And All Things End - Linnetagain (2024)

Chapter 1

Chapter Text

The university is exactly as pretentious as Astarion has always imagined it to be. He makes his way through the high halls and old fashioned rooms, following Arabella's directions.

"Ah, an excellent question!" Gale's voice floats down the corridor. "We can play that through this simulation and see what we think will happen - any ideas, anyone? How will this change the pattern?"

Astarion knocks on the door.

"What?" Gale's voice is irritated. "The door is closed for a-" Astarion grins at him. "Astarion!"

Gale is evidently mid-flow. Above his desk hangs some kind of network of spellwork, an illustration of an ideal of some kind.

"Good evening, my love," Astarion says.

"It can't be that late, we-" Gale stops. "Ah. It's late enough to be dark."

"It is, indeed, late enough to be dark. Perhaps your students would like to be released?"

"Five minutes," Gale points him to an empty chair. "Sit." Astarion raises an eyebrow at him. "Please."

"I'll stand."

Astarion leans, languid, against the wall, perfectly aware that half the class' eyes are no longer on their professor.

Gale sighs, and turns back to his students.

"Alright, we'll resume this next time. Don't forget your homework this tenday is to conceive at least two potential spellcasting changes of your own and predict their outcomes. Please submit them at least two days before class, and we'll try the most interesting ones. Don't try them yourselves, unless you want your various internal organs to be scattered across the realms. This is theoretical work only. Anyone with questions, you have until Astarion gets bored. Class dismissed."

With a wave of his hand, the projection vanishes. As he begins to tidy his papers away, Astarion wanders over to him.

"I am sorry," Gale says, putting his glasses on the top of his head to rub his eyes. "I got carried away. It's a fascinating subject."

Astarion leans against his desk, arms crossed.

"Well so am I," he teases.

"True," Gale grins back. "And to what do I owe the honour? I was under the impression you'd sworn you wouldn't step foot on this campus unless under extreme duress."

"What, I can't decide to pay my fiancé a visit because I miss him?" Astarion is in full flirt mode; he turns his head to inspect his nails, tilting his head to accentuate his jawline, one more button than entirely necessary undone.

Gale raises an eyebrow at him.

"Anywhere else? Yes. Here, not so much. Oh- hang on." He turns to a student hovering hesitantly just beyond his desk. "Sorry Clara, did you have a question?"

"Sorry, Professor, I don't mean to interrupt but-"

"But here you are, so get on with it."

"Astarion," Gale warns.

"It's okay," Clara says, eyes downcast. "It's not that important."

Gale clicks his tongue at Astarion as she scurries off, head ducked.

"I already have enough trouble getting my students to talk to me about their studies, my love. You are not helping."

"Can't imagine why," Astarion leans back, resting his hands on the desk. "You're so naturally approachable."

"Well, I shouldn't think they're intimidated," Gale frowns. "Not anymore, anyway. When I was Mystra's Chosen, maybe, but now?"

"You're only the worst-kept secret hero of Faerun," Astarion agrees. "Half of them would watch you talk about paint dry, and I think I broke the hearts of the other half just by existing."

"Really?" Gale blinks at him, genuinely surprised.

"My love, you're young and attractive, passionate about your subject, and you've been known to bring your cat to work." He laughs. " 'Really' , he asks."

"Tressym," Gale corrects, as he always does.

As the last of the students trickle out, Astarion pushes away from the desk, grabs Gale's waist, and pulls him into a kiss. The door slams behind the last of them.

Flustered, Gale straightens his glasses.


"What? Don't tell me you've never thought about f*cking me at work."

Gale opens his mouth, and then closes it again.

"Well, I have now ," he admits. "So thank you for that. But on the whole, I think I prefer the perfectly comfortable beds we have."

"Or the sofas, or the chairs, or the table, sometimes the floor-"

Gale pokes him in the chest.

"And now I'm beginning to understand why you came to fetch me. I suspect I have accidentally interrupted your evening plans."

"I was hoping to wine and dine you," Astarion agrees. "But we don't have much time for that now, it seems, so I'm happy to skip to dessert if you are."

Gale sighs, though he's smiling.

"You're lucky I love you. Fine, I'm coming home. I suppose I'll have to tidy up the rest of my notes tomorrow."

"Well if you're going to tidy them anyway you might as well make more of a mess of it first-"

Astarion has him pinned against the wall now, parting Gale's legs with his knee, hands under the edge of his robe. Gale gives up and pulls Astarion flush against him, one hand in his hair, yanking his head back to be kissed.

The door opens again- someone says 'oh' and it closes immediately.

Gale lets go of Astarion with a groan.

"Off. Home. Now ."

His blush doesn't fade until they're well away from the university. Halfway home, even.

"Did you see who-"

"No I did not," Gale snaps.

"I'm sorry," Astarion says, even half meaning it.

"You are not," Gale sighs. "You know I’m very open to trying new things, Astarion, but I draw the line at doing anything like that at work."

"Fair," Astarion capitulates. "I know it doesn't help, but that hadn't actually been my intention. I did just miss you."

Gale sighs.

"Right, and then you, what, saw my face?"

"And the rest of you," Astarion agrees. "You look irritatingly gorgeous in your glasses, you know. And the way you were talking, the way you do when you're enthusiastic. I'm not the only one who had noticed, either. Forgive me for being a tad… possessive."

Gale looks at him in astonishment.

"Astarion, are you jealous?"

"I… maybe." Astarion sniffs. "I know it's stupid, don't laugh at me."

"It's sort of sweet, in a way," Gale grins. "But really, Astarion - jealous of my students? If you miss me that much you can just come and sit in the back of my lectures."

Astarion sighs.

"You're never going to let me live this down, are you?"

"Absolutely not," Gale agrees. "Especially not given it inspired that little display which I am never going to live down, thank you very much."

It does, however, cheer him up. By the time they get home he's happily filling Astarion in on what the rest of the lecture had been about.

Tara has been spending the evening with Morena, so they have the tower to themselves. Which is probably why they don't make it upstairs. That, and Astarion's tendency to stoke the fires much higher than necessary, which had led to Gale taking his robes off to cook in just his trousers, which had led to Astarion coming up behind him to kiss his neck, which is a pattern they should both have come to expect by now but still has yet to lose its charms. Gale is beginning to suspect it never will.

Especially given that Astarion has certain cat-like tendencies which include but are not limited to lying in front of the fire at every given opportunity. In this case, on top of Gale.

"You are heavy," Gale complains. "I would like to breathe."

Astarion groans, and rolls off him.

"Breathing is overrated."

"For you, maybe," Gale, uninclined to actually go anywhere yet, turns towards him, hands finding his chest.

"Hmm," Astarion frowns, then leans over to lick Gale's neck clean, before kissing under his ear and pulling back again. "I might have been less tidy than I usually am."

"Please tell me you didn't get blood on the rug," Gale groans.

"I said 'less tidy' not 'absolute carnage'," Astarion protests. Then he frowns. "You're holding your neck awkwardly. I didn't actually hurt you, did I?"

The concern in his voice is sweet, but unwarranted.

"I am an old man at the ripe old age of thirty-three, as you are so keen to remind me, and I may have been leaning over my desk for too long today," Gale stretches, and something pops. "Agh, ow. I was joking, but apparently my body was not. Much as the floor has its charms, maybe we should try and keep this to a bed, next time."

Astarion huffs, a breath that is almost a laugh.

"Well, lucky for you I am a man of many talents. One moment."

He rises from the rug and wanders over to the bookshelves. Gale stretches out on his back, enjoying the view.

Astarion turns back, and groans.

"Gods, you're gorgeous."

Gale laughs, tipping his head back into the rug.

"I am sweaty and dishevelled and bleeding, Astarion."

"I know ," Astarion kneels over him. "It's entirely unfair of you."

They spend a little while enjoying the moment. There's something delicious about it, when it lacks the urgency of chasing the initial lust, when they're both sated and simply enjoying each other. At first, Astarion hadn't much seen the point in any of it; but Gale has been slowly working on the appeal of his 'old-fashioned romance' ways. Now, if anything, Astarion is more likely to initiate non-sexual intimacy and affection than Gale is.

Eventually, Astarion pulls away. Gale, reluctant to let him go, catches his hands in Astarion's hair.

"Stop that," Astarion hums. "Trust me, you're going to enjoy this just as much."

Gale raises an eyebrow at him.

"I doubt that."

"More, even," Astarion says. "Now roll over for me."

"Roll over? You want me to lie on my front - and not look at you?"

"Did I, or did I not, ask you to trust me?"

Gale, as usual, does as he's asked.

"Perfect," Astarion purrs into his neck, following it up with a kiss. "Now- is it just your neck and shoulders, or your whole back that hurts?"

"Neck mostly," Gale says, relaxing into the slight weight of Astarion sitting over his hips.

Astarion hums.

There's a shift, and the slight sting in Gale's neck fades as the healing charm pulls the wound closed.

"I don't mind you leaving that there," Gale reminds him.

"I know," Astarion says, a tease in his tone. "Next time, I will. I don't think you want me to get wax in it though."

"Oh," Gale hums. "No, probably not."

A moment later, Astarion's hands are smoothing over his back, working the warm, perfumed wax into his skin.

"Am I going to ruin the moment by asking you how you know this?" Gale asks.

"No," Astarion presses his thumbs into the knots in Gale's shoulders. He breathes, enjoying the pain and the release in equal measure. "I've never done this before. I found out about it in one of your more interesting books the other week, and I've been meaning to try it ever since."

"You learned this for me?" Gale says.

He can feel himself melting under Astarion's hands, smoothing across his back and digging into the worst of the pain. He groans, happily.

"Ssssh," Astarion breathes into his neck. "You keep all your tension in your shoulders, you know. If we didn't do something about it I'd only have about a decade more of bending you over the table before you wouldn't be able to take it anymore, and we can't have that."

Gale laughs.

"Ah, of course. Forgive me for daring to suggest you might have done something that wasn't even a little bit selfish."

"Anything I do for you is selfish," Astarion says.

"You know I've decided I don't like this as much as I thought I did," Gale says. "Because now I can't kiss you when you say things like that."

"You can just tell me you love me and I'm perfect and I'll be happy," Astarion says.

"You're better than perfect. You're you ." Gale sighs. "If you were perfect you wouldn't come and interrupt my lectures and embarrass me in front of my students, and I'm pretty sure I'd love you less for it."

Astarion leans against him, putting his hands over Gale's and pressing his chest to Gale's back.

"I love you too."

Gale smiles, Astarion's hair tickling his nose.

"Also that feels so much better, thank you. I'm going to fall asleep if you stay at it though."

"Oh no, I've not had nearly enough of you this evening for you to leave me alone just yet," Astarion says. He runs his hands down Gale's back to his hips before moving.

"Come on, you. Up. I have ideas to run by you."

"Oh?" With a yawn, Gale sits up, grabbing his robe from the sofa and throwing it over his shoulders, leaving the front open. "As always, I am at your service."

Before Astarion can answer, there's a knock at the door.

"You're not expecting anyone, are you?" Gale frowns.

"Here? For me?" Astarion raises an eyebrow at him. "It'll be for you, I should think. Do your robe up and answer it, I'm going to put some clothes on."

Gale sighs, and pulls the robe closed.

"Oh yes, because I am so fit for company right now."

Astarion's unrepentant laughter echoes down the stairs in his wake.

Half-expecting it to be Morena, and not inclined to make any more of an idiot of himself than he already will, Gale pulls his trousers on too and tries to make it look less like he's only been dressed for about ten seconds, smoothing his hair back into what might resemble something close to its usual style.

It is not Morena.

"Clara!" Gale says, surprised. "Are you alright?"

She nods, then stops, and shakes her head.

"I'm sorry, I- wasn't sure earlier, but I went home and now I am and- I didn't know who else to ask."

"What is it?" Gale frowns. "I take it this isn't about your studies?"

"No," the young tiefling agrees, miserably. "It's about Mystra."

Gale blinks. Grateful that if nothing else, Astarion is out of earshot.

"Right," he says. "Well. I suppose you'd better come in- excuse the mess." He steps aside to let her through and then closes the door behind her. "I would say it's not usually like this, but that would be a lie."

At least the room smells mostly of the lovely apple-smoked firewood Morena always orders, and the gentle perfume of the wax, rather than anything else. It's pretty clear what their evening had entailed, he knows, given the small piles of clothes on the floor and the lit candles, but he waves his hand and the clothes tidy themselves away, upstairs where they belong.

Clara stands just beside the door, looking wholly unsure of herself.

"Would you like some tea?" Gale suggests. "You look like you could do with a hot drink and a sit down."

Clara nods, mutely, and seats herself awkwardly, on the very edge of the seat he gestures her to.

"Who is it?" Astarion yells down the stairs.

"Student of mine," Gale yells back. "Shirt on , please."

Astarion appears, fully dressed, on the stairs. He takes one look at Clara, and then at Gale, and frowns.

"You give your students your home address?"

"I wasn't sure," Clara says, almost a whisper. "Most other towers are named after who lives here, and this one isn't, but I knew professor Dekarios lived in a tower because he mentioned he had an observatory in the top of it."

Astarion sits down on the far side of the table and studies her.

"Alright, clever clogs, what do you want with us?"

"Astarion," Gale says, warningly. "Be nice."

"I am always nice," Astarion growls.

With a sigh, Gale sits next to him, handing Clara a mug, and putting his hand on Astarion's knee.

"Don't mind him, Clara. We've reasons to anticipate much nastier types coming knocking. What is it you wanted to ask me about Mystra?"

"You-" Clara looks at him and then her mug, and then at him again. "Escaped her. Didn't you?"

Gale takes a sharp breath.

"You're one of my best students." He stands up, abruptly, and begins pacing. "Gods, I should have seen this coming. How long has she been contacting you?"

Clara cringes.

"Um… six years?"

"Oof," Gale nods.

It is not a surprise that Mystra had already been looking for someone to replace him a long time before the orb. A year ago, that revelation would have shattered him. Now, for better or worse, he's only surprised he didn't find out about it sooner. What bothers him more is that nothing that he did, nothing that he said, has changed the way that Mystra works.

It's not his responsibility, of course. Even if he had stayed as Mystra's Chosen, she would have dropped him in favour of Clara eventually. Sooner rather than later, probably. He wouldn't have been able to protect her, or anyone else that Mystra had set her sights on.

But part of him still feels wretched.

Like he should have done more to stop her.

"Right. Let me guess - it was fairly random and quite rare, until… ooh, about a year and a half ago. Then she started talking to you more?"

Clara nods, tears in her eyes.

"I didn't think- I didn't know what she wanted. But she started teaching me things. And now she- she's asking me to-" she takes a deep breath. "I want to say no. But I don't know what will happen if I do. I keep telling her I'll think about it, and I need time, and it seemed to work, but-"

Gale stops pacing, and turns to her, his expression torn.

"Clara, I'm so sorry."

The tiefling bursts into tears.

"Oh, sh*t." Astarion stands up, and fetches her some tissues.

"Right," Gale stands upright. "Clara, I'm sorry to ask if we can bring more people into this, but I'm going to need some advice."

"Morena?" Astarion asks.

"And Tara," Gale agrees. "They both saw me going through this, they know what it's like."

Astarion nods.

"Is that okay, Clara?" Gale asks, gently. "If you don't want anyone else brought into this, I understand."

Clara shakes her head.

"If they understand- my mum keeps telling me I should be honoured."

Gale hisses through his teeth.

"No," he says, "I understand where she's coming from, but no. You were right to come to me."

"Thank you," Clara says, shakily. "I'm so sorry, I couldn't think what else to do."

"Don't apologise," Astarion says. "I'm impressed you've held her off for this long. You're stronger than you look. If you want to defy her, we'll help. Whatever it takes."

Clara looks up at him in surprise, but Astarion is already turning away, finding Gale's sending stone.

"Forgive me for asking, Clara- how old are you?"

Clara looks at him miserably.


"Oh, gods," Gale says. "Early entry?"

Clara nods, mutely.

"She helped me apply."

"Of course she did," Gale sighs. "She does honestly want you to succeed - because she wants you to be as powerful as you can be, as soon as you can."

"I know," Clara whispers. "She told me so."

"Did she?" Gale sounds surprised. "Well, that's a new level of honesty, for her."

"She also told me what happened to you," Clara says. "But I don't know if- because the stories I've heard are different- whether she wants me to believe things about you that I'm not sure are true."

"What a-" Astarion swallows the word. "Am I allowed to swear in front of a seventeen year old?"

"Not when they're my student," Gale says grimly. "Do you want to hear our side of the story, then?"

"Please," Clara says, determinedly. "I want to make my own mind up."

Gale nods.

Astarion sits back down next to him, their knees brushing, shoulder to shoulder.

"Alright, well. In short- I loved Mystra. At the time, I believed she loved me too. I wasn't just her Chosen - I was her lover. But I made a mistake. In trying to prove myself worthy of her, I went looking for a piece of the weave that she had been distanced from, in order to return it to her. What I found, instead, was a piece of the Karsite weave. Not that I knew it at the time - all I knew was that I had lost the greater part of my power, and that what I had released had made its home in my chest. It was a fall from grace of epic proportions. Mystra cast me out for it.

"At the time, I assumed it was because of my hubris. Looking back, there was more to it than that. The Karsite weave had the power to destroy Mystra, for a start, but I was also far from the wizard I had been. In essence, I wasn't worth saving."

"To her," Astarion adds. "Some of us thought you were quite impressive enough as you were." He puts his hand around Gale's hip.

Gale smiles at him.

"Thank you, dearest. But yes," he turns back to Clara. "I eventually discovered the truth of the Karsite weave in my chest - mostly thanks to Astarion. Unfortunately, by the time I found out, it was becoming unstable. We were trying to get rid of the Absolute at the time. Mystra gave me a mission; to destroy the orb, and the Absolute, by sacrificing myself. In return, she promised me forgiveness."

"But you refused her?" Clara says.

"Sort of," Gale agrees. "What she wanted to do would have destroyed the whole area we were in, and all the people in it. I wasn't willing to do that. So I found another way. It still nearly destroyed me, but it meant that the others lived."

"But… how?"

Gale glances at Astarion, whose grips tightens on him, almost imperceptibly. Almost.

"Technically, I did die," he says. "Mystra is the one who gave me my body back. I'm still not really sure why. I assume because she needed us to defeat the Absolute. The only time I've seen her since was after we did so. The Absolute was an Elder Brain, being controlled by the Dead Three using the Crown of Karsus."

Clara blinks, like those are only so many words to her.

"She didn't tell you that bit then, hmm?" Astarion surmises. Clara shakes her head.

"The crown of Karsus is an ancient netherese artifact," Gale explains. "When the Absolute was defeated, it fell into the Chionthar. Mystra wanted me to go and get it for her, but I told her she could get it herself if she wanted it that badly, and… came home."

Clara is frowning at him.

"And you've really never heard from her since?"

"Not a word," Gale says.

"This was… a few months ago?"

"Five, maybe six," Gale agrees. "Why?"

Clara is breathing hard.

"That's when she changed," she says, hoarsely. "Mystra. She had been more demanding, after she lost you, teaching me more, but recently something else is different. The weave feels… different."

"Different … how?" Gale asks, warily.

Clara looks at him with absolute hopelessness.

"I don't know. I can't explain it. It's just… different."

Gale nods.

"Do you think you can show me?"

"I… would prefer not to. Right now. I'm sorry."

"No no, that's okay. That's good, actually, maybe it's a better idea not to touch the weave at the moment."

Clara nods, vigorously.

"Do you have any work due that you're not comfortable completing? I can speak to your other tutors for you. I won't give them any details, just that you're going through a personal situation and aren't able to for the time being. Your skill and work ethic is well-regarded. It won't be held against you."

Clara seems to breathe a little easier.

"Thank you, Professor Dekarios. At the moment, there's not, but if anything comes up, I can let you know."

"Do," Gale frowns. "I don't know what else we can do about this quite yet, but while we figure that out, that seems like a good place to start."

There's a knock on the door.

Morena and Tara are much better at providing comfort than Gale is, for which he is endlessly grateful. Tara curls up in Clara's lap, putting heartily as long as Clara keeps her hands to herself. Morena, for her part, gives Clara a hug and then holds her hand.

"I wish we'd had you around twenty years ago," she sighs. "My Gale was so taken by Mystra, it didn't occur to me to question it. We both know better now, of course, but goodness me, if we'd known then…" she shakes her head. "Well, we'd all be different people, I suppose, and as we're all happier than we've ever been, I don't think we can rightly regret it. But still, if only we'd been as perceptive as you."

Clara looks up at her, hopefully.

"Forgive me for asking," Astarion says, thoughtfully. "But didn't Minsc say something about hiding weave-touched boys? I thought Mystra had a type."

"Hmmm," Gale tilts his head, thinking. "I can't recall her having anything other than male Chosen, admittedly."

"I was, when she first met me," Clara says, quietly. "I wondered if, when that changed, it would change her mind about me. It didn't. At first I really liked that."

Gale sighs.

"The Gods' grasp on mortal concepts can be weak at the best of times," he says. "There are things I cannot tell you about Mystra, Clara, but suffice it to say that she is not interested in physical form. She has a type, but only when it comes to finding people. After that, she couldn't care less. Or, rather," he corrects. "She only cares when she's inclined to change it."

"Exactly," Clara says, miserably. "I don't want her to do anything like that to me. I like my body the way it is."

"Good," Gale nods.

Astarion is looking at him, his expression confused.

"She didn't… "

"She did," Gale sighs. "Let's not, please. Now is not the time."

"Noted," Astarion says. "I am filing that one away for when we've both had several glasses of wine."

Gale sighs, not quite a laugh, but an attempt at one.

"I've just had a worrying thought," he frowns, suddenly. "I don't think I've heard from Elminster recently. Has Mystra asked you to be her Chosen outright, Clara?"

"No," Clara says, miserably. "She just keeps saying I'll be ready for it very soon."

Gale stands up, abruptly.

"Sending spell," he says, by way of explanation, and goes digging in one of the cabinet drawers for copper wire.

The spell hovers in place for a long time. A long, long time. Gale isn't exactly sure how far he can push it, but it's not getting anything nearby. It's likely scanned the whole plane over at least three times when it finally gives up the ghost, fizzling in his palm.

"Uhoh," Astarion says. "Not good news for the wizard."

"He could be in another plane," Gale says. "With Mystra in the Astral, for example. It wouldn't be the first time." he stands, pacing. "He doesn't like the Astral much. Says time slips away too easily."

"It's not like time seems to apply to him much anyway," Astarion points out.

"Not the point," Gale says, agitated now. "Besides, he won't have much choice. If Mystra wants him in the Astral, in the Astral he will be."

"Well, if the Astral plane has cheese, he'll be fine."

"Astarion," Gale snaps.

It isn't gentle. It's loud .

Astarion flinches. A full-body flinch. He had turned from Gale, instinctively. As if Gale would have raised a hand, next. As if bracing to be struck. He hadn't been expecting it, and he hadn't been able to hide it; he'd been too relaxed.

For a moment, there is dead silence.

"I-" Gale runs a hand over his face. "I'm sorry."

"It has been a very long time since you raised your voice at me," Astarion says, the attempt at amusem*nt falling a little flat. He's not as good as lying now - either he's out of practice, or Gale knows him too well. "That was my fault, too. We had this conversation, about pushing you."

"We also had the conversation about not shouting," Gale points out.

Astarion shrugs, standing to give Gale a gentle push in the direction of the stairs.

"Go on, you need to wash and breathe and collect yourself. We'll still be here when you're done."


"Gale," Astarion says, warningly. "We can talk about it properly later. When we don't have an audience." He lowers his voice. "I promise."

Reluctantly, Gale goes.

Astarion returns to the table looking almost put-together.

"f*cking Mystra," he says, irritably.

"Language," Morena scolds, almost thoughtlessly.

"In this case, I think it's warranted," Astarion replies. "Right. I'm going to make tea."

He doesn't ask if anyone wants any. They're getting it, whether they do or not. Just so he has something to do that doesn't require him to look at them.

Then, upstairs, there's a loud bang, followed by what sounds like infernal.

If Clara's expression is anything to go by, it definitely was.

Astarion takes the stairs two at a time, and throws the door of Gale's study open. Gale is sitting on the floor.

"Darling," Astarion says, then, furiously; "That bitch."

"Don't swear at my students," Gale says, trying to right the Astrolabe he'd knocked off its perch and mostly failing. "Sorry, that must have made quite the noise. I just wasn't watching-"

Astarion helps him lift it back.

"I meant Mystra," he says, grimly. "Good thing you wanted me to have an artificer over to look at this thing soon anyway."

Gale sighs.

"I didn't expect this to throw me so much. It's just Mystra."

"It's not 'just' Mystra," Astarion says, snippily. "Would you ever tell me it was 'just' Cazador after my nightmares?"

"I-" Gale stops. "No. No, I wouldn't."

"Exactly," Astarion pulls his favourite set of robes from Gale's wardrobe. "Go on, go wash. I'll deal with this." He waves his hand at Gale, half-dressed, and the mess of papers on the floor.

Gale sighs.

"We have guests downstairs," he says, "You should be looking after them."

"Morena has adopted Clara already," Astarion says. "Besides, I have no idea how to look after children. Only you. And if you need me, everyone else can wait. If I go down without you I think Morena would scalp me, and honestly she'd probably be justified."

"She's not a child," Gale sighs. "Not anymore. That's the problem."

He's just standing in the middle of the room, looking for all the world like he's utterly lost, despite it being the place he spends the vast majority of his time.

Astarion gives up on trying to say the right thing, drops everything he's holding, and pulls Gale into his arms.

How long they stand like that for, he isn't sure. Long enough that he hears the kettle start to scream downstairs, and someone take it off. The voices murmur below them, perfectly content in their absence. Which is probably a good thing, because Astarion realises that Gale is crying into his shoulder.

"Oh," he says, quietly, "I'm going to kill her."

Gale laughs, wetly.

"Please don't. It's not worth the trouble."

Astarion sighs.

"It's no fun, not being allowed to kill people for you."

"You've killed plenty of people for me," Gale points out. "Deities, on the other hand, not so much."

"But she used to be human," Astarion says, thoughtfully.

"Astarion," Gale wipes his face. "I'm sorry for shouting."

"I know," Astarion grimaces. "Believe me, I think you feel worse about it than I do. I'm not going to lie, it was a shock. But I know you're never actually going to hurt me. It's just in the moment, my body reacts before my brain does."

Gale looks wretched.

"Which is exactly why I swore I wouldn't."

Astarion nods.

"Except I was winding you up about something you had specifically asked me not to wind you up about."

"But still,"

"Stop this," Astarion sighs. "It's like when I dropped the whole salt grinder in the soup. 'Oh well, that sucked, but it's too late to undo it, so we do better next time.' Okay?"

Gale snorts.

"That was terrible soup,"

"You didn't have to eat it!" Astarion protests, affectionately. "You weirdo."

With a little more gentle bullying, he manages to get Gale under a showerhead.

He sits on Gale's unused bed and turns the situation over in his head while Gale washes and dries and generally calms down.

"We need to figure out what to do, if not kill her," Gale says, eventually, looking and sounding much more like himself.

"I know," Astarion frowns. "I think before we do anything else we need to find out more about what's going on. Which, unfortunately, means we have to go downstairs and ask Clara more questions."

Gale grimaces.

"Oh good. Honestly, what she must think of me now-"

"Nobody else would have listened to her and understood the way you did."

"Mystra's not going to be happy that she's here."

Astarion shrugs.

"So far as I can tell, Mystra's never happy about anything. I say we give her a good reason to be pissed off for once."

Gale finishes clasping his robe and grins at him.

"What did I do to deserve you?" He asks, fondly. "Come on, we've left Clara with my mother long enough."

"Hang on, your hair is a mess, dear-"

"It'll dry just fine-"

Astarion ends up chasing him downstairs, protesting.

"I'm no more likely to let you braid my hair than I am to let you attempt to stab a Goddess," Gale is saying, as he steps into the kitchen.

"I think you are being unreasonable on both counts," Astarion sniffs. "I know it wouldn't work but that's not the point. I would find it highly therapeutic."

Morena looks up at them both, notes the change in energy between them, and relaxes somewhat.

"I'm not letting her smite you for the sake of your petty vengeance."

"I mean if I have to go, given the choice-"

"Please, Astarion, can you imagine what it would to do to me to have my fiancé murdered by my ex-lover?"

Astarion groans.

"Oh, fine . But only for your sake."

"Ridiculous man," Gale says, fondly.

"I dislike problems too complex to be solved by stabbing," Astarion complains.

"Well thankfully that's what you have me for," Gale says, retrieving something from the pages of a book on the shelf. "Although that said, I think we may need some extra assistance in this case."

He plops the book open on the table and rifles through it, marking a few pages with various random bits of paper strewn upon the desk. One of them, however, gives him pause.

"Astarion, how long has this letter from Wyll been here?"

"Hmm?" Astarion looks up from the kettle. "Oh, I didn't know there was one."

"Tara," Gale sighs. "When did we get a pigeon?"

"Pigeon?" Tara says, innocently. "Ah, now you mention it, I may have had some extra breakfast this morning."

Gale flicks his finger under the seal and blinks at the letterhead.

"Oh-" Astarion says, appreciatively, as he delivers Gale a cup of tea and a forehead kiss. "Now that's a fancy letterhead. Taking a break from Avernus at the Ravenguard estate, is he?"

"Mmhmmm," Gale skims the letter, as quickly as he can. Wyll has a lot to catch them up on, it seems, but the most important is that he's back - and he's not back alone.

"Not a truly permanent solution," Gale surmises. "But for now, it's a long-term temporary."

"Karlach's back in Faerun?" Astarion says, disbelievingly, "And she's not here ?"

"I know," Gale agrees, equally surprised. "Although, if I'm correct-" he gives the letter a little shake. It unfolds, in a particularly unusual fashion. Gale laughs, impressed.

"Wyll, that is a clever trick." He takes a few steps back and lays it out on the floor.

"A teleportation circle?" Astarion says, thoughtfully. "But he doesn't have anything from here, does he?"

"He can't cast a teleport either," Gale agrees. "But I can - a fact of which Wyll is well aware. This must have been either very expensive or very difficult to make, but it's a permanent teleportation circle on this piece of paper - an impermanent form."

He fetches a piece of copper wire from a drawer, and puts together a sending spell.

Sorry for delay - ready when you are .

"Oh," Astarion realises. "That is clever, why has nobody thought of that before?"

"They have, it's called a scroll of teleportation, but it still wouldn't work if Wyll didn't have something from here. That's not what this is, though - this is something else, and much harder to do." Gale says. "I happened to mention to Wyll it was the kind of thing I didn't find as much of a challenge as I'd hoped. He must have remembered."

"Of course," Astarion rolls his eyes. "If you hurt either of them, I will make you sleep on the sofa."

"We don't have a sofa," Gale protests, amused. "And I'm not conjuring one just so you can pretend to shun me for some imagined slight."

"Hang on," Morena says. "Are we about to have more guests?"

"Oh yes," Gale says. "Sorry, I should have clarified - Karlach and Wyll are coming. Excellent timing, too. If there's anyone who can help us out with this then it's them. Is that alright, Clara? They don't have to know exactly what's happening, and you don't have to be here for the conversation."

"No, I want to," Clara says, determinedly. "You mean Wyll Ravenguard, don't you?"

"Indeed," Gale nods. "The rumours of what we got up to in Baldur's Gate are more comprehensive than I suspected, it seems."

"Oh, you have no idea ," Astarion agrees. "I told you your students are all starstruck."

"Did you really kill Loroakan?" Clara asks, almost shyly, which makes Astarion laugh.

"Most of the credit for that has to go to Aylin. We did steal very useful books from his supposedly high-security vaults though."

Gale smiles, remembering that particular one fondly.

"Dame Aylin?" Clara looks, if possible, even more impressed. "Daughter of Selune ?"

"I don't know any other aasimar called Aylin," Astarion confirms. "Although admittedly, I don't know any other aasimar."

Wyll must have been waiting for him, because that's when Gale gets a response.

Slowpoke. We're packed.

"Right," Gale says. "They're ready. Let's see how many people we can fit in this kitchen, shall we?"

He turns to the circle and casts the spell, drawing the portal into being.

"Hang on," Astarion frowns. "How can they, if Wyll doesn't know teleport? Karlach certainly doesn't."

Gale grins.

"Do you remember how we very first met, Astarion?"

"You mean when I pulled you out of your own botched portal?" Astarion grins. "Darling, how could I ever forget?"

Gale sticks his hand through the shimmering portal.

Wyll grabs his hand immediately. Gale recognises his grip; the surety of it, and his father's signet rings.He pulls, and Wyll steps through the portal. A step behind him, holding onto his elbow, is Karlach.

"Hello!" Gale says. "Welcome to my humble home-" he gets no further before Wyll pulls him into a hug so tight it's hard to breathe.

"Gale! It's so good to see you!"

"You're telling me!" Gale grins. A moment later, Karlach has lifted him bodily off the ground.

"Gale!" She tells, jubilantly. "You look so much better now you're not dying!"

"As do you!" Gale grins. "You have to tell us all about it!"

"And Astarion!" Karlach interrupts, even more delighted. "You're back from the underdark!"

Astarion grins.

"I hope you gave Zariel all our love," he says, then yelps as Karlach gives him exactly the same treatment she'd given Gale, even more enthusiastically. Gale pats Wyll's shoulder, inspecting his friend and glad to find him in good health and spirits.

"Oh, all of it," Karlach is saying, "By the spadeful, until she was six feet under."

"Excellent," Astarion grins. "Now put me down, this is a new shirt and I will not have you creasing it."

"You haven't changed at all," Karlach sounds delighted.

"I'm sorry it took me so long to get that set up," Gale says to Wyll. "I didn't find the letter until just now because somebody ate the pigeon."

"Not Astarion?" Karlach says, disbelievingly.

"No not me," Astarion snaps. "I will have you know I am on a much more pleasant diet than stray pigeons, thank you very much."

"Good," Karlach glares at Gale. "You better be looking after him properly."

"Karlach," Astarion protests. "I do not need looking after, you know perfectly well. Not that Gale hasn't been trying anyway."

Gale laughs, but Wyll has now had a chance to take in their surroundings properly, and notice that they are not alone.

"I didn't know you'd have guests," He says, bowing to the others.

"Right," Gale remembers. "Morena, this is Wyll and Karlach, who I've told you so much about. Wyll, Karlach, this is my mother, Morena."

"Apologies, for our rather rude intrusion."

"No apologies necessary!" Morena stands, and returns his bow. "An honour, Saer Ravenguard."

"The honour is all mine, Morena," Wyll says. And Morena, to Gale's astonishment, actually giggles.

Gale coughs.

"Right, you've all met Tara, of course, and this is Clara, one of my students. I'm afraid you've arrived somewhat in the middle of an incident."

"Tara and Clara," Karlach grins. "Nice. Who are we murdering now?"

"We're not murdering anybody," Gale says, warningly. "But we might have a bit of a Mystra situation."

"Again?" Wyll says, as close to irritated as he ever gets, which is still less than Astarion's base level. "She just cannot live and let lie, can she."

It takes a surprisingly long time to explain the situation. Mostly because Clara keeps looking like she's about to burst into tears, and Gale keeps stopping to tell her she doesn't have to sit through this if she doesn't want to.

Eventually, they all give up. It is late, and there have been long days all round.

"I can walk you home, Clara," Astarion offers.

"I'll make up the spare bed in my study," Gale gets to his feet, then turns to Wyll and Karlach. "I do apologise, we're not really set up for guests-"

"Don't be silly," Morena interrupts. "I have a whole guest suite, and I only live down the street! It's much more sensible for Clara to stay here and for Wyll and Karlach to stay with me."

Astarion studies Clara.

"You'd rather not go home?"

Clara shakes her head.

"I know it's silly, but it's where Mystra knows where to find me."

"That's not silly, that's perfectly sensible," Gale agrees. "Alright- Karlach, Wyll, if that's okay with you?"

"Of course," Karlach agrees immediately. "Don't worry, kid. We won't let Mystra have you."

Gale goes up to his study and tidies up the few of his personal affects that haven't migrated down to Astarion's room. Though he hasn't slept in the bed for months, he puts fresh sheets on it. When Astarion brings Clara up a little later, he gives her a stern look.

"Do not touch anything without my express permission. Alright? Even I'm not sure what some of these books are capable of, and I do not want to find out by peeling you out from between the floorboards."

Clara nods, meekly.

"I've already pinched all the good ones anyway," Astarion says, cheerfully.


He rolls his eyes.

"Fine- borrowed, permanently, pending agreement of part-ownership indefinitely given that you keep refusing to set a wedding date."

"Oh," Gale stops. "I was so pleased to see Wyll and Karlach, I forgot to mention that!"

"One big dramatic event at a time," Astarion says. "Clara, you need anything, we're the door directly below yours. If you go up any further the architecture starts getting weird, don't go unless you're with Gale. It likes him, for some reason, and lets him go where he wants."

"It likes you too, it just doesn't like how little you respect the peace and quiet of my Observatory," Gale corrects. "If Clara's quieter than you are, it might let her up. And if you're hungry, Clara, the pantry's in the basem*nt. Help yourself to anything you like, just let me know so I can take it into account when I'm cooking."

He yawns, and Astarion drags him off downstairs, leaving Clara in peace.

"Gods, it must be the early hours of the morning by now." Gale yawns again, as Astarion tucks in next to him, twining their legs together and resting his head on Gale's chest. "Oh, and I haven't done my prep for tomorrow morning yet."

"Well, you'll just have to make it up as you go along now," Astarion says. "I'm not getting up until you're asleep."

And Gale, his eyes aching, puts his face in Astarion's hair and promptly dozes off.

Chapter 2


I write by the same rules I play DnD under, i.e. the Rule of Cool - if you spot something inaccurate to DnD or BG3 lore, no you didn't. We are out of fix-it fic territory and into post-game, and all bets are off.

Chapter Text

It is harder than usual to get up for morning lectures the next day.

Gale, who prides himself on never being late, arrives almost exactly on time, and for the first time ever, has to walk past all of his students queuing outside of the lecture hall in order to let them in.

Tara, who had elected to stay with them overnight and is still being her usual chatty, protective self, trots happily behind him, teasing him about being late. At least her presence distracts the students.

After that slightly rocky start, he finds his flow easily enough. That is, until about an hour in. At which point, an axe comes flying through the window.

Tara goes screeching off into a corner.

Gale says something he really rather wishes he hadn't, given the number of students in his class who also study Infernal.

He catches it before it can embed itself in the desk. It hangs in the air above them, tilting slowly, as the shattered glass continues to tinkle as it settles over the floor. Gale recognises the axe.

"KARLACH!" He yells.

"Sorry!" The voice from below yells. "Might've misjudged that one!"

She appears through the gap a moment later, hauling herself through the empty frame.

"Morning Gale!"

She lands in the detritus, looks around, and gives the students a cheery wave.

"I didn't hurt anybody did I?"

"Karlach for the love of all that is holy, what are you doing?" Gale says.

"Waiting for you, obviously." Karlach clocks her axe, hanging over his desk, and hops up to grab for it. "Arabella said you'd be here, but we weren't to interrupt your classes." She gives the axe a tug. It doesn't move. "Except we got bored, so I started showing Arabella this new axe-throwing technique that I learned in-" she gives up tugging at the axe, and turns to him. Gale glowers back, his arms crossed over his chest.

Karlach sighs.

"I am very sorry for throwing an axe through your window, Gale. Can I please have it back now?"

"Get off my desk."

She glares at him, tail lashing.

"You know this is the ONLY way you're stronger than me, sparkle-fingers."

"Off. My. Desk."

She sighs, and hops down.

"You're no fun anymore, you know. I thought at least having Fangs around would have kept you interesting."

The axe clatters to the floor at her feet. She picks it up and slings it back across her back.

"Oh I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we saved Faerun so that we could go on living in it, not so we could continue running around causing chaos wherever we went."

"A little bit of chaos is good for the soul," Karlach grins.

Gale sighs, waves his hand, and the window repairs itself.

"Get out of my classroom, Karlach."

"How?" Karlach gestures to the window.

"Through the door?" Gale says, disbelievingly. "Does Avernus not have doors?"

"None that we ever bothered with," Wyll says, genially, having opened said door from the other side of the room. "Come on, Karlach. Before Gale incinerates you."

"He wouldn't," Karlach says.

"Try me," Gale growls.

"It was an accident!" Karlach protests. "I said sorry, didn't I? Also, he definitely does still swear in infernal Wyll, you owe me ten gold."

"Out!" Gale snaps.

They go, looking no more shamefaced than they had on the way in.

"Now." Gale looks at his desk. "Where was I?"

Tara hops up on his desk, looking extremely put out.

"Are you alright there?" Gale asks her, as he tries to rearrange his notes into some semblance of order.

"I've been better," Tara admits.

Gale offers her an arm. She hops up and curls herself around his shoulders, settling in.

"Thank you, dear."

"You're welcome," Gale says, calmer now. "Right. Anyway. Sorry about that. As I was saying-"

About another hour after that, a shadow flickers across the window.

Gale turns his head towards it, raises his hand- and Dame Aylin, fully armoured, crashes through it. Thankfully, Tara has tucked herself into one of his drawers and is considerably less spooked.

Aylin lands on his desk.

"Gale of Waterdeep!" She draws her sword.

"Doors," Gale sighs. "I was under the impression that they had been invented centuries ago, but I must have been misinformed, given the absolute inability of any of you to understand the concept today."

"It is good to see you too, old friend," Aylin says. "Although you look considerably less warrior-like than you did when last we met."

"I don't tend to carry my weapons at work, Aylin."

"A pity," Aylin grins. "You were quite something, wielding a longsword, and I am not easily impressed."

"Lae'zel is quite something with a longsword, and I am a quick study," Gale corrects. "To what do I owe the honour of my window being broken the second time today? Not that I had more important things to do than fix the same thing over and over again, of course."

Aylin kneels down, on the desk, to study his face.

"I think you are not happy with me."

"Really," Gale says. "I might perhaps be a tad malcontent."

Aylin grins at him.

"Isobel says I am doing much better at recognising how I make people feel now," she says, cheerfully. "She sends her love, by the way."

"She's not with you?" Gale frowns.

"My dearest love has become intrinsic to the running of the enclave," Aylin says, proudly, standing again and flicking her wings back out. "Now that we have done the pleasantries, Gale of Waterdeep, it is time to tell you my mission. I am here at the behest of my mother."

"Selune?" Gale says, disbelievingly. "What does Selune have to say to us?"

"It is, I believe, a very long story - but there is something wrong with Mystra."

There's a sudden, ringing silence.

"Oh, f*ck ," Gale says, heartily. Nothing else seems entirely sufficient. "Aylin, does Selune know what, exactly, happened to the Crown of Karsus?"

"Ah, you are already informed!" Aylin looks pleased. "That will make this explanation much quicker. Thankfully, as Lae'zel told me I would have to have finished explaining by the time they arrived."

"No, I do not know, I just suspected- hang on, Lae'zel is coming?"

"And Shadowheart. She is becoming quite a proficient dragon-rider."

"Oh no," Gale closes his eyes. "Aylin, please tell me that they aren't bringing a dragon to Waterdeep."

"They are not bringing a dragon to Waterdeep," Aylin says. "But they are coming to Waterdeep and they are riding it."

Gale drops his notes.

"Class dismissed!" He yells, belatedly, which he should have done the moment Aylin arrived, only he really had been somewhat distracted. Now he drops to his knees, digging desperately through his desk drawers for some copper wire, or a sending stone, or literally any way to tell them to turn the damn thing around before it gets any closer.

"Are dragons not welcome in Waterdeep?" Aylin leans over his desk instead of walking around it, just in case he needed reminding of how damn huge she is.

"Dragons are rarely welcome anywhere, Aylin."

"Lae'zel said she expected to get shot at by the local law enforcement, and the dragon is prepared too. They are experts in evasive manoeuvres. This, I can attest to."

"Yes, funnily enough it was not Lae'zel I was worried about," Gale says, giving up on finding anything and deciding instead to resign himself to the situation. "I suppose we'd better go and meet them."

He stands up, and discovers that none of the students have gone anywhere. A few of them have made a vague attempt to look like they're thinking about packing away. Most of them haven't bothered.

By the end of the day, Gale suspects he will have an entirely new reputation amongst them, and not one he's entirely sure he relishes.

"Do you need a lift?" Aylin offers.

"Thank you, I would prefer to walk," Gale says. Aylin shrugs, and follows him out the door, ducking for her wings to fit through.

When they arrive in the courtyard, there is already quite a crowd gathered. Gale breaks into a run, to where Karlach and Wyll are standing, talking to the Dean.

"Selune," Gale pants. "I knew there was something wrong, but if Selune is worried, it's already gone way beyond what we'd anticipated."

"I know," Wyll looks grim. "Aylin filled you in?"

"No," Gale shakes his head. "I guessed some of it, and then she said that-"

Above them, a dragon screams.

"Yes, that," Gale sighs.

The Dean takes a step back, looking very worried.

"It's alright, the gith is an ally," Gale says, quickly, and then, as if to prove his point, turns and walks towards where the dragon is landing in the middle of the previously ornamental and now quite flat courtyard.

Lae'zel dismounts first, followed by Shadowheart.

"Moonmaiden's blessings!" She waves, happily, and is immediately swept off her feet by Karlach. Lae'zel doesn't escape the hug treatment either, despite her protestations.

"No Astarion?" Shadowheart says.

"In the middle of the day?" Gale reminds her.

"Ah, you have had no luck with curing the vampire of his irritating affliction, then." Lae'zel says.

"We're getting there," Gale says. "More to the point, could you, perhaps, ask the dragon to maybe go and be somewhere else while we have this lovely catch-up?"

"No," Lae'zel frowns at him. "You have a tower, do you not? Point her in the right direction and she can roost on its roof until we need her."

"Absolutely not," Gale says. "I cannot even begin to explain the many thousands of reasons why that is not an option."

The dragon huffs, and changes.

Admittedly, the bright red dragonborn with flame curling from its nostrils isn't much less terrifying, but it is, at least, smaller.

It turns out that Aylin doesn't know much more than what Gale had already surmised.

"She wants us to look into it," Shadowheart summarises. "There's a chance that there's just been a change in pattern, or something else. Not entirely unlikely, given the events of the last year. But if there is something wrong-"

"The sooner we find out, the easier it will be to stop it snowballing into something truly dangerous," Wyll surmises.

"Alright," Gale says, when they're all up to speed.

"I do have a suggestion for what we do first, but it's going to take me a little while."

This, it turns out, is an understatement. Even with Wyll's help, it takes him most of the afternoon to get the sigil he needs drawn out on the courtyard. It's the only place in the city that's really wide enough for it, and Gale is going to need the extra power flowing through the university's weave to cast it.

As the year is turning towards winter, the days are shortening. By the time they're ready, it's getting towards dusk. In a way, losing the light is quite useful; the sigil and its runes glow, and as it gets darker it's easier to work with.

It is also roughly when Astarion appears.

"One day, that's going to work," Gale says.

Astarion materialises just behind him with a sigh, shedding the invisibility spell like a second skin.

"I thought you'd be too busy concentrating on your spell."

"Not yet," Gale frowns, undoing a particularly interesting linguistic knot. "Besides, you always turn up about five minutes after the sun sets."

"Have you made me predictable?" Astarion says, suddenly infuriated. "Gale, I think you've made me predictable."

"Is this going to be what tears us apart?" Gale says, amused. "Never mind the panic attacks or the shouting or the meddling goddesses, but that I've wrangled you into a routine."

"Well, it's been a good run," Astarion sighs, and kisses his neck. "I'll miss your finesse. Amongst other things."

"Very funny. How's Clara?"

"Quiet. I think I scare her. Morena has made sure she's well fed and looked after though. What are we casting?"

"Something new," Gale says, his eyes alight. "I don't know if it's ever actually been cast before."

"Oh, good," Astarion grins. "What's the likelihood of explosions?"

"Minimal, unless Arabella gets involved."

"Arabella!" Astarion yells. "We need a hand!"

Gale laughs, getting to his feet.

"It's Fangs!" Karlach yells, excitedly, from where the others had set up just outside of range of the spell and have spent most of the afternoon catching up on the last few months of each other's lives.

"I have a name, Karlach!" Astarion protests.

"Yes but nicknames are more fun." Karlach grins, coming to stand beside them.

"So what are we actually doing?" Astarion says. "I don't remember Aylin, Lae'zel or Shadowheart being here this morning. Hello, by the way."

"You are looking much healthier also," Aylin says, impressed. "But not as soft around the middle as Gale."

"You mean now we're not trekking twenty miles in an afternoon, nearly dying at least six times a tenday, and I'm not playing host to two parasitic entities that are both endeavouring to destroy me in equally horrifying but entirely disparate ways?" Gale says. "Yes, I imagine I do look somewhat different. Perhaps I like it that way."

"I certainly do," Astarion grins, his hands finding their way under Gale's robe. "He's supposed to have a scholar's physique, he doesn't suit a warrior's."

Gale yelps as Astarion's very cold fingers find his midriff. Astarion laughs, burrowing deeper under Gale's robe.

“Ah-ha, Astarion, did you take an ice bath on the way here?” Gale protests.

“Well usually I wake up to somebody very ready to warm me up.” Astarion purrs.

“Ah, you know what they say. Cold hands, warm heart,” Gale says, absently.

Astarion pinches him, gently.

“Ow!” Gale protests, “What, you're allowed to come and put your hands all over me but I'm not allowed to make comments like that?”

“You can do better, love,” Astarion says, sniffily. “That was practically lazy. I'm afraid I've become accustomed to a much higher calibre of charm.”

“Are you insinuating that I have somehow spoiled you, Astarion?”

“For anyone else, absolutely,” Astarion agrees, sadly.

Shadowheart sighs.

“Glad you two are as disgusting as ever,” she says.

"Your softness matters little, if it simply disguises the strength underneath. I am more concerned about your ability to lift a shield," Aylin corrects.

"He can still lift me," Astarion grins, as unrepentant as ever.

"You are much heavier than a shield," Aylin agrees, apparently oblivious to the general exasperation the comment causes amongst the others. "I apologise, Gale of Waterdeep, for suggesting you have become a lesser warrior."

"You're fine, I probably have," Gale sighs. “The only thing I’ve been honing and sharpening for the last six months is my mind. I suppose the rest of you have all been training?”

“Killing Zariel, yes, good training,” Karlach says.

“Excellent training. As is fighting for the freedom of my people.” Lae’zel agrees, to which Karlach laughs.

“Of course you would say that, Lae. Man, I've missed you lot.”

"This is shaping up to be a reunion tour," Shadowheart comments.

"Yes but why?" Astarion sighs, finally letting Gale go. "Someone fill me in, please."

Gale stops listening about then, as Arabella appears at his elbow.

"What are we doing?" She says, excitedly. "Can I actually help?"

"Potentially," Gale says, warily. "Do you recognise this spell, Arabella?"

She studies it for a long moment, then sighs.

"No. Am I supposed to?"

"Maybe when I cast it," Gale suggests, and proceeds to do so.

It's an interesting mixture of Infernal and Draconic, this one, which takes some concentration. At first, it simply manifests as an almost solid ball of gentle light, purple-tinted, about the size of the courtyard.

"Oh yes, very helpful," Gale tells it.

"What's it doing?" Arabella asks. "Oh, wait! Is this a bigger version of Detect Magic?"

"Very good!" Gale is impressed; the foundations are steady but the bulk of the spell is warped almost beyond recognition now. "It's a mite more complicated than that, but in essence, yes."

"So you just stood in the middle of a university that teaches magic, and went … 'magic?'" Astarion says. "And this reaction is… 'yes?'"

"In a way," Gale grins. "Hang on, I'm working it into a more useful format."

He pulls and twists at the stands of it until it begins to become something that they can actually comprehend. The large ball of light splits out into smaller, glowing dots, spreading out and falling into place. It takes a fair bit of working at, and a tiny little bit of swearing, but eventually it's laid out before them;

"Faerun," Wyll recognises. "Gale, did you just cast Detect Magic on the entirety of Faerun?"

"That is an extremely reductive explanation of what is actually a-" he catches sight of their expressions, and sighs. "Yes. Fine. This is a magic map of Faerun."

"What's that bit?" Arabella points to a very, very bright spot on the north edge of the Sword Coast.

"Oh, that's where we are," Gale says, and pulls the spell in so they can see where they are. "See, that's Baldur's Gate, down there. It's brighter around the cities because there's more wizards, and other people using the weave. More magical artefacts and things, too. They'll all show up here."

"Is that us, then?" Arabella points at the bright glow that is Waterdeep.

"We're part of it," Gale agrees, pushing further into the map again so they can see the city's boundaries. It's a strange map indeed; it flickers and glimmers, presumably as spells wax and wane in power. Instead of showing the streets and houses, it shows where there's a concentration of weave - but it is still possible to see the vague outline of the city from that.

The brightness of the one glimmer is right where they're standing, in the university.

"Is that you?" Arabella asks, curiously.

"No no," Gale laughs. "That's all of us, and all the magic being used here. Look-" he pulls the map all the way in, until the glow splits out into several very bright spots, surrounded by clusters of slightly less bright ones, to varying degrees. Like a condensed constellation. "You can see the other wizards- that's the Dean, there is his office-" he points to one of the brighter ones.

At the centre of it, still, there is that one bright spot. Despite all the others having split from it, it seems barely to have dimmed. It is still by far the brightest of all of them; almost obnoxiously so. And next to it, a little dimmer, but still very bright, are grouped a little collection of glowing spots. Each of them, with their fingers pressed upon the weave.

"There-" Gale says. "That's us. This one's you, and this one's Astarion-”

"Wait," Arabella says. "That big one? Is that the spell?"

"Ah, no," Gale says. "That would be me.”

"Holy sh*t Gale," Karlach says, impressed. "You really are a powerhouse."

"This is how Mystra sees the weave," Gale explains, pulling out again until, very slowly, the entirety of Faerun is visible again. "Or 'sees', perhaps, is the wrong word. 'Experiences' might be more accurate. I was hoping that we'd be able to see if there was anything odd affecting it. It all looks mostly normal, I think." He tilts his head, studying it.

"Perhaps whatever is happening has been isolated to the plane that Mystra exists in," Lae'zel suggests.

"Perhaps," Gale sighs. "I don't think it can be, though. Selune was unlikely to bother us about something exclusive to the Astral, for example. Not without pointing us there, anyway. No," he sighs. “Here, Arabella, a question for you; if everything looks fine, what do we look for next?”

Arabella wrinkles her nose, thinking.

“We look for… what's missing?”

“Excellent!” Gale grins. “And there is definitely something missing here.”

“But what?” Arabella asks.

“Mystra,” Gale says, simply. “This is the weave as we know it; a collection of individual musicians, playing it to their tune. Mystra is the conductor of this little orchestra. With her guidance, the weave sings; it becomes a symphony. Without it, we are just lone voices in the void. And that is what this map is showing us.”

“I didn't think the weave existed without Mystra,” Karlach frowns. “Wasn't that the whole thing that caused the spellplague?”

“Oh she's not dead,” Gale agrees, frowning. “But she's not here, either. And going by the state of this, she hasn't been in some time. Look at all of this- all these loose ends! For all Mystra's faults, she was never this untidy. There is something strange happening. And unfortunately, it looks like it's going to fall to us to get to the bottom of it.”

“But what now?” Wyll says. “Where do you start looking for a missing Goddess?”

“Well, the Astral,” Gale says. “But right now I don't think that would be the best idea. I will explain why, but first of all, I want dinner, and a drink."

For the first time in a long time, Gale knocks on his own front door before letting himself in.

When he does, Morena is sitting in one of the armchairs, Tara in her lap. Clara is nowhere to be seen.

"In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much - how little - is within our power," Morena says, quietly.

Gale puts his cloak over the back of a chair as the others shuffle in behind him.

"Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time ," he replies.

"Hah," Morena stands. "Using my own poets against me."

"Always," Gale smiles, and greets her with a hug.

"Long day?"

"Long day," Morena agrees. "Anyway, enough of my moping. Introduce me to the rest of your friends."

"I will do, in a moment - is Clara still here?"

"She is," Morena says. "She went up to your study."

Gale nods.

"Alright. I'll go and get her when dinner is closer to being ready. Was there anything in particular you were in the mood for tonight?"

"Something wholesome and filling," Morena says.

Gale nods.

"Consider it done. Now- this is Shadowheart, and Lae'zel, and a red dragon who it's just occurred to me I haven't actually been introduced to myself yet."

"You've had a long day too, by the sounds of it," Morena says, with more of her usual humour, and curtsies flamboyantly. "Morena Dekarios, very humbly at your service. Any friends of my son's are friends of mine. Now - we're quite a party, and I think that demands some wine!"

"Oh, yes, very generous of you, giving access to my wine cellar," Gale teases, and leaves his mother to play hostess as he goes to raid the pantry. A moment later, Astarion follows him.

"I have been sent with instructions to ask you what you're making so Morena can pair wine accordingly," he says, "And also, I suspect, to help with dinner."

Gale smiles up at him, leaning over the bottom edge of the bannisters in the dim candlelight of the pantry.

"Not just stealing every moment alone with me you can get?"

"Well, that too," Astarion joins him. "I am very used to having this tower mostly to ourselves. I'm not sure how I feel about it being full of people all of a sudden. Even if they are our people."

"I know," Gale frowns. "This has been our little slice of paradise, hasn't it? Much as I knew it couldn't last forever, I still find myself resenting the real world for intruding on us."

Astarion hums his agreement.

"I didn't know it was possible to be this happy," he says, quietly. “It’s nice to have something to care about other than just survival.”

Gale rests their foreheads together, breathing in the moment.

"I think it scares me, what I would do for you," he admits.

Astarion makes that little noise, in the back of his throat, the one where Gale has made him feel his feelings and he's not happy about it.

"You're going to be the death of me, aren't you?" He says, with the kind of vague irritation he usually reserves for things like sunlight and spilt milk.

Gale cups Astarion's cheek in his palm, noticing again all of the little details of his face; the lines under his eyes, the way his hair curls around his ears, the little patterns in his irises.

"It seems foolish, now, but I never did stop to wonder why Mystra seemed content to let me live. To leave me alone. You've seen the weave; ignoring me takes effort. Perhaps it was childish, or naive, or simply stupid, but if I thought about it then I'd have to consider why. I would much rather just believe that she was going to leave us be, and enjoy it."

"But nothing can ever be that simple," Astarion agrees, half irritation and half amusem*nt. He leans in and kisses the very corner of Gale's mouth, barely even a proper kiss so much as a brush of lips. "Come on - sounds like we might have a world to save. Again."

The ordinariness of cooking dinner settles Gale. He listens as the others chat around the table; as Morena asks all the right questions and reacts in all the right ways, charming and cheerful and only the tiniest bit strained. He glances across at Astarion, who glances back, and knows that they're the only two in the room who know Morena well enough to have noticed.

The red dragon, a true reptile at heart, has settled on the rug by the fire and seems wholly uninclined to join the rest of them. Given this doesn't appear to bother either Lae’zel or Shadowheart, Gale leaves it be.

Gale hadn't realised he'd been humming until Morena asks him about it.

“What is that song, Gale?”

