Shadows of Doom
It is the doom of men that they never know quite enough wisdom until it is too late.
Hearken now to a tale of the Realms, ye jaded lords, ladies, and gentles. Oh, it is a grand tale, to be sure. It has murder, and magic, and lovemaking-and, as usual, you'll misunderstand every word of it.
Be not angry, mind; the fault's not with you, or me. Life's like that, you see. Lhaeo Rhindaun, Scribe to Elminster
There is a slim, dark and dusty tome few have ever read…
It lies hidden beneath a rune-graven flagstone under the circular table in the innermost chamber of Candlekeep. This tome is called The Book of Mysteries, and it sets forth all that the writer-whose name, of course, has been forgotten-knew of the nature and powers of Mystra, the goddess of magic.
Chief among the book's secrets of Realmslore is the matter of Mystra's essence or vitality. As mistress of magic, her power is far greater than that of the other gods of Toril. Yet, to mortals at least, it seems not so. Therein lies the secret.
Throughout history, as long as there have been gods, and people of Toril to worship them, the essential power of Mystra has been held not only by the goddess herself, but by a self-willed, loyal demigod-Azuth, who was the greatest archmage of his day-and a handful of mortals.
These mortals cannot wield what they hold of Mystra's power, but they can withhold it, even from the goddess herself. This self-will, and the mortals' often widespread travels, keep Mystra from ruling all of Realmspace and prevent any other being from doing so through her. Should Mystra ask to use the power that they hold, each of the mortals can willingly let it pass into her, but they cannot be coerced into doing so. At the moment when one of these mortals dies, the power that he or she holds passes into the greater essence of life in Toril, returning to Mystra slowly but usable by none except her.
Down the ages, many beings have shared this mystery. For their own protection, they have not heralded the power they hold, yet it leaves its mark upon them. They cannot be located or affected by magic that spies upon the mind or tames the will. If not slain, they live many hundreds of years, resisting disease, poison, and the ravages of time. Their eyes tend toward blue, and their hair to silver. They attain something of the grace, wildness, and humor of Mystra herself. And, being mortal, they suffer far more-and learn more wisdom in the wielding of magic-than even Mystra herself. Some, tired or sick of their burden of power, have willingly sought death. Others find death unlooked for, at the end of a searching spell or a flashing blade.
One who always carries the burden of the mystery is the Magister, the mortal (and oft-changing) representative of Mystra, who holds that title by might-of-Art. Others who hold Mystra's power tend to be powerful archmages.
Elminster, the Old Mage of Shadow dale, is one who bears Mystra's burden. Two others are Khelben "Black-staff" Arunsun, Lord Mage of Waterdeep, and Laeral, his consort and fellow archmage. Laeral's sisters also hold some of Mystra's power. One sister is the Witch-Queen of Aglarond, called the Simbul. Another sister is Alustriel, High Lady of Silverymoon,
Of the other sisters, one is a mystery little spoken of. Another, Sylune of Shadowdale, held Mystra's power but perished in dragonfire, breaking her staff to destroy her bane and protect the dale. The last two sisters still hold their shares of Mystra's power. They are the bard and Harper Storm Silverhand of Shadowdale, and Dove of the Knights of Myth Drannor.
A handful of people, plus one demigod, hold something of Mystra's power. The goddess herself holds as much power as all of their combined burden, or so is the usual ordering of things.
What, then, befalls when Mystra falls?
It was the eve of the Time of Troubles. Magic had not yet gone wild across the Realms. The gods had not yet been cast down in the Fall. The chaos of spilled blood, lawless strife, monsters unleashed, and avatars roaming Faerun was yet to come.
Unbeknownst to mortals, the gods had been summoned together. Among them was Mystra, grown proud and willful over the passing aeons. With the others, she was about to be stripped of godhood.
Unlike most of the gods, however, Mystra's pride was born of wisdom, of being part of many bindings and most releases of power in Faerun, down thousands upon thousands of years. In the beginning, Ao the Overgod arranged the division of Mystra's power so that she could not easily be overthrown or used as an almighty weapon against the other gods-and so she could never rule over all and would not be tempted to try.
The secret of her power gave Mystra an idea. She made certain preparations involving a pendant, and began to keep an eye on magelings and apprentice wizards of little power, looking always for one who would be right. Perhaps she knew she was choosing her successor.
Perhaps she hoped only to gain an advantage over other gods in the Realms. It is doubtful that even the Lady of Magic could have foreseen clearly enough, or acted swiftly enough, to shape the pendant and choose the youngling Midnight as its recipient in the very short time between Ao's denunciation of the gods and the Fall.
Mystra could not have acted as she did purely to cheat the Overgod. Those sages who have spoken with Divine Lord Azuth (who was present at the Fall) agree that such behavior is unlikely in the extreme. Some-Elminster among them-believe that Ao, the Unseen One, laid these plans in Mystra's mind, because the power of the goddess of magic had to survive the Time of Troubles to preserve the very fabric of magic-cloaked Toril.
It is certain that, in the few mortal breaths between the doom that Ao laid upon the gods and the Fall, Mystra acted on earlier preparations. She had no time to reach Midnight or the pendant but was already-as always-linked with those mortals who bore the burden of her power. She had only seconds to act.
To shift enough extra power to Faerun in order to do what must be done later was no easy thing. A single mortal must hold much of Mystra's power, for she had no time to feed power into more than one. (If done too fast, it would surely destroy the recipient on the spot.) A lone mortal must carry the greater share of the god's divine energy without being destroyed or driven wild, until Mystra could reclaim her power.
It was the fate, or luck, of some mortal to do this-involuntarily and without any preparation. As luck or fate had it, this was the occasion of Elminster's Doom.
The Overgod spoke. Mystra acted. The Fall came upon all the gods, and a certain doom upon Elminster. Our tale begins then, before mortals know of the Fall, in a place unshaken by the great storms that swept much of the Realms during that time. Elminster and Midnight have not yet met in the Stonelands, and the world has not yet been changed forever.
As the Overgod Ao is reputed to have said, "Forever seems a shorter and shorter time, these days." Before the Change that everyone alive in Faerun at the time remembers, when new stars appeared in the sky and new gods and goddesses rose up while others fell, a profound change came upon the fleeting forever of one man.
One man a little (he will not say how little) over a thousand years old.
This is the tale of Elminster's Doom-and of the heroes it created.
Elminster was reading yet another book when it all began.
It was the day of Aumry's Feast, when the folk of Shadowdale gathered to toast their lord in the name of a much-beloved predecessor. In his leaning stone tower, well away from all the festivities, the Old Mage sat in the creaking chair by the hearth, his long pipe alight, sighing and muttering his way through a thoroughly hopeless grimoire of some long-ago necromancer of lost Netheril.