hand are darker and older, and as they travel up her arm they get lighter and newer. “No,” Aleena says weakly, eyes fixed on the markings, “no idea.”
Soon enough, the doctor leaves them alone. They don’t know when Lilliana will wake up, so all they can do is wait.
They haven’t been there for long when Lup and Barry feel a tug in the back of their minds. The Raven Queen is summoning them. They both try to tell her no, they can’t leave Lilliana right now, but she responds with, “it’s about her. It’s important.” Reluctantly, they respond to the summons. They promise Aleena they’ll be back quickly.
When they arrive before the Raven Queen, Kravitz is already there, looking confused. “My Queen,” he says, “what is this about?”
She has a distressed air about her that makes all three reapers uneasy. “Look in your tome of bounties. You’ll see.”
Kravitz summons the ancient book, Lup and Barry peering over his shoulders. When he opens it, the three of them feel their hearts drop into their stomachs, for written on the page is this:
Lilliana Marlena Bluejeans - 75 deaths.
Followed by pages of dates that make no sense with the Faerun calendar. All it takes is a little contemplation for them to put the pieces together.
Lup and Barry return to the hospital with grim looks on their faces. Aleena sits next to Lilliana’s bed, holding her hand. “So?” she asks, “what was it?”
Lup is the one who bites the bullet, “she has a death count. A high one. And… some of the formats for her dates of death match some of ours.” She hesitates, picks at the skin around her fingernails, “somehow, she ended up going through the cycles from our century.”
Aleena looks at Lilliana. Unconscious, malnourished, her face ashen. She presses a kiss to the back of the hand she’s holding. “How many?” she says quietly.
She sits up straight and stares icily at them. “How many?” she demands.
It’s a terrible thing, knowing the love of her life went through all those years by herself and died at some point during most of them, probably painfully, most likely alone. But it doesn’t explain the coma or the exhaustion or the scars on her arm. If she went through the century, she would’ve reset every year. She should’ve been fine, physically speaking. It leaves them all speculating.
Maybe she had been in Faerun for some time before she got brought back. But she still should’ve been okay in that case. She knows Faerun, it would’ve been easy to survive.
Maybe they brought her back partway through a cycle with no food or water, hence the malnourishment and the coma, and the scar is left from an injury she got. The only issue with this idea is that the spell they used to bring her back was not complex enough to reach a reality that far away.
Aleena sits by Lilliana’s bedside for days and refuses to leave. She doesn’t want to leave, she wants to be there in case anything happens. It takes both Lup and Barry swearing not to leave Lilliana’s side and promising that they will come get her with a rift if anything happens to convince Aleena to go home for just one night. Other than that, she’s there the whole time, waiting for her to wake up. It takes a week and a half of anxious waiting before she finally does.
It’s not a peaceful waking. One moment, the room is quiet, save for the steady beeping of the heart monitor. Aleena sits next to the bed and Lup and Barry are sitting over by the window. The next moment, Lilliana’s eyes snap open. They dart around the room, panicked. Her breaths get short and shallow, and the beeping of the heart monitor speeds up. Aleena is instantly on her feet and trying to comfort her, but it doesn’t work. A nurse and a doctor come in and tell Aleena that she needs to take a step back. She refuses, but there are hands on her arms and Lup and Barry pull her away and hold on to her. Through the ringing in her ears, Aleena hears the word sedative.
They’re going to put her back under. Aleena pleads with them not to, she tries to break out of the hold Lup and Barry have on her arms, but their grip stays strong. Lilliana is scared and hurting, she needs to be with her. She’s been unconscious for almost two weeks, they can’t put her back under-
But it’s too late.
Aleena can hear the beeping of the heart monitor slowing down once again, and she meets Lilliana’s eyes for a moment, misty with tears, before they slip shut once again. Lup and Barry let go of her and she rushes forward, falling to her knees at the bedside. She isn’t sure how long she’s there before she hears Barry’s voice in her ear and feels him gently guiding her to sit in a chair. “Hey,” he says, kneeling in front of her, “it’s going to be okay. The doctor said the sedative will wear off in a few hours. She’ll be groggy and in and out of sleep for another little while after, but it should be a more peaceful wake up than what just happened.” He hands her a tissue and she wipes under her eyes, “Lup’s gone to get you something to eat and drink, and we can wait for Lilli to wake up again.”
As promised, Lilliana wakes up a few hours later, much more peacefully. Aleena cups her cheek and presses a kiss to her forehead. “Morning, angel,” she says tearfully. “Welcome back.”
She spends another week in the hospital being monitored to make sure she’s getting the nourishment and rest she had been so severely lacking. Then they let Aleena take her back to their home.
In the time after Lilliana comes home from the hospital, Aleena starts to notice differences in her. They aren’t bad, just things she takes note of and files away. For instance, she’s insanely touch starved. Aleena will hold her and she’ll press closer and closer and closer until she can’t go any further. Or the first time Lilliana kisses her again, it’s desperate and clumsy and she seems as if she’s a little out of practice. Aleena doesn’t mind, they’ve got all the time in the world for her to get used to it again. Lilliana asks if they could move their bed so her side is up against the wall. “I’d feel safer,” she says shyly, “with the wall on one side and you on the other.”
Aleena kisses her forehead and says, “of course, angel.”
Lilliana has a lot of healing to do to process the trauma from her century, so they postpone their wedding and get her into therapy. They have their rough patches in adjusting to their new normal, with Lilliana’s instincts that have been changed and adapted for a life hidden and alone. Sometimes she’ll push back against help or hide away when she feels she’s upset someone, but they talk and work through it and come out the other side stronger.
She does eventually tell them all about her time in the cycles and what happened on Faerun. They’re upset by the truth of it all, especially knowing how she was treated by those alternate versions of themselves, but they’re mostly just sad for Lilliana. She shouldn’t have had to go through what she did, and it was a cruel twist of fate that put her in the century and put the bulwark staff in her hands.
Lilliana knew that when she got home her family would stick around, even if the century changed her, and even after finding out that she used the relics. Her biggest concern was Aleena. She was worried that after how much she changed and the whole thing with the relics, Aleena wouldn’t recognize her anymore. She worried that she would be too much work for her, too damaged. But Aleena holds her and presses a kiss to the crown of her head and says, “I’m not going anywhere. You’re hurt and changed, but I know you’re still the same down at your core. Your morals haven’t changed, your kindness persists, and your heart stays strong.”
Lilliana cries. “I love you,” she says through shaking breaths.
“I love you, too,” Aleena murmurs.
Three years to the day after their initially planned wedding date, Lilliana and Aleena get married. There’s still progress to be made, but Lilliana’s more herself than she has been in years. Someone asks her if it’s the happiest day of her life, and she says no. Because as happy as she may be then, she knows there are happier days still to come. For the time being, she’ll just dance and laugh and drink and kiss her brand new wife breathless.
And you know what?
She deserves it.