“Hmmm?” He pauses, thinking, and hums a few more bars. “I'm not sure, actually. One from up North, maybe?”

“That's where I know it from,” Morena says, amused, and to his delight, sings a few lines. Her voice, as rich and resonant as it has always been, quiets the rest of the room to listen.

Gale, turning back to keep an eye on the food, joins in from time to time.

The noise draws Clara, too, whose quiet steps on the stairs go unnoticed by everyone other than Astarion, who gently prods Gale into noticing that she's hovering, slightly unsure of what to do with herself, at the bottom of the stairs.

“Clara!” Gale says, happily. “I was just about to come up and get you for dinner. You will join us, won't you?”

So then he introduces her to the others. Shadowheart, of course, is immediately wary.

“I know this is coming from someone who was raised in a cult, Gale, but isn't having a student living in your house a little…?”

“Yes,” Gale agrees. “Unfortunately, Mystra has taken more than a passing interest in Clara, and this is the best way to protect her.”

“An excellent tactic,” Lae’zel nods. “And with all of us here now too, if Mystra attempts anything, Clara will have our might on her side.”

“Ah, and speaking of Mystra,” Gale says. “I'm sorry to ask, Clara, but I think to get any further I'm going to have to ask you to touch the weave. Not now-” he says, quickly, noticing the panic in her expression. “Not here, either. It'll be much safer for everybody if we do it at the university. As it's late tonight, we can do it tomorrow morning instead. That means you have the evening to prepare, too.”

Clara nods, mutely.

“Thank you,” Gale says. “I know- believe me, I know- this is not easy. I admire your courage.”

“We all do,” Karlach agrees, as Gale turns to his kitchen and begins dishing up dinner, passing the plates around. “We’ve met Mystra, and when she was pissed off at Gale. We know exactly what you're up against. And we’re with you all the way.”

“Oh,” Clara says, quietly, sitting down next to Morena who hands her a bowl with a fond pat on the elbow. “But you don't even know me.”

“No, but we do know Gale,” Shadowheart points out.

“The bonds of allyship are rarely so neat and tidy as we would like,” Lae’zel agrees. “But Gale's fight is our fight, and Gale has chosen to fight with you. This is no small honour. He may look weak and tired, but he fights with true zeal. I have met no wizard like him.”

“I would be flattered, Lae’zel, but you have met precious few wizards,” Gale points out. “Other than Loroakan.”

“He was irritating,” Lae’zel agrees. “And his methods of tutoring were lacking. Rolan shall be a far superior guardian of the tower.”

“Rolan,” Gale says, standing up again almost the moment he finally sits down, without so much as touching his plate. “Now there's a thought. I wonder if he's noticed anything.”

He rifles through his drawers.

“We are going to run out of copper wire before the end of the tenday at this rate,” Astarion comments.

“There's another box upstairs,” Clara says, quietly. “I found it when I was fixing your astrolabe.”

Gale blinks.

“You fixed my Astrolabe?”

“It was broken,” Clara says, as if that answers the question. “I- sorry, was it broken deliberately?”

“No, no,” Gale says. “Thank you, Clara.”

“You don't have to pay us back for staying here,” Astarion says. “Sweet as you are, kid, Mystra could have picked a raging arsehole for her next target and we would have been on their side.”

“I'm not going to be a raging arsehole,” Clara says, determinedly. “And I wanted to be useful.”

“Wizards,” Astarion sighs.

Gale isn't listening anymore; he hadn’t actually gone to fetch copper wire, but the tiny replica of himself that he uses to cast Project Image. It floats on the air in front of him now as the runes move around it, Gale muttering under his breath.

When he opens his eyes, he sees the inside of Rolan’s tower.

“Hello Cal,” he says; the tiefling yelps, and nearly falls over. “Sorry! Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you!”

“Gale!” Cal says, happily. “It's good to see you! I suppose you'll be looking for Rolan?”

“I am- is he about?”

“One moment, I'll go and fetch him.”

Gale glances around the tower. It's changed somewhat in the months since they were last here. Rolan has repaired a lot of the damage they'd done, fighting Loroakan, but he's begun to make his own changes too. The character of the place has become more welcoming.

“Gale!” Rolan says, appearing through the far set of doors and hurrying down through the bookshelves towards him. “It's an honour.”

“Hello, Rolan!” Gale smiles. “This place is looking much better. You're all doing well, I hope?”

“Yes, yes, very well indeed. And all thanks to you. What can I do for you today?”

“Actually, that is an interesting question. I'm afraid this is going to be somewhat broad, but- have you noticed anything unusual about the weave, in the last six months or so?”

Rolan pauses, considering.

“Since you defeated the Absolute?”

“In essence, yes.”

“Not necessarily,” Rolan frowns. “But this tower is changing the weave around it, and I have yet to fully decipher why. Loroakan left no notes, and if his predecessor did then they've been destroyed. If there was anything unusual, I doubt I would have been able to separate it from the rest of the weave patterns as I've been studying them.”

“Interesting,” Gale says. “I don't suppose you'd be able to send me a copy of the notes you've made so far? I don't know if they’ll be of use, but if you're already studying the weave here then there's a chance you'll have identified some of the patterns or anomalies I'd be looking for.”

“Of course!” Rolan beams. “I would be glad to. And if there's anything else I can do that is of use, you only have to ask.”

“Thank you, Rolan. Oh- and don't send anything to us by pigeon.”

He pulls the spell closed after a few more pleasantries, and goes back to his dinner frowning.

“Nothing?” Clara says.

“He's going to send me some notes. But nothing to report as of yet, no.”

Clara nods, and goes back to her dinner.

“Gale, I have missed your cooking,” Wyll says, into the ensuing silence.

“Thank you,” Gale says cheerfully. “I hope this is better than our old camp fare, at least, now that I have a whole pantry to draw on.”

They pass the rest of dinner reminding each other of amusing moments from their previous travels, sharing new stories, and generally enjoying the company. They can't relax, though. Not really.

Eventually, Morena takes Wyll and Karlach home with her, Tara in tow, and Gale pushes the dining table and chairs up against the wall to make space for a bed in the kitchen. It looks quite silly, the rectangular table against the curved wall, so he re-arranges some of the chairs by the fire so they're less crammed around it.

“I'm sorry we don't have any proper guest rooms,” he says, trying to persuade the attic to relinquish its prize. “Ah - hold on. Sorry about this, there's a spare bed in the attic but it doesn't want-” he tugs, sharply, and the tower tugs back.

“Attic?” Astarion says. “I didn't know this place had an attic.”

“Attic, pocket dimension, room of holding- it's not entirely clear,” Gale sighs. “That's the thing about places like these. There's been so much magic in them for so long that it seeps into the stone, and it starts getting ideas. It's only let me in once, and I think it's regretted it ever since.”

The tower rumbles at him.

“Just give me the damn thing!” Gale snaps.

The bed appears, somehow sulkingly, in the space.

It's an ancient affair, all dark wood and carved posts, with truly tasteless curtains hung along it. With a wave of his hand, Gale cleans it off; it becomes less saggy, less dusty. The four posters become three rather lovely ornamental screens and a curtain, enclosing the bed in a little room all of its own. Fresh linens shake themselves into place.

“Right,” Gale brushes his hands off. “Thank you. Goodness me.”

“The bed isn't sentient, is it?” Shadowheart says, warily.

“No no,” Gale reassures her. “Neither is the tower, really. It has ambitions of sentience, at most, and most of those ambitions seem to be focused on keeping Astarion out of the observatory.”

Shadowheart looks worriedly at the bed.

Lae’zel, apparently unbothered, plops herself onto it and begins pulling her boots off.

“I'm not quite ready for bed yet,” Shadowheart says.

“I'll be up for a while. Until morning, in fact, though don't worry - I will leave you in peace eventually.” Astarion says, making himself comfortable in one of the armchairs by the fire, carefully avoiding the dragon's head. Even though it's in dragonborn shape, it has curled up in front of the fire like it still thinks in full dragon; or in cat.

“Fine,” Shadowheart says. “There are worse people to finish a bottle of wine with, I suppose.”

Astarion grins at her.

“Well, have a lovely remainder of your evening, but I am going to bed,” Gale says. “Are you hungry, Astarion?”

“Always, darling,” Astarion says, getting back up out of the chair. “Don't finish that bottle without me Shadowheart, I'll be back. And don't give the child alcohol, either.”

“Wait, how old are you?” Shadowheart is asking Clara, as they leave.

Gale changes out of his robe and gets comfortable. Despite the change in circ*mstances, this part of the routine is familiar, and comforting for it.

“Waiting for me?” Astarion says, as if he hasn't been watching Gale from the chaise this whole time.

Gale might have had a pithy response in him, but instead he yawns, and flops back on the bed.

“Always,” he says, instead. “Come here, you.”

Astarion leans over him, stopping by to kiss him on his way down to his neck.

“Thank you, my love,” he says, as he always does before he bites.

It's no less strange a sensation, but it is a familiar one, now. As he settles into it, Gale allows himself a content little moan, and pushes up against Astarion. He knows exactly how Astarion will react to that, and is duly gratified.

“You are a menace,” Astarion pushes him back against the bed, which makes Gale laugh. “I can never tell if you're going to be sweet and careful about this, or if you're going to use it as a starting point to f*ck me senseless.”

“You did say you didn't want to be predictable,” Gale reminds him. “Maybe I like to keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, you did tell the others you'd be back.”

“I can change my mind,” Astarion purrs.He runs his fingers over the bite-mark, and licks the last droplets of blood from his fingertips. “Sometimes you're just too delicious.”

“Hmmm,” Gale's expression tells Astarion he's had an idea. “Do you think, if I cast silence, I could concentrate on it while we-” his fingers slip down to Astarion's waist.

“That sounds suspiciously like a challenge to me, darling. And you know I love a challenge.”

Gale laughs, and pushes him off.

“Go and finish that bottle. I may be waiting up for you, I may not.”

“Tease,” Astarion grins.

When he comes back down into the kitchen a few minutes later, they're still chatting to Clara, sitting around the fireplace.

“How does that work?” Shadowheart says, as Astarion rejoins them. “What do you eat now?”

“Gale,” Astarion grins, reclaiming the armchair they've left for him. “It's a practically civilised arrangement. He sleeps at night, I rest during the day, so we cross over in evenings and mornings. As long as I bite him before he goes to sleep, he wakes up none the worse for wear, and on we go again.”

“But is that enough?” Shadowheart frowns.

Astarion shrugs.

“To keep me comfortably alive, yes. To make me strong enough to fight the way I used to, perhaps not. But if we’re going to be going back to our old murderous ways, I suspect my diet will have some invigorating variety soon.”

“I am surprised at Gale being so amenable to this arrangement,” Lae’zel frowns. “He was most opposed to it, at first.”

“Oh, I'm sure there are many things that you thought Gale was opposed to at first, Lae’zel,” Astarion grins. “The trick is to persevere.”

“Hmmm,” she glowers at him over her mug. “I do not regret him turning me down, you know. Much as it would have been … interesting.”

“You have no idea,” Astarion grins. “The things that man can do.”

Lae’zel glares back.

“If you are trying to make me jealous, Astarion, it is not working.”

“Why would I be trying to make you jealous?” Astarion laughs. “No, Lae’zel, I'm just amused to find that this is still a sore spot of yours that I can prod. He turned me down too, remember. And didn't we have fun together instead?”

“True,” Lae’zel allows. “Not that I would bother with a repeat performance.”

“Ha,” Astarion laughs. “You're not getting an invitation either, thank you very much. I am well and truly taken, and he does not share.” He flashes his engagement band at her.

“Oh, it seems congratulations are in order!” Shadowheart says. “Good, because any more of that and I would have knocked your heads together.”

Astarion laughs.

“Alright, Shadowheart, some of us weren't having a crisis of faith in the grove and were entertaining ourselves as best we could. Mere entertainment has nothing on your deep, enduring bond.”

It is not as mocking a tone as it could have been.

Shadowheart sighs.

“You don't have to look at him like that, Clara,” Shadowheart says. “This is what passes for humour between these two.”

Astarion grins at Clara's little glower. In all honesty, he'd sort of forgotten she was there. Gale is not going to thank him for some of those comments.

“It's true,” he says, “I didn't actually pursue Gale, after he turned me down the first time - but then all I was asking for was temporary bliss. Instead he ended up being the only person in two centuries I ever truly cared for. So really, if anyone's to blame for seducing anyone else into a relationship here, blame Gale for seducing me.” He sighs. “With poetry, no less. It absolutely should not have worked. But then nobody else had loved me for exactly what I was, before, flaws and all. It would have been rude of me not to return the favour.”

“He is still trying to cure you of your vampirism though,” Shadowheart says, thoughtfully.

“Well, yes, because I asked him too. He actually doesn't care that much. If I told him I didn't mind anymore he'd probably stop tomorrow.” He pauses. “Actually no, if I told him I didn't mind anymore he'd go all quiet on me and worry and work at it harder because he knows me too well and can tell when I'm lying.”

Lae’zel nods.

“The Astarion we first met would never have chosen to settle down, let alone with someone who could see right through him,” she says.

“You'd be surprised,” Astarion says. “But anyway, enough of this.” He downs the last of his wine, and gets to his feet. “We are technically in your bedroom. Clara, I'll be awake even if Gale isn't, if you need anything just knock on the door - very gently, mind.”

The tiefling nods, getting to her feet too and letting Astarion usher her towards the stairs.

“Shadowheart, Lae’zel - if you wake Gale up, I can and will remove you from my home with minimal delay and utmost prejudice,” he says over his shoulder, foot on the bottom stair.

“Hang on -” Shadowheart looks between Astarion and Lae’zel, quickly. “We’ll be quiet, of course, but- do you still have nightmares, Astarion? About Cazador?”

“Technically no,” Astarion says. “I don't sleep, so I don't dream- but he does sometimes show up in my visions.”

“Shadowheart still sometimes wakes up screaming,” Lae’zel says, helpfully. “It is not deliberate, and it may wake you up.”

“Oh, that's different,” Astarion says. “If it does happen, do you want us to come down and see how you're doing, or do you want us to leave you to it?”

“Leave us to it,” Shadowheart says, firmly. Astarion nods.

“The warning is appreciated, thank you. I should also tell you, the general rule of this household is no raised voices. Gale and I both still have panic attacks.”

Shadowheart nods.

“Got it.”

As Astarion turns to follow Clara up the stairs, she adds;

“And if I do wake up screaming, I will try to make sure it's Lae’zel’s name.”

Astarion laughs, and at that exact moment Gale appears at the top of the stairs.

“I've had an idea!” He says, triumphantly.

“Now?” Astarion sighs, fondly. “Can it be dealt with tomorrow?”

“Now is ideal,” Gale hops down the stairs, lands and the bottom, and drops his component pouch on the bottom step. “Ready?”

Astarion glances at the others, and shrugs.

“Ready for what?” Shadowheart asks.

“A door!” Gale says, triumphantly. It materialises between them, cutting the stairs off from the rest of the kitchen. Gale immediately throws it open. “Voila!” He declares. “When you want privacy, keep it closed. When you're ready for us to come in and make breakfast tomorrow, open it.”

“A truly inspiring breakthrough,” Astarion says, dryly.

“You would be surprised,” Gale replies, not at all bothered by how unimpressed the rest of them look. “Goodnight, you two. See you in the morning!”

He closes the door again, and Astarion allows himself to be dragged back upstairs. Gale closes their own door behind them, and promptly pins Astarion against it.

“Improved soundproofing!” He declares, thoroughly pleased with himself. “Now, where were we?”

Still smiling, Astarion submits to being thoroughly kissed.

“Did you still want to try the silence spell?” He asks, eventually.

Gale grins back.

“Oh, yes. But given that I can only cast it for about ten minutes even if I do manage to maintain my concentration…”

“Ah,” Astarion realises. “An interesting proposition. I wonder if I can make you come so hard that you break your spell with such a small time frame to rile you up. I suppose we’ll have to find out. Although-” he pulls Gale against him, “You do seem to have given me a head start.”

Considerably more than ten minutes later, with Gale lying on his chest, Astarion sighs.

“Much as I enjoy being used as a distraction, dear, you'd usually be fast asleep by now. Instead you are not only wide awake, but incredibly tense.”

“I wasn't using you,” Gale sits up, frowning. “I'm never using you, Astarion. Never think that.”

Astarion clicks his tongue.

“Always so serious, darling. I presume that the thought of having to face Mystra tomorrow reminded you how much you love me and you wanted to think about that, instead, because it's much more pleasant.”

He's teasing, but Gale sighs.

“You know me irritatingly well.” He closes his eyes, burying his face in Astarion's shoulder. “I am trying not to be afraid. Of what we're going to find - but also of her.”

“That is, unfortunately, not how fear works,” Astarion says, gently. “You don't get to wish it away. You learn to live with it, and live through it.”

Gale murmurs an agreement.

“I don't know how you did it, for so long,” he says, eventually. “You are incredible, Astarion. You are so much more than I will ever be.”

“Good thing this isn't a competition then, hm?”

Gale says nothing.

Astarion curls his hand though Gale's hair, holding him close, almost protectively.

“Not the time for jokes?”

“I don't know,” Gale says, unhelpfully. “I don't know what it's the time for. I don't know how to do any of this.”

“That makes two of us,” Astarion agrees. “Well, six of us. Nine, even, including Morena and Aylin and Clara. Technically ten, if you count Selune.”

“One should never forget a Goddess when counting one's allies,” Gale says, with the ghost of a smile.

Astarion meets his gaze with the kind of sincerity that could blister in its intensity.

“We are going to figure this out. We will fix it, Gale. You might have to do it afraid, but you won't have to do it alone.”

Gale takes Astarion's hand and slips their fingers together, resting on Astarion's chest. For a long time they lie there, neither resting, but taking reassurance from it. From each other. Astarion presses his lips against Gale's forehead and wraps both arms around him, as if somehow just holding him will keep him safe.

“Are you going out tonight?” Gale asks, eventually.

“It won't be the first time I've escaped from the balcony,” Astarion says, wryly. “Though I’d thought it had been my last.”

Gale hums.

“Would you be able to look into something for me?”

Astarion sighs.

“I was going to say that it depends what it is, but I think that's a lie. There are very few things that you could ask me to do that I would refuse you.”

Gale shuffles, presses his lips to Astarion’s skin, and looks up at him.

“This is not my best angle,” Astarion protests. “Even you can't be in love with the inside of my nostrils.”

Gale laughs, and sits up to lean over him. His hair falls out from behind his ears, and Astarion reaches up and pushes it back, off his shoulder, revealing the bite-mark from earlier.

“Would you go to the Yawning Portal tonight?”

Astarion raises an eyebrow at him.

“You're asking me to go to an Inn? I take back my previous statement, if this is the kind of thing you're going to ask of me, ask away.”

Gale grins at him. His fingers run idly up Astarion's arm, across his chest, coming to rest on his collarbones.

“It's where Elminster would be, if he were in this plane. But because he's not-”

“It would be the best place to start making enquiries,” Astarion agrees, stretching, and settling an arm behind his head. “Well, I can certainly try. I should warn you though, I haven't bothered with attempting to maintain any level of anonymity here. The chances are as soon as I start asking questions, word will get out that we’re looking for him.”

“Then don't go as yourself,” Gale shrugs. “‘Young adventurer, in over his head, seeking advice for the great wizard himself’, type of thing.”

“Oh,” Astarion's eyebrows lift. “You really are asking for a covert operation, here. Very hush hush.”

“I would go if it weren't far beyond my skill set. And also if walking into the Yawning Portal wouldn't be asking for trouble enough even before I start asking questions.”

“Oh?” Astarion grins. “Barred entry, are you?”

“I don't know if it still stands, and I have no interest in testing it,” Gale says, flatly.

“Gale, you dark horse!” Astarion says, gleeful. “What on earth did you do to get thrown out of the Yawning Portal of all places?”

“Ah, well. It's something of a long story, actually.”

“I have all night, and you're clearly not sleeping anytime soon.”

Gale sighs.

“Fine. Well, everybody knows about the dungeon underneath the Yawning Portal, right? There's actually two. The well the Inn uses for water is also an access route to the Undermountain, and through it you can find a Pool of Loss, which takes you to Hades.”

“Hades?” Astarion grins. “Don't tell me you unleashed something from Hades in the Yawning Portal?”

“I might have temporarily caused something of an issue, yes,” Gale admits, to Astarion's absolute delight.

“I can't believe you didn't tell me about this!”

“I'm not proud of it,” Gale protests. “If it had been deliberate, maybe, but it was an accident of epic proportions. The bill took me years to pay off. Anyway, are you going to disguise yourself or do you want me to cast Alter Self for you?”

“Oh, hang on,” Astarion sits up, suddenly, so Gale has to sit upright properly. “I meant to ask about this. What Clara said earlier, about Mystra-”

“Oh,” Gale covers his face with his hand. “Yes, well. I'm not entirely sure I understand the context, but as long as Clara is happy in herself now then I'd rather Mystra left her be. Especially as it sounds like it took her more effort to get to that point than it took the rest of us.”

“No no,” Astarion pokes him, playfully. “You said you were aware that Mystra had a tendency to muck around with things that humanoids are traditionally rather attached to.”

“I- may have indulged somewhat further than simple academic curiosity,” Gale admits.

“Which means?”

“We have bonded in the weave,” Gale points out. “You are fully aware that I have a more transient relationship with my physical form than most.”

Astarion sighs.

“Fine, fine. All I wanted to know was if it was an option open to us, but given how cagey you're being, I will assume that is a no.”

Gale raises an eyebrow at him.

“What I’m saying is that my body is what I want it to be, when I want it to be. If you want to try something different, Alter Self will do it; providing I maintain concentration, of course. Generally I prefer to spend time with you as my current self, but I am far from opposed to experimentation. If it intrigues you, I will be a willing participant. If nothing else, it is fascinating to know how many varieties of pleasure one can experience; far be it from me to refuse you.”

Usually Astarion wouldn't let him just talk at him for so long without input, but he cannot seem to summon words.

“Wh- you or me?”

Gale shrugs. Despite his outwardly affable attitude, he knows exactly what he's doing. Astarion knows that smirk, now; knows exactly what it means for him, too.

“Both. Either. Whatever you want. As I said, I have preferences, but mainly in my day-to-day life. In the context of this - well, the alternatives are not without their appeals. They do say that variety is the spice of life, and in this case I am inclined to agree.”

Astarion lies back down.

“I- might need more time to process that offer,” he admits. “And also to lie here and think about that, potentially in some detail, before I go anywhere else or do anything else with my evening.”

“Really?” Gale grins. “I thought I'd made it perfectly clear that I am in love with you, Astarion. What you look like, or indeed the specificities of your anatomy, are hardly going to change that.”

“Oh yes, I was thinking about how much I love you, and not the myriad new ways you just suggested I can f*ck you,” Astarion says. “Very wholesome, this. Not at all one of the dirtiest things you’ve ever said to me, let alone suggested.”

Gale shrugs, and goes to get up.

“Well, if you say so. I'll be over here if you need me.”

“Oh no, you're not going anywhere,” Astarion grabs his waist and drags him back. “Not after that.”

Gale, laughingly, submits.

Chapter 3


Apologies for the delay with this one. Between tweaking D&D lore (it's so complex there's a lot of knock-on effects) and work, this took me longer than I expected. Thank you all for your patience and kindness.

Chapter Text

Gale wakes to the soft light of winter dawn on his skin. For a moment, it is pleasant; then he sits up, concerned.

Astarion, from the darkest corner of the room, sighs.

“Well, that wasn't quite what I’d hoped for, but at least you're up.”

Gale stands, walks over to the open curtain, and pulls it shut. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Astarion is sitting in the chaise in the corner of the room, the lamp behind his head, reading one of Gale's books.

“What were you hoping for?” Gale asks, bleary-eyed, and then yawns.

“That you would have a more pleasant morning than yesterday. I’m sure that I read something about human brains and natural light.”

Gale snorts.

“I get plenty of sunlight when I'm out and about, I promise. No need to give me a heart attack to wake me up.”

“Yes, well, I might not have taken into account that I've broken my human.”

“You have not,” Gale says, seriously. “Astarion, don't even joke about that. You are quite literally the best thing that's ever happened to me. This is the mildest of inconveniences in comparison.”

Astarion stands, unfolding himself from the chaise and the cushions, leaving the book behind to take Gale by the hip.

“No protests about being called ‘mine’, though,” he says.

“Well, I am,” Gale says, simply. “Aren't you mine?”

“Yes,” Astarion says, softly, almost wonderingly, taking Gale's hand to kiss his ring. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

The moment is somewhat ruined by a sudden loud thump from the balcony.

“What the-” Gale says, in the same moment that Astarion jumps, and says;

“Uhoh, I left the-”

The shutters fly open. With a yelp, Astarion steps backwards.

“Good morning!” Aylin says, cheerfully.

Gale grabs her wrist, drags her through the doors, slams them behind her and yanks the curtains across.

“Ah, my apologies Astarion,” Aylin says. “I confess, your affliction had slipped my mind.”

“Well, I'm glad one of us can forget about it,” Astarion snipes, unwrapping himself from the wardrobe. “Honestly, Aylin, would it kill you to knock?”

“I forget,” Aylin says, breezily. “And I have very interesting information to report. I spent the night scouring the city, and talking to the local selunite temple…”

She turns, one of her wings knocking into a table and sending a pile of papers and books flying.

“Ah, I do apologise-”

Gale sighs.

“I need breakfast and coffee before we do any of this- Aylin, get out of our bedroom.”

When he's washed and dressed, he joins the rest of them in the kitchen. Astarion greets him with coffee, which Gale appreciates more and more the longer he stands there.

Primarily, because Lae’zel is teaching Clara to swordfight.

It is not going very well. Clara is an excellent student, but she is also very, very shy; Lae’zel has no idea what to do with that.

Aylin and Shadowheart are having what looks to be a very intense conversation over by the fireplace. About what, Gale isn't entirely sure, mostly because despite Aylin's inability to lower her voice, Lae’zel is becoming more frustrated as she shouts instructions at Clara.

“Wouldn't it be more useful to learn how to use a stave in combat?” Gale says, thoughtfully, watching Clara attempt to swing the sword again.

“You don't,” Lae’zel crosses her arms.

“I don't use a stave as my arcane focus,” Gale points out. “Clara does - and she hasn't exactly been learning spellcasting with combat in mind.”

“I could cast unbreakable on my stave,” Clara says, thoughtfully. “It would only work a few times, though.”

“You're only supposed to use it as a last resort,” Gale yawns. “Hopefully nobody's going to get close enough for it to matter.” He pauses. “Although, and I should have made this perfectly clear to begin with, we are not going to take you into any fights. I presume this is purely for your self-defence and peace of mind today.”

Lae’zel seems to submit to this, but only temporarily.

“Fine. I suppose we shall have to warm up together instead, Gale.”

Gale sighs. Saying no to Lae’zel almost never works, because she'd be reasonable about it if you hadn't tried to defy her. So Gale takes an Astarion tactic, and diverts her instead.

“Do you have a whetstone I could borrow?”

“You do not have your own?” Lae’zel frowns. “How have you been maintaining your blades?”

“I haven't,” Gale admits, standing on one of the footstools to bring the longsword down from where he'd hung it above the fireplace.

“You haven't?” Lae’zel is incensed.

“Why am I somehow the weird one for thinking that having saved the world from the Absolute I could live a peaceful life and not spend every day dancing on the knife-edge of survival?” Gale protests, as Lae’zel snatches the blade from him to inspect it.

“You say that like you don't spar with me at least once a tenday,” Astarion grins.

“I also dance with you at least once a tenday, but I still keep ‘accidentally’ losing all those invitations to balls and whatever else the stuck-up idiots at the university send me,” Gale says, gently exasperated. “I do it because it's an enjoyable way to spend time, not because I'm practising for anything.”

“Dancing is an excellent alternative for training one’s dexterity,” Lae’zel says, thoughtfully. “Shadowheart, perhaps we should try this.”

Gale sends the bed down into the pantry and makes them all breakfast while the others drag the table back out from the wall, Shadowheart trying to dissuade Lae’zel from this new idea, and Astarion doing his best to encourage her. It's a conversation that continues over breakfast, cropping back up between other topics, as Lae'zel pointedly sharpens Gale's sword for him while they all sit and watch her.

Tara turns up not long after, pawing at the window to be let in.

“Good morning,” Gale says, scratching her under the chin. “I hope you slept well.”

“Like a dream,” Tara stretches, and hops down onto the floor. “Karlach was telling me all about what that clever man Dammon has been up to with Infernal mechanics - it turns out that she is quite the comfortable napping spot.”

Gale grins.

“I hope she doesn't mind you using her as a heated blanket.”

“Not in the slightest!” Tara protests. “I am excellent company, as you well know. The others will be on their way shortly, I suspect. Wyll is as much of an early riser as Morena, much to the irritation of everyone civilised.”

“Will they have eaten?”

“They have. Morena was hardly going to let them believe that you are the only accomplished cook in this family. By the way, did you know that you have a dragon on your roof?”


Gale looks up, sharply, and notices what he hadn't before; the red dragonborn is gone.

“It's quite a fetching addition,” Tara says. “She's a perfectly polite creature, you know. And besides, as she's asleep, she can hardly cause any chaos.”

Gale puts his coffee down and turns to Lae’zel.

“Lae'zel, which part of ‘there is absolutely no way your dragon can roost on my tower’ did I not make a hundred percent clear?”

Shadowheart at least has the grace to look a little shamefaced; Lae’zel does not.

“You clearly do not understand enough to make an informed decision, and therefore I have overwritten it,” Lae’zel says.

“There's an observatory up there!” Gale says, incensed. “Do you know how sensitive some of that equipment is?”

“If you take as much care of it as you do of your swords then it hardly matters,” Lae’zel parries, and throws his sword at him.

Really, he has no option but to catch it. At least she'd thrown it pommel-first, so he doesn't have to grab the blade to stop it hitting him in the face.

“Lae’zel!” He protests, but before he can tell her off for throwing a sword at him, she swings. He moves his arm without thinking. Their swords clash, the bright sparks of metal hitting metal and the sizzle of the power imbued in them frizzing like static.

With a yowl of protest, Tara skids away to hide behind Astarion’s ankles.

“Aha!” Lae'zel sings, happily. “You do remember this!”

“Stop it!” Gale yells, twisting his wrist to parry again and again, refusing to swing back at her but instead purely defending. “It is far too early for this nonsense!”

“It is never too early for duelling,” Lae’zel grins, absolutely unrepentant. “And training is never nonsense.”

“I must agree with Lae’zel!” Aylin puts in.

“Nobody asked you, Aylin!”

Gale parries her once, twice more, gives up, and pushes back at her. Lae’zel, of course, is delighted. He rather suspects that she’s letting him drive her back - a hunch which is confirmed when she jumps up onto the table.

“Oh no,” Gale protests. “Get down! This isn’t some camp in the middle of nowhere Lae’zel-” he parries her blows from above; “This is our kitchen! Where we live a perfectly civilised life!”

“You should be able to force me down!” Lae’zel points out.

Gale gives up, ducks under her blade, and yanks at her ankle.

It would have sent her crashing into the table. Instead, he catches her halfway down. She floats back down to the ground almost elegantly. By the time she lands, Gale has put his sword down, and gone back to his coffee.

“That is quite enough of that, thank you,” he says, leaning back against the counter.

“Tch. Magic is cheating,” she declares, though she sheathes her blade.

“There is an entire mountain right behind the tower that your dragon could be roosting in,” Gale points out.

“Are you going to try and tell her that?”

“No, she's your dragon!”

“She does not belong to me. She serves me, as I serve her, and together we do the will of my Prince Orpheus.”

Gale bites his tongue and tries to think of a politer way of telling Lae’zel that she has quite seriously pissed him off this time.

Thankfully, at that point Karlach and Wyll turn up, and Gale manages to wrangle everybody into sitting at the table to hear what Aylin and Astarion have to report.

Aylin, it turns out, has little to say other than the selunites are peeved at various other city factions with varying levels of veracity. The latest offender appears to be the Open Duke of Waterdeep herself, Laeral Silverhand.

“Well she can hardly be expected to go to all of her usual social events if she's come down with some kind of sickness,” Shadowheart points out.

“It has been a long sickness,” Aylin says. “These few months - and yet she will let no doctor see her.”

“I'm not surprised,” Gale shrugs. “She's a lovely woman, but she's probably had enough of being poked and prodded at over the last seven hundred or so years to be mighty tired of it. Besides, she used to be run ragged keeping this city in check, and I doubt much has changed if everyone is still arguing with everyone else. Maybe she just needs a rest.”

“You know her?” Aylin looks pleased. "You could suggest to her that the selunites would appreciate even something as small as a letter of apology, explaining her position. Mother is very open to forgiveness, of course, when the correct reasoning is presented.”

“I don't know her that well anymore,” Gale says, apologetically. “As she's still one of Mystra's Chosen, and I am not - well, she hasn't sought out my company, and I have not sought hers. I used to bring trouble to her door more often than not, so perhaps that's for the best. Still, it's unlike her not to write to personally apologise for her absences. Perhaps she's very ill indeed.”

He frowns, suddenly rather worried. Who would end up taking care of Waterdeep in Laeral’s stead, he could only guess, but none of the options inspire him with hope. Laeral is good at her job. There is a reason Mystra had placed her there.

"I believe you have made an error here," Lae’zel puts in, helpfully. "Did you not say that Mystra had no female Chosen?”

“A fair point - it would be a much more accurate statement to say that she has no permanently feminine-presenting Chosen that she'd not related to,” Gale says. “Four of her Chosen are her daughters. Well, technically they’re Mystryl’s daughters, they’re all about seven hundred years too old to have been born to Mystra as we know her. What I meant before is that when parents discover their daughters are touched by the weave, they often indulge in their training - whereas when their sons are weave-touched, they hide them."

Lae'zel frowns at him, like this is as clear as mud, but Wyll is nodding along.

“Laeral is taking up most of the chatter on the streets, too,” Astarion says. “She does what she must, but her absences have not gone unnoticed - nor has her change in attitude.”

“How so?” Gale asks.

“If she truly is ill, then perhaps some less fair-minded underlings are taking advantage of her indisposition to make harsher choices than she would,” Astarion says, astonishingly diplomatically, for him.

Gale, who has mostly had his head in his books and his lectures and was aware of none of this, suddenly regrets having refused all those invitations. He might not be the biggest fan of balls, nor the whispers behind hands that would follow him through them nowadays, but there is no better place to keep up with current affairs.

“Laeral wasn't on the map,” he frowns. “I've just realised. We should have seen her yesterday. She's at least as powerful as me - considerably more so, I should think.”

“Perhaps we should pay her a visit,” Wyll suggests. “Father always admired her willingness to see any citizen who came to her with a worthy plea.”

“I won't need to make an appointment,” Gale nods. “Although we should attempt to contact Mystra first.” He glances at Clara, who has been very quietly sipping her coffee this whole time, watching the conversation move back and forth. “If we go to bother Laeral, either in her capacity as Mystra's Chosen or as Lady Mage of Waterdeep, we should do so armed with all the possible knowledge we can gather.”

Clara nods, determinedly.

Astarion doesn't have much to add from the Yawning Portal either. The last they'd heard from Elminster had been before he'd been sent to Baldur's Gate, so the likelihood of anyone knowing where he'd headed after the Absolute's defeat is unlikely.

So, leaving Tara curled up on the armchair, they gather themselves, and prepare to head out.

Gale puts his boots on before realising he should probably put his glasses in his pocket, just in case. Only they don't appear to be in the kitchen.

“Astarion, do you know where I put-”

“Bedside table,” Astarion says, with a sigh.

Gale reaches for them, and they materialise in his hand.

“Oh yes,” he says. “Excellent. Now-”

Astarion has pulled the huge, black cloak from the hook, where it had been hanging underneath Gale's outer robe.

“But you hate the cloak,” Gale says.

“I abhor the cloak,” Astarion agrees, fastening it around his shoulders, “It's ridiculous. But if the alternative is letting you face Mystra without me, then the cloak it is.”

“Did you at least get some rest last night then?” Gale asks, fastening his own, to which Astarion rolls his eyes.

“Yes, I did, because unlike you I only need about four hours of rest. Plenty of time to go out, make a menace of myself, terrorise the local taverns and still get home in time for tea.”

Gale laughs at him, helping him settle the huge black cowl over his head.

“Very fetching,” he teases.

“Oh yes, I'm at my most appealing when you can't see my face,” Astarion agrees, sarcasm dripping from his tongue.

“It somehow makes you even scarier,” Clara says, with the tiniest smile.

“Good,” Astarion snaps. “If another idiot walks into me in this thing they're getting their toes removed.”

They make a strange little parade, winding through the streets of Baldur's Gate.

He looks back only once, when they are a little way from the tower, and spots the red dragonborn curled around the dome of the tower like some strange gargoyle or sculpture. An architectural fever dream. The streets are perhaps a little emptier than they would be otherwise, but nobody is attempting to fight the thing. Presumably it went up there when most of Waterdeep was asleep, and having been perfectly content to ignore them, the people of the city have decided to treat it with the same courtesy. With a sigh, he turns back to the road.

Gale walks this path every time he lectures, usually five out of every tenday, and he enjoys the walk. The cobbles, the markets, the general cheer and life of the city. But he also, usually, passes mostly unnoticed. Travelling with an extremely conspicuously cloaked figure, an aasimar and a githyanki, they very much get noticed. Karlach hefting her huge axe over her shoulder and Wyll's horns are barely worth a glance in comparison; Clara and Gale might as well be invisible.

Astarion keeps up a steady patter of gentle grumblings as they go. When Gale, however, even so much as insinuates that he doesn't have to be there, his grip tightens.

“You promised not to stab her,” Gale reminds him, under his breath.

“I barely stab anybody nowadays,” Astarion hisses back. "I'm practically a saint."

“Well don't make this an exception then.”

“I am here to help, and when I figure out how I'm supposed to do that other than by threatening to kill anyone who upsets you, I will do so,” Astarion snipes.

Clara, having heard this, glances up at Gale with an concerned expression. He sighs.

“He's joking, Clara,” he reassures her. “Mostly, anyway.”

“At least somewhat,” Astarion agrees. “I have killed for him and I will again if necessary.”

“Yes, alright, you don't have to give my students more reasons to be terrified of me.”

Eventually, Gale makes Aylin walk alongside him, otherwise people are so busy gawking at her that they keep stopping in front of them. He keeps hold of Astarion's hand, though, just in case he can't see someone or something coming.

By the time they make it back to the courtyard, Karlach is complaining that her feet hurt.

“Cobblestones, man. They're so much harder work than plain old dirt.”

“We have gone halfway across the city,” Astarion sighs.

Gale would usually defend his tower; he likes having the sea to one wall and the mountain on the other. Before he can do so, however, he realises that there's something wrong with the courtyard.

The spell that they'd cast yesterday still lingers. There's a slight purple glow in the air. Gale walks forward, studying the pattern of the undissolved weave fluttering through the courtyard air.

“What is this?” Shadowheart asks, with some awe. “It's so beautiful.”

Gale hums in agreement, though he cannot enjoy it so naively.

“If, when I had the orb in my chest, I had detonated it - this is roughly what would have been left, afterwards. Raw, untethered weave. Not in enough quantities to be dangerous, in itself, but volatile - and in this case, I suspect, indicative of a bigger issue.”

“Isn’t this what Mystra is supposed to prevent?” Clara asks, worriedly.

“She is,” Gale moves his hand through it, frowning. “If she hasn't been..." the patterns in the weave suddenly begin to make sense. "This is happening all over Faerun, and has been for the past few months.”

Clara takes a sharp little breath; a realisation.

“It could unravel.”

“I think it's already started,” Gale says, quietly. “I should just about be able to patch this back together, but it won't solve the larger issue.”

“But that's exactly what happened when the spellplague hit,” Clara says, panicked. “I just did a whole paper on it. The weave collapsed, and so the shadow-weave collapsed, and then what was left of the arcane got corrupted and-” she waves a hand in the air. “For ten years there was blue flame and madness and everything in Toril was changed forever!”

“A masterful summary,” Gale nods. “Although for the sake of your grades I hope the essay was less concise. This is exactly the kind of thing that we existed to help Mystra control.”

“Then why isn't she fixing it?” Clara says, worriedly. “Is she letting it happen on purpose?”

It had been Gale's intention to alert at the very least the Dean to their presence and their intentions. Looking at the state of this, however, he cannot in good conscience delay a single moment longer.

“Well, I suppose we shall have to ask her,” he says. “Are you ready, Clara?”

“I… think so,” Clara nods. “Yes, I am.”

“Good,” Gale nods to the others. Weapons drawn, they span out behind the two of them, closing the circle in.

Astarion does not move. Instead, he comes to stand beside Gale, hunched under his cowl.

“Do you think she'll answer?” He asks.

“Let's hope so,” Gale says, grimly. “When you're ready, Clara.”

They stand behind her, one at each elbow, braced. Astarion's hand comes to rest on the small of his back. Clara, her hands quivering, takes a deep breath – and pulls on the weave.

The effect is immediate.

A bolt of bright red light appears directly in front of her. Mystra; or at least, something wearing Mystra's shape. Gale knows immediately that there is something wrong, here.

Mystra has never had an exact, settled form. There's the one she uses most often, which Gale had come to think of as her face, but her presence had always been more than her visible self; the visage she used had been sort of circ*mstantial. As a result, Gale had become more familiar with, and then attached to, the sense of self she exuded. It was one of the reasons it had all been so painful. For all his conjured images of her, he could never recreate the sense of her that he had in her presence.

And this is not that presence.

It wears a face that she often wore; but it doesn't trigger the gut-wrench that he had expected it to. Not because that reaction wouldn't still happen; much as he would like to, it is not an easy task to forget his greatest failure. He dreams of her presence, sometimes, and it still aches. Not with longing, now, but still with regret and shame. No; this does not cause that deep, awful feeling, because this isn't the presence that would trigger it.

“There you are,” the thing that looks like Mystra says, looking down at Clara. Now that he's aware of it, she doesn't sound right, either. The voice is right; the tone is not.

“You have been hiding, little one. And I see that you have brought friends.”

Her eyes flick around her, taking in the number of them, their drawn weapons.

“Come; This is no welcome. Greet me properly.”

She holds her hand out towards Clara, who, glancing over her shoulder at Gale, hesitantly reaches up to take it.

The moment their fingers touch, there's a flash of red light, and Clara shouts in pain. The thing that is not Mystra has eyes that burn white, her teeth bared in what might look like a smile if it weren't so predatory.

Clara pulls back, her hand slipping from Mystra's, but something keeps them connected; a thread, a link of magic that beams from Mystra's palms to Clara's, tenuous at first, but growing.

“Let go!” Gale yells, stepping forward to stand alongside her. “CLARA, LET GO!”

“I can’t!” She yells back, panicked. “She's not letting me!”

Gale swears.

“Astarion, I'm going to take it from her - there might be a backlash.”

“Got it,” Astarion darts to the side, to stand behind Clara, braced to catch her.

The moment Gale puts his hand on Clara's, he knows what the problem is. He can feel the power coursing through this stream of magic; desperate, unsated and unstable. It’s no thinking creature he knows of; neither human nor goddess or any form of personhood in-between - but it is a consciousness. And it is conscious enough to know that it wants.

“Ready?” He says, to which Clara only looks at him, terrified. “Three, two, one-”

The moment he begins to wrest it from her, he feels the roar of fury in it. Something is controlling it; something ancient, and hungry. Something that does not want to relinquish its prize - until it turns its attention to him.

Whatever this is, it is not Mystra.

It recognises the power in him. It had dug its claws into Clara, but it releases her now. Clara stumbles back with a cry, and Astarion catches her. It had been playing with her, like prey; slowly winding up its power, stronger and stronger, testing her to see how far she could go. But there's nothing playful about this.

The full force of the thing’s power hits Gale in the chest. He cries out in pain as it drags at him. Trying to draw him down, to absorb him. He digs his heels in, grabs at the connection, and pulls. It flares, hissing through the air, red and furious and feral, feeding on the raw, unfettered weave flickering around them. But two can play at that game.

“Oh no you don’t,” he growls.

He shouldn’t be able to channel this the way he used to; until now, it honestly hadn’t even occurred to him to try. But now he does, and it comes easily. The flames leap to his fingers. Not red, not hot, but silver; and even without the heat, it burns. Mystra no longer grants him protection from this; from the raw weave tearing through him, as keen to unmake him as what he's throwing it at.

The silver fire would not have burned Mystra, either. But this creature that wears her face, it scorches. Sends it reeling. It screams, shock and pain, reverberating through the connected planes.

Gale can feel the weave tearing under him as the thing’s corrupted magic finally begins to retreat. As it goes, it releases the threads of weave it had been pulling on.

“Laeral!” Gale yells, hoping desperately that the flare has alerted someone to the issue; “Elminster! Anybody!”

The lack of response isn't a surprise, exactly, but it does add to the growing sense of terror.

Even when he was a Chosen, this was supposed to only be used as a last resort. He had died rather than use it, more than once. If he could dissipate into the weave and wait for Mystra to remake him, that was still better than using the silver flame. It was to be used only when there was no other way; or if he was going to need backup. To have none of them, not Mystra nor any of her Chosen, appear to even acknowledge it, is more than concerning. It's a warning sign of truly epic proportions.

The creature slips back between the curtains between reality. Gale lets the silver flame die. It has burned the sleeves of his robe off, almost past the elbow, scorching the flesh of his hands and arms almost beyond recognition. It hurts more than he can truly comprehend, but he cannot stop yet.

He grabs his component pouch and throws dust into the air. It alights upon the weave. The creature had been tearing at it, but the silver fire has punched a hole in it that has exacerbated the issue. Gale turns sideways, stepping as far into the weave as he can nowadays, and grasps at the tangled ends. It fights him; it always does, now. But remembering how easy this used to be won't get him anywhere. Instead he breathes, past the pain that flares bright in his vision, and draws it in. Gently; slowly; teasing it like a spooked animal. To an extent, it seems to respond to his touch with familiarity, as if it remembers this in some similar way to how Gale does.

He's concentrating so hard that when something tugs a thread loose, he pulls it back without noticing where it had gone.

“Gale!” Shadowheart says. “Let me heal you, damn it!”

“Don’t cast!” Gale yells back, “Don't touch it, it's falling apart, I'm trying to-”

They can't see, he realises. They can see the glitter in the air, and the way he is moving his hands, but nothing beyond that. He breathes deep. “I'm not supposed to be able to do this anymore, but none of the Chosen are responding, and if I let it unravel it'll take the whole of Waterdeep with it!”

“But your arms-” Shadowheart tries.

“No!” Gale snaps. “Nothing, not even the tiniest heal - you cannot touch it.”

She steps back, finally, and he turns away from the real world, back into the weave. It's unwinding all at once now, twice as fast as he can track it.

“I'm going to have to do this from the other side!” He yells. “Stand by- whatever that was might try to come back through!”

“Let me help,” Clara is at his side, suddenly, her face drawn and determined. “Mystra told me about this. I know the theory.”

“It's going to hurt like hell,” Gale warns her. “Neither of us are under her protection.”

“I know,” Clara says, and steps sideways with him.

She cries out in pain the moment she takes hold of the weave, but stands her ground. They both brace against it for a moment, feeling the change; and then Clara, very carefully, copies him. Pulling the threads together. It begins to work a little faster; but not fast enough. They’re still effectively bailing water out of a sinking ship with a sieve.

Try and hold this, Gale thinks at her. I’m going through.

Clara nods.

Gale twists the weave around him, like an anchor, like he's a pin holding what he can in place. Then he steps through the curtain.

Chapter 4

Chapter Text

The Astral is empty.

Gale had been braced for an attack. For whatever had stolen Mystra’s face to come at him. Instead, it is empty but for the stars.

With one foot in each plane, he twists, and pulls on the weave. It comes much more easily now; more malleable, as it always is, in the gap between realities. His body isn’t overly happy at being suspended between the two, but that can’t be helped.

The weave doesn’t have the good grace to fray in a single direction, of course. It takes more hands, more energy, more power; he has to fill the hole, in order to grasp the full extent of the edges and pull it back into place. It wouldn’t have been easy before; now, it might be impossible. Thankfully he doesn’t have time to consider that. He just does it.

He can still feel Clara’s intense focus through the threads of it as it begins to stitch together. Her work follows his, smoothing out the irregularities in what he’s having to throw together as fast as he can; until finally, the momentum begins to slow. He’s stretched far too thin now; between the planes is bad enough, but back on Toril the weave had frayed as far as the further reaches of the Sword Coast. He can feel Clara’s rising panic, too, now that she knows the scale of the problem.

Unfortunately, Gale doesn’t have the time to reassure her. Instead, he grasps the loose ends, and pulls. The Astral gives him the scope, the anchor gives him the power. Slowly, at first, like the creep of a glacier, the tide of the weave begins to turn. Clara is dashing around the edges of it, pulling back any threads that those trying to use the weave are inadvertently pulling free, making it possible for him to hold the whole thing together. It begins to draw in faster, edges meeting edges, re-remembering how to mesh, how to be a part of the whole. Like the unravel, once it gains momentum, it barely needs him. The weave is a pattern, and he has given it direction.

But the moment, the very moment he even considers allowing himself to be relieved, it strikes.

From behind. A pulse of magic so strong it tears the weave from his grasp. He turns into it, rolls with it, curls and throws it back the way it came; but the thing is already gone. It skitters in and out of existence, with the ease of something that wields terrifying power.

Clara shrieks.

“It's alright!” Gale yells, “It's coming together now, I-”

He ducks, and a blast of magic goes whizzing past. The thing is taking potshots at him now, with increasing desperation. Gale keeps shepherding the weave as it repairs itself, refusing to lose it now, with the hardest part behind them. He doesn't think he could do it again if it came to it.

Clara is working urgently now, keeping it all flowing properly. Gale tries to help whilst spreading his awareness over both planes. It could come at him from either, with him standing through a hole in them like this.

“Who are you?” He yells at it, not even remotely expecting an answer but determined to try. “What have you done to Mystra?”

The form materialises suddenly, right in front of him, halfway between planes, it's eyes wild and glowing.

“Oh no - you mean to ask what Mystra has done to me.”

It grabs him.


The portal closes with a flash. Gale stumbles through it, catching himself as he falls to his knees.

“It's done!” Clara yells. “It's closed, it's fixed, it's okay, I-”

Gale looks up at her, the tiefling trembling as she wraps her own arms around herself.

“I can't do this!” She exclaims. “If this is what Mystra wants from me, if this is what being a Chosen means- I can't! I can't do it!”

“Deep breaths,” Astarion says, at her shoulder. “It's alright, you did it. I don't know what you did, exactly, but it's over now.”

“The whole world was unravelling!” Clara gasps. “We'd all be dead, if Professor Dekarios hadn't stopped it!”

Gale is still kneeling, looking disbelievingly at his hands, as if he hadn't expected to return from that whole.

“Gale?” Astarion says. “Are you alright?”

“I… don't know,” Gale says, in a tone that Astarion can neither recognise nor read. “I think we need to visit Laeral.”

He stands up, very slowly. Astarion is by his elbow immediately, though he hesitates to touch Gale’s forearms - even though the robe is whole, now.

“Your arms-” Shadowheart says. “That spell. What was it?”

“Silver flame,” Gale says, frowning. “That shouldn’t still be possible.” He pulls back the sleeves of his robes, showing them his perfectly intact wrists. “Neither should that. Hence Laeral.”

“The raw weave that Mystra gifts to her Chosen to wield,” Aylin says, having sheathed her sword and sauntered over. “Truly you are a marvel, Gale Dekarios.”

Gale shakes himself off.

“Thank you - now, shall we go?”

The brevity of it would have been strange enough, but the tone is even more so. Astarion glances at Shadowheart, who shrugs at him. But Gale, apparently oblivious, simply turns and starts walking. They fall in behind him; they have to. He strides with urgency across the courtyard, back the way they came.

“What was that?” Astarion says, coming up beside him as they turn into the street, the others clattering behind them in an attempt to catch up.

“The weave had begun to unravel, so we pulled it back together.”

“No, no, I’d gathered that much,” Astarion sighs, ducking into Gale’s side to avoid having his shoulder bumped by a passer-by. He grabs at his hood with a gloved hand, holding it in place. “I meant the thing that wasn’t Mystra. Do you know what it was?”

“No idea,” Gale frowns, looking straight ahead.

Astarion frowns right back at him.

“What, and you don’t have any ideas? Not even a theory? You’re not going to spend the whole walk to Blackstaff Tower talking about what just happened?”

“About Mystra?” Gale finally turns to look at him, stopping in the street. “I’d rather not, no.”

Astarion stops with him, more than a little suspicious, now. He glares at Gale as best he can from under the cloak.

“What exactly happened, just now? I think you owe me an explanation, given that it looked suspiciously like you tried to do something incredibly dangerous, again, despite the fact that-”

Gale sighs, a sharp little hiss of breath.

“Not now, Astarion.”

Then he turns on his heel, and keeps walking.

For a moment, it’s all Astarion can do to stare after him, mouth genuinely agape.

“Excuse me?” He says, irate, but Gale doesn’t even turn. Karlach jogs up next to him, breathing quite hard.

“Ooof! Someone’s in a hurry! Any idea what happened back there?”

“No,” Astarion growls. “But something is wrong. Very, very wrong.”

“Well, yeah, I gathered that,” Karlach ushers him along, and they rejoin the wake Gale is carving through the now-crowded streets. “Clara was all kinds of spooked, poor kid. Aylin's taking her back to Gale's tower.”

“No, I mean with Gale,” Astarion says, glaring at the back of Gale’s head like he’ll somehow be able to see through it. “There’s something wrong with Gale.”

“Ah, you know what he’s like when he gets pissed off,” Karlach says, with her usual boundless optimism.

“Yes, exactly!” Astarion agrees. “When we first met him, maybe he’d shut up and shut down. But not now. Now I know him better than anyone, and when he’s upset, he talks more, not less.”

There’s more to it than that; an itch under his skin, like a sense of something that sits wrong; a gut instinct that isn’t telling him anything other than to be wary, right now. But he won’t bother Karlach with that, yet. Not until he can figure out what’s causing it.

“Hmmm,” Karlach frowns. “We should keep an eye on him.”

“No sh*t,” Astarion growls, and hurries to catch up.


They get astonishingly deep into Blackstaff Tower before coming up against any opposition. It's only the guard outside Laeral's office that stops them, though in doing so she greets Gale with the ease of familiarity, if without pleasure.

“Gale of Waterdeep,” she says, warily. “What trouble now? The Open Lord has not been well, we are taking visitors only in case of emergencies.”

“Indeed?” Gale says. “Take heart, then.”

It's some kind of code; her face goes through a series of expressions in quick succession; the one that triumphs, ultimately, is resignation.

“Right, well.” She eyes the rest of them, irritated. “Just you, mind. None of this bunch have clearance.”

“Fine,” Gale says, “I would trust Laeral with my life.”

“I don't know if I should trust hers with you, Mr walking hurricane,” the guard growls. “She's not well enough to be running around fixing your mistakes anymore.”

“I only need advice,” Gale says, crossing his arms. “What Laeral decides to do with the information is none of my business.”

“You're not going in without us,” Wyll says, catching up with the conversation.

The guard turns to him.

“And who are you?”

“Pull rank,” Astarion hisses in his ear.

“Wyll Ravenguard,” Wyll says. “Son of Duke Ravenguard of Baldur's Deep. A pleasure to make your acquaintance…?”

She doesn't give her name, she simply stares at him, arms crossed.

“I don't care if your dad is Ao himself, buddy, you don't have clearance. It's sh*t for brains here on his tod, or nobody. Capiche?”

“Your eloquence astounds, as always,” Gale says, dryly, then to the others; “I won't be long.”

As the guard turns to knock on the study door, Astarion is already looking around the room.

“I thought Laeral was supposed to be known for being… well, nice,” Karlach says.

“Me too,” Wyll is frowning. “Magnanimous to a fault. Perhaps we shouldn’t have assumed her staff would embody the same values.”

Astarion slips behind them, and vanishes. By the time the guard turns back to the room, he is halfway through picking the lock on the door to the balcony he'd spotted on the way in.

“Weren't there more of you?” The guard frowns.

“You haven't exactly made us welcome,” Karlach says. “We’re just gonna hang here, if it's all the same to you.”

“Right,” the guard sighs. “Sorry I can't offer you a chair or anything. This used to be quite cosy, but the last few months have been hard on everyone.”

“Did you used to see Gale a lot, then?” Shadowheart asks, interested.

“Far too often,” the guard sits on her desk. “I know that’s the whole point of being Mystra’s Chosen, but you could guarantee that whenever Gale turned up, pandemonium would follow. We used to run a betting pool on it, but he was too reliable and it skewed the odds. What’s with you lot, anyway? What’s the emergency this time?”

Behind her, the lock clicks.

Karlach and Wyll exchange looks. Before they can say anything, however, Lae’zel butts in.

“We do not share confidential information with the likes of you,” she growls. “If Laeral decides to share, that is her decision. We owe you nothing.”

“Alright!” The guard raises her hands, oblivious to the door very slowly opening, apparently of its own accord, behind her. “I’ve no quarrel with you, you’re just not allowed to see Laeral.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Shadowheart says quickly. “We’ve heard rumours, but-”

“She’s seven hundred and something,” the guard says. “Between you and me, she’s still doing a better job of looking after Waterdeep like this than anyone else would running at full health - but we don’t know how much longer that will be the case for.”

The door slips silently back into its frame behind her.

Presumably, the balcony would have a wonderful view of the city, if Astarion had been inclined to look at it. Instead, he pulls the cloak close around him, and follows the balcony as far around the tower as it goes. It doesn’t wrap the whole way around; the balcony for the next room is further than jumping distance. Astarion leans out over the edge, and misty steps onto it.

The balcony doors aren’t open, and nor do they have any windows. The best he can do is to kneel, press his ear against the wood, and pray for the wind to keep quiet.

To the best of his knowledge, however, the room within is silent. There must be some kind of charm on it. He does a quick sweep of the edges, hinges and seams, looking for any weak spots or any way of getting in. The doors, however, are locked from the inside. He could get in, of course - but not in any way that wouldn’t immediately alert Gale and Laeral to his presence.

Irritated, he hops back between the balconies and slips the door open a crack to check that the coast is clear.

Karlach is looking at a painting on the far wall.

“Who’s this?” She asks the guard, innocently.

“What do you mean, who’s that?” The guard says, irritated. “That’s Laeral! Not everybody who comes to see the Open Lord can read, you know, and it helps to know they’re in the right place.”

“Oh,” Karlach is a truly terrible sneak; she glances over the guard’s shoulder at the gap that Astarion is currently trying to slip through.

The guard clocks it. As she begins to turn, Karlach panics.

“You mean this is the Open Lord herself?” She points at the painting’s face, her finger precariously close.

“Don’t touch that!” The guard yelps. “Oils and fire don’t mix!”

“I’m not gonna set fire to it!” Karlach protests. “Look, I’m in perfect control, I can-” She pokes the painting, which promptly starts to smoke. “Uhoh. Oh no, I didn’t mean to-”

In the ensuing chaos, Astarion slips out of his invisibility spell and comes to stand by Lae’zel.

