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Arnara's Story - Moments in between the adventures


Lizard folk in disguise
So...When I was playing in the Journal of the Souls of Legend campaign, one of the mechanical things, was I had decided to do a downtime activity of carousing with the nobles. And so, the Elven noble Sonalta Arnara Ustina was born. She was fun addition to Myrai's backstory, but that was it. But about the time I completed that work, I was invited to play in a series of adventures that started with the "Forge of Fury," and I needed a character. So I then wondered, what happened to Arnara after Myrai left. And I decided, to 'roll up' (ok I point buy; I always do point buy) her as a Blade singer, heading out to find herself.

And for some reason, she was a hit with the players. They liked the deep backstory with Myrai, to the point that one of the characters in basically homaged the hipped from Sigil as well. But as I played the character, this group was/is very into the roleplaying and story building, much of it done between sessions in Discord as part of the 'short/long rest.' What it led to was a number of shorts, that are an mix of discord chats, prose and verbal dialog. Later in set are true collaboration with other players from the various adventures.

So I hope you enjoy the Vignettes as we travel from, the Forge of Fury, to the Tomb of Annihilation, and to Dead in Thay.

Story I - The Griffon’s Nest

It was in the deepest part of the night, where only the faintest light of the sun could be seen on the horizon. The wind blew across the mountain valley, whistling around the eaves and causing the wooden beams to creak of the old inn. Inside the Griffon’s Nest, the fire had burned down to embers, the candles stubs, and the torches sputtered their last flame in the darkened tavern. Sarel Bankdown had welcomed the adventurers, and their coin with open arms into her place, and the tavern wenches were hard pressed to keep up with their new patron’s requests. Sarel and the others worked late into the night, cleaning up from the celebrating from the day before, and exhausted themselves as the five adventures drank and ate their fill, spending their fresh earned coin amid the boisterous conversations throughout the night.

“Give me your most expensive booze!”

“That’ll show those orcs!”

“Where is my damned booze?”

“That was awesome saving the Gensai—”

“—Too bad he didn’t make it.”

“This is worse than the Baron’s; where is my BOOZE?!?!”

“I can’t believe I’m hipped here—”

“I can’t believe you wandered off to play with a statue!”

“You! Wench! My Booze!”

“Pardon me, can you bring me a metheglin and some of…what did you call it…’rotgut?’”

“We’ll head back, with more gear!”

“And a replacement Gensai right?”

“Maybe we can hire someone,”

“Yeah...maybe a goblin or something short,”

“You have to be joking!”

“WHERE IN THE HELLS IS MY…oh…thanks Arnara; you have class.”

“To victory!”

“TO VICTORY!” everyone in the tavern shouted, and the ring of the cheering still lingered in the bones of inn, even now in earliest morning as the wind continued to blow.

It also still rang in the ears of Arnara, who reclined in an overstuffed chair, with the owl, Morrigan. It was perched on the back, her head swiveling to keep tabs on the rest of the common room. Arnara’s legs were curled up beneath her lithe body, while her head was supported by her right hand, while her left hung limply over the left side of her seat. Her eyes stared dispassionately to the nearly spent flames in the hearth, barely registering the movement of the fire on the logs.

Arnara inhaled sharply, shaking herself from the reverie of the past. The images of the ruins of Whitepetal, impressions from the Funeral of the Living, and the scents of flowers and wine she shared with an Aasimar with golden hair and mirrored eyes. She slowly stood, stretching her slender arms overhead and arching her back while standing on the tips of her toes. She then relaxed and looked around the common room. It was empty, the staff long since headed to their warm beds, and the other members of her impromptu party, fast asleep in their own upstairs.

Arnara walked around the room, seeking a clear space. After a moment, she pushed the stuffed chair to the side, clearing an area in front of the hearth. She then drew the rapier that was found in Ulfe’s lair and examined it. It was a simple affair, with a woven basket of steel wrapped around the hilt and quillon. Its design was one all around function, with little concern about elegance or aesthetics. It betrayed a human’s thinking of swordplay; get the job done. The one area where it shined, was the blade itself: strong, sharp and the right balance of flexibility and stiffness. Combined with the enchantments placed on it, made it a superior blade.

