Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 8:38 AM
*Below is another bit of fiction about Suriel, my elf invoker/wizard/bladesinger, from Erik Scott de Bie's 4e Forgotten Realms campaign.*
“The gods are fallible.”
Suriel’s mind was a storm of thoughts and feelings, but like lightning flashing in the tempest, this thought kept returning to her over and over.
She barely noticed as her feet scuffed along the stone passageways of the underdark. The air was stale and acrid, but she didn’t care. The darkness was only broken by the dim glow of the magical disc floating behind her, but she walked on blindly, barely looking where she was going. She walked slowly, steadily, waiting for the right chamber or alcove to present itself to her. She didn’t know what she was looking for in the darkness, only that it was out there.
“The gods are fallible. I am fallible. I have failed him.”
This deep in the depths, walking alone is not only foolhardy, but practically suicidal. She didn’t care. She had insisted her friends let her go alone to do this task. They argued loudly about undoing everything that Varzynthir had worked for. They didn’t understand. If something attacked her in the darkness and consumed her it would return her to his arms all the sooner.
In the silence of the caverns the only sounds were the whisper of her white dress and the occasional scrape of her boot on the stone. Had she cared to, she could be as silent as the shadows her lover used to so expertly move among, but the roiling emotions inside of her preempted any ability to care if she were detected. She almost hoped something would attack her, because right now she would love nothing more than to vent her rage and despair on the flesh of the evil filth that creeped under the earth.
“The gods are fallible and I failed him. I failed Varzynthiir. Now he is dead.”
On the blue glowing disc that trailed dutifully behind her, much like Varzynthir had in life, were his remains...or what was left of them. The creature that had devoured him, and subsequently vomited him back out when forced, had not left enough for even Suriel’s magic and rituals to bring him back from a brief brush with death. There was a head, his beautiful face fixed in a rictus of pain and suffering. There was an arm, still clutching his spiked chain that he hadn’t even had a chance to use against the beast. There was a mass that might have been part of his torso, but it was impossible to tell.
Suriel refused to look at his remains. The sight of them filled her with too much shame, regret, disgust, and horror. They had once been the man who loved her, who had saved her life over and over, who had almost literally been her shadow since they met. Now the dim light from the disc cast her shadow in front of her...and it was just an ordinary shadow.
He died because of her arrogance. He died because of her belief that she could do anything, survive anything, and drive back evil no matter how terrifying or powerful it was. She was, after all, a reincarnation of a deity...all should remove themselves from her path, shouldn’t they?
No, she was wrong.
She was fallible, she had made a mistake. That mistake had got her captured and enslaved by illithids. Varzynthir had come to save her, and he died in the attempt. Now she lived, to experience, perhaps for the first time in her life, regret. Her life until now had been blind belief in the gods and their power. She had believed that everything that happened was because of some design by those who dwelt in the astral realm. Even when she was attacked by drow and tortured by Xara until much of her body was horribly scarred and ugly, she assumed it was Torm, god of justice, who had allowed it to punish her for not being faithful enough. When she was rescued by the eladrin and taken to the feywild, she thanked their god Corellon for intervening and devoted herself to him in thanks. Since then everything she has done has been in service to him, believing that everything she did was sanctioned by him and leading her towards some great purpose.
That all changed when she gained the memories of her former life...or was it lives? Somehow she was the reincarnation of Qilue, servant of Eilistraee and Mystra both, but since Qilue died while infused with the essence of Eilistraee, the goddess died with her. Now she was both Qilue and Eilistraee...a goddess reborn. For a time she had taken this in stride, feeling ever more confident in her goals, her conviction, and her eradication of evil wherever she found it. But she forgot, she was now a goddess who had died. She was a goddess reborn who had played a dangerous game with Lolth...and lost.
If a god can die, then they are fallible. They can make mistakes, and Suriel had just made the same mistake that Eilistraee and Qilue both had made. They both tried to outwit and destroy evil beings beyond their power, just as Suriel tried to destroy a whole band of mind flayers and their servants essentially alone. She failed, and was captured. Now one that she loved had paid for her mistake, and it filled her with such despair, guilt, and regret that she could hardly stand herself.
Her foot caught on a protrusion from the rock floor, and she fell forward to the ground. Tears began to stream from her eyes. This small break in her composure broke the dam and her feelings all tried to rush out at once. She began to sob uncontrollably and, very briefly, considered not getting up again...ever.
She didn’t know how long she lay there, letting the wracking sobs take control and giving up all hope for ever feeling anything but despair. In her mind a great abyss opened up beneath and threatened to swallow her down to a place that it would never return from.
She recoiled and sat up screaming in fear and suffering. That is when she first saw the thing that kept her from sliding into that abyss. It was the very thing that her father and patron deity valued most in the world, and that her mother, the now bloated spider goddess, had once embodied.
Despite her grief and the darkness in her heart she gasped in awe at what she beheld.
The chamber she had allowed her feet to lead her to was filled with a dazzling display of crystals. They covered the chamber and came in every shape and size imaginable, though all glowed faintly with a soft green light that reminded her of summer under the trees in the feywild. The verdant comparisons did not stop there. There were clusters of crystal that looked like bushes or even long grasses. Larger crystals that cut across the room from floor to ceiling looked like the trunks of elegant trees. Across the ceiling were lacey, almost frost like formations that could have been mistaken for moss. It dazzled her senses and brought more tears to her eyes. These were not tears of grief, but of longing, of wishing so much that Varzynthir could see it too and share this moment with her and knowing they would never share any moments in this world together ever again. .
Still, the sight of such grace and beauty in this realm of endless darkness, evil, and death managed to shake her from her reverie. She knew that fate or magic, or both, had brought her here so she could do what needed to be done.
Sitting upright on her knees she began to quickly, but methodically pull things from her bag of holding. Chalk, a moonstone, a bundle of dried herbs, the bark of a long lived tree, and a vial of pure, clean water.
Taking a deep, ragged breath, to steady herself she began. She placed the moonstone on the floor as the focus for the ritual. She drew a circle around it with the chalk, making embellishments in arcane scripts of the feywild where appropriate. As she put her marks upon the stone, the moonstone began to glow with blue light, which in turn illuminated the chalk lines so that they too glowed with an inner radiance. Suriel drew a series of larger and larger circles until both she, the moonstone, and disc holding Varzynthir’s remains were contained within it. Next came the herbs, placed meticulously in prepared glowing circles of power. When she placed them in their proper places, they never touched the ground. Instead they floated gently above it, turning on their own until they righted themselves...almost as if it were still alive and orienting itself to the sun. With a splash of the pure water upon the dried stems they actually did revivify and grew in size. Roots came down from the stems and began to trail along the stone inside the magically prepared space as if it were searching for soil to sink into and drink more sweet moisture.
The final ingredient, the tree bark, rested in one hand, the chalk in another, but she hesitated. This was the moment in the ritual where she dedicated it to the god of her choosing, but who did she choose? Herself? Her father? She was never sure which deity Varzynthir worshipped if any. For a time she thought she was winning him over to the Seldarine, but after some time apart and his return to Bregan D’aerthe it seemed he had fallen back into worshipping Lolth, though not as fervently and with as evil intentions as most. Who should she call upon on his behalf? Even if he had worshipped Lolth, would she be willing to commit him to her? If the queen of spiders took him to the demonweb pits it would mean they could not be united in the afterlife and would remain apart for eternity.
She couldn’t bear the thought of that. She had to see him again, even if it was in the afterlife, but it was a very real possibility. If Lolth claimed him, she would never see him again. She began to grow angry. Thinking of she and Varzynthir being separated made her think about why there were separate places for elven people to go when they died. It was because of the feud between her father Correllon, and her mother Lolth. For thousands of years they had warred with each other for supremacy, to be the one and only ruler of the elven people. There had been so many deaths and so much pain because of that rivalry. Even she, as the goddess Eilistraee, had been a casualty of that conflict. Thinking on it now though she realized it was her own fault. She tried to kill her demon mother. Of course she had failed trying to outwit the goddess of treachery, lies, and assassins. She had failed. She was fallible...and so were all the gods.
With that in mind she made a rash decision. She still had to dedicate her magic to the god of her choosing to complete it. Raising chalk to strip of bark, she drew an eight pointed star, the symbol of Corellon, but she did not stop. She drew three intersecting circles over the star creating an ancient and complex pattern. She raised her hands and her voice in praise.
“Hail Seldarine. I dedicate this temple to Corellon Larethian, ruler of all elven creatures, and his consorts Sehanine Moonbow, Lady of Dreams, and Araushnee, Weaver of Fates.”
Finishing the incantation she touched the bark to the moonstone and there was a flash of brilliant white light so bright that Suriel had to turn away from its intensity. When she turned back the chamber was undergoing an amazing transformation.
The bark and the herbs had all turned into the same crystal that adorned the rest of the cavern, but like the plants they once were, they began to grow. The moonstone retained its form and composition, but a round crystalline altar grew around it with the moonstone at its heart. The stone pulsed and gleamed the shade of blue preferred by Corellon and his clerics from inside the translucent altar, bathing the area around it in a soft glow. Elsewhere in the cavern the crystals themselves began to change.