“Nothing,” he murmurs, watching Wyll and the guard and Karlach flapping desperately at the painting. “Why did you decide Karlach was going to do the distracting? She’s never exactly been subtle.”

“Yes but it’s funnier that way,” Shadowheart grins. “Personally I think the slightly singed look suits her.”

“You’ll pay for that!” The guard is shrieking. “That portrait is priceless, I swear-”

“I have mending, I have mending!” Wyll is saying, trying to calm her. “Look, just give me a moment-”

“I’m not letting you make it any worse!”

The door of Laeral’s office opens.

The Open Lord herself steps through. Her long, white-grey robes are tinged with gold and red. Her grey hair is intricately braided and coiled on top of her head, like a halo. Her eyes are deep-sunken in her face, her cheeks sallow, the skin drawn tight over them.

“Rune,” Lateral says, sharply. “What is happening out here?”

“Where Gale of Waterdeep goes, chaos follows!” The guard, apparently Rune, swears.

“I wasn’t even in the room,” Gale protests, emerging behind Laeral.

“You brought these idiots here!” Rune gestures furiously to Karlach, who gives them an awkward little wave. “I should’ve known any company you kept was just as bad as you are!”

“Calm yourself, Rune,” Laeral says, soothingly. “Nobody is in danger. This is only a portrait. Come, there’s no need to waste your energy on this.”

She walks to the portrait, and studies it.

The portrait must have been done when she was younger; her face is more worn now, the lines deeper. But her grace and her poise, the artist has captured perfectly. She lays her finger on the little burn in her own face, and closes her eyes. With a whisper of air, quiet as a breath, the portrait repairs itself.

“There,” Laeral says. “No harm done. Now, Gale – I believe we had concluded the essentials. Was there anything else you wanted?”

Gale shakes his head.

“Thank you for your time, as always, Laeral.”

He bows, to which she inclines her head.

“Unlike Rune, I always welcome your visits. It has been good to see you, old friend. Don’t be a stranger.”

“Likewise,” Gale says. “And if there’s anything we can do to help-”

Laeral is shaking her head.

“This is no longer your burden to bear, Gale.”

She drifts back into her office, and closes the door behind her.

Astarion glances at him, expecting to see some kind of discontent on Gale’s face. He might not miss being Mystra’s Chosen, but he certainly regrets the loss of power that came with the demotion. Nor is he likely to take kindly to being told to leave well alone.

Gale’s expression, however, remains tranquil.

“Right,” he says. “What a morning. Time to go, I think.”

Rune slams the door behind them.


The walk back to Gale’s tower is quiet.

Astarion doesn’t bother to try and talk to Gale, who, in his turn, makes no effort to draw him into conversation. Instead, Astarion walks between Karlach and Wyll, letting them protect him from the worst of the crowd’s shoulder-bumps, steering him so that he doesn’t trip over loose cobbles or anything else that could pull the cover of the cloak from his shoulders.

All three of them, now, are watching Gale stride ahead by himself. There’s something about the way he walks that seems off. What, exactly, Astarion couldn’t say.

“Are you sure you didn’t say anything to upset him?” Karlach whispers.

“To this degree?” Astarion protests. “I’d like to think I know him well enough that if I’d pissed him off like this it would have been on purpose.”

“I can’t believe that Gale would leave you to try and navigate these streets in daylight without protecting you,” Wyll says, low and with that edge of disappointment that Astarion doesn’t think he’s heard Wyll direct at Gale since he considered trying to take control of the Crown of Karsus. “Even if he was upset with you - he wouldn’t want you hurt.”

“He gets caught up in his own thoughts sometimes,” Astarion sighs, pretending not to be as hurt by it as he is and knowing that they can both see through it. “And he knows I can look after myself.”

“But even in Baldur’s Gate, he wasn’t this-”

“Please,” Astarion protests, “Let’s not.”

They walk the rest of the way in silence.

Chapter 5

Chapter Text

Clara and Aylin are waiting outside.

“Ah - keys,” Gale says, and lets them in.

Karlach immediately starts talking loudly to Gale about making tea and having sandwiches for lunch. Astarion quietly pulls Clara aside.

“The thing that attacked you,” he hisses, quietly. “What was it?”

“I don't know,” Clara says, miserably. “It wasn't Mystra. It was wearing her face, but it wasn't her.”

Astarion looks at Gale over her shoulder.

“How could you tell?” He asks.

“Other than the fact that she attacked me?” Clara says, disbelievingly. Then she follows his eyes, the suspicious slant of it.

“He hasn't asked if you're okay, has he?” Astarion whispers. “Not even once?”

“Oh,” Clara looks at him, horror dawning. “Oh, gods. Oh no.”

“Is that possible?” Astarion hisses. “I don't know anything about the Astral, about what attacked you, but is that something that could have-”

“What are you two whispering about?” Aylin booms, cheerfully.

“Just making sure Clara's alright,” Astarion says, smoothly. “Gale, I'm going to make some of Halsin's tea.”

“Good idea,” Gale says, slipping away from Karlach, and making for the new door at the bottom of the stairs.

Karlach glances at Astarion, who nods - and she moves to follow him upstairs.

“Hey Gale, do you know where-”

As her voice fades, the kitchen falls quiet as the rest of them shuffle in.

“What do we do?” Wyll says, quietly. “Is it possessing him? Is it a copy?”

“I don't know yet,” Astarion hisses back. “I don't think we can do anything yet - let him think we haven't noticed, for now. When we figure out what he wants, and what he wants with Gale, then we can do something about it.”

“I don't think it's him,” Clara says, waveringly. “I think it'll be a clone - he won't be in there.”

“How sure are you?” Astarion frowns.

Clara shrugs.

“Not very?”

“That’s not sure enough. I hope you're a better liar than I think you are, kid, because we might be playing this game for a while.”

He goes to the bookshelves, and pulls a volume from it that Wyll doesn't recognise; when he opens it, it's clear why. It's a box, not a book. Astarion slips the dagger from within it, tucks it under his shirt, within easy reach, and replaces the box wordlessly.

“I believe sandwiches were mentioned,” he says, brusquely, “Wyll, a hand if you would?”

The pantry has plenty of bread, cheese and ham to offer. Wyll sets about carving slices of bread while Astarion slices the ham. It all feels performatively domestic, and the quiet of the room doesn't help. Shadowheart keeps an eye on the herbs steeping on the stove, the thick, grassy scent permeating the room. It makes Astarion think of Arabella, and he's glad she's not here to see this. She thinks too highly of both of them, but this isn't how he wants her to find out the truth.

He can hear Karlach laughing upstairs, but there's something off about it. Something forced.

Aylin, blissfully unaware, is loudly discussing weapon technique with Lae'zel, who, in her defence, is bearing it with unexpected patience. Apparently they've all just collectively decided that Aylin doesn't need to know.

“Aylin, if I send you with a sandwich, would you be able to go and ask around the selunite temples again?”

“Of course!” Aylin looks pleased. “What do you wish me to ask about?”

“If they’ve noticed any unusual magical activity,” Astarion frowns. “The clerics, especially.”

She accepts her sandwich gratefully.

“I shall be back as soon as I have learned something of value.”

“No rush,” Astarion waves as he ducks behind the kitchen door so Wyll can open the door for her. “Get them chatting, they might mention something they don't think of as worth noting that may be useful to us!”

“Exceptionally clever!” Aylin booms. “I shall do you proud!”

The door shuts behind her.

“Do you think she'll find anything?” Clara frowns.

“No,” Astarion says quietly, “But she’s better at hitting things than nuance - this might upset her, and upsetting a righteous woman with a sword is never a good idea.”

“Right,” Clara agrees.

“Lunch!” Astarion yells up the stairs, and goes back to slicing ham.

Seconds later, Tara comes screeching down the stairs, launches herself at the kitchen side and stands on her hind legs to put her paws against Astarion’s chest.

“Ssssh, yes, I know,” Astarion hisses back. “We’re trying to figure out if he’s still in there somewhere or if it’s something else entirely.”

Before Astarion can elaborate, Karlach’s footsteps are pounding down the stairs. Astarion makes a zipping lips motion at her, and gives her some ham.


“Play along, just for now,” Astarion hisses.

Tara, lashing her tail to make sure he knows she’s not pleased about being shooed, stalks off to curl up by the fire, watching them over her tail with narrowed eyes.

The moment that Zarlach walks back into the room, Gale on her heels, Astarion hears it;


It is Gale's voice - but it does not come from the Gale behind him. Instead, it comes right into his head, like a sending spell; only it’s not complete. It wavers, not lasting more than a single word. It is accompanied by the quick little bursts of emotion that the weave can carry; fear, desperation, a rising anger and a determination that is driving this spell despite how broken it is. Wherever he is, he’s trying to warn them of something.

Without it being a whole spell, Astarion can’t reply properly. Instead, he tries to send back some kind of affirmation; a confirmation that they are safe, and they know that something’s up.

As if hearing him, the knife he'd been using to chop the ham shudders.

Astarion ducks on instinct.

The knife flies over his shoulder. If the thing wearing Gale’s face hadn’t dodged, it would have gone through his eye. Instead, it grazes across his cheek, and bounces off the wall behind him.

It looks at him, eyes wide and accusing. He thinks Astarion threw the knife.

So much for playing along.

Astarion draws the hidden blade and slams the thing wearing Gale’s face into the wall.

“Hello darling,” Astarion says, cheerfully. “Sorry about this, I just have a few questions for you.”

“At knifepoint?” Gale says, disbelievingly, struggling against him.

“Now now, dear, there's no need for that.”

Some kind of spell begins to materialise in Gale’s fingers. Shocking grasp, at a guess. It hardly matters. It fizzles out before it can ever get started.

“Ah ah,” Astarion says. “This is your first mistake, you see. Gale, for all his faults, is generally quite a nice person. Especially to his fiancé.”

The thing that is wearing Gale's face blinks.

“Oh, you didn't know that? Interesting. Unfortunately for you, I am not a nice person, and even Gale can't change that.”

“What are you doing to me?”

“Sussur blade,” Astarion clicks his tongue. “Really love, you'd think you'd remember things like this. It was your idea.”

Gale's face frowns back at him, silent and sullen.

“This is mistake number 2,” Astarion says. “Gale is considerably more talkative than you are. If I'd pulled a blade on him without warning I'd be paragraphs deep into a lecture right about now.”

The thing growls, and makes another attempt to slip the blade. It's reckless, now; like he expects Astarion to move the blade with him, to allow for it. He doesn't. With a hiss of pain as it bites into his skin, the thing that looks like Gale subsides.

“Oh,” Astarion laughs. “You think because you’re wearing his face, you’re safe. Now that is unfortunate. I regret to inform you that killing you isn’t even going to make it into the top ten of f*cked up things I’ve done in my life.”

“You seem very sure I'm not him,” it says, in Gale's voice.

“I wasn't before,” Astarion growls. “But Gale knows how to slip this grip I'm holding you in right now - because I taught him.”

In the silence that follows that statement, they can finally hear what they hadn't before. One of the cabinet drawers under the bookshelf is rattling, violently.

Clara starts towards it, and then stops.

“Should I-”

“Do it,” Astarion says.

“Right,” Clara runs to the draw, and pulls it open.

The tiny figurine of Gale flies out. It immediately attaches itself to another of the drawers, wedging itself behind the handle and rattling it in an attempt to drag it open. Clara obliges, and finds herself staring into a drawer of quartz tuning forks.

“Uh, okay?” She picks one up, and follows the figurine back to the table, where it lands on top of the folded-away letter from Wyll.

“Gale?” Wyll says. “Is that you?”

The figurine twists, sliding under the folds of paper, pushing it open.

“The teleportation circle,” Karlach remembers, hurrying to help Wyll unfold it fully.

“But it won't work for him, will it?” Wyll frowns. “It's designed to be opened from this side, and I can't cast it.”

The little figurine stands upright in the centre of the circle as they lie it out on the floor. It's just that little shard of wood with a cross latched to it so it stands like a scarecrow, arms out. But down the side of its ‘face’ is the little black thread the netherese orb had left, and the scrap of purple fabric ripples in the air almost like a robe.

“I can,” Clara says. “But- this isn't a normal teleportation circle spell.” She looks terrified, clutching the quartz fork like a lifeline. “This is what we're studying, at the moment. How we can adjust existing spells, or combine them, to create new ones. This is the example we were working on; it's got elements of planar shift in it, too, amongst other things.”

“Then can you cast it?” Wyll asks.

“I don't know!” Clara wails. “We're supposed to be coming up with theories for this session’s homework and he was going to explain to us how to do it properly next time! And if I get it wrong it won't be me who ends up with my organs in different realms!”

“He's marked your homework,” Astarion says, still with his dagger pressed to the neck of the thing that looks like Gale. “It’ll be on the bedside table upstairs.”

Clara looks at him.

“But that's-”

“Go and get it, now,” Astarion snaps at her. She flees.

The doppelganger under his grip writhes and wriggles, as if hoping he will have focused elsewhere.

“I don't think so,” Astarion says, and sticks his thumb in its side. It creases, gasping, all the strength gone from its legs. He follows it down and pins it to the floor, knife still to its neck.

“There,” he says, quite pleasantly. “Much better. I can hold you here for hours, now. Until we figure out what you are, and you give Gale back.”

“I don't have him,” the thing growls. Astarion's knife is boring into its flesh now; the wound around it seems to singe and burn, like the sussur bark infused in it is causing more damage than simple magic repression.

“What in the hells are you?” Astarion growls at it.

“Wouldn't you like to know?” It taunts him, to which Astarion doesn't bother to respond. “Does Gale always do his marking in bed?” The thing growls at him.

“When he can't sleep, yes,” Astarion says, neutrally. “Seems a better way to spend the time than staring at the ceiling.”

“Seems perverted, if you ask me.”

“Well nobody did, did they?” Astarion says. “Now shut up before I make you. I think even you would find it hard to talk if I cut your tongue out.”

Moments later, Clara comes rattling back downstairs, sheafs of paper in hand.

“I've got it!” She declares, panting. “It's alright, he said it's all clear- a few notes, but it should work.”

“Should?” Karlach queries, warily. “I'm not sure I like the sound of ‘should’.”

“Well, the base of the spell is teleportation,” Clara says, laying out the components as she kneels at the edge of the circle. “If that doesn't work, you just… don't go anywhere, right?”

“If you had to give it a percentage chance of succeeding…” Wyll says.

“Um… 95?” Clara guesses. “But the chances of him exploding across the planes are much, much less than 5%. And I think, as long as I can use this to aim it close enough to where he is in the Astral, he can probably stabilise it before using it. I think.”

They all look to Astarion, as if this is somehow his call to make.

“What are you looking at me for?” He demands. The little figurine of Gale is now tapping gently against Clara's hand, curled around her stave. “Go on - do as he asks.”

With a nod, Clara sweeps her hand around the teleportation circle, and begins to chant. It's a rhythmic, almost musical kind of chant.

The figurine returns to the centre of the teleportation circle. Clara, the last chant fading to a hum, taps the quartz tuning fork on the stone floor. It makes a beautifully resonant note, and promptly shatters.

In its wake, the portal opens. It looks exactly like the one that Gale had opened; only inside the swirling circles of magic, the view the portal has opened to is entirely different.

There's a moment of hesitation. Clara looks up, concerned.

Then Gale stumbles through it.

He's wearing the same robes as the other Gale, only these aren't whole. The wrists are scorched, his skin under them blistering with the burn. His hair is slightly longer, too, the few threads of grey in it a little lighter, a little more noticeable.

Astarion wouldn't have noticed any of that, necessarily, without being able to compare them. Now he can, though, it seems blinding obvious.

“Excellent work, Clara!” Gale says, practically glowing with excitement. Then he turns to the thing wearing his face. “You, however - the nerve . To wear my own face in my own home and think I'd let you get away with it?”

“You can't kill me.”

“Wrong,” Gale says. “Hilariously incorrect, in fact. Astarion, mind yourself on that blade.” He folds his hands together and throws the spell at it; “Protero!”

The Gale that Astarion had been holding on the floor disappears immediately. It disintegrates into red smoke. It doesn't even have time to make a noise.

Astarion catches himself, one handed, and Gale is already there to help him up.

Astarion jumps back, the knife back in his hand, and Gale steps away, his hands raised in peace.

“It's me, I swear-”

Protero!” Clara shouts. The little red bolt hits Gale in the back of the neck.

“Ow,” he says. “Much as that stung, Clara, I should applaud your intelligence as well as your reaction time. Entirely unnecessary, though, as you can see.”

He rubs at his neck where it had hit, wincing, but otherwise appears unharmed. At least he's not a sorcerer, or a dispel magic cast that quickly and intensely would have caused a lot more damage.

"Prove it," Astarion demands.

"Fair enough-" Gale pauses. "Although I cannot think of anything that you wouldn't appreciate me saying in front of a room full of people."

Astarion glares at him. Gale, still holding his hands up, as if Astarion is still pointing the knife at him, submits.

"Alright. Your scars were carved by Cazador Szarr as part of an infernal ritual to make him a Vampire Ascendent. You wanted us to help you to take his place, but we refused, and I've never been more sure about refusing you in my life."

Astarion raises an eyebrow at him.


Gale sighs.

"Something nobody else knows? You have a favourite poet but you won't tell me who it is. You don't remember who taught you to play the violin - you don't remember a lot about who you were before Cazador, and it scares you. It has been two months, nearly to the day, since I attempted to rewrite reality for you - two months since I failed.”

“Alright,” Astarion says, before Gale can think of anything else. “That's enough.”

“Also I've just thought of something much simpler, I should have just done this.”

He pulls the slimmest blade from its sheath under his robe, slits the skin of the back of his hand, and offers it forward.

Astarion rolls his eyes.

“Yes, alright, fine. I'm not sniffing you.”

“No, because you can smell me from here,” Gale agrees. “That’s why I threw the knife at the fake.”

“Right,” Astarion agrees.

Then he lunges at Gale.

Ha had sort of been expecting it. There'd been something in the way he'd been stood; something careful and choreographed about the way he'd ‘relaxed’.

But they've done this enough times that Gale doesn't even really think about how to react, now. He just follows the flow of his body, the memory of the way he ducks under the knife, letting it skim over his shoulder. Astarion gasps at the elbow to his gut - Gale must have hit him harder than he usually would. It gives him the edge he needs to twist though, grabbing him from behind to throw him against the kitchen side. He feels the moment Astarion allows his body to flow with the movement instead of fighting it.

They come to an abrupt stop when Astarion's back hits the counter. Gale's hand is pinning his wrist to the side, holding the knife away from both of them, in exactly the way Astarion taught him; exactly the way he can't escape unless he drops the knife.

“Ow,” Astarion says. The knife clatters to the floor as Astarion pulls his hand free. He grabs Gale's neck to yank him into a kiss that almost bruises. Gale closes his eyes into it, curling his hands into the front of Astarion’s shirt. The burn from the silver flame stings, from the movement and the contact, but Gale ignores it.

When Astarion lets him go, he's shaking, still looking at Gale like he might turn and pull a knife on him. Like he might have to kill him.

“Alright?” Gale says.

“No,” Astarion growls. “That took you twice as long as it should have.”

“No, not how fast my reaction was! Are you alright?” Gale says, disbelievingly.

“Gods above, no,” Astarion says, almost laughing, slightly manic. “What the f*ck was that?”

“I'm sorry,” Gale says, quietly. “I tried to tell you as fast as I could-”

“I knew,” Astarion says. “I knew, I just couldn't take the chance that I was wrong.”

Gale pulls him into a hug, holding him as close as he possibly can, letting Astarion breathe into him, their heartbeats fluttering against each other, furious and panicked and finally slowing.

“Hello,” Karlach says, quietly, “Can I have non-evil Gale hugs too please?”

“Always,” Gale keeps Astarion tucked close into his chest, but opens his arm so that Karlach can join them. She does so, resting her head on top of Astarion's, her heart warm and comforting.

“I know I shouldn't miss Raphael,” Shadowheart sighs, “But at least he was fun, as well as terrifying.”

“Who was that?” Wyll asks, having patiently waited his own turn for a hug.

“Karsus,” Gale says, grimly, as he lets him go.


“Yes, I know. I think I've been missing something rather obvious,” Gale sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “Hang on, one moment-” he pulls some parchment and a quill from his desk, and begins to scribble a note. When he's done, he folds it up, and breathes on it. The scrap of paper takes the form of a bird, launching itself into the air. Gale opens the window for it, and lets it out.

“Right,” he says, and goes to the kettle. “I think this explanation is going to require some context, and for that, I am going to need some coffee.”

Apparently reassured that this is, in fact, the real Gale, Tara trots up to him and winds her way around his ankles.

“I hope Karsus wasn’t rude to you as well,” Gale says to her.

She meows, plaintive, and he frowns.

“He didn’t. Well, now I’m even more glad to be rid of him. For now, at least. He won't be so easily deterred.”

Purring, Tara hops up onto his shoulders and headbutts his cheek. Smiling, he tickles her under the chin, which only makes her purr harder.

“Karsus,” Wyll says, disbelievingly. “The mad mage who forged the crown that the Chosen of the Dead Three tried to use to control the elder brain? That Karsus?”

“Yes,” Gale says, putting the full kettle on the stove and throwing another log on the fire that feeds it. Then he turns, and studies them.

Astarion had retrieved the knife and sheathed it, but not put it away. Now he stands by Gale's side. Not touching him; not quite. But close enough that if Gale were to lean, ever so slightly, their hips would bump.

Tara mrows at him, and Astarion duly tickles her under the chin. Gale takes the opportunity to kiss Astarion’s fingers, which, as usual, gets him tutted at. Then, finally, he turns to the rest of them, and takes a deep breath.

“Becoming one of Mystra's Chosen is, I believe, a little different from becoming the Chosen of another deity. They're all different, of course, but in Mystra's case it is especially demanding, and there is a reason for that.”

He pauses, trying to work out how to phrase this.

“Mystra gives a part of herself to her Chosen. It's a failsafe, essentially. You carry a part of her, of her power-” he waves his hand- “At the point at which they are essentially indistinguishable from each other. When I say that Mystra is the weave, I'm not being metaphorical.

“The purpose of it is to ensure that if anyone were to attempt to kill her, those parts of herself would live on. She could use them, in essence, to resurrect herself.

“The other reason she does it is that Ao dictates it. Mystra is the mother of all magic, after all, and perhaps the only Goddess with the potential to overthrow him. In turn, she doesn't want the power she gives away to her Chosen to be used against her.

“And so, in order to become a Chosen of Mystra, you pledge your life to her. Quite literally. I suspect that is why she chooses young wizards who are usually - not always, but usually - more easily led by power. You must willingly give everything that you are to her.

“Once you become her Chosen, you either die in her service, or by the vow you made when you entered it. There is no other way to escape." He pauses. "Well, the notable exception to the ‘no demotions, only death’ rule being an idiot who absorbs part of the Karsite weave.”

“You're an idiot who is still alive though,” Astarion points out.

“True,” Gale agrees. “As it was, Mystra had seven Chosen. Elminster, of course, and me, but also the four remaining of the Seven Sisters, and another that I never knew or met, which I suspect was deliberate. Before me, there were still seven. I was trained, in essence, in case my predecessor died. Clara was being primed to replace me - except I somewhat expedited the timeline.”

The kettle screams at him, and he pulls it off the stove. The routine of making the coffee, the grinding and the pouring and the filtering, keeps him centred in the real world. Instead of in memory, and regret.

“Anyone else want anything?”

“That’s a lot of Chosen,” Shadowheart frowns. “I don’t think I could have told you how many of the Seven Sisters were still alive.”

“I definitely wasn’t paying enough attention in History to follow this,” Karlach agrees, with a groan. “Wyll, please tell me you know who these people are.”

“The Seven Sisters?” Wyll says, disbelievingly. “How can you not know about the Seven Sisters?”

“Quite easily,” Lae’zel says. “I'm afraid I have no interest in finding out, either.”

“They’re Mystryl’s daughters, we talked about them before,” Gale interrupts testily, clinging onto his mug like it’s somehow going to make this conversation easier. “Anyway, the point being, that Mystra has a failsafe - and, it turns out, she's not the only one who has buried a part of themselves elsewhere in order to be revived, should they be destroyed.”

“Karsus,” Wyll realises, in the tone of dawning horror that justifies it. “The crown of Karsus contained a part of him.”

“It did,” Gale agrees. “In Mystra’s defence, she did destroy the crown, rather than attempt to wield it, which is what I had begun to suspect at the start of all this. However unwittingly, however, she released Karsus. Or what was left of him, at least. And because I had also carried the karsite weave for quite some time, he knows the shape of me.”

“His blood smelled of the karsite weave,” Astarion says. “And he spoke to me the way you used to - not the way you do now. When he spoke to me at all.”

“No wonder you cottoned on so quickly,” Gale grins, but Astarion doesn't smile back. “He only knows the shape I was when I last carried the orb.” He pulls what’s left of his sleeves back, and studies the scarred pattern of his skin. “Speaking of - Shadowheart, is this permanent now?”

She comes to stand by him, inspecting the burn.It twists around his arms from his elbow to his wrists the way the flame had, dissipating off across the backs of his hands in thinner threads.

Shadowheart mutters a prayer over it, and the soothing balm of the heal descends. The burn reddens, then calms; fading, but not vanishing. It leaves a strange, mottled scar.

“I don’t think there’s much more I can do,” Shadowheart frowns. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Gale rolls his tattered sleeves back down. “If anything, it’s going to be an easy identifier. Karsus can’t emulate them. Oh - and he’s impersonating Laeral too. He must be, because I found the other Chosen. They’re in the Astral plane - all six of them.”

“Why?” Astarion frowns, “Especially if Mystra isn’t there?”

“I don’t know,” Gale says, simply. “But I have a theory.”

He pauses, wondering how to phrase this.

“Clara, when you said that the weave felt different, but you couldn't put words into why - would it ring true if I said that the personality of it had changed? More than that, perhaps - that it had become less distinct?”

Clara considers this.

“I- yes,” she says, slowly. “Yes, something like that.”

“Ao makes Mystra give up a significant proportion of herself to her Chosen. And I think they’re using what they have to try and hold the weave together without her. To do that, I think they all have to be together, and I think it's more power than this plane can contain.”

“It doesn't feel like Mystra,” Clara says, “It feels like what parts of her she gave to her Chosen, and her Chosen themselves.”

“I think so.”

“So whatever they're doing,” Wyll says, quietly, “It might be the only reason that the weave hasn’t completely unravelled already.”

Gale nods.

“I imagine it would be quite hard for Elminster to write if he’s been busy holding the fabric of reality together,” Astarion says, frowning. “sh*t.”

“Indeed,” Gale says, solemnly. “It should have worked, too.”

“But it's not enough,” Clara says, quietly. “There’s only six of them. Without you, they're not strong enough.”

“What is it with rituals of power and the number seven?” Astarion grumbles. “Seven spawn, seven Chosen-”

“It's better than seven thousand Chosen, at least,” Gale points out.

“Oh yes, we must count out silver linings,” Astarion snipes. “Truly, how lucky we are.”

It shouldn't be funny, but it makes Gale smile anyway.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do to fix that - I no longer carry that part of Mystra. She took it from me when she cast me out. More than that, though, we should consider the possibility that it might not actually have been Mystra who has been trying to contact you, Clara. It could just as easily have been Karsus.”

“Could he do that?” Clara blinks.

“I don’t know,” Gale frowns. “But he isn’t wielding the karsite weave. He’s wielding the true weave. Not much of it - not as much as he would if he’d killed Mystra and taken her place. But a far more significant amount of it than would be benign. If he’s been pretending to be Mystra this whole time, you wouldn’t become Mystra’s Chosen - you’d become his. Until we find out what he’s doing, and what’s happened to Mystra, that is a risk we cannot take.”

There's a moment of quiet while they all process this. Gale takes a long, long draft of coffee, and finally allows himself to rest his hip against Astarion's. Almost hesitantly, Astarion finds his wrist, his fingertips slipping down Gale's palm to wrap their fingers together. Holding on.

“Professor Dekarios?”

“Clara, I think we might have reached a point where it would be less odd for you to call me Gale. Please.”

“Right,” Clara says. “But, you said, two months ago, you tried to change… did you cast Wish? That tenday where the Dean did your lectures?”

“Oh,” Gale blinks. “Could you tell?”

“Kind of,” Clara frowns. “I could tell that… something was happening.”

“It didn't work, unfortunately,” Gale frowns. “Well, as you can probably tell by the fact it took me the better part of a tenday to recover from the backlash. I haven't figured out exactly why, though I have several running theories - one of which is the nature of the spell itself, of course. It's also the first time I'd attempted to cast it since I was Mystra's Chosen, so my connection to the weave was different.”

“No, but-” Clara's eyes are alight. “It wouldn't have worked. It couldn't have. In order to bend the whole of existence to the will of the weave, it would have had to be intact. And even then-”

She leaves the sentence, and the revelation, unfinished. It doesn't matter; Gale knows where she's going. Astarion does to, if the way his grip tenses is anything to go by.

“It had begun to unravel already," Gale realises. "Clara, you are a blessing,” he moves, as if to start going through his notes, when there's a knock at the door.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain ,” Morena calls.

With a quick check at Astarion, who is already halfway down the stairs to the pantry, Gale changes direction and goes to let her in.

“If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,” he says, expecting Morena to finish it. Instead, she crosses her arms and glares at him.

“And why is there a dragon on your roof, Gale Deka-” she spots his hands. “By Mystra, what happened to you?”

“It's a long story - and I promise I'll tell it, in a moment.”

Morena sighs.

“I get a panicked note, no explanation, only instructions, and when I turn up with the strangest assortment of objects I find that I have to wade through a terrified crowd to reach you, and you're covered in burns.”

“Oh yes,” Gale steps out into the street to look up at the top of his tower. The dragon still appears to be asleep, its head resting on its curled tail. “Not from the dragon, though. As long as nobody gets it in their head to try and do anything about it, it'll be fine.” He turns, gives the extremely worried-looking guard a thumbs up, and then follows his mother inside.

“Clear!” He yells, shutting the door behind him. He turns back into the room as Astarion emerges from the pantry.

“Morena,” Astarion greets. “I'm afraid we’ve had quite a day.”

“So it seems,” Morena says, still frowning. Reaching into her bag, she pulls a series of small objects out of her bag by the handful; little statuettes, scraps of paper and faded ticket stubs, the odd piece of ribbon, bracelets, the metal head of a crossbow bolt, more than one ring and only one earring, pieces of tile and amber, a scattering of disparate coins, the claws of an unidentified but presumably deceased creature, some pressed flowers, and a tiny bottle of sand. Amongst other things.

“What is this?” Astarion says, leaning over her shoulder.

“A random selection of bits and pieces that I've collected from all over Faerun,” Morena says. “I don't know what for, mind.”

“Teleporting,” Gale says, simply. “Morena, Mystra is missing.”

“Good for her,” Morena says, sullenly. Gale rolls his eyes at her.

“Mother. She holds the fabric of the multiverse together.”

“She also tried to get you to explode yourself,” Morena frowns. “And, as far as I can tell, hasn't so much as even attempted an apology.”

“Yes, Goddesses are like that,” Gale agrees. “Unfortunately, we really do have to find her. And given that we don't know where she is yet, I'm preparing for all eventualities.”

“If you'd said that's what this was for, I wouldn't have bothered.”

“I know,” Gale grins. “That's why I didn't.”

“Aggravating boy!”

“I learned from the best. Did you bring the…?”

Morena sighs, and pulls one final thing from her bag. It's a little wooden box. She places it on the table alongside the pile of other items, nestled in the little pile of silk it had been wrapped in.

Gale puts both hands on it, and something clicks inside; a hinge appears, and he opens the lid.

“Oh so that's how it works,” Morena says. “I did wonder.”

Inside, a small, silver ring is cushioned in purple velvet. It's clearly magic of some kind, even before the light catches it, causing it to shimmer strangely. It contains a small stone, blood-red, encased in Mystra's symbol. It could be a matching pair to his earring.

“Aren't you glad I didn't let you destroy it now?” Morena says.

“I don't know if ‘glad’ would be the word I would use.” Gale twists his hands together, and a chain materialises between them. He loops the ring onto it, and clasps the chain around his neck. “At least I'm going to get some use out of it, though.”

“Not your hand?” Morena asks.

“It won't fit,” Gale reminds her. “It was made for me at seventeen - almost half my lifetime ago even by the shorter count. Besides, I don't much want to.”

Morena gives him a knowing look, which Gale doesn't bother to respond to.

“Clara, do you have anything that Mystra has given you?” Gale asks, turning his attention away from the box. “And can you think of anything that you've given her?”

Clara looks worried.

“She gave me a spellbook. I still have that. I can't think of anything I've given her though.”

“It doesn't have to be anything material,” Gale assures her. “A prayer would do, especially if it were a personal one.”

“Okay,” Clara nods. “Do we need them now, though? The spellbook is at home.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Gale says. “Karlach, Shadowheart, would you be able to go with her?” The others get to their feet immediately. “And Clara - you'll need to pack a travelling bag, too. Karlach and Shadowheart will be able to help with that. A few sets of clothes, your stave and your components are a good starting place.”

“Where are we going?” Clara asks. “How long for?”

“I won't know until you get back with that spellbook, I'm afraid,” Gale apologises. “Although we likely won't go until tomorrow. Pack as if you're going to be gone for some time, though. Finding a missing Goddess will be no easy task. Will you be able to tell your family the truth?”

Clara considers this.

“It's just my mum - and I think so.”

“Good,” Gale says. “We’ll make sure to write to her to let her know where we're going before we leave, too, so she knows where you'll be and how long to expect you to be away for.”

Clara nods, tightly, and gets to her feet.

“Did Mystra give you that?” Wyll says, as the others make their way out of the door.

“The ring?” Gale guesses. “She did, yes. It contains a drop of each of our blood, mixed together. It was intended as a charm of protection, but its strength was directly proportional to mine - so when I gained the orb, I lost the use of it.”

“Gods can bleed?” Astarion asks, surprised.

“If they want to,” Gale says. “I’m sorry to abandon you all, but would you mind if I went and changed?”

“Please do,” Astarion grins. “Not that you ever look terrible, but-”

“Yes, thank you, I am aware,” Gale rolls his eyes. “A slightly less burned robe would be nice.”

“What did happen to that robe?” Morena asks. “And your arms, for that matter?”

“Silver flame,” Gale says.

Morena's spine snaps straight; she had been leaning against the kitchen counters, generally amused by the whole situation; now she's glaring at him. He tries very hard not to wilt under it like a teenager.

“Gale Dekarios, you did not.

“I didn't have much choice,” Gale says. “Trust me, I was fully aware of the consequences of using Mystra's power without her permission or protection. In fact, it confirmed for me that she was missing. If she were in this plane or most any other, I would have worse to show for it than a few burns, no matter how dire the situation.”

“For all you are the best decision I ever made, Gale, you have also taken an absolute minimum of ten years off my life expectancy,” Morena sighs.

“I think children are supposed to,” Wyll says. “My father says that too.”

“I think Duke Ravenguard has plenty more to worry about than his slightly wayward but generally pleasant son, Wyll,” Morena says. “At least I can be grateful that Gale will have you and the others at his side on this mad mission.”

Gale takes his leave, and heads upstairs. Unsurprisingly, Astarion follows him, shutting the kitchen and bedroom doors softly behind him. Gale turns, to pull him into a hug, but Astarion steps back from it - instead, he takes Gale's wrists with such careful tenderness that Gale nearly forgets to breathe.

“Does it hurt?” He says.

“Not anymore,” Gale says, patting his own forearms to demonstrate. “The skin’s a little tighter than it used to be, but that’s all. Well, other than the cosmetic damage.”

“It’s rather beautiful, in a strange way,” Astarion says, his fingertips tracing from Gale’s inner elbow to his wrist. “Like Karlach’s - but it’s almost like marble, on you.”

“You don’t have to be kind about it,” Gale says.

“I’m not,” Astarion looks surprised. “Beauty isn’t always about perfection, you know. Sometimes there’s beauty in having lived, and having the scars to show for it.”

Gale smiles at him.

“I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove,” he says.

“Ah - but weights and measures do us both a wrong,” Astarion reminds him. “Not quite the quote I would have gone with, perhaps, but not a terrible choice.”

Gale, never able to pass up an opportunity given as freely as that, raises an eyebrow at him with a smile.

“What would you have chosen?”

Astarion clicks his tongue at him, but considers his answer anyway.

“Hmmm. The lineaments, a heart that laughter has made sweet,
These, these remain,” he says. “There- enough sap for you?”

Gale blinks at him.

“I don’t know that one,” he says, intrigued. “Do you know the rest of it?”

“I don’t,” Astarion confesses. “I’m not sure why I remember that line, either.”

“It’s a lovely line. Lineaments and laughter. What a pairing. I’ll have to ask Morena if she knows it.”

“Oh yes, bring up your mother when I attempt to woo you with romantic poetry,” Astarion sighs, which makes Gale chuckle.

“I’m glad to be home. I missed you,” Gale smiles, slightly, but Astarion doesn't smile back.

“Don't think I've forgiven you yet,” Astarion frowns. “Small adventures to find lost manuscripts and leads on magical items are one thing, but that -”

“I know,” Gale sighs, pulling away to undo the clasps of his ruined robe. “I was fully expecting channelling the silver flame to unravel me completely. A few scars and a stint in the Astral feel like a blessing in comparison to being entirely unmade.”

This does not help. Astarion's expression deepens into the frown that makes him look like he just smelled something rotten. It is very rarely reserved for Gale, anymore. He doesn't like it much.

“You aren't supposed to do things like that anymore,” Astarion growls, “No self-sacrifice. No throwing yourself into danger to rescue other people. No… insinuating that you would become Mystra's Chosen again, if it were the only way to save Faerun.”

Gale watches him; the way his lip curls, the quiet fury coiled in his shoulders. Standing in only his trousers, he can feel the weight of the metal against his skin; sitting over the scar the orb had left.

“The ring is for the spell, Astarion. I need to use it to find her- nothing more.”

“I don't care about the bloody ring,” Astarion snaps, everything in his tone suggesting otherwise. “I care about you being willing to do whatever it takes to bring Mystra back. No matter what she did to you. No matter what that would mean giving up.”

“I will find every other possible way-”

“You said that last time!” Astarion snaps.

The silence rings between them. It sits like a shock in the air; the second time, in two days, that they've broken their own rule about raised voices.

Astarion looks down, closes his eyes, sighs.

Gale puts his folded robes down, and walks towards him, taking his hand.

“I will not let this world burn. Not while you're still in it.”

Astarion hisses his fury.

“It's not that, is it? It's that you would choose to save the world at the expense of us.”

“Wouldn't you?” Gale says, surprised. “Astarion, you wouldn't choose to save me, if it meant the end of the world as we know it. If it meant that so many people would suffer.”

Astarion says nothing. He just stares at him, breathing, slowly, fury in his eyes that so thinly veils the pain.

“You would,” Gale realises. “Astarion, I-”

“Need to change,” Astarion says, shortly, and pulls his hand away. “I'll be downstairs with the others when you're done.”

“Astarion!” Gale tries to grab him, but that never works if Astarion doesn't want to be caught. He slips away far too easily.

Gale stares after him; this man that chose to save seven thousand people, to give them the same chance he had had. Who had delayed what was supposed to be his own new beginning to make that possible for them. Who had fought tooth and nail for their world and saved it.

“I couldn't stand myself,” Gale says, quietly, to Astarion's back. “If there was something I could do, and I didn't. You know that. It's not who I am.”

“I know,” Astarion says, over his shoulder. “It's not your fault you're a better person than I am.”

His eyes still fail to meet Gale's as he says it; he might even believe it to be true, but it doesn't mean it hasn't hurt him anyway.

And before Gale can protest, he's gone.

He takes time to tidy himself up; cutting and shaping his nails, working with care around the bits of the burn that have threaded their way across his palms to the tips of his fingers.

At least here, he has plenty of remedial burn cream stored. It doesn't do as much as it would have, if the burn was fresh, but it does help. If not with the scarring, then at least with the itch and the ache of healing skin.

When he runs out of things to do, he sits on the bed for a little while. Voices rise from below; he cannot hear Astarion, but he can hear Morena, and Lae’zel, and what sounds like Wyll’s laugh.

The room is so different to the one he had emptied, when he first got back. The whole tower is, really, but this room is the most obviously so. Astarion, having never really been able to accrue possessions in Cazador’s palace, has a slight tendency towards hoarding. The once-empty shelves are littered not just with the tomes he has been slowly pilfering from Gale's shelves, but an astounding array of items that bear no apparent meaning to each other. Gale knows the stories behind most of them; the scraps of fabric from their first trip to the tailors, the finished clothes that correspond to them now hanging in the wardrobe. The strange little coins that the dwarf who sells bread at the bottom of the road had been complaining about being swindled with, which had turned out to be a currency from the other side of Faerun. Seals from the letters Minthara sends him, lined up neatly next to the box the letters themselves live in. A shell, that Astarion had been surprised to find on their balcony after a particularly virulent storm. Little pieces of their life together. Of Astarion's life here, with him, that neither of them seem quite willing to part with just for the sake of less dusty shelves.

Then there's the cushions whose covers he’d replaced, in a more modern and deliberate selection of colours, and materials he claims are much better for Gale's skin when he inevitably falls asleep on them instead of in the bed. There's the new artwork on the walls, decided on together, in the little sway of overlap between their artistic tastes. In truth, Gale still doesn't like them much, but Astarion had; and Gale has his own choice of paintings in his study, after all. Through exposure and Astarion's enthusiasm, they're beginning to grow on him.

There's a mirror on the wall, but the collection of pomades and perfumes that makes up their toilette is sitting next to the bath and the sink, instead. It's like looking at the puzzle of their life together, wondering how it all fits together. He's not sure he can quite recall what this room had truly looked like, empty and waiting. Before Astarion.

He had missed all of this, stranded in the Astral. Missed it like a hole in the heart, a physical ache of longing and absence that he hadn't known what to do with.

Gale stands, at last, and pauses with his foot on the stairs. There is only a murmur from below, now, no voices he can pick out. He pokes his head quickly into his study, grabbing the box that contains the strange device, and then goes down, to join the others in the kitchen.

Chapter 6


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Morena has made them all tea. Clara and her entourage aren't back yet, so Gale slips back into organising mode, pulling out parchment and ink, beginning to make notes.

He clears the table, mostly by shoving bits and pieces into the already-stuffed drawers in the cabinets, much to Morena’s exasperation.

“You're going to have to sort that out eventually,” she reminds him.

“I know, I will,” Gale says, as he always does. One day, he actually will, and he’ll probably really enjoy it. “But right now this takes precedence.”

“What is that?” Wyll asks, as Gale unpacks and unfolds the strange metal contraption onto the table.

“A gift from Laeral,” Gale says. “Other than Elminster, she's the other Chosen I spent the most time with. I had a knack for creating new spells, but Laeral's speciality is magical items. She made this for me, a very long time ago.”

As it begins to take shape, it becomes much clearer what it actually is.

“How in all the heavens-”

“Impressive, isn't it?”

The little model of the multiverse hovers just above the table now, the last few of its elements slotting into place. It is made from all the materials that the planes are attuned to; diamonds, silver, iron, quartz- and more; one seems to be made of pure fire, another, raging winds. Yet each seems to sit around each other, edges overlapping, existing in two places at once and often many more.

“It's mostly an illusion, to make the visualisation of the outer planes and so on comprehensible to the mortal eye. But, other than a useful tool for memorising all the planes and their attuned elements, it's also a… well, not a map, exactly, but something close.”

“You're going to use this to see if you can find Mystra,” Wyll realises.

“I am indeed,” Gale grins. “I’m hoping that between Clara and I we’ll have enough of a connection to Mystra to use it. It was intended for me to use as a Chosen to find the others and for them to find me, if necessary. Rather sweet, really.” He pats the casing fondly. “Anyway, I can’t use it yet, I just wanted to check it hadn’t suffered for being locked away for so long.”

He returns to list and letter writing, quill scratching furiously over various pieces of parchment; a letter to the Dean, apologising for his sudden absence, and a general outline of what his lecture plan had been for the remainder of the term, plus all outstanding work; a list of supplies, to buy and to dig out from their various storage boxes in the tower; a list of the bits and pieces from his own collection that could be used as components to teleport; a draft of the letter to Clara’s family, leaving the gaps for the information they don’t have yet.

Astarion comes up beside him, and rests a hand on his.

“Anything we can do to help?” He asks.

“Would you?” Gale smiles. It always surprises him that Astarion doesn’t hold their disagreements so close, in the moments after; that he can be pissed off and confused and helpful, in the same breath. Gale, who finds it hard to be anything other than one thing, one emotion wholly, at once, is always grateful for it. It makes it easier not to be consumed by it himself.

“Say the word.” Astarion says. “Or, knowing you, the small paragraph.”

Gale hums.

“I wouldn't usually ask you to go out during the day, but we need supplies from down the road, and I'm going to need at least an hour to set up this spell.”

“The usual?” Astarion jumps to attention, grabbing his ridiculous cloak from the hook. “Bread, meat, etc? I suppose for seven, rather than two, this time.”

“You read my mind,” Gale stops him on his way past to kiss his hand. Astarion seems slightly wary of him, still - and understandably so. Gale has no intention of refusing to reassure him whenever he can. “You might need Morena or Wyll to help you carry things back.”

“I'll go,” Wyll hops to his feet. “Lae’zel, keep an eye on Gale for us.”

“I won't let him out of my sight,” Lae’zel promises.

Maik the dwarf is exceptionally pleased to see Astarion, who is a rare visitor, even more so when he makes their requirements known and produces a comprehensive list, complete with intention to pay upfront.

He chats happily as he packs and adds up prices for them, even more so when he realises that Wyll isn't just a friend of Astarion's, but the Wyll he's friends with, i.e. the son of Duke Ravenguard.

“This is why I never bother pulling rank,” Wyll says, and Maik darts out the back to grab them some extra salt. “It only ever seems to work on the people I least expect it to!”

“That's because you have terrible instincts for manipulation,” Astarion sighs. “How you and Karlach survived the hells for so long, I have no idea.”

“I think devils don't expect anyone else to play it straight,” Wyll reflects, thoughtfully. “They always seemed so surprised when we did exactly what we said we would, even when it was killing them.”

Astarion laughs.

“It had never even occurred to me to try that, but you know- I think you might be right.”

When they get back, heavily laden and poking gentle jokes at one another, the table has vanished. Morena is sitting by the fire, book in hand, Tara curled up on her lap and a glass of wine at her side. It's only mid-afternoon, but she looks quite content to sit there until nightfall and beyond.

Gale and Lae’zel, on the other hand, are duelling. Gale has put his hair up and rolled up his sleeves, which suggests that this time he'd agreed to it.

“One, two, three,” Lae’zel is saying. “Again. One, two-”

“Pause,” Gale says, stepping back from whatever pattern they'd been practising and smiling at them as he wipes the sweat from his brow. “Hello! How did supply-gathering go?”

“Very well,” Astarion says. “Maik sends his good luck wishes.”

“I'm sure he does,” Gale grins. “We’re fast becoming his best customers.”

“What are you sparring for?” Wyll asks, putting his bags down next to Astarion's on the counter.

“Gale lacks focus,” Lae’zel growls. “It was the only way I could stop him from doing fourteen things at once and getting nowhere.”

Gale shrugs.

“I can't finish preparing the spell until Clara gets back, and we can't solidify any plans until we know where we're going, so it seemed as good a way to burn time as any.”

After,” Morena says, pointedly, not looking up from her book, “You had gone up and down the stairs no less than seventeen times, packed, unpacked and repacked three separate times, and Lae'zel threatened you with bodily harm.”

“I still can't find the bedrolls,” Gale says, irritably.

“Under the bed,” Astarion sighs, “Because you put the bedrolls under the bed in the hopes it might help you remember where you'd put them this time.”

“Ah. Well. A sound idea, in theory,” Gale grins. “I shall fetch them later.”

Astarion groans.

“Morena, please tell me you opened that bottle with the intention of sharing.”

“I got a glass out for you already, dear,” Morena says, and promptly begins to pour him one. “Come, keep me company, as my son is too busy being beaten up by his friends to entertain me.”

“Not as good a book as you'd hoped?” Astarion takes the offered glass and settles himself in front of the fire. “Thank you.” From here, he can warm his toes as well as watching as Wyll joins Gale and Lae'zel in their sparring.

“It's rather uninspired,” Morena bemoans. “I can pass it on to you, if you're out of interesting reading material, but I won't be needing it back afterwards.”

“I'm still reading the last one you loaned me,” Astarion grins. “I’m drawing it out so it lasts longer. You have delightful taste, Morena, it is such a romp.”

“It is! I'm so glad you're enjoying it.” Morena snaps the book shut, much more keen to discuss details. “Have you got to the part at the ball, yet?”

“Do you mean the affair or the murder?” Astarion raises an eyebrow at her. “Because either way the answer is yes, and I have opinions.”

Delighted, Morena settles her chin in her palm, grinning widely.

“Enlighten me, dear.”

They're still all entertaining themselves thusly when there comes another knock at the door. This one is not familiar; the pattern of it is extremely unusual. Distinct, even.

Gale freezes.

“Astarion,” he hisses. “Have you got that blade?”

“The sussur blade?” Astarion is already on his feet.

Gale nods.

“Cloak, door - please. Morena, do me a favour and go upstairs.”

“Or what?” Morena frowns.

“Or you might have to watch me kill someone,” Gale says, so low it is barely a murmur. Eyes widening, Morena ducks behind the kitchen door - but goes no further.

Astarion already has his cloak on, standing beside the door like a black shadow, waiting. Blade drawn.

The knock sounds again, louder; the exact same pattern.

With a nod to Astarion, Gale opens the door.

“Gale!” Rune exclaims. “You bastard, what the hells was that note about? I-”

She stops, mid-word.

Astarion has the knife at her back.

“Amarune,” Gale says. “All these years, and I never guessed it was her. Mystra is better at keeping secrets than I gave her credit for.”

Wyll closes the door behind Rune, and Astarion pulls his hood off.

“Never guessed what?” Wyll asks.

“Rune is Mystra's sixth Chosen.” Gale says. “The one that was always kept secret. Which means right now, she's in the Astral, with Laeral and Elminster and the others. Not in Waterdeep.” He frowns. “How many of these facades are you keeping up, Karsus? How long have you been balancing both Laeral and Rune?”

The thing hisses at him.

“You can't kill me,” it says. “You wrote me a physical note, which is still on my desk.”

“I won't kill you,” Gale says. “Not yet, anyway. Astarion might, if you don't behave yourself. It won't matter anyway; I requested a prompt response, not a physical visit. We’re leaving tomorrow, so if anyone finds it they'll just assume you came with us. You're hardly going to leave a corpse behind, are you?”

Karsus, sneering at him through Rune’s face, is furious.

“I'll send Laeral after you.”

“You do that,” Gale agrees. “And we’ll kill that version of you too, and any other versions you happen to be maintaining, so you have to expend all that time and energy trying to escape from the very clever net they've woven to keep you in the Astral all over again. Now, are you going to be useful or are you going to die?”

The thing looks at them. At Lae’zel with her sword drawn. At Wyll, with his rapier. At Gale, standing there calmly with his arms crossed.

“What do you want from me?” It asks.

“I want to know what Mystra did to you.”

Rune’s expression relaxes.

“You will hear me out?”

Gale raises an eyebrow.

“Sure, we can call it that, if you want to. May I remind you that not only did you steal my face, but you made an attempt, however pitiful, at harming my fiancé, and that means I am liable to change my mind on you at any given moment should you prove anything less than completely and perfectly compliant.”

The spell comes easily to his hands; sat between his fingers, expectant. Ready.

Karsus bares Rune's teeth at him.

“She freed me, only to chain me again. She has tied us both into each other, just like the orb was chained to you. We are two essences, burned together, and not even you can get her out - not releasing me as well.”

Gale frowns at him.

“Interesting. How, exactly?”

Rune's laugh is rare, but whatever this is isn't hers; it's rough, and grating, and utterly lacking in humour.

“Surely you know I have no intention of telling you that.”

“Even if it means releasing you?” Gale asks.

“You won't,” Karsus growls. “If you've half a brain you'll kill us both. I won't let you. I finally have a chance to live! After all these years, all these centuries - I will be free!”

Gale sighs.

“If you were less of an arsehole I might try to help, you know. I understand how easy it is to confuse power and freedom.”

Rune doesn't like him at the best of times, but it occurs to Gale that if either of them survive this she's going to find some convoluted way of making this seem like him being petty rather than taking necessary precautions.

“Don't I deserve the same chance that you got?” Karsus says, in what is nearly Rune’s voice. The problem being, of course, that Rune has never begged for anything in her life.

For some reason, it is that, and not the statement, that irritates Gale most. It's forcing Rune's mouth to say things that she never would.

“You had your chance, and you took it - you destroyed Netheril! When your first chance results in you committing genocide, you don't get a second.” He waves his hand. “Do you have anything else to say before I get rid of you?”

Rune lunges at him.

It was a stupid, desperate move. The sussur blade pierces in the same moment that Gale casts dispel magic.

Rune vanishes into red mist without so much as a scream.

Gale sighs.

“Damn. That was not what I had hoped for.”

“What had you hoped for?” Wyll asks, as Astarion shrugs the cloak off.

“That he wouldn't be brave enough to come here in person,” Gale says. “And he's right - that does make it more complicated for us.”

He paces in front of the fire as Morena re-emerges from the stairway.

Karsus,” she sighs. “Nothing is ever simple, is it?”

“Never,” Gale agrees, apologetically, stopping to kiss her forehead on his way past to the stairs. “Excuse me - I need to think.”

Morena pats his shoulder as he goes, then turns to the rest of them.

“Stole his face? Explain. Now.”

“You saw that thing pretending to be Rune,” Astarion says. “Karsus tried it with Gale, too. Don’t worry, we figured it out immediately. And I know that’s definitely my Gale. He’s going to the piano now.”

Morena nods.

“Ten gold on the suites,” she says.

“You’re on,” he grins. “He’s too good at that now, it’ll be something that requires all of his concentration; something new.”

They pause, listening. The study is too far above them to hear the thump of the cover being lifted, but they can just about make out the tune.

Astarion grins, triumphant. Morena rolls her eyes at him.

“Alright, no need to be so smug about it.” She sighs, and then steps forward, and gives him a hug, and says, very quietly; “You look like you've seen a ghost, little star. Are you alright?”

Astarion accepts the affection, much to Wyll's surprise.

“I will be,” Astarion says, into her shoulder. “Thank you.”

“Now you two be careful out there,” Morena says, stepping back and holding onto his shoulders.

“I'll always bring him home safe for you.”

“Bring both of yourselves back safely, please,” she wags her finger at him. “The only thing that keeps me sane, knowing my boys are out there risking their lives, is that you have each other's backs.”

She gives him a firm pat on the elbow, and fails to cover that she's getting misty-eyed. Astarion, graciously, gives her a tissue, and goes to find the bedrolls.

When he comes back down a few moments later, she is saying her goodbyes.

“Well,” Wyll says, in his gentle way, as the door closes behind her. “It seems you've been adopted.”

“And you have big ears,” Astarion retorts, with little venom. “Morena is a delight and a menace, and I may have accidentally let slip that I remember so little of my life before Cazador that I barely know if I had any family at all. There was no coming back from that.”

“Familial relationships do seem very important in your custom,” Lae’zel comments. “Shadowheart's parents have taken to referring to me as their daughter as well. I cannot say I am opposed to it.”

“That's… really very sweet, Lae’zel,” Wyll says. “I didn't know you got on so well with them.”

“We have one very important thing in common,” Lae’zel points out. “The lengths to which we would go to ensure Shadowheart's happiness are extreme.”

“Fair enough,” Wyll smiles. “You know, it is a relief, knowing that we're all still being cared for, even having gone our separate ways.”

“You know what has surprised me?” Astarion settles himself in the armchair with the remainder of his wine. “Halsin and Minthara write to each other regularly. As regularly as Halsin writes to Arabella, I believe. More regularly than Minthara writes to me. I can't imagine what about, given that she sends me the most perfunctory updates that she can possibly manage, but she would spend a whole afternoon writing to him sometimes. The letters she got back were just as long.”

“Really?” Wyll is surprised by that. “I suppose, having overcome such hurdles to understand one another, a friendship that deep cannot be easily forgotten.”

“It is like I have always said,” Lae’zel says. “Conflict deepens our bonds.”

“I don't think I've had a single argument with Karlach,” Wyll frowns at her. “I don't intend to, either. I don't know what it would do to me, to be a source of pain to her. If there have ever been disagreements, I can trust her to tell me exactly what she's thinking, and from there, we can trust each other to figure it out without ever having to raise our voices.” He reconsiders. “Well, without Karlach raising her voice more than usual, anyway.”

Astarion chuckles, trying to imagine Karlach remaining calm whilst talking about anything remotely emotional.

Lae'zel sighs at him.

“This is why we do not understand one another, Wyll. Thankfully, I do not need to understand you to appreciate your existence.”

Wyll laughs.

“I would hug you, Lae’zel, if I thought you'd appreciate it.”

“I would not,” Lae'zel agrees.

Astarion frowns into his glass of wine, swirling it gently around in the bottom.

“We should warn the others,” he says, slowly. “Not just about Mystra being missing, but about Karsus - about the fact that he knows what Gale looked like.”

“sh*t,” Wyll frowns. “You're right. I've barely thought about the implications of him impersonating the Open Lord, too - I should write to my father.”

“Be careful what you tell him,” Astarion warns. “Karsus might be doing the bare minimum, but it's enough to hold Waterdeep together, for now. Who knows what he wants with the power, but given he hasn't done anything awful with it the whole time he's been pretending to be Laeral, it might serve Waterdeep better to leave him in place until we can get the real Laeral back.”

Wyll nods.

“I trust my father to make sensible decisions with that information,” he says. “And to keep it quiet. If anything, he may be able to start moving people so that if something does happen to remove Karsus, or we can't get Laeral back, then it wouldn't be so drastic a situation.”

“Good,” Astarion nods. “I've come to rather like this city. It would be a shame for it to all fall apart now.”

The music drifting down the stairs stops, almost in the middle of a piece.

Astarion frowns.

“Incoming,” he warns the others. The statement is followed by Gale's tread on the stairs; light and fast.

“Wards,” he says, before he's properly reached the bottom of the stairs. “The wards! I forgot! I'm going to have to add something specific about shapeshifting, or-” he swirls to a stop by the bookshelves, fingers flicking over the spines as he looks for the right title.

“Are you sure?” Astarion protests. “Really, really sure?”

Gale pauses.

“Until this is over, yes. The threat Karsus poses might be slightly more important than… that.”

“Fine,” Astarion sighs. “As if I needed another reason to want him dead.”

“I'm going to pretend I didn't understand any of that subtext,” Wyll says, with a sigh, getting to his feet. “Anything I can do to help, Gale?”

“If you would,” Gale agrees, grateful for the help. “Speaking of, if Zariel is dead, how come you're still able to do this? Didn't Mizora grant you all your powers?”

Wyll grins, a smile that might almost be cheeky.

“Well, she did remove her support when Karlach and I went to Avernus. It's not like I hadn't expected it; you know how hard we trained before we faced the Absolute, and none of that was using Mizora's power. But given that I'm apparently just as dangerous without her support, and had no other reason to spare her, Mizora proved very… amenable to adjusting the terms of our arrangement.”

