AUTHOR'S NOTE: Not much to say here - there's a much bigger one at the end, which will hopefully clear up any confusion. Think of it as Cliffs Notes, unless you detest the concept. Apologies for any run-together words; the editor is acting up something awful right now.
DISCLAIMER: I do not in fact own the characters I am twisting so horribly.
SPOILER WARNINGS: War of the Spider Queen definitely, to a lesser extent Evermeet: Island of Elves and to a much lesser extent Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad (Am I the only one who sees an Arthur Miller reference with that title?) and the Starlight and Shadows trilogy.
GENERAL WARNINGS: Violence, profanity, biased narration, exceedingly... well, human isn't quite the right word here... gods. With a side of drow fangirlism and authorial savior complex.
For a Change
The spiders whispered a name to him, and Selvetarm marked it well. Zanassu, called the Spider Demon, ruler of the layer of the Abyss just above the Demonweb. Zanassu was weakened now, they whispered, and unworthy of his title. Weakened, but with a small spark of the divine, and still an impressive challenge for a godling with a goddess to impress.
"You bloodthirsty twit," Zanassu cried out at one point as he stumbled against a wall. "Stupid son of a stupid mother!"
Selvetarm readied Venommace and Thalack'velve. He had gone too far to be put off by petty insults and demonic ploys.
"She is using you," said Zanassu, speaking quickly, his desperation obviously mounting - along with some amount of incredulity. "You are a god of drow and you cannot see the bitch is using you?"
For that, Selvetarm had screamed her name with every blow of sword and mace and sometimes in between. Let her look down from Arvandor or up from the Demonweb. Let her hear him announce his victory; let her know this was his offering. "Eilistraee," and if he were not divine he would have lost his voice from it. "Eilistraee!"
He woke gasping some time later, Thalack'velve and Venommace still in hand, sprawled on the floor of Zanassu's fortress - no longer Zanassu's, he remembered, no longer - with Zanassu's blood drying in his hair. "Using me?" Selvetarm questioned the ceiling with its abundance of spider imagery. He began to drag himself up. "Was she using me?"
Haven't you noticed even if you haven't truly seen? She is like masked Vhaeraun, like dancing Sharess. She is Vhaeraun's sister, Vhaeraun's twin, and like him she is treacherous, like him she would clamber higher upon her mother's corpse, only she's lucky enough to have her father's favor and her silver tongue with its array of pretty words. She may carry a sword but still she dances like Sharess and she is silver-tongued like Sharess and like Sharess she would chain you in silver and silk. Redemption? You do not need redemption. You never wronged them up in Arvandor. Addled Shevarash would kill you soon as look at you, but she would make you her willing pawn. Her fawning knight. Her good little nephew she can pet like a cat. That is the redemption of which she speaks.
He managed a sitting position, propped up against a pillar that in addition to painted webs bore a webbing of cracks made with weapon or magic. "But she was so…" He stopped and closed his eyes as they seemed to whirl in their sockets.
Always so kind. Yes. It is never expected from the
Selvetarm tilted his head back, keeping his eyes shut. There was pain even in places where he hadn't recalled Zanassu landing strikes though admittedly his memory was not always the best for these times. It was there, and seeming to grow. "A moment, it's all… I don't… can that be… could be. Could be, but I don't… I can't believe…"
For as long as he remembered existing he had had these arguments, though as of late he had begun to favor the side which now he spoke aloud. This was the way of it with him. Others with disparate parentage took after father or mother, but with Selvetarm it was one battle after another between the natures of Vhaeraun and Zandilar-now-Sharess.
Always before they had fallen silent when he wanted them to. Always before, though the voices might sound like either of those deities from which he had turned away, he knew they were his own.
He would have to add Eilistraee to his list of those to avoid during his recovery, for if it were true then he could not risk her ensnaring him again. If it were not true he would simply return to her and explain the matter, and if it were not true then she would understand. Once this was decided, Selvetarm opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling again for a moment before looking downward to try and assess how much longer he would have to wait.
It looked as though maggots writhed beneath his skin, distending it in their efforts at escape, and the next moment he felt the corresponding sensation. His head snapped back and struck the pillar; judging from the noise it had increased the number and size of the cracks. He fell forward now and his legs did not move as they should have. When he raised his eyes he saw the goddess walking toward him.
Like him, she appeared to be drow; he knew when he took in her small build and the spiders outlining the sweep of an unseen and perhaps nonexistent gown that she was not Eilistraee. Her fingers wove together in the gestures of magic as she spoke in a tongue he recognized as the tongue of magic. As he looked at her she broke off her chant and smiled at him. "You will never set foot in Arvandor." She said this, and resumed.
Selvetarm would have liked to ask her what made her think he ever wanted to set foot in Arvandor, but that soon became the least of his troubles.
She does not need you any longer.
Selvetarm acknowledged the voice, singled it out over the omnipresent horde of them clamoring for slaughter, though he doubted she had ever needed him to begin with.
True enough. You were simply convenient to her purpose. It got Zanassu out of the way, and it sabotaged that one of Eilistraee's efforts, and the Abyss went on in its bloody circles and the Demonweb with it, until recently of course. A new realm, and with it a new champion.
Champion. It was the type of humor she adored. Selvetarm appreciated it as well, in the way one could appreciate the crafting of a sword plunging into one's gut even as one screamed.
Ichor still dripped from that wound, and from a number of the other deeper ones. He had gotten used to it some time ago, as he had gotten used to all of it. And he was the one with the sword now.
A fine champion you make. Defend her? Even mad Kiaransalee is reckoned higher now. You may have driven off the Masked One - you may have done more than driven off. You may have been able to pretend till now. But now! Anything that would truly threaten her would be unperturbed by a little godling such as yourself.
