Chosen - Darkhorse6 - Baldur's Gate (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: The Invitation

Chapter Text

Octavia Sunrise had never asked for notoriety. She’d never wanted bards to sing her name, children to tag behind her horse, kings to beg her to train their sons and daughters. She’d never dreamed of a life of fame before; hells, she didn’t even like being stared at for too long. And now, with the death of the Absolute, she’d been vaulted into the spotlight for the adoring, fickle eye of the world’s public.

She hated it. So she had retreated to what she knew, the heart Baldur’s Gate, to ask Counselor Florrick for a discreet position on the reformed city Watch, and had spent several years cultivating a quiet life for herself. Sure, people still demanded to buy drinks and dinners for her when she did go out, but slowly her life was returning to a quiet routine, just as she’d always wanted.

And then, several years later, the accursed invitation had finally arrived.

It had been neatly sealed by hand, a glob of red wax carefully pressed into the juncture. Elegant script that she recognized from her contract spelled her full name on the front, and only the barest hint of sulfur perfumed the thick paper. Captain Octavia Sunrise, in deep black ink, in Raphael’s own hand.

Her first instinct had been flattery, that he’d set aside time to painstakingly handwrite and seal her invitation. Raphael was no longer the ambitious soul broker that she’d met five years before; according to her last letters from Wyll and Karlach, he had been making quite a name for himself in Avernus and the other layers of the Hells, carving out alliances and territories at an alarming pace. Tav hadn’t known how exactly the crown would be used to amplify his power, but Raphael apparently had no such ignorance. Then again, Tav was the simple, straightforward paladin that she’d always been before the crisis.

So she had dropped the invitation into her trash without another thought. It was a considerate gesture, but Tav had used up her admittedly shallow well of trust for Raphael the moment she’d signed his contract for the hammer. He was hard at work dominating the hells, and she wasn’t sure how long he’d stand by his word to leave the mortal world alone. She recalled several letters he’d sent before, most of which she’d discarded unopened, distrustful of the cambion’s intentions.

Apparently that had been a mistake, because Mizora was standing in her kitchen within the month.

Tav had just returned from her new job under Counselor Florrick, training and managing guards for the high ranking officials of Baldur’s Gate. She liked the work, but had the distinct impression that Florrick was still trying to groom her for a life of politics that Tav had simply never desired. It was a cost that had come alongside notoriety, one she wasn’t yet willing to assume.

But still, her life in Baldur’s Gate moved at an easy amble for the work, affording her a lovely little house in the center of the city. So she froze when she walked in to see the elegant devil sitting at her kitchen table, smiling coyly at the paladin in the doorway.

Tav, my very good friend!” sighed Mizora, standing and beaming. Tav frowned, slowly removing her work gloves. She still carried her beloved greatsword, hilted on her back, but didn’t see the need to draw it; devils dealt in cunning, and Mizora more so than most. Tav had never liked her, the relentless host of Wyll’s contract, and she’d assumed the dislike had been mutual.

“Where’s Wyll?” asked Tav immediately. She scanned the kitchen, but it was only the two of them. Mizora huffed and made a small show of hurt feelings, to Tav’s raised eyebrows. She finally settled down into cheeky annoyance, arms folded across her low cut gown.

“He’s…occupied. That’s sort of why I’m here,” admitted Mizora. Tav suppressed a snort. Well, obviously. She hadn’t seen the devil since Wyll had accompanied Karlach to Avernus; they were a fixed collective in Tav’s mind. “Do you remember Raphael’s banquet?”

“What?” Tav was completely thrown off. She remembered the invitation, opening it for a scan before tossing it out. She still nursed regrets about giving the crown to Raphael, and didn’t think that watching him celebrate his victories in the Hells from it would make her feel any better about it. “Isn’t that coming up soon?”

“It’s tonight,” snapped Mizora impatiently. She took a deep breath, settling herself. Tav was surprised; the beautiful devil was typically much calmer, even in the worst of situations. “It’s. Tonight. And you need to go.”

“Can’t, no invitation and no dress,” laughed Tav. She started to unfasten her boots, no longer worried about Mizora. She didn’t know why the devil had shown up to check her RSVP, but the political state of Hells was simply not her concern yet. It had flown off of her back the second that Lae’zel had mounted the red dragon in pursuit of justice. Sure, Raphael might actually unite the Hells and continue his conquest up, but she assumed it would be past her lifetime, and the unfortunate burden of the world’s future heroes.

“You threw away…” hissed Mizora, her eyes wide. “Do you have any idea…no matter, we can fix this. I can make some illusions, you’ll be fine. What about your friends, are they going?”

“I don’t know, but this is pointless Mizora. I don’t want to go.” Mizora’s question was a valid one though; Tav was suddenly more concerned about which of her friends had agreed to attend. She wanted to hope that it was none of them, but at the very least she was fairly certain that Astarion would go. The silly elf loved dressing up and attending stuffy events like this, and the fact that it was being hosted in the Hells would only make the party more appealing to him. She groaned, rubbing her eyes and wishing she’d taken the time to think of that and warn him.

“Listen, I don’t care if you don’t want to go! What I’m trying to get at is that you have to!” Mizora’s voice shook with what Tav finally recognized as fear. She paused then, sitting up in her kitchen chair and leveling the devil with a look. Mizora’s hands were trembling, her eyes quick and aversive, and when she examined the edges of her frame, she wobbled very slightly. “I…I don’t think you understand what’s been happening in the Hells since you handed over the crown.”

She didn’t. Tav frowned, feeling a little sick. It had been her own name at the bottom of that contract, blame assigned directly for whatever chaos ensued now.

“This isn’t me, it’s a projection. I’m a prisoner in his house, Wyll and Karlach too. He wants to contract both of them in his army, and I’m just a devil in his way…but we really could use your help. I…I couldn’t think of anybody else who could rescue us.”

Me? What am I supposed to do about it?” Tav gasped, reeling from the shock of the news. “I don’t have my team, and even if I did, his house is about to be packed! I can’t fight him tonight!

“The invitation was a trap anyways. I don’t think Raphael would let you get away with a quick visit,” said Mizora sourly. “But no, you can’t just storm the house. This is something that needs more discretion than brawn, but you’re unfortunately all I’ve got.” Okay, ouch.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” Tav replied, rubbing her head from the shock of it. Mizora frowned, waving her hand to reveal the room around herself; dank and dark, it seemed to be some kind of underground cell with steel reinforcement. Shining chains wound from her hands and feet, rippling with powerful magic that Tav couldn’t identify, but she assumed must be meant to hold a devil like Mizora. In another cell, she could see Wyll and Karlach lying sickeningly still. She sucked in a breath, her heart aching when she saw how shallow their breaths, how small they were curled. The spell faded, and Mizora returned to her simpler illusion, looking frightened and ashamed. I’m just one paladin, how am I going to break in?

Well, Tav might not have discretion, but she did have a few friends in Baldur’s Gate who were dripping with it. She checked the sky and decided that she could afford a quick message. Pulling a bit of parchment from her kitchen cabinet, she scrawled two quick letters, paused, and then a third. Astarion and Shadowheart had stayed in Baldur’s Gate too, and with the time crunch Tav didn’t think she’d be able to get a pigeon out to any of the rest of her team. Jaheira was visiting Halsin in the Emerald Grove, and Gale had long since returned to Waterdeep. Karlach and Wyll, apparently, were already at the House of Hope, but would not be able to assist.

With luck, she’d get to Astarion and Shadowheart. Her third pigeon was going to Gale…a last resort in the event of things turning south. He would be several days of flight for her bird, but he should be able to set up a portal into the Hells straight from his hometown.

Sending out her letters, Tav rubbed her eyes before heading back to Mizora.

“Alright, I think I know what to do for your disguises!” The devil projection had cheered up considerably, assessing Tav’s form with critical eyes. Octavia grimaced; she was lovely, tall and lean with silvery hair, but she had always felt large and awkward next to daintier women like Mizora and Shadowheart. “You need to look like you belong there, but nothing that will draw too much attention. I don’t think many mortals have been invited, and any of them will be too important to be discreet. I think the best bet will be the wait staff; Raphael keeps debtors in his service, but I’m sure they’re too scruffy to be on the main floor. Minor fiends will probably be running drinks, I’ll glamour your bodies and you’ll have to take it from there!”

Oh, that’s a relief. As long as she wasn’t in a dress, Tav was fine with a disguise.

“Okay. So, we just need to find you and break you and the others out?” asked Tav, her nerves cooling somewhat as she started to walk through a plan. Mizora frowned crookedly.

“Well, sort of. Raphael has a ward on the prison door, you’ll need his key and the sigil tag he keeps on it to get to our cells. So once you’re disguised, start with the kitchen; if the fiends have a uniform, you’ll need to find a way to fit in and get on the main floor. Find Raphael without too garnering much notice, pick his pocket for the key, and then get the hells out of there before he notices. Come find us and I’ll get us to his Faerun portals, and back to Baldur’s Gate.”

Tav sighed, rubbing her eyes. Well, hopefully Astarion could make the party then, because she couldn’t pick a pocket to save her life. And getting caught with her hand in the rising Archdevil’s personal effects would be a death sentence, regardless of his apparent fondness for her. This plan was risky, vague, and had too many variables to count; but Tav knew for certain that she couldn’t leave Wyll and Karlach imprisoned. For all of his courtesy and stiff formality, Raphael was a devil to his core, and if Mizora was telling the truth then they were in serious danger…assuming they were still alive.

She and her team would have to move fast.
_________________________________________

“I do love a good party, but probably not as much as I love crashing an excellent party,” said Astarion excitedly, rubbing his little imp hands together. Tav fought a laugh. His voice and form had changed to the small, winged body of a fiend, but his malicious glee was so in character for him that she could almost hear it in his lightly accented voice. “Thanks for inviting me to do this, it’s been ages! Do you think we’ll have time to change form and get a drink before we leave?”

“I don’t think that’s the best idea,” sighed Shadowheart. She finished the last line of the massive sigil, drawn with fresh human blood on the smooth rock floor of Tav’s cellar. All three had contributed some, taking advantage of Shadowheart’s powerful healing magic to fill a small bowl. “The whole point of this is not to get caught. We’ll throw a party when we get back, alright?”

“The first time we see Raphael in half a decade, and we’re not even going to say hi? I’m sorry but that’s just rude.” Astarion carefully arranged the incense as Tav placed the skull and diamond at the north corners of the pointed sigil. “Besides, this is going to be the party of the century! Raphael, the fledgling Archdevil Supreme. Can you imagine?? I can’t believe that you two sticks in the mud weren’t even planning to attend!”

Tav grit her teeth, biting back her annoyed response. She loved Astarion dearly, but they had never seen eye to eye in these kinds of matters. Exchanging the crown for the salvation of the Gith people and the end of the Absolute had seemed like the right decision at the time, but Tav had never been proud of making it. She’d spent many nights agonizing over the choice, wondering if it would break her oath to devotion to sign a devil’s contract. But ultimately she took the risk, knowing that the sanctity of her oath paled in comparison to the lives they would save. Thankfully, her oath had survived the choice, but it still weighed heavy on her soul to give an item of so much power to a devil.

And Astarion wanted to be friends with the cambion. He always had. Shadowheart glanced towards Tav surreptitiously, her own fiend form nearly identical to Tav’s. Astarion occasionally lacked the grace to be mindful about sensitive subjects, but Shadowheart knew the source of Tav’s guilt. She knew how Tav had despised making the deal.

“Any chance of us finding the crown while we’re down there?” Shadowheart asked Mizora’s projection. The devil tapped her lips in thought.

“Mm, probably not. I don’t know where he keeps it, and we don’t have forever to look. And I assume it’s the most heavily disguised and guarded item in the Hells right now, we can’t have you dying before you get us out of there. Just come and get us, and I’ll help you make a plan to find the crown after we escape. I swear it.” Mizora watched as Tav activated the portal, sighing quietly in relief. “Wonderful, I’ll see you fiends in Hell. Ta-ta!”

With a snap, she vanished. Tav, Shadowheart, and Astarion exchanged a glance before stepping through the dark portal in her floor.

_________________________________________

So far so good. Tav, Astarion, and Shadowheart manifested in the room of portals, easy to identify with big mirrors reflecting snapshots of countless lands in the material plane. Nobody looked twice at them; only debtors wandered these halls, and they fell far below even fiends in the Hells hierarchy. And Raphael’s fiends hadn’t commented on the sudden appearance of strangers; there must be an influx moving around the House of Hope in support of the party.

The three mortals identified themselves with matching gold rings, small enough to not be noticed by others in the household. It was really just an emergency measure though, as none of them wanted to split up for the mission at hand. It was just too dangerous to be running around alone in a house packed with potential enemies.

So they loaded up trays of drinks, boiling hot spiced blood and expensive wines, and took to the main event.

Easy. Find Raphael, get the keys, get out of here. Tav reassured herself with a quivering sigh, but truth be told she was more nervous than her outward steadiness belied. As a paladin, she was most comfortable trusting in her blade and addressing her conflicts head on. Sneaking, deceiving, and stealing was more of Astarion’s alley, and true to his nature he looked almost too excited to be on a covert mission. At least I have my sword on me, beneath the glamour.

The main hall was crowded with devils, high ranking fiends, fey, and demons, and the occasional important mortal. Tav thought she recognized a prince she’d seen in paintings, but she couldn’t place his name or lineage. Music filled the air, jaunty and light above the laughter. Everybody was dressed to the nines; Astarion groaned softly beside Tav, his displeasure at being glamoured into a servant fiend readily apparent. Shadowheart scanned the crowd closely, looking and listening for any sign of Raphael amongst the devil aristocracy.

