The Secret War

The Secret War has been waged for over 30,000 years by the Churches of Shar and the goddesses of Magic and through various intermediaries as each side vies for control of the Weave.

History

The Secret War has its origins with the founding of the Baetith and the manipulations of the Spellweaver race in their attempt to have the Creator Races destroy themselves through unbridled magic use.

The Sarrukh were the first race encountered by the Spellweavers. Once marked as potential future rivals, the Spellweavers gradually flooded the reptilian humanoids with magical discoveries that allowed them unrestricted access to magical secrets far beyond their wisdom to master. Chief among these discoveries was the art of bodyshaping and a new form of magic called Weaving.

A group of legendary planeswalkers among the sarrukh returned with a powerful magical emitter known as the Athora. After much experimentation the fledgling Baetith were able to alter the Athora so that it funnelled raw magic through it and transformed it into a relatively benign magical field that could be used to power magical effects with relatively little danger to the caster. Furthermore, magical effects could be defined within the Athora and retrieved quickly using simple somatic and verbal components, this became known as Weaving and was taught to those willing sarrukh living near the Athora, it quickly spread to the entire population of Okoth.

In order to ensure control over the Athora, Missashak became the eternal guardian of it and over time merged with it completely, becoming a sentience within, exerting control over the Athora and guiding those that wished to use it. The Athora became anAnchor for what would one day become the Weave.

Meanwhile in Okoth the sarrukh civilisation soared with unrestrained magical power and the sarrukh became mighty indeed, linking their entire race to the fledgling Weave and granting themselves innate abilities to warp and shape the bodies of all creatures of their own bloodline (reptilians). This Bodyshaping began to form cracks in Okoth society, as each family took their own form as the true form of the sarrukh, and discriminated against others that did not conform.

Eventually these cracks broke apart Okoth and caused open civil war. Two emperors; Ghiz’kith and Pil’it’ith led the great sarrukh clans against one another in a war that nearly destroyed Okoth. Eventually Ghiz’kith conceded defeat and led his followers west, while the remaining clans were forced to explore the Planes in order to find slaves enough to fill the labour gap in their failing civilisation. Okoth was eventually destroyed by demonic outsiders known as the Khaasta (whom the sarrukh tried to enslave), while those clans that fled established the empire of Mhairshaulk in a far away land.

Mhairshaulk was not immune to the manipulations of the Baetith and continued to practice Bodyshaping on themselves and on newly created slave races. The legends of the sarrukh and their reptilian successors are filled with the fragmentation of their gods, empires, and people, all of which have a foundation in a single event that shaped the future of the entire world.

Ghiz’kith claimed to be Merrshaulk reborn (a claimed mirrored by Pil’it’ith), and something that all future kudzar (emperor) would claim. By -33,500 DR the sarrukh of Merrshaulk had continued to explore their magical legacy and rivalled the achievements of now vanished Okoth by creating the Emeralds of Mhairshaulk; a set of 13 massive gemstones within which were stored the sacred spells of the sarrukh. The Emeralds of Mhairshaulk were another attempt at creating a Weave Anchor, and allowed the sarrukh of Mhairshaulk to vastly increase their knowledge and use of magic once again.

Eventually, the last Kudzar of Mhairshaulk had warped his (or her) body so much with Bodyshaping, that it resembled sarrukh no longer. It’s reptilian body sprouted multiple heads and limbs, each with their own emerging personalities and goals. This name and existence of this horrifically misshapen creature has been lost to history but its legacy lives on to this day in the legends of the reptilian successors and even lesser races such as humans. What is known is that eventually this anathema battled itself, with many of its heads attacking the other until the body split and from it emerged a number of limbless, snake-like monsters that became the leaders of the new power in Mhairshaulk; the Naga.

The reason for the self destruction of the anathema and the birth of numerous Naga Lords is unknown, but at this time history first records the name Shar and mentioned of the Shadow Weave. Sarrukh and Naga legends hold that Ssharstrune battled Shekinester and the former was devoured by the latter, with Ssharstrune’s body being regurgitated and hidden away. Similarly the human legend of the War of Light and Darkness holds that Selune blasted Shar with some of her own power and Shar lurked away in the shadows for millennia waiting to strike (indeed it is not until the time of Netheril that Shar is even mentioned in Toril’s history).

