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And Why I Decided Not To Destroy Her
By Elminster of Shadowdale (Ed Greenwood)
Know, devourers of Realmslore, that I am he called Elminster, though I am often called far less polite things, and I lie to thee far less often than most of you think. That's not to say I speak half as many truths as most of ye'd prefer me to. Tragic, that. 'Tis my customary way to keep silent about all the matters I juggle and the decisions I make. 'Twould not do for all Faerûn to know how ruthless I must often be, and, even worse, how merciful and overly kind I customarily am.
Yet candor cleanses the soul and is so foreign to those of us who weave spells (and often delight in wearing cloaks of mystery) that I like to indulge myself, betimes, in Telling All.
And if I'm to reveal so much, why not have it be about something that matters to all of ye in the Realms and not just to those who delight in knowing the petty secrets of other folk?
Ye may, of course, choose to walk away now and veil thine ears to remain blissfully ignorant. Few of ye have such inhuman strength, for 'tis the nature of humans to want to Know All. 'Tis bred into us, our road -- that and our swift, bountiful breeding -- to dominance in this often harsh, competitive world.
So hearken, and learn of spellfire and the lass who most recently bore it. Learn not as we of the Chosen command it, which is as something bound up in Mystra's silver fire and feared even by us for its potential for undoing and going wild and wreaking havoc, but as wild and willful as anything a proud youngling can hurl at the world to make that world take notice and grant respect.
'Tis the blessing and doom of most humans that they forget what is past, remembering only what they choose to, and when the weight of years grows heavy, not even so much. I've no immunity to this doom, but the first Mystra I served was mindful of it, and the second actively fears it, and both gave me certain guards against 'the forgetting.' So 'tis that I can, when needful, recall my thoughts and what I saw and heard precisely.
Return with me, then, to my thoughts upon first gazing on Shandril of Highmoon as a woman of her own will (and not a wide-eyed slip of a child peeping wonderstruck at guests over a rail at Gorstag's inn) . . . .
So Dammasae's daughter bred true. 'Tis a pity for her, and for all the rest of us if I handle this awry. The first pity is that her life bids fair to never be carefree again and brutally cut short to boot. The second is that she may endanger all Faerûn and do much damage ere she dies. She may bring ruin to folk and towers and enchantments, leave realms wrecked and the orcs and goblins hunting the lands unchecked by all but the most fearsome beasts, and plunge most lands into a darkness from which not even their dimly remembered names may emerge.
So how seems this world-wrecker, then?
Hmmm. Not hard on the eyes, but an outward seeming is more often a deception than aught else.
Well, now . . . a spirited lass, all tongue and flounce and boldness, but -- thank Mystra -- with brains and backbone, it seems, to back them up. The latter allows me to refrain from slaying her out of hand so as to protect Shadowdale and all Faerûn against the magic-shattering monster she may well become. Yet that slaying may become necessary -- perhaps very soon, and I must be ready.
My fellow Chosen must be warned, as well as All Who Harp and certain others, for if one thing in Faerûn can be depended upon as surely as the sun rising some time after each moonfall, 'tis that those who snatch and seize magic for their own fell and cruel purposes will learn of this Shandril and attempt to seize her . . . if they know not of her already. Manshoon and his lot, the Cult of the Dragon, those of Luskan who style themselves "the Arcane," those who take childish delight in calling themselves the Twisted Rune, and the entire realm of Thay -- to say nothing of diverse beholders and Phaerimm, dragons, and scores of independent archmages, both mighty and those who merely consider themselves puissant -- will stretch out swords or spells or talons to pluck this spellfire for their own. Failing that, they will slay its source so as to deny it to their rivals.
Were I the sort of cold-hearted beast that calls itself Manshoon, or even Khelben, I might set a trap with this Shandril as the lure and sacrifice her mind or life to bring some of these dark workers of Art into my grasp for slaying or ravaging. Yet Mystra forbids such reckless harvesting of those who weave magic, and she even stands against attempts to harm those who follow Shar's darker path. As the sword and the fang give way to ever wider use of magic, Mystra grows ever in might, and her desire is more and more greatly fulfilled: that magic -- even magic worked by those who follow Shar or Bane or other gods -- become more prevalent and widespread, thus making Our Lady ever the greater.
What we Chosen are commanded to strike out against are those who seek to forbid magic to others, use it for tyranny that prevents others daring to work magic, or destroy spell-weavers out of hand. Most evil mages are the first sort of foe, Manshoon is often the second, and this Shandril Shessair is all too apt to become the third. So whether my heart warms toward this lass or not -- and I confess that, thus far, it doth, for she reminds me of mine own self of many centuries ago -- I may well be called upon to strike her down.
She has the potential and even the tendency to shatter and slay and pillage, for spellfire is all too often a thing that begins as the servant and ends up the master. Yet she also hath a chance to become an instrumental force for good and order and justice (three very different things, I must remember) in the Realms -- the more so because she walks her own road and cleaves not to privilege and noble station and orders given by those who desire to give them.
So I must not stand in her way -- yet. I must test her, to learn all I can of the extent and power of her spellfire (and her mastery of it) thus far, and more than that: in so doing, I must learn far more of her character and the handles by which I or anyone can move her. Doth her love for this young lad Narm -- as amiable and thus weak but generous a mageling as one can expect to find anywhere -- give one the means to compel her? I fear it doth, but will she crumple, fight in wild fury, or bide time to betray any who use her so?
How gullible is she, and how suspicious? How ignorant of the true ways of Faerûn, and how close-minded? Doth she trust on the basis of race or age or gender, or in what wise?
I confess me my heart leaps with admiration for this one, with her hunger for adventure and fierce desire to walk her own way and see justice done, while still giving thought to the needs of others. Faerûn could use a dozen kings who think as she doth.
Mystra, need I slay her yet, or can I let her run awhile?
I hope and I believe we can suffer her to live.
I must confess I've a hunger to see Manshoon and all the rest reach for her -- and have their fingers soundly scorched. Perhaps, just perhaps, she can teach them some of the lessons about magic and the rightful use of power she'll be learning in the days to come.
I'm looking forward to watching Faerûn discover the true measure of Shandril of Highmoon. The fire of her glory is apt to be doused soon, but let it burn bright while it lasts!
'Tis one fire I'll be proud to tend.
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