Arnara wistfully looked at it, turning it over in her hands. She wondered how it would compare to her house’s lost moonblade. Probably it would look the part, unlike this one. She remembered the first time she tried her hand at rapier fighting. Like all elves, she knew the forms of blade and bow, but rapiers were something new to her. It was said that humans invented the blade, and the forms of combat around it, but it wasn’t true. The elves too had experience with this style of blade many thousands of years ago, but it was a rare art. The humans just finally got around with tinkering with longswords, until a rapier was its natural outcome. But Arnara first tried the fighting style with the Aasimar that she was a sonalta for years ago. She favored the rapier, and on a warm autumn day, she showed Arnara the basics of its use.

Arnara fell in love with the style, and practiced with it, even after the Aasimar left, promising to return. And for years she did, attracting one of the masters of the art of Bladesong. Her skills with spells were well known, but her mastery of the rapier was not. So, when she was spied one morning in the Misty Forest, the master came to test her mettle. She was hard pressed but stood her ground as she unconsciously mimicked the forms the master used. And that was enough for her to be inducted into the Bladesingers. She was thrilled and was eager to tell her friend on how she was right, that by experiencing something new, it expanded understanding.

Weeks turned to months. Months to years. Her friend didn’t return or send word. She wondered if she still lived or needed help. It was then that Arnara decided to leave the forest; to test herself, to experience more, and learn and gains skills. She would find her once again; but while she had plenty of time, her friend did not. For while her friend Myrai would outlive a human, she was not immortal. She indeed rejected the idea of extending her life, as it was a sin of her faith. So Arnara felt compelled to move faster, just to see her again if only for a last moment.

Arnara began to take steps, moving in a tight circle. Her blade close to her body, as she traced the steps of the first form. She then started to move and twist, exposing the blade and cutting the air. She danced with fluid grace, with more sweeping movements. With each sweep, the blade whistled through the air, and soon a pattern emerged from the sound. The sound of the cuts, became as notes played on a viol, each one a different note on an invisible staff in the room. High and low, staccato strikes, long sweeps, blending to slurs from the tip and pommel as each created a different note that blended together. It was a song of no words, yet the emotion of the tone was evident by the skillful dance of Arnara on the floor.

And song sung was sad and mournful because Arnara danced for the fallen Gensai. She barely knew the man, yet she saved his life as he nearly tumbled into a crevasse in the stone. She quickly had danced to the edge of the chasm and threw out a web into the darkness arresting his fall. She then danced, as the orcs came from a concealed passage, holding off their blades until her companions could bring them all down. He felt guilt at the affair, on having to depend on another, but he honestly and with humility thanked Arnara with a glad smile.

So Arnara was stricken when he died. He had bravely kicked at a door futilely, before finally pulling it open. He stood there bravely only to succumb to Ulfe’s javelin, and a pair of orcs that hacked at him savagely, bringing him low. He fell, before Arnara could warn him to wait, and stand with another of the warriors. It didn’t help that the Sigilite was ill from a trap he sprung just as the Genasi opened the door. No one was ready.

But they could have been. Thought Arnara. That they were not Tel’Quessir did not matter. They were willing to fight, defend and bleed for each other. Arnara felt she might have been able to more. At one point while Arnara worked with the woman Kiana to cut down the orcs with spells, there was a sliver of hope. There was a brief moment where she could have darted into the fray and forced a potion down his throat; but it would have meant exposing the fact that he wasn’t dead yet. And then in a flash she could not reach him. A worg and Ulfe himself stood in the way of her and his bleeding form.

A tear crept down Arnara’s cheek as she danced, her blade’s tone still soft and somber. Was it her fault that she couldn’t reach him? No…but she knew better from her master’s own words:

“Strike only when you advantage. That might mean numbers. It might mean you have surprise. It might mean position. But it means do not provide your opponent an opening. The first steps of the dance are the most critical; so never let someone else lead.”

