Vhaeraun ran his fingers lightly over his wrist bracer. The concealed dagger passed the test. Eilistraee would suspect nothing. He lowered his hands to his sides, adopted a disarmingly charming smile, and strode into the meeting chamber.
Eilistraee was already there. It was her custom to go nude but on this occasion she was clad in a diaphanous silver robe. Vhaeraun had no fears that she was using it to conceal weaponry; it was far too flimsy for that and, he knew, his sister was far too honest for such trickery. She was, however, holding her five-foot sword. She laid it down as soon as he entered, apparently making a point, and then walked several steps away from the weapon. A gesture of good faith?
“Brother,” she greeted him.
“Sister,” Vhaeraun replied. He unfastened his sword-belt and tossed it aside. Now he was apparently unarmed but, in reality, had a deadly weapon at his fingertips. The dagger was tiny but highly enchanted and the blade was coated with the most lethal venom in Vhaeraun’s considerable arsenal. A well-placed strike could slay even a god, anywhere outside the god’s own realm, and this meeting was on neutral ground.
Eilistraee took a tentative step towards her brother, and another, and then rushed the rest of the way to him. She threw her arms around him and pressed her cheek to his. “Oh, Vhaeraun, I have missed you so much,” she said.
“I, uh, and I’ve missed you,” Vhaeraun replied. He returned her embrace. Now his right hand was inches from his dagger and ideally positioned to pull it free and plunge the blade into her back.
“This is what I’d hoped for,” Eilistraee continued, “when I insisted on sharing your punishment. That we could be reconciled and be together again.”
“I thought that it was for the sake of our people,” Vhaeraun said. He moved his fingers closer to the dagger.
“That too,” said Eilistraee, “but you are my only brother. I love you.”
Vhaeraun felt something wet on his cheek and realized that his mask was slightly damp with tears from Eilistraee’s eyes. “I thought that you hated me,” he said.
“I hated what you did,” she said, “and the position that you put me in, but I don’t hate you. I love you.”
Vhaeraun lifted his left hand, the dagger forgotten, and cradled the back of Eilistraee’s head. “I am sorry for what I put you through,” he said. “Will you forgive me?”
“Of course,” Eilistraee said. “Will you forgive me?”
Vhaeraun inhaled sharply. He had never expected such a request, with its implied admission of shared fault; a grudging and qualified one would not have surprised him, perhaps, but Eilistraee’s unreserved appeal took him off guard. The last vestiges of his resentment towards his sister melted away. “There is nothing to forgive,” he said. “The blame was entirely mine. I put you in an impossible position.” He hugged Eilistraee tightly to his chest. “I’m sorry, beloved sister. Your forgiveness is more than I deserve.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Eilistraee said, hugging him in return. “We are together again. That is all that matters.” She released her grip on him. He squeezed her briefly and then let her go. Eilistraee stepped back slightly and looked him in the eyes. “The mask does not become you, brother,” she said. “Let me see your face again.”
Vhaeraun reached up and unfastened the mask. “I have not changed,” he said. “It is a symbol only.”
Eilistraee’s lips tightened briefly. “A symbol of that part of you that I do not… of the issues on which we still differ,” she said. “Yet… it is your job, I suppose. This is not a time for disagreement.” Her mouth formed once more into a wide smile. “You serve your worshippers, as I serve mine, and we have already agreed that they shall help each other at need.”
“I have lifted the prohibition on my followers socializing with yours,” Vhaeraun said. “One of my High Priests was far too tempted by a swordswoman in your service. To punish him seemed harsh, for he had served me loyally, and celibacy was never something that I required of my servants. If our worshippers are working together it is illogical for them to be forbidden to… play together.”
Eilistraee laughed. “Indeed so. I have heard that you have been… playing with the Lady Shar. I have not met her, only communicated through her servant Yoshimo, but it is said that one can judge a mistress by her servants. If that is so then she must be very different from how I had always thought of her. Tell me, my brother, what is she like?”
“Beautiful, wise, and charming,” Vhaeraun said. He tilted his head to one side and his brow furrowed slightly. “I have known her for many years, and courted her to some extent since… that woman left me, but Shar has changed recently. She laughs far more than ever before, and her songs are no longer only mournful, and she shows wisdom and, indeed, compassion that I had never noticed in her previously. From being pleasant company, and someone who I would have liked to tumble had I the chance, she has become… well, I think I am in love with her.”
“She sounds delightful,” Eilistraee said, “and I very much liked her messenger Yoshimo. It was because of him that I agreed to this meeting. I owe him a great deal.”
