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Alexandra Keenan smiled and swept a slender hand towards the available chairs. "Please make yourself comfortable," she implored in a friendly manner.
"Thank you for your most precious time, Alexandra." She took her usual spot directly opposite, nestling the two books in her lap.
"Our meetings are growing bittersweet each and every time, for I know that they are almost near their end."
Aeili nodded, not denying the truth of the Guide's words, but also not offering further commentary at that precise moment. "Thus I prefer to speak of better, higher things. Such as these."
"A query, before we get started: how many scrolls did you need?"
"Just the one. I intend on committing it to my spell book afterwards," Aeili said as she shifted her grip on her two books, but paused at the Guide's question first.
She lightly nodded at the elf. "Do pardon; I wish to hear about the books."
"Let us undertake the triviality first: how much must I reinburse Candlekeep's mages for the priveledge?" Aeili asked, referring to the cost of the spell scroll of course.
"Consider it a gift... from me, to you," she responded. She reached aside into a desk drawer to produce a scroll case, which is then placed upon the desk and given a light push towards the arcanist.
Aeili put her hand over her heart, clearly touched by the gesture. "Oh, Mystra bless you!" she immediately exclaimed in sincere gratitude. "And blessed indeed," she continued, "for I have my own gift, my own legacy, which I have desired some day to leave for the generations to come." Seizing the opportunity for a gift exchange, she placed her two books on the table and pushed them in Alexandra's direction. The Guide fondly smiles and leans forward to claim the offered tomes. "As I said, the very stars themselves rest in your lap, my dear friend."
"Oh, my friend... these are just......exquisite..." she breathed as she reverently thumbed through the pages.
"I am only permitting my magic to be sold here, and in Doron Amar."
"And this thesis... have you already placed a copy within the library?"
"You have it in your hands," she motioned to the work. "If that does not constitute its immediate inclusion, I don't know what does!" She then offered a wry and playful grin.
The Guide good-naturedly chuckled. "I shall ensure that they are properly copied so that all may benefit from your knowledge. Truly, this is a wonderful gift. I shall keep the originals for myself, though... and place then upon my bookshelves." A subtle nod of her head indicated the nearby span of shelves.
"May I?" Aeili reached across the table for Alexandra's own quill, hoping her intention would be clear.
Aeili flipped open the cover page and wrote a little message in it, signing with a flourish of Espruar letters. Then she took our her mage's sigil, and stamped her seal onto it, irrefutable proof it was signed by the author. Despite herself, the Guide got misty-eyed.
In the eternal persuit of knowledge, the stars shall guide your way.
Aeili sat quietly, letting the emotions of the moment run their course.
"It is beautiful," she whispered across the desk, her voice thick with sentiment. "I shall forever cherish these works. And when I am gone, they will remain here in Candlekeep so that others may always be guided by the stars, too."
"It is more than I could have ever wished for," the Mystran replied humbly, doing her best to contain her own emotions.
Alexandra took a quick, deep breath and offered a wavering smile towards the elf. "So!" she chirped in an attempt to shoo aside the somber mood. "Your room was prepared to your liking, I hope?"
"There is no need for such trivialty, however appreciated, my friend," Aeili replied with the cutting knife of her diviner's tongue. "Let us both face the spectre in this room with courage."
"Is this it, then?"
"This is likely my last visit to these walls, yes," she replied with brutal honesty.
An audible swallow pricked her throat. "How long will you stay?"
"For your sake? One more day. Then I must be about my final duties for my people. I am expending myself, Alexandra. As much of my being as I can spare. This. . ." she held the scroll of Limited Wish up in her hand at that point, "is going to preserve more knowledge than you are aware of. I could selfishly use it on myself, but should I really wish to delay what I have already accepted as the inevitable?"
A flicker of a smile trembles upon her lips. "Will I be permitted to see you... off?" she hesitantly asks. "I am not exactly sure what all you have planned."
"I promised you would receive a letter. You will receive it when it is time."
"I do not want you to leave," she lamented.
"Between now and then there is nothing you have to worry about. I will be with my people."
"I know... I know that you must do what you must do, but... all I can think about is that there will eventually come a final moment when I never see you again or hear your voice again."
That tone elicited a flurry of blinking from the Mystran, and the moistening of her eyelids.
Alexandra swiped her fingertips at her eyes and tries to smile through the tears that escaped down her cheeks. "And to think... I did not like you for a time," she said, laughing through her sniffles.
"You think I am abandoning you, as I did on that day?" she asked simply, clearly aware of what she meant.
"Yes and no," she truthfully answered as she shakes her head. "You have become one of my closest and dearest friends - you and Great Reader Lafreth are both like sisters to me - and she is gone and now you will be done, too."
"I am not ready to do this all by myself... whenever I have faltered, whenever I have needed guidance, I always knew to whom I could turn."
"I am afraid... not only for myself, selfishly so, but for all the newcomers to whom I will now have to serve in that role. I am not ready... to be you."
"You are already ready for it, despite your apprehensions. I believe in you, Alexandra Keenan."
The young woman gives a combination laugh and sob at the words. "I am going to miss you so much." Tears continued to trickle down her cheeks only to get swiped aside by restless palms.
"Is there more I could have done? Of course. Will I leave a void on the coast that likely will not be filled? Of course. Will there be times when you feel so very alone, with the proverbial weight of the world on your shoulders? Of course. And I felt all these things when Elias Goodmane left us, and the Weavemasters crumbled around me. I survived. Indeed, thrived, perhaps, in the end. And so will you." Aeili rose from her seat and moved around the other side of the table to embrace her far more emotional friend.
"I know," she gently replied. "I endured much when the tome was tainted, but that ordeal allowed me to grow in ways that I thought impossible. I know that I will continue being the best Guide of Candlekeep that I can be, but I will still miss you something fierce!" She pushes herself to her feet and flings her arms around the elf.
Aeili welcomed the embrace, if wincing somewhat at the force, however slight, of it, lifting her right hand to cradle the back of Alexandra's head. She began to whisper something at that moment.
"Velessea shall be your sign, the Great Mother of the sky shall tend you as you tend your spiritual children, all those eyes and ears who look to you for guidance. It shall be given, it shall come forth as free as the Chionthar rain, sweet jewels of wisdom dripping from your lips. I depart to the West, and West is where I shall be found. Morning and evening, there my star is, shining brightly as the dawn rises."
The whispered words prompt a tightening of arms around the elf as the Guide openly weeps.
"The depths of darkness hide the most bitter treasures. A secret I shall share, for though I go to die, forever shall I live. Whispers in the night you may hear, gentle, soothing, comforting. It is my voice, for though I die, death shall not claim me." After whispering her enigmatic prophecy, the Mystran finally succumbed to the emotion of the room, and began to weep freely.
Alexandra was left in a mess of tears and sniffles, and whatever words she might utter emit as choked hiccups instead.
"We. . . may never meet. . . again," she choked through emotion tears, "but my voice. . . shall not be silent in your ears. So I swear by Holy Oath to Mystra."
Cognizant that she might just break the elf, Alexandra reluctantly loosened her embrace upon Aeili. The Guide unceremoniously leant backwards until her backside rests upon the edge of her desk. For a time, the young woman simply sat in an unkempt, informal manner and kept a hold of Aeili's hands.
The Mystran sniffled away her streaky nose, letting streamy tears drip down her cheeks.
Several deep breaths, punctuated by hiccups, are inhaled and exhaled by the Guide.
"If. . . I could have one wish. . . one final desire granted. . ."
Watery blue eyes lifted towards the blonde elf.
"...it would be to have a private tour of this library I have heard so much about. . . to see with my own eyes the legacy Alaundo left for the world. The morrow awaits for it, should my wish be granted. . ." she continued as she turned her face into a hopeful smile.
"You have never toured the library?" she incredulously asked.
She shook her head, smile persisting.
"We have a scheduled meeting, but either before or afterwards... I will be honored to guide you through these lore-filled halls. We will take all the time that you need."
She let go of Alexandra's hands to give her another gentle hug. "Thank you."
She quirked a faint but kind smile and bobbed her head several times. "You are welcome, my friend."
"I'm going to wander the grounds. . . listen to the chanters. . . gaze at the dawn which soon comes." She let go and gripped Alexandra's shoulders, followed by an encouraging pat, then finally daubed her sleeve against her tear-stained face.
She kept bobbing her head. "I am going to take some time to recover myself and then distract myself with some letter-writing and parchment filing."
"Shall I pass a message on to those waiting for you in the foyer?"
"I am available if needed. No one else has informed my guardsman that they wish an audience, though, so I believe that they are just chit-chatting."
Aeili gave one more smile to encourage her bookish friend, and dipped her head.
"You remember how to use the orb by the exit door."
She smiled, nodding in silence.
Alexandra took a final, shaky breath and then pushed herself up to a full standing position again. Aeili extended both of her hands, gripping Alexandra's fingers supportively. Nodding once more, she turned to leave.
"I will see you on the morrow, Priestess Azenci," she warmly calls after the departing figure.
She lifted her palm in farewell. "I will be waiting for it."
Alexandra watched the elf depart and then slumped back down into her chair to cry some more.
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The pain was not as bad this time. Perhaps it was the scent of the first rains of spring as the earth opened her hands to drink thirstily before my very eyes. Perhaps it was my dampened hair slithering across my hollow cheek, a reminder of a most similar memory when I stood at the precipice of something greater. Perhaps it was the nascent remnants of my most recently expended magical energies. Then again, perhaps it was simply because I knew I was not losing terribly much by leaving here.
No, the pain was not as bad as it was when my feet left the cold stone walls of Candlekeep. I surmise it could only be that, though they were kinsfolk, I had never really connected with the citizens of En Dharasha Everae as much as I did with the human guide. It was, after all, because we always would be connected, in that mystical way that only elves know, that only elves feel, that only elves can ever truly understand. I did not need to strive. I did not need to explain. I only had to be.
What I have with the Guide I had to forge of our own mutual determination. But whenever I came here I felt like a little piece of me I had lost was found once again. That little piece of Evermeet, that rustle of the leaves in the misty forest breeze, that union of nature and civilisation in a perfect harmony. Here was not cold, carved stone but living, breathing earth. Here was not corridors darkened in the recesses of human engineering and ingenuity, but lightened by the radiance of nature's union with helping hands.
Was there more I could say to them beyond the actions of my hands? I did not think there was. They would have their opportunity in the days to come, nonetheless. For I know that, despite whatever reservation I retain in my heart towards Ithilwen's unshattering emotional distance, or Kael's merciless efficiency, I knew our people would be even more secure with the gift now held in the tips of their fingers, a secret adornment for the crown of the head, a perpetual memorial of everything Elven that, from now on, I would be endeavouring to treasure myself.
Because it is who I am.
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That empty feeling in my chest followed the deep sigh I emitted after the auction was over. It was far more productive than my first and there were many new folks I had never seen before. Then again, it is not like I had actually been in the city for many months. This would be the first and probably only time any of these faces would ever lay their eyes upon mine. What was even more curious was the fact that one of the bidders had asked me whether I would be willing to hold consignment auctions in the future. How unknown am I now! It is wonderful.
"What are your plans next?" came Elyssa's piercing voice to bring me back to the present. I noticed she was looking towards the walled horizon of the city. A few folks were talking idling after the auction but my attention was no longer focused upon them, or it. It was Elyssa's words.
"One last wander of the city, Elyssa. It's the last time I'll see it," I replied. Elyssa immediately offered her arm to me which I gladly took, hooking my elbow around hers as if we were blood sisters.
"I'd like to see the Temple," I continued, tugging her gently towards the Gate of Baldur which connected the Palace district to the Harbour.
"Which one, there's many to pass," she retorted with a wry smirk on her face.
"There is only one I'm interested in. You know that."
"I know," Elyssa said though a friendly smile.
"I don't need to see everything. Just the things that are, or were, important to me."
And that made me think. What left here was actually important to me? It was only the Temple, or, perhaps more importantly, the people I had met in it going back many years now. Back in the good old days when Elias Goodmane lead the Weavemasters with grace, wisdom and tact. Back when he had taken in a rather lost and sorry sun elf and welcomed her as one of their own.
