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#1 Tempest


    Cue Ominous Music

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Posted 23 December 2012 - 03:53 PM

I wrote this for theacefes as a Christmas gift, and with her permission am posting it publicly. It focuses on the characters and events of the Sarah, Auren Aseph, and Valerie NPC mods.

From the outside, it was an unremarkable building, distinguishable from the rest of the houses in the town only by being built of stone rather than wood. But, for those with the proper senses, the building stuck out like a sore thumb in Quaervarr. Powerful magic, carefully hidden from those with more mundane senses, may have been common further south in Silverymoon, but not in the villages dotting the Silver Marches. Nor was the symbol inscribed on the building’s front door – a gauntlet shrouded in fire. But the visitors were unusual, too. Both were women, the leader short and slim with red hair, dark green eyes, and attire that managed a satisfactory compromise between aristocratic fashion and the multifunctional enchanted robes of a mage. Her companion, taller and far more heavily built, wore enchanted plate armor, light as a feather and more durable than a castle wall. She also openly carried a pair of swords on either hip, one which blazed with fire when drawn, and one powerful necromantic blade turned to good purpose. The noblewoman, on the other hand, was seemingly unarmed.

“She’s good.” Duchess Nalia de’Arnise admitted to her companion. “Say what you will about village innkeepers and local gossip, but I don’t think we would have found them otherwise. I think it’s safe to say that they didn’t really want to be found.”

“If they didn’t want to be found,” Auren Aseph-de’Arnise retorted, “We wouldn’t be looking for the self-proclaimed ‘Ranger-Protector of the southern Moonwood’ and her wife. Now if you’re quite done admiring the magic, miss de’Arnise, I’m going to knock. In case you hadn’t noticed, it is snowing and very cold.”

The duchess nodded sheepishly, and her raven-haired companion walked past her to knock firmly on the house’s white oak door. Then again, when there was no response save the door rattling. And again. Only when Auren rapped on the door with the hilt of her sword did the house finally open, revealing a brown-haired woman of average height but muscular build, her features still youthful but worn by weather and more battles than many warriors twice her age have fought. Still, warm grey eyes lit up in recognition of her visitors, and the woman forced the door the rest of the way open.

“Sorry about that.” Sarah Lysander shook her head. “Valerie’s been swearing she’ll visit the carpenter and make arrangements to get that damn door unstuck for a month now. Knowing her, I’ll still be reminding her about it next year. At any rate, come on in. I always have a pot of hot tea available in this weather.”

Auren and Nalia nodded, and followed. The interior of the Lysander home was testament to the magic Nalia had sensed, being far larger on the inside than the outside. Everything in the entry hall was unremarkable enough, and Sarah lead the visitors into a well-furnished living room where heavily padded chairs and couches huddled in a semicircle around a roaring fireplace. The table at the center of the arrangement was currently dominated by a large, brown cat curled up in the warmth of the fire, and a pot of tea warmed over the open flame. On the mantelpiece above the fire were an unusual collection of artifacts. Taralash’s longbow, now better known as Sarah’s bow, occupied a place of honor at the center, Gond’s bowstring as unblemished as the day that god sent the artifact to Toril. Two matched amulets of the Seldarine, gifts from a grateful elf queen. A massive dragon’s fang, perfectly preserved. And above it all, the bottom glimmering from protective magic, a painting of six women standing together at the base of some colossal tree. Three of them were younger versions of the women gathered in the room this cold winter’s night.

“So, how are you doing?” Sarah asked as she brought a tray of glasses from the kitchen and began to pour everyone tea. “I know we haven’t been able to come down to Amn since your wedding. The Moonwood manages to be even more troubled than the Cloakwood, and Valerie’s busy with some project in the lab. No offense, Nalia, but I let my eyes glaze over whenever she starts talking magic.”

“No offense taken.” Nalia allowed herself a soft laugh as she hung her cloak near the fire to try, then took an offered glass of tea. “There are days I wish I had let Auren talk me into running away like you did. From slaying dragons to negotiating trade agreements and playing petty politics with self-obsessed lordlings and ladies who think that they deserve respect because of who their parents are. I’ve found myself longing for something as simple as a life and death struggle against a terrible monster every now and then.”

“I warned you, miss de’Arnise.” Auren rolled her eyes. “You’re never going to be loved by anyone but me. Yeah, so the duchy’s now one of the richest in Amn, you’ve got the Cowled Wizards on your side, and I have no idea at all why you let that Lady Bloodhawk and the rest of her band set up a base on your lands, but don’t expect anyone to thank you for it.”