“Oh, she didn't,” Astarion looks delighted. “How did you wrangle that?”

“With surprising ease,” Wyll grins. “Do you want to see the contract? We made some pretty intrinsic changes to the terms - one of which is that I'm allowed to know and discuss them.”

“I have to see this,” Astarion jumps to his feet, and Wyll conjures the contract with a wave of his hand.

It is, despite Astarion's expectations, surprisingly short. It also, despite having all the bells and whistles of an infernal legal document, lacks the entrapments of legalese entirely. Instead, it reads like a perfectly ordinary person talking their way around a Djinni.

His favourite lines might be; ‘no cheating, lying or manipulating your way around this one, Mizora, you twat,’ and ‘this is our contract and we get the final say, so if you disagree with us on any point we can and will make you dig your own grave and then bury you in it’.

“Wyll,” Astarion says. “This might be the funniest contract I have ever seen. It’s a piece of art. Did Karlach write it? Please tell me Karlach wrote it.”

“Mostly, yes,” Wyll agrees, “She's very good at thinking through devil's loopholes now. Lots of experience.”

“This isn't walking through loopholes,” Astarion is delighted, “This is stamping on them! And she signed it! Wyll, please tell me I can have a copy of this. It deserves to be framed.”

“You can have that one, if you like,” Wyll agrees, looking extremely confused.

“Being a magistrate would have been so much more fun with you around,” Astarion sighs, and goes to pin it to the side of one of the bookshelves, where he can admire it in all its stupid glory whenever he needs a good laugh.

“I don't particularly enjoy holding Mizora in much the same way as she held me,” Wyll says. “But as Karlach put it, she could give me a reason to let her live, or we could kill her. And it does give me a certain amount of satisfaction to know that she's getting a taste of her own medicine.”

Astarion laughs, and claps him on the shoulder.

“Oh, Wyll. And here you'd hoped to be a good influence on us. I'm afraid it looks like we've been quite the opposite.”

“Ah, well,” Wyll shrugs. “The world might be easier to walk when you see in black and white, but it turns out there's an awful lot of good I'd been missing in those grey areas.”

“I won't tell your father you said that,” Astarion winks at him. “Anyway, I'm up now. What are we doing, Gale?”

Gale, who had been leaning over three books at once, muttering to himself, looks up like he's just returning to the real world.


With three of them, it doesn't take long to get all the runes laid out.

Lae'zel stands on the armchair and points out the bits they've scuffed up or aligned wrong, and eventually, the chalk begins to gleam.

“There,” Gale says, brushing his hands off and watching as the runes sink into the floor and vanish. “Now we're much less likely to come back to find someone else pretending to be me living here.”

“That is a truly horrifying thought,” Astarion frowns. “Where does your mind go, I wonder.”

“In fourteen directions at once, usually,” Gale says, quite cheerfully. “One of them is always going to end up being rather awful, so I can dedicate the rest to creative ways to thwart someone with similarly clever ideas. Anyway-”

“Dinner?” Astarion guesses. “You're going to make something incredibly complex from scratch again, aren't you?”

“I-” Gale looks surprised, then smiles. “How could you tell?”

“You are nothing if not reliable, dear,” Astarion sighs. “Let me help, at least, or we won't eat until midnight.”

It turns out that Gale had banished the bed and the table with the strange map of the multiverse down into the pantry instead, so they have to squeeze around them to get to the shelves.

In the meantime, Astarion manages to talk him down into homemade pasta, and not whatever else he'd initially been planning.

“Actually, I've had another thought,” Gale says, as they lug their baskets back upstairs to the kitchen.

“Oh dear,” Astarion says, and Gale elbows him gently.

“If we can kill Karsus and save Mystra, and if we can restore the weave,” he puts his basket down next to the sink, and beams at Astarion. “I could try and cast Wish again. This time, it might even work.”

“No,” Astarion says sharply. “Not after what it did to you last time.”

“But the weave was fraying then,” Gale points out. “We just didn't know it.”

“And what else do we not know about that might cause it to go wrong again?” Astarion protests. “Wyll, help me talk some sense into him, you know what happens if Wish doesn't work, don't you?”

“I don't,” Wyll admits. “Sorry.”

Astarion sighs.

“I was fine,” Gale protests.

“Eventually!” Astarion parries. “After you could barely speak for three days and couldn't walk for five! After your mother and I spent the best part of a tenday carrying you around your own house because you were as weak as a newborn! After we thought it had deflected so badly that you might have-” he stops, biting the words and the tone back. “Anyway, the point is, you're not going to do it again. In fact I do recall that you promised me you wouldn't.”

“I did,” Gale concedes. “I just wanted you to know, if you felt differently, I'd be willing-”

Astarion sighs, and throws a tea towel at him. Gale, who hadn't been expecting it, doesn't catch it before it hits him in the face, which then makes Astarion laugh.

“You are an idiot. And unless you want to eat my terrible soup for the rest of your life, you will stop suggesting that you do stupid and dangerous things. Honestly, I always knew you were going to be the death of me, but I thought it would be from something more unusual than an anxiety-induced heart attack.”

“I said I wouldn't!” Gale protests, though he's smiling. “No it is, then. We’ll find another way.”

“Do you make terrible soup, Astarion?” Wyll asks, intrigued. “I thought the sandwiches were quite good.”

Gale grins, and throws the tea towel back over his shoulder to go back to measuring out flour.

“Oh no, Astarion is becoming quite an accomplished cook. The soup incident is one that we remember as one of the only bright spots in a very dark tenday,” he says, quite happily. “I honestly don't remember most of that time.”

“Other than the soup,” Astarion agrees.

Gale grins, and explains to Wyll;

“Before the terrible soup incident, I used to believe that it wasn't possible to over-salt something, and Astarion managed to make me rethink a lifelong conviction.”

“I dropped the salt grinder in the soup,” Astarion sighs. “I didn't know which bit you were supposed to twist to make it grind, so I just pulled the top off it instead, and the whole thing went in the soup.”

Wyll barks a laugh, surprised.

“And then he ate it anyway!” Astarion adds, exasperated.

“I tried,” Gale corrects. “You were so upset at how unwell I was, and I was trying to make you feel better.”

Gale really doesn't remember much of the few days immediately after the spell had failed. What he remembers, mostly, is Astarion. Carrying him to the bathroom. Helping him wash and change. Making him foods that were as plain as he could stomach. Leaving his side only when he had to, to hunt (he had refused to bite Gale until he was better) or to fetch supplies or medicine, and only when Morena was there to take his place.

When Gale thinks of the backlash of the spell, he thinks of Astarion's worried expression, his hands stroking soothing circles through Gale's hair, his quiet words, reading to Gale from his books because he couldn't focus on the pages, playing gentle music for him when he grew so frustrated with boredom that it had brought him to tears.

And, when he had recovered, the argument. Gale had assumed he would try again; Astarion had been furious at him for assuming he would let Gale do so. It remains the only time they had ever both raised their voices at each other; the reason the rule about there being no shouting had been decided upon.

It isn't something he wants to relive either. But for the sake of Astarion being free to walk in the sun again, it seems a minor price to pay.

“I don't know why you thought eating terrible soup would make me feel better,” Astarion sighs. “It didn't work.”

“Didn't it? We still laugh about it now.” Gale grins at him, now with his robes rolled up to his elbows, his hair pulled back from his face, flouring his hands in preparation to mix the dough.

Astarion sighs, and kisses his cheek as he goes past to fetch more tomatoes.

“I think our terrible soup story is the imp we accidentally kidnapped,” Wyll says, thoughtfully. “Lae'zel, do you have a terrible soup story?”

“I don't like soup,” Lae'zel frowns.

Wyll laughs

“No, no, I mean - have you and Shadowheart ever had something utterly ridiculous happen that becomes a running joke?”

“Jokes do not have legs.”

Astarion leans against Gale's shoulder as he laughs.

“You're winding him up on purpose now, Lae’zel.”

“Perhaps I am,” Lae’zel concedes. “But Common is a language with so many strange sayings that it is very easy to do so. Now, please - I must know the kidnapped imp story.”

“Very well,” Wyll smiles, and begins to tell the tallest of tales.

This, perhaps, is what Gale has missed most about his friends. In the shadows of the darkest days, they still bring light and laughter.

Halfway through the ridiculous story, the others finally return. With Clara, a backpack, and several more bags of what looks like shopping.

“Hello!” Karlach calls, cheerfully. “Look! We bought Clara a new robe! It has pockets!”


All your lovely comments are keeping me going, thank you so much 💕

There may be a pause here as it's very busy at my work at the moment and I have little energy for anything else.

Chapter 7

Chapter Text

Preparing for a trip is always chaos. It's bad enough when it's only the two of them and only a few days. This is taking the definition of chaos to whole new levels. Gale understands why Morena made herself scarce. That, and that she has dinner plans with friends, according to Tara.

“You're not her only social life,” she says, at Gale’s expression of mild surprise.

“I am aware,” Gale protests. “Or had you forgotten that it was me that suggested she join a choir in the first place?”

“I think she's going to end up leading a breakaway group,” Tara says, gleefully. “Not that she doesn't enjoy singing Selune’s praises, of course, but there is so much more music out there.”

“Ah, so this dinner might be where the agnostic choir begins then?”

“Oh no, this dinner is an excuse for them all to sit around and gossip,” Tara corrects. “They are endlessly entertaining. Not that I approve of gossip, of course, but- well, if I weren't so fond of you, and aware I may be robbed of your company for some time, I might be less inclined to spend the evening here.”

Gale wipes his hands clean on a towel so that he can tickle her under the chin.

“I am flattered, Tara. We shall do our best to entertain you, I'm sure.”

The entertainment, it turns out, is unpacking all of the shopping that Karlach and Shadowheart have done.

“It's nearly winter,” Shadowheart says. “And Karlach and Wyll didn't bring any of their kit, thinking this was going to be a social visit, so.”

Clara is smiling more widely than Gale has ever seen. Even if he had had complaints, he wouldn't after seeing that.

“I've never had a new robe before!” Clara says, excitedly. “It doesn't quite fit because my shoulders are a size wider than my hips, but I can put a belt on it and it'll be fine.”

“Or I can take it in for you,” Astarion suggests. “You'll only need a few darts at the waist.”

“Oh,” Clara looks at him, eyes round. “What… are darts?”

“I-” Astarion sighs. “Little folds? In the material? It's the most basic way to adjust clothes that are bought at a standard size rather than made for you.”

“Not everybody grew up getting their clothes tailored for them, Astarion,” Karlach laughs. “You're as much of a snob about your clothes as Wyll is!”

“Yes yes,” Astarion is rummaging through the drawers of the cabinet. “Clara, if you go and put that robe on I can have it fitting you properly in half an hour.”

The kitchen descends into an ordered sort of chaos. Wyll and Shadowheart keep an eye on the dinner and pot wash as Gale darts between the kitchen and the spell setup, having summoned the table and its multidimensional model back up into the kitchen.

In what's left of the space, Karlach and Lae'zel are laying out their various packs, arranging who will need what equipment and carry which supplies. Karlach has a very different idea of what ‘fair’ means than Lae’zel, and so as they do so they bicker good-naturedly.

“He's not going to get any stronger without training,” Lae’zel is saying.

“I do agree,” Karlach says, “But there's a line between training and bullying, Lae.”

Astarion has dragged the full-length mirror out of Gale’s study and set it by the fire, where he is now kneeling, pinning the darts into Clara's robe.

“You really don't have a reflection,” Clara says, somewhat intrigued. “I always assumed that was superstition.”

“No,” Astarion sighs. “You would not believe how irritating it is, trying to do my hair without being able to see it.”

Clara giggles.

“I look like I'm being haunted by a set of clothes.”

“Pff,” Astarion says. “If I was haunting you, you'd know about it.”

“You'd have to be dead,” Clara points out.

“I am, technically.”

“No, you're not,” she says, decidedly. “Dead and undead aren't the same. You have a heartbeat, and you breathe.”

“But I don't need to,” Astarion points out. “Cazador once buried me alive for a year and I never suffocated.”

Clara stares at him, the horror written plain on her expression.

“He did what?”

“I know,” Astarion agrees. “True vampires are bastards. Aren't you glad that Gale didn't let me become one?”

“Very,” Clara says, “Although, even if you did, you wouldn't do that.” She pauses, and when he doesn't respond, says, hesitantly; “Would you?”

“I… don't know,” Astarion says, honestly. “That kind of power could ruin a person. Even me. I definitely would have tried to make Gale my spawn, and he definitely wouldn't have let me, and then we wouldn't be here, so. Let's not waste time thinking about all the outcomes we managed to avoid, shall we?”

He's aware that Clara is watching him - or at least, his clothes - in the mirror. He works quietly for some time, pinning the darts in various places until they're both happy with the way it hangs.

“I'm just going to put a couple of holding stitches in,” Astarion says, “So you don't hurt yourself on the pins trying to get out of it, and so I don't lose where these need to go. Just be careful when you take it off that you don't rip them.”

“Right,” Clara agrees, as Astarion pops the needle in his mouth to check the folds.

“What's engraved on the inside of your ring?” She asks, quietly, a little while later.

“Sylvan,” Astarion says, through a mouthful of pins.

“What does it say?” She asks, curiously. With a sigh, Astarion ties off his stitch and takes the pins out of his mouth.

“‘In case of arrest post bail to Gale Dekarios.’”

Clara blinks at him, before realising it was a joke.

“Oh,” she giggles, “Sorry, is it private?”

“No,” Astarion grins. “I’m just winding you up. It's a charm of protection. It probably says something like ‘in case of sunlight please don't die’.”

Clara smiles at him.

“Did he write it for you?”

“The charm?” Astarion clarifies. “Yes, obviously. The silversmith did the actual engraving.”

“Does his have one?”

“Nosey little thing, aren't you?”

“Sorry,” Clara clasps her hands together, back to back, pressing her elbows into her midriff.

Astarion tuts at her, and taps her hands away.

“Stop that, you're changing the lay of the fabric.”


“This colour suits you,” Astarion says, a moment later. “Did you choose it?”

Clara nods.

“Karlach wouldn't let me get the cheaper one when she saw how much I liked this one,” she says, shyly. “Your friends are all so kind.”

Astarion makes a noise that could be a hum of agreement, but could also be mild annoyance. Maybe both.

“Well, you have a good eye.” He says. “If you have any other clothes you'd like me to adjust, or dye even, let me know. You should be able to dress how you’d like to see yourself, tailor or no.”

She gives him a strange look.

“I- thank you.”

He finishes tying the holding stitches off in silence.

“Go on,” he says, “I'm tired of looking at my own lack of reflection.”

With a nod and what might almost be a smile, Clara goes to put her old robe back on.

When she comes back down, he's already nearly finished.

“I'm going to put some basic wards in,” Astarion says, conversationally. “Resistance to extreme temperatures, that sort of thing. Are you the kind of person who would prefer it to be decorative or hidden?”

“Um?” Clara blinks at him.

Astarion tucks his needle into the fabric with a sigh.


“Hmmm?” Gale looks up from where he's been chatting to Shadowheart. “Yes, my love? How can I help?”

“Come here for a moment.”

And Gale, despite being halfway through both a spell and a sentence, drops both to head over.

“Will you show Clara your sleeves?”

“Oh,” Gale smiles. “Your embroidery?”

He unrolls his sleeves from his elbows. The purple fabric is a deep, almost midnight blue tinged shade, and to compliment it the embroidery has been done in silver thread. It shimmers, in the firelight, the gentle aura of magic woven into something loving and careful.

"He got fed up of me singeing my sleeves off," Gale says to Clara, by way of explanation.

“I don't have time to do anything near as complex for you I'm afraid,” Astarion says. “But I can definitely manage something flashy. Or you can have it like this.” He rolls his own sleeves up, and shows her the underside of his cuffs; and around the edges are woven tiny words, like whispers of spells.

“But… that's incredible,” Clara breathes.

“He is,” Gale agrees.

Astarion tuts at him.

“Well, if you insist on flattering me, who am I to protest? Although it's not so hard, really. I just never had the time, nor the materials, nor the inclination before. Now I have all three, it seems I might as well make use of them.”

“But spellcraft is so expensive,” Clara protests. “You can't do this for me as well! Not on top of everything else! How am I ever supposed to repay you?”

“Oh for-” Astarion rolls his eyes. “Honestly, I never know what to say with you wizards. Everything is ‘be nice to people’ and ‘if you're kind you don't have to resort to stabbing’ and then as soon as you do something nice for them they start harassing you about some kind of imagined imbalance!”

“I don't think that's a wizard thing,” Gale says, thoughtfully. “I think it's a ‘wizards who have spent too much time around Mystra’ thing.”

Astarion sighs.

“Never have I been more pleased not to be an all-powerful deified being with more magic than sense,” he declares. “Clara, just decide what you want, because you're getting it either way and I will make it as obnoxious as possible if you don't decide.”

“I’d like to see them,” Clara blurts. “Please.”

“Thank you,” Astarion sighs. “Now go away, I'm fed up of the both of you.”

It’s said without any real venom; Gale stoops to kiss his forehead as Clara patters back upstairs.

“Let me know if you need any help,” he says.

Astarion hums, unhappily.

“Unfortunately, what I'm going to need is more ideas for horrible things that might happen to her so that I can try and protect her against them,” he grimaces. “She's a child, Gale. I know we had kids at our camp before, but-”

He makes a hopeless sort of irritated gesture, and gives up.

“No,” Gale agrees. “I know. I'm not happy about it either. But unfortunately I don't think we have much choice.”

“f*ck Mystra,” Astarion growls. “A thousand times over.”

“I don't think you'd enjoy it much,” Gale says, dryly. “She doesn't strike me as your type.”

Ha,” Astarion laughs, a sudden little sharp bite of a laugh. “And what is my type? You?”

“Evidently,” Gale agrees. “But someone who considers you an equal and sees your inherent value as more than what you can do for them would be the absolute minimum, I should think, and you’re not getting that from a deity.”

Astarion smiles at him.

“And that, my love, is why Karsus did a sh*t job of pretending to be you.”

“Six months makes all the difference,” Gale agrees. He rests his hands on Astarion's shoulders for a moment, watching as he pencils out the plan for the charm on some parchment. “Clara is a very accomplished young wizard,” he says, eventually, and Astarion isn't entirely sure which of them he's trying to reassure. “If I could do this without her, I would.”

“It's not your damn fault,” Astarion says. “It's Mystra's. Now go back to setting up that spell so we can find her and make her pay for all of the bullsh*t she's put you through.”

“Us, now,” Gale frowns. “It’s not just me anymore. It will always be us, Astarion.”

“You always pick the worst times to be romantic, love, now - go away.”

And Gale, submitting, goes.

It all seems to come together at once, then. He finishes drawing the final aspects of the rune as Clara comes back downstairs, as Wyll finishes pinching the last bits of filling inside their pasta shells, and Shadowheart puts the last of the dried tools back in their drawer. Karlach and Lae'zel pile up their readied packs by the coats and shoes, and join them back at the main table.

“Alright,” Gale says, having stepped aside to put all of the elements of dinner in the stone coolbox to keep until they're ready. “I'm going to explain what this spell is going to look like, and what it might do - and then we can decide how we want to tackle this.”

“Are you anticipating a fight?” Lae'zel perks up - or, in her case, settles slightly into a more mobile stance. It’s the same thing, really.

“Potentially,” Gale nods. “This map was not initially designed to work like this. I've had to modify it. It's supposed to use me - well, the Chosen I used to be - as a casting conduit. Instead, we’re going to have to use what connections Clara and I do have to Mystra, which are nowhere near as pure or as powerful. What that means is that it's not going to be able to give an exact reading. Instead, it will likely flag all the aspects of Mystra as we know them. As there are currently six aspects of Mystra in the six Chosen in the Astral, it's going to point us there. It might do so strongly enough that I wouldn't be able to get anything else useful out of it. So, to counteract that, we’re going to do it from the Astral. From where the Chosen are. If possible, I'm going to see if I can use their power in the spell, so only the aspects of Mystra that are elsewhere will be visible to us.”

“But Karsus is in the Astral,” Clara says.

“Exactly,” Gale agrees. “We’re only going to use projections, we’re not going there ourselves, but even so - this may be very dangerous. Karsus could attempt to attack us in the Astral. He could attempt to attack the mortal shells we leave behind in this plane, or the silver threads that tether us to it. He might try to steal the power of the cast, or use it to unravel the spell the Chosen are using to trap him there, or any number of things that we cannot possibly guess at without knowing what he wants. So, we need a plan.”

“Do you and Clara both need to be in the Astral?” Astarion asks, leaning on the table to inspect the spell runes drawn on, around, and occasionally though, the dimensional model.

“Yes,” Gale says. “But it will require concentration, so neither of us will be able to defend ourselves.”

Astarion nods.

“So you'll need at least two people to go with you, which means four bodies to be protected on this plane, and three people to do it.”

“Don't forget I warded the tower,” Gale reminds him. “In theory, nobody can get in or out without our express permission as its inhabitants, which none of you will be able to grant in our absence - presuming you'll be coming to the Astral with us, Astarion.”

“Obviously,” Astarion agrees.

“I suggest Wyll and I guard your bodies,” Karlach says, thoughtfully. “Lae'zel and Shadowheart are much more used to fighting in the Astral plane than we are, they'll be more sure-footed than the two of us.”

“Do we need to leave both of them behind?” Lae'zel objects. “Surely Karsus poses more of a threat in the Astral than in this plane.”

“He has Laeral's form,” Gale reminds her. “One of the only people on Toril who could pass my wards. I'll know if he does, but I won't be able to act without disrupting the spell.” He pauses. “Hang on, where's Aylin?”

“Information gathering,” Astarion says. “Lae'zel, would your dragon come down from the roof and help?”

Lae'zel nods sharply, and whistles.

“She'll have to come in the front door,” Gale warns, apparently needlessly; a moment later, there's a knock. Lae'zel goes to let the dragon, now dragonborn shaped again, in. Gale feels the wards thrum, and relaxes them to let her pass.

“I will join you in the Astral,” the dragonborn says, in a voice that Gale was not expecting at all. It is calm, almost musically gentle and rhythmic.

“Excellent,” he nods. “The more the merrier, I say.”

“Where do you think she’ll be?” Clara asks, worriedly, as the others spread out, drawing their weapons and preparing for battle.

“Elysium, or the Material plane,” Gale says, quite confidently. “If we’re lucky. If we’re very unlucky, maybe it’ll be the shadowfell. I’m hedging my bets on Dweomerheart.”

“You’ve… been to Elysium?” Clara sounds awed.

“Of course,” Gale says. “I used to have a small suite in Mystra’s palace there. It’s nothing like the city it once was, before the spellplague, but it’s still a city dedicated to the true art of magic. It’s a sight to behold - but more than that, it’s where she’s at her most powerful. The other deities of magic have made their homes up there too - if something’s gone wrong, it’s unlikely that not even one of them has noticed. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to Azuth, but he’s a decent enough chap, I’m sure he’d be happy to help.”

“Only you would refer to The Lord of Spells as ‘a decent enough chap’,” Astarion says, laughingly. “Don’t you pray to him every now and again?”

“It’s only polite,” Gale says, sniffily. “Anyway, Clara, are you ready?”

“I think so,” Clara clutches her spellbook. “I have my book - and I wrote down the prayer, like you suggested.” She pulls a scrap of paper from where it had been folded between the book’s pages. It is covered in the fastidiously neat writing that Gale recognises from her homework. “Does your necklace count as both something you gave her and something she gave you?” She asks, quietly, coming to stand beside him and inspecting the runes. “You've only drawn three gaps.”

“Ah, no,” Gale says. “It has to be two separate things. Her blood and her protection is what she gave me.”

“Then what did you give her?” Clara asks, frowning.

“Myself,” Gale says, simply. “Which is why it probably doesn't matter if your prayer isn't a material thing. However cheaply the Gods may trade us, there are few spell components more powerful than an entire being.”

“True,” Clara says, blinking. “I- should have thought of that.”

“I'm trying my best to forget, personally.”

Gale spreads his hands, and one of the component slots rises from the floor, glittering through the air, to centre on the ring that rises from his chest to meet it.

Clara holds out the book in one hand, and the prayer in the other. The runes resettle themselves around her, the two of them worked into the pattern of the spell, the chalk and gem-dust catching the firelight as it whirls around the model of the planes, now spinning above the table.

“Wyll, Karlach, take a few steps back,” Gale instructs. “Everyone else, closer in, please.”

With a nod, Karlach draws her blade. The others follow suit, positioning themselves within the spell to have all angles covered.

The spell swirls around them as Gale mutters the runes. The contraption of planes starts clicking and humming, the aspects of them moving through and past and around each other all at once.

It is not like a portal. It is not a sudden arrival in the Astral plane. Instead, the real world fades slowly away to the sea of stars. Their bodies and weapons become outlines of silver, projections that are only partially opaque.

The walls of the tower fade and eventually vanish, until all that is beyond them is stars. Where they had stood, they now float. From their feet stretch the silver threads, tying their wandering selves to their bodies, back in the material plane.

Floating around them, in a circle that is nearly, but not quite, complete, are Mystra's Chosen.

The arrangement is not unlike a circle of standing stones. Each, though clearly a person, is also a pillar; a beam of light that anchors them to this point, to this place and time.

Other than them, there is nothing.

They stand, for a moment, adjusting to the Astral; anticipating an attack.

“Nothing?” Astarion frowns, suspicious. “What is Karsus playing at?”

“I think he's playing with us,” Shadowheart growls. She glances over her shoulder, quickly. The four of them are penning Gale and Clara in, effectively. The two wizards aren't quite projecting the way the rest of them are. Instead, they seem hollow vessels for the spell running through them. It's almost visible; the string of it runs from the strange device to Gale's chest, through the ring, between Clara's hands, tying them all together and back to the spinning planes.

And Gale, very quietly, is still chanting.

“No movement nearby,” the dragonborn says, quietly.

“We are a long way from the parts of the Astral the Githyanki inhabit,” Lae’zel agrees. “This is deliberate - these six would not likely be found by accident.”

Astarion studies the faces of the people standing in the beams of light. They are all in the same position - the one he's begun to think of as ‘basic wizard pose’; standing straight-backed, head forward, eyes closed, with the hands slightly held out from the body, palms open and forward. It must be something to do with channelling the weave.

Elminster he recognises, Laeral and Rune now too. Their faces are peaceful, smooth, expressionless - although their eyes are disconcertingly open. It is as if time has simply stopped, for them. They are not unlike corpses. Silent, still, and apparently lifeless.

That is, until they raise their hands.

At first he doesn't notice it. They are moving incredibly slowly. He had been looking past them, really, expecting Karsus to come at them from between the Chosen. But then he notices that Elminster's hands are no longer simply at his side. Instead, they are a little way out from his body; at hip-level. So are all of the others’.

“They're moving,” he warns the others. “And I'm not sure if they're supposed to be.”

They are far too far apart to be able to touch hands, and yet as they continue to move, incrementally slowly, that is what they appear to be attempting to do.

“This is… disconcerting,” Shadowheart admits, crouched as if preparing to attack, her mace drawn and her eyes sharp.

“He did say he was going to try and use their power,” Astarion reminds her. He can feel the weave moving around them. What it's doing, exactly, he couldn't say, but it doesn't feel malicious; though nor does it feel entirely benign.

“Not just that,” Shadowheart is frowning; even without being able to see her, he can hear it in her voice. “Karsus hasn't exactly been subtle so far. Why has he changed tactics now?”

“Perhaps he has retreated to lick his wounds,” Lae’zel speculates.

“Or he's waiting for his moment,” Astarion growls. “Sussing us out.”

The spell is still forming; it's at the moment of casting that they'll be at their most vulnerable.

He vaguely remembers telling Gale, at some point in Baldur's Gate, that having a reason to fight made the peril somewhat worth it.

But that had been before he'd known exactly what he was fighting for. It had been a possibility; an uncertain future, unexplored, and full of the potential of both joy and disaster. The problem now is that he's become quite attached to their strange little pastiche of domesticity. This isn't something to fight for. This just hurts.


“What is it, Astarion?”

“Did you ever build that garden?”

There's a short pause.

“What garden?”

“When you were deciding what to do, after the Absolute. You mentioned wanting to plant a garden. With your father.”

“I did,” Shadowheart says, warily. “My parents built it, mostly. When we aren't in the Astral, I help them tend it.” There's a small pause. “Why do you ask?”

“I'm not sure,” Astarion frowns. “Does it make it easier or harder, doing this again, when you have a garden to go back to?”

“I… hadn't thought about it, really.”

At least, with Gale chanting, it's not entirely silent.

“It's a nice garden,” Shadowheart says, eventually. “My father is mostly helping the selunites expand the vegetable plot to include an orchard. In return, he's got a little patch of earth that's just ours. We planted flowers. In all the shades we could imagine. We chose them so that there'll always be something bright, blooming, even in the darkest months of winter.”

“Hmm,” Astarion smiles. “How typically sentimental.”

“You asked,” Shadowheart points out. “Besides, some of the most beautiful flowers are poisonous too.”

“Oh, I'm aware,” Astarion grins. “They're my favourite kind.”

He doesn't sheath his blades, but he does stand.

“What are you doing?” Shadowheart asks, catching his gaze over her shoulder.

“Investigating.” Astarion walks up to Elminster, and studies the old wizard’s face. “He's much more agreeable when he's not telling Gale to blow himself to kingdom come, isn't he?”

“Well, Gale has you to do it for him now.”

“Shadowheart!” Astarion cries, mock-scandalised. “I am trying to take this seriously.”

“Sounds most unlike you,” Shadowheart says. “I was half expecting you to get a pen out of your pocket and start drawing on Elminster's face.”

“Now there's an idea,” Astarion grins. “Sadly, I am unprepared.”

He holds his hand out towards Elminster, feeling for the weave. It answers his call much more easily, nowadays; practice and proximity have made this almost second nature.

There is something strange about it. The weave has a form, a pattern as much as anything. The lay of it is warped, here. It seems to twist around Elminster - around all of the Chosen - as if they're somehow holding it in place.

He frowns, and turns to study the others.

“Close ranks,” he says, sharply. “I'm not sure that Gale is doing - well, whatever this is.”

Laeral is the next Chosen over. Like Elminster, she is now standing with her arms spread, scarecrow-like. Astarion concentrates. Thin strands of weave seem to be connecting them, through their outstretched palms; had they been there when they first arrived?

There's really no way of knowing.

Slowly, Astarion walks between them, studying the faces that he does and doesn't know; reaching towards them, in the weave, looking for the threads connecting them. The only place they do not connect is the empty space; the gap where the seventh Chosen would stand. Where Gale should have been.

Astarion stands in the gap. He can feel the threads, loose, either side of him. It seems unlikely that Gale wouldn't have tried this already, but he reaches from them anyway. They curl away from his palm, like threads held to a flame.

He stands there for a while, listening. Being turned to the weave like this, he can feel Gale's spell taking shape around them.

He can feel the presence of Gale's mind, too - and Clara’s. The Chosen, however, seem to lack that consciousness entirely. It makes their presence all the more unnerving. Like hollow beings, empty where their minds should be. Instead, there is only weave.

“Ready,” Gale says, at last, looking up. “What are you looking for, Astarion?”

“I don't know,” Astarion frowns. “It seems stupidly obvious to say that something's missing, here, but it's no less disquieting for it.”

“Indeed,” Gale agrees. “But you're right, I did try that already, and it didn't work.”

“I always forget how clearly you can hear me when I do that,” Astarion says, letting the weave go. “Do you know why they're moving?”

“No,” Gale says, sounding mildly perturbed by it. “They did it last time I was here, too. It may just be a reaction to the presence of another wizard.”

“It doesn't change the flow of the weave,” Clara adds, thoughtfully. “It didn't seem to change… well, anything.”

Astarion hums as he returns to the others, resuming his place and his stance.

“Well. Ready when you are.”

“I haven't the foggiest if this will actually summon Karsus,” Gale reminds them. “Let's hope not!”

The forced cheer is no more likely to win over any of the rest of them than it is Astarion, but he holds his tongue.

Gale moves his hands; the spell sings.

Astarion had been expecting a map of some kind, or perhaps a beam of light they could follow. Instead, there is a small sigh; then a voice. Feminine, and familiar.

“Dweomerheart,” Mystra’s voice, as soft as a whisper. It seems to come right into his head; shivering down his spine like something electric; like a kiss, or a bite. Both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. “Home.”

They all brace, waiting for more. But the voice, like the spell, appears to be over.

“Well,” Gale says. “That was anticlimactic. Vindicating, I suppose, and it would have been a hell of a journey to make on intuition alone, but still. Elysium it is.”

He folds the spell back within the pages of the book, handing it back to Clara, and pulls the necklace from around his neck.

When they follow their silver threads back through the pools of silver to the material plane, they arrive in Gale’s kitchen to find it much as they left it. The only difference is that the front door is open, and Aylin is standing outside.

“Hello!” She says, cheerfully. “I am here to extend an invitation to all of you from The House of the Moon!”

“The wards won’t let her in,” Karlach adds, cheerfully. “It’s very funny.”

“I am not offended,” Aylin says, absolutely seriously. “I understand the need for caution, in these trying times. If you wish me to provide any other forms of proof that I am who I say I am, I will be happy to provide.

“If you are who you say you are, then come on in,” Gale waves. “And shut the door behind you, Waterdeep isn’t known for its mild winters.”

Aylin steps forwards; the wards rise up to meet her, at Gale’s command; and, finding not a trace of anything untoward about her, sway aside to allow her passage. Having made her invitation, however, she pleads her presence being requested at the temple for evening prayer.

In the aftermath of the spell and Aylin's departure, there’s something slightly tense, almost wrought, about the atmosphere in the tower.

“I’d almost have rather Karsus did try and take a swipe at us,” Astarion frowns, helping Gale get the fire stoked for dinner. “This all feels very… ominous.”

“Much as I enjoy a good puzzle, especially a magical one, I do also appreciate being able to fling a fireball at a goblin and call it done,” Gale admits.

“Pyromaniac,” Astarion agrees. “Though you do look delicious doing it.”

“It has been the longest time since we’ve visited Elysium, too,” Tara adds, from her usual perch on the barstool by the counter. “Dweomerheart is the most beautiful place I think I have ever been - or will ever be again.”

As he cooks, Gale tries to explain what to expect of Elysium to the others, in their extremely varied levels of prior knowledge. Clara gets them severely sidetracked for a long time on the subject of phoenixes, which Karlach for one had been utterly convinced weren’t actually real creatures.

They’re just about to sit down for dinner when the door bursts open.

“Hello!” Arabella yells, and then immediately stops on the step. “You’ve re-done the wards? Gaaaaaaaaaale!”

“I’m right here, there’s no need to yell,” Gale goes to let her in, Scratch bounding in her wake. “Arabella, did your matron not pass on the message I sent?”

“What message?” Arabella crosses her arms. “That you weren't going to be able to take me up to lectures tonight, or that you were leaving without saying goodbye?”

“Uhoh,” Astarion says, almost gleefully. “Gale, I do think you're in trouble.”

“I didn't think you'd want us to come and say goodbye,” Gale is surprised. “I can't imagine your friends think that we're any cooler than you do. In fact, I believe we've been banned from visiting you because we're too embarrassing.”

“You keep trying to hug me!” Arabella protests.

“I thought you liked hugs!”

“Not when there's other people around!”

Gale sighs.

“Arabella, there is a reason I don't have many friends, and it's because I don't know any of this unless you tell me! Will we be allowed to come and say goodbye at the orphanage properly, tomorrow morning, if I promise not to give you a hug?”

“No,” Arabella says sniffily. “I will be busy tomorrow morning. You can take me to lectures tonight, or not at all.”

“Gods give me strength,” Gale says. “You know I would, Arabella, but I'm not just being petty. I'm in the middle of something important.”

Arabella subsides.

“Fine,” she agrees. “You can come and say goodbye tomorrow. I will rearrange my plans especially for you. But no embarrassing me.”

Scratch zooms past again, excitedly doing laps of the kitchen and licking everybody’s kneecaps in turn.

“I cannot promise that because you refuse to give me a proper explanation on how I embarrass you,” Gale says, exasperated. Arabella raises her hand, and begins to count his crimes off on her fingers;

“Don't talk about my studies, or yours. Don't start talking about weird random stuff like the book you found last time that tried to eat your arm. Don't make jokes, don't ruffle my hair, don't talk Scratch in that stupid voice you do.” She pauses. “I think that's everything.”

“Right,” Gale is grinning now. “So, just stand there silently and don't do anything?”

“Yep,” Arabella grins. “Pretty much.”

“It is about the only way you'll ever pass as ‘cool’,” Astarion adds.

“Thank you both for keeping me humble,” Gale laughs.

“I'll take you up to the university Arabella,” Astarion says. “It's dark now, anyway, and I could do with a walk.”

“Will you sit in the back of the class?” Arabella grins.

Astarion raises an eyebrow at her.

“Why, exactly, do you want me to sit through wizard drivel with you?”

“You sit through wizard drivel all the time,” Arabella complains. “It's just Gale’s wizard drivel.”

“Gale knows how to make it interesting,” Astarion agrees. “I suspect your tutors are going to be as dry as hard tack and not even a fraction as compelling.”

“Maybe that's why I want you there,” Arabella grins. “Come on, please! You'll only have to sit outside and wait for me to finish anyway.”

“Are you trying to intimidate one of your classmates?” Astarion wonders, though he's already collecting up Clara's robe and his embroidery supplies. “Or to piss your tutors off?”

“Maybe,” Arabella grins, in the same moment that Gale says;

“Language, Astarion.”

“I know the word piss!” Arabella complains.

Gale, electing to lose this particular battle in the hopes of winning the war, hands her a bowl of pasta.

“Eat before you go,” he says. “I do not trust that place’s cooking.”

“Aw nice ,” Arabella grins. “Thanks, Gale! I promise I won't say piss to anyone else!”

“Oh good,” Gale sighs. “Wait, can I talk about cooking, or is that not cool either?”

“Very much not cool,” Arabella says. “Unless you bring us food. That would be cool.” She sounds vaguely hopeful.

“I don't know, I think I would have to have slightly more in repayment than constant bullying to deem you worth cooking for,” Gale retorts.

“You cook for me at least twice a tenday,” Arabella grins, in-between shovelling a small mountain of pasta into her mouth. Gale, who realistically has no answer for that, goes back to serving the others.

“Had you finished writing to the Dean?” Astarion asks, appearing over his shoulder. “I can deliver it for you if you have.”

“Thank you my love,” Gale puts the spoon down to kiss him.

“Ew!” Arabella yells. “And that's not cool either!”

Still smiling, Gale points Astarion to the letter as Arabella hands him an astonishingly empty bowl.

“Did you even chew that?” He asks, in desperation.

“Nope!” Arabella grins. “Come on, Astarion, or we’ll be late and I'll have to blame it on Gale.”

Gale ruffles her hair.

“You'll be alright without us?”

“Hey,” Arabella bats his hand away. “I'll be fine! Come on, I'm the coolest kid in the orphanage. I have a dog, I can cast fireball, and I can leave basically whenever I want. The other kids love me!”

Gale grins at her.

“Good. And you know you can go to Morena if you need anything.”

“Duh.” Arabella rolls her eyes. “Write her letters, I want to know what you get up to on your adventures!”

Then she, Astarion and Scratch are gone, swallowed by the night.

It can't be so long after that when there's another knock on the door.

“Again?” Lae'zel sighs, looking up from where she is ‘supervising’ Karlach washing the dishes, Wyll drying them, and Shadowheart putting them away. “I didn't realise that you were such a popular destination, Gale.”

“You parked a dragon on my roof,” Gale points out. “It's probably a guard.”

It's not. It turns out to be Morena, and a small group of people that Gale has never met.

“Hello again Morena,” Gale raises an eyebrow at her. “Come in, come in, all of you, out of the cold.” He ushers them all inside, taking coats and offering glasses of wine and rearranging chairs around the fire for them.

At last, when they're all settled, he turns to Morena;

“Not that you aren't always welcome, of course, but it is rather late in the evening.”

“I know, I know,” Morena agrees, with a giggle. “I promise, it wasn't my intention, but I happened to mention that Alfira had sent you some new music, and that you might be gone for some time quite soon, and so-”

“Ah,” Gale agrees. “You wanted to have a chance to hear it first.”

“Only if you don't mind,” she smiles, that winning smile that she knows Gale cannot refuse. “I know that you have other guests to attend to.”

The other guests in question are, in Wyll and Karlach's case, already happily getting to know Morena’s friends, and in Lae’zel and Shadowheart's case, hiding from them on the far side of the table and it's still-spinning map, Clara nestled between them as if she somehow needs protecting.

“I would,” he says regretfully, “But you know she wrote it for Astarion, really, and he's out at the moment.”

“Where's he gone?” Morena asks, surprised.

“Running Arabella up to her classes tonight,” Gale says, summoning the piano down from the study with a wave of his hand. “The piano’s all yours, though, if you want it. I can hardly deny you all musical entertainment.”

“Do you know where you're off to yet?” One of Morena’s friends asks, conversationally.

“Not a clue,” Gale lies, easily. “Somewhere between here and the feywilds. Did you have a nice dinner?”

“What time will he be back?” Morena asks, crestfallen. Though there is honest disappointment in there, she's definitely also playing it up. Almost wistfully, she says; “He was telling me all about it, earlier, how beautifully you play it-”

“Oh you wanted me to play?” Gale teases. “I suppose we are cheaper entertainment than a concert, but you will get what you pay for. Neither of us plays as often as we should.”

“Nonsense,” Morena waves her wine at him. “You know, I would believe you if I didn't have Astarion telling me otherwise. I don't know when you started all of this ‘being humble’ nonsense, my dear, but it is most unbecoming. You are perfectly aware of how talented you are, and so am I.”

Gale smiles at her.

“I know my worth, Morena. That's why I don't need to boast about it. I would be better, potentially much better, if I dedicated myself to practise. I have no shame in admitting that it's my own fault that I do not.”

“Well then you had better start,” Morena teases. “There’s no time like the present.”

“Oh no you don't-” Gale protests, but he's laughing, already knowing he's lost.

“You wouldn't embarrass your own mother in front of her friends, would you?” Morena wheedles.

“I absolutely shall, and especially so if you make me play.”

By the time Astarion gets home, it is very late indeed, and Gale has given up trying to keep his wine cellar closed.

The door clicks open, and half the room immediately raise their glasses towards the door.

“Astarion!” Wyll calls, in the same moment that Karlach yells; “Fangs!”

Gale, who had temporarily ceded the piano to one of Morena's friends, immediately gives up on letting her teach him whatever piece she had been attempting to convey to get up and greet him.

“Hello my love,” he says, as Astarion joins them. “Not too boring an evening, I hope?”

“I hadn't thought so,” Astarion grins. “But now I see I've been missing out. I was expecting to have a quiet evening, just the two of us, before we head off tomorrow - but I can hardly turn my nose up at a proper sendoff.”

“Astarion!” Morena calls. “Don't let Gale hog you all night, I have a most pressing situation!”

“She's quite drunk,” Gale warns him, “And she wants us to play.”

Astarion raises an eyebrow.

“Showing you off to her friends, is she? Well, I suppose I'll have to demonstrate quite how high your standards are.”

Gale, who knows perfectly well that Morena would do nothing of the sort, nevertheless allows Astarion to take him by the elbow and lead him back to his mother.

“My lovely friends,” Morena addresses the group. “This is Astarion, my future son in law, and the violinist that we have been waiting for!”

“So I've heard,” Astarion smiles. “What is it that you wanted to hear, exactly?”

“Alfira's newest composition! Gale was most convinced that as it was written for you, we could not hear it without your part.”

“For me?” Astarion laughs. “It's about the stars above Baldur's Gate, I thought.”

“Written for piano and violin,” Gale muses, “In my favourite key, and extolling on the unexpected blessings of hope one experiences when seeing the first star rise in the night sky after sunset; of light in the dark, beauty in twilight and change, and the city that never sleeps. No metaphor in that at all, of course.”

“I'm glad all your impressive education is going to use on teasing me,” Astarion says, extracting the violin from its case on top of the piano, leaning languidly against it as he settles it under his chin and tests the strings. “Let's warm up with something more familiar, and get on to Evening Star later, shall we?”

“An excellent idea,” Gale agrees. “Dealer’s choice, then - where shall we begin?”

Astarion plucks his strings, thoughtfully, in a pattern that Gale recognises. Mostly because it is not what he’d consider a warm-up piece. It is, absolutely, going to be showing off, and they both know it.

“To warm up,” He says, eyebrows raised. “Phrasal verb; to prepare for a performance by practising - gently - beforehand.”

“You’ve missed your cue twice,” Astarion says, haughtily, still plucking at the string in the neat little pattern. “It's not been that long since we played this, surely?”

“I’ll miss it multiple more times yet - aren’t your hands cold from the walk?”

“Why, are you offering to warm them up for me?” Astarion teases. “Or shall I borrow Karlach?”

“I’m saying that I’ve been playing for an hour, and you’ve only just got home-”

“Oh, you don’t want to show me up?” Astarion’s eyes light up at the challenge. “I believe I am the one who helped you arrange this for piano, so that you could accompany me . I’m not the one who needed to practise.”

Gale laughs, and meets the cue, this time; his fingers dancing along the keys, the little phrase that is the start of the piece.

“Thank you, dear,” Astarion raises his bow.

“Wait, is this…?” Wyll looks up, and as he does so, Astarion draws those first few famous notes forth; “Danse Macabre!”

Neither Astarion nor Gale replies; for all his teasing, it requires just as much of Astarion’s concentration as it does Gale’s. That had been the point. Astarion had spent a large portion of his time in the underdark playing, perfecting, and working on the old, old memory of the skill that he had barely managed to maintain through Cazador’s captivity. Gale looks up at him, in the few moments that the piece allows, to catch the expression of concentration; eyes downcast, brow furrowed, but almost peacefully so. It is, without a doubt, one of Gale’s favourite of his expressions.

For all that Astarion remembers little of his life before Cazador, he had remembered that he’d known how to play this piece; known the frustration and elation of having bested it. Had known that he was more than willing to go through it again, to reclaim the ability. It’s a determination that Gale both recognises and admires; he would have listened to Astarion explaining all the little bits and pieces he’d had to master, all the techniques it requires, for far longer than Astarion had needed to. The only thing that beats listening to his enthusiasm in explaining how he had achieved that is being able to hear him play the masterpiece as it was intended; and to share the elation of playing it with him.

There are things Astarion will never get back. That he has to make peace with. This, thankfully, is not one of them.

Astarion looks up, catching Gale watching him just for a moment, and smiles; turns back to the violin. And despite being cold, he plays the whole thing with all the flair and finesse that he had worked so hard to achieve. Even as it gathers pace and urgency. Even as his fingers seem to dance faster than it seems should even be possible.

It is easy to remember how much power there is, in music, when they play like this. It would be easy to reach out, to call the weave to work through the notes; to catch on the drama, the story of it. He leaves it be, for now; just enjoys the moment as it is, letting the piece pull him in.

When, at last, it draws to a close, he plays its final notes in silence.

“Hmmm,” Astarion puts the violin down, and flexes his fingers. “In hindsight, I may have been slightly cold.”

Gale stands to take Astarion’s hands in his, to rub warmth into them.

“Your hands are always cold, my love,” he points out. “Not that anyone would have been able to tell from that.”

“I know,” Astarion agrees. “You really should send that arrangement to Alfira so she can torture her students with it.”

Gale laughs at his shamelessness, knowing it’s well-earned.

“Holy sh*t, Astarion,” Wyll says. “I had no idea you could play like that .”

“That was insane,” Karlach agrees. “Did you even breathe? I don’t think you were breathing.”

“It’s more fun to play than the orchestral version,” Astarion agrees, reclaiming his hands and then his violin, and shooing Gale back to the piano stool. “If you’re playing with an orchestra you just have to stand there and listen to everyone else play for some of it.”

“They’re rests,” Gale smiles. “Because it’s an incredibly technically complex piece, and the composer knew that.”

“But we can carry all the orchestra’s key parts between us just fine,” Astarion argues, “ Without standing around being bored.”

“Show-off,” Gale says, fondly.

“Always,” Astarion agrees. “Now, I shall consider myself thoroughly warmed up, and I heard you’ve been telling people that Alfira wrote a song about me?”

“Did she actually write you something after you were talking about it at that party in the Grove?” Karlach grins. “But you were both wasted!”

“Unfortunately, Alfira has a reputation to uphold, now, with her school in its fledgling terms,” Astarion bemoans. “I think she took much more inspiration from the time she and Gale got drunk at the Elfsong and started sharing their favourite poems than she did from my initial suggestions.”

“Your initial suggestions weren’t exactly high-class music material,” Gale reminds him.

“Neither were yours, once we dragged you out from under the table,” Astarion reminds him, ruthlessly amused.

“I wasn’t that drunk!”

“You were,” Wyll says. “I thought Astarion had been joking about how much you quote poetry when you’re drunk.”

“I might exaggerate a lot, but in this instance, I was being entirely accurate,” Astarion grins. “Come on, my dear, my hands are getting cold again.” As if to prove his point, he settles the violin back under his chin, and plays perhaps the most immediately recognizable passage of the first movement of ‘Winter’.

“Oh, I have this one somewhere,” Gale flicks through the music on the piano, and finds his now extremely annotated version of Vivaldi. “As we’re apparently not finished showing off how accomplished a violinist you are.”

Astarion grins, and raises his bow.

In the end, they play for a long time. They play together, of course, and often; but playing to an audience is different. It’s the first time they’ve performed like this. It’s the first time they’ve done multiple of the pieces they’ve been working on in quick succession, without stopping and going back over phrases and making changes. It has the feel of something else. Usually it’s actually quite relaxing; an engaging way to spend their time together, to be sure, but laid-back.

This is almost exhilarating. Astarion has the trick of making playing look easy, when Gale is fully aware that it is quite the opposite. He also plays with the grace and poise of someone who is aware that he looks absolutely dashing doing so - although in Gale’s opinion, it’s hard not to be beautiful when creating something so beautifully accomplished. He could play for Astarion all night, and watch him play even longer.

It is late, however, and most of their audience are rather drunk at that point.

“‘Evening Star?’” He suggests, leaning back to watch Astarion stretching his neck and shoulders.

“Yes, my love?” Astarion says; and then, as if he hadn’t known exactly what he’d been doing; “Oh, you mean the song?”

Gale rolls his eyes, finally pulling Alfira’s music out from behind all the other pieces.

“Every time you make that joke I believe your protests about it not actually being about you less and less.”

“If it were about me, why would she have sent it to you?” Astarion points out.

“Because it’s a love song,” Gale says. “Obviously.”

Astarion laughs.

“For all that you’re both hopeless romantics, I’m not sure lying under a table having to listen to you talk about how much you love me would have inspired Alfira to write an entire song about me.”

“I am incredibly eloquent and inspiring,” Gale protests. “If I remembered any of what I said I’m sure I’d recognise it in the lyrics.”

“I didn't realise how much of the time you spent away saving the world was actually spent drinking,” Morena says, coming to inspect the music over Gale's shoulder.

“It wasn't,” Gale protests. “The one time was when we got Halsin and Yenna back from Orin after half a tenday of thinking she'd killed both of them.”

“As if Halsin wasn't already unhappy enough about being in the city,” Shadowheart comments, apparently having wandered over to their side of the room while they were playing. She, Lae’zel and Clara have perched themselves on the end of the table.

“They were the only two occasions worth celebrating,” Lae'zel agrees. “Although mostly because when we thought that Gale had died and then he hadn't, he was in no state to be drinking.”

“If we celebrated every other time we nearly died and didn't we'd never have been sober,” Gale points out. “Especially with Orin hiding in camp pretending to be Halsin.”

“Let's not talk about shapeshifting,” Astarion says, sharply. “Until tomorrow, at least. Are we playing this song or not? Much as I enjoy the novelty of company, I was hoping for some time to prepare for risking our lives in the name of the ungrateful masses again.”

There’s something in his tone that sits wrong with Gale. Or perhaps it’s something else. There’s a tightness in his chest, something that has slowly been winding itself tighter throughout the evening. All at once, it’s less of a background hum and searingly, viciously present.


“Hmmm,” Gale manages. “I think we might have missed our chance, unfortunately.”

Astarion is on his feet immediately, the violin set aside.

“Fair enough,” he says, smoothly. “Come on, let’s get the piano back upstairs.”

Gale just about manages to hold himself together as he pulls them both, and the piano, back up to the study.

Then he kneels, just remembering how to breathe, as Astarion holds onto him. Downstairs, if there had been any protests to their sudden exit, he can’t hear them. They kneel on the cold floor for a long time.

“What was it?” Astarion says, resting his hand on Gale’s chest, listening as his heartbeat finally begins to slow.

“I’m.. not sure,” Gale frowns. “Talking about what happened to Halsin, maybe? Talking about going out and doing it again? Having to use all my old things to look for Mystra? Seeing all of the other Chosen, and their spell failing without me-”

“Or all of the above,” Astarion says, “Really, love, you could have told Morena to come back another time.”

“I thought it was fine,” Gale rubs a hand over his face. “It really was, I think, until just now.”

Astarion nods.

“It feels closer, when the others are here. Everything that happened when we were fighting the Absolute - we haven’t all been in the same place, since.”

“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Morena’s friends,” Gale says. “That probably didn’t help.” He shakes himself. “We should go and say goodnight.”

“I’ll go,” Astarion says, firmly. “You come down when you’re ready, and only when you’re ready. I’ll know if you're not.” He pauses, halfway out the door. “If Morena asks-”

“I’ll go and say goodbye properly tomorrow morning as I usually do.”

Astarion doesn’t come back up.

He hadn’t said he was going to, admittedly, and usually Gale would sleep after a panic attack, but something about it still feels slightly off. He finds himself remembering their sharp words, earlier. Set aside, but not forgotten. Not resolved. In Astarion’s absence, he feels the sting of them.

So Gale, trying to listen to the parts of his brain he’s accidentally been ignoring, decides to work through the things that usually make him feel better. Music would be one of them, only his hands are still shaking. Instead, he runs himself a deep, hot bath, and tries to enjoy it. The heat of the water isn't enough to relax him by itself. Instead, he works through his muscles, tensing and releasing one by one, until he feels less like he's trying to breathe with broken glass in his lungs.

Clean and dressed, he finds himself back in the stairwell, listening to the voices below. No matter how many days this continues, he can’t quite seem to get used to it. He could go down, to join the others. He probably should. Instead, he turns, and goes upstairs.

A little while later, Astarion finds him in the Observatory.

Gale is sitting against one of the backrests, watching the sky above. If Astarion didn't know him so well, he might look relaxed; spread out across the rug, his hands behind his head, the moonlight in his eyes as he considers the heavens above. But there is a line of something tense in the way he sits; in the steep of his brow. He isn't concentrating on the stars. His mind is elsewhere entirely.

He looks up with some surprise as Astarion lets himself in, sitting upright.

“Astarion!” He says, pleased but wary.

“The others have gone to spend the night at the House of the Moon,” he says. “I think once Shadowheart decided they needed to give us some space I couldn’t have paid them to stay.”

“Oh,” Gale says. “Even Clara?”

“Even Clara,” Astarion kneels beside him, his expression tense. “Gale, you know I can't get up here easily.” It’s not irritation, exactly, that colours his tone. But it’s not without weight, either.

“I thought you needed-” Gale looks concerned. He goes to reach for Astarion, and catches himself, folding his hand back into his lap. “Well, I see I misjudged.”

“I hate this,” Astarion growls. “Loving you is supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to hurt like this.”

“I'm sorry,” Gale says, again, like it will undo anything; like it can change who they are.

Astarion puts his hand on Gale's knee. It's uncertain, almost. What once would have been as natural to them both as breathing; like they're discovering this all over again. Learning how.

“Why are you up here?” Astarion asks.

The night has a thousand eyes, And the day but one,” Gale says. “I wanted to see the stars from Waterdeep before we leave. How did you get up?”

“Tara,” Astarion says, simply. “You know she hates it when we…. Well, I hesitate to call this an argument. It’s more of a situation that we’re both vexed by.”

Gale rubs his hands over his face.

“I don't want to keep having to do this-” he says, waving his hand out the window, which is now partially covered by an errant dragon wing. “I don't want to keep having to save the world. I don't want to be Mystra's Chosen, or have to do the job of one because the others are trapped in their spell. I don't want to have to put you through this again when you’re supposed to be free of it.”

“What do you want?” Astarion asks, quietly.

“You!” Gale says, exasperated. “This! Our home! I want to figure out how we can walk in sunlight together again. I want to take you to the bookshops and concerts and art galleries and coffee shops, dance with you at balls, decline invitations to social events to do nothing with you instead.”

This is, apparently, a much longer answer than Astarion had expected. His expression goes from shock, to amusem*nt, to fondness, and he rests his head on his hand, head tilted sideways as he smiles. Listening.

“I want to cook for you,” Gale continues, the initial frustration of it burned through and leaving only this desperation, the words and the dreams that will not stop; “I want to wake up to you and fall asleep with you and be irritated that my lectures are intruding on our time together. I want to be here for you as you figure out who you want to be, now. I want to give you the time to do that properly. I want to look after you, and you look after me, and the most stressful thing in our tendays being whether or not the weather is going to mean we have to close the shutters. I want to have the time to convince you that living like that isn't boring.”

“It’s not boring,” Astarion says. “Quiet, yes, predictable, maybe, but boring? I resent that.”

Gale breathes, suddenly exhausted.

“Oh, no, your face is doing the thing,” Astarion groans.

“The thing?”

“You get all droopy and-” Astarion imitates him, pulling the corners of his mouth and his brow down. “Like you need a hug. Do you need a hug?”

“Sad,” Gale says, disbelievingly. “You mean I look sad?”

“You look like a kicked puppy. It’s practically painful,” Astarion complains. “Tell me how to make it stop, please.”

And Gale, despite everything, despite himself, breathes a sound that isn’t laughter - but is something close.

“That’s better,” Astarion says. “Good to know my mere existence is still enough to cheer you up.”

Gale leans against Astarion’s shoulder. For a long while, they’re just quiet. But familiar as this pattern is, there’s still something fractured in the air between them. And Gale knows exactly what it is, because it’s fracturing from the tension of the words curled, stillborn, on his tongue.

“There is something I have never quite admitted, about being Mystra’s Chosen-” he says, eventually.

Astarion raises an eyebrow at him, warily, but says nothing. Waiting.

“I was the expendable one,” Gale says, miserably. “Elminster, Dove, Storm - they have all been Mystra’s Chosen for hundreds of years. But those of us she finds as children, like me and Clara? We aren’t the same. We make the same vows, perform the same duties, but we don’t last as long. Her seventh Chosen is… a transitory position. Even when I first became her Chosen I knew that. That’s why I was so determined to prove myself worthy. I thought, if I could do so, there was a chance I wouldn’t be as… temporary.”

He closes his eyes.

“I know I’m only human, even before you take into account the years I’ve lived twice. I know that even if we do find a way to reverse your vampirism, you will have a much, much longer life than I will. I think that I assume you also think of me as… somewhat temporary.”

Astarion inhales.

