The stone floor made a loud cracking sound, and Rafelor pitched forward into the darkness below. Arnara stepped forward involuntarily in alarm, as she heard his body making a loud plop sound as it hit a substance thicker than water. Arnara was about to breath a sigh of relief when Rafelor started to scream in pain.
Arnara stepped towards the edge and looked down and her heart sank. Rafelor had fallen into a pit of bright green slime. Already the substance was smoking and causing his flesh to peel as the acid burned his skin. But before she could react, Hawthorne threw down a rope into the pit, allowing Rafelor to climb out. While getting out of the pit was an improvement, Arnara was concerned. She had read about this type of hazard in a book back in the Misty Forest, and she knew that it was strong enough to dissolve metals and flesh with ease.
Arnara began to recite some arcane syllables; while she didn’t know much about the slime, she remembered it was vulnerable to fire. She hoped that she could purge the foul substance from Rafelor…hopefully without killing him. If she had to burn Ralefor to save him, so be it. Far better than the alternative.
Hawthorne with a heave, pulled up Rafelor back into the sun light. Already the rope was dissolving where the rope touched Rafelor’s coated body. The half-elf was grimacing in pain as he lay there on the stone in front of the shrine.
“I’m sorry about this Rafelor,” Arnara said as she winced and began her incantation. She was nearly finished, when Morrigan suddenly flew in front of her face.
“Stop that! I need to destroy the slime before Rafelor dissol—” and she batted Morrigan away from her face. Morrigan then hovered between Arnara, blocking her view.
“Morrigan! Really! I need to burn it away, don’t…get…in…the…way?”
Just beyond Morrigan on the tiled stone lay Rafelor in a shaft of afternoon sunlight, and as Arnara watched, the slime began to steam. He brushed his hands over the slime, which now flaked off in dried clumps. Arnara looked at him puzzled and then looked at the sun and then back at the now recovering half-elf.
“Of course. Its only found underground; it must be vulnerable to the sun’s light,” she sighed in relief. “Thanks Mori,” and she smiled at the owl. “Why don’t you look inside the shrine real quick.”
“My sodding rope! Its ruined!” Hawthorne exclaimed.
“Just the end,” Shalai pointed out. “Just cut it short and whip the tip.”
Toddy hovered there, arms crossed, visor down. His stance and the slightest shake of his head indicated his disapproval at Hawthorne's complaints about his rope.
“You didn’t even lose half of it,” Aegis pointed to the fraying line as Hawthorne started to coil it again.
Arnara simply shook her head, simply relieved. She was about to say something, when from the shrine came a loud shriek.
“Morrigan?” Arnara said aloud and shifted her vision to see from the owl’s eyes. A single moment was all that was needed, as the owl’s wings were bearing Morrigan on a hasty retreat. In her eyes, she saw two humanoids and two more figures with serpentine tails. The four were watching the owl with surprise, when Morrigan flew back towards the entrance. Arnara could see herself in the owl’s vision, as she banked to her right, looking for cover.
Arnara shook her head clearing her mind, and quickly uttered in elvish.
Streaking from her left hand, as small bead appeared, and streaked into the shrine, the bead changed colors from a dim red, to an incandescent yellow, as it flew down the passage leading inside.
“Arnara what ar—” Toddy began, before he was cut off by a detonation as fire and air whipped around each other in a cyclone of fiery destruction. Gouts of flame erupted from the shrine followed by billowing black smoke.
“What the hell are you—” Rafelor started as he clambered to his feet, but he stopped as he heard the shrieks of pain and anger from within the now darkened shrine.
“We have unwanted company,” Arnara said simply as she drew her rapier. She brought the blade's hilt to her lips and she kissed it, and then with a quick flourish moved away from the entrance as she waited for the reprisals of the Yuan-ti within.
Toddy turned his head simply turned to look where the sounds of the of the screaming snakeskin came from. He flew down the passage, dragging the tip of the great sword behind him in a shower of sparks. He flew over the pit of slime without concern and flung himself into combat. He swung his sword, attempting to hew a serpent bodied foe into twain. His strike was true, and dark venomous blood sprayed the man’s armor, covering it in dark red ichor.
Shalai saw the flying Toddy charge into the room and raced to follow. As Toddy flew and avoided the open pit, Shalai began to increase his pace to make the jump. But before he could launch himself across the gap, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a barrage of arrows leaving slits in the wall. Pausing, he batted one out of the air, only for it to tumble into the pit of slime below. But he found himself beset by more, as arrows pierces his left leg, right arm, and near the collarbone.
“Damn it all,” he swore and retreated back towards the courtyard of the shrine, leaving a trail of blood. His face was contorted in pain, as he looked for a solace outside, fair from the passageway of death.
Hawthorne blinked and pulled out his crossbow, ready to thread a quarrel through the slits in the wall.
“You call that a shot? Let me show y—” he started, when he heard a sibilant hiss next to him. Twisting around he let fly a quarrel into a bush that was now melting into the form of another snake bodied Yuan-ti. Hawthorne’s hands quickly pulled the lever on the cranequin and set a bolt on the rails of his heavy crossbow, letting another bolt to fly, striking the Yuan-ti where the abdomen of a normal person was.
Rafelor grasped his morningstar, and charged and swiftly brought the head down, crushing the shoulder of Hawthorne’s assailant. He then spun, letting the momentum of his instrument of pain carry through striking the snake like figure in the jaw. The Yuan-ti’s head swiveled twisting its body around before collapsing onto the ground. Rafelor smiled and shouted, “That’s right, this what a…oh crap,” as he saw another Yuan-ti emerge from what once was a simple shrub.
Aegis watched the second figure emerge and then looked down the tunnel where Toddy had charged. Grimacing, he pulled out a hammer from his tinkers’ tools, and a small glass vial. He hefted the vial into the air, and swung with all his might, somehow batting the vial unbroken into the passage right behind Toddy. The vial sailed, and struck a wall, sundering it into pieces. As the glass shards flew in the passageway, a loud sound of thunder echoed throughout the stone hall. From behind the walls came the sound of hissed and high-pitched shrieks as bone and stone were smashed into flinders as the magic burst forth in sudden explosion.
Toddy stood there glaring into the slitted eyes of his foes. One of them tilted its head coolly regarding the floating warrior, shouting “I recommend you protect us from the silvered headed huuuman behind you.” Toddy frowned and shook his head, he then turned to see the white hair figure battling away arrows with his bare hands.
He…he…he was a threat! No, he was a Southerner! I am north of him, and I cannot let him harm these good upstanding snake-like people. He turned in the air, and pulled in his great sword, glaring at the retreating white-haired figure Shalai…wait…how did he know he was a threat? Grimacing, he knew it didn’t matter; just he was a threat. Toddy began to ready himself to charge back down the passageway, leading with the tip of his sword aimed for evil Shalai’s gut.
“I don’t think so,” Arnara said, as she stepped with elven grace, and stood in the way of Toddy, ready to charge. As she moved, she, cast into the air a dusty cobweb. spinning, she uttered the words “Fallacina Aranax” and gracefully danced out of the vision of Toddy.
What is Arnara doing? Toddy thought. Then bursting from the ceiling and flagstone came an explosion of sticky threads. Toddy shook his arm trying to free himself, but this only made things worse as his forearm struck more strands. He trying to twist in the air and found himself in a nightmare of ropes and sticky webbing. Nothing he did, improved things, and he found that even his mighty strength was no match for the elf’s will.
But why? “Arnara, that southerner Shalai is a threat! We must put him down like the dog he is!”
While Azaka fired her bow at the attacking Yuan-ti, Aegis quickly moved out of sight of the angry Toddy, and with a quick tap of his hammer, flung a bolt of fire at the serpent, assailing Hawthorne. The bolt struck true, and the smell of burned scale and flesh permeated the area, as it staggered from the strike. It hissed and looked at Hawthorne, ready to strike when Morrigan flew in front of the serpent, her wings fanning in front, beating the air in front of the Yuan-ti’s face. And then like that, she flew off. The Yuan-ti turned to face Hawthorne again ready to attack.
The Yuan-ti slumped to the ground in a heap dead, while Hawthorne angrily ran towards the passage, reloading his crossbow as he moved. Once at the entrance, he saw that Toddy was entangled in what looked to be a giant spider’s web, as were several other figures. As he raised his crossbow to take his shot, he heard the twang of a bowstring, and realized too late, that the Yuan-ti were waiting for him as two arrows flew down the corridor. The first grazed and sliced Hawthorne along the left arm, causing a thin stream of blood to hit the wall. But the second on, sank deep into Hawthorne’s chest. Hawthorne blinked and pulled the lever, flinging a quarrel past Toddy, and striking the Yuan-ti in the neck. Quickly he then pulled himself against the wall, out of the bow-snake’s vision and started to reload.
Shalai, panted for air, and pulled out a potion from his pack. Biting the cork, he pulled out the stopper with his teeth and spat it out and started to swallow the contents. Only as he did so, did he realize that the glass was cracked, and half the contents poured over his face.
“That’s not nearly enough,” he stammered as his wounds partially closed. He tossed the bottle down in frustration. “Aegis! Do you have another potion?”
“Yes!” as Aegis’ hammer rang out, and another bolt of fire lashed at the serpentine Yuan-ti, knocking it to the ground. “Let me dig it out!”
“Hurry…Toddy doesn’t like me much!” Shalai said, running over to Aegis.
“I’m looking!” Aegis said, as he rifled through his pouches, standing behind Azaka as she fired again trying to hit the serpent folk.
“He’s not going anywhere!” Arnara shouted. “Work the ones down in the walls!” and with rapier in hand, she spun again across the entrance, and flung a bolt of fire into the arrow slit in the wall. The bolt skidded off the sides of the narrow gap, reducing its effectiveness. But it still found its mark, judging by the angry hiss in response. Meanwhile Arnara spun back against the wall out of sight of the Yuan-ti.
Rafelor then saw his chance, and moving forward, dropping his morning start, and casting aside his shield, while pulling out his loaded crossbow. He stood took aim, and fired a bolt, between Toddy’s legs and striking the serpent form behind him, felling the foul snake.
“You SOUTHERNER I…will…wait? You foul serpents!” Toddy yelled in frustration, unable to move, and unable to strike them.”