Arnara finished the dance, her blade whistling a sharp note as a final point on the piece she played. She stood there, blade at attention, before speaking aloud.

“I failed them all. They are not Tel’Quessir and have our knowledge or wisdom. But I can teach them. And they must learn. They all should be allowed, like any other person to live as Myrai said; ‘in the fullness of time.’ I cannot fail them again.”

She moved the overstuffed chair back to where it was and pulled out her spell book. She began the process to prepare the incantations needed for the days ahead. She was quickly absorbed into the century’s old forms of arcana, preparing her mind to weave the spells to defend her companions the next time.

So, she never knew that she was observed from the stairwell leading upwards to the rooms above. That another watched her dance and saw her tears. And never heard his word spoken under his breath.

“One classy lady…”

Session Notes: Most of the text above was sourced from verbal quotes or Discord chats. This moment was after the Forge of Fury's first level was cleared out, and the group returned to town to sell stuff and get potions. As the floor was cleared, Arnara became looked to as the leader of the group with Morrigan scouting ahead, and her player free to be as smart as they could be. So when Pyrite died, it weighed heavily on her.
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Lizard folk in disguise
Story II - Ill at Ease

Arnara sighed quietly in the darkness. The air was warm and damp, and the sound of the nearby underground river echoed in the cavern beyond the iron door, where they were hiding. She had done her Reverie early, but the others seemingly unaware that she still could hear them, if not react while the others ate and talked. Mostly about nothing, but their conversation drifted to the practical or at least semi-relevant occasionally:

“So, I know her name but what are yours?” Ametrine said.

“Why is that important?” responded the half-elf, looking at the woman suspiciously.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” Ametrine responded. “Just call you ‘Hey you, bow guy’ or ‘Hey angsty basher,’ or ‘hey you woman, heal me?’ Sounds kind of rude.”

“Well, you were kind of rude to her after she offered her hand,” Kianna remarked jerking her thumb at Arnara, while giving the other woman a scornful look.

“What do you mean?” Ametrine and several others said.

“You mean you don’t know what a hand offered that way means?” Kianna said, rolling her eyes at the paladin.

<silence for a while>

“Should I?” Ametrine said, still confused.

“Maybe you should ask her. Then you should probably apologize,” Kianna said finally, as she shook her head in disbelief.

But now there was nothing but the darkness and the quiet snores of the band. She stood and clutched her arms across her chest; she felt cold and somehow off. Her head was throbbing with pain and she shivered. Fortunately, it would be a while before the N’Tel’Quess would be ready to move again. Until then, it left Arnara alone for what passed for a night and morning, this far away from the sun. And she hoped some quiet would put her body at ease to whatever was ailing it.

She looked at their new companion, Amertine. Her face was pale, as if chiseled from marble, her hair long and blonde. Her closed eyes were almost violet in color as Arnara recalled. But it was during one of the brawls with the orcs within the caverns, that gave her away for what she was. As she fought, bright ethereal wings unfurled from nothing, appearing like a swan ready to land on the water. This meant she was a rare type of person: an Aasimar.

What was strange, for as rare as they were, this was the second one she had ever met. The first she was introduced to years ago in the Misty Forest, and she called herself Myrai. She became a dear friend, and after she departed, Arnara honestly had never expected to meet another one. Amertine’s features were so close to Myrai’s, that Arnara wanted to touch and embrace her as a missing friend. But this woman was not her, not by a good measure. Myrai’s hair was gold, and her eyes like polished silver mirrors, and was more petite. This woman was stronger by far and had less grace that Myrai. Her armor and weapons heavier and well-worn with use, while Myrai said once to Arnara that she had never drawn her sword in anger. But the resemblance was still strong; especially those ephemeral wings, although Arnara was sure that Myr couldn’t fly.

She watched this new woman sleep peacefully there on the jail floor; this too was very unlike Myrai.

Myrai rarely had ever slept peacefully:

She thrashed.

She shivered.