“No,” he says, quite simply. “If we never cure this, if I live another thousand years, I will spend those thousand years thinking of you, my love. Perhaps there will be other lovers after you, but they will never be you. And without you, I never would have remembered I had a heart at all."

“I would live a thousand years with you, if I could. But I hope you live a thousand years and have a thousand lovers after me, if that’s what makes you happy,” Gale says, and means it.

“A thousand lovers might be too many for even me,” Astarion teases. Then he lays his hand on top of Gale’s, his fingers resting on Gale’s ring. “But I don’t want any of that. I want you. Just you. I was under the impression that I had made that perfectly clear. Whatever that entails, and wherever it takes us. But however many times you need me to say it again, I will.”

“I love you too,” Gale says. “I think- that I am somehow afraid that I don’t love you enough.”

Enough?” Astarion says, disbelievingly. “Gale, it scares me how much you love me, I hope you know that.”

“But I still don’t know if I love you as much as you love me.”

Astarion frowns at him.

“Oh, is this a competition now? How are we measuring? I’m vetoing lifespans because that’s stupid, and there’s no other way I can think of to count. Yes, perhaps you would die for me and I would kill for you, but only that’s because that’s all we know. You’re forgetting that it would be much easier for me to burn the world to the ground for you than it would be for you to do the same. I would be worried if you did, Gale, because that’s not how you love. To get you to that point wouldn’t just take loving me - it would mean breaking you.”

“But earlier, you-”

“Needed a f*cking moment,” Astarion growls. “Are you forgetting what exactly happened today, Gale? Forgive me for not being logical about it the whole damn time.”

“No,” Gale agrees. “You’re right. About all of it, really.”

“I know, I often am,” Astarion agrees. “You’d think you’d be used to it by now. Anyway, instead of you having this little panic about how f*cked up we both are, how about we go on being sickeningly in love, and you can cook for me and attempt to teach me poetry and keep me entertained and I can- well, do whatever it is that makes you want to keep me around, I suppose. Hmm?”

“So that I can cook for you and teach you poetry and entertain you,” Gale agrees. “And so that you can keep my wits and my wiles sharp, and generally give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I could go on, but we’d be here all night, and frankly I think the one thing I cannot do is keep your ego in check, so I will refrain from feeding it.”

Astarion smiles.

“Then I suppose we had better get on with saving the world so that we can live that life you made sound so appealing.”

Gale hums, and leans over to press his lips to Astarion’s cheek; then his forehead; then his hand.

“Do you know what my least favourite thing about being in love with you is?” He says.

Astarion pulls a face at him.

“Do I want to know? I'm not sure I want to know.”

“Being in love with you isn't enough, on its own. It doesn't fix anything. If anything it makes everything harder.”

“Oh, yes,” Astarion agrees. “That’s not news to me, I'm afraid, love. That's just the nature of things. I could have told you that even when we first met.”

Gale grins.

“I should be flattered that you think I'm worth the effort of loving, then.”

“You are,” Astarion says, quite contentedly. “Personally I think the worst thing about loving you is how irritating you are about it. And how irritating it makes me.”

That makes Gale laugh.

Astarion shuffles to sprawl beside him, their knees touching. He leans on one elbow, and rests his other hand on Gale's neck.

“Incidentally, I appear to the the one comforting you, here, and that’s all kinds of f*cked up given that I nearly had to kill something wearing your face earlier.”

“I know,” Gale grimaces. “I don’t know how to even begin processing that. I want to ask you if you’re alright, but that seems like a stupid question.”

“It is,” Astarion agrees. “And I don’t have an answer, either. I appear to be-” he gestures at them, sprawled out along the rug, side by side. “As relaxed as I ever am. I don’t think a clone of you could be this emotionally f*cked up about imagined imbalances in our relationship, or as cognisant of it. That’s very much something only you are capable of, my dear.”

“True,” Gale tries to smile, but it’s more of a grimace. “In a way, it’s quite refreshing to have some side-effects of having a Goddess for an ex-lover that I can throw magic at until they go away.”

Astarion snorts.

“Speak for yourself. I did not appreciate meeting Karsus.”

“I know,” Gale curls their fingers together. “I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for code words, or emergency spells that use the same components as project image but are designed to face the other way, but-”

Astarion puts a finger to Gale’s lips.

“You are ridiculous,” he says, fondly. “And I am fine.”

Gale frowns at him.

“You’re not, though.”

Astarion sighs. When he speaks, it is quiet. It sounds like it's been dragged from the bottom of his soul.

“Gale,” he says. “You are my safety. You are my home.” It is furious and bitter and sad; but more than that, it is determined. “You are everything I never deserved. I will not let him take that.”

“He won't,” Gale says. “He hasn’t, Astarion. We’ll figure this out.”

Astarion leans in and kisses him, so gently it is almost hesitant. Gale curls his hand in the hair at the nape of his neck, trying to resist the urge to break the fragile peace of the moment. He wants to pull Astarion to him, to press their bodies together until he can’t quite remember where he ends and Astarion begins; but what he wants is not what Astarion needs.

“You’re such a gentleman,” Astarion grins, as if he can read Gale’s mind. “Miss me?”

“You have no idea,” Gale says, so quiet it might have been a whisper if there weren’t something dark and almost dangerous in it. “I was torturing myself, stranded in the Astral, imagining what Karsus might have done to you.”

“Ugh, you idiot,” Astarion says, fond and exasperated all at once. “Come here.”

That kiss dances on the edge between something soft, and something more; lips parted, breathing into each other, but barely more; the promise of something, in potentia, not followed through. This happens, sometimes, and Gale recognises it now; when Astarion wants and does not, in the same moment, and doesn't know what to do with that. It's almost like he is testing it, seeing where he finds the edge of his willingness, seeing if Gale will push him past it. Gale never does. Instead, he waits. Lets Astarion choose how far he wants this to go. And Astarion pulls back from it, resting their foreheads together.

They end up lying on the rug together, propped up against the backrest, Gale resting his head on Astarion’s shoulder as they watch the stars.

“I was going to ask if you were feeling better, but it’s just occurred to me that if you were, I'd be getting an astronomy lesson right now.”

Gale hums, turning his head into him, stars be damned.

“I’m getting there. Are you?”

“Getting there,” Astarion agrees. Then, a little while later; “Is it safe, to be in the weave?”

“Hmm?” Gale pulls his mind back from wherever it had wandered to. “Oh, yes. No more dangerous than it ever is. Why do you ask?”

“Because,” Astarion says. “I do know how you can help, Gale. I want to be with you the way I have never been with anyone else. When we’re… more than bodies. I want you to love me the way only you can.”

Gale breathes like he's been holding his breath all day; like this is the release; the first gasp of oxygen to a dying man redeemed. The ache in his chest hasn't loosened, yet. He knows it likely won't, for a long time. But he can breathe, now. He can breathe.

“Yes,” he says. "Gods, please, yes."

Chapter 8


Content warning: we start talking about emotional abuse in this one

Chapter Text

The morning is slow, quiet and cosy.

Gale spends most of it making brownies, which he then delivers to Arabella. Despite all of her protests, she lets him hug her goodbye anyway.

He stops by to see Morena on his way home. She's a little hungover and extremely apologetic about having brought a party to him, but in truth, Gale had enjoyed himself for the majority of the evening and has no difficulty convincing her of it. They make all of their usual promises; to not take any undue risks; for him to make sure to send her updates on their progress and to come home safe, and for her to keep an eye on Tara and not worry too much about them while they're gone.

When he gets home, Astarion is just stirring.

Gale can hear his footsteps upstairs as he comes in.

He goes up at the same moment Astarion comes down; they meet on the stairs.

“Morning,” Gale smiles.

Astarion doesn't bother to respond; instead he makes full use of the steps to kiss Gale from above.

“We need to get me nicer travelling clothes,” he complains. “I can’t pack any of my favourites, they're too nice to take on the road.”

Gale grins up at him.

“I love you,” he says.

Astarion rolls his eyes.

“A very useful response to that statement, my love, thank you for your valuable input.”

“I'm getting it out of my system before we don't have any time to ourselves for a while,” Gale says.

“Oh, well, in that case,” Astarion pins him up against the curved wall, “I shall do my utmost to assist.”

They're still standing there a fair while later, when someone knocks downstairs, and Gale feels the wards thrum. He pulls the robe back up to cover his shoulder, the bite-mark and the bruises Astarion has very thoughtfully left him.

“They can wait,” Astarion complains, trying to work his fingers back under the edge of Gale's robe.

“Not for as long as we'd like them to,” Gale buries his nose in Astarion's neck.

“You'd have us left alone forever.”

“I would,” Gale admits. “Forever might not be long enough, even.” He presses his lips to Astarion's neck, to the scar Cazador had left; Astarion shudders. “I'm beginning to think I will never tire of this, you know.”

“I should hope not,” Astarion says, haughtily. “I can't imagine I'll ever tire of you.”

“I didn't mean you,” Gale laughs, pulling back to poke Astarion's nose; he wrinkles it at him in response, as peeved by it as he always is. “I meant this phase of it. Of us. I keep thinking that the initial… frission of being with you will wear off, that it will settle into something else. But it hasn't. You still make my heart beat just as hard as you did in the Shadowlands.”

Astarion curls his hands around Gale's neck, tilting his chin up to kiss him, gently, though Gale can feel the stinging echo of his kisses from before in it.

“Maybe they'll think we aren't home and try again later,” he suggests - although as he does so, whoever is outside loses patience and knocks again, far more loudly and insistently. Astarion groans. “Ugh, fine. Besides, it's not like the others are going to be offended - they're used to us by now.”

“We’re bringing Clara,” Gale reminds him. “I'm not going to be sneaking off to make out with you in the woods when we're travelling with one of my students.”

Astarion tips his head back to make a noise of unimaginable suffering.

“But that's one of the best things about adventuring with you!”

“Getting laid in the wilds?” Gale says, disbelievingly. “Astarion, we have a bag of holding to travel with specifically because you refused to sleep on the ground ever again.”

“No-” Astarion grins. “Well, okay, yes- but sneaking off to steal kisses? It adds a delicious level of subterfuge to an already delightful situation.”

Gale, still not bothering to extract himself, leans against the wall and rests his hands on Astarion's hips.

“How you manage to make that sound sweet and not incredibly horny I have no idea.”

“I am extraordinarily talented,” Astarion agrees. “Are you ever going to actually push me away or are we just going to stand here and let them knock forever?”

Gale leans in to give him one last kiss, then pushes him away by the hips.

“Go on then - quickly, before I change my mind.”

There's another knock before Gale manages to get to the door.

“Alright, alright, I'm coming!” He yells.

“You would have been if you'd left them waiting,” Astarion says, thankfully before Gale gets to the door. When Gale turns to glare at him he grins.

“What, you're allowed to get it out of your system and I'm not?”

“If that's the last comment like that you make I will be astonished, Astarion.”

He opens the door. It's Wyll standing on the step, looking fairly well-rested, if a little exasperated. Behind him is - well, everybody else. Lae'zel and Shadowheart and Karlach and Clara.

“Morning,” Gale says, cheerfully. “No Aylin this morning?”

“Apparently Selune says she's to stay at the House of the Moon now that she's delivered her missive to us,” Wyll explains, as they all troupe in.

“Oh,” Gale can't quite hide his surprise. “I suppose that's a vote of confidence in us, from Selune? That we don't need an aasimar?”

“She must think we have all the help we need,” Shadowheart agrees. “So. How are we getting to Elysium?”

“Oooh, it smells of baking in here,” Karlach says, excitedly. “Gale, is there any left?”

“There are,” Gale takes the teatowel off the plate of brownies on the side. “The majority of them went to Arabella and her friends, but I thought we could have these with lunch. A little extra energy to get us started off on the right foot.”

“Yes!” Karlach grins. “This is the best!” She hands one to Clara before taking one herself.

“Feeling better this morning?” Wyll says, quietly appearing at Gale's side.

“Much, thank you. I just needed a little time. How was the temple?”

“Oh, fascinating!” Wyll says, happily. “Though nowhere near as homely as staying with you and Morena, of course.”

“Do you think you could teach me to bake?” Karlach says, hopefully, bringing Wyll a brownie.

“I could try,” Gale says. “Though I'm a much better cook than I am a baker. They're entirely different disciplines.”

Karlach shrugs.

“Hey, maybe I'll be better at it than cooking then.” She grins. “I adore seeing the way you and Astarion live now, you know. I didn't think any of us would suit settling down, but seeing the home you have here - it's giving me ideas. I don't know if Wyll and I will have the kind of home where baking happens on the regular, but you know what? I can't wait to find out.”

“You are disgustingly wholesome,” Astarion complains. “Personally I prefer it when Gale bakes.”

“Why?” Gale asks, genuinely puzzled.

“You don't mind being interrupted as much,” Astarion grins. “And unless there's something in the oven, I can interrupt you for as long as I want.”

Gale sighs.

“Ten minutes, Astarion. You lasted ten minutes without making an inappropriate comment.”

"As we've established, ten minutes is more than enough-"

Gale knows that Astarion is familiar with the shape of the somatic component for 'silence', because he moves his hand, and Astarion capitulates.

“Clara isn't listening!” He protests.

“Clara is absolutely listening,” Clara says, quietly, from where she's sharing a brownie with Shadowheart. “Clara is collecting blackmail material for when her professor gives her a grade lower than she deserves.”

There's a short moment of silence; and then Astarion's delighted laughter.

“I have never given you an unfair grade,” Gale protests.

“Not yet,” Clara agrees.

“I think we're a bad influence on you, little wizard,” Astarion grins.

“I resent the ‘we’,” Gale frowns. “I haven't been a bad influence on anybody in months.”

“That is objectively untrue,” Astarion protests.

Having had the morning to himself, Gale enjoys the presence of the others much more. They eat their sandwiches as they hash out their plan for the day, and the afternoon descends into a flurry of activity and chatter.

He can't help but be caught up in some of the excitement of it. He's no stranger to visiting other planes of existence, but he's aware that Elysium is an unusual one, for most people.

It's an easy enough journey, at least. Travelling along the branches of the world tree sounds both more complicated and impressive than it is. In reality, it takes only a few seconds from their feet leaving his kitchen floor for them to arrive in the forests below Dweomerheart.

“Welcome to the heavens,” he says, smiling around at the ancient forest; the dappled light through the trees, the circle of standing stones that has played gate to them covered in moss and lichen, the mushrooms, red-capped and fey-like, ringing them in. The air smells fresh and clean and dewey, even though it's mid-afternoon now, and the light is warm and golden.

“I am glad I have learned to appreciate places such as this,” Lae’zel says, staring about her as all the others are. “Although we had better not be too far from the city if I am to continue to appreciate it.”

“Not at all,” Gale agrees, readjusting the pack he's slung over his shoulder to get more comfortable, and taking Astarion's hand under the dark cloak. “We should get there just about at sunset. Shall we?”

It's not a long walk up to the plateau, nor is it an unpleasant one. The steps wind back and forth, rising slowly, the view of the horizon growing.

Karlach in particular is having the time of her life.

“I was happy to be out of Avernus, but in Elysium?” She laughs. “Damn, life is good!”

“This is pleasingly reminiscent of our old adventures,” Lae’zel agrees. “Now we just need to find somebody to scalp, and it will be ideal.”

Gale keeps a close hold on Astarion's elbow, and smiles at Wyll over his head.

“If I could summon a phoenix for her, I would.”

“Oh hells,” Wyll laughs. “I'm glad I don't have to worry about her overheating from excitement anymore.”

Shadowheart and Clara are walking ahead, stopping occasionally to question Gale on interesting flowers and plants; most of which he cannot answer.

“I'm not a druid,” he protests, eventually, when Shadowheart expresses her surprise at his lack of knowledge. “I studied the weave, here, not the natural world.”

“We should have brought Halsin,” Shadowheart sighs.

Instead, she and Clara decide to press samples between the pages of Clara's spellbook so that they can be posted to Halsin later.

Behind them, Karlach has started humming. It's a happy little ditty, and one that Gale recognises.

The road goes on,” he joins in, cheerfully, to Karlach's delight.

And we winding follow!” She sings back, tuneless but happy.

The road goes on,” Wyll joins in too, his voice soft and pleasant.

Winding into tomorrow!” Karlach yells, barely even pretending to sing, now.

They sing-shout their way through the rest of it, Astarion complaining about his poor ears, Shadowheart coming back down the path to join in for a little while.

“Just like old times,” Wyll grins, when they finish.

“Just as tuneless,” Astarion agrees.

“Pish posh,” Gale says, cheerfully. “Some songs aren't about the tune.”

“Your mother would disown you for saying so,” Astarion refutes, then yelps as he trips over a step. Gale and Wyll catch him before he can go anywhere. Astarion says something unrepeatable, which makes Wyll chuckle.

“My father says I swear like a sailor now, and I think that's only partially Karlach's influence.”

“Your father has only met incredibly polite sailors,” Gale says. “We’re nearly there now, at least - and it'll be sunset soon, I hope.”

“It bloody better be,” Astarion sighs. “I’m getting used to belonging to the shadows, generally, but traipsing about as a lump of enchanted blankets makes it considerably more irritating.”

Behind them, Karlach has stopped to exclaim over a plant in a shade she's never seen before.

“You could wear it in your hair,” Clara suggests, she and Shadowheart having fallen behind whilst choosing flowers to press.

“Ah, I can't,” Karlach sighs, “I-” then she stops. “Oh, hells, I can! I can put flowers in my hair! HA! I CAN PUT FLOWERS IN MY HAIR!"

“If you want to go and walk with Karlach,” Astarion says, quietly, to Wyll; “I'll be alright.”

“No need,” Wyll says, “I’m lucky enough to spend all my time with her. I'm not lucky enough to spend much time with the rest of my friends. Besides, I wouldn't want to rob her of the joy of telling me about this later.”

By the time they reach the gates of the city, it has grown dark enough for Astarion to remove his cloak. He turns, and takes a proper look back across Elysium for the first time.

Clara and Karlach have bestowed flower crowns upon everyone who would take one; which is everyone other than him and Lae'zel. Shadowheart had been reluctant, but was more easily persuaded by Karlach's enthusiasm. Lae'zel, as unswayable as ever, had protested that it was too irritating to have a crown, so instead they've woven flowers into her braids. She's trying not to smile about it.

Even with the spread of the heavens beyond them, Astarion finds his eyes pulled away from the glittering mountain peaks and shimmering forests; instead, he watches Gale. They'd managed to find silver flowers, somewhere, that match the silver embroidery of his robe, though there's purple and blue and even white woven in there too. Shadowheart's doing, he presumes, going by how joyously haphazard the colours of the flowers in Karlach and Wyll's crowns are. Gale’s is slipping, slightly, sitting at an angle on his forehead as if balancing out the orb-scar. They look less like they're trying to track down a lost Goddess and more like they're on their way to a festival.

“You know, I could have sworn we used to take ourselves more seriously,” Astarion says.

“Thank the lady we don't,” Shadowheart replies. “Life is stressful enough already without us making it worse for ourselves, wouldn't you say?”

“Don't think I've forgotten about the face-paint at the circus!” Karlach reminds him. “That's still one of my favourite looks on you.”

Astarion, who had submitted to it under extreme duress and has regretted it ever since, growls at her.

“Feisty!” She grins. “Here, have a flower crown and chill the f*ck out.”

She plonks it on his head.

“Not my hair, Karlach!” He protests, but Gale is already grinning at him.

“Oooh, excellent choice of colours, Karlach! The red and black petals are especially dramatic.”

“I'm going to kill you all,” Astarion says.

“We love you too,” Karlach grins, and sweeps him into a bear hug. “Now come on, we’ve got a city of magic to see!”

Astarion removes the crown and puts it on top of Gale's, the colours clashing horribly.

“Oh I get two?” Gale grins. “Truly, I am flattered that you think of me so highly.”

“You look better in a crown than I do,” Astarion says. “It's the beard.”

“You look good in anything,” Gale refutes.

“I know,” Astarion agrees. “But you're still not going to talk me into wearing flowers in my hair by saying so.”

“Damn,” Gale grins. “Well, I'll enjoy it while it lasted, I suppose.”

Karlach has already bounded up ahead and is staring down the giant gates. The walls of Dweomerheart stretch high into the sky, obscuring all behind it.

“Hey sparkle-fingers, how do we get in? There's no handle!”

“Like this,” Gale puts his hand on the gate, and it swings open.

Dweomerheart isn't there.

For a moment, he simply stands. Staring, in silent shock, at the empty rock of the plain. At the far end, there is Mystra's palace still; domed and sparkling, incandescently beautiful. Yet it stands alone. The streets, the buildings, the libraries and universities and archives and schools - they're all gone. As are the faithful and the spirits who inhabited them.

It steals the breath from his chest; the joy from his smile. The whole city. The place that used to be a second home to him; gone. He had mourned its loss once, but only to himself. Knowing it was still out there, to be loved by someone else if not him.

But it hadn't. There is no city left for anyone to love, anymore.

A little way off, sitting on the floor, is a man with a short white beard and long grey hair.

“Azuth?” Gale says, and strides over to him. “Azuth, is that you?”

The old God looks up, blinking at him as if from a long, long way away.

From a little way away, he had seemed quite small. Up close, it's clear that he isn't at all. Sitting with his head bowed, his legs crossed, his back hunched, he is nearly the same height as Gale.

“Gale of Waterdeep,” he says, not without surprise. “Why, it has been so very long.”

“Azuth, what happened?” Gale says, urgently. “Where is everybody?”

“Mystra's gone,” Azuth says, simply. “It was not like the spellplague. There were no explosions, no deaths. Instead, it has simply… faded out of existence. Slowly, mind. When we realised what was happening, we had time to make decisions. Pack up, choose where to build new lives. While the palace remains, I have decided to remain as its guardian. For now. Until it too, disappears. Or until Mystra returns.”

Gale takes it in. Here, where once there were glittering streets, shining towers, there is nothing. Not even a trace of it. No broken tiles, no foundation-lines, not even footprints other than their own. Only bare earth and rock.

“How has nobody had word of this?” He says, astonished.

“She isn't dead,” Azuth says. He's still sitting, cross-legged, on his bare little patch of earth. His cloak had seemed greyer than usual, at first, but up close it is possible to see some of its muted lustre; that sparkle of godhood. “As long as the Weave holds, we are safe. For now, it holds.”

Gale doesn't bother to ask what will happen when it finally falls apart. He knows.

“We’re looking for Mystra,” he says. “We were attacked by something wearing her face, pretending to be her, that tore a hole in the weave.”

“I know,” Azuth says, simply. “I felt your spell; your adaptation of the Chosen’s Call. Ingenious, I must say. But then I have always admired your spellcraft. It pointed you here, however - and I do not think that this is where you will find Mystra.”

“No,” Gale looks around him. “But if it isn't, I want to find out why it did point us here.”

“Understandable,” Azuth says. “If there is anything I can do to be of assistance, Gale of Waterdeep, I shall be here.”

Gale looks at the Lord of Spells, usually a cheerful deity, and considers him.

“And if there is anything I can do for you, Azuth, I shall do it. I remain, as always, your humble servant.”

Azuth considers him in return, some of his old sparkle in those huge eyes.

“You have changed and you have not, old friend. You seem to be more distant to me than you were. Have you studied sorcery, perhaps, since you left this place?”

“Sorcery?” Gale blinks at him. “I'm no more a Sorcerer than I am a Bard, Azuth. But, perhaps, when I disintegrated and was re-made by the power of the weave, the lines between the internal and external aspects of my control became more blurred.”

Azuth nods at that.

“Perhaps. Well, if you find a cushion in the palace that won't disappear if you bring it out here, it would not go unnoticed.”

“Of course,” Gale bows, hand on his chest. “Is there anything else we could look for, for you? Some books, perhaps?”

“I am content,” Azuth asserts. “I could stand to be more comfortable.”

“Understood,” Gale nods. “Thank you, Azuth. May my spellwork continue to please you.”

He takes both of the crowns from his head, and hands them to Azuth. The old God smiles at him, at last.

“Such a kind and simple offering, my friend.”

“The joy of creation,” Gale says. “Nothing suits you better.”

Azuth, at last, gets to his feet. It is a slow process, requiring the unfolding of long limbs.

“I would look upon Elysium again,” he says, thoughtfully. “Here, there is no hope. There is no joy. Only loss. Go in peace, Gale of Waterdeep, and your friends too. I wish you luck.”

The blessing settles into Gale's chest like a spring day; warm and light and freeing. He bows, again, and turns to watch Azuth stride away, wearing flowers in his hair.

“That was Azuth?” Karlach says, quietly. “He escaped Avernus too. I've always liked the sound of him.”

“He's a gentle God,” Gale agrees. “The same cannot be said for many. Come on - as long as the palace still stands, maybe there's something of use there.”

Clara scurries to walk by his side as they set off again, quieter this time.

“Professor, how do you just talk to them?” She asks.


“The Gods! He could have struck you down with a thought!” Clara exclaims.

“So could most anyone, really,” Gale says. “Any random mortal in the street with a knife could kill you, but why would they? A God is no more likely to bother. Azuth has no reason to, and most Gods simply don't care. They abide by much simpler rules than mortals, really.”

Clara is staring at him, flabbergasted.

“If it comes to it, you'll get used to it,” Gale reassures her. “Most Gods were mortal once, too. Almost none of them remember it, mind - but the line between mortality and immortality is far more permeable to those studied in the Weave than it is to your average person.”

“Are you talking about becoming a God again?” Astarion comes up beside them, apparently enjoying not having to be guided again. Above them, in the dusk of the day, the stars begin to emerge.

“No more than you're talking about becoming a true vampire.”

“I killed my master,” Astarion points out. “I have made my decision about as permanently as I possibly could.”

“True,” Gale agrees. “I don't have quite as decisive a way to prove my conviction, but I remain firm nonetheless. I would choose my life with you over divinity a thousand times over.”

“Sap,” Astarion says, and elbows him gently in the arm. “Although I suppose it must take someone quite remarkable to make a man forget his Goddess.”

“You would know,” Gale agrees. “Anyway, I'm sorry I can't show either of you Dweomerheart as it was. It used to be quite a sight.”

“I can imagine,” Astarion says. “All the… sparkles. It's very…”

“Gaudy?” Gale suggests, with a smile. “You know Mystra and stars.”

“Unfortunately,” Astarion sighs. “Wizards and stars, really.”

“The moment I found out your name I should have seen this coming,” Gale agrees.

“Ha!” Astarion laughs, “If we start making jokes about names you are going to come out of this far worse than I am, my dear.”

“Ooof,” Gale grimaces. “Don't remind me. School was not kind, especially considering I have been exceptionally loquacious since the moment I could talk.”

“But the only people I know of who call you names now are the ones you've failed,” Clara says, reassuringly. “And they're just being bitter.”

“Ah - thank you, I think,” Gale says. “Although in all honesty I can't pretend to mind if my students like me much. As long as you like what you learn. That's the thing.”

And so they chat their way across the plateau, the walk that once felt quite short with the diversions of people and place to occupy the eye and the mind; and which, in their absence, feels so very long.

At one point Wyll catches up to share that their conversation has rambled around the colour of Astarion's eyes.

“I haven't thought much about it, honestly,” Astarion says. “If we find out I suppose I'll have to redo my wardrobe.”

“What colour do you think Astarion's eyes would be, if not red?” Wyll asks Gale, curiously.

“Hmm?” Gale pulls his mind back from wherever it had been wandering. “Well, if I were to stereotype, I would guess his heritage is teu’tel’quessir, so statistically? Green, with gold flecks. In reality, though, who knows? After all, stereotypes and statistics would try to argue against Halsin's mere existence.”

“Green and gold, I could work with,” Astarion muses.

“I'm glad you have such faith in me,” Gale says.

Whatever the response is, he doesn't register it. Instead, he is studying Mystra's palace ahead of them with a frown.

It seems larger than ever, abandoned alone in the centre of this plateau. The weave is curving around it, somehow. There's a change in the air. Azuth was right; by all accounts, the palace should have vanished just as surely as the rest of Dweomerheart. Something, or someone, is holding it here.

“Hold on,” Gale warns. “I think we need to be careful. Mystra had safeguards, and I suspect I am not going to have permission to access this place anymore.”

“What kind of safeguards?” Wyll asks, warily.

“Summons, if I remember correctly,” Gale says. “I never saw them triggered, I'm not sure exactly what-”

As if in answer, there's a sudden hiss. He feels it happen; reality twists around them.

The creatures that appear aren't a shape he recognises. They're barely shapes at all. They're collections of magic, strands of weave that have been lying in wait for exactly this. For the moment, however, they simply appear.

“Tsk’va,” Lae’zel draws her sword. “I do not know what these are, or their weak points.”

“They look like Gale did when he disintegrated,” Shadowheart says. “They're like… echoes of light.”

Gale takes a step further forward - then another. The echoes do not react.

“Hello,” he tries, “Can we-”

The first one seems to turn to him. As it focuses, it takes shape; he sees eyes, for the first time. An outline, almost humanoid, if blurred. And, most importantly, a sword.

“Nope,” he shouts. “Diplomacy is not an option, apparently!”

Lae'zel and Karlach are already charging past him. As they do so, the other echoes take shape and form, drawing weapons seemingly from air. Karlach swipes her axe at one of them - to Gale's relief, it shrieks, as if in pain. The particles of light torn from its belly scatter over the ground like sparks.

“They don't even have the manners to bleed,” Astarion complains, at his side, blades drawn and poised. “Keep an eye on Clara, love - I've got people to hurt.”

Gale steps back, the spell already forming in his fingers. The others have spread out already, but several of the echoes are still standing far too close to each other to be sensible. An easy target for a fireball.

The moment it leaves his fingers, however, he feels the weave tear.

“sh*t,” Gale says, dropping his staff to grasp for the weave. “Don't cast! DON’T CAST! CLARA, SHADOWHEART, CONFIRM YOU AREN'T CASTING!”

Karlach leaps in front of Clara, sword raised, pushing them both in towards the group. Astarion is suddenly back at Gale's side, blades raised in defense.

“I'll cover you,” he says. Gale can't express his gratitude, his mind and mouth already fully occupied in holding together the weave. The others have drawn back in immediately, turned to defensive rather than offensive. Clara is at his side, her hands joining his to pull the weave back together.

Thankfully, it's nowhere near as urgent as the last time; this is the very first edge of a fray, more easily controlled.

Have you got this? Gale thinks, urgently, watching over her shoulder as one of the broken echoes takes a brutal swing at Wyll.

Clara’s affirmative is wordless; a confirmation in feeling only.

Gale hands her the remaining threads, and draws his sword.

It would be unfair to say that the tide of the battle turns the moment he joins them. What he does manage, however, is to give Wyll just enough of a moment to breathe and collect himself that he has a chance to do something other than parry. And when the first of the Echoes dissipates, screaming, there are more of them than there are summons.

The last one falls to Lae’zel's blade. Already turning to Clara, Gale finds her standing perfectly calmly, hands outstretched, smoothing over the repaired patch.

“You alright?” He asks, sheathing his sword.

“I'm alright,” Clara says, and though she nearly manages it with a straight face, her voice wobbles.

“I forgot how terrifying it is to have a fireball go off around you,” Shadowheart says with a shudder.

“Oh, yes, sorry-” Gale winces. “I'll try and remember to give you some warning, next time.”

“There won't be a next time, if you can't cast spells.” Lae’zel says, brushing herself off.

“We can't,” Gale reasserts. “That single strand nearly collapsed what little remains of this place. The weave is both too concentrated and too volatile here - I think it's getting more so, the closer we get.” He frowns. “Maybe that's why the signal pointed us here?”

“Enough dawdling - if we're going to have to fight our way in, we need to get a move on.” Lae’zel growls.

“Seconded,” Karlach hefts her axe over her shoulder. “If this place is so dangerous, let's get in and out as quickly as possible.”

To Gale's surprise, the palace door opens to his touch without any further triggering of wards or other spells.

“Hm,” he says, watching the great doors swing open. “Either Mystra was less petty than I thought she was, or the old protections are failing.”

“Your hand being the key to your ex-lover's house is amusing,” Astarion agrees. “I presume if it was any of us we’d have been blown to pieces.”

“I was sort of expecting to be,” Gale admits. “Hence why I'm wondering if something's broken.”

They proceed with caution all the same.

The initial outer rooms of Mystra's palace complex are almost exactly as Gale remembers them; showy, spacious, and almost entirely lacking in character. This is not what Mystra would have meant by ‘home’. Instead, he leads them further in; through the courtyards and the audience-chambers, the ballrooms and libraries, until at last they climb the stairs to the more private parts of the palace.

“This place is a city all by itself,” Shadowheart says, quietly. “No wonder the rest of it has fallen away - it must take so much energy to maintain even this.”

Gale doesn't have the heart to explain that even this is a poor, hollow shell of what it had once been. It is opulent enough, by the standards of the material plane - but not by Mystra's. It's not often he has seen these windows as windows, rather than as portals to other realms. Nor has he seen the ceilings, where usually there would be canopies of stars, rustling boughs of lush forests, or whatever else had been conjured that day for the amusem*nt of Mystra and her faithful. Even the textures and colours of the things he does recognise seem flatter and duller than they had.

He had been aiming for Mystra's chambers. In truth, she tended not to spend much time there, given she had no need for rest or other decidedly mortal concerns. It is, however, the only place he can think of that would be ‘home’ to her.

What he hadn't expected was to find that his own quarters are still here.

When he turns the corner, the sight of those huge, ornately carved wooden doors stops him short.

Once, a very long time ago, Mystra had created this for him. When he became her Chosen; when he had given himself to her. She had made him this place, this little haven in the heart of her sanctuary, to call his own.

It is as if his seventeen year old self stands at his shoulder, now. That awe, that joy in realising how important he was to her - overshadowed, now, by the weight of knowing what it really was. A manipulation; a trick, to buy him in. Past those doors, how many years of his life had he given her? For she spent far more of her time with him in his quarters than he did in hers. Or in Waterdeep, for that matter.

He had been happy here. Somehow, that makes it worse. He had been happy, and blinded, and looking back on it takes what might once have been a slightly bittersweet memory and makes it sour and rotten and foetid.


Astarion's voice is soft - concerned.

Of course. To them, it's just another door.

“I- my rooms are still here,” Gale says, unable to hide his surprise. “I thought she'd have destroyed them. I thought I'd lost it all.” The realisation hits him like a carriage at full speed. “My books-”

Perhaps he hadn't intended to see inside; perhaps he simply hadn't thought that far. But the thought of his beloved books, all those years of his work, that he had thought lost at best, destroyed at worst - the thought that it might still be there, waiting, propels his feet across the corridor more surely than he would have thought possible.

The door, as handle-less as every other in this place, sings under his palm. Recognition.

The doors swing open, and there it is. His room. His life. Exactly as he'd left it. Tidied away, expecting his return from his little adventure in just a few day's time. His triumphant return, it would have been. The return that never was.

The window in the left wall still looks out on his favourite view of Elysium; the balcony hangs over one of Mystra's more private courtyards, on the edge of the cliff, and beyond it are the mountains, the forests, the glittering waterfalls tumbling into the layers below. Above them the stars are in full show now, colours shining across the sky like a piece from an artists’ dream.

In this entry-way, he had constructed a study not unlike the one he now has at home. The desk, the bookshelves, the instruments. Even the piano. Tara’s favourite cushion, indented from the many hours she'd spent curled up in it, still sits on the second chair beside the alchemy bench. A potion he had left to settle has long-since evaporated, leaving only dust in the very bottom of the jar. There is still a list of the things he'd intended to pack on the table beside it.

“It's here,” he says, bemusedly. “This palace moved on a daily basis, changed to be whatever Mystra wanted it to be - and all this time, she left my rooms.”

“You lived here?” Clara says, disbelievingly.

“Half my life,” Gale confirms. “Since I was your age - until just over a year ago.”

He walks across the carpet he'd walked across a thousand times before, in another lifetime, as another man. The smell of it is so familiar it hurts; the musk of books, his favourite soap, and Mystra. He'd forgotten that. There's the light wisp of something sweet and perfumed in the air, almost like the aura left by a powerful spell, and yet something else.

Gale walks through the memories the smell conjures, and looks around. The others file in after him. The room loses some of its strange, dreamlike quality with their presence. It loosens the tension in his chest, too. Breathing easier now, Gale walks over to his bedroom door, and opens it.

It, too, is exactly as he'd left it. There's still a book open on the bedside table, where he'd been expecting to come back to it, to resume his note-taking.

The only difference is that there's someone on the bed.

Gale drops immediately into battle-stance. Behind him, he hears the others react to it; blades are drawn, bows strung.

But the figure does not move. They are curled up, in the centre of the bed, half-hidden behind the sheer silk chiffon curtains tied to the four posts.

They are completely naked. It hadn't been immediately obvious at first, because the duvet and pillows are so sumptuous, but Gale can see the smooth skin of the underside of what is, unmistakably, someone's thigh.

“What is it?” Astarion whispers, barely even audible though he's right by Gale's ear.

“Who,” Gale corrects, equally quietly. “I don't know - the only people who should have been able to get in were me and Mystra.”

Astarion creeps forward, his steps silent. Gale follows him in, trying not to feel extremely weird about creeping into his own bedroom and failing.

But then he is close enough to see the sleeping figure’s face; and then he understands.

“Oh sh*t,” he says, quietly.

“You know her?” Astarion hisses.

“In a sense,” Gale stands, turning to his old dresser. In the bottom drawer, just as there had always been, he finds the extra blankets. He unfolds one, and lays it over the woman’s body. Only then does he lean down and take her wrist between her fingers, feeling for a pulse.

She is alive. The pulse is weak, but definitely there. As he touches her, she stirs; she had been sleeping. Not an ordinary sleep, he doesn't think. It has the sense of an enchantment about it.

The woman opens her eyes, sees him - and screams.

“Sorry!” Gale lets go and steps back immediately. “Sorry, was just checking you weren't dead-”

The woman leaps straight up out of bed, and moves her hand towards him.

“No!” Gale jumps towards her. “Don't cast! Don't cast!”

She continues to move her hand - Gale does the only thing he can think to do. He grabs her by the wrists, and slams her against the bedpost.

“The weave is collapsing, Midnight! If you pull on even the slightest strand right now, the whole of it could unravel!”

For a moment they stare at each other.

“Gale,” she says, at last, eyes still round with fear. He can feel her heart hammering in her wrists now. “You're Gale.” Then her face twists. “How the f*ck do I know who you are? How do you know who I am?”

“It's a long story,” Gale says, relaxing his grip slightly. “How about you put some clothes on and then we can talk about it.”

She glares at him.

“Why am I naked in the first place?”

“I have no idea,” Gale says, quite honestly. “No offence, but I'd rather you weren't.”

“None taken,” Midnight yanks her wrists free.

Gale lets her go, turning to pick up the blanket and hand it to her.

“Right.” He goes over to the wardrobe, and pulls the door open, half expecting it to be empty. Instead, it's still full of his old clothes. He pulls out the nearest of his robes without really thinking about it, and tosses it over the bed to her. “We’ll be outside when you're done.”

Midnight says nothing, which in all honesty, Gale is rather grateful for. He turns, walks out of the bedroom, and closes the door behind him.

“Well,” Astarion says. “Not Mystra, then?”

“Midnight,” Gale says, leaning against the door like doing so will somehow contain the dawning horror of the situation within. “The mortal woman who became Mystra. Without, it seems, any of Mystra herself anymore.”

“Oh,” Astarion says. “Oh, sh*t.”

It's a sentiment reflected in the expressions around the room.

“Exactly,” Gale says.

He would quite like to curl up on the floor for a little while. Perhaps lean over the balcony and scream. Instead, he turns to the bookshelves around him, and focuses.

“Astarion, do you have that bag of holding?”

“I do - do you need something from it?”

“Quite the opposite,” Gale says. “I don't know why Mystra didn't remove this place the moment she removed me, but this is my life’s work - and I am not missing the only opportunity I may ever get to save some of it.”

And so saying, he begins to work through the tomes, looking for the titles and subjects he most finds lacking in Waterdeep.

He wants to take it all. So much of it is knowledge cultivated here, in Dweomerheart, and the chances of it having survived being scattered amongst the planes with its previous inhabitants is unlikely. But they don't have time for that; instead he starts by taking what he remembers missing most, and goes from there.

A few moments later, the bedroom door clicks back open.

Midnight is not wearing the robe he'd thrown at her. Instead she seems to be wearing an amalgamation of things he's not entirely sure he recalls owning. It's simple, too, which his wardrobe here almost never was; a cream shirt, clearly for a different shape of person as it is too wide for her shoulders, black trousers that she's had to roll up at the ankles, and bare feet. Presumably none of his shoes had fitted.

“Gale of Waterdeep,” she says. “What is going on?”

“You may want to sit down,” Gale says, somewhat grimly.

Midnight casts her eyes around the room. They're a motley crew at the best of times, and what she makes of them Gale can only guess. But she takes a seat on his reading sofa, folds her arms over her chest, and glares at him.


“It's 1493DR,” Gale says, simply.

He watches Midnight's expression, expecting some sort of reaction. Instead, she remains poker-faced.

“What's the last thing you remember?” He asks.

“Ascension,” Midnight says, her sharp eyes flicking back and forth between their faces.

“1358,” Clara says, quietly. “You don't remember the Second Sundering?”

Midnight eyes her suspiciously.

“I didn’t-” she says, expression pinched. “Until you said that.”

“And yet you know who I am,” Gale frowns.

“I don't know why,” Midnight glares at him. “Tell me. Not the centuries of time I have lost - tell me what I need to know, here and now.”

“Mystra is missing,” Gale says. “Without her, the weave is slowly collapsing. It has done so previously, catastrophically, when Mystra was murdered, a time that became known as the Second Sundering. She was restored, then, and we are hoping that she can be restored again before the weave collapses. We are currently in Dweomerheart - or what remains of it, at least. We came here because a spell to find Mystra sent us here. I think that you know me because I used to be one of her Chosen. We are currently in what used to be my rooms.”

Midnight stares at him.

“Gale,” she says. Then, with dawning realisation; “Gale!”

Before, her expression had been one of carefully maintained blankness. Now that vanishes; in a single moment, she seems to go through an entire spectrum of emotion. Somewhere in there is something almost affectionate; she stands, and steps towards him, and Gale has the sudden and horrifying thought that she might attempt to kiss him.

Instead, she punches him in the face.

Ultimately, it's a better outcome. It still hurts. He yelps, taken completely by surprise, and stumbles backwards.

“Watch it!” Astarion is by his side immediately, teeth bared at Midnight, holding Gale behind him.

“Mystra has been missing for months - months! And you've only just noticed! What kind of useless Chosen are you?” Midnight shouts.

“An outcast one!” Gale says, muffled through his hands, bent over in pain. “That hurt!”

Shadowheart is already by his side, holding a rag to his nose to stem the bleeding, the healing charm smoothing slowly through his face and taking the sharp sting out of the pain.

“It was supposed to!” Midnight shakes her fist, grimacing. “And who are all of these people?”

“My friends,” Gale says. “I suspect proper introductions will have to wait - but for now, Astarion, Shadowheart, Wyll, Karlach, Lae’zel, and Clara. And,” he waves a hand back in her direction. “Midnight.”

“You're friends with a vampire?” Midnight says, disbelievingly.

“He’s my fiancé, in fact,” Gale corrects, acidly. “If you have a problem with that, this is going to be even less fun for everybody than it already is.”

“He's our vamp,” Karlach puts in, suddenly. “And you just punched our wizard, too, so you're on thin f*cking ice right now.”

Midnight is staring at him, still.

“Fiancé? You're engaged? But-” Somewhere, a memory triggers. The confusion clears. “The orb,” she says. “I remember now - the orb. I was - she was - we were furious.” It's not just understanding. The serenity that settles over her is almost otherworldly - and entirely inhuman. “You could have been everything. You were more than worthy. But you threw it all away.”

Gale blinks at her, disbelievingly.

“That's how Mystra thinks of me, now?” He sighs. “Gods above.”

Midnight blinks, considering him.

“She wanted you,” She says, slowly, in a much more human tone. “She wanted your power.”

“She had so very many uses for it - for me,” Gale agrees. “Yes, I'm familiar with this story, I lived through it too. It appears that I came out the other side with a decidedly different perspective, though.”

Midnight considers him, her head on one side.

“Yes. It's the same way she used me.” She looks at her hands, suddenly, and flexes them; as if testing that they're still under her control. “I thought, when Ao told me that I would be Mystra, that he meant I would become a deity. He didn't. He meant that I would be the vessel for the part of the weave that needed a deified form. I did not become Mystra. Mystra became me. She saw what I was, and she loved it - and she took it for her own.”

“Until now,” Astarion points out. “I didn't know that Gods could be un-deified, you know. That certainly asks some interesting questions.”

Gale hums, thoughtfully.

“I don't suppose you happen to remember what happened, do you, Midnight? Why you're here?”

Midnight considers this.

“Hang on,” she closes her eyes. “I remember- I remember Moonrise Towers. You would have died, only it wasn't your time. Or… Mystra didn't want you to die, I think.”

“We had to face the Absolute,” Gale agrees. “I had to give her the crown back.”

“Karsus,” Midnight opens her eyes. “Karsus! His spirit was in the crown!” She stands up, suddenly “That's what it was! Mystra isn't dead! She only had six Chosen, because she didn't have you, so instead she had to leave-”

“You,” Gale finishes the realisation for her. “The spell - it said ‘Dweomerheart’ and then it said ‘Home’ - but it didn't mean here, this palace. It meant you. Her vessel.”

“What?” Midnight frowns at him. “No, it meant here - this place. With you. This was the closest thing to a home we ever had.”

Gale blinks at her.

“Oh,” he says, then; “Ouch.”

“Sorry,” Midnight winces, “That was not a particularly considerate thing to say, even for me.”

“It's alright, she's the one who cast me out - not you,” Gale says. “I think, anyway.”

Midnight nods.

“I think so. It's hard to tell. When I ascended, I thought I'd be able to do better. Or hoped, perhaps. Instead, I barely existed. I was a shadow in the back of her mind. She only called on me when she needed me - needed my humanity, I think.” She pauses. “It might have been me that wouldn't let you die, after all. Maybe it wasn't Mystra. I'm… not sure.”

Gale nods.

“Anything else? About Karsus?” He prompts.

Midnight shakes her head.

“She fears him. He killed Mystryl. He killed my daughters’... mother… Me?” She frowns. “Gods. I don't know who I am. I'm Midnight. I was Midnight. But I've been Mystra for so long.”

“And Mystra is already two or three beings echoed into one,” Gale agrees. “You don't remember what Karsus did? Why you're here, and Mystra isn't?”

Midnight considers this, carefully.

“No,” she says, eventually. “I think I remember Mystra claiming the crown from the bottom of the Chionthar, but after that-” her gaze seems to focus internally, scanning; for any hope, any clue; anything. “Elminster was there, I think. But I can't remember why. He-” she sighs. “Damn it all. I don't know. That was in the material plane, how would I have got here? And what happened to Mystra in-between?”

Gale runs a hand through his hair, and tries to make sense of it. Unfortunately, he has about as much of an idea as Midnight does. What he yearns to do, more than anything, is to find somewhere quiet and think. To turn all this over until he can see the bones of it, make sense of it. Unfortunately, they simply don't have time.

“Well,” Gale says, “As enlightening as this is, we are on something of a tight deadline. Something is holding this palace here even though the rest of Dweomerheart is gone, and it's not you. Although you're definitely involved in this somehow, and I don't know how yet, which is equally worrying. So, I hate to hurry you, given that you've been a vessel for a Goddess for the better part of two centuries and you've only just woken up, but this is sort of an emergency.”

“‘Sort of an emergency’,” Midnight grins. “King of the understatement, as always. You know, Gale, I do think I might have missed you.”

“I'm afraid I'm quite a different person now,” Gale says.

“So am I,” Midnight agrees. “But at least for now, it seems we had best be cordial to one another.” She hops to her feet. “Now - on the off chance that we don't manage to get Mystra back, or this place gets destroyed-”

She leans down, and pulls a safe out from under the sofa. Like the ring-box, it has no immediately obvious lock, or hinges, or anything. It might as well be a nicely-carved block of wood. But she holds it out to Gale in a way that suggests it is definitely something more.

“I don't know if that will work,” Gale says, hesitantly.

“It's worth a try,” Midnight frowns. “You haven't changed that much, Gale. You spent years working on this. You don't want it back?”

Still, Gale hesitates. Then he reaches over, and places his hands on the box, alongside hers.

Nothing happens.

“Oh,” Midnight sighs. “I suppose there's not enough of Mystra in me after all.”

“Or in me. Put it back,” Gale takes his hands away.

“You're joking,” Midnight frowns.

“I can't use it anymore,” Gale says, turning back to his bookshelves.

“But someone else could.”

“Exactly,” he frowns. “That's the problem. It would have been bad enough in my hands, and I thought I was doing the right thing.”

“What happened to your ambition?” Midnight sighs. “All those dreams, all that effort-”

“I am content,” Gale says, quietly. “With Mystra, I was not. I was never enough, and I never would be. It wasn't ambition; it was desperation. It was misery by another name.”

“Fine,” Midnight frowns. “But I'm keeping it. I know I can convince you otherwise if it comes to-”

“Stop it!” All of a sudden, Gale snaps. “I said no, Myst-”

He stops, breathing heavily into the sudden silence.

Midnight might not be the Goddess he once loved and lost, but she's achingly, dangerously close. She has her face. She has her mannerisms. When her expression glazes over like that too, he could forget all too easily.

“We might need it,” Midnight says, quietly.

“Never, in any iteration, in any shape, would you ever do me the basic courtesy of listening to me,” Gale snaps. “Fine, keep it. But we need to go. Five minutes.”

He turns, and goes back into the bedroom.

Astarion follows him, and closes the door behind him.

“I'm only grabbing books,” Gale says, not turning to look at him. “I'll be done in a moment and we can go.”

“Oh, don't mind me. I just don't get to see that look when you're about to kill someone very often anymore. It's very flattering, you know.”

Gale doesn't say anything. He can't quite trust his voice.

He had been as ready as he could be, he'd thought; for returning to Elysium, to Dweomerheart, for seeing Mystra again. But not this. He hadn't been ready for any of this.

“Gale,” Astarion says, quietly, coming up beside him. “Look at me.”

Gale's shoulders sink.

“I can't,” he says.

He's holding himself together. Astarion can see it, in the clench of his jaw, clutching his books to his chest.

“Alright,” Astarion says. “What can I do?”

Gale turns, as if to answer; but the moment he looks at Astarion his expression crumbles. He puts the books down with a sigh that is almost pained.

“f*ck,” he says, and Astarion takes his hands.

“Oh come here,” he says. “Give yourself a moment to breathe, darling, for heaven’s sake.”

Gale is already leaning into him, burying his head in Astarion's shoulder, arms wrapped tight around him like Astarion is the one holding him together and if he lets go, he’ll fall apart. Astarion makes a noise of irritation into his shoulder; one that he recognises now, is not aimed at him.

“The fact that you're getting good at this is both comforting and concerning,” Gale says. Astarion just tightens his arms around him.

“I’ve learned from the best,” he agrees. “Although don't expect me to start quoting poetry at you. I can only think of extremely erotic verse and none of it is quite suited to this moment.”

Gale pulls back from him with a sigh, though Astarion doesn't let him go far. He rests Gale's cheek in his hand, studying him with a frown.

“I don't think this is the kind of place that will burn easily,” He says, thoughtfully. “Otherwise I'd suggest that something truly tragic might happen here.”

Gale chuckles, and rests their foreheads together.

“It won't burn at all, I should think,” he agrees.

“My only other suggestion is re-christening the bed, but I think f*cking on the ashes of your old life to assert dominance is something that only works for my very specific brand of f*cked up.”

Gale buries his face in Astarion's shoulder and laughs.

One day, they'll come across a situation so dire that Astarion won't be able to make him laugh about it. Until then, though, Gale will hold onto him like the blessing he is. How two tempests managed to anchor each other through their own storms, he will never know - and forever be grateful.

“I love you, you ridiculous man,” he says, then sighs. “There are journals in the bedside cabinet. Could you grab them for me - all of them, if you can. I'll do the books.”

“Got it,” Astarion squeezes his wrist, just once, before pulling away.

By the time Gale has decided which of his books are worth rescuing, however, Astarion has his head in Gale's wardrobe.

“These are beautiful,” he says, appreciatively. “Are you sure you don't want any of these?”

“I wouldn't wear them as they are. You're welcome to take any if you think you could make them into something else.”

“This one has a train,” Astarion says, half muffled by fabric.

“Ceremonial,” Gale says, and turns to find Astarion wearing it. He can't help himself; he laughs. It looks just as ridiculous on Astarion as it had on him; the sleeves are so long they nearly reach the floor, and the front is untied. There's supposed to be another robe underneath; instead Astarion, in his travelling attire, looks like a kid trying on his older siblings’ dresswear.

“I can't imagine you wearing this,” Astarion says. “Even at the height of your ego.”

“I didn't,” Gale admits. “I can't remember what exactly it was supposed to be for - Mystra used to have gifts sent to me instead of apologising. Sometimes the gift would arrive before the news of whatever she'd done to upset me.”

Astarion wrinkles his nose.

“Do I want to ask what this was for?”

“Sleeping with somebody or other,” Gale shrugs, as if he doesn't remember exactly who, and when, and the realisation of it as he'd unpacked the robe; admission and apology, all in one. The sick, sad lurch of realisation. Familiar, by then, and yet no less devastating for it.

Sometimes, he thinks it would have hurt less if she'd at least tried to lie about it. Or stopped promising him, every time, that it wouldn't happen again; that he was, in fact, enough all by himself.

It's not the first time Astarion has heard that, but he still pulls a face.

“I think that I will enjoy cutting this up,” Astarion swings the train around, spreading it over the rug to inspect the map of stars. “Is this accurate?”

“It is. It would have been live, once - you'd have been able to see comets crossing it and so on. The charm has faded now, I expect.”

“You know, it would actually make a rather nice dress,” Astarion muses. “I bet I could reinstate the charm, too. Or something similar, at least.”

“Be my guest,” Gale shrugs. “Better they get some use rather than falling to dust here.”

“You know, this is growing on me. Maybe I'll just claim it and wear it as it is.”

“Really?” Gale looks up from packing his books into the bag to smile at him. “I thought you just said even I never had the ego to pull that off.”

“I never said I didn't,” Astarion grins, with that little tilt of his head, so that he's looking down on Gale despite the fact Gale is, however incrementally, the taller of the two of them. “I am a magnificent bastard, after all. Here, look, let's see what the others think.” He strides across the room, and throws the door open. “Karlach! What do you think? Can I pull this off?”

“What is that?” Karlach says, on the other side of the door. “It looks like a repurposed blanket.”

“Excuse you!” Astarion pretends offence. “This is the glittering jewel of Gale's old wardrobe, thank you very much.”

Gale laughs, and pulls a few of his old favourites into the bag of holding for later. Just in case Astarion can do something with them. Then he joins the rest of them in the main room, where they've decided to try and see how many of them can wear the train of the star-spangled robe at once. The answer, apparently, is four - if they squeeze.

Gale laughs when he sees them, Karlach and Wyll still in their flower crowns, Shadowheart squeezed between them as Clara holds up the very end. Midnight looks extremely bemused by the whole thing; Lae’zel is inspecting some of the more unusual instruments between his desk and his alchemy bench.

“You know, I never wore that, and now I'm remembering why.”

“Wait, I wasn't done pillaging your wardrobe for fabric!” Astarion drops the robe off his shoulders and darts back into the bedroom, his hand sliding from Gale's hip to his backside in the half a second it takes Astarion to slip past him.

“Pillaging implies a lack of permission,” Gale grins, swatting ineffectually at the wandering hand which is already long gone. “Which I just gave you in full.”

“You're no fun!” Astarion calls back over his shoulder; “At least let me pretend I'm stealing!”

“Well,” Gale considers. “Technically, I suppose that everything here belongs to Mystra.”

“What, even your clothes? Your books?” Wyll says, disbelievingly.

“Everything,” Gale agrees, solemnly. “Even my own research. When I said I gave myself to her, I did not mean in purely the emotional or physical senses. It stretched to intellectual and material matters, too.”

There's a small thump, and Astarion reappears in the bedroom doorway.

“You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I think we may need a bigger bag of holding.”

“You can't put the whole palace in there!” Karlach grins. Astarion makes a rude gesture at her and disappears, to which she calls after him; “If you could, you know I'd help!”

“We don't have enough space for it all at home if you do take it,” Gale protests.

“Are you a wizard or aren't you? Make space!” Astarion yells, evidently elbow-deep in the wardrobe next door.

“The library is already full and so is the study! It would take me twice as long to summon more space as it would to commission a carpenter to build some, and I'm a busy wizard, thank you, and most of that is your influence!”

“I’ve taken so many books from the library and the study for our room, surely it's made some space?”

“Our room?” Gale grins. “Since when did your room become our room?”

“Since you stopped sleeping in your room months ago and started referring to it as the study instead, and all of your detritus found its way downstairs,” Astarion calls back. “You can't have filled all those shelves already.”

“There's only one bookshelf in your- in our room,” Gale says, “All it did was clear enough of the stacks of books from the library that I don't fall over them when I go in there anymore.”

“But what if you had books about the undead here?” Astarion protests.

“Those are the ones I've already picked up!”

“Oh,” Astarion makes a truly unholy noise of appreciation. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around other than just to look at your pretty face.”

“Amongst other things,” Gale agrees. “But if there is anything else that interests you, feel free to grab it. The same goes for the rest of you, too.”

He nods at Clara, in particular, whose eyes suddenly go extremely wide.

Gale, trying to cover his smirk, ducks under his desk to find the old catch that will release his more sensitive notes.

It doesn't open to his touch anymore, irritatingly, in the same way the box hadn't; instead, he has to work his way through the puzzles. At least he'd designed them; it's time-consuming, but not difficult.

“Stars,” Midnight says, thoughtfully, as if searching for something. “A star - astar- Astarion!” she manages, triumphantly. “I knew I knew his name - or Mystra did, anyway. Oh, she hated him.”

“Oh good,” Astarion says, dryly, sticking his head back around the bedroom door. “No, really, I think I actually haven't pissed off enough of the pantheon already. What else shall I do, do you think? Steal Azuth’s flower crowns back?”

Midnight suddenly smiles.

“I said Mystra hated you. I’ve only just remembered your name, I can hardly have an opinion on you yet.”

“You are no longer a deity, my dear, I'm afraid your opinion doesn't count in my odyssey to offend every available God.” He turns, and apparently notices Gale under his desk for the first time. “What are you doing on your back without me?”

Gale, distracted, accidentally lets one of the runes slip in the wrong direction. The spark of flame bites his fingers.

“f*ck,” he says, and sticks it in his mouth. “Sorry - Clara, you didn't hear that.”

Astarion appears in his field of view, looking amused.

“That's the second time you've dropped the f-bomb in ten minutes, darling, and Tara has the gall to say that I'm the bad influence on you. Are you trying to break into your own secrets?”

“My hands don't work as the key anymore,” Gale frowns, trying to concentrate. “I had prepared for that, but the long way to unlocking it is a series of puzzles of my own design, and the answer changes with the stars, so-” he sighs. “I'm trying to calculate for a difference of years rather than days.”

