Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 12

Read chapter 12 (“Siltrin”) here.

Chapter Summary

“You are touch-starved, I think,” she concluded, tapping her lips.

He didn’t know what that meant, but it felt like a rope thrown down to a prisoner in an oubliette. He grabbed onto it more eagerly than he cared admit.

In the aftermath of a fight with a fomorian and some purple worms, Mavash seeks to ease some of Jorlan’s physical pain. But his wounds are more than surface deep, and Jorlan finds the cure is worse than the sickness.

Content warnings

Implied/referenced sexual assault, as we talk more about Jorlan’s terrible history.

Incidentally, this chapter is a bit spicier than the others, but this is as spicy as it gets. I am admitting my characters want to bang, but there are never gonna be details. I like the sexual tension more than the physics.

Chapter End Notes

  • As written, Oloth tlu malla is only a +2 longsword. Not actually a vorpal scimitar. Come on, Chris Perkins. You say right in the introduction to OotA there’s a lot of Alice in Wonderland inspiration in this adventure, and you pass up the opportunity to put in a vorpal sword?
  • I left out the part where Mavash tried to make Jorlan think it was an intelligent weapon by talking to him telepathically with a bad drow accent.
  • Yes, an owlbear is a monstrosity, not a beast, and a druid shouldn’t be able to turn into one. But listen, if WoW taught me anything, it’s that druids and owlbears are inextricably linked. Also it’s basically a CR3 cave bear, and DM Nixon suggested it.
  • The drow poetry book that the fomorian has is, strangely enough, part of the actual treasure in RAW. I have no idea what Jorlan intended with it. I suspect DM Nixon just had him take it to create interesting fanfic hooks. Operation: successful.
  • Grinna, who is briefly mentioned, is a gender-swapped version of Grin Ousstyl, Vizeran’s apprentice in RAW. I don’t think there’s anything that prevents drow women from being wizards, although I imagine it’s frowned upon.
  • Jorlan’s rant about “stories surfacers tell about the drow” is a modified version of my rant about the ridiculous, over-the-top evil of the drow matriarchy as seen in the books and in (a lot of) fanfic. So much of the drow matriarchy reads like some guy’s BDSM fantasy or a “bitches be crazy” joke. That’s one of the things that makes the drow so problematic; it turns female characters into caricatures without inner life other than I WILL BE TERRIBLE TO MEN AND PLEASE LOLTH.

(That said, I mean… all of the things he mentions ARE things that happen in drow society that he’s trying to gloss over. He graduated from Melee-Magthere; he should know from demonic orgies).

  • I jokingly call this “the chapter where Jorlan learns that a boner is not consent.” It’s basically impossible for him to have been in a consensual relationship within the drow matriarchy, because of the lack of freedom to say “no.” But of course he doesn’t realize that. And since I have painted him as a survivor of sexual assault, I think that the ethical thing for Mavash to do (and she would do the ethical thing; she’s chaotic good) would be to let any sexual aspect of their relationship develop entirely on his terms.

Which is also incredibly difficult for him, for much the reason Mavash named. And of course he’s going to read it as a rejection of him at first, which leads to sadness. But I hope I ended it with a bit of hope for these two lovebirds.

  • The chapter title, “siltrin,” means “flesh” in the fan dictionary. “Touch,” alas, is not defined, or I would have used that as the chapter title.
  • Finally, this chapter is still a little displaced in time. I wrote it before the previous two chapters, and there is still one more chapter to be placed between “El’lar” and this one. But hey, you just got two chapters back to back of plot-less Mavash/Jorlan schmaltz, so… you’re welcome?

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 11

Read chapter 10 (“El’lar”) here.

Chapter Summary

There was something about her presence pulling at him, calling him to cross the distance between them. He recalled how she had dominated the conversation with Vizeran — how he had coached her to do that — and his hands ached with a familiar energy: to placate, to please.

Jorlan and Mavash have a conversation in a mushroom grove about homes, youthful foolishness, and things they can’t put behind them.

