Disclaimer: the characters in this story are from the 'Forgotten Realms' setting for 'Dungeons and Dragons' and are the property of Wizards of the Coast Inc/Hasbro. Most of them are the creations of Jim Ward.Dangerous Moonlight
“We need to talk,” Sehanine Moonbow said, “about your daughter. Her recent behavior is cause for serious concern.”
Corellon Larethian, ruler of the Elven gods, raised an eyebrow and stared at his consort. “What are you talking about? Surely you haven’t joined those who assume that Ellesime is my daughter? I wish Erevan would just acknowledge the girl and put an end to these baseless rumors.”
Sehanine clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “That is not the matter to which I refer. Ellesime’s idiotic actions were twenty years ago. Why would I bring that up now?”
“Perhaps because they have led to the current situation, with a psychopath attempting to Ascend, aiming to join the Seldarine as an Elven God of Murder?” Corellon suggested. “Well, if not that, what do you mean? The only daughter I have is Eilistraee.”
“Exactly,” said Sehanine. “It is her behavior that concerns me. I fear she has finally succumbed to the Evil part of her heritage.”
“Ridiculous!” Corellon scoffed. “Eilistraee is as pure in heart as any of the Seldarine. She could no more be swayed to the path of Evil than could I.”
“I hope you are right,” Sehanine said, “but how else can you explain what she has done?”
“And what is that?” Corellon asked.
“Not only has she made peace with Vhaeraun,” Sehanine told him, “but she has allied herself with Shar. Selûne had captured Shar, thereby removing a great evil from the Realms and gaining a chance to end millennia of war and suffering, but Eilistraee intervened and treacherously freed Shar from her just imprisonment.”
“One of Shar’s High Priestesses, by all accounts one greatly favored by the Lady of Loss, is among the adventurers who pursue Irenicus,” Corellon pointed out. “Our interests are not necessarily opposed at this time.”
“Evil must always be opposed,” Sehanine insisted. “To act otherwise, for mere temporary expedience, is to sacrifice our honor.”
“Irenicus is a direct threat to us,” Corellon said. “If he succeeds in his aims he may even destroy Rillifane. Shar has never directed any attacks against the Seldarine. Indeed she has in the past allied herself with Shevarash against Lolth – and I do not recall you raising any objections at the time.”
“I warned Shevarash at the time that he should not trust her,” Sehanine said, “but he is completely irrational where the Drow are concerned and would not listen. Perhaps he will change his mind now Shar has declared that she intends to overthrow Lolth and usurp her position as the chief deity of the Drow.”
Corellon’s eyes widened. “She has? Why did I not know this?”
“It is a very recent development,” Sehanine said. “Selûne told me of Shar’s plan. Disturbing, is it not?”
“Perhaps so,” Corellon agreed. “Shar would be a formidable opponent, certainly, but it may not come to that. There is no… personal animosity involved. She, after all, is not my ex-wife.”
“She is a vicious and vindictive creature, with a heart of pure black evil,” Sehanine said, “and the Dark Seldarine united under her leadership would pose a far greater threat than Lolth ever did.”
Corellon’s eyebrows soared upward like elven arrows loosed at a flock of geese in flight. “Surely you cannot be suggesting that we aid Lolth against Shar?”
“Of course not,” Sehanine replied. “We should, however, take steps to ensure that Shar cannot achieve that united front. You must summon Eilistraee and demand that she explain her treacherous actions.”
“I can think of one explanation immediately, and it involves no treachery,” Corellon stated. “Naiveté, perhaps, if she agreed to help Shar in exchange for aid against Lolth, but I cannot believe that Eilistraee would ever betray the Seldarine.”
“She betrayed Selûne, for whom she had professed friendship for many centuries,” Sehanine said.
“Not a friendship as close as that between you and Selûne,” Corellon replied. “You are too willing to take Selûne’s side in this, Sehanine.”
“And you are too willing to take that of your daughter,” Sehanine riposted.
Corellon’s lips tightened. “I resent your implication. Very well, I shall summon Eilistraee and hear her account of this matter. I am sure that it will be satisfactory.”
Sehanine’s lips tightened to match. “Perhaps. We shall see.”- - - - -
Eilistraee entered Gwyllachaightaeryll the Many-Splendored with a beaming smile on her face. The smile gradually faded as her father’s Solar servitors escorted her through the marble halls; not to the family quarters, as she expected, but instead to the throne room. By the time she reached her destination her brow was furrowed in a frown.
Her escorts opened the door for her to pass through and then closed it behind her. Inside the room Eilistraee found her father sitting on his throne. He wore his full regalia, including his azure cloak, and the silver circlet that served him as a crown shone on his brow. Sehanine Moonbow, also in formal regalia, stood at his side.
Eilistraee approached the throne and bowed. “I am here, as you commanded, Father,” she said.
Corellon opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, and raised his eyebrows. “What are you wearing?” he asked. “I have never seen garments like that before.”
