log in or register to remove this ad

 

Arnara's Stories - Moments in Roleplaying (updated 11/24/2021)

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XIII - A Person of Quality - 08/26/2021



Rafelor stood there with his mouth open in surprise as the patriarch stepped forward and looked the half-elf up and down. Kylan slowly circled him, his face a mask and all Rafelor could do, was meet the level gaze head on. Looking at the elf, it was clear that not just the physical shape of the face, or color of the hair was similar to Arnara. They both had a similar style and grace to their movements. More than that, Kylan had an air of surety and confidence that was brazenly on display. Arnara normally had these qualities too, but now she was quiet, demure, perhaps even timid as she stepped back from the men as the dance started.

“And this...person...is the one you have been travelling with these last few months. Rafelor is it?” Kylan asked in a tone that demanded compliance. He continued scrutinizing Rafelor as he spoke again. ”Do you have a house or have a family name?”

“Uh...uh...I...well...no...sir...Mr...uh…boss...” stammered Rafelor, not clear on how to properly respond to the high born elf. He fumbled his response and, in a panic, attempted to recite every mannerism he knew, bowing, then saluting and then trying to do both at the same time. The comedic flurry of gestures marking him as unfamiliar with Tel’Quessir forms of address and manners.

“Eloquent. So...one cast out from their family?” Kylan asked himself as his eyes narrowed looking at Rafelor’s face. “No... abandoned. Discarded on the streets of Baldur's Gate I should think, based on your accent. And at an age and distance from Tel’Quessir culture, so that you don't even know the proper forms."

Rafelor swallowed, and with the initial shock passing, he worked to calm himself. The dance was familiar in a way. Two rivals in a gang, posturing for positioning and status. But here, the positions weren’t equal; somehow the elf had an advantage, an edge. He knew where he grew up after only a few words, and his lack of station was easy to read. But that mattered little compared to his real disadvantage; Rafelor knew next to nothing of Arnara’s father. She had spoken of him in distant terms; someone she respected and honored in name only. Anything said at all were always with bitter words.

However, their relationship was difficult as she defied him constantly. She ran away from him and her responsibilities. It was one matter to say no to your father, it was another to say no to its noble head. But beyond being the head of House Ustina, he didn’t know what a Sovereign of the house did. Nor did he know anything of Kylan’s exploits and history. The one thing he was certain of was that the questions being asked were all part of the game being played. The answers that Kylan was looking for were not in the words Rafelor spoke, but elsewhere. And sighing, he knew that he already blew any chance of a solid first impressions.

"Yeah, you're right. Don't got no name but my own."

Kylan nodded. "There is...something to be said for a man to have made their own way,” he said before dismissively adding, “I suppose who your family...might have been is…unimportant. So... you have spent considerable time with my daughter. Followed her from Mirabar to the humid depths of the Chult. Why?” he asked, his tone suspicious.

"Well, I guess people had the right eye for both of us.” Rafelor said. “I got a letter from Baron Althon asking me to help him with a personal mission alongside Arnara. After that, another woman named Syndra Silvane hired both of us on another job that took us to Chult.”

Kylan looked at Rafelor as he slowly spoke, “So a smuggler changes his career to seek fame and fortune at the behest of others. Yet, the Sword Coast is full of many such opportunities. Are you saying that two jobs in a row...both with my daughter Arnara was...what...simple chance?"

Rafelor shrugged, “I don't know what to tell you, I didn't send the letters.”

“Indeed. And while with the first job it is understandable how you met. But with the second...why did you say ‘yes?’ Why did you follow Arnara there?"

Rafelor glanced over at Arnara who stood there quietly during this exchange her head slightly bowed. She glanced at her father for a moment, and bit her lip saying nothing.

Rafelor began to move, and he found Kylan and himself circling around the middle of the room as he replied. “Truth be told, I'm not really sure. Wasn't at the point where I wanted to be turning down job opportunities. And granted, I didn't expect the job to take nearly as long as it did, but in the end, it was worth my while.” Rafelor walked towards a wall, and then adjusted a small picture mounted on it. “Call it fate, call it dumb luck. It happened, and we made it through. I don't regret it.”

Kylan arched an eyebrow. “Dumb luck? Is that what you call your adventures? Happenstance, that my daughter taught you how to use the Weave. Merely the whims of fate for you to be at her feet learning the Tel’Quessir art of the Bladesong? Serendipity and nothing more?”

Rafelor frowned, turned to the Elven lord, and spoke in a sterner tone. “Hey, I didn't know what I was getting into. She,” Rafelor gestured to Arnara standing quietly to the exchange. “She gave me a chance to better myself when I was nearly walking through death's door and I took it. I knew I had to learn from her if I wanted to stay alive out there. That's not just serendipity. Maybe it was chance that brought us together in the first place, but that doesn't mean everything that happened afterward was.”

"Perhaps,” Kylan said stepping closer and looking Rafelor in the eye. “You were hoping for something else on your travels? A token or other sign of...affection,” and he gestured at the circlet of silver with the blue jewel at the center that Rafelor wore. Something that Arnara said she had made and then she empowered with magical artifice in Mirabar before they left for the Chult. "A princely gift to be certain…for those worthy.” Kylan then turned towards his daughter and said disapprovingly, “What you see in him is elusive.” Arnara stiffened and looked at her father with a mixture of determination and a bit of wounded pride. But the elven lord returned his focus back to Rafelor again. “Are you really someone that just trying to survive? That there isn't something more to this than you adrift in a sea of chance, grasping at anything to keep you afloat.”

Rafelor fumed with his voice raising ever so slightly, “Absolutely, I was. My time in Chult was a trial that determined whether or not I deserved to be alive. And now, I survived, and I've got a full life ahead of me. Dreams, aspirations, hopes, I can make them whatever I want now. That much, I earned.”

"Earned?” Kylan said incredulously. “And what have you earned that warrants Arnara's trust in you to keep her...sister safe? What is it that makes you a ...man of quality and not a scoundrel waiting for the right moment?"

His calm demeanor rapidly declining, Rafelor, through clenched teeth, retorted, "Arnara looked out for me, and I did everything I could to look out for her. Other than your daughter, most of us weren't...the brightest group of people. But I did everything in my power to try and return the favor to her. She deserves to be happy in life without getting swallowed in guilt and unyielding burdens. Helping her overcome her challenges was the least I could do for the way she saved my life!" Rafelor shouted before calming himself and looking at Arnara again. She stood there, looking unlike herself; small, timid and unsure as the men argued around her. Her face looked pained as she watched her father’s verbal assault on her friend, and yet said nothing, letting the exchange roll out. But Rafelor wasn’t offended by her inaction; he knew Arnara wouldn’t interfere in this battle of wits. Instead, her silence was implicit trust in Rafelor. That she didn’t need to defend him from Kylan’s verbal onslaught no matter how the words wounded her.

Rafelor then continued looking at Arnara for a sign of confirmation before turning back to Kylan. She met his gaze briefly and gave a small apologetic smile. Rafelor smiled inwardly and retorted “Sometimes, that's enough to gain someone's trust.”

Kylan tilted his head, “Guilt? Burdens? The Tel’Quessir have endured burdens for millennia. Why should I entrust a N'Tel’Quessir to do this? Why does she insist for you, instead of her kin to do this? You may have done...favors for her so you could stay alive. How can I be certain that you would not fail her as other lesser people have failed Tel’Quessir in the past?”

Rafelor hesitated a moment before walking to the back wall behind his desk, where he took the great morningstar from his back, and mounted it on the wall. “Well, if you're going to, as we say, 'pull the race card', I'll roll along for a bit. I'm part human, part elf, but let's face it: I got a hell of a lot more humanity inside of me than Elf. And humans aren't the worst thing in the world, y'know? I mean, sure, they lack to expansive mortality and exquisite culture that elves do. We don't live long, and we don't have a lot of wisdom to guide us, but humans got something of their own: perseverance. The perseverance to make a difference and make sure our limited time isn't wasted. For a short lifespan, we give it meaning. And me? I say that maybe you guys could benefit from a bit of that human ambition. Put it in the right place, and you can do a lot of good for a lot of people.” Still behind the desk, he leaned down on the back of his chair where Arnara was sitting in moments before. And for once during this entire conversation, it was his chair again.

“And as for her?" He pointed to Arnara who watched her friend jab at Kylan. “Well, I think she knows that I'm gonna go the effort to get the job done. And I've just adjusted to this new life, nothing wrong with giving it a purpose? You think I can just sit-by or do a half-ass a job by just watching her when she chose to bring this to me? I'm not the most pleasant person in the world, or the brightest, or the most inspiring person in the world, but I'm not a monster. Arnara's faith in me is what got me out of a life of worthlessness, and if she truly believes that I'm the best person for the job...it was right before, I believe it's right again. What else could I do but commit to it?" he spat.

Silence followed as Kylan regarded Rafelor. And after a long moment he cracked a thin smile of genuine warmth and approval. “There it is. The fires of commitment. It reminds me of your friend Aerasumé. I am…surprised again.” Arnara’s jaw dropped open and then she quickly recovered her decorum and shut it again. Her father continued, “I do not require from you, cultural finesse. I do not need you to be pleasant. Nor to create or display inspiration. I... desire your commitment to a job well done...or at least not a half assed one. You will do I believe."

Turning to Arnara he took her hands into to his own and smiled at her, while Arnara gazed upwards sighing with a look of peace. Kylan then turned and continued, "I will take you and my foster daughter to Candlekeep. You will do what she requires of you, and defend her at all costs until I complete my task at Evermeet as I…” and he paused a moment before exhaling sharply, “request humbly for someone to perform Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess . I can only hope that my kin will grant it.”

Arnara from behind her father places her hands prayer fashion to her lips and smiles warmly at Rafelor for a moment, before concealing it again in a mask of stoicism. The surprised Rafelor was momentarily at a loss for words, when he finally with pride said, “Well, if you want a job done right, then it looks like you've come to the right place. Consider us, 'Open. For. Business.'"

“No. I have not. My daughter has,” and he turned again to face Arnara. "I will be outside by the horses...come when you two are ready. Rafelor," he nodded at the half-elf and opened the door to leave the office and stepped out into the night.

Arnara stood there and watched him depart, and after a while she quietly exhaled before speaking again. "I was hoping that this would be…” and she left her thought unspoken as she was distracted by another. “I didn't expect to hear him say her name like that.” Looking down she furrowed her brow and said “I really should be thanking him more...asking for the ritual will have a price I am sure. And perhaps we are more alike than I knew.”

Rafelor spun and falls into his chair, letting out an audible gasp of air. "Holy hells...just how much does this guy know about me?"

Arnara turned to look at Rafelor only slightly surprised. "Only what you told me. Of course, I can't tell you what...she said, but I doubt it was more. But my father has many resources...friends in surprising places. So... for all I know your Lizardfolk rival might have been a contact."

Rafelor spun his chair around to look at Arnara again. He sat there limply, unwilling to move and uttered softly “You've gotta be kidding me. He could've known him!? I’ll be damned, your old man is as tough as they come.”

Arnara bowed her head and cracked a wry grin. “He is King Melandrach's Master of Eyes...it is his job to know. He pushes all of House Ustina hard and himself even harder. I… It took me a while to realize how much guilt he felt over the other sons and daughters in the House…all the Tel’Quessir in the Misty Forest deaths during the war. He saw it as him failing everyone, and the light and joy had seemed to have vanished from his eyes. Then, I came home with her, and despite everything I had done, nothing made me more happy to see hope and not disappointment in his eyes. It’s why he is going to Evermeet...to swallow his pride and make nice with a rival...the only elf he knows that can perform Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess.” Arnara frowns a moment and looked at Rafelor before asking the question, "You don’t know what that is...right?"

Rafelor shook his head, "My wizardry expertise doesn't go much further than your spare spellbook."

Arnara chuckled, "No...this is not something that you find in a spellbook. And most non-elves have never heard of it, and only a trained elf can even attempt it. It is simply put, Elven High Magic and they...they are the most powerful spells that exist today...mightier than anything that the wizards of Netheril ever created.”

“The best translation in the common tongue is 'Life of Duty, Form of the People's Need.' Its purpose is to change someone into a new form permanently. Now you are probably going to ask, how is that different than being Ape-a-lor right?”

“Well I mean....” Rafelor looks away before mumbling in a small pouting voice, “Maybe…”

Arnara chuckled again and said, “It allows an elf to change into...another form of elf. But it does so by altering the Weave in a way so that to the Multi-verse, the transformed one was only ever what they were transformed into. I know it sounds confusing, but it can't be dispelled or altered after it is done. It is a very, very private incantation, and it is used seldom...the last time I heard of its use, the elf was banished and turned into a Dharrow as an exile. When that happened that elf...cannot go to Arvandor...their trances no longer show past lives...their souls belong to...well, they ceased to be anything but a Dharrow elf. But it takes many Tel’Quessir to agree to allow it to be cast. And this is an extraordinary case.”

“Wait....wait!" Rafelor scrambles back upright into the chair and leans forward on his desk, "You're telling me your pops is gonna go make the greatest spell ever be casted!?"

“It’s not the greatest of all the magics; there are greater ones. But if you found out you had another daughter that you never knew about, after losing almost a whole generation...what would you do for them? That's why he can't go to Candlekeep. This is a delicate discussion needed to be done in person as this is a ritual that has only been used five times in over 12,000 years. We hope it can fix her physical ailments, but there are…a lot of other Tel’Quessir than need to agree to it.”

"That's gonna be one hell of a light show." Rafelor said as he gazed out the door towards the other end of the building.

“I don't know what it is like,” Arnara confessed. “I've never seen it in any of my trances. It is true that I would be honored to learn it. But it isn’t a trivial thing either to the Tel’Quessir. Only a very few every are taught it.

“So, anything else?”

“As to what else...I know this will be hard for you but... I... we need your compassion. She is...well...while she knows everything I know and do, she's just...unable to do things easily on her own. And it makes her very very frustrated...and angry. The Sewn Sisters crippled her so she can’t even do the simplest incantation. Her body is so…twisted, she needs a lot of physical help to do simple things. But the worst is the damage they did to her mind. And she isn't going to get better mentally until we break the connection between us. She has gone from being a coven’s meal to the possibility of being her own person. I hope we can grant that wish.”

Rafelor sat in his chair quietly for a few moments before speaking, “I made a commitment. Too late to back out now."

"I didn't; the Sewn Sisters did it for me. But I do not shy away from the obligation to fix what they have done to me…us. Come...let's not keep my father waiting.”

"Right." Rafelor stood up and gathered his things. He began to walk out the door but as he passed Arnara, he made one more comment, in a much more serious tone, “I'll see this through. Whatever it takes,” and he then continued out the door.

Arnara watched her friend exit the office before swallowing her fears and worries before Rafelor could notice them. She sighed and sadly echoed his words “Whatever it takes.” And then she too exited Rafelor’s office and shut the door behind them.

Story notes:
All of this is essentially off screen from the main adventures of Arnara. From here, Arnara, does the "Dead in Thay" adventure. But the DM gave me a hook for going there, and then then Rafelor's player and I co-wrote this and all the subsequent pieces of Arnara's story.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to talk about it it is more about Arnara's clone. Either way, I really enjoyed co-writing this piece with 'Rafelor,' aka Wilpower784. And I hope everyone else enjoys the results.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad




Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XIV - In the Stacks
9/6/2021
Opening note:
So...Arnara is now in Thay, and that is a interesting tale.

But it's not this one. This, and the next several is a collaboration on what happened to those folks left behind, while adventurer's do great deeds.


Inside the Hearth the fire blazed, sending waves of warmth throughout the Inn. It was perhaps half full, if one considered that one of the tables in the corner was occupied by a large ogre wearing a silvery headband with a vast amount of food in front of them and a book in hand. The presence of ‘Little One’ and his smell dominated the room most of the time. Fortunately, one of the visiting wizards had used a spell to keep the odor down to tolerable. So, the room became separated into three distinct sections, Little One’s side of the room, the other side, where most of the guests of Candlekeep gathered, and the bar itself, where several the patrons drank and chatted with their neighbors.

The Inn catered to two groups of people; the first were the academics such as the Avowed, and the visiting scholars here to glean knowledge or copy a rare book. The one thing in common was that each one of them would happily discuss their research in vast detail. It wasn’t uncommon for a pair of obsessed scholars to talk past each other never hearing a word of their peer. Eventually some hours later, they would realize how ill-mannered they each were and apologize, drink and try again. The other group were merchants in the book trade, looking for copies for resale or otherwise providing needed supplies for Candlekeep. While normally only those with a hefty gift of knowledge were allowed inside the walls, there were some key exceptions. Fine paper, leather and other items needed for the creation of books were allowed in. Sellers of inks, food, and necessities of life were welcomed into the Court of Air occasionally to sell their wares to the Avowed.

Rafelor was not a member of either group. He sat alone at the bar, with only the barkeep as a constant companion. They poured from a bottle, a dark brown liquor into a glass and placed it in front of the half-elf. Rafelor nodded at the barkeep, quietly grabbed the glass, swirled it around a few times, and took a drink. Behind him, a young crimson Tiefling, with a thin whip like tail and hooves approached apprehensively. She took a deep breath and then spoke trying to get his attention. "Um, sirrah...are you Rafeelur?"

"Raf. Rafelor."

"Raf..fee...lor. Right, got it. Sorry to bother you, but...did you come into Candlekeep with a a twist...er a handi...um...an elf to do research here?" She asked with a look of concern on her face.

"Yeah....yeah..." Rafelor's words trailed off focused on his drink.

“Ah good…yes. Well…we need your help. Or I need your help,” the tiefling spoke quickly.

"You need help? Heh, well I wanna help, but it looks like we always have to do things the hard way,” and Rafelor took another drink from his glass, finishing it. "What's up?"

"Um...well...the elf. She...she isn't answering the door. And she won’t give me permission to come in with food, so I am forced to leave it outside the door all untouched. I'm...kinda of responsible for her while she is inside the Inner Ward. But I don't know what to do."

Rafelor lets out a deep sigh "...#$%^!." he mumbled to himself. "Alright, I'll go head up there now. At least this time, I won't be sent away at the gate."

"Great...I mean thanks...she's been...well...I don't know exactly. Erm maybe you should just follow me."

The tiefling girl led the half-elf outside and headed toward the gate that was called ‘The Emerald Door.’ Nine days ago, the ‘Other’ Arnara limped in front of it and handed the Avowed guard a sealed scroll with the sigil of House Ustina. It wasn’t long before they offered her a chamber inside the Inner Ward. And after a long confusing walk, through the towers, over the bridges and up and down stairs, Rafelor had helped Other Arnara settle into the small private chamber for one. He dimly recalled seeing the Tiefling there being introduced, and Arnara handed her a list of books to be pulled. But just like that Rafelor was whisked away by a stubborn dwarf and was forced to find his own room at the House of Rest, next to the Inn.

But since then, when Rafelor asked to see and check in with his charge it was the same story; a messenger was sent to ‘Other’ Arnara about having a guest visit, and each time it was declined. ‘Too busy,’ ‘Not a good time,’ ‘Please later.’ And all Rafelor could do was cool his heels at the inn, drinking and avoiding intellectual discourse with Little-One.

After following the confusing and twisting tunnels and stairs, finally they arrived at the same chamber door where he last saw the elf. And on the ground were a pair of trays, with food that seemingly hadn’t been touched.

"Sorry about the mess...but she told me to just ‘leave it out here’, even though she can’t get to it and well...that's what I did."

Rafelor became immediately concerned when he saw the untouched plates, pushed his way past the tiefling, and tried the door. To his dismay, the handle refused to move.

"Sirrah...its locked."

"Damn it I can see that." He looked back at the Tiefling. "Open the door; I need to speak to her."

"I...I...Can't. She ordered me not to unlock the door—"

The girl was cut off by a scream of pain, and then the sound of wooden furniture tipping over, and a body hitting stone. Rafelor swiftly looked at the Tiefling, now expecting her to open the door.

"—And I have to follow the rules!"

“You asked me to help, and you won’t open the damn door?” Rafelor said angrily.

The tiefling turned around and started to tear up, "I'm compromised; I have to follow their instructions, and she instructed me not to let anyone in! That’s the rules!" As she turned around, Rafelor caught the sight of a brass key which she juggled between her hands behind her.

"Even if she's in danger? I'll cover for you! We don't have much time!"

"I simply cannot do that!" she said crying. But as Rafelor watched, he noticed that she was wiggling the key in a single hand. It was almost like she was trying to get his attention on the key.

"Fine, I'll do it myself then!" and Rafelor snatched the key out of her hand.

"Oh my...you can't do that!" she said, but her actions told a different tale. She didn’t resist or even fight to retake it. And as she turned back around to face the door, she quickly hid a sly smile along with the tears. But Rafelor wasn’t interested on the nuances of the technicality, and he quickly unlocked the door and flung it open.

"What the hell is this!?" he said as he almost tripped over a haphazard stack of trays, scattered in front of the door.

"Well...that was breakfast from three days ago, that there was lunch...looks like she nibbled that. That there is dinner, but she took only the dessert---"

"You're telling me she hasn't been eating for three days!?"

“She ate the dessert!” The girl said defensively “And other things, if you look closely at the meal from yesterday you can see---"

Rafelor ignored her and looked around. The room was a rectangular chamber, with a desk with about seven different musty tomes on it, with two open to pages, a chest for her things, a chamber pot and a feather bed that clearly hadn’t been touched. Looking around, he then saw next to the desk, a chair on its side, and next to it, the frail mishappen form of ‘Other’ Arnara convulsing on the stone floor.

"Arnara!" And Rafelor ran over and fell to his knees beside her and lifted her head and torso onto his lap. It had only been nine days, but the sight of her was shocking to the half-elf. Her hair was loose and unkempt, dark circles were visible under her eyes which seemed to be sunken back into their sockets. While she was never a picture of health before, she had clearly lost weight. As she lay there, she drew in ragged, labored breaths as she stared past Rafelor and gazed at the ceiling with unfocused eyes. As Rafelor held her, she began to shake and mutter.

“A..a...acid...ow ow ow…make…make it stop...please...please…” she quietly whimpered.

“As I said I never break the rules...oh my! ...What's wrong with her?!” The tiefling asked in a panic.

“Dra...dra...dragon. No…No! I can't move...no I can move...can't I?” the Other Arnara said twitching.

"I don't know. Get me some water, QUICK!" Rafelor shouted as he propped up the unresisting elf higher on his lap. All the while, she continued to shake and murmur unintelligibly to herself. The tiefling went to the open door and grabbed a pitcher of water and a pair of glasses from one of the unused trays. She quickly filled one and handed it to Rafelor, who grabbed it from her hand. She then poured herself a glass and quaffed it down.

Suddenly the ‘Other’ Arnara spoke again “Oh no...no...no you don’t!” her hands started to make motions with a look of concentration on her face. Finally she sat up an pointed a finger at the now panicked tiefling as she started to scream out a incantation, “Vas FLA—” But before she could finish, Rafelor dumped the contents of the glass into her mouth, causing her to gag and cough. Finally, the elf shook her head and spoke, “R..Raf? I...Irony? Who...who..." she looks down at her own twisted and bent form. "It’s me...not me in Thay." She collapsed back onto Rafelor’s chest gasping for air and muttered aloud. "She's...she's stopped now. I can think clearly..."

Rafelor cradled the shivering elf and sighed, giving himself a moment to relax. "That's what I thought. It's the connection."

Breathing heavily she continued, wincing as she spoke, "It hurts...no...that's not right, the memory hurts. I didn't notice it in the tomb...I was already in pain, already being tortured. And Arnara wasn't hurt as often...But now she has been injured...she keeps getting hurt.

"Connection?" Irony asked. "Are...are we...are the books in danger?"

"Candlekeep is fine. It's her that's the concern here."

"I...I...need to...but...so...so...tired..." the elf wheezed and struggled to rise. “Running...out..of...time...”

Rafelor held her and kept her from standing, "You need to lie down. That mind of yours isn't going to retain much information in this state."

But she shook her head "No...don't need to...retain...just find the books...only...two days...left."

"Sorry, um...one more day," Irony said looking a little guilty.

“What is she talking about?” he looked at Irony.

“Access to the stacks is permitted for only a tenday,” Irony started. “After that, we would need another text and permission from either the Master of Tomes, or the Great Reader that sponsored her, V'ziir-Ag. Otherwise, she...must leave and come back another time. And I have to say, she has been having me run ragged looking for tome after tome after tome. Even ones from the...restricted stacks. I haven't had a good night rest in days. At least the chamber pot duty has been light."

"Well, isn't this just great? Arnara's been reading herself to death, about to get the boot out of here, and there's not enough time to handle anything of this.” Rafelor buried his face in his palm, groaning. “Oh, man, Kylan's going to kill me..."

The elf lay there limply shaking her head on Rafelor’s lap. "Not...not...Arnara...I'm...I'm not...Arnara...Or am I?...Can't...keep...us...str-straight."

Rafelor let out a deep, forlorn sigh. “You should've asked me to help.”

“I'm sorry....that's why I came to find you," Irony said. “But I don't make the rules....I'm sorry. I'm trying to help her as best I can.”

“Not you, girl. Her,” Rafelor said pointing at the elf with his head.

“No... no... don’t want you...to see...Arna...me...like...this...” the elf said still laboring to breathe.

“And you'd rather me see you keeled over, starved, and convulsing?” Rafelor retorted.

"I'm...stronger...must be...don’t…want to…burden…you. Was...fine....but she started fighting...in Thay. Unexpected. So...much pain...it’s not real...but it hurts. Fireballs. Steam. Life… drains. Dragon’s…breath. Vrock spores. And the pigs...oh...the pigs squealing.... dying...I'm killing them...she's killing them…I can’t stand it. It barely makes sense. No libraries...nothing...nothing yet. Just petty...Red Wizards and liches."

