Elves weren’t welcome in Hillsfar. In fact it didn’t welcome anyone not human, and at that only certain approved individuals were allowed access to the city. We skirted around the edge of the city to bypass it and meet the going south into Cormanthor. We needed supplies. Our journey wouldn’t be a terribly long one and we were moving as quickly as possible, but we had nothing to eat or drink and none of us, even Eshrin who grew up in Harrowdale, was familiar with the terrain inside the forest. We decided to send someone into Hillsfar to collect a couple days worth of rations and water. Eshrin and Nolan would go. We decided the combination of their talents was the best were capable and complimented each other best in the event that things should go badly. While Maeve and I looked human enough there was a chance we would be found out so we thought it was best that actual humans go.
They set off with the meager money we had left and the rest of us moved off the road into the cover of the trees. The place was beautiful. Sitting under those huge green trees I fantasized about the ancient elven empire that once blossomed here. I had read about ancient Myth Drannor in my years at the temple and now that wonderful place, teeming with people of every species, all welcomed and accepted, filled my thoughts. I dreamed of wonderful grand balls, dancing in the streets under dangling lanterns. Laughing with friends and loved ones drinking the finest wines. I dreamed of beautiful maidens and handsome suitors and the romance they shared. It was probably all little more than the romantic musings of a starry eyed girl, doubtful life was any different there than in any other place in the world. But it felt good to imagine, and it made me smile. I played my flute for some time and Maeve produced her lyre and played along. It was a beautiful.
Eventually Eshrin and Nolan returned. The money we had hadn’t bought much. But it would get us to Harrowdale. How we would afford passage from there was questionable, but Eshrin had grown up there and his house had been no small one. He said he still had some influence and some friends there. He would get us passage and supplies. So we headed south until the road forked. From there we took a trail that moved both south and east. We didn’t know what to expect as we traveled. We were all nervous, expecting to be ambushed by anything from terrible monsters to elves. As we neared the forests border Rhia whispered that we were being stalked. I looked around but saw nothing. It amazed me how Rhia could simply glance into the wood and tell that sort of thing, but then she had lived in a forest most of her life so she would know how to read it best.
Eshrin asked her where our stalkers were, probably so he could plan the battlefield. He was good at that, I had noticed long ago. When battle seemed imminent he always seemed to find the best ground to defend and always knew where to put each to best utilize our fighting skills. Despite everything that had happened recently, I still felt safer and in good hands with Eshrin leading when it was time to draw blades. I still spooked at the prospect of battle but when he barked orders to us in preparation I felt confident we would weather anything that came at us.
Rhias eyes were roaming everywhere but her head never turned. Peck was gone, I hadn’t noticed him leave, but he wasn’t on his usual perch on her shoulder or in his hiding hole on her pack. "To the back and rear, but not in front."
Eshrin didn’t stop his pace, "Can you see what it is?"
"No, but they’re smart, and stealthy. Maybe elves."
Tralin relaxed visibly. He hadn’t said much of anything since we had escaped the Zhentarim. I thought he still harbored a bit of anger at Eshrin. I couldn’t blame him really. I could forgive easily enough, but I also knew the others believed me to be somewhat naive, so it wasn’t so easy a thing for them. They had been close friends and the betrayal must have stung Tralin deeply. He would come around soon enough, I though, after all he must understand about Eshrins sister and sympathize. I didn’t think I would betray friends for one persons sake, but I also couldn’t begrudge a man his love of his family.
Rhia started, "Something up ahead! Not one of our watchers!"
