Disclaimer: I do not own 'Baldur's Gate', 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.

– Blackcross & Taylor

In to Hell

Solaufein sank onto the thick mattress, the blankets cool against his skin. That there was no moon in Sigil did not mean his Lady could not be found, though he was finding it more difficult to focus upon his veneration than usual. Fritha was already changed for bed and packing her bag ready for the morning, the girl naked apart from a coat of auburn curls and the jumbled arrangement of jade stone, key and ring that made up the pendant she was never without.

'Fritha,' he chuckled as she bent down to push her washbag into the top of her pack, 'do you plan to stay up much longer? Your presence is rather distracting.'

'Just as the gods made me.'

'Well, the gods clearly did not plan for the rest of us to get much done.'

She giggled warmly and took no heed of his pleas, packing away her last few belonging and setting her bag neatly at the foot of their bed before she at last slipped under the blankets beside him. Solaufein quickly finished his prayers and reached out to dim the lamp. Blue-black darkness engulfed the room, but neither of them seemed ready for sleep, Fritha laid within the crook of his arm as he traced the patterns on her henna painted shoulders, the bracelet she had woven for him bright about his wrist.

Fritha was smiling, a distance to her eyes as she gazed up at the rafters above.

'I enjoyed today – it was nice seeing Sigil together, just having a little time with you away from wars and struggles. I've been lucky – I always wanted to see the Cage. I suppose the only place I would have liked to see more would have been Candlekeep,' she admitted, in a casual way that made him feel sad. 'You will visit there, won't you, Sola?'

'You know I will.'

'And then where do you plan to go?'

'I-' He sighed and shook his head. 'I don't know. But I will be-' He had been about to say 'fine', but it seemed callous and it was far from true anyway. 'You do not need to worry for me, Fritha.'

'I know,' she smiled reaching up to stroke silken fingernails down the side of his face. 'I will always love you, Solaufein. Never doubt it.'

His reply was a kiss that deepened to something almost frantic, only to slow again as they joined to share the closeness they both craved one last time, the pair laid together afterwards to talk long into the night.

Solaufein had finally succumbed to sleep an hour or so ago, Fritha left to gaze up at the darkened rafters and their redolent hangings. She could not rest, her mind alert with the knowledge that every instant was one she would never get again. She had cried a little at first, though more from habit that any pressing misery –it was frightening to think life going on without her, never able to talk to her friends or feel her love's touch. She reached out to brush fingers down Solaufein's arm, merely for the fact she still could. The drow sighed something in his sleep, but did not wake.

Ah, what she would have given then to awake and find this all a dream, herself a girl back in Candlekeep with every fleeting moment to live all over again, to savour and appreciate now that she realised just how precious it all was in a life that had felt so full of potential.

Fritha did not recall falling asleep, and she awoke groggy and unsure of her surroundings in that pale, orderly workroom. A moment to recall both where she was and the task that had brought her there, so close now it could not be neatly placed in the back of her mind as something to worry about later, and her stomach squirmed as though suddenly filled with live snakes.

'Fritha?' came the presence at her back, Solaufein's warm hand placed between her shoulder blades.

'You're awake,' she confirmed without really needing to.

'Yes, for some time. I…' he trailed off, but perhaps all he wanted to say was conveyed in that embrace, his arms closing about to pull her closer until her she was pressed to him, the words whispered into the back of her neck.

'Whatever happens, Fritha, I am yours… to the last.'

They dressed in silence, helping each other into armour with lingering touches; there were no more words to be said. Downstairs, the others were similarly nervous. Aerie seemed unable to sit still for a moment, the girl up and down to the kitchen, making sure everyone had enough food and tea as those seated pushed spiced scrambled eggs about their plates. Even Haer'Dalis was more subdued, announcing gravely that he and Aerie had discussed it, and he would be going with them, and neither of the pair would hear any refusals.

One last check of their packs, and their five were gathered on the front step, a strangely-composed Aerie embracing them each in turn, and they were off. The dawn, if it could be called as much in a place without a sun, was still an hour away, and the dark streets were wreathed in a miasmic soup of smog and dust that choked the lungs and stuck to everything it touched –a sure sign it would rain later, according to Haer'Dalis.

Through the Clerks' Ward they marched at a fierce pace, the city about them slowly becoming more dilapidated as the districts merged until Fritha felt positive they were in the Hive. Aerie was right, the mud was terrible. They were fortunate it had not rained for a while, the packed earth streets uneven but solid after the dry spell. Razorvine and other weeds smothered the buildings, the reek of rubbish and the masses adding to the foul mist.

Haer'Dalis led them onward, having to double back a couple of times when what had previously been streets turned out to be dead ends in that ever-changing maze. About them, the district was stirring with the approaching morning, shadows moving in the alleys while gaggles of children hurried past carrying long poles for snuffing the street lamps in those wards that could afford such luxuries.

Fritha had almost expected trouble from Aerie's description of the place, but perhaps the key to surviving in the Hive was knowing just who to avoid, and they saw no trouble as they rounded that final corner and the ruined prison of the Addle Mews was before them. It had been a grand, if somewhat miserable building once, the dull grey stone set with dozens of poky windows, large spires crumbling from the four corners of the peaked roof. The gates to the courtyard had long since been removed for the worth of their metal, the group crossing into the weed-covered cobbles of the courtyard.

'Right,' murmured Imoen, stooping to take a handful of dust from a cracked horse trough, and heading towards the archways of the long covered walkway that ran the edge of the outer wall, 'some dust and the third arch along. Here,' she stopped before the shadow archway, 'all right, so what do I-'

The rush of magic cut her off as a dark grey portal burst to life just before her.

'It worked!' cried Imoen. Haer'Dalis laughed.

'Did you doubt it would? Come, take some dust, all of you –the planes await!'

That disorientating rush of sensations which was becoming all too familiar and Fritha was upright once more and waiting for her head to clear. They had appeared at the end of a wide grey street that could have still been in Sigil, albeit a ward that made the Hive look like the nobles' district. The sulphur-reeking air held the melancholy chill of autumn, the damp somehow creeping into her chest in a way that made Fritha want to cough. The buildings about them were little more than hovels, filthy curtains of cloth and hide all that covered most windows, and the stench from open sewers that clogged the gutters must have filled every house, The whole town was dominated by the shining gold tower that rose from somewhere in the centre. Anomen was looking uncomfortable, as were the others to lesser degrees, Fritha wondering if it was the lingering affects of portal travel or merely the plane itself. If it was, she felt nothing and neither did Haer'Dalis from the grim smile on his pale face.

'So here we are,' he announced cheerfully.

'Nice,' said Imoen and meant the opposite. 'Who lives in the tower?'

'The ruler here, whoever the current Arch-Lector may be. He or she is always a demon of great power, though it is doubtful he will be a problem for us. No,' Haer'Dalis continued, nodding to the black uniformed group of alu-fiends and cambions who were beating to death some unlucky tiefling on the street corner up ahead, 'it is of those ones we will have to be peery. They are called The Hounds, and they are the law here if such a thing were possible. They are the Arch-Lector's bodyguard, and serve as the militia for the town. Anyone to whom they take a dislike is usually dismembered on the streets, and left as a warning to others.'

