“You!” came the accusation. “Your the one who let my family die!”
I heard this as I walked silently into the opening of the ancient temple of the Maiden, just outside Myth Drannor.
There at the top of the crumbled steps stood an elf, not just any kind though, a pure bred sun elf. I felt the growl in my throat rise almost imperceptibly and forced it back down. He pushed himself from the fallen statue he was leaning against, its massive size making him seem smaller.
His golden eyes seemed almost cat like and his hair, almost as red as mine was trimmed neatly and tied back.
I eyed him with caution as I let my pack slip from my shoulders with a dull thump. I could not recognize this one though he reeked of power. “Who addresses me with such an accusation, I have not seen you before or if I have you are forgotten.”
His lips curled back into a cruel sneer. “I would expect no less from the heiress of a fallen house and crown.” His hand went to his sword as the sun broke through the trees and seemed to grace him with its light and it was then I knew my test was upon me.
“Look on me well. Do you not remember? It has been long yet I have lived with this day in my heart for millennia.” He stood still and put his arms out. “Look upon me Valsharen Cartel Val’Hune, and remember.”
The last I could remember of seeing any of his kin, with any violence around was during the Crown Wars. Yet those memories so chaotic, so bloody I had repressed since the Descent.
As I looked upon him and his features, I could see nothing to recognize except upon his sword and there the sigils of Corellon.
It was then my eyes alighted on the mithril ring upon his finger, The large ruby and the carven sigil of his House.
Their name, once feared is now the most foul of curses amongst all tel’quessir, even drow. The disgust in my voice, however can not hide my surprise. “Vyshaan….” and my mind races through all of its past quickly until I can place this face.
The family was stricken, destroyed later, yet here and now in this thought I see it all.
This was a young child, who was thrust into my arms and then one of my soldiers, as we stood between the opposed armies of my family and that of the Keltormir. This child and his minor family of the Vyshaan were found in the wreckage of the baggage train behind the lines that was raided. It was why we arrived. It was where I earned my father’s hatred and lost my sister’s and brother. Where I met HER for the first time.
For I followed what would later become the Dogma of the Dark Maiden, she who was then the Huntress, which then was only a calling, common sense, why are we slaughtering each other stop. And stop it quickly.
Yet we had arrived late. For the corrupted magics of the Weaver were new and it took time to circumvent them.
And seeing my family, killing and rending the helpless, those who could not fight or would not fight, those who were healers or others who had no military value I lost my sanity for a bit.
For I had constantly been at odds with my family over their use of wide destruction. I had even been sent forcibly back to the Huntress’s Temples several times, which of course they would let me leave.
And when I charged, when I struck out at both sides my troops behind me doing the same to quell the fighting between the two, it was a futile gesture as my family’s armies and their allies were numerous.
And it was fallen to me to fight the fallen and summoned beings my family had succored for their use.
Dragons left as I came forward and lessor demons fled wailing. Only the greater ones would stay and they fell.
And as the fighting stopped after that for its precious minutes of peace. And I used magic so all could here my questions, “Why? What madness drives us to slay each other? Come and collect your dead and wounded in peace.”
It was then I learned my brother, father’s treasure, was dead on the field. For my father and others came forward under truce while his soldiers claimed their dead.
His cold eyes looked on me then. Once those beautiful eyes of grey I remember since my first memories always smiled, yet now, all such love was lost. His voice cold and tempered with all the foul magics and power he had gotten from the Weaver and her servants.
“Heiress is all you shall ever be while I live or any of your sisters. You have become dhaerow to our family. How can you fight me, my Cartel?” his words were angry yet I could also feel sadness there.
“You were the best and the brightest of all my children and you have been since we arrived from beyond the veil.” Then his temper changed and his voice just as quickly. “Foul bitch of a child! Nothing but a fucking vyshaanti tool you are I should slay you here and now for fouling the very air we are breathing.”
And those around who I had known for centuries, corrupted as thoroughly as my father muttered in agreement. And behind them I saw two of my sisters, their ornate dragon helms, showing they were of the royal house. I called to them and asked if they too felt as our father did. My sisters were always outspoken no matter to whom. For they were the true spoiled ones, the youngest of the family.