Nor, he knew, would that anything be perturbed by her "new champion."
Of course it would not. She is only another prize to be waved in Eilistraee's face. To be dispatched on cleansings such as you once undertook in Eryndlyn, remember Eryndlyn? In time she may even take on a divine spark - the Seldarine has the Black Archer, and would not the Lady Penitent be a fine counterpart? It might, with some relish, be your spark.
Yes, how would you like to be devoured while wrapped in her
web? There is precedent with spiders. There is precedent with
her. You are not consort but of her blood, may all involved be
cursed twice over - but since when did blood count for anything? The
irreverent mage and the subservient draegloth alike are consumed. Her
meat. We are all her meat in the end.
The words might have incited a spiral of panic and frantic struggle in someone else, but after over a thousand years of such speculation he was unbothered by one more.
"It is best fresh and struggling," Malar told him once when visiting to plan with her the dual attack on Arvandor and Evermeet. "No thrusting it over fire, that spoils it entirely. When the blood still works through its channels, the heart still pumps, limbs still move - when it has not yet realized its death, or when it is not quite dead at all." In response, Selvetarm was icily and obviously discourteous. They might have been kindred spirits of a sort, but Malar was her ally first and that would never do.
Or perhaps… perhaps that will not be her course.
If he hadn't known better, he might have thought some fragment
of the Masked One's consciousness (always the Masked One, never
would he be a lord to Selvetarm) had slipped into his own during
their battle in what was left of the sixty-sixth Abyssal layer, and
was now responsible for his current monologue. There was none of it,
of course, but what had always been with him.
Perhaps instead she will leave you wrapped in the web to watch a thousand more years of things shuffling about in stagnant chaos. A thousand more years with one lot of your worshippers thinking you a tanar'ri and another lot thinking you to be dead Zanassu and a last lot in denial of just how much of a groveling dog of a coward you are in spite of all your waving of weaponry. A thousand more years of trying to hide in a thin haze of bloodlust, a thousand more years of pretending more kills is all you would need. A thousand more years of going over the ways you could have avoided it, all the things that might have been if only you had been less of a fool, till you break and start singing harmony with Kiaransalee's threnodies.
Selvetarm felt something cold twist within him.
If she had mercy she would kill you. Let the Lady Penitent take your place and have the Lady Penitent be the one to go mad if she's not already, you care not for the fate of the Lady Penitent. If she had mercy she would kill you.
But you know her better than that.
She sang as she danced. It was without words, as was usual with evensong, and soon she was only peripherally aware of its continuance. Eilistraee allowed herself to imagine that she might go on forever in this state, not like Ulutiu in frozen slumber but a moving sleep, cocooning herself in the curve of her arms and the swirl of silver hair but never emerging. Of course she knew she could not and would not, not while she had worshippers on Toril.
Of course you might not have to worry about them much longer. Yes?
They'd survived other things, though she was not sure she could
say they'd survived worse. She could survive as she survived
before, she did not curl up and wither at setbacks. She knew that.
That was not the trouble.
Fool me once shame on you fool me twice…
This sort of thing would happen, she knew, as long as she continued with her mission. It was inevitable, and she would survive as her faithful survived. She would go on as she had gone on the other times.
She remembered her mother and brother staring at her as if she had been the one to wrong them. The changing color of Vhaeraun's hair and eyes had many a time belied one of his white fibs, or shown her that he was not as angry or else angrier than he pretended to be, and on that day they had taken on a deep and sullen red the likes of which she had never seen before. In some small way, I will provide a balance, she remembered telling her father as her consciousness faded.
A small way all right she thought now, such a very small way. Can a knife balance a sword I wonder. And if it did balance, would it really matter to me now? I cannot simply add gains to losses and say, look at what I have gained.
Look at what I have lost. I have lost Seyll Auzkovyn as I have lost so many, so many before her. And I lost her for the sake of Halisstra Melarn, and where is Halisstra Melarn now?
She knew the answer to that question, and increased the speed of her dance to try and spin it away. Futile.
Where is Halisstra Melarn now? Not dead, Mother could not be satisfied with killing her for I would have called her back again. Death is not the end of all chances. Mother knew that.
If anyone watched now they would see nothing but a blur of black
and flashing silver.
Where is she now? The Demonweb. What is she now?
Eilistraee let go of her sword. It floated around her like a scrap of cloth on unfelt breezes.
What is she now? She is called Lady Penitent and forevermore she will repent of things decreed sins by a mad goddess.
She had watched, even after all seemed lost and was lost. Lolth
probably could have stopped her watching at any time, especially with
the state of Halisstra's faith. It would almost have been a mercy
if she had.
Forevermore she will be tormented by all that might truly be called sin in her past and her present, and forevermore she must add to these things.
There had been other worshippers who backslid, other priestesses, and some were made driders and some were delivered to the Demonweb upon their deaths but never before had they been so twisted in mockery. The only other had been a different case entirely. Her own nephew, the son of Vhaeraun and Zandilar, who had shied from the paths of both his father and his mother. Who tried to climb upward, but fell far past where he began.
He fell so quickly, too quickly.
And forevermore the Spider Queen's webs will be spun, and caught in them now the Lady Penitent and Selvetarm both -
Eilistraee reached out, snagged the hilt of her sword in midair, and drove it downward. She stopped moving, stopped singing, and stared at her sword half-buried in the ground.
"I will put a stop to it."
Immediately after saying this she wondered why she said it. She
was one of those who knew the impossibility, especially
Impossible? Truly? Then why have I bothered, all these years?
No - survival, as had been proven repeatedly ever since the
Descent, was not an impossibility. It was the thing she proposed to
do now that was impossible.