Nobody paid three fiends any mind, besides to snag drinks from the golden trays that they carried. Tav was relieved that the glamour seemed to be working. She moved quickly and carefully through the crowd, trying to recall and recognize the distinctive, formal lilt of Raphael’s voice. The music eased, leaving room for the conversation.

“Welcome to the House of Hope, esteemed friends and honored guests. I’m pleased to see you enjoying yourselves in my humble corner of Hell. And of course I extend my warmest thanks to those who have gifted me with their attendance at my celebration tonight; I am touched by your presence, and only ask that you fully appreciate all of the pleasures and amenities that my house offers.”

There he is. The heads were turned to the front of the huge hall, Raphael’s distinctive baritone rising over the chatter of the crowd. Tav wove her way towards it, feeling rather than seeing Astarion and Shadowheart moving behind her. They were forced to split apart in the crowd, unable to stay too close with the size and energy of the devils in the tremendous hall. But they moved with purpose towards a common goal.

Raphael looked very much the same as the last time Tav had seen him. He was in his cambion form, a splendid black and gold suit fastened in a high collar up his neck, dark red wings stretching open behind him. His hair was slicked back as she’s always seen it before, eyes red-gold and vivid against black sclera. He was smiling brightly, sharp teeth glinting. He was exactly as handsome, and terrifying, as she remembered.

“Hey, I think we have a teensy problem,” whispered Astarion, suddenly too close. Tav jumped out of her skin, her fiend making an instinctive squeal at the voice in her ear. A few devils turned and gave her a scathing look; Raphael himself glanced towards them briefly, his eyes stern. Tav melted back into the crowd, horrified at how close they’d come to blowing their cover.

What??” she hissed, turning to bare sharp little teeth at the disguised vampire. Astarion lifted a small, sharp claw and pointed back into the crowd.

“Isn’t that Mizora right over there?”

Tav froze, her blood suddenly icy in her veins as she realized what was happening. Before she could react, her transfigured body was struck with a powerful and instantaneous hold spell. f*ck.

“It seems that my very favorite guests, and most cherished clients, are ready to make their surprise appearance!” The crowd parted around them as Raphael approached, befuddled at the sight of three small, frozen fiends. Tav trembled in preparation for the fight, waiting for the moment his concentration broke. With any hope, nobody else had brought weapons to the party, and she’d have some sort of edge in an under-manned team surrounded by half of the most powerful devils in the Nine Hells. Oh gods, we’re going to f*cking die.

Raphael’s smug, catlike smile hadn’t changed. He surveyed the three helpless imps with satisfaction, holding them effortlessly with a single spell; five years with the crown of Karsus had only served to amplify his already incredible power. Tav vividly remembered the ease with which he used to manipulate their minds, travel the planes, even teleport their physical bodies.

After a pregnant pause, Raphael snapped his fingers and they burst back into mortal form. The crowd around them gasped in delight, clapping at what seemed to them to be part of a performance. Tav’s hand twitched for her sword, but to her horror it wasn’t there; despite equipping herself in full plate earlier, Tav was standing in only a godsdamned evening gown.

Astarion looked delighted to be wearing a dark tailored suit, trimmed and detailed with red and gold thread. He immediately waved down an imp, snagging himself a hot glass of blood. Shadowheart was in a gown as well, midnight blue with a plunging neckline. Tav was able to move again, and she saw her own form wrapped tightly in a smoldering charcoal gown with a sweetheart cut. Mizora!!!

“I’m so glad that you could attend,” murmured Raphael, taking Tav’s hand and bowing deeply. Her hair stood on end as he kissed her fingertips, wanting nothing more than to snatch away from him, but she was still stunned from the blinding speed of their trap shutting closed. “Vampling, cleric, how wonderful to see you again as well. Where is the rest of your merry little band?” His voice was cool and smooth, giving no indication of deceit despite his knowing eyes. Tav nearly hissed as she yanked her hand back.

You would know! Are they even here? What in the hells is going on?” Her voice was starting to carry, but Raphael didn’t seem to mind. If anything, he looked thrilled to see Tav so shocked and upset. f*cking devils. Astarion smiled and waved at him brightly, as though their entire plan hadn’t just collapsed around them. Raphael’s eyes glittered, the corner of his lips twitching as he waved back.

“Unfortunately your devilish friends are quite occupied in Zariel’s plane. I did send an invitation their way, but the Archduch*ess kindly informed me that they would not be in attendance. She did send me her own esteemed practitioner as a show of good faith, though.” Right on cue, Mizora slinked her way over to Raphael’s side. She linked her arm in his amicably, her pretty smile just as devious. “Zariel rules in my name now, but I do owe her the due authorities fitting of her rank and title.”

“Terribly sorry for the roundabout,” Mizora purred with satisfaction. “Raphael asked me to make sure that you were in attendance, darling. I knew you couldn’t say no to helping out your friends. Don’t worry, you can keep the gowns of course. They’re quite lovely on you both!”

“Mizora,” snarled Shadowheart angrily. “We would have saved you!”

“I know, that’s why I just love your charming little team. But everything is fine, and now you’re at a party! Relax, and do try to have a good time.” Mizora laughed and wandered off, waving cheekily before disappearing. Shadowheart was as angry as Tav, her fists clenched helpless and unarmed against her sides. Mizora must have added some kind of displacement spell with the glamour, stripping their armor and weapons as she transitioned them into imps. Now they were quite literally trapped in the center of a devil’s den.

Astarion was sipping blood cheerfully, fixing the stray curls of his white hair.

“Can I get a program, my good fellow? Thank you. I wonder what the entertainment is going to be!” Astarion transitioned easily into casual, genuine enjoyment. Tav glowered at him angrily. “Oh come on dear. It’s not like there’s anything else for us to do about it, lighten up.”

“Yes, please do enjoy yourselves,” said Raphael warmly. He bowed again, a flattering but otherwise meaningless gesture. Tav trusted him about as far as she could teleport herself. “My stunning, and furious, paladin, might we have a word in private?”

Octavia hesitated then. She felt Shadowheart grow tense beside her, touching Tav’s arm with tight anxiety. No, she knew better than to leave alone with Raphael…but what other choice did she have? If she said no, he could teleport the both of them anywhere else with a snap of his fingers, and then she’d be out of reach of her friends. His gaze was steely, as though he was following her train of thought precisely. She had always hated how well he could read her.

“Do I have another option?” she resigned bitterly. Raphael had the gall to look offended before offering her his arm. Tav took it reluctantly, and allowed him to lead her to a quieter wing of the hall. She prayed that one of the others was going to at least tail them; if she walked with him, at least they’d see where she was going. And thankfully he stopped in an area that still had a few other devils standing around drinking and chatting.

“I was hoping that you’d take my invitation on your own volition, or perhaps come and visit an old friend on your own,” said Raphael coolly. “But no matter, you’re here and that’s what counts. I have business with you, champion.”

“First of all, we have no business. I’m not interested in signing another contract with you, there is no longer anything you have that I want. And besides which, why couldn’t that business be done outside of…this?” asked Tav, gesturing around them at the party. “I doubt that it needed to be conducted in the middle of another event. Unless we’re the night’s entertainment.” Raphael’s smile widened at the thought, and she realized that she wouldn’t put it past him to pull something like that.

“How low you still think of me,” he chuckled, fangs bared for another moment before he paused and shifted into his human disguise. Tav knew well that it was done for her own comfort; judging from the portraits decorating every enormous hall, Raphael adored his own cambion form the most dearly. But he was admittedly easier to relax around in human shape.

“You don’t have to do that,” she muttered, hating the illusion of safety more than the danger itself. Raphael merely smiled.

“I want you as my chosen.”

Tav stared in disbelief before she started to laugh. She couldn’t help it; Raphael had to know how little she liked him. There was just no way he thought she’d agree off the bat. As the thought occurred to her, so too did the sobering realization that Raphael did know…and that he must have already calculated his next steps.

“You’re getting a little too comfortable with that crown, aren’t you. If I refuse?” Her voice wavered slightly, gaze shifting from side to side. She saw the devils chatting quietly around them, standing with drinks or reclining in comfortable chairs. This room was darker, a little branch from the main hall. The devils glanced towards Raphael with interest, but otherwise left them undisturbed. Over the shoulder of an elegant cambion with long black hair, Tav saw a flash of white curls.

“I would expect nothing less,” said Raphael, eyes glowing as he paused to sip his drink. Blood or wine, Tav couldn’t tell from where she stood. “I hear they’ve been calling you the angel of Baldur’s Gate, in your plane. A shining, oath-sworn paladin, a half elf who will stand for the sacred and the just alike. It’s a little on the nose, my dear, but I know well who you are. Of course I didn’t think you’d come crawling to me for the sake of power.”

“Then what did you think I’d crawl for?” asked Tav sharply, regretting the question almost immediately. His smile didn’t budge, but she needed no indicators to understand how this devil operated; Raphael had indeed already put plenty of thought into that answer.

“I wondered that myself,” he affirmed, swirling his glass chalice as he looked her over. The slow drip of red against the sides revealed that it was warm blood. “You’re a bastion of justice and righteousness, free from the chains of fear. I’ve seen the depth of your oath, tempered against cowardice or pain. The easiest cracks in mortal minds are sealed and fired in yours, exceptionally so. I believe that there’s very little I could do to make you bend under your own free will.”

Raphael spoke with a level analysis that disgusted Tav. He had taken godlike power as the price for the world’s freedom, and she knew that he could kill her on a whim. He could break her mind, possess her more easily than a tadpole, force her to execute his will…and yet his nature was, as ever, to manipulate and torment. There was no reason anymore for him to bargain with her, excepting his own entertainment, which was in Tav’s opinion the most reprehensible part of this conversation.

“Why not just find somebody who wants to be your chosen?” she asked, her voice hard and angry. “There are many who would welcome the power willingly.“ sh*t, Astarion would probably be over the moon to be asked…but she wouldn’t throw her friend into his claws like that.

“Oh, I could offer countless reasons to justify my choice. It would be too easy to argue that anybody who desires that kind of power is undeserving of it. I could say that I find symbology in our relationship, which I suppose is somewhat true, to the extent that an immortal can appreciate any mortal. The next best answer is that your influence in the material plane makes you a worthy consideration for my plans down the line. And coupled with the opportunity to corrupt a paladin? Delicious.” He closed his eyes and smiled, savoring the thought. Tav glanced over her shoulder to see if her friends were anywhere nearby. To see how far away the door was. “But the truth?” His eyes opened, flashing from warm brown to frightening gold. “The world adores you, and I want to command that. I want to command you. I will break you, remake you in my service, and use you to execute my will. You’re a puzzle, and I love nothing more than sniffing out the right mechanics to crack your mind apart...it’s the devil in me, I’m afraid. Sure, I could dominate your body and mind right now, but where’s the fun in that?”

Tav stepped back, deeply alarmed by the escalation in his tone. Raphael still smiled brightly, as though he’d said nothing out of the ordinary. Her fingers twitched again for a sword that wasn’t there. She continued to step back slowly, putting space between her and Raphael as though it would stop him.

“This has been…an experience,” said Tav hesitantly. She didn’t dare look to see if her companions were close. “But I think I need some time to consider your proposal, and I can get back to you…soon. Very soon. I have to go now.”

“Oh my dear, don’t play the fool with me. You and I both know that you’re not going anywhere.”

Tav ran then, remembering the room with the mirrors. She’d picked out Baldur’s Gate before they had left the room, the tall, ornate portal in the back center of the room. If she could reach it in time, if she could find a place to hide from him, she could regroup and come up with a plan. She heard the scramble of Astarion and Shadowheart behind her, felt the crackle of Shadowheart’s protective magic as she prepared to defend her unarmed friends.

With a sharp crack, the room vanished around them…and was quickly followed by several more cracks as Tav and her companions ran headfirst into a wall.

They collapsed to the ground, moaning with pain, fireworks exploding behind closed eyes. Tav could only touch her forehead, wincing from the shock of impact. Somebody’s leg was draped over her chest, Astarion’s by the weight of it, and her own leg was twisted under Shadowheart’s limp body. This room was darker, void of the music and laughter from the main hall. It was silent here.

“That was a silly idea, little mouse,” said a light, playful voice. “Do you know where you are?” Almost silent.

“Let us go,” gasped Tav, forcing herself to her feet…and then between Raphael and her friends. “Let them go. I’ll stay if you let them go.” She threw her last card down. Raphael’s lip curled slightly.

“You’re not exactly in a position to bargain,” he said loftily. His arms crossed over his chest. “Your friends could prove highly useful in breaking you. And you’re staying regardless because I’ve decided that you will stay.” He had a point. Tav’s brow furrowed as she surrendered to the soft deal.

“I won’t try to escape,” she said in a low voice. The part that she didn’t tell them was that she planned to either wait for Gale and the others to save her, or find the crown and kill Raphael. There was no way she could let him live now. “If you let them go, I’ll stay here of my own will until you’re done with whatever you’re going to do to me.”

His eyebrows raised, impressed with Tav’s ingenuity. Raphael might have the power to keep her here against her will, but the devil in him still couldn’t resist the urge to subjugate her. And Octavia trapping herself by her own words was a potent mark of that subjugation.

