The particles of formless darkness whisked away upon a light wind and scattered, all but lost to the naked eye against the dazzling sunlight that illuminated the central pavilion of Neverwinter, but they did not altogether vanish. When the breeze subsided the specks settled to the ground and melted deep down into the cobblestones, all but oozing through the earth as they bypassed the Material Plane and traversed dimensions. It was in a place altogether removed from Neverwinter in which the particles took shape again, first painstakingly constructing an outline before bursting into clearer focus and at last yielding a humanoid figure. To ebon hands and knees he fell, strands of lustrous ivory hair obscuring his elf's ears and all but hiding his mutinous amber eyes from view, and it was here that Lim Tal'eyve cursed the pitiful shade that had brought an end to his bid at resurrection.
Across the lavish chamber, reclining comfortably upon a deep maroon chaise lounge, the Spider Queen Lolth watched her subordinate in his despair. Finding humor in his misfortune she tossed her head back and her exquisite features twisted into a cruel laugh.
Lim Tal'eyve snapped his head up at the sound, baring his teeth into a snarl as he beat his fist once against the cold obsidian floor. "Damn you! How could you let this happen?! All was going according to plan, and now? The bitch has undoubtedly survived, when you might have intervened!"
As quickly as the goddess had found her mirth, it now vanished. She sat up a little straighter and fixed the impertinent drow groveling before her with the full forbidding weight of a deity's ultimate displeasure. "The fault is your own, and so on your own head be it. Did I not charge you with this task? Was I not inescapably clear when I told you that the moment you put an end to Aveil Arthien, then and only then would I agree to restore you to your miserable life?"
The drow's face soured, and it was in a disdainful tone that he snapped, "I don't recall that you found my existence so meaningless when I was the lord of the Bloodstone Lands. Did you not rejoice at the death of King Gareth Dragonsbane? Were you not pleased when I tore the unborn child from Aveil's body?"
The dark goddess tapped her perfectly manicured fingernails in a slow rhythm upon the arm of the chaise lounge, her sumptuous lips turned downward into a perpetual frown. Though the Lady of Spiders delighted in the continued chaos that Lim Tal'eyve wrecked in her name, she had to admit that the undead drow's all-consuming obsession with putting an end to Aveil Arthien was becoming quite tiresome. Had she derived continuous pleasure from Aveil's prolonged captivity within Castle Perilous? Absolutely. Were the Archmistress's daily tortures at the hands of Lim Tal'eyve and his various underlings music to her ears? The sweetest. Were her cries of ecstasy the loudest when Lim had cut the child of Aveil Arthien and Drako Falconis prematurely from its mother's womb? Indisputably.
But was she growing weary of Lim Tal'eyve's petty fanatical pursuits, his temporary victories and his countless failures? Very much.
"Through praise, verbal and otherwise, I have shown that your past actions have pleased me," Lolth drawled, sounding bored now. "But now I tire of your games. When I sent your pitiful essence to the Material Plane with specific instructions to end Aveil's life, it was not because I desire her death even a fraction as much as you do – it was because I do not think I can endure one more minute of your pathetic attempts at vengeance. I do hope that when I at last have Archmistress Arthien's soul in my keeping you will focus on your end of the bargain, because if you don't I will take great joy in stripping the life from you once and for all."
Lim rose from his crouch, approaching the maroon chaise lounge with his customary swagger and arrogance, one corner of his mouth crooked in a mocking sneer. "You and I both know that only Aveil is a threat to me now – who else in all of Faerun is capable of standing against me? The intervention of that shade was merely an unfortunate coincidence. Now that I have put an end to him, Aveil has no more lines of defense behind which she can hide."
These words prompted another laugh from Lolth as she relaxed back against the plush pillows lining the chaise lounge, and she cocked one leg provocatively as she surveyed her favored subordinate through heavy-lidded eyes. "The shade was right about one thing – you do talk far more than you should, and you value your meager abilities as though you were one of the divine yourself. Do you truly believe that your lackadaisical attempts procured such a result? Do you not know the identity of Aveil's self proclaimed protector?"
The drow scowled so deeply that the expression might have been chiseled permanently into his face. "He called himself Hadrhune, the Right Hand of Telamont Tanthul. He is of no consequence to either of us."
"And what gives you that impression?" snickered Lolth, thoroughly enjoying her subordinate's frustration.
"Am I so beneath your notice that my actions occurred beyond your knowledge?!" Lim offered a long-suffered sigh. "I administered a burst of sunlight in the very center of the shade's being. Sunlight is fatal to the Shadovar. Surely the Lady of Chaos knows that much, at least?"