“It was Shar who persuaded me to meet with you,” Vhaeraun told her.
“Then I owe her my thanks too,” Eilistraee said. “Yet… everything I had ever heard about Shar was – well, to say that it was uncomplimentary would be putting it far too mildly. She seems to have changed so much. Is it possible that she… isn’t Shar? That some other deity has slain the real Shar and taken her place?”
“I did not recognize her for a moment…” Vhaeraun mused. He shook his head. “No, she is definitely herself, although she has changed. She acknowledged as much herself and attributed it to the music of the bard who accompanies her Chosen One.”
Eilistraee nodded. “The one who went by the name of Gelfein in Ust Natha,” she said. “My priestess Evelintra has told me of him. He must be remarkable indeed to have influenced a god.”
“Indeed so,” Vhaeraun agreed. “His music is like nothing I had heard before. Perhaps we might listen to it together some time?”
“I’d like that,” Eilistraee said.
“There is something else that may have influenced Shar,” Vhaeraun said, “but it is a secret that she confided in me and I shall not reveal it without her permission lest I offend her.”
“I understand,” Eilistraee said. “She is the goddess of Unrevealed Secrets, after all.”
“Indeed so,” Vhaeraun said. “Now, sister, tell me of your own doings. Is there a man in your life?”
“It seems that I embroiled you in this for nothing,” Shar said to the planetar, “as all I achieved was to have you imprisoned as well as myself.”
“I am sorry that I could not save you, mistress,” the Shard said.
“You are not at fault,” said Shar. She heaved a sigh. “There seems little point in my keeping you under my control when it means only that you share my prison. I command that you regain your free will. Your mistress will no doubt then release you the next time that she comes here to gloat over me.”
“But that would mean that you were left here alone,” said the planetar, “and that would be a harsh and unjust fate. I will not abandon you, mistress.”
“Mistress?” Shar raised an eyebrow. “I have released you from my service, girl.”
“I do not wish to be released,” the Shard told her. “Well, I do wish to be released from these chains and this cage, of course, but I do not wish to leave your service. My former mistress behaved shamefully to you. I shall not return to the service of one so treacherous.”
Shar’s other eyebrow rose to match its twin. “I’m… pleased,” she said. “Perhaps this mission was not a total loss after all, for it seems that I have gained an honorable servant. You might find my dark realm not to your taste, of course, but I could use you as a messenger to other realms, in the same way as I have been using the petitioner Yoshimo, and that might suit you very well.”
“It would be my pleasure to serve you in such a capacity, mistress,” the Shard said.
“Assuming we manage to get out of here, of course,” said Shar. “What is your name?”
“Egeria, mistress,” the Shard replied.
“Tell me, Egeria, can you sing? It would be a pleasant way to pass the time.”
“I can,” Egeria replied, “but I know only hymns to the glory of Selûne. They are hardly appropriate.”
“Indeed not,” Shar agreed. “Very well, then, I shall sing, and you can join in once you have learned the words and tunes. This is a song by a human bard that I have adopted as my own hymn.”
“We’re running with the shadows of the night
Baby take my hand, it’ll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They’ll come true in the end…”
Eilistraee smiled at the petitioner as he entered her chamber. “It is good to see you, Yoshimo,” she greeted him. “You come to arrange a meeting with your mistress, I presume? I look forward to it.”
Yoshimo bowed to the goddess. “Alas, no, Lady. I seek your aid.”
“Then you shall have it,” Eilistraee promised, “for I owe you much. It was your words that persuaded me to agree to meet my brother. We are reconciled, after long ages apart, and my happiness is great.”
“I am pleased for you, Lady,” said Yoshimo.
“Thank you,” Eilistraee said. “Now, Yoshimo, what is this aid you seek of me? Ask, and it shall be granted.”
“My mistress went to meet with her sister,” Yoshimo said. “Selûne would not agree to meet on neutral ground, saying that she feared Shar’s greater strength and did not trust her, and insisted that my mistress must go to her realm at the Gates of the Moon. She agreed, and went there, and she has not returned. None knows where she is. One of her heralds went to enquire after her but was set upon and driven off by Selûne’s servitors.”
Eilistraee’s eyes widened. “Any Power that could hinder Shar’s return must be great indeed. I would not have thought that Lolth could have such strength, certainly not in the vicinity of Selûne’s realm, and I know not who else might bear her ill will. Lathander, perhaps?”
“Might Selûne not be responsible?” Yoshimo suggested.
