Sacrifice of the Widow

By Cindy Wright,2014-11-04 21:17
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Product `desc`riptionGoddesses vie for the soul of people... Halisstra Melarn, convert to the cause of the goddess Eilistraee, was sent to the deepest depths of the Outer Planes to kill the demon goddess she once worshiped, but instead was transformed into a hideous creature bent to the vengeful will of her former mistress. For the Queen of the Demonweb Pits not only survived her Silence but evolved into something greater than she was before - something that no longer needs to share the domain she calls her own. Could it be that the War of the Spider Queen has just begun? Published by Wizards of the Coast on 2007/01/30

    Transformed by Evil

    She expected him to scream as her fangs punctured his soft flesh again and again, driving venominto his body.

    He did not.

    He continued fighting her, shouting the words of a prayer of dismissal.

    It might have worked, had Halisstra been a demon, but she was much more than that.

    She was the Lady Penitent, higher in stature than any of Lolth’s demonic handmaidens, battlecaptive and left hand of the dark elf who had become


    Also by Lisa Smedman HOUSE OF SERPENTS

    Book I

    Venom’s Taste

    Book II

    Viper’s Kiss

    Book III

    Vanity’s Brood


Book IV



    The Halls of Stormweather

    Heirs of Prophecy


    Two deities stared at each other across an immense gulf: a gate, forged between two domains.Lolth and Eilistraee, mother and daughter. Goddess of darkness and cruelty, goddess of kindnessand light.

    Eilistraee stood in a forest, bathed in moonlight. Branches heavy with blue-white moonstonesthe size of apples twined in a bower above her head. The goddess was naked, her silvery white,ankle-length hair flowing over velvet-black skin like streams of liquid moonlight. Twin swordsfloated in the air, one at each hip. Their silver blades vibrated softly, their blended musiclike women’s voices raised in wordless song. Eilistraee’s face was proud and perfectlyformed. Those few priestesses who had gazed directly upon it were only able to recall, in tear-choked voices, that it was beautiful beyond description. Her eyes were what these mortal womenremembered best: irises that held a shifting hint of blue, the elusive glint found inmoonstone.

    Lolth, goddess of spiders, sat on a black iron throne, its bulbous seat as bloated as an egg-filled abdomen and supported by eight segmented legs. Above her, shrieks of tortured soulsfilled a boiling black-and-purple sky. Lolth wore her drow form—just one of the eight aspectsthe goddess had fragmented into after ending her Silence. Her ebon skin was clothed in strandupon strand of spider silk that wove itself, at her shoulders, into her bone-white hair. Tinyred spiders spilled from her mouth as she spoke and dangled from her lower lip on hair-thinstrands of webbing, swaying in the foul breeze. Her eyes blazed red with the reflected fires ofthe Demonweb Pits, but they were the only points of light on her body. Darkness seemed to folditself about her like a cloak.

    Between the two goddesses, straddling the gate, was a sava board. Shaped like a web and formed

    from a living slab of wood that was both part of the World Tree and separate from it, the boardfloated at waist height, suspended by its own magic. The game being played upon it had beengoing on for as long as mortals drew breath. Hundreds of thousands of playing pieces coveredthe circular board, the vast majority of them Slaves. A few thousand were of higher merit: thePriestess, Wizard, and Warrior pieces.

    The usual arrangement of white pieces and black pieces did not hold in this game. All ofLolth’s pieces were black as the ebon skin of a drow, as were the vast majority ofEilistraee’s, yet the goddesses knew their pieces by feel. Each held a mortal soul.

    Lolth had been sitting in stillness for several turns, the result of her self-imposed Silence.During that time, Eilistraee had made tremendous gains. For the first time in many, many ages,she felt confident of victory, so when Lolth stirred and proposed the addition of an additionalplaying piece on each side, Eilistraee’s interest was piqued.

    “What sort of piece?” she asked cautiously. Her mother was, above all else, treacherous.

    “The Mother.”

    Eilistraee gave a sharp intake of breath. “We enter the game ourselves?”

    Lolth nodded. “A battle to the death. Winner take all, with Ao as witness to our wager.” Shegave her daughter a taunting smile. “Do you agree to those terms?”

    Eilistraee hesitated. She stared across the board, her face drawn with lines of pity, deepsorrow, and hope. This might end it, she thought. Once and for all time.

“I agree.”

    Lolth smiled. “Then let us begin.” Her hands gave darkness and malice shape, creating amidnight-black spider—another of her eight aspects. She placed it on the board at the centerof her House.