Their foul curses and descriptions of what would be done to me if I returned home made my status quite clear. “You are eldest and by custom and law you are to be Coronet when father dies. Yet we will ensure we live to keep you from your throne.”
I watched as the summoned ones gathered about and my mind kept them at bay. It was a struggle to do such for they were many and doing so much at once. My eyes never closed but all seemed to be distant and almost as if I was under water until.
The hand touching my shoulder, the voice whispering in my ear, brought me back. And it was as if a cord snapped and I did realize what was happening as the summoned ones faded back and my father’s eyes burned angrily.
“My Lady we have found a woman and child.” came my captain’s whisper. “They seem to be the Lady and child of Keltormir.”
I nodded and whispered back. “And their people?” “None my Lady.” “Succor them with our people and pull back quickly before the moon fades.”
My captain ran off with her orders as I turned to my father and sisters. I looked at them from under my helmet and then took it from my head and shook my hair loose.
“Coronal Hune.” I began formally as my hands tied my helm to my belt. “Please give your eldest her chance to speak.”
I watched as my sisters looked to our father then I saw a hand come upon his shoulder and a dark and beautiful woman whisper to his helm and then her eyes turned and looked at me as my sisters gave way.
In those dark eyes I saw flame. I felt the darkness in her and took a step back then regained my composure and took that step to where I was. Her eyes watching my movement and a smiled crossed her face.
Her voice was sweet. It was compelling and it conveyed with finality all I needed to know who and what was before me.
“I think not. Ar’Cartel you are his eldest, yet you do not know what has been done to our people and what we must do to claim what is ours.” She stepped out from behind father and I saw my sisters heads nod in a bow as did others about them.
“Come and let us speak of this Tarien of Hune.” She stepped forward and it was as if I could feel and see her power about me. As it snaked out and seemed as a spiders web all about my family there as it reached for me and in these threads of darkness one silver thread that came from me as the others seemed to try and bend and twist it.
With a cry I loosed myself and the silvery thread as well as the dark ones about me were severed and fell and she recoiled in shock. Which showed on her face as she instantly recovered.
Her eyes narrowed on me as I spoke. “My fate is mine Weaver. I have cut my tie. I am my own and not even you can make me do other then what I wish.”
She grew darker and taller and her eyes flared her voice hurt my very mind as she spoke. I gritted my teeth as it felt as if the very air was splitting at her anger.
“You are strong Tarien Ar’Cartel of Hune. You are going to be a worthy foe. Yet until that time I do curse you. No sons shall you have. All you shall ever bear is daughters. And all those shall be mine. My shells and I shall come unto them and I will claim whatever world they are upon.” she strode forward and it was as if the entire world shook with her steps and she stopped short of me for I had begun to be ready for combat and my aura grew and was let loose as it was beyond the veil to the Feywild.
The brightness of my aura, once as stunning as the thousand fold sun, was just as bright as her darkness and where the light and darkness touched fire and lightning came. We both stepped back from one another sensing what could happen.
Her hissing sounded unlike the hiss of the great spiders of the forest as she cursed me. “Until the day you defeat the sword of the sun, this will be.” And even with my protections as full as I could I felt the curse land. Weakened yes it was. But still it landed upon me.
She turned and cackled and laughed at me. Then her voice came low and hissing as she seemed to appear within arm’s reach yet no closer as flickering lights of our aura’s meeting flashed, “You will be the last living of your bloodline. After this coming battle you shall be the last.”
The Weaver turned with a flourish and hissing of herself and her silks even as I imagined the chittering of a million insects, angry and wanting my blood. She raised her arms and they all turned away.
Away my family turned from me, leaving their dead and dying. I watched as the last of them, my youngest sister looked on me. Her golden eyes once beautiful, red and angry. Yet upon her face seemed a look of pain of need. My hand came up and my voice came as a whisper calling to her.
She looked upon me one last time and I could hear her inner-self crying out in confusion even as she turned her face from me and trod away.
And finally turn away I did, diminishing and returning to my people my heart heavy with what I had seen heard and felt. I turned back to look one last time and at my ear I heard the familiar whisper of the Huntress, “Come cousin leave this place.” and felt her hand on my back.