Two monstrous columns of crystal that completely bisected the room began to grow what could only be described as branches, becoming more and more tree like in appearance. These branches spread across the ceiling of the cavern. The lacey crystals on the ceiling began to glow and twinkle with light, resembling stars seen through a tree canopy at night. The bush like structures remained largely unchanged, but sprouted small projections that resolved themselves into little flowers that looked as if they could have been spun from glass. Three elf sized crystals near the end of the chamber began to split and crack, but rather than being destroyed they formed themselves into statues, one man and two women.
Where the chamber before was a wild and beautiful place that had been infused with crystal, it had now been given structure and refinement until, when the spell finally finished its work, the chamber had been transformed into a hallowed temple, complete with sheets of crystal that formed a wall and door sealing it off from danger.
Suriel smiled sadly at what she had wrought. It was a wonder, a devotion to gods that charged their followers to create beauty in the world as a way to stave off the darkness of evil, but she knew it was temporary. She would sleep in the safe confines of this newly blessed space until morning and know what peace she could in the face of today’s horror. In the morning though, the crystals would melt back into the shapes she had found them in.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a hiss from behind her.
She spun, drawing her sword and saw her aunt Sos’Umptu standing in the entrance to the temple.
“Why did you follow me here?!” Suriel adjusted her stance to a less threatening, but no less ready position should her aunt strike out with her snake whip. “I told you all I wanted solitude.”
The snake whip in Sos’Umptu’s hand writhed wildly and strained towards Suriel. “I came to see what you were going to do with that male’s body. You seemed curiously distressed by his death.”
“How observant of you.” Suriel retorted in anger.” Was it the tears that gave me away or the reverence I tried to give his remains?” Her tone was snappish and filled with disdain.
“Strange enough behavior as it is, but now I see why. You are a heretic. A Corellite. If only my sister had known when she had you at her mercy, we would have sacrificed you to Lolth and received much favor from her.”
Suriel actually managed a tight laugh despite her anger at being interrupted while trying to take care of the remains of her first and only love. “Are you really that stupid?”
Sos’Umptu flinched before gritting her teeth in a growl. “Don’t call me stupid.”
“Well you must be. Of course Quenthel knew I worshipped the elven gods. Why do you think she sent me away before I could infect her whole house with the light of the Seldarine?”
“But..” Her aunt was genuinely confused, which only made her more angry. “...if you’re a Corellite, why would she let you live? Why is your heart not dripping on Lolth’s altar as we speak?”
Suriel’s tone went cold as ice. “Because she knew that even though she could destroy me, it would cost her much. Many many Baenre soldiers would die by my sword before I was brought down. Perhaps even members of her family would taste the cold of my steel. How would she explain that to the other Matron Mothers? It would look ever so suspicious and perhaps, dare I say, weak of her to allow such an embarrassment within the walls of her own house.”
Sos’Umptu pressed her lips together and swallowed. She was beginning to understand.
“Yes and such weakness is not allowed among drow society. The other Matron Mothers would soon begin testing her defenses and questioning if she had Lolth’s favor. Like maggots swarming a carcass.”
“House Baenre would crush anyone foolish enough to stand against us!”
Suriel nodded. “It’s true. House Baenre would succeed and reassert its dominance, but at what price? So much easier just to pretend the heretic in the heart of her complex is a petitioner who seeks her favor...who is then sent on a mission to prove her worth...” Seeing that her aunt started to understand, Suriel knew what had to happen next. Sos’Umptu had to be given a chance to understand more...before being asked the question. “Here is your chance aunt to prove your worth in Quenthel’s eyes. You can still make the sacrifice. You can still claim my heart. I’ve even made an altar for you here in the presence of your goddess.”
Sos’Umpto hissed again and flicked her snake whip. “This is no place of Lolth. I am not a novice who you can frighten. I am the steward of the chapel of House Baenre, servant of Lolth. You did something to this place. I feel a foul presence...something from the surface world.”
Suriel began to back away from her aunt, always staying in a stance of readiness should she attack. She moved towards the back of the temple until she stood in front of the three crystalline statues. Sos’Umptu, thinking she was retreating pressed forward and closed the distance between them.
“Not true aunt. Look closer. Your goddess is here. Her visage stands right behind me.”
“Lies!” She lashed out with her snake whip, it’s living heads distending their fangs as they ached to bite into Suriel’s flesh, but the sword wielding drow was too fast and ducked behind the statues.
“You think to poison me with surfacer lies. That statue is just some elf bitch!” She picked up a stone from the cavern floor and raised it above her head, intending to smash it into the offending statue, but something made her stop. There, dangling in the hands of the elven goddess, was a spider wrought of crystal. It was beautiful and mesmerizing. She looked up into the face of the statue....and she gasped.
Suriel slowly came out from behind the other two statues, sword more relaxed. “You see it don’t you? You can feel it. Her presence. I have consecrated this temple. Its power is no less real than your chapel in the city of spiders. This is Araushnee, goddess of dark elves, weaver of destiny.”
“What lies are these?” Sos’Umptu gasped. She began to back away from the statue, nearly tripping over the crystal flowers and tree roots.
“Come now aunt. Which one of us comes from the people of lies and deception?”
“All lie!” She yelled loudly, though her voice sounded as if she were trying to convince herself. “All seek to kill and destroy and survive. Kindness, friendship, love...these are all weaknesses to be exploited.”
“WEAKNESSES?” Suriel’s bellowed and her voice echoed painfully around the chamber. The crystals vibrated and silver fire flickered to life out of the corners of her eyes. “This so called weakness saved our lives today. Were it not for these weaknesses, you and I would still be mindless slaves to that quivering mass of flesh.” Her voice quieted as she spoke until it was almost a whisper, but the quieter her voice became, the more intense the white flames of magic flowed from her eyes. “Without these weaknesses, you would be nothing.”
Cowed by the display of pure rage and power, the drow lowered her whip and cringed away. “I don’t understand. Your servants rescued us as befits what men should do for their mistresses.”
“No aunt. Not servants. Friends...and...” the fires in her eyes died, quenched by the tears that now welled in them. “...loved ones. They came for me because they loved me, or at least are loyal friends. I didn’t see soldiers and men of House Baenre come to rescue YOU.”
Sos’Umptu was defeated. She dropped her whip and sank to the floor. “I should torture every one of them for not assisting your...friends.” Her gaze flicked towards the body parts on the floating disc. “So, he was more than just your consort?”
Suriel sheathed her sword and stood with her arms crossed in front of the three elven statues. “Yes. Much, much more. And now he’s gone, and I have come to dedicate his soul to the gods.”
“But surely his soul has already been claimed by Lolth. All drow are claimed by her.”
Suriel slowly knelt on the stone across from her aunt and held out her hand. “Not all. There are other ways. Others will accept you if you genuinely devote yourself to them...or have someone who will speak on your behalf.”
The defeated drow looked at the extended hand as if she expected her fingers to turn into scorpions, but eventually, slowly, took the proffered hand and allowed Suriel to pull her to her feet.
Her snake whip was left writhing, unattended on the floor.
“Who is she?” Sos’Umptu stood with her arms crossed, closed off and unsure, but she nodded her head at the statue of the elf with the spider in her hands. “It is not Lolth, but still, she seems familiar in some way.”
“It IS Lolth, as she was before Corellon made a terrible mistake and exiled her from their realm. She was Araushnee and she was the mistress of the destiny for all elves of every kind and tribe, but not mistress of her own destiny.”
Sos’Umptu looked at Suriel with a scowl. “All drow are taught that the vile Seldarine were jealous of Lolth’s beauty and power and tried to kill her. She was too strong for them and fought them to a standstill before leaving so they could not betray her again. I myself have taught this lesson at Arach Tinilith. I’ve never doubted it before.”
Suriel half shrugged. “Who can say what really happened in those early times. Perhaps even the gods themselves have had their memories warped by millennia of hatred, anger, and sorrow. I choose what to believe and I actually think that your lessons may be part right.” She trailed her finger along the gossamer thin crystal thread that suspended the spider from Araushnee’s cupped hands. “I believe that Araushnee truly loved Corellon and Sehanine.” Tears welled up again in her eyes as she could not help but think of Varzynthir. “The three of them ruled absolutely and created a paradise of elven beauty never before seen, nor accomplished since.”
Suriel moved slowly around the other two statues, trailing a finger reverently along their artistic edges and curves. She seemed to enter a trance, the words flowing from her in a monotone and quick cadence that did not sound like her. She was not sure where the words were coming from, be it memory, or something else. “How she must have chafed at the irony of her position. Goddess of destiny but ruled by another. Unable to choose for herself, she had to always defer to his wishes. They may have loved each other, but they were not equals. She questioned him and debated long the merits of his plans and plots. She bore him children, but this did not change his position of master over her. I think perhaps maybe Corellon tired of always being challenged and not being obeyed. His affections began to be focused on Sehanine almost exclusively, despite Araushnee’s blinding beauty.”