"Believe me,” Rafelor said shaking his head. He then awkwardly tried to lift Arnara alone when Irony moved over to help steady her as Rafelor stood up. “I'd love to hear all about that, but this really doesn't seem the time. You need to rest, collect yourself, at least eat something that isn't a bunch of sweets."

“She's worried...scared...won't show it to Chewy, or Glint...especially not Zinetra.” She said her knees wobbling. Finally, her shoulders drooped, and she let her head fall forward in submission. “Alright...l’ll rest. Take me to...the bed...I'll try to Reverie...But...please there is...a book we might trade...talk to...Irony.”

Rafelor lifted the elf and was shocked on how light she was compared to the Arnara who danced and leapt with him in the Chult, teaching him the art of Bladesong. He gently carried and set her down on the feather mattress and watched. Once on the bed she laid there limply, eyes half open, breathing softly. Her face twitched momentarily and started to relax as her awareness of the here and now faded away for the memories of the Reverie.

Rafelor stood up straight and rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, “This is great. Just absolutely great. It's only been nine days and I've already failed.” His eyes turn back to Irony. “So, what's this book that she almost killed herself for?”

“Pardon? It’s not a single book sirrah,” the tiefling replied. “She has been emptying the stacks of most of the books on black necromancy. But that’s the problem; there are a lot of books. She's read over two hundred of them already and hasn't found what she wants. I've been getting them for her, and V'ziir-Ag has pointed her in directions to narrow it down. But...she's probably only read...a third of what she wants. Each book tends to reference another two or three...and sometimes she hits a dead end. She's relentless...following a trail of texts almost a thousand years old.” She turned and moved over to the bed where the Other Arnara lay and looked at her with sympathy. “And tomorrow is her last day she will be permitted in the Inner Ward and have access to the restricted stacks. She's looking into some very dark material...you do know that right?”

Before Rafelor could reply, a raspy voice like a flint on stone spoke, “IRONY! What has happened here!?!” A tall slender figure with a tight tonsured braid, and skin like yellowed parchment, who now stepped over the piled trays.

“Oh crap,” Rafelor bluntly declared as he prepared himself to be immersed into another hot mess.

The githzerai looked at the half-elf in confusion. “Who is this...wait, you are her...valet are you not? What is going on?”

“She had...” He looked at the Other Arnara, trying to think of a reasonable explanation, “...health problems.”

"Oh. I see.” The gith then looked at the desk nearby and moved over to it. He looked at the tomes laying on the desk, and reviewed the titles assembled there. “Ah...'Imaskari Rite of Life'...and a treatise of Netherese shadow magic...She is digging deep. Too deep perhaps. Well...she can get more rest after tomorrow I suppose. It could be worse, if she started delving into Far Realm materials...but she is very determined based on the texts she is asking for.”

“Now hang on a second,” Rafelor stomped towards the Githzerai “There's no way she's going to get more time?”

The gith arched an eyebrow “She could of course ask for an extension. It just requires a unique text of value. She came in with a spellbook penned by an Arcanaloth. What does she offer now for evaluation?”

“An extension, huh? How long would that be? Another tenday?”

“Of course. That is the standard arrangement we make.”

"Hmmm," Rafelor thought for a moment "Now what could I possibly have that would…” Rafelor’s voice trailed off and his face’s color drained away. “So uh...what exactly would be a...valid submission?”

“The Avowed accept several things, like spellbooks for entry into Candlekeep,” The githzerai began. “But for the Inner Ward, we require a substantial gift such as, rare editions of tomes already in the collection, journals of those who recount unique or insightful experiences, or the odd work that has been annotated by a prominent scholar outside the library. Being unique or special is important here.” The Gith then tilts his head regarding the half-elf. "Are you alright? You are looking a bit pale. Perhaps you should get some rest. Please take care." And the Avowed moved to leave the room, carefully avoiding the trays.

"So uh...where do I go for a submission?" Rafelor asked.

“Irony can run it to me or another Reader. You have a day to consider options of course. Please help your charge...we don't need another ghost in the halls." And the gith left the room, as quietly as he had entered.

After a few moments, Irony exhales sharply and leaned against a wall, "I thought I was going to be in trouble...he's stern, but he's a caring man...as long as you don't ask him to show it."

"Is that that the V'ziir dude?"

Irony nodded, "V’ziir-Ag. He is one of the eight Great Readers, and he specializes in ...unnatural things. Aberrations, undead, and Far Realm materials and artifacts.” Irony looks down and chuckled, “I want to be the Master of Tomes one day...but that stuff gives me the shivers. I don't know how she read what she did." And Irony glanced at the elf softly breathing, with a small smile on her delicate face.

"Well, she clearly seems better than before. About gave me a heart attack as soon as I walked in."

Irony bowed her head, "I was just following the rules...I didn't think that it was as bad inside here. I would have fetched you sooner...I'm sorry,” and she made a sniffling sound.

“Don't sweat it, kid. I should've been the one up here to begin with. No need to go crying my tears.”

“I...thanks. I just want to be the best help I can...I don't want her to fail...let alone die under my care."

“You're doing your job fine. Now, it's about time I do the same.” Rafelor said with confidence but a certain degree of glumness.

The Other Arnara twitched momentarily, but her breathing was still soft and regular. “I hope she will be alright, but what did she mean by 'not...not...Arnara...I'm...I'm not....Arnara...Or am I?' Who is she?”

Rafelor was silent for a moment, as he chewed on his lip before finally responding. “She's a friend, one who's been stuck in the shadow of another. She's trying her best to find her own path, but she's struggling.”

“Shadow of another? I don't understand.”

"She’s a clone; created by a coven of hags and…well…let's just say their minds are connected too close for comfort."

"Oh...And that's why she's here?"

"Right.” Rafelor sighed. “So...did he say you could help with a book submission?"

Irony nodded, "Yes...I can run it to a Reader and they will evaluate it. I would start with V'ziir-Ag of course.”

“Well uh...” Rafelor quietly mumbled to himself "Damn it...What if I had something to submit right now?”

“Oh...well if you do I can deliver it now...but I'll have to lock you in here until I return. Neither of you are allowed to wander the Inner Ward alone...the extradimensional spaces are plentiful, and you could get lost. And Miirym can be touchy about that.”

“Well, as long as you do return...But answer me this; If I submit this, can you ensure that she gets to stay for another tenday?”

Irony’s jaw opens mockingly, “Of course I would come back. But as to your question...It isn't up to me...but a Reader. I could take you to him if you want or fetch him if there is a question.”

“Might as well take me to them.” He turned again to look at Other Arnara, deep in her Reverie, "Best to do this while she's still in the trance."

"As you like.” Irony said cheerfully. “I'm sure she will be safe...um, she will be safe like that?" she asked, as Other Arnara, flopped over onto her stomach with an arm now limply hanging off the bed.

“Uh....” Rafelor moved over to the Other Arnara and put her arm back on the mattress. “Yeah..."

Irony motioned to the door, and Rafelor evaded the trays and left Other Arnara’s room. She then took the key back from Rafelor and locked the door behind them. Pocketing the key, she led Rafelor back down the stairs and then then meandered throughout Inner Ward and its byzantine stairwells. Eventually, they proceeded downward into the lower levels of a tower. The passage beneath closed in and the torches on the walls grew farther apart. Finally, they reached an iron bound door, covered in sigils and runes. Irony rapped her knuckles three times on the wood, and then there was the sound of a bar sliding and then the door swung open.

Rafelor and Irony stepped inside, and to no great surprise he found himself in a laboratory. It had shelves and shelves of books. Laced in between the volumes were things in glass containers, canopic jars and other macabre items under a layer of dust. The room had several empty slabs that looked like they were for embalming. V’ziir-Ag, The Great Reader stood in the back, cleaning a flask in a basin. He turned to glance over his shoulder and said in the same raspy voice. “Ah...the Valet...well...what does your mistress want?”

“Heard you guys like to do borrowed time here, and it looks like Arnara here needs a little more."

“Time is the enemy of research for many reasons. But access to perilous knowledge is...well perilous. Are you sure she can handle another tenday?”

“I got no reason to start doubting her yet. That tenday is what she needs to keep a focused, yet healthy mind.”

The gith arched an eyebrow, “Well, if this is what she wants...did you have something to offer to the Avowed?”



Rafelor's confidence when he entered the room starts to waver. Someway, somehow, he thought there was a chance he could get out of this. But, now it didn’t look like it's going to be the case

"Well....uh...yeah I do." The gith puts down the cleaned flask and waits expectantly. Rafelor's body tensed as he pulled something from underneath his coat. His face flushed to a bright pink as he sheepishly slid over a worn leather book, with a title inscribed with a mixture of black and red inks:

Pyrite's Journal

RAFELOR'S KICKASS LOG OF ADVENTURES

Corrected by Arnara, 1st Daughter of House Ustina

(Repeatedly)’​

The Gith frowned “What is this then?" He opened it up and started to flip through the page, skimming the contents. “Damaged, missing some pages here and there. Not what I was expecting. Irony, didn't the elf say she had more of the Arcanaloth spellbooks?"

After thinking a moment, the tiefling nodded, “She did yes. I am sure of it.”

“Well...I don't see how...this...Acererak?” The Gith whispered in a mixture of fear and reverence. “No...this can't be...no it is...and its recent...” The Gith looked up "This. This is your journal?”

“Uh......” Rafelor stood there, unsure what to say to the scholar, as he continued to flip pages and read further. “Come now...you must tell me. You all faced Acererak? And survived?”

“Well...uh....I...um...Yes.”

“And the elf...she annotated it as well. A first hand encounter with one of the most dangerous liches known...and you survived and wrote something down. Remarkable. I had heard rumors of a band that went to the Chult recently...and that was you? And her?”

“Well...” and Rafelor took a long pause, “I guess rumors do spread around then.”

The Gith made a low whistle. “This...this...is something worthy indeed.” And he nodded approvingly. “But I cannot accept it.” And in a smooth motion, he clapped the book shut and turned it around to Rafelor.

The stunned half-elf blinked their eyes before sputtering, “WHAT!?”

“I can overlook the missing pages I suppose...but the problem as I see it, is that it is incomplete. A journey half finished. However, if I could have a copy of this volume and a promise that you will...donate the subsequent ones on their completion, I think we can grant her the time. But it must be the originals!” and the Gith wagged a finger at Rafelor.

"Well, I thought that volume was fully complete, but if it's a volume II you're asking for..."

“Of course...a complete set is more valuable.”

“That...could work,” Rafelor said with a lump in his throat.

“Well then...Irony, please take this journal to the House of the Binder and have it copied. Then deposit it in the restricted section under 'Close calls.'” Irony took the book from the Gith and clutched it confused. “And please escort the esteemed Rafelor back to...the First Daughter.”

Irony moved to Rafelor and tugged on his sleeve, attempting to pull him with her. “Uh...alright.” They walked back to the door. As the door started to creak shut, the githzerai spoke again. “And Rafelor...thank you. Thank you for saving my life.” Before Rafelor could respond, the door creaked closed, and they could hear the sound of it being barred from the inside.

“Wait what?" Rafelor said as he stared at the door in confusion. “What's he talking about?”

“I’m not sure,” Irony said. “He was sick for a while though, wasting away in fact. The other seven were getting ready to name a replacement, when he suddenly got better."

“Holy @##%!...”

Irony looked at Rafelor “What did you do?”

Rafelor stood silent for a moment, before deciding to answer Irony as straight as possible.

“I destroyed the Soulmonger. The source of his illness.”

Irony blinked a moment before gushing, “Seriously...wow. That must mean you are a...a real hero! And the elf? She was there too!?!”

Rafelor put on a smug grin, feeling more like himself in weeks. “Sure was, doesn't feel like it, but I guess the actions speak louder than the thoughts.”

“That's is ...wow...I've never met a real hero before...a pair even!” She started to skip, down the dark tunnel. “Well...too bad no one will read your Journal for a while.”

“Hey! What's with the sudden shade?” Rafelor said in a hurt voice.

The tiefling stopped and looked confused for a moment. Then realization crossed her face and she answered Rafelor. “It’s not shade. It’s policy. Journals leave the restricted stacks only on the death of the authors. For…privacy. And since someone has to know it is here all to request it no one will see it. So, unless you tell someone, it will stay pretty private. Come on...let’s get you back to your friend.”

Rafelor let out his breath in a huff shaking his head, and followed the skipping Irony, her hooves echoing in the halls.

“Alrighty then. And then after that, I'm gonna have to make a stop by The Hearth again. With all this craziness hitting the fan, I think I'm gonna need some of your hardest booze.”

Irony chuckled, "I guess I won’t live long enough to read it Rafelor...unless I get a higher rank...OOOooo now I have to become a Great Reader…or the Master of Tomes!”

Rafelor kept walking "Guess you got something to look forward to when I croak"

“You croak? Don't you mean her? The journal can't be republished or put into circulation until she dies. And don't elves live what...a thousand years? Wow what a story it will be in 2492 DR! Anyway, I'll take you back to her, and I’ll bring you back some drinks from the bar after I drop this off. Come on!” and she started to skip down the hall again.

This day just gets crazier and crazier..." Rafelor said to himself, and shrugged as he followed behind, trying to keep up with the excited skipping Tiefling.

Story notes:
A lot of the source material was from Candlekeep Adventures. It was a lot of fun exploring Irony and V'ziir-Ag and bringing...a version of them to life. The other "source" is Wilpower784 Journal for Rafelor. It is a real thing, with comedy only the orignal party members understand. But it did need constant corrections, which was the running theme in the 'Tomb of Annihilation' adventure.
 
Last edited:

Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
Very happy with how this one turned out.

I imagined a very different way the stories of Candlekeep could have gone. My original idea was that the Other Arnara and Rafelor sit down together and Rafelor interviews the Other Arnara about what’s happening in Thay. All the while, Rafelor sprinkles in his commentary on what she describes. It would’ve been an inverse of Arnara correcting Rafelor’s journal, one more focused on what was happening in Thay rather than Candlekeep. However, this version fleshes out the story between Rafelor and the Other Arnara much better.

Someday, I plan on revising Rafelor’s journal so that it can be enjoyed outside the original party members. If people do want to see that that is.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XV- Meals and Inquisitions - 9/22/2021

The barkeeper slid a mug down the counter, which Rafelor caught with his hand. His drink in hand, he took a swig of the strong dark liquor. As he did so, he detected the scent of someone who needs a bath nearby. The odor grew stronger, when suddenly a hand slapped Rafelor on the back, causing him to sputter out some of his drink. Turning he saw the resident ogre looking at him with a crooked smile, missing several teeth.

“Hello friend! You seem to be lonely! May I join you?” the ogre asked. Rafelor responded with only a loud gasp of air, as the wind had been completely knocked out of him. The Ogre sat down on the floor instead of on one of the stools, next to the counter and the half-elf. “You may have heard that I am called, ‘Little One.’ And what is your ...hey! you have a nice headband like mine! Where did you acquire it?"

Rafelor let out a final wheeze as he caught his breath, before responding, “This thing? This was a gift from a friend.”

“Is it? Such a nice friend to give something like that. Hello Irony!”

The young tiefling girl, Irony, came up to the bar with her long whip like tail firmly planted underneath her nose. “I need an order of stew! Hi Little One, I see you have a copy of...OH! Hi Raf!” the tiefling said excitedly.

“Anyway,” the ogre continued, “I was recently given a new book to read, to get my opinions on. It is fascinating! Tells of a long adventure, and there are these two people, a Moon elf, and the Half-elf author that seem to have an intense negative relationship—”

“—So Raf, I'm taking this upstairs...did you want to visit her? —” Irony asked ignoring Little One’s gushing.

“—and apparently the author must have a real problem with using baths, as their hated rival keeps cleaning them up...using Magic! The author seemed to detest being clean— ”

Rafelor gives Irony a pleading nod, and she turned to lean over the bar, “Make that two stews,” In a swift moment, one of the cooks assistants brought out a tray with two steaming bowls and handed it to the tiefling.

“—But the author is an inspired artist as well...the drawings in the book are so adorable—”

Rafelor finally interrupted the great Ogre, “—Hey, listen, that sounds great. Awesome, really. Uh, listen, I'm gonna go because I've got someone that needs my attention right now, so you just have fun there.” Rafelor stood up and then followed Irony, who headed toward the front exit of the inn.

“—I've only just got through the first chapter...oh alright.” Little One said, waving his hand, and his smile never faltering. “I'll talk to you more when you come back!”

As they approached the Emerald gate, Irony pulled her tail away from her nose and looked at Rafelor with a sly grin. “Thought you might want to eat with her.” she says with a sly smile. “Oh, and I forgot that Little One has access to some of the restricted stacks. The Great Readers just love to hear his opinions on new material. He brings such a different perspective after all.”

Rafelor let out a sigh of relief “I think you may have just saved my life. I almost coughed up my liver in that bitch slap.”

“He's just being friendly...and he's much better at it now. The first time he did that we needed to call for a healer to mend the broken bones.”

“Talk about killing someone with kindness...”

They passed through the Emerald Door, and the guards acknowledged the pair with simple nods, as Irony continued. “Well...ever since he found that...HEY! you have a headband almost like his. What a coincidence!”

Rafelor rubbed the back of his head. “Is it really that noticeable? I try to hide it underneath my hair, but I'm not having a whole lot of success lately.”

“It's cute. Don't hide it. Complements your eyes! But you really should look at a trim for that hair cut...its sooo 1480s,” and Irony began to skip on her hooves down the hall, somehow not spilling the stew as she went.

“Wh-Wha? Hey—" Rafelor was about to snap back at that shade towards his hair, but then stopped himself. “Oh, come on...” sighing he decided to cut his losses and stepped up his pace to catch the tiefling and the stew.

Irony led Rafelor through the complicated maze of bridges and stairs leading to the tower, where Rafelor’s charge was currently residing. Finally, after ascending the stairs, they came to the bound wooden door. Irony with her tail, pulled a key from her pouch and used it to rap on the door, alerting the occupant.

From inside the door a soft elvish voice responded, “Come in Irony!” Irony then balancing the tray on her shoulder, unlocked the door, and motioned with her tail for Rafelor to open it. Grabbing the handle, he pulled it open and let the pair inside.

He noticed that the room had been changed slightly since he was here yesterday. A table with two chairs had been added, although the table looked much like the desk covered in musty tomes. The mishappen elf was seated at the desk, and now struggled to stand up as she spoke, “We should put the meal on the table. I'll help you clean it...Rafelor!” She said sounding both surprised and relieved, as she noticed the half-elf entering the room.

“That's what they call me.”

The elf gave Rafelor a sour look “I guess the possibility you are a doppelganger coming to kill me is out; that response could only come from the real Rafelor.” With her only good arm, she started to move one tome at a time from the table to the desk, to clear some space.

“What brings you up to see me?” the elf asked as Irony set the tray down on a cleared spot, and too began to move more books as the elf continued to struggle moving a single large tome.

“Well, I didn't come to Candlekeep for a vacation. And at the very least, I had to make sure you were actually gonna eat this time.”

The elf sighed and nodded as Irony spoke again, “I'll be back in a bit, so I'll lock in here together for a bit!” she said with an impish smile. “Otherwise, ring the bell if you need me!” Irony then exited the room, and both could hear the key turn in the lock, sealing them inside.

The elf looked at Rafelor a moment, before saying, “Well...I guess...It would be nice to talk to someone rather than just asking for more books,” And with difficulty, she sat at the table.

“I still don't get the whole ordeal with that, but maybe that's a question for another time,” Rafelor said as he slid a chair over to the table and sat down.

The elven woman sighed and shrugged “No... it’s alright if you ask. I..uh...we know more now than we did when we arrived.” Her hand shook as she spooned some of the stew and starts to eat. “What did you want to know?”

“Well...” Rafelor trailed off as he thought a moment “Everything. I guess. Why don't you start with the beginning? What happened to you? What happened to Arnara? And what's with the sudden interest in necromancy?”

“Well...you remember that...coven,” she said with a bitter look in her eyes, “The Sewn Sisters...they took a piece of Arnara and created...me. But they did something using Necromancy to cause us to share a... soul. We thought was just some magical connection...but,” and she shook her head. “Our soul is...tied tightly to both of us. What the hags did, is ensure that I know everything that...Arnara does, feels, experiences, I also do. But not the reverse. Arnara is isolated from anything I think or feel."

He nodded “Right, I think I knew that much.”

She continued, “We wanted to find out about the ritual and use the knowledge to...change how we are to something…tolerable. But as you saw last night...when Arnara feels pain; I do. And if she dies...so will I.” The other Arnara swallowed and sat silently a moment, letting her words sink in as a look of horror cross Rafelor's normaly smug face.

“So... we now believe there are three options. The first...is ensure that...one of us dies, without the other also. We don't care for this idea at all. The second is that we somehow, combine us into one person. Arnara is alright with this, but I admit I'm...not as positive about it. The third is to separate us into two different people.” The elf furrowed her brow “That will not be easy; This is fell magic that was done, and it will be difficult to undo. The longer we...I exist separately, the harder it will be,” She then took the spoon and bit into the stew. “Does this make sense to you?”

“I think so...” Rafelor said trying to keep a clear head on what was being said.

She sighed, “It doesn't help that the hags decided to...twist me for their own amusement.” She looked at her useless hand bent along her forearm and her hips and her legs. “Putting me into this body, to fit their ideal of beauty. But, iIts more than that. I'm also unable to touch the Weave. I don't know if you know this, but Arnara always was able to keep things clean, and do simple tricks from a very early time. That is denied to me as well. I know every piece of arcana that Arnara knows, and I can't cast the most basic spell.” She looked at Rafelor with envy “You are a greater wizard now, that I can ever be...unless something changes.”

Rafelor looked at her in stunned silence. He had no idea that the coven’s work had been more than a twisted body. That their meddling went deeper into what made ‘Arnara’ who she was, and that this echo of hers was destined to be nothing like the original.

“Are you...curious about anything else?” the elf asked in between bites.

“Guess the stakes were higher than I thought,” Rafelor responded. “Not that they weren't already high in the first place. As for which of those options is best. I...I don't know.”

The ‘Other’ Arnara put down her spoon and looked at the half-elf. “Who...who am I to you Rafelor?”

“...Huh?”

“You have spent a little time with me. Who am I?”

“...geez.” Rafelor let out a sigh. “I think I'm trying to figure that out too. Back in the tomb, I didn't think much of anything about you. I had a real, living Arnara right there in front of me, and that's what I knew she was. You were just some twisted illusion created by the Sewn Sisters. But now, it's not so simple. It's clear you're a lot more than that. And that...bothers me. At first, I didn't understand why Arnara felt so sentimental towards you. I thought it'd be a lot easier to toss yourself aside when you know what you are better than anyone else. But she didn't. She treated you like she did anyone else there. Maybe with even more care.” Rafelor looked away for a moment before meeting the elf’s intense gaze again.

“That's all before I knew what would happen if one of you died...” Rafelor looked away again uncomfortably. “If it had been me the Sewn Sisters copied, and I hadn't been so careful...I don't think there'd be much of a happy ending in that timeline.”

The elf nodded, “Arnara...feels...a lot of guilt. Both that she going to Chult allowed this to happen, and that she...didn't demand a solution from the hags. She was so…consumed with ending the threat of the Soulmonger, that even I was a secondary consideration. And I don’t think I…” she shook her head for a moment, “She was wrong with that thinking.” The woman sighed and shook her head, “But, she's...so...hard on herself. So hard, I...I... don’t want to be her. I want to be someone else...anyone else. But I suppose the apple doesn't fall from the tree now does it?”

Rafelor shrugged, “I know, I hate it too. I wish I could do something about it, but it's been an uphill battle trying to alleviate that pressure.”

The other Arnara took a bite of some more stew and then spoke again, “The good news is...she found what she wanted in Thay. From what she has read, we know that...something can be done. I just need to find a place now. And she has to finish her obligations in Thay of course."

Rafelor raises a brow. “Something? What exactly is 'something'? A moment ago, we had a lot of options on the table.”

“Deep in the Doomvault, she found something foul.” The clone said. “A ‘Tome of the Stilled Tongue’ a grotesque grimoire. In it, she found a complete copy of the ritual, and even saw it being cast...right in front of her,"

“The ritual? As in, Kylan's super-duper spell?”

She shook her head “No...the one the hags used. The one that split our soul incompletely.”

“Oh right, sorry. All this crazy magic is sliding past my head. I may be a 'greater wizard' as you say, but that's not saying a whole lot.”

Taking another bite of the stew she continued, “Arnara believes that with a high magic spell, Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess and with another person to...use and modify that ritual in a place strong with either white or black necromancy...we can break or alter the spell the hags used.”

"But the truth of it is, there is only one outcome I want now. I want to live,” She looked at Rafelor with tears, "I want to discover the world on my terms. I want to discover who I am. I want...Arnara not to worry about me. And yet...here I sit, barely able to do ...more than read.” She said gesturing at the books piled on the desk. She took another bite of stew. “This is actually quite good...you should eat some, while its still hot.”

Rafelor takes a spoonful of stew, “Oh naughty word...that's nice.” he quietly mumbled to himself. “Well, it's been one hell of a tenday or two. But if you wanna live, you got plenty of time to do that once we figure all this magic naughty word out.” Rafelor continued to eat, when he heard the sound of metal on stone. He looked down and saw that the elf’s spoon lay on the ground. He then looked up and his face grew pale.

The elf was leaning back in her chair, as her one good hand pulled desperately on her collar, while the other, thrashed wildly. Her breathing was suddenly rapid and ragged as if all the air in the room was not enough to sustain her. Her face began to turn red as she struggled to stay seated.

