posted by Darth Krzysztof
10 Gozran (IV) 4720 AR
Sitting by herself at the lip of the Sly Wink’s stage while Calamity does their best to blow the roof off the place, Nasti doesn’t notice the elven woman until she’s already sitting beside her, raising her glass and flicking a wink at her. “They’re good, right?” says the woman in smooth Elven, aiming a thumb at the band.
The tiefling takes a moment to appraise this stranger. She’s lovely and pale, her hair as dark as Chendrea’s is bright, clad in a gorgeous blue-green gown that makes her look like she should be the one on stage. She smells faintly of orange blossoms and the cigar smoke that’s followed her from the far side of the tavern.
Once upon a time, she thinks, I would have started out suspicious of someone like this. But Nasti’s guard is always reduced at Calamity shows, and she’s spent the last five afternoons learning rudimentary Undercommon from Chendrea – and stealing whatever evenings their busy schedules have allowed. She’s willing to entertain the possibility that not all people are bastards, if only for tonight.
“I never miss a show!” Nasti exclaims, not adding the if I can help it that she hopes she’s implied. Pointing at Jenova, she says, “Nova’s my cousin!” with warming pride. She speaks more Elven here than she ever did back in Ustalav.
“Yeah, Renka mentioned that, I think. You’re Nastassia, right? Or do you prefer Nasti? I’m Naryalla.”
“Then I am most pleased to meet you, Naryalla. Yes, I prefer Nasti nowadays. Is this your first Calamity show? I feel like I’d remember seeing you before.”
“Second or third. I only got into town a few days ago. My usual stomping grounds are up in Silvermont. But I’ve known Jamil a while. He kept bugging me to come see his band, and I had time to kill.” As the song ends, they applaud, and Naryalla’s voice drops to a more reasonable volume. “She’s quite the talent, your cousin. Even if she’s not as committed as Jamil would like.”
“Tell me about it. I’d rather have her performing full time too, but it is what it is. We’ll have to see how long it takes our side business to play out.” She nurses her ice wine; she hadn’t intended to drink any alcohol tonight, but she needed to ease her anxiety about tomorrow’s quest. It’s good, but she longs for Chendrea’s Kyonin fireberry, and wishes once more that the wizard was free to join her tonight. “What brought you down from Silvermont, if you don’t mind me asking? Maybe you know Jamil better than I do, but that’s a long ways to go for him.” She’s always had a soft spot for Calamity’s ringleader, but he’s a lot. Fun, but a lot.
Naryalla chuckles. “Ah, he’s not so bad. Of course, I’m also of the bardic persuasion, so my tolerance level is calibrated differently. But yeah, I’m also checking out the Sumberton scene to see if it might be worth relocating.”
She doesn’t see the calloused fingers she associates with musicians, and wonders if Naryalla’s a singer. For a woman with no musical talent, Nasti has no shortage of musicians in her circles.
“So, like. What’s up with this side-gig?” asks Naryalla, a bit too casually.
Now Nasti’s feeling a little suspicious, but her curiosity is far stronger. “The Chicane Guild hired us to recover a waylaid shipment, and we stumbled across an old ruin that had some interesting connections to the Valley’s past.” That much she could learn from any gossip in town, she wagers. Let’s see if she presses for more. “And now we’re investigating rumors of a second site.”
“So, what? Y’all are mercenaries? Hells of a side thing.”
“Nova’s planets are aligning in such a way that Calamity IS the side gig, right, hence the tension.” As the current song ends, Nasti yells, “Play ‘Fie to the Tyrant’!” and the band complies.
“Hells yeah, ‘Tyrant.’” Naryalla’s winning Nasti over with that smile. That smile should be painted in oil and hung someplace fancy, behind a velvet rope so it’s harder for people to steal it. The bard waves over that sweet freckled halfling barmaid, Rosila, who refills both their drinks before departing. Naryalla is pretty cool, Nasti decides. Maybe she’s very cool.
Also, is she flirting with me?
No. Maybe? Maybe she’s just like that?
Could be. Test the waters.
“You’ve discovered my only weakness,” Nasti tells Naryalla: “Temptation.”
The elf’s laugh is musical, as Nasti hoped, feared, and expected. “I suppose that Jamil could find some way to mine your side hustle for inspiration, but he’s kind of… stiff for that sort of thinking, I believe.”
Nasti nods. Observant as she tries to be, she doesn’t know anyone in Calamity besides Nova all that well, and her insight into their primary songwriter’s creative process fits in a thimble. She’s spent the last two years trying to stop keeping people at arm’s length, but only Jenova and Amaya have gotten past her defenses – and Chendrea’s probably close behind them.
