like to raise the ancient Yuir powers toward that aim, but they won't act on their wish, not while the zulkirs and tharchions of Thay lick their chops just across Aglarond's border.'

'If they've only got one wish, Alassra. I doubt that they do. Oh, maybe some of them, the Cha'Tel'Quessir are no more immune to short sight than the rest of us…'

Alassra scowled. Her eyes began to glow with sapphire light. Elminster ignored the warning. In all of Faerun, but especially in his privy chambers, he was the best equipped to weather the storm queen's tantrums.

'But the Cha'Tel'Quessir aren't like any other race-'

'They aren't a race! They're half-elves!'

'Precisely, but tell that to them. Nowhere in Faerun, nowhere on all Toril, is there a place where half-elves look at both their children and their parents and see folk like themselves. Nowhere… except in the Yuirwood.'

The deep blue fire faded from Alassra's eyes. 'My mother,' she whispered. Elue Shundar had been a half-elf, the child of an elf and human pairing. Alassra and her sisters, of course, took after their human father. 'She never saw herself in the ones she loved.'

Elminster set down his pipe. In his determination to enlighten his friend, he'd forgotten Elue Shundar, who'd faced the very fate the Cha'Tel'Quessir sought to avoid. He stood behind Alassra's chair, gently kneading her shoulders, offering solace without looking at her troubled face.

Many long moments later, Alassra began to speak softly. 'The Cha'Tel'Quessir are looking beyond the Seldarine, back to that primal forest, for gods that they can make them their own.' She sighed; the tension drained from her. 'Can they? Can Zandilar the Dancer be a horse-hunter's goddess?'

'Someone thinks so,' Elminster replied, returning to his chair and his pipe. 'Your Ember, maybe. Maybe Zandilar herself. Not the horse, I should think, but Zandilar's Dancer bears close watching. Let me know what you learn. My books are ever at your disposal, my memory and my company as well.'

'I mean to take advantage of all three.'

'Good… Excellent. Now, breakfast, dear friend, or back to bed?'


The royal city of Velprintalar, in Aglarond The thirteenth day of Eleasias, The Year of the Banner (1368DR)

Alassra Shentrantra, the queen of Aglarond surveyed her royal city and its busy harbor from an open window in the uppermost room of the highest tower of her copper-green palace. Morning light on her silver hair lent it a blonde, mortal hue. Her eyes, like the room behind her, were hidden in shadows dark as midnight.

The kingdom had prospered during Alassra's rule. Her window overlooked a harbor where trade ships waited at anchor for a chance to tie up at sturdy wharves. She could hear the occasional voice raised in warning or argument as dock crews and ship crews hurried their work.

There was a storm driving across the Inner Sea. Charcoal clouds already masked the northwestern horizon. Alassra leaned over the sill and drew the changing wind deep into her lungs. With senses honed more by experience than magic, she measured the storm, judging it natural, not wizard, weather. A few shingles might blow loose and a carelessly tied boat might drift free before the storm played itself out, but overall it posed no threat to the city and failed to hold her attention.

Alassra filled her lungs a second time, a great, yawning breath with outstretched arms, then she turned her back on the open window. A breeze, tangy with salt, followed Aglarond's queen into the shadows. It ruffled the parchment and feathers scattered atop a narrow worktable. Another woman at another window might have spared a thought for the rainy gusts that would follow the breeze, but not Alassra Shentrantra. Breezes entered because she willed them to; when the storm arrived, it would be forbidden.

Although she'd judged the coming storm a natural event, Alassra took no chances. A handful of this, a pinch of that, gathered quickly, ground in a clear crystal mortar and triggered with a single, soft-spoken word, boosted Alassra's already uncanny sensitivity to things magical. She closed her eyes and deliberately ignored each lingering spell or potent artifact within the walls. Her mind grew quiet until there was only Mystra's magic pulsing through her veins with each beat of her heart. For an instant there was something else, a glancing touch of curiosity, too gentle, she thought, to emanate from Thay.