Lolth had a great deal of patience for Lim Tal'eyve – after all, he had accomplished much in her name and for the most part he still strived to please her – but she was the Goddess of the Demonweb and was not prepared to abide his blatant disobedience. She rose from her chaise lounge in the blink of an eye and traced her index finger almost lovingly over his lips, and when next he attempted to speak it was to find that his lips had been magically stitched shut with the thin gossamer strands of a spider web. The Spider Queen snapped her fingers and summoned thousands of the sticky strands to bind the drow's body, and as Lim toppled helplessly to the ground she stood over him and said, "Do not presume to undermine me, thrall – have you forgotten that if you lose my favor, you lose all? You owe your piteous shell of an existence to me and my divine mercy, so you would do well to remember that the instant I tire of you, I will reduce you to nothing – not a thought, not a memory, not a soul without a vessel, but nothing!"
Lim Tal'eyve gazed up at his goddess mutinously, kept perfectly still within his bonds, and eventually relaxed his body in a show of complete submission. A simpering smile of appreciation flitted briefly across the Spider Queen's lips.
"Now that I have your undivided attention, listen – Telamont Tanthul is not simply the High Prince of some inconsequential rabble of Shadovar, but the nigh-immortal Lord Shadow from an age long before the fall of the fabled Netherese Imperium. He took a race from the brink of extinction and molded them into the strongest generation of shadow sorcerers your world has ever seen. He has sired twelve sons, and they are all nearly as mighty as their patron. And he has chosen this Hadrhune as his personal emissary and most trusted advisor. Are you really so foolish as to believe that one daylight spell put an end to the Right Hand of Lord Shadow?"
With her fingernail she slit the webbing that sealed the drow's mouth shut, and as blood blossomed upon his dark lips he said, "You praise these infidels who not only have no love for you, but openly worship one of your most hated enemies?"
Every word Lim Tal'eyve spoke was truthful, though of course the Spider Queen would never admit to it. The matron deity of both the descendents of Netheril and the present day Shadovar was Shar, the Goddess of the Moon and a divine entity of far greater standing than Lolth – according to the Faerunian pantheon, of course. For eons Lolth and Shar had vied for prominence, and though the former's cunning and guile often garnered praise she had made very little headway in the grand scheme of things. She had half a mind to thrash her snippy subordinate with the whip of vipers she always kept close at hand, but an interesting series of events began formulating in her mind and gave her pause.
The Tanthul family served as royalty in the City of Shade, and Shar made no secret of the fact that she considered the thirteen princes of that great magocracy the crown jewels among her worshippers. Their conquest of the Heartlands was knitting together nicely – though there was still much work to be done – and the Netherese nobles were even now stretching out their considerable influence and seeking alliances with such great nations as Waterdeep and Silverymoon. As the Tanthul family continued to gain the favor of Shar, so Shar would continue to rise in prominence among the deities of the Faerunian pantheon.
Unless another divine entity thwarted those aspirations, and kept the spoils for herself.
Lolth retreated to her chaise lounge and sprawled back against the overstuffed pillows, taking the whip of black-scaled vipers into her dainty hands and stroking their lengths lovingly with her fingertips. She regarded the still-bound drow writhing on the obsidian floor with an expression of haughty introspection when she said, "I will present to you now my will, which I expect you to follow without question: if Aveil Arthien has somehow fallen into favor with the Tanthul family she will be next to impossible for you to obtain, for the Netherese archwizards are far beyond you. However, if it should come to pass that the only way to reach the Archmistress is to destroy the nobles of Thultanthar, then I will grant you whatever you wish to eradicate every last one of them."
Lim cocked an eyebrow despite himself. "You trouble yourself with the Shadovar? Did you not consider them beneath you mere moments ago?"
The first deadly spider scurried over the drow's cheek then, and glancing down he noticed hundreds of spiders varying in size and color emerging from the darkness beneath his goddess's chaise lounge; they crawled over his prone body in earnest, seeking places to bury their wicked fangs at their mistress's silent command. Lim glanced up at the Spider Queen to find her watching him with a tiny smirk curling her lips and utmost superiority in her eyes.
"Never again question me," she ordered him, and the first of the spiders bit down upon his jugular.
For his part Lim Tal'eyve, the Day-Burden, the Anointed Blade of the Jaezred Chaulssin, the Lichdrow Usurper of the Bloodstone Lands, lay perfectly still within his bonds and did not cry out or protest as the Spider Queen's minions began to feast upon his temporary flesh. Countless tortures at the hands of Lolth had taught him that his goddess delighted in his screams of utmost agony and that she reveled in his pleas for mercy. If he was prepared to be completely honest with himself, he was long since finished trying to earn the praise of the Spider Queen anyway.
If he had learned anything from his years of torment and servitude, it was that the greatness of Lolth no longer had the authority to get him anywhere. Any amount of pointless victories wasn't about to topple Shar from her unshakeable position near the top of the Faerunian pantheon, and it was obvious that those faithful to Shar had nothing to gain but more power and prestige. Perhaps it was time to change tack after all these years of scrabbling to gain the foothold that he deserved, and take a leaf out of the Tanthul family's book.
So Lim Tal'eyve watched the spiders at their gruesome work and dreamed of a world where he, and not the Spider Queen Lolth, challenged the Mistress of the Night for dominance over all of Faerun.