The Tale of Asharass
The tall hill offered a sheltered site near its crest, with trees that protected them from the weather and hid them from view. The horses were secured nearby and a small fire had been built with dry wood that hardly smoked.
Misara held the green stone in her hands, looking at the way the light of the raising sun sparkled in its depths. "We may soon have the answers we seek," she said.
"It's been a long journey, I am looking forward to finding out what this was all about." Rowan did not look up from the fire, her attention focused on a pot of water held over the flames.
"Yes. Come forth, I have questions," she called softly. A moment later the Historian stood amongst them.
He looked about and for a moment it appeared as if he might cry. "Thank you," he said to Misara.
"Sit down if you wish, or may. I have questions for you and it is time they were answered." She was a little brusque, but did not know how long he could remain, and she did not want to delay any longer.
"Of course," he said, taking a seat on a fallen log. "What is it you wish to know?"
"I seek information about someone or something called Asharass."
"Asharass. Asharass the terrible, the red, the scourge of the North, a story that would have been valuable to tell, long ago." His elvish, she noted, was not as archaic as she would have thought. Perhaps it was the nature of the magic in the curse that had been laid on him.
"There was only one Asharass?"
"Only one worth remembering."
"There was another name, Taumon. I think it is related."
He nodded. "Taumon and Asharass. They hated each other." He took a deep breath. "I rush ahead. The story starts long before even my time. It was a time when the Tel'Quessir were still new to Faerûn, when they challenged and drove back the dragons, the first to ever do so. Those actions earned our people many enemies, but they also earned us allies. Among those our people called friends in those days, one of the greatest was Taumon the Gold."
"Taumon was the greatest of the Gold Wyrms. A champion of good, and a true friend of the Tel'Quessir, with Taumon as their ally our people accomplished great things, fought off powerful enemies.
"However, even the great Wyrms are not completely immune to time, and his allies could see that soon death would claim him. Our people were not quite willing to lose such a friend and ally, and there were those that sought a way to allow him to live beyond even the great span allotted to dragons.
"Masters of magic and master craftspeople came together with the mission to create a new body for Taumon. It was to be built from Adamantine and Mithral, set with enchanted gems, many of them anchors for some of the most powerful spells ever created." The Historian sighed. "Such a work had never been matched by my time. Perhaps it never was. Taumon would have a body to suit his majestic spirit. That was their intent.
"The work was such that it brought the attention of the Wonderbringer, also called Gond, and priests of Gond came to aid in the construction. The blessings of that god went into each and every part.
"Truly Taumon would have become many times more powerful when his spirit entered the body. Who knows what our people may have accomplished with his aid."
Again he sighed. "It was not to be.
"There was another dragon, nearly the equal and completely the opposite to Taumon. She was called Asharass. A Red Wyrm who hated Taumon and had often sought his death.
"Asharass was a like a plague. She brought death and destruction with her, gloried in the deaths of all her victims. The stories of her evil and destruction are many, and she often worked to bring harm to the elves at that time, for they had stopped her plans more than once.
"She learned of the body that our people built for Taumon and she coveted it. She needed it, to best Taumon, to lay a swath of destruction across Faerûn as had never been seen. To destroy the elves that had dared to oppose her.
"So much did she desire this that she killed herself even as Taumon died, and sent her spirit rushing forward, moving to claim the body before Taumon. At the moment when Taumon and his allies should have known their greatest victory, they realised a failure that would cost them greatly. They had unleashed a great evil on the world, though they had never intended such a thing."
The Historian reached forward, picking up a stick, and poking the wood in the fire so that it burned more evenly. Misara watched him do so, noticed the pleasure that he took in such a simple thing. How long since he had last sat in front of a fire and told a story?
"There were those of the Ilythiir who would later look back at this and claim it was proof that they and the other nations of the Tel'Quessir should never work together, that the failure was the fault of the other nations. And then there were those that saw it as a lesson that we must never let evil from without come upon us unknown. I wonder if I told that story. I wonder if I told it to give credence to one argument or another?"
"You do not know?" Misara asked. There was still more to the tale he had to tell, but she was curious about what he had done to be punished so.