Chapter End Notes

Drow aren’t supposed to have very keen noses, canonically, but let’s just say it’s Jorlan’s rogue senses. (He does have expertise in Perception).

I spent a long time looking at this map trying to figure out what path Mavash would have taken to get to Neverwinter Wood. (It’s from 2E, but that’s really the only map that had Sossal on it — it’s kind of been forgotten in subsequent editions). Up in the northeast corner there is Sossal, and I figured she lived inland, somewhere like Dharvil, near the Armridge Mountains.

Anyway, it is a long, long distance to Neverwinter Wood — at least two thousand miles. I figured crossing the Anauroch Desert would be impossible, since there don’t appear to be roads. So she traveled with a caravan across Novularond, to the town of Ostra in Vaasa — whence she sent her “I’m dead” message. From there she went west around the northern shores of the Moonsea, cut south around Zhentil Keep, and spent some time in Cormanthor Forest. From there she went west to Cormyr and then Iriebar, then she headed north and west until she reached the Trade Way around Baldur’s Gate. From there it was a straight shot to Neverwinter.

I still haven’t satisfactorily answered why she decided not to settle in Cormanthor Forest, or why she felt the particular calling to Neverwinter Wood. But it probably was from some goading from her quori, who had a sense of her Destiny ™ as the one who will stop il-Lashtavar.

I also had to decide what age she left home at. It had to be young enough that she still sorta imprinted on her grove in Neverwinter Wood as her “family.” But given the reason I gave her for wanting to leave, she had to be old enough to be married — not to mention, how old is old enough to cross an entire continent on foot?

Also clearly I have a headcanon about the drow and non-monogamy. I see it not unlike the drow view on murder and house warfare — if you can destroy everyone who could accuse you of the crime, it didn’t happen. And yes, I imagine this is a game Jorlan has played before.

I’m still not entirely happy with where this ends, but eh, good enough for now. Maybe inspiration will strike me later.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 10

Read chapter 10 (“Araj”) here.

Chapter Summary

Vizeran has a plan for getting rid of the demon princes, and it’s a bad one. How is he going to get our heedless do-gooding adventurers to buy into it?

Easy: he’s going to make someone else explain it.

Or: in which Vizeran continues to be insufferable, Mavash gets angry, and Jorlan Explains It All (where “all” = drow politics)

Chapter End Notes

Technically the “Great Wheel” model of the planes is no longer valid by the 1480s DR? OH WELL. It’s much more interesting than the tree model. Apparently it’s not so much that it’s invalid; it’s just that 5E basically says, “eh, it’s all an abstraction for mortal minds, anyway”.

I believe, rules as written, Rystia Zav is a random crazy human NPC you can meet in Mantol-Derith, a Harper spy infiltrating the Zhentarim. Here, obviously, she’s still a Harper spy, but she’s an elf, and she’s more interested in infiltrating Menzoberranzan. Obviously the fact that she’s hanging out in the Tower, or is Grinna’s girlfriend, is entirely our DM’s take on it. (And yet, isn’t this better?) Our DM also got rid of Vizeran’s pet death slaad, because seriously? (Fake drow girlfriend > death slaad).

The drow political situation laid out here is a weird blend of the RAW module, canonical-to-books stuff (like, the re-creation of House Do’Urden) and custom stuff our DM came up with. For example, the figurehead Matron Mother is someone else entirely, not Inshalee. As I said before, I have very little patience for trying to catch up on the Drizzt books, so mostly I have Nixon, what of the RAW module isn’t spoilery, and the FR wiki to go on.

(And if you know the lore better than me, you probably can guess that there’s something — or someone — that Rystia and Jorlan are dancing around here. But we the players didn’t know that at this point in the adventure, so you don’t get to know it, either).

Also once again Jorlan refuses to mention Drizzt. My headcanon is that Jorlan disdains the guy; they are of an age, were probably at Melee-Magthere at the same time, and their families were always in competition for that valued eighth spot on the Council. Plus I think Jorlan bought in more to the chaotic Drow Mindset ™, at least grudgingly. So he probably sees Drizzt as an insufferable twat who thinks there’s no blood on his hands.

