It was empathetic agony unlike anything Soleil had ever experienced, and that was saying something. She recalled a time years previous when High Prince Telamont had sent Fifth Prince Clariburnus along with a small contingent of foot soldiers and battle mages into a phaerimm colony to exterminate the aberrations, only to find the phaerimm numbered three times the initial estimate; on that occasion Clariburnus had nearly lost a leg in the ambush, and despite a separation of thousands of miles Soleil had felt the wound as keenly as if she had suffered it herself. Just months ago Mattick and Vattick had engaged one another in a friendly wizard's duel that had taken a turn for the worse when Vattick had accidently melted the skin off the left half of Mattick's face with a poorly placed cone of acid – the memory of that injury still made Soleil shudder when she recalled it, though luckily Rivalen had tended the wound quickly enough to see that Mattick hadn't incurred any permanent damage. And just days before she had felt the burst of sunlight as its illumination attacked Hadrhune's shadow orb – she had been shadow-walking back to Thultanthar from the Dragon Coast then, and the pain of it had driven her to her knees and rendered her immobile for several minutes.

Those things were nothing like this – this was not a physical pain but something much deeper, something far more primal. It was the distinct sensation of a fissure ripping through someone's chest, the emotional anguish that was the complete rending of a person's heart as a piece broke away from the whole. It was pain so great that for a brief moment, Soleil wished she could die simply to escape it.

Then she remembered that Aveil Arthien was not encompassed by her empathetic link, that the Archmistress of the Citadel of Assassins was completely bereft of her influence, and it struck her that the pain she felt was not the physical agony of Aveil's death.

It was the complete emotional trauma that Hadrhune experienced as his heart broke.

Dying was easy in Aveil's opinion – though it was difficult to view it as anything but pleasant in a twisted, bittersweet sort of way. She had always been privately jealous that both of Lim's previous deaths had come at the hands of her on-again off-again lover Drako Falconis, and as the drow's eyes darkened and became as empty as a void she smiled a little to herself before drifting off after him, feeling a tremendous sense of satisfaction despite the fact that she was more tired than she had ever been. She may have even died with no regrets – after all, in her remarkably short lifespan she had killed a very long-lived fang dragon who had claimed ownership of her for many years, put down the tyrant who had dared to call himself Archmage of the Citadel of Assassins, thwarted a divine catastrophe during the Time of Troubles, and helped keep Lim Tal'eyve from becoming the next plague upon Faerun. All that kept her from being pleased with her end was the moment when Hadrhune called her name; the torment in his voice incited a ripple of displeasure to cross her face, but there was no time for her to respond for in the next moment she passed completely out of the living world.

When next she opened her eyes she was reclining upon a very plush maroon chaise lounge, clad in a flowing yet flattering snow-white gown that was so soft it may have been knitted from clouds. This seemed a fitting but rather anticlimactic end, she thought – surely after her hardships she deserved a good rest, but if she was condemned to spend her afterlife lazing about she knew she would come to feel quite miserable very soon. To make matters worse, she found that she was not alone – she blinked her eyes once or twice in an attempt to gain her bearings, and when she opened them Lim Tal'eyve was standing in front of her.

Abruptly, Aveil was outraged. "To the Nine Hells with you, Lim Tal'eyve! Being forced to abide your presence throughout the course of my days among the living is one thing, but I refuse to allow you to make my afterlife just as miserable! I believe I have earned some much needed rest – do you not have somewhere else to go? Can you not prey upon some other piteous creature for awhile?"

Lim ran a hand down his face, looking quite harassed, before jabbing a finger accusingly in her direction, saying, "Do you think this is how I wished for things to end?! Are you really so weak as to allow a simple stab wound to serve as the grand ending of the life of the infamous Aveil Arthien?!"

This was a curious way to react to events that he had pre-mediated, Aveil thought offhandedly. "Perhaps if you knew you would be so displeased, you should not have perpetrated such an ending. What would have been more to your liking? To consume my body in that hideous spider form? Oh yes, very original. So very creative."

The drow sat down heavily on the far end of the chaise lounge, now running a hand through his hair and seeming more distressed than before. "Do not misunderstand me – of course I meant to kill you. How could I wish otherwise? To think that your husband – "

"Ex-husband," Aveil reminded crossly, and Lim tipped his head to acknowledge the correction.