Nalia let her eyes narrow. “For one thing, Auren, I am not ‘miss de’Arnise,’ I am your wife, and even managed to get you formally recognized as my consort. Small mercy about Amn, where enough coins in the right purse can get anything done. For another thing, the Overlords of Murann will attack, and soon. I’ve already contacted the Order of the Radiant Heart and the army. The best route into the Amnish heartland is through Borleias Pass, and with my absorption of the Roenall barony, that makes it my problem. As for Lady Bloodhawk, this sort of foresight and preparation for an inevitable conflict is what the Red Knight’s followers live for. They’re eager to expand their influence in Amn, and I am inclined to let them.”

“There are worse people to play host to.” A new voice agreed. Walking up from a stone stairway off the entry hall, Valerie Lysander neatly rounded out the variety of hair colors present with her short blonde hair. Unlike the others present, she showed no signs of trouble with the cold. There was a reason for that, the same reason the sorceress’s eyes were a bright silver and the air around her had a slight but unmistakable tingle of energy slipping her control. The tall, rail-thin woman was almost more magic than flesh now.

“Sorry for taking so long to come up.” Valerie offered to the visitors before taking a long draught of tea. “I was finishing some adjustments to the observatory.” Noticing the blank looks on everyone’s faces, she explained. “I’m trying to build an arcane observatory down below. If I can get it working right, I’ll be able to observe the flows of magic across Faerun, maybe even all of Toril. It’s more complicated than it should be, though. The Weave is normally very predictable. Now… it’s complicated.”

“Stop now.” Sarah warned with a smile. “Nalia and Auren came all the way up from Amn to visit us, and I don’t think they want you to talk their ears off about that observatory of yours. You’ve been working on it ever since we settled here, and I don’t want to think about how many times we’ve had a Dweomerkeeper or Magisterati come calling worrying that you’re going to blow up northern Faerun.”

“She’s not the only one working on something, I see.” Nalia smirked. “How far along are you, Sarah? Three months? Four?”

“Four.” The ranged admitted, unconsciously patting what could still be mistaken for putting on mundane weight. “Valerie hasn’t quite held up her end of the bargain, though.”

“Do you really want to have this conversation again? Especially in front of other people?” Valerie rolled her eyes. “I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times. Transmutation magic and pregnancy don’t mix well, and as I’m evidently the first sorcerer of this scope in the history of Faerun, I’m in uncharted territory for a lot of things. Funny thing about stoking magic borne in your blood. It has lots of interesting effects on the body, and I’d rather not risk an unborn child’s life until I don’t think they’ll be born a, well… at least no more of a freak than his or her parents.”

“You can slap her.” Auren recommended to Sarah. “I would.”

“Now who’s talking about things we agreed to keep private?” Nalia gave her wife a salacious wink. “Actually, that’s, well, what we came to talk to you about. Auren and I have decided, that, well…”

Whatever else Nalia might have said was broken off as Sarah clamped her friend in a vise-like hug. Only when Nalia started gasping for breath did the ranger release her grip.

“I thought you said you didn’t want to.” Valerie noted pointedly at Auren, though she firmly shook Nalia’s hand. “The magic’s not very hard. If you can polymorph yourself into another creature, you can, um, change only a part of yourself. What brought this on?”

There was a long pause in the conversation, then Auren finally answered. “It was my idea. I never did want to have kids. Thought they were useless, whiny brats. I didn’t suddenly decide I want to be a mother, either. But it started to sink in, after seeing what Nalia’s doing. There are generations of people who are going to grow up in Amn and never know what it was like before we moved in. It got me thinking about my own future, I guess. Up until a few years ago, it was easy to pretend I’d live forever. We killed dragons, demons, mind flayers, drow, demigods, and worse. All I saw were battles. Victories, yeah, well-earned ones at that. Now I’m watching a whole different kind of battle. Nalia’s probably changing more lives than we ever did. Sarah, we got pointed to your house because we asked about the Ranger-Protector of the southern Moonwood. You managed to get elves and orcs talking to each other?! I got no idea what Valerie’s doing, but it sounded important enough. Me? All I know how to do is fight. It’s all I ever wanted to do. Now, though… I want to do something more.”

Auren’s monologue was interrupted by the cat in the middle of the room waking up and without so much as waiting for an invitation or a pause, leaping into the fighter’s lap.