“Maybe it was the pain of losing her love, or finally refusing to submit to his will that drove her to seek a source of power to free herself. Her mistake, and there are many mistakes made by all the gods in this sad story, was to accept the help of demonic fiends. Demons are always ready to lend you their power, but the price is never what you think it is. She was corrupted by their evil.”
Sos’Umpu itnerrupted Suriel’s reverie with a grunt of disapproval. “Lolth would never allow herself to go from the rule of a man to be ruled by a demon. She is the one who taught us how to tame demons, to bargain with them and use their powers to our gain.”
Suriel’s face continued to be blank and unreadable. Her voice not wholly her own. “That may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that she chose to work with demons. She chose to use evil to achieve her ends, to shatter her own pre determined destiny and strike out on her own. Once she trucked with demons, mistress of them or no, she was bringing evil into the world, and that could not be allowed.”
“When she fought the Seldarine and lost, Corellon was furious at her betrayal and was beyond anger. Never before or since has he raged and stormed as that day. He was so angry that he too made a mistake and rather than eradicate the evil inside of her and try and reconcile, he let his passions rule him and he cast her, her children, and all dark elves out of Arvandor.”
Sos’Umptu scoffed. “You certainly don’t sound like a Corellite. You’re barely even defending him in your own tale and are giving credence to Lolth’s choices.”
Suriel seemed to snap out of her trance and she grimaced as if all she felt were disappointment and. “I still love Corellon, but I have learned very recently, that even gods make mistakes. They are all fallible no matter how much their believers fervently believe otherwise. They get it wrong, and we all pay the price. You were right though. She made a choice. It all comes down to choice. She chose to use demons to change her fate and has forever been tainted since. Corellon’s anger and pride kept him from seeing how he contributed by being unwilling to listen to her.”
Sos’Umptu reached up towards the crystalline spider dangling from Araushnee’s fingertips and almost touched it, but then recoiled at the last moment. “She did the right thing. She became her own mistress and wouldn’t let us be ruled by men ever again. We are the ones in control and they are our lessers as is right.” Her tone lacked the conviction of her words.
Suriel reached out and took her aunt’s hand once again. Sos’Umptu flinched, but allowed the contact. “Why must we trade tyranny for tyranny? We can be equals, as it should have been from the beginning. Araushnee erred in her choices, but Corellon erred as well by not treating her as an equal from the beginning, as she deserved. Perhaps none of this pain and division would have ever happened if Corellon had just share his power better.”
They stared into each other’s eyes. Suriel’s gaze was a challenge, a dare, to believe what she said. Sos’Umptu’s eyes were filled with conflict, but also sadness. “How do you know all this? How do I know you’re not just lying to me, trying to get me to drop my guard only to sacrifice me to your tyrannical god once we get close to the surface and his burning, awful light?”
“Because I remember it.” Suriel’s gaze bored into her. “Or rather I have access to those who remember it. I am no priestess who must plead for spells. I was granted direct access to the divine, to do with as I see fit. To be truly free of any master or mistress, save those I deem worthy for myself, if any.”
“Is there really a place where that happens? Where you can be your own mistress? Where you don’t have to constantly fear for your life? A place where you can be whatever you want, even if what you want is very simple?” A single tear welled in the corner of her eye, threatening to betray her, to stream across her cheek and show her true self.
“There is. With me.” Suriel put one hand to her aunt’s cheek just as the tear streaked down. She wiped it away with her thumb. “And I intend to build a place where all, drow and elf alike, can abandon this pointless jihad and live as they will.”
The crying priestess stepped back suddenly and turned away from this strange woman. “I...I will think on what you have said. It is heresy...but then I have never quite lived up to the expectations of House Baenre and maybe even Lolth herself.” She moved towards the entrance to the temple, opened the crystal portal, and silently left.
Suriel walked to the open door and quietly shut it. She muttered a simple incantation and sealed the door against entry before pressing her forhead to its cool glistening surface. She let her tears flow again, but she had more than grief inside her. She cried from grief, but she also cried in lament of thousands of years of grief, suffering and death. She cried in anger at the senselessness of it all. Most of all she cried because the weight of all the evil in the world pressed down on her and she realized that even if she spent every waking moment of her life slaying evil beings or saving those that could be saved by bringing them back from evil, that evil will never be fully eradicated because it can spring up from inside even the best of people...even the gods themselves.
The thing that finally made her stop crying was remembering what she herself had told Sos’Umptu. Everyone has a choice. If she chose, she could let despair swallow her. She could stop fighting and just let go. She could slay herself and join Varzynthir in the afterlife. She would not have to be alone. They could be together again.
She turned and faced the task she had come here to do. The crystal temple shone bright with magic and beauty. She looked upon the ruin of her lover’s body and drew her sword. This pile of flesh and broken bone before her was a relic of the evil in the world, proof of the endless task of keeping the darkness at bay, and she had to choose whether or not she was willing to accept this task..
At her command the disc floated upwards and settled atop the altar before winking out of existence. Varzynthirs mortal shell settled onto the altar. His face, frozen mid scream, rolled on the slightly concave crystal surface until it came to rest, staring accusingly at Suriel. Blood and other fluids pooled on crystal surface while Suriel stood there, her sword held ready.
“A choice. We all have a choice. I chose to fight those illithids rather than run away...and I chose poorly. You chose to come save me, even if it cost your life, and save me you did. You paid the price for my choices, but you did it because you chose to. I am so sorry Varzynthir. I will never be able staunch the wound in my heart your death has left there. I loved you and trusted you...and I think you even came to trust me. We journeyed together down an uncertain path and helped each other discover ourselves, though I think you did more to help me than I did you. I don’t know.”
“I want so badly for you to be here, but I can’t. There’s nothing I can do. With all my magic, my power, my connection to the divine....there’s nothing. I have no control. All I can do is ask you to forgive me and try and repay you any way I can. But I don’t know what you wanted in death. Did you want to go to Arvandor, where I saw you with Xara in a vision, or would you be claimed by Lolth? I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know. If my astral realm still existed I would send you there, to its orchards of trees that fruit moonstones and perpetual night. The moon would shine down on your white hair and lavender eyes and there would be nothing there more beautiful than you.”
Suriel began to sob again and brought her sword arm up to dam the tears and keep them from falling. “But I don’t know if that realm exists, and I would much rather all of us be united in one place. I don’t want a place of perpetual night, or endless day, or pits of spiders. I want all elves together again, in one place.” She dropped her arm and the tears continued to spill down her cheeks.The blue light of the glowing altar reflected in her tears and had anyone else been there to see it, they would have sworn she was crying moonstones.
No longer bothering to hold back the flood she cried and sobbed and screamed her words to the gods. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh I invoke thee, you bitter and feuding gods. I invoke my father Corellon, my mother Araushnee, and their consort Sehanine Moonbow. I commit one to your care that I love deeply, though I do not know his heart in this moment what he desires. I beseech you all to cradle him in this time of transition and to you who he cleaves, take him and care for him...and keep him for me until I can reunite with him again in the Astral realm.”
As had happened just moments ago when talking to her aunt, silver flames of magic began to lick at the corner of her eyes and her sword glowed like a star in the sky. “Hear me old gods of the Seldarine! I will no longer abide this feud. I have made my choice and will live or die by it. I will see the elven people united again...no matter the consequences. All of you made mistakes that you must atone for and I will give each of you the chance to choose. I will ask each of you The Question and you will also live or die by your choice!” The silver fire now erupted along her arms and began to engulf her body, though she did not burn. “I wish for us all to reunite, to come together, but if I must betray my love for you and kill you all to recreate the Seldarine as I see fit, I will do it to see the people reunited, strong, and beautiful once again. You have all caused untold suffering, and now it is time for that suffering to end because there is enough evil in the world without creating it ourselves!”
Suriel was now a dervish of magic and silver fire. She floated above the altar, her sword flashing with power and four wings of light sprouting from her back. Her voice echoed around the chamber and took on an unearthly timbre. “Eilistraee, the dark maiden, the refuge of the dark elves, is dead. I am Suriel, the Arbitrator, the Conciliator and you will hear my words. Take the one I love and treat him well, but know that when the time is right, I will come for him, and when I do, you will answer to me for the future of our people!” The last word she screamed in anger, exultation, and anticipation.
Suriel leveled her sword at the altar and whispered softly to herself. “Goodbye my love. Wait for me.”
Silver fire exploded from her sword and engulfed the altar. The whole room flashed with refracted light and magic while the silver flames swirled around in a hurricane of arcane power. A single note of a song of power crested above the sound of the magic and Suriel’s voice caused the whole room to resonate with the pitch and the magic contained with it.
Varzynthir’s body was consumed by the silver fire and turned to ash the color of crushed moonstones. The ash was borne aloft and floated towards the three statues where it disappeared into a wall of light...though no one, not even Suriel, knew to which deity it flew.