Eilistraee was wearing a lace-trimmed white bra, diminutive panties also trimmed with lace, and a garter belt supporting sheer white stockings. She smiled. “Pretty, are they not?” she said. “They originate in a world called Earth. Strictly speaking they are supposed to be worn under more concealing clothes but, as I so rarely wear outer garments anyway, I did not bother putting on anything else.”
“They seem… immodest,” Corellon said, a frown crossing his brow.
“Compared to nudity?”
Corellon’s frown grew more pronounced. He raised a hand to an ear and fiddled with the lobe for a moment. “Yes,” he decided. “They are, somehow, less modest than no clothing at all.”
Eilistraee bowed her head. “If you feel my garb is inappropriate I shall cover it up, of course, Father.” She closed her eyes for a second, raised herself slightly up onto her toes, and spoke a few words. At her command clothes materialized to conceal the offending underwear. A simple white dress that fell to mid-calf, a green cloak, and boots on her feet that were, unusually for her, glossy black knee-high boots with pronounced heels instead of her customary flat-soled Boots of Elvenkind. “I trust that is more acceptable?”
“It is,” Corellon confirmed.
“Much better,” Sehanine agreed. “The other… garments made you look like a whore working the Westgate dockside.”
Eilistraee’s lips tightened. “That was uncalled for, my Queen. And inaccurate, also, for such clothes are new to Faerûn and are, as yet, sold only in Amn.”
“How, then, did you get them?” Corellon asked. “You have no temples there of which I am aware.”
“They were a gift from Shar,” Eilistraee replied.
“Ah, I see,” Corellon said. “And that, daughter, brings us to the reason why I have summoned you.”
Eilistraee looked from her father, to Sehanine Moonbow, and back again. The crease across her forehead grew deeper. “This meeting, where I am summoned to stand before your throne as if I was a subject rather than your daughter, is because I have had a friendly meeting with Shar?”
“A friendly meeting?” Sehanine almost spat the words out. “You freed Shar from Selûne’s prison!”
“Anyone with honor would have done the same,” Eilistraee stated. “Shar had gone to Selûne’s realm under truce and Selûne broke faith, most treacherously, by seizing and falsely imprisoning Shar. Even had Shar not recently done me a great service I would have felt it my duty to free her.”
“You unleashed a great evil onto the Realms,” Sehanine accused.
“I saw no evil in Shar,” Eilistraee said. “She has pledged friendship to me, and I to her, and I will not break my pledge.”
“Even at my order?” asked Corellon.
“I must be true to my conscience above all else, Father,” Eilistraee answered. “It would grieve me deeply to disobey you but I could not obey such a command.”
“Fine sentiments,” said Sehanine, her top lip curling in a sneer, “but you were not so scrupulous when you broke your pledge of friendship to Selûne.”
“I would act exactly the same way in the reverse circumstances,” Eilistraee said. “It has nothing to do with friendship. Had I done nothing I would have been condoning the basest treachery.”
“A small betrayal in the service of a far greater good,” Sehanine claimed.
Eilistraee frowned. “Selûne put it in very similar terms,” she said, “but I do not see how you can serve good by doing ill. She has severely damaged my trust in her, for a start, and there may be repercussions beyond that. One day, perhaps, she may need to meet another god under truce – and be refused.”
“A good point,” Corellon conceded. “Yet your prospective friendship with Shar still worries me.” He raised a hand and stroked his chin for a moment. “And there is the matter of your relationship with Vhaeraun. That worries me even more.”
“It is a matter for joy, not for worry,” Eilistraee said, her smile returning to her face for the first time since the opening exchange of the conversation. “We are reconciled, after thousands of years of estrangement, and are sister and brother in truth once more.” Her smile grew wider and her eyes twinkled. “He is rewriting his Dogmas, in consultation with me, to remove potential causes of friction between his followers and mine. Shar is doing the same. This is a good time for me,” she added, gesticulating with her hands as she became more enthusiastic. “I gained nearly four thousand converts in Ust Natha. I now have more followers than at any time since the Dark Court Slaughter.”
“And what do you give in return?” Sehanine probed. “What compromises are you making, at the behest of your new… cronies, as you sell out your vaunted principles in return for power?”
“None,” Eilistraee replied, her smile vanishing again. She directed a cold look, almost a glare, at the Queen of the Seldarine. “Why are you making such accusations? It seems that you have heard Selûne’s account of events and accepted it absolutely, taking it for granted that she is in the right, without considering that she is not exactly an unbiased source. Did she, for instance, tell you that she attempted to imprison me as well?”
“Her intention was only to restrain you during her attempt to recapture Shar,” Sehanine claimed.
“She said not so,” Eilistraee said. “Her words, as I recall them, were ‘I shall decide how to deal with you on my return’. Perhaps she might have reconsidered, once she calmed down, but I believe that at the time she intended to imprison me indefinitely.”
“That is a ridiculous accusation,” Sehanine insisted. “You slander one who is a friend and ally of the Seldarine. Have you been misled by Shar or is there malice behind your lies?”