Seyll Auzkovyn reaching out and stabbed for her pains, Seyll Auzkovyn fallen in a brook against a stepping-stone, giving herself for a chance that was lost. Balance. Always a balance. If in doubt stay where you are. I cannot end it completely. I know this. But Lolth has gained much. Ought I not gain as well?
Objectively, she knew she had gained. Objectively, she knew
Lolth had lost something from her silence, and from earlier
It does not matter to her. Should one of her faithful die another simply comes forward and takes the empty place; there are so many for her she does not have to linger on the difference, nor does she care to linger.
Objectively, Eilistraee knew these things, but to her sight there was a deficiency, and no amount of number-juggling would change this.
So what is to be done, but to change the reality?
She had already tried to change the reality, hadn't she? What had Halisstra Melarn's failed mission been if not an attempt to change the reality?
What keeps me from trying again?
She pulled out the sword with trembling hands, propping it upright with her wrists pressed against the hilt. While there could well be immutable things in the world, this was not one of them. Lolth was no overgod, not then and not even now. She had to remember this.
But she was not and never had been Lolth's rank among the gods.
She had to remember this also.
Selvetarm's mother. Zandilar of the Yuirwood. Zandilar is gone, or part of Sharess. Sharess herself was nearly subsumed by Nightbringer Shar. But then, in the time when Ao cast down all gods, Sune doused her in the water of the fountain Evergold and reawakened the light within her…
Eilistraee's eyes widened. The tip of her sword pushed back into the ground, but she paid it no attention.
There has been precedent. Such a precedent! And Shar was a greater power than Lolth – she still is greater. This will certainly not be as easy as I hope… but it certainly cannot be impossible.
This decided, she shut her eyes. "Selvetarm," she began, and imagined the processes that would bring her invocation to his notice.
The light in Ellaniath did nothing to affect the pervasive shadows. It was an aspect of Vhaeraun's realm that planar travelers would have remarked on if they kept their memories of the place. The petitioners' hair was uniformly white, for even if by fantastic chance they were not drow to begin with they were made so in Ellaniath, and the light on it – gold of triumph or blue of good humor, green of curiosity or red of anger – gave them the appearance of a flock of their god's avatars. When the light touched Vhaeraun himself, his hair and eyes glowed with twice the intensity; the color of the light and the color of his hair and eyes always matched. Currently that color was red, and had been so for some time.
Red is for a number of things.
He sat cross-legged, eyes shut, head canted slightly downward. The hand he still possessed rested against one jutting knee. In the sheaths at his belt he wore a dagger and short sword. The short sword was called Shadowflash; he had not gotten around to naming the dagger since its promotion from the bandolier hanging on the wall. Before him lay another scabbard, this one made for a longsword and empty.
Red for anger. Red for love. Red for blood.
Vhaeraun's mind spun off in a hundred different directions. Manifestations and avatars walked the planes, and as each of them and as himself he answered calls of summoning as well as the odd direct contact from his stronger priests, his Nightshadows, named after the longsword; one of them wandered elsewhere in Ellaniath now, along with the sword a direct casualty of this fiasco. As his mind spun he dispensed as well as clerical spells a hundred different words and impressions of warning and advice. His faithful had taken steps during the silence, grown on discontent, and he wasn't about to let even their small profit be negated.
Red for Selvetarm, Selvetarm's color, the son of a whore!
Even with his eyes closed Vhaeraun could see the light flash.
Continue to lose concentration like this, and it will linger forever. Calm. Think on how to deal with him later.
After a few moments, Vhaeraun let out a breath and focused again on his collection of memory. He had only realized when this happened just how little he actually noticed or remembered of his hands. Nor could he use the remaining one as a model – a fine thing it would be to end up with the fingers reversed.
Even as he concentrated another part of his mind wandered off to Arvandor, Arvandor before anyone had ever heard of Ilythiiri, when they had only just heard of dhaerow "traitors." He was standing again beside the goddess who was still called Araushnee back then, though not for so much longer. And the others passing judgment, treating him as if he were only Araushnee's stupid tool. Tragic, Corellon called it, and no doubt he thought his words compassionate. But of course if he really had believed Vhaeraun misguided and used, there would have been no punishment, would there? The worst of both worlds, condescension and condemnation. You must learn to think and live on your own was his excuse.
Vhaeraun opened his eyes and stared upward into the light. "Well, Corellon Larethian," he whispered, "Well, Father. I think I'm thinking on my own and I'm certainly living on my own. I await the way to Arvandor." He chuckled for a moment, and for a moment a tracing of blue surrounded him before being engulfed by red.
More than a thousand years ago Selvetarm had been a vacillating child, annoyingly open, with a small affinity for spiders. Would that the pair of them had stayed between Arvandor and the Demonweb, going their own ways, thinking and living in their own ways, though there was no love lost between them even then and Vhaeraun had realized that if Corellon ever meant what he said he certainly didn't mean it now. Then Eilistraee tried to turn Selvetarm's head, and Lolth moved against her, and Lolth got what she wanted, as she always did.
But I am still here, am I not?
Who was to say that what she wanted so far wasn't Vhaeraun's continued existence? Another of her tests, something for her servants to unite against when they weren't occupied with backstabbing.
Araushnee had been the Weaver, with dominion over elven destiny in
general and the destiny of the dark elves (back when there were no
"traitors") in specific, and perhaps even now she who was once
Araushnee played with her weaving, yanking at loose threads and
gathering them back together when it threatened to unravel
completely. This would explain why the entire drow society had not
collapsed in on itself before he'd even unknowingly put Selvetarm
within Zandilar the Dancer.
It would have spoiled her fun, no doubt.
Vhaeraun continued to stare upward at the ceiling, half-expecting spiders to begin to drop from it.