As quickly as it appeared, the magic vanished, Suriel’s wings disappeared and she dropped limply to the floor, exhausted and spent. The three statues and the altar were gone. The woman who was an elf, drow, and goddess all at once had barely the strength to pull herself up against the trunk of the nearest crystal tree. She mumbled just a few words before she fell into a deep sleep, from which she would not stir until morning.
“The gods are fallible.”
Wednesday, October 24, 2012, 12:04 AM
*Below is another bit of fiction about Suriel, my elf invoker, from Erik Scott de Bie's 4e Forgotten Realms campaign. We have just completed the second installment of the tomb of horros and Suriel has discovered that she is more than she every imagined*
Rocks fell from the ceiling of the crypt, smashing the few remnants of the necromantic ritual structure that had itself just fallen to pieces, crashing down to the wet stone floor. The black necrotic sludge that dripped from every surface of this place splashed drops of decay onto the hand of the drow woman laying there, but was barely visible against the ebony hue of her skin. She stared at her hand even as the sludge withered it. A man nearby yelled something, but she could only gaze in astonishment.
Her skin and hair had changed. She had become a drow.
“What are you doing? Get into the circle! This lich hole is coming down. Come on!”
The man was insistent, frantic, but her mind swam in a maelstrom of emotions and memories…not all of which were her own. The memories flashed as visions, drowning her in their flood. She saw herself in a hall of polished stone, wielding the crescent blade against a creature made of green ooze. She was in Xara’s camp being tortured. She trod a moonlit forest as if it were her home. She lay in bed with Varzynthiir, their hands entwined while they slept. She called down a raging spell of silver fire against a wave of foes. A horrific parody of a drow with spider mandibles protruding from her stomach brought a sword to bear on her and felt it slice through her neck.
The violence of the final vision snapped her from her reverie. The tomb was about to collapse on her and a group of people stood nearby in the bounds of a teleportation circle, reaching for her and calling her name.
Was that her name? It didn’t seem right. It was unfamiliar. It didn’t taste right on her tongue.
If that was not her name, then what was?
“Suriel, pick your scrawny ass up and move!”
Now she recognized the half elf with the worried face who just hauled her up from the floor and half dragged, half carried her into the magic ring. His name was Brandis. He was her half brother. They traveled together with their friends, the Spellswords, and he was calling her Suriel. As her exasperated sibling dropped her to the ground and yelled at the dragonborn with the black magic staff, she surveyed the room and more memories rose to the surface of the deluge in her mind.
“Ulik. Get us out of here. Punch it!”
Yes, she remembered now. This chamber had been the focus of a great necromantic ritual created by the demilich Larloch that had been channeling souls into the portal they now stood in, but the necrotic engine powering that ritual now lay in ruins around them, its purpose disrupted. She had created a moonbridge that deflected the souls away from the ritual portal into her own portal she had created through sheer force of divine will into Arvandor, the astral realm of the Seldarine.
“Just a second! I have to change these runes so we end up back in the mortal world.”
Why had she done that? Why a moonbridge? This was the second time she had created one, but never once did she learn such a spell in all her studies of divine and arcane magic. It was the same as when she called down silver fire on Xara during their final showdown. She had never learned that powerful spell, reserved for only the Chosen of Mystra. It had come to her as if by instinct.
“Just do it!”
She looked down at the crescent blade in her hand. She clutched it loosely with the pale white fingers of the elf Suriel once again, but she knew those fingers for what they were and it opened a well of fear and sadness that threatened to swallow her.
They were merely a shell for what truly lay inside.
The world went dark as the teleportation magic took effect just as the chamber came crashing down.
When her vision returned, she saw her own reflection in a gilded mirror. She had seen it before in Waterdeep at Lady Ilira’s gown shop. She was wearing her old robes, the voluminous set she had departed the feywild with. It felt heavy and cumbersome now that she had worn the lighter gowns her restored beauty allowed. At her feet Lady Ilira herself knelt before her, sewing pins in her mouth, and a pair of shears in her hand that she wielded to cut strips of fabric from the hem of the heavy robes.
“Lady Ilira! Why are we in your shop in Waterdeep? Where are my companions?”
“Come now, you’re brighter than that I should think.” Suriel twisted around to see the voice that had come, not from Ilira, but from behind her. It was Kyriani, former Blackstaff, and she was quite right. They were not in the shop at all. They were not even in Waterdeep. They were in the temple to the Seldarine in Mithrendain.
Not just any room of the temple either, but the inner sanctum. She had only been in this room nestled at the top of a tower, built around the trunk of an ancient tree, once. The sanctum was built amongst the uppermost branches, which forked delicately through the air. Above, they had been woven together into a latticed dome of ancient wood and leaves along with a spell to keep out the rain and other elements. Every branch had been inlaid with silver and they glowed with the eldritch light of the words of power they contained.
In niches around the circular room were beautifully wrought marble statues of the greater Seldarine. There was Sehanine Moonbow, Lady of Dreams, with a crescent moon upon her brow. Next to her was Labelas Enoreth, clutching an ancient tome in one hand and an hourglass in the other, as well as Hanali Celanil with her golden heart cradled in upturned palms. They were all here on the outskirts of the room, save for one. In the center, resting on a natural altar created by the branching of the thick central trunk of the tree, was a brilliant blue jewel in the shape of an eight pointed star, the symbol of Correlon. The light of the moon and stars streaming through the branch made dome struck the jewel and seemed to be amplified by it, sending brilliant pale blue light streaking about the room as it thrummed with the sound of barely contained power.
Even more shocking than where she now stood was who was in the room with her. In addition to Kyrani and Lady Ilira was Lady Saharel, the ghost-lich of Spellgard, Lady Lorien Dawnbringer, priestess of Sune, and her old enemy Xara. They stood in a crescent around her with inscrutable expressions. Kyrani, just like she had in a recent dream, held the crescent blade and leaned on it like a staff.
“You can’t be here. This room has a forbiddance spell on it. We could not have just teleported here and...well also most of you are dead!” Suriel tried to turn around, but Ilira held her firmly by the robes she wore even as she continued to cut away pieces of it.
“Not your most piercing observation, but true nonetheless.” Kyrani smirked and shifted her weight. “You brought us here, though we are not truly here. You thought of this place just as the spell of the teleportation circle was activated. We are in the place between worlds where time and space have no meaning. The space that portals traverse to connect the planes of existence. We are here, but we are everywhere, though soon we will be gone.”
Lady Dawnbringer reached out and gently took the crescent blade from the half drow at her side. “We are here because we felt your despair. Tell us what saddens you and why this beautiful sanctuary is the source of that sadness.”
The sound of Ilira’s shears continued to snip and hack away at Suriel’s old robes, making them shorter and lighter.
“I...” Suriel’s voice cracked as tears welled up and the sadness threatened to swallow her again. “I realized that I am not myself. I am just a shell, a pawn that will soon be discarded.”
Lady Saharel grasped the crescent blade in ghostly hands as it was passed to her from Lady Dawnbringer. “Leave riddles and vague speech to prophecy elf child. Speak plainly and say what it is you think.”
Suriel scrubbed tears from her cheeks, ashamed to let these powerful women see her be weak. “It was in this room that I was blessed by the presence of Corellon. He came to me at the end of a ritual of supplication and he planted a seed of his power inside of me. I thought he had made me his hand, his representative in the mortal realm. Now I see that I was just the vessel for the seed of his daughter Eilistraee. Her memories and her power are flooding my mind and I will be washed away by the force of her divine presence. Every time I draw deeply on the divine realm, I take on her appearance and soon I will become her.”
Lady Saharel smiled knowingly. “You use the word 'seed' more perfectly than you know young one, but your fear is unfounded. Does a seed not take into itself the essence of the earth in which it is planted? As it grows into a tree, does its shape not change, though it remains a tree? As it grows tall, strong, and beautiful, does it not still root itself in the very ground where it was grown?”
“But, if part of me comes from someone else, I will no longer be me.”
“You are afraid! You reek of fear. Pathetic.” Xara had angrily snatched the crescent blade from the lich’s hands and shook the blade at Suriel. At the same time Lady Ilira’s shears removed a sleeve of Suriel’s garments, which fell to the floor.
“Be silent Xara!” Suriel’s anger flared and she pointed her now naked arm accusingly at her enemy. “You know nothing of me. I gave myself willingly to Corellon, body and soul. If this is to be his use of me, it is an honor to bring back one of the Seldarine to this world.” Her breath heaved and tears flowed fresh down her face. “But I cannot ignore this sadness within me. If the gods wish to use me for their purposes, I give my body gladly, but my heart is no longer entirely my own to give. I now know the love of the heart for the first time in my life. If I am gone, or become something else, what will happen to the one I love? I don’t want that love to break and his soul to turn back to darkness in despair. He is too important to me for that fate.” She sobbed and the tears flowed like rain from her eyes.
Kyrani raised her hand and snapped her fingers. The crescent blade spun out of Xara’s hands and back into the wizard’s. Kyrani struck the sword against the stone like a staff, making a sharp clanging noise. Suriel’s sobs died away at the sound and she looked at Kyrani through wet eyes. “You will still be you, but you will also be her...though are you so sure that it is Eilistraee you become? In my very tower you cast a spell of silver fire. That spell is known only to Mystra and her Chosen. Eilistraee could never cast such a spell. Perhaps who you have been is not so different from who you will become. Perhaps you have always been this other person.”