“And you speak as if your loyalty is to Selûne rather than to the Seldarine,” Eilistraee retorted. Her fists clenched without her conscious bidding.
“Do not speak in such a manner to Sehanine,” Corellon scolded. “She is not only your stepmother but your Queen. And Selûne has always been a good friend to the Seldarine. For you to accuse her of lying is unworthy.”
Eilistraee realized that her fists were clenched and, with an effort, relaxed them. She took a deep breath, counted to three, and then exhaled. “I apologize for the manner in which I spoke – but not for the words. I stand by them.”
Corellon’s brows descended low and a deep crease formed between them. “Daughter,” he said, his tone stern, “this is not like you. I am beginning to fear that, as Sehanine suspects, you have indeed been tainted by Shar’s evil.”
“And I repeat that I found little evil in Shar,” Eilistraee said. “She has a sharp tongue, and does not lightly forgive offenses against her, but that is all.” Her eyes opened wider as an idea occurred to her. “Why not meet her for yourself? She is having a party soon, to which she is inviting several of the gods, and I’m sure she would be happy for you to come too.”
“You expect your father to put himself at the mercy of Shar, Vhaeraun, Cyric, Malar, Talos, and others of their evil ilk?” Sehanine said in what was almost a snarl.
Eilistraee shook her head. “Shar is inviting only those who will cause no trouble, and she is making a point of ensuring that some Powers of Good will be there,” she said. “Mielikki has already accepted her invitation, I know, and I understand that so, too, has Lliira.”
“Impossible!” Sehanine snapped. “You are caught out in falsehood now. You do, indeed, scheme to lead your father into a trap.”
Eilistraee’s hand moved almost faster than her conscious thoughts. Sehanine recoiled with the imprint of Eilistraee’s hand clearly visible on her cheek.
“How dare you!” Eilistraee spat out.
“How dare you
strike your stepmother and Queen!” Corellon growled. His hand came half-way up, as if he was considering slapping Eilistraee, but he restrained himself. “This puts the issue beyond doubt. You are tainted by Evil. I must consider what punishment is appropriate.”
“Punishment?” Eilistraee echoed. “You cannot be serious.”
“I am very serious, disobedient daughter,” Corellon said. “I sentence you to… banishment. Your existing exile was a mere formality, and we have always turned a blind eye to your disregarding the sentence for which you volunteered, but that is over. No longer will you be permitted to roam Arvandor. Leave this realm within the hour. You may not return again except at my express command.”
“Go back to the Abyss, or to your new friend Shar’s Palace of Loss,” Sehanine added. She touched fingers to the red hand-print on her cheek and glared at Eilistraee. “Take your violent ways there and do not further disturb the tranquility of the Elven realms.”
Eilistraee was certain that she detected in Sehanine’s voice, and in the expression in her eyes, a hint of triumph. - - - - -
The gates of Arvandor closed behind her with a clang that seemed to carry a note of grim finality. Eilistraee flinched as she heard it but she did not cry. Not quite, anyway; the tears pricked behind her eyelids but she would not let them flow. She would wait until she was back in her own little realm before she gave in to her grief. Or perhaps to her anger; she wasn’t sure which of the two suppressed emotions was the stronger. Perhaps she would shout, and smash things, before she wept.
She had been cast out. Not for a genuine transgression, as Vhaeraun had been cast out, but for doing the right thing. It was… unjust. Unfair. Of course unfairness was the lot in life of the Drow, and had been for thirteen thousand years, and it was only… fair that their deities should share that lot. She had even volunteered to do so, moving out of Arvandor by her own choice, to make a point. And yet this banishment felt so different. As if she had been betrayed by her father.
Not only her father. Her stepmother, she was sure, had manipulated the situation from the start and achieved exactly what she had intended. And the other gods of the Seldarine…
As she had made her preparations for departure, gathering up those few possessions that she kept stored in Arvandor, and then had made her trek to the gates of the realm, she had encountered some of the others. Labelas Enoreth, Hanali Celanil, Solonor Thelandira; all had spoken to her harshly and accused her of betrayal. The remembered sting of their words made her struggle afresh to hold back her tears.
Yet it had not all been bad. Rather to Eilistraee’s surprise Aerdrie Faenya, who had once tried to kill her, had offered sympathy and words of support. And Erevan Ilesere, the trickster god, had been outspoken in his criticism of the sentence. His support was, in fact, so whole-hearted that Eilistraee had begun to fear that he, too, might end up banished. Those had, however, been the only bright spots in what had otherwise been a grim and cheerless hour.