“Here! Take it!” and Aegis slapped a potion in the hands of Shalai, who tore away the cork, and quaffed the contents. Instantly the wounds closed, and Shalai moved again to the Shrine and threw a dart into to the arrow slit. The dark found its mark, and only a muffled gurgle came from beyond. Shalai then moved to flank the passage and waited. At the same time, Aegis moved forward and tapped his hammer, causing another bolt of fire to leap through another arrow slit. The inhuman scream was short, followed by the sound of a body landing on stone.
Anara smiled, as she heard Toddy’s exclamation, and she released her hold on the binding, holding the webs in place. As soon as she did, she heard a triumphant “ah-HA” followed by the sound of Toddy’s great sword, cleaving flesh from bone, and the gurgling hiss fading to silence. Arana smiled and waited, as she heard the great sword slice into the last Yuan-ti.
Toddy returned to the group, covered in the gore of the slaughtered Yuan-ti. Turning to look at Arnara he glared and said nothing. Arnara shrugged, “Its better than throwing another ball of fire in the room with you.”
“Can you get the cube?” Toddy intoned from beneath his visor.
“Possibly, but direct grabs don’t seem to work in the shrines.” She stood looking down the passageway and could easily see the familiar pedestal and cube that rested upon it. She made a quick gestured and sent a ghostly feminine hand down the passage to grasp the cube and lift it from the pedestal.
The moment the cube was lifted into the air, the sounds of bow strings, and arrows impacting stone echoed from the shrine. But the cube floated down the passage unimpeded.
“Well, this actually might—” Arnara began. But as the cube crossed the threshold and entered the light, the cube evaporated into green mist.
“—not work. As expected,” She said as the cube reappeared on the pedestal. “Toddy, a ride into the room if you please.” And she gracefully draped her arms around the man and held on, as Toddy flew her into the chamber.
“Well now what do we—” Aegis started when they heard Arnara shout, “We are going to need some help in here!” followed by sounds of arrows, Arnara’s rapier and Toddy’s great sword slicing into stone.
“What? No!” and Hawthorne flew in the chamber with crossbow drawn, followed by Shalai, who jumped over the pit of slime. Unfortunately, his landing triggered another section of the floor to collapse revealing another pit. But he continued in and joined the melee inside, Aegis followed as well, leaping on beams that separated the pits, joining the fray.
Azaka stood there, looking into the darkness, she then sighed and started to collect arrows. Rafelor stood there a moment, before kicking a stone in frustration.
“Damn it. What the hell am I…ARGH!” and he sat down on the stone and waited.
The sounds of steel and flesh against stone for awhile continued. Rafelor sat steaming and waited. Eventually the sounds of combat changed to conversations, and then heated arguments. Eventually the others left the chamber, being carried back by either Toddy or Hawthorne.
“…I think the Yuan-ti took it. But even if they didn’t solve it and the cube is still here, it isn’t going anywhere," said Arnara. “So, we should rest, and see if anyone left here.” The others nodded, and started nodded, and started to patch up their wounds. Arnara, untouched by the fight simply sighed and spotted Rafelor sitting on the ground. After a moment, Arnara sat down next to the half-elf, much to Rafelor’s surprise.
“You appear frustrated,” Arnara said simply looking with a sidelong glance at Rafelor.
“Statues attack, and I’m stuck out here!” Rafelor glared at Arnara. “Of course, I’m frustrated. You have a spell for everything. Nothing ever bothers or flusters you.”
“Frustrated? Or Jealous?” Arnara asked quietly.
“What difference does it make?” Rafelor retorted.
Arnara looked down at the ground a moment before replying, “I suppose none. But you are not correct. I do get frustrated, I just…don’t show it. But I have something for you,” and she reached into a pouch, and pulled out a scroll, and handed it to the half-elf.
Rafelor, took the scroll from her, and unrolled it. Written within were in elvish were arcane symbols, patterns, and notes. Rafelor looked at Arnara in confusion.
“I noticed when I…cleaned you up that you weren’t thankful. I was confused…and hurt by this. I only meant to return some dignity to you, by removing the filth. I…didn’t realize that by me removing it, that you would feel embarrassed,” Arnara looked at Rafelor with a sad look on her face. “The truth is you remind me of someone I cared for, and I don’t…want to lose you as a…friend. So that,” and she gestured at the scroll, “is the incantation that can teach you to...clean yourself. If you follow the instructions and with practice, you can learn to make the weave do what you want. If you want to…learn more, let me know.”
Arnara stood up, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “Its your choice of course. If you choose to apply yourself in a different way, I understand. But consider this…an apology.” Arnara then walked towards Aegis who seemed to be interested in something Hawthorne had found.
Leaving Rafelor sitting there staring at the scroll, wondering on what path he should choose.
Ah...Omu. As I mentioned before there is a Journal that is constantly being 'corrected' Arnara. At first it was done as a spur of the moment piece of humor. But as I felt out the character, I realized that Arnara, while having a sense of humor, it isn't random.
This started me to think back on her story from the Journal of Souls, and I started to weave more backstory. I then worked with Rafelor's player who also wanted to extend his story a bit to explain some future choices.
The end result is a collaboration that is still continuing on the relationship between Arnara the noble elf, and the very common half-elf smuggler Rafelor. More of this story continues ahead.
It was nearing daybreak in the City of Omu. The eastern horizon was just starting to spread fiery orange fingers across the sky, as the sun chased the light of the moon and stars away. Around them, the sounds of birds and strange calls echoed in the distance, while the soft sounds of the frog like grungs’ croaking from their encampment around the shrine to the strange grung Nangnang. There on a log slept, Imbok, 108th son of Yorb, and appointed advisor to Arnara by Chief Yorb. He quietly snored, until a disembodied ghostly hand reached out and touched him.
The grung jerked up awake and looked around with alarm, saying, “Shrine ba—."
“Shhhh Imbok. I need your help.”
The bruised and battered former smuggler, Rafelor, lay in his tent staring upwards at the canvas, his red hair slicked back onto his head with sweat. In some respects, the jungle of Chult really was an improvement over Baldur’s Gate. While the Chult held bloodthirsty insects, hungry dinosaurs and oppressive heat, here it didn’t smell of rank sewage. Nor were there paths crammed with beggars, thieves and worse; city guards. But while the path of a smuggler wasn’t safe or pretty, it didn’t normally involve hordes of undead, Red Wizards and nest of Yuan-ti and their foul magicks. This didn’t lend itself to solid rest as the prior’s night lack of sleep and the memory of today’s terrible events still played through his head.
But he remembered getting up, and approaching Arnara with trepidation. She sat on a small plinth of stone, her bob of silvery hair catching the light of the moon Selune and her pale blue eyes looking over the grung camp. She kept her rapier and spell book close at hand as she took watch. And she took her responsibilities seriously, because underneath that calm exterior was a woman driven to prove something to her family.
She spoke about her kin rarely, and for the longest time all he knew about them was based on her full name and title; Arnara, 1st Daughter of House Ustina. It meant she was a noble and she was one of the eldest of her generation. But he had also caught that her being here was against her family patriarch’s permission, and there were other hints of sorrow about her family. But despite that, her presence confidence and brilliance had everyone looking at her to lead them, and that mantle took its toll. During their rests or camps, she would take to resting alone as the others talked and ate, and she would watch over all of them as they slept. Under her leadership, they had lost some people and each loss was felt keenly by her. And yet everyone still looked to her to lead them forward.
Next to her lay the white haired Shalai in his failed attempt to emulate her Reverie. Rafelor was a half-elf and like everyone else he had to rest, sleep and dream. But not the elves; they did something different; the Reverie. To everyone else, an elf in a Reverie looked to be in a trance, their eyes focused on nothing. But supposedly an elf would be experiencing and reliving some of their long memories. Shalai this night tried to emulate it; by watching Arnara and trying to avoid falling asleep. But not being an elf, he of course failed and now slumbered at her feet, murmuring quietly as if in conversation with someone. As Rafelor stepped forward, Arnara turned and met his gaze, nodding in acknowledgement his approach.
“Yo,” Rafelor said awkwardly, not sure if he really wanted to have this conversation.
Arnara arched an eyebrow and said, "Good evening, Rafelor."
“You know the lucky thing about being able to trance? Unlike sleeping, you don't have the problem where you want to fall asleep but just can't.” the half-elf said, trying to build up the nerve to talk to Arnara.
She nodded and gave a small smile, “True...although relieving one’s past isn't always pleasant. What is keeping you awake?”
“Well....reliving one's past I guess...I mean, it's been a heavy day and all. Lots of stuff went down.”
Arnara nodded and looked down at the ground and said with a sad whisper, “Yes.” The recent event of Toddy turning into stone and being left behind was too painful to talk about. And Rafelor knew that Arnara, as their guiding light, took it harder than anyone else did.
"Sorry, it's just...I really gotta know, how much of moron am I really?" he asked blurting his question aloud.
Arnara's eyebrows furrowed a moment as she looked at Rafelor in silence. So when she spoke she appeared to choose her words carefully, “Well, why do you think you are one?”
“Let's face it, I can't keep running from myself forever.” Rafelor admitted. “You're always commenting on that kind of stuff in my journal writing, the looks from the party, the naughty word I get myself into. I'm not blind, just...well, I realized something not too long ago. Back at the slime pits when I fell. That recklessness of mine, to bolt and ahead like nothing matters more than myself. It reminds me of Toddy's stubborn loyalty to single combat. Had the circumstances been different back then, that could've been me. I could be lying cold, petrified on the floor without ever being able to do anything about it.”
Arnara sighed, "No... that doesn't make you a moron. Because to me, a moron is someone that doesn't learn. Can't learn. I don't see that in you. As for mistakes, morons don't make mistakes. People do," and the elf turned away bitterly to look into the distance. “All people.”
"Well, heh," He shrugged sheepishly. "I've never been one to learn from my mistakes, really."
Arnara impishly smiled as she turned back to look at the half-elf, "Well, I've never seen you make the same mistake twice exactly. They are all...different. So, you can learn. You do learn.”
Rafelor clenched his hands in frustration, “I don't get it. Why do you care about me so much? I have done nothing but mock, insult, and try to hurt you for…for…months! You have no reason to treat me with any respect.”
Arnara stood and stepped towards Rafelor, looking him in the eye with a sorrowful look. Reaching up nervously, she touched him on the cheek.
“Because you remind me of my cousin. He...mocked my skills with a blade. How clumsy I was in my footing at the dances. How I was the ugliest nymph at the ball. And... he taught me how, to wield that blade. To dance the great dance. To find beauty where one doesn't expect it. He's...gone now. A leaf blown away in the autumn winds. All too soon and I don't want to see...history repeat itself.”