When he was not groveling to her , or carrying out her commands, Selvetarm spent his time mainly in the company of Garagos the bloody Reaver, who he supposed he would have to kill one day. Groveling - that was the word Garagos used. "If you tire of groveling, spiderkin," he said once in one of his more lucid states, "there is a place for you in Battle Garde." Selvetarm had promised to consider this, then broken the promise without qualm. It remained broken.
Whatever might happen as a result of this, you will not take up residence in the nonexistent Battle Garde, shield companion to a raving idiot.
"Haven't seen you for a while," said Garagos now, as Selvetarm stepped through the portal into Cynosure. "How goes it in the pits?"
He was clear-headed, Selvetarm noted. No incoherent ranting about a time when he was called Targus and he was greater than even her, or equally-incoherent curses of the war-god who now held that status. These periods of sensibility were becoming more frequent, else Selvetarm would have slain the Reaver long ago or tried to in boredom and exasperation. "I have been groveling."
He eyed the wounds with an air of expertise. "And fighting, I see. Else some demon stabbed you through while your face was in the muck."
In response, Selvetarm tore the spidersilk from around his newest trophies and tossed them to the ground between them. Garagos dropped to one knee and gaped at the longsword of shadow-stuff. A dark hand still clutched the hilt. "'s a god's weapon, isn't it?" he whispered. "What's its name?"
"Nightshadow, I believe. Do not touch it," Selvetarm added quickly "There is likely protection magic."
Garagos returned his reaching arm to hang at his sides with the other five. "Whose was it? Not your father's? Not Vhaeraun's?"
Selvetarm cringed momentarily at the speaking of the name, at the means given to spy on their conversation, at the same time somewhat taken aback that Garagos had remembered it.
The Masked One will be occupied with the repercussions of going against her for all this time. Let him be reminded again of his loss, if he cares to listen. "It was."
"Good for you. The masked coward, always sneaking about -" At first he seemed ready to go off in the middle of Cynosure. Then he shook his head and continued to gaze at the sword. "You killed him finally?"
If he hadn't known better Selvetarm would have thought the hope of this, and not the fineness of Nightshadow, was what lit the Reaver's eyes with something aside from battle-rage. "I would have brought you his head."
"Oh." Garagos shrugged. "I expect you would. Unless it were smashed, of course. I think that Venommace of yours could do that if you had a good shot."
He was used to keeping a close watch on his tongue, and no longer
did he give it the part of one voice or another. Selvetarm continued
to make sure it did not absently tell Garagos what he told himself
while they traded tales of battle as their usual preliminary. Not
even Garagos the fool would take kindly to being addressed as such,
let alone stated intentions of rendering him an Astral husk and
taking over his minor dominions.
His stupidity is such that you cannot even pretend of course you were joking about it, because why else would you say such a thing?
Regardless, it was enjoyable to be able to share what temporary exultations he had, and pretending to reciprocate was a small price. Enjoyable to be the clever one for once, as he could never be in the Demonweb.
You can never outmaneuver her, or the Masked One, so why try?
Instead he was brazen. He told her of the message sent by Eilistraee, then begged permission to call on her in return, pretending to believe again and so drawing her to the lower planes in another attempt at "redeeming" him. Whereupon, he concluded with intentional extreme optimism, he would sever her head to join her brother's hand.
She glanced over his mind then. While Eilistraee would have made him a slave and happy to be one, she hadn't bothered with such niceties. This, Selvetarm thought, was what saved him. She looked at him and saw the usual hatred. His hatred was no secret to her, and so she would have found nothing amiss about it.
Of course, it could well be she did find something amiss, but had already a way to counter.
But in any case she laughed and told him, By all means, try.
"I would ask a boon of you," he told Garagos some time later, after their usual planar slaughter session concluded and the majority of the voices were temporarily placated. He had been gauging time, and the Masked One could no longer be listening. "There is a certain goddess - I may not name her right now." He looked over himself; there had been minimal additional injury. "I am not sure I am even capable. But I would give her a message."
The Reaver rose halfway from his pool of blood. He had idly traced symbols on his face in the stuff, soon obscured as it dripped. "I don't suppose you want me to name them now either?"
"Not now. She is the one-" The one who dances, he was about to say, but stopped to consider how many goddesses might be described by such a phrase. "The one with the moon sword," he clarified. "My aunt."
Necessarily convoluted, to do this. He might have her permission, but he had to act as though he hadn't, had to give the impression of subterfuge.
Eilistraee would certainly suspect if you announced it in the middle of the Demonweb.
"Your aunt? She's up with the other elven, isn't she? I'll not go up there, I would go mad."
Oh, he wouldn't need to worry about that. "As would I. But you'll not need to visit her plane, only speak her name and then the message."
"And you'll not say it till you're back in Warrior's Rest?" said Selvetarm. "Away from me."
"Glad I'm not in with your lot. All of this sneaking and not-saying-names. So. What was it you wanted to tell her?"
When Selvetarm spoke it, several of his voices revolted as they had when he had initially devised his response. Amazing, that after over a thousand years of her he still had pride remaining to be injured.
You, too, are a god of drow. You know that personal feeling is irrelevant to utility. Should this succeed any injury your pride might incur in the process will also be irrelevant.
You might not be victorious in combat, you will likely not be, but that is not the true battle. This is the dream you teach your faithful, though they are drow and it is doubtful many listen. This is your battle, and though the odds are overwhelming there is nothing to fear, nothing to lose. You know how it is now and in the end there will be change. In the end, for if nothing else you have learned patience. If nothing else you are the Spider that Waits. Whether against Eilistraee or against her you cannot name, you will not be defeated
The dissident voices quieted, and Selvetarm smiled. Garagos, unknowing of the reasons behind it, grinned back and was allowed to keep his illusions.