She screamed.

It was disturbing enough, that it caused Arnara to become curious on how or even if she could help her friend. And this led Arnara to do something…forbidden. One day she approached one of the priestesses of Sehanine Moonbow to ask how it was done. The priestess, a good friend, gave her a mixture of chamomile, poppy and lavender to be mixed in hot water, and consumed in the evening. She told Arnara how to ignore the call to the Reverie, how to avoid reviewing and reflecting on the memories. To instead, surrender and succumb to madness lurking within. And so Arnara did something that perhaps many elves tried once, and never talked about:

She slept.

She dreamt.

She experienced.

Myrai watched over her as she did this forbidden thing, and waking was the most terrifying part of it all. To regain control of oneself, to separate memory from dream. She couldn’t say her dreams were horrors like Myrai, but she didn’t enjoy the experience. But it did answer for her, why elves never did it; there was nothing to learn from them. They weren’t real, they weren’t wisdom, they weren’t the past, they were nothing. And yet, everything else did it. Everything but the Tel’Quessir. Even the evil Dharrow didn’t dream. Myrai knew this as well yet tried everything she could to avoid it; the number of wine and liquor bottles scattered around were a constant testament to her searching for a dreamless sleep.

But as Arnara watched, this woman dreamed peacefully, unconcerned with the contents of whatever drifted through her mind. But as she slept there quietly and contently, so did the others: the half-elf Rafelor, the strange woman who called herself Kianna, the Sigilite crossbowman Hawthorne, and the dragonborn Balthasar. Not that there was a logical reason for any of them to have a peaceful slumber at all.

The troglodytes were bad enough, their stench was overpowering, and several of the others lost their meals engaging them. Arnara, hung back and used the orcish longbow she had taken to great effectiveness. The bow wasn’t one of great quality but was good enough to land arrows in the weak scaled hides of the troglodytes. Even the larger lizard and the chieftain were not too bad, although there was a lot of fire being thrown by the chief. By comparison, the chained lizard was just hungry. Later on, a pack of gricks surprised them. But in the end, they were only annoying. They just were disturbing to look at and a pain to fight as their rubbery hides resisted most of their blows. But they were not terribly coordinated, and they posed no risk to the group. The door they defended was a bigger problem, for it withstood all attempts to open it being firmly locked. This forced them all to scour the other areas and followed the river looking for places that a key might be. This led to another group of troglodytes this time they had a pet bear all eager for a fight. Nearby a different danger awaited as they avoided a deadly chamber of exploding molds and poisons. Then below they found a living wet ooze that shimmered in forty-nine shades of grey, but it too was brought down. But it was the roper that seemed to be a waking nightmare to most of them.

Arnara wasn’t sure why the others were afraid…at first. But as the creature pulled each of the adventures towards it, to get a taste of their flesh it became abundantly clear. Arnara saw the gaping maw slice through Ametrine’s armor with ease. Unable to easily escape, they one by one jumped desperately into the river nearby to escape its sticky tendrils.

Fortunately, Arnara avoided being caught in its clutches, but this created a new problem, as the river quickly battered any that attempted to tread its waters. Arnara, ran back to a point where it emerged from the rock, and managed to land them like fish on the rocky outcropping above. No sooner did she land a bedraggled Rafelor, then she landed a sputtering Hawthorne, followed by another a half-drowned Kianna. Somehow, the dragonborn Balthasar was undeterred and managed to slay the monstrosity as the others raced back to aid him. This was followed by the disgusting search of the creatures’ innards by the Warlock. He reached deep within the roper and found a powerful ring that Arnara wore for now, along with a small horde of gemstones.

All that real horror, and all of the others slept quietly, peacefully, not frightened by their dreams. It made Arnara wonder why Myrai could never escape her personal Hell. What had…damaged her that badly and so deeply she almost never escaped unless a bottle was involved?