“Are you saying that it is not Eilistraee’s soul inside me, but instead that of the woman I’ve seen in my visions? The priestess Qilue?”
Kyrani passed the sword to Lady Saharel. “I have seen the moment when Qilue was slain by Lolth’s twisted servant the Lady Penitent. The goddess Eilistraee dwelled inside her at that moment. When Qilue was slain, so was Eilistraee. The two are now entwined in death. Perhaps it was Qilue’s mortal soul, destined for the afterlife of Arvandor, that prevented Eilistraee’s essence from disappearing into the void, which is the fate of any dead god. Who can say except perhaps Corellon himself?”
“Then I am becoming two women and a goddess!" Suriel clutched her head. "Surely I will go mad, if I am not already."
Xara practically stomped over to the lich and held out her hand expectantly. Lady Saharel gently laid the crescent blade in the drow’s palm. “I was not vanquished by some weak willed, mewling roth. You vanquished me because you are strong, clever, and resilient.” She held up the crescent blade so that the light of the blue star on the altar was reflected in its edge. “This change will make you even stronger.” Xara knelt and turned the crescent blade around, offering the hilt to
uriel. “You will gain their memories, their powers, and you, YOU will add them to your own being to become something new. Like this sword, you will take pieces of old power into yourself and be reforged.”
Lady Ilira cut the fabric from Suriel’s shoulder and the last of the robe fell to the ground leaving her naked. She looked down and again her skin was black and she saw wisps of white hair cascading over her shoulder and reaching almost to the floor. She moved forward, haltingly...tentatively, like a woman first learning the steps to a new dance. With tears still glistening in her eyes she took the blade from her dead enemy's willing grasp and held it high above her head.
A crescent moon shone through the branches of the tree and the blade glowed radiant white.
Then all was darkness again as the teleportation spell was completed.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 9:11 AM
This recent article posted on the Wizards site needs more thought, but also more attention. The topic it brings up is a very important one to address. Unfortunately I don't think the article does a very good job of tackling it. It's an ok first start, but it missed the point.
I appreciate that the author acknowledges his bias of being an older male who tailors his art to fit market demand. I agree with what some of what other commentors on the article said though. Looking at this in terms of "sexism" is actually missing the mark. Fantasy art is not typically guilty of being sexist, but in sexually objectifying women. Definition here for clarity.
I think Dragon Age 2 handled the depiction of their women characters very well:
You had Isabella, the cliche nearly naked, naughty fantasy pinup, who was also very strong willed and seemed to own her sexuality and her fate rather than simply being scantily clad purely for the pleasure of the male audience.
Then you had Aveline, prim, proper and uptight but certainly NOT weak or unsure of her position in the world. She was covered head to toe in armor with nothing overtly sexual about
Finally you had Merril who was young, unsure of herself, and shy. At the same time though she had a clear personal goal that was about her personal journey and the good of her people. She was dressed showing a bit more skin than Aveline, but she was dressed to fit her class, her personality, and not overtly sexual.
There you have a wide variety of women, all strong and capable in their own way, but each with their own vulnerabilities and yes one of them was a sexy pinup.
I think it comes down to, it's ok to have sexy characters, but they shouldn't all be women (let's have some nearly naked men too please), they shouldn't all have perfect bodies (normal and larger people have occasion to wear less too), and if they are going to be sexy/scantily clad you should have a good reason for it...and titillating an older white male audience is not a good enough reason.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 11:53 AM
*Below is another bit of fiction about Suriel, my elf invoker, from Erik Scott de Bie
's 4e Forgotten Realms campaign.*
Suriel ran through the woods, the crescent blade clutched tightly in her hand. Dripping branches slapped her in the face and scratched her body as she pursued her prey. The dark shape she chased remained just out of sight, dodging nimbly through the undergrowth, climbing trees in a flash, flitting from branch to branch. It was wounded though. It’s black blood left a trail that any elf worth her salt could follow, but Suriel was not just any elf. She was a devotee of the Seldarine, a champion for their cause and a warrior that battled their enemies with sword in hand.
That last thought made her stumble over an unseen root. A warrior? No she was a wielder of spells and divine power, not a sword carrying soldier. She looked down to reassure herself that her rod was in hand, but sure enough there was a sword there instead. A curved blade that reflected the moonlight overhead in its shining length.
Yes that’s right. The crescent blade. She had found a piece of it and it had become a sword for her. She had killed with it. Followers of a shadow goddess that had tried to kill her fell to its keen edge. Now she carried it with her, hoping to reunite her piece with the others and make it whole once more.
She continued to run, but had lost sight of her quarry. She looked for the trail of blood, but found only scraps of spider web clinging here and there to leaves and branches. Suriel’s lungs were screaming for air, but she felt the need to plunge the blade into the flesh of the monster she pursued.
Had she stopped for even a moment, she might have seen the web strung across her path, but instead she ran headlong into it and became hopelessly tangled.
Fear stole into her mind. She was trapped. Helpless. Just like that day when she was captured by Xara and tortured. She couldn’t move her limbs and her desperate thrashing only caused her to be tangled even more. She was about to call to the Seldarine for aid, when the foliage stirred and she saw her prey come back into view.
“Varyzynthiir!” she gasped. “Why? Why are you here? I’m not supposed to be chasing you.”
He smiled, opening his mouth wide and spiders crawled out of it onto his face.
Suriel screamed and began to thrash again, trying vainly to run away.
The drow that had so recently been her lover walked slowly towards her. She tried not to look at him, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. He had wounds all over his body that oozed black, viscous blood that made plopping noises as it fell to the ground.
He reached towards her right hand and she shut her eyes, shuddering at the expectation of his touch. It didn’t come. Instead she felt the webs near her hand snap and vibrate. When she opened her eyes again Varzynthiir was gone. In his place stood Lady Ilira, their mysterious dark friend from Waterdeep who went mad with grief after losing her lover Lorien. She was holding Suriel’s sword.
Suriel reached towards her to snatch it back and realized that she was no longer tangled in the webs. In fact she was not in the woods at all, but back on the balcony of the royal palace in Airspur where she and Varzynthiir had made their pact of friendship and loyalty.
“Please give me back my sword Ilira. It belongs to me.” Her tone was firm, but not unkind. The last she had seen of this particular moon elf was as little more than a shadow in Airspur right before Varzynthiir had rescued her from the volcanic dragon wyrmling.
“Always grasping at things, Suriel, when you don’t even know what it is you reach for.” Ilira disappeared into the shadows, staying just out of Suriel’s sight and reach. Her voice echoed from all around her, seeming to come from everywhere at once. It still sounded hollow with grief, but confident, as if she knew a secret that she had no intention of sharing. “You grasp at power, magic, friendship, love...you scrabble for everything in your life. You are filled with want, with need. To what end?”
Suriel stopped searching for the sword, arrested by her words. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My purpose is as it always has been. To serve the Seldarine’s will here on Toril. To be Corellon’s hand.” She held up her own hand and caught the rays of the sun in her fingers, causing them to glow with a gentle radiance before casting the light into the shadows to reveal the moon elf. The shadows fled from the light, but what was revealed made no sense.
The ghostly apparition of Lady Saharel floated before her, gently bobbing in the magical glow Suriel had conjured. She now held the crescent blade somehow in her insubstantial hands. She glided up next to Suriel and gazed off into the distance. Suriel turned and looked down at the ruins of the lich-ghost’s tower in Spellgarde.
“It is hard to know the will of the gods, even when you carry a seed of them inside of you.” She gestured with a skeletal hand towards Suriel’s chest. “Even the wise cannot know all their schemes, plans, and machinations. Is it not better to decide for yourself what you think is right and cleave to those convictions?”
“But I have seen him. I have seen Corellon and bathed in the radiance of his grace and powers. He placed a portion of himself in my heart,” Suriel touched the point on her chest that Lady Saharel had just pointed to, “and bade me to go and do his will. What clearer path could be laid out for me?”
The lich smiled and nodded as if conceding her point. “Of course you are right. Your experience is quite unique. It must be very reassuring to know at all times and in all moments of your life what action you should take as dictated by the deity you serve.” As she spoke the long dead woman drifted towards a stairway, the sword still in her hand, and floated down it with Suriel following at her side.
“No it’s not like that at all.” Suriel protested quietly. “You misunderstand. I never said I always know what path he thinks is best. I must decide what my actions will be, but I let Corellon’s love and grace guide me.” They passed through a great wooden doorway into a long hall which was obscured by some kind of mist. “I believe that Corellon made me his hand because he trusted me to do the right thing.”
The mist in the hallway quickly turned to a thick fog and Suriel could no longer see the apparition of Lady Saharel beside her. The fog was thick and hot. Her clothes began to cling to her and sweat trickled down her brow and neck. Her hands came up against a rough wooden surface. She felt along it, trying to determine what it was when her hand closed around a handle. It was a door. She pushed it open and entered a sumptuous chamber dominated by a large pool of steaming water. This was the source of the heat and the fog. The room was also full of naked people.