Eilistraee shook her head. “Impossible. She is a good and gentle goddess and my close friend. Some unknown foe must have intercepted Shar. Unless, of course, she has simply gone to visit my brother, neglecting to inform her servitors, and has lost track of time in his bed.”
“That was our first thought, Lady,” Yoshimo said, “but it is not the case. Vhaeraun knows nothing of her whereabouts. He has gone to search the Abyss for any clues.”
“I hope he takes care,” Eilistraee muttered.
“Also,” Yoshimo went on, “the priests of Shar in the Prime are not receiving spells above those that can be granted by Shar’s servitors.”
Eilistraee’s brow furrowed. “That is worrying. Something must, indeed, have happened to her. I shall tell my priestesses in Ust Natha to advise their colleagues who follow Shar that I shall grant them their spells during Shar’s absence. I can do nothing for her human priests, I am afraid, but it is in Ust Natha that the lack of spells would be most keenly felt.”
“And my former colleague Viconia?” Yoshimo asked.
“If she prayed to me I would grant her spells, certainly,” Eilistraee said, “but I have no worshippers in her vicinity to inform her. She may have to do without her higher spells until Shar returns.”
“I hope that is soon,” Yoshimo said.
“I shall do what I can to help,” Eilistraee promised. “First I shall ask Selûne if she noticed anything unusual as Shar departed. Her servitors will not drive me away. I shall summon you as soon as I learn anything.”
“Thank you, Lady,” Yoshimo said. He bowed deeply. “Farewell.”
“Greetings, Selûne,” Eilistraee said.
Selûne gave Eilistraee a beaming smile and moved to embrace her. “It is good to see you, Eilistraee,” she said.
“And you, sister of the moon,” Eilistraee replied. She returned Selûne’s hug and then stepped back. She swept her arm to indicate the swarms of petitioners who danced on the moonlit plains. “It seems that you are having a celebration. I did not know that this was a time of festival.”
“It is a joyous time for us,” Selûne said. Her smile grew broader. “I have wonderful news.”
“Oh? And what is this wonderful news?” Eilistraee asked.
“Come, I shall show you,” Selûne replied. She led the drow goddess across the plains to a building of glowing rock and opened the door. Eilistraee heard the sound of a woman’s voice singing as she followed the moon goddess into the building.
“Each day within his prison cell
He looks out through the bars
He reads the letters that she wrote
One day he’ll know the taste of freedom
Over the hills and far…”
The song cut off as the two goddesses entered the prison chamber. Eilistraee’s mouth dropped open as she saw the caged and chained figures within.
“See,” Selûne proclaimed, gesturing at the cages, “I have defeated my enemy. Shar is my prisoner and will remain so for eternity.”
Eilistraee’s gaze swung between the prisoners and Selûne. She closed her mouth and frowned. “You imprisoned her? It had been my thought that perhaps she had been ambushed by some foe, Lolth perhaps or even Lathander, on her exit from your realm. I came here to ask if you had news of her.”
“Wonderful news, as I said,” Selûne told Eilistraee, still smiling, “for I captured her before she could escape.”
Eilistraee shook her head. “You sound proud of what you have done. Instead you should be deeply ashamed. She came to you to parley and you broke your word. This was an ill deed, Selûne, and I would have thought you above such things. You must release her.”
Selûne’s eyebrows rose. “Release her? Surely you jest. We have fought for eons. I would be a fool to pass up such an opportunity to end the war.”
“Did she not come to make peace?”
“So she claimed,” Selûne said, “but I was not taken in by her lies.”
“Her lies?” Eilistraee’s nostrils flared as she drew a deep breath and held it for a moment. “To break the sanctity of a parley is dishonorable. A betrayal most shameful.”
“She has no honor and would betray me in an instant,” Selûne replied, with a shrug of her shoulders. “Why should I not do the same to her?”
“Because you are supposed to be a Power of Good,” Eilistraee said. She turned away from Selûne and faced Shar. “I am sorry that our first meeting has to be in such circumstances, my Lady. I owe you much.”
“I take it your meeting with Vhaeraun went well, then?” Shar’s eyes flickered towards Selûne. “Your brother, of course, has more honor than my sister.”
Selûne gave a snort of contempt. “He is an evil thief,” she said.
Eilistraee turned a cold glare upon Selûne. “He is my brother, and I love him dearly,” she snapped.
Selûne frowned. “But you have fought him for… well, not as long as I have fought Shar, but for thousands of years.”
“No longer,” said Eilistraee, “for we are reconciled. It is true that there remain some differences between us, as yet, but we shall work them out amicably.” She glanced at Shar and then faced Selûne once more. “Even if your differences with your sister are too great for such resolution surely you did not need to resort to black treachery. You have behaved like… like Cyric.”