The memory was enough to give her the strength to hold back the tears. She was even able to bring a shaky smile to her lips as she began to unwrap the bundle that held her great blade Moonsword; it had been taken from her at the doors of the palace, for reasons she only now understood, and had not been returned to her until she was at the gates of the realm. It would be advisable for her to don the weapon before making the journey to her own realm. Teleporting or Planeshifting directly between the Abyss and the plane in which Arvandor lay was impossible, even for her; Corellon Larethian had decreed it so, after the attack of the Anti-Seldarine, and no lesser deity could override his will. She would have to make the trip in a series of jumps and not all of the intermediate stages were guaranteed to be safe. Better to be prepared for any…
Suddenly she sensed movement close behind her. She began to turn, not immediately alarmed as she was at the very gates of the Elven realm and far from any foes, and saw a dark figure swinging a club at her head. She recoiled – but the war club was already too close, moving too fast, and she couldn’t evade quickly enough. It smashed into the side of her head with immense force and everything went black.- - - - -
She opened her eyes and everything was still black. She tried to move and discovered that she was restrained, fastened in chains, her arms above her head and her legs spread apart and shackled at the ankles. She felt something in her mouth, tried to spit it out and failed, and realized that she was gagged. She blinked her eyes, felt something brushing against her eyelashes, and deduced that the pitch darkness was because her eyes were covered by a blindfold.
Her head throbbed with pain. Whatever weapon had struck her must have been powerfully enchanted, and wielded by a being of great strength, to have deprived her of her senses for what must have been an appreciable length of time. She cast one of her innate spells, for which she did not need to speak, and healed herself. With the headache gone she was able to think more clearly.
Escape had to be her first priority. She could investigate the identity of her captor later, once out of these chains, and safely away from her prison. She tried to Planeshift, aiming first for Mystra’s realm of Dweomerheart, then for the Abyss, and then for Shar’s realm in Nilfheim; nothing happened. Her abductor must have taken measures to thwart that ability. She tried to sense where she was, so that she could teleport to somewhere else on the same plane, but her senses were blocked. All she could perceive was a vague sensation of her surroundings being in motion. She tried to Shapeshift into the form of a snake, so that she could slither from her shackles, and then to take Spider form. These abilities, too, were blocked. In desperation she resorted to brute strength, wrenching at the chains with all her divine might, but to no avail. They were too strong, too securely anchored, and she achieved nothing.
“So, you have awoken,” a voice said. A male voice, deep and menacing, and one that sounded familiar. She didn’t immediately recognize the speaker but could tell that it was someone she had heard before.
“Oh, you can’t reply,” the voice continued. “Of course I had to gag you to ensure you could not use your Spellsinging abilities. What a shame. It means I won’t be able to hear you scream.”
So she was to be tortured. Well, she could bear pain. She had fought in battles, and suffered wounds, and pain was nothing new to her. This would be worse, yes, but she would endure and survive. Eventually she would escape, or be rescued, and then she would strike back.
“Drow bitch,” her captor snarled, “daughter of Lolth, pretending all these years to be innocent and pure. Well, your deception is revealed now and you shall pay for your betrayal of the Seldarine.”
Betrayal of the Seldarine? The speaker, then, must be one of the Elven gods. Yes, she recognized him now. Shevarash. The god whose portfolio was Hatred of the Drow. He had always treated Eilistraee with some suspicion, and it had taken her a long time to convince him that her followers were not to be exterminated on sight, but at last he had come to accept her. Or so she had thought. Yet Shevarash was only a demigod, less powerful than her by a significant amount, although outmatching her in sheer brute strength. He could not have blocked her Planeshifting and Shapeshifting abilities. Only a more powerful deity could have done that.
Someone like, for instance, Sehanine Moonbow.
Eilistraee tried to put the suspicion out of her head. Surely her stepmother wouldn’t have conspired to have her imprisoned and tortured. It didn’t seem possible… and yet Shevarash distrusted almost all deities outside the Seldarine. If not Sehanine, then who?
Not that it was the most important consideration right now. She had something to go on now; Shevarash’s base was in the chaotic realm of Limbo, a plane of constant change and swirling motion, and that fit with what her senses told her. If she could make contact with an ally she could give them a starting point for a search.
“Qilué!” she called mentally, sending a message to her Chosen. The High Priestess of the Promenade Temple, under Waterdeep, was also a Chosen of Mystra and thus was able to communicate directly with the other goddess. “I am held captive in Limbo by Shevarash. Tell Mystra I need help.”
Strong hands seized hold of Eilistraee’s dress and rent it asunder. “Undergarments? This is unusual for you, shameless drow harlot,” Shevarash exclaimed. “Still, they will only delay me for seconds.”
“Vlondril,” Eilistraee called next, appealing to Evelintra’s successor as High Priestess of Eilistraee’s church in Ust Natha. “I am held captive by Shevarash. Tell Nathrae or Talabrae, that they may inform Shar, and tell Relonatar, for him to pass on to Vhaeraun. I believe I am in Limbo.” Shevarash ripped away Eilistraee’s bra. “Hurry!” Eilistraee added, suddenly feeling a rising sense of horror verging on panic.
Shevarash’s hands touched Eilistraee’s breasts, groped, and squeezed. “Shapely tits,” he said. “Always flaunting them, aren’t you, you filthy drow slut? Teasing, but never giving anyone the chance to touch them. Acting as if you were too good for us even though you’re just a bitch of a drow.” His hand moved down and tore away her panties. “Well, now you’re going to get the fucking you’ve been asking for.”