“Alright, paladin. I’ll send your little friends home, and then you and I will come up with a plan.” He paused, and it wasn’t until he tilted his head towards them that she realized he was letting her say goodbye.

Tav turned, her heart pounding as she pulled Shadowheart and Astarion to their feet and into her arms. She held them tightly, resigning to the fate that had been inflicted upon her. She didn’t dare tell them that she’d sent a message to Gale, for fear of Raphael listening in; she’d have to trust that he would find his way to them, and until then she’d search for the Crown of Karsus.

“You don’t have to do this, we can stay and fight,” whispered Shadowheart, her voice quavering. Astarion scoffed, though his arms were tight around them both.

“With what? You might have a little arsenal of spells, but me and our dear Tav will be fist fighting the devil. In his own house. No, better to go now and regroup…no offense, darling.” He had the grace to not sound too relieved over his freedom.

“None taken, that’s why I offered,” Tav sniffed in response. She squeezed them one last time before reluctantly stepping back. “Don’t do anything crazy, please.”

With a snap of his fingers, Raphael sent them straight back to the material plane. And then they were alone, truly alone, in the dark room.

Tav turned to face him slowly, wondering what torment he planned to inflict on her. She breathed deeply, resigning herself to the inevitable pain. He eyed her in that cool, calculating manner again, but now with the collected ease of a predator, sure of his kill.

“Don’t worry, my friend. Your body and mind will of course remain intact. After all, I need my chosen to be able to think, fight, conduct vile acts in my name. No, I must find the source of your indomitable will, to corrupt it to mine.” His words frightened Tav more than any threat of physical pain. She knew that she could endure anything done to her body in the name of righteousness, but for him to reach into her soul was an experience she’d never had before. She tried to calm her nerves, reassuring herself that the devil would find no sin in her heart. As the thought occurred to her, Raphael’s eyes narrowed slightly, as though he could hear her thoughts. Can he?

His eyes flashed gold and he was there. Tav would have jumped, but he held her still with only his mind. Raphael hadn’t moved; he was like a statue across the room from her, his eyes turned down in contemplation, but she felt him rummaging in her mind as though he were flipping quickly through a book. She had felt others cast detect thought on her, done it herself even, but it had been nothing compared to this. Raphael made no attempt to hide his presence, rushing quickly and viciously through her thoughts and memories, searching for something specific.

She couldn’t follow his search, lacked the strength to throw him from her mind. Tav could only try to resist, keep her memories private as he pushed brusquely to the core of who she was. She couldn’t even pray that he didn’t notice her own plans and escape measures, because he would know them instantly.

Raphael blinked and he was gone from her mind. Tav shuddered, her body revolting as she tried to shed the feeling of his presence in her darkest, most intimate corners. How did I forget his power? Raphael had been in her mind once, though not like this. He’d woven through it as deftly as a tailor, shutting the tadpole out from her thoughts when he’d first propositioned her with a contract. She hadn’t even felt his presence, and he had exited her mind as silently and politely as he’d entered it.

“Yes, that’s about where I thought it would be,” he sighed. “Damnable mortal pride, it’s always the heel of every slavering paladin. Luckily, it’s also the perfect mechanism for corruption, and you of course have the faults and simplicity of any human.” Tag grit her teeth as he unintentionally slighted her half blood. She was sure that he hadn’t meant that as an insult, but it bothered her all the same.

With a snap of his fingers, a devil appeared beside him. She was tall, incredibly beautiful with short, dark hair, and golden eyes identical to Raphael’s. Something about her aura was incredibly alluring, and she filled the room with the smell of roses and smoke.

“Haarlep, I have to get back to the festivities before my guests start to worry. Take our friend here back to my room and come up with a good curse for her…make it entertaining, please. Something for pride, nothing too vicious. We have all the time in the worlds, and you know I’m a patient devil.” He turned to Haarlep and gave her a significant look. The woman smiled, her sharp teeth glimmering in the firelight, and seemed to melt towards him. He stepped back curtly. “Leave her intact, and no games. I’ll be back tonight.” She sulked as he left the room, without a second glance at Tav.

The devil sighed and turned her attention back to Tav. They sized each other up, Haarlep’s eyes lighting as she looked the paladin over, Tav grimacing as she imagined what kind of curse this thing could inflict on her.

“Oh, you’re lovely,” said Haarlep appreciatively. She circled Tav slowly, taking in the lean, strong muscles of the mortal’s shoulders and body. “His usual clients aren’t half as pretty as you are, and what dark eyes! Why, if I didn’t know my master better, I’d say he’s just being indulgent.”

Tav didn’t know what she meant, but the shower of compliments was as unexpected as it was off putting. She frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. The devil smiled kindly, beckoning for Tav to follow as she opened the small room’s door. She could see that this was some kind of private sitting room, lit by a crackling fire and lined with shelves of books.

Haarlep led Tav from the sitting room, into a much larger, lavishly decorated bedroom. There was the bright sound of splashing water, and towering windows that framed the hot, sprawling landscape of the hells. Tremendous portraits of Raphael dominated the walls of this room, and she had the sinking feeling that she knew where she was.

She flinched when Haarlep turned to her, nervous for the punishment to follow. The devil had only been kind thus far, but she served Raphael. Her gold eyes glittered mischievously as she hummed in serious thought.

“Break your pride, keep the spirit, nothing vicious. Well, he gave you to me, so obviously there’s a certain…essence that he expects to be incorporated. Hm, and he said entertaining, too. What an interesting idea.”

“What do you mean by essence?” Tav asked nervously. Haarlep paused, smiling as though she’d let an inside joke slip. She shrugged and batted her eyelashes, a graceful motion that was as enticing as it was soothing. Why is she so-

Horror stuck Tav as she realized with a jolt that this wasn’t a devil. Haarlep was a succubus. She gasped, backing away from the dangerous creature.

Wait, wait wait wait,” stammered Tav, her hands flying up as she scanned the room for a weapon. “Absolutely not, hold on!” She didn’t know what kind of curse Raphael had in mind, but if he’d left her to the mercy of a succubus, it wasn’t anything that she was prepared to endure.

“Sorry,” said Haarlep, shrugging as she approached. Her hands raised, glowing her dark magic as she began to weave the curse. “Normally I can’t curse people without their consent, but Raphael lends me his power now. Don’t worry, this one isn’t too bad.”

Before Tav could say another word, the curse struck her, seizing her body wholly for a moment as it penetrated her skin, her bones, her mind. She felt the burning heat of it as it sank to her core, fixing to her soul irreparably. Tav’s hands flew to her chest, as though to pull the curse from herself. She tried to touch it with her own radiant magic, but it was too far down; all she could do was wait.

And she didn’t wait for long. Tav’s skin began to warm, though not to the same fiery burn as the curse had initially inflicted. She panted, her blood racing, sweat breaking over her skin, shaking from the anticipation of fire crawling into her veins. But it settled on warmth instead, filling her with a strange and growing restlessness.

“What did you do to me?” she breathed, shuddering from the sensation. She wrapped her arms around herself protectively, waiting for pain that never manifested. It was a mild discomfort at best…although the longer it built, the more it started to feel…good.

“Didn’t I tell you not to worry?” said Haarlep sweetly, taking Tav’s arm and leading her to the huge, beautifully made bed. She eased the paladin onto it, and the feeling of silk beneath her fingers was so good that it bordered on erotic. She resisted the urge to slide between the sheets. “I told you, it’s not too bad. Oh, I think he’s going to love this one!” Haarlep’s voice was tinged with pride. She lifted Tav’s head, replacing it in her own lap and running her fingers through her hair. Tav had never felt anything better in her life; she rubbed her arms, her legs together, reveling in her own soft skin. “It’s too bad I can’t play with you yet. I hope he lets me when he’s away.”

“What is this?” asked Tav again, disturbed by how good her body felt. She felt her cheeks flush as the sensation intensified with Haarlep’s gentle petting. She wanted to get up, to find a weapon, but was loathe to leave the bed. Still, she forced herself to at least sit up and away from the succubus.

“I won’t spoil the surprise for either of you,” Haarlep said brightly. “You can stay in here, I’m going back to the party! Don’t break anything please, unless you’d like to get in trouble. I’d love to watch that, but I don’t think you would enjoy it half so much as I would.”

Haarlep disappeared with the same warping sound that Raphael always made when he popped in and out of her plane, and Tav was suddenly alone.

She looked around, scanning the room for any weapons. The warm tingle still moved beneath her skin, but she forced herself to focus attention on the immediate problem; she was trapped, somewhere that she didn’t recognize, and unarmed. Tav pushed herself up from the bed, wondering how much time she had to prepare herself for the inevitable encounter with Raphael. Is it worth getting ready for a fight? From their conversation, it hadn’t sounded as though he wanted to kill her. Attempting an ambush without the support of a team felt suicidal at best; at worst, he might decide she wasn’t worth the work, and demote her to a slow, torturous death.

No, picking a fight now couldn’t be productive. But she could start to look for clues towards the crown’s location; while she was certain that he wouldn’t leave it somewhere she could stumble across, there could be something in his notes or journals to point her towards its location or use. So she started to sift through the neat stacks of papers on the desks, trying hard to ignore the squirming feeling in her stomach as she scanned thick folders.

There was nothing of significance that she could find; no contracts, secret files, maps of the house. He must have an office of some kind, where he keeps private documents. She inspected the opaque door, touching it without much hope; it was firm and hot against her fingers, some kind of magical barrier that she had no authorization to alter. Despite her increasingly shaking legs, she didn't dare return to the bed, for fear she would lose her opportunity to snoop.

And she didn't have too much longer, judging by the growing darkness through the windows. So, after a discreet and thorough search of the room for anything useful, she started to conduct another for any kind of weapon she could use to protect herself with. Despite her reservations about the consequences she may face from arming herself, she couldn't stand to let herself be helpless here.

Her concerns were fruitless anyways. There were no weapons here, not even decorative swords or axes, nothing hidden or mounted on walls. She remembered seeing some in the ballroom, but the boudoir was decorated only with silks, heavy furniture, and towering portraits of Raphael, which seemed to smirk down at her as she hunted. Tav was tempted to tear them down, but it served no purpose to anger Raphael before she going garner more information about what he planned to do to her.

Voices started to echo outside of the barrier, and Tav hurriedly snatched a small, sharp knife that was poised inconspicuously next to a small cheese platter. It was nothing compared to her enchanted greatsword, but it felt better than being totally unarmed. She concealed it behind herself as the barrier shimmered, and then dropped.

_________________________________________

Tav held the knife behind her back, still warring with the knowledge that it wouldn’t help her. Still, her instincts demanded that she defend herself, and it made her feel better to have a weapon…even a small one like this.

Raphael glanced towards her, his eyebrow lifting as he took in her somewhat awkward stance. Tav scowled back at him, waves of heat still washing over her skin, her knees weak from the onslaught of sensation. It seemed to be intensifying, her blood rushing, heartbeat pounding in her ears. Haarlep entered the boudoir behind him, waving brightly at Tav before walking towards her.

“Don’t stab my incubus,” said Raphael sternly. Tav jumped, and Haarlep froze where she stood. “You won’t be able to kill them with that anyways.” Incubus…then their usual form must be male. Tav reluctantly set the knife on a low table.

“I wasn’t going to stab them,” she said resentfully. “That was for you.” Raphael only smiled in response, loosening the collar of his fitted suit. He walked towards her, mild interest lighting his brown eyes. He had resumed his human form for her…for whatever reason, Tav couldn’t understand. As he walked closer to her, the heat intensified, until Tav’s skin was crawling with goosebumps. She stumbled back a step, her knees almost giving out on his approach; she had to catch herself on the table before she hit the floor. Raphael paused then, studying her reaction closely.

“What is it?” He directed the question towards Haarlep, who looked criminally delighted. The incubus giggled.

“Go on, master,” they encouraged him. “Touch her.” Raphael blinked once before stepping up to Tav, his hand faster than her instinctive retreat. He grabbed her arm firmly, and she couldn’t strangle the sound that clawed out of her throat. Her knees did give then, and to her horror she nearly collapsed from the sheer, forceful pleasure that washed through her entire body. Raphael quickly caught her with both hands now, doubling the sensation that had her eyes rolling back into her head, her legs shaking like a fawn’s. His mouth popped open in surprise for the first time.

“I put her on edge,” laughed Haarlep with joy. “She’s attuned to you, but you have full control over it, master. Is that what you wanted?”

Raphael didn’t release her arms, instead drinking in Tav’s expression as she struggled to force her body to obey her. Her hands were clenched in the thick cloth of his jacket, and she desperately wanted to throw him across the room, but it was all she could do to stay upright.

“Exquisite work,” he said approvingly, examining Tav’s flushed face. “Very creative. Yes, I think I can work with this.”

f*ck you,” snarled Tav, mustering the will to spit in Raphael’s face. His eyes flashed gold for a moment, and for the first time Tav was truly afraid. She crushed the sick feeling quickly, but his cool, calculating expression was enough for her to know that he felt it too.

“I think that’s enough for today,” he said, sneering down at her. He broke into an unexpected, and terrifying, smile. “Haarlep, to bed. You, my dear Octavia, have a well earned rest ahead of you.”

Before she could say a word, he released her arms and snapped.

Tav blinked, and she was alone in a room.