Foggy McGee, now there was a gnome worth remembering. How he made me laugh, at least when he wasn't getting into all manner of gods-awful trouble with his tricks and illusions. Skulking Bernard, I still remembered the tender care with which I used to administer his sobriety tonic.
Jonas Rokranon. From the deep dark days when Auriel was plunged into Shar's bitter darkness to our frequent meanderings along the Tradeway together, I remember the brightest light I have ever known on the Sword Coast. His is a name that deserved to be etched on the Friendly Arm Inn's Memorial Plaque. He must have thought it odd, perhaps, that I did not swoon for him as freely as the other women on the Sword Coast but that did not at all mean deep down inside I never felt that way. I simply repressed it, as I always have, because my duty always came first. Duty that called me away to Waterdeep soon after these memories, a place where I stayed for four years in the relative obscurity of study.
Upon my return, I was thrust into a world where the Red Wizards now occupied Istari Tower, the Weavemasters were defunct and I was all but alone. Or was I? Lady Neela was still serving in the temple, and that was where I met Laitae for the first time. Bless her soul, I'm sure we would have been much closer if she wasn't so thoroughly dedicated to her Candlekeep duties. Nevertheless, it was a start, a beautiful fruit on a tree that would only grow more and more as time passed.
Telia Santraeger, nee Navra. She will remain the star sapphire at the centre of my staff forevermore. The story of selfish reckless abandon turned to sincere, measured responsibility. She has much further to walk on her path yet, of course, and certainly entailing far more danger than I ever engendered. But in Telia is the hope of the Mystran cause. In Telia is the truth that magic is a gift to be given, not a power to be abused for personal advantage. In Telia I have my own spiritual daughter, whom shall have her own children of flesh and blood and thus the message promulgates itself. These are the sons and daughters I leave for the world, my children, my legacy.
The pat of rain upon my face returned me to the present once more.
"I am coming back to Doron Amar today," I said as my nostalgic delirium lifted. "My creation was a success and I have every intention of repeating the feat."
"Wonderful," Elyssa smiled back.
It was then that the Blade and Stars greeted us, meaning that just thirty yards to my right-hand side was what I had come for. Neela already knew. Mili already knew. We already had had out tears of bitterness, ever the stalwart was this temple rock of a woman. I was like a fleeting shadow compared to her simple, dogged determination. I came through the doors and our eyes locked immediately as Elyssa anticipated what was about to happen.
"That is a sum the temple has not had in bulk, for quite a time, is it not?" Elyssa asked. I could only nod at her words.
"I would to see it with my own eyes, but a legacy fund is the best I can manage now." It was true. Even if someone would follow in my wake, fill the shoes I would leave undoubtedly empty, my eyes would never see the temple in its renewed glory, shrine of Azuth included. I took out a scroll and pressed it into Neela's hands, then availed myself of her relative moment of helplessness to give her another wholesome embrace.
"This place ever occupies a place in my heart, Lady Neela. . . I am going to miss you deeply." Sniffles resulted as the emotion of the moment caught up with me.
"I'm sorry I couldn't do more, Lady Neela, but it is my time now," I continued as I released a deep breath in an attempt to retain my composure.
Elyssa's gaze dipped to the temple floor at that point, then back on me. "I think she and I could agree, more could not have been asked for."
I squeezed Neela's shoulders one more time before turning to leave. Simple. Without pomp or ceremony or focus on myself, just as I ever wished it to be. A sleeve quickly found the moisture in the corner of my eyes to be a bit too much for me then. My comfort was only found with a steeling grip upon Elyssa's offered forearm.
"Walk through the city gates?" Elyssa eventually asked me, softly, after an extended period of silence.
"Halbazzer's," I croaked out.
As soon as we had entered, a voice piped up.
"Oh! Elyssa! Fancy seeing you here. Are you enjoying the city?" said a brunette haired human woman. I noticed that Halbazzer was with these customers so I patiently waited for them to conclude their business with the magus.
"Well met kin," said another elf shortly thereafter. Elyssa's attention was caught, whereas mine grew more and more distant.
"A visit, and escorting a friend," she said while sending a supportive smile in my direction. I tried to smile in return, but I knew it was a pitiful excuse for one. The reddness that had accumulated in my eyes would have been plain enough that I was a little upset about something.
"Councilor Elyssa, may I ask for an introduction to your friend?"
"Hello," I unenthusiastically greeted them as I came under their prying eyes.
"Just Elyssa, I'm not a councillor currently anymore," Elyssa corrected her as her gaze fell on me once more. "Allow me to introduce Aeili Azenci, priestess of Mystra."
The kind lady was about to do a curtsy when she must have realized she was in her armor and immediately switched to an awkward bow. I dipped my head at them but remained fairly quiet and self-reserved.
"Oh, what a coincidence," came another voice from outside. It was Shandril.
"Pleased to meet you Priestess Aeili. Hello Shandril!" the woman replied curteously to us both as Shandril made her way over to the counter.
"Hello dear," she smiled. "The usual, Halbazzer," Shandril requested and was promptly given a handful of scrolls, paid for with coin up front.
"I was thinking of heading south to collect more leaves, in case I need to teleport there. Ameris I think resides down there, and he may need our help in the near future."
"Dont let me interupt your conversation."
"Well met Elyssa and Priestess Aeili" the other elf eventuall said. "I am Luthais, a druid of the Moonmaiden." I tried to weasel out of more interaction. Bad mood.
"I will let you catch up with your colleagues, Elyssa, while I conduct my final business," I murmured in such a way that it could have been heard by most of those present. She nodded.
"Ameris resides in the Gate dear, when not with Telia in their new home, which is his to reveal if he desires to. But his increased activities and the patrol focus this past tenday in the south might have him lodged in there."
I let go of Elyssa's arm and approached Halbazzer when Shandril was finished with her dealings as their conversation faded to the background.
"He's encountered some trouble with the Dark Lady. I think Selune wishes for us to support him."
"Yes, the second batch please Halbazzer," I said to the magus, barely listening to the others.
"Shandril, Ameris has recived threats from the Night Mother"
"Why was this not brought to me?"
"These patrols certainly dig up strange occurances."
"It only became apparent yesterday after the patrols."
I took a prepacked satchel from the magus and bowed her head respectfully. "Yes, this is it. It's been most lovely working with you all these years, Halbazzer." And whether the aged magus wanted it or not, I gave him a hug as well, followed by him grumbling some. Eventually I stepped away before things got awkward, slinging the satchel bag over my shoulder in readiness to leave.
The lady tilted her head curiously to Shandril. "I, well, yes? That's why we're making preparations?"
"It was well after you had gone to sleep and we had intented to alert you once you awoke."
"I have awoken all day dear and heard nothing."
"Ameris was encouraged to seek you out as well if safe harbor was desired."
"I will find Ameris and hear what he has to say on this," she replied, exhaling a sigh alongside.
"What was that?" she asked, looking confused at the elf. "Did we do something wrong?"
"An upset councilor."
"I. . . oh. . ." I tried to interrupt Shandril, but was too late. She was already out the door. I sighed too.
"Ameris Santraeger has been in town?" I queried tentatively.
"He has, yes."
"I need to find him too." I had a letter to give him.
"He was at friendly arms inn earlier. You would be best trying there"
"Last I spoke to Ameris, he was lodging in Beregost." She motioned to the elf. "That was after I saw him."
"Shall I ask him to meet elsewhere?" she asked Aeili. "Or find him there?"
"Beregost? Friendly Arms? Well, south is where my feet shall next tread. I shall leave word for him now."
"We are heading down south ourselves," the elf suggested helpfully. "We can bring you through nature if you seek quick travel."
I held up my hand to Elyssa to indicate I would contact him, and then took out a piece of copper wire, wrapping it around my index finger as I began to chant a Sending Spell. I pressed the coiled copper wire against my temple and after a thought the wire vanished, the spell component being consumed. I remained in a state of mental readiness as I awaited Ameris' reply, which came forthwith.
"Well, shall we travel together then?"
"That sounds agreeable," Elyssa concurred while glancing in my direction as I completed the spell.
"I'm ready to travel whenever you all are. Do we want to walk, take a boat, or...?"
"I wish to make one pass of Wyrm's Crossing. Grant me this request, please." Elyssa nodded agreeably.
"No objection from me."
"None from me either," said the lady. "I actually don't even know where that is."
"The large bridge."
"Oh, the big stone one? I didn't ever actually learn its name.
"He is there, and will meet us on the roof. Friendly Arm Inn," I clarified and refocused my attention around me.
"Let us be on the way."
"Very well then."
I walked a bit slower than the others, and deliberately so, my eyes soaking in the scenes of the city with absent-minded attentiveness. The others adjusted to my speed, or rather lack thereof, but I had other things to do.
"I just need to drop this off. I can meet you at the Gatehouse."
I wandered off on my own, the rolled scroll found itself in my hand as I headed up a nearby street. Lysander, nee Sveta, Asperan's house. There was no answer when I knocked so I left the scroll in the mail slot and tried to catch up to the others. It was an eerie feeling walking out the Eastern Gate, my footsteps crunching softly in the toiling dust, mud accumulating in wagon ruts and dodging piles of horse and cattle manure. Serene, even.
"Thank you friends, for giving me this experience."
"I hope it was, um, what's the word..." the woman was saying mid-sentence, tilting her head to the side considering something when I interrupted them. "Ah it's no trouble, did you just want to see the bridge?"
"Please go on ahead. I wish to make my own way across," I urged them. I wanted to do this walk alone for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on. Perhaps because I arrived alone? Perhaps?
"I will see you on the other side."
My steps were very slow now, barely an amble. Slow, purposeful, meditative. I tucked my hands into their opposite sleeves, as I had seen the monks in Candlekeep do so often and strolled my way across the bridge. It, too, was laced with memories. Gone were the days now when folks would gather by the merchant caravan like flies to a sugar-trap; the Friendly Arm Inn had taken all that glory now. Many times had I tarried by these stones waiting for Jonas Rokranon to escort me south, or it was to here he had safely delivered me after having journeyed from Candlekeep or somesuch. Here was where I evacuated the refugees from Eleanor's village and witnessed the chagrin of her father's disapproval. The endless squelch of water toiling furiously against the fat, burgeoning buttresses calmed me suddenly and I stopped to watch a while. I could hear their footsteps stop. Perhaps they thought I intended on killing myself by hurling myself thither into the swirling eddies. My finger traced the cracking natural lines in the stonework as I turned to wander onward past the drawbridge and the far bank gatehouse. If the others were looking at me and wondering then, I did not notice. I stopped to look back and closed my closed meditatively for some time. My hands had returned to their opposite sleeves, tucked in neatly.
"I like this bridge, it's very well made and sturdy. Though I still avoid the edges."
I took her left hand out, and turned her palm heavenward. A part of me hoped it would rain right then, although the others would not have known what I was waiting for. Not a drop, besides the dripping of tears in my heart of hearts. I uttered a prayer of thanksgiving to no-one in particular.
"Farewell, Baldur's Gate. You have been good to me. Very good. My heart will yearn for you, when all my other hope has faded." They would not have known what I really meant by that, but I knew. My hand lowered, my body turned and I nodded my readiness to the others. I tried my best to blink away the gradually increasing moisture in the corner of my eyes, but to little avail. It would have been evident to the whole world I was emotional.
"Shall we proceed then?" Reassuring smiles were sent in my direction from all present.
"Let us find Ameris then."
All I could do then was to nod in the affirmative. I had no words that my feelings could express, nothing except a deep, exhaling breath. One foot placed in front of the other on the cold, lifeless dirt.
They would be my last out of Baldur's Gate.
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I breathed out a somewhat exasperated sigh of relief. But was it really? Was I really relieved to be spending my last night on continental Faerun? Was this really how my journey was to commence its next heroic step into the unknown?
I squatted next to the small trunk I had just packed, running my hand over its dusky leather case. It did not have terribly much in it, to be honest. Just the essentials, actually. My crystal ball. My Mystran ceremonial robes, more of a keepsake than utilitarian. A handful of spell scrolls I intended on bringing back with me. Sparrow's heart-shaped agate she had carved and given to me the last time we met in Baldur's Gate. And, last of all. Space. Space for the gifts I would be given, undoubtedly, on the morrow. Tokens of memories and friendships that I expected would flow freely from sorrowful hearts and both they, and I, came to the full realisation that this was happening, that this was real, that this was indeed my last night under Faerun's stars.