'You speak as though familiar with this place,' offered Anomen.

'Nay, but my fellow, Tamix, was hipped here once and told me of the ride. It took a lot of jink and even more luck to get him back again. I am not sure where the abyssal gate is – strangely Tamix never sought it out- we would be best to ask on Merchant's Row.'

Plague-Mort was a place even stranger than Sigil, demons and their kin wandering the streets about their business as though a town of demons was the most usual thing in the world. And there it was, their band of mortals garnering more than a few looks as they passed. But it was not just their race that made them stand out. Everything there felt grey, even the brightly-hued skins of the demon-kin seeming somehow muted.

The Merchant's Row was nearer the centre of the town, a wide avenue of shops with a row of stalls running along the centre. Most seemed to sell weapons, though a few others catered to those with a need for more mundane items. Fritha fought the urge to cover her mouth as they passed an open stall where a fiend butcher was jointing a dubious carcass of dark green meet. At the end of the row, two militia guards were helping themselves to the wares of a tiefling baker who had enough sense to let them do as they pleased, Haer'Dalis deciding not to tempt them and heading for the other side of the street where a dark-skinned tiefling was eagerly hawking his wares.

'Ah, planars is it? You here from Sigil? Well, your coin is still good. You want a sword? Perhaps a dagger for the woman? These are the finest arms in all Plague-Mort.'

'We were actually looking for the gate to the Abyss,' answered Imoen, sliding some coin over the counter without a thought; Sigil had impressed on her the principle that information cost like anything else.

'The gate? What do you want- no, never mind. The gate is in the leftmost of the three arches leading into the palace. You can't miss it. Mind out though, the Hounds are hungry today.'

The palace was only a few roads over from the market. Fritha had expected the houses to become finer as they approached, but they walked the same hovel-cramped streets; perhaps the Arch-Lector liked to be reminded just how much better he had it. The palace gates were before them now, the middle one leading into the courtyard beyond, while the rightmost seemed to be bricked in, the leftmost one the swirling red portal they sought.

'You there, halt!' roared a voice, the group whipping to the right to find two militia guards marching toward them from around the side of the palace wall. One was pale, his dark red eyes glowing in his gaunt face, his fellow guard red-skinned with a mouth of oversized yellow fangs which prevented him from closing it properly. A cambion and tiefling respectively; Fritha fought the urge to just make a break for the portal.

'Well, what have we here?' growled the cambion, as they finally reached them.

The tiefling had his answer. 'Bunch of clueless sods just looking for trouble.'

'And they've found it. What do you want here, outsiders?'

'We're heading to the portal,' Fritha said simply. She saw no reason to lie and had no desire to start a fight there either.

'The gate? To the Abyss?' the cambion snarled, 'You think you're being funny?'

'No,' she answered, and added no more, the group about her silent as Fritha gazed up into his dull red eyes. The cambion was the first to look away, something rattled in his manner as he turned hastily back to his comrade.

'We're not here to keep fools from their deaths. Move along.'

But it was not their group who broke first, the two guards hurrying to continue their patrol about the walls.

'What was that about?' muttered Imoen after them. Fritha shrugged; they were too close to the end now for her to start worrying over every little detail, especially ones that went in their favour. From the open portal, a hot breeze was blowing; it felt quite pleasant after the damp chill of Plague-Mort.

'Well, this is it,' murmured Haer'Dalis behind her. Fritha smiled – how right he was.

'Indeed, it is, sparrow. Imoen, give him the portal stone.'

'My raven-' he protested, catching it on instinct as the blue pebble sailed towards him.

'I appreciate your help here, Haer'Dalis, but you don't need to come any further. Besides,' Fritha smiled, 'You need to get back to Aerie and the baby –I couldn't let you miss an adventure like that.'

'But I-' His protests died there, the bard weighing the stone in his hand before glancing back to them with a grin. 'Fates be with you, my raven. I… Whatever happens, I will immortalise your tale upon the stage!'

In spite of it all, Fritha laughed, pausing a step before the whirling pool.

'Well, then I want the opening night at the Five Flagons -and give Higgold my best!'

That dizzying rush of air, gravity rolling about them like the waves of an ocean and the greying ruin of Plague-Mort was gone. Fritha cast about her, taking in the scorched, red wasteland, a seemingly endless expanse of cracked earth and vicious stone spires, while in the yellow sky a mile up hung huge islands of rock, the dark specks of winged creatures wheeling about them. Fritha had thought the dust was bad in Sigil; the stifling winds choked everything with a fine red haze that stung the skin. They had appeared on a stretch of land between the forked convergence of two black rivers, the ugly sprawl of Plague-Mort somehow just behind them and a speck in the distance.

Above the plain to the west, a huge storm front leagues across was boiling closer, the plane's titular pits riddling the ground beneath.

'More dust!' coughed Anomen into the blustering winds. 'Were it ever all to settle we would be buried alive!'

'They say it is made from the bones of the millions who have fallen here.'

The group seemed to all turn as one to find her behind them, the pearly outline of a woman standing there, untouched by the heat or scouring winds. A smile graced her translucent face, her ethereal braid falling over her shoulder as she pointed to the rolling clouds to the west. 'The chaos here feeds the storms, stripping flesh and grinding bone to dust in mere moments.'

'At least this place smells better than Sigil,' muttered Imoen.

'Brieanna,' greeted Fritha evenly as the spirit turned back to them, 'or do you prefer Elund?'

'I prefer whatever you would call me.'

'Brieanna, then.'

The spirit nodded her acquiescence with this divine commandment, continuing mildly, 'Sarevok sent me. The afterlife can be confusing with no god to command your purpose; he found me wandering Azzagrat, another layer of the Abyss, but one closer to the Prime than this. Sarevok said you had need of me, and I came without hesitation to serve you once more. You would reach the Throne?'

Fritha nodded once, and Brieanna smiled. 'Then come with me.'

The woman led the way down to the river bank, the stretch of dark water wide and foreboding, the black depths surely holding unseen horrors.

'Here, we need to take the river.'

'Do you have a boat?' asked Fritha, casting up and down the dusty bank.

'No, but you can get us one.' Brieanna smiled, pointing to the sky where the islands hung tranquil above the storm. 'You are powerful here, Fritha, call and the Abyss will answer.'

She gave an encouraging nod that did little to banish her doubts, but Fritha tried all the same. She focused on one of the smaller motes, a mere crumb at that height, the island growing larger as she reached out with her mind and slowly pulled it down to settle bobbing on the rushing water like a raft.

'I- I did it!' Fritha gasped, as breathless as though she had sprinted a mile.

'Is it safe?' ventured Imoen.

Solaufein clearly thought so, though his faith had always been stronger than his sense, the man making the easy leap to land in the centre – the island barely registered his weight.

'Come,' agreed Brieanna, jumping the short distance to join him, 'we do not have much time.'

The current carried them with no effort from her, Fritha free to gaze out at the barren landscape, stone spires and the occasional iron fortresses sticking from the plain like blackened teeth. Even for such a desolate place, there was life enough. Demons roamed in packs, the larger ones marching alone on whatever business brought them there, and some even paused in their task to watch them float serenely by.

