Inspired by my guildmate Dyna's art, I decided it was time to start actually writing Nae's story. The other mentioned PCs are my varied alts (all who have their own backstories as well), but Nae is my favorite. So, enjoy the adventures of a reluctant soul. Or not. Your choice
Naeryna was shaken from her meditations by the sounds of the next room over in the flophouse in Stormreach’s harbor. Her neighbor started every day with incessant praises to the Silver Flame. Nae started most days with cursing about the Flame since he had moved in. She walked over to the dresser in her room, and adjusted her short mess of white hair in the mirror before slipping into a cheap-looking gray robe. It was enchanted heavily by an old friend to protect against cutthroats and thieves.
Not, Nae thought, that I have anything to steal.
Rent for her room was due, and she shook her purse to the sound of a single coin bouncing against the leather. Cursing under her breath, she got her quarterstaff out from under the bed. Sorcerers draw their power from confidence, and she had none - she was lucky if she could summon a single spark, let alone the mighty bolts of lightning she commanded before the accident.
The accident. Her eyes fell on a yellowed Stormreach Chronicle she kept on the dresser, the headline reading “Promising Group of Mercenaries Injured at Archaeological Dig - One Feared Dead.” The others told her it wasn’t her fault, that if she hadn’t acted they would all be dead, but she knew that wasn’t true.
Or, said a small voice in her head, That it is true, but you still feel the guilt for one death.
Magic or no, the guards were always willing to pay a few coppers for some kobold tails, and swinging a staff was usually enough to get rent for a week or so. She opened the door to the common hall at the same time as her neighbor. He was a pale elf; “a betrayer of our ways” is what Naeryna’s mother would call him, and all his kind. Nae was less harsh, but still looked down slightly on elves, and everyone else, who weren’t of the drow; even if her skin was a lighter gray than the near-black of some, she was no sun-lover. She smiled as she stroked the small stone scorpion in her pocket.
“It is a great day the Flame has given us, friend!” declared her neighbor.
“The day is just begun,” she sneered, “It is too early to speak of fortune.”
Down the stairs she traipsed; even without the confidence needed for magic, Nae was aware of her striking features and elegance. The landlady was sweeping the entryway. Mrs. Copperhand was a kindly, older dwarf, and gave Nae a knowing grin when she saw her staff.
“Don’t have rent again this week, drow?” she winked.
Nae laughed and patted the old dwarf on the shoulder, “You’ll get your money, old woman.”
“I already have it, as it so happens,” she grinned at Nae, “Someone came by saying they were an old friend of yours, paid you through the next six months. She’s waiting in the sitting room, as a matter of fact. Another drow, so you might not look at her like she smells of troglodyte.”
Nae puzzled over this, as who would come to visit her, let alone pay her rent? She entered the sitting room to find the normal assortment of characters, and then a dark-skinned form in the corner, intently looking over some large book and scribbling on a pad of paper. She had a crossbow propped against her chair, while various tools, gadgets, and wands hung from her belt. Most striking, however, was the huge iron defender that laid at her feet like a druid’s wolf. It lifted its head and wagged its tail, such as it was, at Nae.
“Amaluin!” Nae exclaimed. The other drow looked up and waved, blue hair falling into her eyes, and then returned to her studies. Nae walked over, took a seat, and looked over the papers and book covered in arcane sigils and complex formulas of various ingredients. Nae could make no sense of it, but was fascinated by the work of the artificers nonetheless. Once, Amaluin had wanted to study Nae’s magic, to see if there was a difference in substance between that of a sorcerer and a wizard. They had been set to start their work the day after a simple clearing of an undead-ridden excavation operated by House Kundarak; a simple task that became a tragedy.
Nae opened her mouth to ask about the notes, when Amaluin’s head popped up, grinning mischievously, “I’m in an argument with old Lars Heyton - you remember him from Korthos? - concerning the efficiency of two separate formulations of the enchantments that make a wand of magic missile. He, of course, maintains that an older formula is the ideal, while I feel that a more recent method of attaching the spell to a stick is far better. I’d explain, but...”
“I wouldn’t understand,” Nae laughed, “May I assume that your idea carries some instability and chance of explosion?”
Amaluin cackled, “Nothing a dwarf wouldn’t consider acceptable risk on investment. I hope you don’t mind that I paid your rent. I know you’d been down on your luck for the past few years, and I happened into some coin. I asked around and found you, and thought I’d say thanks for saving my life from that beholder.”
Nae darkened, “Didn’t help the cleric, did I?”
Amaluin put a gloved hand on Nae’s arm, “You saved everyone else; Dia, Arabduis, Valissia, and me.” She grinned her troublesome grin again, “Besides, she wanted to go out in a blaze of sacrificial glory, so everyone got what they wanted.”