He shook his head. "My knowledge of myself was taken away. It is part of my punishment."
"It seems to be a harsh punishment," Rowan said.
"Who am I to say? Perhaps I do deserve what has been done. But that is not what you asked of me. The story is not finished."
He continued. "Those that had created the body were unable to destroy it, for it is said that they crafted far too well. Perhaps they were just unwilling to destroy what they had put so much effort into, however I do not think that is so. Whatever the reason, an evil was about to be set loose on the world.
"Even the Wonderbringer was unable to destroy it, they said, but he had saved his final blessing for when Taumon claimed the body. And as Asharass began to stir he laid the last blessing upon it and turned it into a curse. Greater power the construct would know, but it would never move until the day it had been anointed in the blood of a good, just god.
"So it was that Asharass, in her moment of triumph, was defeated. The body she had taken was supremely powerful, but she was trapped within it, unable to move, unable to do anything.
"The Tel'Quessir sealed the hall where the body had been built, laying powerful spells on it so none might enter. They covered it with dirt and rock, creating a small mountain where the hall had been. Guards were placed on it, but by my time the guards were needed elsewhere.
"It was felt that the hall, hidden and sealed as it was, would never be disturbed."
He sat back. "That is the end of the history as I know it."
"It seems that Asharass stirs once more. She has servants who operate in the North," Misara said.
"Then you must find those servants and destroy them, and make certain that the seals around Asharass are renewed."
"And that she does not obtain the blood of a good and just god," Rowan said.
"What does that mean?" Olpara asked. "The blood of a good and just god?"
"It may be just that," Rowan told her. "Literally the blood of a good and just god."
"If so," the Historian said, "then I think that there is little danger that Asharass will meet the Wonderbringer's requirements."
"That may not be so," Rowan told him.
"Oh?" he asked, obviously curious.
"More than a decade ago the gods themselves walked Faerûn. They were denied the heavens, so it is said, and were trapped here for a time. Some died here. Many bled. I know of several churches that collected anything that the gods may have left behind and hold them as holy treasures."
"That is disturbing. You must hope that Asharass does not obtain such things." His tone held a note on fear.
"Why does it have to be literal?" Misara asked. "What else might the blood of a god be? Does the mortal child of a god share his or her parent's blood? Would the blood of a priest, or any follower, represent the blood of a god?"
"Or of a Paladin," Rowan said.
"We lost other Paladins and priests," Rowan said, "during the time the Dark Champion was operating. We never knew what happened to them, the North is a dangerous place after all, but perhaps they were taken for their blood."
"Damos told me that several shrines and temples had had reliquaries stolen from them. The blood of saints."
"Would such things be enough?" Olpara asked.
"I do not know," Misara told her. "And I do not want to give Asharass a chance to find out."
"Where can we find Asharass?" Rowan demanded of the Historian.
"It was in the North," he told her. "Several days north of the Lost Peaks in the Great Forest."
"Somewhere near Silverymoon perhaps," Misara said.
"We must get back there," Rowan said. "We must let Damos and Alustriel know." Her voice rose and there was a note of panic in it.
Misara nodded. "We will. There is a place not too far from here, and portal that will deliver us to the middle of the Evermoors." She looked over at Olpara. "Another one will allow you to travel to a place close to Waterdeep. There you can let Blackstaff and the Paladinson know of this."
"I'm going with you," Olpara said.
"We travel next to the very centre of the Evermoors," Misara told her.
"I know. I want to go with you."
Misara looked at the halfling. She knew that Olpara had been seeking redemption since joining the quest, and before Misara had never believed that she might find it. Now there was something to her, a determination that had been lacking only a short time before, that made Misara think that Olpara could find what she was looking for. "Very well."
Olpara looked relieved.
"We should leave immediately," Rowan said.
"We'll leave in a few hours," Misara told her. "We all need some rest."
"I suppose you are right, as much as I wish to be moving," Rowan admitted. "We'll have to rest eventually, and this is a safe enough place. Safer than the Evermoors will be."
"Might I ask you something?" the Historian asked.
"If you wish," Misara told him.