“I'm not sure I buy that,” Rafelor said dubiously. “Doesn't matter how much I look or act like your cousin, if your cousin is anything like I am, there's no way you'd remember him that fondly.”
Arnara looked down and chuckled. “Well...if you had asked me that when I was younger...I would have agreed. I hated him then. I only...grew fond of him much later. How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?”
“Uhhh...actually, I don't know. My early days are kind of a blur, and I didn't actually learn how to count or what a year was until I was much older.” He admitted.
Arnara smiled and looked closer at Rafelor’s face, “Any...guesses?”
“Uhhhh....I haven't really given it much thought, truth be told. How old do you think I am?"
Continuing to look at his face, her delicate fingers tracing his cheekbone and jawlines as she examined the half-elf. “Well...I'm going to guess you are probably, twenty, perhaps as late as twenty-four.”
Thinking a moment, Ralefor nodded, “Maybe? Probably. That sounds about right...I think.”
Arnara nodded. “I am one-hundred and nineteen years old. And—
“—ONE HUNDRED A NINTEEN—, “and he quickly clamped his own mouth shut, trying not to wake Shalai.
Arnara continued, “—for forty of those years, I hated Pallas. But he still taught me. He continued to tease but he continually showed me how to improve. And for that, I loved him. And something else...I've had a lot more time to make mistakes...and probably have made more of them than you have." Arnara smiled at Rafelor.
"Well, I don't know about thaaat...” Ralefor said and took a deep breath. “Well, listen, I didn't come out here just for pity.”
“Oh...you came to the wrong rock for that.” Arnara replied smiling warmly. “Imbok might have some to spare, but that’s not likely. But what did you come for?”
Rafelor closed his eyes and steeled himself. “Falling into that slime pit, watching Toddy fall to his own overconf0idence, trying to figure what the hell who I actually am... I don't want to make the same mistakes, if I keep going on as I have, as recklessly as I have, then I'm gonna fall into the same boat as Toddy. Or worse. Back at the hotel. Way back before we ventured into the jungle...You offered to teach me the ways of the Bladesong. Well…" Rafelor pauses as his cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"I want to take you up on that offer."
Arnara looked Ralefor in the eyes for a moment, tilting her head side to side as she searched for something in Rafelor’s eyes. After a moment she nodded and then took Rafelor's hands. "I can do so. It is a serious commitment you are making. Are you willing to see it through to the end?"
“Uh, well, yeah. Sure. I mean, I kind of have to, don't I? If I wanna survive the rest of this journey.”
Arnara gravely nodded, “From this moment...as far as arcana is concerned, I am your teacher. That doesn't mean I expect you to forget to use armor, or even your morningstar. It does mean that you will need to practice how to touch and work the Weave. And I don't expect you to call me, 'Master' or 'Mistress' or any such embarrassing nonsense. It just means that as far as learning magic, you listen, you trust, and you...do.”
Arnara turned and bent down, reaching into her pack on the ground, and pulled out a book. She stood and turned again to face Rafelor. In her hand was a leatherbound tome, which she opened to display the early pages. Inside was the delicate spidery lettering that Rafelor recognized as Arnara own hand. But unlike his own journal, this was written in entirely in elvish, with diagrams of hand motions and notes. It was both functional and beautiful in its elegance.
"This is...my spare spellbook. It contains the formulae of much of what I have learned. For now, this is your source of truth...So you can focus on binding them to yourself so you can cast them with a word. I've seen you with the cantrip I gave you. You are...very close. Keep practicing with your morningstar...there is a style of the Bladesong that uses it. Eventually you will either need...very light armor, or one of the spells there will protect you. But that isn't important yet. Focus on the spellwork.” Oh, and one other matter...a bit of warning. There is a... required tattoo. It’s not done with needles, like a regular one, it done with...arcana. It's going to hurt...so...think about where you want it."
“Oh...uhh, alright.” Rafelor stammered, unsure on what else to say. “Well...” and he turned to look at Shalai sleeping on the ground. “I should probably go sleep now."
Arnara nods, "Pleasant dreams Rafelor. I am going to wake you before daybreak. Your true learning, starts then.”
Rafelor nodded and made his way back to his tent. Arnara watched him depart and noticed that Shalai had turned over and was all smiles, and still asleep. She then with a delicate wave of her hand, conjured a ghostly hand, and pulled up Shalai’s blanket to cover him.
Rafelor slept fitfully that night. Sometime before daybreak, rolled over and frowned. He wondered what exactly she had in mind later this morning, when he heard a rusting at his tent flap. Sitting up, he pulled it aside expecting Arnara, only to be greeted by a different familiar face:
“You come to Shrine. Shrine good!” said the grinning Imbok, 108th son of Yorb.
Rafelor inwardly groaned. Frowning he got up and followed Imbok. The grung walked him past the sleeping Shalai, who had somehow lost his blanket, and was now curled up in a fetal position, while covering his head with his arms. Rafelor shook his head in amusement and continued deeper into the shrine of Nangnang.
Imbok led him past the open doors. Within the treasure still glittered in heaps on the ground. But as Rafelor already knew, all it was trash covered by magic. He shook his head in disappointment at the memory, and soon Rafelor stood in the room with the single pillar where the Stone dedicated to Nangnang was found. The room was now lit, with four torches in each of the corners.
Arnara was there already. She was dressed as always in a light green sleeveless tunic and a skirt train. But her pack and rapier were discarded on the ground on one wall. She was stretching her arms above her head, and bent over backwards, until she stood on her hands and then continued to turn over until she stood upright again. She then turned to smile at Rafelor.
“Good morning. I thought we might do this in…private.” As she said this, Imbok took a seat against the wall, and placed on his lap a doumbek.
“I haven’t even read—”
Arnara raised her hand to interrupt him, “—No, this is different. It will help you in your studies, but this is something else we need to work on. Right now, you can unlock the secrets of the Weave. But what we need to really unlock, are the steps for Bladesong. For now, set down your weapon—you will not need it this morning.”
Rafelor looked at her confused, and then nodded. He placed his weapon next to her rapier on the ground, and then stood before her.
Arnara giggled a moment. “I admit I would love to see your face for this, but I will have to trust my imagination.” She turned around so her back was to him. “Place your hands on my hips.”
Rafelor blinked in confusion, “You want me to…” he trailed off.
“Rafelor,” Arnara chided, “This is why we are in private. Trust me.”
Rafelor swallowed, and gamely place his hands on Arnara’s hips, barely touching them. As he stood there, she reached down and placed her hands on top his and pressed his hands tighter to her.
“Like this. I’m not a piece of crockery, you won’t break me. Now keep them there and look straight ahead at the back of my head.
“Ok…what are we doing exactly?”
“Dancing.” Arnara replied.
“Dancing?” Rafelor said concerned.
Arnara turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. “Yes. Dancing. We are going to take four steps to the right, crossing with your left leg in front of you, and then the right. Then we will reverse it for four steps. Imbok will do a drum beat so step on each beat. Ready Imbok? Like I showed you. I’ll tell you when to start Rafelor.”
Imbok gave a wide grin and started to beat on the drum. It was a steady four-four beat, and as Imbok tapped out the rhythm he could feel Arnara flex her legs in response.
“Stay off your heels, move on the balls of your foot only. Now…Go!” and Arnara started to move to the right. Rafelor focused on his feet as he used his hands on Arnara’s hips to keep both his balance and to stay with her. All the while she kept counting in elvish:
“Minë, atta, neldë, canta!” and on ‘canta’ she reversed directions. Rafelor was unsteady at first, but the rhythm was simple. After a few passes, Arnara spoke again, “Imbok, increase the tempo slowly.”
“Imbok not know tempo.”
Arnara rolled her eyes, “Drum faster.”
“Imbok drum good!” and he started to pick up the pace.
It took a moment for Rafelor to adjust, but soon he found himself almost skipping to the beat. It became easier with each four count. After several passes Arnara spoke again.
“Good, now on ‘canta’ you are going to spin on your right foot, and return your hands to my hips, and we reverse. Got it.”
“If you miss and get a shoulder or my side, it’s alright. Just keep the rhythm and keep moving. Now! Minë, atta, neldë, canta!”
Rafelor released her, and she spun gracefully in place. Rafelor on the other hand having never done this, spun and almost lost his balance. Arnara quickly grabbed his arm before he stumbled and reversed their movement.
“Minë, atta, neldë, canta!” she repeated, and his spin was steadier. After several reversals, Arnara seemed satisfied and again changed the dance, but this time it was a very different ask.
“Now on minë you are going to cast the spell I gave you, on me.”
“You mean that prestidigitation spell? What am I going to do to you?”
“Easy. You are going to use the part that colors an object. So, you are going to color my hair a different color on each pass.”
Rafelor blinked a second and sighed. “Ok…I don’t get—”
“—Trust me. Now on the next pass start, atta, neldë, canta!” Rafelor released her and spun and place his hands again her hips when she said, “Minë!” He then quickly uttered the words, and focused on Arnara’s silver hair, and by the time he reached ‘canta’ it was a warm yellow. The next pass it was, blue, and the next purple.
This was a bit harder for Rafelor, but as he kept casting, he felt something around him. Something beyond the rhythm. It felt like a breeze coursing and swirling around him, and with each casting of the spell it grew stronger.
Arnara, spoke again, “You can feel it can’t you?…Canta!. That’s the Weave you are moving through. Feel it’s embrace. Now, all you need to do is let it push you a bit…don’t fight it. Surrender to it. Become part of it.”
Rafelor kept going, and he felt what Arnara was saying. It was like a swift river, and he was on the banks. But with every spell he cast, he felt himself drift further into the river. He felt it push him as he crossed currents and eddies. His heart quickened, as he felt the Weave embrace him, and submerged himself deeper into its power. He felt like that turbulent stream of the Weave would drown him in the crushing torrent, and it became a struggle to keep with the flow.
“Now, the last part. You are going to let go of my hips and you will follow me in a circle in the room. Keep casting on minë and spin on canta. Now, be free!”
She cast off her hands, and she kept moving. She left and spun, and now Rafelor had to chase her. Each cast he continued to change her hair to a different color. As they danced, he felt something different. He felt like there was something calming the Weave as he moved. The calm prevailed and the turbulence of the weave faded, like the Weave had become as smooth as fresh spun glass. The calm stretched from the weave and touched his heart and soul as he felt the calm spread through his entire self.
