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Session Stories - Moments in Roleplaying (updated 6/15/2023)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, anything else?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or perhaps it is more accurate to talk about it it is more about Arnara's clone. Either way, I really enjoyed co-writing this piece with 'Rafelor,' aka Wilpower784. And I hope everyone else enjoys the results.
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Lizard folk in disguise
Story XIV - In the Stacks
Opening note:
So...Arnara is now in Thay, and that is a interesting tale.

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

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

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

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

"Raf. Rafelor."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sirrah...its locked."

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

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

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

"—And I have to follow the rules!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is that that the V'ziir dude?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyrite's Journal


Corrected by Arnara, 1st Daughter of House Ustina


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holy @##%!...”

Irony looked at Rafelor “What did you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk about killing someone with kindness...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That's what they call me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ Yu--Yu--Yurtrus.”

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

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

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

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

“Are-are you okay?”

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

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

Her heart was no longer beating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You've mentioned that before.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is?” she asked puzzled.

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

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

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


Lizard folk in disguise
Story XVI - Regrets of Innocence Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“On one condition,” Zinetra said solemnly.

“And what…what do you require?”

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

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

Wholesome family fun...if you can consider anything in Thay wholesome.
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Lizard folk in disguise
Story – XVII- Daggers of the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!” Irony said exasperated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, when do we start?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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