En Dharasha Everae has my legacy in stone, a fiery orange jacinth tel'kiira by which several millennia of Miyeritari lore shall be eternally preserved. The Council of Doron Amar, likewise, shall soon receive their boon. Theirs took longer as I had to instil my own knowledge and memory into it, a lifetime's understanding of magical theory, divination practice, astrological experience, and fell-plane investigation, whereas I had not done so with Dharasha's. And it is just beautiful.
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The last of the dew had accumulated upon the still grass as the clear sky finally gave way to a concealing blanket of cloud. I thought it fitting, perhaps, that the verge of dawn on the continent should be shrouded by Sehanine's concealing mists. There was far more to this than might have met the untrained eye, though. Lathander's new birth for the day, the token sign of new life and extended vitality should be channelled through the mists of brooding darkness and death, the journey upon which I was about to embark.
I pushed myself up from my place of meditation. I could already feel the pangs of heaviness in my chest, physical and not yet emotional, for I knew my health was once again on the turn. I returned to the Tower to get my things and load up my horse before the sunlight could prove my absence from the village forever. I decided to do something radical that morning and I had requested the most vibrant fuschia garment from the tailors the previous week and had it delivered discreetly. I wanted a day the others would never be able to forget, because, afterall, this day was as much for their sake as it was for mine.
Some hours later I idled on the bench outside the jest, watching the to and fro of my fellow pilgrims as the finalised their last supplies, talked to their last relatives, they did everything I was about to do. The difference between me and them, however, is that their eyes were full of hope. Full of expectation. Full of awe, wonder and excitement about the exciting new chapter of their lives they were about to open in the Elvish Promised Land. I sincerely wished I could share their enthusiasm, but I was not going to somewhere wholly unfamiliar to me. I grew up on Evermeet. I chose to leave it, abandoning my family to three decades of utter silence. I did not quite share their optimism, however determined I was in my mind about the choices I had made and was about to make. The stirrings of the first familiar arrivals ushered me to my feet, and I moved to greet them.
"Hello Priestess Aeili,” returned the wholesome, woodsy voice of the ranger, Vendor ‘Xon. He was standing by the al-fresco area at the top of the ridge which overlooked the river, his attention now diverted from Elyssa towards myself.
"Aeili," the bladesinger smiled warmly towards me immediately after. The mage Sirion was there also, on what business I am not sure because I do not remember sending him an invitation, wordlessly giving a minute bow in my direction. My eyelids blinked in their usual flutter as I smiled at these earlybirds.
"Did you not bring your wife with you?" I asked Vendor, because I truly expected Terri to have ventured alongside him to this gathering.
“I hope she will find me here. I left her a message. I am sure she would like to say goodbye,” he replied with somewhat of a half-smile.
"I figured Phoenix Company might be busy with something or the other," I answered Vendor, just as Elyssa politely interrupted.
"Let me..change into aught more appropriate," she remarked somewhat sheepishly as she looked down at her armoured form. Why she was wearing it so early was not my business to ask, so I let the matter rest unasked. I nodded my approval and the ex-councillor wandered off towards Evervan’s Jest.
Vendor chuckled softly at my question. ”Terri is always busy.”
"I always found it bizarre that you were both exiled from the Gate and the Thayan position only evermore strengthened, despite the fact that Phoenix company seems one of the most active causes of good in the region."
"I wonder what the Dukes will make of this baby red dragon the Thayans have...acquired," Sirion commented glibly.
"I really wonder," Vendor pondered aloud, "but soon I will see Kahanak'S face when we return. Have you known that I kissed Terri the first time at the main square at Baldur'S Gate?"
"Oh I've a fairly good idea. Promote the Khazark to the Duchy, and open a permanent slave portal," I suggested with no doubt left regarding the sarcastic nature of my comment. It was enough to cause the corrner of Sirion's mouth to curl up in a humorless smile. "Then again, politics was never my forte. I had far more productive things to do with my time."
"Well met," a slim, earthen-garbed figure emerged from the boughs to bow slightly towards us.
"Alyndra," the elven druidess was greeted by Vendor, accompanied by Sirion's synchronised dip of the head. "What a pleasure."
"Fair eve Alyndra."
"To you as well, Elyssa."
I dipped my head in greetings to the druidess, but I inwardly admitted that despite how long I had been in Doron Amar now I did not actually know Alyndra at all well. My thoughts were broken by the ex-councillor's voice.
"I must admit, a pilgrims feast as this is odd to me. From my perspective, it is coming home in the stead of going away," she said to me with a grin.
"I am still a pilgrim, Elyssa, as are the others going with me. It seems only fitting for them to be sent home in high spirits just as much as I," I answered, although I knew by the end of this day all of our emotions would be a complicated mess. It was usual to celebrate the arrival of new pilgrims upon the shores of Evermeet; I wondered if it was at all usual now to do the same when they were farewelled from the continent?
"Mhm," Elyssa hummed as she gave my arm a friendly rub. Another flutter of blinks and I remained speechless, interrupted only by Vendor's lovesick grin.
"Mmm?" Elyssa hummed some more as she looked up and over her shoulder.
"Hi ya," greeted Terri's friendly voice.
"Good eve Terri."
Sirion nodded in my fellow blonde's direction as Vendor held out his hand and pulled her close to greet her with a kiss.
"Hello my husband," Terri approached with a hug and a kiss.
"Welcome," I greeted her after her initial sign of affection for her husband. I could not really say if I felt a twinge of jealousy at that moment, but I did feel something. Such intimacy had not been a part of my life since I had split with Charraj all that time ago. My divinations had not managed to find him after it was reported he disappeared into a fell portal in the depths of Dragonspear Castle, and I could only ever assume the worst from that point onwards.
"Greetings," Terri replied before directing her eyes on Elyssa and unleashing a fluid sentence in our mother tongue. "Ilcc na amacc ameanir anira hoth im tymila?"
"Aniraa ilma weelv latycalwewca," was the answer, accompanied by a satisfied nod from the founder of Phoenix Company. The People were indeed splendidly well. "Let us not all stand here; enjoy a seat." she gestured in a welcoming manner towards the plateau.
"So this is a happy celebration or?" Vendor's probing question was accompanied by his direct, attentive gaze.
"For the most part, I would assume?" I answered somewhat evasively. I had some serious things to say, but I did not want to begin that speech until the time was right. Eyes fixed on me, unsatisfied, but they would have to wait.
"I love the colors on your robe," Terri changed topics, thankfully. "What color would you call that?"
"Fuschia?" I answered. It was, afterall, a dye produced from the flowers of that plant, equally pink showstoppers.
"I will be sure to ask for such a colored fabric on the next dress I have tailored," she answered as Vendor motioned to the nearby seating.
"Let us move over."
"There is a flower of the same name, rather pretty ones," I added idly as Elyssa took to the stage, nestling into the seat by the harp that was there.
"You play the harp?"
"I do," she smiled to Alyndra.
"Splendid," the druidess smiled briefly.
Something was murmured to Vendor and he began talking of other recent events, something about caves full of undead. My heart skipped a beat when the topic came up, although it seemed to be in some far-flung locale that would not concern me in the slightest. The thought that I would no longer be able to lend assistance in such matters was not what bothered me, though. Neither was it that I had voluntarily excluded myself from involvement as I prepared my heart for my departure today. No, it was something far deeper, far more menacing, far more personal; a gloomy, lurking shadow at the verge of my periphery with which I would soon be confronted.
"First time?" Terri's sudden question towards Elyssa's harp-plinking returned me to the present.
"I think every elf can play a harp," he jested heartily, "excluding me."
"Me neither," Alyndra chuckled alongside.
"You're a half-elf, honey," Terri grinned and then returned to the present topic. "Do you mean the island we found or do you speak on one I have not been too?"
"Selûne's bracelet, a string of islands with wonders yet unexplored."
"The one we found with Mealir the first time."
"He understands why I did not offer my services?"
"He did not really listen... as I told him you still would be mad," they continued to discuss as their volume of their voices decreased.
I made my way to the platform where Elyssa was playing, choosing rather to take a seat there than have to focus my mind on issues that I would have nothing at all to do with.
"So Aeili, do you recall your first month in the continent?" Elyssa asked with that friendly smile of hers as her fingers worked expertly on the harp.
"Of course. But you must remember it was not to the Sword Coast that I first arrived, but to Evereska in fact," I had begun to answer, ready to start the tale of my arrival amongst our northern kinsfolk and how I eventually made my way via caravan to the Sword Coast, a whole adventure in and of itself. I noticed we had another visitor, though!
"Aah yes, ofcourse," she answered, her fingers strumming along the harp in an arpeggio.
"Ah. . . Lady Firehair herself has decided to visit us!" I remarked as I noticed the flame-maned Sunite approaching us with a friendly wave as I pushed myself to my feet to greet her.
"Hello Erza," the welcomes began all around.
"Hello Aeili" she smiled warmly in my direction as I moved to welcome her properly.
"How are you my dear friend?" I said as I attempted to embrace the woman, which was fortunately reciprocated in kind.
"Sad to see you leave dear."
"Did you have a difficult journey, or do you just expect us elves to give you trouble?" I deflected the redhead's words, looking instead at her prominent maille and sword, and accompanied yet still with a rare, devious grin just so she would know I was jesting.
"Well its a fair trip from the Gate, Sadly mirror walking never works."
"Understood. You are free to utilise one of the guest rooms in the Jest to change your attire if you feel it necessary," I recommended, because I did not expect anyone else to be girded for battle thus. Today was not a day for sword, shield or spell, but for the blessings of food, drink, song, and friendship.
"I think i will have to, Can't enjoy a party in armor" she grinned as brightly as only a Sunite can.
"I will be back in a moment dear."
It was then, behind her as she turned aside, I noticed two more guests had arrived. Two very familiar and much loved faces, eyes darting to and fro as they no doubt searched for their priestess in blue and white.
"Priestess Aeili...?!" remarked a man's voice in rich, vibrant surprise as his female companion abandoned the support of his arm, moving forward to embrace me instead.
"Telia! Ameris! Oh thank the gods you made it!" I answered, hugging the raven-haired Mystran priestess with rejuvenated energy just from their mere presence.
"I would not have missed it for anything..!" she answered, bordering on ecstatic to see me, the embrace also a careful so as to not hurt the form she knew was frail. Ameris' soft laugh echoed from behind as Telia stepped back to search me over carefully with those deep, green eyes. "...but did you pick the wrong dress?!" she protested, pinching at the vivid fuschia and pretending to look highly offended by my choice.
"I most certainly did not," I answered, grins spreading all around. The wideness of their surprise was worth my choice in and of itself, and undoubtably they would not be forgetting this day any time soon.
"Permit me a little frivolity, if you please?" I suggested to her in a playful tone, because that was all this was. Enjoyment of colour.
"It does suit you, so you can get away with it... this time!" she smiled, trying to make light of it with her jesting threat.
"I permit you frivolity, certainly," Ameris encouraged. "I welcome it, for we are here to celebrate!"
I squeezed Telia's shoulders once more before finally letting go of the warm token of our deep friendship.
"Greetings to you all," Terri welcomed them also as Ameris moved forward to grip one of my thin hands in his twain, which was not refused.
"I cannot say that your journey onwards does not bring sadness. It does. Yet tonight we look back on fond memories we have shared, and will keep with us evermore, even though we dwell far apart. That is how I understand it. There is not a day that goes by when the effect you have had on my life is forgotten, for it is you who guided Telia to be what she now is. And it is I who benefit."
I dipped my head at Ameris' sentiments, keeping my emotions in check. For now.
"Hello Ameris and Telia," Vendor waved at them.
"Greetings," the Mystran witch smiled to the others who are present.
"Hello Erza," she gives her a smile, too, as the Sunite rejoined us.
"Fair eve, Erza, Ameris, Telia."
"Hello Telia, Ameris. Lovely to see you both out and about. Hello Councilor Elyssa."
"...I dare say I benefit as well! Ameris is being quite selfish there," Telia interrupted.