“Minë, atta, neldë, canta, stop!” Imbok stopped the drumming, and Arnara gracefully slowed her spin to a stop. Rafelor however tried and stumbled, as the sensation of the Weave left him behind, and tossed him ungracefully to the shore. Rafelor fell to the ground winded and dizzy.
“Wha…wha…” he panted for air looking at Arnara questioningly.
She smiled nodding, “I fell the first time too…everyone does.” She moved and sat by Rafelor and patted him on the shoulder. “What that was the start of the song. You see, it isn’t a spell, it is feeling and using the Weave around you to guide your steps and to clear your mind. The clearer your mind is, the faster you can move, and react deflecting or even causing swings to miss altogether.”
“Why did it get calm suddenly?” Rafelor asked.
“Because I was ahead of you. Think of me as a stone in a river upstream. The Weave must flow around me, but the waters behind in the channel are smoother than the wash outside. Or that’s the analogy.”
“But you don’t need someone to do it…how?”
Arnara unlaced one of the thin leather bracers she wore and showed the underside of her arm to Rafelor. There, in a dazzling array of colors was a tattoo. It had no specific shape, and it looked tribal in nature. But as he watched the colors changed before his eyes.
“This is part of the secret. The tattoo acts as that stone; we call it ‘Fae salnë’ or the ‘Anchor to the Weave. It will act as your stone, and it will be your shield against the Weaves’ roiling nature. But you need to practice the steps before you are ready for that. Until then I will be your anchor.”
“My mind is so…calm.”
“Another effect in immersing yourself in the Weave…it makes study easier. It’s why I practice in the early mornings. That’s—” and she patted Rafelor on the shoulder, “—enough for today. It just gets more complicated from here when we add a weapon to it.”
Rafelor nodded and stood up a bit woozily from the effort. Imbok smiled and said, “Dance good.” And left with the doumbek under his arm. Together, Arnara and Rafelor walked out into the morning light.
“So…Rafelor, I have a question for you?”
He looked at Arnara expectantly, “What?”
“So…what exactly is the color of my hair now?”
More fun than saying "I took a level in wizard." Anara didn't like that Toddy was not only a statue, but was left behind. This type of thing weighs heavily on her.
From this point on, a lot of this is collaborative writing, mostly in Discord and then transfered. But one of the things it has allowed me to do is really dive into lore about DnD elvish culture (although the numbers are Tolkien elvish), bladesong, and explore about Arnara on how she fits into the world. It was a bonus, that Rafelor's player wanted to incorporate bladesong into their character after seeing my success with it.
This is really also the start me fleshing out her family relations...and issues. But that get explored more in the future stories.
It was early morning, and the light had only started to creep about the horizon. The jungle was beginning to stir, with strange calls of animals and birds alike. But from the entrance to the darkened shrine, there was a different set of sounds; the first was the sound of doumbek rhythmic drumming, and the other was the haunting sounds of whistling of Bladesong.
Inside the shrine, a pair of figures were locked in combat. Each of their weapons sung with a musical whistle as they cut through the air. Rafelor’s morningstar gave off low notes, while Arnara’s rapier sung high ones; each of their weapons a part of a duet. Rafelor chased Anara around the shrine, his morningstar’s wide arcs finding nothing but air as he tried to hit the more agile elf. When they had started, Arnara was simply faster; and he felt that he was a slow plodding turtle trying to catch an impossibly swift Al-mi’raj. But once he found his rhythm, he quickly matched Arnara’s once faster gait. His arcing swings with the morningstar were no longer wide, but now they were coming closer and closer to hitting her.
But that closer never seemed farther, as Arnara continued to avoid his swings easily. At first, he thought it was a matter of her being faster. But as they continued, he realized that she was somehow anticipating. Rolling her body so his weapons would pass over her or gracefully spinning and parrying, knocking his weapon off course. For the first and perhaps the only time, he sympathized with the Yuan-Ti’s frustration with her. She had cut her way through their nest with the most elegant form of butchery he had ever seen. And that was before she would tilt the table in their groups’ favor. Whether that meant her doubling her speed and the number of strikes she would make. Or the detonation of a ball of fire in their midst. Or even the strangely empowering moment of Rafelor being polymorphed into a savage beast crushing their opponents with his bare fists. Arnara was methodical, precise, and above all prepared for anything. To Rafelor this made her the most dangerous woman her had ever known.
But now respect had turned into frustration, as she continually avoided his blows. She danced effortlessly around Rafelor, while he panted from the exertion trying to land a blow. He then tried to taunt her, “Alright, I see what you’re trying to pull. You think just because you turned me into a giant freaking ape that I’m all ‘monkey-see monkey-do’? Well try this!” Rafelor said and reversed his spin. The heavy weapon whuffed through in the air, and almost found it mark, before Arnara deflected it with her blade.
“You have been predictable. But you understand only half the truth.” Arnara said with that maddening impish smile, which then faded to the picture of serenity she normally wore. Her movements continued to be effortless, elegant and unhurried, even as Ralefor redoubled his efforts. He focused on coming from odd angles and reverting to feints and simple short swings. He found himself getting closer and closer, but each time he thought the morningstar would connect, her rapier simply deflected it just enough to miss its mark. While the sound of metal on metal was a sign of progress, he visibly seethed in frustration as Arnara simply evaded his strikes.
It had been this way since the darkest part of the morning, when Arnara raised her hand and Imbok, 108th son of Yorb ceased his beat on the doumbek. Rafelor then leaned against the pedestal that once held one of the mysterious stone cubes that were somehow tied to the tomb they searched for. “Why…can’t…I…Fu—” Rafelor stammered as he gasped for air. Arnara then approached him and placed her hand on before Arnara lightly touched his mouth with a hand.
“This isn’t about you. The Bladesong makes you harder to hit and increases your speed. But you have seen only a part of it. Now you are ready to see it in whole,” she said approvingly.
“Ready for what?!? All I have been doing is chasing you around this damn shrine.” Rafelor spat.
“For me to chase you,” and Arnara flourished her blade, cutting the air. Pausing a moment, she arched an eyebrow and smirked. On cue, Imbok started the beat again, and then Arnara cut low with her rapier, and smacked the flat of the blade on Rafelor’s thigh. Yelping, he started to retreat, once again finding the rhythm to start the Bladesong once again as Imbok restarted the relentless beat.
But while the first chase was one marked with misses and deflections; this chase echoed with the sounds of Rafelor’s yelping as Arnara’s blade found its way past the half-elf’s guard with every other strike. Arnara thrust and slashed relentlessly, hounding Rafelor around the room. Rafelor was pressed, trying to evade the rapier’s slaps against him.
“Ow, ow, ow!”
“Focus…don’t attack. Color my hair,”
“What? I can barely—”
“Do—“ and Aranda rapped him on the shoulder with the flat of her blade “—What—” and she slapped him in the ribs “—I—” she slashed near his head forcing Rafelor to duck, “—Say!” and she spun slapping the blade on the hand holding the morningstar. Rafelor switched the morningstar to his left and shook his bruised hand in pain. Gritting his teeth, he quickly turned Arnara’s hair a shade of puce. He felt the weave’s eddy’s once again swirl around him. His senses were awash with pain from the rapier’s bruising, from trying to control the weave to make Arnara’s hair an even more unattractive color, and his muscles screaming from the exertion.
“I…am…try—” Raelor started to complain, when he felt the eddies in the twisting Weave starting to smooth. Time seemed to slow, as he watched Arnara move her rapier to thrust at Rafelor. As he watched he could see the weave compress around the tip of her weapon. The compression let him see the direction of the strike and allowed him to raise his morningstar up to deflect the blow. Arnara moved again and twisted, slashing high, and Rafelor countered again knocking the rapier out of position. But on the defection, Rafelor realized that he had left himself open to a riposte. Arnara took full advantage of it, spinning and landing the flat of the blade right under Rafelor’s right arm. The blow was strong enough to knock Rafelor off balance, causing him to trip and fall onto the ground. Imbok stopped the drumming, yawned and waited.
Rafelor, flipped over onto his back and lay there panting, “Da…da…damn…it,”
Arnara stopped and sheathed her blade and knelt down by Rafelor. She then lay a hand on the half-elf’s chest and shook her head. “No…I felt the difference. You could see it. You were reacting to the Weave,” she said with a satisfied tone. “You have connected all the pieces. There is only one thing left.”
“Ah great, what is it this time? Poetry while leaping and jumping? Painting with my feet, while I dance on my hands. Is this where I gotta start juggling crap?” Rafelor said, propping himself on his elbows.
Arnara giggled and shook her head. “No…no…nothing like that. You must choose to do this. Once you choose, I will give you the tattoo that acts as your anchor. Once done, you will be locked into the path; there is no turning back.” Rafelor was about to answer when Arnara put a hand to his lips. “No, not right this moment. You should think about it. But before that, I have a…gift for your hard work.”
“A gift?” Rafelor said confused and sat up fully. “You already gave me the spell book, what more is there?”
Arnara smiled and moved her hands to her head. She then pulled off the electrum band with the single sapphire from her brow. She looked at it fondly for a moment. “I made this in Mirabar after we left Khundrukar. It was something I needed then, something to help me focus. I was distracted by my fears and doubts after Ametrine’s and Pyrite’s deaths and I needed something I could pour myself into and forget. But, thanks to you my focus is sharper now.”
“Thanks? To me?” Rafelor said disbelievingly.
“Teaching someone Bladesong is harder than performing it. But teaching you…is something I have looked forward to and I find…pleasure in it. So now where I used this,” and she held up the headband for Rafelor to see, “as a tool to help focus, you can now use it in the same way. Eventually you can give to someone else as well. Like handing down an heirloom.”
She looked down at the metal band in her hands, turning it around and around. “But I think you will find it of use in your practice and studies. It will make your spells stronger, and it will enhance what you see in the weave.”
She leaned over to place the band on Rafelor’s head, when he stopped her, “Hold up, hold up, I-I can’t take this—”
Arnara smiled, “You are taking nothing. I am giving it to you. If you don’t find value in it, give it to Aegis if you like. But try using it. Do it…for me. Please.”
Rafelor stared at the shiny electrum headpiece, its sapphire glittering in the torch light they had setup in their practice area. Grimacing he nodded and closed his eyes. He felt Arnara hands brush his hair away from his eyes, and then felt the warm metal settle on his brow. He breathed deeply and furrowed his brow a moment.