" – Put me to death twice – twice! – and all on account of you! For what was his quarrel with me otherwise? He had none. Foolish Drako – so blinded by his love for you that he involved himself in affairs that were far beyond his reach or comprehension. Do you know, when I finally claimed his life I felt very little satisfaction – to be frank, I felt cheated. Years of dreaming only for redemption, hours spent envisioning the most fitting ways to kill him, and when it finally happened it was so… unfulfilling."

"Then it's true what they say, I suppose," Aveil put in, chuckling nervously all the while. "The end of the journey is nothing – the journey itself means everything." She considered Lim's words quietly for a moment, feeling an almost overwhelming sense of melancholy when she realized just what he meant, and then asked, "When… did you send Drako to his end? I never knew…"

"And you wouldn't have," Lim broke in, waving a hand impatiently as though longing to reach the real crux of the matter, but seeing that Aveil wouldn't allow him to chance the subject until she had received a suitable answer he heaved a pained sigh and obliged her. "It was a year or two ago, what does it matter? I tracked him to Chult and came upon him as he at last located the air elemental that fathered him, and then I stabbed him in the back. When you consider the great pains he put me through, his death just doesn't seem like adequate compensation for my troubles. He beseeches Mielikki to return him to life constantly, but as far as I know she has yet to honor his wishes."

"You killed him as he was finally getting the answers he had been seeking for his entire adult life?" Aveil shook her head sorrowfully, privately mourning for Drako's plight.

Love lost was not the reason she had ended her marriage to Drako; he had grieved the unexplainable death of his mother for quite some time, often shouldering his own emotional burdens without complaint on account of Aveil's rather hefty personal baggage, and perhaps had never come to terms with the loss. The added loss of their child had taken a heavier toll on Drako than Aveil had expected it would – after all, he hadn't known that the child had even been conceived until he had learned that Lim Tal'eyve had destroyed it prior to his arrival at Castle Perilous seeking Aveil. Looking back on it Aveil supposed that Drako had viewed the unborn child as his fresh start on life, a way for him to focus on the more joyous facets of life as opposed to dwelling on the negative, only to be robbed of it as well.

No, Aveil had abandoned Drako because that singular course of action had seemed to her the only way to begin life anew at the time – that, and she rarely considered herself as the settle down and raise a family type anyway. The notion of staying with Drako Falconis until the end of her days, perhaps being surrounded by their children and grandchildren, occasionally incited within her feelings of warmth and security but more often than not brought to mind thoughts of doubt and a sense of claustrophobia. Aveil had lived her entire life on a knife point, constantly looking over her shoulder for the next dagger aimed at her back, dancing upon the brink of death with barely a moment of reprieve since the moment she had set out from the Frostfell as the young orphan of deceased snow elf kings. Where was the excitement in a life of security? Wherein lay the adventure in knowing that every day's course of events had already been decided upon?

The loss of Aveil, his unborn child, and his mother had compelled Drako to seek out the only other person the air genasi had ever had a care to meet – the air elemental who was his father, the man whom Drako had never met.

Aveil could think of only one comment to offer at the end of her contemplations. "What an inopportune time to die."

Lim blew out a sigh and rolled his eyes in a completely unsympathetic manner. "You and I both know that luck was never on Drako's side. Now can we return to the matter at hand? This is a dilemma that I have very little time to resolve, you see."

Aveil was beginning to feel rather annoyed, made even worse by virtue of the fact that she was rather of the opinion that it should be against the law to feel annoyed in the afterlife in the first place. "What exactly is the matter at hand? You take issue with the manner of my death? My death itself seems untimely in some way? Does it not seem strange that you are more concerned with the fact that I am deceased than I am?"

"I didn't mean to kill you!" Lim raved, flinging his arms in the air in a show of utmost frustration.

"Then why attempt to kill me at all?!" Aveil roared.

The drow eyed her for a moment as if wondering why she was being so purposefully dull-witted before explaining slowly, "Perhaps I might have been better served saying that I didn't mean to kill you… yet."

"Oh, that makes perfect sense," snapped Aveil sarcastically. "How foolish of me to assume that it was your blind, senseless hatred of me serving as your primary motivation."

"Hate you?" Lim broke into a high-pitched hysterical laughter as though this was the craziest notion Aveil could possibly have thought up; still chuckling heartily to himself he leaned closer and continued in a deathly serious tone, "How could I ever hate you? Where would I ever be without you? Now that I have utterly destroyed Drako and all but ensured that he will never again walk the wilds of Faerun, you are the only person left in this great world that has any chance of giving my existence any semblance of meaning! You challenge me! Without you, life is just so… easy."