Two funny Jorlan moments here that were true to the actual session: 1) Jorlan did in fact go all VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT about the name of Lolth. 2) The comment about the noodle shops was in fact made. (Which is how my “Jorlan likes a dish called Menzoberranzan noodles” headcanon got started).

(We finally did get to Menzoberranzan in the campaign, and LET ME TELL YOU how angry we all were that there was no time to go slumming for noodles. I may need to write a fix-it fic just for this).

(Alsoalso we are only about one or two sessions away from the end of the game. AND THEN WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY LIFE???)

(Continue to write unending authors’ notes, apparently).

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 9

Read chapter 9 (“Dalninil”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash’s premonition comes true, but the heroes are prepared. Jorlan is (maybe?) still full of secrets.

Chapter End Notes

Mavash is using ogham for divination, the “language of trees” of neo-pagan druidry. I drew the interpretation of the runes from John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook. Basically I was like, hmm, what would you draw if you wanted to get the message of “prepare Earthbind, dumbass?”

The plant Mavash describes as a stand-in for heather is a little bit of both mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and sheep laurel (K. angustifolia).

(Also I came up with the divination as a way to explain DM Nixon giving us a long rest before fighting the dracolich, and thus the opportunity to plan out our spells).

Also worth noting: in actual play, that fight with the dracolich suuuuuucked for Mavash. I spent most of the fight either a) positioning myself, b) being Frightened, or c) on the ground. I never did succeed at casting Earthbind; it’s a STR check, and unsurprisingly dragons are STRONK.

But that doesn’t make for a very compelling story, does it?

(Jorlan did totally show up to put a potion down Mavash’s throat, though. I blame DM Nixon for the phrase “gentle fingers”)

Pretty sure that in RAW there’s not a dracolich and an illithilich waiting for you at the Tower of Araj. And Grinna is intended to be Grin, male apprentice to Vizeran.

… man, have we really never seen Mavash cast spells before? Anyway, druids being druids, I imagine the verbal and somatic components of their spells are all very individual; there’s no “magic word” that Mavash has to say to cast them, but she does have to say something personally meaningful.

(Also I totally imagine “words against fear” being the Bene Gesserit “fear is the mind killer” thing).

“Dalninil,” from the fan dictionary, means “sister.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 8

Read chapter 8 (“Zhaunil”) here.

Chapter Summary

“Show us,” she said, closing her eyes, “how the Lords of the Abyss came to the Underdark.”

In which the heroes learn what they need from the Gravenhollow.

Or: in which Mavash has premonitions, Jorlan is forced to be astonishingly candid, and Vizeran is an arch-bitch about Gromph Baenre.

Chapter End Notes

Quite some time has passed since this session, and my notes were shoddy, so I fabricated more here than I usually do for our sessions. While it didn’t happen precisely like this, I can assure you that Jorlan’s moment of candor is true to the actual session.

Zhaunil is the Drow word for “knowledge.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 7

Read chapter 7 (“Khaless”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash paused, sorting through feelings she’d never dared put words to before, and resigning herself to them with a sigh. “Jorlan, I think about you… a troubling amount.”

In which Mavash and Jorlan are honest about their feelings for each other, but still our boy is gonna overthink everything.

Chapter End Notes

Jal khaless zhah waela is a Drow proverb meaning “all trust is foolish,” with khaless being the word for “trust.”

I didn’t say much more than that in the original author’s note, so let me just add: this was one of my favorite chapters to write, overall. Really, any chapter where I get to go beyond “what happened in the campaign” and let these two characters talk to each other about their histories and their trauma, and how it informs their views on what is happening in the adventure.

I am narratively in love with these two <3

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 6

Read chapter 6 (“Jhinrae”) here.

Chapter Summary

“I do wonder what you would be like drunk.” Mavash’s smile broadened into a grin.

