If you're a Sharran, where were you when we sacked Sembia?

- Anonymous



6 Mirtul

For the trip to reconnoiter the Westgate headquarters of the Benevolence Society, the pronoun would be she. She, in this case, was one of her favorites: demure Elinor Cale of the long hair and the brace for her withered leg and the delicate Sembian accent. She walked with the quiet endurance of an Ilmatari saint, and with a minimum of noise. It was hard for her to make much in the way of noise even when noise would be an excellent cover.

The other young woman in the waiting room was as pale as Elinor, and perhaps her age, and far more insanely gorgeous than Elinor's unobtrusive prettiness. Her hair was pale too, where Elinor's was dark - a blond that was almost white. Her eyes were a light brown that was in turn almost yellow, and red-rimmed such that, out of context, Elinor might have supposed she suffered allergies that thanks to a kiss from Sune (as the expression went) left her looks unmarred. In context, as the other woman sneered at the clock, she thought that this was probably the mortal incarnation of Beshaba.

The third in the room, the only other besides the receptionist, was a young man, perhaps a little older. The visible scarring along one cheek didn't spoil his face - someone who went in for that sort of thing might even call it rugged or badass - but would make a distinguishing feature on a Wanted poster. A war god, most likely, forthright and muscle-bound as he was. Tempus was the obvious guess, but there was no need to assume just yet. He'd introduced himself, plopping in the chair just beside her instead of leaving the customary empty seat of public personal space: Zanek Reaves, "with an A." He took special care shaking Elinor's small hand with its long thin fingers. He was a native of Westgate. That would bear further investigation. He currently worked as a bar bouncer. He thought he'd just dropped in to fill out an application and happened to get a callback.

The receptionist nodded at something from his headset. "Miss Cale? The director will see you now." Miss Cale nodded back and stood with practiced care.

"Good luck!" called Zanek Reaves.

"Thank you, Zanek," she said, and then, to the receptionist, "Thank you, Mr. Cartwright."

"Thank you for having me, Mr. Brightwood," she said a minute or so later.

The director smiled back. "Thank you for coming, Miss Cale. Please, take a seat." She did so; she had remained standing to suggest docility and lack of initiative.

Thomas Brightwood had one of those motivational posters on the wall, and a calendar with pictures of cherubic children, and protection charms for every nicey-nice deity from Tyr to Lathander to Tymora (and one for Helm for good measure) dangling in between. She could see past him to the window in the back wall of his office, with filmy white curtains. Past those curtains there was probably a lovely view of the Society's inner courtyard. Brightwood himself might have posed for an artist's interpretation of Lathander though Elinor doubted he actually was - youthful-looking (the actual Lathander, given trends, was almost certainly younger), rosy-cheeked, golden-haired, so wholesome you could hurl. Or you could laugh, which she did, deep inside.

He looked over her resume as if reading it all over again, which of course he wasn't. "Selgaunt?"

"Yes, sir."

"The national university in Saerloon?"

"I wanted to go a little bit away from home, sir."

"Understandable. You're, ah, how old exactly?"

"Nineteen, sir. I'll be twenty in Flamerule." This was one of her numerous fabrications. She'd turned twenty in Ches. So far as she could tell, there was nothing particularly significant about Ches. Her nameday didn't even fall on the Waukeenar holiday, which would at least have been a bit funny. Her best guess was that it had been Lessinor's nameday, his first one.

"Rising junior. I see. Communications?"

"Yes, sir."

"92 average. Impressive."

"Thank you. Sir." She'd gotten the idea after hearing about a particularly bored student who'd done the same at the University of Candlekeep and started a legend. SNU Saerloon hadn't bothered taking steps to prevent it. Elinor had done the work honestly, taken the same exams as Lessinor Coriver (taking the chance of a deliberate differentiating error here and there), and kept the handwriting consistent throughout. Elinor's writing, oddly enough, had turned out larger and more dramatic than Lessinor's small and fragile-looking hand, with more flourishes and bold swipes of the pen.

"I'm glad you've considered delaying your studies for this opportunity. I hope I'll be able to persuade you."

"I hope so too, sir."

He tapped his gathered papers on the desk to straighten them. He'd done that several times already. "Now why did you apply to the Benevolence Society, specifically?"

"Well..." she tilted her head. "It called to me, I guess. I read your Weave site and it sounds... it sounds very nice, what you do, sir." It had all sounded very nice, she recalled, but it was very short on what they actually did. She parroted some of the buzzwords, self-actualization and so on.

"And tell me, are you very religious?"

A more assertive personality would ask why he was flagrantly violating fair employment statutes, which she knew were much the same here and in Sembia. If she took vacation days to eat babies in the name of Cyric, that was her own business and possibly that of the police. Not that she'd flip Cyric a single copper let alone a whole baby, but it was the principle of the thing. Elinor said, "Not really, sir. I just live my life."