Lifting my helm over my head fingers buckling it mechanically, I moved silently and quickly to our rendezvous, my heart and mind heavy with what was to come.
When I arrived they were breaking camp quickly as they were taught and I looked upon the Lady of Keltormir.
Her beauty apparent even in the midst of all her injuries. She was proud and it showed in her movements even in her infirmity.
I knelt beside her and she reached out and touched my head. “Daughter of Hune. What have you done for us?” I looked up to her eyes tired and worn and her body broken from within from magics and spiritual combat. “I have done what I must Coronet Keltormir.” Her eyes already sad and knowing there was nothing we could do for her, seemed to sadden more. “I felt and heard Tarien Ar’Cartel d’Hune, try not to hide such from me.” She coughed and blood came frothy from her injuries and dropping my helm I dabbed her lips with my own hair. “You can not return beyond the veil. What madness is upon you to step between them?” I smiled as I felt her cold hand touch my cheek. “Cornet Keltomir we have lost our way as a people, what else can I do?”
She coughed more, deep and body wracking they were and her end was near. Her voice came soft almost a whisper.
“My son, Del’tomin, is heir to Keltormir. Take care of him please Tarien Ar’Cartel of Hune. I can no longer do such. Perhaps it will mend our people again.”
I turned my head to look at the boy, his red hair bright like shining copper and his gold eyes like a lion’s eyes. I gestured to him. “Del’tomin. Come here and bid your mother farewell, there is nothing I can do for her.”
He came close and hugged and cried against her broken form. She told him I would look out for him and see him to safety.
Hours later we stopped our march and found a hill to make her cairn, its top bare from the weather and kissed by the sun. We danced and sang to her passing asking for The Father and the Huntress to watch over her and guide her.
And it was strange when we finished and had to leave to feel the young boys hand grasp mine as if life itself could only be maintained by his doing such.
“Del’tomin…Del’tomin Keltormir d’Vyshaan?” I whispered as he stretched and pointed at me. I looked down at my hand and flexed it at my side still feeling his brave yet trembling grip upon mine so far back into the mists.
“Ahhh see you do not forget it just takes moments to remember things from so long ago.”
I stood my ground as he began to descend the steps, stupidly giving away his advantage. “What do you have against me Del?” came my question. “Did I not succor you and your mother? Did I not give her a proper and honorable burial? Did I not do as I was asked and care for you and take you to safety?”
He snarled at each item and question until I asked the last. “Why would you dishonor your mother so?”
“Bitch!” and he swung his empty hand and arm at me in anger as he stopped several steps above. “What would you know of honor? You wallow in dishonor as did your entire family and all of your dark misbegotten people.”
“The priests of Corellon raised me after you left. They always gave me tales of your people and you specifically.” the sneer upon his face making him look not proud and beautiful but ugly and evil.
“The bladesinger you left as my body guard, he taught me well and sadly when he had heard enough, a century or so later, of my deriding you and your name and your abilities, well he fell in a duel. Properly given and properly witnessed.”
I shook with rage for the duel was a sham. I knew it, just from his words and his actions. And Bertholn’s body was left to rot somewhere in the forests and I could see where, I KNEW where.
My body began to quiver yet I regained my control. I calmed myself the words of the Huntress in my mind. “Always be calm, always wait. Patience. Watch, listen, learn and when you have all to know strike.”
“Come now you have been my surrogate mother for centuries. All you sent to raise me and protect me what I did not need I gave to the church.” he took a step down and sneered as he raised his hands upward as if suggesting I should have known all along. “The church of Corellon has always praised and thanked you for your generous donations.”
I nodded and reached to my belt and retrieved a leather cord and began to tie up my hair. “Let us do this. At sunrise, when your god rises and mine goes to sleep. I will give you the advantage of such assistance and you may also have the steps.”
He smiled. “So generous are your terms. Are there others you wish to add?”
I shook my head as I let my pack and cloak fall away. Before this boy, I stood as I had when I came from beyond the veil, as I did when I knelt before the Huntress/Maiden begging for forgiveness and acceptance. As I danced every night. Skyclad.
I heard his intake of breath even as I spoke. “None that one such as you would agree to.” And I sat then in the lotus with my sword across my knees and waited.
