"I am Cruiniel of the Seven Shards," said the pale-skinned, blue-haired woman, "but I am content if you wish to call me Crescent."
"I am Khamael Firehair," replied the half-celestial, "though I am not certain that I need to introduce myself, since your greeting implies that you already know who we are."
"I know of you, but there is power in one's name, and thus, names are not always shared with messengers such as I."
"What message do you bring?"
"In regards to my message, I will tell you all that you wish to know, but let us make our conversation more pleasant. Come, sit with me there among the trees, away from these mindless, clicking modrons." She pointed to an area where some fallen trees made a suitable place to sit, some distance from the parading constructs.
As she walked, she bore herself with an air of nobility and power. Khamael, however, was cautious. "Sune, open my eyes," he prayed under his breath.
Cruiniel, or Crescent, sat down on one of the fallen logs and beckoned to them. "Come, or do you prefer the company of the Modron Procession?"
Khamael's divine sight showed him not the slightest sign of any evil, so he led the way over to her, and he and Throthar sat on either side of her.
The woman prayed in the Celestial tongue. Though both men could speak and understand some things in that beautiful language, from her lips, the words sounded infused with power, the very sound of which made them feel goosebumps on their skin. With a wave of her hand, freshly baked loaves of bread appeared on each of their laps and hers. Without any hesitation, she stuffed some of the bread into her mouth and began talking while still chewing, which immediately negated the awe that they had felt in her presence and set them more at ease. "Please. Eat breakfast with me," she mumbled.
So they joined her.
"You have beautiful wings," she said between bites. "It is rare to see a pair so well-preened."
"Thank you," said Khamael.
"One of your parents was an astral deva, I presume?"
"Ah, yes, the devas of Sune are always curious about—shall we say—mortal matters." She gave him a smirk.
There was a brief silence as they ate. The bread was simple but satisfying. Thirty yards away, the line of modrons continued passing by.
Crescent began to explain her reason for appearing to them. "The magic item that you carry with you has been noticed by Mystra, Goddess of Magic of your world. She can sense all magic items, of course, but this one in particular caught her attention, because she sensed it within the city of Sigil. Such is not a thing that is supposed to be possible. The power of the Lady of Pain prevents Mystra from knowing what takes place within its confines." She turned her attention to Throthar. "May I see it?"
Throthar looked at Khamael.
"I detect no evil from this messenger," said Khamael.
Crescent laughed pleasantly. "Nor do I detect evil in either of you."
Throthar slipped the needle-like item from the back of his pack, and handed it carefully to her. She offered another prayer, once again making them shiver from the holiness of the words. Then, she examined the needle closely for several moments before speaking again. "This item has a conjuration aura, which I am sure a wizard such as yourself would already have noticed. It appears to my eyes like the exit of a portal, but it does not have a conduit through the Astral Plane. It seems to bypass that plane altogether. Strange. Did you come through this portal?"
"Presumably," said Khamael. "To be honest, we are not entirely certain."
"It is still active," she said. She poked her long, white finger through the eye. "It must be a one-way portal."
"Yes, a city treasured by my mistress," said Crescent.
"As I fought him," continued Khamael, "he touched an amulet, and I was pulled to the Cage. We have learned that Throthar and I are not from the same times. There are hundreds of years between us. We have only become companions since Sigil."
She dangled her feet from the log and nodded as if she already understood all that he was telling her. "In some manner of thinking, yes, you time-traveled, but do not all creatures travel forward in time every moment of their mortal lives? Such is not the same as traveling backwards in time." She paused to eat more bread. "I am not tasked with the knowledge of the magical creations of mortals, but I suspect that you were trapped in a timeless demiplane, and it is because of this that the Lady of Pain did not or could not block the magic. Her power prevents any rift in the Astral, but this item has created a connection to a demiplane directly with no connection to the Astral Plane at all."
She handed the needle back to them. "I urge you, as mortals who follow the path of goodness, see to it that this item fall not into the hands of evil, lest they devise a way to upset the fragile balance that the City of Doors now holds."
Her loaf of bread finished, she seemed to grow more serious in her tone. "While that needle was what triggered the events that have sent me here, it is not the reason why I came. I realize that for each of you, your change of time is probably the most important thing on your minds right now, but there are greater things at play in the multiverse."
Crescent continued. "Mystra was able to focus her attentions on you then, because of this needle, and she observed that you are each both of Toril and also not of Toril. That is, the Toril that you knew exists no longer. To speak truthfully with you, there is no going back and changing that.
"Seeing this, Mystra sent word to her ally, my lady, thinking that you both may be perfectly suited for a task of utmost urgency. If you succeed, you will have saved your beloved world; if you fail, you will be welcomed into Arvandor for your bravery at trying, but you will be mourned by no one, for no one that you knew is still alive. Those whom you love will have already gone on to Arvandor or Brightwater to welcome you." She spoke matter-of-factually, with neither compassion nor spite in her voice. "I understand that these words may be hard to hear, but I speak the truth. You are free from all attachments that would limit you from making the hard choices and sacrifices that you may need to make if you except our task.
"So, I was dispatched to you at once.