“Um…I don’t know if this is…URK!” Rafelor’s hands leapt to his temples as searing pain coursed through his mind, causing him to fall backwards. This was no simple headache, it was as if that all the thoughts hidden and suppressed in his mind all rose in insurrection, all rebelling against Rafelor’s sense of self. New paths and different possibilities erupted at once flooding all his perceptions and new perspectives never considered were revealed. Options! Possibilities! Revelations!
“Sorry…I didn’t mention that I also screamed a bit as it bound itself to me. The pain will subside soon,” and she gently patted Rafelor on the shoulder. She stood and gathered her things and motioned to Imbok, who gathered his doumbek.
Rafelor lay on the floor, twitching. His eyes were opened wide as the band’s power coursed through his mind, opening his awareness. His face once contorted in pain, was now slack with an expression of awe, surprise, and even fear.
“You might need some time alone.” Arnara said, wincing guiltily at Rafelor’s predicament. “I’ll be outside waiting for you…and your decision. Take as long as you need,” Arnara said, as she headed towards the entrance of the shrine, with Imbok following. Just as Arnara reached the exit, Imbok the 108th son of Yorb, stopped and turned around and stepped back over to Rafelor. He then leaned over and whispered in the half-elf’s ear:
Arnara was sitting outside of the Shrine of Nangnang, looking thoughtfully at the ripples in the water. She was leaning against a stele of stone and had summoned a ghostly hand and was using its delicate fingers to trace patterns on the water. Nearby Arnara’s ‘advisor’ Imbok, 108th son of Yorb lay flat on his back snoring, exhausted by his fevered drumming. The sun’s warm light had just begun to light up the sky as the stars started to fade.
From behind her, Arnara heard footsteps and she rose to greet Rafelor. The half-elf was walking slowly and steadily, his eyes showing no signs of disorientation or fear. He inhaled, clearing from his lungs the musty air of the shrine. He then turned to look at Arnara and she returned it without expression, her face a mask hiding her thoughts. He then spoke, “Agh, what the hell? No point in randomly deciding to chicken out after all we’ve been through. I’ll do it.”
Arnara, face broke into a warm smile and she leapt forward and hugged Rafelor, who awkwardly tried to escape her sudden embrace. Releasing him, she looked him in eyes, with tears streaming down her cheek.
“I am…happy you have decided to do this. And I apologize now.”
“Apologize? For what?”
“The tattoo…it will be wonderful, as you will guide its form and shape. I’m sure you will be happy with it. But it stings a bit. Actually, it hurts a lot.”
Story VII was done after our first invasion into the Yuan-Ti nest, and Story VIII is after the second attack. Story VII was Rafelor taking a level in Wizard, and now he has leveled up again and has chosen Bladesinger explicitly. But both Raf and I wanted to tell the story on how he got there. And it did end with Arnara giving him a Headband of Intellect, as she ASI'd her INT to max.
SPOILER NOTE: This does describe events in the Tomb of Annihilation. So reader beware.
The group sat in the chamber huddled close to each other, chewing on their rations as they had many times in the past. But in the Tomb of the Nine Gods, the architect left behind several surprises: devious traps and puzzles namely. At first glance they were simple affairs, but it was apparent that mistakes could be costly. Just finding the right door, almost cost three of their lives, if it hadn’t been for their leaders’ quick thinking and use of magic. Arnara wasn’t just smart, she could be downright devious. Her age gave her knowledge and context beyond the rest of the party’s experience. And her intelligence made her an ideal strategist, formulating and guiding the groups successes. Her command of magic gave her access to a vast array of incantation and combined with her grace and poise as a Bladesinger she was almost untouchable in the scrum of combat. Certainly, she could and had jumped into the fray without much warning, but that was because she knew what her peers could do and would do. She was rarely wrong in these matters. But that was before they found the ring.
Usually there was banter or discussion but now the pervasive silence of the tomb’s walls seemed to have chilled the desire for small talk. Now they feared that the tomb had claimed its first victim. Or perhaps its second if you counted that one of their members was now a statue held in safety by the Grung. The overbearing Toddy was now replaced by Eliana, an escaped slave of the Yuan-Ti. But Eliana was too tricked by tomb, her femininity gone and replaced by what someone mentioned was her “hot brother.” She/He/They took it in stride, having faith they could fix this occurrence with prayer, and perhaps some holy blessings when they returned to civilization. But their foolhardiness in drinking from a fountain of water was one thing; Arnara said not to do it, and never let the waters touch her lips.
But the ring was another story. Arnara, was no fool and examined the magical bauble. She said it radiated something called ‘abjuration,’ which Aegis spelled out in plain common as ‘protective magic.’ And Aegis may not have been Arnara’s equal in arcana or smarts, but he was more than capable in magical artifice. Neither saw an issue with the ring, and both knew magics that could address most curses.
And now they all looked at their leader with concern. She normally would sit with them and eat quietly as was her custom. She was not boisterous, or chatty, preferring the others to talk for her. Perhaps this was why they listened to her; when she talked it was always important. So, she rarely contributed to the discussion beyond a correction on a piece of knowledge, or the occasional impish smile at a measure of wit. But not now.
Arnara sat shivering alone on the floor of the tomb apart from her comrades, her arms clutched around her knees. Her head twitched slightly, as she rocked her body back and forth, and stared at the vacant space in front of her. Her breathing was labored, as if she were dancing in combat or was bearing great pain. All of which was very unlike the elf, who’s cool and calm demeanor was a rock the others could count on. The others had tried to include her in their normal circle, but she slapped them away, grunting in the most unelvish, or just the most un-Arnara-ish way. She was focused inwards as she faced some inner demon. And now she sat apart from the others, heedless of their conversation.
Hawthorne chewed on his dried meat as he oiled his hand crossbow. But he did this half-heartedly as he looked at Arnara, confused. “Has she gone completely Barmy?” he wondered aloud.
Shalai sighed and shook his head. The strange white-haired monk had skills and powers that defied even Arnara’s logical explanations. He carried within in himself another…being. One he could communicate with, and this allowed him to touch the minds of others. He rarely did, and he almost always sought permission before doing so. But he now broke this rule as he tried to understand what had happened to Arnara. His face grew alarmed as he shook his head, trying to make sense of what was plaguing Arnara’s mind.
“She’s possessed by something calling itself ‘Obo’laka’ and it claims to be one of the dead Trickster Gods of Omu. So, but what is happening isn’t better than going ‘barmy.’ On one level, it’s like Lai and I trying to talk to each other.”
“You know, I barely understand the idea that you carry someone else around in your head,” Hawthorne noted. “But you…well you two seem to have a grip on things though,” Hawthorne said and then pointed to Arnara “What’s the problem with her?”
Shalai thought a moment, “I have had all my life to talk to and be with Lai. We know each other intimately, and really have a lot in common. We disagree certainly, but…” he turned to look at the elf sympathetically. “…Obo’laka has just arrived and based on my link to them…Arnara and Obo’laka couldn’t be more different. It might be…problematic.”
“You call that ‘problematic?’” Rafelor coughed as he nearly choked on his biscuit. “She’s the reason we have gotten this far. We need her to be…HER!”
“I suspect that is what she is trying to be now,” Elliana’s new gravelly voice said. “Possession is a battle of the self against another. I don’t suspect this to be easy though.”
“Why the hell not?” Rafelor said, his patience nearing its end.
“First if this is ‘Obo’laka’ that means it’s a powerful being; one that was powerful enough to be worshipped as a god. And second…it’s been imprisoned, alone in the darkness of the crypt for centuries. I can’t imagine that it is fully sane.”
“So, we do nothing?” Rafelor exclaimed.
“Well…not nothing. We wait. But its close enough to be nothing. It’s all up to Arnara now.” Elliana said as she looked at the quivering elf.
Inside Arnara’s head it was a torrent of thought and emotions. The presence in her mind was impossible to ignore; it railed in rage against a name they had heard in Omu; Acererak. It hated them, for sealing Obo’laka away in a prison. But this gave Arnara an important piece of information; it wasn’t the only one sealed in the tomb. All the others were trapped here, bound to objects scattered in the depths. So, what Arnara was facing now, was likely to be faced again by another in their group. She had to learn how to deal with Obo’laka.
But it wasn’t going to be easy.
“We must find others! Not I’jin though! Others! Others! All the Others!” Obo’laka’s thoughts rang throughout Arnara’s head.
“Stop shouting!” Arnara pleaded, trying to order the cacophony that swirled in her mind.
“We cannot rest here! Not safe. RISKY. Must go must go. But slow slow safe safe.”
“I need to recover as do others we—” Arnara tried to reason with the noise in her head.
“Not SAFE! Many traps. Many things. Acererak dangerous. Killed me once! No risk worth dying again.” Obo’laka ranted.
Arnara tried to clear her mind, and put her hands to her head, in an attempt to suppress the headache.
“Obo’laka! Stop! I need my friend’s he—”
“Send them first! Let them find the traps. If they die, we will live!” Obo’laka driveled on. “We must not die. No risk risk risk. Not safe safe safe. Must stay that way! No danger no risk no danger no ris---”
“Acererak will pay pay pay. No death again. No tomb. No sleepless slumber. No no no no—”
“—Obo’laka, I nee—”
“Bad bad bad Acererak. Almost as bad as I’jin. I’jin bad bad bad. No help no help no help. Let them suffer and sleepless slumber…ber…ber”
“Stop it ple---”
“—I’jin bad. Acererak bad. Tomb bad. Traps traps traps. Others can find traps. Must be safe safe safe safe.”
Arnara gritted her teeth in pain, and she clutched her hands to her head and grunted. Before shouting in her mind:
For a moment, the storm quieted down, the dull roar fading to more of a whispering breeze. It stayed this way for a while as Arnara slowly took in breathes to calm herself and waited. Finally, there came more motes of thought, but far quieter and more tentative.
“Oh. Sorry. Long, long time.”
“I have to help my friends, there will be risk—”
“No no No NONORISK!” the voice became agitated and the storm began to build again.
“Quiet!” Arnara shouted again, and the storm faded somewhat. “Acererak isn’t safe. The tomb isn’t safe. WE aren’t safe. We need to work together to do beat him. I’ll keep myself and you safe. But you need to…quiet down. Let me think. Let me keep us safe!”