"Well, we can't have that," Aveil sighed, looking exasperated.

Suddenly Lim leaned forward, fixing Aveil with an expression that was highly expectant and devoid of all mirth. "Do you know why the last several years have progressed as they have? Why I killed Drako - arguably my longest-standing nemesis of all? Why I destroyed your unborn child? Why I raised Castle Perilous and burned the Bloodstone Lands to the ground? Why I stormed the Demonweb with you, why I followed you to Sigil and put an end to a demigoddess in your protection, why I aided you in putting an end to Archmage Knellict?"

"It seems you are hoping for an answer more complex and meaningful than 'because you despise me'," Aveil observed sardonically, and Lim shook his head fiercely. "Alright then… Because you are desperate to retain the favor of your goddess, the Spider Queen? You needn't worry about that. Now that you have ended me, she will undoubtedly bestow her favor upon you for all time."

"You are thinking too broadly," Lim told her, with the air of a man speaking to a child. "Your close-mindedness is becoming quite taxing… Would it not seem counter-productive, helping you through your endeavors all those years ago if I meant to gain Lolth's favor? Lolth detests you, Archmistress, longer than she has detested poor old Drako… and nearly as long as she has despised me."

"What?" Aveil interjected, but the drow was no longer listening, for he was now a man on the cusp of revealing a grand scheme.

"It should come as no surprise to you that Lolth – like all deities – retains a long-standing hatred for any mortal who has ever taken steps to oppose her divine plan."

"It doesn't."

"Dearest Aveil, are you being thick on purpose?" Lim sighed tragically. "Genius is so often misperceived… Think back now. What was I doing when we met for the very first time, all those years ago? Do you recall whether I had Lolth's favor then or not? Do you remember what sort of man I was, and what sort of cause I was supporting?"

That was the moment when Aveil sat up a little straighter, her brilliant violet eyes a little wider than before and her sumptuous lips slightly parted in surprise. "I do. You had abandoned your house in Ched Nasad and left it to burn in one of the insurrections that marked the start of the Time of Troubles. You were one of the leaders of the Jaezred Chaulssin… you went on to become the Anointed Blade."

Lim was nodding solemnly as memories came streaming back to Aveil with startling clarity. The Time of Troubles had occurred nearly two decades previous, before Aveil had obtained her freedom from both Rhadamanthus and Knellict; it was a cataclysm that had left the drow priestesses that so depended upon the Spider Queen's divine favor quite powerless for quite some time, and try as they might to keep this dreaded secret from reaching the wrong ears it had eventually become public knowledge. As a result, male drow all throughout the Underdark – largely considered the inferior sex of the dark elf species – revolted against their priestesses and incited a mass sojourn to a location or locations then unknown. The place where most of these renegade males had flocked to was the seat of power of a rebel sect of male drow called the Jaezred Chaulssin, a secret order whose sole purpose since their founding had been but one thing – to end the tyrannous reign of female drow priestesses and turn the tables on their hierarchy. Many within the Jaezred Chaulssin considered it their duty to put an end to the Spider Queen herself, and turn the entire dark elf race over to the divine intervention of some other deity – with the hopes that said deity would favor the male drow cause, of course.

Lim Tal'eyve had come from a prestigious house in the city of Ched Nasad – one of the most influential and powerful in all the City of Shimmering Webs, in fact – and though he had been born the eldest son his station was of little consequence, for he was still a male and thus beneath the notice of his drow priestess sisters. When the Time of Troubles had still been within its early stages and male drow had only just begun to abandon their houses, Lim had set fire to House Tal'eyve and murdered his entire family before vanishing into the untamed caverns and tunnels of the hostile Underdark. How he had come to find the headquarters of the infamous Jaezred Chaulssin even Aveil did not know, but through a combination of his martial arts prowess, his cunning, and his unwavering devotion to their cause he had eventually been promoted to the position of Anointed Blade.

And in the Jaezred Chaulssin, it was blindly and fanatically believed that the Anointed Blade would be the one to strike the deathblow to Lolth herself.

Realization struck Aveil as surely as the drow's sword had not long before. "All this time?! But I don't understand! Why has Lolth allowed you to live all these years if your only goal now is to utterly destroy her?!"

Lim spread his hands with a wry smile as if to indicate his current predicament and said, "Quite obviously, she hasn't."

