Title: Not Yet by Lightning
Author: Jade Sabre
Notes: This is my first major-length, completed fanfic. I must now bow down and acknowledge a huge creative debt to the following authors:
SparklyCaffeineJunkie, whose fic Fortune is amazing, and who first introduced me to the idea of a sympathetic take on Casavir;
DarthAmmonite, who sadly does not appear to plan on finishing the best NWN 2 fic I have read, namely The Smell of Destiny, and who turned me into a gibbering Sand fangirl;
and RiikiTikiTavi, whose two fics "Bishop Takes Knight" and "Blame the Paladin" contain the best Bishop I've read, a Bishop that definitely influenced my own take on the character.
I must also shower love, praise, and unending adulation upon my most beloved friend and beta-reader, Quark, who has patiently been reading bits of this story since last August, and putting up with my questions and fretting and game spoilers and guilt-tripping, and helping me improve my writing exponentially. She is awesome. If you think this fic is in any way good, go thank her.
Rated M for language and adult situations occurring in later chapters.
I'm a bit nervous about putting this out for the world to see. I would greatly, GREATLY appreciate any and all reviews that y'all leave me. I'm always looking to improve my writing, to know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong, and to hear people's general thoughts on what's going on.
Disclaimer: I don't own Neverwinter Nights, or any of its sequels or expansions, or any of the characters contained herein, aside from my PC, who was created on a Bioware engine and thus probably therefore partially belongs to them too.
The Sunken Flagon was, by nature of its location and purpose, the sort of place that attracted a wide variety of people, mostly unsavory and almost always unwashed. After working there for nearly a decade, Sal had gotten used to the sights and the smells of the establishment's patrons. He had learned early on it was better to stay behind the bar and make a great show of wiping it down when he had nothing better to do. Better to let Duncan handle the mingling—he was much better with patrons, potentially because he could match them drink for drink as the night progressed. Sal was content to man his station, serving up drinks and dreaming of the day when he would be able to leave the Sunken Flagon behind and open his own bar.
He considered himself a simple, unflappable man—he'd serve anything that walked through the door as long as it was able to walk up to the bar and place an order, no matter what race (or combination of races) it appeared to be. Coin was coin, and that was all he required for his (many, multitudinous, he told himself) talents. He figured he'd seen almost everything there was to see, and the few things that he hadn't seen were better left unviewed.
It was a fall afternoon. The sun was setting earlier as the days went on, pushing up the time the bar was at its busiest from eight o'clock to six, which meant there was more work to be done in a shorter amount of time, so Sal was taking advantage of a break in the daytime patronage to wipe down the tables. The evening waitress was taking barding classes at the Academy during the day, and Duncan was still trying to sleep off the last of last night's hangover before getting properly drunk again tonight. It was one of the few times he was completely alone (well, aside from Bishop, brooding in the corner—he would've sworn the other man never slept, or even moved from his slouched position near the fireplace), and he liked to pretend that the Flagon was his. He knew that would never happen, but she was a fine tavern, well-built and refurbished after the war, and it didn't hurt to think about what he would do with the place (get rid of Bishop, for starters—he tended to scare away the pretty young girls Duncan was trying to attract to liven up the place).
There was a creak and a sudden blast of ruddy sunlight as the door opened; sighing, Sal abandoned the table he was on and went back behind the bar, reaching down and grabbing a glass to clean instead. The door slammed shut and a deep, gravely voice said, "This is what we've been lookin' for?"
"Perhaps," said a cooler voice, one that was infinitely pragmatic. "Make yourselves comfortable."
Even Sal had to admit this was something he hadn't seen before. It wasn't that he'd never seen a dwarf (they were nigh impossible to avoid in the tavern business), or an elf (though this one had coloring similar to Duncan, and Duncan said his father was a wood-elf, and those were rare in cities), or hells, even a tiefling, before. But he'd never seen a group like that together, like they were traveling companions. There was a familiarity in the way they acted towards each other—even if it wasn't apparent from their voices—that suggested they were quite used to each other's company and not afraid to invade each other's space.
The dwarf headed straight for the bar, while the elf stood uncertainly in the middle, as if she didn't know where she wanted to be. The tiefling, her tail twitching, went to warm herself by the fire, while the fourth member of the group—the no-nonsense one, a human girl—approached the bar at a more leisurely pace, looking around the common room with an expression of placid interest.