“Wait...oh naughty word...OH naughty word!” and Rafelor knocked over his chair and leapt to her aid too late, as she fell to the ground, heaving and vomiting up her dinner, as she fought for breath. “Oh no..no no no NO!” Rafelor first tore open her shirt, trying to alleviate any constriction around the neck. Seeing no change, then he attempted to pin her arms, so she didn’t hurt them during her thrashing.

The Other Arnara was covered in bile and bits of her own food, but she was now dry heaving, having nothing left inside her. She lay on the floor and gulped down more air as she convulsed. All Rafelor could do was hold her still so she didn’t injury herself. Finally with difficulty she uttered a word that Rafelor would have never expected to cross her lips.

“ Yu--Yu--Yurtrus.”

“Yurtrus?” Rafelor said concerned. “What's going on? Orcs? Gods? Oh god is Old Yarrack back again!?”

The Other Arnara shook her head and wiped her hand across her mouth and chin. “The...the Red Wizards...imprisoned Chosen of the gods...this one was...a chosen of the orc god of disease and rot." The elf rubbed the front of her neck as she continued. "Arnara was choking in the poison...she couldn't breathe. Couldn't even move out of the poison.”

Rafelor quickly picked up the stricken elf and laid her on the bed. She lay there exhausted, saying nothing. Once satisfied she wasn’t going to relapse, he moved over to the fallen bowl of half-eaten and half-digested stew and started to use the first spell that Arnara had taught him. And slowly began to clean away the mess.

There was a soft chuckle from the bed, causing Rafelor to look up. The elf was looking at Rafelor cleaning, when she finally said, “I...I... don’t know if Arnara really understood how you felt when she cleaned you. But I do...” and she struggled to sit upright on the bed. Succeeding, she then stood, and limped her way back to the table, talking to herself. “Oh...oh good...she's staying in the back now. She's hurt, but that elemental will help.”

“Are-are you okay?”

“I'm fine; I'm not poisoned...but she was. But I felt it all...I can't not feel it. She should be fine in the back now...she's letting the others open the doo—” Suddenly, she became rigid, and she fell backwards, her limbs locked in place, hitting the floor with a dull thump. Rafelor ran over to her and was shocked to see that her skin was almost a pale ice blue. He reached out to touch her, and found she was as cold as a winter’s morning.

“NO! Damn it, Arnara! Be careful!” Rafelor started to rub her limbs to try to get some warmth into her. But her limbs refused to relax, and she lay on the floor looking like a toppled statue, her eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling. Rafelor continued to try to warm her up, when his hand passed over her chest, and he stopped short.

Her heart was no longer beating.

“No....NO! naughty word!” Rafelor slapped her face, trying to wake her, trying to get a response of any kind. He was about to get up and ring the bell, when suddenly Other Arnara took a deep breath. As Rafelor watched, the color returned to her skin, and her limbs became slack, as she lay there gasping for air again.

She reached out with a hand and found Rafelor’s jerkin, and shivering, she pulled him close as she said, with her teeth chattering. “C C C one of...so....c c c old. Oh, that hurt.” She said wincing.

“Wait...” Rafelor is taken aback “...What?” Rafelor heart finally started to slow from its relentless pounding. As his heart’s pace slowed, he looked at the disheveled elf and asked, “What in the world...your heart stopped.”

“A...R r red Wiz z zard...sur...sur...surprised...C C Couldn't c c counter...Zzzzinetra saved her,” she said quietly. Turning her head, she met Rafelor’s gaze and pleaded. “She's d d done now...has to r r rest. But I n n need your r r h h help. T t t ake...take me to the b b bbath house, and h h help me..."

“Uh...yeah...alright.” Rafelor said, and then he started to combine two aspects of the spell Arnara taught him, one part to remove the soil from her, the second to warm her clothes and chase away the chill, But suddenly she grabbed his hands, and stopped him from making the incantation.

“N n n no...I w w want w w warm w w w water...hot water. N n n ot magic."

"No. It's alright. We'll get you your water. This'll help in the meantime."

The elf released his hand, and he started the incantation again, and as he did so she whispered to him, “Just....hold me...help me survive this...”

She lay there on his lap, and Rafelor was now for the second time in two days, unsure on what to do or what to say. He wasn’t familiar with magical injuries like she was encountering, and he wasn’t even sure if the symptoms were real or imagined. The only thing he could think of doing was do what she asked, hoping that at the very least, giving her some comfort would give her the willpower to fight against what ailed her.

Finally, her breathing slowed to normal, and the shivering had abated when she spoke again. “She's...heading back their camp...she'll probably do a Reverie before Zinetra. But she's done fighting…for now." The elf then lay back on Rafelor’s lap and whispered aloud, “Her reveries are intense, but they don't hurt at least. Or is that because I'm observing them, and not really in control?”

“Don't think I understand them much. Probably never will.”

“They are like a dream...but while what images arise aren't in your control, you can guess what will come. And once there you can examine them, relive them, all with the barest thought. Dreams are chaotic, wild...I found the one I had frightening, not because of what I dreamed, but that I had no say on where it went.”

“You've mentioned that before.”

The Other Arnara nodded, “I wanted to understand...what they were like. My friend never dreamed; she had nightmares. I didn't understand it...still don't as far as her terror is concerned, I really hoped Shalai could have helped there. Anyway...now is good time to get me to the bathhouse; Arnara is going to ask something of Zinetra...but I'm not certain what. It’s important though, and I think I should be awake for that."

Rafelor nodded and asked, “Can you walk on your own?”

“With difficulty. But getting in and out of tub and using the pitchers is another matter. The hags made a mess with my hips and it makes it difficult to climb stairs. Glad I have Irony looking for the books in stacks for me; I couldn't do it.” She looked at her splayed form and the mess that still covered her. Finally, she sighed and said glumly, “I... really will need help there. And... I trust you.” Tilting her head backwards she looked at Rafelor face and gave him a wry smile “It’s quite the role reversal I suppose.”

“Heh. Maybe.” Rafelor said returning the grin.

“Help me stand please,” Rafelor gently sat the woman up, and then he stood and assisted the elf. As he did so, she continued to talk. “I guess it might be alright to think of the future...I guess I'll need a name of my own after all.”

“Was about to ask you that right before that scare just now. You've got plenty of options on how you want to live your life once this all wraps up. Might as well start with a name of your own. Anything you want. Except Rafelor; that's already taken.”

“I'm thinking that I won’t take a boy's name,” she said smiling. “I can't use my...our birthname...I guess I will need to come up with...something else.

“Just think of something that feels right to you. Whatever you feel like would suit who you are. Or, if that’s too hard, maybe think about if you had a child, what would you name it? That might be another place to start.”

The Other Arnara chuckled, “An elven adult chooses their name; the names we give children are…different. But we haven’t even quite decided who is going to be Arnara…or if both of us will change our names. The only thing we did decide is if only one of us survived, the other person would become Arnara.” She looked at Rafelor and saw the confusion on his face. “Names are a tricky subject for elves, even deciding on Arnara originally took a year. And I don't even know what I will even look like after this is all done. I don't even know if I will feel different, beyond the lack of physical pain from this body. But you'll be there when...this happens…right?”

"Really?” Rafelor said surprised. “You think I'm gonna miss out on some crazy spell that's only used a couple bajillion years? Like the hells I'm sleeping on that.”

“I am glad to hear that. Well, I guess we need Irony to let us out.” The elf then reached out to the nearby bell on the desk, without looking. But Rafelor was surprised at what he saw next.

The bell slid over the desk and floated into the Other Arnara's hand. Normally the anchor tattoo would twinge a bit after the Weave was affected by magic, but as far as Rafelor could tell there was no spell cast. The Weave had remained untouched. Rafelor glanced at her face as she rang the bell, and he wasn’t even sure if she had realized what had happened.

Rafelor raised a brow “Well, that's interesting.” He quietly said to himself.

“What is?” she asked puzzled.

“...Nothing, Sorry, just thinking out loud.” Rafelor said shaking his head, wondering what he exactly saw.

Notes:
So...Arnara had the worst luck on saving throws in the Doomvault, and the encounter with the Cone of Cold was only the second time that she ever needed to make a death saving throw. But progress was being made!

But before that, the idea that Rafelor's precisous journal is being judged by an ogre who completely misses the fact the author is next to time is just precious. I really do like the personae of Candlekeep; there is a bit to work with even though there are very minimal descriptions.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XVI - Regrets of Innocence Lost


The grotto in Thay was called by Syranna ‘the Gatehouse.’ Embedded deep in the cliffs overlooking Lake Thaylambar, it was little more than a collection of magical circles set into flagstone. But now it acted as a refuge for the four, sealed here beneath the rock and stone. The Doomvault below was challenging, pushing their skills and their emotions to the edge. But now the four rested in the light of their cooking fire, for warmth.

The first was Chusi (or ‘Chewy’ as he preferred to be called) who leaned against a column of stone, fast asleep. His golden scales twinkled in the firelight, as did the edges of his great sword, ever at the ready to cleanse evil in the world. In fact, cleansing seemed to be the sole purpose for Chewy. Anyone or anything that remotely gave a whiff of evil, was to be put down. In his eyes, it was too late, and the best course of action was to send them to the afterlife to make proper amends.

Next to him, in a nest of blankets and his broad hat covering his head, lay the snoring Glint Dashwell. The halfling had cleaned and oiled his pair of hand crossbows, all within easy reach. Glint didn’t care for cleansing for the sake of cleansing. To him, Chewy’s obsession was simply a means to an end, and that end was to be paid. While every fight they had disappointed him in the lack of material wealth, he had faith that he would be well paid for his efforts. Soon…maybe. And his skill with those crossbows warranted that faith, as he had demonstrated repeatedly in the vaults below. Many of the Red Wizards and their minions found themselves peppered by his quarrels in the search for more cash.

Lounging awake by the fire, lay the sinewy form of the fey druid Zinetra. Like many eladrin from the feywild, her mood reflected the season she projected to people around her. During their fighting she took the countenance of her Archfey, the Coure of Mischief and Strife. It was cold look, her hair frosty blues and whites with eyes of solid piercing blue. But now she was in between the seasons; winter was melting away from cold ice to warm spring, her hair and eyes were drifting to match as her winter exterior thawed. But her stated reason for being there was to in the words of her Archfey, to ‘Liven up Thay.’ It was an absurd notion, that only the powerful denizens of the Feywild would even care about Thay’s gaiety or its lack of humor and ‘fun.’ But clearly someone did, and by all that twisted logic, it meant that bring down the ossifying evil of Szass Tam was the best way to accomplish it.

Last there was Arnara, the silver haired Moon elf from a noble family in the Misty Forest who sat cross legged on the ground, her chin in one of her hands. She had come on a mission of desperation, looking for forbidden necromantic knowledge horded by Szass Tam. But now, her eyes were open and unfocused, as she experienced her Reverie. Her rapier was leaning against a column has her hands pulled idly on a torc she wore around her neck. After a while, her eyes fluttered as her consciousness refocused on the now. She sighed and clambered to her feet and stretched. As she did so, she noticed that Zinetra was still awake staring into the fire with a dreamy smile, as she waved her hand and small figures danced within to her delight.

Arnara looked at the Eldarin for along moment. She then gathered her courage and approached the druid, and knelt down beside her and asked, “Zinetra? Do you have a moment?”

Zinetra laid on her blanket continued to watch the figures in the fire dance to her amusement, and without turning said, “Certainly, what is it?”

“So... thank you for...saving my life. That spell nearly froze me to death...I appreciate it—”

“—I wouldn’t be a member of the Circle of Wildfire if I were to allow you to be frozen to death, my kin,” Zinetra said still looking at the dancers in the flames.”

Arnara continued, “I had a question though. Well first, I should say that you are the first Eladrin I have ever met, and when I heard that one was going to be on this journey to Thay, I was excited. And now I have spent time with you...you seem so...happy. Not inside the Doomvault mind you…when you have winter’s glory on display you are anything but. But at each rest you seem to warm up or thaw. How...how do you do it? I mean...coming here because an Archfey thinks it needs livening up.... It just what I imagine the Seelie Court doing on a whim. And yet, you seem undaunted and unaffected by the horrors here. And then as we rest, it’s like nothing ever happened."

Zinetra cracked a small smile onto her face as she glanced at Arnara, “It's not that I am not bothered at all by the horrors here. But by knowing that by facing them the change that we shall bring for the better. My... mother has done many things on whim before this being one of them, but in the end by bringing the already dead to rest will return them to nature, it will make the unchanging anew through rebirth.”

Arnara chuckled, “I suppose that's a better way of looking at it when Chewy decides to cleanse things."

Zinetra glanced at Arnara nodding, “Yes indeed, there certainly is a fire within that one for purging the evil from this place.”

Arnara looked at the stone awkwardly, struggling to find the words she wanted to say, “As a druid of your faith...do you...lead and advise others?"

She looks into the fire for a moment and then skyward in the grotto, “I did once try to lead, and let us just say I am not particularly suitable for such tasks. No, I tend to advise or carry out tasks assigned by the Seelie Court.”

Arnara shifted nervously, “I... well...I feel...lost. Exhausted. I left home only five months ago and feels that joy and happiness are distant memories. Before my cousins Casia, Zyana and Palas had died fighting to save our home, I was...free to do what I wanted...but I was not happy. I can’t remember the last time I was. But since then, I've had to step up. Be responsible. Be prepared to lead our house. Set an example for others. But since their deaths, it seemed that joy and happiness were even a more distant dream than before.

Then I ran from my responsibilities...but all I did was find myself responsible for a group of N'Tel'Quessir. And then I watched two of them die as I tried to lead them. You would think after doing a great job for a baron, I would be happy, but all I can do is remember are Ametrine’s and Pyrite’s deaths. And then we saved the world from a horror we found. That we did to break the Soulmonger and defeat Acererak, saved untold number of souls. I even saved one of our companions from a fate of forever trapped in a piece of stone. But instead of contentment of doing the right thing, all I feel is and grief over the one soul I found...me; a twisted reflection that the hags used for their ends and amusement.

“I can't remember the last time I felt true joy. Or smiled. Only the tears. Sadness. Loathing. The only bright spot started as a twisted quirk of fate; a companion that had a passing resemblance to my cousin, Palas that I dearly loved and missed.”

“What happened to him?” Zinetra said sitting up fully and looking at the Moon elf with concern.

“It wasn’t just him…my elder cousins perished defending the Misty Forest from a horde of hobgoblins. But him…I saw Palas’ face in this…impetuous Ha’Tel-Quessir named Rafelor.”

“And who is this Rafelor to you?” Zinetra said as she leaned forward closer to Arnara.

“When I first met him, he seemed…a fool. No social graces, his ignorance on social mores, the worst type of round ear you could ask for. But he had…a spark. A passion, like Palas did. It was uncanny. I took him under my wing and taught him wizardry and opened his mind to the secrets of Bladesong. But while my pride swelled with his accomplishments, it all would be swallowed up again by everything else. Such that even what should have been true joy, was muted or twisted into sorrow of what should have been. And sorrow is all I felt then…and fell now. All the sorrow I have brought my family. All that I delivered to my father; a poor exchange in comparison of what I took from him.

“And while I don't know what you have done or seen...I'm envious. You seem far more centered than I. Makes me wonder if I am doing something wrong. Or if something is wrong with me. That all I can do now is carry burdens for others so they can smile or create them so they hate me. But those happy moments are just…denied to me now.”

Zinetra listened quietly and frowned. She reached for Arnara’s shoulder and said with compassion, “There is nothing wrong with you at all. I am not perfect, none of us are. Sometimes despite trying our best we will only find bitter despair at the end of the tunnel. You have been feeling lost, but there is always a way out of the darkness and into the light. Feeling that grief for lost comrades tells us how dear they may have been. Despite this though, if you know that you did everything you could have done at the time, then the best thing you can do is to remember them and treasure their memory in your heart. And now here you stand not being a bystander to her pain but are trying to help your sister."

“These burdens you hold should not be shouldered alone, allow the people who care about you to help and support you in order to overcome these obstacles. I myself have my own share of responsibilities but what is important is that you don't let it drown you as it seems to be doing now.”

“It does feel like I'm drowning,” Arnara said crying. “And I have asked for so much help recently; from my father, and from Rafelor. But all of that is to help my sister, and not me. And I don’t feel deserving of any of their help, least of all from my father. I’ve caused him so…so much pain and loss. And all I can think about is that I want is to hug and bare my soul to one particular person; a person I sent away thinking it was the right thing to do. And now…now I don't even know if they are alive.”

“No winter lasts forever,” Zinetra pointed out. “Spring does come. But sometimes it does take a while. All you need is patience and friends to see you through. Because if they are truly your friends, they will see you through bitter cold. Warmer times are coming; just be patient, and not so hard on yourself.”

Arnara sighed, and looked at the druid, “Thanks Zinetra, your advice is...wise.” Arnara closed her eyes for a moment before she looked at the Eladrin, "You know a little of why I am here. How I am, trying to save my sister right?”

"Yes, you had mentioned it a few times of how the demon fey had created a sort of clone of yourself and you came here for knowledge on her... condition."

Arnara nodded, “I found in the one of the books, the ritual that was used, and I think it can be used to...separate us fully. But I need to be a part of the ritual’s focus, and I can't perform it as such. I need help. I know I don't know you well, beyond being distant kin. But I need someone I can trust to perform it on me...us. Would you...."

Zinetra took a moment of pause to consider the request, “Once we have finished here, my responsibilities for the time being will have been completed, I am sure my return to the Feywild can be deferred,” Zinetra smiled and took Arnara’s hands into her own. “I would gladly help with the ritual and help remake the demon fey's twisted magic and restore the balance that has been broken by them.”

“Thank you. It means a lot to us...to me.”

“On one condition,” Zinetra said solemnly.

“And what…what do you require?”

“You tell me more about this, ‘Rafelor.’ I am…intrigued.”

Session notes:
So a lot of familar faces at the table, with different characters to their names. Glint was played by the same player as the 'The Blade'...Glint however is far less about justice than about coin. Zinetra was played by my daughter, who played Adrissa, while my son was the DM.

Wholesome family fun...if you can consider anything in Thay wholesome.
 
Last edited:


Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story – XVII- Daggers of the Mind


The barkeeper was nothing if consistent, as he slid a mug down the counter, which Rafelor caught with a practiced hand, not even looking up. Perched once again on his stool of choice at the edge of the bar, he quickly sipped the strong dark liquor in hand. But he just as quickly put it down and resumed his study of a thick tome in his hand, full of drawings and dense text. His eyes squinted at the text when something finally did grab his awareness; the scent of someone who needs a bath approaching. The odor grew stronger, when he heard a deep jolly voice boom, “Hello friend. You look like the world has given you too much to think about. Perhaps I can buy you a beer, and we can talk about light hearted journeys in a jungle?”

Rafelor was ready this time, as he felt the air stir behind him. With a quick whisper of a simple word, a shimmering barrier blocked the ogre’s hand from connecting to Rafelor’s back, and perhaps avoiding a cracked rib.

Little One blinked in surprised and then laughed aloud, amused by Rafelor’s quick thinking. “Hey! That’s a neat trick. I'm sorry if I hurt you by accident. Friends?” And the ogre earnestly extended a hand to the half-elf, his nose still firmly planted in the tome.

Without looking up, Rafelor let out a reluctant sigh. “Ah, what the hell? Friends.” And switching the book to his left hand, offers his right to the ogre, not thinking of the consequence. Little One grabbed his hand and squeezed, shaking his arm vigorously, to the sounds of bones popping in the ogre’s meaty paw. Rafelor almost dropped the book in surprise as his crushed hand ached in agony, and his arm felt like it would be wrenched from its socket.

As Rafelor looked to gather his wits and say something intelligent to stop the assault on his hand, he heard the skipping of hooves on stone. Glancing to his side, he saw the tiefling Irony with a number of books in her arms which she deposited on the bar next to the stricken half-elf.

“I found Ser Almases 'Mind and health', Keligos' 'The Temple of the Body,' and Burtons 'Imaginary Maladies of the Mind.' I hope they help.” She said as she leaned against the bar in exhaustion. She took in a deep breath and looked at Rafelor and noticed the rictus like smile on his face, as his hand was being getting crushed. “Little One! You need to watch your grip! Last time you did that, the healers had to regenerate the poor monk a new hand!”

The Ogre blinked and turned red in the face and said, “Oh! Sorry! Of course. I should get my mittens first...I'll be back.” And the ogre then trundled off to the stairs to head towards his room.

Irony turned to look at Rafelor with a sympathetic smile. “He's really a nice guy. just a bit...too...well...strong?” she said as she tried to massage the pain from Rafelor’s hand. “Anything else I can do for you?”

"Mmmmm…thanks..grip…too strong," Rafelor said as the pins and needles retreated from his fingers. “I think that's good. Not quite a doctor yet, but there's some good stuff in here.”

“Well...that might take a bit more than a book,” Irony said, still working her fingers around Rafelor’s. “According to 'Grayson's Anatomy' you need to work on the dead for a year or so to understand how a living person really works. Personally...I'd just find a cleric.”

“A cleric huh?" and Rafelor thought for a moment before shaking his head. “Well, I do know where to find a cleric but...”

“But?”

“She's a good cleric. And a good person. But I don't think Arnara would want her to see herself in the state she's in.”

Irony looked at Rafelor frowning, pulling her fingers across Rafelor’s. “It must be hard seeing...what a broken mirror of your friend? Well, I assume she is also your friend. But I guess you are really friends with...the Arnara that isn't here, right? Oh, this is complicated.”

"I guess that's about right,” Rafelor said, putting down the book and closing it with his good hand. “It's weird. Like a yes and no at the same time. It keeps my head spinning, that's for sure. I can't even imagine how it feels for her.”

Irony pulls on Rafelor’s fingers, popping the joint and reseating them into place, “She clearly wants to feel differently. And it upsets her, because it upsets you. Anyway...is there anything else I can get for you? I need to deliver a map to her in a bit.”

“No, I'm good. Thanks” and Rafelor pulled his hand away and flexed it before grabbing his glass and quickly gulping the contents.

“Alright then,” Irony said with a smile before turning to the barkeep. “Hey! Need a quarter chicken and a Metheglin!”

"Which quarter?" the Barkeep said as he slid over another drink to Rafelor’s aching hand.

“What? I have no idea...um...the tasty quarter?” Irony responded hoping the answer was clear enough.

“Ah...leg meat. Be a moment.” And the barkeep wandered back to the kitchen to fetch the requested meal.

Rafelor sat there in silence for a few moments when he remembered something. “Actually, wait a second, Irony?”

The tiefling turned with a smile on her lips and answered, “Sure. what's up?”

“I just remembered a question I had,” and he turned on his stool to face her. “You ever heard of objects moving on their own in Candlekeep?”

“In the keep?” Irony said confused. “Well not unless Miirym is bored...but she usually is pretty visible when she wants to move things. Ghostly dragons stand out.”

“So, nothing like bells moving towards people trying to ring them?” Rafelor pressed.

Irony looks side to side as if concerned would overhear them. Leaning closers she asked, “What...like in the room with Arnara’s um…twin?”

Rafelor nodded. “She's cut off from The Weave. Couldn't have done something like summon a bell on her own.”

Irony shook her head, but her brow was knitted in thought before speaking again. “Wait...cut off? Then how...” She trailed off a moment and looked at Rafelor whispering, “She's been talking to me...in my head. I thought it was a spell. I mean she just told me as I walked into the bar to get a map of old Ilefarn...but you say she can't do that?”

“She's...talking to you? She's never talked to me like that. And it should be impossible. The hags made her out to be completely helpless.”

“Well...I'm not sure she even knows. It’s like I hear in my head, 'I need to tell Irony to get a something,’ like she’s talking to herself, but I can hear it in my head. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah.” Rafelor paused for a moment, before speaking again, “Well, no, actually. There's just no way, even if she doesn't know it, she could manipulate The Weave like that. Why didn't we ever hear it back in Chult?”

Irony thought a moment, “I remember asking a stupid question when we first were introduced...I asked here where she had been recently, and she said, 'A Cage' and I laughed." Irony grimaced and looked at the half-elf with a look of guilt. “Turns out that wasn't funny. Would that have something to do with it?”

“We found her in a cage, put there by a coven of hags, but I don't see what that has to do with anything.”

“A cage built by hags?” Irony said sounding repulsed.

“I'm guessing here. She's had a lot of time to herself...maybe she's discovered something?” Rafelor mused.

Irony nodded and was about to speak, when she glanced over Rafelor's shoulder. Suddenly, her mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide in awe. Before the half-elf could turn to see what had grabbed her attention, he felt a pair of soft hands reach around from behind and covered his eyes. The smell of flowers and pine filled his nostrils, and he felt the warm breath of someone unfamiliar whispering into his ear in a lightly accented feminine voice, “Don't turn around yet...I want to smell your air Ha'Tel'Quessir. I want to understand who you are.”

He felt someone is nuzzled and buried their nose into his hair, taken deep whiffs of his scent. Rafelor tensed, wondering if perhaps the aroma was a sort of siren. As he readied his body and mind for what could have been a sign of danger, he finally spoke, “What is this? Who's there?”

The soft voice continued whispering into the half-elfs’ ear, “You are as described. A Ha'Tel'Quessir who smells like they work hard, sweat, leather and metal. But the smell of bath salts tells me of someone that they care about...someone else’s appearance.” Rafelor could feel the air move around their lips. “You like hard liquor and prefer their meat well-seasoned. A Ha'Tel'Quessir that knows what they want...usually.”

Rafelor sat there on edge, with his eyes still covered by the soft warm hands. As he sat there, he then felt a warm body, slide around his own and then planted themselves on his lap. “A strong...almost human face, with an ...interesting choice of hair styling. And either well shaven, or unable to grow any hair to mar that face.”

Rafelor said defensively, “I can grow hair.... wait what am I saying? What's going on?”

