Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the places in this story belong to me; and I don't make any money with this.

A/N: Thanks to my beta reader Chi. :-)

Part One: Gromph Baenre

"While there was no question that the priestesses had and would always have dominion over the city, his dominion over the Art was simply a small consolation - something that would warm Gromph's heart in his private moments." - Annihilation

Gromph groaned with pain when he finally reached his quarters at Sorcere and closed the door behind him. He spoke the command word to activate the magical locks under his breath before he quickly pulled off his heavy robes. His back was sore and aching, and he could feel his blood flowing over the torn skin. His left shoulder was half numb from the poison of the snake whip, and he could hardly move his left arm.

He limped into his study and started to rummage in the drawers of his desk with his right hand. A relieved sigh escaped his lips when he found a small bottle with a particular rune on it: a powerful healing potion that would not only close his wounds, but also defeat the poison. Gromph opened it clumsily and poured the liquid immediately down his throat. A pleasant prickle filled his body when the potion took effect, and the mage sank into his cushioned chair.

His gaze fell on the big desk in front of him, a unique piece of furniture, completely made of dwarven bones. The desk of the Archmage of Menzoberranzan. Gromph was, as far as he knew, the youngest drow who had ever attained this prestigious station, being barely older than two centuries. He had risen as high as any drow male could rise in the matriarchal society of Menzoberranzan.

Gromph snorted and touched his left shoulder - the skin was again as smooth and flawless as ever, but it still hurt slightly. The pain reminded him of the very important lesson he had been forced to recall today: even the Archmage of Menzoberranzan was only a 'useless', disrespected male.

His sister Quenthel had demonstrated this to him thoroughly and painfully. The young mistress of Arach-Tinilith - the bitch was four decades younger than Gromph - had called her brother to her quarters an hour ago to give him an extensive scolding for a minor insolence he had allowed himself towards a female student. While the novice hadn't dared to answer the Archmage back, Quenthel had apparently heard of the incident and decided that it was a great opportunity to humiliate her brother.

Gromph had expected it to end there, but his calm and indifference towards her insults had angered Quenthel even more, and she had finally ordered him to do something nobody had requested from him for almost three decades: to strip off his robes and get down on his knees. He had hesitated for a second, wondering if he should kill the annoying brat then and there, but he knew that their mother wouldn't let him get away with killing her second daughter, an ambitious priestess who was already in Lolth's highest favour. Telling himself that a bit of pain wouldn't kill him and that obeying would spare him much trouble, he had swallowed his anger and kneeled, half-naked.

He couldn't remember that he had ever before got such a furious beating in his whole life - Quenthel had rarely laid hand on him, and although his eldest sister Triel had be as brutal and strict to him as any drow wean mother would be, she lacked Quenthel's furious temperament and her hatred for her brother. At some point, Gromph had wondered if Quenthel would kill him in her frenzy, and he had already tried to think of an emergency spell to save himself.

But she had eventually stopped, promised him to make him eat his own liver next time he was insolent to a female, and sent him away. He had been grateful that he hadn't seen anyone on the way back to his own quarters, for he doubted that he would have been able to hide his pain.

The eldest Baenre son sighed deeply, slowly moving his left hand when the pain in his shoulder lessened. His elation of the last weeks - since he had been appointed Archmage - was gone, and after a short period of almost naive hope that he had gained true power, he was thrown back into reality. Yes, he had attained the most influential position a male could hold in Menzoberranzan. He was a powerful wizard, more skilled than many of his fellow masters who were twice his age. He was intelligent, he was ruthless, he was everything a drow needed to be. He had all the qualities that made drow one of the most dangerous races in the Realms.

If he had been born a female, all of this would probably have earned him Lolth's highest favour. He would have killed Quenthel, and maybe even Triel, some time ago. He would probably be plotting right now to find a way to get rid of his mother and seize power over the First House.

If he had been born a female.

But as it was, due to some stupid whim of fate, he was a male. And even the Archmage of Menzoberranzan had to bow his head before a female, even if he could kill her with a flick of his wrist, even if he was more intelligent than her and her sisters all together, even if he was elderboy of the First House. He was still a male, and despite the privileges his position granted him, he would never get more than he had now.

Gromph sighed once again and buried his face in his hands, overcome with helplessness and despair. In this moment his only clear thought was that his work and his studies had been in vain, that he would always be some female's lackey, forced to suffer the beatings his hated sisters gave him. But when the pain in his body slowly vanished, Gromph realised that such pathetic self-pity was unbefitting for every drow, and especially for a Baenre.

Remembering who he was he straightened up again. Maybe the official Menzoberranyr hierarchy wouldn't allow him to rise higher, but that didn't mean that he couldn't extend his power more subtly ... And if that didn't work, there were still plenty other drow males to take his anger out on.

He wouldn't make it that easy for his sisters and his mother. He would make sure that House Baenre needed him, and sooner or later his sisters would have to show him at least a bit of respect. And if there would ever be an opportunity to get rid of one of them, he would happily seize it. He wouldn't try to suppress his anger, he would use it to fuel his ambition - and if his plans failed, he could still torment others who weren't strong enough to defend themselves.

Gromph smiled at the macabre beauty of it all, and the anger and hatred that filled his heart and mind suddenly hurt less. They were part of him, part of what he was. Part of drow nature, part of drow society.

The Archmage closed his eyes, concentrating to embrace his anger like a dear friend, or rather like a valuable ally. Only the weak were destroyed by it. The strong were made stronger. When he opened his eyes again, his distress had disappeared, his fears had been locked up in the most remote corner of his heart. He knew that when he would see Quenthel again on the next day, he would look at her with calm superiority, letting her know that she could not break him.