Eilistraee gasped in shock. She screamed out mentally, repeating her previous calls for help with even more urgency, and would have screamed aloud if not for the gag. His fingers touched her, ran along her slit, and then thrust brutally inside. Suddenly she realized why she had been chained up with her legs held apart.
She was going to be raped. A fate that had befallen many of her worshippers, much to her grief, but she had never expected that it could happen to her.
“No!” Her mental cries grew frantic. She thrashed in her chains, futilely, and called directly to Mystra, to Shar, to Vhaeraun, to Mielikki, and to Erevan, even though she doubted if they would hear, and then, at last, as she felt something probing against her pubic mound that could only be Shevarash’s cock, she made one final desperate plea. “Daddy! Help me! Daddy!”
“I bet you’re begging for help, aren’t you, bitch?” Shevarash taunted. “No-one can hear. We’ve made sure of that. No-one’s going to come for you. But I’m going to come inside you.” He spread her open with his fingers, positioned his cock, and then…
A tremendous sound, as of shattering rock, battered Eilistraee’s ears. A pressure wave swept over her and suddenly the air in her nostrils was thick with dust. Shevarash turned away, removing his fingers from her slit, and relief flooded through Eilistraee as she heard a familiar voice shouting out in anger.
“Get away from her, you bastard!”
“Shar!” Shevarash growled, confirming Eilistraee’s identification. “You defend this filthy drow? Stupi–”
The sound of something swishing through the air blended with his words and then his speech was cut short. Instead he screamed, reaching an impossibly high note, and Eilistraee felt a splatter of hot liquid against her legs.
“I won’t kill you, vile creature,” Shar said, “lest your depravity leak out and corrupt me.” Her voice dropped to a low snarl. “But you’ll wish I had.” The swishing noise came once more and Eilistraee could see again as the blindfold fell away.
Shar’s enchanted chakram, the Disk of Night, went whizzing back to its wielder’s hand after slicing through the blindfold. Shar snatched it out of the air and held it poised to throw again. Much to Eilistraee’s surprise Shar wasn’t alone, or accompanied by Vhaeraun; instead Mystra, who had been Shar’s enemy for longer than the Drow race had existed, stood beside Shar in a rubble-strewn gap in the wall.
Shevarash was doubled over, clutching at his groin, and blood was spraying out through the gaps between his fingers. Even as Eilistraee realized that Shar had emasculated him the spurts of blood slackened, then stopped altogether, and Shevarash began to straighten up. He, too, could heal his wounds without needing to cast a formal spell.
But he could not, it seemed, re-grow missing members. His penis was a truncated stump. The rest of it lay on the floor, looking like a skinned mouse corpse, in a pool of blood. Shevarash looked down at it, his face contorted, and he uttered a wordless bellow of rage.
Against the wall behind him stood his weapons; his mighty war club, his spear, and the dread bow that had won him the title of the Black Archer. Shevarash whirled around and grabbed for them.
From Mystra’s hand there shot forth a glowing beam of force. It hit Shevarash in the middle of his back, hurled him through the air, and smashed him face first into the wall with an impact that shook the whole room. The bow and spear toppled over, clattering on the stone floor, and another stone slab fell from the shattered remnants of what had, presumably, once been the doorway.
Shar danced across the rubble into the room, reached Eilistraee, and unfastened the gag. “Eilistraee, are you alright?” she asked, her voice soft and full of concern. “Did he…?”
“You were in time,” Eilistraee answered. “I was not… raped.”
“I am glad, dear friend,” Shar said. She took hold of one of the chains holding Eilistraee. “I shall free you in a moment. Hmm. These are powerfully enchanted.”
“Not any longer,” said Mystra, gesturing with her left hand.
“Thank you,” Shar said. She drew one of the two broad-bladed short-swords she wore and sliced through the steel as if it was butter. “Quicker than Spellsinging them apart,” she said, and moved on to the next chain.
Once her arms were free Eilistraee grabbed Shar in a hug and clung to her for a moment. “Thank you,” she said. “I was so frightened. Thank you for coming to my rescue. Both of you.”
“I will always come for you,” Shar promised, “as you came for me.”
“I, too, dear friend,” Mystra said. She joined the other two, as Shar knelt to sever the ankle shackles, and embraced Eilistraee over Shar’s head.
Once the shackles had been struck off Eilistraee released Mystra and looked across the room at Shevarash. He was still pressed up against the wall, held in place by rings of stone around his limbs and his neck, struggling to free himself but without result.
“I shaped the stone to bind him,” Mystra said. “It will not hold him indefinitely but it will serve long enough for us to decide his fate.”
“I think what Shar has already done to him is enough,” Eilistraee said. “I have suffered no lasting harm. If you had been but a moment later… but you were not.”
“If I had come later Shar alone would have rescued you,” said Mystra. She was watching Shar from under half-lowered eyelids, her forehead slightly creased, and one corner of her mouth quirked downward slightly.