“I’m a bit more liberal with my muse selection. Any interesting stories that might inspire a ballad or two?” Naryalla tilts her head a little, and her eyes become geodes of tiny, glittering flecks of blue in the light.
Nasti drinks to soothe her abruptly dry mouth. “Have you ever heard the story of Slaughtergarde? I’m surprised how buried it’s gotten over the centuries, because it could be the basis for a whole _ cycle_ of epics.”
“That rings familiar, yeah.” Nasti’s disappointed that she didn’t stump the bard, but knowing obscure lore is one of the bard’s specialties. Sure, along with seducing anything that moves, and a few things that don’t… “Demons vs angels and mortals. Something about those knights down south. Light Knights? Heh. That’s not it, but something like it. Pretty heavy content. Might could get a crowd going with some crunchy bass and drum action.”
“I would pay to hear that. I like the way you think, Naryalla.”
Naryalla raises her glass with a lazy smile, and Nasti clinks hers against it. Jenova’s singing her way through the lovely part of “Bleeding Colors,” which holds their attention for the better part of a minute. Nasti doesn’t hear Naryalla’s question until she repeats it: “I said: do you perform any, or just an enthusiast?" She winces immediately. “I’m sorry about the ‘just.’ That was uncool.”
“It’s fine. Oh no, I don’t have the skill for it. All the more tragic, because I was raised in a theater. Maybe someday, though? Gods willing, I do have an elven lifespan to look forward to.” Sure, there hadn’t been a play produced in Haraday Theater since before Nasti was born, but that hardly seems worth mentioning here.
“Heh. It gives and it takes, longevity. Since you like old stories, know much about Firestorm Peak? Now that is some heavy stuff.”
“Not really, no.” Nasti’s dimly aware of a legend, but she can’t be moved to recall it, and she’s decided that she’d rather hear Naryalla tell it.
“Well, first there’s the comet cycle aspect. Nova might appreciate that, celestial bodies and all. Every twenty-seven years, like clockwork. Well, calendar-work, maybe. Is that a thing?” She laughs at herself.
Nasti laughs, too. It’s hard for her to picture Naryalla saying anything wrong, ever. “I’ll allow it. And I appreciate heavenly bodies, too. But please, continue.” She sips and attempts a lidded glance over the glass.
“Are you flirting with me?”
Busted! “Yes.” She almost fumbles it, but the last five days have done wonders for her self-confidence. “But I’ll stop if you want me to.”
“I’ll allow it.” Her imitation of Nasti’s pitch and Ustalavic accent is flawless. “Where was I? Oh, yeah. Lighting fires.” She winks. “The comet does that, I mean. Of course.” She giggles, sipping her red wine. “Lights up Mount Titania for exactly twenty-eight days, like a full-on column of supernatural fire. No one knows why.”
Having spent so much time learning about the Aucturn Enigma, Nasti is no stranger to celestial cycles. Maybe the Esoteric Order has been studying this one, too? Maybe that’s why they sent her here? “No one knows why, yet. When is the comet due to come back?”
“Some time next year, if my memory serves me right. And it’s been going on for a really long time. Like, it had been a thing for centuries before Slaughtergarde happened. I don’t remember if I’ve heard or read anything suggesting a link between the two. Anyway." She finishes her drink and signals for another at once. “Right, so, the other gnarly thing about it is this weird impenetrable gate thing opens at the base of Mount Titania when the comet shows up and lights the peak. Of all the stories about people that go in to explore it, not one of them mentions them coming back out again.”
Well, that’s not foreboding at all. “Great. More gates.”
“The site we explored has some sort of defunct gate,” Nasti says, wondering how much would be too much to say here. “It’s linked to the Slaughtergarde legend, That’s why the Luminous Order is moving to occupy it."
“Luminous Order!” Naryalla says, snapping her fingers.”That’s what they’re called. Heh. ‘Light Knights’ is better. Easier to rhyme."
“You have a point. I’ll have to use that going forward.” She finally takes her eyes off Naryalla because “The Ballad of the Worldwound” is getting to the best part.
“Wait, are you guys members in the Luminous? Am I being an ass and not realizing?”
I’m not sure where she’s going with this, but it’s not just some innocent line of questioning. “Flute solo!” yells Nasti, leaving her chair as Renka simply wails on her flute. Nobody knows how she does it.
Nasti lets Naryalla’s question hang until the solo ends, then sits back down to face the bard. “No. No, nothing like that. Just mercenary work, like you said. I think Amaya might be interested in joining them, but I dont think it’s for me. I’ve never been a joiner.” Which is technically correct: she was basically born into the secret society she’s already a part of, though she still initiated when she came of age like everyone else.