"So with that said," he looked about dramatically, quickly followed by a cheeky grin, "...where are the drinks?"
"Not just you, Ameris. The world benefits for what Mystra has helped her become," I deftly, yet politely, corrected him. Telia's grin instantaneously multiplied exponentially, as she touched her holy symbol necklace and directed her eyes skywards a brief moment.
"I stand corrected," Ameris answered with warmth at the correction, at which point I leaned over to whisper noisily to Telia with a telling wink.
"See, I've still got it."
"The stern mentor voice? Ha, you will never lose it...!" That elicited an immediate laugh from the Ilmateri priest.
"Well met all."
"Ah yes, refreshments. Wine, water from the spring, juice from the fruit.."
"That reminds me," Terri said, shifting her weight as if to fetch something from her person. She produced two bottles of wine and offered them to me. "I have two bottles of wine from Hoffman vineyards. I would like you to have them, Aeili."
I turned with a slightly tilted head. "Hoffman?"
"I look forward to hear of your lost spells later, Aeili," Telia jested while winking at me, thereafter returning to the relative safety of Ameris' offered arm
"Monty," Terri continued, "a blind man who owned a vineyard."
"Why thank you very much Terri. That is very kind of you."
"His daughter runs the vineyard now. Please enjoy them when you have leisure to do so. It's my parting gift to you."
"Why, now seems the most perfect opportunity."
"A bit of the Coast. I hope you like it."
The delicate tune followed on the harp finds an end and Elyssa rose up from her place, applauded by Telia.
"Such gifts are best enjoyed with company, I must say."
"I shall bring the goblets!"
"Thank you Elyssa."
"They are yours to do as you wish. I would not turn down a glass from the best human vineyard on the coast."
It was at this point that I realised there was another important guest. Turning, I saw another familiar figure, decked humbly and wearing an amused smile at finally being 'caught'.
"Fashionably late..." she told me.
My eyes locked on the Guide for a moment before her face drew together an inner brightness of a gleaming smile, ignoring the commotion for goblets that Ameris was causing behind me at that present moment. Goblets did not matter in such company, as useful as they were. Alexandra moved forward, arms open and outstretched.
"There is no such thing as late on the Elven calendar, Alexandra," I answered her and welcomed the Guide of Candlekeep with a delicate, warm embrace, which was reciprocated by something fiercely protective, sisterly.
"I've missed you too," I pre-empted whatever the scholar was going to say, whispering into her ear. I knew that Alexandra would be one of the more devastated parties this day, as close as we had become in the prevailing months. She nodded several times as our mutual grips reluctantly loosened. I felt the need to cough then, as if my breath had been stolen from me. I covered my mouth to prevent it and instead held up the two bottles of wine Terri had given me. Alexandra lightly 'ahemed'.
"Hoffman's, courteousy of Terri and Vendor."
"A certain other sister of ours has returned from the Plane of Air. She should arrive within the candle-mark," Alexandra reported, and continued. "Ah, for you, I may imbibe."
"Oh that is most wonderful news that Laitae will come!" I answered, because I truly did wish to see my dear friend again. Alexandra took a small step backwards, fully releasing me, and then flashed a smile towards Erza.
"Lady Aldren," she warmly greeted.
"Hello Guide," she offered a warm smile.
Elyssa soon returned, walking with a finger pointing at a hovering tray with twelve cups upon it. "Fair eve," she greeted the Guide, which was immediately reciprocated with a lift of her palm in a wave.
"Fair day to you!" she warmly intoned.
"Ah, and there she is!" I almost squealed excitedly as Laitae showed up. I had not seen her since I was granted permission to utilise Candlekeep's laboratories to assist my creation of the Orb of Mental Defragmentation for the Guide. This was a good day.
"Good evening, sister. I'm glad you have not left yet."
Alexandra beamed a smile towards Laitae, and then, as is habit, the Guide bowed to the Great Reader. Attentions fixed on the red-haired elfess, especially mine.
"Of course I have not departed yet. We are just about to open the drinks."
"Then do not let me delay the festivities."
I just grinned and moved forward to give Laitae a hug.
"You are leaving by ship, I assume?" I nodded in the affirmative.
"The pilgrim convoy is en-route, and I will depart when they arrive." There was a pause as voices criss-crossed around us.
"I may need to bring more goblets... should more people arrive."
"The inn is rather near by," Telia suggested to Elyssa, precisely as more company did arrive.
"Guide, Aeili," came Lafali'Atria's voice.
"Reader Dacino," she was greeted by Alexandra.
"I hope you are well, Elyssa...?"
"I am faring well," she smiled to Telia.
Dramatically, one goblet is held out to Telia. "Fair lady. You seem thirsty." She looked at Ameris, then laughs.
"Fair day, friends!" she greeted the trio.
I was happy. Everyone was happy. Old acquaintances and friends were meeting one another again. New friends and acquaintances were being made. This was exactly what I wanted to happen today. Were there more surprises in store? Certainly! The first being precisely what Laitae was about to tell me.
"I haven't been to Evermeet since I ... basically ran away. Perhaps I should take the opportunity to visit."
I could only persist in my pause, mouth now agape, eyebrows raised, curiosity piqued.
"Would you like a companion on the journey?" she persisted more plainly with accompanying smile.
"I never. . ." I answered, stunned and lost for words. Laitae? Really? You would travel with me, all the way home? I was so stunned by the revelation that I completely missed the conversations behind me, namely, that Alexandra had come alone and not with Eldarian by her side, as well as the other small talk. "Ohh! Would you really?"
"Yes? If you wouldn't mind me tagging along, of course."
"Well. . . how good are your sea legs? Mine are awful, to be quite frank about it." Memories of my recent sea-terror travelling to Waterdeep with Mili were rather ripe in my mind at that point.
"I should be fine. Spending the last few months on the plane of Air makes the see seem solid and stable."
"Well, I will not object. You will have until the convoy is ready to depart to make up your own mind about it."
"Oh, I've made up my mind now. If you are alright with a companion for the trip, then that's all I need. It will be good to see Leuthilspar again."
I was still rather flabberghasted, and it was only the intervention of Elyssa that saved my composure then.
"Laitae! Wonderful to see you again." she smiled, coming to a halt beside us.
"Good evening, Elyssa. You look well."
"I am, how has your position fared for you?"
"More time for research. But also more responsibilities. And very long council meetings. Fortunately not too frequent."
"The paper dragons strike again," Elyssa joked as I retained my utter bewilderment and surprise. "Pardon me, more goblets!" she said as she returned to the Jest. This was a small mercy, and a deeply appreciated one, this offer by Laitae. Noticing my state of affectation, she encouraged me further.
"It has been on my mind for quite some time to visit home. Your departure comes with the opportunity to make the journey more pleasant... at least one direction of it."
I snapped back to attention as the voices continued around me, Ameris' being the closest and loudest.
"Thankyou for the flowers."
"You are welcome. The colors of Ilmater... or so I requested."
"Indeed, well chosen!"
"Regardless, I am certain that two busy people such as ourselves can find time to talk before you depart again. And if not... well, I hear that old-fashioned letters still work."
"It's. We need words, I think. Not letters. So I will make sure it happens. If it delays much longer I'll just have to call in favours and visit."
"I do imagine they must be. Perhaps one day... Thank you for the offer. I, however, cannot journey there any time soon," Telia was saying to Lafali in a separate conversation before her eyes cast Ameris a disapproving glance.
Alexandra's eyes cut towards Telia. "Indeed."
"But this is work, and we are here to celebrate!" he answered cheerfully. I took it as my cue.
"It is time we opened these," I finally interrupted everyone and held out the two bottles of Hoffman's, commencing my search for a corkscrew.
"Lafali, how are you?" I said as I began to fidget with the cork, glancing up at the once-human-male-named-Hoihe-now-elf-female-named-Lafali'Atria, doing my best to ignore Ameris' loud voice behind me as he greeted Laitae and company.
"Doing well, if busy with research both naval and bookish, Soora has asked me to relay her good wishes to you on your journey. Alas, she couldn't make it."
"Duly noted, and gracefully received. A shame she was not able to come with you, as I don't think I ever met Soora in all my years here." I stared down at the bottle. The cork was winning.
"Perhaps Ven could help with the cork?" Lafali suggested.
""Hello Atria. Sure."
"Vendor can do it!" Terri likewise insisted.
"Oh, would you?" I freely gave up the bottle to return my attention on the nearby conversations. It was Alexandra's voice that greeted my ears.
"You will return though... right?"
"Of course. I am still avowed. I think my mind and heart is ready to try convincing my parents that my leaving was for my own best." Alexandra looked decidedly relieved with that response. I lowered my gaze. It was hard for her, in my case, because I would not be returning. But there was one small mercy yet in store for her, which I would tell her when it was time.
"I hope they can see it. With all you have done and achieved, they must."
Ameris could not have seen how much that stung me, though. High elves are not as forgiving as to overlook a slight in a moment, let alone a century. Both of us would be returning to the known, yet the unknown. What measure of displeasure had our actions merited? Would they still misunderstand, or had whispering voices during reverie softened hardened hearts and cultural expectation?
"How many years does an elven parent spend on lecturing their errant child, Laitae..?"
"Depends on the severity, I suppose, Telia. Probably the rest of their lives, if I am unsuccessful."
Telia snickered at the answer. "I shall pray they let you get off easily. So perhaps, half a lifetime?" Laitae laughed softly in response.
"Vendor, lets see you slay that beast."
"Let me have a look..." Vendor said as he took the bottle and screwed it open.
"Here you are."
"Splendid!" he cheered as the bottle is vanquished.
"Thank you. Now, who would like some?" I offered to pour the rounds.
"Sure. Thank you."
"See Aeili? Being First Officer with such hands is a boon to all drinking! And I'd like some!"
"What is it like over there...?" Telia asked Laitae curiously.
"On Evermeet? Have you ever been to Evereska?"
"I have not, no. Are they similar?"
"Evereska is, for obvious reasons, somewhat more open, and has a district that is open to non-elves. Many non-elven followers of Solonor visit there for his temple."
"Does that mean that non-elves can only visit that one district?" Telia remarked as Ameris moved to her side, sipping quietly now from his goblet.
"It is also friendly to the Harpers, because of the Harpers' professed admiration for Cormanthor at its peak. But how is it? It is difficult to explain to someone who has only seen cities with buildings..."
"Ahh...I forgot one," Vendor sad as he offered two more drinks out to Alyndra and Terri.
"Thank you honey," Terri remarked appreciatively. At that, Ameris raised his goblet.
"Coronal Eltargrim's ideal!"
"I saw this one coming..." Telia laughed and rose her wine too.
"Alyndra? You want some wine?"
"None for me."
There was mirth in the air; it made me glad. The wine was good, and flowing freely. Faces were smiling and joking. I was glad, happier than I had felt since the day I told Charraj that I loved him. I knew this was right, that my choices were pure and everything had turned out for this purpose.
"Aeili, I am afraid i will have to depart before the real celebration starts," Lady Erza's voice interrupted my distant reminisce.
"Mmm. . . oh that is alright Erza." I turned my eyes in her direction, again my mind slipping away from the distant conversation between Telia, Lafali and Laitae as they discussed what Evereska and Evermeet were like. "Thank you so much for coming. Expect a letter."
"Before i go though," Erza continued with a purposeful pause, "I want you to know that you have been a true blessing to the coast."
"I haven't always felt it, let me tell you," I replied. I had never been the benefactor of my own reputation. In fact, I cared little for it. I simply wanted to fulfil my calling to the Lady of Magic, to promulgate the Art in the manner it was designed, and to use my magic for good and not ill. I think almost everyone who knew me knew that.
"The love and friendship you have brought with you has been a blessing, I know my lady Sune will weep as we do when that is taken from here."
The words were touching, and spoke far deeper than the Sunite ever could have intended. It would only be a matter of time before Sune and Hanali would weep over what I would no longer be able to give to the world, but I understood that. It was my greatest, purest treasure, my ticket to the life beyond. Had things with Charraj advanced further than they had, I would have been nothing more than an empty husk to offer. But our stars diverged for reasons that still remain inexplicable to me, but it has turned out to my benefit now at the end of things. My hand innately found itself pressed over my own heart, touched as I was by Erza's kind words.