Del’tomin looked upon the body of one of the eldest, most beautiful and powerful of all the Tel’Quessir. Upon her body scars of weapons and magic and betwixt them all silvery tattoos caressed and joined all of them together. Her brilliant blue eyes began to shine in the waning daylight, as she sat down before him at the base of the stair. His lust rose but his anger washed it quickly away.
“He is high now whore. It is time to for you to die.” and I watched as he sword danced the graceful moves not of his family style, but of mine. The Death of the Nine, a powerful song and strike, yet.
His eyes widened and his jaw tightened in anger as he screamed at me, accusing me of trickery and dishonor when the hard air stopped his sword and grasped it.
I chuckled then and it felt good a release of tension. “You accepted my terms in a holy place. As the Chosen of your god from a Chosen of another god. Neither will let the terms be broken. I advise you to meditate and rest Del. We have until dawn tomorrow.”
He pulled his sword from the hard air and with a snick the long sword went home in its scabbard. He turned his back and went to the top of the ancient stairs and sat as I did and waited as I did.
As the day began to turn to twilight, I felt them arriving. The eyes slowly appearing before the shadowy outlines of their forms. I felt the corner of my mouth turn up in a slight smile. Not soon after the first ones arrived, Del’tomin finally sensed their presence.
“What trickery is this?” came his voice full of anger. “Called for allies to help you defeat me?” I felt and heard him stand. “Ever deceitful was your family and your people!” I heard the sharp sweep of his sword being drawn and I raised my hand quickly and spoke rapidly without opening my eyes.
“Del’tomin Keltormir d’Vyshaan! Hold your ground and place. None arriving shall interfere with our meeting in the dawn. These are but the watchers and witnesses of our meeting arriving.”
I could feel him hesitate and the light shuffle of his feet as he looked about as more and more arrived.
Many were just summoned others must have known from dreams or visions. Druids, animals, dwarves, humans, orcs, angel, demon and devil. All knew or felt the reason to be here. Even slithering from the shadows came one of the Weaver’s handmaids.
Yet here none of them held any power, such was the Law set down and even obeyed by those we call gods.
Del’tomin’s voice hissed at me again. “What do you mean witnesses and watchers? All manner of fell and lowly races are here!” Murmurs came from all those circled around us, his temper and arrogance a true Vyshann trait, only served to anger all those about.
“Del, for once listen with a clear mind. You are the chosen of the father. He will either be with you or not. I am the chosen of his daughter. She will either be with me or not. However in the law and eyes of the gods, we shall be them. So there will be witnesses to carry out the news of what happens from this holy place so all will know.
Del’tomin snorted, “Why must there be such? It will be easy to declare when I take your sword and your head back to Evermeet and show it along the way.”
Shaking her head Cartel let her eyes open and the tinge of silvery light made them shine like gimlets in the encroaching darkness. They looked upon the young one who she rescued so many centuries ago and truly looked upon him. For but a brief moment she saw something then her mind snapped away.
However this ended quickly as she felt the presence in the area. Her eyes closed and in her mind she had come. Her long hair flowing just above her feet as she walked silently to stand before her oldest priestess and faithful friend.
Her skin was as dark as the night and the stars seemed to be part of her body, its every curve and space a delight for the eyes. Cartel gulped as she ever was taken with desire for her goddess her eyes however in true drow fashion met those of her goddess and they both took full measure of one another. Each smiled as if practiced at the other.
“Cousin I can not stand with you. This is your task alone. It will be for you, your honor and yours alone.” She stood to her full height and made this pronouncement to all. Yet she added, “My father and I require though that all here witness according to the Law. And if you doubt my words…” her arms raised above her head and her mouth moved noiselessly as the moon became as the sun shining as if it was daylight and there by his daughter was he, who I despised, the father of the maiden, Corelleon Larethian, god of the Tel’quessir.
I saw from the corner of my eye Del’tomin bend to his knee at this sight and he spoke to Del’tomin as his daughter had spoken to me. Del’tomin’s eyes grew wide and his body shook hearing these words. All assembled agreed to his request and that of the Maiden. And as I felt his gaze fall upon me I stood before him and looked into his eyes.