    Eilistraee shaped moonlight into a glowing likeness of herself and placed it at the center ofher House. That done, she looked up—and saw something that startled her. Lolth was no longeralone. A familiar figure crouched to the right of her throne: an enormous spider with the headof a drow male—Lolth’s champion, the demigod Selvetarm. He laid his sword and mace down andspun a likeness of himself. He placed it on the board beside Lolth’s Mother piece.

    “Unfair!” Eilistraee cried.

    “Scared?” Lolth taunted. “Do you wish to capitulate?” She leaned forward, as if to gatherup the pieces on the board.

    “Never,” Eilistraee said. “I should have expected this of you. Play.”

    Lolth reclined on her throne. She glanced at the board then casually moved a piece forward. A

     shadowing his face, a dagger held behind his back. Strands ofpiwafwiSlave, the hood of his

    webbing from Lolth’s hand clung to the piece then tore free as she set it down, causing it torock gently.

    Lolth sat lazily back on her throne, and said, “Your move.”

    A furtive movement behind Lolth drew Eilistraee’s eye. A figure lurked in the shadow of herthrone. An exquisitely beautiful drow male, the lower half of his face hidden by a soft blackmask: Eilistraee’s brother Vhaeraun. Had he slipped a piece onto the board as well—and if so,on which side? He was as much Lolth’s enemy as Eilistraee’s.

    Perhaps he was just trying to distract her.

    Ignoring him, Eilistraee studied the sava board. She could see now why her brother might have

    wanted to pull her attention away from the game. Lolth had just made a foolish a move, one thatleft her Slave piece completely exposed. It could easily be taken by one of Eilistraee’sWizard pieces—a piece that had entered the game only recently. She lifted the Wizard from theboard, weighing its strength and will in her hand. Then she moved it forward. She set it down,nudging Lolth’s piece aside.

    “Wizard takes Slave,” Eilistraee announced. With slender fingers, she removed Lolth’s piecefrom the board. Her eyes widened as she took its measure and realized what it was. Not a Slavepiece at all.

    Lolth sat forward, her eyes blazing. “What?” Her fists gripped the knobbed legs of herthrone. “That’s not where I placed …”

    She glanced behind her throne, but Vhaeraun was no longer there.

    Eilistraee hid her smile as Lolth turned back to the board, a deep frown creasing her forehead.Then, abruptly, the frown vanished. The Spider Queen laughed, a fresh gout of spiders cascadingfrom her lips.

    “Poorly done, daughter,” she said. “Your impulsive counter move has opened a path straightto the heart of your House.”

    Lolth leaned forward, reaching for the Warrior piece Selvetarm had placed on the board. Shemoved it along the line that led to Eilistraee’s Mother. Beside her, Selvetarm watchedintently, eyes gloating above the weapons he held crossed against his spider body.

    “You lose,” Lolth gloated. “Your life is forfeit and the drow are mine.” Eyes blazing withtriumph, she lowered the piece to the board. “Warrior takes—”

    “Wait!” Eilistraee cried.

    She scooped up a pair of dice that sat at one edge of the sava board. Two perfect octahedrons

    of blackest obsidian, each with a glint of moonlight trapped within: a spark of Eilistraee’slight within Lolth’s dark heart. The dice were marked with a different number on each side.

The one was the round dot of a spider, legs splayed.

    The dice rattled in Eilistraee’s cupped hands like bones clattering together in a chillingwind. “One throw per game,” she said. “I claim it now.”

    Lolth paused, the drider-shaped Warrior piece nearly hidden by the webbing that laced herfingers. A look of unease flickered in her red eyes then disappeared.

    “An impossible throw,” she smirked. “The odds against double spiders are as long as theAbyss is deep. Corellon is as likely to forgive our betrayal and call us home to Arvandor asyou are to make that throw.”

    “Our betrayal?” she spat. “It was your dark magicAnger swirled in Eilistraee’s blue eyes.

    that twisted my arrow in mid-flight.”

    Lolth arched an eyebrow. “Yet you accepted exile without protest. Why?”

    “I knew there would be some among the drow, despite your corruption, who could be drawn intomy dance.”

    Lolth sank back into her throne, still holding the Warrior piece. She waved a disdainful hand,and strands of web fluttered in its wake.

    “Pretty words,” she said with infinite scorn, “but it’s time for the dance to end. Makeyour throw.”

    Eilistraee held her cupped hands before her like a supplicant, gently rattling the dice insidethem. She closed her eyes, extended her hands over the sava board, and let the dice fall.


