Shadows From the Fire

Alternate and Deleted Scenes

From the Author: There were a number of things I wanted to include in Shadows From the Fire, but couldn't because they didn't fit the plot, I couldn't figure out a way to include them or they were the first cut of a scene that was otherwise changed. I had contemplated writing two 'alternative' endings but I don't have the drive to go about writing them. Chapter 5 was very hard to write and took up all my steam – plus I still have to finish up my Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic epic. Because these chapters may never be written, I'll write out a quick summary of them – but these will be the last things you read just incase you're clinging to the hope that I may one day write them up. I won't spoil the surprise for those of you idealists out there. For you pragmatists, they'll be at your disposal.

So why the reason for darkness? Well, we always read about the hero succeeding in saving the world, getting the love interest and living in peace and harmony. Fantasy may appear to have perfect outcomes, but once in a while you are going to fail…it just depends on what choices you make. Mercutia saved the world, true, but she failed in her own personal vow to remain a good person and not succumb to darkness as others in her family had. Blame it on Frostblade, her nightmares or her background – it doesn't matter. The same goes for Valen. Ultimately, he fails in his own personal quest: to fight the taint of his heritage. Both the half-elf and the tiefling had the same goals: save the world and save themselves. That's what makes things so tragic, the world was saved but at the cost of the heroes' dreams.

Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret…it was never meant to turn out like it did. This mini-beast of a creation was only supposed to be short vignettes of PC Valen interaction. Mercutia's character had already been put into place long before she was used here, but her dominant personality traits and the darkness sort of stemmed out as I went along. So you can all take the credit for her character development when I publish my novel in the year 3000 billion. ;)

Is there going to be a sequel? Do you really want to see Mercutia destroy the world, taken on the gods and have Valen be her faithful love slave? Is that what you want? Do you think he can redeem her? Or did you just want to see more angsty tiefling? No, its unlikely that anything else will be written about this twisted couple. I thank you for the desire though.

I still have some additional comments. Bear with me, I like writing! Firstly, to all the readers and reviewers: you truly make the world go 'round. It was nice to wake up after a night of hard typing – and finally posting – to some positive feedback. It's good to know that there are people out there who like this story and the characters. (And thank the gods for people like Lady Winde who let me bounce ideas off of her late at night! Mercutia and Valen's madness wouldn't be coherent without you!) You're all just the best. Truly.

So far, I am very happy with everything…and by the time you read this then revised chapters 1 – 6 have already been posted. You can go back and take a look at the extra dialogue snippets if you like, but the real treat is below…enjoy.

Just a note – these probably aren't as polished as the rest of the story due to the fact that if I did go in and revise them…they wouldn't be here, would they?

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Deleted Scenes

Those things that never quite made it.

I. The Absence of a Shirt

This scene would have been tricky to fit in, because there weren't any places, conceptually, that it could have fit. Perhaps you will disagree with me, who knows? This was written as an after thought but it never got used in any subsequent chapters. Oh well, I suppose Mercutia changing and Valen peeking is just a convenient way to convey that he is a man as well as a tiefling.

Valen tapped his knee in thought as he considered their journey. There was still a long way to go, even after defeating the Valsharess's forces. Order had to be restored and maintained. Luckily, the drow had two competent, brave leaders at their disposal. Valen liked to think of himself as one, and the other was mulling around before him, packing what few possessions she had brought and placing them lovingly into a sack.

An extra pair of clothes lay on the bedroll nearest to him and he wondered if they had been laid out for him. She was always doing that. Valen reached out a hand and picked up what appeared to be the shirt as it unraveled from its precise, military precision folding. As he held up to his chest, he realized that it was much too small for him.

"I don't think red's a good color on you," teased Mercutia. They were obviously her clothes. "There's not enough contrast with that brilliant hair of yours."

Valen blushed and put the shirt back down.

"But if you ever have the hankering to wear women's clothing, Valen, do let me know!" The paladin was a wicked, wicked woman at times.

"Perhaps you should be wearing my clothes, my lady?" suggested Valen, his cheeks bright red but his eyes belying their color.

The half-elf pursed her lips and walked forward to gather her things. "Now that is something to look into." She smoothed the fabric in her hands. "But first we'd have to remove all my clothes, find a clean pair of yours, put them on me and then pack everything back up. Terribly time consuming, don't you think?" Mercutia loved spoiling his little games. "Unless of course you want to run around the Underdark naked?"