"What of your priestess?" Hanali Celanil held the jug out with both hands. "Terrible that it ended in such a way, with her and the other drow - the swordsman."
Eilistraee winced as she took the jug. In her joy, she had pointed out the pair to Hanali herself before everything had gone wrong. Hanali's dominion, like that of her friendly rival Sune, was over love - love even between drow. "I have planned for that, and I'm afraid I will have to call on you again once I am ready."
"Whether or not this first plan of yours works?"
"His nature is quite different from that of Sharess," Eilistraee explained, "at least now. I don't know how the water of Evergold might affect him. And however that might be, it would quite possibly have another effect, for better or worse, if I used it on… my priestess."
"I see. And he replied, just like that?" Hanali frowned and brushed hair from her face, then brushed a smaller portion of it back. "I think you ought to speak to Corellon. It would be like her, wouldn't it? To try something like this?"
"I know. I intend to. That was another part of it. And it wasn't-" Eilistraee took a moment to ensure that the subsequent conversation would not immediately catch the attention of the one she named, and dangled before herself for a moment the hope that such measures would be unneeded in the future. "It was not Selvetarm himself. It was his ally. The closest he has to an ally."
After thanks and pledges to see each other later, Eilistraee set off across Arvandor. Hanali was right, as Sehanine had been when they spoke earlier - likely it was a trap. Likely the Spider Queen or Selvetarm himself thought it would amuse to cut open old wounds to accompany the new.
When she found Corellon, explained her plan and made her request, he said much the same thing. He seemed troubled - he had been troubled before, of course, he would have been mad not to have been troubled by these changes - but there was a significant increase in the visible signs of it. When she asked as to the cause, he told her it was nothing she should worry over. Then he repeated his concerns.
"My priestesses - all my faithful- have always done such things, Father," said Eilistraee at last. "How can I ask them to go forth, to risk all for the smallest chances of redeeming their kin, while I stay here and do nothing but grant them spells and give them directions? I have been reminded of my duty. I know I still should refrain from undue interference on the material plane, but surely I can do something among us gods."
"I know what that tone in your voice signifies," said Corellon. "I know that even if I forbid you to do this, you will do so regardless, and I will end in accepting it after the fact." He smiled briefly. "I may as well accept it before the fact. You propose to bring him here?"
"You can still block Lolth from seeing here, can you not, seeing how often we have used her name in the last hour?"
"Do you see? No matter how she has transformed herself, if any can counteract her power it will be you, Father. Should I fail - I do not intend to fail, but should I fail Selvetarm is not nearly as strong as she is, and it should not be so difficult to… do the necessary thing, in this our home plane." She swallowed. "If you are averse to this, I suppose I could go to Brightwater, but it hasn't the specific protections as are in Arvandor, and when he first sought to enter the light-" She paused. "It was me he turned toward. Not Sharess, or any of the other gods of Brightwater. He turned to me."
"He is a god of drow," he reminded her. "He was never of the Seldarine. This may be considered undue intrusion."
"He is my nephew," she said, "and he is your grandson. Call it a family matter."
"You want a secret."
Vhaeraun's avatar shrugged. "Doesn't everyone?"
"Everyone." The cloaked form of the Nightbringer Shar leaned forward slightly. "It is fortunate for you that you did not… intrude earlier, as is the habit of certain other gods of your dominion. Else you would have encountered a certain archer, and I am certain he would have been overjoyed at the sight of you. Perhaps so overjoyed as to even smile?"
"I thought he never smiled," said Vhaeraun. "That was part of his idiom. But that is too bad. I would have been overjoyed." As he spoke he hoped fervently, in a part of him Shar could surely see, that vengeful Shevarash was not still somewhere in her realm. This was only an avatar, with attendant weaknesses, but its loss would still smart. The Black Archer was a demipower, but he had the backing of the Seldarine and unrestricted worshippers, while Selvetarm had been under the Spider Bitch's thumb - when it pleased her to have one - for centuries, with only the aranea and such drow as she permitted him, and still had been able to -
He muted the red he knew had grown still deeper and brighter, with effort.
"Patience." She might have been smiling herself, behind the layers of fabric and dark. Vhaeraun wasn't sure. And he understood the rest of what she meant without her having to say it again, if she had ever truly said it in the first place. Patience, and Shevarash would eventually take aim at an even more accessible target than Vhaeraun and his people in the Night Above.
"Here, then, is your secret." Even if she was not smiling, her voice smiled. "We are allies, are we not?"
He held no illusions about their dealings. It was just as likely that Shevarash knew as well of their separate visits like illicit lovers, and that he'd gotten his own pledges from Shar that this state of affairs would be remedied. Still, there was worse he could do for an ally. She had gifted him with the ability to erase memories of Ellaniath; he knew better than to rely on this, but it had its benefits. Shar might intrigue and plot, which irked him in others, and her goals were no more fathomable than Lolth's, but there was a cold reasoning to it all.
"A certain other god of thieves has complained to you," said Shar, "yes? Concerning how he is constantly bothered by your faithful calling on you by title, as well as by every noble planning their attendance of a costume ball."
Mask had complained about that on their last meeting, but continued to be obviously cheerful - because, he claimed, he was now no longer the only thieves' god who was missing a limb. Vhaeraun had told him not to get used to it, with far more confidence than was actually there. At least he stood a better chance than Mask; Selvetarm was no Chaos Hound.
"I must complain as well," said Shar, "when I am exposed to their constant inanities. But sometimes I do not mind so much that once departed from my care she did not think to return her name to, let us say, Zandilar the Dancer. Plans are being made involving your son - for the moment, say nothing about how he is 'not your son,' or some such denial. He is after all fair enough skilled to have stolen your longsword." For whatever reason she refrained from mentioning the other thing that was stolen.