She immediately sent a thought after it. Nothing should penetrate her wards without her consent. Her thought came back empty. Whatever had touched her, if anything had, it had escaped.

She opened her eyes with an uneasy sigh. The reckless part of her spirit counselled pursuit, to the outermost planes, if necessary: Her enemies were legion; no breach of privacy could be overlooked. But the reckless part of her spirit was smaller than it had been before she became queen. She had Aglarond to look after and confidence in her wards. Her enemies, especially the Red Wizards of Thay, weren't renowned for their subtlety.

They were, however, known for their persistence and, acknowledging that, the place of honor in the chamber belonged not to the Simbul's eclectic library nor to the marble-topped worktable where she pursued her endless curiosity regarding all things magical, but a crystal dome as broad as her outstretched arms, half as high, and floating on a shallow, quicksilver pool. Although every Faerunian wizard worth his or her spellbook possessed a scrying artifact, the Simbul's mirror was the envy of those who knew it existed.

The mirror was exquisitely attuned to Alassra's thoughts. Before her mind had fully framed a question, the quicksilver began to move, defying nature to slide upward, over the flawless crystal.

East, to Thay, Aglarond's queen thought as the last thumbnail patch of crystal disappeared.

Quicksilver dulled and darkened to steel gray, punctuated by rusty blooms, large and small, each corresponding to a Thayan enemy. In the five years since she had completed the spellcraft controlling her mirror, Alassra had learned how to interpret the bloodstain blotches. It had been worth the effort. For most of those years, Thay had been under a pall as dense as the magical fog that shrouded Aglarond's Yuirwood. The mirror had been the Simbul's most reliable source of information about the Red Wizards-other than the men and women who risked their lives spying in Thay on her behalf.

The zulkirs, she thought, refining her interrogation. The lesser splotches began to fade.

Szass Tam-

One blotch swelled larger than the others. It didn't sharpen into the zulkir's features. The Simbul could pierce Thayan wards, but not without provoking an all-out war. The rusty stain grew more complex: a seething sprawl of angry colors covering half the dome. By its shape and position-and the constant corroboration of the spies she ran within Thay-Alassra knew that the Zulkir of Necromancy still licked his wounds in the aftermath of a spectacular failure to ensnare the fiend, Eltab, in the Year of the Shield. That failure was somehow related to lifting the pall over Thay and, since it had had such far-reaching magical effects, was almost certainly causing chaos among the always-contentious Red Wizards.

Of all her enemies, Szass Tam had been the most dangerous, and would be again when he resumed his place as first among the eight theoretically equal zulkirs of Thay. Unless one of the other seven, through accident or alliance, accomplished what Alassra herself had not: the destruction of the no-longer-human, no-longer-mortal, lich.

With that thought in mind, Alassra shaped another zulkir's name: Mythrell'aa.

Szass Tam was a cunning creature with ambitions that reached far beyond necromancy and Thay; he and Alassra were bound to be enemies. Mythrell'aa, in contrast, had no grand ambitions. Alassra could have overlooked her, as she overlooked countless others of evil disposition, so long as their paths did not directly cross. But now Alassra's enmity knew no limit: Mythrell'aa, Zulkir of Illusion, had been Lailomun's mentor.

The rose-thorn branch, sealed in glass and laid in state on a nearby shelf, was Mythrell'aa's doing. Alassra's eyes widened when thoughts of Mythrell'aa roiled her mind. Her fingers twitched toward the slow-moving coils on the quicksilver surface of her mirror, as if by seizing them she could seize Mythrell'aa as well and wring the life from her as Mythrell'aa had wrung it from Lailomun.

When her thoughts were calmer, Alassra invoked other zulkirs: Aznar Thrul of Invocation-the mirror marked him with an ebony spider web-and the conjuror Nevron, a weeping smear who blamed himself for his misfortunes because he lacked the courage to blame Szass Tam or his ally, Aznar Thrul. There were other names, too, each with an abstract, sometimes beautiful, always revealing quicksilver signature, but Alassra's mirror wasn't treasured

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