Aveil could only bite her tongue in response to that, for it was true – technically, Lim Tal'eyve hadn't been alive since near the end of the Time of Troubles, the night Drako Falconis had learned of his treachery and ended his life. Even his hostile takeover of the Bloodstone Lands had been something of a bid to re-enter the Living World, for Lim had done so as a lich, not as a living creature.

Still, it didn't quite make sense. "But she continues to bestow her favor upon you, just as surely as you continue to strive to obtain it! Was it not on account of your loyalty to her that she agreed to elevate you to lichdom in the first place?!"

"Only after I agreed to entrust to her my soul," Lim added, suddenly mutinous at the memory. "I needed enough power to forge my own path, and she needed collateral to reassure herself that I could never get too far from her. It was a desperate gamble, to be sure – one that you and Drako thwarted together, as I recall."

"Did you expect we would aid you?!" Aveil shrieked, furious now. "You manipulated one of our own companions against us! You claimed me as your captive and subjected me to tortures that still haunt my slumber! Your forces put to death a paladin king and toppled a once-great empire! And need I remind you that you murdered my unborn child!"

Lim crossed his arms over his narrow chest and scoffed. "And I suppose you think that Lolth would have continued to let me go about my business otherwise? My work had to appear believable at all times, Aveil. To act in any other manner would have delivered me unto ruin."

"What were you hoping to achieve?!" Aveil's voice ripped through multiple octaves in her hysteria, and though Lim audibly winced he also leaned closer, pitching his response into a conspiratorial undertone.

"I hoped that if I spent enough time upon the Material Plane with such resources at my disposal, I might stumble upon or otherwise invent a means of restoring myself to a more permanent state of life. Need I remind you that before I raised it from its ruin, Castle Perilous was once the seat of power of the great Witch-King Zhengyi himself? The lich may have been a lowly human, Aveil, but he was longer lived than nearly any human who ever existed. There were both arcane and divine secrets locked within that relic's walls that slipped through my fingertips when you and Drako ended my lichdom and destroyed my phylactery – secrets that would have been able to help me achieve my ends. Did you not hear of the wayfarer, Ishka?"

"The nomad who attempted to murder High Prince Telamont during his own birthday celebration just weeks ago?" Aveil barked out a single cold laugh. "A fool. Of course I heard of that – everyone did."

"I thought that may have fallen upon your ears," said Lim loftily. "Did you ever consider by what means Ishka was able to keep himself alive, or how his body was able to survive such brutal attacks? The seneschal you are so fond of, Hadrhune, tore the pitiful wretch into shreds – shreds, Aveil – and Ishka was able to knit himself back together and rally into one last foolish attack upon the High Prince. I have even heard it told that Telamont, in his infinite wisdom, could think of no better way to deal with that riffraff than to seal him within Thultanthar's foundation! After all he has endured, still the waif lives!"

"But why?" breathed Aveil, and Lim smirked triumphantly.

"Do you not know? Ishka stumbled upon one of the relics of Castle Perilous in his wanderings – an artifact that I myself had been tampering with before my untimely return to the Abyss. The relic contained the secrets of immortality – the very thing I have been striving to obtain. Clearly the artifact still possesses its power – why else would the High Prince of the City of Shade allow such a traitor to live? I can think of only one reason – because Telamont himself did not have the power to unmake Ishka."

Aveil relaxed back upon the chaise lounge, her thoughts chasing circles around her mind, but one thing still did not make sense. "If such artifacts exist, why did you not use one to restore yourself to life?"

"Because they are obviously flawed," Lim explained. "Consider Ishka, for example – the relic he managed to get his hands on rewarded him with unnatural long life and unprecedented powers of regeneration, but it came at a heavy price: the man's mind deteriorated rapidly, until he was mentally insane." Then Lim winked at her playfully and added, "Flawed, coupled with the fact that I was banished back to the Abyss before I was able to test one on myself."

"If the alternative was insanity, perhaps I did you a favor and you should be thanking me," Aveil pointed out, and though the sarcasm was apparent in her words she was not expecting the response that the drow gave her.

"Believe it or not, I am prepared to reward you for your unintentional aid." Lim's eyes veritably danced with barely contained anticipation; it was the only indication Aveil had that they had at last reached the crux of the matter. "Now that you know I have been secretly opposing Lolth all along, and that my true aim is to return to the Material Plane not as a lich but as a living, breathing entity, I wonder if you might be willing to help me – in exchange for adequate compensation for your efforts, of course."