'Why don't they attack us?' asked Fritha of the spirit next to her, 'I thought mortals would be slaughtered on sight, or at least captured as slaves.'

'Usually they would,' Brieanna smiled, perhaps amused by her naivety. 'You cannot sense it, because it is within you, but they can; there is a change coming, and you are its harbinger – they know better than to halt you.'

Fritha nodded, uneasy with her newfound status within the demonic hierarchy, and perhaps the spirit sensed her discomfort, for Brieanna left her alone to enjoy a last few snatched moments with Solaufein.

The river was widening as it reached Lake Main, the currents carrying them past the eastern shores. At the other end of the raft, Anomen and Imoen were standing together, the girl calling the spirit over, her hand thrown to the tower that rose from the southern bank like the colossal spine of some long dead creature.

'Brieanna, what's that?'

'Khin-Oin, the Wasting Tower. It is the seat of power for the demon lord, Phraxas. The tower itself is much larger than what you can see from here and descends down into the chasm of the Blood Rift itself.'

'It looks like a spinal column.'

'That is because it is one.'

'Hey, are those waterfalls?' the girl cried, suddenly noticing the other side of the lake.

'Yes, but do not worry, we will reach our destination before they are a danger.'

Imoen did not looked convinced and moved along to the prow of their raft for a better look, an awkward silence between the two she left. Brieanna broke first.

'So, Anomen, you managed to bring Fritha to the Throne without my aid.'

'She is not here to resurrect your dark Lord!' the man snapped on impulse. Brieanna dipped her head, surrendering to his temper.

'No, I know she is not. Perhaps my Lord Bhaal will be reborn in her and perhaps he will not.' The woman raised her face to him with the determined set to her jaw he had once admired in her. 'I came to serve in any case; I owed you that.'

Anomen took a moment to process what she had said, any reply proved unnecessary as the woman continued baldly, 'I know we were not in love, Anomen, and many of the feelings I had for you were exaggerated in the role I had to play, but know this: the respect I had for you, for your skill and your loyalty, that I did not feign.'

In absence of any reply he felt he could make, Anomen merely nodded. At the other end of the raft, Fritha and Solaufein were standing close, the girl clearly trying not to cry as she removed her jade pendant and placed it over the drow's head. The sight recalled something to him. Anomen drew the small wooden doll from the pouch on his belt, and Brieanna's pale eyes went wide with recognition.

'My idol.'

'Fritha took it from your belongings after we buried you. Who is it?'

The woman snorted ruefully. 'Would you believe I do not know? I was barely fourteen when I joined my sisters on a raid of a caravan, and it was in amongst the spoils I found it. It had no value, but I kept it all the same, hid it from the other sisters. I pretended it was the idol of my own mother –I had never known her; she had died in birthing me.' The spirit sighed deeply, a smile playing at her mouth. 'Perhaps I was always closer to being Brieanna than I had wanted to admit.' Brieanna glanced up to him, a vulnerability he had never seen in her living self reflected in her smoky eyes. 'Keep it safe for me.'

Anomen nodded once. 'I will.'

'Er, Brieanna?'

The woman turned at the address, Imoen wearing a wary frown as she pointed to the scattering of waterfalls that were now worryingly close, the churning waters plunging into the darkness of the Blood Rift chasm.

'I think we need to be getting off now – which bank are we landing on?'

'Neither,' confessed the spirit bluntly.

'What do you mean neither?' cried Imoen furiously, Fritha stepping between the pair.

'Brieanna, explain yourself!'

'I said I knew the way to the Throne and this is it. The Throne of Bone exists on a plane parallel to the Abyss. There are no direct portals; you must simply will us there.'

'Will us?' cried Fritha, 'But I don't know anything about the place!'

'No, I know,' Brieanna nodded, 'I considered the pressure of your impending deaths would give you the impetus you need.'

'You're lucky you're already dead!' snapped Imoen. Brieanna ignored her, her hands upon Fritha shoulders and voice low.

'Focus, Fritha, the path is within you.'

Fritha drew a deep breath, her heart racing. A glance to Solaufein and she squeezed shut her eyes, returning back to her vision of that great bone tower.

The roar of water vanished in the darkness, and when Fritha opened them again, the group were stood upon a familiar scorched-red plateau, the hilltop sloping down into plains of the same sand-blasted wasteland. In the centre, a great bone tooth pierced to the boiling green sky, the finely tiered edges making a long climb to the twisted bone throne that stood upon its peak. While about its base…

'You did it, Fritha! You…' Imoen drew a fractured gasp. 'Oh, Hells.'

Melissan had not been idle in their time apart. She was standing at the head of a scattered army of lesser demons at least fifty strong, though if it was not for that shock of bright red hair, Fritha would not have even recognised the woman. The Abyss had changed her, the handsome matron now a twisted creature of spindly limbs and grey skin, a small pair of black leathery wings emerging from holes in her dark grey cuirass. Melissan stepped forward, her voice booming easily over the distance.

'Welcome, Fritha. I see you have finally found your way to the Throne of Bone. A pity you are outnumbered and outmanoeuvred –as always.'

Fritha drew her sword – this confrontation had always been coming.

'You should have resurrected Bhaal, Amelyssan, he's the only one who could have saved you now.'

A shrill laugh shrieked across the plain, Melissan's perverted features pulling into an ugly semblance of a smile,

'And what can you do against my army? Against me! I will slaughter you and claim the power that is rightfully mine! It was so easy to fool you, to fool all the Children! I drew them out with promises of sanctuary, even as I organised the Five to slaughter them!'

'And it will be your downfall!'

Fritha whipped back at the fractured roar, the broken figure of a man dressed only in a ragged pair of breeches was limping up the slope behind. He was hideous. From the amount of torture to which his body had been subjected, he should have been dead at least four times over. Large sections of his skin had been flayed off, the muscle glistening wetly beneath, while cuts, burns and brands covered the rest. One of his arms was limp at his side and he walked with a limp in the same leg, his progress up the slope punctuated by an agonised pant, and the name caught in her throat as Fritha at last recognised him.


'Sister,' he gasped, pushing Anomen away, even as the cleric tried to help him , 'I had to come, I had to bring them.'

And he was not alone, the walking corpse followed by the pearly outline of two others, a petit half-elven woman with short hair and a large man in armour, the latter grinning widely.

'What did I tell you? Us Children have got to stick together.'

'Athic,' gasped Imoen.

'And Sendai,' growled Solaufein. He and the spirit woman eyed each other unflinchingly, the half-drow nodding curtly at the address.

'Indeed . Yaga and Abazigal were too proud to come, but I would brave the Webpits themselves to see you fall, bitch!'

Melissan bristled at the address, her bravado returned as she sent another peal of laughter to the boiling sky.

'So? Do you truly believe four mortals and a handful of ghosts are enough to stand against an army of the very Hells?'

'No,' admitted Fritha, turning back from where she had been gazing down the slope behind, where a thousand strong ocean of spirits surged and swelled. 'But they might be.'

Melissan drew back, a clawed arm raised; Fritha stole the cry from her throat.