The truth of the matter is that the anathema that claimed to be Merrshaulk reborn, had been experimenting with the fledgling Weave for several centuries, and at least one of it’s heads had begun to link themselves with the Weave and attempted to connect the Emeralds of Mhairshaulk to the Athora. In so doing, they reawakened the dormant sentience of Missashak and something else. It is no coincidence that Missashak resembles Mystra and Ssharstrune resemble a merging of Shar and Selune. It is likely that the influence of Missashak and dark entities within the Athora caused Merrshaulk reborn to tear itself apart.

During the physical and metaphysical battle for control of itself and the fledgling Weave, Merrshaulk reborn drew the essences of Missashak and these dark entities (SShar’devar is a name written deep in the caves of the Peaks of Flame) into itself and the Emeralds of Merrshaulk before tearing itself and the fledgling Weave apart. It would appear that Shekinester used Missashak’s power against the Sshar’devar that had infected one of the heads and blasted it away, separating Merrshaulk reborn into separate beings. Ssharstrune is credited as one such being and his or her “corpse” was cast away into a pocket plane. The Emeralds of Merrshaulk were seemingly stolen away by Tashalan slaves that took advantage of the chaos and fled their feuding masters.

Shar as she has come to be known has remained within this Demiplane of Shadow, whispering to those that would listen, attempting to sway others into releasing her from her shadowy prison. The Emeralds of Mhairshaulk were the only conduit she possessed into the Material Plane until humans discovered her prison home, giving her agents to return to Toril and spread her word. Madryoch of Imaskar was one of the first, but his efforts were thwarted early on. The most successful were early Netherese planewalkers who discovered the Demiplane of Shadow and succumbed to Shar’s dark whisperings, allowing the Cult of Shar to be born among the Netherese.

Shar’s plan was disrupted momentarily, for she had planned to draw the enclave of Thultanthar into her Demiplane and free her, however the collapse of the Weave ended that plan and trapped Thultanthar with her for over a millennia. Instead the collapse of the Weave offered Shar a different route, with the Fall of Netheril, the Netherese peoples spread across the north of Faerun, and with it the Cults of Shar.

Thus the Secret War began in earnest with the Fall of Netheril as the cultists of Shar sought to do her bidding; disrupting Weave Anchors, create Shadow Weave Anchors, and in so doing spread the Shadow Weave and the extent of the Demiplane of Shadow until it becomes a full-fledged co-existent Plane and grants her freedom and revenge after so many millennia.

Weave Anchors

The Weave is not a planet wide phenomenon, even today there are regions and pockets that the Weave does not yet touch, not including regions of Wild and Dead Magic. The Weave is a blanket of safe magic that protects the lesser races from the more powerful and more dangerous Raw Magic, this Weave is produced by the Weave Anchors and so the area of effect of the Weave is spread by the same Weave Anchors. Today there are multiple Weave Anchors present in every major region of Faerun and beyond.

In its natural state (before becoming a Weave Anchor), a Weave Anchor is a powerful emitter of Raw Magic. By transforming it, the Weave Anchor becomes a conduit, converting Raw Magic to Weave Magic and emitting it for many miles around (determined by the strength of the Weave Anchor).

Weave Anchors also act as a storage device of sorts. The knowledge of spells stored within them are available for all who possess the Gift (an “attunement” to the Weave) to use, with prolonged meditation the user can channel the spell into his body. Each individual Weave Anchor stores a selection of spells in a similar manner to a Node (in fact users attuned to a single Weave Anchor can access those spells exactly like a Node), but because all Weave Anchors are linked together in a complicated web-like pattern those spells are pooled together to allow anyone with the Gift to access any of the spells stored within any connected Weave Anchor.

With these powers the Weave Anchors standardise and stabilise magic across Faerun (and beyond) so that anyone can use magic without fear of a backlash or a power surge, and this knowledge is readily available due to a thousand years of Mystra’s faithful ensuring spells are documented and that knowledge disseminated widely. The complex web of Weave Anchors also provides multiple backups in case one Weave Anchor is damaged or removed.

