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.
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.