    The Year of Wild Magic (1372 DR)

    Qilué leaned over the scrying font, waiting for images to coalesce in its depths. The font wasof polished alabaster, its yellow-orange stone the color of a harvest moon. An inscription ranaround the rim, carved in ancient Elvish characters reminiscent of the slashes left by swords.The water inside the font was pure, made holy through dance and song by the six drowpriestesses who stood in a loose circle around Qilué, waiting. At the moment, however, all thewater held was Qilué’s own reflection, haloed by the full moon above.

    Her face was beautiful still, its ebon-black skin unwrinkled, though her world-weary eyesbetrayed her age. Six centuries of life weighed heavily upon her shoulders, as did theresponsibilities of attending to the goddess’s many shrines. Qilué’s hair had been silversince birth and glowed with the same sparkling radiance as her robe. A strand of it fell acrossher face, and she tucked it behind one delicately pointed ear.

    The other priestesses knew better than to interrupt her, despite their tense anticipation. Theystood, still breathing heavily from their dance, naked bodies glistening with sweat. Waiting.Silent as the snow-dappled trees that hemmed this glade in the Ardeep Forest. It was winter,and late at night, yet the women were still too warm to shiver. The footprints left by theirdance were a dark ring in the snow.

    Something stirred in the water within the font, something that broke the moon’s reflectioninto swirling ripples.

    “It comes,” Qilué breathed. “The vision rises.”

    The priestesses tensed. One touched a hand to the holy symbol that hung at her throat whileanother whispered a prayer. Still another raised on tiptoe in an attempt to see into the font.This vision would be a rare thing. Only the combined powers of Eilistraee and Mystra could drawaside the dark veil that had shrouded the Demonweb Pits for the last few months.

    Within the font, an image formed: the face of a drow female, not beautiful, but of noblebearing. Her nose was slightly snubbed, her eyes a burning-coal red. She was dressed for battlein a chain mail tunic and a silver breastplate embossed with the sword-and-moon symbol ofEilistraee. A shield hung from one arm and she held a curved sword in her other hand: theCrescent Blade. With it, she hoped to kill a goddess.

    Halisstra hacked at something with the sword—something that didn’t show up in the scrying.For a moment, Qilué thought that the font’s water had been stirred by the breeze that sighedthrough the treetops. Then she realized that those were not ripples that obscured Halisstra’sface, but shimmers of light on frozen water.

    Halisstra Melarn, Eilistraee’s champion, was trapped under a bowl-shaped wall of ice.

    The tip of the Crescent Blade poked through the ice. Halisstra stared with horrified eyes atsomething just beyond the range of the scrying.

    “No!” she shouted.

    Five streaks of magical energy shot through the hole, slamming into her. She staggered back,gasping. After a moment, she recovered. With a look of resolve on her face, she began choppingat the ice, trying to free herself.

    Tension stiffened Qilué’s body. If she did not find a way to intervene, all would be lost.Scrying magic was normally passive. It would channel simple detections or messages, but onlyimperfectly. She was one of the Chosen of Mystra, though, and the silver fire was hers tocommand. She let it build within her until it sparked from her hair and crackled the chill airaround her, then she directed it downward with a finger. It streaked into the water, hissingtoward its target. The hemisphere of ice enclosing Halisstra sparkled briefly, as if eachcrystal was a glinting mote.

Halisstra’s next sword blow shattered it.

    Halisstra burst from the collapsing ice, already running. She passed the body of a drow femalewhose throat had been slit. It was the priestess Uluyara. Dead.

    Qilué fought down the lump in her throat. Uluyara’s part was done. She was with Eilistraee.

    Halisstra ran, shouting, toward a drow female who held a dripping adamantine knife in her righthand and a whip with five writhing serpent heads in her left. That would be Quenthel, leader ofthe expedition from Menzoberranzan, a high priestess of Lolth. She had turned her back onHalisstra and was walking disdainfully away. A male drow walked beside Quenthel, his onceelegant clothes torn and travel-stained. He must be, Qilué decided, the wizard Pharaun.

    Halisstra had described for Uluyara each of the members of the expedition that had gone to ChedNasad, and Uluyara had passed those descriptions on to Qilué. Quenthel and Pharaun had beenmere names when Uluyara had come to the Promenade to discuss with Qilué what must be done, butthey had become a threat that seemed very close at hand, despite the vast distance that laybetween them and Qilué.

    “Stop, Baenre!” Halisstra shouted at their backs. “Face us and let’s see which goddess isthe stronger.”

    The priestess and her male ignored Halisstra. They strode to a fissure in a high stone wall:the entrance to a tunnel. Translucent shapes—the moaning souls of the dead—flowed past theminto the tunnel. As the souls entered it, their moans rose to howling shrieks. Quenthel spokebriefly with Pharaun, then stepped forward into the passage and was swallowed by the darkness.

