Mourntrin Auvryndar marveled at the opening of his own eyes, for he had been so certain that he would never again glimpse the living world that he now saw everything with a heightened sense of awe and appreciation. Though his extremities felt weak and his lungs still ached colors seemed more vibrant and the air tasted almost cloyingly sweet – he drank it in like a parched man drinks water, letting the oxygen revitalize his spirit and bolster his resolve. He was alive. He had fulfilled his mission.
"I nearly woke you," came a darkly bemused voice from across the room, and sitting up Mourn cast his eyes about until they landed upon Lim Tal'eyve; the drow-shade was sitting behind his mahogany study desk with his boots stacked upon the well-polished surface, his chin propped nonchalantly upon one fist as he surveyed the drow reclining upon his own bed with open curiosity. Mourn hastened to vacate the bed, certain that he had greatly overstepped his bounds, but Lim made no move to chastise him. "Again, time grows short. It is only a matter of time before the High Prince's own sons come banging down my door with their intrusive questions, and you must be well on your way before they arrive. I am an outsider here, much the same as you, and even I cannot guarantee your safety."
"As you command," Mourn agreed readily, bending slightly at the waist and offering Lim a bow of respectful obeisance. "I have only to deliver that which I have brought to you, and then I will depart."
Lim's amber eyes sparkled at that, deeply intrigued now. "Then you are the one."
"Exalted Blade," said the drow assassin reverently, straightening up and fixing Lim with a genuinely privileged smile, "allow me to formally introduce myself to you. I am Mourntrin Auvryndar, once the Elderboy and Weapons Master of the now-extinct drow house of Auvryndar of Ched Nasad, now an assassin in the employ of Jarlaxle Baenre of Bregan D'aerthe, but always a proud member of the Jaezred Chaulssin. I was chosen to fulfill the position of Keeper of the Sword until such time as we could divine a way to free you from the Spider Queen's clutches, and I have devoted myself fully to locating you since the moment that title was bestowed upon me."
"I am honored to meet you, Mourntrin Auvryndar," said Lim with a smirk of relish, "and even more honored to learn that the Jaezred Chaulssin, my brothers-in-arms against the Spider Queen's reign over our people, never gave up on me. I must ask that you fulfill the duty of your office now and return to me that which you have been protecting all these years – that which is rightfully mine to wield – the Anointed Blade." Legend and myth held that the Anointed Blade, a timeless relic forged in the deepest corner of the Abyss, had been crafted in secret by Lolth's estranged sister Eilistraee with the sole purpose of one day striking the Spider Queen from her lofty perch in the heavens – none held that legend in higher esteem than the Jaezred Chaulssin, an elite all-male drow society whose only aim was to see that plan reach fruition. Nearly two decades before the Jaezred Chaulssin had passed the Anointed Blade down to Lim, and their prophets had proclaimed Lolth's death at Lim's hands so long as he continued to wield the sword against her.
That was when Mourn's face crumpled and he cast his eyes to the floor ashamedly; Lim felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, and sitting up straight in his study chair he allowed his feet to slide off the side of the desk and drop to the floor with a muted thud. "I must beg your forgiveness, Exalted Blade," he murmured, despaired. "The sword is not in my possession. I cannot give it to you."
Lim leapt from his chair and flung it into the wall in a rage, hardly satisfied when one of the legs punched a deep gouge in the plaster before crashing into a half-filled bookshelf. "You don't have it?!" he shrieked, feeling as though the floor beneath his feet had suddenly fallen away and he was drifting helplessly through his life without purpose. "What do you mean, you DON'T HAVE IT?! Why in the name of the Gods did you waste your time in seeking me out when you knew you had utterly failed your only task?! How DARE you face me with such wretched, deplorable news?! How DARE you beg my forgiveness when you are unfit to stand in my very presence?!"
"Please," begged Mourn, clutching his hands before him as though deep in prayer, his piteous expression quite wretched indeed. "Allow me but a moment to explain the circumstances to you, Exalted Blade. It is my hope that when the truth becomes known to you, you will not be so quick to pass judgment upon me.
"About five years ago, when you were just settling into your throne within the newly-risen Castle Perilous, I was dispatched from our sanctuary to make contact with you. Back then the Anointed Blade was in my possession, and of course I had every intention of bringing it to you. How could we have known that we were not the only ones who coveted such a priceless weapon?"