As Arnara stood there, leaning against the damp jail wall, she noticed that she was sweating and unable to think clearly. She felt tired and her head was beginning to pound. They found in the cells, an iron key; one they hoped would unlock the door and lead them deeper into the mountain fortress. But right now, Arnara felt queasy, and on edge. She sat down and shivered, desperately hoping it would pass soon, just like a bad dream in the morning.

Session notes: This is in the bowels of Forge of Fury, as disease is about to set in, and a lack of someone prepping lesser restoration. As the characters were just feeling out each other, one of the off screen moments was when Baron Althon introduced the party together. Arnara was staying as a guest (her background is Noble), and she offered her signet ring out for a kiss because "That's how humans do that" per her father with the commoners. This went over the heads of the party, and then became an inside jokes as each one figured out what that meant. Minor point that it is a gesture used more in religious contexts but hey...who knows what those humans are doing these days.
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Lizard folk in disguise
Story III - Ametrine’s Fate

The journey back to town, and the three-day trek to eventual warmth of the Griffon’s Nest was as it was before. Blood spilled on the seeking the weapons wanted by the baron and the ancillary wealth that came with it. Five returning to town, each with a story to tell. Even at the surface that story was the same; six went in, five came out. That mistakes were made, and the opening of a door was involved. But that is where it ended.

The clouds rumbled with distant thunder, of a torrent of rain on the other sides of the peaks. Flashes of white light scattered across the overcast sky, illuminating the trees. Hawthorne was fairly certain that the rain would stay at the other side of the peaks. So, the party rested, eating their rations with smiles all around at their success. Almost.

Arnara sat on a nearby bluff of rock overlooking the fire of her companions, her hands cradling her head as she frowned. She was weary; the travel wasn’t glamorous; there were no inns or even a house to beg for shelter at in these far-off trails. Even the trails were problematic, meant for surefooted mules, hauling ore along the ridges of the mountains. And concept of a trail was a loose one, with many sections in poor condition since the dwarves abandoned their holdings with the coming of the Kingdom of Many Arrows. All of it added up to long hard days of travel with armor, weapons and now coin on the return.

But weighed on Arnara was how dissimilar the second foray into the fortress was compared to the first. She took it upon herself to help actively guide the others. It was a common tactic of the elves. They did not gather large armies, so they learned how to fight with few numbers with effective results. Basic ideas, on making sure that you never turned your back on a foe that could strike. Take rest where you can. Support each other. In a fight of attrition every death matters, on both sides. And it was on that point that Arnara was disappointed with herself.

She failed again.

Another of their party died at a door. It was comical and it was a strange feeling of history repeating itself. She watched the Aasimar, Ametrine, open the door before anyone else stood by their side. Granted she was already badly wounded, but the folly of opening a door in that condition while Arnara was still trying to get the others to focus and take on the last of the duergar. She opened it alone and quickly died alone on the floor.

You’re supposed to learn from mistakes. I should have learned from my own.

Granted, nothing was a simple as that. After dealing with the aftereffects of a spell wounding Kiana and Arnara, and also causing Ametrine to fall, they were then betrayed. The elven woman, Idalla, planted an almost fatal kiss on Hawthorns lips. His screams started strong and then finished with a whimper as the elf they trusted gave him a memory he would not forget. The elf’s image melted away and became one of a fiend; a succubus from the lower planes. She stood there with a wicked smile as she handily took the blows from Rafelor, Hawthorn, and Arnara as they all rushed over to try to save him. But it wasn’t enough and Idalla disappeared into the ether.

It was for a simple reason that Arana did this. A dangerous foe was behind them and needed to be removed, so they all could deal with the duergar smiths. Arnara assumed that either Balthasar or Kiana would be able to help the fallen Aasimar. What happened next, Arnara wasn’t prepared for; another disguise dropped revealing a fiend.

But she should have been.

As Arnara sat there, she heard footsteps approaching, crushing the thick bed of pine needles that covered the floor of the wood. Turning slightly, she was surprised to see Kiana approaching her.

“The stew is as ready as it is ever going to be,” Kiana said with a grimace.

