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9

The Sundering

Centuries passed, centuries during which the children of Lloth preyed with increasing strength and ferocity upon the children of Corellon. Such was the force of their enmity that the fair races of elves, Gold and Silver and Green, set aside their constant rivalries to seek a combined deliverance from their dark elven foes.

They gathered in the very heartland of Faerun by the hundreds, the High Magi of the elven people. All the fair races of elves-except for the sea folk, whose magic had long ago dwindled almost to nothing-sent the best and most powerful of their mages to the Gathering Place.

Upon a broad plain, a place set aside long ago for this use, the elven mages met to prepare for the greatest spellcasting any of them had ever known. On the land surrounding this place, farm villages and a trading community had grown with the sole purpose of preparing for and supporting this event. The elves of Gathering Place-for so it had been known since the childhood of the most ancient elves still walking in mortal form-had made this day their life's work. Though there were hundreds of magi, each found a carefully-prepared welcome that would do honor to a Seldarine avatar.

For centuries the elves who made Gathering Place their home had labored to build a Tower greater than any their world had seen before. Fashioned from white granite that reflected the elusive colors of the sky, it stood taller than the most venerable oak. A large, curving stairway wound its way up the entire inner wall of the Tower, and onto each stair was carved a stone seat, and the name of the mage who would occupy it. Together, these mages would cast a single spell.

Never before had so many High Magi gathered in one place. Together they had the power to destroy worlds-or to create one.

From the fabric of magic, from the very Weave itself, the elves had planned to fashion a new and wondrous homeland, a place that was theirs alone.

Not every elf on Faerun applauded this vision. Tensions between the Ilythiiri and the fair elves of the north were increasing with each season that passed. The decision to exclude the dark-elven mages from this great spell-tapestry only served to increase the animosity between the races. Yet the Gold elves, in particular, were adamant. They would create an island kingdom. This place, which the oracles had named Evermeet, was to be a place where no dark elf might follow, a haven for the children of Corellon Larethian. The dark-elven followers of the goddess Eilistraee found in this a particularly poignant irony, but their voices were drowned by the insistent chorus of Gold elves seeking a return to the glories of Faerie.

There were also protests from those who studied the ancient lore, for they were made uneasy by the tales their ancestors had passed down through the centuries. The story of lost Tintageer, destroyed by a spell so powerful that its wake could swallow a mighty island, was told as a cautionary tale in every village. But most of the elves thought of this as little more than a legend. And even if it were true, what had that to do with them? They had complete confidence in their magic, and in the visions of the elders who saw an island homeland as the People's true destiny.

Finally the day came for the spell to be cast. In the quiet hours before dawn, the magi came in silence to the tower and took their appointed places to await the arrival of the elf who would channel and shape the casting.

Long ago, lots had been cast under the prayerful guidance of a similar gathering of elven priests. They had chosen an elf to act as Center-the mage who would gather the threads of magic from all parts of the circle and focus it into a single purpose.

Oddly enough, the person chosen for this task was not at the time a mage at all, but a slip of a girl, a wild elf maiden known only as Starleaf. She accepted her destiny willingly enough, and though it saddened her to leave the forest behind, she was a diligent student and she took well to her training by the Magi. There was not an elf among the gathering who would not admit, however grudgingly, that Starleaf was the best and most powerful Center they had ever known.

The forest elf took her place in the middle of the tower floor and began the long, slow meditation that enabled her to reach out to and find the place on the Weave that belonged to each of the magi in the Tower. Eyes closed, she turned slowly as she gathered each thread of magic and let it flow through her into a single place of power. In her mind's vision, she could see the shimmering weave as clearly as if it were etched in the night sky. When all the elves were fully attuned, Starleaf began the great chant.

Like the wave of a mighty ocean, the cadence of the chant rose and fell as the elves gathered in the power of the Weave and shaped it to their will. On and on they chanted, throughout that day and into the long night. As the Day of Birthing dawned, the spell began to approach its apex. The very Tower shuddered as the force of the magic drawn from the Weave itself flowed through the gathered magi. Utterly caught up in the casting, the magi did not at first notice that the flow of power was taking on a momentum of its own.

Starleaf felt it first. The elves did not merely use the Weave, they were part of it-and she felt the souls of the High Magi begin to rip perilously free of the fabric of life.

At that moment, the casting was completed. Yet the flood of magic power went on and on, and the elves could not come free of it.

The Tower shook as if it were being tossed like a toy between two titanic gods, and the roar and shriek of the unleashed spell melded with the cacophony outside the Tower. With her heightened senses, Starleaf felt the agony of the land as tremor after tremor ripped through it. She saw the one land of Faerun sundered, and vast portions of it swept away, tearing again and again as they went to leave scatterings of islands upon the once-pristine ocean. She saw the destruction of great cities, the collapse of mountain ranges into the sea, the flooding tides that swept away terrified People and creatures on a hundred newborn shores. All this she saw, for at this moment Starleaf was utterly one with the Weave.

And yet, she stood alone. The mortal forms of the magi had been consumed by the magic, and their life essence was caught up in it, lending fuel to the cataclysm they had unleashed.