Chapter 2: On Edge

Chapter Text

The tightness in her shoulders relaxed somewhat as she took in her surroundings. It was a small room, warm and furnished, a crackling fire burning merrily in a corner hearth. Bottles of fine wine lined the shelves alongside books, and a cauldron of soup bubbled and filled the room with the smell of stewed meat and vegetables. There was a bed, small but layered in thick blankets and pillows. Through an arch she could see a pretty bathroom with a large, inlaid tub. There was nothing outwardly threatening about it; to the contrary, it emitted a natural, welcoming aura.

It would have been a lovely place if not for the total lack of doors. Several windows lined one wall, showcasing a sprawling view of the hells, but from the shine of magically reinforced steel and glass she knew there was little chance of breaking through them, even if she had been armed. And on the wall perpendicular to the windows loomed a massive portrait of Raphael, sneering down on the room’s occupant with an expression of mixed superiority and mirth. Tav scoffed. Accursed narcissist. She felt the warmth still simmering beneath her skin, but it was markedly less severe; this room must be kept somewhere in the bowels of his house, far from him and the public rooms.

She checked for weapons, but even the knife she had been holding was gone. There was a small, modest wardrobe of assorted tunics and gowns, but very little else to look through. The first impression of the room might not be a prison cell, but beneath the comforts and amenities, it proved to indeed be her cage.

Tav was exhausted. She gazed through the windows, dismayed by the distant sound of screaming, the dark sky of Hell lighting occasionally with bursts of fire. Wyll and Karlach were here somewhere, apparently reenlisted by Zariel, and she could do nothing tonight besides pray that they lived long enough for her to find them. Or them to find me.

She lay in the bed after completing a thorough sweep, determining that there were no secret doors, traps, or stashes. She was unarmed, caught and imprisoned by an entity of such overwhelming power that Tav was privately unsure of even her friends’ collective ability to save her. Hopelessness threatened the underside of her mind, clawing up and forging roots for the first time. And there was no escape from consciousness for her this night either, because that restless heat swirled relentlessly over and through her. Tav moaned quietly, silky sheets dragging over her stimulated skin as she tossed and turned. She fought the sensation for as long as she could, until eventually her hands snaked down to the top of her thighs, shy and gentle on her own body.

Maybe I’ll be able to sleep if I do this, she thought to herself. He won’t know. She had the unpleasant suspicion that it wouldn’t be so easy, that Raphael would indeed know what she was doing somehow, but the indignance she felt at her own reservation was stronger than shame or embarrassment. This is my body, I have a right to it!

Tav’s fingers grazed her sex lightly, drawing a sigh from her as the heightened sensation sent instant ripples across her body. Eyes closed to focus the pleasure, Tav pursued the momentary reprieve from her worries and fears. Her breath grew heavy, body tightening as her fingers worked quickly; at first, the curse seemed to speed things along. She was nearing climax within only seconds, her toes curling, tendons in her legs flexing, back arching against the mattress. She moaned quietly as her inner muscles quivered, signaling her org*sm’s imminent approach…

And there it remained.

Tav’s moan turned into an angry growl, her body shaking as she chased endlessly. Every second it seemed to be right about to take her, every moment felt like the heartbeat before an earth shattering climax. On and on, her org*sm raced one step ahead of her fingers; Tav didn’t know how long she pursued, but her hands eventually started to seize and cramp. She cried out in frustration, her voice echoing against the walls of the room, her body aching with need.

She was forced to stop, after what felt like hours. Her hands were tight and painful, her breath reduced to gasps of exhaustion rather than excitement. Her legs ached horribly. But worst of all, her body wouldn’t stop burning, even though she had given up on finding any kind of relief. She turned and bit into the pillow, snarling angrily into the silk, her hips shifting restlessly, uselessly, against the mattress.

“You have full control over it, master.”

Haalep’s words echoed in Tav’s mind, and she felt genuine despair as she realized what they had meant. How Raphael was going to break what he saw as the core of her principles: pride. He wasn’t going to torture her until she begged to sign a contract to him as a release from pain. He wanted her to want to serve him. And her pride would be broken with the only foothold of shame that he could find in her mind; a human desire that she could not subdue.

Tav felt tears begin to run as her body was wracked with pleasure.

_________________________________________

It had been one of the longest nights of Octavia's life. She couldn’t fight the curse, couldn’t earn a second of reprieve. She’d finally settled with lodging one of the pillows between her legs, grinding against it endlessly and without any real relief. It was mindless, and not truly satisfying, but a little better than lying in torment or wearing out her hands. By morning she was aching all over, chafed and exhausted from the total lack of sleep.

So she wasn’t exactly on her guard as Raphael manifested in the room, bringing the scent of fire and sulfur with him. He blinked as he took in her huddled form on the bed, buried beneath blankets. Tav glowered but didn’t move; she at least had the dignity of being covered, having long since discarded the evening gown. With proximity he brought an extremely unwelcome surprise, her blood racing despite her exhaustion. Tav made a sound between a groan and a growl, her legs twisting around the pillow as she fought uselessly against her urges.

“My, you look like you’ve had a long night,” said Raphael smugly. He was perfectly groomed and dressed, of course, not one dark hair out of place. Eyebrow raised, corner of his lip curling, Tav had never wanted to stab a person more in her entire life. “I hope you at least learned some humility, if not respect. Come with me, your punishment is over.” His voice was smooth, magnanimous. Tav’s eye twitched as she fought back the instant desire to punch his satisfied face. She had no intention of submitting to his will, but she’d never find the crown if she was stuck in this room until her mind broke alongside her body.

“Am I allowed to get dressed first?” Her voice was hoarse and dry, and she fought to relax the tired rage from her eyes. Raphael paused before turning, clearly considering it a benevolent gesture on his behalf, not a right to which she was entitled. Tav peeled herself from the sheets slowly, amazed that her body still somehow had the energy to feel. She pulled a tunic over her head, covering the sweat soaked sheets with a red blanket. The entire room must smell like sex, but Raphael didn’t comment on that. He waited until Tav approached him to turn back to her, surveying her choice of attire once before snapping his fingers.

With a crack she was standing in his boudoir again. They were alone this time, without even Haarlep, with the massive inlaid tub of hot water running beside them.

“Get in,” he said coolly. Tav stood very still, wondering what his plan was. Her body and mind felt weak and slow, though her resolve was as stony as it had ever been. She gave him a distrustful glare, and he sighed before turning around. “We’re going to talk about the terms of your contract, and there’s no purpose to you being too tired to listen. Get in.”

He reached up and started to unfasten the collar and cuffs of his own doublet, shrugging out of them. Tav gasped as she realized that he intended to join her, and for a moment her body grappled fiercely with her spirit. She didn’t want Raphael. I do want Raphael! The clashing of her spirit and her instincts was as fierce as it was outside of her control. Her teeth ground together as she untangled the curse from her conscious thoughts; in the meantime, Raphael had stripped down completely, wading into the deep pool of water. Tav forced herself not to look, despite her starving desire. His human form was beautiful, but she had to remember that it shielded a cambion beneath the skin.

She realized her mistake within moments. Since he had beaten her into the pool, he was now free to watch her undress at his leisure. Tav’s jaw tightened and she wondered how futile it would be to refuse. She saw the answer in Raphael’s eyes.

“I just put this on,” she grumbled, trying not to blush as she stripped the tunic off. She quickly slid into the hot water, her hands covering her chest. Relief flooded her after only seconds; it was a rejuvenation pool, and her sore, tight body finally relaxed, exhaustion leaching from her muscles. Even the curse was eased, though the embers of desire still burned low in her belly.

“I didn’t make you get dressed,” Raphael said loftily. His honey colored eyes were trained on her face, as though they weren’t nude in a rejuvenation pool together. Tav was already feeling better, her cramped hands and legs loosening, her chafed skin soothed. She was appreciative of the obvious peace offering…but at the same time, it cast a seed of worry in her mind. There are no limits to the possibilities of torment when you can heal your victim in mere seconds. Not for the first time, Tav felt haunted by the prospect of being indebted to Raphael, an eternity spent serving his darkest whims. The revulsion stirring in her mind was directly contrasted to the excitement of her body.

“Why this?” she burst in frustration. The question was vague, but she knew that he was well aware of what she meant. “Why not put me on the rack, or starve me? Why did you choose to torment me with something so…revolting?” Raphael paused for a moment to consider his reply. She knew that he’d brought her there to discuss a contract, but wasn’t prepared for the consequences of her inevitable rejection.

“Managing people is about results, my dear,” he said finally. “And nobody knows how to drive mortals quite like a devil. Pain and fear are sisters; to summon one is to call on the other, and together they only know how to cow. They may incite compliance, but never loyalty, commitment, or enthusiasm. Hunger of the body is similar, and overuse only turns it into another kind of pain. Pain, hunger, and fear are useless tools with regards to my plans for you.”

“You seek my loyalty, but plan to bind me with a contract anyways,” said Tav bitterly. “Why both?” Raphael smiled then, his teeth straight and white in human form. He was so normal in appearance that it disturbed her at times to remember what he truly was beneath tawny skin.

“Think of the contract as insurance,” he said smoothly. He snapped, and a scroll appeared beside him, hovering above the hot water. “The nature of the job is long, arduous, complex. And your soul, while lovely, is just not going to be enough to ensure that things get done the right way.”

“What’s the job?” Tav asked, hating that she was even entertaining the question. It had already occurred to her that Raphael was right; if not for the brutal night spent deadlocked in the throes of her own desire, she probably wouldn’t be in this pool in the first place. Even now the heat below her skin stirred, incited by Raphael’s presence, but whether from the pool or his own power over the curse, it left her relatively undisturbed. He smiled, catlike and satisfied, as though he knew she was watching the noose close around her own neck. “Not that I’m agreeing to do it.”

“I’ve told you what I want. You will be my chosen, through contract, brand, and name. I will lend you my powers on the mortal plane, and you will act in my stead while I rule the Nine Hells. When I am the Archdevil Supreme, which will be very soon, I will not have time to manage mortal affairs as I have done before.” His eyes strayed then, tracing her form beneath the water. “I may turn you, perhaps into a devil. Or perhaps a succubus, if you would prefer.” The sly offer raised the hair on her neck, but Tav knew better than to react emotionally. She knew that it was exactly what he wanted, to put her off balance. “But all of that is years ahead of us. For now, we should discuss the matter of what you want.”

“I want nothing from you,” said Tav immediately. She clenched her jaw, bracing herself for his anger, but Raphael only laughed.

“When I take your world, and I will, you will then be subject to whatever agreement you’ve decided with me here. You may kneel as my chosen or my slave, but you will one day kneel.” He spoke with cool confidence. “Now, you may not want the traditional offerings of silver and gold, glory, or power. But you may want your heroes crusading Avernus to be free from Zariel’s power, which is well within my abilities. You may want your vampling to live his eternal life in the sun. Power is a heavy mantle, but wouldn’t you love to save the refugees of Baldur’s Gate? Make the world into a place of peace, justice, order?”

Tav frowned.

“Since when did you care about those things? How would it serve to benefit you, giving me the power to bring peace to the world?” She couldn’t help asking more questions. Even though Tav had committed to turning him down, she had to admit that he had composed just the right kind of bait to lure her interest. And that on top of every dream she’d held in the private corners of her heart, the happiness and freedom of the people she loved…

“Because peace and war are sisters too,” he said quietly. “I need souls, Octavia. Who they are, what form they take, that will not matter anymore. We can both achieve the realities that we desire. Half of the world for you, half for me.”

Understanding struck her like a mountain of bricks. Raphael’s brand wasn’t symbolic, it was contractual. A spiritual pact that would give her the ability to mark followers, armies, enemies, send waves of the dead into his coffers as she stamped out the world’s evil in his name. She understood what he wanted now.

“I can’t,” she whispered. Her eyes closed as she imagined armies of innocents slain, the collateral damage that would churn out soul coins to fuel Raphael’s ever expanding conquest. Despite the tempting offers for her friends, she couldn’t imagine a life leading a conquest in Raphael’s name.

“I know,” he replied. He leaned back, arms stretching out to the sides of the pool. He looked neither angry nor surprised by her response, only mildly amused. “Not yet, at least. But that’s the beauty of the mortal spirit; break it, bend it, shape or grow, it’s the most malleable clay in existence, for the patient potter at least. And I am patient; I waited over a thousand years for this opportunity. I can wait for a few more to make sure that this job is done correctly. In the meantime, do let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to add to your contract, while it’s still open for alteration.”

He waved a hand, and the contract disappeared. As soon as it was gone, whatever he’d been doing to suppress her curse lifted too, and Tav felt her heart begin to pound. Her lips parted in a low moan of mingled desire and despair; the pool had rejuvenated her body and mind, but that only made her deeply apprehensive of how the following days would be spent. Years?? He said he’d wait years. How long would he subject me to this…and worse? She knew the answer to that. And it brought to mind Astarion’s enslavement, Cazador locking him in solitude, starving and alone for a year. It would be too easy for Raphael to do the same to her, for Tav to lose her mind.

“You did well today, much more obedient than before. I think that warrants a reward.” His voice lowered to a purr, though he didn’t move from across the pool. “Though the reward may depend on how you choose to express your gratitude for it.”

Tav’s teeth bared in a silent snarl. Am I desperate yet? It had only been a day…and the rejuvenation pool had restored some of her resiliency. She glowered at Raphael, unwilling to barter for leniency in whatever twisted idea he had for her. He analyzed the steel in her eyes before sighing.