“And if I had arrived later Mystra would have done so,” Shar said. She smiled at Mystra, a broad and open smile, with the corners of her eyes crinkling. “For which I thank you most sincerely. My friendship with Eilistraee is recent but deep indeed. She is very dear to me.”
“As she is to me,” Mystra said. She bit on her lower lip. “You have changed, Shar. I would never have imagined that you would race to the rescue of a goddess of Good.”
“She is my friend,” Shar said. Her eyes narrowed. “But someone is very much not her friend. There is strong magic blocking access to this fortress. I pierced it with ease, as did you, but Vhaeraun batters against it to no avail. That brute,” she indicated Shevarash, “could never have erected such a barrier.”
“Vhaeraun! He must be so worried,” Eilistraee exclaimed. “We must let him know I am safe.”
Mystra brought up her hands, spread her fingers, and rotated her wrists. “The wards are down,” she said. “He will be able to…”
Vhaeraun materialized in the center of the room, sword and dagger in hand, ready for instant action.
“…enter now,” Mystra finished.
“Sister! Are you alright?” Vhaeraun cried. His eyes flashed behind his mask. “There is blood on your stockings…”
“It’s not mine,” Eilistraee explained hastily. “It is that of Shevarash. Shar and Mystra came to my rescue in the nick of time.”
“I cut off his dick,” Shar explained, pointing at the severed appendage on the floor. “It seemed appropriate.”
Vhaeraun’s mask wobbled as his eyebrows shot up and his mouth contorted in fury. “He was going to rape you? I will carve him into pieces!” He headed toward the imprisoned god with his sword raised.
“Hold, beloved,” Shar said. “Stay your hand. If you slay him you might be forced to take up his portfolio of Hatred of the Drow – and what would happen then?”
“Surely not,” Vhaeraun said, but he halted, and sheathed his sword, nonetheless.
“I think the punishment Shar has inflicted upon him will suffice,” Mystra said. She pointed a finger at the detached portion of the member and sent forth a stream of fire to incinerate it. “It will not re-grow without the attention of a far more powerful deity.”
“And yet he has such an ally,” Shar reminded her. “Who is it, Shevarash? Tell me!”
“Fuck you,” Shevarash growled, his voice muffled by the proximity of the stone wall to his mouth. “I will not betray my ally to a filthy drow-lover.”
“I will make you tell,” Vhaeraun threatened. He hefted his dagger and took another stride toward Shevarash.
“No, my love,” Shar said. “I cannot let you torture him for information. It contravenes my duty as Mistress of Secrets. If he held out I would be forced to admire him for it – and I would rather admire a shit-eating otyugh.”
“And we should not stay here much longer,” Mystra added. “It cannot be pleasant for your sister to remain in the company of that swine, even with him locked into the wall, and I think we should get her home as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” Vhaeraun said. “I am thoughtless. And ungrateful, for I have not expressed my gratitude. Thank you, Lady Mystra, for what you have done for my sister. And you too, of course, my beloved.”
“As Shar said to me,” Mystra said, “she is my friend. If she calls on me for aid I will answer. Always.”
“Then I will aid you if you call upon me,” Vhaeraun offered. “A friend of my sister is a friend of mine, unless my position as god of male Drow makes it an impossible conflict, and I do not think that applies in your case.”
“And a friend of Eilistraee’s is mine, too,” Shar added. “We have been enemies for thousands of years, it is true, but I would like that to end. If you will accept my friendship, Mystra, you have it.”
Mystra’s mouth dropped open. She closed it, opened it again, and then shut it once more. “I… do not know what to say,” she said eventually. “I did not expect… you have… fighting alongside you was certainly much better than fighting against you. Let us speak of this later, once we are away from this place, in my home or in yours.”
“Very well,” Shar agreed. “Shall we go?”
“My sword,” Eilistraee said. “I cannot leave without my sword. Unless it fell when I was ambushed at the gate of Arvandor…”
“You were ambushed at the gate?” Mystra’s eyebrows shot up. “Under the very nose of your father?”
“My father has sent me into exile,” Eilistraee told her, a touch of bitterness in her tone. “No longer is it a formality, where I ask each time I visit if I may be admitted; I am forbidden even to approach the realm unless at his command.”
“But why?” Mystra asked.
“I suspect it is because of her friendship with me,” Shar said. “This is not the place to discuss the matter, however, and we will talk further after we depart. We should be able to detect the sword if it is here…”
“I can sense it,” Eilistraee announced. “It is close by, in that direction, presumably in an adjoining room. Shevarash must have decided that to leave it lying where it fell would raise alarms. If, that is, anyone cared enough to investigate.”
“Who of the Seldarine would care about the fate of a treacherous drow slut?” Shevarash taunted.