“Hmm,” Astarion ducks under the desk and lies down next to him to study the lock. “There's no mechanism I could disarm?”

“Unfortunately not,” Gale moves two of the stars across, and realigns the runes accordingly. “Aha!”

“This is ridiculously elaborate, even for you,” Astarion grins.

“Oh it's not open yet,” Gale shuffles out from under the desk, managing not to bang his head. “What that's given me is the key-” he grins. “The key for the piece of music, not the key for the lock.”

“At least it's not poetry this time,” Shadowheart sighs, plonking a pile of reclaimed books down on the desk. “Astarion, do you have space for these as well as Gale's wardrobe?”

“Well, I appreciate the showmanship and spellcraft of a well-constructed lock,” Clara says, defensively, watching as Gale takes the lid off the piano to inspect the state of the strings inside.

“You would say that, you're a wizard,” Wyll says, as Gale taps a few of the keys. “Remind me to tell you about Gale's thing with the pouch, sometime. You're exactly the kind of person who will appreciate it - we were not.”

Gale smiles.

It's strange, having them here. These people who are so warm and alive in the place where he spent so very much of his time either alone with Mystra, or just alone. Happy, mostly - he thinks, anyway - but alone all the same. For all that Tara is his oldest and best friend, she isn't exactly human company. She kept him sane; she did not make this place feel any less empty in Mystra's long absences.

The piano isn't in the best condition, but it will do for these purposes. He hums as he puts his hands over the keys, trying to remember the pattern of it through muscle memory alone.

“Salut d’amour, Gale? Really?” Astarion sighs.

“You've known me for far too long to be surprised.” Gale focuses on the piece, speeding through it to reach the key change. Once, he would have been able to calculate it in his head; but now the memory of the piece had faded, and it's only when his finger lands on the note he needs that he remembers it. “Could you grab a gold tuning fork from the second drawer down on the left, please?”

Astarion complies with a sigh. Never one to do things the easy way, he leans back against the cabinet to open the drawer at hip-height, pulling the tuning fork out and twisting it between his fingers.

“You've always been a component hoarder then, I see.”

“On three,” Gale says, leaning across from the piano so that he can press the key and the latch at the same time. “One, two-”

The catch springs open.

A small cascade of papers drop to the floor. By the time Gale has collected them all together and arranged them into some semblance of order, Astarion has declared himself satisfied with his scavengings, the others have all had their pick of his books, and Lae'zel has finally convinced Clara that there really is no way of fitting the Armillary Sphere in the bag of holding no matter which way they hold it.

“But it's so beautiful,” Clara says, despondently. “And if the rest of Dweomerheart vanishes, it will just… cease to be.”

“You're always welcome to use mine,” Gale says, brushing himself off. “I trust you to be careful with it.”

“Is it as lovely as this one?” Clara looks hopeful.

“Sadly not,” Gale says. “Very few things in the material plane are- but this would be dulled, too, if you removed it from Elysium and Mystra's influence.” He pauses, thinking. “There's a poem-

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;”

“But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

It gives a lovely light!” Astarion finishes for him. “I've been spending too much time with Morena, apparently.”

And so, with everything that they could save packed away, Gale ushers them all out of his old rooms, and shuts the door behind him.

He is happy to leave his old home behind. He does feel, strangely, a little better for having visited it. It felt like a proper goodbye; a tying off of a loose end, where it had previously been left fraying.

He focuses on that, instead of the insidious awareness of Midnight at his back, and the fact that his feet carry him to Mystra's quarters without his conscious input on the matter.

“You know, I don't think I realised quite how… involved being Mystra's Chosen was for you,” Shadowheart says, thoughtfully, as they walk away.

“She was my whole life,” Gale agrees. “That's rather the point. You are, after all, familiar with the Sharran doctrine of control.”

“I am,” Shadowheart shudders. “Although Shar was more inclined towards erasing the parts of my life she didn't have control over, rather than taking them over.”

“At least Mizora was upfront about calling me her ‘pet’,” Wyll growls. “She really kept you here like some kind of… show-wizard.”

Gale hadn't thought about it in exactly those terms before, but Wyll isn't wrong. He shivers, suddenly revolted at the idea; remembering the way she had parsed out gifts and favours. Demanding he earn her affection had been one he had thought of as charming as the time; only it hadn't been as much of a joke as he'd wanted to believe.

Between Astarion's history of using his body as a trap and Gale's of being rewarded in sexual favours and empty promises in lieu of actual affection, figuring out their own healthy pattern and actual appetites has been one hell of a ride.

It had been one thing for Gale to be perfectly content not to sleep with Astarion, for as long as he needed - it was quite another to navigate the internal sense of dread it caused in him while he was trying not to make Astarion feel guilty about saying no. It had taken a frankly embarrassingly short time for Astarion to put two and two together; the fact that whenever he did say no, Gale would accidentally spend the next however long going out of his way to make sure he did absolutely everything that he could possibly think of to appease Astarion - to the point of irritation. In fact, it had taken Astarion pointing it out for Gale to notice he was doing it at all. And once he knew that he was, he could figure out why, and once he'd been able to explain it to Astarion, they'd figured it out. Laughed about it, even. And now when Astarion says no, he thinks almost nothing of it. Why would he? There are a thousand other ways to love someone; a thousand other ways to express that love. A thousand ways he had never known, with Mystra.

“I was free to go back to Waterdeep whenever I wished,” he says. “Although I can't pretend that I would have, if not for Morena and Elminster.”

“Wizards are far too high-maintenance to be pets,” Astarion drawls. “I don't know how he survived living by himself. I don't even need to eat actual food, but I’ve got normal-person mealtimes seared into my body clock now, because Gale will forget if nobody tells him and the first time he fainted I nearly had a damn heart attack.”

“Tara would concur wholeheartedly,” Gale agrees. “But yes, Mystra knows what she's doing. Young wizards who have had little chance to build any connections in their lives other than to the weave, who often find that their talent isolates them from their peers - well, given that my best friend was a Tressym and my only other connection was my mother, it was very easy to persuade me to make my home on Elysium instead.”

In hindsight, it occurs to him to wonder whether Elminster had known that; whether he really did dislike the other planes as much as he claimed to, or whether he had simply been giving Gale other reasons to return to Faerun more often he would have, otherwise.

After all, Elminster, too, had first known Mystra when he was a young man.

“I would have been easy to persuade too,” Clara agrees, quietly. “Living in Elysium was one of the only things I wouldn't have thought twice about.”

As they chat, the others drop back a little, falling into their own little conversations. As their footsteps and voices echo through the long, cold corridors, Gale draws ahead slightly, Astarion keeping step with him.

“Mystra would hardly recognise you now,” Astarion says, cheerfully. “You have more friends clamouring for your attention than you have time to write back to.”

“Friends enough to keep Tara on a very happy diet of pigeons,” Gale agrees.

“You know Minthara only does that precisely because you asked her not to,” Astarion grins.

“I do,” Gale sighs. “However if I told her now that she's keeping Tara fit and fed I don't think it would dissuade her.”

“No, she does like Tara more than she likes you,” Astarion agrees. “And she thinks you make me boring.”

“Hmm,” Gale raises an eyebrow at him. “None of my responses for that are fitting for the present company.”

“Clara has enough blackmail material on you already,” Astarion agrees. “Although by the end of this I think she'll have much more.”

“And be disinclined to use it, I hope.”

It could be a lot worse, Gale reflects. Much as being back here is something he would have liked to have some privacy for, there's something to be said for doing it with Astarion at his side, and his friends at his back. If he were here alone, now, with Midnight - it would be a wholly different situation.

“So what is this spell then?” Astarion asks, “Or do I not want to know?”

Gale breathes, tightly.

“You're aware how I have a propensity towards identifying how I might best be of use to someone and trying to utilise that to make myself indispensable?”

“No? Really? I hadn't noticed at all,” Astarion says, mildly. “I wasn't the one to point it out to you or anything.”

Gale bumps his elbow, gently, really only pretending to be peeved.

“I was aware I did it, I just - hadn't thought of it in terms of it being a trauma response, or mildly manipulative of me, until you gave me the words for it.”

Astarion makes a displeased noise.

“Given that Mystra was manipulating you in much the same way, and that you were a literal child-” He bites off the rest of the sentence with a sigh of frustration. “Look, I used to do it deliberately, and as you don't hold that against me you can hardly hold it against yourself for doing it subconsciously. Anyway, I could rant about Mystra all day. Where were you going with this?”

Gale sneaks a glance at him as they walk; Astarion is watching where they're going, his brow furrowed. He turns when he finds Gale's eyes upon him, eyebrow raised in silent question.

What I would do for you, Gale thinks.

He'd like to think that the end of his relationship with Mystra had taught him some kind of lesson. About giving his whole heart away. But he knows, really, that Astarion has his heart and his soul. The difference is that he trusts Astarion with it.

And that he knows, now, that if the worst were to happen - if they were to lose one another - he could survive it. He doesn't want to. He hopes he never has to. But he could.

He had needed Mystra. He doesn't need Astarion; not in the same way. Instead, Gale wants him. Chooses him. Every day. Every argument, every misunderstanding, every kiss and bite and meal and moment, he is choosing Astarion. Knowing that he could be alone - but he'd rather have this. Rather have ‘us’.

“What?” Astarion says.

“Put yourself in my shoes,” Gale says. “Seventeen, hopelessly in love, for the first time, and with a Goddess - I wanted to do something of value to her. And given that she loved me for my power, and that my training under Elminster meant his first-hand account of the Second Sundering, the Spellplague, and what it had taken for him to bring Mystra back when she died-”

“You decided to try and write a spell that could… what, protect a Goddess?” Astarion says, disbelievingly.

“In essence, yes,” Gale grimaces. “When I wasn't running around at her beck and call, that's what I spent the vast majority of my time as Mystra's Chosen doing. Which is unfortunate, because the work in that box could be very useful to us, in the current situation, if only I had been foresighted enough to leave myself a way of opening it if I was no longer Mystra's Chosen.”

Astarion grins.

“You are the cleverest idiot I know,” he agrees.

Chapter 9


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The entranceway to Mystra’s quarters is just as opulent as it ever was; pillars, curtains, elaborate metalwork and all. It bears her visage, as if it were a temple. Mystra’s likeness smiles down at them, her hair haloing around her face, her hand extending towards them, inviting.

“Alright,” Gale says, as the others catch up. “If anything’s going to set off the security protocols, it’ll be me doing this. And given that I don’t think anyone ever made it this far uninvited, I haven’t the foggiest what they might entail.”

“We always end up in the most interesting situations,” Shadowheart sighs.

Lae’zel, already having sized them up, starts barking instructions.

“Clara, get back here between Karlach and I. Midnight, up front with Astarion; you two flank Gale. Shadowheart, Wyll, stand back and prepare to provide covering fire - and healing, if necessary.”

“I don’t have any shoes on, you think I have any weapons?” Midnight says, exasperated.

“What’s your poison?” Astarion asks.

“Dagger,” Midnight doesn’t hesitate even a second. With a nod, Astarion pulls a spare out of his bag and flicks it over to her. She catches it just as deftly.

“Point that in the wrong direction and I’ll make you regret you ever lived,” Astarion warns, in his teasing little sing-song.

“Noted.” Midnight turns the blade over, inspecting it. Apparently satisfied, she palms it and braces herself.

“Ready?” Gale asks.

He draws himself up as the others confirm. And then, for the first time in a very, very long time, he puts his hand in Mystra’s. The effect is immediate. The metal visage of Mystra begins to glow. She moves; raising her hand, her arm, as if to show them through; with a small sigh almost like an exhalation, the door clicks open behind her.

The inside is empty. Gale had never known it to look the same way twice, but this is new. There is only the marble floor, the blank walls, and in between them, the faintest wisp of blue mist.


Mystra’s voice. As distant and as measured as she had been at Moonrise, and the few scant occasions they have spoken since. The blue mist takes on her shape; for Midnight, it must be like looking in a mirror.

It’s only an image. This is not Mystra. Only an echo of her, tasked with imparting this message.

“I thought that this might fall to you. It brings me no joy to see that I was correct. I am sorry, Gale.”

Gale frowns.

“Sorry for what, exactly?”

Mystra moves her hand, and an image appears in the mist before her. The crown.

“Because if you are here, then I am gone. And if I am gone, Gale, then we will need your spell.”

Gale inhales sharply.

“Oh no, no, you don’t, Mystra. I told you that I would never do that again, and I meant it.”

“One of you must take this power,” the image continues, as if he hadn’t spoken. “It must be wielded by mortal hands. It must be wielded by seven. You need it to open that box. You need it to cast that spell. If you do not, the fate of the weave, and the fate of the world, will be on your shoulders.”

“That’s why you left my rooms alone,” Gale realises, suddenly. “It wasn’t because of me at all. You wanted to keep the spell. Just in case.”

“And it will serve us well,” Mystra agrees. “Isn’t it easier for you to believe I acted from pragmatism alone?”

Gale takes a deep breath.

“I don’t think you understand. I cannot give myself willingly anymore. Even if I wanted to. There are parts of me that I cannot give - that will never belong to you again.”

Mystra considers him for a moment.

“It would be easier for us both, Gale, if you give me what I need. We both know that where the weave is at stake, I will take it if I have to.”

The realisation washes over him like a wave; behind it, the undertow of desperation drags him down.

“You don’t know how much of me is beyond your reach. You could destroy me!”

“You would be a shadow of what you were,” Mystra agrees. “But it would be enough. It would work - for long enough that you can do your duty, at least.”

“My duty is not to die for you!”

“No,” Mystra agrees. For a moment, her expression is almost affectionate; but then it slips, instead, into something pitying. “Nor is it to die for them. But you will, if there is no other option. And I am telling you now, Gale; there is no other option.”
And with that, the illusion disappears.

“No!” Gale steps forward, his arm raised, like he can somehow catch mist. “Mystra!”

There’s no point, of course. Mystra herself had never been there at all. She certainly can’t hear him now. He’s no more going to get a response from this than he ever did in his months of prayers after being cast out. He’s just shouting at an empty room. Empty, but for the shining glimmer of weave she’s left. The only thing holding the palace here, now the rest of Dweomerheart is gone. The one piece of Mystra that isn’t holding Karsus back.

“Gale-” It is Astarion’s voice which breaks, at last, the brittle silence of the room. “Is she asking you to be her Chosen again?”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘demanding’,” Gale says. “I’m trying to think-” he groans, and puts his head in his hands.

“There is a reason that Mystra’s Chosen must give themselves willingly,” Midnight says, quietly, and Gale almost shudders at how similar her voice is to Mystra’s. “For everything that is not given willingly will be lost, and what is left may not be enough of a person - of a soul - to serve her purpose.”

“Yes, thank you,” Gale snaps.

“Just because you’re aware doesn’t mean that everyone else knew what that was about,” Midnight snaps back.

“Maybe now isn’t the moment, Midnight,” Wyll says, soothingly.

“I’ll do it.” Clara’s voice is unexpected; but her tone is determined.

“No,” Gale turns to her immediately. “You came to me for help precisely because you didn’t want this. I’m not going to let you give up now.” He breathes, pulling himself together. “And I’m not giving up either. Mystra may be right. I wouldn’t do it for her, not anymore - but I would do it for you. All of you.”

“We’ll find another way.” When Gale looks up, Astarion is standing with his arms crossed, his chin raised, the fury of a thousand storms at his shoulders. “We always have. We always will.”

“Exactly,” Gale agrees. “I refuse to believe this is the only way. More likely it’s the only way Mystra wants us to believe exists. Unfortunately, we are going to have to come up with an alternative quite quickly.”

“Karsus wants it.” Clara steps up beside him. “It’s alright, professor. I think it was Karsus, talking to me, these past few months. It wasn’t Mystra. But this-” she turns to the glow in the centre of the room. “This is her. It doesn’t scare me.”

“It should!” Gale catches her wrist. “Clara, you know what this entails, don’t you?”

“I do.” Clara is trembling. She’s doing a very good job of hiding it; her voice remains steady. If he weren’t holding onto her arm, he’d never know. “I will be unmade and remade anew. In her shape and in her name. I will take her into the very essence of my being. I will die - and I will live again.”

“It hurts,” Gale says, desperately. “Clara, please, I know you think this is the right thing to do, but no matter how many times your entire essence is torn apart - nothing can compare to that pain. Even dying is easier. And for the rest of your life, you will never truly know how much of yourself you have lost. You will have to trust her, because you will not be able to trust yourself. You will always put her before yourself because you have to.”

“I know,” Clara smiles, sadly. “But she’s right. One of us has to do this- and quickly, before Karsus finds out this part of her is here, unprotected.” Then she says something that Gale hadn’t expected her to; something he has no argument against. “Please, Gale. You understand, don’t you, to be offered a chance at everything you ever wanted?”

“I thought you didn’t want this?” Gale tries, wretchedly. He knows, already, that he’s lost. He has no alternative. He can’t offer Clara a way out because he doesn’t have one.

“I was afraid,” Clara agrees. “I’m not, anymore. I promise. Not now that I know what it will be like.” She pulls her hand, gently, from his grip. “Thank you, really. For being on my side. For showing me what being her Chosen is like. I feel better, knowing that it won’t all be flowers and sunshine - but I want you to know that despite the drawbacks, it’s still a better option than any other life I might have.” She draws herself up, tail lashing with determination. “I want this. And I’m tired of being afraid.”

With that, she turns, and holds her hands out towards the orb.


“I give myself to you willingly, my Goddess,” she says. Her voice, firm and sure, echoes in the empty room.

The magic seems to wake to it; it glows brighter, louder.

When she speaks again, Clara’s voice is not entirely her own. It echoes with Mystra’s; rounded out. As if Clara’s voice had been a simple sketch, and Mystra’s lends it colour.

“From death comes life. From grief comes joy. From sacrifice comes power.”

The moment she takes the magic in her hands, the light flares bright enough to blind.

Gale turns without thinking; he grabs Astarion and pulls him to the ground, using his body to protect him from the brightest of it. Astarion curls into him, as small as he can possibly make himself, tucking his head under Gale’s chin, against his chest. Behind them, Clara is screaming.

It’s a terrible noise. She’s a child; still a child, and it’s a child scream. High and piercing and sharp. It rends him in two. Gale holds Astarion to his chest and closes his eyes and breathes, trying not to count, hoping against hope that it will be alright; that it will be enough.

And then, at last, it’s over. The light fades. Gale opens his eyes, and for a moment, sees nothing but grey. His eyes adjust slowly to the room, once again mostly dark and starlit, the torches in the hallway beyond casting their friendly orange glow.

“Ow,” Astarion says, slowly unfolding his limbs from underneath Gale. “Much as I appreciate being saved the worst of that, being thrown against a marble floor f*cking hurt.”

“Sorry love.”

Gale scrambles to his feet, looking around for Clara. The others are picking themselves up too, blinking and squinting. Clara is lying, apparently intact, in the centre of the room. The magic is gone. Gale hurries over to her, kneeling at her side.

She blinks at him, raising her head from the floor.

“Gale?” She says, and her voice is shaky. “Did it work?”

She looks no different, really. Same eyes, same hair, same expression. But Gale can feel the difference; can feel the essence threaded through her whole being, now. Stitching her permanently into the tapestry of the weave; into Mystra’s service.

“It worked,” Gale says. “We have to run. Now. Can you get up?”

As if hearing him, there’s a distant rumble. Mystra’s presence had been keeping the place standing. Now that it’s contained within Clara, the rest of it is crumbling. The tiefling tries to stand, but her legs are wobbly, like a fawn’s.

“Come on kiddo, I’ve got you.” Karlach is beside him, suddenly, bending to lift Clara in her arms. “Go ahead, Gale - show us the way.”

Gale doesn’t need telling twice.

They stumble through disintegrating corridors, the lights flickering in and out of existence, their path lit sometimes by lantern light and sometimes by stars. The floor sways below them, as if threatening to drop them through. Gale makes for the nearest staircase, praying they can make it back to the ground floor before it vanishes from under them.

At the bottom of the stairs they tumble out into a corridor that used to be perfectly stable, and a lot thinner. The walls of the palace are beginning to lose their opacity; the rooms beyond are visible now, and beyond them, the rest of Elysium. Running towards them, his huge legs making short work of the distance, is Azuth.

“Azuth!” Gale makes straight for him. “Azuth, get out! You’ll be hurt!”

If Azuth hears him, he makes no sign of it. Instead, as he reaches them, he stops. He kneels, and opens his arms. Gale feels the spell take shape around them, folding them all in. He knows what it is before he casts it; recognises the shape of it.

And the next moment, they land on solid ground. Azuth is still kneeling before them, underneath a giant oak tree.

It takes Gale too long to recognise where Azuth has brought them. The last time he was here, this place looked so different it might as well have been a different plane. But this is Toril; not only that, it’s the sword coast. Behind the great oak rises the shattered visage of Moonrise Towers.

“Moonrise?” Karlach sounds as surprised as he feels.

“Mystra and Karsus are bound,” Azuth says. “They have been bound only twice before. Once, when Mystryl sacrificed herself to defeat him. That place no longer exists. The second was when she burned what remained of the orb from your being, Gale, at the top of Moonrise Towers. The echo of it lingers. Like a memory. If there is anywhere to begin your hunt, it is here.” He stands, his head still not tall enough to reach the lowest branches of the oak. “I must go - Silvanus does not welcome my footsteps here. I will return to Elysium. Pray to me, Gale. If I can help, I will.”

With that, he turns to look at Clara, still lying in Karlach’s arms. With one giant finger, he touches her head.

“You will know where I am when you need me, little Chosen. Do not be afraid to call.”

Then he’s gone.


Sorry this is so very short. I had intended it to be longer, but Christmas retail is kicking my butt.

Chapter 10


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Reithwin has changed more than Gale would have imagined possible, in such a short time. He wants to enjoy it; to appreciate it. It’s in no small part down to him that the area recovered from the shadow-curse so quickly, after all.

Instead, he’s just tired; tired and worried.

“Halsin will be at Last Light too, if Minthara’s to be believed,” Astarion is saying, as he and Gale trail behind Karlach, still carrying Clara. Lae’zel and Shadowheart have decided to quiz Midnight on what she does and doesn’t remember about being Mystra, and Gale is more eager than he should be to leave them to fall behind.

“Good,” Gale nods. “She’ll need a healer. I had Mystra and Elminster to help me after I became her Chosen, and it was still miserable.”

Astarion hums his agreement.

“It doesn’t sound dissimilar to becoming a vampire.”

“I hope, if you do ever find a way to reverse it, it won’t be as bad.”

The shattered earth has re-settled in the wake of the shadow-weave’s disappearance. It is unrecognisable as the path they’d walked before. Even in moonlight, Gale can see how beautiful it has become. There is more life here, under cover of night, than there had ever been in the middle of the day before. Apparently they’ve decided to leave the skeletons where they fell, though. He supposes, having laid there for a hundred years already, trying to organise re-burying them hasn’t exactly been anyone’s priority. They have the living to look after first.

It is rather beautiful, in a morbid fashion. They had lain on hard earth and cobbles before. Now, the bones are slowly sinking into lush grasses, meadow flowers. Moths and fireflies flicker over patches of mushrooms, stirring the night air.

A little way ahead of them now, Karlach has stopped. She stoops, letting Clara test her feet on the ground. Then the young tiefling shakes herself, and begins to walk.

“Clara will be alright, you know. She’s got a spine of steel under that shy little girl act,” Astarion says.

“I know,” Gale sighs. “But is it too much to ask that for once we can be okay without having gone through something awful first? For once, to not have something to recover from, to be ‘okay’ despite?”

Astarion hums.

“I think you might be getting tired of adventuring.”

“Potentially,” Gale agrees. “Also, Arabella is going to be very upset that we came here and didn’t bring her along.”

“We didn’t exactly plan to. She does know who Azuth is, doesn't she?”

“I presume so,” Gale frowns. “I don’t know, actually, she’s much more interested in the magic itself than where it comes from.”

“Can’t blame her. The magic is fun, the Gods are just messy.”

Karlach and Wyll are flanking Clara, refusing to let her walk as fast as she would like. Gale and Astarion end up catching up to them.

“Go on ahead,” Wyll smiles. “Let Halsin know we’re coming.”

“Good idea,” Astarion grabs Gale’s elbow. “Come on you, if we walk too slowly you’ll start moping again.”

“I do not mope!” Gale protests, though he lets Astarion drag him away anyway. “Do you know where we’re going?”

“Last Light?” Astarion gives him a look like he’s been hit over the head. “The same place we’ve been going this whole time?”

“No, no, I mean do you know the way? Everything’s changed so much since we were last here, I can hardly tell where we are.”

“It really hasn’t changed that much,” Astarion disagrees. “Look, these are the old buildings we used to turn left at, and there’s the place where the Tieflings were ambushed up ahead.”

“How do you know that?” Gale is bemused.

“Obviously my survival skills are better than yours,” Astarion grins. “I am a hunter, Gale, or have you forgotten just because I caught you?”

“Caught me?” Gale grins at him incredulous. “You caught me? May I remind you that the last time we were in Reithwin-”

“Not within earshot!” Karlach yells after them. “If you’re going to talk about that, do it further away from us, please!”

“That is not what I was going to say!” Gale yells back at her, scandalised.

“Damn,” Astarion grins, tugging him further along the path. “I was looking forward to hearing you attempt to gloat about seducing me with your sad eyes and pathetic determination to commit suicide for your Goddess’ forgiveness.”

“I’ve never seduced anybody in my life.”

“What?” Astarion looks scandalised. “Gale, you’re kidding.”

“I’m really not. I’ve never even tried. Mystra doesn’t count, because she approached me, and I didn’t seduce you. I accidentally fell in love with you and did a terrible job of hiding it. Apparently that was enough to win you over.”

“No, hold on -” Astarion says. “Let me get this straight - at no point, when you told me how much you liked the way I smell, danced with me, quoted love poems at me, taught me magic, serenaded me, and talked about how in-depth your education in sex had been, did you consider yourself to be even attempting to seduce me?”

“No!” Gale says, perfectly honestly and with some amusem*nt. “Although put like that I can see why it would seem that way.”

“Gods above,” Astarion sighs. “And here I was thinking I should have been taking notes. No wonder it took you so damn long to realise I was trying to flirt back.”

“You’re always flirting back,” Gale points out.

“Yes but that I meant it,” Astarion teases.

“I notice now!”

“Sometimes,” Astarion agrees. “Definitely more than you used to.”

“Sometimes? What do you mean sometimes? We’re engaged!”

They argue the rest of their way to Last Light, the pattern of it warm and distracting.

It eases some of the tension in him.

As they cross the bridge to Last Light, it eases further. Something about this place, even without Isobel’s spell, feels like an island of calm in life’s storm. It has been very carefully cultivated; to get to the front door, they weave through vegetable and herb patches, thick with winter vegetables and ready planted for the spring. Every available space, it seems, is crammed with life. It had seemed like quite a small courtyard, before. Now that it’s a garden, it looks like it could feed a small village. Presumably, it does.

The planting beds are supervised by scarecrows that have very definitely been made by children. They have lopsided faces, a creative array of hats, including a sieve, and either far too many or not enough fingers. Many of the beds, too, have hand-written signs that look decidedly like handwriting practice exercises.

It is, in short, exactly the kind of place that Gale can imagine Halsin thriving. It is no surprise, then, to find that Halsin himself is sitting out on the porch of last light. In the yellow glow of the fire burning in the brazier at their feet, he looks happier and healthier than ever. He waves a hand in greeting, beckoning them to join him.

“What a wonderful surprise! Welcome to Last Light. I hope you will find it much more peaceful than your last visit.”

What is more surprising, by far, is that at his side sits Minthara. She is lounging, one leg crossed over the other, her elbow propped up on the arm of the bench, smoking. She raises a single hand in greeting as they approach, and says nothing.

“Minthara!” Astarion strides ahead, hopping up onto the porch of Last Light to interrogate her. “Who’s in the underdark with the spawn? Surely you haven’t left them alone? Not that that wouldn’t be hilarious, but- well, I do have my reservations.”

“Gandrel and the Gur,” Minthara says. “I believe a formal greeting usually begins with the word ‘hello’. Or perhaps ‘good evening’, little darthiir. Waterdeep has not improved your manners, it seems.”

“What are you doing here?”

With some amusem*nt and the tone of one confessing to a novelty, Minthara says;

“Halsin is teaching me to make cheese.”

Halsin, who had stood to give Gale a very firm, and actually really rather nice, hug, chuckles. It is a warm, content sound, and in it Gale realises how much he’s missed Halsin. He resolves to write more, if they get through this.

“Cheese.” Astarion says, in the disbelieving tone of someone who has walked into an alternate universe. “Cheese?”

“And honey,” Halsin adds, with unmistakable pleasure. “Or I will be, come spring. Next time you visit the underdark you will find the variety of cuisine on offer much improved.”

“You can't keep bees in the underdark,” Astarion laughs, and then suddenly doubts himself. “Can you?”

“No,” Gale agrees, easily. “But if you tried, I bet Omeluum would love to hear about it. Anyway - as lovely as this is, I’m afraid we’re not actually here on a social visit.”

“Of course you’re not,” Minthara sighs, stubbing out her cigar. “What world-ending fire are you facing down this time?”

“Aha,” Gale waves his finger at her. “You jest, but unfortunately you have hit upon exactly the crux of the matter. Mystra is missing.”

Halsin’s expression changes immediately, as does his posture. His back straightens; shoulders back.

“Though I spare little thought for the mother of magic, that is… concerning news.”

Gale nods.

“I know. I’m sorry about the lack of notice, but we came straight from Dweomerheart. Azuth brought us, actually, and I’m glad he brought us to you. You see, we have someone who is likely going to need your help. Her name is Clara, she’s one of my students - and she’s just become Mystra’s Chosen.”

“A Chosen?” Halsin’s expression goes from concerned to extremely worried in a blink. “Without Mystra?”

“She left a piece of herself in Dweomerheart. It was supposed to be for me.”

“And you let a child take it for you, instead?” Minthara looks surprised. “And here I was thinking you were trying to teach Astarion to be less selfish.”

“I didn’t let her,” Gale snaps. “She wanted to. And I’m not trying to make Astarion into anything other than exactly what he is already, thank you very much.”

Minthara looks delighted.

“Oh, it usually takes me much longer to get on your nerves. You are quite vexed by this whole situation, it seems.”

“I have never helped a newly-made Chosen,” Halsin frowns. “I know the theory, but in practice-”

“I’ve been through it,” Gale reminds him. “But she’s a child, and one of my students, and I know I have a terrible bedside manner. I’m sorry to ask for your help when you have so much to be doing already, but we’re here anyway, and if there’s anything you can do to make this easier on Clara…”

“Stop worrying about me!” Clara calls, from a little way further along the path. “Look, I’m walking! I’m fine!”

Gale wouldn’t have believed her anyway, but the look that Karlach gives him over her head seals the deal.

“You just had your entire being burned out and replaced, you need to eat and sleep at the absolute minimum.”

“You're my professor, not my dad,” Clara rolls her eyes at him. The effect is somewhat ruined by her immediately sitting down on the bench that Halsin had just vacated, with the kind of urgency that suggests it had been more of a fall.

“Maybe it's becoming a Chosen that gives people an attitude problem,” Astarion muses. “It would certainly explain a lot about you, Gale.”

Halsin, as always, handles Clara with the kind of grace and gentility that has her allowing him to examine her in mere moments.

As he does so, Shadowheart and Lae’zel arrive, Midnight still walking between them. She doesn’t look unlike a prisoner being escorted to the Gallows.

“Hello Halsin,” Shadowheart says. “And a surprise to see you here, Minthara.”

“A nice surprise, or an unwelcome one?” Minthara asks.

“A surprise,” Shadowheart says, firmly. “And this is Midnight.”

“Hello,” Midnight raises a hand. “I used to be Mystra’s vessel. I appear to be myself again, for now.”

Minthara studies her, thoughtfully.

“Halsin persuaded me that visiting him here would be a welcome change of pace from the Underdark," she says, turning to Astarion. “I think he’s about to be proved more right than either of us could have anticipated.”

“Unlike you to be so dour about a chance to beat up some bastards. Don’t tell me Halsin’s made you go soft.”

“Soft?” Minthara draws herself up. “I am a blade, ever-sharp, and if you taunt me again you will bleed for it.”

“Missed you too, you bloodthirsty freak,” Astarion says, cheerfully. “Death threats and all.”

“I’d prefer it if you’d agree to let me keep an eye on you for the first few days,” Halsin is telling Clara, gently. “You seem perfectly well, but there’s no knowing exactly what that much magic will do to a person.”

“Make them a Chosen,” Clara says, quite calmly. “You should be more worried about Karsus coming after me, I think.”

“Karsus?” Halsin looks up at Gale.

“Ah, yes,” Gale sighs. “Look, it’s quite a long story, but as long as Clara doesn’t attempt to do anything with her magic, for now, he has no reason to know where we are. Shall we get settled, and I’ll explain over a bottle of something, perhaps a little stronger than tea?”


Last Light has changed since they were last here. Both of the bars on the downstairs floor have been removed to make space for a huge kitchen and living-space, respectively. The front is full of sofas and armchairs and large tables served by an eclectic mix of stools and benches. It is very much a communal space; the upstairs is no longer visible, having been turned into its own floor entirely and filled with rooms. With some rearranging, Halsin manages to make space for most of them.

In some senses, Gale is very grateful that the rooms are specifically designed for, at maximum, three people. On the other hand, it is strange to be back here, despite how much has changed, and not be pitching his tent while chatting with Wyll or Shadowheart or watching Karlach get in Lae’zel's way or… well, he can still indulge in watching Astarion going about his day. Astarion, as if knowing where Gale's thoughts have gone, decides to take his shirt off at that exact moment.

“You're not being subtle, you know,” he says, throwing Gale a coy glance over his shoulder.

“I wasn't trying to be. I think we’re well past the point of stealing glances across the room.”

“Oh don't be boring,” Astarion sighs, turning back to finding a fresh shirt. “Honestly, my love, I-” he stops, as Gale’s fingertips find the lines of his scar. “Oh. Nevermind, I take it all back, do carry on.”

“Hmmm,” Gale kisses the back of his neck, hands finding Astarion's hips and pulling him back, against his pelvis. “I was just thinking about how I missed camping with the others, but I think I've changed my mind.”

Astarion leans back against him, his head on Gale’s shoulder.

“You have Halsin and Minthara waiting on an explanation downstairs. If we take too long, either of them are liable to walk in on us.”

“I'm not doing anything,” Gale protests. “Just appreciating you.”

“As you should,” Astarion pushes back into him, twisting his hips just so. Gale groans into his neck.

“Astarion, you are not helping.”

“Good,” Astarion's breath tickles his cheek. “I've had quite enough of being helpful today. I'm feeling quite unwell. Could be solved by a little murder, perhaps. Unless you have any other suggestions.”

“You could come downstairs and help me piss off Minthara,” Gale suggests.

“Not what I had in mind, but an acceptable substitute.” Astarion turns around to tuck himself into Gale’s chest, which is really quite sweet until his hands settle a fair bit lower than Gale's hips.

“My love,” Gale protests, smiling.

“What?” Astarion grins. “I'm just appreciating you.” His expression changes, ever so slightly. “Although we could also go downstairs and make sure that Midnight knows you are very much not the person she remembers you being.”

“Oh,” Gale says, intrigued. “And how would you be doing that, exactly? Because as much as the others might be used to us, there’s only so much they’ll stand for.”

“And only so much you’ll let me get away with,” Astarion agrees. “I could be subtler about it, of course, but there’s no fun in that.”

“More subtle,” Gale corrects, to Astarion’s exasperation.

“Does the grammar matter, if you knew what I meant?”

Yes,” Gale says, emphatically.

“Really?” Astarion grins. “Because before I stopped listening I could have sworn you delivered a quite extensive thesis on language evolution being driven by grammatical errors.”

“That is an extremely paraphrased version of the point I was making. I wouldn’t let you cite me as a source.”

Gale kisses his nose, just because he can. Unimpressed, Astarion wrinkles it at him, which Gale is aware only makes him smile even wider.

“You have nothing to be jealous of, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” Astarion agrees. “That doesn’t mean I’m not going to flaunt it in her face, though.”

When they do get downstairs, the others aren’t all back yet either. Gale leaves Astarion to catch up with Minthara and goes to check on Halsin and Clara. The room where Art had once slept is now a proper little hospital wing, though Gale is glad to see that most of the beds are empty. It’s just Clara, and a little boy with what looks like a magical burn. Reminded of his own arms, he rolls his sleeves up as he walks across the room, hoping that it will remind him to ask Halsin for proper burn cream before he goes to bed. By Clara’s bedside, however, it’s not just Halsin. Midnight is standing there too, holding the wooden box that contains the spell.

The moment Clara sees him, she drops her eyes, almost guiltily.

“You can open the box,” Gale says, resigned. “Or you can try, anyway. I’m still determined that we’ll find another way, but I haven’t touched that spell in over a year. I think taking a proper look at it will be of more help than harm, at this point.”

“I think we’ll still need you,” Midnight says, placing the box down on the bed.

“We tried it just the two of us already,” Clara confesses.

“Of course you did,” Gale sighs. “Alright - first of all, how are you feeling, Clara?”

Clara grimaces.

“Like my insides are on the outside but my body hasn’t caught up with it yet?”

“We’re going to stick to a liquid diet, for now,” Halsin nods to her, and she nods back. “Just to make sure we’re not putting any undue stress on her system. She’ll need a few days to re-adjust to the balance of magic in her body, but she’s doing exceptionally well, considering.”

“Good,” Gale smiles at her. “You always were resilient.”

“More so, now,” Clara says, with the shyest of smiles. “It’s actually quite nice. When it’s not horrible and disorienting, I mean. Then I feel…” she pauses, looking for the word. “Safe, I think. Looked after.”

“You are,” Gale says. “Just be careful - if you die, now, your soul will dissolve into the weave itself. It would have been a lot easier for Mystra to get you back out and create you a new vessel than it will be for me to do so, so please don’t run around like you’re immortal just because you can feel Mystra’s power in your veins.”

“Got it,” Clara nods. “The only other thing is that it feels… itchy?”

“Your magic?” Gale clarifies.

“I think so?” Clara wriggles, discomfort plain in her expression. “I think it wants to be used.”

“Ah, yes, don't do that. We very much do not want Karsus finding us. Not yet, at least. I don't know how often Azuth can helpfully teleport us between planes but I suspect he has other things to be worrying about at the moment.”

He sits down on the bed next to her, studying her with a frown.

“I am really okay,” Clara reassures him.

“Are you? I don't understand what made you change your mind. It's bothering me.”

“It wasn't you,” Clara says, pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them. “I think it was something Astarion said.”

Astarion?” Gale frowns.

“We weren’t talking about being a Chosen or anything. He was talking to Lae’zel about you. He said that…” Clara tilts her head, trying to remember. “That you were irritating but he loved how you irritated him. Or something. I might be paraphrasing.”

“Probably not by much,” Gale says, ruefully.

“It was nicer when he said it. He said that you loved him like that too. That you saw all of his flaws and loved him anyway. Loved his flaws, too.” She wraps her arms around her knees. “I don’t - Nobody loves me like that. Not even my mum. And I don't think anybody ever will.”

Gale frowns.

“Clara, you're seventeen. You have your whole life left to live. I know that it doesn't feel like it - but I promise, the way everything is now is not the way everything will be forever.”

“I am three hundred and fifty years old,” Halsin puts in. “And until last year, I didn't know what I wanted my life to be. It is only in the wake of the Absolute falling that I have found my purpose; my place. I barely remember who I was at seventeen, it is so far away from who I am now. I am thankful to him, however, for getting me here. For laying the groundwork for me to live a life that I can be proud of, now. But he didn't have it all figured out. He couldn't have. You don't have to, either. That's an awful lot of pressure to be carrying, in the years where you should be free to make mistakes. Being young is for living life in many ways; being old is for building into the one that best suits you.”

Clara looks up at him, her expression warm with affection.

“Thank you,” she says. “But it's okay. Really. I know that Mystra doesn't want me for who I am as a person. She wants me for my power. But that's alright. There are far worse things to be loved for than the skill I have spent the whole of my life perfecting and pouring all of my energy into.”

Whatever Gale had thought the answer might be, it wasn't that. It helps alleviate the guilt, somewhat, knowing that he hadn't directly said anything to influence her decision. But he isn't innocent, either.

Clara, having said her piece, unfolds her legs and looks up at him, and Midnight.

“Can we… try to open the box now?”

“It’s really not that exciting,” Gale sighs, but places his palm on the lid of the box anyway. Midnight and Clara follow him, each of their hands resting against the warm wood, the ridge and furrow of the engraving. That’s all it takes; the box clicks open, the seam appearing in its side.

“There we are,” Gale picks it up, quickly, before either of them can respond. “We owe Halsin and Minthara an explanation, first. Then we can look at this properly.”

“I’m coming too,” Clara hops to her feet. “If anyone’s going to have to cast it now, it will be me. I need to know what it is.”

Briefly, Gale considers arguing. However, much he wishes she wasn’t, she is correct.

“Take it gently,” he warns.

“I am,” Clara sighs, and leads the rest of them back into the main room. In their absence, Karlach and Wyll have rearranged the soft furnishings into a position that better fits the number of them. It’s a rough semi-circle, interspersed with tables now scattered with bottles and glasses. Evidently someone had taken his suggestion to heart - Wyll, if he had to take a guess. The likelihood of there being good wine in Avernus is incredibly slim.

Astarion, lounging on a sofa beside Minthara, shuffles over to make space for him. Gale keeps the box close as he sits down, tucking it between his hip and the arm of the sofa. If it moves even slightly, he’ll feel it.

“All well in the underdark, I hope?” He asks.

“As well as can be expected,” Minthara says, dryly. “Let us dispense with the small talk, wizard. What exactly is the problem?”

Astarion hands him a glass of wine.

“Thank you my love,” Gale takes it, taking a sip as he waits for the others to settle in. It’s not good wine, but it’s not terrible either.

Halsin sits down next to Minthara, who offers him a bottle. He turns it down, easily.

“Still a lightweight?” Astarion teases.

“I doubt that’s going to change now,” Halsin agrees, getting comfortable. “So. How long has Mystra been missing?”

“About half a year, we think,” Gale hazards. “Do you remember the crown of Karsus?”

“Remember?” Minthara sighs at him. “My memory is neither as short nor as fallible as yours, it seems. I will not be forgetting it anytime soon.”

“When it fell into Chionthar, it was in pieces,” Gale says, electing to ignore her. “The three nether stones and the three sections of it that fell with the Elder Brain would have needed to be re-forged in order to make use of it.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you going to go and retrieve it for her?” Minthara frowns. “The way you are talking, it sounds like you did not.”

“No,” Astarion agrees. “He told Mystra that she was a damn Goddess and she could go and get it her f*cking self.”

Karlach snickers at that.

“I did not,” Gale refutes. “You are paraphrasing, my love. But yes, I did refuse to go and get it for her.”

“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Minthara looks at him with new respect. Gale continues;

“For the past months, I hadn’t heard from Mystra at all - or Elminster, for that matter. But I had no reason to, and no reason to believe that anything was wrong, either. Until Clara came to see us.” He nods to her. “Clara, do you want to explain what happened?”

“Um,” Clara shuffles, pulling her sleeves down over her wrists to hold onto them. “Mystra has been visiting me since I was about twelve. She started teaching me magic. I was aware that something had happened to one of her Chosen, but not what, really. Mystra had mentioned it, a few times. But then, after the Absolute, something… changed. The way she spoke to me was different. She started being more demanding, pushing me to achieve more, faster. I applied to start university early, and when I got in, Gale was one of my tutors. From the other students, I picked up a bit of the rumour - about him being Mystra’s Chosen, and the Orb, and saving Faerun. Eventually, I worked up the courage to ask him if he could help me.”

“Something about the Weave had changed,” Gale agrees. “And as if that wasn’t worrying enough, that’s when Aylin turned up, with a missive from Selune.”

“Selune?” Halsin leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Gale nods.

“Exactly. Selune had noticed something amiss, too, and wanted us to investigate. So, we ran a couple of spells, and determined that Mystra was no longer tending to the Weave on Toril - in fact, it had begun to unravel. We attempted to contact her, and instead, we were attacked. By Karsus.

“The crown had contained what remained of him, like a failsafe. So when Mystra destroyed the crown, she released him. Currently, all six of her other Chosen are in the Astral, weaving a spell that is holding both Karsus and Mystra in place; keeping them both away from the Weave, for better or worse. But there’s supposed to be Seven of them, and without the Seventh, the power of the spell is fading. That’s how Karsus was able to get through. And, it turns out, he has been able to escape a little this whole time; enough to have replaced both The Open Lord of Waterdeep and at least one of her inner circle, both of whom are actually currently trapped in that spell in the Astral Plane.

“Thankfully, Mystra also maintained a part of herself outside of that spell. We found it in Dweomerheart. It’s the part of her that Clara now carries. And it was left there for a very specific reason. First, to create a Seventh Chosen, so that the spell could be completed. Secondly, to protect this.”

At last, he puts his wine down to pull the box from under his elbow. Clara sits up, her attention piqued.

“Before I show you the spell-” Gale says, standing to lay the box on a table. “Any questions so far?”

“A myriad,” Minthara says, wryly. “But for now, they can wait.”

Gale nods to her, then looks to Halsin, who, through frowning, nods to him.

“Right.” He rolls up his sleeves, and opens the box.

The contents, having been carted around between planes, are looking a little battered - a little messier than he had left them. At the bottom are four books, full of his own handwriting, notes and plans and previous iterations. He doesn’t need any of that, right now. Instead, he takes from the top a small envelope, unsealed.

“The Mystra I knew was already the third or arguably fourth iteration of the Goddess of Magic. Having witnessed both the Spellplague and the Second Sundering, she was concerned not just with enforcing and protecting the lawful use of magic in the present, but how to continue that in the future, should there be another event which threatened the Weave. And, as her Chosen, it became my concern too.”

He opens the envelope. He hadn’t thought, in truth, that his handwriting had changed much over the last nearly two years. It has; more so than he’d expected. The scrawl across the stave is almost a strangers’ hand rather than his own.

“When a Chosen is made, their entire essence is woven with the aspect of Mystra’s being and the power that it carries,” he says. “The purpose of being her Chosen is to help her maintain balance. The balance of the Weave; of the use of magic; of the universe itself. Everything has a weight, in the cosmos, and souls especially so. A soul carries in it a memory; a pattern, from which the Weave can be used to rebuild the form. It’s the theory behind the Chosen carrying part of Mystra’s being. It’s the theory behind Karsus leaving a part of himself in his crown. A spark, with the right conditions, can easily become the flame of life. This spell takes that theory - but it takes it much, much further.”

The stave rises from the page at his behest, moving to hand in the air between them; a visualisation of what it is.

“That’s not a spell,” Karlach frowns. “That’s a song.”

“It’s both,” Midnight corrects. “The ways in which the weave can be wielded are many. Far enough into the study of any of them, you will find yourself studying all of them.”

“The song is the thread that holds the spell together,” Gale says, solemnly, watching the notes finding their homes in the air above them. He can see, already, a few bits and pieces that will need to be adjusted; things that he needs to account for. He raises a hand, and the runes they hold together appear too. Suddenly, the air is so thick with linework that he can barely see the stave in the middle of it at all.

“Mystra forbids the casting of spells above the ninth level,” Midnight says, thoughtfully.

“Yes, well, unfortunately she’s currently not enforcing that. We’re lucky it doesn’t seem that anyone’s noticed yet. And it means we might, if we absolutely have to, be able to cast this.”

“What… does it do?” Clara asks, warily.

Gale looks up at the runes and sigils, woven together like a machine, clicking and turning along like they’re powering something.

“‘From death comes life’” he quotes. “It would destroy the Weave. Completely. And, from the ashes, rebuild it.”

There is a moment of complete silence.

“And… what would the difference between it happening on its own and you setting it off be, exactly?” Shadowheart says, doubtfully.

“I can’t cast it,” Gale says, quickly. “It would kill me before it was finished. But if it’s cast by someone who can contain that power, in theory, the moment of time between it being destroyed and reconstructed would be so minor it would be almost immediate. ‘Almost’, of course, being the key phrase. An awful lot of things can happen in an ‘almost’, especially when there’s an incredibly powerful archmage looking for the smallest opportunity to exploit.” He sighs. “It was designed as a mental exercise as much as anything; a failsafe for the kind of emergency situation I never actually expected to see in my lifetime. I still hadn’t thought to consider using it, even in Dweomerheart.”

“Until Mystra asked you to,” Midnight points out.

“And now I have thought about it, it seems an even worse idea,” Gale says. With a wave of his hand, the spell vanishes from the air above them. He folds the score back inside its envelope, puts it back in the box, and closes the lid. “Well,” he says. “There’s more conjecture and supposition in all of this than I can in good conscience allow to continue. So, the next step is to go to Moonrise Towers. To investigate what Azuth said about there being some kind of echo or connection there.”

“Azuth?” Minthara says, surprised. “A veritable pantheon is involved it seems.”

“He’s a lesser deity, technically,” Gale corrects. “But an old friend of mine. Like all Gods, however, his help is not offered freely. I would theorise that he considers us to be a key part in solving this. He, too, bears a not insignificant portion of Mystra’s power. If something were to happen to her, who knows what might become of him?” He brushes the dust and paper from his hands. “Anyway. It has been a very long day, and even I am tiring of my own voice.”

So saying, he sits down. Astarion immediately puts his legs in Gale’s lap.

“You’re terrifying sometimes, you know that? Talking about destroying the weave so easily.”

“‘Easy’ isn’t the word I’d use,” Gale sighs, resting his hand on Astarion’s knee.

“I see you’re still inclined towards nauseating displays of affection,” Minthara sighs at them. “Astarion, I have a letter for you.”

“A letter?” Astarion frowns at her. “Who from?”

“I have no idea. Someone who doesn’t know you’re no longer in the underdark, presumably. I was going to post it while I was on the surface.”

She digs it out of her pocket and hands it over. Astarion takes it with trepidation, turning it over in his fingers as if it might try to bite him.

“Jaheira’s handwriting,” Gale says, looking over his shoulder at the name scrawled on the envelope. “I think, anyway.”

Astarion slips his thumb under the seal and unfolds the paper within. There’s two pieces. One is a letter, confirming Gale’s suspicions by being signed off by Jaheira. The other is some kind of official document - or a copy of one, at least. The letter itself is in Elven, rather than Common. Gale could read it, but elects not to.

Astarion, however, sits up as he reads. His shoulders tense.

“What is it?”

“I’ve been registered as a missing person,” Astarion says.

“A… what?”

“A missing person.”

Astarion turns the official piece of paper over, as if expecting it to give him any more information. The back is blank; the few lines of official-looking text printed on the front, with his name hand-written in the relevant gaps, is all there is to it.

“By who?”

“She doesn’t know,” Astarion is skimming the letter again, so Gale picks up the paper from his lap.

Astarion Ancunin. Registered missing. An address, to post a response about any information to - but the only name given is, also, Ancunin. It’s dated from just after the Absolute fell.

“I’m not missing. I have a grave,” Astarion says, a thread of irritation in the confusion. “As far as anyone should be concerned, I’ve been dead for centuri-”

They both realise it at the same time.

“You changed the date,” Gale says. “Just before we faced off against the Absolute.”

Astarion looks back at the letter.

“But who would have still been visiting my grave two hundred years after they buried me there?”

Gale says nothing.

Without a first name, a missing person report from another Ancunin could mean anything. It could mean parents, siblings even - someone out there who has never quite forgotten Astarion as he would have been, before Cazador. Someone that Astarion himself cannot even remember. It could also be anyone at all, using the name to pose as family. For what end is uncertain, but easily imaginable. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it is a pragmatic one.

“What has she done about it?”

“Nothing,” Astarion folds both pieces of paper back into the envelope. “Our Jaheira has offered to do something very naughty for me and report me officially dead. If I want her to. If not, then I suppose we… leave it open. See if anything comes of it.”

Gale does not suggest writing to the address. If Astarion hasn’t mentioned it, he’s either already dismissed the idea, or hasn’t quite got to it yet, and needs the time to get there himself.

“Well. What interesting post.” Astarion pats his thighs and stands up. “I shall endeavour to send you more interesting letters in the future, Minthara.”

And with that, he excuses himself. Gale follows him back up to the room that they’re sharing.

“You didn’t finish your wine,” Astarion says, when he realises Gale is following him.

“It wasn’t very good. Don’t tell Halsin I said so.”

With a smirk, Astarion ushers him through and closes the door behind them.

“Ugh. People.” He sits down on the bed, dramatically, kicking off his shoes. “I’m going to have to listen to someone snoring through the walls again, knowing my luck. Unless you’re going to let me lie between your thighs all night.”

“Pff,” Gale changes out of his robes, yawning. “Not a talking about it occasion, then, I take it.”

“Not yet.” The bed creaks as Astarion gets up, coming to rest his face against Gale’s shoulders, his arms around Gale’s stomach. “I need to think about it first.” He says it slowly, like he’s putting it together as he talks.

Gale turns into him to kiss his cheek.

“What?” Astarion frowns at him. “You’re doing gooey eyes at me and for once I don’t know why.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Oh come off it,” Astarion pats his stomach, gently, letting him go. “I’m going to steal the bathroom before there’s a queue. Don’t fall asleep while I'm gone.”

“No promises,” Gale yawns.

When Astarion comes back, skin still gently steaming from how hot he has the water, Gale is doing his own thinking. Sitting up in the bed, he watches as Astarion potters about the room, hanging up his towel and putting his soap and toiletries away.

“Do you ever regret the choice you made at the ritual?” Gale says.

Astarion looks up at him, suddenly paying more attention.

“I don’t regret the choice I made, no. But I regret the choice I had. And I won’t pretend not to covet the power it would have granted me.”

Gale nods.

“When I learned about the Crown of Karsus, I thought- well, I thought a lot of things. I thought about the power it would grant me, true, but I also saw safety. There would be no way that Mystra would ever be able to make me her Chosen again, if I was a God in my own right. I could have had all of that power, all of that magic - with none of the chains and shackles.”

“And how would that have saved Clara from the same fate?” Astarion says. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

“She came to me for help, Astarion. And I failed her.”

Gale lies back on the bed, suddenly unwilling to look Astarion in the face.

Sometimes, he thinks they know each other too well.

“Is Clara my Sebastian?” He asks the ceiling. “The one I tried to save from fate and couldn’t?”

“She chose her own way, when it came to it,” Astarion reminds him, appearing beside the bed. “My love, you can’t spend all night beating yourself up about choices that other people made.”

“I can if I want to,” Gale says, sullenly. “You, the king of wallowing in your feelings, are not going to persuade me otherwise.”

“Challenge accepted,” Astarion says, and clambers into bed beside him. “I’m giving you until I get bored to wallow, and then I’m laying claim to your attention.”

He traces the orb-scar down the side of Gale’s neck, over his collarbones.

“Are you bored already?” Gale says, unable to help himself from smiling.

“Hmm?” Astarion blinks. “No, actually.” His voice is soft; unusually so. If someone were to stand outside and press their ear to the door, they wouldn’t know he’d said anything at all. Gale catches his hand, suddenly concerned; but Astarion seems calm. “I was thinking about scars. Yours. Mine. Who we were, the last time we were here. How different we were - and yet how little has changed.” He brings Gale’s hand to his lips to kiss his fingers; the ring. “I know I shouldn’t be. I know you’ll hate this. But I’m glad it was Clara, not you.”

Gale presses their foreheads together.

“I am too,” he confesses.

“Ah, no wonder you feel terrible,” Astarion says, though there’s a hint of a smile in it.

“I think we both have the capacity to be fairly terrible people, really,” Gale says, hopelessly. “You’re just better at admitting to it than I am.”

“I am extremely good where it counts,” Astarion reminds him, utterly remorselessly. “Morally, I think we can give the saviours of Faerun a little leeway. As long as we keep saving the world, nobody’s going to make too much fuss about the body count along the way.”

Gale chuckles, though there’s not much humour in it. Sighing at him, Astarion leans over him to poke him in the chest.

“I am only going to say this once, so you better remember it; and if you repeat it, I can and will cut the tongue from your skull and feed it to you myself,” Astarion says.

Gale blinks at him, trying to pretend that that didn’t just send a thread of something electric down his spine. Of course Astarion notices, but he lets Gale get away with nothing more than an incredulous eyebrow. It will probably come back to bite him later. For now, Astarion’s expression softens, and he looks down, not quite able to meet Gale’s eyes;

“You make me want to be a better person, Gale.”

Gale’s breath catches in his throat.


“Shh, I’m not done,” Astarion puts his finger on Gale’s lips. “I know you have a hero complex, and I know you have to keep proving your worth and justifying your mere existence, and you know that I think that’s stupid and I'm not going to indulge it because there are far better ways to work on improving your self-worth. However, I will remind you that the only reason this place is here at all is because of you. The only reason that either of us are here, now, is because you saw something better that I could be.

“Neither of us are good people, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people either. And I don’t think we have to be. I don’t think there is such a thing as a truly good person, really. We did what we had to, to survive - and when we get to choose better, we do. And I will always be choosing to do better. For you.”

Gale breathes.

“Okay, now I’m done,” Astarion says, and takes his finger off Gale’s mouth.

“I love you,” Gale says, and the words are not enough; they cannot possibly encapsulate the entirety of the feeling.

“I know,” Astarion says, pleased with himself. “I love you too, irritating idiot that you are. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would like to spend the rest of my night focusing my energy on something a bit more satisfying.”

“I honestly don’t know if I have the energy,” Gale says, regretfully.

“Fair,” Astarion flops on top of him. “Is this a ‘I would like to sleep alone tonight’ no or a ‘I will limpet you and not let you out of my sight for the remainder of the night’ no?”

“Limpet,” Gale says, firmly. “If you leave me alone I’ll do the sad eyes you apparently hate so much.”

“I am immune to your sad eyes,” Astarion says, which is an absolute lie and he knows it. He folds his arms over Gale’s chest, getting comfortable. “Although I may go out hunting once you fall asleep. I’ll be back by the time you wake up, of course.”

“Of course,” Gale agrees. “I wouldn’t want to hold you back from the joys of the forest the few times we make it out of Waterdeep.”

“‘Joys’” Astarion rolls his eyes. “Nothing compares to you, I’m afraid, my dear, but if we’re going to be fighting off evil bastards I’m going to need something more substantial.”

Eventually, Gale falls asleep with Astarion pressed up against his back. He wakes, however many hours later, to Astarion coming back in. With no candles lit, the room is a mystery to him; Astarion, he knows, has no such trouble.

“Any luck?” He murmurs, blearily.

Astarion doesn't reply. Gale can hear him breathing; fast, and uneven. The pattern of it draws him further out of sleep.


“Shhh,” Astarion whispers, suddenly there, a shape looming out of the darkness. Gale startles.

He smells of sweat; acrid in the air. Now he's close, Gale can hear the tone of his voice is off.

“You alright?”

“No,” Astarion’s voice is frustrated. “My head is… spinning. It's fine, I'm fine, but-”

Gale reaches for him in the dark, finds his chest. Astarion leans into him with something that might almost be a whimper.

“Oh,” Gale sits up properly. “Here. Come here.”