“Alright, no hurry, my pet. This will be easier for you if you play along, but I didn’t truly expect less from my glittering champion. I won’t deny you rest today, but you’ll need to figure that out for yourself. I have other business to attend to; perhaps tomorrow you’ll be allowed to accompany Haarlep around the house.” The silent implication settled ominously around her. If she wanted to leave her room, and discreetly search for the Crown of Karsus, she’d need to convince him that she was growing compliant. The thought infuriated her, but there was nothing else for it besides to hope that her friends were coming up with a plan to kill the devil.

“When you come to take my world, I will be standing with an army to meet you.” Her defiant voice rang clear, her seal and surrender to whatever torment he’d planned for her next.

With a snap of his fingers, she was displaced back to her prison cell.

Raphael!” Her voice echoed uselessly against the enclosed walls of her room. She grabbed the nearest item, a small desk chair, and threw it viciously at the wall; it shattered into a satisfying pile of shards and legs, fine chestnut bits scattered across the floor. She let rage overwhelm her for the moment, grabbing the desk next and flipping it so violently that it cracked down the center as it hit the floor. It felt good to finally snap, unleash some of the endless energy churning just beneath her skin. She stood, quivering with heat and vitriol, the force of the curse churning in step to her fruitless anger. Tav breathed deeply, trying to settle both storms.

Stop and get it together. Find another way. She calmed herself, pacing to the windows to avoid thinking about her bed. She stared out at the Hells, her mind sprinting as she tried to log her dwindling options.

Her friends were coming for her, that much must be true. She had to continue to resist signing a contract with Raphael, whatever he put her through, whatever temptations he offered…but the stronger her resistance, the more likely he was to attempt to dominate her mind. Could she offer breadcrumbs? His goal was to break her pride, remake her oath into one of conquest. Tav wanted to find out where he stowed the crown, seek out any opportunity to steal, break, or recover it. Perhaps she could trick him into believing that she was wavering, at least enough to afford her access to other parts of his house. He had implied that, at least.

He had implied that. Could he know that she would come up with a plan like this?

Tav groaned, her arms curling around herself as she fought against her body. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in her sheets, satisfy herself and sleep the day away. What a perfectly despicable way to keep me from focusing on a plan. Her stomach ached too; she was hungrier than she’d realized, noticing that it was difficult to monitor her other needs when one reigned supreme.

Remembering the stew, Tav welcomed the distraction. She ladled herself a big bowl, accompanied by a goblet of wine at the small fireside table. She paused only briefly to wonder if anything could be laced. What would he bother to do to me secretly, that he couldn’t have already done? Unable to think of an answer, she tasted the broth and was pleasantly surprised by the rich, hot flavor. The wine, too, was of excellent vintage. She ate and drank her fill, nervous about forgetting to keep her body nourished here.

She thought about the other cells that must be near. Guilt gnawed at her, knowing that this was probably the most velvet captivity that Raphael could think of for her.

Not that it’s done out of kindness, she thought to herself sourly. If he thought that pain would get him the appropriate response, Raphael wouldn’t even hesitate to skin her alive. Hells, if he got bored he might decide to try that anyways. Tav wasn’t afraid of pain, but the thought of being at his mercy on a torture rack was at the very bottom of places she’d prefer to end up. And most of his contracts end somewhere around there.

It was the definition of a hard place to be. For now she drained her wine, wondering grimly when the day would come for her will to be tested against the bite of his knife.

She felt warm at the thought, an unwilling draw to the thought of being helpless under Raphael’s power. Being tied down, unable to stop him from doing what he wanted to her body. Tav groaned, wishing again that she had the magic to lift the curse from herself. Perhaps Gale could, when they found her. But for now, it was tightening its grip on her mind, distracting her from thoughts of escaping. She knew that the bed was behind her, but the moment she surrendered, she’d be stuck there, tormenting herself until he came for her again. Who knows how long it’ll be before he comes back? I could be trapped here for days…weeks…months!? Tav wondered if she could die in the Hells. If he would even let me die here. For the first time, she allowed herself to be begrudgingly impressed by Haarlep’s curse. Raphael didn’t even have to be here, for her to undergo nearly every stage of bargaining and despair.

The psychological game was clear: the torment was the worst when she was isolated, and Raphael served as the sole agent of relief from her suffering. It was so obvious that she had to be insulted by how airtight his plan was. Even knowing how it was meant to work, she still couldn’t help fixating on him.

Tav snagged a book and took it with her to the low sofa, hoping for further distraction from her aching body. She wanted to rub her thighs together, lose herself in the fantasy of being tied down for him, but was loathe to surrender to such a vile idea. It had to be a bad sign, that the curse was pushing her towards such a specific image. Was that even the curse’s doing? Tav had never fantasized about Raphael before, so she had to assume it was.

It pressed to the front of her mind as she opened the book, half afraid that it would be a romance novel. To her relief, it was some kind of manual on groundskeeping. She flipped through the introduction before realizing why this book was here; it was probably the most boring thing she had ever opened. Diagrams of leveling gardens, benefits of different fence shapes, and caulking instructions filled chapter after chapter, with three chapters dedicated to the composition of bricks. Within only minutes, she found her mind wandering again to thoughts of a different, perhaps better form of torment. Godsdamn you, Raphael.

Her hand was wandering errant along her thighs, and though she wanted to stop, the blazing fire trailing her fingertips was just too persuasive. Pleasure beyond anything she’d experienced in the mortal world. Tav’s eyes rolled back, her lips parting in a soft moan, though she forced down the sensual image of herself on a rack, exposed to Raphael’s touch. She tried to summon another thought, a secret one that she’d never shared nor indulged in before. Gale, his dark eyes, his complex heart, the gentle hands of a scholar on her body.

Tav sighed, bit her lips, let the warmth of the thought overwhelm her mind. The fantasy was as sweet and soft as the man himself, shielding her temporarily from the plague of her curse. She followed the path of that river for a while, enjoying the memory of his company as much as she reveled in the thought of his touch.

Her distraction entertained her for a while, but eventually she reached the point of frustration. Spiraling endlessly towards climax, she found herself yet again unable to reach it, again trapped in the frustrating pursuit. She tried to force herself past it, hoping that her willpower would be enough to break through the borders of the curse, but for every inch she gained another was generated ahead. She felt tears again, felt her muscles quiver and ache. Desperate for release, she even tried to recall the fantasy of Raphael, but not even that could spur her closer. He’d told her that she would be allowed to rest; had that been a lie? You’ll need to figure that out for yourself.

Gasping for breath and moments from stopping, her eyes opened and unexpectedly, from the opposite wall, she met the smug gaze of the massive painting of Raphael that overlooked her room.

She exploded into org*sm, her body writhing as she screamed in shock and insane release. Tav twisted so hard that she fell from the couch, losing even the control of touching herself. Fire and white hot pleasure washed over her in waves, dragging her through the most intense climax of her entire life, after a night and a day of edging herself. Her vision blurred and faded, leaving her nearly blind on the floor, moaning as the gripping tide finally receded from her. To her utmost relief, the curse seemed to retreat from her entirely, leaving her feeling blissfully sated, if exhausted.

But it was a feeling she didn’t revel in for long. Angry shame followed quickly on its heels. I just came…from looking at Raphael’s f*cking face. The bastard. There was no question of intention; she knew that he must be absolutely tickled over the thought of setting that little trigger for her. The worst part of it was when he saw her again, he would know exactly how she had found reprieve.

Still, she had bought some time. It wasn’t a question of if, but rather when the curse would return to her. In the meantime, a bath and some sleep would do much for her body and soul. Tav scraped her dignity together, picked herself up off of the floor, and prayed that Raphael at least didn’t yet know what had happened. She filled the tub, trying not to think too hard about what had happened. Her legs were still shaking from the intensity, threatening to dump her on the floor if she didn’t get in the tub very soon.

When she slid into the hot water, Tav finally felt in control of herself.

_________________________________________

“Let me get this straight. Raphael is about to be crowned Archdevil Supreme, he invited you to his celebration of, I’ll remind you, his father Mephistopheles’ retirement, you all went to it, and now Octavia is trapped in the Hells.”

Gale’s angry words were hissed between clenched teeth. Shadowheart and Astarion were seated at her dining table, Gale having finally arrived in Baldur’s Gate. They had refrained from alerting all of their allies, knowing that many would overreact to the news and launch immediate attacks on the House of Hope.

“I mean, does it make it better that he tricked us?” Astarion asked, unfazed in the face of Gale’s irritation. “It was Tav’s idea in the first place.”

“Let’s not pretend that we wouldn’t be sitting around this table planning your rescue if she hadn’t taken the bait,” Gale shot back at him. “This is exactly the kind of debauchery that you would be indulging in of your own volition, never mind Mizora’s trap. So I guess we’d be doing this anyways, which makes it…somewhat better, I suppose.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, do we know what he wanted with her?”

“It was hard to get close enough to listen,” said Astarion more seriously. “But I think he said he wants her as his chosen.” They exchanged significant glances. If Raphael was looking for a chosen, that meant that several new developments had occurred. Firstly, he had achieved near godhood, second, that he was nearing completion of his takeover of the Hells, and third, he was setting his sights on the mortal plane.

“Then this may be more than just a rescue mission,” said Gale gravely. “We need to get ready for a fight.”

“I’m sure she knows,” Shadowheart said, her brow furrowing. “She has to have realized that we’ll need to destroy the crown before we face Raphael. I’m sure that Tav will be trying to find it…let’s hope she has a lead by the time we get in there.”

“I’ve never been to the Hells, besides Raphael’s house,” said Gale, deep in thought. “I don’t know to what extent he can be tricked or deceived. Most likely he’s not interested in forging new contracts himself anymore, so we’ve lost the ability to lure him out. I think we need to find our contacts in Hell, before making a move on the house.”

“And Tav?” Shadowheart asked softly. Gale frowned. “We can’t leave her there.”

“She’ll have to hold on for a little longer,” he replied bitterly. “And hopefully she uses the time to get us a lead on the crown, because we need all of the intelligence we can get once we’re there.”

“What are the chances of all of us surviving this?” Astarion asked quietly. Gale and Shadowheart paused. “Wouldn’t it be better if, I don’t know, she just took the deal?”

How can you even suggest that?” snarled Gale, rage flashing in his eyes. “You saw what it turned him into! You saw what happened from our last deal, and you still think that he can be trusted!?” Astarion scowled, rising to his feet at Gale’s tone.

“Yes, I do, actually,” Astarion snapped. His usually light demeanor shifted, revealing the cool and calculating vampire beneath. “Did he lie to us? He fulfilled the terms of our contract, Gale. Lae’zel is flying around in the astral plane, leading the Gith to freedom as we speak. What do you think she would say about the contract?”

He kidnapped Octavia!” Gale roared, his temper breaking at last. He drew close to Astarion, teeth bared in his fury. Shadowheart stood then, her hands raised protectively. Gale, seeing her movement, forced himself to step back. Astarion had a dangerous glimmer in his scarlet eyes. “I know you like the bastard. That doesn’t make him not a bastard. We are not leaving this to chance.” He spit the words venomously. Astarion scowled.

“I will come with you for her sake. But if she’s signed a contract, if she’s fine, then I am leaving.” Astarion had grown confident in his time away from them. Shadowheart stood poised between the two men, her expression hard and guarded. They sized each other up before the tension finally eased.

“Fine by me,” said Gale curtly. “But you and I both know Tav. She would never sign another contract to Raphael.”

“She might,” admitted Shadowheart reluctantly. Both Gale and Astarion stared at her, and she expounded. “She would do it for the greater good. That’s who she is…she’s good.”

“What good could a devil like Raphael ever offer her?” Gale’s question hung unanswered in the air.

_________________________________________

Tav woke with a start. She remembered falling asleep, the cries of her body finally silent, the warmth of her bed engulfing her with the kind of welcome that only her corner of this prison could offer. And she had slept more deeply than she could remember.

Not knowing what had awakened her, Tav sat up in the bed. Her room was quiet and dark, only the embers of her fireplace casting fragments of light across the walls. She waited, her breath tight in her throat as she listened and watched.

It didn’t take long. Gold eyes flashed from across the room, slow and predatory as they approached. Tav’s fingers tightened in her blankets, knowing immediately who stalked her.

“I see you found my gift,” said Raphael in a husky voice. “It won’t be so easy to use the next time you need it. Every time, he’ll ask for more.”

He? Tav blinked, feeling something off about the encounter. Raphael was staring at her with an unusual hunger, uncharacteristic for his usually schooled expressions.

“He…the portrait?” Tav asked, more confused about the devil than embarrassed about the conversation. Raphael laughed, slinking towards her.

“I forget you haven’t met me like this,” he murmured, his body finally highlighted in the dim light. Tav froze when she saw the tight, black leather harness that he was wearing. What the f*ck? “Don’t you recognize me, darling?”

“…Haarlep?” She’d never met them in male form, but it did occur to her that Raphael had called them an incubus, a type of devilish shapeshifter. Raphael, Haarlep, grinned, moving closer to her bed. She quailed as they slid onto the covers beside her.

“Clever girl. Yes, I am often glamoured to look like our master, Raphael. Do you like it?” They brushed a clawed hand down their body, emphasizing the strong lines, hard muscles, and long wings. Tav grimaced, conflicted. Haarlep instilled no malicious sentiment, despite the curse they had inflicted on Tav. But to flaunt Raphael’s cambion form like this appalled her.

“It’s…Raphael,” said Tav helplessly. “Why are you here?” She didn’t resent the company, as much as she hated to admit it. But she still couldn’t help wondering why the incubus had taken an interest in her that night. Haarlep stretched out beside her on the bed.