Vhaeraun slammed an elbow into the small of his back with enough force to have instantly killed or paralyzed even the strongest of mortals. “Silence, pig,” he growled. “Sister, let us find your sword with all speed and take our leave. I can bear the company of this vermin no longer.”- - - - -
Mystra handed Shar a glass of wine. “Welcome to my home,” she said. “If your offer of friendship still stands then I accept. It was churlish of me not to say so at once.”
“Of course it still stands,” Shar assured her. “We were enemies for a very long time. I quite understand that it took time for you to make your decision.” She took a sip of the wine, lowered the glass, and curved her lips into a wry smile. “A much more pleasant decision than the one Selûne made. She threw me into prison when I approached her with an offer of a long-term truce.”
“And I had to rescue her,” Eilistraee said. She had bathed upon arrival at Mystra’s realm of Dweomerheart and now wore one of Mystra’s blue gowns. The clothes torn from her body by Shevarash, and the blood-stained stockings, had been burned. “It is for that act that I have been banished.”
“Oh, Eilistraee, I am so sorry,” Shar said. “I regret having brought trouble upon you.”
“It is not your fault,” Eilistraee said. “It was Selûne who violated the parley. Once she had done that there was nothing else I could do but help you.”
“And you were banished for that?” Mystra’s eyes were very wide as she spoke. “What was your father thinking? I would have done the same. Or at least, if I did not take direct action, I would have gone to the Triad and shamed Selûne before them if she did not release Shar. And I mean at that time, when we were still enemies, for it was the right thing to do. If we cannot trust each other in a parley how can we get anything done? Without honorable truce we are not gods; we are but orcs.”
“Even some orcs will respect a truce,” Vhaeraun said. “I would have no qualms, for instance, about sending my followers to a parley at the camp of King Obould Many-Arrows.”
“True,” said Mystra. “Selûne acted worse than an orc. I would never have believed it.”
“Believe it,” Eilistraee said. “My stepmother did not believe it, alas, and it was she who convinced my father.” She frowned, picked up a glass of wine from the table in front of her, and drank half of it in one go. “In fact she practically manipulated Father into banishing me,” she continued, setting down the glass. “She provoked me into slapping her face and I think that was the deciding factor. Yet I was so angry at what she said that I could not help myself.”
“You grow angry only at cruelty or injustice,” Mystra said. “How can your father not know this?”
“I suggested that Father should come to the party Shar is holding shortly,” Eilistraee explained. “Sehanine claimed that I was trying to lure him into the clutches of a band of evil gods who would seize him. The next thing I knew I had slapped her. After that Father would not listen to anything I said.”
Mystra shook her head. “Surely she cannot have believed what she said. It does sound as if she was deliberately setting out to make you lose your temper.”
“You’re invited to the party, by the way,” Shar told Mystra, and then moved on to make another, more important, point. “Sehanine may have planned Eilistraee’s banishment. Are we agreed on that?”
Vhaeraun nodded. “It sounds that way to me,” he said.
“And to me,” Mystra said. “She has been Selûne’s closest friend for thousands of years. Perhaps she cannot imagine that Selûne could be in the wrong.”
“There is more,” Shar went on. “Shevarash could not have been responsible for the wards that kept Eilistraee from escaping him, for he simply does not have sufficient power. Neither could he have blocked your ability to communicate directly with other gods, so that your calls to us had to be passed on by way of your High Priestesses speaking to ours; and the wards that kept out Vhaeraun, and would have barred us also were we not Greater Deities, were far beyond his capability.”
“True,” said Mystra. “He had an accomplice of far greater rank. At least as powerful as, for instance, Lolth. Although Shevarash would no more work with Lolth than I would with… well, I would have said you before today. Beshaba, then.”
“And Eilistraee was ambushed at the gate of Arvandor,” Shar said. “Where she had been sent, alone and with her sword tied up in a bundle, by the machinations of Sehanine Moonbow. Who is certainly powerful enough to be Shevarash’s mysterious ally – or, more accurately, his boss.”
“You think my stepmother set me up to be raped
?” Eilistraee shook her head. “Impossible. She would never have done such a thing.”
“I do not believe that was her intent,” Shar said. “I think she told Shevarash only to seize you and hold you prisoner. Perhaps she would have used you, later, as bait with which to catch me again. Unfortunately she did not allow for the sheer venomous hatred Shevarash bears for the Drow.”
“Your theory makes sense,” Mystra agreed, “if you assume that Sehanine believes absolutely that Selûne was in the right when she imprisoned you.”
“Perhaps,” Eilistraee said. Her brows lowered. “Wait. ‘With which to catch you again
’? When has Sehanine Moonbow ever captured you?”
“I suspect that Sehanine Moonbow and Selûne are merging,” Shar explained. “Their portfolios are virtually identical and, by decree of Lord Ao, two deities with the same portfolio must merge, fight, become master and servant, or divide up their responsibilities between them.”
“Only if they are in the same pantheon,” Mystra pointed out, “and they are not.”