With Fritha's scream, the two armies surged forward. Melissan was screeching orders to the demons about her, while Sarevok roared to the spirits that were pouring past.

'Surround the tower! Outflank them! Imoen, remain back with me. You two, get Fritha to the Throne!'

Solaufein did not need to be told any more, fastening a hand about her wrist and they were away, Fritha barely able to keep up as he dodged demons and cut others down to clear a path. Anomen stormed behind them, protecting their back with Brieanna at his side.

Around them, the plain was in chaos, demons tearing the spirits in half with their very hands, the shades fizzling to nothing as they died a death from which there was no return. But even then, by the sheer numbers of what they faced, the demons were being slowly overwhelmed. Through the tumult, Fritha spotted Athic as part of a group wrestling a glabrezu, the great warrior's arm about its neck slowly choking the life from it, while nearby, Sendai thrust her hand through a screaming succubus's chest to crush her heart.

The tower was but fifty yards from them now, Melissan's screeching carrying over the roar of battle.

'Stop her! Fools, stop the girl!'

Solaufein dodged left, avoiding the swipe from the hirsute nalfeshnee demon who had heeded Melissan's shrieks. Fritha rolled with him, Anomen already before them and taking the next swipe on his shield, while Brieanna rushed the creature's back.

'Here! I'm over here!' Fritha screamed, the demon making a lunge towards her only to stumble, Solaufein dodging easily under its four arms to thrust his sword through its stomach up to the hilt. With a howl, it toppled, and Anomen brought his mace down onto the back of its boar-like head, silencing the creature for good.

'Fritha?' panted Solaufein, the girl at his side once more. A group of demons were closing about them. Anomen hefted shield and mace, scanning the press and clearly searching for some break he could widen.

'There, between the vrock and glabrezu! I'll charge the vrock to clear a path; the rest of you keep running!'


'No, Fritha, you must get to-'

His shout was lost, a gap in the demons blasted wide as a fireball exploded in their midst.

'Imoen!' cried Fritha, both explanation and exaltation for their unseen ally, 'Come on!'

Breathless and with limbs screaming, the three collided with the tower. It looked even taller from the foot, Solaufein bounding up the first step only to stumble back with a cry, the man hunched as he caught his breath.

'It burns!'

'It must be warded,' snapped Anomen, 'Go, Fritha, we will guard the base!'

'No, you will not!'

The blast of magic floored the two men, Brieanna diving clear, and the three were just scrambling to their feet as Melissan swept past, and her first leap saw her land six steps up. The race for the Throne was on.

Fritha had a head start, but Melissan was gaining on her, the woman's wings beating furiously as she tripped lightly up the narrow bone steps. They were at a dizzying height, the plains below a war of black and white specks. Fritha was running like she had never before, her every step agony as the throne loomed ever closer. She was almost there-

Her head snapped back, the hand in her hair dragging her backwards.


Fritha smashed an elbow behind her, a choked cry seeing her released and she whipped about just in time to dodge the spear thrust, nearly tumbling to her death upon the narrow steps. Melissan laughed, black tongue licking the blood from her split lip.

'You know I must kill you to get the Throne, Fritha.'

Another spear thrust, Fritha parrying the stab and stepping past her reach to slam her shoulder into the woman's chest. But the stumble proved no advantage as Melissan righted herself with a flap of wings, and a trilling laugh.

'You're going to have to do better than that.'

Fritha obliged her, rushing in before her guard could be raised and sweeping her blade towards those spindly legs. Melissan darted back, wings unfurling once more to balance her, and she screamed in pain as Fritha pressed the attack, slashing upward in an arc and cleaving a sheet from one leathery wing. Melissan stumbled, Fritha's kick sending the woman scrabbling at the tower to catch her balance this time, her spear dropped in her haste.


The burst of magic caught Fritha by surprise, slamming her full in the chest and she was suddenly on her back, her sword arcing from her hand to plummet from the tower's edge. On the ground, her friends were frantic.

'Fritha!' roared Solaufein, only Anomen's arm about his chest preventing him from charging up the tower to his death. But Brieanna was not so restrained.

'No!' she screamed, the word a battle cry as she swooped up the steps, her blurred feet dissolving under her.

Melissan was gaining the upper hand, a leap planting her on top of Fritha with her claws closed about the girl's throat.

'Die! Just die-AH!'

Two hands seized her shoulders, dragging the woman back as Fritha scrambled clear. Melissan was astounded.


'Usurper!' Brieanna screamed, even as the wards ate their way up her misty torso. 'The Sisterhood curses your traitor's heart!'

'What? Get off me! Get-'

The woman was thrashing madly, but Brieanna held her fast, her scream echoing across the sky as she burnt away to nothing. Melissan picked herself up, on her feet once more and ready to run, but it was too late. Fritha took the last step onto the pinnacle, the throne rising before her in bones and teeth too large to contemplate. She paused. An instant to screw up her courage and cast aside every screaming doubt in her mind, and Fritha sat down.

The shriek seemed to come from the very Abyss itself, Melissan frozen, one hand still outstretched toward the power that she would have destroyed a world to claim as she melted away to nothing. The tower was beginning to tremble, Fritha gripping the armrests, too scared of the consequences to risk leaving her seat. Below, the demons were snapping out of existence with baleful roars, the black and white specks her army rushing up to meet her as the tower suddenly telescoped down to a mere dais.

Fritha felt small on the looming grotesquery of the Throne, the scattered spirits slowly gathering with her friends before the osseous stage. She shifted slightly, and fought a sudden wave of nerves, her voice projecting far more easily that she had thought it would across the barren plain.

'It is over. I thank all of you who came this day to fight for me. Know that together we have spared Faerûn and her people a terrible fate, and as far as my powers stretch, I will see you all honoured for this.'

There was a deafening cheer of approval, Athic giving Sendai's back a hearty slap that would have toppled the smaller woman had she been corporeal, the sound of their jubilation dying as swiftly as it had risen as Fritha drew breath to speak again.

'Sarevok, step forward.'

The man seemed to tremble at the address, though perhaps it was merely the effort of moving. His tortured body had been pushed past all endurance by the battle, the wounds and burns torn open and bleeding profusely, and he was dragging his leg as though it was dead from the hip. Fritha gazed down into steel grey eyes that, for the first time she had known him, held a true uncertainty.

'You are not as the others here, brother. Your will kept you from the Abyss when my plane was created. It holds you here now, not a spirit, yet neither mortal; a plaything for demons in a punishment that is yours, by rights, until your will fails, and you merge with the Abyss as other all petitioners damned here. I promised you I would see you get what you deserved, was I given the power, brother, did I not?'

The light came slowly, a green glow emanating from the ground at his feet and surging up until it engulfed his hunched form. A collective gasp was drawn as it faded once more, and a man only a few years her senior straightened, his grey eyes wide beneath a shock of jet black hair. Sarevok was feeling at his body wildly, searching for the lines and scars the harrowing decades in the Abyss had wrought upon him, the young man he had once been in life finally whirling to find Fritha watching him with a serene smile.

'I give you, Sarevok, not your life, not your youth, but a chance to redress the evils of your years. Perhaps, gods willing, you will not see this place again.'