“Do you want me to go?” Their voice was smooth, seductive, and confident. Haarlep turned towards her, a smile curved on their lips. Tav didn’t reply, but she didn’t need to; the need for company was blatant. “Raphael said I could visit, with some stipulations of course. Would you like to know what they are?”

“Do I?” Tav asked, her eyes wide. Her fingers tightened in the blanket. She could see the towering portrait of Raphael from the corner of her eye, though she fought not to look at it. Haarlep laughed, like they had noticed the imperceptible movement.

“Maybe not,” they chuckled. “Certainly you might enjoy it more if you hadn’t already indulged. But I can play innocent games too, you know.”

“Can you take me out of this room?” Tav asked, hopeful. Haarlep laughed and shook their head. “Can you tell me where I am, then?” Their head tilted, considering the question.

“Technically it’s the dungeon, but right at the top,” said Haarlep. “The good rooms. It gets worse the further down you go…even I’ve never been to the bottom. Obviously you’re here because you’re a good girl, you don’t need to go further down. It’s terrifying down there.” Haarlep’s lips curved in a playful smile, but Tav could hear the truth in their voice.

“How many layers are there in the dungeon?” Tav asked curiously. She couldn’t imagine what the cells at the bottom must be like.

“Nine, of course,” Haarlep replied. “But why do you want to talk about that? It’s boring. Let’s play together.”

Nine, like the layers of the Hells, Tav realized. She caught Haarlep’s disinterested body language, wondered whether they were a worthwhile ally in the House of Hope. Haarlep seemed to be interested in her, and lacked the aura of malice that Raphael constantly emitted. So, despite her own reservations, she returned their smile and prepared an olive branch.

“Okay…what do you want to do?” Haarlep’s eyes lit up, tail swishing with excitement. They crawled up the bed, and Tav fell back as she scrambled to put space between them.

“We can kiss a little,” Haarlep purred eagerly. “Pet a little more. Don’t worry darling, I know exactly. Where. The rules. Are.” Each word was punctuated with a kiss, tracing from her neck up to her forehead. Tav quivered, gasping at the sensation. Haarlep fluttered on top of her excitedly, wings stretching open to cover them both. The fire of her curse ignited in a hot blaze, but worse than that was how turned on she was by the fact that they had assumed Raphael’s form. She wanted to stop them, but her will was flagging under Haarlep’s practiced tongue. The incubus teased her expertly, hands running sensually along her body, lips grazing and plundering hers until she was gasping for breath.

“Haarlep,” she moaned breathlessly, pushing back on the incubus’s broad shoulders. “Stop, I’m going to-“ There was a horrific moment of realization when Haarlep laughed, and Tav knew exactly why the incubus was being allowed to visit her.

“It’s alright pet, you still can’t,” Haarlep whispered against her lips. Their hips pressed into hers tantalizingly, grinding her into the mattress. “So you don’t have to worry, you can’t get in trouble.” Haarlep growled, sharp teeth tugging at her lips as her eyes rolled back. Their hard body between her legs was both an anchor and a scourge, tormenting her with intoxicating pressure. “We can play all night.”

No,” she whimpered, her legs tightening around their hips even as she protested. Haarlep laughed, their throaty chuckle reverberating against her tongue. Tav hissed angrily, her fingers tightening on them as she grappled with her body for control. She wanted to throw them off of her, escape the incubus’s clutches, but she could only pull them closer into her. Haarlep’s hand stroked her face lovingly; it was shocking how genuinely the fiend seemed to like her.

“Darling, stop fighting it. You don’t have to suffer, just let go and surrender to pleasure, eternal. I’ll be right here.” Haarlep’s hand slid down her body, fingers lodging firmly inside of her as she fought. Tav cried out in ecstasy, her will crumbling, back arching. Haarlep licked her neck seductively, tongue hot and wet against her skin. Tav was trapped firmly beneath them. “I can play all night, my love.”

Tav shuddered; the only thing worse than an entire night alone with the curse had to be this. Haarlep had already brought her to edge again, reigniting the curse’s fire in her. She knew what she had to do to make it end, but this time there could be no accident. She’d have to choose to stare into Raphael’s eyes as she climaxed. Gods, she couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating…accepting subjugation from a portrait of her captor, while simultaneously being caressed and pleasured by an incubus glamoured as him, was more shameful than anything else she could be subjected to.

The cruel complexity of Raphael’s plan truly floored her sometimes.

“Is there -ah!- anything else that you want to, to do?” Tav panted, her mind spinning in torturous circles around her. Haarlep’s lips paused on her neck, though their fingers continued to pump inside of her. She was dizzy with need, and it was much harder to untangle from Haarlep than from herself. She couldn’t do it alone.

“Not really,” Haarlep mused, snagging her earlobe gently in their teeth. “This is delightful. My master said that I could keep you if the plan falls through…mm, I’d love a pretty pet like you. Wouldn’t you like that? Staying here with me, forever?” His golden eyes glowed, exact copies of Raphael’s, but with a warmth that had never quite touched the cambion.

Holy hells, that’s a threat from Raphael if I’ve ever heard one. Tav realized that Raphael studied her options long before she’d even suspected a trap. The possibility of an eternity here, trapped in Haarlep’s arms, loomed over her like that awful portrait.

“Ahh, ah, and what do you…do, here?” It was almost impossible for Tav to focus, but she forced the words through gasps and moans. She was starting to shake from the force of her ongoing denial, her mind sinking into the haze of lust that claimed her first night in the house.

“Whatever I want,” said Haarlep happily. “Within reason, of course. Eat the most decadent food, sleep in the most beautiful beds, visit the prisons to see if Raphael has any particularly lovely pets in stock. Oh love, I can take you to see the Nine Hells!” Haarlep’s pleasure at the thought was echoed in his thorough fingering, rhythmic and inexhaustible. Tav thought that “all night” had been a euphemism, and was disturbed to find that she’d been terribly wrong. Haarlep was a truly tireless fiend. The silver lining was that she didn’t have to worry about her hands cramping…the dark cloud was that she felt her sanity sliding downhill almost as fast as her physical endurance.

“I heard…h-heard…he…has…ah, gods! Ah, sacred plate mail!! Oh gods, Haarlep!” Tav’s voice was growing hoarse, her hands tight on their arms, legs tight on hips. Haarlep was finger f*cking her quickly, deftly, adoring her heated moans and unraveling mind. She could hardly piece together the sanity to remember the rumor of Raphael’s collection of powerful artifacts. Her opportunity to gather information was fading into oblivion for a far greater need. “I have to come, Haarlep!” She blushed fiercely, reluctant and ashamed to ask. The incubus smiled sadly, composed even in the throes of her passion.

“Oh my love, I’m not allowed to do that,” Haarlep laughed, kissing her with surprising gentleness. “But I can stay with you for as long as you need. And yes, tomorrow I can take you to the archives.” Their hands worked her over, despite their sweet words; Tav shook hard from the spiraling pleasure and pain, completely out of control of the situation. She looked up frantically at the portrait of Raphael, but to her horror it didn’t work this time; she continued to dance along the edge of org*sm, hopelessly squirming under Haarlep’s attentive hands.

There was no relief, no salvation, no end to the pleasure in sight. Her evening had only begun, and Haarlep gave no indications that they were going to leave; to the contrary, they gave all indications that she was about to endure the worst night of her life. Tav had neither the physical nor mental strength to force them off of her, and she knew that her mind would break under an eternity of this.

Without options or hope, Tav cried for the only deity that would listen anymore.

Raphael!

With a crack, the cambion appeared across the room.

Chapter 3: Tour of the House

Notes:

Thanks for the kind reviews!! This is just for funsies but I'm so glad that so many people are enjoying it. A little more plot here, please enjoy!
_________________________________________

Chapter Text

“Oh dear, what are you doing to our guest, Haarlep?”

Raphael took in the scene before him with amusem*nt. Tav’s hands were clenched tightly on Haarlep’s shoulders, frozen between her desire to push them off of her and the urge to pull them in. Haarlep slowed at the sound of their master’s voice, tail twitching catlike, equal parts impressed and resentful at the interruption.

“We’re only playing,” murmured Haarlep, tilting their head to cast a seductive glance towards Raphael. “Would you care to join us?” Oh gods. Tav hadn’t considered the possibility of her current situation getting worse. Raphael smiled serenely, clearly turning the idea over in his mind. Tav’s sweat turned cold; she couldn’t stop Haarlep, and certainly lacked the power to escape both of them.

“You said I’d rest,” Tav managed to gasp from under Haarlep. “This…isn’t…rest!” She was shining with sweat, stripped of clothing, and actively on the edge of org*sm, but there was no space for dignity anymore. She needed to get the incubus off of her. Jaw clenched tightly, she glared at Raphael with all of the ferocity that she could muster.

His lip curled in a half smile, more wicked than reassuring.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you’ve had a rather nice bath, and a very nice little sleep. How much more rest do you want?” He was clearly enjoying her predicament, dark eyes tracing the twisting, shining lines of her curves. Tav bared her teeth in a snarl. “This is the Hells, love. If you’re not suffering a little, are you even having fun?”

“Can I suffer a little less?” Tav grunted, her eyes watering from the exhausting stimulation. Haarlep’s fingers alone were overwhelming, still moving slowly, dragging her pleasure out with no sign of stopping. She was grateful that at least they had been forbidden from more than this; Tav knew without a doubt that Haarlep would be happily f*cking her right now if Raphael hadn’t provided them with rules.

Raphael considered the request before co*cking his head. Haarlep made a disappointed sound, reluctantly withdrawing from the bed; Tav groaned with mingled pain, relief, and frustration. Haarlep might be done, but her body still screamed for more. The incubus cast their master a baleful look before disappearing from the room with a puff of sulfurous smoke.

“How do I make it stop?” gasped Tav, clutching the sheets to her naked, sweat soaked body. Raphael’s eyebrow raised slightly, and she amended her question. “How else do I make it stop?” He smiled.

“Have you tried asking?”

Tav’s teeth snapped together audibly, hot anger rising in her throat. It was taking everything in her to keep her hands off of herself, even with Raphael standing in the room…she didn’t know how much longer she could hold out from surrendering her pride. The thought frightened her terribly. Raphael eased back into an armchair, pouring himself a silver goblet of wine.

“The portrait will only give you three, so you should consider how you want to use them,” said Raphael, sipping from the glass. His eyes glowed with malicious enjoyment of her struggle to maintain any kind of composure. Even now, Tav’s face and body were flushed, her gaze hardly focused as she fought the flaming grip of her curse. “And you’ve already spent one, it seems.”

“That’s not fair,” Tav gasped. She held the sheets around herself tightly, the thin shield providing her only defense from her own hands. “I didn’t use it on purpose!” Raphael shrugged.

“I can give you as many as you need,” he replied simply. Tav glared at him. “In good time, of course. You’re not quite where you’ll need to be for that yet…no hurry, my dear, take your time. No true masterpiece has ever been crafted in an instant.”

So, her immediate options had been whittled down to three; she could spend yet another night in private torment, she could expend one of only two remaining org*sms with the portrait, or she could bury her pride and start asking Raphael…which was both a plummeting slope into what was guaranteed to be worse trend of humiliating demands, as well as exactly what his goal had been from the beginning. Tav was locked so securely in Raphael’s trap that he didn’t even need to conceal the plan.

He didn’t rush her response, clearly enjoying the delicious blend of her mental and physical anguish, alongside the glass of fine red that he’d poured. The fire burned low beside his chair, casting rippling fragments of light across his fixed stare. His eyes caught the glow like an animal’s, a predator comfortable in its den.

How long do I have until my team comes to save me? If she accepted the curse, she wouldn’t sleep a wink…and by morning, she would be useless. Tav couldn’t be sure that Raphael would offer his rejuvenation pool to her again, and he’d promised to allow Haarlep to escort her, who had themself promised to take her to the archives. Her best bet for a level head was to expend a…portrait pass? But every tiny step, every sacrifice, every inch she lost to Raphael, led her closer and closer to the collapse of herself. What was more important, holding out for her team or gathering information, at the risk of expediting the possibility of her own defeat?

Either way, she didn’t need Raphael’s presence for her preferred options. Her lips opened to tell him to leave her room.

To her horror, she felt a pang of resistance, coming from deep within her own soul. Please stay. Tav’s voice stuck in her throat, lodged by her own shock. It hadn’t been the curse, the ever-present lust that flamed within. Her loneliness, her quiet fear, wanted him to stay with her. The seed of his efforts, obsession, had stretched its first root into Tav’s mind.

Get out,” she whispered, too stunned by her own feelings to bother with niceties. Raphael stood, his knowing smile graceful against handsome features. Instead of leaving, he stalked to the side of her bed. Tav’s entire body shook from the force of his presence, combined with the death grip she maintained over her own resistance to the curse. He reached for the sheet where she clutched it at her chest, tugged it away from her hands easily; she covered herself as he pulled it away from her. “No…”

“Oh, good girl. I’ll offer you a fourth choice, little pet,” Raphael said softly. He eased her back onto the plush pillows, taking advantage of her tenuous grasp over her own body. “You don’t even have to ask.”

Please,” Tav started, but she couldn’t finish the request. She desperately wanted to tell him to leave, but the moment he touched her bare knee, her legs slid apart. Tav’s eyes closed, either to focus on her collapsing will or to surrender it. She felt the bed give as Raphael knelt onto it, braced her body and mind for the assault.