Valen frowned and did not respond.

"Not that I would complain…" continued the half-elf with a saucy wink.

The tiefling tried to suppress a groan.

Laughing, Mercutia proffered him the shirt. "Hold this, would you?" Valen took it with a wary glance. Once the extra garment was out of her hands, Mercutia pulled of her tunic top. The cold cavern air gave her goose bumps and she took a quick look around for Deekin. The bard went all a twitter when he saw her changing for some reason. There was little time for modesty in the dangerous caverns of the Underdark, changing behind a rock meant separation from the group, which meant vulnerability that equaled a nice, crunchy snack for any hidden predator.

Valen had not anticipated the paladin's move and his eyes went wide as an expanse of skin assaulted his view. He clutched the shirt in his hands so hard his knuckles went white, mirroring the skin's pigment. He'd never seen skin that color before…it was titillating to his senses. Her body was almost as he had imagined it to be, toned and hopefully soft. He hadn't expected the scars though. There was one falling diagonally across her side and crossing up beneath the strip of cloth binding her breasts…his breath caught in his throat as he desperately forced his eyes onto the shirt. She was delaying a bit with getting her second shirt back on.

His eyes made a quick dart back to her body, then back, then to her body, then back. The familiar claw in his mind was slowly returning, twisting him inside out with baser lust and desire.

"Shirt," commanded Mercutia, hand outstretched.

Valen didn't hear her, still clutching it tightly in his hands and shaking.

"Valen, my shirt?" the paladin asked again.

The tiefling did not relinquish his hold.

Mercutia moved forward, dropping to a knee in the dirt. "Valen?" She coaxed his hands apart gently, noting the sweat on his forehead and the trembling. "Valen are you with me?" she questioned softly.

Valen turned his eyes on her; they were wide and dilated. His hands tensed once more and then fell limp.

"By Torm, Valen are you alright?" A hand moved to his forehead and gray, inquisitive eyes searched his face.

"I am fine, my lady. I just felt…" Valen decided he couldn't tell her. "It does not matter."

Mercutia raised her eyebrows but nodded in understanding. She took the shirt from his hands and pulled it on, the red a stark contrast to her gray skin. She took up the second piece of clothing: a pair of long, black slacks.

Valen's eyes tripled in size and he quickly stood, moving as fast he could to find the kobold. Some things he couldn't control.

II. Good Graces of the Seer

A dialogue that couldn't quite find its place in the story, its just a small conversation between Valen and Mercutia about the Seer. Most likely it would have been the beginning of chapter 2.

Valen looked out across the Dark River, glad not to be on the boat that so precariously shifted on the raging waters below the dock. It was a curious thing the River and the tiefling could see its strategic usage. No enemy would dare cross it and indeed, from where could they? They would have to come from many miles away in order to attack and even then success was unlikely – but there was a chance. The Valsharess was a crafty, conniving drow with skilled warriors at hand. If there were a way then she would easily find it.

"Boss?"

"Yes, DEEKIN?"

The weapon master couldn't stop the twitch at the corner of his mouth. Ever since that night when Deekin had chosen the most inopportune moment to awaken, Mercutia had been having the urges to throw him off the nearest cliff. Valen often dreamt about doing the same thing to the reptile, but something about Mercutia's behavior disturbed him. For a paladin, she displayed some very questionable qualities. From what he had heard, paladins were supposed to be good-hearted people with generous and noble spirits. At least, that's what he gleaned once pious and zealous were taken out of the context. His companion could be short tempered, snappish and thoroughly rude when she wanted to be. It confused him.

Yet the Seer trusted her and Valen…well, Valen trusted her too. She was…alluring and so interesting to watch with her animated face and eyes. He gave a sideways glance at the odd pair.

"Oh! Deekin! Look! A…a…uh…a sea monster!" Mercutia pointed frantically at the water. "Go describe it! Hurry!"

"Sea monster? Deekin finds!" the kobold's scaly legs scrambled as he chased the current of the stream, waiting for the 'monster' to appear.

"A clever trick, my lady," Valen gave her an approving smile.

"Do you think so?" The paladin flipped a piece of hair over her shoulder. "Who knew I was possessed of such brilliance?"