The hand slid away from his eyes, and he blinked at what he saw. Perched on his lap was a leather clad feminine figure. Her skin was a tawny color, and she wore leather armor of the highest quality, with patterns of colored leaves stamped into it. Long tresses of auburn hair, cascaded onto her shoulders, with red and brown leaves seemly woven into her tresses. From beneath them a pair of slender pointed ears poked out, betraying her fey heritage. But what had Rafelor riveted was her eyes; they were a solid orange, the color of the setting sun without pupil or white.

She smiled, and slid her arms around Rafelor, and she clung to him as she continued to speak, “A handsome face for a Na'Tel'Quessir...very cute. This one would make a good page boy or cup bearer in the Feywild for a decade or two...someone to watch fetch things and do things. A fine form indeed,” and she ran her hand through Rafelor’s hair smiling with a dreamy, contented look on her face.

Next to him, he heard Irony whisper in awe, “An Eladrin!”

“Uh…Hmph, you came all this way just to compliment me?” Rafelor said trying to get control of the awkward situation.

The Eladrin laughs "Of course Rafelor...I couldn't wait to meet another hero of Chult." she said smiling, and in the same contented tone.

Rafelor smirked, “Well, here I am. In the flesh.” And quickly as it appeared, his smile faded and his expression changed to one of confusion. “Wait. 'Another'? What do you mean another?”

“Zinetra! Stop teasing my pupil. He's going to pass out in fit of heavy breathing, if you keep playing with his hair that way! Nor can you just take him into the Feywild to make him a plaything of yours.” A much more familiar voice says behind him.

Rafelor awkwardly attempted to turn to look behind him, “Hold on, what the hell is that supposed to mean!?” After a struggle to turn with the uncooperative Eladrin, Rafelor managed to twist around and saw a familiar silver haired Moon elf, wearing a fine tunic that was marred with soot, tears and holes. At her hip a delicate rapier hung while her arms were crossed in mock indignation. The elf looked tired, but she looked at the half-elf with a wide smile, which Rafelor realized he had rarely seen.

Rafelor lowered his head and began to slow-clap as he stood up, causing the Eladrin to tumble to her feet. “Record time, Arnara. Record time.” He said, all the while looking down, trying to hide the immense smile of relief on his face.

Arnara ran over and leapt at Rafelor, forcing him to catch her as she embraced him warmly. “I missed you too.”

The eladrin stood there with a bemused look on her face. “And you were right, his face has the warmest pink when he blushes. And.....ooo! His ears also turn pink. How adorable!” she said as she giggled.

Turning his heard Rafelor regarded the Eladrin, “Don't push it, Mother Nature.”

“Now now,” the Eldarin chided. “There is no need to be rude. The sourness in your voice do you little favors.”

“I guess I should introduce you,” Arnara said gesturing to her companion. “This is Zinetra Renecta, heir to the Coure of Mischief and Strife and Hierophant in the Circle of Wildfire." Arnara said respectfully.

“You forgot, 'the Appellant of Autumn, of the Seelie court' dear." Zinetra said wagging her finger at Arnara.

“And....that!” *Arnara gestured back at the Eladrin. “I hope I've haven't been too much trouble for you Raf," she continued. “We only just left after a major fight in Thay.”

“It's been...interesting. But everything is under control here at Candlekeep.” Rafelor said breathing a little easier.

“Told you everything would be fine Arnara," Zinetra said.

“That's good. That last fight had us all on edge...I don't think I will forget that howl from the Demi-Lich. How did Hawthorne phrase it…almost put two of us in the 'dead-book'. Out of all the things we faced in Thay, that was perhaps the most painful. I’m so glad to have left that place."

Irony stood there quietly as the two elves talked, her mouth agape the entire time. But at the word of pain, she closed it and her eyes widened in alarm. “Raf...what does that mean for—"

Rafelor met Irony’s gaze and then started to run with Irony beside him, “—Oh crap. We gotta go. We gotta go now.”

Zinetra looked confused, “What? We just got here—” Arnara turned and followed the pair as they ran, with the Eladrin in tow. As they ran, Arnara shouted to Rafelor ahead of her, “Rafelor...what is going on?”

“It's your double. If you were almost killed there then that means she’s…Irony, quick get us inside. We gotta move.”

Irony nodded and dashed ahead to the Green Door shouting, “They’re authorized, it’s an emergency!” causing the guards to dart to the side, clearing the entry.

Arnara struggled to keep up the half-elf and the tiefling, still trying to get answers. “Means? Means what?”

“You were right. That connection between your minds is strong. Way too strong. Everything that happened in Thay, she experienced here. That includes all the pain.” Rafelor barked as he ran.

“Our connection must have gotten stronger; it wasn’t that bad she said when I left,” Arnara yelled, her face stricken with horror and grief. “It shouldn’t have happened like that.”

“Well, you were right about the ritual; it grows in strength over time. And that means this is going to be much harder than we thought to break it.” The Eladrin said catching up to them in a whirlwind of leaves, her long legs keeping pace easily.

Irony didn’t choose a path around the towers in her rush. She ran through them, startling Avowed carrying books between the stacks. Her hooves pounded on stone, given a staccato like beat to run against as they avoided tables, carts, and people alike. Through buildings, over ledges and through some hedges as well, she guided them with a total disregard to the chaos she left behind her, until finally they ascended the tower stairs that led to the cloistered cell where the other Arnara studied. Rafelor easily kept pace with the Tiefling, but Arnara and Zinetra found themselves falling behind, apologizing to confused Avowed left behind in Irony’s wake. As she ran up the stairs, Irony pulled the key from her belt pouch and then slid on her hooves and started to fumble with the lock to the door, but it wasn’t long until everyone heard the sound of the bolt retracting.

“Move out…wait this isn’t a pull door, right?” Rafelor asked, as he raised his leg.

“No!” Irony said exasperated.

Rafelor could hear the elves running up the tower behind him, as he kicked the door open and ran inside.

The Other Arnara stood there, struggling to stand using her arms to steady herself, and using the desk for leverage. At the sound of the door smashing open, she raised her arms defensively as if to cover herself from an attack. But as she did so, in her hand appeared a shimmering white light, the size of a throwing blade appeared. Rafelor stopped to look at the light, shimmering like a mirage in the desert. There was no time to think, to register surprise or confusion though, as the white light left her hand and in a blink of an eye, struck the half-elf in the chest.

The pain was like touching a hot stove or a poker from a hearth and Rafelor yelled as he clenched his chest, “AAAGH! What the..." he said, panting from both the run and the pain. He staggered in surprise, trying to keep his balance, as behind him, Irony shrieked, and dove to the floor, trying to cover her head. All the while the Other Arnara stared at her hand and then at Rafelor in shock.

“Raf!” Arnara said, as she and Zinetra clambered into the room. Zinetra rushed forward to Rafelor, who was sinking to his knees, struggling to breath, and began whispering something in a strange melodious language. She then laid a hand on his shoulder, and Rafelor felt the pain subside as the magic healed his body.

The Other Arnara stood there trembling unable to speak for a moment. But suddenly she clutched her head and started to breathe heavily. “What did I...No no no...Arnara...you're here...it it hurts...we can't...you have to." She shut her eyes tightly, and her hands covered her hears as if in pain. She stumbled, sank down onto the bed, and rocked back and forth, moaning.

“Oh no...no no..I'm I’m sorry," Arnara said her face looking aghast. Looking torn she passed by Irony who was now standing up again. And looking torn, and helpless she whispered, “I'll stay outside and be quiet.”

But this barely registered with Rafelor, as while the pain in his chest subsided, a new one grew in his head. It was similar to the spirit that once possessed him in Chult, but it was a familiar voice, echoing pain in his head as he heard, “The echoes...no no ...hurts hurts...what did I..how did I...” His hands leapt to the sides of his head, covering his ears.

Irony looked at Rafelor and said, “I'm hearing her...can you...hear her?” and pointed at the Other Arnara who still rocked herself back and forth on the bed. She was starting to breath slower as she regained control of herself.

Rafelor then pulled his hands away from his head, as the noise withing softened. “I can,” he said looking the mishappen elf in confusion.

Zinetra left Rafelor’s side and sat down next to the rocking woman and whispered to her quietly in elvish, stroking her hair. Eventually, the Other Arnara slumps into the Eladrin’s arms, exhausted, but breathing easier. Zinetra continued to talk soothingly aloud, comforting the elf. “Such a rare gift. Arnara might have shown it, if she wasn't so focused on her Bladesong. I guess that nature has opened a different path for you.”

“What is it? How can she do that?” Rafelor said, standing again and looking at the Eladrin in confusion.

“I believe she is a Nar'Kerym,” Zinetra said rocking Other Arnara in her arms. “The best translation in your common vernacular is a 'Soulknife'; One who can create blades with nothing more than a thought. It is a very rare art, as it takes very focused mind to manifest such a blade. It is not magic however, and it is about far from the Weave as one can go in fact.”

“Soulknives? Like the Dreaming Dark had?” Rafelor said, remembering Shalai fighting in the tomb with others with gleaming light like blades. He didn’t get too close to Shalai’s opponents, as Garzuxl took all of his attention at the time.

Zinetra turned her head to look at Raf in confusion. “Dreaming...Dark? I am not familiar with this—"

“—I...We know what he is talking about,” the Other Arnara said quietly looking at Rafelor. “I remember seeing them...but not the details when I…she was fighting Acererak. It must be the same ability.” She then looked at her hand and her brow quivered a moment. Suddenly, the shimmering white shape reappeared in it. It didn’t look solid, and wavered and shimmered as it hung there in the air. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it vanished leaving the mishappen elf dumbfounded.

“I don't understand. She's supposed to be cut off from the weave.” Rafelor then thought a moment before speaking again. “Unless that has something to do with it?”

Zinetra looked at Rafelor as if he were a child. “No...as I said this is not of the weave. It is the highest focus of mind. If she is indeed cutoff from the Weave, it would explain why it manifested. Arnara has known nothing but the weave in her studies. Her mind, as sharp and powerful as it is, is probably blind to this skill, in favor of the Weave. But she,” And the Eladrin nodded her head, “Has never known the Weave's blessing. Her mind calls out for something...anything to replace it. You see...An elf may not practice magic, but they are a part of the Weave; we all are. I personally can’t think of anything more horrifying than being removed from the Weave's presence. But in her struggle to reach that which she cannot she found…something else.” And she continued to stroke the hair of the exhausted Other Arnara.

“But this connection between them, must be undone. It is wrong and unnatural for her to be in this state. I have read and I do not like the ritual we must do to. But it appears to be the only way to make both whole. But I was asked to help, and I will. And you,” the druid pointed at Rafelor, “You will be needed for this, you will be the bridge and the blade for their souls to be shriven from each other. You are the key.”

“Wh-What? What does that mean?” Rafelor spurted out before sighing in resignation. “Look at me, today I'm playing the role of the idiot who stands around confused, asking all the questions.”

Zinetra smiled and looked at the half-elf with compassion, “This is why I needed to smell and touch you; to see if you could be that bridge. The path forward is someone who knows both sides of the same soul; you. No one else has spent as much time with both of them. You are a rock that their souls can cling to as we draw the two together with Arselu’Tel’Quess. And then this ritual, will split them apart fully. They will use you as an anchor to find themselves and their bodies as two separate souls. I am sure you do not understand. But understanding is not needed here. Just you accepting this is true. And the risk,” Zinetra said solemly.

“Oh boy...that's a destiny and a half right there. And the risks?” Rafelor said, shaking his head at the inevitable warning.

“Elven souls can...split on their own in the womb of a mother. But then, they have nothing more than the mother as a bridge, and no memory beyond their past lives. The risk to the pair and their mother is small and the soul would heal easily. They probably never even notice the moment it occurs. But here, we have a soul only partially split, and with each side holding a strong attachment to a hundred years of memories. The split will be more difficult for them. But with you as a bridge; knowing them both, knowing how they differ is important. While you are neither family...nor a woman, it is to your advantage. An imperfect choice, and yet the best one. As the soul is split, they will cling to yours; desperately seeking to find themselves...and you risk them rending yours into nothing. If that happens; we will lose all three of you. But this is why you are ideal. Your sense of self is strong, and you can endure. You would not be compromised as a mother would be, one that would sacrifice themselves for the pair. That would just lead to the souls tearing into each other. There is a good chance that this ritual will work.” Zinetra chuckled, “In fact this might be as close to giving birth a male may ever have.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Rafelor said as he looked at the druid in shock.

"A mother risks her life to give birth to a child. All mothers do; beasts, elves, and humans alike. And pain is part of the experience. That pain, that act of...creation is why many mothers surrender their own to allow their children to be born. But a male...a male’s role is to protect not some, but all. They do not casually sacrifice themselves; they fight to the bitter end only making a sacrifice when all other options have been exhausted. They may say they would trade places for a person loved, but that is only in the quiet moment in between conflict. But that indomitable will is why you, and they, will all come through this. But it will hurt. A lot."

“Oh...okay....okay then...so if this gets messed up, it's curtains to me. Geez." Rafelor walked over to the shuttered window and opened it, to stare outside, lost in his own thoughts.

“To all of you,” Zinetra corrected. “All succeed or none do.” The Eladrin released the Other Arnara, and stood. She then walked over to Rafelor and placed her hand on his shoulder. “This is a difficult thing. And you must go with your eyes and mind open. Doubt will only make this...more difficult. But I do not know of another that could do this.”

“It's not fair,” Rafelor said still gazing at the sight of the Sea of Swords outside. “You live through the tomb, you survive your trials, and you come out someone with a full life ahead of them. And then, the people you care about need you. So, you spend all your time trying to do everything in your power to make things right for them. And at the end of it all, you find out the only way you can see it through to the end, is by risking the very life you fought so hard to live for.

“Ever since I met Arnara, it's always been one big step after another. Going to Chult, learning Bladesong, coming to terms with yourself, accepting what your precious journal actually means to you, risking your life for a world that never gave you a good hand, trying to live up to Kylan's impossible standard, worrying silly and devoting everything to caring for someone you're not even sure you're qualified to care for, and then putting your life and all your faith into something that may not work.

“And yet, Arnara always said the same thing: ‘It's your decision, but once you say yes, there's no going back.’ And I'd always respond the same: ‘What choice do I have? I've come this far; there's no point in going back.’ The stakes are higher...but the principle remains the same.” He sighed again before looking into the sunset eyes of Zinetra, “I'll do it. And if I die, at least I'll know for a fact that my life had a purpose.”

Zinetra’s solemnity had replaced the carefree being that sat in his lap earlier that day, “You must be clear on this; if this fails, there is no afterlife for your soul. It will be sundered into nothingness as much as theirs will. I will not be able to wave my hand to restore you...or them. They understand the risk, but the pain they suffer makes it an easy choice. It is different for you. But I have...faith in you. A better anchor could not be found, as I see the strength within.” Zinetra grabbed Rafelor's hands. “It will be my privilege to try, and guide you all back from the edge.”

“Hmph. And what would my life be if I said no?” Rafelor said with a tone of bitterness.

Zinetra looked at Rafelor and said the obvious, “One plagued with guilt I suppose, on what could have been.”

“So, when do we start?”

“First, we need a place that is...thin between the planes. A place that will act as a conduit for the souls,” Zinetra said.

“I found such a place...” The Other Arnara stammered. “The Fane of Naralis Analoris...it is in Ilefarn and I need a map to confirm its location. The last piece is word from my father. I will...er Arnara has made a sending and is awaiting a response.” The Other Arnara then cocked her head as if listening to something and then her shoulders slump down in resignation before raising her voice. “Go ahead Arnara. I think I can hold myself together.” She then covered her ears and closed her eyes tightly and waited.

From outside the room, Arnara quickly entered the room and looked at her mishappened self. She stared a moment, clearly wanting to say something. She remained silent however, and instead hesitantly sat down beside her and embraced her. It was quiet for a moment, but the embraced elf breathing quickened. Finally, she started to shake her head and she squirmed to escape the Moon elf’s embrace. Arnara then quickly released her, and with tears in her eyes quickly left the room.

Exhaling sharply the other Arnara the said quietly, “I think I need some rest.” She moved some pillows around to lean against the wall while to allow her to remain upright in the bed.

“Alright then. Until then,” Rafelor walked out of the room not waiting for the Eladrin or the Tiefling. Crossing the threshold, he glanced over and saw Arnara, sitting on the floor, her head on her knees. He could hear the tears and the muffled sniffles as she sat there, with her head bowed.

“Did you get all that?” Rafelor said, unsure if Arnara had heard anything that he or Zinetra had said earlier. But Arnara said nothing to the inquiry. Rafelor frowned in disapproval and shook his head. “Alright. Fair enough. Come on, Irony. Can't get out of here on my own.” He called to the Tiefling inside.

“Wait...” he heard, and he turned to look at Arnara, still seated on the floor. She then leaned back, and Rafelor could see the tear-stained cheeks, but what was unexpected was the smile of pure happiness on her face. As she sat there in joyful tears, she twisted around a bit of copper wire in her hand her eyes focused elsewhere.

Rafelor realized then what she was doing; as there was a spell that could deliver small messages with a bit of copper wire. But he realized that this one was a stronger one, pulling power from the weave, beyond a mere cantrip. He stood there and held up his hand to signal Irony to wait inside, and he knelt down to Arnara’s level.

She then turned her head to looks Rafelor and whispered, choking on her tears, “He’s done it. The Royal Council needed some convincing, but Zinetra's patron...put in a good word for my father. They will let a Selu'taar cast the spell. My father mentioned a price...but he wasn't clear on what. I can tell my father where to bring the Selu’taar, and we can go tomorrow.”

“Right on.” Rafelor said, placing a hand on Arnara and gave her a wolfish grin.

Arnara continued shaking her head, “The elves are no longer teaching Arselu'Tel'Quess. This may be the last time that it is ever cast. Once upon a time I would be excited to see such magic to study it; something unique to us. But...I just want it to work. I want it to be over. I didn't know how much I was going to need you, when I asked for your help. I'm sorry for asking. For putting you at risk.”

“I'd rather do something than do nothing. I know you care and all, and that's cool. But I can't have you go marching to your death if I have anything to say about it.”

“You always were one to act first, and then realize the consequences much much later,” Arnara said with an impish grin. “Probably why Zinetra finds you so cute.”

“I could follow that cute butt up any set of stairs,” Zinetra called in from the other room.

The pair chuckled together. “Heh. Can't make me realize the consequences when I no longer exist,” Rafelor said jokingly.

Arnara continued to chuckle “Myrai once said something along those lines too. That we'd all be in good company for a very short moment.” Arnara looked at the copper wire, “I only just learned this spell while in Thay. I could try to find her with it...but I'm afraid to now. I don't know what I would say. So much has happened.”

“No need to jump the shark. You'll have plenty of time to think about what to say once this is all over.” Rafelor took a brief pause, getting lost in his head before speaking to Arnara again, “You'll see her again. Maybe we all will.”

“You'd like her; her capacity for alcohol is...high.” Arnara then stood up and stretched, “I'm going to the bath house to take a proper bath, and then I’ll Reverie. Thanks for...just thanks.”

“I'm really glad you came back safe.” Rafelor said as he stood.

Arnara nodded, “It was...close. Too close. I just hope that it was all worth it,” she said quietly.

“I believe,” Zinetra said as she and Irony exited the cloister. “the N’Tel’Quessir have a saying about that, something like, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained?’ But a long bath would be nice to wash away the stench of dead pigs and other dread things.”

“I’ll take you out…the more traditional way if you follow me,” Irony said cheerfully, as she skipped ahead, with Rafelor and Arnara walking side by side, smiling at each other company, and finally Zinetra followed behind the pair, talking to herself quietly.

“Yes…there will be a price. I hope someone can bear the cost. Oh well, a problem for tomorrow I suppose.” She then broke into a mischievous grin and continued musing beneath her breath. “He is so delicious…if I can’t talk him into staying in the Feywild as a cupbearer, I will just have to pinch that round butt of his. Hmm…maybe I should start there and see what happens,” and Zinetra reached low toward her target with her open hand and…
 

Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
This is one of my favorite parts. Even rereading it, I had a grin on my face.

But even I wonder what happened after she pinched Rafelor’s butt…
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
I will leave it your imagination if her reach was beyond her grasp, or Rafelor's reaction to a successful caress.

Otherwise; it would be telling.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Part XVIII - Severance - 11/4/2021


The sun elf sat in a patch of sun in the forest glade in the Ardeep Forest. Her eyes were closed, and her face soaking in the warmth of the sun, as she waited. Her lustrous gold hair hung loosely around her shoulders, and her tanned face was unmarred by scars or age. The beech trees rustled softly in the wind, as leaves were scattered about the clearing. It had been a long time since she had left her home in Evermeet, but it was even longer since a need was as great. She sighed and opened her eyes to watch her companion hover around the stone circle, much like a predator impatiently waiting for its prey to emerge from its burrow. The stone itself was old, the runes carved into it were older than either of them, laid near the founding of the nation of Ilefarn, 11,000 years ago. Some of the runes were worn smooth from rain, others cracked and splintered away with from icy freezes. But its secrets to its use was known to a few, the sigils kept in dusty tomes hidden in libraries of the knowledgeable. One such record was found in the private library of the Ustina’s, and of that house only two knew the sigils by heart. One of them was Kylan, who continued his circling of the stone with a deep scowl on this face. All because the other one who did know, was late.

“You would think that she would understand the courtesy of being punctual with as much that is at stake here,” Kylan grumbled impatiently.

“It does not matter Kylan,” the sun elf said. “I am certain that there was a reason for it.”

“I thought I instructed her on the basics of courtesy. She at least should have sent a message.”

“Kylan, you did say she needed to collect some things for the ritual, and she would be here before midday. The sun has just reached its zenith. Patience.”

Kylan stopped and looked upwards at the sky and sighed. “You are correct. I just want this to be done with.”

“I am sure they do as well.”

Kylan was silent for a moment when they both felt it; a pinching of the Weave as the sigils on the stone, illuminated with a blue light, showing the delicate runes true form, now lost to the elements. The runes flared briefly and as the light dimmed, four figures were now visible on the stone.

Kylan looked at them in turn. The first one he saw was an eladrin, her hair was an emerald green, with leaves woven amongst the wild braids, and her solid-colored eyes matching. She was clad in leather armor, stamped and colored with leaves, and she carried a staff with a green gem on top. He knew her name was Zinetra, an heir to a noble eladrin in the Feywild, and it was by her reputation which made much of this possible. The second was the half-elf Rafelor, his mace was in hand at the ready as he looked around uncomfortably at what must had been a sudden change in location. He saw Kylan and nodded curtly and breathed a bit easier. Following him, on a glowing yellow disk lay the mishappen form of Arnara’s clone, dressed in a plain white robe and nestled among a set of blankets. Finally, next to her stood Kylan’s daughter Arnara herself, her rapier at her side. She noticed Kylan and quickly stepped over to him.

“It took a little longer to find what I needed; Candlekeep is not as stocked as a normal town is and we had to find some creative solutions,” Arnara explained.

Kylan opened his mouth to respond, but he stopped himself and shook his head. “It is fine. This has been a tiresome journey, and I would like to see it through. How are—”

Arnara looked at the mishappen form of herself on the disk. The clone was already laying back with her eyes shut tight and covering her ears. Turning back to Kylan she said, “She is enduring…I must keep conversations short in her presence.”

Kylan looked at the clone with sympathy and nodded. “Of course. Arnara…both of you, the Royal Council has asked Selu’tar Salensyna Durothil to perform the ritual.

Arnara’s eyes widened suddenly, and she bowed her head respectfully. “A’Sum Selsharra. It is an honor.”

Rafelor looked around awkwardly, and said “Um…greetings, A’Sum Selsharra.”

Salensyna arched an eyebrow and smiled at Rafelor. As he looked at her, he noticed that in her eyes, she appeared to have moon shaped cataracts. He remembered that this indicated that she was near her the end of her days, and it would be time to go to Arvandor. Looking at the half-elf closely nodding ever so slightly, she spoke; “You are the bridge then. I hope you are ready.”

He let out a nervous laugh. “About as ready as I'm gonna be.”

Salensyna nodded, “This may be the last time this ritual will ever be performed. And certainly, it was never intended to be used in this way. But the Royal Council feels the attempt must be made to undo the hag's crimes.”

Arnara looked at Rafelor and explained, “High Magic is...an art we are choosing to forget. Salensyna is one of the last of the high mages. No one is being taught the rituals anymore.”

Rafelor looked at Arnara in confusion. “What's wrong with High Magic?”

The woman on the disc moaned and Arnara snapped her mouth shut. Zinetra then continued, “High Magic is a wonderous thing that only elves can perform. Its power is far greater than any wizard of Netheril ever dreamed of.” Zinetra looked off to the side sadly. “But during the First Flowering of the elves, we were...arrogant. We used High Magic for wars against our kin. We turned forests to ash. And we, split the world apart to create Evermeet. The damage was so great, that the Seldarine had to lend us their divine power to fix it. Because of this...the dangers, it is a temptation best left forgotten.”

“And yet here we are, For the last time...wow. Today's going to be a day to remember. For all of us.” Rafelor as he realized the rarity of the event about to unfold.

“True,” Zinetra acknowledged. “But Arnara and I think that High Magic, in combination with the Netherese necromantic ritual, is the only way to save them both. Or so we hope.”

Rafelor nodded. “So, I'm here now. What happens next?”

Zinetra smiles, “Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess will make the Weave, pliable. It allows for an elf to be transformed into another form. During this time, I will attempt to split their souls in twain, using the Netherese ritual. This happens naturally on rare occasions, when identical twins are born. At such times, we believe the souls repair themselves. But here things will be more complicated. Which is why we need you.”

“Cool. Cool. Just uh, tell me where to stand.” The half-elf said trying to calm his nerves.