Selûne’s lips tightened. “Do not accuse me of treachery. By this act I have removed a great evil from the Realms.”
“No good can come from an evil action,” Eilistraee said. “I will not stay here. I am too angry to engage in further discourse with you. I shall return to my own realm.” She curled her upper lip. “Unless, of course, you detain me also.”
“How can you suggest I would so such a thing?” Selûne’s eyes were wide.
“Someone who betrays one person may well betray another,” Eilistraee pointed out. “Who is your other prisoner?”
“One of my Shards who turned against me,” Selûne explained. “She was seduced by Shar’s evil.”
“The Kiss of Shar?” Eilistraee asked. Selûne nodded. “Then it is not her fault,” Eilistraee pointed out. “Should you not seek to dispel it rather than to punish your servant for something that she could not help?”
“Perhaps,” Selûne conceded. “I shall consider it. For the time being she shall remain in this cell.”
“Shar has already released me from her thrall,” Egeria said, “but I will not return to the service of one who breaks the laws of hospitality so cavalierly. I would rather stay in this cell than serve you again.”
“As you wish,” Selûne said, glaring at the planetar.
“If you will not release your prisoners it seems that I am wasting my time here,” Eilistraee said. “I shall go now. I may return when I am feeling less angry.”
“Go if you must,” Selûne said. “I am sure that, once you have reflected, you will accept that I was right to take this opportunity to strike a great blow against Evil.”
“I doubt it,” Eilistraee said, “but we shall see. Farewell.”
“Wait, Lady Silverhair,” Shar called out. “I ask a boon. Protect my Chosen from the vengeance of Lolth.”
“Viconia De’Vir? Of course I shall, and Talabrae, and your other priestesses in Ust Natha also,” Eilistraee promised. She squinted slightly, focusing her eyes on Shar past the bright beams that formed the bars of the cage, and a half smile came to her lips. “Those clothes – I take it that they are undergarments? – are quite delightful. I have seen nothing like them before.”
“They are a style from a world called California,” Shar explained, “and were brought to Faerûn by one Anya Jenkins, a friend to my Chosen. They are nice, aren’t they? These black ones wouldn’t suit you, of course, but I created a set in white to wear when I take the form of a drow and you’d look ravishing in them.”
“I don’t normally bother with undergarments,” Eilistraee said, “or indeed any garments, but you are right that they’d look good on me in white.” Her smile grew broad and her eyes twinkled. “I have a recently deceased petitioner, Evelintra, who has breasts that are truly spectacular compared to those of most drow. In those garments she would be truly a sight to dazzle male eyes.”
“They’re very pretty clothes,” Selûne agreed, a hint of a smile appearing on her face too. “That lace trim…” She chopped herself off short and her smile was once more replaced by a frown. “Enough of this pointless chatter about clothes. You said that you were leaving, did you not, Eilistraee? Do so, then, unless you accept that my action in imprisoning Shar was just and righteous.”
“Unjust and unrighteous, you mean,” Eilistraee said. “I shall go, Selûne, but I shall return when I have better marshaled my arguments.” She turned to Shar again and dipped her head. “Vedaust, quar’valsharess,” she said, and turned away towards the door.
“Vedaust, abbil,” Shar replied. She directed her gaze at Selûne, raised an eyebrow, and adopted a slight sneer. “You dismiss the topic of these undergarments too soon, sister. They have more to offer than merely being attractive to the eye. They serve a practical role in supporting breasts that have begun to succumb to the ravages of gravity. You could benefit greatly.”
Selûne glared at Shar. “Are you saying that my breasts… sag? That is not so. Merely because one of my avatars is in the form of a matron of mature years does not mean that I need any such ‘support’.”
Egeria broke into laughter. Eilistraee uttered a strangled snort, her cheeks bulged, and she hurried out of the door.
Selûne’s jaw tightened. “I shall waste no more time on you,” she said. She turned and departed in Eilistraee’s wake.
“That was entertaining,” Shar said. “Now, where was I with the song? Almost at the end, I think. I shall start another.”
“Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak
Somewhere in this town
See me and the boys we don’t like it
So we’re getting up and going down…”
Disclaimer: Shar, Selûne, Vhaeraun, and Eilistraee are the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. The lyrics quoted by Shar are from ‘Shadows of the Night’ by Pat Benatar, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ by Gary Moore, and ‘Jailbreak’ by Thin Lizzy. And, of course, I’ve pinched the title from Larry Niven (who took it from Shakespeare).