“Try try try try…”
“That’s a bunch of naughty word!” Rafelor spat. “That ring comes off. NOW!” and Rafelor stood and moved towards Arnara. She didn’t respond to his approach; her head still shook with tremors. He knelt and pulled from her knees her left arm, and gripped the wrist tightly, as he tried to pull away the ancient ring now encircling her finger. As he tried, the elf suddenly stood with a scared look in her eyes and spoke in a quick nervous voice, “NononoNO Risky risky risky! You no take it!” and she stood and spun forcing Rafelor’s arm behind him, as she pushed his wrist upwards along his spine. She then drew her rapier with her right hand and thrusted the blade towards Rafelor’s exposed back.
Rafelor shut his eyes tightly, waiting to feel the flames from the blade to skewer and roast his heart. But then he heard the blade clatter to the ground and his arm was suddenly freed, as Arnara spoke, sounding like herself again.
“No. No. He isn’t a risk…he’s…he’s…he’s a friend.” He then heard her step away and he opened his eyes and turned to look at the elf.
Her face looked tired, and her eyes were half opened. She backed up and leaned against a wall for support and gave a deep sigh, as she bowed her head. “I’m sorry about that Rafelor. It shouldn’t…happen again.” She took a deep breath and then bent over slowly and retrieved her blade and returned it to its sheath. She looked very fatigued now, but she turned to look at Shalai and said;
“I do not like this…but I think I understand you and Lai…a little.”
The party stood at the top of the stairs looking down with trepidation. The puzzle the Lich had presented was nothing short of a gauntlet hidden behind the carved facades of wardrobe. Each one a taste of a faraway plane and each providing a surprise. But this wasn’t clear at first to Arnara, until a door summoned back a slain foe, Old Yarrick. In the distance of the plane beyond, was a crimson sky, with an iron cube, hanging like a baleful moon in the distance. On then did she piece together a story Myrai told her. A place where the spirits of Gruumush’s and Maglubyiet’s followers fought each other in eternal combat on the plane of Acheron. A plane of iron cubes colliding with each other, allowing enteral war to spread from place to place.
Old Yarrack was tougher than before and he seemed to remember them in a haze of hate. But he was a minor distraction as was the Osyluth from Baator and the wisps from the Shadowfell. But it was the Mezzoloths from Gehenna that almost killed them. Arnara remembered Myrai saying that the ‘Loths’ were the epitome of selfish evil, and they were all fearsome opponents. She wasn’t wrong, as the poison fumes the fiends emitted, burned at Arnara’s lungs and skin. They were cagey, adapting to the sudden change of Rafelor into a Sword Titan, by simply dismissing the magic. The toxic clouds, the loss of light were all new problems they had to fight through. It made the sad appearance of a hapless monodrone from Mechanus seem like a cruel joke; on the monodrone. But somehow Arnara guessed the monodrone wouldn’t get it, as much as Arnara didn’t understand Acerarak’s strange joke of going to different worlds using furniture meant for clothing.
But where the challenge and the fear were a straightforward response to a fight to the death. It was very understandable. The newest gauntlet was a different matter.
Looking down the hall, there were signs of decay. Broken bits of armor, shields and weapons scattered across the floor, all in from of graven mural of corpses and death along the wall. Just looking down the hall gave Arnara the shivers, and the sense of a trap that was waiting to entertain their hidden opponent.
--Let someone else go first. No! Let them ALL go first. Least risk risk risk
Quiet Obo’laka! Hard enough to thi--
“I’ll go down first,” Shalai said.
--See see! Let the sacrificial lamb..no GOAT go. Let him find the trap!
Obo’laka, I need you to--
“Aaaauggh!” the human screamed, and Arnara shook her mind free from Obo’Laka’s ravings. Her sword drawn, she looked for the foe or the trap that Shalai faced. But as she looked around, she was puzzled; she saw nothing around Shalai; just him patting his clothing madly. Arnara was about to step forward to ascertain what was wrong when Aegis spoke.
With horror she now understood the graven mural; it wasn’t of death per se. It was of decay. As she watched, Shalai’s clothing and equipment rotted away into scraps around him. As each piece of cloth and leather hit the ground it moldered away to whisps of ash and dust; the buckles from the belts he wore, and the even the darts corroded and pitted into heaps of metallic scraps on the ground. In moments, Shalai stood there dressed only in his strange glowing tattoos.
But it didn’t make sense to Arnara what was wrong. Why the screams of pain? But then she saw the truth as the naked man turned around, his staff discarded. In his hands was the violin he cared for, a gift from his mother, and the last thing of hers he had. And there in his hands, it slowly rotted away; the bridge buckling as the body collapsed into itself, and the strings snapping away into dust. As it crumbled away before him, the pain on his face was clearer than his accidental trip into acid he faced earlier. He fell to his knees in tears; defeated by not a foe, but by his cherished memory moldering away into nothingness in his very hands. Arnara’s heart ached, understanding this loss keenly; to losing something before your very eyes, unable to stop it.
Like when Myrai left.
Arnara told her to go. To do what must be done. To seek and experience. To stop the Kershok. It was all the right things to say to her friend all those years ago.
But she never gave her friend a hint on the pain it caused herself. How Arnara wanted anything but for her to leave. Someone that could stand beside her and help her through what was coming. How to face the challenges of rule, obligation and duty. All part of a destiny that frightened her. She wasn’t ready to face the new. Not alone. All she wanted was a friend she could be honest with. One not trapped in the traditions and forms of elven culture. A perspective she grew to trust and admire.
And now lost to her.
“This is…bad,” Rafelor said running his fingers through his hair. “How are we going to deal with this?”
“Well, it seems not to affect his staff, so I am guessing enchanted items are safe,” Aegis said, who set down his pack on the ground. “In the meantime—”
“You can’t be serious!” Hawthorne said aghast.
“Yeah Aegis. No one wants to see Hawthorne naked and afraid!” The snide voice came from ‘Yaka’ a talking skull that Hawthorne had touched, and now was following him. It claimed to be impervious to harm and also said that only after being fed with gemstones would it leave. And so far, it seemed to be true. But Yaka was anything but quiet, and it took a perverse joy verbally torturing Hawthorne, and ever prepared with a snide comment.
However, Hawthorne was getting excited and ignored the floating skull’s barb. He dropped his crossbow and started to undress. “Maybe this can get rid of that skull.”
Arnara swallowed, shaking her head slightly and saying nothing. She knew that between the Artificer and herself they were the best suited to solving many of the tomb’s traps and puzzles. But they had been searching diligently up the hall and nothing concealed was here. Which meant, like other rooms, that a solution was on the other side of the hall.
Arnara felt her cheeks grow warm, as she put down her own pack and unbuckled the belts holding her rapier and pouches. Taking off her boots, she fumed at Acererak at this shame. She had no idea if the others knew what kind of violation this was to any elf. The Tel’Quessir as a culture did not shun nudity; it was a natural glorious thing the natural shape and form of the body. Nudity was a part of nature and was in many ways a sacred thing to protect and cherish. But this view did not extend to sharing it with N’Tel’Quessir. It was shameful to be seen by outsiders in such a way. Humans especially were warned of, as they seemed to have an almost, unnatural fascination with elves and other fey. It was very true with Myrai’s companion, Iesa. He was chasing any elf he could, and many avoided him during his stay.
This was one of the reasons that finding a bed for Myrai was such a scandal; that Arnara was perhaps sharing something borderline sacred with her, even though she was ha’celas. But Arnara never revealed herself to her that way. Even when they went to the warm spring pools to bathe, Arnara ensured she was covered from casual view, even though Myrai wasn’t bothered by her own state of undress. It was the reason Arnara used her magic to keep herself clean. So, she would never need to undress in front of her friends. It wasn’t a trust problem; it was just simply the most improper thing an elf could do.
Arnara was near tears as she pulled off her boots and the knitted hose underneath down her legs. Aegis had already stripped down to the essentials, which was essentially nothing and now was kneeling naked next to Shalai trying to comfort him. Arnara unlaced her leather bracers, exposing her own Bladesong tattoo. A tattoo she had shown to only a few; namely her master and only recently Rafelor. Not her cousins. Not her father. It was a graceful weaving of ink around her forearms, colored in purple and greens. They wrapped around her arm like fine ivy on white marble. It was a complex pattern that matched her; the appearance of elegance and poise, but with knots of chaos and confusion when you looked closely.
Gritting her teeth, she unwrapped the front of her dress from her body, and slowly folded it. Everyone was looking down the stairs at Aegis and Shalai. Then Hawthorne bounded down the stairs, with only a pair of bracers to his name, and the floating skull Yaka following close behind. Hawthorne turned to look at the golden skull with a grin, and slowly it melted as the skull simply…didn’t.
“Oh, come on! I thought this would work!” Hawthorne exclaimed bitterly.
“Told you; nothing to see here. NOTHING!” the skull jibed as it circled around the demoralized Sigilite.
“I hate this cursed place,” Aegis said fuming as he patted Shalai on the shoulder and then started moving to the end of the hallway.
“Definitely not what I want to be my final resting place,” Rafelor agreed grimly.
“Well…we could be in a worse place,” Eliana said trying to sound cheerful.
“True, you could be stuck in Hawthorne’s head!” Yaka replied spinning around, teeth chattering, and dodging Hawthorne’s attempt to slap her.
Arnara laid the dress down and grasped her rapier by the pommel. She was shivering and after some halfhearted attempts, gave up trying to find ways to keep herself covered. The tears of embarrassment poured down over her warm cheeks. She was about to walk down the stairs to look for a solution, and put her shame on full display when Aegis called out from the far side of the hall
“Hey, I found an ivory ring here in a bull’s mouth. Give me a momen…ah crap it turned to dust. Wait! Throw something down the stairs!”
“Sure,” said Rafelor and he tossed an iron piton from one of the packs down the stairs. It tumbled end over end until it lay next to Shalai, but unlike his things, it did not pit or rust. It kept its shape and form.
“Yes!” shouted Aegis.
But if Rafelor noticed, he said nothing as his eyes were locked onto Arnara, who stood there her body and soul bared to any who had turned to notice. Her emotions here on full display, not as the future leader of a house, or the nominal leader of this band in this trap infested tomb. But as a person, vulnerable and cloaked in nothing but their tears and shame. Doing what was up until a moment ago, was a needed thing.
As Aegis’ cry of victory echoed in the hall, everyone else was breathing a sigh of relief. Arnara simply bowed her head and looked around apprehensively.