    “Face us, coward,” Halisstra shouted at the male.

    Pharaun spared her a brief, undecided glance. Then he too stepped forward into darkness anddisappeared.

    Halisstra faltered to a halt at the mouth of the tunnel. The hand that gripped the CrescentBlade shook with anger.

    Qilué touched a finger to the water, above Halisstra’s image. “Follow them, priestess,” sheinstructed. “At the other end lies Lolth. Remember your quest.”

    Halisstra didn’t answer—if indeed she had heard. Something more immediate had captured herattention: a drow female with striking pale gray eyes who moved toward Halisstra, a morningstarheld loosely in one hand. The female—it could only be Danifae, Halisstra’s battle-captive—apologized to her mistress, an apology that was patently insincere to Qilué’s ears.Yet Halisstra made no move to raise her weapon. Did she think that Danifae might yet be broughtinto the light?

    Qilué touched the water. “Do not trust her, Halisstra. Be wary.”

    Halisstra made no reply.

    A third figure ambled into range of the scrying: a draegloth. Half demon and half drow, it hadfour arms, a snarling, bestial face and blood-matted mane of tangled off-white hair. It paidDanifae no attention; it clearly trusted her.

    Qilué’s apprehension grew.

    Halisstra stood her ground as the draegloth loomed over her. Staring defiantly up into itseyes, she told it that its mistress had abandoned it.

    She raised the Crescent Blade and vowed, “I’ll have your heart for killing Ryld Argith.”

    Qilué watched, concerned that Halisstra was no longer paying attention to Danifae, despite thefact that the battle-captive was easing behind her. The spiked ball of Danifae’s morningstarswung slightly as she lifted it.

    “Halisstra!” Qilué shouted, but the priestess didn’t turn.

    Ordinary mortals could employ only two senses through a scrying, those of sight and hearing,but Qilué was no ordinary mortal. Gripping the edges of the font with both hands, she sank herawareness deep into its holy water then into the mind of Halisstra herself. It was a desperate

    gamble—so linked, Qilué might suffer whatever wounds Halisstra took—but the priestess had tobe warned of the impending treachery. Somehow.

    Qilué gasped as her awareness blossomed inside Halisstra’s body. All of Halisstra’s senseswere hers. Qilué could smell the harsh, hot wind that howled through the chasm behind her,could feel the aching chill of the souls that streamed past overhead, and she could smell thefoul breath of the draegloth as it sneered down at her.

    “My mistress has not abandoned me, heretic,” the draegloth spat.

    From inside Halisstra’s awareness, Qilué could see that the priestess was not alone. Somedistance behind the draegloth stood a moon elf with pale skin and dark brown hair: Feliane, theother priestess who had accompanied Halisstra on her quest. Feliane panted, as if she’d justbeen in battle, but the thin-bladed sword in her hand was unbloodied. She moved toward thedraegloth with faltering steps, hugging her ribs with her free arm, and wincing with eachinhalation of breath.

    Danifae was fully behind Halisstra, and the priestess could no longer see her. Qilué fought toturn Halisstra’s head in that direction, but Halisstra’s attention remained wholly fixed onthe draegloth. She trusted the woman—saw her not as a battle-captive seething with a thirstfor revenge, but as an ally. A friend.

    Qilué shouted from inside Halisstra’s head. “Halisstra! Behind you! Watch Danifae!”

    Too late. Qilué’s awareness exploded into pain as Danifae’s morningstar slammed intoHalisstra’s back, smashing the priestess to her hands and knees.

    Halisstra understood it all then. The pain of betrayal was even greater than the sharp ache ofher shattered ribs.

    You could have warned me, Halisstra thought.

    The bitter rebuke was directed at Eilistraee, but it was Qilué who answered, I tried.

    Halisstra, at last hearing her, nodded weakly.

    Danifae’s morningstar slammed into her back a second time, knocking her to the ground. Shedimly heard Danifae give an order to the draegloth, then its bestial roar.

    Feliane answered with a battle song.

    Danifae’s fingers twined in Halisstra’s hair and yanked her head up.

    “Watch,” Danifae said, her voice a harsh gloat.

    Qilué did, through Halisstra’s eyes. Feliane wounded the draegloth, but the monster didn’teven slow. He slammed Feliane to the ground and began tearing at the priestess’s body with hisfangs.

    Feliane screamed as her stomach was torn open. Halisstra’s vision blurred with tears.