“They are so similar, in every way, that I doubt if that distinction is enough to keep them separate,” Shar said. “The more I think about it the more convinced I become that I am correct. Sehanine and Selûne are merging into one.” She paused to take a sip of wine and then continued. “Selûne is the elder, by many thousands of years, and her personality will be dominant. Sehanine Moonbow may, to all intents and purposes, no longer exist as an independent entity. I believe that, by now, she might be merely an Aspect of Selûne.”
“No,” Eilistraee said, shaking her head. “That… cannot… surely not… oh. Oh. I… I think you may be right. I have visited Selûne’s realm many times – although I doubt I ever will again – and never have I seen Sehanine there. Nor has Selûne, to my knowledge, visited Sehanine in Arvandor in many centuries. And yet they often spoke of their great friendship.” She picked up her wine glass again and drained it dry. “They didn’t need to visit each other. They share one mind.”
“Shar,” Mystra said, “you have changed a lot since I last saw you, and for the better. It was little more than six months ago, one would think too short a time for much change, and yet your personality is very different now. You are, if I may say it, turning Good – or at least Neutral.”
“You may be right,” Shar conceded, “at least to some extent. Certainly I no longer gain pleasure from spreading misery and I seek to bring comfort, rather than forgetfulness, to those of my followers who have suffered loss. Yet I will not abandon those of my worshippers who are Evil. I may use different methods to recruit new worshippers in the future, perhaps, but I will stand by those who worship me now.”
“That was not my point,” Mystra said. “Lord Ao insists on Balance. Selûne is your sister and, in many ways, your other half. If you are turning Good then she may be turning Evil as a reaction.”
“Or else she hates Shar so much she will oppose her in all things,” Vhaeraun suggested, “regardless of whether her actions are right or wrong.”
“I’m not going to start being nasty to Eilistraee just to trick Selûne, or Sehanine, into being nice to her again,” Shar protested.
“I should think not,” Eilistraee said. She reached out and squeezed Shar’s hand. “I like having you as a friend. And you brought my brother back to me. A gift beyond price. If it came to a choice between you and Selûne I would not hesitate before choosing you.”
Shar squeezed her hand in return. “Thank you,” she said. “Your friendship is a gift beyond price to me too.”
There was a moment of silence in which no-one spoke. Mystra poured out more wine for her guests and then resumed her seat. She raised her own glass. “To our friendship,” she proposed. The other three deities echoed the toast and drank.
“And now, alas, we must turn to a less pleasant subject,” Mystra said. “What are we to do about Selûne, and Sehanine Moonbow, and Eilistraee’s unjust banishment?”
“My father would listen to you, Lady Mystra,” Vhaeraun said. “If you tell him what happened…”
“We have no proof Sehanine was involved,” Mystra said. “All know that I am Eilistraee’s close friend. That, I fear, would make it easy for Sehanine to accuse me of lying on her behalf. Corellon Larethian would take her side, I am sure, and all I would achieve would be to get myself barred from Arvandor too. I don’t know what we can do other than gather more evidence and wait for Sehanine to give herself away.”
“She is cunning,” Shar said, pessimism evident in her tone. “It may be long before that happens.”
“You said Erevan Ilesere spoke up for you?” Vhaeraun asked his sister.
“He did,” Eilistraee confirmed. “He, and Aerdrie Faenya, were the only ones who even expressed sympathy.”
“Erevan and I have much in common,” Vhaeraun mused. “We have never been friends but that is more my fault than his. Lady Mystra, if you get the chance, please pass on to him my thanks for his support of my sister.”
“I’d invite him to my party,” Shar said, “but that would probably get him banished too.”
“Probably,” said Eilistraee. “Father can be very stubborn once he gets an idea in his head.” She grinned suddenly. “Poor Father. It seems that every woman he marries turns Evil.”
“So it would appear,” Mystra agreed, “although two is hardly a large enough sample for a proper statistical analysis. And repeating the experiment, even if we could persuade Corellon to divorce Sehanine and find another wife, would take far too long.”
Eilistraee laughed aloud.
“It is good to hear you laugh, sister,” Vhaeraun said. The unspoken words ‘after your ordeal’ were, somehow, as plain as if he had said them aloud. The memory wiped the smile from Eilistraee’s face. Vhaeraun, who had intended the opposite, frowned as he saw the result of his comment.
Shar’s brow creased for a second and then cleared. A half-smile came to her lips. “Princess Eilistraee,” she said, “there is a silver lining to the situation with your family.”
“There is?” Eilistraee said. “And why do you call me Princess?”
“You are the daughter of a King and a Queen,” Shar replied, “and now you have the one thing that every beautiful princess, in the tales of human bards, needs in order to triumph over adversity and achieve ultimate happiness.”
“If you mean a handsome prince to kiss her,” Vhaeraun said, “I am the only prince around here and, although I would have no objection to slaying dragons or hacking my way through a thorn forest for my sister, any kiss I give her will be a brotherly peck on the cheek.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Shar explained. “No, I’m talking about something much more vital to the true and virtuous princess heroine of any storyteller’s tale worthy of the name.” She grinned widely. “A Wicked Stepmother.”