My old domain, Eilistraee said, if you can make your way there?
I can, he told her through Garagos. She is not as strong there anymore. This was truth, as far as he knew; the Demonweb was its own plane now, and one of the effects of this would naturally be inability to see as far into the Abyss - especially into another god's realm, even if said realm was beginning to come apart due to absence. Selvetarm stood and stared about him. He had imagined, for one, a prevalence of silver.
Probably Eilistraee took all of that with her when she returned to Arvandor.
Thalack'velve and Venommace were sheathed along with their companion weaponry, in keeping with his pretense. He brought with him also the sword and hand of the Masked One, bundled again in the spidersilk. The last of his wounds had stopped bleeding, and he chose for his shape the one with the most resemblance to a drow though it would never be mistaken for one, with elements taken from both a drider and many-armed Garagos. This had been the form he used in his last battle. She could be watching, from near or from afar, so he tried his best to conjure up something of the child he had been, to summon a semblance of vulnerability.
As his voices muttered dire imprecations the gate opened before him and she called his name from the other side.
"Selvetarm." She was dressed in hunting leathers for no
apparent reason, as she wore the first time they crossed paths - that
might have been the reason. She had a sword sheathed, a waterskin
attached at the other side of her belt, a cloak draped around her
shoulders the same color as the grass at her boots. And this was her,
in herself, not an avatar. He could tell that much.
You are at a loss. You are afraid. You will act as though you actually expect her to help you. She will help you, if this works, but in a different way entirely. "Aunt Eilistraee?"
Eilistraee briefly lifted a hand to her mouth at the words. "This is my other realm in Arvandor." On the other side there was moonlight. "You will be safe," she said, simultaneously frowning in concentration and bearing a expression that was presumably supposed to be compassion and irked Selvetarm immensely, "if you do no harm. I promise you this." As if that meant something from her.
She had said such a thing before, or something like it. "Are you mad?" he had asked her, without rancor. It had been in a time when he still questioned Eilistraee, before he thought he felt something softer for her. "Do you think the Black Archer will suffer me there one moment before filling me with arrows?" he had asked her. And perhaps Shevarash was there now, hidden in one of the trees Selvetarm could glimpse, ready to do just that. Selvetarm found the possibility mattered little to him.
She extended her hand; he saw a flicker of conscious irony crossed her face as she did. "I am sorry you had to wait so long. Only step through and-"
She jerked her hand back slightly. Selvetarm grimaced. As a ruse it might have worked. He only wished it were a ruse, so he could credit his own cleverness.
But she had been the one to forbid him this. You will never set foot in Arvandor, she told him. He had not. Even during the recent assault he stayed behind while Malar and the elf-eater accompanied her to wreak havoc.
Did Eilistraee know, do you think? Did she open the gate solely to mock you?
Any mockery was hidden well. "You cannot?"
"I cannot enter your gate if it is to Arvandor."
"Lo - Mother did this to you?"
He almost laughed. "Who else?"
"Perhaps she lied, in the hopes that you would not try at all."
"She did not." Even now his sight began to shake as her magic determined he was saying too much. "She would not make it so easy."
Do not provoke her overmuch. You need her. She took you in when Eilistraee could not, and Eilistraee cannot have forgotten that. Play on her hurt pride, and disregard your own.
He took up the spidersilk bundle and presented it with two of his arms. "As your… initial intention… appears impossible, please accept this. I know you hate him as well - perhaps it will be some consolation, Aunt Eilistraee."
It was as if he had struck her. Then she took on that expression again and said, "Not impossible. I cannot believe that."
His sight trembled even more, not due to her magic now. His voices were raised and they spoke of treachery. "Believe."
"No." She shook her head, and on the other side the moonlight played in her hair. "No. There is some kind of counteraction. There is always a counteraction."
"Some mistakes cannot be counteracted." Then he started to scream, the outraged voices within him adding to the single voice without. His plan was cast aside and he was beyond caring. "Mistakes such as ever trusting you not to be like the rest. Do not dare pretend anymore, do not dare -" and he rushed forward.
In the next moment, her forbidding took effect as he had known or should have known would happen, and he writhed where he fell. His voice continued without words for a moment more before his jaws slammed together with enough force to draw salty wet from his tongue. Even then he could still hear sounds issuing from the back of his throat as his drow arms and spider legs flailed, struggling against something that wasn't there, losing his grip on the weapons he had begun to draw and sending the bundle with Vhaeraun's sword and hand inside flying off at random.
He could stop this, he knew. Stop these thoughts, change his intentions, and this fit would stop soon after, though she would likely inflict additional punishment later. Instead Selvetarm focused on the gate, focused on the idea of going through it, focused on the thought that if he would be her meat in the end, then he might as well serve her once more by improving its taste with his fighting.
All the half-healed injuries flared anew. When he began to feel the trickling on his face he thought at first it was from one of them.
The gate had closed behind Eilistraee, and she hoped she would not regret allowing it to do so. She continued to kneel beside Selvetarm with her waterskin upended. The most violent of his thrashings had faded, most of his movement being about his head and neck, where drops and streams of the water of Evergold glistened. There was no fantastic metamorphosis; that might have happened with Sharess, but Selvetarm was not Sharess and such a thing would probably not be permitted in the Abyss. Removing him from the plane presented its own problems.
Maybe I should have gone to Brightwater instead.
His outburst somewhat reassured her - she had known there would be a trap of one kind or another. Of course there could be another one in wait, but this was better in a way than listening to him call her aunt and knowing that it was most probably a sham and knowing also that there was a chance of its sincerity.