Rafelor said nothing and averted his eyes. He took a couple of steps forward towards her and turned around. He pulled a blanket from his pack and held it wide, shielding Arnara’s state from the others. Rafelor heard rustling of cloth, silk, leather and the sounds of cord being tied, and buckles fastened. Finally, Arnara whispered in Elvish into Rafelor’s ear. “Sal o, Aral’Sha.” Rafelor lowered the blanket, an Arnara walked around him, her tears dried as if nothing had occurred.
"I shouldn't be able to gag, but seeing you naked as reawakened new levels of disgust in me,” Yaka said aloud drifting around Hawthorne. Arnara jerked her head towards the skull and was about to speak when Hawthorne noticed Arnara’s reaction.
“You'd think someone call an elf ugly?” the ranger said.
“I know that…many have an unhealthy interest in elves,” Arnara said straightening out her top. “I but never really considered if was…considered attractive to others. Or not.” She said bowing her head down.
But Rafelor didn’t pay much attention to that, as he was still turning over in his head what Arnara said to him.
(note: if you haven't played through Tomb of Annihaltion, there are some spoilers here.)
“You all look stronger! what happened?" the booming voice of the armored Toddy said, echoing in the manor house. "The southerner still looks like a coward however."
“He is,” Yaka said quickly agreeing, the floating skull nodded and bobbed in midair.
“Gold!” beamed the knight pointing at Yaka without a hint of surprise. He then turned to stare at Shalai quizzically. The monk returned the stare and waited for Toddy’s next thunderous statement.
"Why do i have a feeling that you are different now?” Toddy boomed the question never taking his eyes off of Shalai.
“Ah gee, must be how long you've been in that statue. Those eyes of yours ain't working right anymore, eh?” Hawthorne said dismissively.
“No, no I smell…”Toddy paused and then lifted his visor up a finger width, and bent down to smell Shalai. “…Goat.” Shalai shuddered at the memory of the curse that had afflicted him, but his reaction escaped Toddy’s notice.
"Ah nah, that'd be the beastmen we fought back in the tomb, right Shalai? Nicked 'em good we did!" Hawthorn deflected.
Toddy appeared unconvinced and only gave a low “Hmmmmmm…”
“I- uh- yeah! We really... nicked em.” Shalai said eagerly, flinching at the thought of relieving his recent transformation.
"Good!” said Toddy approving and closing his visor again. “What did they look like?”
“They looked like a... goat man.” Shalai said shuddering. “Horns, hooves...and those weird eyes…”
Toddy nodded sagely, his helm squeaking as metal rubbed metal around the gorget. "Yes, they are horrifying. I once had a subordinate lay with a similar creature to save the company; a triple breasted beast woman."
Hawthorne almost interjected, but he stopped himself, looked at Yaka and then counted it out on his fingers and mumbled quietly to himself.
"I don't remember what it was called,” Toddy boasted with a chuckle. “It had wings and talons with a body of a woman.”
"A harpy?" Hawthorn said with a note of distaste.
After a moment Toddy responded. "No that sounds like something you get at a brothel."
From behind Toddy, Arnara placed a hand on the large man and said, "I am glad that you got to walk away from the tomb. It...was important to me that we didn't leave you behind. And excuse me...I need to bring tea upstairs to...myself and I...uh we need to make some decisions." Arnara then left the room and heads upstairs with a tray of tea and two cups floating behind her.
"Ah! Thank you for your concern,” said the man. “I would’ve escaped there eventually, I’m sure.” He said confidently.
"That I was sure of,” Hawthorn said, while Yaka shook her head in disagreement. “Half-expected ya to launch yourself at Acererak outta gods know where during our fight. Always seemed like that kinda cutter to me.”
“Acererak the lich?” Said Toddy.
“If I were there his head wouldn’t be on his shoulder!” Toddy boasted with a laugh, to which the others laughed along.
Rafelor and Aegis however ignored the ribald and tasteless conversation between the others, and both watched Arnara walk quietly upstairs, her head bowed in thought as the tea followed her.
“That can’t be easy,” Aegis said looking at Rafelor. “I don’t even know what to say to her…or to…her. Does she even have her own name?”
Rafelor shook his head. “I don’t know. And I don’t know what to say to either of them either. I’m not sure they do.” Rafelor turned to look at the tiefling. “But knowing Arnara, she’ll have something planned.”
Arnara moved quietly upstairs and proceeded down the luxurious hall, with the tray following silently behind her. She came to a door, with Morrigan perched on the bust of some human male next to it, standing guard. Arnara opened it and slipped inside, the tray following dutifully behind her.
The room was a well-appointed bedroom, with polished wood panels, and green curtains made of a gauze like material. The wide wooden bed had four mahogany posts and its bedding shared the same color of green. There lying on pillows, reclined a woman who took in the air in labored breathes. She was at least a foot and a half shorter than Arnara, and the skin on her arms and neck were tight showing the bones on an underfed frame. Her right wrist curled up unnaturally against the forearm, and her left arm was shorter than the right. Her hips were cocked in a manner, suggesting that standing and walking straight would be with great difficulty, as one leg was shorter than the other, and her left foot curled under itself. But as much as her body was broken, her face shared the same winsome features as the elf bringing the tea. Where Arnara was refined, this elf was disheveled; her silver hair was in a shaggy bob, her nails cracked, her skin a mess of scabs and cuts. But they otherwise shared the same blue eyes and fine delicate features. And in those eyes held the promise of great intelligence, and yet were haunted by memories of pain and suffering.
The reclining figure struggled to sit up. After some effort she braced their twisted back up on the padded head board and looked at Arnara patiently.
“I brought you…us…our favorite tea,” Arnara said awkwardly. “But I suppose you know that already.”
Arnara’s twisted double nodded quietly and reached out with her left hand. Arnara made a motion and the teapot tilted and poured out the tea, its spicy note filling the room. A cup then floated to the broken elf’s hand, as Arnara sat down on the edge taking the second cup in hand.
“I do…and I know how awkward you…we feel. And yes, I still hurt a lot, but I am feeling better.” The double said softly, looking at Arnara with concern.
Arnara looked down, struggling for the words. “This is so strange; you know everything I know and yet I know nothing of your thoughts. And you know all my concerns and worries about you…us. My uncertainly. My doubts. I remember telling Rafelor that I dreamed only once, and I didn’t like it then. This is worse. a waking nightmare to me…us. A cruel joke by the Sewn Sisters…if I had thought about it more I—”
“—Would have killed the last one for what that twisted coven had done.” Arnara’s double said. “But we know that the moment is past. It’s too late for many things.”
The pair looked at each other; the broken one feeling the pain of Arnara, along with pain left over from the tortures she had faced. Tortures that Arnara couldn’t imagine fully, and her grasp of the horror was far off from the reality of her broken twin. It was in fact, far worse than Arnara suspected. But perhaps nothing was worse than the two of them coming to terms with the new reality they faced.
“I knew that hags had strange magic. Horrible magic…but…this is so wrong. And I don’t even know how to fix this. If it can be fixed.”
“I was in that cage for…days?” Arnara’s double started. “Weeks? I don’t know now. I wished for death then. Quick, slow it didn’t matter. An end of any kind.” The double said quietly. “And every step you made, every wound you suffered, every doubt you had, made me wonder about the nightmare I was in. And yet…your moments of care, and compassion with all of them gave me…such…hope,” and the tears poured down her cheeks. “I prayed to Selune, to Corelleon, to all the Seldarine. Every step you came closer, every puzzle you all solved, every challenge you faced was almost more torture than the pain the hags inflicted. I dared to dream you would…succeed. That we could even meet at all. “
She stopped a moment as she choked on the lump in her throat. “And then to watch you, charge at the…lich itself. Throwing your spells and sword at him. I was never more afraid then as the hope welled up inside me, fearing you…all of you would falter. And never was I prouder of you…us for succeeding. That not just you, but your companions as well succeed in saving a world and each other. The elation you felt, when you saved Toddy from his stone prison. Nothing could have brought me more joy. Joy I can only use words to tell you, while I feel the pain of what you see when you look at me.”
Arnara now cried as she listened to herself. She moved the cup to the invisible servant leaving the tea to hang there in the air. She then leaned down to hug herself, letting the tears flow freely. Talking into the shoulder of her damage self she said. “I’ll take you back to the forest. I’ll talk to the elders. I’ll go to Candlekeep, Mulhorand, even Thay if I must. Anywhere to find a way to make this…right, better, something, anything.”
The twin, patted Arnara on the back nodding. “I know. I know you will. But…I know you know that you should enjoy the victory. I’ll be fine resting here…I can feel the joy no matter how far away you are. Then we go home, and then…well…we’ll find an answer. I can look in the libraries and scrolls, while you roam and seek out what you can. But that’s tomorrow. Celebrate today…please. For me?”
Arnara sat up and chuckled. “Wouldn’t that be self-serving?” The other Arnara laughed and shrugged. “I guess so…but I won’t tell you if you don’t want to hear that.”
Both women laughed and both dried their tears. Arnara stood up and opened the door.
“There’s a bell there on the table…ring it if you need…me. After all I’m good at guessing, but I’m not a mind reader like you.”
“I work with what I have,” the double said smiling. “Go.”
Arnara nodded, and left closing the door behind her. All the while the mishappen double shook her head.
“Am I really that serious all the time?”
So...the clone is a throwaway bit in the lair of the Sewn Sisters; the DM is to pick a player and there you have a clone to spy on the party. But as it turned out, the DM chose Arnara, the party leader (which makes the most sense if you want to spy on a group), but the module doesn't even touch on the implications. So the whole setup is the DM's fault
What happens next is a collaboration between myself and other player on what happen to the clone, while Arnara is questing looking for a cure.
The last rays of sunlight were fading quickly, as night settled into the small town of Daggerford. Most of the shops had closed their doors, while the River Shining and the Silver Flood Inn had thrown open their tap room doors to merchants and locals alike. Walking with a bemused smile on his face, a half-elf turned from Horse Way into Kauth Alley to a small building in the corner. It wasn’t much, a pair of rooms on the lower floor, and a loft to sleep in. Above the door hung a small sign with the letters “RKO” carved into it. But it was all his and his alone, tucked away from the bustle of the marketplace.
He walked to the door and pulled a key from his pouch and unlocked it. He then stepped inside talking aloud saying, "Another job, another way to keep the water on." But as he closed the door, his smug expression changed to that of shock. There behind his desk, seated on his chair was a familiar woman.