"I will miss you, but know our bonds of friendship won't end no matter the distance and i hope this is not the last time i see you... even if I have to finish becoming a heartwarder just to visit you," Erza continued, although I was not entirely sure what she meant by that. I could do nothing other than return a grim smile, because I knew we would not see one another again. "Hopefully i can cheat the system if i become fey."
Now it made more sense. She wanted to visit me on Evermeet, although how she was going to turn herself into a. . . actually, no. Evervan had turned Hoihe into an elf. I should not therefore discount the possibility that Erza might accomplish something similar. Somehow. Then Erza smiled. She was joking! Or was she?
"Look at the stars, my friend. You can always see me there, even when I am not in the flesh by your side in friendship." It was the best I could think of at the time as I had had no prior vision or prophecy for the Heartwarder. Arms rose up as we embraced again in a final, departing hug.
Aey amecc fa selalaaw sema aniral amemwla nyill a'tymalala, im estel aey oelw laelam alwelv quea mar," came her whispered tones of my mother tongue. Yes, I knew I would be missed. And that today words would fail to express that fact. Of the wished-for never-ending joy, however, I was far less certain, for I knew that pain, suffering and loss were what faced me. But I would be home. Home. I watched as Erza turned teary eyes away from mine and I returned the sentiment.
"Irillilce loth aeym wen, haril amjil." Hanali blossom your love, Lady Erza. Then, again, it was Ameris' boisterous animation that disturbed the moment.
"I mean if I was going to hang a painting of a great personage of the past. His would be first choice," he claimed, "then King Silvyr. And Saint Ramedar."
"I have already commissioned a painting of our cat," Telia supported him with a sip of wine, saying it with a straight face. By the gods! What are you two doing in my absence?!
"Are you sure it is not a golden statue?" Ameris immediately quipped to copious laughter.
Conversations halted as the group realised Erza was departing and could stay no longer.
"Mercy bless, Erza!"
"Moonlight guide you, lass!"
"Fare you well, Lady Aldren."
"Oh, who is the painter?" Lafali asked Telia, returning to their previous subject.
"A skilled one. He swore to get all the hairs just right. The whiskers as majestic as he could, too. There will be a red and golden pillow, and he will wear a little crown too."
"Still... What's the name and where can he be found? I got to keep Al away from him."
"Now now, I know what you are truly after!" Telia wagged her finger at Lafali in jest menace.
"You are spoiling that cat..."
"He is twice the size he was when we found him..."
"It is because he was a kitten, then!" Telia tried to protest.
"Is he a familiar, perhaps?"
"If its not Telia feeding him, its Amanda... I cannot stop them both."
"Ameris! Do not dare to speak ill of His Majesty behind his back," the Mystran now warned her husband. This time I could not quite tell if it was a joke or not. At that moment Elyssa leaned over to whisper something into my ear as I reclined to sip my share of the wine.
"Aeili, Viridiana is at the gates, she came to visit."
"Is she still not permitted entrance?" I queried. I knew she had left because of the shadows, but I did not realise she could not voluntarily return.
"No," Vendor answered for Elyssa. This topic change seems to have caught attentions.
"It is because of the shadows. They attacked her."
"I will go out to meet her. Excuse me please, my friends."
"Of course, dear friend."
"Viridiana is not allowed inside Doron Amar?"
"Yes, that's right. You can meet her at the gate I suppose."
And I needed no further recourse. I weaved carefully through the crowd and hastened to the gate to meet my dear friend.
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From the distance I could see the two figures seated, one beside each of the statues which flanked the bridge. It was the voice of Magus Sirion Te'Dwa which first greeted my ears as I approached the gate.
What Kalidorian's menu had to do with my celebration and remembrance feast I was not sure, but everything would soon be plain. I could not tell if it was a criticism by the magus regarding certain past festivals or plain relief, but it did not really matter. When Viridiana saw me, however, she immediately arose and pushed her hood back. The entirety of our conversation proceeded in our mother tongue.
"Fair evening, my friend. I came to say goodbye as I heard you are leaving soon." I nodded understandably, and was promptly embraced by the ranger.
"I will miss you dearly," she whispered to me in that moment, a moment which only ceased when a voice spoke over my shoulder.
"Greetings. What is this? You are not allowed inside? A shadow again? Or still?"
"Still, not again," she answered the druidess. Sirion pointed to the place where the ranger's shadow ought to have been, and the druidess immediately responded with a growl. I had to ignore it and I pressed on despite the unease being shown by Alyndra.
"Ah, Shadow-walker. Why did this trouble have to befall you, even you? How long can you wait? For out of these Gates I must again pass, and your company to the ships would be welcomed, although the prudence of it only you yourself know."
"Some things are beyond our understanding. Much more why this had to happen. Alas, it is what it is, and I can only live on untill it's over. I will remain here untill you shall depart, Aeili. I will not leave."
"I'm sorry I could not do more to help you."
"Don't be sorry. Nobody could. But we are here and we should not worry about such troubles. I wish to remember this night as best as I can, for it may be the last I see you."
"I will have some of the wine sent to you forthwith. You should not miss out simply because you cannot enter the gates."
"Thank you. I will await here. You need not to stay here with me," she said before pausing deliberately and looking at something further behind me than Alyndra was. "Or... the whole party comes here."
I turned to see Ameris and Telia walking, talking and gazing off into the distance up the river. Lafali was not far behind, and I could her the others were also hot on the trail.
"It sparkles. I never noticed that before." Telia said quietly, "...do you think the fish are magical too?"
" I... don't know." he responded equally quietly, although not quiet enough for elven ears. "I would not think so?"
"But maybe they are? What do I know?"
"It seems everyone wants to be here instead," I remarked cheerfully as I spied Lafali bringing goblets of wine along with her, and I turned around to grin at Viridiana, but I could not keep my attention there for very long.
"Aeili. Look who's here," Laitae remarked in the common trade language and I turned my head around again to the sound of a voice I had not heard since Charraj's remittance hearing.
"Ah, there she is."
"Ohh! You did receive it!" I replied excitedly. I could hardly believe my eyes.
"There's my second-favorite priestess," he grinned, digging around in a belt pouch for something. "I did. I was worried I might arrive too late, though, as I only just got the invite."
I could contain my excitement no longer, releasing a delighted squeal and advancing forth to give Valerius a hasty, but friendly, embrace. His arm disappears all the way up to the elbow into the tiny little pouch, before he fished out a wrapped, leather book and a cloth sack. He blinked as he was hugged, but chuckles after, returning it.
"Well I am soooo glad you made it. This means so much to me, really, it does," I replied, doing little more than shaking my head in utter incredulity.
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Though I'm afraid I can't stay very long. There's a bounty out on me at the moment. Long story, but the takeaway is that death slaadi can't take a joke. But I wanted to be sure I saw you before you went off to one of the few places I can't visit."
"Well, Candlekeep's Guideship is in -very- good hands after all these years Valerius," I assured him and glanced at Alexandra.
"That's hopeful news," he smiles. "The place has stood the test of time thanks to prudent and careful wardens."
"I am secretly hoping that Alexandra will surpass your renown, even," I joked under my breath in the presence of the current and ex-guides.
He chuckled at the stage whisper. "That's easy enough to do."
The corners of Alexandra's lips curved into a smile at Aeili's words. "I am not sure if he knows me, my friend."
"I was mostly known for annoying Winthrop and Isabella," Valerius remarked. He blinks at Alexandra as she approached. It is clear that he did not recognize her as the new Guide, no. It has been some time since he saw Candlekeep. But he offered her a smile and a nod, before he looked back to me as I spoke again.
"Well Isabella has not lost that trait of yours on the present Guide. I. . . I kind of wish we had more time to catch up, reminisce of the past. . ." I admitted, but I knew time was against me today of any day. All I could do then was release a nostalgic sigh.
"What did you do to poor Withrop?" Lafali asked him but her attention was quickly turned aside as she started to talk to Viridiana.
"I sent an invitation to Jonas but I guess the raven I sent failed her mission," I told Valerius, moving our all-too-brief conversation forward. The mention of Jonas' name caught Ameris' attention as Great Reader Rokranon explained somewhat what I could not.
"Ah. He's off saving the world, I'm sure. But I'll make up stories about how much he missed out on, don't worry." Once the subject shifts, Alexandra stepped aside again. A respectful dip of her head is returned towards Valerius.
I looked over Valerius' shoulder at someone who was approaching from within Doron Amar. That empty feeling fell in my stomach. It was the pilgrimage leader.
"Etrielle Aeili, it is time to depart."
"We should probably move," Ameris suggested to Telia, motioning to move off the bridge.
"Nonsense! Bridges are the best for such a party. They're symbolic."
"Let us not all stand on the bridge, lest it breaks from the combined weight." Everyone began to move to the other side. They knew it was soon time.
After a momentary lull, Valerius extended the leather case and cloth sack towards me. "Here, before I forget... in case you should ever get bored of life on that island, all right? The maps are of some interesting places you might visit. In the bag is what's called a dimensional sextant. There's lots to see out there if retirement doesn't agree with you."
I took the offered objects before being distracted noticeably by the Evereskan pilgrim. I could tell that the tension in the air had increased, and the jovial mood had suddenly departed from us as everyone realised the inevitable was about to happen. Heads were canted in my direction, mouths had begun to form frowns.
"Can we have at least one more round of drinks first?" I pleaded sincerely, because I had an important speech to make. "There is something I need to tell everyone before we take to the road."
"But of course! It should take no longer than a few minutes. I'll wait on the road until you are ready."
"Thank you Valerius," I turned and said appreciatively of the gift, although I was tinged with unease about what I was going to tell them. Some of them I knew would not receive the news well. Others already knew and supported me. One single individual knew my deepest intentions, and she supported me the most just as I had supported her when no-one else believed in her. I gulped visibly, looking around at everyone who had begun to get their drinks in order, expecting a celebratory toast. When the fidgeting was over and everyone had settled, I cleared my throat and began.
"I realise that, for all of us, today is a bittersweet day. I know that some of you do not want me to go, without knowing fully the reasons why I must. Some of you I have blessed with more knowledge of my motives, and you have supported me to this day, one of the most monumental since I first set my feet on the Sword Coast some seven years ago. But I want you all to know that today, you do indeed celebrate me. My life. Everything I have tried to be, and live, and reveal the Goddess I so fervently serve." I just had to pause at that point, the tough part was about to start.
"It is not easy for me to say this, although some of you already knew it was coming, but today to celebrate my life before it shall come to its final terminus." I paused again. Frowns increased.
"Today, to all of you, today is my funeral, in spirit, and in flesh." I said softly, but sincerely. It was true. I was never coming back, neither was I going home to live out a fairy tale existence. I was going home to bring my life to its end in a manner I felt most worthy of my vocation. Those eyes that were not already averted from me at the truth of my words did so immediately.
"I am dying, and I will meet my end on the Green Isles of Evermeet." I could not have said it any plainer. And sharper than my sword, Teu'Evaliir, cuts flesh, I could see in that moment cut hearts and broken hopes.
"I had one last wish, to see my family, my homeland, before I take my last and final journey," I continued, my voice starting to break with the emotion of the moment. "To complete the service I began many moons ago, to fulfil duty, love and faith. You are all soujourners with me there, even if you cannot accompany me on this final leg."
As I stopped to blink away some streaking tears, a comforting voice spoke up in the silence.
"We will be with you, Aeili. In spirit," Telia comforted me in a soft, soothing voice. I melted inside just that little bit more.
"You will be with us, in the good you have done for all of us," echoed her husband, Ameris. I took in a deep breath, steeling myself to conclude.
"I wish I had nicer things to say than to prophesy my own demise, but a diviner cannot have her friends walking in the darkness. Those who wish to accompany me to ships I will welcome. For the rest of you, this is our final farewell. . . and it is a farewell shared with cheer." I motioned for a goblet. I could see the Guide's lips quivered. Telia glanced skywards. Others tried to force smiles onto faces that would not receive them at that moment. Valerius lifted his own belt flask, remaining silent and thoughtful in expression. I followed suit with my wine, and the others followed in my stead. Then he opened his mouth and spoke his piece to assuage the tangible grief in the air.