“Actually, you will lie between them,” corrected Zinetra. “Standing would be problematic for all of you. As you lay there, you will guide them. Their soul will share each other’s memories, and they may become torn or fragmented during the separation. You, Rafelor, will help by acting as bridge through the Weave. Holding their memories together until the souls can do it themselves. I cannot tell you what you will see or feel. You will have to discover this on your own.”

“That doesn't sound too bad.” Rafelor said confidently, “So, if I'm taking trip down memory lane, what's Kylan's gig?”

“I will be assisting the Selu’tar,” Kylan said evenly. “The ritual is demanding, and so I must address her needs during it. And ensure that we will not be disturbed.”

“Gotcha,” Rafelor said, unsurprised that Kylan had the easy job.

Kylan continued, “The Fane of Naralis Analor is a part of the Crypts of the Deepening Moon. Fortunately, we have already spoken to the guardians before you arrived. We should not be disturbed, so long that we leave the Laranlors and Laranlas undisturbed—”

“—Huh?” Rafelor said, unfamiliar with the old elvish words.

“Kings and Queens. This was once part of Ilefarn, and then later the moon elf realm of Ardeep. The Fane itself is over 10,000 years old, so…be respectful A’Tel’Quessir.” Kylan said to Rafelor. “Come let us get below.”

Kylan took out of his pouch a small orb and whispered to it, causing it to burst with light. It then drifted above the elf, and he led them through the ruin. Nearby a set of stone stairs descended deep into the rock below. Deep into the Fane of Naralis Analor.

Time had worn on the stone here, as ancient carvings on the wall had cracked away and faded to almost smooth ridges on the side of the passage. The driftglobe’s warm yellow light was a comfort in this hallowed place of death. Soon the tunnel opened wide into a large chamber. In the center were four biers, each large enough for pairs of people to lay in state in preparation for burial ceremonies. Set in between the biers, were old braziers, already lit by Kylan and Salensyna before the other’s arrival. On one bier set on a white cloth, were a set of silver goblets, and a bottle holding a sparkling yellow liquid. Then Salensyna stepped next to Rafelor and bent down and laid a hand on the reclining elf on the disc and spoke to her. “Are you ready?”

Arnara’s clone who had been focusing on shutting everything out, nodded and opened her eyes and uncovered her ears and looked at the Selu’tar, “I think so.”

Salensyna nodded, “Have you chosen a form, and have you chosen a name?”

“Whatever the ritual decides is fine, I just…don’t want to look like Arnara. But as for a name…I..I choose my adult name to be Apolyta.”

Arnara turned to look at Apolyta and choked up a moment as she spoke, “That’s…a good name.”

Rafelor laughed. “Apolyta. Not bad. It's familiar...rolls off the tongue nicely...not too hard to spell. You know, it's almost as good of a name as Rafelor.”

Apolyta smiled at Rafelor and Salensyna nodded and spoke again gesturing at the two elven women, “Please, you will both need to lay on the bier over here. Rafelor, please assist Apolyta. Kylan, pour the Blessed Evermead into the goblets and serve them to everyone,” she said in a soft gracious tone. The patriarch of House Ustina, Kylan bowed his head and made his way to the bottle and goblets and began to pour. He then served each one of the participants a cup.

Salensyna then spoke reverently in Elvish;

“Naralis Analor, we ask you for your doves to guide us this day and for you to shield us from harm in your temple. We drink of the mead of our eldest cousins and open ourselves to your blessing. I ask your forgiveness as I transgress against the Weave to undo a greater transgression. I beg your wisdom as I sing, ‘Life of Duty, Form of the Peoples Need’ for Apolyta and make her one from Arnara. Blessed may we be.”

She then took a sip from the silver goblet as did the others. Rafelor swirled the wine in his glass a few times before taking a sip. Once he did so, he realized that this was the greatest wine he had tasted in his life. His focus trailed off into his taste buds as he quietly uttered to himself, “Hooolllllyyyy naughty word.”

Arnara elbowed Rafelor and gave him a reproachful glare. Then Apolyta spoke to him softly, “Rafelor, help me please.” She pulled herself upright from the disc and swung her uneven legs down, sitting up. She then unfastened the leather belt holding her robe, and then slid out her arms from its folds, exposing her shoulders, chest and back. Across her back were the lasting memories of pain at the hands and tools of the Sewn Sisters.

Rafelor had witnessed many punishments of whippings in cities, burns on the arms of smiths, and scars from soldiers. But Apolyta’s skin was covered in many such marks, far more than criminals, unlucky smiths or hapless soldiers ever bore. She sat there shivering and extended her one good hand to Rafelor in a silent plea for help. Rafelor said nothing, and lifted Apolyta from the disc and set her naked form on the stone bier. After looking up, he saw that Arnara, had also undressed. Her skin was by comparison flawless; unmarked by any blemish, even though Rafelor knew that she had been wounded before. The magic of various healers prevented many scars or marks from setting into her skin. She looked down demurely, swallowed, and sat down on bier before swinging her legs onto it, trying to forget her nakedness as she laid down on the other side of the bier opposite of Apolyta.

Rafelor looked at Salensyna helplessly a moment, before she tilted her head and spoke, “No…you do not need to be skyclad as they do as you are not the intended target of my ritual. But you should disarm, lay between them, and hold their hands together with your own. He nodded, laid down his mace, and crawled up onto the cloth and slowly reclined between the two women. They both reached forward with a hand and Rafelor guided them so they could grasp each other, and both were clasped together on his chest. The silence in these moments caused the nerves in Rafelor to fester.

Arnara and Apolyta lay there a moment, before propping themselves up a bit so they could look at each other in the eyes. They then each glanced at Rafelor with small smiles that spoke volumes about their nervousness, and their relief of a friend so close to them. “Sal o, Aral’Sha Rafelor,” Arnara said, echoed by Apolyta. And they closed their eyes and lay back and clung to Rafelor’s hands and waited.

Salensyna then spread her arms wide and began to sing. The song was in a language that was distinctly elvish, but the words and diction where unlike any elvish he had heard before. The words reverberated in the chamber, and he felt the Weave quiver in response. It was similar how the Bladesong felt, but here there was no river of magic, but an ocean. An ocean that was pulling them deeper into its depths. He felt warmth build and spread from the elves that lay next to him, and felt it flow through his hands. Turning his head, he saw Arnara face, and it started to glow with the power of the Weave, working its way through her. Turning to the other side, he saw that Apolyta shared the same glow.

As Rafelor processed this, from behind him, he heard the swishing leathers of Zinetra approach, and then she whispered into his ear, “It’s Seldruin you are hearing, the first language of the elves, and she…she is one of its last speakers. I am going to start my ritual now.

Rafelor quietly nodded, bracing himself for whatever would happen next, as Zinetra continued, “I am sorry, but the ritual I have to perform is not kind or subtle. You will understand. Just hold them in your hands and keep close your memories. Hold them all tightly, as there is no turning back once I start.”

He had the feeling of a gentle wave, that felt comfort as it washed over him. As he felt the waves of light had cresting and flowing through him, he realized he didn’t only feel himself. But he could feel them…no their soul. A single soul stretched impossibly thin, and that bound the two together. He could feel a constant trickle from Arnara to Apolyta. And it was then he realized the awful truth.

They were imbalanced, Arnara’s soul was smaller somehow, and it was slowly bleeding into Apolyta. But Arnara’s side, as strong and fiery as she could be, seemed to be waning. The flow to Apolyta was more than Arnara could take, and there wasn’t enough for either Apolyta or Arnara to survive. Both halves of the single connected soul were doomed.

“No…the souls…”

The Eladrin had a puzzled look as she stood behind Rafelor. He could hear a book set down next to his head. She then placed a hand on his forehead, and she began to read the text. The tongue was harsh, almost guttural. But Zinetra read in confidence. From where she touched him, he felt another swirl of energy within him, lash out towards the soul of Arnara and Apolyta. It struck the trio violently, causing them all to shudder and shake. The lash of energy pulled at the single soul and started to pull them apart. The soul’s halves started to separate each other, with the connection between them, growing thinner and more tenuous. Then he felt a second lash, and then connection snapped. The waves of energy rebounded within Rafelor, as he felt as if he was being whipped by the two sundered souls. But this was a momentary feeling as then he felt the new sundered souls lash out and strike him. He felt them grasping, clinging and tearing into his own.

Rafelor opened his mouth and howled, as the two elves’ souls, ravaged his, tearing at it, seeking a way into himself, and claiming a part of him. They peeled away Rafelor’s soul in strips and as he howled to heavens, his vision started to fade as whisps of smoke and vapor filled his mind and eyes...
 
Last edited:

Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
Fun times!

Sometimes, I feel a little embarrassed at how often Rafelor asks questions because a handful of it has to do with me still trying to understand the lore of Toril. On the other hand, I also think playing Rafelor was a good idea because it gave me the opportunity to learn about the world through someone who knows very little.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Sometimes, I feel a little embarrassed at how often Rafelor asks questions because a handful of it has to do with me still trying to understand the lore of Toril. On the other hand, I also think playing Rafelor was a good idea because it gave me the opportunity to learn about the world through someone who knows very little.

Well DnD is cursed with lore. A lot of it changes between editions (which gods are around, which are not), a large series of books defining it on the fly, and then retcons/errata that changes the history because the current sourcebook is considered to be canon, whereas anything else isn't.

But it is fun to dive into areas like elven lore. The dnd elvish language as opposed to Tolkien's I use where I can is an easy one so I can write (and say in game) “Sal o, Aral’Sha Rafelor,” and it has meaning. Elven High Magic has a lot of references (most of it in YouTube), as do locations like the Crypts of the Deepening Moon. And then building it up from there. This last set of stories had me think a lot about how House Ustina is organized. What was their history? Why are they in the Misty Forest, and not say Everseka or Silverymoon. What was Kylan's role as a noble in the Misty Forest. And then you get obsessive compulsive about the lore to try to make it 'right.' Changing a nameless caster of High Magic, to a member of a famous line of elves on Evermeet.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XIX - Fractures 11/11/2021

The vapors faded into the springtime sun warmed the solarium of a mansion, somewhere in a forest. Rafelor turned around in confusion; he had never been anywhere like this. It was elegant, and the wood that framed the glass seemed to be not carved but encouraged to grow in place. Looking out the glass roof, his draw dropped as he realized the room was an extension of an elven mansion that wrapped itself a mammoth oak. Looking out the windows, he saw other oaks, and other homes, but they appeared different. The ones nearby seemed to be graceful extensions of the tree with little else added. This home integrated smooth marbled stone with subtle notes of silver and gold. But none of trees that he saw had the stature of the one he stood in now. As Rafelor stepped to closer to the window, he heard a soft sound. Turning he saw seated on a divan, Arnara humming to herself and reading, while soaking in the warm rays of the sun

Rafelor took a look at Arnara and let his eyes begin to wander around his environment. “Damn, Arnara, you live here? I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

To see Arnara with a book in her hand was not a surprise to the half-elf. He had journeyed with her enough to see an occasional text on magical theory, or a tome about a school of arcanum, and even once a journal of outlandish experiments from Lantan. But now as she hummed and giggled, it was evident to Rafelor that she read for the simple purpose of pleasure. The smile on her face was pure and unconcerned. It was unlike the Arnara he travelled with who’s troubles with family, or missing friends, or compatriots at risk always placed a calm and sometimes aloof countenance on her face. But now, the look of joy was clear as she smiled bemused at the story she read, her thoughts most likely busy conjuring images in her head. Rafelor was curious on what she was reading, and started to move closer to her, when he heard soft boots, approaching from the hall. And a quick glance told him, that Arnara was oblivious to either him or the imposing figure that stepped into the room, with the sound of grumbling disapproval of her selection of texts.

Rafelor stiffened, as he saw it was Arnara’s father Kylan that had entered the solarium. His eyes bore into his only daughter with a look of disdain on his face, as he waited to see if his daughter was even aware of his arrival. But Arnara’s attention was elsewhere in the story, and her father’s presence went unnoticed by the young elf. Rafelor walked in front of Arnara’s field of view, blocking the sun. “Psst, Arnara, behind you” he quietly whispered.

To Rafelor’s dismay, Arnara did not react to his words at all. Additionally, despite his relative position to Arnara and the sun, his body did nothing to stop the beams of light from hitting her.

“Arnara,” Kylan said in a soft yet commanding tone, startling the young elf.

Arnara jumped up from her divan, and quickly hid the book behind her back, as she looked her father in the eyes. Her breathing was quickened, and her arms shook, as she answered timidly, “Yes…father. I…I…was not expecting you.” Rafelor looked at the two elves, and he could feel the tension in the air that hung between the two. But he was more struck by Arnara’s behavior as it had none of the confidence, or calm that he normally saw in his mentor.

“Reading trivialities?” Kylan said disapprovingly. “A story of forbidden love, or heroic exploits? I expect the Third Daughter to be a bit more studious and disciplined.”

“I…I’m not neglecting my studies! I just…wanted to read here in the sun this afternoon,” and Arnara pulled the book in front of her and clutched it as if it would deflect her father’s glare at her.

Kylan stared at his daughter, his face a mask. “Arnara, you are fortunate. I had breakfast with Corlia Xiloscient, and we have agreed on your future.”

Arnara blinked confused, “My…my…future? I thought I was continuing my studies so I could assist Casia—”

“The First Daughter is in good hands as it stands now,” Kylan waved his hand dismissively at his daughter. “You are to be Sonalta for Morlea Xiloscient in the near future, so you should start preparing for your role in their house.”

Arnara looked at her father still confused, “But…I should be Casia’s…or Zyana’s—”

“As Third daughter, you will be strengthening our bonds with House Xiloscient,” His tone even but with a hint of annoyance. “So it is…best that you perform as a Sonalta for them.”

Arnara awkwardly probed her father, “Xiloscient is a…fine wood elf house of course. But I do not understand—”

“—And perhaps you will find someone…compatible…and you join—” Kylan continued.

Arnara’s eyes widened, and her face flushed with anger, “Join? Join!? You mean leave, I think. Give up my name and claim to the Ustina house so you can be rid of me. All because I am an inconvenient reminder for you!”

“Arnara, you are to fulfill your obligations to this House, and that will be the end of it.” Kylan said his voice showing a hint of anger. “And that obligation is to…ingratiate yourself to House Xiloscient. And if you don’t, I will find another house. And another if I must. As many as it takes.”

Rafelor turned and barked at her father. “Kylan, you naughty word! Don’t go giving your kids away like that! Don’t care how fancy this house is, it’s no excuse to cast off your daughter…and be a dick about it too.” And much like Arnara, Kylan did not react to Rafelor in any capacity. Rafelor threw his hands in the air “WHY ISN’T ANYONE LISTENING TO ME!?”

Arnara stood there fuming a moment before responding, “Very well, father. If that is what you desire.”

“The needs of House Ustina come first,” Kylan coldly reminded his daughter.

“Of course it does,” Arnara said bowing her head. She stood there quietly before lifting her head and giving her father a withering glare, “If me leaving will…cure you of your hatred towards me. Towards what I did 115 years ago. When I cut out of your life a cherished part of you. One I never got to know. So be it.” Arnara said, walking briskly to the doorway to exit the solarium. But before she left, she turned to look at her father again.

“But at least she loved me in that brief moment. But it seems the soul of House Ustina died with her then too.”

Rafelor turned back over to Arnara. “Wait, huh? Arnara, what are you talking about? You never mentioned anything about...what the? Hey!” Rafelor found himself engulphed in mist, as whirls of mist and vapor crept all around the room. As it spread and thickened, Rafelor’s vision of everything around him rapidly dissolved. “Hey. Hey! Wait! Cut it out! I can’t see anything!”

He began rapidly swinging his arms through the air, trying to move the mist out of the way. Eventually, his vision was completely obscured by it. His environment was nothing but the quiet, mystifying vapor for a few short moments until it cleared, revealing an entirely new environment.





___
The white tendrils of vapor swirled and whipped around Rafelor before his vision was blinded by the light of the sun. Looking around, Rafelor knew where he was, a slum called Rivington, on the outside edge of Baldur’s Gate. It was loud and bustling as it always had been, and it was well-known haven for crime and smuggling. There was much to see and much to forget about if you were smart. One forgotten young man shuffled his way through the streets, anxiously looking at all the people passing by.

Rafelor stared at the man and felt his stomach drop. “OH NO…”

He was dressed in some dirty, plain clothes, but he gave off the impression that he still cared about his hygiene. His hair was smooth and crept down to his shoulders and his face, bearing no scars or scratches, looked as though it was washed regularly. He didn’t look bad. He didn’t look good. He only looked like another bystander trying to find his own footing in town. Finding a clearing between the crowd of people, he found who he was looking for: a towering goliath and a strong, but not quite as large, half-orc. Taking a deep breath, he approached the half-orc and spoke to her.

“Excuse me, uh, are you…Carrie?”

She turned her head to meet him. “It’s ‘KAR-ri’, actually. What do you want?”

He began to mumble “I…heard you were, um, looking for people that might be good for uh…“

“What’s that? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

“Sorry! You’re looking for people to help smuggle stuff?”

Rafelor watched the trio until his palm met his face and he turned his head away. “It was so long ago...I really, really, don’t want to watch this.”

The half-orc raised a brow, not expecting someone to be familiar with her line of work, nor discuss it openly, “Yeah, we are. Do you know anybody that could do the job?”

He looked down sheepishly, “Yeah, actually. Uh…me.”

There was a brief period of silence. A look of shock and bewilderment froze on her face. Shortly afterward, the silence was broken by an eruption of laughter from Kari and the goliath.

“Stop it! Don’t blow it, you idiot!” Rafelor shouted at the man. However, his words fell on the same deaf ears, just as they did with Kylan and Arnara.

“You can’t be serious; you want to be a part of the ring? You’d have to be able to stand up to people like my pal here to stand a chance. And you? Hate to break it to you, but you don’t even look like you have the guts to squash a bug.”

The man let out a sigh of defeat.

“What’s your name, boy?” she continued.

He didn’t respond; he had nothing to respond with. After an awkward period of silence, she kept talking once more.

“…Okay then. Tell you what, why don’t you run along home and make some better use for your time than bothering us.”

Without another word, he left in silence. Even with no home to go to, he disappeared into the streets, leaving behind the goliath and half-orc to ridicule him behind his back.

Back into the bustling, crowded streets he walked. Blending into the crowd gave him some time to think about himself. At this point of his life, he had nowhere else to go. Nobody gave him the opportunity for a job in Baldur’s Gate, nor did he believe he had any exceptional skills for one. He thought there was no chance he could survive anywhere outside the streets of the city; any chance at braving the unknown past Baldur’s Gate would lead to his death. On top of all that, there was never a single piece of reassurance given to him by anyone in his life, which led him to believe that even if he could pick himself up, would he even deserve it? The man had no clue what this smuggling job meant to him, but he thought if there was any chance that he could escape his personal hell, this lowlife job was his only chance to do so. Despite this, he failed to apply himself when it mattered the most, allowing that opportunity to waste away like everything else he knew.

The half-elf watching all of this continued to pout. “This blows, why do I have to see this?”

A growing anger began to grow inside of him. Despite his best efforts, he could never seem to accomplish anything in his life. This latest interaction with the smugglers had only proven to himself how much of a failure he thought he was. It was impossible for him to get anything he wanted by himself.

So, he began to think about what would happen if he tried to be someone else.

Meanwhile, Kari and the Goliath were talking amongst each other, having forgotten about the man that approached them before. That was, until Kari turned her head and saw the same person marching towards them.

“Hey, you, what did I tell you? You don’t have the guts for this” she hollered to him.

He ignored her and kept moving towards them.

“Are you deaf? Scram!” she barked.

Rafelor breathed in “And so it begins…”

With a furious intensity growing inside of him, he quickly made his way over to the goliath, and before either of them could react, he punched the goliath square in the face with all his strength. The force of the blow was strong enough to knock the goliath down to the floor. The man put his foot on the goliath’s chest and leaned towards his head.

“Don’t have what it takes, huh? Well, it looks like your weak-ass goliath is currently stuck beneath my heel. So, get your priorities straight and know talent when you see it, bitch.”

Stunned for a moment, she let out another fit of laughter. “Look at that, he smacked your naughty word, Spulitz.”

The man looked down at the goliath beneath his foot, only to realize that it was no longer a goliath that lay beneath. Instead, there beneath his heel was the lanky figure of a changeling.

“Zat was one of many recruitment tests, and you passed” the changeling spoke to the man.

Kari chimed in. “In the ring, you need to be someone that isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty like that. Could have had me fooled the first time you showed up. Welcome to the team.”

She held out her hand, which the man took for a solid handshake. The rage that festered inside of him began to fade. Instead, confidence and a small feeling of pride began to build inside of him, something that he had not felt in several years.

Meanwhile, the opposite effect was happening on Rafelor. “Come on, just get on with it already!”

“Now, what did you say your name was?” Kari asked him.

Despite everything, he still did not have an answer for her. He thought of the many stories he had read about people of great might, strength, prestige, and charisma. Trying to emulate the heroes of his past, he decided to say the name he thought best emulated that kind of person…

“It’s pretty simple, not too hard to remember. The name’s…”

The same mist and smoke returned from before crept all around Rafelor. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, eagerly waiting for it to whisk him somewhere far away from here.





When Rafelor opened his eyes again, he found himself in yet another place. However, this environment was another place he wished to forget. A rectangular chamber with benches and cages of different shapes and sizes. Dolls sat on shelves and looked down with empty eyes from their perches. Near the middle of the room a corroded brass cauldron sat, with wisps of green smoke billowed forth. The sickly vapor flowed across the floor, with wispy tendrils grasping at nothing in the air. Along one wall was a massive door bronze door, with five bronze seals, that Rafelor remembered, concealed locking mechanisms. And beyond it lay the remains of a never born god, now hungering for all the souls in Toril.

As Rafelor looked around, he heard a soft groan. Turning he saw a familiar mishappen elf laying on the stone table. She groaned again and her eyes fluttered open. She turned her head to look around in confusion. It was clear that to her, that the stone chamber was unfamiliar. Rafelor stepped closer to the elf, and he realized this must have been shortly after Apolyta had been ‘born’. Her skin was smooth and unblemished like Arnara’s. And while it wore her face, he cringed at what the elf was about to discover.

The elf grimaced in pain and then tried to sit up. But she stopped short when as she looked at her own hand. Her hand was folded up against her forearm, the fingers locked together barely able to flex or wiggle. Shivering, she then looked down at herself, to find that she was naked on this table. But beyond that shock, was that somehow her other limbs were also twisted and bent. One foot was turned inwards as a club foot, while her legs seemed to be of different lengths.

“What…happened…to me? Where am I?” the elf said confused and the barest hint of fear in her voice.

“Oooo…you are so much improved. Much better than before,” a gritty voice in the shadows said. “You were a hideous elf. The most hideous I have seen in quite a spell.” Turning she saw the voices owner trundle into the light. A tall lanky woman with purple skin, and patchy bristle like hair. Over her skin crawled a multitude of ants, and her eyes were covered with crust laden gold coins.

Rafelor grimaced at the sight of the grotesque woman that stood over the elf that had in the real world just named herself Apolyta. Despite its absence in the ritual, he noticed his morningstar back in its usual spot at his waist. “Nope. We’re not having this. Not letting jackasses like you have any fun. EAT THIS!”

The best-looking half-elf in the room swung his morningstar, aiming for the woman’s head. But, what would have been a direct hit to the skull, ended up being a whiff as his morningstar simply passed through her head. He shouted angrily to deaf ears once more. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! Is there anything I can do here!?”

“Not just any Arnara. The REAL Arnara is here to bare her soul and tell us all the truths,” said another voice, and another woman, with a peg leg, and a necklace of chattering teeth around her neck. As she spoke, yellow vapors escaped from her nose and ears. “Poor dear, look how she cowers like a rabbit for stew.”

Three bolts of fire soared through the second woman’s chest, going straight through her. No damage or reaction occurred from her or the room. Rafelor clenched his teeth out of anger. “It’s like I don’t exist. And now the hags get to do whatever they want to her.”

“Well, stew she’ll be if she doesn’t talk, but I am sure…” Said a third voice, muffled by a squirming leather sack worn on the head of a third woman. From beneath the sack, a snake slithered out and looked at the broken elf and spoke. “…Ssshe’ll tell usss sssisters all we need to know.”

Apolyta shivered in fear, as she realized she was amongst a coven of night hags. She wasn’t going to just lay there for their amusement however, and she laid back down and raised a hand and said, “Vas Flam!” But nothing happened, no bead of light, no eruption of heat and flame. She looked at her hand in puzzlement, and then at the hags in fear.

“Tsk tsk…and we haven’t even started to chat,” the one with coins on her eyes said with malice and mockery. “She has no manners does she Peggy?”

“No,” the one called ‘Peggy’ answered with a cruel smile on her lips. “That’s why we said no Weave for her. Hard to chat when the rabbit is trying to roast the cook! Isn’t that right Nanna?”

“The guilt you carry…that makes you so delicious. And with a beautiful form now to match! You are exquisite! Unlike that ugly guilt trip of a woman calling herself Arnara,” the one called ‘Nanna’ said with a smile full of rotten teeth. “But no…she will never see you…never know you…”

“Hmph. If that were true, then we wouldn’t really be here, would we?” Rafelor interjected.

“…you are here for two reasons. First, you are here to tell us all about…yourself…and your friends, right Widow Groat?”

“Yes,” the coined eyed one said. “And then…we eat you. Maybe fast, maybe slow, maybe a little at a time if we want to snack.”

“Elves chewy…will need to cook a while,” Peggy complained.

“True,” Nanna said with a vicious gleam in her eye. “But a slow roast as will help loosen her tongue and make her tender.”