Her fine elven features were the mark of someone of high status. She had a short bob of silver hair, and her blue eyes were engrossed in reading a book from his shelf. The half-elf stood there in dumb silence for a moment. He then noticed that the woman was looking at not just any book, but his journal of adventures over the past year. As she looked it over her hand wrote notes on the margins with a quill stained with red ink.
"Evening Rafelor,” the woman said with a impish smile. “I see your story's style and your taste for embellishment haven't changed. Your penmanship is better though."
"Huh” Rafelor stammered. “Wha...Arnara?"
"Observation skills still on par too,” Anara noted as she wrote another comment in the journal.
Rafelor attempted to brush off his surprise and said indignantly, "You know, I paid good money for that desk!"
She looks up with a wan smile. "I see that, it’s nice. So is the chair. You are doing well for yourself," she said as she gestured to the room at large. Finished with her work, the journal floated to its normal spot on the shelf, and Arnara stood and walked around the edge of the room. "I hope you don't mind the...sudden intrusion."
"Hmph." Rafelor returns to a normal grin, “Tough luck, we just closed."
"So... asking a friend for a favor is out of the question?" A bottle of elven brandy grasped by a ghostly hand, floated out of a pouch on Arnara's hip, and landed on his desk.
"A favor, huh?" Rafelor walked towards his desk, kicking a chair from the other end of the room towards Arnara's...no HIS...desk and sat down upon it. "Perhaps some overtime wouldn't hurt. So, what's going on?"
Arnara turned her back to Rafelor, her head bowed. "It’s my twin...she's...she's was in a lot of pain when we first found her. And I thought bringing her home would help her,” Arnara said pausing as if she were trying to compose herself. “She’s…much worse now...and her mental state is unstable." Arnara turned to glance at Rafelor, "We seem to be sharing...a soul. But because of what—" She hit the wall with a closed fist "—the Sewn Sisters did...Its painful for her. Especially if I am in the same room,” and Arnara turned again looking away from Rafelor.
"Mmm..." Rafelor scratched his chin "That's not good."
Arnara nodded, "And... imagine for a moment, that Papazotl never stopped talking to you, in your head." Arnara looked down, her face tense. "That's what I am to her. Every thought, every action...floods into her. But she has thoughts and actions of her own. When we are together in the same room...she gets...confused...frustrated...violently so. It’s easier when I stay away...the farther...the more different...the better." Arnara said softly before turning to look at the half-elf. "That's why I need your help."
"So, what can I do?" Rafelor said, unclear what Arnara might ask for.
"I spoke with a number of my kin and we have some ideas on what can be done. My father and King Melandrach have already sent messengers to Evermeet. They believe that a spell of Elven High Magic can help her in a way that normal magic cannot. A ritual called Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess. But even when we find someone that is willing to help, we need to do something about my...our soul. The best chance would be to find something from the fallen empire of Netheril and their knowledge of necromancy, which are in two different places. One place of knowledge is Candlekeep. I want you to...help my twin reach Candlekeep and help her research the tomes there. She can pay the entry...but she needs...a lot of help. Moving around, climbing stairs, getting her fed, manipulating objects, helping her to the…those type of things."
Rafelor leaned back in his chair "Seems simple enough. Consider it done."
Arnara gives a Rafelor a sad smile. “You might want to wait a moment. Nothing is that simple. Because of what I will be doing...she may be at risk. And you as well. Remember our 'friend' in the Heart of Ubtao?"
Rafelor shifted his posture, suddenly leaning forward intrigued, "Yeah, I do. What about them?"
“I wasn't sure originally, but I confirmed through some of Eliana's friends that she worked for a Zulkir in Thay. Specifically, the Zulkir Szass Tam. He is the Zulkir of Necromancy, a powerful lich, and commands the Legion of Bone in Thay. He also has the largest collection of Necromantic knowledge since the fall of Netheril. And he isn't...exactly pleased with us."
"One of Acererak's buddies, I take it?"
Arnara shook her head with a smile "No... a competitor that is only a couple of centuries old. He wanted to capture and control the Soulmonger, remember. They are both similar in that they both collect phylacteries of other Liches to force them to serve. Although I think Acererak has a head start by several millennia on Szass Tam. But regardless, somewhere in Szass's vast libraries may be an answer that can help…us.” Arnara swallows as she looks at Rafelor, trying to maintain her calm. She crossed her arms across her chest as if chilled. "And... I’m going to go to Thay and find out if he does. I...I...may not come back from that."
Rafelor looked at Arnara for a moment, his mouth agape before he finally spoke, "...What? Hang on a second! You're not going alone, are you?"
Arnara shook her head again. "No... I am not. A contact has reached out to me, that has knowledge of Sszas Tam and wishes to weaken him. She has also found some others to help. But, I need to keep my twin safe. I cannot have her found and interrogated like the Sewn Sisters did to learn about the rest of our party. I don't want to risk Szass learning about me or others in the same way. And since all of us are known to the Zulkir, I can't take anyone else that travelled in the Chult with me. But I still need her safe.” Arnara looks away from Rafelor, her eyes closed. “And if I don't come back...well...she truly will be...Arnara."
The room was silent for a moment before Arnara turned to look at Rafelor again, “I don't know what will happen. But I am the only one that can afford the risk. And time isn't on my side...I don't know how long she can keep herself together."
"I'm...not sure I understand."
Arnara moved to Rafelor and took his hands. Rafelor noted that hers trembled as she spoke, "My...existence and hers are entwined or perhaps a better word is entangled. And as I said, I'm driving her...insane. And we have even less of an idea what happens if...one of us does die. We might be separate, or we might both pass on. And we don't know if what the hags did to link us is temporary or if we tried to break it and I were suddenly flooded with all her thoughts...I might lose myself. So...” She looked at Rafelor in the eyes, with her own starting to tear up. "I need you to stay with her. Keep her safe in Candlekeep. Be her researcher, her manservant, her guardian...and most of all, her friend and keep her sane. And hopefully...with some luck, either she or I find a way to separate ourselves from each other safely. Will you help her...me...us?" Arnara begged.
"I..uh..." he started with uncertainty.
"I know I may be asking a lot...most of this is not in your comfort zone."
Rafelor lets out a deep sigh, leaning against the desk. "You know I can't say no to something like this. But I can't say that I like it either."
Arnara nodded "It isn't fair to ask at all. And I don't like what's happening to us either. You can say no...but...you are the closest one to me; closer than most of my own family now. And you are the best possible stabilizing influence there may be for her. And if I don't survive...you can help her return to the forest for the Akh'Faen'Tel'Quess."
"So, she's staying here instead of the woods? That's fine. But in some sense, you won’t have anything to lose. I on the other hand..."
Arnara shooks her head. "She is in the Misty Forest staying with House Ustina. I got permission from King Melandrach for you to enter and escort her to Candlekeep. I have made arrangements for you to be guided in and out of the forest."
"That's gonna be a lot of round trips," Rafelor remarked.
"Well...you can stay a little while as a guest before you go. You might need to push her on my...her chair to see things. And I hear that Candlekeep does have a decent bar and inn in its walls...so there is that."
"How long are you going to be?"
"I don't exactly know. But...based on what was proposed, it won't be long. In fact, once we enter Thay we will have a very limited amount of time. Perhaps no more than a week or two. But we aren't ready to start yet...so the sooner you can get her to Candlekeep and keep her safe the better. Perhaps she will find something before I do...but..." Arnara turned away "I admit I am afraid. I was afraid to come here to ask you for this. And I am afraid on what I have to do. And afraid what might happen if I fail. But I don't seem to have a choice." She the suddenly turned and wrapped her arms around Rafelor, her head buried in his chest, as she openly sobbed.
"Hey, Hey. What's all this about?" Rafelor consoled the elf. “You already took down one lich, what makes you think you can't do another? Were you not the only one that challenged Acererak head on?"
Arnara shook her head still crying, “You have no idea how bad the last couple of weeks have been...how...broken she is. I... I thought we would have time to solve what's happening. But...it’s too fast...everything feels rushed. The Soulmonger was easy...this...this is so much more personal."
Rafelor sighed has he held Arnara. "No... sorry. You're right. The tomb was my trial. That was an evaluation of me determining whether or not I deserved to live. Despite my high doubts, I made it through to the end. As twisted as fate may be, perhaps you're in the same boat now? And if you are, then it's also possible that you could find many more answers than the ones you seek."
Still clutching Rafelor, the elf nodded "So little time..." She looked up at Rafelor whispering, “Thank you."
He shrugs “I haven’t done anything yet.”
"Yes...you have." Arnara pulled herself away and tried to compose yourself. "So... are you prepared for your most difficult trial yet?"
“Toughest trial yet? Given what we’ve been through already, I find that hard to believe.”
"I suppose that is a matter of perspective," a male voice said from the corner of the room. Stiffening up, Rafelor turned as he realized that Arnara wasn't alone. There leaning against the wall, was an older elf with long silvery hair and violet eyes. He wore a simple breastplate of mithral, and an elegant longsword hung on his hip. His features were as fine as Arnara’s and the family resemblance was clear; the same cheekbones and a similar jawline. But what stood out most was his bearing; he exuded confidence and authority as he looked at Rafelor with detached amusement.
"Rafelor,” Arnara said, backing away from the half-elf and gesturing at the second elf. “May I introduce you to your guide. This is the Sovereign of my House, Kylan Ustina.” Rafelor stood there, his mouth open wide as Arnara said the obvious.
This is a collaborative story that a friend (aka Rafelor), the DM and I wrote over Discord as a filler between Arnara's adventures in Chult, and her moving to Thay. The story revolves around her clone, and the unintended consequences of not being killed by the hags when the players arrive.
But a little background is in order. Rafelor is technically Arnara's apprentice, having taught him to be a bladesinger during the course of Tomb of Annihilation. She did this, because Rafelor's player felt that the tomb was a personal challenge and that he was fighting to prove he was a person of value and this was Arnara's way of helping. During the adventure there was a lot of character development done with Arnara, and why she was adventuring and not at home with with her family in the Misty Forest.
The easy answer was that she was inspired by Myrai to do so. But the real reason has a lot to do with that the Ustina household is...a little broken. And simply put for reasons (that are being revealed in the next several posts) Arnara and her father Kylan do not get along, with Arnara being a perpetual disappointment to Kylan. I had always had that as part of Arnara's flaws that she "By my words and actions, I often bring shame to my family."
Ultimately this is a story about family, and the lengths they will go to support each other.