Words seemed beyond him, or perhaps he merely did not trust his voice to come without a quaver, the man backing from the throne with head bowed to hide whatever he was hastily brushing from his smooth cheeks. Fritha settled back in her seat, her gaze finally falling on the three who had stood, battle-weary and silent, this whole time. The spirits about them seemed to sense the rest of this audience was not for them, the pearly throng drifting away across the scarred wasteland, and even Sarevok took a few steps away to turn his back on them. Fritha let her eyes trace over the three, trying to draw in the very essence of them: bright green eyes, a proudly set jaw, and that gentle, dark smile representing the best of her life in joy and courage and love.

'So, this is it…' she sighed, 'I'm quite glad I haven't exploded in to Bhaal already; it's a promising sign I think.'

'Fritha…' choked Imoen hoarsely, her tears already beginning to well, and Fritha fought to swallow her own.

'I know. I'll visit if I can. I don't really know how this will work. If I can't well… I love you –all of you; I'll keep you with me always.'

Fritha smiled down at them, wishing she could press into them the love she felt at that moment, that they could carry it with them the rest of their lives, the stretching silence finally broken as she chuckled a rueful laugh to the sky.

'I'm not really sure what's supposed to happen no-'

The was a flash so bright it seared her eyes, Fritha's vision clearing to find herself still seated upon the Throne, but the Abyss was gone, the infernal landscape replaced by a glary white space that hinted at features that could not be discerned by her aching eyes.

Before her, four figures hung in the brilliant void, the air about them thrumming with power. Fritha managed to swallow dryly – the feeling she was in the presence of something far greater than all she had known was inexplicably terrifying. The figures were drifting closer, and she fought the urge to pull her legs up onto the Throne as well, instead straightening to observe their approach; she may not have been their equal, but she had earned her place there.

Of the four, only one appeared to be a woman, though Fritha imagined gender was a lot more fluid a concept there. She was tall and blond, and dressed in golden robes that, on closer inspection, seemed to meld seamlessly into her long hair. Her face was beautiful, but in a way which was disconcerting, the blue eyes too large and lips too full, as though it was a representation by something who had been told what was considered attractive, but could not assess it for themselves. Strings stretched from her arms to anchor at her feet to make each side of her a long harp, and her every movement was accentuated by a soft melody.

The figure to her right could not have been more of a contrast, the squat, gnome-like man so twisted and gnarled he looked as though he had grown from an old tree stump. His movements were quick and sharp, head darting this way and that as though to take in details of the landscape she could not see, and Fritha's breath caught in her throat as she noted his eyes, or the absence of them. The sockets opened straight into his head, and within she could see the cogs and workings of some intricate machine.

Unnerved, Fritha was glad to shift her attention to the dark figure next to him. His sharp features marked him as a man, though it was hard to discern any more, his body either made of or swathed in dusky shadow. He smiled as he noted her watching, the blackness parting to reveal a mouth of stiletto sharp teeth, and she turned her attention hurriedly to the last of their number. He seemed much more familiar in that he appeared human, a handsome man only a little older than herself who looked not dissimilar to those of the lands she had just left with his tanned, open face and crop of jet black hair. He was barefoot and robed in white, a long, red stole about his neck that seemed much heavier than a narrow shawl should be from the way he was stooped to bear it, a constant trail of blood running from beneath his white sleeves and down long fingers to drip onto robes that held no stain. The four were before her now, the gnome-like figure moving forward to address her in a wheezy croak.

'Successor of Bhaal-'

His handsome companion lamented his abruptness. 'Come now, Gond, she has a name.'

'Fritha,' trilled the woman, an ascending melody accompanying the gesture as she held out her hand, 'do not be afraid. You know who we are, yes?'

'I suppose,' Fritha conceded hoarsely, managing a weak laugh to add, 'You are not how the illuminators draw you.'

'And what care we for mortal perceptions?' sneered the shadow-man, 'You will soon learn they mean little here.'

'Oh, Mask,' laughed the woman musically, 'I do not know why you have even bothered to attend –or was it Bane who made that decision for you, yes?'

'Better he, than that vapid-'

'Peace,' sighed the handsome man, forestalling their argument, 'there is no need for this. Fritha,' he continued holding a bleeding hand out to the woman beside him, 'this is Lliira, a servant of Sune. Gond,' he pointed then to the gnome, 'who speaks for Oghma, and Mask who-'

The shadow rippled in indignation. 'I serve no one but myself.'

'Aptly spoke!' chuckled Gond dryly.

The handsome man sighed again, his air of peace retuning as he turned back to her. 'And myself-'

'You are Ilmater,' Fritha provided for him, her heart returned to its usual tempo. Illmater graced her with beatific smile.

'Why, yes, you see the truth of it. I speak for my lord, Tyr.'

'We have pleaded our cases before the Overfather, Ao,' continued Gond quickly, his gnarled fingers tapping impatiently against one another as though they needed to be busied, 'and he has allowed we four to attend you here.'

'Ao let you come?' repeated Fritha, not sure where to begin getting her mind about such a concept. Illmater's face contorted with a sympathetic frown.

'This must be very confusing for you – do you need a moment to adjust-'

'Get on with it,' sighed Mask tersely.

'We are here,' explained Lliira, 'because we each have had some interest in your life and therefore, as concluded, a place in your fate, yes?'

'You see,' added Gond quickly, 'though you will not become Bhaal –that would have happened by now were it going to- you may still be corrupted by the dark power that awaits you. You would become the god of murder, or assassins or whatever slivers of Bhaal's portfolio could be scraped together or levered from Cyric.'

Ilmater was nodding evenly. 'Instead, we could shape that power for you, and show you how to manage in your new role.'

'….If I serve you?' Fritha clarified slowly.

'Not serve,' Ilmater corrected, 'think of it more as an alliance. You would be allied to Tyr just as I am.'

'And I to Sune,' came Lliira. Gond looked eager to add his voice.

'And I to-'

'She gets the point!' snapped Mask, turning to address her, 'So, what say you, Successor? Tell these others you are joining me and we can leave here.'

'Her decision has not been made yet!' interjected Gond hotly.

'All right…' Fritha breathed slowly, coming to terms with the offer and all it presented for her – after all, anything was better than becoming Murder's Hand. 'All right, I have some stipulations first…' The group seemed surprised, Ilmater nodding for her to continue. 'Right, well, whoever I pick, they have to move my realm out of the Abyss.'

A round of laughter from Gond and Lliira; Mask merely settled on sending her a patronising smile, as Illmater explained gently, 'That would occur naturally once your allegiance had been made.'

'We can't have you and your followers settled in that ugly, joyless place, yes?' added Lliira.

'All right…' pressed Fritha; her demands were nowhere near complete, 'and all the Bhaalspawn who came fought for me here today. They get to come too, to wherever my realm ends up, even if their spirits would have usually been unaligned.'

'Hoping to increase your power base from the off?' smirked Mask, 'I have no objection.'

Fritha ignored the tone of his agreement, her focus on the other three as they considered her request, each returning to her to nod one by one. Fritha released the breath she did not realised she'd been holding.

'And my friends will be returned safely, to Sigil or the Prime?'

'You will be able to do that yourself,' chuckled Gond.