“No…No…I…No!” Arnara said trying to shrink back away from the hags as they approached. Her malformed body was strange her and didn’t move as she wanted. But in truth there was nowhere to run from the fiends in front of her. She saw that in Widow Groat’s hands was a cat-o-nine tails, made of strands of rusty wire with bits of sharp metal bits along the length, dripping with green ichor.

“Questions first, and snacking later,” Widow Groat said with a crooked grin holding up the wicked instrument so that Apolyta could understand her fate to come. “This will soften her up a bit. Now let’s start with you telling us all about the ugly one with that morningstar.”

“Was that really necessary? You’re one to talk, it looks like I’m looking at a backed-up privy!” Rafelor interrupted again. As usual, there was no reply. His eyes rolled to the side as he silently commented to himself “This is a lot funner when someone can hear you…”

“Let’s see what pain can tell us.” Widow Groat continued. Her arm quickly twisted, casting the tails across Apolyta’s flesh, tearing open wounds with the jagged bits. The future Apolyta screamed as the ichor seeped into her wounds. Acrid smoke rose from where the ichor met blood and boiled on her skin. Her eyes were wide in horror as she realized that this was only an opening round in a long battle that she was likely to lose.

“Such lovely music!” Nanna said with an evil grin. “We’re going to have such a lovely dinner party dearie.”

The mist returned, and as everything began to fade away, Rafelor spoke once more.

“I don’t care what bargain we made back in the tomb, when I find that last surviving hag again, I’m gonna give what’s coming to her.”





The mist cleared to the now familiar wood and marble of House Ustina. The hallway was a graceful curve around the trunk of the oak, lined with statuettes and paintings. Rafelor nodded a moment and grinned. This was a place of luxury that had already taken a liking to. He felt a bit of relief returning to a nicer area, but his smile faded once he saw the scene before him.

Running through the intangible half-elf, Arnara stormed down the hall, her face a torrent of anger and shame as tears streamed down her reddened cheeks. Her dress whipped around her as she ran, and her sobbing echoed through the ancient halls of the Ustina mansion. Rafelor saw that she was dressed in the same dress as before, and still carried the same book. Sighing, he realized that she was dealing with the sad reality of being removed from the only home she had known. That she was to be cast out, stripped of her family name, and essentially forced to join another House. Banished for something she had no control of.

“I wish I could say something to her, but there’s no point in trying,” Rafelor said glumly trotting behind her. He followed her as she ran through the halls, seeking succor to her inner turmoil. Soon, they found themselves far from the living areas, and had what appeared to be an armory. The room was round, with the roof open to the sky, and a ring of flagstone stone in the center. Around the edges were pells, and racks of blunted training blades, spears, and shields. Arnara stomped into the ring and dropped her book to the floor. She then pulled a long sword from the rack and gripped it tightly. She then turned, and marched over to a battered pell, and swung at it, shouting in incoherent fury.

Like all elves, It was clear to Rafelor that Arnara had been trained in the use of the sword. But it was also clear that her lack of strength made her a less than skilled wielder with the heavy blade. But most surprising was the raw open emotion on her face as she unleased her fury on the defenseless pole of wood. She showed none of the discipline she showed when she danced the Bladesong. She instead swung wildly with both hands at the pell. She tried to cleave it into two bringing the sword down on the target, only to have it bounce off the sturdy wood, barely notching it with her blow. She swung again and again, tears still streaming, but the wood refused to yield to her, as it stood resolutely against her weak blows. Eventually, her swings became slower and slower, until finally she swung at the pell in a great sweeping arc. The blade struck the wood, denting it and bounced off. The jarring blow caused Arnara to lose her grip and the sword sprang out of her hand and spun across the flagstone. She then collapsed onto the floor, her hair matted, and her dress dripping in sweat as her tears flowed freely.

“Now that is a pitiful sight. Laid low by a practice target,” came a voice from behind them. Rafelor turned, as Arnara wiped the tears from her eyes. There he saw another elf standing, leaning against another pell. He was dressed in fine silks, and high leather boots, with a gleaming longsword at his side. He was muscular for an elf and was a bit shorter than most. His reddish hair was an odd cut, that swept around his head. But he wore a look of concern, as he knelt down to the crying elf.

“Oh, come on, Arnara, I do not look like that!” Rafelor shouted.

He hesitated after speaking. “Or…do I?” he questioned. Suddenly morbidly curious about Arnara’s previous claim, he crept back into the hall. On the wall, a small, decorated mirror hung. Rafelor peered into it, trying to confirm whether there was a resemblance. However, even the mirror refused to respond to Rafelor’s presence, for his reflection was completely absent.

There was an annoyed look on Rafelor’s face as he grumbled, “Now that’s just cruel.”

He walked back into the armory, Rafelor saw the elf had taken her into his arms and held her, as she cried into his chest.

“I can only assume your father…has told you about the arrangements?” the elf said with a sigh.

Arnara sat up and looked up at him in confusion and after a couple of sniffles asked, “Pallas…you…you knew?”

Pallas nodded, “My father told me this morning. Kylan had announced his intention to the heads of the lines last night.”

Arnara shook her head in disbelief, “So I’m…the last to know.”

“Well, not by much. Casia and Zyana are away at Greenpine, but I’m sure a missive to them is being penned.”

Arnara looked down again and said bitterly, “How…how can he do this?”

Pallas sat down next to her and let her lean onto him, “I am not taking his side, and I know you hate this, but as you have grown, your similarities that you have with your mother are many. And as I watched you mature; I saw how you two became more distant to each other.”

“It’s not fair,” Arnara said softly. “That constant comparison, and the…surprise. No disappointment that I am not her. She was a poet, and a skilled swordswoman, and wise. An elf that everyone looked to for guidance. I’m none of those things.”

Pallas sighed, “No, your sense of rhythm is terrible and your skill with the longsword…well…you might as well use a mace or morningstar. No finesse whatsoever,” and a wave of mist erupted from the ground and covered the form of Pallas. As it dissipated, the elf now took the form of a bulkier half-elf who now pet Arnara on the shoulder.

The spectator grinned. “Ha! This guy knows where it’s at! You tell her, Rafelor! Wait…what!?” As he looked at the figure, it was no longer the elf dressed in silk, but himself in his white cloth duster, and dark muslin shirt, his Morningstar in easy reach.

Arnara playfully punched the half-elf, “I had to settle for a teacher that half trained me and was terrible at any attempt at wit or verbal sparring.”

“Well, as I said. There’s only room for one naughty word in this family. And that’s me!”

Arnara softly chuckled and was quiet a moment. The then spoke quietly again, “It’s been hard since the drawing of the veil for me. The Reverie was such a comfort, now all I have are just my own memories. And just I want to forget them. I wish you didn’t have to leave for Whitepetal so soon. I wish you could stay and brighten my…dwindling days here.”

Rafelor’s doppelganger grimaced and said, “You deserve to be happy in life without getting swallowed in guilt and unyielding burdens. I want to help you overcome your challenges. It is the least I can do for you.”

“I mean, he’s right, but he doesn’t have to sound like such a dweeb saying it.” Rafelor commented as he watched this interaction.

“You have no idea how bad the last couple of weeks have been...how...broken I feel. I... I thought we would have time to…but...it’s too fast...everything feels rushed.”

“…have I heard this somewhere before?” asked the spectating Rafelor.

“Nothing ever bothers or flusters you.” The image of Rafelor accused.

“Frustrated or Jealous?” Arnara retorted.

“What difference does it make?” came the familiar response.

“I suppose none, I do get…frustrated…” Arnara’s voice trailed off a moment and she shook her head.

“Alright, time out. Time out. Time out,” the spectating Rafelor said, “I don’t know what the hells is going on here, but I’m pretty sure this is all naughty word. There’s no way I was ever here before; I think I’d remember a house as awesome as this. And that right there, that is not me. That’s her cousin that she’s always compared me too. Cool guy and all, but there’s only one Rafelor and he’s currently very annoyed that he can’t seem to do anything.” And he glared at himself standing there. But after he spoke the mist began to surround the Rafelor that Arnara was talking to. It covered him completely, and once the mist faded away, Pallas had returned in Rafelor’s position.

“Holy crap, did I do that?” Rafelor asked, “Well then, maybe I can do something here after all.”

“No, not it…I’m…lost. What should I do?”

“Perhaps your father is right,” Pallas said softly with a note of reluctance as he cringed.

“What!?!”

“You need time away from each other. Perhaps his perspective will change after some separation. And you would be a Sonalta for Morlea, right? You always did like her. Maybe being away from the house is a good idea, and perhaps someone in Xiloscient may have good advice.

Arnara sighed, “Feels like I’m losing somehow…but perhaps you are right Pallas.”

“I don’t know about that,” Pallas said lifting Arnara’s chin to look at him. “I just know that unless something changes, you aren’t going to be happy.”

From the door to the armory, the white mist rose again to cover the scene. Rafelor’s expression became serious. “So you want to play rough, huh? Well, no matter what, I’m ready for whatever comes next.”





As the Mists cleared, Rafelor quickly realized he was wrong.

Morningstar clashed with scimitar as Rafelor attempted to hold his own against the lizardfolk in vain. As the ship they stood on rocked back and forth, Rafelor was successful in parrying various slices, but he was not in any place to gain the upper hand. With every parry, Rafelor could feel his energy deplete more and more. Knowing full well of Rafelor’s limits, his opponent spun around with a great swing, strong enough to send the morningstar flying out of Rafelor’s hands. With Rafelor having no means of defending himself, the Lizardfolk lunged forward for the killing blow. In that moment, the best Rafelor could do was scramble backwards, twisting around to avoid being slashed. Fortunately, it was just enough for a fatal blow to be turned instead, into a deep scar across his cheek.

He yelped in pain as blood gushed out of his face. Desperately, he held his face, trying to stop the blood from oozing out. At that point, all he could do was taunt the victor.

“Oh great. This sucks; can we go back to Arnara and Apolyta now?” Rafelor complained as he watched.

“You...you’re a psychopath Garzuxl, you know that, right?” Rafelor watched himself say.

Garzuxl snarled, slowly pacing the deck of the ship. “Sssso, what if I am? I’m the one who’ssss walking awayzzz with my prizzzze today.”

“Why even bother with all of this? I didn’t have any beef with you. I’m just minding my own business.”

Garzuxl pointed his scimitar at Rafelor and began walking closer to him. “It’s sssimple. You are an object that ssstands in my way. The Ring is mine to do azzz I zzzsee fit. I kill when I wantsss, I take when I wantsss, I feassst when I wantsss, and I kill whiny actorssss like you when I wantsss.”

“I... didn’t…didn’t want it to be like this--” the weary Rafelor stammered.

“I. Don’t. CARE.” Garzuxl yelled pointedly, and he thrust the scimitar forward, aiming for the half-elf’s throat. With the last bit of his strength, Rafelor frantically twisted out of the way, trying to keep his footing. However, with little room to work with, he ended up throwing his body over the side of the ship. The last thing he remembered before he blacked out was hitting the water below.

When he woke up, his face hurt. As he felt where he was cut, he noticed that a bandage had been applied by someone. Observing his environment, he found himself on a wrecked ship in the middle of a large cavern. Sitting in the middle of the deck, around a makeshift fire pit, was Spulitz, the only person in The Ring that was close to a friend.

“Oh, thank goodness! You are awake! I am so glad to see zat you are not dead!” exclaimed Spulitz in his half-elf form.

“Huh, I haven’t heard from Spulitz in a while. I wonder how he’s doing” said the observing Rafelor.

With every thought that rushed into Spulitz’s head, he changed his body into a different shape with a different personality to compliment it. To Rafelor, he knew the one that stood before him as ‘Mr. Happy.’

“I take it you saved me?” Rafelor replied glumly.

Mr. Happy’s body morphed back into the same, lanky changeling that Rafelor knew from the start. His true form was who Rafelor referred to as Spulitz.

“Correct, I fear that had I not come sooner, you would have perished. And us two are the only survivors. The rest were tragically slaughtered.”

“Yeah? Sure, as hell don’t feel like a survivor. That naughty word got under my skin and then got the best of me. Made a fool out of myself in front of everyone too…”

“Yes, but does it matter since everyone else died?” Spulitz pointed out.

“Is that supposed to cheer me up?”

Spulitz changed into Mr. Happy. “Now, now, turn zat scar upside down!” and just as quickly started to change again, but this time a wave of mist covered the figure. It quickly disappeared and left behind the image of Arnara.“ But the important thing is that you’re still alive. Garzuxl is a deadly foe, one where most people who meet him don’t come back alive. That alone, is something you can be proud of.”

Still watching, the spectating Rafelor shook his head and held up his index finger. “Either Spulitz knows something, I don’t, or this is completely wrong.”

Rafelor clenched his fist in anger. “Damn it...I don’t understand; why can’t I seem to be the person I want to be? Every second someone’s out to destroy me no matter what. It’s not fair! It’s naughty word!”

Arnara looked at Rafelor squinting, as if she was deciphering what Rafelor really wanted, before asking “Well, Rafelor, what kind of person do you want to be?”

“I don’t know!” he shouted. Hearing the sound of his voice echo across the cavern, he calmed himself down, speaking in a somber voice once more. “Nothing ever changes, even when I do.”

“From what I can see, this line of work is cruel and unforgiving. Might I suggest you try going on your own for a little while? When my friend Myrai was still here, she spent a good amount of time in the Misty Forest with me…” she trailed off a bit, letting out a deep sigh, “...although not enough time. Either way, the change in environment seemed to ease some of the terrors she faced every night...”

The younger Rafelor sat there quietly as he meditated on Arnara’s words.

“...When I first left my home, I attempted to do the same. However, once I left, I found that I couldn’t bring myself to come back home. Perhaps you’ll feel differently depending on the path you take,” her eyes looked at Rafelor from top to bottom before she began to speak again, “A solo mercenary seems like a good fit for you. It’s possible going on your own may make you strong enough to stand up to Garzuxl, but the decision is up to you. This is your choice; not mine.”

“You know, as interesting as it is seeing Arnara in this scenario, I should probably do something about this,” said the spectating half-elf has he concentrated on fixing the scene, “naughty word, do I even remember what form Spulitz was in right here?”

He focused on Arnara and thought hard about what he actually remembered. Recognizing Spulitz in his own thoughts, the mist immediately surrounded Arnara and turned her back into Spulitz.

The other Rafelor broke his silence. “Yeah, now that you mention it, I would like to cave that dude’s head in.” he looked up at the cavern. “We should lay low here until he thinks he’s dead. Then, we sneak out and regroup with the others on land.”

He nodded, stood up, and made his way below the deck of the ship. This left Rafelor alone with his thoughts.

The silence was broken only by the Rafelor watching “Seriously!? All that brainpower to fix this vision, and Spulitz just gets up and walks away? Thanks a lot…”’

Rafelor in the vision broke the silence he heard by himself. “That mercenary idea doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try it someday. If there’s answers to any of these things in my head, I’ll find them. Someway...somehow…”

The mist began to dissolve the scene for yet another time.

“And now we’re already out of here! You already made me sit through this crap. Would it kill you to let me enjoy the fruits of my labor? Whatever, the next one better be nice…”





The cage that Apolyta hung in was covered with dried blood and reeked of her own filth. It was so small that she couldn’t stand in it nor lie in it with comfort. She had to twist herself to lay in the cage, unable to straighten out fully. Her malformed arms, legs and hips made it impossible to get comfortable. Her silver hair was a fright, matted into knots and sticking out in places. Her skin was covered in sores from lying on the iron bars, burns from rods, and cuts from various implements. Her eyes were sunken in as she lay there in a daze. Rafelor had to guess that she hadn’t rested in some time. As bad as things sometimes seemed for Arnara, it was clear that Apolyta; had endured a lot more. And yet, she never said a word to anyone about it. Not even as they travelled to Candlekeep.

“What did I expect? Of course it’s not nice; it’s everybody’s favorite tomb. What disturbing horrors await us today?” Rafelor growled to himself.

She lazily looked over at a tray that sat withing easy reach of her cage. There was sliced roast boar, a bowl of cooling squash stew, and iced cakes with a sugary glaze. She licked her dry lips and then closed her eyes and turned away trying to ignore it. Rafelor heard footsteps, and he saw a tall thin man coming down from the landing above, bearing a fresh new tray. The warm spiced smells were welcome relief to Rafelor compared to the stink coming from the cage. He watched the servant, swap out her old tray of cold untouched food for a new one. And then he stood and gestured with a smile at the new tray. But Apolyta laid there silently and glanced at the meal with hungering eyes. She moistened her lips again, the haunting look of want and desire on her face. But she again closed her eyes and shook her head.

“No…no…” she whispered feverishly. “A trap. A trap. You’re just trying to fatten me up. Like calf on a human farm. I won’t do it. I’ll starve first. I won’t give them the…” and she spat on the floor, “…the satisfaction. I will bear the pain as I give up all I know. I can’t stop them.” And she closed her eyes and a tear dripped from her eye down her cheek before falling to the ground. She and sighed and continued, “How I tried not to talk, not so say anything. But..the..pain,” and she sniffed and started to cry again as she had for many of the days. “And now they are here in the tomb…somewhere…I don’t think they can—”

“—Aw…does our pretty Arnara feel sorry for herself…again? How pathetic.” Widow Groat said as she materialized from the ether. She reached into the cage and grasped the elf by the chin, holding her head still so Arnara was forced to look at the hideous hag. From behind the veil of coins, ants descended down her arm, and crawled on the elf. Apolyta ignored them crawling over her, as she was caught up in her shivering fear.

“And she’s a naughty, naughty girl,” Peggy Deadbells said as she materialized. She then limped over to the workbench near the cage on her stumpy wooden leg while she talked, “You don’t get to choose to starve. No no no. That will not do.” In her hands she carried a machine, full of grinding gears, with a funnel on the top, and a curved tube hanging downwards. She placed it on the workbench, and Baggy Nanna giggled as she moved to the machine and hung a pail underneath the tube. She then took a funnel off the workbench and moved to the cage wearing a wicked grin.

Baggy Nanna approached the cage and from under her leather hood, the snout of a dirty terrier emerged, “Bark bark…well we can’t question her on an empty stomach, can we? Mister Threadneedle, could you be so…kind,” she said with a tone of dripping sarcasm, “To prepare our fine dining for poor poor hungry Arnara?” The human servant said nothing, but took the contents of the serving tray, and dumped it into the hopper of the grinder, and he cheerfully began to turn the crank.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I didn’t know it was this bad. Apolyta…I’m sorry,” Rafelor said as an anger began to build inside of him, “You’d have to be an absolute monster to be a part of this. Who would possibly think this is, okay?” as he watched the hag grind the food into a thick, uneven paste.

“Well then,” said a familiar voice. Turning he saw the faintest tendrils of mist fade, revealing himself, holding Apolyta’s head and chin in place with an iron grip. . “Open wide!”

“WHAT THE naughty word!?”

A shadow stepped forward, and this time the hag Peggy Deadbells now appeared as Kylan. He looked down at Apolyta and then forced the funnel’s small end into Apolyta’s mouth. “The Third Daughter of House Ustina will eat as she is told to. The needs of the House come first.” The image of Kylan said. Threadneedle had stopped grinding and carried the now full pail of liquified boar, squash and cake over to the cage.

“Wait, wait, wait, it was me!? And now it’s Kylan? I need to sit down…” said Rafelor, as he hopped on top of a workbench nearby. However, in that moment, he forgot about his previous attempts to interact with the environment. As his rear touched the workbench, Rafelor phased right through it and fell to the floor.

“…I hate this” he said as he got up on one knee, when he heard the pail being removed from the machine. His heart sank as he saw a familiar elf, in a flowing green dress holding it, and moving over to the helpless Apolyta. Arnara then took the food and held it above the funnel with a wicked gleam in her eye, “And you’re wrong. Not a calf. A goose. This the best way to fatten you and your liver. You could have done this the easy way, but you were always so…difficult!” the elf said with a sneer and she began to tip the pail to pour the contents into the wide opening of the funnel. Apolyta was beyond screaming or crying. All she could do was whimper as she faced her end, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Just as Apolyta started to swallow for her life, the image of Rafelor then suddenly looked up and raised his hand before barking, “What the naughty word is that noise?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be me? Figure it out, dipshit” said the Rafelor watching, as he got up from the floor.

“Oh, come on! I thought this would work!” a voice exclaimed bitterly in the distance from the direction of the stairs.

The spectating Rafelor groaned. “Oh god, is that Hawthorne? Oh gods, go away, Hawthorne. I feel like whenever I’m around you, everything is a hundred times more confusing. You are not going to be a help as I try to fix this.”

“Told you; nothing to see here. NOTHING!” came a jibe in retort.

“I hate this cursed place!” another voice said.

Kylan frowned and pulled the funnel from Apolyta’s mouth and Rafelor released her head. Apolyta then turned her head and started to cough violently, as the image of Rafelor spoke. “It seems that our guests have arrived early. We will have to finish our meal…after we finish them.”

Arnara handed the pail to Mister Threadneedle and leaned down to whisper to Apolyta, “I thought you were made of stronger stuff. But it seems you are weak willed as well. Your tears aren’t going to save anyone. Didn’t save Pyrite. Or Ametrine, and certainly not Toddy now. You’re just a failure waiting…to be eaten.”

Rafelor sighed. “I better fix this before they all arrive and make this even more confusing.” On that note, Rafelor began to recall the appearance of the three. He winced as he recalled all the grotesque details of their faces. As he did so, the mist rolled in and restored the sisters to their proper places.

The Sewn Sisters looked at the helpless elf and the hags cackled as they held their hands in a circle. Then they faded from view, and all Apolyta could do was to lay in her cage and cry in joy as the voices on the stairs grew louder.

Like clockwork, the mist rolled in. Rafelor watched as it slowly crawled across the floor and into the air.

“Come on, can’t you roll in any faster? I got places to go, things to do, and I want to get out of here before I have to see Yaka again.” Fortunately for him, the scene disappeared before any of them could come down the stairs, and the next scene appeared before him.





_____
“Alright, what do we have this time?” asked Rafelor.

It was raining outside the shrine, as Arnara knelt in front of the stone bier, her eyes red from tears, that still flowed down her cheeks. Ralefor was shocked to see himself as a corpse, laying there peacefully although his corpse had signs of a violent end. His body was pierced and slashed by many blades. His eyes were now closed forever, his broken form a shadow of its former self.

“…well naughty word. Wait a moment, this isn’t right.”

She was so absorbed in her grief she didn’t hear the person approaching the small chapel that Rafelor lay in state.

“Arnarrra,” the lizardfolk said simply.

The elf turned her head slightly, “So what disfavor have I done now for you to visit me? Perhaps I breathed too close to you? Did my scent offend? My lack of respect perhaps?”

Garzuxl growled, “Yourrr tone with me isssss beneath you. Neverthelessss we mussst talk.”

The Rafelor that was not dead took a double take at his corpse and Garzuxl. “Oh what the hell, who invited you here? Get out of here, Garzxul. Don’t care how much you want to see it, you’re never gonna get to see my corpse.”

“Sorry father, but…I am a little preoccupied with my grief, and preparing for my new duties” Arnara continued.

“Garzuxl as Arnara’s father? Ew. EWWWWWW. I don’t want to think about that! This sounds like a nightmare after a really bad hangover.”

“It isss about that; thingssss have changed.”

“What? Must I leave the Misty Forest now? Will I still be too close for your fragile memory to handle?” Arnara said with venom in her voice.

“Arnara!” the lizardfolk hissed causing Arnara to look at him with hate. “The hobgoblins have ssstruck again.”

“Where?” Arnara said, her face looking forlorn as readied herself for bad news.

“Whitepetal again, and also Greenpine,” the mists flew through the chamber and the lizardfolk was replaced by the figure of Pallas. But this Pallas we covered the wounds of battle, with a deep cut below the breastbone; a fatal blow. The image of Pallas then said. “Many Tel’Quessir have been lost. Including Morlea.”

Rafelor scratched his head. “Did that corpse just talk? Wasn’t that Garzuxl a moment ago, not Pallas? With all due respect, Arnara, I think I’d rather see Pallas dead than my corpse.”

Arnara’s shoulder’s slumped, “Oh…I…see. So…what house are you banishing me to now?” as she turned to the body of Kylan on the bier.

Rafelor could only shake his head trying to clear the confusion swimming in his head. “And now Kylan’s dead!? At this point, why not have Arnara die and join the party?”

The form of Pallas shimmered as ghostly mist quickly enveloped the elf, and it was now Rafelor who stepped over and forcibly pulled on Arnara’s shoulder and turned her around, “ Zyana and Casia were killed.”

“It’s really confusing when I’m watching myself do things. Guess this is how Arnara felt when she met Apolyta? Why couldn’t they have just cloned Biff or something? It would’ve so much easier…”

Arnara’s face drained of color and she took a step backward. “What? No…No…No.”

“And since Wyan has already…chosen another path, you are now…” Rafelor continued.

Arnara moved over to the body of Kylan who lay in repose and looked at him with a look of helplessness. “The First Heir,” she said bitterly. “I’m not sure who’s being punished here, you or me. All I can say is you deserve it.” She then turned around, she gasped in shock as she received a hard slap.

Rafelor turned in surprise, and saw it was now Apolyta standing there who had swung with her flipper like hand and had struck Arnara. Arnara rubbed her cheek and stared at Apolyta in shock.

“DAAAAMNNN. That’s cold from both of them. Except I know all of this totally messed up because there’s no way that slap actually hurt.”

“You will show some respect,” Apolyta said. As she spoke her form shifted to the lizard folk once again, “And you will act like the Firssssssssst Daughter. I have been too lenient with you, and it is clearrr I have a lot of work ahead of me to forrrge you into a proper heirrr.

