Chapter Twenty-seven

Uluyara listened in silence as Halisstra described what she had seen in Reverie. When she finished, Uluyara whispered a brief prayer, then raised a hand reverently to the night sky. Lowering it, she stared hard at Halisstra, her red eyes reflecting the moonlight.

"Lost, all these years," she said. "Our best scryers, joined in spell-song, could not find the Crescent Blade - and now a novice thinks she can succeed where they failed."

Halisstra, hearing a tone she didn't like in Uluyara's voice, bristled.

"I'm only repeating what Seyll said," she countered. "This was no hallucination. I'm sure it was her spirit who spoke to me. I think she was trying to tell me that I'm going to have to face down Quenthel Baenre in combat and that I'll need this Crescent Blade - whatever it is - to defeat her when I do."

Uluyara stared into Halisstra's eyes, as if weighing her words.

"If this is an excuse to delay rejoining your former companions," Uluyara said, "you might have picked something a little less dramatic than a search for the Crescent Blade. I'd rather you were honest with me and simply tell me you're not ready yet. If you've changed your mind, orare afraid - "

"Afraid? How dare you! I am the First Daughter of a noble House!" Halisstra spat.

Then she remembered who she was talking to - and remembered that her House was no more - and she threw herself onto the ground at Uluyara's feet.

"My apologies, Dark Lady," she whispered, tensing in expectation of the lash that would have immediately scoured her shoulders, had it been one of Lolth's high priestesses to whom she had spoken so boldly. "I was of a noble House and am not used to having my cour-age questioned. I was taught, long ago, to cocoon my fear up tight and never let it unravel. I assure you that I'mnotafraid - and I'm not making this up. I don't even know what the Crescent Blade is. Please, enlighten me."

Uluyara sighed and said, "Rise, priestess." When Halisstra had, she continued, "This past day has been a difficult one for both of us. I was the one who first brought Breena up into the light. She was like a daughter to me. Her death . . ."

She paused to stare out into the darkened woods. From the direc-tion her eyes yearned toward came the sound of women singing, the voices of the three priestesses who were laying out Breena's corpse on a bier high above the forest floor where it would be washed by the tears of the moon. The death song seemed to float on the breeze, ac-companied by the clean scent of freshly fallen snow.

At last Uluyara tore her eyes away and began her story.

"The Crescent Blade was forged centuries ago, after Eilistraee plucked a pebble from the heavens and tossedit down to the earth below. By the time it struck the ground, it had grown to the size of a boulder and was glowing as brightly as a forge. It was so hot that no one could approach it without a protective spell. The boulder was weeping metal - moon metal, for that was where it came from. Ifyou look up at the moon, you can see a hole. That is the spot from which Eilistraee plucked the stone."

Halisstra peered at the moon, which had just risen above the trees. Its face was pocked with dozens of dark, circular holes. She glanced from one to the next, wondering which was the one.

"There," Uluyara said, pointing. "The smaller hole within that larger, darker one. See how what remains of the larger hole forms the shape of a crescent?"

Halisstra closed one eye and sighted along Uluyara's arm, then nodded as she spotted it.

"The moon metal shed by the boulder was collected and forged into a sword with a crescent-shaped blade,"Uluyara continued. "With each heating, with each hammer stroke against the anvil, with each quenching, enchantments were laid upon the blade. It was made holy, giving it a keener edge against evil. It was made quick as thought, allowing it to strike twice for each stroke of an enemy blade. It was enchanted with moonlight, just as my own sword is, allowing it to pass through armor - or even stone - as easily as through flesh. By the blessing of Eilistraee it can also fend off evil magic, casting a protective circle around the one whoholds it.

"The final enchantment laid upon the Crescent Blade," Uluyara continued, "is perhaps the most powerful of all. If the arm of the priestess wielding it is strong and her aim is true, the blade will sever the neck of any creature."

Uluyara paused, and her eyes bored deep into Halisstra's.

"Anycreature," she repeated. "Be it a drow, a demon ... or even a goddess."

All at once, Halisstra understood.

"So that's what Seyll was trying to tell me," she whispered. "I'm to use the Crescent Blade not to kill Quenthel Baenre but to kill Lolth herself."