The life of a servant of the Flame is one of sacrifice, said that small voice in Nae’s head. While comforted by that idea, Nae did wish the voice would shut up. It had started after the accident and chimed in several times per day with bothersome niceties and meaningless tripe of the type she heard the priests outside the Catacombs spread to the gathered masses. If only they knew of the troubles within those tombs, or the ruthlessness of the inquisitors of the Flame, in particular Gnomon. She hadn’t been alone in her objections to his desire to annihilate a group of followers of the Sovereign Host taking refuge in the sewers of House Phiarlan - what was Vulkoor, after all, but a misunderstood member of the Host? - but they had been put between a rock and a hard place. The rock was the cleric - her name forever more unmentioned - and her faith in the Flame, and the hard place was Valissia, and her faith in the purse.
“You ever talk to the others now, Ama?” Naeryna asked. The artificer had ordered breakfast for two and was carefully separating all the foods on her plate, as was her habit. She nodded.
“Regularly. Arabduis is what she always was, just stronger, with great bolts of ice, acid, and pure power. You’d be impressed, though she still won’t agree to me attaching any probes. Dianozia has achieved some kind of enlightened state. I tell you, my instruments say she’s not even a half-elf now, but some foreign being. However, she’s as crude as ever, especially for a monk.”
“And Vali?” Valissia had been the mouth and brains of their group; a former “actress” for House Phiarlan, she’d turned her knowledge of espionage into profit when she assembled their little group.
“You’ve probably seen her, and didn’t recognize her,” Amaluin shrugged, “The first time I saw her after she left, I certainly didn’t, until she started talking and hugged me. She went on one of her ‘holidays’ after the accident to Sykros’ resort. There was some disturbance there, and she helped the local druid restore the balance. Next thing anyone knew, she sold all her belongings and sat outside the Gatekeepers’ grove until they agreed to train her. Turned back up in Stormreach a few months ago as one of their agents - she’d shaved part of her head to deal with vanity. Has a wolf that follows her around. The first time she saw Arabduis - according to Ara, mind you - Ara showed her some of her mastery of water. Vali turned into a water elemental in response.”
Naeryna sputtered, “Valissia? Ms. d’Phiarlan? Don’t-let-my-shoes-get-wet Vali? Is a druid?”
Ama laughed, “And she’s not Valissia d’Phiarlan anymore. Gave up all her claims to being part of the house. She’s Valissia Treesnogger. Picked it up the day she was let into the grove - she was apparently snuggled up to a tree when one of the half-orcs went out to let her know the decision. Her wolf is named Legsnogger.”
“It’s appropriate, trust me. I’ve named my defender models the Cogsnoggers, as an in-joke.”
They ate breakfast in silence. Nae was waiting for Amaluin to explain why she was here. Amaluin didn’t do anything without a reason, and saving her life might spur her to pay Nae’s rent, but not to stick around after that.
“You ever do any exploring anymore, Nae?” Ama inquired.
Nae shook her head, “Only killing kobolds for coin. I’ve lost my magic, Amaluin. I’m just a slightly braver-than-average citizen who knows how to swing a staff now.”
Ama smiled, “You just need some encouragement is all. That’s what Cydonie told me.”
Nae startled slightly, “You know Cydonie?” Cydonie was an Ambassador from Argonessen. She might look like an elf, but a blue dragon can choose any form she wishes. She’d assisted Nae in her training, despite drow not being part of the prophecy, because she’d been impressed with Nae as a sorcerer.
“She’s organizing an investigation out in Gianthold. Every adventurer in Xendrik is out there, it seems. Anyway, me and the rest of the old crew are in an adventurers’ guild together now, and we asked one of the officers if we could extend you an invitation.” Ama handed a plain envelope across the table. “That has your pass to the airship the guild owns, if you take us up on the offer.”
“Thanks, but no,” Nae sighed, “That’s all behind me now.”
Ama laughed, “No, it’s not. In fact, if I had a copper for every time you’ve said that, I’d have retired to my studies.” She got up to leave. “I’m leaving the envelope right there, Nae, for when you change your mind.”
Amaluin clicked for the Cogsnogger to follow as she hefted her crossbow over her shoulder, leaving Nae to her thoughts. It was true, Nae had to admit, that had she not blasted those columns, bringing the ceiling crashing down on the beholder, they would all be dead. And the cleric had told her to do it.
Laying down one’s life for their friends is way of the Flame, said the annoying voice.
“Quiet,” Nae caught herself saying aloud, drawing a few glances from other customers. Without rent to worry about, she could possibly save back some money and get ahead of the game, briefly. That took some weight off, as did knowing that none of her old companions held her responsible for the death of the cleric.
She almost felt good enough to toss a magic missile, she realized suddenly.
Kobold tails and coin would have to wait; it was time to go visit an old friend.