Aveil's face abruptly soured. "Need I remind you yet again that you murdered my unborn child? There is little you could promise me that would convince me to throw my lot in with you."

"Even the promise of your life?"

The words brought Aveil up short and she leaned forward, clearly intrigued but dubious all the same – after all, if living had taught her one thing, it was never to trust Lim Tal'eyve. She did her best to hide her interest but the drow knew her better than she could ever begin to guess, and though her attempts were valiant Lim had to do his best not to laugh. "And I am to believe that is something you can grant me? You are not all-powerful, Lim Tal'eyve – despite your considerable efforts you are here, the same as me, clinging to your cursed half-life and still answering to the express commands of the Spider Queen. No matter how much you wish it otherwise, your fate is detestable – as is mine."

"Am I to understand that you are not interested?" Lim privately admitted that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. "Your choice is regrettable, to be sure… If you truly desired it, you could be back in the City of Shade in just moments." The drow unfolded his hand to reveal a pair of curious rings resting upon his dark palm, both with curved silver bands that wound intricately around trilliant-cut stones; one of the stones was a clear crystal, too colorless and transparent to be called a diamond and more delicate-looking than any other gem Aveil had ever seen, and the other was dark and opaque with a color that was almost indeterminable. It may have been dark blue for a moment, but if she looked away for a moment and re-focused on it, it then seemed a deep crimson. The composition of the second stone was quite strange; as Aveil studied it she felt almost certain that there was something residing just beneath the surface of the gem, but she had no way to be sure.

"Believe it or not, I anticipated this turn of events," Lim explained, his tone soft and disarming so as not to interrupt Aveil's trance. "If you accept my offer, you need only to place the crystal upon your finger and I will return you to life, and to Thultanthar. It seems fair, does it not?"

Aveil realized then that she had been unconsciously reaching for the crystalline ring and snatched her hand back as though burned, and glaring back at Lim she hissed, "If you truly think I am dense enough not to question your ulterior motives, perhaps you are the fool after all. You would not offer to restore me to life out of the goodness of your heart – such acts of kindness are uncharacteristic of the Lim Tal'eyve I know. You can only stand to gain from this arrangement somehow, and before I even consider accepting your proposal I want to know the entire truth."

"Very well." The drow closed his fist around the twin rings and settled back against the plush chaise lounge, his cruelly handsome face splitting into a malevolent grin. "The crystalline ring that would belong to you represents an empty vessel – the sort of entity you will become upon returning to the Material Plane. Surviving as a living being does but completely lacking a soul… this is the sort of life you can expect when I restore you, at least until you have completed the task I have set aside for you."

"Out of the question!" snapped Aveil, and fuming at her own foolishness she crossed her arms. "You would presume to make me a wraith – a creature without a spirit, existing without substance or purpose? I refuse!"

"If you would allow me to finish," Lim broke in coolly, and opening his hand again he indicated the other ring with the dark, opaque stone. "The ring you see here is different in only one way – the ever-shifting shadow you see lurking just beneath the surface, the reward I will bestow upon you the instant you have completed your task. That dark and sinister thing you see there… that is your soul."

Aveil's hand darted out, impossibly fast, in an attempt to snatch the gem out of the drow's palm, but Lim was the faster – he closed his fingers possessively around the treasure, his smile widening, and held it well out of her reach.

"Perhaps I should have been more specific – this is your soul, which will continue to reside in my keeping until you have completed your task."

The female spellcaster pouted at him sullenly. "You keep going on and on about this task you have prepared for me, and yet I have heard no mention of what it entails. Stop wasting my time."

Lim Tal'eyve leaned forward to divulge the very heart of his carefully calculated scheme, and though Aveil had been expecting something grandiose and elaborate even she had been incapable of envisioning the unbelievable scope of his plans. "You see, Aveil, throughout the years of my captivity here I have quite outgrown the idea of simply overthrowing the Spider Queen; indeed, even the mere thought of destroying her losing its appeal little by little as time goes by. And so one day I devised a plot that satisfies my most basic yet coveted desire… my insatiable lust for great power. I tasted it for a brief moment when the Anointed Blade was in my possession, I flirted with it again when I commanded Castle Perilous and razed the Bloodstone Lands, and now I have at last discovered how to make it mine for all time. I will transcend the mortal world and stretch my influence toward the heavens, where I will seize immortality and divinity from Lolth's clutches. In one fell swoop I intend to cast the Spider Queen down once and for all, and claim her place among the Faerunian pantheon for myself."