Before anyone could react the wood in front of us erupted, belching forth 6 creatures. They were large and gliding through the air. Long black wings stretched out making the things look like large black blankets, or even cloaks. Short, bony tails dangled from their rears. Bright red eyes glared out and underneath them a wide slit of a mouth gaped open, lined with terrible sharp teeth. I reacted fast, so did Rhia. I had my daggers out and ready in an instant, and arrows sailed past to thump into one of the creatures. It let out a horrible moan and I felt a wave of shivers run over me but nothing more. Eshrin yelped and dropped to his knees. Then another let out a moan, equally as terrible but different. I thought they may be talking to each other but the moans seemed directed at us. Galens eyes went blank and his hands dropped to his side. He just stood there as the monsters came on, not even preparing to defend himself. Of the other four monsters one flew in to land on Eshrin and wrap him in its wings, another did the same to Galen. The other two fanned out and turned to face the direction they came from as if waiting to meet a charge. Nolans mace was in his hand and he let chanted out a prayer as he rushed to beat at the monster on Eshrin. The things tail lashed out at him but glanced off his armor. The a brightly gray scythe appeared in the air next to him. It glowed and had a wicked and long blade. It slashed down at the monster tearing a mean gash through its flesh. Truly that was the weapon of the god of death if he had one! Blue balls of magic pounded into the same creature as the scythe drew back for another slash, and I knew they came from Tralin. Though we were in terrible danger I couldn’t help but smile, he cared for his friend yet.
Maeve began singing as she charged forward, waving her sword menacingly at the monster engulfing Galen. The things tail lashed out at her but rolled at it came at her and it slid past her uselessly. I chose that as my target and while it was concentrating on Maeve and Galen I slunk up to its back as silently as I could then jumped onto it, wrapping my lags around to hold on and banging my blades down into its back. I had to clench my legs tightly to keep from falling off as it squirmed under me and I twisted my daggers to the sides. Rhia let fly at one of the ones who had moaned at us. I couldn’t see whether the arrows found a mark or not.
Then the forest erupted again, and our stalkers rushed into the fray. They were drow! They dispatched the two monsters who had moaned almost immediately. I could see the terror on Maeves face, and she backed of from the monster and assumed a defensive position near Tralin and Rhia. Rhias voice rang out, "Drow!" Nolan jerked and turned, and it cost him, Eshrins attackers tail impaled itself deeply in his side and he yelped out in pain. The one I rode released its grip on Galen and tried to twist free of me. We both toppled to the ground and as it lifted into the air to fly away from me I ran my new dagger down its belly. Its entrails dropped onto me and caused me to lose my balance and stumble into its now grounded corpse. And I fell. The two monsters that had stayed back tried to rush out the way they had come just to fly headlong into more drow who promptly cut them down as well.
Galen shoot off whatever it was affecting him and yelped when he saw the drow. He picked up his sword and began backing off to the others. Nolan dropped his mace and grabbed onto the tail and began trying to pull it out while his scythe slashed again at the monster cutting it deeply again. It released Eshrin and darted straight up ripping its tail out of Nolan as it did. He screamed and a hail of arrows peppered the monster from even more drow I couldn’t see. I went tumbling down into the wood, its momentum carrying it away from the battlefield.
Eshrins chest and part of his face were torn up and he was writhing with the pain. Nolan dropped to his knees and chanted a prayer and Eshrins wounds seemed to lessen, but only a little. They both gripped their weapons and looked anxiously at the drow. The others stood with Galen a and Rhia on each side of Tralin and Maeve who were huddled together looking like they were both ready to loose arcane destruction in a seconds time. Tralins expression was one of outright hatred and his face wore a terrifying sneer. I was by myself. I had spent my whole life around drow so I didn’t have the instinctual fear of them all the others seemed to. But I also knew what drow were capable of. In my time at the temple we I had been taught that drow were redeemable and I would have to try to do just that now, or I would be failing my goddess, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did. But I also had heard the stories of what they were capable of. I had heard of the horrors of underdark cities, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified.
Tell them about the Goddess, give them the option to end the confrontation peacefully, but if combat must be met give no quarter. That was what I had to do.