Arnara looked at the human…no tiefling coolly, as she remembered a private conversation, she had with Ametrine. The party was focused on the tombs of the dwarves, when the aasimar pulled Arnara aside.

“I sense something from our ‘Human’ friend,” she whispered.

Arnara was startled by the statement from Ametrine and was surprised that she was opening up to Arnara at all. Perhaps it was because Arnara invited her to come with them and deal with the dwarven hold while the others dithered on the idea. So, she replied in the aasimar’s native tongue, “What do you mean ha-celas?”

She remembered the look of surprise on Ametrine’s face, but she quickly replied in the language of angels, “The human who can strangely see in the dark must be a fiend of some sorts. I thought out of everyone here you'd know what to do about her.”

Arnara had glanced at Kianna and wondered aloud to Ametrine, “A tiefling perhaps? And do what? A friend told me about them; not all are evil...in the same way not all ha-celas are good.”

Ametrine considered and replied, “hmm, I suppose so. I just thought I should warn you if anything DOES happen.”

“Unless she is a creature of belief, I will let her....and your actions determine mine.” She remembered saying. As she turned away to rejoin the group. Later, there was a fight against the smelly troglodytes, and Arnara turned to Ametrine and spoke her mind again to Ametrine in Celestial, “She healed our party...I doubt she is evil.”

Ametrine replied, still suspicious, “Maybe, but why would she pretend to be human?”

Arnara pointed out “Many ha-celas do not admit to being such. Tieflings are distrusted I am told, so why ruin a first impression? I suppose we could just ask her.”

Ametrine frowned. Then she nodded and said quietly, “That sounds good.”

It was uncomfortable; like they were forming a conspiracy against Kianna. But Arnara had decided to wait and see; which of the two were worthy of trust. But was Ametrine giving a warning, or did she have malicious intent? And so what if Kianna had a glamour concealing herself? The Fey did this without ill intent. And many tieflings would travel in disguise to avoid unwarranted attention; it meant nothing.

Or did it?

And now Kianna was beckoning Arnara to join the rest to eat and break bread with each other. A common ritual of trust among all the people of the Sword Coast.

“Why?” Anara asked.

“Huh? Because Balthasar is trying to feed us. Badly I suppose—”

“Why did you let her die?” Arnara asked pointedly.

Kianna frowned a moment before looking Arnara in the eye.

“I made a choice; it was her or Balthasar and I didn’t want to lose him while he was still fighting for us.”

Arnara stammered angrily, “But she fought for us, too. She shed her blood…gladly for us. She may have been impulsive, but she was willing to…give it all. You had time!”

Kianna shrugged, “It was a choice I had to make, and she put herself in danger,”

“She made a mistake.”

Kiana looked at the ground, her shoulders slumped as she weakly shrugged.

“Did I?”

“What do you mean?” Kianna said, her head looking at elf apprehensively.

“Ametrine knew of your…fiendish blood.”

“And what of it?” Kianna spat.

“I defended you,” I said. “I didn’t care. You fought and bled and healed us. You had earned my trust. I convinced her. But now…you hide your face again behind that mask, even after we’ve seen the truth.”

Kianna took a deep breath before speaking, “Look, any choice can backfire. I—”

“—I don’t care why,” Arnara said standing up. She stepped close to Kianna and looked the disguised figure in the eye.

“You helped, and fought, and bled. I don’t forget that. I don’t know if what happened was a mistake, and you are being glib about it, or if there was something else. All I have to say about it, is that if you want to have people trust the face behind that mask, you need to act like that person behind the mask is worthy of saving.”

Kianna closed her mouth and stiffly regarded Arnara, “I’ll sleep on it.”

“You do that…” Arnara said as she moved past Kianna and headed to the questionable meal that Balthasar had prepared. And as she did so, she quietly said.

“…Because I don’t sleep,”

Session Notes:

This was a collaboration of a between Kiana's player and I, after the main session was done and we were travelling back to the inn. Kianna had a mystery of why she was hiding, and the DM ruled the fiendish taint was detectable by the paladin for story reasons. Still was an interesting interlude.

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