Two young men approached her. Both were stark naked, but their smiles were gentle and demure. They reached for the clasps and ties of her dress and slowly, reverently undressed her. It felt wonderful to get out of the drooping fabric and feel the delicious warmth against her skin. Several of the worshippers, she could recognize now that she was in a temple to Sune from the mosaics and the statuary, stared at her with awed faces before falling to their hands and knees in front of her. They reached out and touched her feet or calves, as if hoping the touch of her skin would convey a blessing upon them. After she passed, they remained on the ground, their eyes shut tight in ecstasy.
The two men brought her to the side of the pool and gently urged her into its depths. She settled onto the stone benches in the water and the fog parted to reveal Lady Lorien Dawnbringer, high priestess of Sune in the city of Waterdeep, and fast friend to Suriel and her companions. She was also dead last Suriel knew.
“Lady Dawnbringer!” Suriel gasped in both surprise and joy. “What are you doing here? I thought you were dead. That awful dwarf assassin killed you at the festival. I saw it.”
Lorien was leaning against the side of the pool, her arms laid luxuriously along its edges behind her. Lightly held in one hand was the crescent blade. “I’m here for the same reason I am anywhere. Love. I see that you are in love Suriel. I am so happy for you.”
Suriel’s face reddened from more than the heat of the water. “We have not said such a thing to each other. And sometimes I...think unworthy thoughts about him. I don’t think I fully trust him yet.”
Lorien smiled knowingly and plucked up a sponge on the side of the pool. She brought it to her chest and began to gently scrub at her body, keeping her gaze fixed on the elf in the pool with her at all times. “None of that changes that you love him, that you would do anything for him. Does it?”
“No...no I guess you’re right.”
“Even if it meant abandoning everything you hold sacred.”
Suriel’s eyebrow rose and she scowled. “Do you think my faith so flimsy that I would abandon it for a man? Why would you say such a thing to me Lady Dawnbringer?”
“What if your faith demanded that you slay your love? Lorien continued to casually bathe herself as if she were discussing nothing more important than idle gossip. “What if Shevarash appeared before you right this moment and demanded the head of your drow lover as tribute? Would you sacrifice your love for your faith?”
“No!” The answer flew from Suriel’s mouth, half retort, half strangled cry. “I mean, that would never happen. Varzynthiir has been a loyal ally and I think he is changing. In time maybe he will even take up the Seldarine as his gods. But even if he didn’t, Corellon would never allow one of the other Seldarine to-”
“To follow through on the curse that he himself decreed for the drow?” Lorien placed the sponge back on the side of the pool and stared at Suriel with pity and sorrow in her face.
Tears sprang from the elf’s eyes and she brought her hands up to cover her face. Sobs wracked her body just contemplating such an awful scene. It was impossible that something like that would ever happen...wasn’t it?
When she looked up from her hands she stood in the chamber of the Blackstaff Tower just below its uppermost floor surrounded by giant statues. The stone figures of all the previous Blackstaffs seemed to stare down at her, studying her. She shivered from the cold of her still wet, and naked, body. A half elf with dark skin and gray hair came from behind a statue of an imperious woman. She held the crescent blade point down against the floor and leaned on it more like a staff than a sword. She snatched a blanket out of thin air and tossed it to Suriel. She wrapped herself in the blanket, thankful for it’s warmth and softness against her skin. The half elf gestured to her left with one hand indicating a small bench off to the side of the room. They walked over to it together and sat down.
The half elf patted her on the shoulder. She looked familiar to Suriel, and as she took in the statues in the room she quickly realized why. She bore the face of one of them. She was Kyriani Agrivar, former Blackstaff and half drow.
“I’m sure you’ve read in your studies how it was the drow came to be.” The Blackstaff spoke with the tone of a lecturer reciting a long memorized passage from a book or scroll. “Araushnee lusted after power and attempted to overthrow the rest of the Seldarine. She convinced the dark elves to join her cause and a great war raged. When Araushnee failed, Corellon cast her out of Arvandor and cursed her. She became the spider demon goddess Lolth. Then he decreed that the dark elves should be cast down as well and he bade the mortal elven mages to do the deed in his name. This they did with their high magic, changing the dark elves into the drow and driving them into the deeps.”
Suriel, who still wiped tears from her eyes looked sharply at the Blackstaff and clutched the blanket tightly around herself. “That’s not how it happened. It was Corellon himself who changed the dark elves to punish them for their betrayal.”
The Blackstaff smiled. “For one so scholarly, you are quick to accept the dogma of your adopted faith.” She took her hand from Suriel’s back and held it out in front of them both, palm up. “You are an adept at both divine and arcane magic. You should be able to tell the difference between them. Look at my hand. See with your arcane senses. Look deep into the part of me that is drow and tell me what you see.”
Suriel released one edge of the blanket and traced a finger along the lines of the other woman’s hand. Her fingertip glowed gently with blue light and as she drew it across her palm, lines of magic appeared there. She studied them closely. The first symbols were personal wards the Blackstaff had cast on herself and other spells that surrounded the arch mage. She slipped around these dangers and looked beyond them. Deeper into her hand she stared, past the residue of magic worked hands to her very essence. She caught a flash of divine light, but recognized it was the reflection of the Blackstaff’s own faith and divine powers. Deeper and deeper she probed. Suriel’s eyes now rolled back in her head and a corona of light surrounded her. She saw deep into the weave of magic, down into Kyriani’s very bones. She found the part of her that was human, with its patterns that were both rigidly ordered and chaotic all at once, and she could sense the arcane power of Kiryani's father’s heritage. Just underneath that, almost invisible were lines and curves of great elegance. She almost missed them in the chaotic tangle of humanity, but once she picked out the pattern she saw it clearly. It was the unmistakable imprint of elven magic...elven arcane magic.
Suriel gasped. “Why is it that I have never heard this? Why would it be kept secret?”
Kyriani took her hand back and leaned again on the point of the crescent blade. “Why indeed. It is a curious choice that a divine punishment would be meted out by mortal hands at a time before the gods had retreated to their astral realms. It would have been a small, easy thing for the elven god of magic to reach out his hand and deal out this curse himself. So why would he choose to have the spell be cast by his mortal agents?” She looked intently at Suriel, obviously expecting an answer.
Suriel floundered for an answer. She couldn’t help but think of Corellon as an attentive father who wouldn’t allow himself to make mistakes when it came to his children. Then she had it. If Corellon truly was the father of the elves as she believed, he would love them like a father...unconditionally. He would love them even now and one day maybe be willing to accept them back. No punishment meted out to his children would be permanent and without the possibility for atonement and forgiveness.
Suriel looked up and met the Blackstaff’s gaze. She spoke with the awe of revelation, but absolute conviction. “He had the high elves cast the the spell so that it could one day be undone. If he had cast it himself, nothing short of the power of another god could undo what he had wrought, but if it were done by mortal mages, other mortal mages could reverse it when the time was right.”
Kyriani smiled, as if at a dull student who had finally grasped the concept she was trying to teach her. “Yes, but why would he ever want them to be returned to the fold when they betrayed him? The drow are evil and worship dark powers. How can they be trusted?”
Suriel could tell that she was playing the devil’s advocate and a smile played across her face as she answered. “Because not all drow are evil. They can be redeemed. Lolth spins them round til they don’t know right from wrong and they live in such constant fear and pain, it’s no wonder they have become what they are now. But if they were taken from that kind of life and given a chance for something different, something better, I’m sure many of them would atone for their past evils and come back into the light.”
Kyriani patted Suriel’s back one more time and then brought the tip of the sword up off the ground. The half drow flicked it at the stone floor while incanting a word in old Netherese. A set of fine leather pants and a jerkin appeared with a sturdy pair of boots. Suriel shrugged out of the blanket and began putting on the conjured clothes.
The Blackstaff set the point of the sword against the ground again and leaned on it, though she looked as if she would be more comfortable doing so with a staff. “What about Lolth? Is she capable of redemption as well?”
Suriel fumbled the button she had just been putting through its buttonhole and failed to fasten it. She realized that if Corellon was capable of forgiving his children, was it possible he could forgive Lolth as well? “I...I don’t know. Do we even know why she betrayed Corellon? She was once the goddess of fate. Is it possible that she simply wanted to take her fate into her own hands rather than be beholden to Corellon, but then succumbed to the temptation of evil to achieve her aims? Are not all elves guilty of similar crimes? Is that not the whole cause of the Crown Wars? One group of elves tried to gain mastery over the others and it all crumbled into chaos and death from there?”