'I just wanted to be sure.' Fritha leaned back in her seat; the Throne did not feel as overwhelming as it once did, 'All right then, which of you should I pick?'

'Ah, pardon?' came Gond bewilderedly. Mask snorted.

'She wishes to see which would be most beneficial to her!' he snapped and not without some accuracy, the man pressing with a dark confidence, 'The choice is clear. You reaped every profit from your forked tongue in your life, falsehoods woven seamlessly into truths –where else do you belong but in service to the Master of Lies?' He took a step closer, mouth parting in a grin over those glinting teeth, 'I saw you upon the Prime, Fritha, I saw the delight you took in material pleasures -fine clothes, jewels- the potential for so much more is within your grasp.'

Lliira tinkled a bright laughter. 'What is material wealth to us when compared to the riches of the soul? You lived your life taking pleasure from dance and song – I give you the chance to inspire others, to be a muse to artists all across the planes! Join with Sune and know the pleasures of beauty and joy forevermore.'

'You both speak of pleasures, but what are they without wisdom?' countered Gond dismissively, 'From your childhood in Candlekeep and for the rest of your life, you wanted the understanding of things, the truth behind the questions. You sought knowledge, preserved it where you could, and shared it with others. With Oghma, you would have the chance to learn the secrets of the very multiverse itself.'

Fritha smiled faintly – would she be like this one day? So focused on one facet of the world that she could not see the entwining value of the whole, so much more that the sum of its parts for the fractured nature of it. She glanced to Ilmater, the man simply watching her with those soft hazel eyes; perhaps there had only been one choice from the start.

'I do not need to hear-'

'No, you do not,' he cut in, a certain steel to the words, 'We both know of your life and the actions you took that have brought me before you now. But I do have an offer for you, nevertheless. All will reap what they sow in their lives. As you offered your life to save your brethren and a land on the cusp of war, I offer you the same: your life for the remainder of your days. And when you die, be it tomorrow, or in a hundred years, you will ascend to the divinity We will hold in trust for you and take up your burden once more.'

'The burden of your alliance,' scoffed Mask. 'Ilmater, you sell it so well.'

But Fritha did not notice the snipe. She smiled at Illmater and he returned it, a warmth filling her entire being. She had always imagined the Crying God as an old man, worn by time and the burdens he bore for others, but as she gazed then into that honest, open face Fritha considered how flawed her thinking had been – after all, mercy was a very beautiful thing.

'Tell Tyr I will stand at his side when my time comes.'

Illmater nodded once, the others fading as he did and with a shift of air and hum of music they were gone.

Fritha opened her eyes upon green meadows, the sight soothing after that blazing white void. Gnarled trees dotted the landscape, a closer look revealing they were stone rather than living vegetation, a sweet breeze singing through the canopies to stir emerald-shard leaves in glittering waves, the smoky spirits of her dead brethren milling about them in wonder. Fritha was still seated upon the Throne, the others still gathered before her as though she had never left. And perhaps she had not.

'Fritha!' cried Imoen, darting forward as though she wanted to grab her but did not dare. 'What happened? You were here, but then you were – or we weren't- and it was- and then… well… this.'

Imoen gestured to the shimmering landscape, the others about her mirroring her awe and within Fritha, a warm hope was building. Illmater had kept his word, they were out of the Abyss, and if he had spoken the truth in that…

At Imoen's side, Solaufein had stepped forward as well, the man not so shy as he lay a tentative hand upon her knee.

'Fritha, what has happened? Did you do this? Are you…' he trailed off before admitting the divinity that would see them forever parted, though the pause was barely noticeable as a portal gate suddenly swirled into life behind them, Sigil's murky streets swimming on the other side. Fritha felt choked in her mounting joy, tears coursing freely down her face. Imoen was looking between her weeping friend and the portal with a frown.

'Do we- do we have to leave now?'

Sarevok had clearly had enough of this guesswork, the large man nearly flooring Imoen as he barged past her to grab Fritha's arm.

'Hells Teeth, sister! What is happening?'

Sarevok was too slow to dodge it, the full force of her embrace sending him staggering backward as Fritha launched herself from the Throne to throw her arms about him with an ear-piercing shriek.

'He did it!'

She was dancing about with Imoen now, squealing with laughter as the girl was embraced and then released just as swiftly, and Fritha was darting on to catch Anomen about the neck.

'He did it! He-'

Fritha stopped, halted by that soft grey gaze as she came face to face with Solaufein. A bewildered smile was curving his mouth, if only because he could do naught else in the face of her joy, his eyes holding the questions for which he could not find a voice. A surge of unreserved love; Fritha could feel the tears welling all over again.


And, before them all, she kissed him.


New Dawn

The gardens were basking in the dying rays of an early autumn sun, bees dipping their sleepy dance over the neat rows of the herb garden and the scent of dry grass mixing with the rich smell of cooking that wafted from the kitchen doorway next to her. The wall of the inner keep was only a dozen yards away, the shelter it provided making a suntrap behind the kitchens where she and Imoen had once spent many an evening seated similarly on the old bench in their slips, eating suppers of bread and jam and letting the fading sunlight dry their hair from bath time before they were sent off to bed. Fritha sighed, leaning back against the sun-warmed stone of the keep where the gentle heat sapped her strength to the point where even the comb she held felt heavy. She was supposed to be brushing through the weight of freshly washed hair at her back, but at this rate it was going to be dry before she had even begun.

One of the keep's cats had come by earlier, laying claim to her in a few moments of intense affection to her hand, the corner of the bench given the same benediction, before the creature had sauntered off to an already flattened patch of lemongrass on the edge of the herb garden to sunbathe.

Further along the inner wall, a row of azalea bushes were rustling in leafy verdancy. Solaufein was just visible standing at the nearest end, though his back was to her, the man intent on the girl Fritha knew was concealed completely within and likely scrabbling in the earth below from Imoen's occasional huff, the sound of their squabbling in no way muted by the abundant foliage.

'Goodness, Imoen, how deep did you bury it?'

'Well, I don't remember exactly; it was over ten years ago! It's definitely here. Here, hold the trowel a moment; I'm going to move further in.'

Solaufein obliged the girl, stooping to receive the implement from an unseen hand. The sunlight was reflecting off the surrounding leaves to cast an emerald halo about his pale head, an undercast of blue brought from his dark skin. That smile, so broad and full of affection, as he glanced back to catch her watching, and Fritha fell in love all over again.

'There,' came the satisfied sigh next to her. Beth was bustling from the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands upon her apron as she walked, 'those are the evening's pies out the oven and cooling, and it'll only be a few moments more for the soup.'

The woman was hardly changed from the last time Fritha had seen her, though it should not have been surprising. How long a single year had felt for her with its struggles and pains; life in Candlekeep seemed almost stationary by comparison, as though the place existed outside of time. It had certain wrought no change in Beth with her same smiling face, sallow and wrinkled as a late autumn apple and surrounded by a wispy cloud of iron grey hair gathered up with a forest of pins. They had not heard much news of Tethyr there, only that there had been a conflict and some of the Children had been involved. Perhaps they would learn more later, as the tales filtered north with travellers and merchants, but life was easier in anonymity, and for while she could enjoy as much, Fritha preferred it this way.

