"I have spent a lifetime trying to search for those words [to describe how it felt to lose them].The fact that I have failed is now staring me in the face." - Anouk, speaking to Y'lhana and Aeryth.
Anouk Astley is a human Bard, well known for her work in Elderain around the time of the War of Shadows. Much of her music is on the subject of death, and what happens after one dies, as this has been a lifelong interest for her. She is a player character in The Fallen Kingdom campaign, played by Nina.
Anouk is a fundamentally friendly and altruistic person; when she is motivated to achieve a goal, the hope that others will benefit from it being achieved is at the core of her motivation. She deeply cares for the people that she travels with, and supports and protects them as best she can. However, Anouk is also a deeply fearful person - to an extent, she allows the fears that she carries from difficult experiences to control her life, and she would sooner hold beliefs that are completely fabricated than ones which challenge the delicate shield she has built herself against her fears.
|Home:||Lost Light Valley, Elderain|
|Born:||1476 DR (age: 60)|
|Relatives:||Janta Queensbane - father; Solenn Ulfriksson - mother; Jacob Astley - husband|
Anouk was born to human parents in the small town of Duskdell, in the northwest of Lost Light Valley. In her early childhood, she had a humble upbringing: her mother was a seamstress, and her father, then known as Janta Ulfriksson, worked as a lumberjack. She supposedly began showing an interest in music at an early age, as when she was very young she was constantly either talking or singing. This, however, changed very rapidly following one traumatic event when Anouk was six. While out in the nearby woods playing with her parents, they were ambushed by a pack of werewolves; Anouk could barely react before they got too close, and they were able to kill her mother as she attempted to fight them off, protecting her daughter. During this time, her father managed to pick her up and escape the werewolves with her, although he was unable to get away before sustaining a deep bite on the shoulder. Knowing that he would soon be turned, he chose to leave Anouk with his brother, Ulf Ulfriksson - and, saving her the anguish of seeing him as one of the creatures who killed her mother, he dashed off into the forest, never to be seen again by her or anyone who she knew. This event deeply traumatized Anouk, and she changed from a happy, talkative child into a dour one who rarely spoke or seemed present in the moment: though this would one day change, her view on what happened to her would go on to influence the rest of her life.
As Anouk's father had noted her interest in music before he was cursed, he managed to obtain a small, handheld harp to gift to her for her eighth birthday. This, he left on the doorstep of her uncle's house, with a small tag on which the following message was scrawled: "Happy birthday, kid. I'm so proud of you. Love, Papa." As she had believed that the attack had killed him, this confused Anouk at first - but, based on this, she constructed an elaborate narrative in her mind of what must have followed after the day she lost her parents. Rather than believe that her father was still alive as a werewolf - the same that had killed her mother - she convinced herself that he had died, and continued existing in the Prime Material as a ghost that failed to pass on to the next life, and his attachment to the Prime Material was strong enough that he was able to retain his experiences and even manipulate physical objects. Although she rarely found any texts that supported her theory, her father continued to interact with her in similar small ways (never being seen), which only fueled Anouk's imagination.
Life with Anouk's uncle was not easy. While Ulf did care for his niece, he was generally too stupid to take care of her as a father would, and in any case spent much of his time out in the world raiding and pillaging; while he brought back the loot that he acquired, and that meant that Anouk never wanted for anything, she grew up very independent. When Anouk was around eleven, Ulf married the beautiful and conniving Doris Ulfriksson, whose only goal was to manipulate those around her in order to advance her social position. She latched onto Anouk's growing aptitude for music and storytelling, seeing opportunity in the prospect of her becoming known to the lords and ladies of Elderain; Anouk, however, was sharp enough to see through her aunt's encouragement and advice, and distanced herself from her as best she could, until eventually she left home at fifteen to make a career as a travelling bard.
Anouk slowly but surely made a name for herself in Elderain, generally through performing the work of others at first. After a few years, she managed to secure herself a patron in Cair Vanta: this was the lady Ferula san Domingo, who saw potential in Anouk despite the fact that she did not have the same classical training that the bards from Cair Vanta had. Through Lady Ferula's management, Anouk began to perform for larger and more diverse audiences, and her "natural" singing style especially had some small influence on performances that would take place in Cair Vanta thereafter. (In particular, when in musical theater productions, Anouk often played male roles, as only women were allowed in Elderani theater at all; eventually, directors began specifying that those playing male roles should opt for a "clean" rather than operatic singing style, to make them distinct from female roles.) Lady Ferula's interest in Anouk, however, was not limited to her musicianship. Ferula shared similar views about the existence of ghosts on the Prime Material to Anouk, simply because the presumption that ghosts exist and can interact with the Prime Material would have been useful in covering up one of the Lady's family scandals. Eventually, it became widely known that Anouk's patron was using the concept of ghosts purely to save her reputation; in addition to this, the Church of Kelemvor rejected the notion that spirits can stay in the Prime Material after one dies, and denounced Anouk's concept of ghosts as blasphemy. Thus, Anouk gained her fair share of notoriety when she was young: despite the fact that some of her songs following the War of Shadows became popular, for they spread romantic ideals that loved ones who were killed in the war continued to watch over their families and friends, she generally saw far more success when she performed work that others wrote. Notably, she spent many years later on in her career travelling with a dwarven troupe from Cair Khoril, thus developing an affinity for dwarven music in particular.
One year following the War of Shadows, Anouk attended and performed at the wedding of King Vilgon Denas and Lady Mirielle Glaive. Here, she met Jacob Astley, who was also invited following his service in the King's Army: while they had come from the same home village, he was much younger than her, so they had not interacted much during their childhood. The two quickly fell in love - Jacob, in particular, had loved Anouk from a distance even when they were children - and they were married not long after meeting. Anouk continued touring for some time after she was married, although she eventually saw her career focus more on research and writing than touring and playing music; she therefore opted to settle with her husband in a home that they bought a short distance from Moonbeck in order to pursue this. The two led a peaceful and comfortable life with Anouk and Jacob's combined earnings as a writer and a wine merchant respectively. They went on to hire a grounds keeper called Van who became a close family friend, and as Anouk spent less of her time thereafter touring and more of her time at home, writing and researching, she rekindled her old interest in the occult. Nothing - not even repeated threats from the Church of Kelemvor, or the fact that there was scarce little information that supported her own theories about ghosts - dissuaded Anouk from her chosen path.
Thirty years after the War of Shadows, the Crystal Blight began to ravage Elderain, and soldiers were needed to fight it off. Jacob was once again called to fight in this war, and left Anouk to assume his position; sadly, she never saw him again, as this war claimed his life. Distraught, Anouk delved deeper into her research about ghosts and the afterlife with more fire than ever before - her loneliness after losing her husband transformed this old interest into an obsession, which in turn re-awakened old sentiments about the passing of her parents. It was this old interest that motivated her to eventually leave her home, searching for answers: it was rumors of a dead god crashing into Elderain that eventually called her to leave her home for good, and begin an adventure that would irrevocably change the rest of her life.