Valen shook his head and turned back out to the water.

"Always on guard," the paladin murmured, laying a gentle hand on his forearm. "Always protecting the Seer."

"Without the Seer, Mercutia, our forces may very well lose this war. I have pledged my service to protect her and I will do so with every breath I have." Valen's voice left no room for protest. "I take it you understand this?"

"Your Seer inspires loyalty," Mercutia's, however, was strained and contrary. "Its commendable. She's a…." the paladin sighed. "A remarkable woman."

"Indeed."

"Not everyone could hold together a group of Lolth and Eilistraee worshipers. She is really something."

"You sound unhappy." the tiefling frowned, but did not remove his gaze from the swirling river.

"I'm…I'm fine." The tone of bitterness in her voice could not be contained.

"You lie, my lady."

"So what if I do?" she snapped.

Valen raised an eyebrow in irritation. "My lady - "

"Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't take my frustrations out on you." The paladin removed her hand from Valen's arm and ran it through her hair. "Its just…" How in the world could she tell Valen that she was jealous of the Seer's hold over him?

"You feel like you do not belong," Valen's voice was soft.

"Yes," lied Mercutia. "Its dark and this place is alien. I miss the surface." Let him believe what he wishes. It is better that way. You are a paladin and he is a half-demon, after all.

"You will see it soon, I believe, my lady." Valen tried to manage smile. "I fear that this conflict is coming all too soon. We are not prepared yet."

"Valen, why do you serve the Seer?"

Valen frowned. "I have already told you, my lady, she has given me a purpose and my humanity. I will repay her for this kindness anyway I can."

Mercutia shook her head. "No, Valen, there has to be more to it than that."

"Is my lady implying something?" Valen's tone was chillingly neutral.

"No, Valen, I imply nothing. Its just, well, would you do the same for...would you have the same devotion to…well, I'm just beginning to care about - "

"BOSS! DEEKIN NO FINDS SEA MONSTER!"

The paladin flinched at the call.

"My lady?"

Mercutia took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, stirring the hair hanging over her eyes. "Nevermind. We should probably get something to eat at the common house." Mercutia's grin appeared natural and kind, but the glint of sharp teeth gave a very feral quality overall. "Does roast kobold sound good to you?"

III. First Impressions

A flashback to a 'getting to know you' conversation. Forgotten about until I found it on my hard drive. There's no descriptive text, just a skeleton frame, but I think it's pretty obvious who's speaking. Besides, it wouldn't be as…amusing with the text. Deekin is such a brat sometimes…

"My lady, if we are to travel together I would prefer to learn more about you."

"Well, Valen what is it that you want to - "

"Oh, Deekin can tell you lots about Boss!"

"Can you indeed, Kobold?"

"Yes, yes! Deekin knows Boss from ways back, he knows Boss best."

"No, Deekin, that's not necessary."

"Boss! Of course it is! Goat Man need to knows when to stay out of Boss's hair and what to expects when - "

"Oh thank you, Deekin. You're doing me such a favor…"

"Fine then, kobold, amuse me."

"In morning, Boss always grouchy. She yell at Deekin, 'Deekin! Go starts fire! Go cooks food! Deekin fetch clothes! Deekin no talks back!' Because Deekin not likes it when Deekin ordered like slave."

"I never do that!"

"It be best you never one to wakes Boss up, otherwise Goat Man's head be missing."

"I will…take that into consideration."

"Valen!"

"And then when Boss awake, Boss cleans self up for day. Well, Boss curse when she tries to comb hair. Take the gods' names in vain all the time and Deekin be thinking, 'what if Torm strike Boss down right now? Will Deekin have to clean up mess?' Deekin get very worried when Boss moves on to elven deities, they be touchy sort."

"This can not be happening to me."

"Boss goes up and down pantheons like world going to end."

"Those must be some tangles, my lady."

"Oh! Deekin nearly forgets. When Boss sleep, Boss snore really loud."

"I DO NOT SNORE!"

"Boss lies down on bedroll with armor on, closes eyes and snore. Sometimes Boss snore even louder than Old Master…"

"That's ENOUGH, Deekin!"

"…but Deekin always poke Boss before that happens so Goat Man can rests easy."

"Why do I do this to myself?"

"Do you speak truth, Kobold?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure? You are not lying?"

"Of course he's lying, Valen!"

"Yes. Deekin sure."

"Deekin!"

"Boss?"

"Deekin, let's go take a walk into the Underdark…I want to show you this fabulous view at the edge of a nearby cliff…"

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Alternate Scenes

First cuts and other ideas

I. Chapter 4 Alternate End – The Battle of Valen and Mercutia

This is an alternate scene for chapter 4. Instead of Valen attempting to 'seduce' Mercutia by the end of the chapter, he instead beats her to her knees. While the concept was good at the time, I knew that it would extend chapter 4 and probably weaken chapter 5's significance. Its not pretty, folks, and it wouldn't be fair to tone it down.

"It is," hissed the paladin.

Valen stared at her hard, his fingers squeezing her delicate neck unbearably hard before retracting his hand…only to propel it forward into her face. The paladin felt the gush of blood from her nose and heard the convenient 'snap' of it breaking. She staggered forward from the force of inertia, but Valen was quick to put a hand on her chest and hold her back, a meaty hand sweeping in. Valen skimmed her jaw line and tore across the paladin's lips, forcing them up and over the line of her teeth and causing tears in the skin of her mouth. Her temple ground against the pillar and blood trickled down the side of her head.

She slumped forward and raised a hand to her mouth, giving Valen the opportunity to grab her shoulders and throw her forward and across the floor. Mercutia's limbs flailed as she landed hard on her side, her armor scratching the polished stone as she skidded to a halt. The joints of her greeves and shoulder plates were badly mangled and she had trouble righting with the blood stinging her eyes. She bent at an awkward angle, as if to stand, only to find that Valen was already waiting for her. He easily dragged her up with one strong arm and held her there by her neck, her toes barely scraping the floor.

His eyes burned with a fury and intensity that had never been seen before. He was accepting the taint and it made him deadlier than ever. "I could crush your neck, my lady," he hissed.

Mercutia knew that was very true and she honestly wanted to find him, but some small part of her just stood submissive. The paladin tried to gurgle a response, but as she moved her lips to speak the vice like grip became tighter. Stars were dancing in front of her eyes and blackness creeped upon the edges of her vision, yet she could not erase the two red, burning eyes staring at her with all the hatred the Nine Hells had to offer. Defiance won over, so she did the only thing she could do: she spat right in his face.

It had just the reaction she was looking for. Valen dropped her feet to the floor and ran with her across the room, picking up momentum and then finally releasing his grip as Mercutia flew like an arrow into the opposing wall. Her head the stone with a crack and she collapsed upside down, her legs landing dangling in front of her face. A smear of blood trailed down the wall. The submissive voice whispered to her softly, and Mercutia's breathing slowed down even as her body shook from the footsteps approaching her way.

The tiefling kicked her legs sideways and she lay sprawled at the base of the wall. Frostblade's scabbard had long since fallen off from the to and fro pulling Valen had exerted upon her. She crawled forward on her belly to reach for it, to seek solace in Frostblade's sentient nature, but her once-friend was quick to land one, two, three kicks upon her side. His thick boot left dents in her armor and pushed jagged seems into her skin.

She huddled for a moment, the pain slowly moving it's away across her body, and then started up again, crawling towards the only thing that had kept her sane. There were cries in the air and they spurred her forward. She reached out an arm and pulled, the metal pushing deeper into her side but she strained her muscles and moved forward another inch. Yet a heavy weight on her lower back stopped all thought of movement. Valen's foot pressed harder and harder, threatening to stop Mercutia from ever walking again. She put her head in her hands, resigned. Mercutia was ice and like it, she could be snapped in half.

But something stopped the force of the pressure, and it wasn't until she became fully aware that the screams were her own, did she understand that something had gotten through to Valen. For the last time, Valen leant down and picked her up, gently. Mercutia struggled to remain on her feet, but the disorientation and the bruising along her back made that very difficult. She staggered towards the nearest pillar, Frostblade forgotten. She leaned back against it and slid down; her armor clattering as she collapsed to her twisted knees.

She puckered her mouth as the faint, coppery taste of blood assaulted her senses. Valen's backhand had nearly knocked her teeth out, not to mention her left eye was swelling shut from the break in her nose. She tentatively reached up to feel it, her hands shaking, and she winced at the lightning hot pain. Her remaining eye refused to refocus after the impact her head had made when Valen had thrown her face first into the wall and below her armor, she was having trouble breathing. Valen's kick could shatter bones – even through metal.

But she didn't hold it against him. Inside, she knew she deserved it.

The tiefling stood motionless, looking down at his bruised and bloodied hands. He gazed upon the scrapes along his knuckles, made by the paladin's teeth as they connected with her mouth. He had just lost control. Everything had slipped away…he was just so…so angry! How could she say such things to him? Act as she did…

…Mercutia spat a large pile of blood onto the floor. The red liquid contrasted sharply against the alabaster stones. Her skin was the same shade of gray-white…

…Valen watched her wipe away the spittle at the corner of her mouth. Her skin was riddled with black and red marks; the bruises were ugly flaws on her form. He thought she was perfect. She was his world, his flower, his torch in an otherwise darkened room. But he had reached out his hands and smothered the flame. What have I done? "Mercutia…"

The half-elf raised her head in response, hair slipping down into her eyes to give her the impression that she was looking at the world through prison bars. Blood dripped from her nose and her lip was split and swollen, also leaking blood. Had Valen done that? No…no, she had done it to herself.

Wake up, child.

The tiefling stared down at her, his eyes furrowed in disappointment and regret. If only she had fought back and given him some lasting damage…but she had accepted each blow as some form of twisted penance. He didn't know paladins were such a sick breed. "My lady…"

Her voice was soft and consistent, the only undamaged thing in her body. "I hate you." Her heart was broken, her mind was lost, her body was bruised and torn…

Wake up, child!

Valen nodded. "I hate you too, my lady, but I hate myself more." He knelt down and took the woman's hands in his own. "I do not know what has become of you anymore. You anger me, frustrate me and torment me in a place where you know I have no control over myself. So why do you choose to do this? I am confused."

"Some choices we make are voluntary, others are not." The paladin's tongue licked over her ruined lips. "I chose to love a god," rasped Mercutia to their clasped hands. "I chose to love a man…my opposite and yet my equal…" She raised her eyes and they glittered faintly with some powerful, unseen emotion, "but neither time has that love been a blessing. It has been a curse! So, which did I choose?" She sneered, "I chose neither and yet they were forced upon me."

Valen grasped her hands tighter. "No, my lady, we - "

The paladin jerked him forward. "No, Valen. There was no we. It was me saving you and your Drow. It was me serving my god. It was you who cursed me. So allow me…" she pulled Valen towards her, denying Valen the right to pull back, and pressed her lips to his, "to return the favor. This is my curse, to you." She pulled back and looked him dead in the eye – and Valen knew that this time, her word was as good as life itself.

II. A Very Major 'Accident'

Ever wonder what would have happened if Mercutia had used 'Turn Undead?'

A single, clear voice rose over the din of the tavern. "Valen!" it called. "Valen!" It sounded a bit frantic to the half-elf's ear.

The tiefling stopped, his head swiveling back and forth quickly to scan the room. It couldn't be…could it? It was! It was her! The raven hair, honey skin, earthen eyes…a ghost, but it was her reflection nonetheless. "Lanari?" he whispered. He should have been rooted to the floor in shock, but instead he was moving towards her and she to him; a magnetic attraction drawing the former lovers closer.

"Lanari?" Mercutia's face twisted in confusion. Her sensitive hearing had caught the name – Valen had never mentioned it before. Unless it was…no, but she had died. Hadn't she? It was that slave girl, the one who was killed…it wasn't her. It couldn't be her. Why would she be in the hell reserved for traitors and betrayers? She strained to follow Valen's path through the crowd but lost him behind some burly quarry workers. It would be wrong for her to spy on him and yet…

That table, there, by Deekin – it would afford her a nice view of the tavern but she would still be able to crouch low enough so that Valen would not notice her. She knew he'd be very angry at her invasion of his privacy, but Mercutia was not a woman to share. Her move through the crowd was now more violent, bashing her armored elbows into various body parts for the other patrons to make way. She motioned at Deekin to keep quiet and climbed slowly on the table, ignoring the angry look the old tiefling shot her.

Maneuvering her way into a half-crouch, she found the perfect vantage to view Valen and his 'friend.' Her eyes narrowed and her hands clenched into fists – she could hear Frostblade's laughter in her mind. Why was he touching her!? Why did she touch him!? She had missed their introduction…what if she had…had kissed him? She felt a muscle in her jaw twitch. If Valen was as good as his word…

Slightly paranoid and very, very angry, Mercutia attuned her elven hearing on Valen's voice. He had better be on his behavior…but what she heard did not sound promising…

"Lanari…but how?" Valen gripped her arms firmly, she was solid and yet...not. It was an odd sensation. "You died. Why are you here? Are you one of the Lost?"

The spirit looked back at him with deep, bottomless eyes. "I was sold here, Valen. It has been so long…I do not remember though I know I was part of a bargain. I am one of the Lost, yes. I was bound to this place…but you are here now," she smiled at him, "and that is all that matters to me." Her cool hands cupped his face. "I have not forgotten."

Valen brought her into a close hug, spirit or no, her body felt real to him. "Nor have I, Lanari."

…the muscles in Mercutia's face twitched again and her blood had gone beyond its boiling point. No one played with her possessions! She was about ready to use her 'Turn Undead' ability on the spirit. If it worked on specters and wraiths, why not on the Lost…

"You are blessedly warm in my world of ice and ash," Lanari wrapped her arms tightly about Valen's neck. "I thought nothing could drive the chill from me, but here you are, my love, come back to me!"

Valen rested his cheek on top of her forehead. "You are in danger, Mephistopheles is devouring the souls of his subjects."

"It is terrifying to think that after I have found you, I will only lose you again," her fingers dug into the cool armor. "I have forgotten what we did, Valen, when I was alive."

…Mercutia 's hands began an intricate, time old motion. Upon her lips were the words of the divine. She was glowing, brighter and brighter…

"Will you show me, just in case I die?"

Valen's eyes widened and he looked down at the spirit's innocent, imploring face. Lanari had never denied him anything, had always been there for him…yet he couldn't willingly kiss her without a nagging feeling of guilt.

Lanari took his hesitation as a sign to lift her head up and brush her lips softly against his. She was flooded with a warm sensation all along her being.

"…Torm alvi lavora saesma!" The golden glow of Mercutia's form burst out from her body in every direction. Spirits screamed and the other patrons of the bar howled in fury as the angelic light swept over them….

Valen had to close his eyes from the burst of light and when he opened them, Lanari was no where to be found.

…Mercutia climbed quickly off the table and sat on the bench, putting an expression of shock on her face…

The weaponmaster made his way to the paladin with heavy steps, unsure of what had happened but knowing that Lanari was gone from him forever.

Mercutia looked him, weariness etched in all her features. "This is troubling. Mephistopheles is increasing his intake of souls, we have to get a move on now."

Deekin looked about, confusion on his features. "But, Boss…"

Valen grunted in annoyance. "Mercutia is right, kobold. Mephistopheles grows stronger each minute we delay."

"He would only do this if…if he thought he was close to meeting his goals," suggested the paladin quietly. "He can't wait any longer."

"Nor can we," replied the tiefling with a heavy heart.

"Valen," asked Mercutia, taking one of his hands in hers. "Are you alright?"

He nodded, but his smile was brittle. "I do well enough."

Alternate Ending 1

'Valen: Lightside'

This ending was the one I was originally going to write. I'm a sucker for redemption and I thought that Mercutia had suffered enough. But then I changed my mind (as I so often do) and this idea was put on the back burner. Things would have been too perfect otherwise.

So Mercutia wakes up from her dream and figures out the mystery of the Sleeping Man. She reads his thoughts with the amulet, opens the astral door, gets the ring and does her own trek through the alternate plane over Cania. Nothing terribly significant happens until she reaches the Knower of Names. Now, as in the original version, we never learn who is Mercutia's true love, but she is changed by the knowledge. So she gets all the names and returns to the Gatehouse, almost ready to take on Big M.

So what happens? Firstly, she doesn't take Nathyrra or Aribeth outside in private and devour their souls. She looks at them and uses their true names to change those things they don't like about themselves. Then she turns to Deekin and gives him the same treatment, sending all three of them through the portal when she's finished. At last she comes to Valen and Lanari, who are sitting quietly in a corner, both looking very sad and sullen. Mercutia knows – because she's changed by the knowledge of the Knowers – that she can't force Valen to love her, be he her true love or false love. So she orders Lanari to take corporeal form. Lanari smiles and begins her transformation…when, in a flash of light, she is sucked away to fuel Mephistopheles.