Everyone and everything was quiet as I rose to my feet, both sides waiting for the other to act. My hands trembled as I sheathed my daggers, I would have to show peace to ask for peace. I reached up to my throat and gripped the amulet of devotion I wore. It was special to me. A thin silk strip from which a wooden disk with the symbol of Eilistraee carved into both sides dangled. Jesimae had carved it for me and we had painted it together. Yellow for the moon, black for the goddess and white for her hair. Bright silver for the sword she raised up to the moon. Amulet in hand I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer to the goddess for help and should it be necessary, protection. I was no priestess, and I never heard the voice of my goddess like they did, nor could I cast magic like they did, but I knew she was with me anyway, she loved me as much as anyone else, even if I wasn’t drow or elf, even if I was what I was. Maybe more for it. I took a breath, held my hands out open, and stepped towards them.
In my best drow, "Well met. There is no need to fight, there can be peace between us." I reached up and showed them my amulet, "If you’ll let me I can tell you about the daughter of your Spider Queen. She is a lover of drow and far less cruel than Lolth."
The lead woman laughed, but not the evil laugh I was expecting, but rather a warm and amused laugh. Maybe I had won a convert already! "Brave girl, we are followers of the Dark Maiden, there’s no need to tell us." With that she drew out her own amulet to show me. I felt my face burn in embarrassment, and heard a few chuckles from the group of drow.
I turned to my companions, Nolan and Eshrin had crawled to join the others, "They are followers of Eilistraee and no threat." They relaxed visibly, except Tralin who seemed barely able to hide his disgust. The lead woman smiled a bit and said, "You’re no drow, nor even elf. How did you come to follow the Dark Maiden?" I opened my mouth to reply but before I could she said, "Come, rest with us and take a meal. You can tell us your story then." She said it in common. I looked at the others, Eshrin shrugged, Maeve and Galen nodded, the others did nothing. I turned back to the drow, "We would like that." She smiled again and led us deeper into the forest.
Their temple was beautiful. More grove and grotto than temple, it was open under the sky, with a ring of trees cleared from the center to leave room for dancing, and a small, clear pool. Beautifully carved stone benches were scattered around the area, for prayed, reflection, and simple enjoyment of the place I thought. Tucked further back was a building and that’s where we headed. Inside it was fairly plain, there was very little decoration but many windows to light the place. It opened to a sitting room with soft couches, beyond that were the dormitories, and a kitchen. The lead drow, Jhaelnya, told us that beyond the building we were in, in the mouth of a small cave, were a few more buildings to house the non clergy community as well as house a smithy, some small fields for growing food, and a few other necessities. She told us to make ourselves comfortable in the sitting room and disappeared into the kitchen.
Eshrin whispered to us, "Doesn’t the idea of drow who don’t want to cut your throat out to eat seem surreal? After the visit with the ones in Skullport I thought I could get used to the idea, but I was wrong."
Rhia rolled her eyes, Maeve chuckled a bit. Galen just shook his head and Nolan responded, "Not at all."
Tralin sneered, "There are no good drow."
I stared at Tralin a moment but bit my tongue before I said what I wanted to.
Jhaelnya returned after just a few moments, "The meal will be ready soon. Now, tell me your story." So I did. I told her the circumstances of my birth, my raising, the work I did for my temple, I even told her about our mission. Since it involved the drow so long ago I thought the drow of today should know about it, besides I trusted them, they were priestesses of Eilistraee. Tralin scowled at me the entire time I spoke and everyone did when I talked about our mission.
The meal was delicious, but then any would be after living off the dungeon gruel and trail rations we had had for the last weeks. There was actual meats and vegetables, and I rolled them on my tongue to savor the taste. Something I had always taken for granted was the taste of good food, but lately I had learned to appreciate it all the more, and I did. The wine was the best in the world, at least at that time on my tongue in particular it was. I ate until I was full, then I ate more just for the sake of eating it. Looking around the table I saw my companions tearing into their meals with equal ferocity, even Tralin seemed to have forgot his animosity for the drow long enough to enjoy the meal they brought for him. Galen, however, took small proper bites and made small talk, addressing each woman at the table with respect and title. The drow women seemed to think this was humorous much to his discomfort, and I could see that they all liked him. I thought that, though he kept a straight face, he must have been smiling inside also.