But Starleaf could still envision the faint, glowing lines of the web of magic they had fashioned. She cupped her hands before her, summoning the power that once had been the High Magi of Faerun. She called to them, pleaded, entreated, and demanded, using all the Art to which she had devoted her life. She clung to them as they faded inexorably away.

But as the final glimmer of their collective light faded from her mind, as darkness blotted out even the bright pattern of the Weave, Starleaf's last thought was of the ancient forest, the homeland that she had left behind in her duty to create another.

When Starleaf awoke, she was lying on the cold floor of the dark and silent Tower. She dragged herself up, trying vainly to push through the haze of pain and utter exhaustion that gripped her. The first thought that came to her was that the Gathering had failed.

As the dull roar faded from her head, she caught a sound that no ear could hear-a silent hum beside her.

Starleaf blinked away the spinning lights that whirled before her eyes and focused on the object.

In a shallow bowl that looked as if it had been carved from a single blue-green gem was planted a small tree-a tiny mature oak, perfect in miniature and glimmering with tiny green and gold leaves. Wonderingly, Starleaf touched a finger to the silvery bark, and felt a nearly overwhelming surge of love and recognition. She instinctively knew that within the tree dwelt the souls of the High Magi, and they were content.

"But how can that be?" she murmured. "Contentment, when we have failed?"

"Not so," said a gentle voice behind her. "At least, not utterly."

Starleaf turned, and her eyes widened in awe and terror. Standing before her were two golden-haired elves, too beautiful to be mortal beings. The male was dressed in armor, and lights swirled like dizzy stars within the wondrous sword that hung at his side. His female counterpart, gloriously gowned and shining with gems the color of starlight, stepped forward and lifted the stunned forest elf to her feet.

Starleaf knew without doubt that she beheld the most powerful of the elven gods, and she sank into a deep reverence.

"Rise, and listen to what we have come to say. You were chosen for this task under our guidance," the goddess Angharradh told her. "Once, in a land devoted to my worship, the priest and mages cast a spell that nearly destroyed them all. There are some things the gods cannot prevent, for to do so would be to take all choice from the hands of their mortal children. Yet this time, we did what we could. With your help."

The elf looked to the tiny tree. "What is this?"

"The Tree of Souls," Corellon Larethian told her soberly. "Guard it well, for it will play an important part in ensuring that the People have a home upon this world. Keep it safe on Evermeet, in a hidden place."

Hope brightened Starleaf's eyes. "Evermeet? It exists? Where is it?"

Corellon touched a finger to the elf's forehead. Instantly she saw in her mind's eye a spinning world, upon which she recognized the torn and scattered remnants of what had been Faerun, the one land. Glowing like an emerald in the sea was a small island, separated from land masses on either side by vast expanses of water. And even as she watched, the tattered Weave began to repair itself-dimmer over much of the world, true, but bright and fair upon the island.

Then Starleaf was on the island itself. Its beauty brought tears to her eyes, for here was everything an elf could desire: deep and ancient forests, rich glades, laughing rivers, pristine white shores, the company of both forest creatures and magical beings, and a joyful, vibrant magic that filled the air like sunlight.

Starleaf touched the Tree of Souls, wishing to share this vision with the elves who died to bring it into being.

"We succeeded, after all," she murmured joyfully.

"As to that, I am not so certain," Angharradh said sternly. "When you go from this tower, you will quickly see what I mean. Have you any concept how many of the People lie dead? How utterly changed is the world?

"It is true that Evermeet is in part the result of the magic you and yours tore from the Weave of Life. But that alone would have not availed-too much of the power of the casting was drawn off by the destruction that resulted. For lack of a better explanation, you might say that Evermeet is a piece of Arvandor, a bridge between the worlds-and the combined work of mortal elves and their gods. Do not take too much of the credit upon yourself-and neither should you take all the blame," the goddess added in a softer tone. "What was done, was destined. It is your part to see that the People find their way to this hard-won homeland."

Starleaf nodded. "I will plant the Tree of Souls on Evermeet with my own hands," she vowed.

"Not so," Corellon cautioned her. "Guard it and protect it, yes. But the Tree of Souls has another purpose. A time may come when elves wish to return to the mainland, or perhaps, they may have no choice but to return. Within this tree lies the power of High Magic, a power that even now is fading from the land. In time, only on Evermeet will such magic be cast. The souls within this tree, and those of the elves yet unborn who will yet chose to enter it rather than return to Arvandor, will grant the People a second chance upon Faerun. Once this tree is planted it will never be moved again. The power within will enable the elves to cast High Magic within the shadow of the tree, which will grow in size and power with each year that passes.

"Remember what I have told you, and pass on my words to he who takes the guardianship of the tree from your hands," Corellon told her sternly. "The Tree of Souls must not be taken lightly, or planted on a whim."

"I will remember," the elf promised. And as she did, she silently prayed that the need to plant the Tree of Souls would never come at all. Her heart and soul sang with the vision that was Evermeet, and the sure knowledge that nothing this side of Arvandor could take its place in the hearts of the People.


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