Astarion kneels over his legs, pressing Gale back against the wall. He puts his head over Gale's shoulder, so their chests are pressed together. His heart is beating wildly. His hair is wet, with blood or sweat or possibly rain, but Gale doesn't care. Instead he focuses on his breathing. On counting in, and out. On holding the back Astarion's head, his cheek turned into Gale's shoulder. He's trembling.

“Off,” Astarion pulls away, to tug at the edge of the shirt Gale's wearing. Gale complies, pulling it off and setting it aside so that Astarion can hold him, skin to skin.

Astarion doesn't talk, when he's like this; not like Gale does. He might later, if he wants to, when he's ready. But right now, Gale holds Astarion to his chest and just breathes. Long and slow and deep. Until Astarion is breathing with him; until the wild slamming of his heart has calmed, his trembling quietened. Gale hopes the pain is fading too; remembers how Astarion describes it, like a hand clutching at his heart, his lungs, claws tearing through his chest. He traces the furthest outline of the scar, letting Astarion melt into him.

“I hate this,” Astarion whispers, eventually.

“I know,” Gale murmurs. “Anything else I can do?”

“No,” Astarion sighs, pressing their foreheads together. “I keep thinking that this shouldn't happen anymore. Cazador is dead. The others are free, for what it's worth. You're here, with me. And yet-” he huffs. “And yet.”

“It's never that easy,” Gale agrees. “I’m sorry, my love.”

“Why?” Astarion says, suddenly sounding more like himself. “I don't regret any of it, you know.”

“Me neither,” Gale agrees. “I never will. But I'm sorry that we can't just be done with it. I'm sorry it still haunts you, and that I can't make it better for you. I would if I could.”

“I know,” Astarion leans back into him, his lips to Gale's neck. “I know.”

They sit there for a lot longer before Gale finally gives in.

“Astarion, my back-”

“Old man,” Astarion sighs. “Fine, fine, horizontal cuddles. Whatever.”

When Gale wakes again, it is to light trying to leak past the thin curtains. It is to Astarion lying across him, his leg over Gale's, his arm stretched across Gale's chest. In trace, his expression is troubled. His breathing is erratic again. Gale rolls into him, pulling him close.

Astarion comes to in increments.

“Rough night,” Gale comments, when Astarion finally opens his eyes and blinks blearily up at him.

With a huff that apparently conveys all he has to say on the matter, Astarion sticks his head into Gale's chest and refuses to emerge. Gale strokes the back of his neck, coaxing his fingers through Astarion's bedhead curls.

“Hunting is losing its charms,” he says, at last, when Gale has almost drifted off into a doze again.


Astarion doesn't reply. Instead, his fingers tense around Gale's hips.

Gale tugs him upwards, to minimal resistance, to kiss his forehead.

“Do you need breakfast?”

“No,” Astarion growls. “Stop being irritatingly helpful.”

“Alright,” Gale lets him go, gently. Astarion immediately rolls over and pulls the blanket over his head. “I'll be downstairs if you need me.”

“I always need you,” Astarion says, muffled. “I just also sometimes need to be alone so badly it hurts.”

“I know,” Gale says, stretching his back and feeling it crack, satisfyingly. “We both have our moments. Take as long as you need.”

“Aren't we in a rush?”

“No,” Gale says firmly. “Clara needs to rest. I suspect there'll be a whole lot of nothing happening today. And it seems like you need it.”

“Too much talking,” Astarion growls.

Gale dresses in silence, and closes the door behind him as quietly as possible.

Astarion does not have panic attacks anywhere near as often as Gale does. But, miserable as Gale's are, they tend to pass quickly and leave him only tired and a little shaken. Astarion's, by contrast, are so intense that they're almost like fits. And though they're few and far between, they can set him down for hours, even days.

The first few had been utterly terrifying. They had also been, decidedly unlike Gale's, extremely loud. Astarion, often in his trances, will cry out as if struck. It's an unpleasant way for both of them to wake.

It is, however, nothing that Gale can't handle. Now he knows the patterns, and knows how to help, he can leave Astarion in his peace afterwards without the desperate fear that he's letting him down, somehow. The fact that skin-to-skin contact helped had been an accidental discovery, made because they'd stumbled across something that had triggered one at a particularly inopportune moment. In hindsight, they can laugh about it. In the moment, it had been anything but funny.

That's the thing about panic attacks. It's the thing Gale has struggled most to adjust to; there is simply no knowing, sometimes, when the storm will hit, or why. All they can do is ride it out.

Downstairs, he finds himself the only one awake in the early dawn light. After going around and closing all the curtains, he decides to inspect the kitchen. And, finding it fully stocked, he sets to work.

Cooking is one of those things that both focuses his mind and allows it to wander. In one aspect, he is judging quantities, timings, flavour balances. In another, he is working with mostly his hands and his intuition. As he chops potatoes and mixes the batter for pancakes, he turns over everything that's happened; Karsus, Mystra, Clara, Midnight.

As he whisks eggs for scrambling and lays out bread rolls ready to toast, he thinks about the Chosen, about the unravelling of the Weave, about Dweomerheart. Putting it all in its place; finding the patterns and threads, trying to sketch out the shape of what they're missing. How Moonrise can possibly factor into it.

Mentally, he slots Clara into the circle of Chosen; as their seventh in the spell. Then he tries Midnight, instead. Then he tries neither, wondering how long the spell might last; how else they might strengthen it, keeping Karsus contained. Then he wonders about how to break it; followed, belatedly, by the question of whether they should. Each scenario he walks through, he pictures the branching pathways of possibility.

He's slicing bacon and thinking about how Mystra thinks his spell fits into it all when a small voice greets him with unbridled delight;


He turns, and to his equal surprise;



When the others start emerging into the living room, the kitchen is a flurry of activity. Yenna and several other children are running to and fro, shouting instructions and insults, giggling at each other. In the centre of them all stands a dark-haired elven woman in an apron, directing the small army of helpers like a conductor with an orchestra.

Lae'zel, as always, is the first up. She seats herself quietly at one of the tables, and accepts coffee a moment later when one of the smaller children brings it, hands shaking with the weight and the fear of spilling the hot liquid. Wyll is soon to join her, followed by Midnight, Minthara, and then Clara.

The kitchen is still a site of joyous chaos, though it seems to be all coming together now. Piles of cold breakfast offerings arrive, borne by tiny hands; cut fruit, meats and cheeses. Older children bring warmer fare; porridge, and a burner to keep it bubbling; bacon, sausages, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, black pudding, wild mushrooms and greens; a platter piled high with toast. As the table starts to reach bursting point, Karlach and Shadowheart appear, lured by the smell and the growing noise.

Yenna is darting about, in her element, helping the elven woman distribute tasks amongst the younger children. Plates and cutlery appear in a hodge-podge of disorder, though Wyll hardly minds having to eat his sausages with a spoon when this is the quality of sausages on offer.

“Do you think this is equal to Gale's cooking?” Karlach whispers, under her arm. “I think it might be, and I think that might be heresy.”

Shadowheart shushes her, laughing.

Clara insists that porridge counts as a liquid and promptly puts so much jam in it that it turns pink.

The elf in charge sends all the children to join them then, and they find themselves divvying out servings between a table full of children of varying ages and species, as the elf and Yenna make pancakes in the kitchen. What this mostly seems to consist of is flipping the pancakes between each others’ pans. A fair few end up on the floor or the ceiling, but apparently Halsin keeps a small menagerie of animals now, including pigs, so once the splatters of half-cooked batter have been scraped from the various corners they end up in, she and Yenna go straight back to throwing them through the air.

And, eventually, they get good enough at it that some pancakes even make it to the table.

It is joyously chaotic, as breakfast entertainment goes.

Eventually, Astarion comes downstairs, still yawning. He stops by the kitchen, putting his arm around the elf’s shoulders to kiss her cheek.

“Morning, my love,” he says.

“No!” Yenna shrieks. “Astarion, you're ruining the game!”

“Nice to see you too,” Astarion raises an eyebrow at her. “What game is this, exactly?” He looks back and forth between the elf and the child and then steps back, his voice dropping into deep sarcasm. “Oh, I'm so sorry, random stranger that I have absolutely never met.”

Gale laughs.

“We were seeing how long it took anyone to notice,” he says, in a tone that is decidedly his own even though it's pitched slightly higher.

“You were the first one,” Yenna pouts, “And you spoiled it.”

“Hardly.” Gale grins. “Hey Yenna, you know how we couldn't reach the honey because Halsin put it out of reach?” He shakes himself, and instead of an elf he's a half-orc, and Astarion has to step back a little to look at him without straining his neck. “Here,” Gale gestures.

He picks Yenna up under her arms with ease; a feat he never would have managed as a human. She grabs the pot of honey on the top shelf, and clings to her prize with delight as Gale sets her down again.

“I need you to teach me that,” she grins, and runs off with her prize to claim some pancakes.

Gale shakes the half-orc form off, returning to the elven one. He turns back to the pan to pour more batter out, and Astarion leans against his shoulder.

“You alright?” Gale asks, quietly. “Sorry, I didn't think until you came downstairs that I should have-”

“I've seen this one before,” Astarion reminds him, easily. “I know it's you.” He takes Gale's chin in his hand, turning his head to kiss him. “And you know exactly how I feel about it.”

“Don't-” Gale grins. “Glad as I am that you're feeling better, we have an audience and a pancake cooking.”

“Fine,” Astarion agrees. “But I'm going to stand here while you cook.”

His hand sneaks around Gale's hip.

“‘Unhand me, rogue’,” Gale teases. “Or I'll turn back.”

“Oh, no, my incredibly beautiful fiancé is threatening to turn into my incredibly handsome fiancé? Truly how I suffer.”

Gale shivers, and stands again in his usual form. Quietly, he says;

“Go and talk to Yenna about how it doesn't bother you, would you? I think it might be the kind of thing they need to hear.”

Astarion raises an eyebrow at him. Before he can respond, however, Karlach has finally noticed them.

“It was Gale the whole time?” She yelps.

“Wait, you didn't notice?” Wyll looks surprised. “Other than the lack of beard and the ears, his face was almost exactly the same!”

“She still had the scar, Karlach,” Clara adds.

Gale laughs.

“I should have known you'd have me sussed immediately. But - I'm always going to be a ‘he’, if you don't mind.”

“What, even when you have boobs?” Yenna says, disbelievingly, mouth half full of pancake.

“Don't speak with your mouth full,” Gale says. “And yes, what I am or am not lacking anatomically doesn't alter who I am as a person. I wouldn't be a different gender if I was in gaseous form or lost an arm or something, would I?” He grins, plating up another pancake. “The only thing that's really disconcerting is if I get rid of the scar.”

So saying, he turns to them; and the orb is gone.

“You've just lost ten years,” Minthara says, “You almost look as young as you are. Now you just need to remove the grey from your hair.”

“Yes but I don't feel like me,” Gale protests.

“It's very odd,” Midnight says, the first time she's spoken all morning. “To me, you look like you're supposed to, without it.”

“I do not,” Gale snaps, the black lines reappearing across his cheek, like someone under his skin is drawing them on with a pen. “I'm so attached to it precisely because it's proof that I'm not who I used to be.”

There's a small silence, Midnight returning her attention to her coffee.

“I don't know what's funnier,” Astarion says, before Gale has a chance to feel bad about the little flare of his temper, “That you didn't notice at all, Karlach, or that Wyll noticed and didn't even think to pass comment.”

Wyll shrugs.

“We're staying with a druid. I was half expecting to come down to find a bear cooking breakfast. Gale as an elf meant less hair in the sausages.”

They're interrupted by the door opening. As if summoned by the mention of his name, Halsin is standing in the doorway. A small chorus of children yelling morning greetings is met with a smile that is almost radiant in its happiness; but then, shaking leaves from his hair, Halsin casts his eyes about the room urgently. When he sees Astarion, he relaxes somewhat.

“There you are, Astarion! I'm so sorry. Are you alright?”

Astarion pulls Gale in front of him, pancake pan and all, and pretends to cower behind him.

“Oh no, it's the terrifying druid! Save me, Gale!”

“Oh yes, I'm going to do a whole lot of good protecting you against Halsin, of all people,” Gale sighs.

“You'd be fine until I got within melee range,” Halsin smiles. “But there's not many humans that could take a bear.”

“I could,” Astarion says; “Oh, well, not in a fight.”

“Astarion!” Gale pretend-smacks his arm. “There are children present.”

“They don't know what it means!” Astarion protests, laughing.

Gale, rolling his eyes, loosens the edge of the pancake and flips it.

“Pancake, Halsin? I'm afraid we've already got hold of your honey.”

“I cannot confess that I am surprised,” Halsin says, almost smiling. “But really, Astarion, I would be quite happy to look you over-”

“I said I'm fine,” Astarion sighs, and this time he sounds like he means it. “You're just lucky I don't need my heart, or you'd have stopped mine… well, dead.” He smirks.

“What happened?” Shadowheart asks, curiously. “You didn't fight, did you?”

“No,” Halsin chuckles. “No, not at all.”

“I was out hunting,” Astarion says. “And somebody got a little protective over his territory.”

“I did not know it was you. We had been having issues with goblins trying to steal the chickens, otherwise I wouldn't have been out at all. Unfortunately one humanoid in the bushes looks much like another.”

Halsin sits down at the table. One of the younger children crawls into his lap immediately, almost like a cat. He wraps an arm around the immediately, stabilising the bowl of fruit pieces that they just shoved into his chest and were in danger of spilling down his front.

“How dare you compare me to a goblin! You're lucky all you did was make me jump,” Astarion says, inspecting his nails. “I bite, you know.”

“Nobody would ever have guessed,” Gale says, dryly, and hands him a plate with a pancake on it. “For Halsin, please.”

“You did not smell like a goblin. That was why I was investigating, not attacking,” Halsin says.

Astarion delivers him the pancake with a condescending pat to the head, deftly dodging the errant child’s sticky-fingered grab.

“Well, no harm done, I suppose. Serves me right for getting sloppy. There's no way you should have been able to sneak up on me like that.”

“I can only imagine what it's like to have a bear loom at you from the darkness,” Halsin says, apologetically.

“I think my reaction gave you a fairly good idea,” Astarion returns, returning to the kitchen. “That and that I'd gone before you'd finished turning back.”

“It did not seem like it would be a good idea to chase you down and find out if you were alright.”

“Then I really would have bitten you,” Astarion agrees. “I just came back here and unceremoniously woke Gale up.”

Gale sighs.

“You know, someday someone's going to try and break in in the middle of the night and I'm just going to assume that it's you and go back to sleep.”

“And then I'll hunt them down and brutally murder them and make sure that just enough word of it gets out that it never happens again,” Astarion says, cheerfully.

Halsin hums, thoughtfully.

“I had been thinking that it would be nice to have you visit for a little longer. Perhaps tell the children some stories. Now I'm wondering if that's a good idea after all.”

Yenna, who has been bursting to say something this whole time, finally gives up on waiting for a natural pause in the conversation and cries;

“Halsin, Gale is going to teach me a spell!”

“Ah, yes,” Gale says. “Yenna and I have been playing around with Alter Self this morning. I suppose you’ll also be wanting to sign half your cohort up for magic lessons?”

“Oh!” Halsin turns his attention to Yenna. “That does sound interesting.”

“He can have long hair whenever he wants to!” Yenna cries, ecstatic. “And just decide whether or not to be human! Or have a beard! Or pointy ears!”

“For about an hour at a time,” Gale reminds them. “It's fun to play around with, but it’s not permanent.”

“If you want it to last longer, though, there are permanent versions,” Clara puts in. “If you find the right wizard and pay the right price.”

Halsin eyes her, and for a moment Gale wonders if he's going to ask an inappropriate question - but it turns out that what Halsin is actually frowning over is Clara’s breakfast.

“That is not liquid,” he says.

“Porridge is nearly liquid!” Clara protests.

“How have you felt this morning?” Halsin removes the child from his lap and is by her side immediately. Yenna steals the remaining half of his pancake off his plate, and when Gale catches them doing so, winks at him before vanishing under the table.

With a smile, he plates Yenna up one of their own, and gestures them over to fetch it.

“Didn't you used to do tomatoes, Gale?” Midnight says, thoughtfully, as the conversation breaks up around the table.

“Really,” Astarion sighs. “The man just made breakfast for nearly twenty people, with every available offering under the sun, and you have the gall to ask for more?”

“No,” Midnight frowns at him. “I just… remembered something about cooked tomatoes.”

“Astarion doesn't like them,” Gale says, ruffling Yenna’s hair and shooing them out of the kitchen. “Not with breakfast, anyway.”

“You eat?” Midnight looks at Astarion, surprised. While she was looking away he had picked up a plate and filled it.

“I do,” Astarion nods. “Occasionally. Much like breathing, I don't technically need to - but doing so makes my existence a more pleasant experience, generally.”

“Susan would have loved to have met you,” Gale muses, and then turns to find that Astarion has brought him a plate of food. “Oh, thank you!”

“You weren't going to remember otherwise,” Astarion sighs. “If you forget again I'm going to steal your black pudding before it goes cold. Waste not want not and all that.”

Gale stops to look at him properly. The others are distracted now, involved in their own conversations, their own breakfasts. He’ll worry about Minthara chatting to Midnight another time; now, he takes the cover of the rising volume to properly study Astarion’s expression.

“How are you?” he asks, quietly, letting his voice slide beneath the chatter.

“Better,” Astarion smiles, just the barest twitch of his lip. “So you can stop worrying about me, darling.”

“Never. You can’t make me.”

Astarion steps in; Gale expects him to grab his hip, maybe even his neck. To pull him into a kiss. He doesn’t. Astarion hugs him. With a happy little hum, Gale settles against him; cool fingers through his robe, the curl of hair against his cheek, the familiar weight and shape and smell of him. Astarion doesn’t do soft in public; it’s sass, flirting, or nothing. But this? This feels like a gift. Gale holds onto him, tightly, fully intending to stand there for as long as Astarion will let him. Astarion doesn’t move back, either. Instead, they stand, swaying ever so slightly, in the warmth of the kitchen and surrounded by the chatter of their friends. Just existing. Just, for a moment, at peace.


This chapter is brought to you by the horrifying conversation I had with my partner about their honour mode run and the fact that they have no intention of confronting Cazador before fighting the Netherbrain and our mutual realisation that there must be a coded ending for Astarion losing the tadpole and his freedom with it.

Hence why we're leaning hard into soft!Astarion and healing vibes. This chapter is basically a vessel for all my random headcannons about their post-game dynamic.

Next update will likely be after the new year, unless my partner gets to the end of their honour mode run by then and we witness... whatever that scene may be.

Chapter 11

Chapter Text

They don't go to Moonrise that day. It's been vetoed on all fronts before they've even finished washing up.

There's no shortage of things that need doing around Reithwin however, and Halsin is pleased to have a much larger team of idle hands at his disposal. Only Clara and Astarion are exempt. Clara because the tiredness is hitting her now, and Halsin sends her back to bed. Astarion because all of the work that currently needs doing is in roofless buildings, and he's of negligible help when he has to navigate the cloak.

So once the washing up is done, they pack themselves sandwiches. By then, Gale has his head stuck in the piano Art had apparently rescued from one of the ruins, before his sickness caught up with him. By the time everyone else is ready to go, he has the back of it open and half the inner workings spread out over the floor.

“An underhanded tactic to get out of manual labour,” Lae’zel frowns at him.

“I don't know if you'll be able to get that working,” Halsin adds, dubiously. “Art had a good look at it when we brought it in and said it needed a professional.”

“Believe it or not, this is not the first time I’ve done this,” Gale grins up at him, lying on his back on the floor to get a better look at something. “While I can hardly claim to be a professional, there’s not much more damage I can do that hasn’t been done by time and negligence already. Besides, I'm having a whale of a time trying. It's like a puzzle, only more interesting. Do you have one of those…” he makes a gesture, trying to remember what the tool is called. “It's a- oh, nevermind.” He conjures one instead, and crawls back into the instrument’s carcass.

“He will not be of much use with rebuilding anyway,” Lae’zel points out.

“I feel that was a rather unnecessary comment, Lae'zel, but it would be dishonest of me to attempt to refute it,” Gale says, somewhat muffled.

“Art would have liked the piano to be restored,” Halsin agrees. And that, apparently, is that.

Lae'zel joins Minthara in designing creative ways to keep the goblins out of the chicken coop, and Halsin takes the others off down into Reithwin to join the rebuilding efforts. Astarion sets up in the armchair nearest where Gale is working with a book.

Gale keeps up a gentle patter of noises and chat as he works. None of it is aimed at Astarion, exactly; he's just talking to himself and Astarion happens to be there. Occasionally he responds.

“Oh, no, come on-” Gale sighs at a rusted joint that refuses to relinquish its position.

“You make the same set of noises doing this that you make when you're marking,” Astarion observes, turning his page.

“Mmhmmm,” Gale says, trying to leverage the piece of metal free. “It's just as frustrating, I would wager.”

“Less, by the sound of it,” Astarion closes his book. “Coffee?”

“This is why I love you,” Gale emerges, victorious, holding the offending rust-covered component.

“You have dust in your hair,” Astarion sighs.

“It suits me. Do you know where my glasses went?”

“Everything does. And I have no idea, for once. Did you definitely pack them?”

Gale frowns.


“Coffee,” Astarion gets to his feet. Gale follows him, mostly just because he can and he's at a natural stopping point.

“What are you reading?” He asks, getting the pot down from the shelf.

“Morena loaned it to me,” Astarion taps his hip as he moves past to fill the pot with water. “I've finished it, actually, but I didn't bring anything else.”

“Hmmm,” Gale measures out beans into Halsin's little grinder, thoughtfully. “If you're not busy, would you be able to have a look at that spell for me?”

“Which one? I don't always pay that much attention when you talk about magic.”

“The one in the box,” Gale says. “I don't know how I feel about Clara or Midnight getting a proper look at it yet - but I trust your judgement.”

“You flatter me, Gale. I won't pretend I'm not intrigued,” Astarion purrs. “And I suppose you don't have to worry about me casting it.”

“You are impulsive, you are not stupid,” Gale agrees.

“Well I meant I'm not powerful enough, but that too I suppose.”

As they wait for the water to boil, Astarion brushes the dust out of Gale's hair with an irritated little tut.

“Really, darling.”

“Mmhmm,” Gale leans into him. “I think you missed a bit.”

“I don't think I did,” Astarion grins at Gale's pout. “You won't let me do anything fun with it! What do you want me to do, stand here and pat your head like a dog?”

“Of the two of us, you are far more likely to enjoy being called a good boy.”

Never one to turn down a challenge, Astarion takes him by the hips and pushes him up against the cabinets.

“Cheeky little-”

If Gale had been paying attention to anything other than Astarion before, he isn’t now. He leans his arms over Astarion’s shoulders, smiling into this languid, messy morning kiss. Evidently Astarion is making up for not getting his usual morning cuddles.

Which is unfortunate, because Astarion isn’t often inclined towards patience or restraint. And Gale, who is paying much more attention to what Astarion is doing with his tongue than anything else, had forgotten that not everyone had left with Halsin.

“Oh, uh- I'll come back later.”

Clara’s voice makes them both jump. Astarion steps back, though too late to stop the blush from hitting Gale's cheeks.

“Oh for the love of… I am so sorry, Clara.”

“How did you do that?” Astarion demands. “Did you f*cking teleport?”

“Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just smelled coffee.”

“You can have coffee,” Astarion says, venomously. “If you put some f*cking shoes on! That's twice in a day someone has snuck up on me, it's like you don't know what happens if you spook a vampire. Honestly. No self-preservation instincts at all.”

“How are you feeling, Clara?” Gale turns back to making coffee, trying to brush over the awkwardness of the moment.

“Fine? Weird, but in the same way as yesterday. I wanted to keep sleeping, but the prickling of the weave is keeping me awake.”

“Ah, that doesn't go away, I'm afraid,” Gale says. “Or at least, it never did for me. You'll get used to it, I expect. I felt quite bereft without it, when it was gone. How do you take your coffee?”

“Black.” Clara shudders. “It doesn't feel as… controlled as it used to. Casting used to be something I did very deliberately and intentionally. I'm… afraid I might use it by accident.”

“You won't,” Gale says, firmly. “It's more volatile, definitely, but you're still a wizard. The weave is a part of your being now, so I imagine it feels much like being a Sorcerer would, but it still answers to you. You are in complete control.”

“And… if I'm not,” Clara says slowly, “If something about it is different because Mystra wasn't there, if I cast something by accident, and it summons Karsus…”

“Then we deal with it,” Gale says, firmly, handing her a mug. “If something does happen, tell me immediately. But for what it's worth, I think it's incredibly unlikely.”

“Do you want us to tell you the story about defeating a God again?” Astarion says, leaning back against the counter with his arms crossed. “Don't forget who you're dealing with.”

“There's no need to be afraid,” Gale agrees. “We’re here with you.”

“Thank you,” Clara nods. “And for the coffee. I’m going to go and read. With the door closed.”

Gale, whose cheeks had only just lost their heat, flames red again.


In the afternoon, Midnight and Shadowheart come back from the building site with materials to help Lae’zel and Minthara construct their anti-goblin chicken-protection contraption. Gale, hearing their voices from inside, brings them a carafe of coffee to share. The air isn't bitterly cold, not yet - but they enjoy standing around in the weak sunlight warming their hands on the mugs anyway.

“How is the piano looking?” Shadowheart asks when Lae'zel has finished describing how their trap-trigger system works to Gale, who has had a couple of suggestions to make on improving its efficiency.

“Oh, it's old and broken,” Gale sighs. “But not past saving.”

“A kindred spirit of yours, then,” Minthara says, acerbically.

“I might even be able to get it to play quite nicely,” Gale continues, ignoring her completely. “Maybe the children can learn.”

“I think Art would have liked that,” Shadowheart agrees. “You’re not going to impress us with your repertoire if you fix it, then? Unlike your mother's friends?”

He sighs at her.

“I thought you were cultured enough to appreciate the arts, Shadowheart. I'm saddened to see I was mistaken.”

“Ouch,” Shadowheart grins. “I forgot you give as good as you get, you know. How you and Astarion haven't killed each other yet I do not know.”

“Much the same way that you and Lae'zel haven't killed each other yet, I imagine,” Gale says; “By channelling it in a different direction. And, if I may take the opportunity to remind you, the walls here are not as thick as the ones in my tower.”

So saying, he picks up the empty tray, and heads back indoors.

“You should know better than to pick fights with the wizard by now,” Lae'zel says, helpfully, from behind her. “If we have made each other stronger, he and Astarion have made each other sharper.”

“He was plenty sharp enough to begin with,” Shadowheart retorts. “If anything, they’ve softened.”

They return to their task.

Somewhat later in the afternoon it transpires that they can, in fact, hear the piano from out here. And, after a little while, Gale's voice too.

Midnight stops to listen, resting her forearms on the shovel.

“Trust the wizard to get out of hard labour to do something frivolous,” Lae’zel complains. “Do not let him influence you, Midnight. If we are to complete this by sunset we must not rest too long.”

“I forgot about his voice,” Midnight says, her gaze focused somewhere in the middle distance. “Like velvet.”

“Did Mystra enjoy music?” Shadowheart asks, thoughtfully. “I never know what to expect, with Gods.”

“I did,” Midnight frowns, still elsewhere. “But he didn't play like this. He has improved by leaps and bounds.”

“When you lock a wizard in a tower for a year, it is very rare that they do nothing at all,” Minthara says. “You're lucky he decided to distract himself with music. I would have been focused on revenge, and you would not have survived my release.”

Midnight doesn't appear to be listening.

“He used to sing for me,” she says, hazily, as if caught in the reclaimed memory.

“For Mystra,” Shadowheart corrects. “You're going to have to get better at that, you know. Given that Mystra tried to kill him, you’ll get on better with all of us if you distance yourself from that.”

Midnight sighs, turning to her.

“I was Mystra. I know it's not the kind of thing you can understand, but Midnight has not existed for a hundred years. And yet I have a hundred years worth of memories. I was Mystra, and Mystra was me. I remember Gale as he was; I remember everything we were to each other. Perhaps a God can't love in a way you would understand, but I can. And Gale knows it. That's why he's being so prickly with me. And so affectionate with Astarion.”

“No, they are always like that,” Lae’zel puts in. “Gale is something that is known as a ‘hopeless romantic’ apparently. As far as I can tell, that means he displays constant physical and verbal affirmations of his flesh-bond to Astarion.”

Midnight blinks, processing that.

“He has made Astarion just as bad,” Minthara says, from under the coop they're reinforcing. “You should have seen him in the underdark. I nearly killed him out of frustration before he left for Waterdeep.”

“I… never knew him to be like that before,” Midnight says, thoughtfully. “I assumed it was unusual behaviour for him.”

“He wasn't like that with Mystra?” Shadowheart asks, with some surprise.

“Mystra demands a very different type of devotion,” Midnight says. “She is a Goddess, not a succubus.”

“Yes, I somehow can't imagine you welcoming someone showing you affection in public,” Shadowheart says, dryly.

“He proved his affection in other ways,” Midnight says, sharply. “By accompanying me on expeditions. By destroying my enemies. By doing my will and performing great acts in my name.”

“And I suppose Mystra did the same for him,” Shadowheart says.

Midnight opens her mouth, and then closes it again. Shadowheart can almost see the war inside; between Midnight, who was once a human wizard, and the memory of being Mystra.

“You know, for all that Mystra claims to hate Shar, they have a surprising amount in common,” she comments.

In the ensuing silence, Gale's voice is joined by another; two melodies, winding around each other in harmony. Minthara appears from under the coop.

“I have not heard Astarion sing since we first met,” she says, wonderingly. “I forgot he isn't terrible at it.”

“Don't let him hear you say that,” Shadowheart warns. “He might start to think you like him.”

“I do not,” Minthara frowns. “He is irritating beyond belief. But I do respect him. And that is a much harder thing to achieve.”

The music continues for a long while; having fixed the piano, Gale seems to have decided to make full use of it. By the time the sun sets, however, the music has stopped. They’re just about finishing up the coop when the others return from Reithwin, torches held aloft, the first stars emerging above them.

“It does seem like an awful lot of effort to go to for the sake of some chickens,” Wyll says, thoughtfully, inspecting the now metal-sheet-encased coop.

“For Halsin's chickens,” Minthara reminds him, sharply. “Ordinary fowl, these are not. They have a very important role to play in the balance of this ecosystem. I have had it explained to me at length. If you happen to need help falling asleep tonight, I recommend asking Halsin about it.”

“They're also the reason we had pancakes at breakfast,” Shadowheart reminds him. “I can't imagine the great Wyll Ravenguard would allow the hungry little orphans to go without pancakes, would he?”

“Of course not. Although I do think we should maybe worry about them having warm beds and roofs over their heads first."

“Do you think Gale will make dinner too?” Karlach bounces on her toes, cheerfully. “Man, I've missed good food.”

When they make their way indoors, however, they do not find Gale and Astarion. Instead, they find Tara. Curled up, quite contentedly asleep, in one of the armchairs.

“It’s Tara!” Shadowheart says, delighted. “Our favourite Tressym.”

Tara unfurls herself, stretching, and begins to meow a greeting - one that is immediately cut off the moment she sets eyes on Midnight. Back arched, hackled raised, she hisses.

“Tara, this is Midnight,” Shadowheart says, quickly. “Not Mystra. Mystra's human vessel.”

This apparently does nothing to improve Tara’s opinion of their new companion.

“Halsin!” Shadowheart calls. “Would you be a dear and come and translate, please?”

It transpires that Tara has as little love for Midnight as she does for Mystra.

“I fail to see the difference,” she says, sniffily, when Halsin attempts to explain. “She has Mystra's memories, yes? So she remembers telling Mr Dekarios that he was better off dead?”

Halsin eventually manages to placate her, if only by distraction.

“How did you get here?”

“Why, the same way I did last time, my friend. I have had plenty of time to refine ‘Tara’s Catflap of Displacement’ since you finished off that nasty old brain. Besides, Aylin said that Azuth had mentioned bringing Gale here to Selune, so I naturally had to follow. He and Mr Ancunin are still out and about, I suppose.”

“I don't know where Gale went,” Halsin says. “I thought he was here.”

“I didn't see them leave,” Shadowheart frowns. “He fixed the piano and played for a while, but that was before sunset.”

“Oh I'm sure they'll have just gone out for a walk,” Tara says, unconcerned. “They were hardly expecting me, after all.”

“Except,” Midnight says, holding the wooden box up. “They took the spell.”

The carved lid hangs limply on its hinges. Inside, the four notebooks are still packed in neatly, side by side. The envelope containing the spell, however, is gone.


“Usually a plan this ill-advised would be of my devising,” Astarion says.

“It's not ill-advised,” Gale sighs. “I just don't want to bring Clara up here without knowing what we’ll find.”

If it were a sensible plan that the others would have approved of, of course, they wouldn't have had to sneak out of Last Light to enact it. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Besides, it's not like he and Astarion haven't spent the last few months of their lives together going off on occasionally life-threatening adventures. They're just as efficient as a pair as they used to be as part of a bigger team.

They haven't taken the main route down to Moonrise, though. Something about that had seemed like it would be asking for trouble. Instead, they have wandered through the forest, following Astarion's uncanny sense of direction, and emerged on the edge of town, just by the bridge that connects Moonrise to the main thoroughfares of Reithwin.

It is quiet on this side of town. Most of the rebuilding is focused elsewhere, and as Last Light is being used as a shelter and a base of operations, Moonrise is mostly being used for storage at the moment. What the architect would say to that, Gale daren't imagine. Perhaps some day, when Reithwin is a thriving little community again, they'll find a better use for the tower.

Until then, it makes for rather lovely scenery. Thick ivy has grown up some of the walls. Giving the impression, like a lot of the plant life suddenly released from the shadow-weave, that it truly has been establishing itself here for a hundred years or more. A breeze blows off the water, and Astarion shivers.

“We should get moving,” Gale says.

“Trust you to lure me out on a romantic walk by pretending we were going on a scouting mission,” Astarion teases, hopping over the rushing water with care.

“It is a scouting mission,” Gale points out. “Although Reithwin is rather lovely, now. I will allow myself some credit, there.”

He hops over the gap in Astarion's wake, letting Astarion catch him on the other side.

“How uncharacteristically modest of you,” Astarion says. “Although I suppose you should reserve your gloating until we've seen the state of the tower.”

“Hm,” Gale agrees, mind apparently elsewhere. “Can scouting missions be romantic?” He wonders, as they work their way towards Moonrise. The sky is clear tonight, and behind it, thematically, the moon is rising.

“Anything can be romantic if you try hard enough,” Astarion asserts. “You did make a world-ending spell into a sonata.”

“It doesn't fit the definition of a sonata,” Gale says. “But doesn't it feel fitting, for a spell of that size, that power, to have a great swell of music to go with it? It would change the very nature of the world. The only other thing that has that potential, that you can feel so physically as it rises in your chest, in your lungs, is music.”

“Not even poetry?”

“Oh, poetry is slower,” Gale is smiling, his eyes alight. “It can give words the power to move mountains, of course, but rarely at first glance. You have to sit with it, let the words permeate. Music can lift you up, like you're flying, the very first time you hear a new piece. Equally beautiful disciplines, but to be appreciated in entirely different ways.”

He catches the look Astarion is giving him.


“You are such a dork.”

“You say that like you didn't swoon the first time I showed you my library.”

Gale's smile is elsewhere; something about what he'd said has distracted him, dragged his mind down a tangent. Astarion leaves him to it. Sure enough, as they step into the shadow of the tower, Gale says;

“I really don't think using the spell is a good idea.”

“Destroying the weave in order to rebuild it?” Astarion raises an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to catch up. “No, I can imagine you have reservations. So do I. Mystra doesn't have the greatest track record of ordering you to do things that aren't stupidly dangerous.”

“But this isn't just me,” Gale is frowning, looking up at the tower.

“What do you mean, ‘just’ you?” Astarion snipes, irritated.

“You know what I mean,” Gale waves a hand at him. “I'm sure my death would be a great loss to this world, but the loss of the weave itself? No single life, mortal or immortal, could compare. This isn't Mystra trying to kill two birds with one stone. This is a calculated act of desperation.” He raises his hand, and casts fly on both of them. “Ready?”

Astarion takes his elbow with a nod.

Moonrise isn't as tall as it once was; the way up only takes a couple of moments.

“Do we have to bring her back?” Astarion sighs, as they touch down on the shattered rooftop. “Or could we just make sure she and Karsus were trapped forever?”

Gale looks around the rooftop, illuminated by moonlight. Unlike Reithwin itself, the character of the tower hasn't changed all that much. Under the pale moonlight, it is very familiar.

It is a thought he has had. Unfortunately, it's also a thought he has yet to make peace with. The weave is Mystra, and Mystra is the weave. Without it, Toril as they know it will cease to exist. The immediate change would be bad enough, but the knock-on effects are unimaginable; inconceivable, even.

“We'd be condemning Clara to being suspended in the spell with the other Chosen,” he says. “Which I am not willing to do.”

“Admittedly, that would not be ideal. I don't suppose we could trap Midnight instead?”

“Don't tempt me,” Gale grins. “But no, it wouldn't work.”

“I shouldn't find it funny how much you hate her,” Astarion teases. “But it is rather amusing.”

“I don't hate her. She just reminds me of a version of myself I am not proud of.”

“Really? Being an archmage, with all that power at your fingertips?”

“I'm more than my magic. You helped me see that. And I find the portion of my life trying to-” he winces “‘prove myself worthy’ of Mystra's love a little… demeaning, in hindsight.”

“You're right,” Astarion agrees. “I'm much more worthy of being worshipped.”

Gale’s laughter echoes back to Astarion through the night air as he strides across the rooftop. He does a whole loop, hopping the parts of the tower still missing with the aid of the flight spell. He hums as he draws back to Astarion's side, apparently having found nothing of note.

“You do know there's nothing demeaning about the way you tried to love her, don't you?” Astarion says, quietly. “Only in the way she treated you.”

Gale turns to meet his gaze, surprise etched in his brow.

“My attitude used to annoy the hells out of you. I think it's one of the reasons we didn't get on, to begin with.”

“It was,” Astarion agrees. “But I didn't understand, then. I do now. And even when I didn't, it wasn't the way you love that was irritating.”

“You do seem to have come round on that front, yes,” Gale teases.

“This is what I get for trying to be sincere,” Astarion sighs. “Hang on, what were the other reasons?”

“That we were both lying through our teeth about what we were?” Gale is smiling at him.

“Oh,” Astarion capitulates. “Well, fine. And I was wary of you. Mystra isn't exactly known for her love of the undead.”

“Oh, I wonder if that's why Midnight said Mystra hated you,” Gale frowns, suddenly.

“Not that she's your ex-lover and the Goddess with a reputation for being jealous?” Astarion scoffs. “Or that you cited me as a reason for not doing what she'd told you to do, i.e, blowing yourself up?”

“I would have refused her anyway,” Gale says. “I think. I hope.”

“And here I was, thinking I was special,” Astarion sighs.

“You are,” Gale turns back across the rooftop to take his elbow. “This, between us? This isn't like anything I've had before. It's better. Far better than it ever was or could have been with Mystra.”

“Aw,” Astarion says, then huffs. “Anyway, enough of that. We do actually have things to do.”

One day, Gale hopes that Astarion will be more comfortable with this; until then, he will take every opportunity to practise the concept of exposure therapy. Until then, he'll allow the deflection.

“I can't detect anything out of the ordinary,” Gale turns his attention back to the tower, laying his hands out flat in front of him to caress the threads of the weave. “Well, no more out of the ordinary than having been host to a shadow curse and then a minor arcane explosion.”

“So it's all over the place then?”

“It's somewhat more haphazard in its arrangement than it might have been otherwise,” Gale agrees. “But there's a distinct pattern to it, still. And I can't feel anything else playing into it. Although-” he turns, frowning. “I don't suppose you have a blade on you?”

“Of course I do,” Astarion produces the sussur blade from under his doublet. “I suspected this might have come in handy, in Dweomerheart.”

“Excellent thinking, as always,” Gale nods. “Now, this is potentially going to look like I've lost my mind, but I promise, it all makes perfect sense.”

So saying, he slices his palm with the blade, and lets the blood drip down into the stone.

For a moment, it seems like nothing happens. Then, under his feet, a sigil flares to life. It doesn't appear to be a rune, or a spell; just a mark. Glowing, purple and white, in the night air. A seven-pointed star.

“Thought so,” Gale hands him back the dagger.

“Your connection to Mystra and the weave in your blood?” Astarion guesses. “You know I can taste it there, still. It might not be the Karsite weave but you have a distinct flavour.”

“I am electing to take that as a compliment.”

“Do. So what is this, exactly?”

“Haven't the foggiest.” Gale kneels down and puts his finger on one of the outlines. “Well, other than a symbol of Mystra, anyway.”

“Yes I had gathered that much,” Astarion sighs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Darling, could you perhaps investigate this a little faster?”

Gale stands up, pulls his cloak from around his shoulders, and settles it around Astarion's.

“Do you need to go back? I don't know how long I'll be out here looking at this, but it might be some time.”

“What and leave you on your own?” Astarion’s tone hits the high note of indignant disbelief. “While you're mucking around with this? I'd be expecting Karsus to walk back through the door dressed as you again.”

“Oh,” Gale frowns. “But you can cast dispel magic, I taught you.”

“Yes I know, that isn't the point.” Astarion seethes. “I am staying as long as you are staying. Just don't expect me to be pleased about it.”

“I can always come back and warm you up every now and then.”

“If you're going to be that long I'm starting a fire.”

In the end, there's really not that much to look at. Astarion has just managed to get the fire fully stoked when Gale wanders back over, frowning.

“I can't detect anything in it at all. It truly seems to be nothing more than an illusion. But I cannot fathom why it's been left here, or who by, or for what purpose. Evidently it was somebody who knows me, otherwise my blood wouldn't have activated it - but it could equally have been Mystra or Karsus, and neither theory gets me any closer to understanding what the point of it is.”

He sits down next to Astarion and frowns into the flames, fingers steepled under his chin.

Astarion stands, to try and scuff his foot through the edge of the glowing emblem. His shoe goes right through it.

Gale's eyes are flicking back and forth now, as if he's reading something on the inside of his skull. Astarion wanders over to the centre of the circle, flicking the blade between his cold fingers.

He could have sworn he didn't fumble it. The movement is so smooth with practice that he hasn't even nicked himself in decades, let alone dropped it. Yet the blade falls from between his fingers. It slices him on the way, right in the gap between his middle and his ring finger.

The blade lands, handle up, with the tip pointing into the centre of the sigil. His blood spatters the stone. The glowing lines of the sigil shudder, and flutter out.

“What happened?” Gale is on his feet, startled.

“I don't know,” Astarion had braced, the moment the sigil vanished. So far, nothing seems to have changed. “It was like the blade leapt out of my hand.”

“But it's a sussur blade,” Gale has reached him now. He crouches next to the blade, the tip embedded neatly between two stones, its handle still vibrating gently from the impact. “This looks deliberate, but a sussur blade cannot be enchanted, cannot be controlled-”

“My hand,” Astarion is holding his wrist “Gale, MY HAND-”

The red thread of magic is twisting between his fingers like a viper; hungry, and dangerous.

“Karsus,” Gale's eyes darken. “Protero!”

The spell hits Astarion's hand with a sharp little sting, before dissipating across his skin like a wave, broken, gentle and losing momentum.

Astarion gasps. Like Karsus had been holding him underwater and he's only just broken the surface for air.

“You're alright,” Gale says, mostly from habit than real conviction. “Astarion, it's alright. I've got you.”

“Bastard!” Astarion yells, into the stillness of the night air. “You bastard! We’re going to kill you, Karsus! We're going to tear your spine out and feed it to you! You hear me?”

“Well, that too,” Gale agrees. “If he still has one, anyway. If not then we might have to get creative.”

Astarion gives up on shouting obscenities at the sky to stare at him.

“What?” Gale crosses his arms. “I'm not letting him get away with doing that to you.”

“We can compare notes,” Astarion says, getting a handle on himself, and flexing his fingers, experimentally. “Gods above.”

“Can I…?”


Gale runs his fingers over the palm of Astarion's hand, looking for traces, any magical residue. There's nothing now.

“What did he do to me?”

“The compartmentalising of a Command spell to your nervous system instead of sending it straight to your brain is complex, but if mastered, it makes it a much smaller spell. Much easier to slip through than an entire Command. There must be some part of him here, somewhere, or with enough of a connection to this place that he can exert a small amount of power even without a physical form.”

He lets Astarion’s hand go, to press instead at the place where the orb once sat. It aches, still, sometimes. Not like it did before, of course, but as if with a shadow of it; like a memory. He's read about phantom limb pain in patients who have lost limbs, and wonders if it's similar. The body is healed, but the mind maintains the memory of it, and the mind controls the nervous system.

Inconvenient, is what it is. He doesn't need anything else to be worrying about right now.

“I have the horrible urge to cut my own hand off before Karsus can strangle me with it,” Astarion hisses. “That bastard.”

“You're alright,” Gale kneels and yanks the blade from the rock. “But this definitely wasn't just an illusion. I think-”

The sigil winks back into existence.

“Oh.” Gale frowns, still standing with the blade held out to Astarion, who does not take it.

For a moment they just look at it.

“This is going to be something awful, isn't it?” Astarion sighs. “It's not going to work until we have Clara’s blood, or Midnight's, or something like that. And then it'll probably do something horrible.”

“I suspect so,” Gale frowns, then looks up at the knife he's still holding out to Astarion. “Are you not going to take this back?”

“No,” Astarion says, quickly. “No, I- he was trying to reach for the spell, Gale.”

Gale looks at the blade.

It had seemed the sensible thing to do, to bring the spell with them. Now the box is open, Gale would rather not leave it where it could be picked up so easily by someone more inclined to attempt it than him.

It's tucked in his front pocket.

“That was more unsettling than being attacked outright,” Astarion says, yanking both cloaks around him more tightly, his knuckles white with pressure.

Gale breathes slowly and deliberately and tries to calm down.

“It's definitely something to do with whatever Mystra has done to cage him,” he says, determinedly, tucking the dagger away.

“Yeees,” Astarion agrees, dubiously. “Unless you've got more of an idea than that, I think we go back. We tell the others what we’ve found, and go from there.” He shudders. “It has been a long time since someone else took control of my body. Even partially. That was not an enjoyable experience.”

“Agreed,” Gale holds out his hand, palm up. “I can Dimension Door us across town.”

“Ugh,” Astarion steps in, taking a firm hold of his elbow instead of the offered hand. “masoch*st. Fine. The sooner we get away from this place the better.”

Chaining the spells together isn't pleasant; it causes his stomach to lurch, his head to swirl. But in five or six steps, they're standing back by the gardens of Last Light.

Warm light shines from within. Out here it is quiet, and calm. They stand, for a moment, readjusting to the earth no longer moving under their feet. Astarion grips Gale’s elbow.

They hadn't left in this direction. Astarion catches a glimpse of the newly equipped chicken coop out of the corner of his eye.

“What the-”

The little gasp of laughter is unexpected, but welcome.

“It's ridiculous,” Gale agrees, relief widening his smile. “I think Minthara has decided that because Halsin doesn't need protecting, she'll protect everything he's taking care of with him instead.”

“It looks like an oven,” Astarion giggles. “It'll do psychic damage to the chickens. They'll dream of being roast dinner every night!”

It shouldn't be that funny. It isn't, really; but Astarion seems to have got the giggles now. There's a slight hysteria to it, but it's better than what might have been winding up to be a full on panic attack.

Gale pulls him into a hug and laughs with him, letting it reverberate through his chest.

“Sometimes I do such a good job of not seeming broken,” Astarion says, at last, still laughing into his shoulder. “But the armoured chicken coop is what gets me.”

Gale lets him go, slightly, standing back to get a proper look at him. Astarion wipes the tears from his eyes.

“Okay. That's better.”

“You can take a moment, if you need to.”

“I'd honestly rather not, I think,” Astarion grimaces. “Come on, let's go admit to our little runaway escapade.”

“We’re going to have to tell Clara that Karsus has found us,” Gale says, unhappily.

“Not that he seems to be able to do much about it yet,” Astarion points out.

“It's the ‘yet’ that worries me.”

When Gale opens the door, it is not to the cosy scene he'd been expecting. The others are gathered around one of the sofas in the corner. A hush hangs over the room; thick, like fog. In the kitchen, Halsin and Midnight are having a hushed, urgent conversation.

“There you are!” Tara cries. She appears from the huddle of figures and hops up onto the nearest table to greet them. “And where do you think you've been?”

"We went to investigate Moonrise," Gale says. "How long have you been here?"

"Scratch that," Astarion says. "What in the hells is going on?"

“Gale!” Midnight sounds relieved. She leaves Halsin in the kitchen by himself to thread her way through the tables and chairs towards them. “Thank heavens you're back. It's Clara.”

Chapter 12


Yikes, I'm sorry it's been a while and I'm sorry for leaving it on a cliffhanger for so long. I thought I was going to have a quick play around with an ice skating AU concept and then wrote 100+k of The Season in a month and a bit.

Thank you for your patience, and your lovely comments, I really hope you enjoy this one too.

Also, fair warning, we're really earning the M rating on this one.

Chapter Text

Halsin hadn’t managed to get Clara back to her bed. Instead, she’s curled up on one of the sofas. Shadowheart is kneeling next to her, a cool cloth pressed to the tielfling’s forehead.

“When did this start?” Gale kneels beside her.

Clara’s eyes are open, but her gaze is unfocused. She doesn’t seem to notice him at all. Her whole body is shuddering, like an electric current is running through her, her skin damp with fevered sweat.

“Only a few minutes,” Shadowheart says. “She came to say hello when we first got back and seemed fine, but then she started getting tired, and just… collapsed.”

The magic is palpable in the air around them. Gale places his hand above Clara’s arm, and is nearly pushed back by the strength of the weave emanating off her.

“What’s happening to her?” Shadowheart asks.

“She’s untethered.”

“sh*t,” Midnight is suddenly beside him, her hand on Clara’s. “Clara, I’m here, alright? I’m here!”

“It won’t work,” Gale says, gravely, “You’re not Mystra.”

“I am,” Midnight hisses. “Just not the part that matters.”

Gale blinks at her, then shakes his head. They don't have time to unravel that particular knot just now.

“We’re going to have to get her to Moonrise. It’s the closest place we have that can directly access the conduit of Mystra’s power.”

“Why? What does being ‘untethered’ even mean?” Shadowheart demands.

“Her body’s trying to fight the process. The weave isn’t supposed to be a part of a mortal’s being, it has the same reaction to any foreign body being introduced; it tries to remove it. Unfortunately, now that the weave is threaded through her very being, if it succeeds, it will kill her.”

Clara blinks up at him.

“Clara?” Gale tries to gauge if there's any response. “It's alright Clara, we’re going to fix this.”

“How long do we have?” Halsin asks, behind him.

“A few hours, at most,” Gale grimaces. “Although I think, if I'm careful, I can-”

Tara, as if the thought had occurred to her in the same moment, hops up onto the sofa with something in her mouth.

It's the ring; Gale's ring. Probably, now, one of the only powerful magical artefacts in his possession. It had survived the year of his isolation, against the odds and despite his own desperation; only for him to tear it apart and use it for its magical essence now, instead. But it doesn't occur to him to think twice about it. Mystra’s blood is perhaps the purest, most powerful form of her essence he will ever have access to again. And right now, it might be the only thing that can buy Clara a little more time.

Pulling the essence out of something is a trick he hasn't done in several months, now. It's different, too, when the orb isn't immediately tearing and clawing at any single thread he can give it. This, he can unwind slowly. The strands of weave fall apart easily in his hands, the pure magical energy freed from them a little unstable, a little unruly. He soothes it, and nudges it up against the edge of Clara’s fraying essence. Like a balm to a burn, it takes. Smoothes over the crackling edges, soothing them into quietude.

Clara’s expression relaxes somewhat. She closes her eyes.

“Clara?” Gale asks, concerned. “Can you hear me now?”

Clara nods.

There's an audible sigh of relief from all angles.

“Can you talk?”

She shakes her head.

“Okay,” Gale nods. “Okay. Clara, we need to get you to Moonrise. The transition has started to fail. I can help to fend it off for a little while, but the only way we can stop it from unravelling you completely is to get you back in contact with Mystra. And the only way I can do that is to complete the spell the other Chosen are casting. Do you understand?”

Clara nods.

“You still have a choice,” Gale says, “Though I'll admit, it's not much of one. We can take you to Moonrise and complete the spell. I don't know what it will do, or what will happen to you afterwards, but it should stabilise you. Or, you can stay here. I don't know what would happen, exactly, but I know you wouldn't survive it.” He stops, to breathe. He knows he has to give her this decision, awful as it is; he can't give her to Mystra without her permission. He wouldn't. That doesn't make it any easier to actually do. “If you want to go to Moonrise, Clara, nod. If you don't, if you'd rather die free, shake your head.”

Clara opens her eyes and stares at him, her eyes a thousand miles away and yet seeing straight through him.

“Moonrise,” she nods. “Take me to Moonrise.”

This time, Gale doesn't allow Karlach to carry her. He has potions for this, after all, that he barely ever uses. And he is not letting someone else take Clara to the fate he couldn't save her from. That's his burden to bear.

They walk in near silence. Tara trots at his heels, Astarion at his elbow. The others follow in dribs and drabs.

In the dark, it's harder to see quite how much of Moonrise’s stone has been re-used. Walking across the bridge, in the dark, his heart heavy and swirling with fear, it might easily be half a year prior. All that time. So much, and yet so little, has changed. He is the archmage he used to be and more; he is his own man. The Absolute is dead by their hands. He has built a life, a home, with Astarion; a love he never thought he'd have again, let alone like this.

And yet, they are not safe. They are not free. It is beginning to feel like no matter how hard they try or how long they wait, they never will be. But it isn't the time to be following that thought right now. He focuses on keeping Clara’s head steady against his shoulder as he walks, keeping her horns to the side so he doesn't stretch her neck. Astarion walks close by his side. Quiet, but present.

As they get closer, Clara begins to breathe a little easier. Gale can't even feel Mystra's presence in the air yet, but something is soothing her. When they reach the main steps, she opens her eyes.


“I'm awake,” she says, her voice trembling. “She's here, isn't she?”

“She's here,” Gale confirms, though in truth he's not sure how accurate that statement is. As far as Clara’s concerned, there's enough of Mystra's presence to keep her stable. Right now, that's all that matters.

They work their way through the main hall, up the staircase behind the throne Ketheric once sat in. Up past the old guard station, to what remains of the top of the tower.

“I think I can walk,” Clara says, as Gale finally steps out onto the windswept plateau on which the sigil still lurks, hidden from view for now.

He sets her down slowly, half expecting her to tip over, but she doesn't. She stands firm, and breathes deep.

“How do we do this?” She asks, turning to him. “What do I need to do?”

“It might not be necessary to complete the spell,” Gale says, thoughtfully. “You look better just from being here already. If this is enough to stabilise you-”

“It isn't,” Clara says. “I'm sorry, Gale, but we have to do what Mystra asked me to do.”

“Don't apologise to me,” Gale grimaces. “I am not the one owed an apology in this situation.”

The two of them stand in the centre of the tower. Gale pulls the Sussur blade from under his robe, and slices his hand. The scattering of droplets brings the sigil back to life with a flare of light. Then he hands Clara the blade.

“Your turn, I'm afraid.”

Clara copies him; the moment her blood touches the sigil, something in the air changes. Raw power crackles through them.

He can feel the shape of it now. It had been hidden before, easily buried in the usual ebb and flow of the weave and beyond detection. Now, as it rises, he realises why it had seemed, at first, an illusion. It's an illusion enwrapping a larger spell. An illusion of weave itself. Which should have been obvious, in hindsight, he'd bloody invented that. Mystra, evidently, had been paying more attention to him than he'd thought she was. Or to his work, anyway.

Now he's seen it, he knows how to undo it. With a simple twist of his hand, the whole illusion unravels. The spell itself emerges at last. And, to be fair to himself, it is a thing of majesty; the way she had hidden it is exquisite. It takes his concept, a little thought experiment of a spell that had barely been a cantrip, and explodes it to a level that even Elminster would think twice about casting.

He can't stop the little gasp as it reveals itself. Part of it is here, yes, but only part. The illusion has fully stitched itself into every part of the weave. Now, revealed, he can feel the spell humming through the whole of it.

Like a hand, the spell reaches to touch reality here; a fingerprint, pressed to this point of power. There is another, in Waterdeep. If he had been inside Laeral's office, and had thought to look for it, he would have found another illusory sigil there, too. The other five, he can't tell. They're too far. In Toril, definitely, but Mystra only knew where.

This one, here, is supposed to be for him. It has the echo of him in it. It tastes bitter. Like coffee without milk or sugar. Like the furious, defiant edge to the way he had accepted his fate, here. The way he had turned against Mystra. She had to use it to anchor the spell anyway, because it was the closest she had been to his essence most recently.

He thinks Clara can feel it too. They glance at each other, eyes confirming what the connection of the weave has already told them; this had been made for him. That she is going to take his place in it might skew the spell.

She shakes her head, just once. Like she knows he's going to have one last attempt at talking her out of it.

“You don't have to,” Gale says, anyway, because he couldn't live with himself if he didn't at least try.

“Yes,” she smiles. “I do.” They turn back to the spell together. “What now?”

Before Clara has finished asking the question, the answer presents itself. Around them, the other Chosen begin to materialise. Like ghosts, spectral forms solidifying as they watch. Rune's hair is ruffled by the breeze, Laeral's robe fluttering as it passes. Their feet hover just above the outside edges of the sigil; closing Gale and Clara within it. Still frozen in place, their eyes open and staring, sightlessly. It's not entirely clear if they're the Chosen’s actual selves, or a projection of some kind, but the next step is clear enough.

“Take your place,” Gale says, quietly. “When you're ready.”

“I'm ready.”

Clara turns back, to smile at him.

“Thank you, Gale.”

It's like watching the flow of the tides, pulled by the moon; inevitable, natural, and no more comprehensible for knowing why it is what it is. It is equally devastating to know that he might once have been able to prevent this. That instead, he has to watch her walk into the same life he had wanted so desperately for her to be able to choose to escape. To watch the same wave that had once nearly drowned him drag her under its churning waters.

“Good luck.” His voice breaks over the words. She turns away, her eyes shining, her hair catching around her horns. She looks older, like this. Holding her head high, her tail proud. The runes that Astarion had sewn into her new robe shimmer as the weave moves around her, fragments of the spell snagging on her as she moves through it.

It is not the kind of moment that should be silent. If there were any justice in the world, it should be a moment accompanied by the swell of an orchestra. The majesty of such a decision, such a sacrifice, given a voice. Although perhaps it is better that Clara walks towards her place in silence. He is already fighting back the sting of tears.

“Stand back,” Clara says, and when he doesn't move; “Gale. Please. Get out of the way.”

He can't quite manage to bring himself to move his feet. Cool fingers slip through his own, taking him by the hand, leading him gently out of the circle of Chosen. Gale allows Astarion to pull him away. The whole time, though, he keeps his gaze fixed on Clara. Until they step back, between Elminster and Alustriel, out of the runes. Until the circle of the spell contains only Mystra's Chosen.