"I think I can safely say that you have left your mark, Aeili. You have seen so much, and known so many. And every one of them you've clearly changed for the better. When the Weave Masters tried to bring good magic into the world, you were there. When I was an outlaw from Baldur's Gate, you were there for me. Charraj found guidance in you. As did my adopted brother, Jonas. We all of us owe you a debt. And will forever carry you in our hearts and memories as someone we've loved and still love dearly."
Tears streaked freely down my already rain-moistened cheeks. And then I took a mild sip from my wine simply because I knew what alcohol does to me and I could not afford to be sick at the start of this long journey home. The toast was shared universally by all present, including the recently arrived Marneiros who came across the scene at its most emotional moment.
"Hello... what is the meaning of this? I actually only came to say goodbye to Aeili! I do not nearly know her as much as I would like to know... But still."
"May Mystra's star always guide you, Aeili," Telia again said to comfort me before she drank from her goblet.
"Fine words, Valerius," Laitae approved.
"Every day of my happiness is owed to your wisdom, Aeili," Ameris tried to comfort me.
"Thank you so much, my dearest friends. It is why you were invited, because you were all so important to me."
"Your knowledge will forever remain within the archives of Candlekeep so that generations to come will study and learn from you," Alexandra remarked supportively. That, in fact, was perhaps my greatest legacy, and the one of which I was the most proud.
"Mielikki bless you Aeili," Vendor blessed me, "May she watch your path."
"Farewell, may you dance with the Gods in blissful happyness," Terri also said alongside her husband. I tarried a moment longer for any other farewells of those who would not be accompanying me down to the river mouth where the galleon awaited us.
Viridiana simply stood there, watching Aeili. With a simple gesture, her arms spread slightly near her hips. "We will meet again..."
"Like I said, I do not know you as much as I would have like to. But I heard, you were leaving... From the bottom of my heart, may you walk in eternal light!"
I was appreciative more than I had the words for, and when Elyssa offered her arm for the walk down to the bay I was inclined to take it.
"A moment, m'lady?" Valerius interrupted Elyssa. I tarried.
"One more thing for me, and then I must go myself. But --" And then Valerius pulled me into a bear hug. I guess he did not realise how skinny I had become with my illness. With one last whisper in my ear, he let go gently. "You've brought so much happiness to this place, Aeils. I'll miss you."
"The Coast still misses your wit, Valerius. The Planes are blessed by your wanderings. Death slaadi excluded," I tried to joke before I had to catch my breath. It elicited a couple of grins, and Valerius himself offered me a weak smile and then stepped back another step to allow me to say my final farewells and depart with my other friends.
"Let's walk with her honey until we cannot walk with her anymore," Terri suggested to Vendor, and I nodded my approval.
"I have never seen a full blown elf ship before."
I nodded to the Pilgrim leader then. I was ready to depart for the ships now, notwithstanding any other farewells. I did acknowledge Marneiros specifically at that point, though. "Your blessings are appreciated, cousin," I said in Elven, thanking Maneiros for his kind words.
"Well... I always like to think that every departure might be the beginning of something positive," he answered. Premonition, perhaps? There was both positivity and negativity in what I was about to do. A familiar voice spoke into my mind then.
"Farewell, priestess. I wish you a safe journey and all the joy you may find on the Isle." I probably would have preferred it not by sending, but that seemed like such a Sirion moment it was worth treasuring in and of itself. Up ahead, the pilgrim offered a solemn nod before leading the way for any who would follow to the shores where the boat awaited us. I waved at Valerius, adding his gifts to the rest of my meagre belongings, and just like that my feet walked for the last time off Doron Amar's supportive and nourishing soil, a place with memories I would cherish as dearly as life itself.
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"May I have a moment, before you depart? I haven't known you as well as others, but what you did for Elyssa, and our few interactions did put you in a position of great admiration none the less..." she started off telling me, "and that time when you got drunk was.... memorable, to say the least!"
Telia had alluded to the same when we were in Doron Amar. It was Shieldmeet and I did have a little too much to drink, which actually was not much at all for someone like Telia or Lafali in her previous incarnation as a ship's navigator. I generally abstained from the stuff ever since my days in the Academy in Taltempla where I had taken a touch too much Aelfengrape wine. I naturally made exceptions, today being one of three, the other being Telia's Magefire ceremony some moons ago. All three were rich, memorable occasions.
"It's a bloody damned shame you've to depart, the Coast has ... made in me an expectation of certain permanency of its denizens... to see one such as yourself depart..." Lafali continued before trailing off and stopping, fixing her gaze upon me.
"Valerius reminded me earlier.... would you mind to a... hug?"
I looked off into the distance as my other friends took an interest in the distant sight of the majestic galleon that would take Laitae and I home.
"Ships..." Marneiros murmured somewhat to himself at that moment when I had returned my attentions to Lafali'Atria. I simply smiled, moved forward and embraced her.
"Quite different from the Whistling Wanderess," Alyndra commented in the hearing of its navigator and some-time skipper. I did not expect any comment about it, though, neither does it seem it had been heard.
"Will we meet in Arvandor, Aeili?" The question was difficult to answer, for it was a question of my heart of hearts. Were I given the choice between my patron Mystra's realm of Dweomerheart or the Seldarine's Arvandor, I could not decide between the two which I would prefer, if such a choice could even be made. Could one even transit between the two as a petitioner? Would the gods even permit it, or could I even ask it? Both had their place in my heart, and though Mystra was my patron I had turned full circle during my time in Doron Amar and I was praying to the Seldarine just as regularly now, just not for my spells. I answered in the only manner I could think of at the time.
"At the appointed time, sister, and not before." There was a sad sigh from Lafali as the hug came to its end.
"Then this is not farewell. I was... worried." Of course Lafali did not know, nor did I tell her explicitly or implicitly, that it might be many moons yet before my soul passed the gates of Arvandor to find my eternal rest. No, that would only cause worry, which is why I did not want to tell any of the elves what my true plans were lest they fret themselves to death with worry. "May Sehanine dance with you sister, a merry dance, and nothing less."
"Your words are very kind, Lafali'Atria," I answered and looked about. I could see that Elyssa carried herself with that same thoughtful expression they all were, wanting to talk with me in these last moments that they had. Telia toyed with her holy symbol since drink was no longer available for her to try to ignore the emotional pain that was about to come. Strangely, at least to me, Terri and Vendor were both in exceedingly good spirits. I could only put it down to the fact that I did not know them as well as the others, and perhaps they would not actually miss me as much as them.
"She is so lucky huh?" Terri exclaimed after amusing herself with Vendor's wonderment of the distant ship. I did not count myself terribly lucky. Both good and ill omens are written in the stars, ready and able to guide our path if we would accept what they tell us day by day. And I knew, like the shroud of the night sky, that my days to come would have more darkness in them than light as my mortal shell crumpled and failed.
"Why did the rain have to stop..." Lafali muttered as she stepped aside to let Elyssa approach. I welcomed my bladesinger colleague with a warm smile, for I knew this moment was as hard on her as it was on me, lifting my head only as Terri spoke again in the distance.
"I dont get it. why would people be sad for such a joyous occasion, loves?" she asked Vendor, who had no answer. I looked Elyssa in the eyes, for I knew what she would say before she said it.
"With every weaving of the Art, I will think of you Aeili. For you had made it possible. It...pains me still to see it shorten the time you could have had with your friends."
I had spent much of my life-force to drive the spell which restored Elyssa's magic after the affair with the Shadow Queen. It so very nearly killed me then, and I would have been satisfied to go out that way. Elyssa is a strong woman, able of both mind and body to deal with the problems and dangers set before the People of the Coast. That day had aged me more than a hundred years, and now those years were catching up with me. It seemed to me that it was better this way. Better I spent what I could not keep than keep what I could never spend. I hugged her closely. It was reciprocated in that fierce, protective manner Alexandra had done earlier. I had never felt safer than that moment, even though I knew nothing was going to prevent my slow, painful demise now. In fact, I had to refrain myself from wheezing, such was the force of it, or, perhaps, such was my weakness.
"Would you pass this on to the Council?" I asked her, taking out a velvet jewellers box from my belt pouch.
"Certainly," she replied, tarrying a moment there with a sad smile and canted head, quizzical but knowingly so. "Thank you for your gifts bestowed of the Weave, friendship and your very presence, Aeili."
"Open it. Have a look. . ." I encouraged her. "It's beautiful." Normally I would not have the ego to say that about the work of my own hands, but this was something truly special. The case was opened, and Elyssa's eyes went wide at its singular contents, for there inside the jewellery case was what I thought was the single, most spectacular star sapphire ever seen. I patted Elyssa on the shoulder amidst her immense grin.
"Thank you." She offered me another, but one-armed, hug as she closed the box and put it away in one of her component pouches. I took that moment to whisper into her ear.
"My memories are all here, Elyssa. Only those who are worthy may know what I know, and see what I have seen. . ." I spoke softly, which immediately caused her eyes to lift. It was an emotional moment and my eyes stung with copious salty tears. I pressed my fingertips against my own mind, symbolising my knowledge, and then pressed them against Elyssa's, symbolising the transfer. The gesture caused Elyssa to cry openly.
"I'm going to miss you, my dear sister," I tried to comfort her.
"I am going to miss you dearly, Aeili," she tried to comfort me in return with a weak, upset smile. "Do you think me worthy?" she asked me now at the end. That question was irrelevant.
"Do not ask me, my friend. Ask the stone. It is what will judge you," I replied, for it was true. The tel'kiira had its own mind, its own measure of worthiness. I had little doubt Elyssa would pass it, nonetheless it was not I who was her judge this day, nor ever. Our embrace slowly relaxed and I patted her on the shoulders to reassure her. Elyssa stood aside, holding the blue velvet case protectively. Telia looked anxious to speak to me, fidgeting on her feet. I noticed at this point that Alexandra, who had stayed behind a moment in Doron Amar to talk to Valerius, had finally caught up, in addition to being joined by Miss Maddy Thunderkeg. There were so many words to be spoken and such little time to speak them in, it seemed, even though the ship would not be ready for departure for a few more candlemarks yet.
"Hello Maddy," Vendor greeted the master brewster.
"Maddy, you came out to see her off or are you joining them?" Terri asked her, although I was sure she knew I had invited Maddy since both their invitations were addressed to the Phoenix Lodge.
Alexandra lifted a hand in greeting towards Maddy. "Fair day to you, Miss Thunderkeg."
"Heya," she answered, slightly out of breath. "Sorry I'm late."
Alexandra withdrew some trade notes from a pocket and offered them to the gnome. "...on behalf of Watcher Diane Evon."
I waited to see who would step forward next, and it was Terri and Vendor who soon came to my side.
"Aeili," Vendor said simply.
"With your rule of no one can follow I was hoping you would accept something from me that is the next best thing that can keep you company," she said as she took something small from a pouch. A doll, about the size of a thumb, arrayed with long golden hair but otherwise a fairly crude miniature effigy of Terri herself. "Teris made it for me."
Well, that explains a lot, actually. I smiled weakly. "Thank you so very much." I had seen these kinds of dolls before, used by witch doctors and wychalarn in the far east. At least it was not my own effigy. That probably would have disturbed me even more, despite the kindness of the gesture. Terri moved in for a hug, which I did not forbid, and I rubbed her on the back while clutching the small doll in my palm.
"I regret not getting to know you better, given your magical prowess, Terri."
"You will be missed here, but I will not mourn your absence, Instead I will rejoice in your grand new adventure," she started to say before blushing somewhat at my compliment. "I am not that powerful. I just have some great tricks."
I did wonder then if Terri had also had some moment of prescience, or if they were simply cliche hopes she had announced to me. There was an new adventure at hand, albeit somewhat depressing, unsavoury and mirthless, yet it was going to present some unique opportunities to me. I would have to wait, though, before I even knew myself what was actually going to happen. Terri brought me away from my internal debate.
"Vendor wants a hug too."
"I am not sure what to say," he began, being as lost for words as we all were, "as this is also my first time I never have seen such a leave. But I think Fair winds and light laughter would sound good. Good bye Aeili.
I let go of Terri and opened my arms to give an embrace to Vendor as well.
"Take care Aeili. Until we meet again."