The touch of his lips against her sex felt like searing lightning across her body. Tav gasped, her back arching, hands grasping at air; Raphael hadn’t touched her since the first time he had grabbed her arms, and she’d forgotten the powerful effect he incited within the curse. He kissed her there, so gently that the electricity morphed into waves of molten pleasure, slow and rippling in opposition to the intensity of Haarlep’s torture.

Tav couldn’t have pushed him even if she wanted to. Her hands tangled in Raphael’s dark hair, pulling him insistently closer as she drowned in beautiful sensation. Her eyelashes fluttered shut. This was different than either her hands or his incubus. Soft, slow, and satisfying in a way that neither had been before. She moaned in sweet ecstasy.

And true to his word, Raphael did not make her ask. As she neared org*sm, she knew that this would give her no pain, take nothing from her. She spiraled higher, her hips twisting under his practiced tongue, hands rising to stifle the scream that bubbled in her lungs. Unlike before, this climax was warm, natural, and a force of pure pleasure. Liquid heat spread through her body, seeping into her muscles as they quivered in delicious, delicious release.

Her vision blurred as she came down from the incredible high, legs wrapped tight around Raphael’s neck, hands tight in his hair. He waited patiently, sure that she was done before reaching up to disentangle himself. She didn’t know what he stood to gain from the act, but from the scorching look in his eyes, he was not yet above the draws and temptations of carnal bliss. He wiped his lips neatly with one hand, without breaking eye contact with Octavia.

“Why?” she panted, the only word that she could put together in her quickly sinking consciousness. Now that she’d found relief, Tav wanted nothing more than a long night of sleep. Raphael’s smirk should have alarmed her.

“I will always reward submission,” he said quietly. She was confused at first, trying to recall their conversation from before. Submission? I told him to get out. “You didn’t need to say it, I felt what you wanted to ask. But next time, you’re going to have to say it out loud.”

He stood, straightening his clothing before smiling down at her, hair still rakishly disheveled. Tav felt herself redden as she realized what he was talking about. He knew that you wanted him to stay. She closed her eyes in defeat, unwilling to accept the battle that she’d lost.

“Sweet dreams, my dear.”

He disappeared from her room with a crack and a flash of smoke. Tav curled into herself, shame breaking over where the curse had throttled her before. She was tired, too tired to reconcile her thoughts and actions. Tav held tightly to her oath, her commitment to rejecting the devil. Raphael might have the means to manipulate her, to wrestle small wins from her, but despite her curse she still had yet to consider his deal. And she had to believe that she would find the crown before she was dragged down that road.

Tav fell asleep, finally alone but sick with worry.

_________________________________________

“Can’t we just go there?”

Gale sighed, his brow furrowing in irritation. Concentration lost, he opened his eyes and looked up at the nosy vampire.

“It doesn’t work like that, Astarion.” He wasn’t angry with the elf anymore, but needed to devote his time and energy to finding a way to contact Karlach. “Making a gate to Avernus is one thing; navigating a plane where everything wants to kill you is quite another. Sending spells are our best bet, but I have also reached out to Mystra for her assistance. We’re not on the best terms, but she will not be pleased to hear about Raphael’s activity in the Hells. She may yet guide us.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Astarion’s question seemed generous, but Gale knew that the elf was mostly bored of waiting. He shook his head.

“Not unless you have a friendly demonic contact from the Hells,” said Gale dryly. He had sent messages to Karlach and Wyll, but it was of some concern that neither had answered him yet. If they couldn’t make contact, he may have to risk breaching the House of Hope without their assistance. Gale was tempted to reach out to Aylin, but wasn’t confident that the Aasimar wouldn’t barge through the front doors in her righteous anger. Getting the crown would take finesse, which the daughter of Selune didn’t have in spades.

Suddenly, an envelope appeared in a flash of fire. Gale jumped before catching the paper in one hand. He ripped it open, scanning the ink quickly. Astarion peeked over his shoulder.

“What is it?” He tried to make out the messy script. Gale sighed a breath of quick relief.

“It’s Karlach,” he burst joyously. “Get Shadowheart, we have a location.”

_________________________________________

Tav woke in relative peace, feeling the most refreshed and composed since she’d entered the House of Hope. Her head clearer with sleep, body refreshed with food, she noticed that the curse shackled to her had still not returned. So she stretched aching muscles, looked around to find a plate of fruit and cheese on the small dining table. Wondering when Haarlep would come to fetch her. Tav hopped from her bed, eager to wash away the previous day’s activities.

The last time she’d returned to her room, she noticed that the sheets had been changed out; someone was teleporting in and out of here while she was sleeping or gone, tending to the amenities and vanishing. Tav thought about that while she ran hot water; it certainly couldn’t be Haarlep, Korilla, or Raphael. The archdevil maintained a staff of debtors and imps, some of whom must be responsible for maintaining the prison rooms.

She hadn’t seen any since she’d arrived, although the only places she’d been allowed into were Raphael’s room and her own. Today would be different, though. Tav would be allowed to explore the House under Haarlep’s eye, who seemed just a touch less clever than their master. She hoped that the battle lost the night before would give her a leg up in the war; if she could get any information on the crown, it would be worth the dignity she had sacrificed.

Tav bathed quickly, feeling purified from Raphael’s touch the night before. One thing she had to commend in the Hells: the water was always hot. Scrubbing her body, her hair, and rinsing clean felt almost as good as the rejuvenation pool. Tav would have enjoyed spending the morning in her tub, but she wasn’t sure when the curse would come back, and she wanted to get some food in her stomach before it was too late.

Haarlep appeared when she was nearly done with the fruit provided for her breakfast. On their return, she felt the familiar simmer of the curse’s heat. Haarlep was in female form today, the dark haired figure that she recognized from Raphael's party. This time, she had the wherewithal to recognize that it was merely a gender transfigured version of Raphael himself.

“Why do you always look like Raphael?” she asked pointedly. Haarlep’s full, luscious lips curved in a smile.

“Because my master enjoys this form the most,” they said in a husky voice. “He only loves himself.” Yeah, that makes sense. Tav swallowed the last bite of her apple, already restless from overstimulation. She shivered, trying to dispel the discomfort.

“I’m ready when you are.”

Haarlep displaced them from the room with a crack of smoke and sulfur. Tav coughed, waving the fumes away from her face, and was surprised to see that they were in the main dining room, standing beside a table laden with food. Tav glanced at Haarlep before reaching for a roll of fresh bread.

“Take whatever you like, there’s plenty more.” Haarlep’s voice was easy and kind, enough to make Tav pause in suspicion. The incubus shifted their weight nervously, noticing her focused gaze. “It’s not poisoned. I just…I’m sorry for before. I was excited. Raphael said he would make you like…like me, and I so rarely meet others of my kind.”

That is a lot to unpack. Tav’s mouth dropped open. This wasn’t the first time she’d heard that Raphael planned to transform her, and it wasn’t welcome news. But she felt a pang of sympathy for Haarlep; the fiend seemed to be alone often, despite their perpetual hunger for company. She couldn’t help wanting to be kind to the incubus…a sentiment that had already stabbed her in the back more than once. But Haarlep was even more of a pet to Raphael than she was.

“It’s alright,” said Tav slowly. She bit into the bread as a show of faith. “Just don’t do that anymore please. This curse is hard enough to manage alone.” Despite her sentiment, it was somewhat easier to ignore outside of her rooms. There was more to see and do here, distractions that lessened its chokehold over her body. That being said, Haarlep was keeping a respectful distance, and Raphael was nowhere in sight, so she wasn’t in quite as terrible condition as the evening before.

The night before…ugh, I let him finish me. Tav fought the blush fiercely, rubbing her eyes with one hand. She’d been avoiding thinking about it, for more reasons than one. The shame itself was crippling, but what was worse was the thrill of erotic pleasure at the memory. I didn’t even try to fight back. I just opened my legs.

She flinched away from the memory, reluctant to relive it in Haarlep’s presence. The incubus might be on their best behavior right now, but there was no guarantee that a shift in her mood wouldn’t trigger another extensive, though (begrudgingly) enjoyable, encounter. A full day in bed with Haarlep sounded as heavenly as the Hells could get, but she would lose valuable time and freedom that she’d already sacrificed her dignity for. Haarlep smiled serenely at her, their eyes glowing with appreciation. They didn’t even try to hide their clear interest in her, and her own tenuous control wavered in instinctive response. Tav forced herself to swallow the bit of bread she’d snagged from the table before turning to her temporary custodian.

“The archives?” she asked directly. Haarlep nodded, leading the way from the massive dining room. Tav took in every detail that she could, committing the house layout to memory. The long hall from the dining area was studded with closed doors, including a few that she recognized from their infiltration mission; the kitchen through one, the portals further down. The archives were at the very end of the long, windowless hall.

Tav still hadn’t seen any debtors. She wasn’t sure if it was because they worked somewhere else in the house, or if Raphael had intentionally concealed them from her, but the emptiness of the great halls made her quite nervous. The only entities present were fiends, dressed in clean, professional serving attire. Even they presented human appearances, smiling politely at her as she passed them. The intention was most likely to put Tav at ease, but the effect was more disconcerting than comforting. All of them looked pleased to see her, but she was confused by their response to Haarlep. They seemed to be almost afraid of the bold incubus, who paid them very little attention in return.

They entered the archives, an enormous chamber with shelves and walls stacked with displays. Force shields shimmered around legendary items, and each carefully guarded piece was accompanied by a small plague at the base of its stand. Tav knew that she needed to find one specific item, but she was genuinely impressed by the size and scope of Raphael’s collection. Suits of armor, weapons spanning all makes and smiths, books that emitted powerful dark magic, even bits of clothing were encapsulated and categorized in this library of epic proportions. Gale would love this.

It wouldn’t hurt to browse. If anything, it would be less suspicious if she stopped to read a few labels before starting her search in earnest.

“Ah, the master’s special guest is finally out of her cage. And what a pretty leash.”

A handsome tiefling stood near the entrance of the archives. He had thick, curly hair, and a shadow of beard, his hands occupied with a stack of heavy books. He placed them carefully on a nearby display case and walked towards the pair. His eyes were intelligent, a lovely scarlet in color, and he accentuated them with the long, red robes of a mage.

“Octavia,” said Tav, shaking his hand. “Tav is fine.” The archivist smiled.

“Nephamor,” said the archivist. Despite his choice of benefactor, he presented a friendly face. “Welcome to the archives. I heard you might be interested in browsing Raphael’s extensive collection; is there anything in particular that you would like to see?” Beneath the kind smile was a shrewd intellect; his eyes gleaned knowingly. Tav schooled her own features very carefully.

“I’ve heard that he has angelic armor,” she remembered. “I’d love to see sacred relics, if I’m allowed.” Nephamor nodded, turning to wave towards a long aisle of shelves.

“Angelic artifacts are all down there, armor on the shelves and weapons on the back wall. Feel free to look around, I will be at the front if you need help finding anything else.” He bowed deeply, recovering his books and retreating to a small office tucked behind a long row of contracts.

One contract shone in the center, encapsulated forever in a bright shield. Tav felt a pang of apprehension, walking towards it with a dark feeling that she knew exactly what it was.

My most cherished client. One sentence was stamped into the golden plaque, and Tav slowly looked up to the floating scroll. There, in harsh black script, was her own signature. The wretched bit of paper that had sealed her fate five years before, launched Raphael into the seat of power over the Hells. She stared at it balefully; even if she could reach it, ripping it now wouldn’t solve the problem at hand. But she couldn’t help indulging in the thought, at least.

Haarlep followed her, visibly bored by the tour. Their gold eyes scanned the shelves with the familiarity of somebody who had seen everything many times before. Faced with relics of legend, Haarlep had only a yawn to offer. Tav had to laugh, though she hit it from them with her hand.

The angelic armaments were breathtaking, ancient and legendary metalwork that paladins spoke of in whispers. Tav stared longingly at the beautiful plate, engraved in gold with graceful, archaic runes. Perfect chain mail at the joints, delicate detailing in the breastplate, it was a true work of art, and so pristine that it was difficult to believe it had even been worn before. And next to it…

The matching greatsword was a masterpiece in and of itself. Tav admired the incredible design and balance of the blade, particularly the winged and jeweled handle. But she additionally wondered what would happen if she snatched it from the pedestal. The sheen of light that reflected around it warned of the protective barrier in place, the only thing dissuading her from arming herself right then and there. If I could somehow get this plate mail and sword, I could kill everybody in the archive. Maybe even Raphael. She imagined sweet victory over her captors, all of the fiends broken and bleeding on the floor. The angelic greatsword, truly a blasphemy to keep in a devil’s home, finally sated and avenged. As for Raphael…she would take his wings as a trophy, a warning to any other cambion who dared to tempt her next.

“Do you want to see the crown?”

Haarlep’s mischievous question jolted Tav out of her daydream. She blinked several times before snapping her neck to face the incubus.

What?? Why? Yes, but why?” Her attention entirely diverted, she tried to force her mind to catch up with her shock. “Why would you show me the crown? That can’t be allowed.”

“It’s right over there. I’m pretty sure if the master didn’t want you to see it, he wouldn’t have let me bring you here.” Haarlep pointed to the back of the archives, where she saw a gallery with a vaulted ceiling and towering shelves. Tav felt the red flags flying with Haarlep’s words. They were right…if Raphael didn’t want her to see it, he would never have let her.

She walked towards it anyways, wondering why Raphael would leave an item of such value on display. He must have some kind of enchantment connecting him to it, allowing him to exercise its power while safely stored in his house.