Arnara rubbed her cheek, and looked at Garzuxl incredulously, “You…how dare you—”

“Silence,” and the form again shifted to the corpse like Pallas who said. “You will do your duty, and as will I finding you a proper husband. Our lives have changed, and despite that, the duty to the House comes first.” He then turned and strode to the door and turned his head to glance at Arnara. But to Rafelor’s surprise there a different woman stood there. She was dressed in an elven breastplate and wore a rapier on her hip. She had hair of the color of beaten gold, but it was her eyes that stood out. They were like mirrored orbs of silver, reflecting everything that they saw. “So, start acting like the Daughter of the House that you are.” Pallas said pointedly, and he strode off into the rain fading from view.

The woman face was full of anger and hate, but instead of following she turned and sank to her knees in front of the bier. On it now lay the lifeless body of Arnara. The woman spoke, with an unfamiliar lilt, “I…I…don’t know how to sodding do this. You said you would always be there. I…need…your help. I…need…you.”

“So that’s Myrai. Holy crap, was not expecting those eyes. I wonder if I’d be able to see myself in them if my reflection worked here. Nice to meet you…sorta, but I got to put everything back now.”

Rafelor began to think but hesitated on his own thoughts.

“Now that I think about it, this was way more jumbled than anything else I’ve seen thus far. Do I even know who’s actually supposed to be there?”

For a short while, Rafelor stood there, trying to think of who could belong where. “Given that Pallas was here, and not mentioned anywhere else, I can assume he is the corpse. Garzuxl is being a prick as usual, and Pallas walking around is just wrong, so that must be Kylan.”

The thoughts raced into his head and transformed the scene in front of him, matching his assumptions about everyone’s placement. He grinned at the success of his logic. “Now we’re talking, now I just need to put Arnara back in her true form.”

He concentrated in his mind. Then, Myrai was replaced by a fish flopping on the floor. Rafelor blinked in surprise, as he realized it was the same fish that Arnara briefly transformed into back in the tomb because of a magic trap. Almost immediately, mist began to sweep across the room.

“WAIT! naughty word! NO! WRONG ARNARA! HOLD ON! WAIT!” he yelled in a panic. Just before the mist covered everything, he could see Arnara turn back into her normal self.

“Oh thank goodness” Rafelor said with a sigh of relief. As another scene appeared before him, Rafelor thought about how the memories were starting to become more and more scrambled. He was unsure if this was the job he was supposed to do, but concluded that he better do it or else something bad would happen.





After all the confusion that transpired in the scene before, Rafelor was somewhat relieved to see a much more recent, familiar memory of his.

He found himself in the middle of the Misty Forest, where a stone circle lied beneath his feet. Although this memory was recent, Rafelor felt he stepped into that circle to travel to Candlekeep a long time ago.

"We're here. The attendants will bring my daughter here presently," Kylan said dismounting from his horse. "You might want to stretch your legs."

"Right. Stretching legs. That's good." Rafelor said, following behind Kylan.

Watching himself, Rafelor poked fun at his double’s attempts at socialization. “Smooth, Rafelor. Real smooth.”

Kylan arched an eyebrow and said nothing as the half-elf hopped off his horse to get a good stretch in. He clasped his hands behind him, and looked south down the forest pathway.

To help alleviate the awkward tension he felt, Rafelor resorted to small talk. "So...I've heard a lot about Candlekeep. What's it like?"

"A human's idea of a library. A collection of haphazard towers, surrounded by a curtain wall to keep the Sea of Swords at bay. But I have heard the towers descend deep into the earth, where they store vast vaults of forgotten knowledge. I have only been on the outskirts once...what two centuries ago? I have never been beyond the gate."

"Wow. That's really something." He looked around awkwardly, trying to keep the conversation going. “So that's a human's idea then? What's an elf's?” Once again, a misty column swirled around Kylan, and replaced the figure with another image.

"Sssssimply put, Sssssilverymoon. My daughtersss considered going there insssstead, but they felt that it would not be likely that Netheresssse texts would be found there. Candlekeep, desssspite its organization, hasss the larger collection of bookssss. Sssilverymoon is better if you want to usssse it. Though, I agree with my daughterssss; the softskinsss do not possess the knowledge that is sought.” Garzuxl commented.

At this point, the observing Rafelor stopped watching. “No. NO! No thank you! I’ve already had to deal with the image of Daddy Garzuxl once today, not putting myself through that turmoil a second time.”

"Well, good thing we can go to Candlekeep then..." an elvish voice said, and Rafelor’s annoyance, his past self was replaced by the mists, with Pallas.

Garzuxl’s head turned from the circle towards Pallas. "You've never heard of Sssilverymoon have you, ssssoftskin?"

"Wh-what? NO! No, of course I have” he replied quickly, with a drop of sweat rolling down his neck.

“You know, it’s not so bad when they swap you out for the embarrassing parts” chimed in Rafelor.

"And you know that it on the outskirtsss of the Misty Foressst to the ssssouth, off the trade road."

Rafelor remembered this gambit clearly. He knew this area well, for he had passed it many times before. And he knew that there were no major cities until Baldur’s Gate. Also, he had known that Silverymoon was not on the same trade way north to Waterdeep or even up to Mirabar and Baron Althon’s keep. But he watched himself as Spultz answer has he tried to refute Kylan.

“Wait for a moment, zat can't be right. ‘zere's nothing out there.”

The lizardfolks form wavered in the mist, which then revealed Arnara who gave a wan smile, "Pride enough to lie, and travelled well enough to cover his tracks."

Caught in the act the mist once again swirled around revealing the hideous hag, Peggy Deadbells. Lamely they could only emit a gulp.

“Seriously!? I DON’T WANT TO BE THE HAG!” shouted Rafelor.

"Half of something is still something I suppose” Arnara continued.

Peggy Deadbells regained her composure for a brief second. "Huh? What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that the gaps in your skills...your knowledge...your capabilities can be, with effort, improved” Arnara circled the hag, and the mists changed her into the form of Kylan.

"I...I...yeah okay..." The hideous hag belched forth a mist and coughed. It faded away leaving behind a quiet, Spulitz, in the sea-elf form known as ‘Mr. Sad’, who looked down in defeat. But as they did so, Rafelor realized that the mist did not dissipate as before. It now was a constant stream, flowing over their forms, changing them as it did.

Rafelor facepalmed. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve reached my limit. You know what sounds really great right now? Drowning myself in that wine from earlier. In fact, I think I’ll do that for the rest of the week at this point.”

The stream of mist changed the hag into Garzuxl once again who noticed ‘Mr. Sad’s’ crestfallen spirit. "Interessssting. You were more...feissssty in your office."

Challenged, the feistiness in Rafelor’s past self-began to awaken within the image of the sea elf as they became more upset. “Oh come on, I can't win, can I? I'm feisty and I'm still fighting an uphill battle. I keep my mouth shut and now I'm not feisty enough.”

Rafelor watched himself as Mr. Sad complain to Garzuxl who’s forms was morphing into the hag Widow Groat, Rafelor then replied to the other Rafelor who was still Mr. Sad for the moment, if only to distract himself from the rapidly changing people before him. “Buddy, you think you’re confused? Think about what’s gonna happen to you in just a couple tendays.”

Mr. Sad did not react to Widow Groat’s sudden change in demeanor. "To whom are you trying to prove yourself? To myself? Or to you?" Kylan as the hag asked.

“HA! Now it’s your turn to be a hag, Kylan!” said Rafelor, perking up at the latest change.

Once again unable to find the right words to express himself or rather herself as the mists swirled and replaced Mr. Sad with the form of the half-orc Kari, while this hag changed again into the Lizardfolk Garzuxl. The image of Kari simply shrugged and said, "Both, I guess."

Garzuxl shook his head, "You already have for...both my daughterssss. That should be enough. Otherwise, you are just wallowing in self-absorbed pity."

Those words stung at Rafelor in a way he could not understand. Desperately, he wanted to reply to Kylan in some way, but he had no clue where to even begin. To Rafelor, Kylan felt simultaneously correct and incorrect. All he could do was stand there and be lost in his own mind. Even when he was watching this from the future, Rafelor could recall the feeling in that moment well.

With no response to reply to, Garzuxl form changed into Baggy Nanna and continued to speak on his own trail of thought. "For all of her mistakes, she wallowed in her own self-pity only briefly. I wonder if the other one will be..."

Spulitz snapped out of his train of thought, changing into the tiefling form, Mr. Angry. "Briefly!? You think Arnara felt zat briefly!?”

“Then she is better at keeping it to herself than I thought.” Kylan as Baggy Nanna replied.

“So zat’s what you think, ja?” retorted, ‘Mr. Angry’ as the past image of Rafelor.

The Sewn Sister remained silent.

“I’ve had enough of this.” Rafelor said bluntly, as he focused on restoring everything to its normal state, focusing on his fleeting memories of Kylan and himself, and pushing away the rest..

“Well, I'm gonna be honest about something: I'm kind of stupid. But if someone like me can see that Arnara is struggling, then that should say something about how much those feelings are seeping out of her” said Rafelor, finally in the correct position.

Baggy Nana was slowly changing into the form of Widow Groat, but the mist quickly swirled and revealed Kylan in his normal place once again. The elf considered this until he broke his silence, “Perhaps it is more accurate to say, I was no longer looking for it. And now with two of them...”

“Two of them what?”

“A burden now doubled.”

Kylan looked away from Rafelor. “I did not expect to have another child. I certainly did not expect...this.” he gestured to the south, where in the distance, Rafelor could that Apolyta was approaching, laying on a disc with some attendants escorting her.

“Even as twisted as the hags made her, I can still see her.”

In his limited time with Kylan, Rafelor barely knew this side of him: the side of being a father. That was a kindness Rafelor never got to know himself, and he didn’t expect to see it emerge spontaneously in the Kylan he knew. This gave Rafelor the words he was looking for. He moved towards Kylan and spoke once more.

“You know you said my knowledge has gaps in it? Well, one of those gaps is family. I don't think I fully understand what she's feeling, or what you are. Perhaps you both have your reasons.”

He stood next to Kylan, turning his head to look at him. “Somewhere through this whole charade, you'll make it work.”

"Perhaps." Kylan said, looking at Garzuxl, “You might not have had a family. I am at risk of losing it all. I'm not sure which is the better condition.”

Rafelor did a double take. “Hang on a second, I thought I fixed that! Oh, so this scene’s a fighter, huh? Well, you can’t fool me. You really think I could mistake these looks with someone else?” remarked Rafelor as the Garzuxl in the scene changed back to Rafelor once more.

“Hard to say, but I’m not about to let you lose your kids” concluded the restored Rafelor.

"And for that...I am grateful."

Rafelor smiled, feeling content after getting unexpected kindness from Kylan.

Their conversation came to a halt when Apolyta approached the pair atop a floating disk. She was accompanied by an attendant. “You two seemed to have gotten along,” she remarked.

“One can...have hope in... either my daughter's successes.” Kylan remarked as he approached Apolyta. He stopped next to her as she dismounted the disc and stood on the forest floor.

“Find what you seek...for your sake.” Kylan continued.

"Thank you. I hope for your success as well." Apolyta asked in response.

“That...that as well.” Kylan nodded as spoke softly.

Rafelor wiped his brow, watching the mist come back again. “Phew, this is wearing me out. Oh well, what’s next for cleanup duty?”





The mists cleared, and he found himself in some sort of guest house. The design and architecture were different than the Ustina mansion, being more subdued, and somehow even more ancient. Glancing around he found Apolyta lying on a divan, attempting to trance. But it was apparent she was distracted, and more to the point uncomfortable. She lay there frustrated, but suddenly she looked around with curiosity. As she did this, suddenly she smiled in recognition. It seemed clear to Rafelor, that this cottage held some significance to her, as the fond smile told him.

As she looked around, it appeared that another thought occurred to her, and she spoke aloud, “I wonder if it is still here. Maybe if I lie down…”, and then she stood. She started to limp painfully heading deeper into the interior of the cottage. She entered a hall and turned, following a memory. She came to a door and opened it slowly, her face nodding with satisfaction as she looked inside. Beyond was a study with a desk and chair in a corner, while in the center of the room, was a large ornate bed, decorated with carved images of flowers, and prancing deer and stags. Apolyta looked at it and sighed.

“Hmph. Nice room” Rafelor plainly remarked.

Apolyta’s forms shifted ever so slightly, and now it was Arnara who stood there.

Rafelor sighed. “Great. Feels like I’ve been here for five seconds, and things are already starting to change. Ever heard of a break?”

She closed the door behind her, and then walked over to the bed. She undid her rapier belt and hung it on a bed post. She then took off her boots and then climbed up and lay on the mattress flat on her back. Finding a measure of comfort, she looked like she was about to prepare herself to start a Reverie, but before she began, there was the sound of the front door opening, and she heard a pair of voices arguing.

“I know this sounds strange but listen—” Rafelor heard a voice say.

“—You run away from your responsibilities and now I have to listen to you? We should be talking in private, but instead you drag me across Melandrach’s home like a child with no self-control!”

“You need to see—”

Rafelor heard the voices grow closer and the door was thrown open, by Apolyta, limping ahead of the figure of Myrai with a stern, almost imperial look on her face.

“What? The sordid little love nest that you and that b—” Myrai said angrily, before stopping in her tracks, her mouth agape.

Arnara struggled to sit up on the bed, and she stared in confusion at Myrai and Apolyta. Myrai turned to look at Apolyta. “Who…who is that?”

“Yeah...this is what how I imagined this interaction going,” stated Rafelor. “Although I guess I had hoped it they would’ve bickered about it and then come to a resolution. Boy, families sure love to make naughty word complicated”

“My…clone,” Apolyta said calmly. “A coven called the Sewn Sisters, created her…and—

“—She should be destroyed then,” Myrai said coldly. “The products of a hag’s coven is a dangerous thing.” And the Aasimar then drew her rapier.

“We can’t!” and Apolyta blocked her path, preventing her from approaching the supine Arnara.

Rafelor had become invested in his own thoughts, and paid little attention to the fracas next to him.. “Myrai…no..wait…Kylan has a point here. If it was my clone, I know I would’ve felt the same way he does. I think my clone and I would both understand, even if we didn’t understand the whole ‘connected souls’ mumbo jumbo. Even if Kylan and I were both wrong…I know how he feels.”

“—Get out of my way,” the Aasimar said as she lunged to plunge her rapier into the helpless image of Arnara. But Apolyta leapt in front of the blade before it could reach her. As the blade slid deeply into Apolyta’s ribs and out the other side, she and Arnara screamed in pain. Erupting from the other side her ribcage, Apolyta’s blood splattered the bed sheets and poured onto the floor. She slowly slid down onto her knees struggling for breath, her eyes open wide in disbelief.

Myrai stood there, her hands shaking, and she dropped her rapier, which clattered onto the stone tiles. She then leaned over and held the gravely wounded Apolyta, who was slumping down to the floor. “What…why…?”

Apolyta blinked and her brows knit in confused pain, “We’re…connect...connected,” she said as she passed out on in Myrai’s arms.

“What the….what the hell!? Did that actually happen? Is this another false memory? Oh gods, Arnara. You weren’t kidding…”

“What…what is happening…?” said Myrai, holding the malformed elf. She looked at the figure of Rafelor, who now lay the bed doubled over in pain.

“We think we are sharing…our soul. I know and feel what she does, jackass.” Rafelor said clutching his stomach and looking to be on the edge of passing out.

“Calling Kylan out to your last breath. I know this is fake and all, but I’m proud of you, fake Rafelor” said the half-elf.

Myrai screamed over her shoulder at the open door, “I need a healer, quickly!” Her mirrored eyes set loose a torrent of tears streaming down her cheeks as she stroked Apolyta’s hair. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I never…never did.” Outside there was frantic calling across the grounds, calling for a healer. Myrai clutched Apolyta’s form close to herself as she watched her breathing slow and become shallow. Her eyes were now unfocused, and half closed as her breathing started to slow to nothing.

Myrai continued to cry and held Apolyta tightly, talking to herself mostly, “No, no, no…Nerina didn’t want this. I never…never told you…. How she begged me to…to..to... How I cut her out from.... How she smiled to see her only daughter in that brief moment of time. How I cursed myself for being so afraid that I…

Myrai hung her head, her face contorted in pain as she whispered, “I killed Nerina…not you. Not you…I loved you…I always have…”

Quicker than ever, the mist began to roll in. Rafelor was stunned. Not at the false memories but the real ones behind them. He had so many realizations which led to so many questions. These overwhelming thoughts made him almost forget to restore everything to their former state. Realizing his inaction, Rafelor immediately went through the same process to correct the vision. However, the mist was so dense, that he could not tell whether or not he succeeded.

“I can’t believe this. Does she know this? Do any of them? Arnara? Apolyta? Kylan? Where are you guys? My head is…burning.”





The three figures on the bier, Arnara, Rafelor and Apolyta twitched, convulsed and shivered. Rafelor’s breathing was labored, and his teeth was clenched tightly as he breathed through them, creating hissing sounds as he coped with pain. Zinetra, her part done, watched the trio on the bier. She took turns caressing each one’s face in turn, as she looked over each with growing alarm. Salensyna continued her song, her eyes rolled back into her head in rapture. But her voice had now the hint of strain as the ritual continued.

Kylan stood by his arms crossed near Salensyna as he watched his daughters and Rafelor struggle. He looked at the Selu’tar and realized that something was amiss. Kylan then moved from his place and walked quietly over to Zinetra as she cared for the struggling figures.

“What is wrong?” Kylan whispered.

“It was as I feared; the hags changed the ritual so when they split Arnara’s soul, not only did it not split entirely, but they ensured it could not heal. Coupled with severing Apolyta’s portion from the weave, and only allowing energy flowing from Arnara…” the Eladrin shook her head. “…It is worse that I imagined.”

“How exactly?” Kylan demanded.

“As we suspected, Arnara was dying, slowly, and inexorably. Apolyta’s soal was consuming Arnara’s as her half tried to survive. If either part of the soul had been allowed to heal, the hags could not have used Apolyta to spy on Arnara and her party. Severing the pair apart, has broken that part of the magic. But in doing so, I created a wound for them both; one they cannot heal. Apolyta’s soul can’t connect with the Weave to heal itself fully. Arnara’s side is even weaker, and while he has the Weave, but not time. In fact, as far as I can tell, they are trying to consume Rafefor’s soul. The Selu’tar’s ritual cannot be ended yet until all of their souls are healed and stable.”

“And? Will he endure?” Kylan asked in an even tone.

“He is strong,” Zinetra said looking Kylan in the eyes. “But he does not have an elven soul. They will try to consume it, like how a banshee consumes an unwary traveler’s soul. All it means here is that it will just take him longer to die. And then they will start to tear each other’s souls apart.”

The Eladrin sighed and looked at the anguished Kylan, “And there is nothing I can do about it. I’m sorry.”

notes:
There is a lot here; Wilpower784 and I share a love of tragic backstories. And the DM, leveraged a lot of it; Garzuxl was a rival from Rafelor's past, and that dastardly Lich actually summoned him, and several other character's nemsises during the Tomb of Anniliation. Apolyta, wasn't a throw away person for Arnara; as an elf she was horrrfied at the hag's work and wanted to save her, and this was woven into the fabirc of Dead in Thay. The DM and I had a long discussion on Kylan; what was he likely to do?

But we rarely had a reason to discuss this with the other players; Some of them were down right intimdated by Arnara the character, so she wasn't a part of the banter (faithfully reproduced above). Rafelor started a bit too edgelord like, and became more interesting as he and I worked out our characters issues. So it's fun being able to write about and lay bare the secrets of the Ustina household and share how being a noble, doesn't give you a free pass in life.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XX - Love​

The mists swirled around Rafelor, but it was no longer gentle. They cut and whipped around him, like a hurricane landing on the shore. Rafelor staggered against the onslaught as he felt the wind tearing his shirt into ribbons of cloth. He shielded his eyes from the dust and mist as the storm grew around him. As it whirled around him, images and voices appeared in the torrent. Garzuxl, Spulitz, the Sewn Sisters, Kylan, Myrai, and even himself. But the loudest voices were of Arnara and Apolyta. Both of them were shouting something he could not understand, desperately trying to get something out of him. Overwhelmed by everything, he began to feel his sanity slip. In his panic, he felt as though the last string holding his mind from the brink of madness was seconds away from snapping. Then suddenly, the wind receded, and standing in front of the half elf stood Kylan, dressed in white.

“Kylan?” asked Rafelor. The familiar face was enough to put Rafelor's mind at ease. With the newfound clarity, Rafelor could only laugh weakly. “I guess you were right. In the end, looks like I wasn't good enough to help either of them.”

Kylan shook his head, “It was a risk. But to do nothing, would have had a worse result. You were…are necessary.” Kylan looked at the maelstrom surround them, with the cacophony of memories echoing all about. “But in the end…this isn’t your duty.”

“What are you talking about?” Rafelor asked, puzzled.

Kylan sighed, “The House is my responsibility. However, I have other responsibilities as well. To my daughter chiefly. She was the only demand my wife Nerina made of me. A demand in which I have been…negligent in my grief.”

The maelstrom receded, and Rafelor found himself standing in a cave. A pair of dead hobgoblins lay at the entrance, their bodies showing signs of deep slashes, as they lay in pools of their own blood in the light of a setting sun. There in the back of the cave, hovered a driftglobe emitting a warm yellow light. Beneath it knelt Kylan. He looked no younger than the one clad in white next to him, but this image of Kylan was covered in blood, some his own, but far more from foes. Laying on the cave’s hard stone floor, lay an elven woman, with long silvery hair and violet eyes. She lay panting for air, her legs akimbo. Rafelor saw two notable things, the first was that the size of her stomach showed that she was heavy with child, and the second were three crossbow quarrels lodged in her chest.

“Nerina,” Kylan said sadly, his eyes watering as the cold mask he wore melted. Rafelor remained silent as the couple in the cave talked.

“I’m tired, Kylan…I have nothing left…I used my last spell to bless you.” Nerina said panting softly.

“Hold on Nerina! We aren’t far from Greenpine. I can move swiftly and find help!”

“Kylan,” Nerina said shaking her head. “The rest of the horde is too close. Their worgs will track us down soon.”

“I can’t leave you here.” The other Kylan said in an urgent voice.

“You won’t. You will take part of me with you. Our child.” Nerina said calmly, taking Kylan’s hand.

“It isn’t time yet!” Kylan looked at his wife and shook his head. “No…It is a moon too soon.”

“I feel like I shouldn't be seeing this. And yet...I don't even know what to tell you, Kylan." Rafelor whispered.

“It is cruel to see the past,” Kylan said somberly. “For a hundred years, I have seen this memory in my Reveries. So many times, I look to see if I could have done things differently and find none.”

Rafelor looked at the two Kylans, realizing the depth of Kylan's regret. He considered that Arnara and Kylan were perhaps not so different after all.

“I wont live to see tonight’s moon, let alone another turn.” Nerina said softly, caressing Kylan’s cheek.

Kylan pulled a dirk from his belt sheath and cut apart the front of his wife’s dress, exposing her belly to the open air. He held the sharp blade just above her groin, his hand shaking. “I can’t do this…” he whispered.

Nerina placed her hand on Kylan’s. “But we can…for our child.” And she pushed on the pommel, forcing the blade into her own flesh. Her head rolled back in pain her eyes wide as she covered her mouth with her other hand to stifle a scream. Kylan slid the blade through his wife’s abdomen, his tears mixing with the blood that spilled forth. After he made a wide cut, he dropped the dirk, and reached inside his wife. The blood that flowed from the wound was enough to be fatal; Rafelor had killed enough men to know that. After a moment he pulled free a tiny figure; a newborn girl. It was incredibly small, its round head crowned with long silver hair, and ears ending in delicate points. Her tiny shivering body was covered in blood, and a white wax like substance. As the light illuminated the child, she began to cry softly. Kylan quickly wrapped her in the remains of Nerina’s dress and placed her in her mother’s arms.

Nerina looked at her child and smiled, her pain forgotten. “Oh…Xinather, how pretty you are. Please take care of my husband.” She then looked at Kylan, “Don’t forget me. You will take care of her, as you have done for…me…” and her voice trailed off with her last breath.

Rafelor did a double take at the infant. “So, you're telling me Arnara was that tiny. Kids can get that tiny? Was I that tiny!? How did I survive day one?”

“She was a full moon early,” Kylan said looking down. Kylan watched himself shedding a tear and with his hand, closed his wife’s eyes. He then took the swaddled child in an arm and retrieved his weapons. With a quick motion of his hand, the driftglobe dimmed and dropped into his palm, which quickly stashed into a pouch. He then moved swiftly to the mouth of the cave, skirting around the corpses of hobgoblins, and then ran out into the light of the setting sun. As he did so the mists started to reform around Kylan and Rafelor.

Kylan then continued, “Many born so early do not survive. She was a third lighter than she should have been. And probably only half your weight when you were born. Humans and A’Tel’Quessir are larger at birth as I understand it.”

“This may be the craziest thing I've seen today. Not even sure how.”

"She almost did not surive the journey to Greenpine. I was harried by worgs and hobgoblins. And I had no way to feed her, and barely could keep her warm. Somehow, we made it, and she survived." Kylan then took a deep breath, “This is why…it is not your responsibility. It is mine.” He turned to look at Rafelor. “Stop…resisting them. Let my daughters come to us.”

“Huh?”

“The maelstrom is your creation; your shield for your soul. You must relax and let them come.”

“Well...if you say so.” Rafelor closed his eyes and attempted to relax. The winds around them started to recede, and in the mists on opposite ends he could see a pair of golden glowing lights. As the lights approached, he could see they were the iridescent forms to the two elves, Arnara and Apolyta. But inside their nimbuses, they appeared haggard, their hair whipping around them. Their faces looked sunken, almost skeletal, and their eyes were almost hidden deep in their sockets. As they emerged, they looked at Rafelor with a hunger as they both flew toward the half-elf.”