Does he truly believe I…? He did trust me, then, he trusted me so much…
Then Selvetarm staggered up as though being pulled by his hair, which continued to hang damp, in the midst of new spasms. Eilistraee leapt to her feet, dropped the waterskin and rested her hand on the hilt of her sword. She had prepared herself for something like this - she prepared herself again. Remember what might have been, and imagine the future that might still be, if you can only carry this out.
By the time he stood in some sort of balance she was ready. All six of his blades and maces flew from their sheaths, and she drew her sword and ran to meet him. "I am sorry," she cried out as she twisted in midair and avoided his clumsy first swings. Their swords clanged together, and she twisted again to avoid the drops of mingled acid and spider-venom that flew from one of the maces. "I am sorry."
It was too easy for Eilistraee to reopen his recent wounds, and it was made still easier by his erratic convulsions. On more than one occasion a blade or mace spun out of control and turned back on himself. Then, as she stepped back momentarily to visualize a rough idea of her next routine, Selvetarm's mouth wrenched open and gave her a clear view of long fangs. Spider fangs.
Eilistraee delayed her attack, took a defensive posture. As she intoned a spell to close what wounds she had sustained so far, Selvetarm started to speak in between bouts of laughter. He was still looking at her but seemed to see her no longer.
"The Masked One was right," he said, "Dead Zanassu was right. You are truly the Spider -" He cried out, then continued in his mirth. Eilistraee realized then who it was he was speaking to. "Find another to grovel before you if your new champion does not suffice, have the Revenancer sing for you, let your handmaidens cry your praises, but it will not be me again. Do not mistake this for obedience. I know who my enemies are, and if they are same as yours that does not change things. I am not as foolish as I was."
"I do not have to be your enemy," Eilistraee tried to interrupt after she finished her spell. "I was never pretending, I never meant -"
Selvetarm made a strange gurgling noise in his throat, showed no sign of acknowledging her. "I will not. I will not speak it. This is my battle. I know what the both of you did to me. She would have used me, but at least I would never have known it!"
Eilistraee came forward, slashed out in bold strokes she hadn't thought she would risk using. His eyes focused on her again, saw her again too late, and the next moment Selvetarm's legs folded. He collapsed for the second time.
She quickly disarmed him and knelt at his side again. Kept watch for attack from any angle. Seyll Auzkovyn slumped bleeding in the water.
Not this time. Not this time.
He surprised her by smiling and flinging his head back, baring his
throat. Eilistraee thought she saw a difference in his eyes - another
spark of what he had been, as languished in Halisstra Melarn, a spark
awakened by the water of Evergold?
I would imagine it was so even if what I see is a desire to rend me limb from limb, and that is there too, I do not doubt.
Eilistraee was charged with finding such sparks, to fan them into flame - certainly not all of her people were atypical-eyed renegades like Liriel Baenre or Drizzt of Mielikki. She would try to fan this one, then, and if it did not yet exist she would do her best to plant it.
"Quickly," Selvetarm whispered. There was a tension in his face now. The smile faltered. "I know you would enjoy your triumph before you end it, but she-" The smile broke completely as he choked against what she suspected was a whimper of pain. "She is surely coming here now. When she arrives it will be too late for both of us." This time unquestionably it was a whimper.
"It will not be like that. Shh." She touched his forehead. Though he was a god and not susceptible to mortal ailments it had the heat of a fever. "Shh. It will be all right. We'll set it right." Almost she added "trust me," but decided that was not the best turn of phrase. "Your grandfather and others can dispel -"
"I cannot set foot in Arvandor. I told you this." Whether he thought his restriction fortunate or unfortunate Eilistraee could not discern.
"You will. I promise you this. Binding magic always has its loopholes. Father - your grandfather - knows magic as well as she does, or better. Yes, better. We'll set it right. I'll set it right."
"If it will be that again for me…" There was as much venom in his voice as there likely was in the fangs and in his mace that, she remembered, was named for it. "If it will be then convince me again." His eyes were clouding but he was not dying, not yet. "Convince me again that it is truly not." He smiled again, and turned his face from her.
Eilistraee watched him continue to live as she rummaged through the pile of weapons for the pair he had wielded more than a thousand years previous, listening again to his warning. At least he had not called Lolth here.
This is my realm, and now this is not even her Demonweb Pits anymore. She should not arrive so quickly.
"Should not." That means so little.
Once Venommace and Thalack'velve were found she tore her cloak, enchanted for the purpose, from her shoulders and used it to enfold both in a manner similar to the spidersilk around the object Selvetarm had offered her. That reminded her of the object itself, and she looked toward it, stood and made for a moment as if to fetch it. Instead she turned her attention, or most of it, to a shadowy patch of her realm. "You may as well show yourself, brother."
While Vhaeraun continued to sit in Ellaniath, the avatar he had dispatched stepped out and bowed slightly. By the time he straightened Eilistraee's visibly-stained sword was in a ready stance. "I thought you dual wielded." He nodded toward it as he drew his own Shadowflash. "As I do, and he does."
"I changed my mind." She edged before Selvetarm's shuddering form. Vhaeraun noted that she watched the both of them. "This, you may notice, is the true blade, the whole of the blade, unlike the replication I see you hold." If he had Nightshadow he would have been tempted to try and bend her true blade back on her. "And this is my true self, unlike the facsimile that stands here in your place.
"You may try to open a gate," she continued, "for your true self. Or if your hatred for me is so great, you may try to call her here instead. You may try that. I still have power here, and I swear on our shared blood-" Since when did blood mean anything here? Her own blood trickled down along arms and legs and in a line from beneath her hair. "- that I will use it." She looked as though she were about to add that he should be sensible, but she kept her mouth shut on that, probably aware of the effect it would have on him.