Sal served the dwarf, his eyes still on the girl, now taking in the well-oiled armor mostly hidden beneath her strangely immaculate green cloak. Woman, then, he amended, watching the way she carried herself—confident, but unassuming, and very deliberate. She chose the stool next to the dwarf (happily imbibing in his own tankard) and said, "Whatever you're serving."
He poured her a mug of ale. "Travelers?" he asked, handing it to her. She was a pretty thing, in a kind of strong-featured way, so he figured it couldn't hurt to chat. Duncan liked the pretty ones.
"Yes," she said, taking a sip and having the decency not to wrinkle her nose. Sal liked her at once, but she didn't seem inclined to carry on with the conversation.
He refilled the dwarf's tankard at least twice more while the woman nursed her drink. The tiefling tried to strike up a conversation with Bishop (and failed miserably), and the elf stood around looking nervous. He tried to talk to the dwarf, but the stocky fighter was too enamored with his drink to be of any use to the cognizing world. Still, they seemed content to rest their feet, and he couldn't deny them their patronage. The sun slipped lower and lower, the light coming in through the closed window shades changing into the colors of the soft light spells cast on the lampposts outside, the white mingling with the dying orange and muting the small squares of light by the window. Gina—or, as she preferred to be called, Marangina, Loremaster of the Sword Coast—swept in late with a hurried apology, as usual, and immediately went to work lighting the interior.
Sal was already starting to plan the course of the evening when the tiefling tired of the fireplace and moseyed over to the human woman's other side. "Hey, Laura," she said, "any word, yet?"
Laura shook her head, and the dwarf stopped drinking long enough to say, "It's not like she's even asked about it."
"You haven't?" the elf said quietly, barely audible from halfway across the room.
"Patience," Laura answered. "Just relax. It's okay to sit down, Elanee."
The elf moved and took a seat at a table closer to the bar, perching on the edge of her chair. Laura sighed and took another sip from her drink. The tiefling looked around, her tail waving aimlessly, until she finally said, "Hey, Stumpy, how many of those have you had?"
Judging by the look on the dwarf's face, this was not a new conversation, and Sal didn't try to keep up with the slough of insults hurled across the bar. Laura's expression went stiller, if that was possible, and Sal helpfully refilled her mug. "Happen often?"
"Yes," she said, and the amount of consternation she managed to put into that single word made Sal chuckle in sympathy.
It didn't take long for the two verbal combatants to leap off their chairs in order to deliver insults to each other's faces. They didn't trouble keeping their voices low as their words came faster and more furiously. Sal kept one eye on them—he wasn't anxious for a brawl to start, and he certainly didn't want to try to interrupt the two very capable-looking arguers.
"What in the Nine Hells is all that racket?" came a very cranky voice; Sal looked up and saw his employer stumble into the room, one hand pressed over his forehead as the other groped blindly for the bar. "Doesn't anyone have any respect for the weary?"
Sal barely noticed Laura's hand pause, holding the mug to her lips, as he reached under the bar and found the last vial of Sand's hangover remedy. He placed it in Duncan's outstretched hand; the half-elf uncorked it and downed it in one shot, letting out a deep breath as he shook his head. "That's the last of it," he informed him.
"Damn hedge-wizard—oi, you two! Knock it off, already!"
"And who do you think you are?" the dwarf demanded, one hand on the handaxe in his belt as he turned to the intruder.
Duncan, to his credit, never backed down in front of customers. "I'm the owner of this place, and we don't allow weapons in here. Sal, didn't you tell them that?"
Sal stared from the tiefling to the dwarf and let his expression answer for him. Duncan sighed and said, "Look, if you want to fight, take it outside. I won't stand for that here in the Flagon."
"So you're Duncan?" the tiefling said, looking him up and down.
There was a pause, and then Duncan said, "I didn't say that. And if this is about money, he's not here."
Sal stifled a groan and found a mug to wipe with a rag to occupy his hands. There was a pause, and then the elf—Elanee—said, "Are you sure you're Duncan?"
"I never said I was!"
"But you have to be," the tiefling said. Her voice was high, and nasally, and she sounded almost pleading. "You own the Sunken Flagon, right?"
"Are yeh sure this is who—?" the dwarf said, turning his head to look at Laura.
Duncan followed his gaze and apparently took notice of the girl for the first time. "Oh, hello there," he said, to the back of her head. "This isn't about money, is it?"