"Oh....OH! OH GODS! KY—"

The pair lunged at Rafelor, who found himself suddenly pushed away by Kylan. The souls grabbed onto the elder elf, the pair and started to tear into his spirit with their nails and their teeth. Like wolves they pulled on Kylan and shook their head with goblets of his spirit as their hands tore at his chest. He stood there as they rent his soul, with a look of serenity on his face and the faintest smile.

"Kylan! Wait! What are you doing!?" Rafelor reached out towards him as they teared into Kylan like starving animals. Rafelor could see as the image of Kylan started to fade, the two souls became less skeletal and more elf like, their faces filling out, and the haggard look fading from view. As he watched, he watched as Kylan disappeared between the two, who now embraced each other. They then turned to look at Rafelor.

Rafelor gulped. “Really missing that maelstrom right now.” The pair suddenly moved towards Rafelor, and he closed his eyes awaiting an onslaught on his own soul.

_____​

Cool air brushed cheek Rafelor’s cheek. His eyes opened, and he found himself back on the bier of stone. “What...what happened? Where's Kylan?” he asked as he panted for breath.

Zinetra stroked the half elf’s head a moment, and Rafelor felt the elves next to him stir. On his right, he saw a tanned elf, with long coppery hair cascading down around her shoulders. She propped herself up and opened her eyes, revealing their emerald color. She looked across his chest, to his left. And there, Arnara stirred and sat up weakly, breathing heavily. The women looked at each other a moment and smiled. Then their brows furrowed, and they looked in the direction of the selu’taar. She had collapsed on the floor, her breathing ragged. But on the floor slumped next to the stone bier, lay Kylan; his eyes focused on nothing in the distance. The elven women slid off the stone and both hugged their father. The naked pair wept freely as they cradled Kylan’s still form.

“It worked, didn't it? But...”

“It worked,” Zinetra said as she moved to the fallen selu’taar. “But High Magic is dangerous. Many elven souls do not survive performing the ritual, let alone its intended purpose. So, Kylan sacrificed himself to allow its completion, saving his daughters, Salensyna…and you. That was his purpose here; to see it done.”

Rafelor remained silent; he didn't know what to say. Instead, he stared at Kylan's daughters and then his own hands, wondering about Kylan's decision.

Zinetra, had placed a cloak underneath Salensyna’s head and returned back to the bier. She then gently, helped Rafelor stand upright before saying, “We should let them have some time together and grieve. Come,” and she motioned him towards the entrance to the Fane.

As they walked, Zinetra staggered, and reached out to steady herself on the half-elf. She smiled and looked at him with her solid green eyes. “Sorry, I guess the ritual took a lot out of me as well.”

It wasn’t long before they finally emerged into the open air. To Rafelor’s surprise, the sun had already set, and warm orange light was scattered off the few clouds above them. The full moon of Selune was high in the air, and a breeze blew through the trees of the forest. Zinetra staggered a moment, before dropping her pack to the ground and collapsing on the turf. She turned over and flopped on her back and sighed.

“I don't get it. I means sure, I get why. But...it's not fair.”

“Fair?” Zinetra asked. “How so?”

“I was the outsider in all of this. Yet, Kylan is the one that dies. It should've been me. At least, I would understand that.”

“And that is why you could not Rafelor.” Zinetra said looking at the half-elf as she lay there soaking in the rays of the moon. “Only an elven soul, could heal an elven soul. But more than that; part of a father’s duty is to care for his children. Kylan did what his wife did before him. Even if it were possible, he would not have demanded you to sacrifice yourself, for him.” She looked up at Sulune and sighed, “The ritual was called ‘Life of duty, Form of the People’s Need,’ it makes sense that Arnara’s and Apolyta’s need required Kylan’s life – his duty to his daughters.”

“Yeah...I guess you're right.” Rafelor turned around and fell flat on his back. With his hands behind his head, he laid there, taking in the moonlight in a manner similar to Zinetra.

“So now what? What happens next?”

“Its up to Arnara, and Apolyta now. Apolyta might have gotten more from the bargain. She no longer has Arnara’s new thoughts, and for the first time will be able to think with just her own. She is now Second Daughter, and perhaps the only Sy’Tel’Quessir in the history of House Ustina. As for Arnara, she probably will feel a bit of relief that she helped Apolyta become her own person. I doubt however, this will do little to help Arnara face her new role in her House. But for both of them, they have lost a father, and it’s hard not to think that this will sit uneasily with either of them. They will probably lean on each other for support for a while. Or so I hope.”

He sighed. “It never gets easier, does it?”

“I suppose not,” Zinetra said as she rolled over toward Rafelor and curled herself against him, “They will need all the help they can get from us. And I for one, am glad I was able to keep you all of you alive. I especially did not wish for your blood to be on my hands. You did…just fine.”

The light breeze continued to blow, rustling the leaves in the nearby trees. The last of the sun's rays faded, and the firmament of the night was now visible. The twinkling stars and the beauty of Selune above, stood in contrast to the ugly memories of the past below.

“I wonder if they have any more of that wine...”

Zinetra giggled and laughed. She turned over and pulled over her pack, and from it pulled the nearly empty bottle from below. Pulling the cork, she leaned over the half-elf and poured a measure into Rafelor's mouth. She then placed her lips on the bottle and drained the last of the Evermead. Both of them then breathed easier as the honey wine coursed through their blood, and soon Rafelor found the realm of dreams pulling him under as exhaustion finally set in.


Two Months Later​

Rafelor found himself in the solarium of the Ustina mansion. It has been a whirlwind of activity for Arnara's formal investiture as the heir apparent for the House. The formalities, the rituals and, and the speeches, which seemed to be poetry in disguise were strange, confusing, and beautiful at the same time. Rafelor looked at the divan, and the memory of a smiling Arnara, reading a book came to him, and he wondered if he would see her smile like that again. As he wondered, he saw a flash of light and felt the breeze move next to him. He then felt a light tap on his shoulder as Apolyta finished materializing there with the same impish smile that Arnara frequently wore. Her hair copper hair was pulled up into a messy bun, and she wore a violet dress made of silks and shot with silver embroidery.

“Come on,” Apolyta, the Second Daughter of House Ustina nudged Rafelor. She finally has a moment to herself, and she wants to see you.”

“Well, excuse me for intruding on R&R for ‘R-an-Arnara’.” He followed Apolyta who now walked confidently through the halls, unimpeded by the deformities inflicted on her by the hags.

Apolyta ribbed Rafelor, "Be nice Raf...she's been a slave to form and protocol all day. Even I have barely had a moment with her. The heads of the great houses are all here, and of course King Melandrach himself." she took Rafelor by the arm. and led him through the halls of the sprawling mansion.

“All this honor about the house suddenly makes a lot more sense once you see how nice the place is.”

Apolyta smiled, “The estate was built up over several thousand years. I think it was one of...many reasons we ignored the call to retreat to Evermeet. And its why we are the only noble Moon Elf house in the Misty Forest. We didn't have the heart to abandon it, and we felt the Ar'Tel'Quessir were...well wrong to abandon everything and leave the world behind.”

Apolyta guided Rafelor through the halls and then ascended a grand stair case. At the top of the landing, they came to a pair of polished oak doors. Apolyta grasped the handles, pushed them open and with a flourish motioned Rafelor inside.

Rafelor found himself ushered into a library. Unlike what he remembered seeing in Candlekeep, the library here was built using light color woods. The sunlight streaming into the room gave the room a warm welcoming feeling compared to the darkened spaces below Candlekeep. There on a chair by a window, sat Arnara. She wore a green formal dress, that was a sheath of silk, covered in crystals, and embroidered with golden threads. She was looking wistfully out the windows when the pair approached. She turned she smiled, and quickly stood and ran over to Rafelor to hug him.

“Sorry...I should have greeted you earlier, but...it’s been a busy day. You would have thought there was a marriage offer hiding somewhere in the agenda.”

“I'm here now. Couldn't have been too busy, right?”

“I make time for my friends, and my family.” Arnara looked down a moment before backing up holding both of Rafelor's hands. “I wanted to thank you again. For being my student...and being my friend...our friend when we needed you most. And because of that I want to offer you a gift.”

“A gift? Like that wine wasn't enough?”

Arnara looked down, “There's more of that tonight at the ball, and I will demand you dance with me—"

“—And with me,” Apolyta interrupted.

Arnara smiled. “But this is something a bit more personal, if a little less tangible than your next hangover.”

“Last time I danced with you, I seem to recall rapidly changing hair colors in the depths of Chult.”

“Well...this isn't about returning the favor,” she grinned. “I consulted with the family council, and... we wish to offer you something that our House hasn't done in about two millennia. I wish you to be...a member of House Ustina.” She saw the confused look on Rafelor’s face and quickly continued. “We are a Moon elf house, and we have had branches of the family with half-elves. They are called...Cousins. We have not had any for some time, so your standing would First among any others that may arise. It has no obligations or responsibilities. But the House name is one that commands respect and honor. I would share that with you as I see you as more family, and not just a wonderful friend.”

“First... Cousin? Sheesh, the respect and honor of an Ustina on top of me?” Rafelor leaned against a chair and looked up “You really think I should have that?”

“It would...honor me if you accept. Apolyta would be honored as well, and...so would Kylan.”

Rafelor looked back at Arnara confused, “How?”

Arnara and Apolyta looked at each other and Apolyta then spoke, “Kylan is a part of us now. We've seen his memories in our Reveries. He felt...pride in knowing you. For knowing what you could do. For what you did do.”

“Wow. I would've never guessed. And you call the shots now too.” He thought silently for a good while.

"Well...not quite yet, but this is something I can offer," Arnara said placing her hand on Rafelor's cheek. "But it is up to you to accept. If the idea is uncomfortable, if you wish to chart your own course, you can. You aren't beholden to me; only yourself. If you say no, I may be a little sad...but I would understand."

"I might stab him," Apolyta muttered, as Arnara glared and waved her hand at her new sister to shush her.

“I mean, if I took it,” Rafelor considered, “There's still nothing really stopping me from charting my own course, is there? I'd just have a big, flashy sign that says 'Ustina' on it. If you really think it's best, then I'll accept.”

Arnara and Apolyta chuckled. "No... there wouldn't. You just might have to attend some weddings eventually." She sighed. "I intend to announce it at the ball. But I would be remiss to point out, we have a private family dinner first. Are you coming...1st Cousin?"

Smiling, Rafelor nodded and said “...Sure thing.”

Notes:
This is end of regular play for Arnara, 1st Daughter and heir to House Ustina. These stories a the in between moments where the dice only tell the result, and not the story. It was fun filling in the details with Willpower784.

But it isn't quite the end. The campaigns that this set of people are a part of, are set together in the same continuity, and the new characters sometimes cross the paths of the old. I specifically DM'd the 'Rime of the Frostmaiden' in which Apolyta appeared instead of a very boring verbeeg npc. And much more recently a one shot was...er IS almost finished, where we see an Arnara at the end of days as a retelling of Fate Stay / Night with 8 very competitive zulkirs, using Waterdeep as a dueling zone to determine who should rule thay in the "Thay Slay Rite"

Yes its a bad play on words, and yet it only became obvious when "Archer" showed up, and peppered everyone with arrows. At that point the meaning of the title clicked. The players love(d) it, many being anime fans and the encounters were a lot of fun...but there is an ending I want to leave it on, and I may a tale to tell there.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Story XXI – A Dance for a Quarry

Context and warnings: There are spoilers to events that occur in "Rime of the Frostmaiden" below.

Having said that, there is a point in the adventure that Apolyta catches up with the party to interogate a character Nadin, about the wherabouts of a chest. But, there was a question of course on how did Apolyta actually find them in Icewind Dale to start with, so I wrote a short and posted in our discord...and left it at that. So enjoy!




The mood in the Northlook was grim. It had only been a few days since Dougan’s Hole and Good Mead were leveled by a fearsome monstrosity. Some said it was a clock work dragon, with a giant key twisting in its back creating flurries of ice and rime. Others said it was a magical creation, made of deep blue ice, and spat out rays of sunshine, that melted flesh from bones. No matter what it really was, it was laid low in Easthaven by a group of adventurers, although not before half the town was set ablaze.

And there was the source of the darkened pall in the inn; hundreds of lives displaced, and all came to Bryn Shander seeking warm and food. But the winter in its third year, had left shelves bare of both oil and sustenance. Many now huddled outside the walls in makeshift tents and lean-tos, while the acolyte of the House of the Morning lord did his best to feed the hungry with tasteless gruel served from a rusty pot left behind by an adventurer who was using it to hold toys, pillows and bags of herbs. But while the gruel was thick and filling, but it wasn’t enough. The town itself was already on the edge of starvation before the refugee’s arrived, but oil for lamps and stoves were too becoming scarce. It was growing time for the next drawing; on who would be cast out to placate Auril this moon, and some had reached the point that it couldn’t be worse than the winter that gnawed at them now.

This made The Northlook a paradox of sorts, a bright place in a field of darkness if only by comparison. Trout stew was still plentiful, and there was enough oil to keep the interior above the temperature of biting cold, to somewhere above chilly. The liquor stores, while low, hadn’t run dry, although that might have been Scramsax’s pricing. And while Good Mead was leveled, Scramsax had the fortune of the last known batch of mead to leave the namesake town, even if others had less fortune to buy it from him.

The crowd huddled in and savored their lukewarm soup, and some with a chaser of mead to keep their bellies full and warm. And while the mood was grim, there was a note of excitement. The dragon thing was destroyed; it didn’t level all the towns, just two of the smallest ones. Things could be worse, and there was a swell of pride that the Towners could take anything, no matter what the Reghed thought of them. So tonight, an old man played a viol with a slight bounce, and there were smiles to be found as a bit of hope had crested over the denizens of the Ten Towns.

As the fiddler warmed his strings, the door to the inn opened a crack, and a figure slithered in. Heads turned and faces hardened with dark times, found something interesting to look at. The lithe feminine figure was not dressed in the thick clothes seen here in the north; that wasn’t a surprise as the Goliaths tribespeople had little need for it, as did the rarer Oyaminartok or bearkin folk. But the figure was clearly neither of these. Nor was she Reghed who occasionally were said to have Auril’s blessing to endure the freezing temperatures of the north. She was instead dressed in close fitting white leather, with a slim sword at her hip, and bow folded up on her back. As she closed the door behind her, she pulled down a hood and shook her copper hair free and shook it about. Her skin was deeply tanned, and her green eyes sparkled with curiosity. What caught most of the patrons’ eyes were the ears; slender points marking her as a Tel’Quessir. She, like others of her kin, had that grace and poise rarely seen among the other races. And rarely were they seen this far north, away from the warmth of their forests to the south.

And yet here she was. She looked around a moment, and then approached the bar, with the ox-built man behind it.

“Greetins. You lookin for food? Rest? Something to warm your veins or your…limbs?” the beefy man known as Scramsax said with a devil like leer.

If the elf noticed or cared, she gave no indications. “I heard you are as well informed as anyone Scramsax,” the elf purred.

“Have we met before?” the man asked puzzled not recalling giving out his name.

“We have not…but my father had been here about a decade ago and his memory of you…well let us say you haven’t changed much.” The elf gave a small smile.

Scramsax shook his head, “I can’t say I remember another Quessir that I would call your kin.”

The elf pursed her lips, “I don’t…look much like my father, so your confusion would be understandable. But his name you might remember; Kylan.”

At the mention of the elf’s father, Scramsax froze like a hare caught in sight of a distant wolf. “I..I..do know that name. What do ya want miss?...”

“I’m looking for someone. I understand that they passed through here recently.”

“A lot of people do.”

“Do all they descend from dharrow and carry a golden harp?”

“That’s…pretty specific of a description,” and the man reached behind him to grab a mug of clay and started to fill it. “Brandy? Miss?...”

“A brandy would be wonderful.” The elf smiled, demurring again on the topic of her name.

“Ah yes…well…you see most folk here prefer to be…left to their own devices. We don’t ask where they’ve been or where their goin neither.” He slid the mug to the elf and watched expectantly.

She smiled and ran her finger around the rim of the mug. “Well, I am sure that your conscience will be relieved that it isn’t about him; just where a misplaced object might be.” She slid over to him, five golden coins in a stack. "I hope you might be able to tell me something.”

Scramsax wiped the counter and scooped the coins off the top in a swift motion. “I am glad to hear that Nadin isn’t in any more troub—”

“—Nadin?”

“Ah…yes. Seems to fancy himself a ladies’ man, and I can say he can ply his harp with a bit of skill. He’s travelling with a number of other folk; you couldn’t miss them if you tried; A goliath, a human, a tiefling, a scarred half-elf, a bearkin, and get this…a Tabaxi from Maztica!”

“I don’t see how anyone could miss a group like that,” the elf agreed. “Where did they go?”

“Well…that’s just it I don’t—”

“—give me back the coins.”

“Wait, I told you what I—”

Then she leaned forward over the bar and wrapped her hand around the much larger human’s neck. But instead of pulling the surprised bartender towards her, she pulled herself across the bar top until she was eye to eye with the startled human. She then just stared into his eyes and glanced downwards.

Scramsax followed her eyes and saw that her right hand was just where his thumping heart was. There in her fingers was a shimmering blade of light; one that he swore wasn’t there a moment ago. The shimmering light was poised to make a fatal blow; all the elf had to do was push.

“Waitwaitwait…I do know who might! Right here in the bar even!” He said stammering and near tears. He pointed with his chin to a corner of the bar, “There…that woman there. Her name is Letya. She was with them until they left. She’ll know more I swear!” the man swallowed visibly in fear as the elf coldly stared at him.

The light at his heart winked out, and then her lips parted into a smile. She then kissed the frightened barkeep on the cheek and let herself slide back down to her side of the counter. She turned to look at the woman that Scramsax pointed out, and over her shoulder said. “I’ll need another cup of brandy…in a clean mug.” Scramsax wasted no time complying with the elf’s demand. She smiled, tossed a pair of coins on the bar, and took the second mug, and slowly approached the oblivious woman.

Scramsax sighed in relief and muttered to himself, “Well…she’s nicer than her father.”




The elf slowly made her way across the common room and looked at the woman. She was huddled in her wools and furs keeping to herself. The first impression she gave was one of a frightened hedgehog, puffed up and blocking their burrow with quills. But as the elf watched she could tell it was something quite different. Her ginger hair was in a pony tail, that now looked frayed, her bangs disheveled. Her deep blue eyes were full of remorse. Her strong toned build spoke volumes on its strength, but her posture spoke of sleepless nights and her cheeks were stained by fresh tears. The woman wore her feeling openly to those who could read the language; she wanted comfort and safety; but not alone, simply on her own terms.

The elf moved quietly to the table and then smiled and asked softly, “Excuse me, but may I sit with you?”

The woman’s head shot up in surprise and blinked. Her mouth hung open in surprise as she looked at the elf, who’s face wore nothing more than warmth and kindness. In her hand she offered a mug and said, “I’m a stranger to this town, and I would rather sit with another woman…If you don’t mind.”

The woman swallowed, and nodded dumbly, not expecting to be approached. She gestured to the seat next her, and the elf sat down gracefully. She pushed a mug towards the woman, and the elf took a sip of her own. Out of habit, she offered a hand knuckles up, but before her tablemate could react, she quickly clenched her fingers. She then turned it offered her hand out for a hand shake.

“Sorry…and old habit. My name is Apolyta. What is yours?”

“Let…Letya. Letyaof Amphail.” The woman said, taking her hand timidly. The elf’s hands felt soft and warm, and she clearly didn’t want to let go. But after a moment, she did and then quickly took several swallows of brandy mug

“Amphail?” Apolyta said surprised. “I’m from the Misty Forest, not far from Daggerford. I guess we are both a bit far from home then.”

“Wasn’t exactly by choice,” Letya said as she took a long sip of the brandy.

“Nor I suppose,” Apolyta said biting her lip. “But what brings a single wom—”

“—I’m not single!”

Apolyte blinked, “I’m sorry…I meant…a solo traveler out to the ends of Toril.”

Letya shook her head, “No…I’m sorry. It’s been…been…oh,” and she sank into her seat dejectedly. “I don’t even know how to describe it now.”

Apolyta narrowed her eyes and then asked delicately, “I don’t mean to pry where I’m not wanted, but did you need…to…talk?”

Letya looked up with her deep blue eyes to meet the elf’s gaze. “I came up here because of a bargain I made and…and I had to…to…shoot my wife.”

“What?” Apolyta set her drink down and leaned forward. “You killed you—”

“—No! I didn’t kill her…I guess I was lucky. But I didn’t want to either! I was forced. But she survived and she…came after me. Not, to hurt me though…she wanted to save me! To help me! And I…”

“Hush,” and Apolyta slid next to Letya and put an arm around her. “I take it, nothing went according to plan?”

Letya shook her head, “I…I made a bad decision…I thought that she left me and joined a cult. I tried to save her, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even find her.” She hung her head in shame. “I then…um…how does one say this…sold my soul to stop the cult. I wanted to stop it and save her. But…” and the tears flowed down her cheeks freely. “I didn’t want to…mean to kill her as part of that.”

Apolyta stroked Letya’s hair and sighed. “And you sold your soul? Isn’t that a…”

“It’s a terrible idea. But I was desperate! I didn’t know what to do. But it gets worse,” she said morosely.

“How?” Apolyta gritted her teeth, unsure on what she would hear.

“My wife…made a counter deal to save me; a quest I guess. But she was turned into a…shes…shes…a tief—” and Letya sniffed and cried and clutched onto the startled Apolyta.

“Isn’t what’s inside, that matters?” Apolyta said, feeling suddenly out of control of the conversation.

“That’s…just it. She was going to…no she did sacrifice herself to save me…and I I…” she took another sip from her mug.

“Didn’t handle it well?” Apolyta guessed.

Letya shook her head. “No…I was confused and angry. Not at her, but what had happened. At myself. At my poor choices. And I blamed her for it all, and I didn’t…didn’t know what to feel about it. Or say. And I probably hurt her.” Letya said sadly and took a deep drink from her mug.

“Probably?”

“No. I hurt her.” The woman said bitterly, and she took another sip. As she put the mug down, Apolyta slyly switched her full mug for Letya’s nearly empty one. “And now she’s risking everything to save me. I should have been thankful or told her I’m worth it or …anything but what I said.”

Apolyta thought a moment, “She’s not trying to do this quest alone is she?”

“No…no…she has some friends helping her…well maybe not friends…but others are helping.”

“That’s…that’s good,” Apolyta said approvingly. “So..where did this quest take them?”

“I’m …not sure,” Letya took another deep sip from her mug. “I remember the…the…d—d---d”

“Dark?”

“No…<hic> Dead looking one…although he did have dark skin now you mention it. Something about a duchess and a bell…Angajuk’s Bell!” Letya took another sip of her brandy and sat back.

“The Dark Duchess,” Apolyta said with a smirk nodding. “When did they leave?”

“Oh, a day ago by sled with that...Harpell woman.”

Apolyta sat up, “Harpell? From Amphail?”

Letya nodded, and took another swallow of brandy, “Small world, isn’t it? And she sighed as she leaned next to Apolyta. As she did so, the fiddler in the bar struck up a soft slow waltz. An elderly couple, in heavily dressed winter clothing, stood up and embraced each other as they slowly danced on the floor.

“That’s sweet…” Letya slurred a bit as she eyed the couple.

“Come on,” Apolyta said as she stood and pulled on Letya to stand.

“Dance? With….you?”

“Elves dance for many things; to celebrate; to grieve; for joy and for sorrow. There are as many reasons to dance as there are emotions. And you…don’t even need name them. And you can dance for joy when you see your wife again.” Apolyta pulled Letya up onto her feet, and pulled her close, whispering more. “A dance is to be shared with others; it is not a breech of trust. It is something for you alone to feel and let your soul embrace. For if you can’t dance for yourself, how can you dance with ones you love?”

Apolyta turned Letya on her unsteady feet. The human woman murmured to herself and started to sway and felt the slow rhythm of the viol in her bones and heart as she stepped awkwardly on the floor. “I’m better with a hammer than my feet.”

“You are the best dancer in your heart; no need to compare yourself with another.”

Letya’s eyes drooped as she rocked back and forth on the floor, the liquor firmly taking hold of her head. “You feel so…so…warm…the warmest I have felt in…”

“Shh…its magic,” Apolyta said with a smirk. “I hate heavy clothing…too hard to move in”

“I’m…I’m feeling …tired. Can you help me to my…my room…upstairs,” and as she moved, Apolyta merely smiled, and slowly moved and spun slowly on the floor towards the stairs leading to the rooms. But as they danced, Letya’s stumbling feet no longer touched the ground. She floated just above the floors, as Apolyta directed her up the stairs with only the lightest touch. She continued to waltz down the hallway, following Letya’s drunken lead. Leyta took out from her pouch a key and nearly dropped it when she stared at it in a haze of drunkenness.

The key had fallen half way to the floor, but it now hovered there and floated to the lock on the closed door. Letya looked at it confused as Apolyta took it and turned the key in the lock and opened the door.

Letya looked at Apolyta her mouth quivering, “I…I…don’t want to lead you on…I am…I am…”

Apolyta placed a hand on Letya’s mouth to quiet her, “This is a friend helping a friend find her room safely. Nothing more. Just lean back and fall into bed Leyta.” Letya’s body went slack as she murmured “The little horns and tail are kinda cute…”, and Apolyta guided her falling body to the nearby mattress, and with a motion of her other hand, she covered the now passed out human for a nights’ rest. Apolyta laid the key on a nearby table, and exited the room, closed the door behind her and with a small motion of her hand, the sound of the lock engaging in the latch was heard.

Apolyta sighed and she leaned against the wall looking upwards and talked to herself, “I don’t know how you did these types of things father. It’s too intimate for my tastes.” She exhaled and looked down the hall before muttering,

“Alright Nadin. You can’t hide from me now.”
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top