He was sensible. He was nothing if not sensible amid madness - madness of shrieking lich-queen Kiaransalee and madness of unfathomable slimelord Ghaunadaur and of course utter irrationality of the Spider Bitch herself. He had a long memory for slights, and he wasn't about to forget who was responsible for the greatest slight, or series thereof, he had ever been subjected to.
"You overestimate your importance," he said at last. "I'll not wave in her face and call for her to come obliterate me or else remake me in his shape just for the possible pleasure of your joining me in it. Nightshadow, if you will."
Eilistraee promptly retrieved the spidersilk-enveloped thing lying some distance away. She opened it halfway and peered inside as she walked back toward him and he put away Shadowflash, then nodded and tossed it in the direction of his avatar. He caught it with his remaining hand, glancing at the uncovered section himself to confirm it. "Now get the little bastard out of my sight," he said, shucking away the wrapping as he spoke, "before she comes skittering along to reclaim the errant member of her entourage."
She frowned at that, but released her sword to hover defensively before her as she performed the incantation for a gate. Her frown deepened when she half-bent and shoved Selvetarm through.
In Ellaniath, Vhaeraun heard the scream. He entertained the idea that Arvandor itself was dissipating the spider-form like acid, but his avatar's eyes saw Eilistraee's relief as she looked at the other side and he knew this was not so. Then Eilistraee picked up her bundled cloak and leaped through herself, her sword following her. The gate began to draw closed. Vhaeraun immediately recalled his avatar.
As himself he returned Nightshadow to its sheath and fitted his hand to his wrist. He would be a fool to think she who was once Araushnee was not continuing to spin her webs and pull her strings, that even this could not be in line with some plot of hers - he could think in a moment of a half dozen potential ones - but for now the light in Ellaniath was gold.
AUTHOR'S (CLIFFS) NOTES
Of the sourcebooks on the gods I only own Demihuman Deities and Faiths and Pantheons as of this writing. That may explain why whatever in this fic doesn't fit with something already described in the other books. Or not.
For all those who don't feel like wasting time on trawling the Internet/their Forgotten Realms collection/the library to try and understand one lousy fic... hope this helps. If there's something I missed or could use more coverage, feel free to ask for it in email or review. I reiterate - rampant spoilers here.
Selvetarm: Yep, the whole "Vhaeraun's kid and tricked into evil" thing is canonical. Information is from Demihuman Deities, and a very abbreviated version is present in Faiths and Pantheons. It's pretty much obvious what Venommace is; Thalack'velve (translated roughly as "blade of open fighting") is his longsword as per the former book. He ran wild in the Underdark city of Eryndlyn during the Time of Troubles, attacking the worshippers of Ghaunadaur and Vhaeraun. Garagos is his only ally besides Lolth, though Garagos's own entry in Faiths and Pantheons claims he has no allies. Go figure.
Sharess: Sharess is a goddess of hedonism and those non-violent things that would nonetheless be rated R, and lives in the plane Brightwater; her fellow goddesses include Sune, Lliira, and Tymora.
Garagos: Garagos used to be the major war deity, until Tempus beat him up. Now he is utterly batty and seeks revenge, though he isn't evil quite yet. He resides in the plane of Warrior's Rest, and Player's Guide to Faerun says that he proclaims whatever part of the plane he's currently in as the realm of Battle Garde. His portfolios are War, Destruction, Plunder, and Skill at Arms.
Evergold: A magical fountain that is shared by Sune and Hanali Celanil. It seems to exist in both Arvandor and Brightwater.
Lolth: According to War of the Spider Queen, after a period of silence she is now a greater deity like the other heads of pantheons, though it is still highly unlikely she could match Corellon Larethian. Also, the Demonweb Pits has been yanked from the Abyss, though according to the new cosmology it was already out of the Abyss. Please don't ask me to explain it.
Vhaeraun: In Forgotten Realms books he seems to have gone from using a longsword (Nightshadow) and a short sword (Shadowflash) to using Shadowflash and a dagger. It has been mentioned on the Candlekeep forums that he gives people amnesia when they leave his realm, hence the lack of description of Ellaniath anywhere. It sounded pretty interesting whether it's true (comparatively speaking) or not, so I ran with it for the time being. The weird light is my own invention.
Eilistraee: Eilistraee has an Abyssal realm on Floor 66 - she just doesn't pay so much attention to it these days.
Name sense: Gods can hear when somebody says their name, and zero in on the speaker's area for a certain amount of time - unless they're blocked by a god of higher rank.
Astral husks: The bodies of dead gods can be found on the Astral plane.
Shevarash: A minor elven god, who was once mortal and hates all drow except for Eilistraeens - those he just very much dislikes. Apparently he has been hanging around with Shar rather more than the rest of the Seldarine would like.
Shar: Ancient greater deity of night, darkness, secrets, loss, forgetfulness, etc. She is listed as Vhaeraun's ally.
Halisstra Melarn/Lady Penitent: For those who haven't read War of the Spider Queen, the short version: Halisstra was a bard/cleric who lived in the city of Ched Nasad until it got smashed. After killing the first priestess of Eilistraee who tried to convert her, Halisstra converted anyway, got a spiffy sword, and was charged with using it to snuff Lolth. She failed. Miserably. And somewhere along the line she turned away from Eilistraee. Hence her transformation to Drider v2.0.
Kiaransalee: Also known as the Revenancer and the Vengeful Banshee, another crazy drow deity. She's big on necromancy and revenge. She once ruled in another world, called Threnody - FYI, a threnody is also a song of mourning.
Ulutiu: A god who sleeps in the Astral - apparently out of grief for a goddess whose body can be found nearby.