Disclaimer: I do not own 'Shadows of Amn', the 'Forgotten Realms' or any characters therein. Wizards of the Coast do, at my last check. Lucky them.
I do, however, own Fritha and certain other characters and plot points. Basically, if you don't recognise it from the game, it's probably mine.

This is the sequel to my first story, Sunrise, though it will make sense as a stand-alone work.

– Blackcross & Taylor

The Zenith


Fritha raced along the dungeon passage, Imoen's hand tight in her own as she dragged her friend with her, the sounds of Minsc and Jaheira behind barely audible over the fractured roar of the stonework that crumbled about them. The light at the end was growing brighter by the second and she could even see shapes moving about outside, every muscle screaming as she quickened her pace.

Just a few more yards…

And suddenly they were out, the sunlight so bright, for a moment she was blinded, crouching in the tunnel mouth as explosions of magic burst around them, the air thick with dust. Blinking furiously, her eyes adjusted and she stared out at a huge tiered arena, for one awful moment wondering whether they had not been captured as slaves for the gladiator pits, until she saw the number of people running about below them, screaming. The section of steps they were on had collapsed with the tunnel, leaving only uneven rubble, the magical blasts that filled the air dislodging yet more stone and through the dust she could make out a familiar form: Jon Irenicus. The mage who had arranged for their capture, murdered her friends and tortured her for days on end.

His attention, though, was currently occupied with fighting the unknown assailants whose attack on his dungeon had served to distract from their escape, and Fritha straightened, beckoning the others to follow as she set off, hoping to lose themselves in the chaos. But at that moment, the last one fell and Irenicus whirled as though he had always known of their presence. Fritha froze as he saw them, his voice taking her back to the sunless cage she was barely hours away from.

'So you have escaped, godchild,' he confirmed, more interested than angry, narrowed green eyes sweeping over them with an appraising look. 'You are more resourceful than I thought. This will require much study.'

Next to her, Imoen stepped forward, her eyes wide and blazing as she raised a trembling hand towards him.

'You're not going to torture us any longer!' she screamed, the energy of her magic as she suddenly attacked singeing Fritha's hair as she tried to pull her back.

'Imoen, no!'

But her magics barely touched him, and they could only watch, horrified, as the mage did nothing more than laugh.

'It is a matter in which you have no say, godchild.'

'Go! Run!' Fritha screamed, giving the girl a shove, but Imoen just stood, unable to tear her eyes away from him and Fritha felt an icy dread fill her as the shimmering blue dust of teleportation began to gather between his palms.

Please, gods, not again, don't let him take me again…

'This is an unsanctioned use of magical energy!'

Flashes of light all around them and Fritha glanced about to find a half dozen men, their faces obscured by deep hoods, appearing from thin air to surround them. 'Cease your casting and come with us!'

Suddenly, she could hardly stand, hardly breathe, the relief that flooded her. The mages were taking him; they were saved! But Irenicus clearly did not think so, merely throwing the speaker a contemptuous look.

'Your pathetic magics are useless against me.'

'We may fall but our numbers are many. You will be overwhelmed.'

Irenicus eyed those about him coldly, calculating the odds when-

'Enough! You may take me, but you will take the girl as well.'

Fritha flinched, her body tensed and ready before she suddenly understood just whom he meant. Imoen seemed to realise the instant she did, a tortured whimper rising in her throat, her eyes fixed unblinking on Irenicus.

'No… no, I've done nothing wrong!'

But the hooded mage shook his head, unmoved. 'You were involved in illegal use of magic. By order of the Cowled Wizards, you shall come with us.'

'Imoen!' Fritha screamed, fighting to reach her, but it was too late and the girl whirled back to them just in time for Fritha to see her own fear reflected in those wide green eyes, before light engulfed her and she was gone.

Fritha stood, clouds of dust still hanging in the air about her, Jaheira and Minsc behind her and just as silent, as though no one could believe it had happened. Beneath ground, everything had seemed like some awful dream, horrific and unreal. But stood now under the glare of a mid-morning sun the reality of all it hit her. Fritha sank heavily on the stone steps beside her feeling strangely numb. Had it truly been mere days ago that they had all left Baldur's Gate together, warmed with friendship and their own triumph? Now Imoen was taken, and Dynaheir and Khalid…

Oh gods…

She dropped her head into her hands, tears trickling down her face as she fought hard to quell the howl of misery that rose in her. Listening to Minsc's stricken account of Dynaheir's murder. Discovering the corpse of Khalid, torn and bloodied, Jaheira hysterical at the sight. And Imoen. She had barely recognised the girl, so panicked and chattering on and on, of death and blood and bone.

A sudden hopeless guilt crept over her. This was all her fault. Irenicus had only captured them because of her, because of what she was…

She had planned to head east after they'd left Baldur's Gate, leave the chaos that Sarevok and the Iron Throne had wrought far behind her. But she had wanted to visit Candlekeep first, so desperate to make her peace with them after last time, to see Beth and everyone again. If only she had gone east as planned and just left her friends to travel south alone, then they would all still be alive!

And you would still be a prisoner…

She would have liked to say it would be worth it; that she would have gladly sacrificed herself to save the others. But the mere idea of another moment in that cage, trapped in the darkness just waiting to hear the echo of his approaching footsteps, and that noble thought died there. Fritha shook herself, her cowardice angering her. She could not change the past; what was done, was done. But she would let no one else suffer for her selfishness. She would be strong, had to be strong, for Jaheira and Minsc.

They had to get Imoen back.

Fritha stood slowly, rolling her shoulders as though squaring up to the world before turning to the two behind her. The air was clear by now, the dust settling to send Jaheira's short hair a salt and pepper grey and suddenly aging her a lifetime, the woman's eyes doing little to lift the effect.

'Do you know where we are?'

'No! Why on Toril would I?' the druid snapped, returning her gaze to the rubble, arms wrapped about herself as though cold.

Fritha sighed, the woman's reaction so expected she could not even muster enough effort to be offended, glancing briefly to Minsc to confirm he too had no clue, before adjusting her bag and ambling loosely down the steps to find someone who did. The closest person was a man who appeared to be running one of the nearby stalls, though he was taking a break at the moment, examining the piled rubble with something close to awe.

'Excuse me?' she called, still absently brushing dust from her hair and clothes in a half-hearted attempt to look personable, 'Can you tell me where we are?'

He glanced up, eyes flitting nervously from her to the destruction before he finally found his voice.

'Where? Why we're in Waukeen's Promenade,' he answered, adding when she persisted to look confused, 'in Athkatla… in Amn.'

Fritha nodded slowly, taking all this in. 'Is it still Eleasias?'

He stared at her, taking his time in the answering as though still trying to work out what was wrong.

'Aye miss, but late on in the season.'

She thanked the man and he nodded, seeming happy the conversation was over and hurrying back to his stall as she returned to her friends. They had left Baldur's Gate just after midsummer, attacked and captured when barely three days from the city, so with the time it would have taken to transport them there, they had been prisoners for just over a tenday. She shuddered, unable to keep her mind away from that wretched cage for long. Just laid in the darkness for the long hours between experiments with only the singing of her own mind to distract her from the slow ebb of time.


'We're in Athkatla,' she explained, as city guards began to gather at the foot of the rubble and Fritha suddenly realised that there was the last place they should be. 'Come on, we'll find an inn and consider our next move.'

Fritha set off down the steps again and wordlessly they followed.

But as unruffled as she had been with the others, it was hard to reconcile herself with the fact she was now over two hundred miles south of where they had last been; a different city, a different country. The promenade about them was filled with shops, stalls lining the tiered walls stretching up to a clear arc of sky. It was obviously the economic centre of a city much larger that Baldur's Gate and under normal circumstances, Fritha would have been fascinated by the myriad of people and goods from all over Faerûn. But little seemed to catch her attention as she passed, the world an unreal blur of brightly coloured canopies.

The watchful calm the sudden appearance of the Cowled Wizards had affected had dissipated by now, and they moved unheeded through the bustle, the air ringing with the cries of merchants, the heavy smell of the masses not affecting her as it had in the Gate. Not a good sign, she thought dully, considering a pale grimy hand and paying for her momentary lapse in concentration as something hit her legs. She jumped, a hand already halfway to her hilt before she realised it was just a child, his small hands covering his face as he sobbed.

'Oh, careful there, young man,' she said, adding in afterthought as he persisted to cry, 'I didn't hurt you, did I?'

He shook his head, no pause to the crying and Fritha could sense Jaheira's impatience behind her. They really didn't have time for this… Fritha sighed, crouching down and trying to keep a terseness that was not meant for him from her voice.

'Well, what is wrong then?'

He glanced up slowly, taking great shuddering breaths as he pointed to the brightly striped pavilion but a few yards away, members of the Athkatlan watch milling about the entrance.

'My, my mother went inside the tent to see the show last night. She told me to wait here, but she hasn't come out and they won't let me in and, and…'

His voice was lost to sobs once more and Fritha felt her heart sink. She sighed heavily and straightened, glancing from the tear-streaked face of the boy to the weary figures of her friends around her. They had few supplies, only Jaheira had any armour to speak of and no one had slept properly for days.

'Any objections?'

Nobody moved.

'Right, let's go then.'


Aerie stood pulling at the bonds that bound her arms and feet to the floor even though she knew it was useless, the idea of just standing there and not trying to escape somehow worse. She glanced about her, watching a world that seemed to shift between the glossy marble walls and silk hangings of the illusion and the plain circus tent she knew it to be. Somehow, as a part of the illusion she could see through it, though, she considered as she glanced down to her new body, now the unbound appearance of an ogre, she would have gladly traded this insight for her own form back.

Aerie sighed, giving up her struggle to lean heavily against the wall behind her. How had this happened? Why? The circus had been her home for years now, ever since Uncle Quayle had taken her in. She thought back to the evening before, to the gnome, Kalah's, act. One of the illusions he had been performing had seemed to fail, the magic fizzling before there was a flash and suddenly people were screaming. Aerie had searched for Quayle in the chaos, but had found herself unable to move, suddenly bound in the form of a monster while her friends disappeared around her; some changed to creatures as she had been, while others…

She bit back a sob, her frustration making her tearful. Kalah had killed them. But why? And what had happened to Quayle? She hadn't had chance to find him before she'd changed, what if he too was…? She cried out suddenly, pulling at her bonds with renewed energy as her frustrations rose, the feeling of helplessness unbearable when she thought of her uncle in danger.

Footsteps before her and she glanced up, hardly daring to breathe; had someone heard her? Would it be more monsters? More of Kalah's minions?

But the three that appeared were neither, and nothing like those who usually attended the circus, each of them filthy and with weapons drawn. A tall bald human who looked too large to be believed led the way, followed by two women of an elven heritage. The older woman, tawny and scowling, her younger companion, pale-skinned and amber-haired, and who could have been considered quite pretty if it hadn't been for the slightly haunted look to her eyes. Aerie watched as they entered, cautious but not frightened, taking in the ornamental pools and marble walkways with a wary interest before they finally noticed her.

'Who, who are you?' Aerie called out, but she couldn't wait for them to answer, the idea that another could fall victim to that place too much for her, 'Oh, whoever you are, you must flee this place at once! He has killed or transformed everyone else. Please run!'

But the red-haired girl did the exact opposite, taking another step towards her to stand just out of reach.

'We are not going anywhere without some explanations. Why don't we begin with why an ogre sounds like a young woman.'

'I am not an ogre!' Aerie snapped, unable to suppress a flare of emotion when presented with the girl's coolness, 'I am an elf… or at least, I was… My name is Aerie. I work here in the circus with Uncle Quayle. This covering you see is some sort of illusion, this whole place is, and everyone within has been transformed into monsters. Now go before something happens to you as well!'

But the girl ignored her, glancing up to the vaulted ceiling with a mild interest, before turning back to her.

'Who has done this?'

'Kalah! It was Kalah. He, he was an illusionist with the circus, but I cannot tell you how he could have done all this. Everything here is an illusion, yes, but they are somehow real; they can hurt you!' Aerie pressed, worried they did not seem to be taking the situation seriously. But the girl merely nodded.

'We have been asked to find someone. She came to see the show last night and did not return. She has a young son outside waiting for her.'

Aerie's heart seemed to shrink as soon as it had swelled, the idea that they were here to help someone as wonderful as the fact there was a young child outside alone was dire.

'A young boy… Oh, oh, that sounds like Hannah. She was not killed, thank Baervar, but is somewhere about here in the guise of a spider. I spoke to her before, but I don't know where she is now.'

The girl nodded again. 'Right, where can we find this Kalah?'

Aerie shook her head. 'I, I'm not sure, I can't move about like the others, but… but if you free me I can help you find him, help you stop him before he hurts anyone else!'

The girl glanced to the two behind her, the older woman giving her an impatient glare while the man merely stared back impassively. The girl turned back to her with a shrug and Aerie's heart leapt.

'Okay, how do we free you?'

Aerie glanced down to her bonds. They were corporeal enough as far as she could see; perhaps a blade would be enough.

'I need something sharp, like a sword. If you give me your sword, I can free myself.'

'Fritha…' the woman warned, lowering her staff, and the girl paused a moment, Aerie willing her to not to listen when she finally held out the blade, turning it to offer to her handle first.

Aerie struggled to grip it initially, unused to such large cumbersome hands. But at last she had it, hacking awkwardly at the bonds until the last fell away, a strange soaring sensation suddenly filling her and she could not help but jump as she glanced down, the girl's sword clattering to the floor.

'Oh, it's me again!' she cried, rubbing her hands over herself in wonder, 'My skin, my hair, it's real! Thank Baervar! Oh, we must find Quayle and stop Kalah before he does anymore harm.'

'Well, you'd best come along then,' Fritha sighed, stooping to retrieve her sword and gesturing to each of them with the hilt as she straightened. 'Fritha, Minsc, Jaheira. Just stick close to Minsc, he'll keep an eye on you, right?'

The huge man nodded once and gravely. 'Right. Minsc and Boo shall see you safe, little one.'

Aerie just nodded, slightly alarmed as she noticed the small brown hamster that was nestled at his neck, though she said nothing and turned to follow the two women as they crossed the walkways into the next room. The doorway opened on to another high-ceilinged circular chamber, the stained glass windows dappling the pale marble with colour and Aerie wondered absently at the power needed to create such depth.

'Werewolves!' came a scream and she started to find four of the great shaggy creatures bearing down on them; the illusion's depth now a pressing concern as Jaheira and Minsc charged out to meet the beasts, weapons ready.

Aerie focused, calling upon her magics as she began to intone the words of a spell, watching as the two warriors engaged the beasts, one already dead and vanished. A flash of light engulfed her, the arc of energy striking one of the creatures in the chest as she released her spell, Minsc's broadsword crashing down to finish it.

Only two of the beasts left now. Her magic had seemed to have spooked one of them, the werewolf drawing back, and both Aerie and the creature seemed to notice Fritha together, just stood unmoving and watching the fight with a glazed look. Another spell was on her lips instantly, her heart racing as she watch the beast hurtle towards the girl. But Fritha seemed transfixed, dazed and shaking, and Aerie had to work to keep her casting focused as she watched the creature lunge. Finally, the girl sprang to life, swinging out with her blade as she leapt backwards to catch it across the muzzle.

But her surprise had left her clumsy and the blow floored rather than killed it, the creature taking the opportunity to sink its teeth into her exposed calf. Fritha's scream split the air, the girl driving her blade down with a force clearly intended to pierce its skull. But the creature disappeared as soon as hit and her blade struck the tiles like a thunderclap; the silence that followed so absolute, Aerie wondered if she hadn't been struck deaf.

'Werewolves… they- they were just illusions,' Fritha finally whispered, backing away and almost slipping in her own blood.

'By Silvanus,' shouted Jaheira, storming over to them, Minsc at her heels. 'What were you doing?'

'I- I just…' Fritha stuttered, staring back at her, clearly shaken and Aerie felt an unease creep over her; the girl's sudden change from fearless to petrified leaving Aerie nervous. But the girl finally shook her head and just as suddenly the fear was gone, Fritha stooping to carelessly lift her trouser leg and reveal a neat arc of bloody teeth marks on her calf. 'Well, that seems real enough, even if they weren't.'

Aerie winced as she flexed the muscle and blood oozed from each hole.

'Oh, let me look, I think I've a balm somewhere-' she cried, already rummaging in her bag, but the girl sighed.

'We don't have time for that. Just bind it up tight, it'll be fine.'

Aerie hesitated a moment, but neither of her friends seemed to protest and they did have Quayle to find. She nodded, crouching as she pulled a length of cloth from her pack, the druid lending Fritha a shoulder to lean on as she stood on one leg, Aerie binding up the other as tightly as she could.

'There,' she finally announced, straightening, 'how does that feel?'

Fritha leant her weight upon it, tentatively at first, before pushing down on it a few times and nodding once.

'It's fine. Thank you, Aerie. Where now?'

They seemed to turn as one, all eyes drawn to the staircase that rose up to a dark and yawning doorway. Fritha took step towards it, halting and pained, and slowly they followed. The room was much smaller than the others and darker too, shapes moving in the gloom, the air filled with the low rumble of their breathing and Aerie suddenly felt her heart stop; the room was full of creatures, any one of them could be Quayle!

'Ah, so you have led them here,' came a voice before them and Aerie couldn't stifle a gasp as she noticed a hunched figure at the room's centre, looking like some ungodly mix of troll and rat. 'Well done, my beast.'

'Kalah? But-'

'But what?' he interrupted, his genial tone leaving her cold, 'But you are not my beast? Oh, but you are, you all are, don't you see?'

'Why- why have you done this?' she demanded, her fear and anger leaving her trembling, but Kalah merely laughed.

'I don't have to explain myself to you, beast! Attack!'

The room seemed to suddenly erupt about them, creatures lunging in from all sides; Jaheira stepping up to engage a pair of werewolves, Minsc holding back three orcs and Fritha drew a deep breath to suddenly scream, charging through the chaos with her sword held aloft, Aerie at her heels. She reached Kalah just as another werewolf sprang at them and Aerie felt the spell form between her hands before she could think, the blast of energy evaporating it as soon as it hit, though Fritha barely noticed; all her focus on the creature before her. Kalah raised his hands with a spell, clearly panicked, but she knocked them roughly aside, bringing the sword down into his neck and Aerie felt the blood hit her face as the world flashed white and suddenly it was over.

Aerie watched both performers and patrons stood as she had, hands sweeping over familiar forms with relief and staring about at the simple striped walls of the circus tent. Jaheira and Minsc were behind her, both with weapons still drawn and glancing about warily, while at her feet, Fritha was half-knelt holding her leg and cursing quietly, her run through the battle clearly doing nothing for the wound. The girl glanced up, her face grey though she still managed a faint smile.

'You okay there?'

Aerie just nodded; still shaken and merely glad not to have cried out when she felt the blood spatter her.

'Come now,' the girl sighed, her voice as kind as she had heard it yet as she straightened unsteadily to pass her a surprisingly clean handkerchief and Aerie wiped her face.

A groan at their feet drew her attention back to the floor and it was only then she noticed Kalah, a gnome again and laid in a pool of blood larger than he was, his voice faint and rasping.

'No… this isn't what was supposed to happen…'

Fritha looked down, expressionless as she watched the life leave him and said one word. 'Why?'

'In Amn, a mage is a criminal and a gnome a spectacle… They would laugh at me... In my world, I was the master… I- I just wanted to be respected…'

Aerie watched, her heart heavy as Kalah's voice faded, his eyes closing as he finally died. 'He shouldn't have done what he did, but he was right, people did used to laugh at him…'

'I'm gutted for him,' said Fritha without a trace of sincerity and Jaheira snorted as a voice behind them cried, 'Aerie!'

Aerie whirled, relieved to see the short figure of Quayle pushing through the throng, the old gnome beaming.

'Uncle Quayle!'

'Aerie, you're safe!' he laughed as they embraced, his white whiskers tickling her face. Aerie smiled, straightening.

'Fritha, I would like you to meet my uncle.'

Quayle bowed politely, sweeping his hat from his head to reveal a shock of white hair. The girl looked nonplussed a moment before she bowed slightly too, her sense of propriety clearly taking over.

'Nice to meet you, sir.'

Quayle turned back to her with a friendly wink. 'I think they may have noticed I'm a gnome…'

Aerie tried to return his smile, feeling increasingly on show as she forced an explanation.

'Y-Yes, well you see, I was not always with the circus, Uncle Quayle took me in. Before, I- I used to live… elsewhere,' she finished lamely, feeling his eyes upon her and refusing to turn and see his reproachful look. But Fritha merely nodded.

'Well, it was nice to meet you both, but we must be going.'

'Oh, so soon?' Aerie cried, unable to hide her disappointment, though the girl remained unmoved.

'Yes, I would not have come here at all, if not for the boy. Our friend was taken by the Cowled Wizards but a few hours ago; we must get her back.'

Aerie watched, silent, as they filed out. She had not expected them to leave straight away and even with the short time she had spent with them, just to be helping others… she had felt as whole as she had since… Quayle sighed at her elbow and she glanced down to find him watching her with a gentle smile.

'Well, go if you're going, girl.'

'Oh Uncle Quayle,' she cried, stooping to throw her arms about him, 'I'll come visit you all the time.'

'Aye, don't you worry about your old uncle, I'll still be here. Find some happiness, Aerie, and perhaps the pain of what you've lost will be lessened.'

She nodded, feeling tearful again but not wanting him to see her cry as she turned away. Just a moment to return to their living area in the adjoining tent and collect her belongings and staff, and she was out under a high sun, pushing through the crowds as she tried to catch them. Aerie could see the bright copper of Fritha's hair disappearing through the western arches, and she doubled her pace as the way cleared before her, holding her skirts up as she ran.

'Hey, stop! Hey!'

They turned at last, waiting on the steps for her to catch up and Aerie slowed as she reached them, suddenly nervous as she stood under three sets of questioning eyes.

'Well, I- I thought maybe I could help you… you helped me… I know the city. There is a Cowled Wizard representative in the Council Building, I know because the circus had to buy a magic license from them for the illusionists. I could take you there.'

She watched as the women exchanged a look. The druid was clearly unimpressed and Fritha seemed to be weighing up whether it would be worth the grief she would no doubt be subjected to if she accepted her offer, when a loud voice broke the silence.

'Boo thinks this is a good plan. No group should be without a witch,' announced Minsc with a short nod as though this was an end to the matter, setting off again. And the three women had no choice but to follow, passing under the arches of the promenade and heading northward; the buildings around them slowly growing more dilapidated as they walked, while underfoot, cobbles gave way to simple packed earth streets. It was rare for Aerie to go that way, spending most of her time outside the promenade looking at the temples in the south. But she knew enough of the city to know they were entering one of the poorer areas; a district known as the slums by all fortunate enough not to live there.

'So where to now, fearless leader?' continued Jaheira casually as they walked, as though the interruption of her arrival had not occurred. Aerie could hear the scorn in her tone and wondered why the girl put up with her, though Fritha seemed not to notice, merely sighing as she scrubbed a hand across her face.

'It is as before; we should go to an inn first, if only to tidy our appearance. I don't think us pitching up to the Council Buildings looking like this will do anything for our credibility.'

The druid gave her a sidelong glance. 'And all the while Imoen could be further from us…'

'And what would you have me do?' the girl demanded with a sudden fire and Aerie could tell that the woman had hit a nerve. The druid frowned, but had no chance to reply as another cut her off.

'Coo! Well, I may be helping ye fer a start.'

She turned as they did to take in a dark-haired man, the bright blue scarf he was bundled up in not quite hiding the ugly scar that ran from ear to jaw; gimlet eyes fixed upon Fritha. He bowed easily.

'Gaelen Bayle me lady, at yer service.'


Fritha blinked once.

'Twenty thousand gold pieces?' she heard herself repeat. The man before her nodded nervously, dark hair bobbing.

'Twenty thousand!' she said again, her pitch rising and Gaelen swallowed, seemingly pleased of the table between them as they stood in his parlour, the rickety old thing practically the only piece of furniture in that cramped gloomy room, the lack of light not quite hiding the peeling walls.

Fritha felt her hands clench, the sense that life was just mocking her suddenly making it hard to breathe. They had been lured there under the pretence that he could help them recover Imoen, or knew someone who could, at least. But it was an assistance that did not come cheaply and Gaelen may as well have asked her for the moon. She had never even seen that much money before!

'And where in the hells do you expect me to get that sum?'

'Coo! Well, ye could be selling some of yer…' he trailed off, glancing about the group, all wounded and filthy and Fritha could read his thoughts on his face. If their collective belongings fetched a hundred gold, they'd have both been surprised.

'Or ye could do some work around the city,' he continued stalwartly, 'plenty of money out there fer those willing to earn it.'

'And how long will that take?' Fritha cried, her frustration only growing. Every moment they spent there was a moment Imoen was alone; it could be months before they raised the coin.

'Warranted, me lady, it won't be quick, but how much longer will it take to find yer friend without help?' he appeased, and when that did not convince her, he continued on a different tack. 'Look upon it this way, while ye raise the money, ye can look around, keep an ear to the ground. If ye find the lass' whereabouts before ye raise the coin then ye have lost nothing and if not, then it was something worth buying, aye?'

Was it just her, or did that make sense? Fritha laughed shrilly, pushing the heels of her hands into her eyes, as all hopes of seeing her friend again soon seemed to dissolve into the ether.

'Twenty thousand gold pieces.' She sighed deeply, instantly wishing she hadn't as the sour reek of mould assaulted her, glancing to the others before turning back to him defeatedly.

'I'll return when I've the first instalment.'