Invisible, Aliisza called upon the arcane heritage of her demon blood and transported herself in an instant to the Plains of Soulfire, in Lolth's Demonweb Pits.

She appeared on the broken, cratered landscape amidst caustic pools, steaming fumaroles, and clouds of green vapor. Her demon blood prevented the environment from harming her. She was alone on the plain. Behind her, Lolth's Infinite Web stretched over a limitless abyss and outward toward forever. The Spider Queen's city, capped with its pyramidal tabernacle, crawledthe strands. So too did more spiders than there were demons in the Abyss.

Before her rose sheer jagged mountains as tall as Aliisza had ever seen. Spiders crawled all over them too. Aliisza didn't know what Lolth saw in spiders. The alu-fiend thought them hideous creatures, as ugly as a dretch.

She still did n ot know exactly what had transpired. She knew only that Lolth had been reborn as something greater than she had been.

And that Pharaun Mizzrym was dead.

The acknowledgment stirred a strange sensation in her, not unlike the way she'd once felt after going without food for a few days. Her stomach hurt, and her legs felt weak. She felt a sense of loss, or at least of missed opportunity. She would miss Pharaun's companionship, his ready wit.

And I bedded him only once, she thought with a pout, though she supposed that was better than not at all.

All around her lay the signs of a great battle. Severed limbs, broken weapon hafts, rent armor, dented helms, broken earth. She had learned through divinations that Pharaun had died there, fighting Inthracis and his ridiculous Black Horn Regiment. She kicked a nycaloth's helm and sent it spinning into the nearest steaming pool.

Though she was invisible, she felt the eyes of the city on her, lurking the way spiders did, watching, waiting for any sign of weakness. She found herself moving slowly across the landscape, as though she were traversing a web and wanted to keep it still lest the vibrations caused by her movement awaken the spider.

The things I do for lust, she thought and smiled through her anxiety.

In the shadow of Lolth's city, alone on the Plains of Soulfire, Aliisza methodically scoured the site of the battle. She used spells to assist her search from time to time but mostly relied on her own eyes and ability to see enchanted items.

Several cast-offs from the battle glowed in her sight but nothing of interest to her until... There.

There was almost nothing left. His robes lay in tatters. His flesh, even his bones, were mostly gone, consumed by some rabid yugoloth or arachnida swarm of either or both.

But something had survived. Aliisza bent and retrieved it. She held it before her face.

Pharaun's severed finger, its flesh intact, still wore his Sorcere ring, which glowed in Aliisza's sight. She looked at the digit for a time, at the smooth skin, the manicured nail. She wondered what it might feel like to have those fingers on her body again.

Laughing, she slipped the finger and the ring into her pocket.

"Well, dearest," she said to the air, "It looks like I'll get a piece of you after all. I'll have to think about what to do with it."

With that, sheteleported away.

Valas Hune crouched near the top of the magnificent, natural staircase that led up from the floor of Menzoberranzan's cavern to Tier Breche. Magical traps and wards glowed on the stairs, and two guards from Melee-Magthere stood at the top.

Valas skirted the wards, and the guards looked over and past him. Shrouded in the shadows, he looked down on Menzoberranzan.

Already the city had mostly returned to normal.

Behind him, slaves labored on Tier Breche, rebuilding the damage done to Sorcere and Arach-Tinilith by the duergar stonefire bombs. Many of the slaves were themselves duergar, former soldiers captured rather than slaughtered by the Menzoberranyr.

Across the cavern, Qu'ellarz'orl stood in all its faerie fire-limned majesty. It looked the same as it had for centuries. With House Agrach Dyrr removed from the Ruling Council, Valascould well imagine the scramble among the lesser Houses to seize Dyrr's position in the hierarchy.

Things had indeed turned back to normal, he thought.

Flesh peddlers, spice merchants, narcotic dealers, and more ordinary sellers thronged the booths and shacks of the city's rebuilt Bazaar. Pack lizards and trade carts crawled along Menzoberranzan's streets. Qu'ellarz'orl might have been Menzoberranzan's head, but the Bazaar was the city's heart. Valas knew that the marketplace reflected the status of the city at any given time. He could see that trade was thriving, which meant that Menzoberranzan was coming back to life.

Rumors had been swirling through the city, most merely hard-to-believe, but some patently absurd. Valas didn't know what he believed but he did know what he saw Quenthel Baenre was once again Mistress of Arach-Tinilith and neither Pharaun, Jeggred, Danifae, or any of the others had returned. Valas heard the unspoken message in that. Of the band that had been sent to find Lolth, none but the high priestess had returned.

Valas was leaving the city, lest he too disappear. He had arranged with Kimmuriel, his Bregan D'aerthe superior, to take a scouting mission far from Menzoberranzan. He would return again, but only after enough time had passed so that Quenthel Baenre had forgotten all about him.

To his surprise, the thought of leaving the city turned him maudlin.

Strange, that he would feel nostalgia over such a pit. Menzoberranzan was an ugly, black-hearted bitch who devoured the weak and made bureaucrats of the strong. Still, she managed to evoke a certain attachment in her surviving citizens.

Valas supposed that was the secret of her survival. Mean as she was, the drow who lived there called her home and fought like demons to preserve her. He stared at Narbondel, glowing red in the darkness, signaling another day.

Another day of violence, infighting, murder, and betrayal.

Lolth and the city deserved each other, he decided, and smiled.

With nothing else for it, he turned, melted into the shadows, and headed away from the city for his next mission.

Inthracis the Fifth opened his eyes. Nisviim stood over him, the jackal-faced arcanaloth's expression slack and distant. Without a word, Nisviim turned and exited the chamber.

Inthracis lay there, his new mind racing. He had failed. His last memories were of searing pain. The drow mage had captured and incinerated him with a clever combination of spells. Inthracis resolved to remember the tactic so that he might use it himself one day.

He presumed that Lolth's Yor'thae had reached the Spider Queen. He did not know which of the three priestesses had been the Chosen One, and he did not care. He cared only about the possibility of facing Vhaeraun's wrath. If the Masked Lord discovered that Inthracis lived again.... He pushed such thoughts from his mind.

He would simply have to hope that Lolth's wrath with her son would keep Vhaeraun occupied long enough that the Masked God would forget about Inthracis. Meanwhile, the ultroloth would stay in the background for a few decades and allow Nisviim to take a more active hand in the affairs of Corpsehaven.

He sat up, reveling in the feel of his new body. For a moment, he wondered if Lolth too was adorned in new flesh.

He put that thought from his mind, too. He'd had enough of gods and goddesses to last him a long while.

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