"I have much to teach you. Much has happened in the time that you have been gone from your world and your times, much more than I could describe in the time that we now have. Most notably, however, is what is called the Time of Troubles by the mortals of your world. The gods angered the Overgod Ao, and he stripped them of their immortality and cast them to the surface of the world over which they were supposed to be lords. The great war of good against evil now took place amongst the mortals, wreaking havoc not seen since the death of Mystryl. Eventually, things were made right, and the proper balance was mostly restored, and the gods were forgiven. However, the previous goddess of magic, Mystryl's reincarnation, Mystra, was slain. The Mystra that you may have worshiped in your time is not the same entity now controlling the Weave of Toril."
"Is that why I can no longer feel the Weave?" asked Throthar.
"No, for the time being at least, the Weave is strong and fully in Mystra's control. Yet the Weave does not exist in the Outer Planes. Magic is more raw here among the powers. Also, we are on the neutral ground of the Outlands, where a deeper magic prevents most other magics from functioning at all."
"Ah, of course," said Throthar. "Do continue."
"During this time, the Time of Troubles, Shar, the sister of my lady, was able to gain more power than she had before the Godswar. She subsumed the portfolios of other gods and has revealed a challenge not only to Our Lady of Silver but also to the new goddess of magic in a new creation of her own devising, a mirror to the Weave, a Weave of Shadow.
"Do you grasp the importance of this? Now Shar can provide her servants with a source of magic unhindered by the sovereignty of Mystra. This allows her to elevate her power to the point where she may soon be able to confront Selûne directly, bringing her ever closer to her goal of covering your world in ever-darkness, never pierced by the light of the moon nor any other comforting beams.
"So, you can see that Mystra and Selûne are actively doing all they can to stop the Mistress of Night. Still, her power grows. In the world that you left behind, the sages now call it the Year of Wild Magic. We believe that the human seers, in the throes of prophecy, named it thus because they saw ahead to the time where this Shadow Weave would cause great changes in the balance of magic. In fact, on the first day of this very year, by mortal counting, she unveiled a great secret and obtained still more power. A servant of hers from the Plane of Shadow infiltrated Toril and acquired the Karsestone, the very heart of Karsus."
Throthar took great interest at this news. Karsus was the very mage who challenged Mystryl and the gods of Netheril, triggering the fall of that great empire. Karsus' failed because, having wrested magic from Mystryl for but a moment, he could not manage the entire Weave at once, and his magically petrified body fell in the midst of the High Forest, the elven forest where Throthar's own family lived.
"I perceive that you know of what I speak," said Crescent, looking at Throthar's expression. "The fragment of Karsus provided a link to magics not bound by the Weave, and using the Karsestone, her servant summoned back the city of Thultanthar, which for eons had been trapped in the Plane of Shadow."
"I know of Thultanthar," said Throthar. Was it not among the five surviving enclaves of Netheril?"
"Five?" said Crescent.
"Mystryl is said to have saved three, lowering them safely to the ground. Thultantar entered the Plane of Shadow only a few days before the fall. Finally, a fifth city also escaped destruction, Selûnarra, spared by the power of Selûne. Is the legend true?"
Crescent looked very impressed. "Very few—fewer still among mortals—know that Selûne had a card up her sleeve, to use a term of Tymora's."
"Do continue," said Khamael.
"Shar now not only possesses the Karsestone—a dreadful fact on its own—but she also has a whole city-state of followers now in her control, empowered by hundreds of years of exposure to shadowstuff. If both of those powerplays were not enough, she is seeking something else, and this fills us with concern. Near where Karsus' body fell, in the ruins of Karse, grows a circle of thirteen dire oak trees, named the Black Glade by mortals. The Karsestone was found below these thirteen trees. In the ruins of a dwarven port called Ascore, several hundred miles to the northeast, on the border of the great desert Anauroch, there is a strange ring of thirteen pentagonal pyramids, each made from a red stone of the same color as the remains of Karsus' petrified body. If the powers know who built these pyramids, they have not revealed it to us, but it was after the Fall of Netheril, and the connection to the Black Glade and Karse cannot be denied.
"In any case, Shar is using the Shadovar, the people of Thultanthar, to dig below the circle of pyramids, seeking some power of Netheril about which only she seems to know. Already they have made great progress. A pool of liquid shadowstuff is forming in the midst of the pyramids and it grows daily. We cannot allow her to succeed.
"Which at last leads me to your specific task. The excavations are being led by a high priestess of the Dark Goddess. They have tunneled below the pyramids and established a base there, where she performs evil rituals to unlock whatever hidden power is to be found there. One of Selûne's priestesses was able to infiltrate the site, which is how we know of this high priestess. Sadly, our priestess was captured and slain, sacrificed to the Goddess of Darkness. Moreover, the Shadovar have enhanced their security about the ruins. It would be impossible to enter undetected.
"However, our priestess was able to discover another way into the compound before her death. The Shadovar have established a portal from the ruins below the pyramids to the Plane of Shadow. We hope that they will not suspect an infiltration from their own former home.
"If you chose to accept it, we are asking that you travel through the Plane of Shadow to find this portal below the Ascore pyramids. We ask that you infiltrate the site, slay the priestess, destroy the portal, and find a way to collapse their excavations.
"I agree that the chance of your survival is slim. This is your choice. If you decide against it, we can send you back to the Material Plane to live the remainder of your mortal lives as you chose. We can only hope that we find others who will take the chance for us."
Khamael was already prepared to give his assent. "I am willing to take this quest, though I know not if only the two of us are sufficient for the scope of the task."
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