“You sound like our old friend.” Sarah agreed, glancing at the group portrait above the fireplace. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when she decided to leave Faerun. Maybe that was the point. We all got so swept up in her story that we forgot to write our own. I know I did. When I look back at how I got from the Cloakwood to here, I have a lot of blank spots. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything else in the world, but then I realized that we were together for only a year. One year, Auren. In one year we saved Faerun, slew two would-be gods, destroyed the Twisted Rune, killed thousands, and saved more lives than I can count. It’s been three years since then, and I can’t help but feel that I haven’t done a tenth as much as I did in that one.”

“But it’s your own doing.” Valerie added quietly. “Well, and mine, I suppose. In three years, we got married, negotiated a treaty between an orc clan and Silverymoon, built an arcane observatory that’s scaring the hell out of me if what it’s reading is accurate, saved dozens if not hundreds of lives, built a house, found a town we’re happy to live in for the rest of our lives, and all without a demigod leading us. No offense, Sarah, but that’s still a lot more than most people accomplish in their entire lives.”

“And I’ve got most of Amn running scared because they don’t know why I’m doing things that don’t seem to gain me anything.” Nalia agreed. “Auren, don’t do this if you don’t want to. If all you want to do is adventure, I’m sure Minsc or Mazzy would love to see you again.”

“That’s not the point!” Auren shouted, dropping the cat in Nalia’s lap as she stood up angrily. “Nalia, I expected to die in battle. There, I said it. It’s what always seems to happen to adventurers. I knew it, I knew adventuring is the highest of high-risk lives to lead. I never counted on winning. There’s not much left in Faerun that could challenge us, and I don’t really need another fortune. I’ve always thought in the short term. Adventure, fame, glory, gold. Now I have all of that, and I don’t care about it. I want – I need – to do something more. I love you, Nalia. I have from the moment we met. I want to teach a little bastard right from wrong, good from evil. I want to give someone a Faerun that’s better than the one I got. I want to be there the way my parents never were. Everything I’ve done in the last four years, Nalia, isn’t going to be remembered as mine. Our friend was the centerpiece of everything that happened in Amn and Tethyr, and I’m sure as hell not going to let myself just be remembered as your consort. You’re too important to me to just leave and do my own thing. But this, Nalia? I can do this. I can give us both pain, probably, and joy. Not like I haven’t been doing that since we met. And you know what? I’m not sure I like the idea of a bunch of little kids calling me mom or grandma, but I’m ready to give it a shot. History doesn’t have room for a lot of big, epic heroes. But it has plenty of room for other kinds of people who give everything for others.”

No one spoke for the next several minutes. Fighter, aristocrat, ranger, sorceress, and cat looked around in silence and uncertainty, until Auren finally sat back down and Valerie disappeared briefly to retrieve a bottle from the kitchen.

“I don’t think our story is done yet, Auren.” Valerie observed as she poured her friend a pungent-smelling concoction. “This is something a little stronger than tea Sarah and I retrieved from Myth Drannor when Lady Silverhand asked us to retrieve something else from that nightmare. If what I’m seeing in the observatory is accurate, and the rumors we’ve been hearing out of Rasheman and Thay are close to the truth… Faerun is once again on the brink of something terrible. We’ll be needed, I suspect, and our children.”

“Pour me a drink, too.” Nalia ordered. “I’ve heard… rumors, I suppose. We won, yes, but I do have to wonder now if we only postponed something. Still a victory, yes, and maybe we or someone else can postpone it again. Maybe we’ll face it. Maybe our children. Maybe certain old friends will answer the call. Maybe people we have never met. Auren, I have no regrets. Not you, not Sarah, not Valerie, not any of our old friends we met or any old foes we beat. For now, I propose a toast. It’s Midwinter’s Night. Tomorrow will be the year 1373, Dale Reckoning. Who knows what joy and pain tomorrow will bring? We have battled gods and kings, dragons and demons. Yes, we have suffered on this road, but we have also prospered. We found each other, found love and friendship that will endure for the ages. We found companions we will never betray, hearts never to wander far from each other. We will not forget the woman who brought us together from our disparate walks of life, but where she now walks we cannot follow. Instead, we face life on our own terms, our own victories and, yes, our own mistakes. I cannot say what the future holds. What I can say is this: none of us will face it alone, wherever life may take us. To a future together!”

Four glasses clinked as one, and outside the snow continued to fall.

"The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesterday, but it was never the streets that were evil." - Sister Miriam Godwinson, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri