Author's Note: I have completely revised this story, and deleted quite a few chapters. If you just want to read the new ending, it starts at Ch 47. Sorry for any confusion this causes.
Ch. 48…A Message from the Grave
I have you, child.
I opened my eyes. Eyes. I blinked my eyes and found I had two, one more than I expected. Mostly I could see light, a bright golden light that washed me in a healing wave. Someone stood in that light. Or was that light. Or maybe wore that light as a garment.
"You are not Bhaal."
You know who I am.
I guess I did at that. "Lathander." I sighed. "Well. I guess it's all over now. I'm sorry I didn't do better."
You did well enough.
I stretched a little. My eye itched. I started to rub it but I still had my gauntlets on. I felt an ache in my back. And one of my greave straps was too tight.
"You know," I said slowly. "I don't feel all that dead. I thought death would be different."
Lathander laughed. You are not dead.
I stared. "Are you sure?" Stupid question, of course He was sure. "And Sarevok—does he live? Did he survive whatever happened to me?"
"At this moment, he lives."
"But the taint is gone. I saw it." The god, or his avatar I suppose, smiled. "I don't understand." A beat, while He looked at me. I forced my brain to try to work. "Was it the Time Stop?"
The taint, the immortal essence of Bhaal, left you with the killing stroke. But your body could not die until the spell ended and so your soul remained with your body. Before the spell ended, I plucked you from death's embrace, so to speak.
"And healed me." He nodded. "I thought You couldn't interfere in the Bhaalspawn business."
Aye, but you are out of that now, are you not? And the child you carry, touched by gods both evil and good, is of interest to Us. And so I saved him.
"You saved him—my son. And I came along for the ride, is that right?" There was a twinkle in His eye. "Tricky, tricky," I said. "You made me pregnant on purpose? Is that it? Did You know this would happen? Was Sarevok right? Did You plan this all along?" The twinkle deepened. "I think You did. I think You cheated!"
That is for Ao to decide.
Yeah, I just bet. I understood Sarevok's paranoia that the gods were conspiring against us, better than ever. They were. Maybe they always had been. For how far back?
"Not that I'm complaining, exactly. I'm not going to tattle." I looked around me. Where the hells was I, anyway? There was nothing celestial looking here. In fact, what I could see was dismally familiar.
"I'm back in the cocoon plane, aren't I?"
You are but a shadow's depth away from the Throne of Bhaal.
Great. And the place had shrunk, too, it was a cocoon indeed. Not a pocket plane, more like a thimble plane. All of our careful changes were gone. In fact, I saw no corridors, no doors, and certainly no portal.
"I have to go back."
Lathander tilted his head a bit. That is your wish? I can set you anywhere in the Realms. Anywhere but the Throne of Bhaal. As you say, I cannot interfere in the Bhaalspawn business.
"Of course it is my wish! My friends are there! And I need a weapon." I gave him a speculative look. "Maybe You could loan me something?"
You wish a holy weapon?
"I sure do!"
You have earned a boon, child, but I am still forbidden to interfere in the contest for Bhaal's essence.
"I thought Amelyssan had it all now."
She has not yet absorbed the essence you carried.
"Then there is time! There is still a chance!" Lathander said nothing. "I have to get back there! Now!"
I cannot help you. I followed his gaze down, to the ground. Bhaal's dagger lay by my feet, the blade all black and sticky with blood and gunk. My blood and gunk. Yuck. I picked it up. I'd rather have a holy weapon but I supposed an unholy one would have to do.
You have made your choice then?
"Choice? What choice? You think I'm going to let you plop me down in Maztica or some damned place while Sarevok and my friends are fighting for their lives? You know me better than that."
So be it. Farewell, my child. I wish you well.
And like that, He was gone. And I was alone. Alone in a room with no exits. At least it wasn't dark. Lathander's golden light remained and I realized it was coming from me. My armor glowed with the soft golden light of the dawning sun. He hadn't given me a weapon but He had given me something. Everything about me glowed except for Bhaal's dagger, which seemed charred and blackened.
Open, I commanded the walls around me. Nothing happened. Once I could have formed the wild chaos of this place, or so I had been told. But my power over chaos was gone. "Open!" I screamed. And nothing happened. I wanted to pound my head on the wall—maybe I could pulverize my way out. I raised the dagger clutched in my fist. Maybe this blade could cut me a way out. But the dagger seemed to cry out in my hand when I slammed it into the rock, striking sparks and nothing more. I pounded the wall with my other fist. "No, no, no!"
Gods damn it all, was I going to be left here to die? While my friends died? If Sarevok died, would I feel it? Were we still linked? I had to know what was happening. I had to know. I HAD TO KNOW! I HAD TO GO!
"I CAN'T STAY HERE!" The walls rang with my screams. I heard them echo in my ears. And then I heard—
I heard the scrape of tiny claws. I looked wildly around but saw nothing. Or—wait—had that rat hole near the floor been there all along? A tiny head poked out.
"Master!" He crawled out. He shook out his wings and then launched himself at me. I thrust out a gloved hand and he landed on my wrist. He was heavier than he looked, heavy as a sword, which I did not have. Cespenar peered up at my face. "Master?" His huge eyes whirred with confusion. "Is it—it is you? Is it?"
"Bhaal's essence was taken from me," I said. "I need your help."
"Taken?" His claws tightened. "Does this mean—you are not the master now?"
"I suppose it does." Oh gods. If he deserted me—
"Where is the master now?"
"We're still fighting that out." He looked at Bhaal's blade, naked in my hand. His wings flapped twice in agitated recognition.
"The Bright One was here. I hid from Him."
"The Bright One? Lathander? Yeah. I'm not surprised you hid."
"Was afraid He might squash me."
"I don't think He would have."
"Not on purpose maybe. Big ones don't always see us little ones. Better to stay out of their way. Too easy to get squashed."
"Cespenar, you've said a mouthful."
Cespenar peered up at me. "You have nasty all over your face."
I grimaced. "That doesn't surprise me either." I've popped enough eyeballs in my time to know how that looks. Yuck. Not like there was much I could do about it unless Cespenar wanted to raid the Abyss to bring me a washcloth and a basin. "The, hmm, Bright One brought me here. But now I have to go back to the Throne of Blood. And I am going to kill the one who stole the Master from me." I looked at the rat hole and then stared him straight in the eyes. I spoke with a lot more confidence than I felt. "And here is what you are going to do. You're going to make me a path."
I crawled through the enlarged rat hole, armor scraping on all sides. I'd thrust Bhaal's dagger in my weapons belt for safe keeping. I needed both hands to pull myself through the narrow passage.
"Here, Master," Cespenar whispered in my ear. He crawled over my shoulder and across my back to get behind me. I worked my way forward and my right hand felt a huge gap in the floor. I heard battle—demon screams, I'd know them anywhere—but I could see nothing. The sounds came from below. My armor still glowed with Lathander's light but all I could see ahead was a white fog. I thrust my face into the hole. Nothing.
"What the hells! You're dropping me in through the ceiling? How am I supposed to get down there?"
"Fly?" Now I knew why Cespenar had scuttled out of my reach. Fly. Right. "Sheesh, at least make me a little more room so I can go down feet first."
Why the hells hadn't I asked Cespenar for a sword? I bet he had one squirreled away somewhere. I didn't think about it until I was falling through space. All I had was this damned dagger. Literally damned. Even touching it made me feel sick.
The good thing about dropping in from the ceiling is that no one expects it. I fell through the mist and into the large chamber of the Throne of Bhaal. I landed almost on top of a naked succubus. Her gigantic breasts bobbled when she jerked in shock. She gave a small cry and put her hands over her eyes. Guess she didn't like Lathander's light, heh heh. I punched her in the jaw with all my weight behind my mailed fist. She fell and didn't get up. I checked my weapon belt. The dagger was still there. Good.
I'm not sure how long I'd been gone but the situation had not improved. Far from it. Fast as I could, my eyes scanned the room. I did not feel the exhilaration of battle. I felt calm, strangely calm. Was this something Lathander had done to me? Keldorn, with Imoen behind him, struck at a winged creature—a Solar. Gods, could Solars be evil? It, or rather she, parried the Holy Avenger with her own dark blade. A mass of demons formed a ring around my remaining companions. Balthazar, in torn and bloody robes was on his feet. Jaheira's face was a mask of blood but her staff flicked out to land a harsh blow on a marilith trying to edge forward. Anomen was on one knee and he panted for breath. He had dropped his shield and his shield arm hung limp at his side. Sarevok stood over him. He saw me.
Did he recognize me? At first he just stared. I wanted to say something, anything, but I didn't even wave for my eyes had finally found what they sought. Amelyssan the Black-Hearted.
While her demons fought for her, Amelyssan basked in a glittering fountain. Her face was turned toward the ceiling and her eyes were closed in ecstasy as her soul devoured Bhaal's essence. I turned my back on my friends to run toward her. She wasn't aware of my approach until I was a spear's length away. Then her eyes snapped open.
"Me," I agreed.
"Impossible! You are dead! You can't be here."
"Perhaps I am a vengeful ghost."
"Then I will send you back to the Hells!" She reached for the blade she no longer wore. It was in my hand. I stepped into the fountain of energy and it flowed over me, around me but did not touch me. I felt nothing.
She took a step backward. I could practically see her gather her scattered wits and she began to shape a spell. And I was pretty sure I knew what spell. It was the same spell that had made mincemeat out of Balthazar. As the globe of bone blades sprang into being, I leapt. Towards her. I stepped on her toes. I heard the clatter of blades against my back plate but they came no closer, perhaps afraid of cutting their own mistress.
Or maybe they were repelled by Bhaal's blade, now held low at my side. Amelyssan took another step back but I followed her. I grabbed the front of her tunic. It felt like cloth. Not stone. Cloth. I felt my lip twist in a grin. Gods, how safe she felt, with her swarm of demons and her fountain of power to heal and sustain her. Had someone taken her protections down or had she let them drop in complacency?
"You dare touch me! I am a goddess! And you—you are a dead thing, a nothing." She towered over me. Her lips tightened with wrath. "You are dead—dead like Bhaal."
"The dead speak here, Amelyssan, but you cannot hear them. You don't hear the murdered souls cry out in pain. And you cannot hear Bhaal," I said. "But I can." I lowered my voice. Instinctively, she ducked down her head to hear me. "And I bring a message from the grave," I whispered. The blades still whirred behind me.
"Bhaal has had His time. What can He say to me now?"
"Only this." I smiled. "He doesn't want His gift back. You should keep it."
And I plunged Bhaal's dagger deep into her eye. Let's see how she liked it.
My blow was so strong that her eyeball practically exploded. More nasty on my face. I felt the hilt slam against her cheekbone. Blood and eye goo splashed over my gauntlet. She staggered back with a wail of pain, out of the fountain of power. I rode her down to the ground. The flying bone blades disappeared, absorbed in the tidal wave of golden glitter that roared over us. Amelyssan hit the ground with a thud like a felled tree and I was on top. My armored knees dug into her belly. She screamed again. Bhaal's blade had reached her brain, I was certain. Had to have. I ground it in deeper, just to be sure. And twisted. The wound was mortal. I knew it was. And still she screamed.
"Why won't you die?" I thought I sounded fairly calm and reasonable, considering.
"Begone!" a voice trumpeted. I snapped my head around, but the Solar faced the remaining demons. And it wasn't the bad Solar—it was our Solar. She lifted her hands and light burst from them in a clear white wave. Those demons who could still move gated themselves out. Amelyssan writhed beneath me.
The Solar strode toward me and looked down at us. "Amelyssan has welded Bhaal's essence to her soul. While she holds the essence, she is immortal."
"Am I glad to see you," I told the Solar. She didn't smile. Was that a celestial thing? At least Lathander could smile. "So what does that mean? What do we do now? Are you saying that even if I hack her into pieces, she will still live?"
"I. Am. A. Goddess!" Amelyssan panted.
"Well, hells," I muttered. "Someone fetch me my sword." I didn't think I could hack up a body with just a dagger, no matter how sharp. Not even with Bhaal's dagger, which was sharp as sin.
"Nay, Amelyssan the Black-Hearted," the Solar said. "You play with stolen energies that sustain your life but you are no goddess. The gods have decreed this contest over."
"Not. Over." She glared with her remaining eye. "Not!" She squirmed under me. I raised my hand to give her a clip but my arm was taken in a firm grip. Sarevok. He pulled me to my feet.
"I think we can leave her in the Solar's hands," he said. He looked down at me with an expression more than usually unreadable. I threw my arms around him. Our breastplates clanked.
"I saw you die," he said in my ear. "The taint poured out in a pillar of light. I saw you die."
"Lathander pulled a fast one during the Time Stop," I said. I could practically see the thoughts whirling behind his eyes.
"The Time Stop. Yes," he said. "I understand now." He looked over my shoulder at the Solar.
"You do understand?" she asked him.
He nodded to her. He might hide his expression but he couldn't hide all emotion from me. He couldn't hide his grief. I'm alive, I wanted to say. We've won. I squeezed him harder but his eyes never left the Solar. "I am certain you are about to explain the gods' will in this," he said.
Anomen limped towards us with Jaheira's support. His arm had not been set and his face was almost green with pain. Keldorn, Imoen, Balthazar—I would be hard pressed to say which of them looked the most battered or the most weary. I felt the dead numbness one feels after a great blow, the body's protection against the pain to come. But—we were alive. We had won. Hadn't we won? Wasn't that the gods' will? So why did I feel dread when I looked into Sarevok's eyes? Where was his happiness? Why did I feel dread coming from his very soul?
"Bhaal's essence, his taint, will be taken from Amelyssan and she will die, both body and soul," the Solar said. "The essence of a god cannot be destroyed. However it can be hidden upon Mount Celestial, where it will be kept safely and where it will not corrupt another mortal."
"Kept safely, huh?" Imoen muttered. "Like no one has ever stolen anything from the gods. Right." She shook her head at me. "Good to see you back, sis." I returned her smile.
"Great," I told the Solar. Behind us, the fountain of essence still ran bright in a glittering spray that went nowhere. "The sooner, the better." Amelyssan made some mewling protest we all ignored.
"Or," the Solar continued. "That essence can be given to one of Bhaal's children, who can then ascend to take His place amongst the gods."
"Don't look at me," I said. "I just got rid of it." But she didn't look at me. She didn't look at Imoen or Balthazar. She looked at Sarevok.
"We all got rid of it," Imoen said. She turned to Balthazar. "Right? You said we were the last of the Bhaalspawn. You didn't miscount, did you?"
"He didn't miscount," Sarevok said. "I have the essence Keeta shared when she animated me. 'Twas just a touch, a drop of Bhaal's taint. But I hold it still."
"A touch of the divine essence is all that is required," the Solar said.
"What?" I yelled. "What the hells? No! Let the Solar take it and hide it!"
"And if I refuse this dubious boon?" Sarevok asked the Solar.
"Then the spark of divinity will be removed from you."
"Aye," he said. "Speak so that she understands. Tell her what will happen when that last drop of taint is taken from me," he told the Solar. "For you must take it all, must you not? That is the gods' will in this."
"When the taint is removed, Sarevok will die," the Solar said. Sarevok nodded, unsurprised.
I turned in his arms to fully face the Solar. "Then you will bring him back to life. Resurrect him."
"It cannot be done, Keeta," he said. "I have had my miracle. Now my mortal time is done."
"That's our choice? You die or become a god?"
"How many choices did you think we would get?" His hands moved to my shoulders. I felt his grip tighten. "I—how bitter the irony. Once this was my dearest ambition and now—I do not want to leave my life! To be offered this power now, when I have finally learned not to covet it—how the gods must laugh."
"I must, Keeta. We have been pushed and prodded towards this from the beginning. Bhaal's death, Cyric's theft of his place in the pantheon—the power shifts amongst the gods and they have worked to set a new balance. They have prepared me," he said bitterly. "Honed me, reaved me until I am shaped to their liking. Everything has led to this. Everything. You were a part of this." He squeezed my shoulders. "You were the biggest part of this. Our souls were yoked together like a teamster harnesses a hard-mouthed brute with a sweet-goer, in the hopes that the good will rub off on the bad."
"Before, you were unready," the Solar said.
"Unready," Sarevok snorted. "Unacceptable, you mean."
"We have watched," the Solar said. She denied nothing. Watched. Right. The gods didn't just watch. They moved us like puppets, like tokens on a game board. "And I am impressed with you, Sarevok, impressed enough that I will stay by your side, should you choose the path towards divinity. I will aid you however I can."
"Aid him? Right! You'll 'aid' him into doing exactly what your masters want him to do! This is wrong! This is unfair! After all we've done—"
"Hush, Keeta," Sarevok said.
"I won't hush!" He pulled me in close. "I won't!" But I did because I felt a great sobbing wail rise up in my chest and it stole my words.
"Well, big brother," Imoen said. "Are you going to be a god after all? It sure would have saved a lot of fuss and botheration if you'd done all this at Baldur's Gate."
"Don't jest, child," Jaheira said.
"You will do it," I said in sudden fear. I turned and clutched his waist, stared up into those golden eyes. "You might not want godhood but you will take it. You won't choose to die."
He didn't immediately reply. He looked over my shoulder. I twisted to see that his gaze was locked, not with the Solar, but with Keldorn.
"Were I a better man, I might choose death, so that my soul could finally move on to whatever punishment or reward my deeds have earned it," he said. His mouth turned down in a bitter, self-mocking smile. "But the gods have chosen well in this. I must let go of this life but I am not willing to move on to what lies beyond it. I will ascend."
"You'll live," I said. I ignored Amelyssan's incoherent grunt.
Sarevok stepped out of my embrace and moved toward the Solar. "Heal them," he told her. She inclined her head and went to Anomen first. Already giving the orders, I saw.
"Well," I said. "This will take some getting used to." I didn't understand the look he gave me. He was going to live. We all were. It was finally over.
"Yes," he said in a low voice, for my ears only. "It is finally over."
"But when you are a god—you can still come to me. Right? You can speak to me in my dreams. You can send a—an avatar. Right?"
"Keeta." His gloved hands cradled my face. "When I step into that fountain yonder, I will become—something else. I will not be the Sarevok you know."
"I don't understand."
"I know. I'm not certain I do fully. But I do know this—this is our time for farewell. I must go on and you—you must go on as well. Your life stretches ahead of you and you are free at last of the destiny that has dogged you. That destiny is mine to take up now. You are free and I—I will take up new chains." I shook my head. "But it is well," he said. "It is well. You are safe and that is more than I had hoped for."
The Solar, her task complete, came to stand at Sarevok's side. Neither one of them seemed concerned that Amelyssan crawled towards the glowing fountain.
"Am I to fight Cyric?" he asked her. "Is that my task?"
"Cyric will see you as a threat," she said. "Cyric grows in power and it is said there is a prophecy that involves him—a catastrophe that may be averted."
"Not more prophecies," I muttered. "I guess you're going to have your hands full," I muttered a little louder. Sarevok gave me a semi-fond look but it was Keldorn he approached. Keldorn put out his hand and Sarevok clasped it.
"I owe you much," Sarevok said. "Yet I would ask one more thing. If Keeta must return to Amn to face these charges against her—I wish you to see her safe. See that she has a fair trial. See that she is not made a scapegoat."
"I will ensure that justice is done, to the best of my power."
"Justice," Sarevok growled. "I have little faith in justice."
"Do not worry," Keldorn said. "The false charges will be dropped. Her name will be cleared."
"See that it is so."
Jaheira and Balthazar stood silent. They exchanged nods with Sarevok, nothing more. Then Anomen moved toward him.
"I would ask you to look out for her," Sarevok said. "But I suspect I waste my words."
"I will look out for her," Anomen said.
"Good luck, brother, in the big whatever beyond," Imoen said. "If you decide to kill Cyric, I don't think any of us will cry too hard."
"Would that that was within my power," he murmured. He came, at last, back to me.
"You will come to me," I said. "After."
"You do not understand."
"But you do?"
"I understand this—as a new god, I will have many enemies, those who seek to take my power while I am weak and inexperienced. I will be challenged. And should our relationship be known—should our child's parentage be known—you both will be drawn into these struggles. I cannot allow that. I will not have the power to protect you, not at first, not for years perhaps."
"You've thought this through!"
"I'm thinking as fast as I can!" he said. His words were rueful but his eyes—his eyes were fearful. "I can't risk—"
"Losing your power?"
"But if we can't see each other or be together, then you are losing me."
"Don't make this more difficult, Keeta. To know that you are alive and well and happy—that is all I can aspire to now."
"I might be alive but I'll be damned if I'll be happy!"
"I have faith that in time you will."
"See what you have brought me to," Sarevok said. He was trying to make me smile but I'd be damned if I would.
"Stop it. You could come in secret. In a dream. Something. You know you could. You'll be a god, damn you!"
"Keeta," Jaheira said. "Come, child, do not whine like a child bargaining for a later bedtime."
I scowled through my tears. "I'm not going to pray to you." Sarevok wrapped his arms around me. His head rested on mine.
"I do not expect it," he murmured. "Come now. Kiss me goodbye."
When I finally let him go, he turned toward the fountain. I was the only one to hear his sigh. He stepped over Amelyssan (who tried to grab his ankle as he passed) and in three long strides, reached the fountain of power. For just a heartbeat he hesitated and then he stepped into the light. He didn't look back. He looked ahead.
The power roared up then swirled around him in a glittering maelstrom that seared my eyeballs. His arms rose, reaching for something out of sight. His head fell back and the power streamed into him. Amelyssan shrieked as a golden torrent tore its way out her body to join with the power already in the fountain. Her body burned. The stench was horrible. The Solar gestured with both hands. A hole opened up in the floor beneath Amelyssan and swallowed her up.
The ground rumbled under my feet. Imoen swayed beside me. The very air felt charged. Imoen's hair began to rise in a crackling cloud.
Sarevok stood like a statue as the remaining taint poured into his body. It swirled, it burned and with a last brightening that stabbed into my eyes, the fountain was gone.
I blinked away tears of pain. His body glowed and then this glow was also all around us. The ground, the walls, the ceiling high above were freckled with grains of gold, glowing brighter and brighter. Again, the ground rumbled. Something touched me, feather-light, and yet I staggered backwards under its weight. Anomen put out his hand to catch me. What? As soon as I thought the question, I knew the answer. It was the fragment of my soul, returned to me.
"It is time for the mortals to leave the Throne of Blood," a voice said. I could no longer see the Solar but only the rising tide of brightness. All I could see was its bright core, a figure that had once been my enemy and then my lover and was now something else. Sarevok was gone from me—gone on to his destiny. And now I would go on to mine. All I would have of Sarevok was the child we'd made between us and the memories of the time when I had carried divinity, when my soul had been tainted with evil and yet good had finally come from it.
We would be sent from this place, and return back to our old lives—out of the Abyss and into the world where the sun disappeared into night's darkness, as Sarevok had disappeared from my sight. The dying sun would be reborn as the dawn. And Sarevok would be reborn as something new. A god. He would be as far away as the heavens and as close as the soul we once shared.