“Oh, good. Good. Still, seems like y’all are doing the heavy lifting before the knights move in. They at least paying you well for the privilege?"
Now we’re getting to it. “They’re promising to, anyway.”
“I can’t really picture you on a horse with a lance. You have a whole different energy.” She leans a little closer, finds some more husk in her voice. “Better energy.”
Okay, that’s flirting. She’s definitely flirting with me.
Is that so unthinkable? That there might be a second person in the Inner Sea who might be into me?
Nova can see you from up there.
So? She doesn’t even know about Chendrea and me. There barely is a Chendrea and me. We aren’t betrothed or anything.
So you think she’d appreciate this, then.
Hey, she flirts with everybody. Why can’t I – what did she call it – develop some customer loyalty?
Seems like a slippery slope. Just be careful.
“I couldn’t wear all that armor and wield a lance on horseback while managing a cat in my lap, no.”
“Cat in your lap?”
“My familiar. I’m a witch, Naryalla. Not in service to an Abyssal power, though, so I’m not a complete stereotype." We’re veering away from her interest in us and the Luminous Order, but maybe that’s a good thing. Let her think that maybe I’m cool too. She explains the differences between wizards and witches, unsure if the distinction is really lost on Naryalla, or if she just likes to listen to Nasti. The bard seems genuinely interested in her, and Nasti talks until she suddenly looks up to see Dren in the middle of the blistering drum solo that closes out every Calamity show. She throws up devil horns and shouts throughout the climax, but is surprised when Jenova leaves the stage with her bandmates instead of coming over to say hello. Must be giving me some space with my new friend?
She looks back at Naryalla to find the elf’s posture has shifted to lounging. “So what do you think of Sumberton so far?” Nasti asks before she sits, only realizing once she’s done so that Naryalla’s pulled the chairs closer together.
“Good booze, but that’s a given. I have a few friends here, so there’s a bit of support structure already in place, should I make the move." Her smile is nothing short of sly as her eyes drink Nasti in. “And maybe a few other prospects.”
Nasti casts around for a witty reply. Per her new rule, if she can’t come up with anything in three seconds, she deploys her fan. “You’re going to make me blush,” she finally manages, fanning herself.
Naryalla tilts her head again. “Tien? Interesting.” She seems to re-evaluate Nasti’s features. “You have some layers, don’tcha. I wonder how you came to be here.”
“So do I.” She winks. "My father came from the other side of the world, but I don’t really know why. If you’re asking why I’m here in Sumberton, I came looking for my mother’s family here in the Valley.” Also, the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye gave me a mission, but you don’t need to know about that. Not yet, anyway. “As you might imagine, it’s been something of a journey to find acceptance. I’ve finally found some here.”
“Yeah, for a backwater, this place is fairly … cosmopolitan, eh?”
“Surprisingly so, yes. It’s maybe half the size of Caliphas, but the whole Valley seems to meet here.” The Valley is a little cut off from the rest of the world, but that’s more a good thing than a bad one, in Nasti’s book.
Naryalla nods, sipping wine. “Hey, I don’t want to bring the energy down, but like you and your fam, I also have a side-thing. Busking in Silvermont doesn’t pay all the bills, ya know? And we can’t all have Jamil’s connections.”
Is this what all the Light Knight questions were about? She sets the fan on the table to rub her hands together. “Certainly not. Please, continue.”
“Anyway, we already talked about my interest in old stories. I’ve got an in with some people who pay for obscure lore and artifacts, magical or otherwise. They like their privacy, but the money is good. If you come across anything like that in your … explorations, I’d appreciate anything you’d care to share. I can make it worth your while."
Nasti’s heart skips two beats. Money’s nice, sure, and magic is great, but getting in the good graces of an organization seeking obscure lore? This doesn’t sound relevant to her interests. This IS her interests.
Naryalla continues: “Slaughtergarde isn’t supposed to be around anymore, according to the stories, right? But you guys coming across not one, but two sites linked to it? I think they’d be very interested to know more.”
“I’m not the only layered one at this table, am I.” She tries for equal parts statement and question.
The bard shrugs and smiles. “Like I said. Bills to pay. And rich folk with money to burn on their eccentric interests, well. That’s just good opportunity, eh?”
“Lore is the main reason I get out of bed first thing in the afternoon.” She drains the last of her wine. “I think I’m going to like your friends. And I can tell that we, you and I, are gonna be good friends.”
She smiles brightly. “Sumberton is looking better all the time.”
“Another round over here!”