It is not common knowledge (or even uncommon knowledge), but the Chosen of Mystra all act as portable Weave Anchors, as does the Magister. The Athora is another Weave Anchor and it is likely that the Annasherion (hidden beneath Raven’s Bluff) is another Weave Anchor or is targeted to become one. Any artefact level magical item that emits enough magical energy is capable of becoming a Weave Anchor through a misunderstood process known to the Church of Azuth (which the faithful believe consecrates the item to Azuth and Mystra).

All Mythals are by their very nature Weave Anchors, filtering magic and blanketing the area to protect and augment its inhabitants in a means sympathetic with the Weave. The Moonwells of the Moonshae Isles are also known to be Weave Anchors and they blanket the entire island chain in a way similar to a Mythal while also acting as a Node for spells to be stored and retrieved (although their creation as Weave Anchors was accidental as their main purpose was to imprison and weaken Kazgoroth).

Mythallars are not and have never been Weave Anchors as they did not work sympathetically with the Weave, instead they punched a hole in the Weave, allowing Raw Magic to flow directly into the Mythallar to be emitted in a higher concentration. This created a miniature, self contained Weave of its own that ultimately drew too heavily upon the Raw Magic of a region (causing highly magical creatures like the phaerimm to starve and ultimately perish).

The Nether Scrolls were at one time one of the original Weave Anchors of the Weave (along with the Athora) designed to spread the Weave to distant lands and make it easier for the Baetith to destroy their enemies by granting exponential magical potential to groups unprepared for the resulting consequences (a strategy that worked very effectively against the Sarrukh, Batrachi, Aearee, Imaskari, and Netherese). In the wake of the Fall of Netheril, when Karsus unwisely chose to drain the power of the Nether Scrolls into himself in a bid to become a god, Mystryl was forced to sacrifice herself and disconnect the Weave Anchors to stop Karsus’ drain. A child prodigy Mystra of the Seven Stars (who unknowingly drew some of Mystryl into herself during a ritual) gradually reconnected the Weave Anchors with the help of Azuth, but they ensured that the Nether Scrolls remained disconnected to serve as a backup and to ensure that no-one would be able to draw upon the spells of Netheril stored within the scrolls.

Shadow Weave Anchors

Shar has tried to spread the area of the Shadow Weave by creating Shadow Weave Anchors or subverting existing Weave Anchors to the Shadow Weave. In so doing the size and power of the Shadow Weave increases, as does the Demiplane of Shadow that serves as Shar’s prison, home, and body.

Shar has tried many different methods to extend the use of the Shadow Weave with varying successes.

The Shadow Stone: One of Shar’s earliest successes was the subversion of the artificer Madryoch who went on to craft the artefact the Shadow Stone. The Shadow Stone perverted all those who touched it, forcibly changing their attunement from the Weave to the Shadow Weave. The Shadow Stone, like all other Shadow Weave Anchors weakens the effects of the Weave and its magical effects. The Shadow Stone was unfortunately banished to the Plane of Shadow along with Madryoch by Hilather around -2500 DR, however, Shar has used to numerous times to forcibly change other powerful magic users to use her Shadow Weave (including the like of Telamont Tanthul himself).

The Unwinding Ritual: A more recent approach of Shar, given her recent rise in power, is the use of a ritual to open a rift in the Material Plane, allowing a portion of her Plane of Shadow to bleed through. This rift strengthens the connection to the Plane of Shadow and the Shadow Weave and allows the rift to be enchanted into a Shadow Weave Anchor which weakens the Weave around it.

The Shadow Engine: Another plot of Shar and her minions is to transform existing powerful Weave artefacts into Shadow Weave Anchors. The Shadow Engine is just one example of this with a damaged Mythallar from the time of Netheril being repaired and augmented by the Shadow Weave into a Shadow Weave Anchor.

Shadow Mythals: The final and most successful ploy of Shar is for her faithful to foster events where existing Weave Anchors are damaged, for example when the Mythal of Evereska was attacked by the phaerimm. As per the plan, one or more of the potential candidates to repair this Weave Anchor are mysteriously eliminated or unavoidably detained elsewhere and so alternatives have to be sought. Shar does not restrict the use of the Shadow Weave to only her servants and so it is possible that one or more of the participants might be secret Shadow Weave users which then transforms the Weave Anchor into a Shadow Weave Anchor. These Shadow Weave users may not even be aware of the taint themselves, often finding secret lore by “happenstance” (planted by Sharrans) which slowly begins corrupting them to the Shadow Weave.