'Oh, are they still looking for that box you and Imoen buried?' the woman continued with a nod to Solaufein's back.

'Yes, and they'll be at it for a while yet, I imagine; I'm surprised Imoen didn't remember we actually buried it behind the bushes at the other end.' Fritha glanced to Beth, her eyes shining –something about the woman always brought out the child in her, 'I'm sure it'll come to her in a moment.'

Beth was chuckling heartily, setting her stout bulk onto the bench beside Fritha to take the comb from unresisting fingers. Fritha settled easily into the cosseting, hands gnarled by years of domestic toil smoothing gently through the curls at her temples as Beth began to take up the task the girl had so far avoided. Fritha leaned into the contact. She had averted wars, forged through the Hells and been earmarked for godhood, but Beth still fussed over her like a mother. It was nice.

Across the spired towers, the bells for the afternoon classes pealed out in joyous freedom, the tramp of feet rumbling from the open window far above as students and weary brothers left the libraries and returned to their rooms for an hour's rest and private study before the bell for dinner. Fritha let her eyes drift closed and imagine herself among them, almost tripping over those heavy grey robes in her haste to be out of the keep and looking for Imoen. For a moment, it was as though she had never left.

'I missed this,' she sighed, opening her eyes to turn and catch a glimpse of the woman in her peripherals, '– you, Candlekeep.'

'And I missed you,' Beth clucked fondly. 'Two years is a long time without my girls to fuss over. Poor Winthrop has had to clear his own cups of an evening, and that pitiable soul, Master Jesseth, has had no one to scold without you two about. It was such a surprise when Hull came charging into the kitchens to say you and Imoen were at the gate -and in such company!'

Fritha smiled, recalling the mild panic their arrival had unleashed in that sheltered place. Jaheira had been remembered from their last visit, but Solaufein's presence had not gone unmarked. They still watched him now, the guards and some of the brothers – the Helmite, Father Weylan among them, unsurprisingly. But for Beth, merely the news that Fritha and he were a couple had been enough, and Solaufein had been adopted into the woman's brood as the son she had never had – complete with extra portions of dinner and worries he should wear a scarf on cooler days, for Marpenoth was a troublesome month for coughs and fevers.

'Your friend got off all right this morning, then?' Beth continued, 'She seemed keen to be away -left even before breakfast.'

Fritha fought the laugh at the censure there. It seemed the women shared views on the most important meal of the day.

'I suppose Jaheira wanted to cover as much distance in the light as possible; it's a long way to Rashemen. She is returning the ashes of a friend of ours to his homeland.'

'Yes, she said -I was surprised you didn't go with her.'

Fritha shook her head, unable to quell the sigh, and Beth seemed to lengthen her strokes.

'I did offer, but… I think she needed to make the journey alone and get some distance from the last couple of years. She'll be fine – she is at home in the wild places and she promised to meet us all at the Five Flagons for Midwinter.'

'And that is in Athkatla, with your other friends?'

'Yes,' Fritha confirmed, smiling as the comb was returned to her and they shifted to sit side by side once more, 'we left Anomen and Valygar there –they both have houses in the city.'

From the azaleas, Imoen's face emerged, flushed and dirt-streaked. 'Fritha, are you sure we buried it here?'

'Well, I actually thought it was behind that one,' Fritha offered, pointing to the bush at the other end of the hedge, 'but you seemed so positive, I doubted my memory.'

Solaufein was laughing, Imoen disappearing only to elbow past him an instant later, beating the dirt furiously from her trousers.

'Fritha! I'm getting a drink.'

'Oh, no,' cried Beth, leaping up to defend her kitchens with her life if need be, 'you're not traipsing dirt through over my nice clean floor. You wait there, I'll fetch you all some iced tea.'

Imoen snorted, slumping onto the grass before the bench, Solaufein alone as he crossed to disappear behind the other end of the hedge.

'You could have said,' grumbled Imoen. 'I was digging for a bloody age.'

Fritha tried and failed to sound repentant. 'You insisted you knew.'

'You're as bad as Vals. You need space to make your own mistakes.'

Fritha just fought the wince; it seemed her hopes for a reconciliation in the few days the group had spent at the Corthala Estate had been in vain.

'He said that?'

'Not in so many words. Dressed it up with worries we'd argue and that, if we tried to stay together. Funny thing was, I'm not even sure he believed it. It was like the whole time he wanted me to counter him, and then, on the night before we all left, he found me in the gardens after dinner and we talked a bit more…'

Imoen sighed, distractedly plucking a spring of rosemary from the bush just behind her and crushing it between her fingers, the girl drawing a deep lungful of the bracing scent before tossing the stalk off into the grass to continue.

'We just chatted about what he planned for the estate and what I was going to do… I could feel it, it was like he was on the cusp of asking me to stay with him. But he didn't… And I'm glad he didn't. It's better this way, and I can tag along, playing third wheel to Faerûn's most nauseating couple, until Blackstaff Tower gets back to me.'

'You told them to write here?' Fritha confirmed with a laugh.

'Yeah, said I'd be in the area until the autumn, after which it won't matter much when I arrive there in person –let's see Old Khelben turn me away when I'm summoning an army of pygmy wyverns in front of the gates.'

'If you're accept- when you're accepted as an apprentice,' Fritha corrected at Imoen's glare, 'will you still be coming down to Athkatla for Midwinter?'

'I don't know…' the girl sighed, 'I mean we only just met up at High-Harvestide; I don't really want to see Vals again so soon and I doubt Jaheira'll be back from the north by then – neither might Anomen.'

'He'll be back,' Fritha dismissed confidently, 'The Cloudpeaks are not that far away and only the larger three of the temple forts up there need supplies – they are the ones who'll distribute them out to the smaller watchposts.'

'I can't believe Benita went with them.'

'I can. Even before Alhali she told me she felt her place was out helping people, and the temple in Athkatla was glad to have her there as one of the clerics –she's tougher than she looks.'

'And the Order asked Anomen back after all that fuss they went through kicking him out.' Imoen caught her with a sly look, 'Did he tell you what he'd decided before we left?'

'If he had, Imoen, you must know I would not break his confidence.'

Imoen pouted. 'You're no fun.'

Fritha just laughed. 'It has been said. Well, I'm going down for Midwinter whatever happens; it will be nice to see Anomen again, and Nalia too- we never did get to chat much before.

'You and the others met her that afternoon I was going through Valygar's library, didn't you? How is she –we never got to talk much at the wedding.'

'She's well,' smiled Fritha. 'Happy, and Lundav dotes on her and the twins. He never seems to stop grinning, though with Nalia, the two girls and Delcia at the Keep as well, he feels quite outnumbered. Aerie and Haer'Dalis' have been in touch with her, and plan to visit next spring with their new addition.'

'Little Minsc?' Imoen confirmed, in the great name that Fritha still felt the boy would take years growing in to, though once Aerie had finally learnt of the ranger's fate, she had refused to consider any other. Fritha supposed it was fortunate, in the end, they had had a boy.

'Solaufein mentioned Aerie'd finally dropped her sprog,' continued Imoen, 'Not that I was surprised – she looked fit to burst when we saw her. So what's he like?'