He looked surprised, as if he had not expected such an answer. "I was hoping," he started after a few seconds, "if you might tell me what became of the Ilythiir. I fear that they may no longer be, that I may be the last of my people."
"You are not the last," Misara told him. "Your people have survived, even thrived in their exile."
"They are now called the drow," Rowan told him. "I have heard that they have great cities deep underground. They are powerful, and live their lives in darkness. The light of the sun pains them. If they come to the surface world it is only in darkness. They are among the most evil creatures known in all of Faerûn. All good people fear them, and hate them. Their skin is black as obsidian and the hair pure white."
The Historian turned and looked towards Misara. The look in his face was one of confusion. He wanted to be told that what he had heard was not true. Misara wished she might tell him that. She wished it were not true for so many reasons. She nodded.
A look of horror passed across his face as he turned back towards Rowan. "For the part I must have played in that, I deserve a punishment a thousand times worse than what I suffer now." His voice sounded dead.
"They have lived in exile for a very long time," Misara told him. "They have lived in a very hostile place for a long time, it has made them powerful and cruel. The demands of Lolth, though you would remember her as Araushnee, hone their cruelty, making it as sharp as razors. Some say that it is only the fact that they fight amongst themselves that has kept them from taking the surface.
"I have fought them on many occasions. They are, as Rowan said, hated and feared."
The Historian's shoulders slumped and shook as he was wracked by quiet sobs.
"I have heard that some of the drow have become good," Olpara said.
He lifted his head, and Misara could tell he was looking at the halfling.
"There are tales of a drow ranger, one who has not only become a champion for good, but fights the evil of his own people. I believe that one. Wren, a friend, he died," Olpara paused for a few seconds, "on the Evermoors." She shook her head. "Wren told me that when he visited Mithral Hall that he saw the drow there, walking with the dwarves, standing out in the sun in front of the gates to the hall.
"I've also heard stories of other drow that have become good, but I do not know the truth of them," Olpara said.
"Followers of Eilistraee." Rowan looked towards Misara.
"Eilistraee?" He shifted towards Rowan. "Araushee's daughter?"
"I don't really know," Rowan told him. "You would have to ask Misara."
He turned towards her, his moves more animated, hope obvious in his face.
"Eilistraee chose, demanded they say, to go into exile with her mother and brother," Misara said, reciting the words that had been told to her long before. "She saw a time when the Ilythiir might wish to return to the surface world to live in peace, when they would need a beacon to lead them back to the people they had once been. In time she was proven right.
"Over the many centuries that followed a handful of dark elves would leave the cruelty of their underground domain. Her name was whispered among these people, told to those who might listen. Many of those dark elves that follow the path of good worship her, follow her example and draw strength from her.
"Her followers live in a world where they are hated by the drow and by all those who cannot see a dark elf as anything but evil, which is most everyone who lives on the surface. They follow a hard path.
"It was Vilis, a priestess of Eilistraee, who told me of you. It is to her that I wish to take you. It is her hope that she can help you break the curse that holds you."
"So, not all is lost for my people?"
"It is difficult to say. Vilis believes that an important time is coming for those who follow the path that Eilistraee, knowingly or not. They may flourish and one day redeem the name of their people, or they might be destroyed. I do not know which."
"I see," he said, nodding. "Then perhaps I might help. Lessons of the past often have value for the future."
"Vilis hopes that that will be the case."
"How is it that you came to know so much about dark elves who follow Eilistraee?" he asked her.
Misara was a little surprised by the question, but perhaps she had also hoping he might ask. She could see Rowan lean forward.
"Rowan asked me that question, some time ago, on the roof of Candlekeep. I told her that she did not need to know."
Rowan looked disappointed, and the Historian nodded, willing to accept her answer.
"I was wrong."
The others looked on her with surprise.
"Rowan, I wish to bring this stone to Vilis, and if I fall I ask that you or Olpara complete this task for me. You deserve to know more of how I met her. And you," she looked at the Historian, "may find value in this as well."
Rowan, Olpara and the Historian were quiet, waiting for her to speak. A piece of wood in the fire cracked, throwing a few sparks into the air.