Then Clara steps forward, raises her arms, and takes her place in the spell.

Every fibre of Gale's being wants to turn away. He will not. He watches as the weave rises up to meet her. The warmth of it gathers around them like mist, the air glowing purple with its might.

Clara raises her hands, slowly. As she does so, the other Chosen mirror her. Between their outstretched hands, the line of it begins to thrum, like the vibrating string of a lyre. For now, it seems to be doing exactly what it's intended to do.

Gale pulls the staff from his back, bracing himself. Behind him, he hears the others doing the same; the familiar scrape of swords and scabbards.

He says a small prayer without thinking; it's a habit apparently unbroken by the fact that he's perfectly aware that Mystra can neither hear it nor act upon it.

He can feel the power of the spell, now. The weave around them is as tangible as if he'd conjured it.

It's working. The weave sings with it; with something perfectly formed and perfectly executed. The way it was supposed to be.

There is a movement in the air. As if the weave is exhaling. A sigh of relief, perhaps. But Gale doesn't relax yet.

Because this was supposed to be him. And the longer he listens, the more he can feel his absence in it. The more it becomes clear that the spell is straining; that whatever it's trying to do, it can't. Not quite.

He waits another beat. Then one more. Hoping against hope that he's wrong, that he doesn't have to help.

And then the spell begins to quake.

And Gale doesn't have time to say sorry. Or goodbye. Or anything at all. All he can do is run forward, and throw his hand into the spell, and bellow the incantation that will thrust as much of his power as he can possibly manage into it.

And the world shatters into gold dust.


Astarion sees the exact moment that Gale realises the spell is going to need him. He sees it, and he reaches out to stop him - and then pulls his hand back.

Because Gale is right. As much as Astarion wants him, as much as he wishes Gale wouldn't f*cking do sh*t like this, he also wouldn't be Gale if he didn't.

Astarion has always thought that he wouldn't be himself if he allowed it, either. He's a selfish creature at heart, after all, and letting the love of his life walk into a spell that could destroy him is not a selfish thing to do. He can't even frame it as one to himself. Even if it means saving the weave, saving the world as they know it, he would have chosen Gale over all of them. Over everything.

But Gale would not. And Astarion, instead of forcing him to live with having allowed it to happen, lets him go.

Gale looks over his shoulder at him. The golden light of the spell reflected in his eyes as it disintegrates around him. And this is familiar. So familiar it hurts. They've been here before, and Astarion couldn't stop him then, either.

But then the air shimmers, and settles. The power of the wind dies. In the sudden, shattering silence, the Chosen lower their arms. Their feet come back to earth.

Laeral floats down easily, stepping onto solid ground as if from a ship onto a dock. Beside her, Rune stumbles, and swears. Clara pulls her hands to her chest, looking astonished; looking like she doesn't know how she got here.

They all look almost normal.



Gale had looked to Clara first, to check that she's alright. She seems to be, nearly; only her eyes are glowing. A white-hot glow of pure weave. And it has split across her skin. Like the divinity she now carries is trying to burst out. It's the way Aylin had looked, when they'd found her in the Shadowfell. Every single one of the Chosen, every single person who had been part of that spell, now carries the same pattern; except him. The spell had needed his magic, his power - but it has recognised Clara as the seventh Chosen.

He breathes a sigh of relief even as his chest constricts with the guilt of it.

The golden thread spills out over their skin like cracked porcelain. The eyes, glowing like stars in the night sky. The physical manifestation of the power they now wield.

Because the spell is not gone. The cage is complete, Mystra and Karsus sealed away as firmly as intended; but the weave is still present.

Gale extends a hand, feeling its movement in the air around them.

Each of the Chosen is carrying as much of the weave as they can bear. He can feel it, emanating from them, almost like he had from Clara, earlier. But this is deliberate. This is controlled. They are holding onto what of Mystra's power she is willing to give them, to keep the weave together. To keep Toril from collapsing again.

Not just Chosen of Mystra, but avatars of the weave itself.

It's terrifying. It's the only thing that would have worked. Gale twists his hand and calls fire to his palm; it lights as easily as ever.

Clara looks up from inspecting her own hands.

“It worked,” she says. Then, to Gale, jubilantly; “It worked!”

“It did,” Gale agrees, the feeling in it wildly juxtaposed to Clara's excitement. He only sounds desperately, hopelessly relieved. And then Gale turns, strides back across the tower, grabs Astarion and buries himself in Astarion's shoulder.

He's shaking.

“Yes, if we could try not to do that again, I would appreciate it,” Astarion says, dryly, like he hadn't just taken the first mental step into living the rest of his fairly extended lifetime without Gale by his side. The tightness of his grip, his arms around Gale's shoulders, tells Gale all he needs to know.

“That will not be necessary,” Laeral says.

Gale, entirely unbothered by their audience, takes Astarion's face in both of his hands and crushes their lips together.

“Sorry,” he gasps. “I'm so sorry.”

“I know.”

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome. I think. You're also in a sh*t tonne of trouble, though.”

“Oh, I know.”

Gale kisses him again, with a little more gentility and considerably more finesse. Astarion curls his fingers in the nape of Gale's neck.

“Ehem,” Tara says, pointedly. “Mr Dekarios, I do believe there is a time and a place, and this is not it.”

“On the contrary, Tara, there has never been a more pertinent time,” Gale says, though he does let Astarion go. “One must adhere to one’s priorities at all times, and especially so in the most dire of straits.”

Astarion squeezes his hand even as Tara sighs in exasperation;

“It's not that I don't approve, you understand, dear, it's just that I think you might want to be paying a little more attention to what this spell you just completed actually does.”

She does, to be fair to her, have a point.

“I have to go to-” Gale starts, but Astarion is already pushing him away.

“Go on, idiot. Apology accepted.”

Gale strides back towards them, through them, to Clara.

“Are you alright?” he asks, holding his hands out towards her, flat and open.

Clara nods, carefully.

“I don’t feel like I’m disintegrating anymore.”

Gale breathes out. They have several new and terrifying things to worry about, but at least, hopefully, one less of the old and terrifying ones.

“Well, that seems an excellent place to start, at least. May I?”

Clara raises her hands to him. They stand, for a moment, palm to palm. As Gale tunes into the weave, he can feel the presence of the others; shaking themselves off, inspecting the state of their beings, checking in on one another. Taking in their surroundings; the rooftop, the night sky, the crowd of strangers.

They all resonate with a potential of power that is staggering.

Clara is no different. In her palms, there is the depth and breadth of the resonance that Gale had once striven so thoughtlessly to understand; to claim. It still has that allure. Just for a moment, he regrets allowing Clara to do this for more than her sake. He regrets that this is a curiosity he would have had the chance to sate. But only for a moment.

Because it would come at a cost he is no longer willing to pay.

He turns his attention to the way the weave is moving within Clara. It is threaded through her more surely than ever now, as part of her as the blood in her veins and the marrow in her bones. And it is, for now, behaving itself. The slow dissolution of it appears to have stopped.

With a sigh of relief, Gale at last turns to the others.

“You seem to be doing better,” Gale agrees. “I don’t think we’ll know for certain until we try to leave, though.”

“And who are you, young one?” Elminster is asking her, not unkindly.

Gale steps back, turning into what has turned into a small circle of some of the most powerful people on Toril. Even he feels slightly out of place between all these ethereal and, despite the Silverhands’ youthful beauty, obviously ancient humans; despite the magic woven through her very being, Clara looks entirely out of her depth.

“My… my name is Clara, saer.”

“It's good to see you, Elminster,” Gale says, and Clara looks up at him, obviously glad not to be doing this on her own. “Even in this somewhat… unusual state. I had wondered at your silence. Now, it seems, we have something of an explanation. Although not enough of one, it must be said. Perhaps you would be willing to explain?”

“Always in such a hurry, boy,” Elminster sighs.

“It is you, then,” one of the other silver-haired women says, quietly. “I remember you. Mystra sent me to you when you were just a child. Do you remember me?”

And Gale hasn't met all of Mystra's Chosen, before, but he knows who this is.

Elminster and Laeral are one thing, of course; both dressed in archmage’s robes, and looking all the more intimidating for it. Rune is the only one of them with dark hair; the others are all silver-haired. Two of them, at least, must be Laeral's siblings. The resemblance is uncanny. Though one wears a heavy-set and ornate suit of armour, the second a ranger’s cloak.

Clara looks up at the third of them. Up quite a long way; the woman is tall, her silver hair worn loose and down almost to her knees. Under her bard’s tunic, she is wearing very high-quality lightweight armour that shimmers with enchantments.

You’re Storm?” Clara says, with some disbelief.

“So I have been known before, and it seems I shall be known again,” Storm nods. “A pleasure to re-establish our acquaintance. Clara, may I introduce you to my sisters; Laeral, Lady Mage of Waterdeep.”

Laeral places her fist on her chest and ducks her head.

“Dove, who you may know as Falconhand.”

The woman in the armour makes the sign of Mystra across her chest. There is something strange and not quite there about her; as if her corporeal form is part illusion.

“And Alustriel, High Lady of the League of the Silver Marches.”

Alustriel is the tallest of them, ethereally beautiful and also most clearly a wizard; she wears a billowing white robe and bears a unicorn-headed staff.

“And I’m Rune,” Rune says, brushing herself off. “Not a Silverhand, as you may have gathered. You can try calling me Lady Amarune Delcastle if you like, but nobody seems to bother.”

“I do seem to remember you threatening me with a dagger when I tried,” Gale says, thoughtfully.

“Oh that wasn't because you titled me,” Rune says, sourly. “That's just because you're you. Speaking of, Mr ‘of Waterdeep’, why is a child Mystra's newest Chosen, and not you?”

“Because it likely would have killed me,” Gale says, shortly, “And much as I'm sure you'd prefer to be rid of me, I do think I'm generally of more use to you alive.”

“Debatable,” Rune snaps, to which Elminster raises a hand.

“Amarune, I would suggest that you hold your tongue in this case. Whether or not it is to your personal tastes, a choice has been made.”

“He killed me!”

“Trust me, if I had tried to kill you, you wouldn’t be standing here to complain about it,” Gale says, quite calmly. “Although that does answer my most pertinent question; you are aware that Karsus has been borrowing your forms?”

“And causing havoc,” Laeral says, sharply. “Elminster, I trust you can fill our new Chosen in on her role, but I must make haste. Waterdeep needs me. Rune, Dove, with me - Alustriel, I suggest you return home at your earliest convenience also.”

“I shudder to think what havoc Karsus has wrought in my absence,” Alustriel agrees, her voice unexpectedly soft.

“Not yet.”

Gale turns with the rest of them, to find Midnight striding across the rooftop towards them. It seemed to have simply not occurred to the other Chosen that any of the others gathered on this rooftop were worth paying attention to.

“An explanation is owed,” Midnight says, with the kind of conviction that suggests she hasn’t even considered they may disobey. “The decision of what we do next must be made together, or not at all.”

“Who is this mortal who speaks with the voice of Our Mother?” Dove demands.

“Midnight,” Elminster steps towards her, and promptly sweeps into a deep bow.

“A most unexpected development,” Laeral frowns. “It will be considerably harder to release Mystra from her self-imprisonment if we must also return her to her mortal shell.”

“I do not believe,” Gale says, slowly, “That Mystra had intended us to release her.”

And he pulls, from his breast pocket, the envelope that contains the spell.


It is very strange, watching this scene unfold from the outside. Between the towering, glowing figures of the Chosen, both Gale and Midnight look deceptively small and unassuming. Which, considering that Astarion is very aware that Gale is an archmage of some considerable power, is almost amusing. He seems perfectly at home amongst them, too, chatting away to Elminster and Laeral like old friends.

Astarion is adept enough at eavesdropping that he gathers most of what is happening. The Chosen have stabilised the weave, for now. How, he's not entirely sure, but it's probably got something to do with the glowing eyes and aasimar-like skin. Gale is explaining his spell, and all of the others are agreeing that it's a terrible idea. Except because they're wizards, several of them are several centuries old and there's no less than nine of them, it takes an exceptionally long time for them to come to this conclusion.

“Do you think they need us to stay?” Halsin says, standing with his arms crossed over his chest. “As peace seems to have been restored and Gale doesn't appear to be concerned about Clara, I am considering returning to Last Light. There are several children whose sleep tonight will benefit from my reassurance that all is now well.”

“Go ahead, darling,” Astarion flops onto one of the pieces of stone lying around, which is as close to a bench as is available. “But be quiet about it, I'm eavesdropping.”

“We’ll catch you up to speed later,” Wyll agrees, sitting down beside Astarion and attempting to make himself comfortable. “Or we’ll shout if we need you.”

Gale has apparently noticed that they're settling in for the long haul, however, because he separates himself from the others to come and bring Astarion his cloak.

“Sorry for making you all stand around. It seems to all be fine, but-”

“You're not using your apocalyptic spell and the weave isn't falling apart for now, so you're trying to figure out what to do next,” Astarion nods. “We know. Halsin wants to go and read his kids bedtime stories if Clara's okay.”

“She is stable,” Gale nods at Halsin. “My only concern is that we are currently standing on an arterial network of the weave, at its strongest point. There is a chance, however slim, that should she leave it, the weave within her will destabilise again.”

“Then I will stay,” Halsin says, decisively.

“Gale of Waterdeep!” Laeral calls, somehow projecting without appearing to raise her voice. “Your presence is a requirement, not a suggestion.”

“I’ll only be a moment, Laeral,” Gale calls back, entirely uncowed. He passes his hand over the runes woven into his cloak, now wrapped around Astarion's shoulders, and they hum to life.

“Let me know if that's too hot,” he murmurs.

Astarion pulls it closer around him, settling into its warmth.

“I'm more likely to let you know if it's too cold,’ he points out.

“Fair,” Gale agrees. “I'll see what I can do to expedite matters. Politely, of course.”

“You do that,” Astarion nods. “I suppose we'll just sit around here and entertain ourselves.”

“Which you usually have such trouble doing,” Gale grins.

“Gale!” Rune yells, considerably less politely. “Get your ass over here!”

“I don't know why you would need my posterior, given that my brain resides within my skull!” Gale calls back. “If you wish, you can sit in on basic anatomy lessons with my students. Maybe then your aim will improve!”

“I've never once hit you by accident. It was always deliberate!”

“Why does Rune hate you so much?” Astarion says, mostly amused. There is a little edge of something in there, though; just so that Gale knows he’s willing to do something about it, if necessary.

“I annoy her,” Gale shrugs; then pauses. “Actually, I think she was good friends with two or even three of my predecessors. It may also be self-preservation, not to get too attached to whoever happens to be filling the role of Mystra's seventh Chosen. Although if she attempts to treat Clara with the same lack of respect she treats me, I will not stand-”


“I’m coming!” Gale yells over his shoulder, then stoops to kiss Astarion’s forehead. “Do excuse me.”

Given that they still haven't eaten, Wyll breaks out some of their travelling rations. Uninspiring, and Astarion doesn't bother to partake, but it seems to improve the general mood of the rest of the group. Especially as Karlach can't remember which hellish creature they'd made the jerky out of, which gives Minthara and Lae'zel a good run of bickering back and forth about what it might be. Not that either of them have the expertise, obviously.

“What's your vote?” Astarion leans in to ask Wyll, quietly. “I’m thinking of placing bets.”

“Oh, they're both wrong,” Wyll says, idly. “I just didn't want to interrupt, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.”

It does only take about ten more minutes for the wizards to apparently settle on a course of action, though.

“Alright,” Gale takes charge of the situation, coming to explain to the rest of them what's happening. “Clara and I are going to attempt to leave the radius of the spell first. It shouldn’t be a problem - she’s carrying the purest form of Mystra’s essence it is possible for a mortal to bear. But there’s a chance that something will go wrong, however slim it is - and a chance, therefore, that the spell could come undone.”

“Releasing both Mystra and Karsus?” Astarion clarifies.

“Potentially, yes.”

“Right,” Astarion draws his dagger. “I suppose now is as good a time as any to discover if seven archmages plus the saviours of Baldur’s Gate can kill Karsus when a Goddess couldn’t.”

“If we need to,” Gale agrees, casually producing his weave-ending song-spell from his pocket. “And unfortunately, we don’t have many other alternatives, so this continues to be Plan B.”

“Not to be pedantic, Gale,” Wyll says, “But how slim a chance is this, exactly? Just so we know how likely it is that we’ll be facing down this mad archmage who has been trapped for thousands of years this evening.”

“Mmm,” Gale makes a face; it is not an expression that Astarion likes.

“Oh hells,” he says, quietly. “How far have you stretched the definition of a ‘slim’ chance, Gale?”

Gale grimaces at him.

“I- well. The chances of that specific set of events occurring is probably only about 10%.”

A one in ten chance of having to attempt to kill Karsus is already much too high for Astarion’s liking.

“But?” He presses, sensing further bad news.

“But,” Gale concedes, “The chances of something unforeseen but along those lines happening is somewhat higher.”

“How much higher?”

“In all honesty, none of us truly understand the specifics of Clara’s condition, given that none of us know of a Chosen who has ascended beyond Mystra’s direct reach. The exact parameters and functionality of this spell-cage that Mystra has constructed are also beyond our understanding, currently, and we don’t have the time nor the resources to dedicate to studying it. It could be extremely-”

Gale ,” Astarion sighs. “Not a speech. Just a number. Please .”

“The nuances of the specific circ*mstance-”


Gale caves.

“Maybe 50%.”

“Fifty?” Shadowheart shrieks; a sentiment echoed across the group.
“Bleeding hells, Gale!”

“That’s not a slim chance, that’s no better than flipping a coin!”

“A 50% chance that it doesn’t go exactly to plan isn’t bad,” Gale protests. “That’s better than some high-level spells! As I said, the likelihood of Karsus being able to directly and immediately escape containment is much lower, but the movement of the avatars of the spell could allow him the space he requires to attempt something else.”

“Then leave them here,” Minthara says, shortly. “Are you not the greatest minds, the greatest wizards, that walk the surface of Toril? Study the spell until you do understand it.”

Gale shakes his head.

“Karsus has political control of not just Waterdeep, but of the entire League of the Silver Marches, plus the use of Elminster’s likeness. He’s been keeping his cards close to his chest until now, but we’ve killed two of his avatars, and completed the spell - he knows he must act now with the resources left to him. If we do not stop him, he could cause absolute devastation.”

Could ,” Minthara growls. “Who is weighing up the cost, here? By what metric are we measuring?”

“Loss of life,” Gale says, sharply. “This is not an easy decision, Minthara. Do not mistake my conviction for levity. We cannot possibly know what we may unleash; but to remain frozen in indecision could be just as bad, if not worse, and we would likely then have to face Karsus anyway.”

That shuts everyone up.

Perhaps there would have been more protests, but Gale does not allow them. Instead, he marches back to the other Chosen.


Gale takes Clara by the elbow.

It seems a strange thing to do, given the power emanating from her; but she's still Clara. She still looks to him, gratefully, obviously terrified even though her eyes are glowing.

“Ready?” He asks, managing to sound far more confident than he is.

She nods.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Then let's go.”

He can feel the eyes of the other Chosen on them as they walk. To the edge of the spell; to the outline of the runes, still burned into the tower’s stone, smouldering and powerful.

And together, they step forward.

Gale feels the change immediately.

The spell had known he wasn't part of it. He'd been able to use himself as a conduit, to syphon some of his power into it, but the moment Clara steps out, something that hadn't been properly held in tears loose.


They both turn back, immediately; Clara tries to stumble back into the runes, but it's too late.

The spell is tearing.

The ground shudders beneath them. Gale stumbles, turns again, and tries to run; too late.

Something catches around him. Not a physical something; not a hand or anything so tangible. No; this is the Karsite weave.

The essence of Karsus, either his soul or his magic or some wretched combination of the two. It is reaching for him; trying to claw its way into him. Using him to drag itself out of the cage. Tendrils of red smoke curl around him, the only visual clue for the power tearing through his chest.

Gale has not forgotten the shape of the orb. How could he? But he had, very slowly, begun to forget the specifics. The way he'd been able to feel the weight of it, in his chest. The way the magic hummed and ached and tugged at him, always gnawing at him, like Prometheus’ eagle.

“Go!” Clara yells, behind him, “Gale, you have to get away from here! Now !”

Gale stumbles forwards, towards the others, as if a few scant steps will be distance enough to thwart something with the strength and power of Karsus.

And it is dragging at him now. The way it had at the university, when it had been wearing Mystra's form. It wants him.

But Gale can feel where the gap in the spell is. He can see where Karsus is trying to crack the weave open, the Karsite weave burning through it like a flame through paper.

And he knows he can stop it. Gale digs his heels in and turns against it and resists, with all his might. What little is left of his magic, he channels towards the tear. It's not the same as the weave unravelling, but it's not entirely different either. Twisting his hands into it, he pulls. For a moment, it seems like his calculations were off; that the karsite weave is stronger, will continue to burn through the true weave regardless of what he does.

But Gale has spent a lot of time, now, thinking about what the orb really was. About the way that imbalance of magic had worked. And as he pulls the weave in, it slowly begins to swamp the Karsite weave.

Clara is attempting to throw silver flame at it. It's appreciated, but she hasn't used it before and it takes some practice to wield well. It sputters in her fingers, answering, but unwieldy.

“Clara, we can close it!” Gale shouts, as her silver flame licks ineffectually against the thread of Karsite weave tethered to his chest. “Close the tear in the spell! Quickly !”

The others had heard him too. Five of them remain channelling the spell, holding it in place, strengthening it. Elminster, however, steps out to Clara's side. Gale releases the weave to him. There's no need to explain. Connected by the weave, Elminster can see both what is happening, and how Gale had been counteracting it. This is something Elminster can understand. He had been part of the realisation of what the orb was, too. In his deft, capable hands, the spell sings. It begins to close.

As if sensing that he's about to lose his chances, Karsus redoubles his efforts. Gale almost falls to his knees. He gets the sense that if he did, the momentum wouldn't cease. He would be dragged across the top of the tower, into the spell itself. Into Karsus’ grasp.

Thank the gods for the strength potion.

“Protero!” Astarion's voice is close, the spell strong and usually Gale would be delighted at how his casting is coming along but right now he just doesn't have f*cking time. It doesn't work anyway; the spell hits the Karsite weave full on, with no tangible effect. Perhaps it weakens its grasp a little, but it could quite equally be Gale imagining things.

Suddenly, there are hands at his shoulders; at his waist. Wyll, his fingers calloused from the strings of his bow, and Minthara, her sharp nails digging into him, growling her fury into his shoulder. They're holding onto him. Pulling him back. Throwing their combined weight against Karsus.

“Hold on, wizard!” Minthara commands, like he isn't already holding on with everything he has.

Then Astarion is there too.

“Where's the dagger?” He demands.

“Belt!” Gale gasps, still twisting both his hands into the spell, trying to hold it off.

Astarion slips the blade from its sheath and slashes at the red thread. It shimmers as the blade passes through, but nothing else. Just for a moment, Gale feels like he can breathe; but he doesn't even have the time to take a proper breath of air before the Karsite weave curls back into him, more furious than ever.

“f*ck, that was all my ideas,” Astarion growls.

“The dagger helped,” Gale gasps. “Only a little, but I think-”

There's a small crack. Gale gasps; the shudder of pain would have lost him a few feet, but Astarion is pushing now too, holding him back against Minthara and Wyll.

“Was that a rib ?” Minthara snaps.

“He's using the orb-hole, he's pulling from my chest- AH- AAAH!”

There's another snap. Astarion moves, pressing himself right up against Gale's chest, pushing him back flat against Minthara like a human compression bandage; as if somehow if he can exert enough pressure back against Gale's ribcage, it will stop Karsus from literally tearing him apart.

Gale leans into his shoulder and pulls on the weave and tries not to sob through the pain because Astarion’s weight against broken ribs already hurts enough already and so does the simple act of struggling for breath and if he starts crying he's only going to make it worse for himself. Astarion's hand is round the back of his neck. Not doing anything other than holding Gale to him. Protecting him, as best he can.

“What the f*ck do we do?” Karlach yells.

“Elminster is working on it!” Gale pants into Astarion's ear. “He's trying to close the spell, close the trap, but-”

Astarion's leg skids back, finally pushed by the weight of Gale being yanked against his chest.

“It's getting stronger!” Astarion snaps. “Tell him to fix it faster .”

And it isn't only dragging at him now, either. A second thread of red magic has escaped. Gale can't see it, crammed up between the others as he is, but he can feel it.

It's got Midnight.

The more Karsus is drawing on him, the stronger he's getting. Gale can practically feel the magic bleeding out from under his skin, feeding the Karsite weave just as it used to feed the orb. Much longer, and he's not going to have anything left to fight it with.

Astarion staggers again, his foot scrabbling against the rubble of the tower, looking for purchase. The shock of it jostles Gale's ribs, and he cries out in pain.

“We’re not letting him have you,” Astarion swears, though his voice is panicked. “We won't . Fight him, Gale!”

“I'm… trying…”

“We can't hold her much longer!” A voice shouts, and he thinks it was Halsin, followed by definitely Shadowheart;

“Midnight doesn't know how to fight the Karsite! We’re going to lose her!”

“Gale!” Clara is shouting. “Gale, run! Teleport! Anywhere!”

Teleport , Gale thinks, through the fuzz of pain. Nowhere else on Toril would put them beyond Karsus' reach. If anything he'd be able to follow them through the spell.


“Midnight,” Gale gasps. “To… Midnight.”

“If you're both together it'll be easier for him to pull you in!” Wyll protests, still dragging at his arms, trying to help Minthara hold onto him.

“To-” Gale gasps in pain. There's no way he can explain, or reassure. Instead he just grits his teeth, and growls; “ PLEASE .”

It is not dignified. Pain isn't, generally. Gale thinks he really would have learned that one by now, but apparently not. They manage to get him across the roof towards the others, at least.

He's going to need a gap. A moment for them all to be able to step away, so they don't get caught in it, without he and Midnight both being dragged into the cage.

“Clara,” he says, against Astarion's neck, before Karsus pulls the air out of his lungs again and all he can do is gasp, like he’s drowning.

“Clara!” Astarion shouts, over his shoulder. “Clara! We need you!”

Gale just about manages to flex his fingers in Astarion's shirt, as close to a thank you as he's capable of.

“Flame,” he hisses, chest heaving. “Silver. Flame.”

“Silver flame!” Astarion yells.

Gale feels the moment Clara stops helping Elminster keep the Karsite weave contained. It yanks at him, nearly sending Astarion flying, but he's anchored to Minthara who is anchored to Wyll who is anchored to Gale, and as Gale struggles to breathe, Clara tries again.

This time, it works better. Elminster is calling instructions over to her. The grip Karsus has on him weakens, the shriek of pain ricocheting through the air like an arrow. It gives him a moment. Just a moment.

But a moment is enough.

“Use the ring,” he says, grabbing Astarion's shoulder.

Astarion nods, expression grim and determined. Before Gale has to push him away, he steps back.

Gale reaches out for Midnight. As he does so, Karsus pushes out past the weakening cage, red threads surging out, like fingers, grasping.


Impero te alibi !”

There's a flash of blue magic, and Gale is gone. As is Midnight. Karsus' claws swipe through the empty air, where just moments before, they had stood. Astarion shies away from them from pure instinct; but they don't want him. They don't want any of the figures now crammed together on this little tower-top.

They stretch wildly anyway, red threads dissipating through the air like the tentacles of some giant sea-creature, thrashing for purpose. Clara drives her silver flame at them again, and then again. She’s getting better at it as she does. The flames curl in careful patterns, catching the tendrils and snuffing them out one by one, driving Karsus back and back again. Finally, the red threads curl in on themselves, wilting like flowers, curling like embers. Until there is nothing. Clara is already running back across the rubble, back to where Elminster has already resumed his place in the circle of Chosen.

There's a flash of light - and silence.

Astarion casts his eyes around the scene. The Chosen are stepping out of the spell, shaking themselves, and Clara comes stumbling back towards them. Her eyes glowing, her skin fractured and spilling gold, her fingers still sparking with impossible flame.

“Wait, don't come too far!” Wyll tries to stop her, but Clara is already beyond where she'd got to last time.

“It's alright,” she says, as she reaches them. “Gale found what was wrong with the spell, what was letting Karsus through - we fixed it, once he'd gone back in. It's stable now.”

“Good,” Astarion nods, sharply.

Behind them, Laeral vanishes into mist. The spell seems none the worse for wear for her absence. There's no shudder of weave moving, no surge of power as Karsus makes another attempt to escape.

“Where did he go?” Clara asks Astarion, like he's somehow going to know.

“Not a f*cking clue. I can find out though. Are we safe?”

Clara nods; one after another, the other Chosen are vanishing.

“I think so.”

“And you're not disintegrating?” Karlach confirms. “Or whatever it is that you were doing.”

“I'd come untethered,” Clara says. “And no, I'm not. I'm carrying part of Mystra's essence in my being now. It's volatile, but no more so than any of the others. For now, it's balanced.”

“You did very well, Clara,” Elminster says, joining them. “Though I am afraid it is far from over yet.” He turns to them, gravely. “I do not know precisely what Karsus' designs with Gale and Midnight would be, but I do not need specifics to know that it would be less than desirable for him to achieve it.”

“No sh*t,” Astarion snaps. “And now he's running around somewhere with two broken ribs and half his magic drained!”

Elminster frowns.

“I must go, for now. The others will need my help to remove Karsus’ avatars, but once that is done I will dedicate my every ability to unravelling this puzzle. I trust I can leave Gale safely in your hands.”

Astarion rolls his eyes.

“Some friend you are.”

Elimster turns his head, almost like an owl, studying Astarion with slightly narrowed eyes.

“I do what I must for the balance of the universe. Gale understands this.”

It’s probably a bad idea to pick a fight with a centuries-old wizard, but Astarion is suddenly furious at him.

“Don’t think I don’t know what role you played in introducing him to Mystra, you asshole. He might have met Mystra when he was twelve, but he met you when he was eight. Eight ! At least Gale tried to help Clara escape her fate.”

Elminster could probably strike him down with a thought. It had been easy enough to forget that, when he was toddling around their camp in his pyjamas, making jokes about cheese. It’s considerably less easy to forget it when he’s towering over them with his staff in his hand, eyes glowing with raw power.

He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t even raise a hand. Instead he nods, calmly.

“I used to try,” Elminster says, quietly. “I learned it is better to equip Mystra’s Chosen with the best tools I can. To help them survive as long as possible; to live, as best they can, their own lives, on their own terms, once Mystra has laid her claim. Gale is like a son to me. But Mystra is my Goddess. Gale is lucky he was able to turn from her, and live to tell the tale. None who came before him were so blessed.”

And with that, he’s gone.

There’s a small silence.

“Eight?” Shadowheart says, disbelievingly. “The more I learn about Mystra, the less different from Shar she seems.”

“Storm first visited me when I was nine,” Clara says, dully. “Not that I knew who she was, but. It’s Mystra’s way.”

“Ugh,” Karlach shudders. “I feel like I need a bath.”

“Let’s find Gale first,” Astarion snaps, irritated at himself for accidentally piecing out this information which Gale would probably have preferred he keep to himself.

“Karsus' magic followed them, at first. It was tracing them. Whatever cut him off, it wasn't Gale,” Clara says, determinedly.

“Oh I'm not worried about figuring out where he went,” Astarion waves a hand at them. “I'm worried about how we get there. You think Gale's had six months to dwell on all the things that went wrong when we were facing the Absolute and didn't build in a ridiculous number of elaborate failsafes in case of emergencies?”

He pulls his ring off. To all intents and purposes, it is just a ring. A ring with some unusual runework, perhaps. And a ring forged not just in silver, but with a drop of each of their blood in it.

They'd only tried the spell once, but Astarion remembers exactly how it works. He has lain awake at night, twisting it, feeling the way the runes hum against his skin. Going over and over the spell in his head. Burning it into his memory.

It is so very, very Gale to make a declaration of love that is bound up in magic; in a vow of protection, in an act of devotion, and of understanding. Because Astarion has never had to tell Gale how afraid he is of losing him. He's as afraid of that as he is of being lost. Of going back to nobody seeing him. Nobody knowing him. He's never had to explain, because Gale understands. They might have been cut from different cloths, but their lives have moulded them into similar shapes. And Gale fears the same things he does.

He lies the ring out on his palm, and whispers;

Dum amor est, spes est.”

It begins to glow. The runes run gold, then purple. Astarion takes the edge of his knife, and slides it under his skin. Just enough to draw a prick of blood forth. He dips the ring in it.

Ubi es?”

It doesn't feel unlike a sending spell. It had been almost instant, when they'd practised this, but then Gale had been standing right next to him. This takes longer, the spell searching the weave for the last trace of him.

Then the little illusion mists into being. It's not good quality; Gale's face is out of focus, the background mottled, as if through water. Astarion concentrates, and the picture comes into clearer focus.

Gale is running, Midnight stumbling behind him. Gentle, considerate Gale has her by the wrist, dragging her onwards, desperation in his eyes, both their feet sparkling with a haste spell.

Astarion drags his eyes away from Gale and focuses on what he can see of their surroundings. For a moment, all he can do is squint. It seems like there's nothing beyond them but darkness. But then Gale twists his own ring, biting at his finger to break the skin, and the image clarifies;

they're in the Underdark.

Astarion can see what Gale sees. Up ahead, the telltale blue glow. A Sussur tree. The image shudders, and disappears. There should be a guiding spell attached to it too. Astarion should be able to feel a faint tug in Gale's direction. The Sussur tree is blocking it.

“I thought you said the ring was a charm against sunlight?” Clara says, as the image fades.

“And I lied,” Astarion says, smoothly. “I do that a lot, you'll get used to it.”

“A Sussur tree,” Minthara nods. “To give the wizard some credit, that is a clever solution. If it resists the weave, it will resist Karsus.”

“He used the Sussur dagger to teleport, too, so I know exactly which Sussur tree it is,” Astarion nods, wiping the ring clean and replacing it on his finger.


Gale leans back against the trunk of the Sussur tree, and tries to breathe. Even after they’d teleported, he’d been able to feel Karsus’ power twisting and curling in his chest, trying to burrow into him, trying to claim him.

The Sussur tree had banished it along with the rest of the weave.

His body is his own again. His chest feels normal. Well, other than the broken ribs.

It doesn't matter. It worked.

It worked.

Thank the heavens and the hells and everything in-between, because if it hadn't, just two of them facing Karsus in the Underdark would have gone very, very badly.

He'd felt the tug of the spell in the ring, too. The knowledge that Astarion is looking for him is reassuring in more ways than one. He dares to hope that that means they'd been able to seal Karsus away completely.

It's not ideal. It will only be a temporary solution, and it will weaken the weave even further. But it will give them time. Time to think. Time to study. More than anything, they need time. Karsus has had centuries; they have to somehow catch up to him in just days.

“So what now?” Midnight asks.

She's in a better state than he is. Karsus hadn't had a specific anchor for her; had dragged at her entire self equally. No broken ribs. Hip hip hooray.

Gale wonders if the pain is making him slightly unhinged.

“Wait,” he says, then immediately regrets it. The slightest movement jostles his ribs, his lungs. Running had been a nightmare. He's lucky he hadn't blacked out.

He is shaking, now, from the adrenaline rush and the fact that he's starving, having not eaten since lunchtime and it now being well into the evening. Not much they can do about it, though.

“I can't heal you here,” Midnight says, pacing up and down under the leaves. Gale watches her. Something about the blue glow on her skin makes her look more like Mystra than ever. And yet the way she holds herself, the way she speaks; that is becoming less familiar by the moment. “We have to get out from this anti-magic sphere.”

She turns towards the way they came.

“No!” Gale says. “If Karsus is still out there-”

“Ugh!” Midnight kicks at the ground, then stalks back over to him. “But you're in pain ,” she grits her teeth. “Damn it all to hells, Gale, I don't care if you hate me, but don't be a stubborn ass about it. Let me f*cking help.”

Gale blinks at her. There had been an unexpected tremble in her tone. She does care if he hates her.


“I’m not,” he breathes. “There's nothing we can do but wait. Astarion is coming.”

“How do you know that?” Midnight snaps. “How do you know that he won't decide you're not worth the trouble and leave us both here to rot?”

And Gale nearly laughs. Thankfully, he doesn't.

“Did Midnight never love, before you were Mystra? Did you never love as an equal, rather than as ownership?”

And Midnight turns her head away, refusing to meet his gaze.

“I don't know,” she says.

“Perhaps he might have done, once,” Gale concedes. “But so would I, when we barely knew one another.” He remembers, just last night, having this very same conversation with Astarion. Gods, but it seems such a long, long time ago. “We were surviving. We did what we had to. But we aren't those people anymore.”

Midnight turns away. She hunches into herself.

It is cold. Gale's cloak is still with Astarion. His robe and leggings against the chill of the underdark is a battle he will lose, eventually.

He tucks his knees up, little by little, trying to hold onto his heat.

“I trust him,” Gale says, quietly. “Implicitly. When we met, we had been captured by mindflayers, and their tadpoles-”

“I know,” Midnight interrupts. “I remember knowing that much.”

“They connected us,” Gale continues, looking up at the leaves above him. The tree reaches high, high into the cavernous heights above them. There's something enchanting about its glow. “I didn't appreciate it, initially. I didn't particularly enjoy having strangers being able to see inside my head. But Astarion sometimes needed… reassurance. It was useful, to have a way to show him. And we might not have that connection anymore, but we don't need to. I remember the way he feels about me. He showed me.” He closes his eyes. “I would go to the end of the world for him. Just as I would have for Mystra. The difference, with Astarion, is that he would do the same for me.” He smiles. “Although he would bitch and moan about it the entire time.”

A breeze rustles the leaves above them, sending glimmers of Sussur petals drifting through the air.

Gale always feels strange and hollow without his magic.

He hopes that Karsus is sealed away. Gods, he hopes it worked. Because if it didn't, they're going to have to find a way to deal with that. They're not far from Lenore's tower here. He had been meaning to study her work. An automaton powered by Sussur blooms? It was enough to set a man’s mind on fire with the possibilities. Using anti-magic to power things that magic usually would was fascinating. And, if they're stuck in range of the Sussur tree for some time, potentially important. He had hoped, however, to be able to study it in less fraught circ*mstances.

“I'm going to see if there's any useful herbs or anything growing here,” Midnight says.

“Hmm?” Gale opens his eyes. “By all means. Don't go too far.”

“I won't,” Midnight huffs. “I don't have a death wish.”

She comes back not much longer later. The tree is huge, for a tree, but in terms of available plant-growth, there's not much else.

“No luck?” Gale asks.

“Nothing,” Midnight huffs.

Gale closes his eyes again. His head hurts. There's stars behind his eyes. That's probably not a good sign.

“I don't think I really remember what being human was like,” Midnight says, quietly. “I thought I did. I thought I'd held onto my humanity through all those years as Mystra. I thought that was what kept me sane; kept me as myself. Now I'm not so sure.”

Gale considers her.

“Were you… awake, in there, the whole time? Trapped?”

“No,” Midnight says, quickly. Too quickly. “At least, not the way you're thinking. You would have been able to tell, I think, when you and Mystra- well, anyway, if there had been two souls in there you would have been able to tell.”


Gale puts his head back against the tree. He tries to turn the implications of that over in his head, but his mind refuses to focus.



“I think I have a concussion.”

“Oh, hell’s teeth.”

Midnight drops to her knees in front of him, taking his chin to tilt his head up, studying his eyes.

“I definitely have a concussion,” Gale says, as she slides in and out of focus.

“I don’t have any water,” Midnight frowns. “I don’t have anything, Gale.”

“Astarion is on his way,” Gale says, closing his eyes again before trying to focus makes his headache any worse. “Can you help me lie down? I think it will help with breathing.”

Underneath a tree isn’t the best place to find flat ground. Eventually, Midnight gives up and flops down beside him.

“Put your head in my lap,” she commands.

“I’d rather not,” Gale sighs.

“Trust me, it’s mutual,” Midnight growls. “But I don’t have a f*cking pillow and if either of us take another layer off we’ll freeze to death down here.”

And so Gale, reluctantly, concedes.

“You’re not supposed to sleep if you have a head injury, right?” Midnight says, eventually. She’s settled back against the trunk of the tree, where Gale had been sitting before. The trunk has a little notch, between two giant roots. It’s not much of a hiding place, but it’s more protected than anywhere else they can manage. Or that Gale can manage, anyway. Despite her irritation, however, Midnight has made it perfectly clear that she isn’t going to climb up further and leave him down here.

“Common misconception,” Gale says, sleepily. “Uncharacteristic changes of mood and excessive fatigue are concerning, but it is currently the middle of the night in the World Above. I would probably be asleep by now if I were at home.”

“And I don’t know what would be uncharacteristic for you, anymore,” Midnight agrees. “I’d still prefer it if you didn’t sleep. Just in case something nasty comes around the corner.”

“I don’t think I’d be much use, in my current state,” Gale says, dryly. “We’re two wizards sitting under a Sussur tree. Maybe I would be able to do something with the longsword, if I wasn’t currently sporting multiple broken ribs. If something comes sniffing, we’re sitting ducks.”

“Well then at least we could both know we were going to die,” Midnight snaps. “You don’t get to fall asleep gently and never wake if I have to be knowingly eaten alive.”

“Ah-a, don’t make me laugh,” Gale protests. “It hurts.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be funny.”

“I think having had so many near-death experiences has given me a somewhat bleak sense of humour,” Gale says, apologetically.

They sit - or lie, in Gale’s case, in silence for a little while longer. Gale mostly focuses on his breathing. It is easier, lying on his back, to get more air into his lungs without twinging his ribs.

“Tell me about him,” Midnight says, eventually.

“Hm?” Gale looks up at her, frowning. “Who?”

“Astarion,” Midnight huffs. “Who else?”

Gale, who had been expecting her to say Karsus, says as much.

“I know Karsus better than you do,” she says, dryly. “But you’re right. I don’t remember what it’s like to be human. So, tell me about him. Tell me about how you met. I want to know who you are now, not who you used to be.”

“Oh,” Gale smiles. “I mean, Astarion is only half the answer to that question, really. But he’s the better half. I’m not particularly proud of the other bit.”

“Mystra knew about the other bit,” Midnight points out. “But she didn’t know anything about Astarion. Only that you chose him over her. I want to know why.”

“Ah,” Gale closes his eyes. “Well, I suppose it is quite a story.”

And so, in the dim glow of the Sussur tree, he tells her.


It doesn't take them long. It is too long for Astarion’s liking though. Halsin is staying behind, because the children need him. Minthara is staying with him, because Minthara is Minthara and she has no intention of returning to the Underdark before she said she would.

Astarion had actually only invited Clara along, and only because he needs someone to cast teleport. Tara is coming too, of course, but that hadn't even been a question.

The others are packed up and ready to go before he realises what they're doing.

“Don't be stupid,” he tells Karlach, “It's only a fetch quest. We’ll take some healing potions and be back tomorrow morning. Stay here and get some bloody sleep.”

“Halsin’s given us some rations,” Wyll says, apparently ignoring him, shuffling his pack to sit more comfortably.

“A healer is always better than a healing potion,” Lae'zel says, shortly. “And Shadowheart is one of the better ones. It would be needlessly dangerous to go without her.”

“Also, are you forgetting what we fought last time we were in the Underdark?” Shadowheart protests. “Hook horrors? Minotaurs? The spectator? The bulette? The more swords by your side the better.”

“Clara can't teleport all of us!” Astarion protests.

“Oh, no, I can,” Clara says, quite unconcerned. “And getting back will be even easier. To here, or to Waterdeep. I am quite a lot more powerful than I was before.”

“Come on then, Mr Ancunin,” Tara says, apparently deciding he needs to be gently hustled. “Let's collect Mr Dekarios’ things, just in case we can go straight home.”

It's not the most considered of goodbyes. They would all have liked to stay longer, Astarion thinks, although obviously some of them are louder about it than others. Karlach and Halsin appear to be trying to out-hug each other, while Lae’zel reminds Minthara on no uncertain terms that if they continue to have problems with the goblins that she needs a holiday from the Astral Plane every now and then.

But they do, eventually, all huddle together, holding onto each other and Clara.

“Ready?” She asks. A murmur of agreement and a series of nods reassures her.

“Byeee!” Karlach yells; and then they disappear.

Astarion slams his hand over Karlach’s mouth as they arrive in the Underdark.

“Idiot,” he hisses.

“Sorry,” Karlach whispers back. The deep, thick silence around them swallows it.

Going from late at night to down in the Underdark isn't so different. It doesn't take Astarion’s eyes very long to adjust. Besides, there's the usual smattering of glowing mushrooms - and Clara.

“We won't be needing any torches, then,” Shadowheart says, dryly, looking at the shadows that Clara's glow is casting against the rock.

“Sorry,” Clara winces. “I would turn it off if I could, but I don't really know what it is, let alone how to go about making it… not be.”

“Ugh,” Tara says, at Astarion’s feet. “I forgot just how disgusting this place is. Let's find Mr Dekarios and get out as soon as possible.”

“Agreed,” Astarion brushes himself off, settling his pack. “Need a ride?”

“No no, my paws are already a lost cause I’m afraid. I appreciate the offer though. Where is that ring pointing, dear?” Tara stops, one paw in the air, scenting.

“The Sussur tree broke the spell,” Astarion shakes his head.

“Bother,” Tara sighs. “Hunter’s instincts it is then.”

“It's a pretty big tree,” Astarion reminds her. “And it's this way.”

And so they set off, the six of them and Tara trailing through the dark caverns.

“How does that spell work?” Clara asks, curiously, trying to get another glimpse at Astarion’s ring.

“No idea,” Astarion says, blithely. “One of Gale's creations. Something something blood, locations, I don't know. It's a long story and I'm sure Gale would relish telling you it, but suffice it to say that kobolds should not be allowed to strap beehives to their backs, associate with artificers, or generally allowed near anything old, valuable or even mildly explosive. We got separated for a bit, and when we found each other again, Gale was already halfway through inventing a spell to make it easier next time.”

“Right,” Clara nods, “But- with your blood?”

“My blood is basically half his at this point,” Astarion reminds her. “As spell components go, it's got a fair amount of kick to it.”

“Right.” Clara nods, then lapses into silence as the path turns downwards.

In the distance, Astarion can see the glimmer of a blue glow; the first glimpse of the Sussur tree. He picks up his pace. Nobody complains; they fall in behind him, quite contentedly, chattering as if they're on a normal mission.

As if Gale isn't out here somewhere, wounded and completely unprotected, with half the bloody flora and fauna of the Underdark wanting to take a chunk out of him-

They round a corner, and the Sussur tree looms ahead. Astarion breaks into a run. Even at this distance, he can see two figures tucked up in its roots. It's stupid to be at the base like that, they should have climbed into the branches at the very least, but then Midnight would hardly have had a way to get up there, and Gale can't climb with shattered ribs.

“Gale!” He yells, and one of the figures looks up; but it isn't Gale. It's Midnight.

Gale is lying in her lap.

“Don't let Clara any closer!” Midnight yells, holding a hand up like this will somehow stop them.

“Don’t worry, I'm staying back here!” Clara calls back from the ledge above them.

It's a fair concern, and Astarion doesn't want to take the risk either. But really, did they have to shout it all the way across the Underdark like that? Advertise their location to every goddamn creature in the vicinity?

Astarion ignores Midnight completely. The fact that Gale isn't responding, and therefore likely isn't awake, immediately has panic rising in his chest. He can hear Gale’s heartbeat, though. Hear the whisper of his laboured breathing through the air.

He and Tara both skid to a stop in the same moment.

“Did it work?” Midnight asks, urgently. “Is Karsus-”

“Captured,” Astarion says, unable to summon even the smallest bit of sympathy for the archmage. Even though he knows that pain. Even though he knows the desperation, the willingness to sacrifice anything and anyone to escape it.

But he isn't that person anymore. And Karsus had tried to take Gale.

Midnight breathes, a sigh of relief that comes with a slump. She rests her hand on Gale's head; he stirs, slightly, as if waking.

“Gale?” Astarion asks.

Gale opens his eyes, and the relief is palpable.

“Hello love,” he says, like this is a perfectly normal Tuesday morning. “I'm glad that worked, we hadn't tested it over a distance anywhere near as-” he winces, swallowing his own words.

“Don't move,” Midnight reminds him, quickly.

“Shadowheart’s coming,” Astarion says, hands hovering over Gale's arm like he's somehow going to be able to help. Tara nudges at his hand.

“This is rather unpleasant,” Gale agrees, like he isn't sweating. His hand finds Astarion's, fingers curled together. “No need to look so worried, dearest, I'm holding up. Been telling Midnight about how we met. Very good idea of her to ask, lovely story, kept me thoroughly distracted-” he stumbles to a stop, closing his eyes to grimace, clenching his teeth through a wave of pain.

At one point, Astarion had considered himself almost entirely immune to the pain of others. Perhaps his own was so consuming he didn't have any energy left for empathy, let alone compassion. But seeing Gale in pain hurts him as if it were his own. And even though Shadowheart is really only a few steps away, Astarion rummages in his pockets and finds Gale a health potion, because if he can spare Gale even just a few seconds of suffering then he will. Of course he will. Because he knows what it's like, and he doesn't want Gale to have to go through it.

“Thank you,” Gale breathes, more easily now.

It will still take Shadowheart to get him back on his feet properly, but at least his brow smooths somewhat.

“Always,” Astarion says, as Gale slowly sits upright - out of Midnight’s lap.

“Oh, I did miss being able to breathe properly,” Gale sighs.

“Come on,” Astarion puts an arm under his, helping him to his feet. “Let's get you out of anti-magic range so Shadowheart can help.”

Gale hisses in pain as he moves, regardless of how slowly they go. Midnight is helping, too, and eventually they get him upright.

Gale slumps into his shoulder.

“Oh no you don't love,” Astarion protests. “I cannot carry you without the assistance of strength potions or your mother. We established this last time I had to look after your stupid self-sacrificing ass.”

“Last time?” Midnight frowns.

“Backfired Wish spell,” Astarion says, trying to get Gale to do something other than lean on him.

“Missed you,” Gale mumbles into his shirt.

“I wasn’t gone for that long. It’s not even moondark.”

“Too long,” Gale agrees, attempting to hold his own head up and then giving up. “You were wonderful. You were perfect.”

“And beautiful, yes, thank you for noticing,” Astarion says, worriedly. “Has he been this out of it the whole time?”

“He comes and goes,” Midnight says.

“My star,” Gale says, so quietly that Astarion almost misses it. “My guiding light.”

“Yes, alright,” Astarion pats his head. “Very sweet. Perhaps save the sap for when we don't have an audience.”

The others had been standing beyond the range of the Sussur tree with Clara, but Lae’zel, evidently having been watching them, darts over to give them a hand.

“Pull yourself together,” she snaps at Gale, who blinks at her, slowly.

“Lae’zel,” he smiles. “My terrifying friend. We missed you so much.”

“Did we?” Astarion sighs. “Gale, love, hilarious as this is, do you think we could try and actually move? There's this thing known as walking, you put one foot in front of the other.”

Gale wrinkles his nose, as if considering this rather distasteful suggestion.

“But I want to talk to Lae'zel,” he protests. “She's so funny. She's been so far away. We should have been helping her, I think, but-”

“Fool of a wizard,” Lae’zel sighs. “I am going to pick you up, and it is going to hurt.”

“Oh dear,” Gale says, woozily. “That doesn't sound pleasant.” Lae’zel scoops him up with ease, and he yelps in pain. “Ow! Lae’zel!”

“Stop talking, istik.” Lae’zel commands.

“Right you are,” Gale says. “Quite right.”

“Aw, he's gone all floppy again,” Karlach says, when Lae'zel bends to lie Gale down beside Shadowheart. “It would be cute if it didn't always seem to happen after nearly dying.”

“He's got a concussion,” Shadowheart says, her hands glowing as she pours healing energy into him. “Midnight, did he hit his head?”

“When we got to the tree,” Midnight says. “It was one of the roots.”

“That explains a lot,” Astarion agrees. “He wasn't this out of it when he got the burn, and that was probably just as bad.”

“You have been through the wars, eh Gale?” Karlach says, cheerfully. “When you're feeling better we can beat this Karsus up once and for all, and then you can go home and do… whatever it is that wizards do.”

“Drink lots of wine and read lots of books,” Astarion says, holding onto Gale’s hand. “And occasionally invent terrifying new spells.”

“And cooking, playing music, and occasionally going off on adventures,” Tara adds.

“I do have a job,” Gale reminds them, mildly.

“A necessary evil,” Astarion agrees. “Are you feeling any more sane, now? Or are you going to start telling me I'm your sun and stars again?”

“You are,” Gale agrees, quite cheerfully, “But I could probably be a lot more poetic about it than I was just now.”

“Please don't,” Shadowheart sighs. “I've had enough of you two and your idiotics today to last me a lifetime.”

Gale chuckles at her.

With his bones knitted back together and his lungs double-checked for damage, Shadowheart declares him fit for travel.

“To Waterdeep!” Tara declares, delightedly.


Gale goes first; the runes will allow him to teleport directly inside, but nobody else. They land easily; Astarion on his arm, Tara at his feet.

“Home,” Astarion says, appreciatively. “I mean I know we’ll probably have to leave again tomorrow, but Gods, it’s good to be back.”

“I thoroughly second that statement,” Tara hopes up on the table. “Gale, dear, do you need a hand with those runes? You still look a little peaky, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“I’m just tired, Tara,” Gale yawns. “I don’t think I’ve used that much magic in one day for months.”

Wyll had made sure he’d had something to eat, too, but he still feels weak and shaky. As he adjusts the runes for Clara, Astarion starts filling the tea kettle.

“Is that for me?” Gale says, hopefully, and Astarion sighs at him.

“No, it’s for me, because I have such a notable adoration for liquids of the non-sanguine variety.”

Gale laughs, enjoying that it doesn’t hurt. Enjoying that they’re home. For now, at least. Then he pulls copper wire from his drawers.

“Stand by,” he warns them.

“Oh, one moment.” Astarion puts the kettle down, and walks back over to take Gale’s face in his hands. “Gale Dekarios, do you have any idea how f*cking terrifying that was?”

“Oh,” Gale blinks. “What, now? I mean, yes, of course, I wouldn’t have done it unless I absolutely had to-”

Astarion shuts him up with a kiss. It’s almost punishing; like he wants to steal the breath from Gale’s lips, like he’s furious. Which he is, apparently.

Astarion still doesn’t tell Gale that he loves him very often. Not in so many words, anyway. But he tells him in other ways. This kiss is one of them; like he’d devour Gale if he could. Like he misses being able to see inside his mind. It’s the desperate kind of kiss he only gets when Gale has been teasing him, keeping him on edge for as long as he can, and Astarion is half-mad with pleasure and frustration.

“I’m not ready to lose you,” Astarion growls, at last, his hands curled so tightly in Gale’s hair that he’s pulling. “Not yet, Gale. Not yet.”

“I would give you forever if I could,” Gale promises.

“I know,” Astarion says, more calmly now, then with fondness; “I know.”

They stand there for a moment longer, pressed chest to chest and pelvis to pelvis and forehead to forehead, as if they do so for long enough their souls will merge like they do in the weave. Gale can already feel the direction of what little of the night that remains is going. Despite his tiredness, he can’t think of anything he’d rather do with his time, or his fiancé.

Tara coughs, politely.

“Let me get the others back,” Gale says, reluctantly.

“They can rot in the Underdark,” Astarion hisses, though he doesn’t mean it. “Midnight especially.”

Okay, maybe he does mean that.

“No,” Gale chuckles, “Karlach deserves to be topside, if nothing else.”

“Ugh,” Astarion lets him go. “Fine. But none of them are staying here. It’s the House of the Moon or the street.”

Gale reclaims his copper wire from where he’d dropped it and puts the sending spell together.

A moment later, the air hisses and pops, and everybody else arrives in the kitchen.

“There we go,” Gale says, cheerfully. “Everybody alright? All in one piece?”


Astarion doesn’t want to be in a kitchen full of people. He makes sure Gale has had something more substantial to eat, and then buggers off upstairs. Partially for some peace and quiet, and partially because he knows it will tempt Gale up sooner than he would retire otherwise.

He knows Gale will want to check in on Clara. He'll want to make sure that the others are comfortable and that there's a plan for tomorrow. Astarion doesn't resent him that. But he also doesn't want Gale to take any longer than absolutely necessary to do it.

Sure enough, it’s not long before the noise from downstairs ceases, and the bedroom door cracks open.

Astarion is out on the balcony.

It’s not going to be long until sunrise now. It’s still freezing though, and Gale knows it.

“Come inside, love,” he says, quietly. “The balcony will still be here tomorrow.”

Astarion lets Gale tuck them both up in his layers of blankets, curled up behind the protection of thick curtains.

“You’re in so much trouble,” he grumbles, as Gale pulls him against his chest and tries to rub warmth into his back.

“I know,” Gale kisses his head. “Astarion…”


“You let me go.”

His voice is gentle; tempered not by disappointment, but by wonder. Almost admiration. Astarion f*cking hates him for it.

Astarion’s grip tightens. He buries his head in Gale’s chest and refuses to look at him.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Gale nods, into his hair. “As long as you know how grateful I am. And that I love you, more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone.”

“Shut up,” Astarion grouses. “I told you, I’m not ready to lose you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Gale promises, finding Astarion’s hand; his ring. He presses their hands together, so the metals touch. Where, one day, sometime soon, they’ll swap halves and reforge them. “That’s what these are for.”

Astarion sits up, pressing him back against the bed, slotting his thigh between Gale’s and pushing his legs apart.

“I am going to claim you,” he hisses. “And you are going to claim me. And then, maybe, I will be willing to talk about your incredible capacity for moronic acts of self-sacrifice.”

“I would usually protest at this methodology,” Gale says, idly, running his hands down Astarion’s waist, to his hips. “But I think this might be one of the only cases where f*cking it better could work.”

And Astarion, taken utterly by surprise, f*cking giggles.

“Gale, you are such an ass.”

“I know,” Gale says, semi-apologetically. “But I do want you to know that I’m yours. And that you’re mine. And I am amenable to demonstrating that however you would prefer to have me do so.”

“Excellent,” Astarion purrs.


When the first dawn rays begin to lighten the world outside, Gale presses his cheek against Astarion's shoulder. He can feel the edges of Astarion's scars against his chest.

“This is the only thing I appreciate about this time of year,” Astarion complains. “I spend all day freezing, but at least you warm the bed up for me.”

Gale hums into him, already half asleep. Technically they warmed it up together, but he doesn’t have it in him to protest. Astarion, since having rediscovered the pleasure in sex, has the occasional tendency to be incredibly demanding. Gale would quite like to sleep for about a tenday. Maybe longer.

“Can't imagine you being warm,” he mumbles. “It'll take some getting used to.”

“As opposed to everything else that would change,” Astarion agrees. “Being free to walk in the sun again, being free of the hunger-”

Gale squeezes him a little tighter.

“We will free you, Astarion. I don't know how yet, but we will. I promise.”

“You don't need to promise me anything,” Astarion says, quietly. “You are already indispensable, Gale. You don't need to win me over.”

Gale presses a kiss to the back of Astarion's neck.

“I want you to be happy.”

“I am,” Astarion sighs. “Idiot. Can't you tell?”

And All Things End - Linnetagain (2024)


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