"Fair winds would definitely be good," Laitae confirmed from her patient place on the docks, taking that moment to look over her shoulder towards the sails.
"Keep making evil tremble, you two. I believe in you both," I whispered softly to them. Ever since the Weavemasters went defunct, Phoenix company had been the most vocal opponents of evil in Baldur's Gate besides the subliminal tactics of the Harpers. I knew that their task would not be an easy one, given the current political manoeuvring of the Thayans and the Zhents.
"We will do so... we will leave you now."
"If you ever have need. Just pluck a hair and call out... bye bye!"
I would never have a need for their aid. There was nothing at all they could do for me now. They tarried a moment longer, savouring that final glance before they both wandered off up the river whence we came. I looked up to see that Alexandra was audibly swallowing as it seemed it was now her turn. Her eyes glimmered with nascent moisture as she stepped forward. Her hands wrung together and the composure she tried to maintain started to crack along with her voice.
"I am going to miss you so very much," she emotionally stammered. "I have dreaded this moment for months," she continued with a swipe of hear teary eyes and a sniffle of her dripping nostrils.
I simply moved over and embraced her. She full-on wept in my arms as I began to try to sooth the inevitable pain this day was to us.
"It does not end today, my dear friend. There is a secret known only to one other, and I tell you now, at the very end."
"I know, but... I am still not ready to lose you. I will never be ready, and - " Her words truncate, and she subtly glanced towards me.
"It is true, I am going to my death, Alexandra." She tightly held onto me then, as if doing so might prevent the inevitable."I have foreseen my fade, and I would preempt it with something far more willing, yet far less unpalatable. . ." I continued, preparing myself to tell her as I had told that one other. My lips moved much as I whispered delicate words to the Guide of Candlekeep, tears beginning to streak across my already tear-stained cheeks, words that were for her ears only. I could feel her shoulders trembling in sorrow as the fullness of pain sunk in.
"...but..." she choked out, releasing her grip on me just enough to give me that searching, questioning, doubting look. I nodded in confirmation, that what I had said to her was true, and would happen indeed.
"But it will not be you, will it....? I will have to research more about... this. Will you remember me? Any of us?" she quizzed me. I nodded again in affirmation. Death was such a peculiar thing, especially in my particular case.
"Oh, Aeili..." came the strangled, hope-filled cry as she squeezed me again. I could sense the relief on her features then, teary as her face still was. Now she knew that, though I would truly die, it was not the last time we would talk.
"I will be duty-bound to my people, but you may hear my voice still. . ." I encouraged her.
"Will you contact me? Can I visit?" She was eager to know how, exactly, this was going to take place beyond the veil. I had already prepared for it.
"When you depart this place, return to Doron Amar. There, see the Quartermaster. She will give you what you need."
"I will do so," she affirmed emphatically. "Oh... you have made me... so very happy. I love you, my sister... my friend."
I did not actually know if it would continue to operate after my imminent passing, but it would not matter then. I had enchanted the sliver of silver I slipped behind Mystra's holy symbol in the portrait with a two-way voice portal. It had power enough to last for ten minutes, once per tenday, but I knew it would be enough for her. As long as I wore my own symbol, the magic would course directly from the portrait to my mind, while she would enjoy the revivified representation of my being in the painting, magically animated as if it were myself in the flesh. Alexandra had been worried about being left alone, without counsel, to be as a spiritual mother to those she would have to counsel herself as the Guide. I hoped to share some of her burden yet.
"You will hear my voice again, as I promised you. I do not lie. I am a diviner in every sense." Alexandra's grip on me loosened, and her head bobbed several times before a tremulous smile showed upon her visage. My own face was streaming with tears still, offset only by my own hopeful smile. I patted her encouragingly on the shoulders.
"Duty calls me back to Candlekeep," she hoarsely states. "Until next we speak... be well."
I nodded, and gave her one more hug with accompanying whisper. "The stars will see us meet again, in a distant place perhaps." She knew well, as I did, that I was not talking about the afterlife. No, this was something else. That day would come, as I promised Lafali. But it would not be yet. No, not yet.
She offered a final squeeze before parting and swiftly returning down the river. I watched her every step, heard her every sob until she had disappeared from sight. At which point I released a deep, solemn, sighing breath. Dabbing my face with my sleeve, I looked about to see who would be next to give their final farewell. It was Alyndra.
"Here," she said as she presents a flower to me. "I thought you might find this helpful on your journey. It will be preserved for much longer than usual. It will remind you of the Sword Coast, if you need it."
I received the blue rose and smiled with sincere appreciation. "This is a special gift, sister. Thank you so very much." Symbols such as these were important, and I would ensure that the druids on Evermeet kept this flower in its suspended state of animation, that I might look on it and remember everyone whom farewelled me this day.
"Fair winds, Aeili, you will be missed," the druidess concluded, hugging me gently. I nodded and sniffled.
Alyndra looked back to Maddy. "I think she waited long enough," she said warmly as she stood aside for the gnome.
"Oh Umm..." she stuttered and scratched her head.
"Hello Maddy," I greeted her with a gentle smile.
"I never really knew you as well I should," she began to tell me, familiar words to my ears this day. My reclusivity had not helped to blossom friendships such as these, and it would remain one of my greater regrets about my time on the continent.
"And, umm... never worked with you as much as I'd have liked. I just thought I should turn up and wish you the best for... whatever it is that elves do. Umm..." she paused to think for a moment.
"I am very glad you came, because I can think of no-one better to inherit this. . ." I immediately said to break her verbal struggle, and I handed her a well-used parchment. My list of spell and wand prices.
"Hmmm? Ooh... thank you!"
"It served me very well all my years promulgating magic in the region. It shall do the same for you, I'm sure." Maddy may not have been a servant of Mystra, but she had the same heart. It made me happy that wizards and witches like her yet remained, eager to share the wonder that is magic, yet in a manner which gave magic a good, wholesome name rather than it simply being perceived as a tool with which to gain power, influence and wealth.
"Umm.. so uhh.. that's about all I have to say really. May your way be filled with Wonders."
"And yours with wanders, my favourite gnome," I said with a grin and stooped down to give her a hug. When I arose, there were only three by the gangplank, waiting for their last moment. Viridiana shifted her weight, but my eyes were drawn to the couple that I had spend so very much of my time with in the Temple.
"Ameris. Telia. There is something I need to tell you both, privately."
Ameris smiled softly at my approach. "Oh. Of course." I offered one hand to each of them. I closed my eyes then, and told them what I had seen of their future.
"Three stars from the heavens you already see. . ."
"Four yet still hide, yet to be freed. . ."
"Two come at once, twain on your knees. . ."
"Seven stars, not less, shall your lot be."
They looked puzzled for a moment at my short, cyptic yet poignant words. I had seen visions of their future, a future blessed into old age, of peace, of children, of a legacy persisting beyond my own time. It was beautiful. I embraced them both, pulling them close to me.
"I love you both dearly, I'm going to miss you both dearly, and I know that with you both my legacy is safe."
"We love you too, Aeili. Very much so," Telia whispered to me. She was emotional. I expected no less.
"We owe you so much, Aeili. You will never be forgotten, and we will make that known to Timmy, Dag, and Amanda again and again as they grow."
"If I may have a brief moment... alone with you, Aeili...?"
"Mark this day, this very day, four month's hence," I continued to their surprised blinking. "On that day, Telia, you must tell Ameris what I told you beforehand."
Ameris looked between the two of us with yet more curiosity. Telia's features were serious and firm, nodding obediently at my instructions. I said nothing further, only looking between the two of them.
"A few words, please..." she said as she waited for Ameris to step away.
"Mercy bless you as you have blessed Mercy, Aeili," he remarked to me as his final farewell.
"And mercy ever be the course of your stars, Ameris Santraeger." He stepped away, bowing low to me. I returned the gesture, watching his sad eyes as he stood by the others once more. Telia took both of my hands in hers, so aware of my weakness was the gentleness of her touch. She drew in a breath.
"You have gathered strength for this, and you are prepared?"
"I feel my heath is already on the turn. I am going while my fullness is yet with me, yes..."
"You must keep walking with the same determination I have always seen in you." My hands were squeezed with just that little bit more pressure, her expression becoming serious once more.
"Have you ever known less of me, sister?"
"No. But time to time, someone needs to look after you too and be that annoying nagging voice," she answered with a small smile. It was one I had often given her during our long counselling sessions in the Mystran Temple. I returned one in greater measure.
"Can I send you Sendings...?" she asked carefully.
"Ever and always..."
"Then expect them from me, occasionally."
"Only you, and the Guide, know what I have planned."
"I am not losing you. I never will," she answered with a deep sigh of relief forming over her features.
"My duty never ends, Telia. Is is only about to begin..."
"So it is."
"A last prayer together, eye to eye...?" I simply gripped her hands tightly and lifted them up to about collarbone height, ready to pray with her. She took a moment to compose herself. I could tell then this was something she had been thinking about for some time. Prepared for. Meticulously planned. And now, the deft and efficient execution. How very Mystran.
"Bless, O Mother of Magic,"
Myself and everything anear me."
"Bless me in all my makings,
And keep me safe forever."
Telia repeated the words, looking straight into my eyes.
"Keep me safe forever."
She took a light breath and continued.
"From every unclean spirit and sending,
From every evil wish and cursing."
"From every wicked spell and glamer,
From every star that frowns upon me,"
"Save me till the end of my day.
That they may keep me safe forever."
"Save me till the end of my day."
"Let every nymph and faerie be my sister,
Let every pixie and brownie be my brother."
"Let every fairy-mouse and will-o-the-wisp befriend me,
That they may keep me safe forever."
"That they may keep you, Aeili Azenci, safe forever."
My eyes were melting with the emotion, try as I might to maintain my composure. Tears poured freely as my lips quivered endlessly. It was such a beautiful prayer. But she was not done. I felt my hands squeezed again as Telia began to address Mystra less abstractly.
"O Lady of Mysteries, Mother of Magic,
Standing here before us is a beloved servant of yours.
Her light has always shone bright around those near her.
No doubt, her light will continue to shine even brighter.
Perhaps she may not be standing close in the flesh,
Yet a glance upward at the night sky
Will always remind us of that she is with us,
Through your Grace."
I could no longer refrain. I broke down into uncontrolled weeping at that point, as I think most who were watching did.
I could do little more than grip onto my Mystran priestess colleague and long-time friend for an extended period of time, letting all my emotion flow out as tears and sobs. I could have remained in that embrace for a day if I had been permitted. Telia was weeping with me, although I could see she was holding back. She was just showing, now, how strong her faith had grown. Not just in me, but in herself, and our goddess. The grief was palpable again. Everyone except Viridiana radiated it, but she had her reasons why she could not. I tried to choke out my own prayer with mixed success.
"Blessed is the Northstar, Star of all stars.
Blessed are the Seven, Stars of all mortals.
Blessed are you all, each one, stars of all friends.
Ever am I blessed.
It is time for our stars to diverge,
but they will always be in the night sky, watching one another."
"Always," she said quietly.
"Goodbye, my beloved." I dabbed my face with my sleeve once more and looked around at everyone. It was time.
"It is not a final farewell... but it is a farewell for now," Telia insisted once more. I squeezed her hands one more time, moving one of them to the cusp of her throat where her own holy symbol presumably was. I let go and moved over to join Laitae by the lander's gangplank as Telia found comfort in her husband's embrace.
"May you have fair winds and calm sea."
"May the mists cover you tracks in these troubled waters, and Sehanine dance with you ever after."
"May Corellon's grace grant you his protection on this voyage."
"Aeili?" Viridiana interjected. I sniffled, looking in her direction. She took out an amulet and offered it to me.
"It's my family heirloom, with a long history. I will not cry for you today, I will not mourn your fate. For I know it doesn't lead to tragedy but happiness. And we will meet again, one time. When swords are sheathed and bowstrings no longer tense. But when you will sail on the waters towards your destiny, you will always be in my mind. As a bright, strong and happy memory. One of faith and zeal, and not one of sorrow and sadness."
I immediately gave her a hug after winding the necklace around my fingertips.
"Ameris. Telia. I will see you once I return. Sorry it was so short this time. Perhaps I can find time to visit you and the children," Laitae promised.