Suriel had just slipped on one boot when the significance of what she had just said, the near blasphemy of it, hit her. “I suppose that it’s impossible to know why she did it without asking her directly. Does she even deserve to be asked such a question after so many years of death, pain, and sorrow that she’s sown? Her death would certainly bring changes to the drow, probably for the better if they could be convinced not to swear themselves to some other dark deity. But think of what is possible if she was asked the question instead of being destroyed. What if beneath all the lies, darkness, poison, and death...she truly wished it had not ended up this way? What if she repented and became Araushnee again? So much pain and strife could be healed without resorting to death and destruction to do it. What once was, could be restored.” Suriel bent down and pulled the other boot on, thinking too hard to see the half drow stand up from her seat and stand over Suriel. “What do you think Kyriani?” she said as she stood back up. “Is such a thing possi-”
She was cut off by the whistling of a sword passing in front of her face where moments ago the exposed nape of her neck had been.
Gasping in surprise and fear, she backpedaled away from the Blackstaff as quickly as she could. She cast spells to cover her retreat, ice and radiant light to slow and blind her attacker, though it also obscured her assailant as well so that she could not see her face. The crescent sword cut through her magics, seeking her blood.
“You dare to speak such blasphemy!” A deep, familiar voice cried out in anger. Suriel’s frost and light faded and Xara stood before her, crescent sword raised high as she brought it down again towards Suriel’s head. “I will silence your fool tongue!”
Suriel screamed, part in fear, part in defiance, and jumped clear of the blade, thankful that she was wearing the supple leather instead of her usual robes and gowns, allowing her to move with more dexterity and speed.
Xara came towards her again, screaming in rage. Suriel raised her hand to conjure magic to defend herself, but instead another sword appeared in her hand, the twin to the one in Xara’s. The two crescent blades met with a shower of sparks and moonlight. The drow’s larger size and strength bore Suriel downward as their blades grinded against each other.
“Such weakness is not what I’ve come to know of you, elf bitch.” Xara spat through gritted teeth. “Keep your pet assassin and play savior to him if you are so foolish as to trust him, but you must show no mercy to your enemies, and believe in every fiber of your being that Lolth is your enemy!”
Suriel surged with anger and with an impossible twist of her body, ducked out of the lock of their blades, sending Xara staggering off balance. She pursued her old nemesis, sword flashing in precise movements meant to push Xara back and keep her flailing for control. “You are dead Xara. I killed you with the combined power of my magics and Corellon’s divine might. You will not tell me what is right from wrong.” The two warriors locked blades again and this time it was Suriel that bore down Xara before pushing her away with a roar of defiance.
Xara tried to duck into the trees of the forest where Suriel had been chasing her from the beginning, but the devotee of the Seldarine raised high her sword and called down the light of the moon to bathe the whole forest in its silver radiance so there was no place for her to hide.
Xara snarled in rage and charged out of the trees, diving back into combat. “You think you know everything Suriel, but you know nothing.” She delivered several crushing blows to Suriel’s blade, the sound of their collision echoed across the woods. “Do not think you know better than the gods. You must crush your enemies without mercy.” She punctuated the last three words with ringing blows from her sword.
Suriel’s hands were going numb from the repeated strikes from Xara’s blade. She knew she could not match her in strength, but must use a different tactic instead. “No! There is always room for mercy.” She sang a song of praise to Corellon and a circle of spinning blades appeared around her before expanding outwards, driving Xara back lest she be cut to ribbons. Suriel took the moment of respite to cast another spell she had only seen once before in the Blackstaff tower. “The Seldarine are not bloodthirsty vengeance seekers. They stand for beauty, grace, and the preservation of all that is worthy in the world.” Fire danced up along her blade the color of silver and her eyes glowed with the same light. “And some things that become tarnished and soiled can be made clean and beautiful again.”
The ring of blades faded and Xara charged back in towards Suriel. Her eyes glowed red and cuts on her skin from the battle leaked black, bubbling poison on the ground. She screamed in rage.
As she came to almost within striking distance, Suriel lowered her sword, pointing it straight at the drow woman’s chest, and let the silver fire building there erupt out.
The blast struck true and shot straight through Xara’s body. She screamed as the fire raced along her writhing form and consumed her...again.
For a moment her shape seemed to swell to an impossible size. Chitinous legs appeared in the fire and the screams became mixed with a laughter borne from madness. Suriel continued to pour the fire out until all that was dark and evil was purged from the creature before her.
The insectoid legs cracked and flaked to ash and the screams died away. The shape within the flames shrank back down to the size of a person and Suriel, exhausted, let the fire slowly fade.
Suriel walked cautiously forward, the crescent blade held securely in her hand. On the ground at her feet was a drow woman, but it was not Xara. Her body and face were stunningly beautiful and in her eyes was the pain of ages long suffering. She was naked, but in her hands spiderwebs played at her fingertips. The other crescent blade was clutched in one of her hands, fasted there by the strands of spider silk.
“Ah..Suriel.” the woman said, wincing in pain. “Will you now...kill me with that blade? Will that...satisfy him at last to have my head...placed at his feet?”
“Who are you?” Suriel asked warily, afraid she already knew the answer.
“You know who I am...daughter.” She smiled sardonically and chuckled, but immediately grimaced in pain and clutched her side. When she could speak again she looked hard into Suriel’s eyes. “It’s a shame...really...that I will not have the pleasure...of doing this myself.”
Suriel’s eyes narrowed. “Do what yourse-” Suriel was cut off as white hot pain pierced her neck. She tried to scream, but there was something wrong with her throat. She fell to the ground and stared up at the lady of betrayal, the mistress of assassins, as another familiar face came to stand next to her.
It was Varzynthiir.
Lolth turned and kissed him.
Suriel woke up screaming.
Friday, March 16, 2012, 7:31 PM
Suriel will soon be switching from being an invoker to a bladesinger in mechanical terms. In story terms she is slowly becoming something more than just an elf invested with a fragment of divine power. Hints of all things Eilistraee and Mystra are poking out all over the place, and I'm not sure where my DM is taking me, but the ride is pretty cool.
Below is a short story / cut scene my DM, Erik Scott de Bie
, wrote that happened in between sessions. We have just succesfully defended the town of Loudwater against an invasion of Giants and the giant leader, Nosnra, was turned to stone by a stone giant ally that we convinced that Nosnra was no longer worthy of his alliance.
THE SHADOWS GATHER
by Erik Scott de Bie
Suriel was happy.
She hadn't often known true happiness in her young life, but lying there, entwined with Varzynthiir, gazing into his open but trance-heavy eyes, she felt it. Contentment. Peace.
She gazed down at where his hand grasped hers, black and pale fingers interwoven. Even in rest, he would not be parted from her.
It really was remarkable how pale she looked next to him. Her skin had always been dusky, especially since Corellon's blood had cleansed her scars and she'd been able to expose herself to the beloved sun. But Varzynthiir took darkness to an entirely different dimension--his skin was truly black, like ink. If not for his stark white hair and gleaming red eyes, she might have thought him part of the night and not a living creature at all. When he invoked his skills as a shadowdancer, even his eyes turned jet black. Sometimes, she thought she saw shadows flit across him, even in trance--as now. She found it a little unnerving to stare into his wide-open eyes and know he was somewhere else.
Was he gazing at a dream, or reality? She could not tell.
Then Varzynthiir's hand closed on hers, holding tight. His other hand moved toward his belt and Suriel smiled. "Again?" she asked. "Well all right, but not all of us are as durable as . . ."
She trailed off when he pressed a knife to her throat. She could not move. She could not breathe.
"I played this role well, didn't I?" Varzynthiir's lips split to reveal blood-smeared teeth. “Xara sends her regards.”
Suriel felt sharp steel kiss her skin.
Suriel jerked away, catching her breath for a scream.
Varzynthiir lay as he had before, in the bed they shared in the Fisher's Friend tavern, with its hot and stuffy interior. His red eyes were wide open and staring at her. There was no knife in his hand, which lay like a dead spider on the pillow. A spider.
Terrified revulsion rose in her, and she tore herself away from the bed.
It had been a dream. Or else a vision.
"Corellon protect me," she prayed. "Father . . ."
Had she been less flustered, she might have wondered why the word felt so natural, but just at the moment, she did not care. She needed air. She needed to get out.
Their room had a balcony, and she shoved through the doors. The rush of night air felt freezing in her shift, after the stuffy room and her sweaty nightmare, but she welcomed it. The cold was of the natural world--the gift of the gods--and it was good.
The trance was also the gift of the fey gods, but Suriel found that less welcoming just at the moment. Varzynthiir could take her into his trance, which they'd just started doing over the last days. It was far more intimate--though perhaps less pleasing--than most other activities they could do. She'd quickly grown adept at trancing with him, though it invariably left her a bit weary. She felt exhausted now, as though her body had not forgotten the exertions of the giant attack.
The shadows moved behind Suriel, and Varzynthiir joined her on the balcony. Wiry arms wrapped around her and pressed her into an embrace that was blessedly warm against the night. Warm—but frightening.
Suriel pulled away, but Varzynthiir did not follow her. “I have displeased you,” he said.
“No, I—” Suriel bit her lip. Now was not the time to correct him about his obsession with pleasing her, rather than himself. “I just need a moment. Alone.”
He took her hand. “You are wroth with me. Let me fix this.”
He didn’t understand, or else he was up to something more sinister. Why had she even thought that?