'Beautiful from what Nalia says; Haer'Dalis's hair, Aerie's eyes, but what a horror! Apparently, he never settles and seems to fret at the slightest noise or disturbance –Aerie blames the demon blood.'

'I don't know,' snorted Imoen, 'sounds a lot like he takes after his mam to me.' A pause between them as each considered their own thoughts in the warm evening air, Imoen adding eventually. 'Do you think Sarevok will be there at Midwinter?'

'I don't know,' sighed Fritha, 'probably not; he said he had matters to attend to. But it was important he was invited. The past is behind us – giving someone a chance to put things right means letting go of old wrongs.'

A 'Ha!' of triumph from behind the azaleas, Solaufein emerging more than a little bedraggled and still brushing the clinging clods of earth from a mildew-stained, leather-bound wooden box.

'Our treasure!' squealed Imoen, with the delight of the child who had buried it. He set in on the grass before her, Imoen instantly pulling out faded ribbons, glass beads and scraps of patterned paper and cloth, while Fritha enjoyed a treasure of her own in an earth-scented kiss with Solaufein.

'Here we are,' trilled Beth, appearing beside them with a tray of cups and pitcher of iced tea which she planted on the end of the bench, 'right, now who wants tea?'

In the grass Imoen was distracted by teasing Solaufein with a particularly vibrant pink ribbon.

'Ooo, a lovely bow for you, Sola.' His look said it all, and Imoen turned her mischief onto the easier target. 'Come on, Sinjun,' she giggled, advancing on the sleeping cat, 'a lovely ribbon for you. Help me, Sola.'

'Imoen, I am not sure he is any keener than I was.'

Beth was smiling at their antics, the woman settling on the bench beside Fritha once more with a deeply contented sigh.

'Ah, I will admit, I took myself down to the shrine to Oghma more than a few times in the days when you left here a second time -all that talk of war with Amn and then the troubles in the south, but you've done well for yourself. You've travelled, seen places, found friends and even a love, too –it's all anyone can really hope for in this life. Gorion would be happy, I think, with what you've made of your lot. And you Fritha,' Beth continued, turning to her, a shadow of concern just lingering behind her eyes, 'are you happy?'

Fritha gazed up into the older woman's face, the years of sorrow and joy etched there in every crease, her friends but yards away and laughing in the sunshine, and Fritha felt it warm all through her chest, seeing the years and years ahead of her, bringing good and ill, but always unwritten and full of hope. Fritha smiled broadly.


Annnd, we're done! I can't even describe the relief it is knowing I've finally finished. My plodding dinosaur of a story can, at last, sink peacefully into a tar pit, knowing its time is at an end.

Well, I'm off now to finish my costumes for Dragon Con – goodness knows what else I'm going to do to with all this free time. Major thanks to the six people still reading this (hi, mum!) and to everyone who left feedback over the years.

And, for anyone who is interested, I played a little trick on my betas, who didn't know what the ending of the story was going to be, and sent them the below on the first submission. It's very silly, but maybe it will raise a smile.

Peace ^_^

- Blackcross & Taylor


The shriek seemed to come from the very Abyss itself, Melissan frozen, one hand still outstretched toward the power that she would have destroyed a world to claim as she melted away to nothing. The tower was beginning to tremble, Fritha gripping the armrests, too scared of the consequences to risk leaving her seat. Below, the demons were snapping out of existence with baleful roars, the black and white specks her army rushing up to meet her as the tower suddenly telescoped down to a mere dais.

Fritha felt small on the looming grotesquery of the Throne, the scattered spirits slowly gathering with her friends before the osseous stage. She shifted slightly, and fought a sudden wave of nerves, her voice projecting far more easily that she had thought it would across the barren plain.

'It is over. I thank all of you who came this day to fight for me. Know that together we have usurped a pretender and allowed me to take my rightful place AS YOUR GOD!'

'Fritha?' screamed Imoen, the noise barely carrying over the booming laughter that was echoing across the plains. The spirits were scattering, many lost to the void as great rifts cracked the earth, lightning streaking from the sky above.

'Fritha!' Imoen screamed again. Solaufein and Anomen had a leg each and were trying to drag the girl bodily from the throne, Fritha clinging on to the armrests, her laughter like a thunderclap as one of her boots came off to send Anomen sprawling to the dirt.


Imoen stood aghast and did the only thing she could; she summoned a portal and saved herself.

Fritha squirmed lazily on the heavy velvet cushions, a leg thrown over the gilded bone armrest of her throne as she watched demons roam the burning plains through the huge window before her.

To think, but six short months ago she had first stood just there on that very spot and taken a seat on the throne that carried her now. Fritha smiled, her attention drawn back to the glistening body of the well-oiled tiefling slave who was reclined on the dais at her feet, naked save for a codpiece and a pair of gold-tasselled nipple clamps – she could see now why Melissan had been so eager to claim it.

A little divine remodelling to her level of the Abyss had seen a palace raised on the site of her ascension, from where she could make her plans and find entertainment in the plethora of barefooted slaves who hastened to satisfy to her every desire. Her throne room was in a similar style to the rest of a palace in dark red stone and golden pillars, two long pits of fire that ran the length of the room serving both to warm and offer a means to remove any who dare to displease her.

A boom of the doors behind, Fritha turning the dais with but a wave of her hand to observe the approach of her leading general. Anomen seemed pleased, though it was difficult to tell nowadays from his skull's permanent grin. His transformation into a dread knight had had the unfortunate side effect of removing all the skin from his head. Aside from that, he was fine though, a goatee of finest hellcat pelt stuck to his chin –he had missed his beard- and his tactical prowess was still second to none.

'Dread-General Anomen, what news of Faerûn?'

'Your conquest goes as planned, mistress,' he rattled, straightening from his bow. 'We have taken the Sword Coast and Imoen has regrouped with the rebels in Baldur's Gate, but this last bastion of resistance will not hold long. They will be crushed within the tenday.'

'Good, I-'

The sound of the doors cut Fritha off. Solaufein was marching towards them with purposeful strides. The flicking firelight was glinting on his silver nipple rings, the chain that linked them hanging free down his leanly muscled abdomen to dangle tantalizingly just above his black leather posing pouch. Fritha had thought at first the cold would bother him, but he was more than accustomed to such outfits from his days in Ust Natha, though the dragon leather chaps had taken more time to get used to –apparently wearing them without trousers could result in some rather intimate chafing. He reached the dais to fall to one knee in a squeak of leather

'Arise, Death-Stalker Solaufein, you bring a report from the Underdark?'

The drow smiled, straightening with a shrill creak.

'Menzoberranzan and Ched Nasad have pledge their alliance to you, Mistress. Ust Natha refused and was destroyed. This alone will convince the others to your service.'

Fritha reclined in her throne, eyes narrowed with a feline satisfaction.

'Excellent– it is all going to plan. Now…' she lingered over the word, savouring their discomfort, 'make out.'

The two men eyed each other with a revolted resignation, their elevated existence ever tortured by the horrifying whims of their mistress. A low chuckling filled the room as their quivering mouths met.

Fritha truly was evil.