I wrote this scene shortly after the introduction of a rather confounding NPC to our D&D game, as the party does their best to sneak behind enemy lines…
Sleep doesn’t help if it’s your soul that’s tired. The familiar phrase came to Florian as he stirred awake, each word punctuated by the discomfort of the hard floor beneath his bedroll. He remembered where he’d heard it, but not when; a common characteristic of the many pearls of wisdom his grandfather had imparted over the years. To remember it now seemed almost cruelly fitting.
Moving carefully so as not to wake the others, Florian turned over, spotting the lone figure of Istebrak outlined in the darkness a short way from where the rest of them slept. The drow was an unexpected addition to their party; had it not been for the manner in which they had discovered one another then Florian was certain they would have come to blows. As it was, his willingness to help them dismantle his own people had been a boon, and his personality infuriatingly likeable.
He was egotistical in a manner that Florian had never encountered before, but curiously, unlike many other narcissistic personalities he had had the misfortune to work with, Istebrak had been invaluable to their progress thus far. See-sawing between moments of care, wit and abject arrogance, Istebrak was certainly a curious fellow. What’s more, the longer he stayed with them, the more Florian decided he was happy for it, which was a feeling almost as confounding as Istebrak was himself.
Closing his eyes on that thought, Florian tried to return to slumber, but found he couldn’t. Trying not to toss and turn too much, he rolled onto his back, staring up into the darkness above them. He tried counting imaginary butterflies while regulating his breathing — in for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8 — but even this light meditation didn’t seem to do the trick. Eventually becoming certain that he wasn’t going back to sleep any time soon, Florian resigned himself to this and rose to his feet, stepping carefully to join Istebrak where he sat.
“Well, it seems that sleep is eluding me tonight, so I guess you have some company.”
From this vantage point, it was as if the very world spread out before them. Clusters of lights in the distance heralded settlements, dotted around a great darkness he knew to be a lake. They would descend to its shores at some point the next day, and though Florian knew it would be yet another difficult, clandestine journey with the urgency of war nipping at their heels, sitting here in the still of the night made things seem almost peaceful.
“You know what they say about that,” Istebrak responded in a low voice, his tone surprisingly warm.
“When you can’t sleep, it means someone is thinking about you.”
Florian scoffed lightly in response, a single chuckle dying in his chest. He allowed a small smile to tug at the corner of his mouth, though it did little to quench his thoughts. Hope for a reunion with Demetra had been steadily dwindling in spite of the vision he’d received at the library; Florian knew that his heart would be better served focusing on their duties in the war effort. The knowledge that she was somewhere in this land was difficult to ignore, but he understood well enough that to pursue her now would be nothing short of selfish.
That she slipped further away with each passing day was not lost on him; in fact, it almost broke his heart anew every time he thought about it. Which was why he had decided not to, or at least, to try.
“I don’t think anybody out there is thinking of me anymore. At least not in the implied fashion.”
“Oh I’m quite certain that many are thinking about me.” Istebrak replied, a familiar smugness creeping back in, expertly filling in any cracks that may have formed in that self-important veneer, “What about that one?”
He gestured to Florian’s ring.
“I… don’t know,” Florian pursed his lips, glancing down at the platinum band before he continued speaking. He averted his eyes from Istebrak’s gaze, casting them to his boots instead, though he could still feel the elf looking at him. “I fear she is… lost.”
“To the portals.”
“One appeared right upon us. I narrowly escaped its pull, but some of our companions were not so lucky. Including Demetra. I’ve attempted a few times to track her whereabouts since then… A little tinkering with some magic. At first it seemed that my attempts were being intercepted but eventually they led me here. She is somewhere in this land of yours.”
Risking a look back at the elf, Florian was surprised to see that Istebrak was paying attention. His lavender gaze was steady – even seemed somewhat interested, which Florian took as an indicator that he might continue.
“I have received three visions concerning her thus far. One, I suspect was never intended to be true, yet it shook me just as well as it would have if it were; the others were both possible futures, hinged upon actions that have not yet come to pass. I wish I hadn’t invoked them, if I am quite honest, for two of the three were… undesirable.”
“She was dead?” Istebrak prompted, stopping only a hair’s breadth short of sounding hopeful.
“Alive in all three of them. One, we were on a battlefield, or what was left of one. I was hurt, but I saw her, along with my other friends. Things seemed well enough. Another, she was captured as a slave, forced forward to the front lines of the drow armies. The third… riding a deep dragon straight towards me, as an enthusiastic agent of the enemy.”
The pause that came next was almost threatening in its length; protracted as both men allowed the idea to weigh upon their minds. Florian let his eyes slide away from Istebraks, back towards the view in front of them as a profound regret rose in his chest. He wasn’t sure that speaking about his lost fiancee was the best choice of conversation; in all quiet moments he was filled with a longing, and it hurt. It seemed at odds with his best interests to purposefully bring it up, especially to someone who didn’t share a personal connection and seemed cool at best.
“Florian. You are well aware of my opinion on women by now.”
Istebrak’s reply was pithy, perhaps, but Florian was unsurprised by the reaction. In a way he was almost relieved by it, took it as a joke to spare his feelings, a touchstone of Istebrak’s personality held out as an offering, a way to bring him back from becoming too pensive.
“Of course.” Florian smiled ruefully, “Though your glibness does you no credit.”
“Tell me more about this magic tinkering of yours instead,” came the reply. “That at least sounds partially interesting.”