    Another gone to Eilistraee. Only Halisstra was left, and her mind was filled with despair anddoubt.

    “Have faith, Halisstra!” Qilué cried. “Eilistraee will—”

    Danifae slammed a fist into Halisstra’s temple. Sparks of pain exploded inside Qilué’s mindas well, disrupting her awareness. She fought to cling to it as Halisstra coughed, weakly,blood dribbling from her lips. Halisstra turned her head slightly, looking up at Danifae. Theother drow swung her morningstar in a lazy arc, her face ugly with cruel mirth.

    Halisstra’s despair brimmed over. I am not worthy, she thought. I have failed.

    “No!” Qilué shouted. “You—”

    Too late. She lost the connection. Her awareness was back in her own body, and she stared intothe font. Perhaps it was not too late. She summoned silver fire and stabbed a finger into thewater, unleashing a beam of pure white flame. Instead of blasting Danifae, however, the magicalflame skipped off the surface of the holy water like a stone and ricocheted into the night.

    The water in the font rippled, obscuring the scrying. Qilué could see movement—fragmentaryglimpses of what was going on. A flash of silver: the Crescent Blade, picked up by Danifae andtossed contemptuously aside. The head of a morningstar, swinging in a deadly arc. Halisstra’seyes, brimming with tears. Danifae’s face, twisted with hatred as she spat. Sound was likewisegarbled. Halisstra’s voice, faintly whispering, “Why?” Danifae’s voice, haughty andtriumphant: “… weak.”

    Qilué thrust a hand at the moon, clutching desperately for some other magic that could bechanneled through the scrying.

    “Eilistraee!” she cried. “Hear me! Your Chosen needs your aid!”

    Behind her, the six lesser priestesses shot uneasy glances at one another. They crowded closer,prayers tumbling from their lips. “Eilistraee,” they crooned. Swaying, they placed theirhands on Qilué’s shoulders, lending power to her prayer. Silver fire built once more aroundQilué, brighter than before, but slowly. Too slowly.

    The ripples in the font cleared. Words bubbled up from its depths. Danifae’s voice, gloating.

    “Good-bye, Halisstra.”

    Then the whistle of a descending morningstar.

    crunch, a sound like wet wood splintering. She looked down and saw collapsedQilué heard a dull

    bone and blood where Halisstra’s face had been.

    “No!” she cried as the image slowly faded from the font.

    She plunged a hand into the water as if trying to pluck Halisstra from it. Holy water sloppedover the edges of the font, trickling down its smooth stone sides like a flood of tears. Qiluéchanneled everything she had into one last spell and felt the water grow as warm as blood.Eilistraee had granted her the power to heal the most grievous of wounds with a touch. Even ifHalisstra had slipped beyond life’s door, Qilué could resurrect her with a word, but could thespell reach her? Would it have any effect in the domain of Eilistraee’s greatest enemy?

    It might. Lolth was silent, after all, her priestesses bereft of their power. That was whyHalisstra had been sent on this quest, except that something had turned Qilué’s last spell,

    and the souls streaming into the darkened tunnel had been moving towards … something.

    The font was quiet and still. Images no longer filled it. Qilué lifted her dripping hand fromthe water.

    One of the priestesses leaned closer, stared down into the font’s blank depths. “MistressQilué,” she whispered—mistakenly addressing her, in a moment of extreme tension, as a drow ofthe Underdark would address her matron. “Is she … dead? Is all lost?”

    The other priestesses held their breath, waiting for Qilué’s reply.

    Qilué glanced up at the moon. Eilistraee’s moon. Selûne shone brightly, not yet diminished,the Tears of Selûne twinkling in its wake.

    “There is still hope,” she told them. “There is always hope.”

    She needed to believe that, yet deep in her heart was a sliver of doubt.

    Qilué stood beside the font for the rest of the night. The other priestesses crowded around herfor a time, and she answered their nervous questions as soothingly as she could. When at lastthey fell silent, she sought to touch the mind of Eilistraee.

    In a moonlit glade, deep in a forest that needed only the moon’s light to thrive and grow, shefound her goddess. Eilistraee was a drow-shaped glimmer of unspeakably beautiful radiance.Qilué touched that with her mind. She needed no lips to frame her question. The goddess pouredmoonlight into her heart, throwing the words that were scribed upon it into sharp relief. Sheanswered in a voice that flowed like liquid silver.

    “House Melarn will aid me yet.”

    Qilué sighed her relief. All was not lost. Not yet. If Eilistraee had indeed heard Qilué’sprayer and revived Halisstra, there was still a chance that the Melarn priestess would slay

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