After the meal Jhaelnya invited me to join them for the evenings song and dance. I agreed and we went out to the grove. It was a clear night with the bright moonlight illuminating everything, sparkling on the pond. Star shone all across the sky. It was beautiful. We shed out clothing and danced and sang. I felt as if I was back home and it felt good to do things I knew. Though they were all half a world away I could imagine all my friends, my family, dancing with me. They weren’t here but I knew they danced under the same moon and I was in their thoughts as they were in mine. And that was enough. I felt all my fears and doubts slip away like a cloak falling off my shoulders. Maybe they would only have left me for the night, but I would take just one night if that was all I was to have.
Sometime during it all I stopped singing and collected up my flute. I played as I danced and the others sang. I played the Soul of Whren, but it was longer now, more had been added to it since first I had played it. I could hear the rush of the waves of the sea on the beach as I played it, and I could see the waves coming towards me to wash away all that was wrong, I could feel it swaying me to its music, to my music, and I danced with it.
Then I saw the dark man, he came towards me cackling, his arms reaching out for me, I could feel myself losing control. but then a wave washed over me and my control was stronger, then another, and another and I was fully in control, it could not take me. The man frowned but before he could do anything a huge wave washed past me. It was very warm and as it passed me I could see my friends in it. All of them, everyone from my temple back home, the men and women I traveled with, and even these new drow I had just met, but cresting it was the most beautiful drow woman I had ever seen, with flowing silver hair and a glowing long blade in her hand. That same warm wave that washed over and protected me slammed into the man with a terrible violence and he disappeared, then it receded back into the sea. A beautiful female voice whispered into my ear, "Endure."
The sun was just rising when I woke. I was laying in the grotto, morning dew glistened all over me but I didn’t feel cold. I was clutching my flute. I saw there a moment clutching my flute and thinking of my dream. My clothes were all in a pile where I had left them the night before so I quickly got dressed and headed to the building to meet up with my friends. My amulet was missing. I looked all over the clearing for it but I just couldn’t find it.
Everyone was gathered in the sitting room, they had been given dormitories to sleep in over night, I had as well but it turned out I slept under the stars. Jhaelnya was there also and she had a bundle with her. "If the Harpers and our sister temple back your quest then we will too. You have a safe haven here, and should you need our aid all you need do is ask. We have prepared some things to help you." She unfolded her bundle and brought out several items To Tralin she gave a wand, and from the look on his face a powerful and valuable one at that. To Rhia she gave a beautiful bow made of dark polished wood. For Galen they had placed protective magics on his armor making it all the more potent. Eshrin received a belt that would augment his strength. Maeve was given a new and beautiful lyre to replace her old one. To Nolan went ring that would help him resist the effects of some non physical attacks so that he would always be able to help his companions with his magic.
The Jhaelnya came to me and presented me with my own amulet, "For our brave missionary." She smiled and there was a brief chuckle from the other drow in the room. I could feel my face burning and knew I was blushing again, "This will now provide you some protection and it will help you in your dealings with others." I smiled and took it. When I put it on I felt a warmth flow through me, it passed quickly but it felt good.
We left, heading to HIllsfar soon after that. We were already close so it didnt take long. We arrived early in the day and Eshrin left to secure us passage on a ship. The town wasn't a large one, though I was told it had grown quite a bit in recent years. It wasn't as packed together like other cities, like Waterdeep, but was far more spread out, more rural, like Shadowdale had been. I like the place and I could smell the sea, which made the place all the more appealing to me. We found and inn, a nice and comfortable one to and had the midday meal. Soon enough Eshrin found us, the boat we would be taking was to leave in just a few hours. We gathered our things and headed to the docks.
It was a big ship and I was excited to sail. I could hardly contain my excitement when we finally set out. It was like the day I left Waterdeep when we glided on the waves away from Harrowdale. With the salty, cool breeze on my face I smiled.
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