It was so obviously absurd that Aveil could only laugh out loud, so long and hard that she was certain her stomach would burst; when at last she had managed to master her hysteria she wiped her streaming eyes and choked out, "This is madness! You wish to become a god?! Some dreams are out of reach, my foolish friend – that is a lesson that you never did learn, it seems! So tell me – how do you intend to go about securing that which you desire?"

"That is where your task comes in," Lim explained with a careless shrug, as though it hardly mattered that Aveil found his plans completely absurd. "I have already agreed to spare your life and return you to the Material Plane – to Thultanthar, to be exact – and in return, you will convince High Prince Telamont to make me a shade."

Needless to say, it was many more minutes before Aveil was capable of conversation.

"There are many obvious flaws in your plan," Aveil chuckled, "which I will be all too happy to bring to your attention. Firstly and most obviously, you have reduced Thultanthar to rubble. You have decimated the population of the only remaining city belonging to the Netherese Imperium. You have routed the High Prince's intricate security system. And just days ago you nearly killed the High Prince's chosen emissary. The price on your head grows by the minute, so much so that the next time the Princes of Shade hear even a whisper of your passing they will destroy you without question or consideration. So what is it you think you have to offer the High Prince that will not only pacify his hatred for you, but entice him to grant you such amazing power?"

Lim spread his hands and smiled the same cruelly handsome smile as before, though now his eyes danced with excitement. "I will give him Lolth. Think of it! My gift to the High Prince of the City of Shade… the Spider Queen on a silver platter! The most hated enemy of Dark Lady Shar… the lesser goddess whom Shar has longed to be rid of… Gone! Just like that, and with next to no effort on the High Prince's part. What do you think? Is it not a perfect plan?"

Aveil rolled her eyes. "You do not have the means to destroy Lolth."

"That is the purpose of becoming a shade," Lim explained impatiently. "Do you know nothing of the company you keep? Why do you think that in a city of ten thousand worthy specimens, the High Prince grants so few the precious gift of the shadow? It is because in this great world of ours, the shades are the closest mortals have ever come to experiencing divinity for themselves. High Prince Telamont is longer lived than any other ruler of any other kingdom of Faerun – do you not know why? It is because he is a shade. Those who trade their beating heart for the very essence of shadow do not only become imbued with power absolute – they literally hold the secret to defying death in their hands. A shadow is a constant thing that can neither be destroyed nor altered – you can cast as much light as you wish upon it, but in the end you can only distort it, not make it disappear. A shade's body cannot deteriorate because it is not controlled by a living organ, but a barely-tangible idea, a formless force. Even the spell of purest, most potent daylight that I cast upon the very life force of the High Prince's chosen emissary was not enough to destroy him; the shades are mightier than you can comprehend, Aveil. They do not even know their own strength – the strength to topple the gods."

"And what is to stop you from rebelling against the Netherese Imperium, in the highly unlikely event that everything plays out as you desire and you put an end to the Spider Queen?" Aveil asked skeptically.

Lim simply smirked, saying, "Respect. If the High Prince turns out to be kind enough to aid me in my endeavors, I suppose I could find it in my heart of hearts to spare him in the end."

"Very noble." Aveil fixed the drow with a very serious gaze, and it was clear from the slightly unfocused set of her eyes that she was considering all that had been said. "You know I believe this all to be folly."

"Of course you do. You have always been impossible to sway, not to mention as stubborn as a rothe."

"This is not a game. One false move, a single act of defiance, the barest hint of treachery, and you will be destroyed. If not by me, by the Princes of Shade. Your end will be swift and merciless."

"That is the beauty of this plan – from your perspective at least." Lim held out his hand again, palm up, and upon it the silver band with the translucent crystalline gem glittered enigmatically. "I cannot even begin to bring my plans to fruition until you have already succeeded in your own. You are the one who will earn me my chance – once I have that your part will already be over, and your soul will be in your keeping once more. The potential for treachery on my part is completely non-existent… now, do we have a deal?"

Aveil had no way of knowing how her choice would affect the course of history in the years to come, nor did she care – at the moment her thoughts only centered around her regret at being stripped of life so soon, and the thought that the greatest love she had ever known had been denied to her before it had even had a chance to grow. Her hatred for Lim Tal'eyve mattered little at that moment – redemption was all that really mattered, and the opportunity to make up for lost time.

And so Aveil slipped the crystalline gem onto her littlest finger, and woke up seemingly from a dream.