Laura met Sal's eyes for a moment, clearly torn between amusement and something akin to disappointment, and Sal shrugged. She turned on her stool and said, "No."
"Ah! Well, then. Name's Duncan Farlong. Were you looking for me?"
She looked him over—not judgmental, but not forgiving either—and said, "I think so."
"Do I know you? Don't think I've seen a pretty face like yours before—"
"I don't know," she said. "Perhaps."
Duncan frowned; Sal stifled another snort, this time of amusement, at the bland expression on the woman's face. "Well, give us a hint, then."
She waited a beat longer, and then said, "My name is Laura Farthing, and I've come to ask you about a silver shard you are said to have in your possession."
There was a long pause, in which Duncan's face changed expression more rapidly than it took him to pass out after his tenth tankard. The other three strangers looked on expectantly, and the woman just waited.
"Laura? Daeghun's little Laura?" Duncan croaked finally. Then he shook his head and said, "Well, not so little anymore! You take after your father, I see—but you have something of your mother in your face. That's why you look familiar. Well, then! How is old Daeghun?"
Sal had only heard Daeghun's name mentioned once or twice in his years at the Flagon, and usually only followed by an oath or expletive that suggested he held far less fondness for him than his voice carried at the moment. "Little Laura" shrugged and said, "He is well. And your shard?"
"Did he send you all the way here for that? Figures," Duncan said, looking a bit at a loss for what to do. "Y'know, last time I saw you, you were just a babe in arms. And look at you now…definitely some of Esmerelle in there."
She stiffened, just a little, and then relaxed into a small smile and stood, holding out her hand. "It's nice to meet you, Uncle Duncan."
He pushed her hand aside in favor of hugging her; surprised, Sal glanced at the others to take in their reaction. They seemed to think this completely a matter of course and were waiting for something more important to happen. Meanwhile, Duncan had released his niece—though she didn't look a thing like him; maybe she was related to him on his mother's side?—and said, "Now what's all this about the shard? It's just a piece of silver junk, you know."
"Father sent me to double-check on that," she said. "There seems to be some…doubt as to that claim."
"Well, sure, I guess we can check," he said, "but what brings it up? That was years ago."
She paused, and said, "West Harbor was attacked a few weeks ago by—githyanki?" She glanced at the others, who nodded, and finished, "and Father sent me to retrieve the shard and then here to find out what I could about yours."
"West Harbor? Attacked?" Duncan shook his head. "The last time…well, you don't need to me to tell you about that. I took my shard and Daeghun took his, and I got mine examined when I got here, but there wasn't anything special about them…"
The unlikely relatives were soon deep in a conversation about shards and magic and other things that sounded more like adventuring ideas than practical, bar-related business. Sal sighed and gently coaxed the group to a table while the patrons started arriving—among them Sand, who was quickly drawn in as a consultant—and he started serving them. It was the middle of the week, which meant business wasn't exactly hopping, but there were still enough people that when a minor explosion went off in the corner of the room the line to get out the door was more a mob than an orderly group.
Furious, Sal went to give Duncan a piece of his mind concerning Sand's experiments when he noticed that all three of them were pushing themselves off the floor. "Well, it apparently doesn't like being scried," Sand said.
Sal didn't get a chance to open his mouth—next thing he knew Duncan and Sand were advising Laura to either throw in her lot with the City Watch (a dubious proposition) or with Caleb and his lot (what were theythinking?), and then Duncan was offering to let her and her companions stay free of charge and with access to all the free alcohol they could desire, and then he was ordering Sal to serve up a round on the house to anyone who hadn't been scared away.
Laura followed him as he went back around the bar; she reclaimed her stool and leaned against it, watching him mutter under his breath as he set to work filling Duncan's order. "I don't want to impose," she said. "He's just very generous, I think."
"Too much for his own good," Sal snapped. "Not that I mind having you here, miss, but—"
"I don't want to stay for too long," she said, "but I'm starting to wonder if I have a choice."
"Homesick?" he asked.
She shrugged and accepted her mug. "I'm Laura," she said, a belated introduction.
"I know. Sal," he said, shaking her hand. "Might as well get used to it, I guess. But if you lot start disrupting business…"
They both glanced at the dwarf and the tiefling, who were currently celebrating the free alcohol, and she shook her head. "I'll do my best," she said. "Cheers."