Jorlan narrowed his eyes in mirth, and said, his voice low, “You’d find me very entertaining when I’m drunk. I become, if possible, even more charismatic.”

Chapter End Notes

Jorlan being the son of Vizeran de Vir is, of course, not from the RAW adventure, although all the stuff about Vizeran being banished is. The stuff about House deVir being destroyed is canonical, as is the re-creation of House Do’Urden.

In case you saw the name of Lux’s sweetie and said, “Wait, wasn’t Neheedra the medusa in the Rockblight of Blingdenstone?” YES SHE WAS. This party does one thing well, and that’s forming attachments to random NPCs we probably should have killed.

Folks, I spent so much time thinking about wine in the chapter. Starting with:why do the drow have a word for wine? and following up with Do mushrooms have enough sugar to ferment by themselves? (no) and Come to think of it, where does one get sugars in the Underdark? (it basically has to come from the surface — photosynthesis, yo).

I decided jhinrae is made with mushrooms augmented with sugar from the surface, and fermented with wild yeast/lactobacillus, in the style of sour-type beers. This beer snob imagines it tasting kind of Revival Brewing Company’s Up Ship’s Kriek, which tastes like alcoholic pickle juice and yet is AMAZINGLY GOOD.

For all that I’m a beer snob, I’ve never been blackout drunk, so please excuse any inaccuracies to the experience of being utterly shit-faced.

I recently put together a Pinterest board called “hot elf bois” (as one does), and came across this art, which is exactly how I picture Jorlan.

In case you are curious how much of my fic comes directly from the session vs. stuff I make up… it’s about 50/50. I have a pretty good memory for the session, especially if I write things down, so I can usually quote DM Nixon fairly accurately. But most of the Jorlan/Mavash one-on-one stuff is made up, because we don’t usually split the party just so I can have heartfelt roleplay with my waifu.

There is another chapter in progress, which is the logical conclusion of “Jorlan and Mavash get drunk” and in which there MAY ACTUALLY BE SNOGGING OMG. Dear reader, there was in fact snogging.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 5

Read chapter 5 (“Ssinssr’ogglirin”) here.

Chapter Summary

Light take him, Jorlan knew now what was troubling him. This feeling was familiar; it had quickened his hand on the prison door at Velkynvelve.

Sssinssr’ogglirin. Or, more crudely, vith’ogglirin. Sex rivalry.

Jealousy, in Undercommon.

In which we meet a druid who wants to devour Mavash in more than one way, Jorlan once again uses murder to solve his problems, Lux is reunited with their own waifu, and oh yeah there’s an important library or something.

Chapter End Notes

Here’s where I tweeted along with this juicy session full of pent-up jealousy.

Gaze upon Mavash in all her glory. I commissioned Kii Weatherton to do this art, and it made me love Mavash even more.

I have SO MANY notes about my inspirations for this chapter:

  • Of fucking course Jorlan is wary of possums. Have you seen them? They really are beneficial little creatures — they eat so many ticks! — but I still wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley.
  • Sladis describes a mushroom similar to genus Cantharellus, i.e. chanterelles. They are easy to identify (due to their bright orange color and false gills) and delicious, which is all I needed for ficcing purposes.
  • The creatures we fought here were core spawn out of the Wildemount book (as is the moorbounder, for that matter), which are technically aberrations, and thus don’t show up on a paladin’s Divine Sense. (Even though they do with Detect Evil and Good? *shrugs*) Creative license!
  • The Drow word for “jealousy” I wove together from two words from my faithful Drow Dictionary: “ssinssrigg,” for “love, lust, greed” (or “vith,” for “sex”), and “ogglirin,” for “rivaling.” The word sssinssrigg comes directly from canon, though the others are fan-created. I suppose I suppose I could have used that word to encompass “jealousy” in its meaning, but it’s already pretty overloaded.
  • I realize this is the first time I’ve switched POVs mid-chapter. I hope it was clear enough. I generally subscribe to the idea that the viewpoint character for a given scene should be the one with the most to lose, and oh hell that is Jorlan for that bit in the middle. Given that half the fics I read on AO3 head-hop mid-scene, confusing me terribly, I don’t think it’s so bad.
  • I totally stole the whole “scrambling the brains of pack animals to make them docile” thing from my other favorite murder elves, the Dunmer of TES, who are known to do as much to their giant sand-flea mounts for much the same purpose. The Dunmer are notably less terrible than the drow, so if they do it, I can only imagine the Ilythiiri do something similar. Seems much less complex than fucking around with House insignia like you see in the Drizzt books.
  • Apropos, I discovered I can borrow the ebook of Homeland from my library, so I am enjoying rereading it and indulging my inner 15-year-old girl. I’m a couple of chapters in, and lawd, I will never apologize for being melodramatic in this fic ever again. Pages of maudlin Jorlan maunderings are still not “Zak going out into the wilderness to deliver a Shakespearean monologue on the hell of Menzoberranzan.”
  • Also interesting to note how the seeds of Out of the Abyss were planted hundreds of years before, with the destruction of House deVir — which happens in the first chapters of Homeland. We’ll find out more about that later on in this fic, when we reach the Tower of Araj, but man that is some good worldbuilding. Unfortunately I felt like a lot of that went to waste in this adventure.
  • Jorlan being Vizeran’s son is definitely not in RAW.
  • WotC, gimme a call, I’d love to write drow for you. I need to ruin some fanboys’ childhood.
  • I guess follow me on Twitter if you want to hear me talk about mushrooms and drow? Or make a comment and I’ll reply with a random fact about this chapter. You do you.

ETA (much later): holy shit I just realized I’ve been spelling “Neheedra” wrong this whole time. I’ve been going by the name on her token in roll20, but let us say, our DM does not excel at spelling.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 4

Read chapter 4 (“Zha’linth”) here.

Chapter Summary

Her elven colleague had insisted that there were no dreams in the trance state.

Yet despite those assurances, Jorlan dreamt.

Chapter End Notes

I went back and changed a couple of small details in chapter 1 and 3, now that I know a little bit more about our boy’s lineage. (Specifically, the position of House Duskryn in Menzoberranzan, and his relation to the Matron Mother of the house, Prae’anelle).

My campaign is at least three sessions ahead of this now, so even though this wasn’t where I intended to end the chapter, I figured I’d better release it before I forgot everything that happened. No longer relevant! My campaign will be finished as of Saturday, March 18th, 2021.

Zha’linth, by the way, means “memory.” At least according to the fan dictionary!

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 3

Read chapter 3 (“Streea”) here.

Chapter Summary

I don’t want to do this, part of his mind screamed. And yet he found himself turning the poisoned drink in his hand, contemplating it like some fine vintage. It is time, another voice insisted. Do this on your own terms. Do this before you become someone worth missing.

Jorlan Duskryn, branded a traitor, learns that dying and being revivified is hard on the psyche. A certain druid manages to prevent a fatal decision.

Content warnings

This is signposted in the fic itself, but this chapter has warnings for suicidal ideation and implied/referenced sexual assault.

Chapter End Notes

I think I’ve managed to ramble at you enough in previous chapters, so hopefully this note will be short.

Because it’s relevant here, a reminder that it was Shoor, not Jorlan, who saw the business end of a black pudding in this campaign. Jorlan’s got his own scars to worry about, but they’re not nearly as much of a hindrance.

It is REALLY FREAKIN’ HARD to figure out precisely when Out of the Abyss is set in the Forgotten Realms timeline, but from what I can tell from too much time on the FR wiki, it’s somewhere between 1485 and 1491 DR. I tell a lie; after some more poking around on the FR wiki, I was able to determine it’s 1485-6 DR.

Also, yes, drow are awful, and I’m sorrynotsorry for tormenting my boy like this. But as we considered in the last session, Jorlan has likely spent his entire life pleasing powerful women in order to save his own skin, and I can imagine that leads to some not-entirely-consensual situations. And I also imagine he’s learned that seduction is a tool he can use when everything else fails.