The insidious plots of Sharrans are multitudinous and unknown even from other Sharrans so while one cell could be supporting monsters and agents to damage Weave Anchors, another separate group might be assassinating powerfu Weave users in the area, while another group could be planting the seed of Shadow Weave corruption among promising students of the Art.

Discussion

War of Light and Darkness and the Sarrukh

The legend of the War of Light and Darkness claims that Shar and Selune have existed since the beginning of time and warred over creation for almost as long. The nature of godhood makes this impossible, since a god cannot exist without belief (even before the Time of Troubles supposedly mandated a direct link between gods and belief there have been numerous instances of gods weakening and dying through lack of worship – the Yuirwood pantheon, Kozah, the many local pantheons of human kind, and the hundreds of demigods born and dying every century).

The War of Light and Darkness claims that Selune defeated Shar by ripping magic out of her own body and hurling it at Shar, in so doing she created Mystryl the goddess of Magic. This legend has several implications, first that Mystryl existed long before Netheril despite never having been worshipped, and that Mystryl existed before the Weave was even created by the Spellweavers and their manipulation of the sarrukh and other creator races. Furthermore, since Mystryl and Mystra and Midnight are known to be embodiment of the Weave, this implies that Selune was the embodiment of the Weave first.

Of course none of the above can be true since gods cannot exist without worship, and the Weave could not exist before it was created. It is known that before the Weave, Raw Magic covered the planet and was dangerous to all who used it, the Weave was made in order to allow easier magic use by the lesser races (to fuel their destruction).

If the War of Light and Darkness is merely a legend but with grain of truth then what can be taken from it. First that there was a battle long ago and it seemingly involved the Weave or was for control of the Weave.

Legends of the Sarrukh involved repeated themes of power, destruction and fragmentation that parallel activities among the Divine and events in the material plane. The World Serpent fractured into multiple beings just as the sarrukh Empire of Okoth fractured into civil war. The Naga similarly have a fragmentation of their deity into 5 separate aspects just as Mhairshaulk collapsed. The similarities in these legends make it likely that a real world event resulted in the creation of them through the corruption of time. The sarrukh were known for Bodyshaping magics and these caused the civil war that fractured Okoth, it is likely that similar magics caused the destruction of Mhairshaulk. Among the yuan-ti there exists a multi-headed being known as an anathema and this is almost a legacy in the lifecycle from sarrukh manipulation. It is not inconceivable that the sarrukh practiced Bodyshaping upon themselves to the point that their bodies literally fragmented under the pressure of change, that they also have a tendency to worship their emperors as the gods reborn lends further credence to the idea that one of these emperors literally tore his body into fragmentary aspects as the Empire of Mhairshaulk collapsed and provided an origin to the legends of the sarrukh.

Links between the War of Light and Darkness and the legends of the Sarrukh lie in the phonetic similarities between deities and in the aftermath of both legends. Ssharstrune has a phonetic similarity to both Shar and Selune, indeed the council of Sh’arrim that elect the emperors of the Sarrukh bears another resemblance to Shar. Missashak has a phonetic resemblance to the modern day goddess of Magic, Mystra, and her association as guardian of the Athora adds another link since the name Athora means darkness in another language (likely the Spellweavers).

It is known that mortals can merge with the Weave, and possibly with individual Weave Anchors, it is also possible for mortals to become Weave Anchors themselves. The likes of Missashak and Ssharstrune could have merged or become Weave Anchors and fought between each other using the power of the Weave to achieve supremacy. The separation of parts of the Weave is not a new concept, when the Weave collapsed during the Fall of Netheril, the Weave was disconnected into fragmentary pieces to save it, and during its reconstruction the Nether Scrolls were left apart from it so the magic held within them could not threaten the world again.

The War of Light and Darkness resulted in the creation of 5 deities; magic, war, disease, murder, death, similarly the fragmentation of Shekinester resulted in the creation of 5 aspects and the fragmentation of the World Serpent created a similar number of deities.

Ultimately the link between the Creator Races and the War of Light and Darkness derives mostly from the creation of the Weave which also represents the body of Mystryl, or Mystra herself.