"You would be very welcome to, Laitae."
"That would be most welcome Laitae, yes," he smiled warmly at my voyage companion. "It was good to see you even for this short time. Let us make it longer when you visit!"
"Mystra's grace, until then."
"May you walk with peace and the grace of Tel'Seldarine," Viri called out after us as I turned again.
"You have been very good to me, sister. This is not the end," I tried to reassure her.
"I will always remember you. And memory of you will be my last."
"Aeili," Lafali called out as I had begun the slow trek up the gangplank. I paused and turned.
"One more thing? Would you please have this Navigator's friend?" she offered her holy symbol of Sehanine to me. I took it with emotional appreciation, wrapping it around my hand alongside Viridiana's token.
"Will make your voyage safe. Made mine safe, surely will yours."
I sighed. This was it. This was finally it. With only Laitae by my side now, I took her arm for the emotional support more than anything else as I turned to board at long last. Hands were held aloft in this bittersweet farewell. Tough smiles crept onto toughened faces. We were welcomed aboard by the others without qualm or quip. The skipper nodded to the deckhands that it was time to bring in the gangplank and unfurl the sails. I turned to watch my friends as that last moment drew to its close.
"Fare well, sister! May your skies be clear and winds warm! Untill next we meet!" Viridiana's voice called out amongst the silent throng. Noses sniffled. Eyes were dabbed with sleeves and palms. With a wooden creak the anchor was hoisted and the lander began to glide gently with the breeze.
As the distance increased, Telia wove together harmless magical pyrotechnics into the sky above, pretty sparkles which would be seen even as they were not, exploding almost like fireworks as a last farewell. I approved of her use of magic, evidenced only by my increasing smile. Their silhouettes receded until they merged with the horizon. I was exhausted. I slumped down into Laitae's supportive embrace and cried. And cried. And cried.
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The journey across the Trackless Sea was not as hard on me as I had expected. We had been blessed, for the most part, with fair weather and moderate swells. There had been a few storms in the two-tenday journey so it was not all plain sailing, but the crew and Laitae kept me good and cheerful company when I had fallen quite ill of sea-sickness as we were buffeted by the roaring winds and hurling seas. That was not all the hurling that took place during the voyage, though.
Laitae and I braced ourselves for that inevitable meeting we would have with our respective parents upon our arrival. It was what we both dreaded the most, yet anticipated the most, I think. For me it had been close to thirty-two years, not a terribly long time in the scheme of things, but given the manner I had vanished from my responsibilities to them I could not help but still feel the lash of the rain on my forehead the day I departed Evermeet. I still remember the words I said. “Until our stars align once more, O Evermeet.” And so they were, now, realigned.
My parents we so very glad that I had come home. I cried almost as much as I had when I left my friends on Faerun. It was then that they also realised how very ill I am now. I have lost so much weight; I must be under ninety pounds. I can no longer stomach the foods I used to. My father is determined to have me nourished on Aelfengrape. I did not want to tell him no, that it was not going to make a difference in my case, but I think it would satisfy him until he realises I am not going to recover this time.
We talked for days and days and days and I was so afraid they would not believe me when I told them of my divinations, my prospect for the future. To my great surprise, my mother already knew. Did Sehanine give her a vision of what I had already asked of her guardianship beyond the veil? She must have; I cannot fathom how else she would have known. Mother was still upset about it, and consulted with the high priests as to whether anything could be done to stave off my slow and gruelling decline. I was interred into the temple infirmary where I was again insulated from everything that would weaken me and given everything that would strengthen me. They did much to alleviate the pain I felt inside, the lightness of breath, discomfort in my joints and stressful heart palpitations, but my decline they could not halt.
It was suggested to me that a miracle be asked for my recovery, and it was then I told them what had happened in Doron Amar. If I wanted it then I could have asked for it and received it. But why should I be the singular attention of the clerics of Sehanine and Corellon? No, that was not my intention. I had a greater request, one that stunned everyone when they realised my sincerity, my preparation, my dedication to the plan I had formulated. All I need was approval. From none less than Her Majesty, Queen Amlauril Moonflower, herself.
I remember the day I was ushered gently into the resplendent halls of Moonstone Palace. The immense central dome of marble and alabaster, gilded with gold, was the heart of Leuthilspar. It was flanked with slender mage towers, cupolas, walkways, buttresses and landing platforms for pegasi cavalry units that constantly came and went. The walk up the stairs would have tired me if not for a pre-cast of levitation, and I was flanked by half a dozen palace guard at the gates, at which point I chose to walk. Accompanying me were my mother and father, as well as the high priestess of the Temple of Sehanine, Soliania Dorothil, who had arranged for the meeting.
Seeing Her Majesty for the first time took my utter breath away. I had heard the stories of the aged Queen, two-hundred years the ruler of Evermeet and more than nine hundred years old. She was tall, about six feet, vibrant red-gold hair drawn up behind her head in an elabortate tail and decorated with jasmine flowers, so fresh they still wafted their sweet, delicate aroma wherever she went. Her robes were the gray shades of one in mourning, for it was still only three decades since her husband, King Zaor, had been assassinated within these walls and had been the precipitating force of my departure from Evermeet entirely. Her face was thin and long, high cheekbones pronouncing her crystal blue eyes. Those eyes, those pain-filled, sad, suffering orbs gazed so elegantly at me, no, through me, piercing, searching, and scouring the essence of my being.
“Welcome, Aeili,” her voice soothingly greeted me. “My matriarchy has already informed me of your request, a peculiar one indeed. Come here, let me see you properly,” she beckoned to me, a long thin finger ushering me forward telekinetically as if she already knew I was magically levitating. Her pained eyes glinted mysteriously at me, as if she already knew everything about me.
"What you seek is not what you ask, Daughter of the Seldarine," she remarked prophetically, pre-empting my queries as the very voice of the Seldarine incarnate. "But I grant you what you seek, for then you shall ask truly, and find the answers you desire." I was speechless and could do little more than bow deeply before her.
"I. . ." I began but could not finish, for her soothing shush quieted me at once.
"Shhh, my child. Both of us carry pains that are beyond the understanding of our contemporaries. Go with my blessing. What you want to give is as much as I have lost."
I bowed low, and as I did so I felt her finger touch the back of my head. A flood of empathy filled my being, the like of which I had never felt to that moment and since. I knew then I had the Seldarine's approval.
“And what do you give for this Sacred Pledge, Etrielle? What is it you will sacrifice to the Seldarine for this eternal priviledge?”
“Love,” I whimpered through the intense, throbbing pain as my body shut down on itself. “I sacrifice my ability to love. Duty is all that shall remain.”
The high mages and priests looked at one another in astonishment before all their eyes trained back me, the failing Sehanite Mystran. I could hear my parents and my brothers wailing in the realisation I was actually intending on going through with it.
“This is a solemn oath and not to be taken lightly, Etrielle. The ramifications of your choice today shall last as long as you will. Are you certain?”
A deperate nod. "I swear it. To the Seldarine, and to Mystra." My breaths were getting shallower, each one felt as heavy as the smith’s hammer striking red iron on the anvil. I could feel everything was slipping away now. I had endured several months of exponential decline and now I was right on the verge of passing beyond the veil. The high priest murmured to the others. There was a horribly long moment of deliberation before he nodded in approval.
“Behold, O Father Corellon! Your daughter offers the last pure treasure she has left after spending herself for our people and for our magic. A virgin she dies, and a virgin she shall remain, her sacred oath shall bind her spirit eternally to you, O Seldarine! Hear our prayer, answer our call, invoke the Sacred Rite,” he bellowed through the echoing of the mausoleum, lifting his arms in the air as the room filled with divine radiance. “Behold, O Guardian of the Veil, O Sehanine! Your child has accepted your embrace, set her feet on your path and let her forever be cloaked therein. Let duty be all that remains, duty to our people, service to you, O Seldarine our gods, and caretaker of the Weave eternal.”
And at that moment the only thing I could feel was whiteness. Pure, blissful, unblemished, unstained whiteness, piercing every orifice of my being, my vision, my mind, my everything. Time escaped me, and nothing else in the multiverse seemed to matter any more. I felt as ethereal as a cloud, as soft as a downy feather, as ephemeral as a flitting thought, floating weightlessly through the endless nothingness. I could not tell where I was going, or how long it even took. Whispers of approval and acceptance drifted by me, voices of the gods to whom I was now forever bound. I felt a distant tug, a warmth, a blue halo of fire shimmering somewhere in the distance. Then I saw her, my goddess, Mystra, smiling, approving, whispering words of comfort at my choice.
Then it all snapped shut, faded and disappeared. I awoke. So cold. So very cold.
'S fagaim mo bhaile (And I leave my home)
Ta mo chroise go bron (My heart is breaking)
'S fada ar shuil m 'oige (My youth is long past)
Oiche 's me liom thein (Night and I am alone)
Speartha dubh go domhain a choich (Endless deep black skies)
Ag ciumhneach ar laetha a bhi (Remembering days that were)
Gan gha agus gan ghruaim (Without want and without gloom)
Eistim leis an ghaoth (I listen to the wind)
Uaigneas mor, go deo, a choich (Great loneliness forever, endless)
Deireadh an turas mor (The end of the long journey)
Taim bronach, buartha 's briste (I am sad, sorrowful and broken)
I mo dhiaidh nach mbeidh nios mo (After me there will be no more)
Ach, ta se i ndan duinn, a phaisti (But children, it is our destiny)
Ach, ta se i ndan duinn, a phaisti (But children, it is our destiny)
Is fada anois an lae (The day is long past)
A dfhag me mo bhaile (When I left my home)
Nil athas i mo chroi (There is no hope in my heart)
Nil ann ach an marbh (There is only death)
Nil ann ach an marbh (There is only death)
Aeili passed away amidst a High Magic ritual on the evening of 16th-17th Eleasias, 1353 DR. On the night of the 16th of Eleint, under new Selune and the sign of Wizard's March she rose to an existence of perpetual undeath as an elven baelnorn, oath-bound to the service of Mystra and the Seldarine, twin loves she could not bear the thought of separating by the choice she had to make of her afterlife.
Aeili continued to advise Guide Alexandra Keenan during her tenure at Candlekeep via a voice-portal she had enchanted into a portrait she had gifted the Guide, as well as keeping contact with her dearest friend and fellow Mystran priestess, Telia Santraeger. The Santraeger's firstborn daughter was named Aeili in her memory.
The Mystran theurge survived the insanity of the Time of Troubles and Mystra's death in 1358 DR but became little more than the reclusive skeletal ghost who haunted the Tower of the Sisters of the Sun in Taltempla, Evermeet, occasionally being consulted by the Sisters for divinations and magical items she continually fashioned. It was said she was never the same since, as if the first death of her Goddess had torn half of her soul away.
When the Ityak Ortheel, the dreaded Elf-Eater, was brought to Evermeet via a tunnel from the Underdark, Aeili utilised her undeath to grant an advantage which she used to buy time for elves to flee until the monster was finally banished by a High Magic ritual. The experience was a costly one for the baelnorn theurge, resulting in the first destruction of her mortal form and painstaking process of reformation from her secret phylactery.
In 1372 DR she utilised the Planar Sextant, gifted to her by her friend Valerius Rokranon, to journey to the City of Doors, Sigil, in an attempt to discover which layer of the Abyss the Ityak-Ortheel was being sheltered in. Her near-immortality proved a boon to the Fraternity of Order, for whom she conducted research into heretofore uncharted layers of the Abyss, for which purpose she apparently kept numerous clones in stasis in a secret location in the planar city into which her soul would resort if her physical form happened to get destroyed during her explorations.
Aeili departed Sigil some hundred years later when she felt the impending events of the Spellplague and returned to Evermeet just prior to it being shifted wholly to the Feywild in about 1485 DR, as well as in unknowing anticipation of Midnight's assassination at the hands of Cyric & Shar.
Aeili was last seen kneeling before a shrine of Mystra in those final moments before erupting in an engulfing blue flame of Spellplague, her skeletal form vanishing forever into the aether of the Beyond. She was never seen nor heard from again.
She never found out what really happened to Charraj Cain, the only one other than Mystra she had ever dared to love.