Arcane power surged in Suriel, and she fell backward through darkness, teleporting out of Varzynthiir’s grasp to the street below. Their eyes met, Suriel shook her head to stop him following her, and she headed off down the cobbled road. He stood on the balcony for a long while—she could feel him watching her—then disappeared. Perhaps he was following her in the shadows as was his wont, or perhaps not. At least he left her to her thoughts.
She wandered Loudwater without a particular goal. The city had taken a beating, there was no denying it. Buildings lay in rubble, fires still smoldered here and there, and the streets were littered with corpses both man-sized and giant-sized. Lady Moonfire had summoned a massive fire elemental during the battle, and while it had proved decisive in defeating Nosnra’s attack, it had proved difficult to drive off. The creature had a tendency to break apart in multiple pieces and scatter in all directions. Ulik and Kadath were even now tracking them down.
Suriel knew she and her companions had won the day for Loudwater, but she couldn’t help but wonder what would have come to pass if they had not come at all. Would Nosnra have launched his massive attack without their provocation?
Should they have come at all? Obviously they could not leave innocents to be massacred, but they had their own important business to attend to. They knew hardly anything about the Eight who, by all accounts, threatened their very world. Waterdeep, the Feywild, Airspur, and now Loudwater—all of them seemed like distractions on their greater path. Did they simply keep wandering down dead-end roads, or was there some great connection Suriel did not see?
But this was all a distraction in her thoughts anyway. She couldn’t keep out the memory of the nightmare with Varzynthiir. And gods-damned Xara. Suriel thought she’d escaped Xara Baenre—her half-sister, if Xara herself was to be believed. Indeed, she’d seen Xara in a vision or dream seemingly at peace in Arvandor. Why then was she still having nightmares of her? And why Varzynthiir? Didn’t she trust him by now?
Suriel found herself heading toward Lady Moonfire’s manor house, where the final confrontation had taken place. The building was a mess and completely uninhabitable until major repairs were done, so no one would be here. Suriel climbed through a massive hole in the wall where Nosnra’s dragon had tried to blast her way free, and picked carefully through the burned out interior. She could see perfectly fine by the moonlight: discarded clubs and broken blades, rubble from thrown rocks, and the hulking carcass of Nosnra’s trained dire bear. The people of Loudwater hadn’t managed to remove the huge thing, so they’d left it where it had fallen.
A faint reddish glow caught Suriel’s attention, and she half expected to look up and see Varzynthiir standing there. Instead, the constant glow came from deeper in the manor, illumining a massive statue—that of Nosnra himself. The Hill Giant Chief had made the mistake (not entirely his fault) of turning the stone giant emissary Laerthar into an enemy, and it had won him petrification. But where was the light coming from?
Suriel drew closer and her breath caught. One of Nosnra’s stone eyes was glowing alternately blue and red as if from an inner light.
It couldn’t be.
The giant was so tall that its face was out of her reach. Suriel had not bothered to bring any of her equipments other than the pouch she always wore, but she hardly needed her rod to work her magic. With an arcane word, Suriel tapped the statue, which groaned—cracks shot out around her fingers. She spoke more arcane words, gathering the moonlight around her hand, and blasted the statue in the middle, making it shatter into a thousand pieces, which crumbled to dust around her. It was almost like the giant was falling apart anyway, and she’d only expedited the process.
She sifted through the crumbling stone and found what she was seeking: a spherical gemstone that looked red in one light and blue in another. Its light had dimmed, but when Suriel touched it, it sparked back to life. It rose up from her hand and began a casual, elliptical orbit of her head.
The stone pulsed quietly with magic and her mind opened to new possibilities—new connections she had not previously considered. Particularly if Nosnra bore one of the gemstones of the Eight.
All these events were connected. She could not quite see it, but she knew it. Given thought . . .
The shadows parted behind her, but she sensed it was not Varzynthiir. Instead, four humans—two men, two women—clad in black robes fanned out around her. They wore medallions shaped like discs of black outlined in bands of purple. The symbol of Shar, goddess of darkness.
“Is she one of them, do you think?” asked one of the women. “One of the traitors?”
“She must be, to have one of the Warlock Stones.” One of the men pointed to the gemstone slowly circling Suriel’s head. “Do you think she killed the giant by herself?”
“Careful.” The second woman drew a bladed disk set with purple gemstones from within her robe. “I can smell the stench of the Moon Bitch on her. This one is blessed of the gods.”
“Then the Lady will be pleased when we slay her.” The final man stepped threateningly toward Suriel. He drew a wickedly curved kukri from beneath his robes. "We'll kill her quickly and be at the City That Waits by dawn."
The elf had not been idle while they spoke. Rather, her magically enhanced thoughts, courtesy of the stone floating above her, analyzed every possible tactical solution. With each option, she defeated one or perhaps two of the Sharrans, but not all four—not before they killed her. Her fault, she supposed, for thinking Loudwater a safe place to explore at night without her weapons. And she’d told her sworn defender to leave her in peace. All she had to her credit were the trinkets in her small bag of holding: some treasure and components for rituals, a broken ioun stone, two inactive stones, a purple gem from an ancient temple to Mystra, and . . .
Suriel drew out the shard of blade she had found in Starra’s Knives. She couldn’t really explain why the item seemed appropriate to hold, but so it did. She raised it front of her: a hiltless knife that caught the rays of moonlight and gleamed.
The Sharrans did not look at all impressed. The four priests fanned out around her, the men with daggers, the women with those bladed discs. Chakram, she realized they were called, though she could not credit the knowledge. Perhaps it had come from the ioun stone?
“Corellon aid me,” she prayed. “Hear your daughter in her time of—”
Inky blackness surrounded her, summoned by one of the priests. A shadowy shield spun around her, making the air chill and empty. Her moonlight faded, and Corellon felt entirely absent. What?
“The Lady of Loss shows her favor,” said one of the women. “Her intercession has cut this one from the source of her power. If the Lady finds her of use, perhaps we should take her alive? No doubt one of us will enjoy her better that way.”
“Perhaps not better,” said one of the men. “But her screams will be sweet.”
Damn. There went Suriel’s chances. She could muster some useful arcane magic, but without Corellon, she could not even take one of her foes with her.
“Varzynthiir,” she murmured as she backed toward the destroyed statue. “If there was ever a time not to listen to your mistress, this was it.”
Even as the knife-wielding priests stalked toward her, hissing, something moved in the shadows. Suriel’s heart leaped.
Something glittered as it flew, end over end, out of the darkness toward her. She caught it by the hilt, holding it awkwardly. It was a longsword, slightly curved, but clearly not magical. It had no adornments of any kind. What was she to do with this?
“What?” said the nearest priest. “Where did that—?”
Suriel realized—of a sudden—that it fit her hand impossibly well. It was part of her movements, that without a sword, she would be naked. She felt like she’d been carrying a sword all her life.
The shard of moonlight in her hand glowed with a violent need, and she would assuage that desire. She pressed the bit of steel to the sword in her hand, and it fused to the steel, tracing along its edge like running silver. It grew around the blade, which became a sinuous whole that burned with inner moonlight.
And oddly, Suriel felt like dancing.
Then one of the priestesses who’d hung back gave a shriek that became a wet gurgle as her throat exploded in blood, and a shadowy form shot past her. The second priestess cried out to Shar and defended herself.
That was all Suriel could see before her attackers charged her. She parried one, moving with a speed and grace she wouldn’t have thought possible, and flowed into the next parry like a dancer. The blade moved to defend her of its own accord. She spun, dragged the sword across one man’s arm, and eluded the seeking blade of the other. This priest, increasingly frustrated, jabbed at her relentlessly, but she had no fear. She danced, parrying two cuts of a dagger before slamming the pommel into the man’s face. He crumpled.
The priestess screamed as her shadowy attacker drove blades into her, leaving her bleeding on the ground. Suriel’s heart went out to the woman, as evil as she was, but she didn’t have the time to think about that. Her own final attacker cast a spell, ensnaring her with a loop of darkness, but she cut it aside with her sword. The steel left a swath of moonlight in its wake, forming a shield around her that staved off the man’s darkness. He staggered back, dumbfounded, and a knife blade burst through his throat. He slumped to the ground.
Suriel was lost in the deadly dance—the grace and beauty of it, something she’d hardly even imagined for years upon years. She’d had her scars since she was very young, and hadn’t dreamed of dancing for others or even herself since then. Now . . .
She whirled to a stop, panting and thrilled in the moonlight spilling through the gap in the roof. All four of the priests were dead--cut expertly with only the least wounds necessary. It was brutal, but it was efficient. Familiar.
"Thank you Varzynthiir,” she said, reaching for him. “I—”
But the shadowy figure pulled away from her touch, nestled deeper in the darkness. Her savior drew back and was about to leave.
“Wait,” she said. “Who—?”
The shadowy man stopped and turned back. He stood in the darkness, but in the dim moonlight, his face was barely visible: a dark drow face covered by a black velvet mask, with one gleaming gold eye and one red eye. He smiled at her, revealing sharp white teeth beneath his mask.
Then the drow was gone.