Uluyara stared at her for a long moment before she said, "Impos-sible as it sounds, it is so."

"But I... But she..."

Overcome by the enormityof the idea, Halisstra found her-self unable even to protest. She, Halisstra - a former priestess of Lolth only recently brought into Eilistraee's light - was to slay the most powerful deity known to the drow? With a sword? The no-tion was insane. Laughable, even. She'd witnessed first hand a battle between gods, when Vhaeraun and Selvetarm confronted each other outside Lolth's temple in the Demonweb Pits. None of the mortals present - even Pharaun - could have affected the outcome of that battle if they tried. But Halisstra supposed Eilis-traee must know what she was doing - that she must have chosen Halisstra for some reason.

Though really, Halisstra couldn't see why. She knew only a hand-ful ofbae'qeshel spells - mostly simple healing magic - and was still struggling to relearn the clerical spells that Lolth had once granted, and that Eilistraee was slowly revealing to her in new forms. Halis-stra was like someone who had been laid low by an illness and who was only slowly learning to walk again. And Eilistraee expected her not just to walk but to run. To fly, even.

As Uluyara had said, impossible.

Or was it? Lolth might not be dead, but she was inactive - and inattentive. When Halisstra had blasphemed against her, nothing had happened. Even killing the phase spider by invok-ing Eilistraee's moonfire had failed to arouse her wrath. Lolth's yochlol handmaidens might have killed one of Eilistraee's priest-esses, but from the goddess herself there had been no direct sign. According to Uluyara's scrying, Lolth's temple was still sealed by an enormous black stone. A stone that resembled a face - and had a neck.

A neck made of stone - a material the Crescent Blade could cut through easily, as easily as a normal blade through bare flesh. With a single, well-aimed stroke of the Crescent Blade, that neck could be severed. As long as the blow was struck by one of Eilis-traee's faithful.

Would that really kill Lolth?

Halisstra shook her head.

"Why me?" she asked Uluyara. "Surely Eilistraee could have found a more worthy priestess. You, for example."

"It is not I who was chosen," Uluyara said. Then, after a mo-ment's thought, she added, "You, out of all of those who worship Eilistraee, are unique for the simple reason that you are the only one Quenthel Baenre and the others will trust. If they do succeed in reachingLolth's domain and you are among them, you'll be in the perfect position to end the Spider Queen's dark reign and release her children from the clinging webs that hold them back from their birthright.

"If it truly is Eilistraee's will, I will try," Halisstra said slowly. Then she realized that the first step in her monumental quest had yet to be taken. "Seyll said the Crescent Blade was lost on the Cold Field. Where is that?"

"It lies about three days' march to the southeast of here, at the edge of the greatwood," Uluyara said. "It is a dangerous place. Cen-turies ago it was a battlefield, and the foul magic once unleashed there permeates it. The ghosts of the dead soldiers who once fought there roam it still - and are at their most dangerous in winter. When the chill of the air matches the chill of the grave they rise to fight again - and sweep away everything in their path."

Halisstra, going over Seyll's message again in her mind, was only half listening.

"Is the Cold Field home to a dragon?" she asked, remembering the warning about a wyrm.

Uluyara shrugged and said, "None has been sighted there, but it is possible. The battle was said to involve dragons. The Cold Field was scoured by their magical breath, and its soil remains infertile to this day. One of these dragons might have lairedthere in the centuries since."

"How did the Crescent Blade come to be lost?" Halisstra asked. "Seyll said 'she' was carrying it. Who? A priestess?"

The look Uluyara gave Halisstra was a peculiar one. She stared as if she'd suddenly realized something about Halisstra - something of import.

"She who carried the Crescent Blade was a priestess of the first rank," she said. "One of our Sword Dancers. She came, originally, from the same city as yourself. She came from Ched Nasad."

Halisstra nodded. She was surprised to hear that someone from her own city had also wound up at that temple, so far from home.

"What House was she?" Halisstra asked.

"House Melarn."

Halisstra blinked, and asked, "What. . . what was her name?"