Valen stares in shock and Mercutia is privately very happy that now there's no more competition. She gets Valen's attention by using his full name and orders him to be relieved of his demonic taint. He is grateful and tells her so, but he is unhappy that Lanari was destroyed just on the brink of her return. Mercutia consoles him by saying that Lanari had found love again for a brief while and that wherever she was, she was happy. Valen counters that she exists no more, totally devoured by Big M, but Mercutia shakes her head and gives him a small smile. She knows that there must be something else out there where people like she go. Valen nods his head in assent and gestures to the portal, they both step through it.

Mephistopheles makes his challenge to each of Mercutia's party, but each stay except for a wavering Valen. Mercutia closes her eyes, hurt by the betrayal she thinks is coming, and lets loose a few angry tears…that turn the skin they touch a healthy pink. Valen sees this and remembers the moment in Cania where he kissed her and saw what lay beneath her appearance. This rekindles the deep love in his heart and as a new man, he takes his place beside her.

Like any proper happy ending, the villain is defeated, leaving Mercutia and Valen to share a tender kiss as the sun rises over Waterdeep. The End.

Alternate Ending 2

'The Planetar'

Taking that there was another love interest for Mercutia, I played around with the idea in my head that perhaps she'd be better off with the Sleeping Man. She is trying to fight her own evil with little success, yet the Planetar is a being of supreme and ultimate good. If I had a lot of free time, I could write two epilogues about this match, saying whether the Sleeping Man was corrupted by Mercutia's darkness or he did indeed manage to redeem her.

Mercutia's dream is invaded by a voice other than Frostblade and it beckons for her to embrace the warmth that is around her. This voice is soft and gentle and gently awakens her from the nightmare. As Mercutia opens her eyes, she finds the Planetar has shifted towards her and is now wrapped in his embrace upon the dais. She feels secure and calm; her mind is quiet as it has never been. There is something soothing about the man and the paladin wants to remain in his arms forever, just to feel the completeness she now does.

Realizing that she has a quest to complete, she reluctantly stands and searches about the room for something, anything to guide her. She finds the amulet at the foot of the stairs, places it on, and happily enters the dreams of the Sleeping Man. She explores them, finding each detail until at last he foes too far into sleep that she can not follow. An Astral door appears before her and as per usual, she just has to open it and step inside.

From this point on everything should happen as it should, she traverses about the Wastes of Cania and finally, after much blood shed, finds her way to the Knower of Names. Again, we never specifically learn who is her true love, but we do know that she walks away with some very nifty bartering tools. Returning to the Sleeping Man, she again gazes tenderly on his face and remembers a lesson that Drogan taught her: that all words are powerful. So she whispers in his ear her True Name and he awakens, embracing her tightly against his form.

A small dialogue then ensues, the Sleeping Man questioning if the sorrow and anger that had seeped into his dreams had come from the paladin, and Mercutia responds with a shaky nod. Then follows promises of love and eternal adoration, to which the half-elf becomes quite truly smitten with him. The Planetar leaves, deciding to go and prepare for their eventual union and gives her a special blessing so that she will remain strong in the battle of will against Big M: he heals the toll the Knower of Names placed upon her body for learning many True Names.

Mercutia returns to the Gate House, refreshed and energized and begins to rid people of their insecurities. Lanari is the last on her list to heal, but knowing that Valen isn't the man she wants anymore, she demands Lanari take full, living, breathing form. Valen stares at her in wonder, but Mercutia smiles and ushers them through the Reaper's Door and into the world of Toril once again.

Squaring of against Big M, everyone remains closely by her side and the Arch Devil is soon defeated by the power of a few words. Valen begins to ask her what has changed but Mercutia holds up a hand, watching the rising illuminate the buildings of Waterdeep in a golden glory. With the rays of the sun comes the Sleeping Man and Mercutia gives Valen a tender smile and a nod of her head before taking the Planetar's hand and stepping into his embrace. He kisses her gently and the two fade from the Prime, leaving Deekin and the rest to carry on the tale. The End.