Long it seemed we stared into each other before I felt his words to me. “Ever have you been Ar’Cartel d’Hune. Coronal of your family and your people. Even I have never lost faith in you.” And with that they were gone.
It was as I stood there in wonder at his words to my mind that I did not notice the sun peek above the hills. And at the last moment I moved, feeling the air and the song coming toward me. I had rolled and then jumped away yet behind was most of my hair as it was cut as it stayed as my body moved.
Del’tomin breathed hard and then immediately came toward me his sword and movements flashing. Beautiful and graceful they were and traces of not only my family in his moves but that of Vyshaan. These I knew and I blocked with my blade still sheathed as the song and spell with it faded away as wisps of smoke before me.
Pirouetting lightly back I came to rest my sheathed sword tapping my shoulder in time to my feet and body swaying.
“How in the Nine Hells did you see and block that?!” came his angry cry as he came in sweeping low to high then mid in a graceful arc and diagonal. The song struck the rocks behind me and burst them to dust.
Yet the smile left his face when he saw my form still dancing in the dust as it settled, leaving my body grey with dark streaks from beneath my arms.
I broke the rule I had always taught then and rested. My sword across my shoulders and my other hand upon my cocked hip. I strode forward my hips moving suggestively and I heard some laughter from those gathered.
I stopped when the lowered point of his sword touched my knee. “Del’tomin, is your Ai’Naneth to nimble for you?”
He moved as the wind silently and swiftly yet he still was too slow as my hilt came under his sword arm and lifted him into the air as I did a flip and kicked him back up to the top of the stair to smash against the stones.
Slowly I walked up the stairs and along the way picked up his sword. I twirled it in my hand and looked upon it. It was his father’s and I looked upon it with awe for it seemed to cry as I held it. I could hear it pleading voicelessly with me. Then my eyes lit upon Del as I crested the stair.
I slid his father’s sword to him as he stood and struggled to rise from the impact and the crumbled masonry around him.
“Witch. Sor…sorceress.” he spat and I saw a few teeth come from his mouth as well as blood. Grabbing his side he stepped warily to his father’s sword. “No one moves that fast. Not even amongst our people.”
He stood his sword moving in great flourish as my eyebrow raised at his words. “You will fall ValsharenCartel d’Hune and our people will have some peace.”
It was then the words of he who I despised rang again in my head. “Even I have never lost faith in you.”
My sword arm went limp and fell to my side and the sheathed weapon clattered to the stone from my fingers. “As you have said Del’tomin. I am of the people. The Tel’Quessir, I will fight you no longer.”
His eyes gleamed at those words and he came forward rushing his sword low. I braced for it, I have known the death pains before yet this was not such.
At the last moment it seemed as though his arm jerked aside and the blade went through me. I grabbed him and tumbled over backward. My hands grabbed his garb by his chest and over we rolled. And his eyes grew wide as he found himself below me and I astraddle him.
My blood ran down over his fingers and he gazed at it and the look in his eye was of wonder. “Your…your…its not red.”
“I will not fight you Del’tomin d’Keltomir.” I raised my hand as a knife, my mind focused and the energy from it crackling about that raised hand. “However I will save you!” and I thrust my hand downward into his body. His scream rent the air as his right hand beat against my leg which blocked his dagger from him.
“Forgive me, the pain.” I whispered as the images of the boy flashed through my mind even as my hand grasped the darkness about his soul and began to rip it from him. The taint was here. Small but ancient from so long ago. I had never thought to look, never dreamed to look and I realized my failure so long ago.
I felt the hissing and screams of anger from far away as they sounded in my head many times before. I remembered the gloating face and silent chuckles of evil that sent me to destroy my people when I had pitched myself supposedly to my death.
And I smiled back at her and laughed at her as I ripped the darkness she wove into his soul from him.
I pulled it from him with a cry of agony from us both and held it up to the sun and watched as it smoked and writhed and blew away under the light.
His hands fell limp to his side as I pushed up and away from him. I heard myself scream in pain as the sword’s movements grated against my lowest ribs, yet I did not look down as my hand reached for the sword.
I grabbed the hilt and the sword began to sing…happy, joyful it sounded as I pulled it from my body. And in that moment before my world went black, I saw the elf I once knew as Coronal Keltomir bow to me as if to thank me.