Dread settled in the pit of Lim's stomach, writhing in knots like so many enraged snakes. "What are you saying?"
Mourn spread his hands beseechingly, his eyes full of sorrow. "I had barely taken a score of steps out of the sanctuary when I was accosted by the first members of their advance guard, and I only managed to escape with my life by pretending that I had been killed in the initial onslaught. They left me in the Underdark, they believed, to die, and proceeded to ransack our sanctuary and slaughter as many of our members as they could find. In the end, they nearly eliminated every single one of us – their only aim could have been to locate the Anointed Blade, though for what reason they could possibly want such a weapon I can only speculate. They massacred the Jaezred Chaulssin, but they left without the Blade. They overlooked me as beneath their notice, and neglected to deduce that the sword was with me.
"After that, we were The Four – the only ones who had faced those pale-faced devils and lived through the slaughter. We took what provisions we could salvage from the sanctuary and struck out deeper into the Underdark, confident that the rage that fueled our steps would be enough to see us through any further hardships we encountered on our way. Our determination was rewarded. We established another sanctuary far from any who might have been even the slightest bit interested in tracking our steps. We prowled through those lightless caverns, learning all that we could regarding the race that had so easily decimated the Jaezred Chaulssin. We studied them. We bided our time. We safeguarded the Blade. And then we struck.
"A group of a dozen of the pale-faced ones had been frequenting a cavern not far from where we had established our new sanctuary – we had been tracking them for several weeks at a distance, but through our caution we were unable to determine just what it was that so demanded their attention. We caught them at unawares by chance and managed to kill a handful of them, but they outnumbered us and overpowered us with strange magic spells the likes of which we had never seen. Two of The Four were slain in battle – me and my last companion were captured and taken to their grand city within the deepest annals of the Underdark, and it was there that the Blade was stolen from me."
Lim let his head fall forward into his waiting hands, his fingertips pressing insistently into his scalp. The feeling of defeat that was a direct by-product of this news threatened to rise up and overwhelm him. "Then I have waited in vain, and all is truly lost."
"No, Exalted Blade," Mourn insisted, and Lim raised his head, eager to grasp at even the most frayed scrap of hope. "Though my companion and I were hopelessly outnumbered and prisoners within a foreign civilization the likes of which we had never seen, we still had our wit, and our cunning – those traits served us well during our captivity, and through our perseverance we ultimately escaped that place. The particulars of our escape elude me for we were weak and very near death when we staged our flight, and though I am ashamed to admit to you that we were unable to recover the Anointed Blade we did not leave that ancient city empty-handed. My final companion, Xuntath Oblodra, has since died at the hands of one of the shadow-dwellers, and I am now the last remaining member of the Jaezred Chaulssin; I swore to myself that I wouldn't rest until I had delivered my findings to your personally, and now at last the opportunity has come."
From a hip-pouch upon his belt Mourn drew out a simple drawstring sack the size of a pear, and speaking a soft trigger phrase the pouch tripled in size until it was roughly as large as a half-full knapsack; Mourn unlaced the drawstrings with exaggerated care before plunging one hand into its depths, and after rummaging around for a moment he extracted a weathered and ponderous tome the likes of which Lim had never seen. Both its cover and its pages were of materials not well suited for binding books – the cover was rough to the touch and extraordinarily resilient, and Lim could only inspect the edges of the pages for the tome was sealed tight with both a lock of highly unusual make and enchantments far older and more powerful than he could ever dream to be. Even the runes that adorned the surface of the text were completely unfamiliar symbols to him, and he traced the outlines of each one with a kind of mystified reverence.
"Forgive me for being so bold, Exalted Blade," said Mourn ponderously, "but in my humble opinion this book is far more powerful than even the Sword. I feel cataclysmic magic emanating from its pages the likes of which even your shadow masters could never hope to replicate, and I feel confident in saying that if you could unlock the mysteries penned within it… Well, would there be a being mightier than you in all the Realms?"
"By the Gods," breathed Lim Tal'eyve, his voice both awed and terrified as he caressed the front cover of the tome with slightly-trembling fingers. "I know what this is."