Halisstra frowned. She didn't recognize the name, at first - but then a memory bubbled up from her childhood. A memory of the day she'd noticed that one of the portrait busts in House Melarn's great hall was "broken." The chisel work that obliterated the features of the stone head and the name carved into its base had been roughly done, so it was still possible to make out the first letter: an M. When Halisstra noticed the damage, she asked her mother whose bust it had been and how it came to be broken. Her answer was a stinging slap across the face - a slap so hard it had split Halisstra's upper lip. She could still remember her surprise - and the taste of her own blood. Some questions, she'd learned, were better not asked.

Which had made her all that much more keen to have an answer. And so, years later when she had become a priestess, she'd used one of the spells granted by Lolth to satisfy her curiosity. Under the spell's magic, the name on the ruined bust had blazed clearly: Mathira. Discreet inquiries had uncovered a sliver of information about the woman, that she had fallen into disgrace and been forced to flee Ched Nasad a decade before Halisstra was born. What her "traitorous act" had been, however, Halisstra had not been able to discover. Eventu-ally, having reached the end of the thread of family scandal she grew bored and let the matter drop.

"So," Halisstra said, half whispering, "Mathira must have fled Ched Nasad because she'd turned to the worship of Eilistraee."

"And she came here," Uluyara finished for her. "She rose through the ranks of the faithful to become a Sword Dancer, and was the priest-ess who carried the Crescent Blade onto the Cold Field - and lost it.

And it was up to Halisstra to find it and to use it as Eilistraee intended, to kill Lolth.

It was all too much to be mere coincidence. Halisstra sawthe hand of Eilistraee in every step of it. Who else but a goddess could guide the lives of mortals in so subtle a fashion, weaving together a plan that spanned centuries? Halisstra was certain that, were she to try to back out of the quest, Eilistraee would find a way to steer her feet back onto her ordained path.

The thought terrified her. At the same time, it also gave her hope that she might succeed. She had to trust in the goddess - even though trust was something she had only just learned. It still came only with difficulty.

One question, however, remained.

"How do I find the Crescent Blade?" she asked.

Uluyara stared up at the moon and for several lone moments said nothing. Then slowly, the words came.

"You have magic that we do not - 'dark song magic,' you called it. Perhaps that is what is needed to bring the Crescent Blade back into the light."

Halisstra nodded and said, "There is a spell I was learning, be-fore I left. . . beforeChed Nasad was destroyed. The bard who was teaching it to me said it could be used to locate any object I could vi-sualize. If I'm able to cast it, I might use it to find the Crescent Blade. If, that is, you could tell me where I should begin my search. Where was Mathira when she disappeared?"

"She was last seen in Harrowdale," Uluyara answered. "From there, she was to travel south to Scardale, then on to Blackfeather Bridge. She could hardly go missing along so well traveled a road, and so we assumed she veered from it and became lost. Mathira's business was urgent and perhaps caused her to choose a shorter route - to travel to Blackfeather Bridge in a direct line across the Cold Field, instead of circling around it by road."

Already Halisstra was deciding how to use her spell to best ad-vantage. She'd travel to Harrowdale, orient herself in the direction of Feather Falls, and march in as straight a line as possible, casting her spell every eight hundred paces - the limit of its range.

"How big is the Cold Field?" Halisstra asked, picturing some-thing the size of a large cavern.

"Unfortunately, the Cold Field is widest from northeast to south-west," Uluyara said. "It's openground??- so no more than a two-day march at a steady pace. But it will be far from easy. You'll be lucky to reach the other side of it alive. Luckier still, if the ghosts that inhabit that bleak place haven't driven you mad long before you leave it."

"Won't any of the other priestesses be coming with me?" Halis-stra asked.

"Most have already left to search for the yochlol that killed Breena. The one or two who remain have other, equally pressing matters to attend to. I don't know if they can be spared."

Halisstra's eyes narrowed, and she asked, "You don't really expect me to find it, do you?"

"It isn't that, child," Uluyara answered softly. "It's just that some journeys must be taken alone." Her gaze drifted up toward the tree-tops. The singing had stopped. Breena's body had been laid to rest.

The night air was cold, but Halisstra felt a fire begin to smolder inside her.

"I'll find the Crescent Blade," she vowed. "On my own. I don't need help from anyone."

She turned and strode into the forest, back to the shelter she shared with Ryld. Uluyara might not have faith in Halisstra, but there was one greater who did.


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