"Ah. Well, it seems there is much more to your life than you might have thought. You see, Elinor, I believe you possess the soul of a goddess."

Elinor wondered if this was the part where most people ran out screaming, or if he did enough pre-interview screening to prevent that. She widened her eyes and froze on the spot like the cutest, fluffiest rabbit he had ever seen. "You think so, sir?"

He put down the papers and leaned in. "Yes, of course. I can sense these things. In this building, in fact, I've managed to construct a nexus that operates on a range of divine frequencies, attracting the attention of godly incarnations to where they may be best prepared to assume their destined roles."

"Er, what kind of goddess do you think, sir?"

"I can already tell that you bear no taint of evil. You're at the very least one of the neutral powers - but I find it quite likely you're one of the goodly ones."

"Oh my."

"I don't suppose you would have any idea as to which goddess that might be?"

"Not really. I'm not pretty or fun or any of that." She knew from some experience what that kind of goddess would be like. In Selgaunt itself she'd found light-footed pretty and fun Julia Asjros, most likely Lliira (not to be confused with Leira, though Leira would probably like that). Julia Asjros hadn't met Elinor or Lessinor or any of the rest, let alone seen them for who they were. "Are... are you really sure? I wouldn't think I'd be..."

"Nonsense, my dear. Eldath, maybe, or Selune, or any number of other possibilities. In fact, there's no definite proof that the gods always reincarnate in their original genders. In that case -" He looked to her leg. "- why, you might even be the likes of Ilmater."

"Well," said Elinor, in a mulling-over fashion, "if there's one thing I can't stand, it's suffering."

"There you are. It's my duty, and that of my fellow members of the Society, to help you uncover your true potential, whatever that might be." If there hadn't been not a notecard to be seen, she might've assumed he was reading from them. "We may, in turn, have some requests to make of you to help further the spiritual progress of your compatriots."

"What about the, ah, evil gods, sir? What can we do about those?"

"That's another thing we might request your help for. Our secondary function is the neutralization of such wickedness, so that they can't spread their taint to the world once more."

Elinor wondered how Beshaba incarnate in the waiting room would discover that little detail.

Afterward, as she waited out on a restaurant patio for the waiter to return, she dialed someone. Elinor was one of the few who knew that in her second life, that someone had been born Arya Ledemarch. She didn't call her Arya, and she didn't call her (or him, as he often was) Lessinor. "Ariel?" Ariel was what she went by at the moment. Crude but effective.

On the other end, she laughed. "I'm not here!"

"Good, good. I've had an interesting day."

"What sort of day?" When she asked something, usually she meant it, though she could pull tricks with leading questions if she was so inclined.

"I've met Beshaba, Garagos, and the guy who's been sending out those vibes." In the case of Zanek Reaves, once she ran a Weave search on her PDA the surname and the Westgate connection had nailed it. She wondered if he'd passed too or if Garagos had gone bugfuck enough to count as Evil. Zanek seemed to be keeping it together, though. She guessed he'd taken to Elinor because she looked so much like her mother; the thought was sour.

"Oh? What was he like?"

"Like the kind of guy who tells girls they're Ilmater incarnate so he can fuck them."

"Did he fuck you?"

"No, I'm too cute and fluffy and woobie-face and disabled. He probably thought it'd be like fucking an inspirational movie, the kind where she keels over at the end with a blessing on her lips for this cruel, cruel world." Ariel laughed again. "So how did Candlekeep go?"

"Very badly. Their Cyrinishad wasn't the real thing and it hasn't woken up. It's still where they think it is. And I still haven't gotten to Waterdeep."

"It hasn't woken up? So, thoughts on Cyric?"

"Oh yes, I love him, I love him lots because you see I don't know a thing about lies and when it comes to that he is an undisputed genius and definitely not a rank amateur."

Elinor stifled a sigh of relief. "How goes it in Waterdeep?"

"Oh, I've already met Cyric and Shar and a whole bunch of others. We did lunch. And now we're at the beach, and I think Shar's getting sunburn."


"And I went to the museum and saw the moonblade. They definitely had the moonblade."

Elinor unwound that reversal. "Hmm. Anyone say why?"

"They say an elf didn't come in and draw it and light it up and walk out with it."

Her fingers flew on the keyboard of her PDA. "What family wasn't the moonblade from?"

"I don't know. Definitely not the Craulnobers."


"No it isn't."

"Well, thanks again, and have fun."

"I'm sure I won't."

"Tell Cyric I love him."

She laughed again before she hung up.

It didn't take long for Elinor to find the blog, with its solid wall of comments proclaiming variations of So Fake U Noob! One of those comments was from another blog with a familiar name, in which Ariel remade herself as a thirty-four-year-old from Zakhara. And above that, the picture of the elf holding the glowing blade. He had green eyes and a large smile. In a dusty corner of her brain, something twitched. Then she scrolled down to the group shot, which contained in addition a tall drow with green eyes who wasn't smiling. Something twitched again. "Well, well."