But why, why would it be right there in his archive?

There it was. Tav recognized it, even after years of space between now and the first time she saw it sitting on that wretched netherbrain. It had looked innocuous then, like any other crown, she supposed. It was elegant, sure, wickedly curved of a dark, dull metal. Like everything else, it was guarded with enchantments, but Tav was still surprised to see it just sitting openly in Raphael’s archives.

“Why would he leave it here?” she asked quietly, her fingers rising to touch the warm barrier. Next to the crown was a small golden plaque: The Crown of Karsus. There was an engraved plate beneath the crown, and she was sure that it must be pressurized…but that wasn’t a special protection either. She’d seen Astarion disassemble hundreds of them before, some within seconds.

“Well, the archive has more defenses than you’ve seen, especially since the master’s ascension. You wouldn’t be able to come in here without an escort. And equipped as you are right now, I’d be pretty impressed if you actually got past the protective barrier.” Haarlep’s blithe interest floored Tav. The most powerful item in every plane, sitting just a few feet away, and the incubus simply couldn’t be bothered to care. If I had my team here, we’d have that thing out by now. Tav studied the display case, the gallery, even the floor tiles, cementing every detail into her mind. She even paced the rest of the gallery, pretending to admire other pieces around the room, taking in every inch of the architecture for as long as seemed appropriate. Haarlep wasn’t watching her very closely, but Tav could see the archivist glancing in their direction from time to time.

Finally, after she had scribed every possible detail to living memory, Tav continued to wander the archive. She let her eyes breeze over other artifacts, even pausing to pretend she studied a few. But her mind was already spinning the threads of a plan, a fledgling concept crafted from the tools at her disposal.

Tav stopped at the archivist’s desk, smiling cheerfully at the tiefling.

“Do you have any books you’d recommend, that I’d be allowed to take with me?” she asked innocently. As predicted, Nephamor’s eyes lit up in excitement.

“We just received the most excellent edition of the Planecaller’s Codex, although, ah, I don’t believe that master Raphael would be pleased with me lending that to you. It’s beautiful, and a very rare tome; I’ve been looking for it for some time. But you may be interested in the Compendium of the Ancients, since you like the angelic armor so much. We’ve had that one for quite some time, it’s not so rare as the codex but it’s a wonderful log, plenty of historical background and even artistic depictions of lost armors.” His offer genuinely surprised Tav. Nephamor had been keeping an eye on her, sure, but she didn’t realize he had noticed how much time she’d spend admiring the legendary armor. Nephamor stood and pulled the thick book from a shelf behind him, handing it easily to Tav. “No need to sign anything out, I’ll remember where it is.”

“Thank you,” stammered Tav, staring down at the lovely, leather bound book. She felt a strange guilt lodging deep in her stomach; it had only been that morning she’d been imagining how she would kill him.

She suddenly wanted to know more about the archivist; who he was, where he had come from, why he served Raphael. What his intentions were, why he didn’t live in the mortal world like many of his kind. But Haarlep seemed to have expended their interest in the library, and was starting to ease towards the front doors.

“Come on, let’s do something interesting,” sighed Haarlep. “We can go to the kitchens, the garden, the tailor, the rejuvenation pool…or we can always go back to your room, if you want to play.” Haarlep’s voice had lowered to a purr, and Tav knew immediately that either of the last two options would mean fully surrendering the remainder of her afternoon to whatever Haarlep wanted to do to her.

Today had been her most tolerable day by far. The effects of the curse still shadowed her, but it had been much more manageable with the available distractions. Although she had a sneaking suspicion that her interest in the archivist hadn’t been wholly innocent; she had imagined the feeling of his beard against her lips more than once. The quiver in her body would very much like to go back to her room with Haarlep. In fact, it screamed at her to do just that. She’d done her job and found the crown, why not treat herself?

Because you’ll hate it!! Her sane mind howled, forcing back the primal desires. They grappled fiercely, while Haarlep watched her with a patient and sympathetic little smile.

“You know, being a succubus would be fun,” said Haarlep, taking her arm gently and leading her from the archive. They walked down the long hall, across the great dining room and into another wing of the massive house. “I think it’s similar to how you are now, but you get to enjoy yourself as much as you want. Control others’ enjoyment. It’s a kind of power that few will ever know themselves.”

“I won’t be a devil,” gasped Tav, her fingers tight on Haarlep’s arm. She forced her mind back to the present, trying to identify if Haarlep was leading her back to one of their respective rooms…but was surprised to see a clean, tidy workshop in the next room they entered together. Oh, the tailor. It was another tiefling, female, with a stern countenance and shining black hair tied back in a tight bun. She looked annoyed to see Haarlep, but lightened considerably as she surveyed Tav’s figure.

“Oh lovely, it’s so rare that I get to dress an athlete,” she said, her tone brighter than her expression. She summoned a small measuring tape with a snap, reaching up to measure Tav’s height. “And she’s tall! How wonderful! What took you so long to bring her to me, you gods forsaken parasite?”

Haarlep scowled, the loathing clear in their eyes. Tav didn’t know what had happened between them, but it was clear that Haarlep had only come to present Tav.

“She’s been here for just two days,” Haarlep said sullenly. “Master has only let her out today.”

“Two and a half days. And you could have taken me to her room, but I know you better than that, don’t I?” The tiefling paused in her chiding to turn to Tav. “My apologies, very rude of me. I am Descara, the tailor. I dress the finest fiends of the Hells, and have homes in all nine. Raphael asked for me to stay here for a tenday, and take care of your wardrobe. Please strip to undergarments, my dear.”

Tav was reluctant to strip in front of Haarlep, but did as she was told. The incubus watched with interest, keeping their distance as the tailor moved around Tav.

The tiefling worked quickly, jotting down each measurement neatly in a small notepad. Tav twitched as Descara’s fingertips brushed her skin, leaving a trail of fire wherever they moved. She saw Haarlep smirk out of the corner of her eye.

“Very beautiful lines. Tall ladies like you are wonderful to design for, plenty of sharp angles and accents that complement your form. It really lets me out of my creative bubble, working with someone of your build too. My, are you a knight? Paladin? Yes, I can tell, you can see it in your posture.” Descara chattered happily as she measured everything from the crown of Tav’s head to the length of her feet. Standing on the platform, every inch of her body being touched and assessed, was distracting in a very unproductive way. Tav swallowed, trying unsuccessfully to force the feeling away. Haarlep started to chuckle, earning a glare from the tailor.

“Are you almost done?” she breathed, blushing hard when she realized that the curse was starting to bear down on her, forcing itself past her willpower and sending the muscles in her entire lower body fluttering. Tav’s legs trembled almost imperceptibly. What could have-

“Putting on a show, are we?”

Oh. Raphael was home. Tav scowled, trying to hold still for Descara, but she had started to tremble intensely when Raphael walked in. To her utter humiliation, she felt a warm drop run down the inside of her thigh.

“Good afternoon Archdevil, I-“ Descara’s voice cut short as she noticed Tav shaking. She stared at the young woman for a moment before turning to glower at the devils beside her. “Oh great hells, what is this? I’ve asked you before sir, I prefer very much like to be invited to your sessions, rather than surprised. I cannot work under these conditions.” She rolled her tape up, snapping her notebook closed with a huff.

Raphael and Haarlep exchanged a quick look, and with a more subtle shift, Haarlep assumed the taller, broader form of their male counterpart. This form was wrapped in a finely tailored black suit, embroidered with red filament and with well made folds in the back for tremendous wings.

“Descara, come now, how about you and I take an evening dinner together, hm? We can stroll through the gardens after, Raphael ordered a mountain destroyed so we’d have a view of Styx. You must see it, my love.” Their arm wound around her waist, and Tav was surprised to see Descara blush deeply. From their first encounter, she had assumed that the tiefling despised Haarlep. “We’ll give you all the time you need to finish lovely Octavia’s measurements tomorrow.”

“You’re a real piece of work. And you could be a little taller.” Haarlep laughed before growing before her eyes. Raphael’s eyes flashed angrily for a moment, even in his human form. It wasn’t until Haarlep winked at Tav, escorting Descara from the room, that Tav realized what had just happened.

“Oh gods, no, wait!

Haarlep and Descara strolled out the door, leaving Tav alone with her personal tormentor. Standing on a platform. In her underwear. A warm finger slid into the waistband, snapping it cheekily on her hip.

“Very nice. And they match, you naughty thing.” Tav flushed darkly as she jumped down from the platform. She glared at Raphael, yanking her tunic on haphazardly. “Did you have a fun day? I heard Haarlep took you on a little tour. Are you hungry yet?” That was a loaded question if she’d ever heard one.

“No. Well…” Tav quailed. She wasn’t hungry, but she also didn’t necessarily want to go back to her room yet. Although she now had her gift from Nephamor. Her eyes flickered unconsciously to the book on Descara’s side table, and Raphael followed her gaze down.

“Ah, Compendium of the Ancients, an excellent choice. I suppose Nephamor recommended it?” His question was poised innocently, but she saw the subtle curl of his lip, a wrinkle on the side of his nose. Raphael was annoyed. Tav grabbed the book, before he could entertain any idea of taking it from her.

“We toured the archives,” she said defensively. “I asked for it.” Raphael’s eyes narrowed for only a fraction of a second before his features smoothed.

“And you’ll keep it. Give it to me, I’ll send it to your room.” He held out a hand expectantly. Tav paused for a moment before slowly handing it to him. He acknowledged the gesture of peace with a handsome smile, displacing it with a snap before holding out his arm. Tav took a break before snaking her arm through his, clenching her teeth at the intense grip of her curse. Raphael chuckled. “Apologies love, I forget.” With a wave of his hand the grip loosened, and she could breathe again. Tav would have been grateful if he wasn’t also the source of her suffering.

“Where are you taking me?” She was breathless, but more composed than before. Raphael patted her hand reassuringly.

“Not to the dungeon, and not to the boudoir. I have something much less sinister planned for you this evening, I’m afraid. Unless you’d like for me to pencil something else into the evening activities.” He smirked at her, eyebrows raised until she shook her head. “No, I thought not. Have no fear my pet, I have no intention of savaging you tonight.” Tav hated the suggestion almost as much as she hated the desire that surged at the image he’d conjured.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she said, to herself as much as it was to him. Raphael turned towards her sharply, and Tav stepped back on instinct. Her back slammed into the wall, heart pounding from the immediate urge to protect herself. Raphael didn’t touch her, merely stared down at her with mingled superiority and intention. The way his nose wrinkled at the bridge made her think of a snarling wolf.

“Why would you be?” he whispered, showing teeth rather than smiling. Tav wanted to push past him, but his face was so very close to hers; she was worried that if she touched him, her hands would pull him closer. Her jaw worked as she fought back, and from the way he drank in her subtly changing expressions, Raphael was not only aware of but enjoying her internal combat. He held her trapped at the wall for several more seconds before easing back. Air rushed into Tav’s lungs as though she had been suffocating. “We don’t have time for semantics, my dear. You have an appointment.”

“Like my tailor appointment?” Even holding onto his arm for dear life, Tav couldn’t resist the opportunity to be an asshole. Raphael laughed.

“Only if you want it to be, my dear.”

He opened the door to the great entrance hall, and Tav almost collapsed when she saw Karlach and Wyll standing by the enormous fire.

“Oh gods, oh gods!” She cried, dropping Raphael’s arm to run to them. They turned at the sound of her voice, eyes wide and confused. Tav fell into Karlach’s arms, tears overwhelming her as she broke down in terrible relief. “You’re alive! You’re both alive! And you’re real, you’re here!”

“Tav why are you here?” Karlach gasped, clutching her friend in confusion. “What is going on? Why are you in the House of Hope?”

“What are you talking about?” Tav twisted to wrap an arm around Wyll’s neck, tugging him close. “Why are you here?” She paused before turning back to Raphael.

He was leaning back against the table, looking as sly and satisfied as a cat. He shrugged.

“Consider it a vote of confidence.”

Raphael, you piece of-“

With a snap, the two disappeared. Tav cried out, her hand stretching towards the puff of smoke where her two friends had been standing. It was as sudden as an amputation; she hadn’t seen Karlach and Wyll in years, and to have them ripped away was like losing them all over again. Her heart ripped in her chest, crushing the space for any other feeling. She turned on Raphael, bearing down on him before grabbing him by the stupid, fancy collar of his doublet.

Where are they? What did you do to them?” The voice of the paladin was back. Tav’s hands were tight on his collar, though she resisted the urge to grab him by the neck…if only to hear what he had to say. “Why did you do that!?” Grief turned quickly to rage. Raphael looked surprised, though not nearly as afraid as she wanted to see him.

“They’re safe. Not here, of course, but also not in Zariel’s army. I cut her a deal for her prize gladiators…it’s a gift, for you.” It was clear that he had been expecting gratitude. Tav was so angry and heartbroken that she almost didn’t know how to respond to that. She released Raphael, turning to wipe the tears that ran down her face.

“Why did you take them away, then?” Her rage was collapsing back into grief, the shaking, volatile storm of it seizing her viciously. “Why didn’t you let them stay with me?”

Raphael actually paused to consider his words. He seemed to be reconsidering his course of action, unusual for an experienced cambion like him.

“They’re conditions for your contract. I will make them permanent residents when you sign…but until then, I have to make sure that they stay alive. You’ll see plenty of them if things go according to plan.” He spoke with some hesitation. Tav pressed a hand to her chest, trying to slow her pounding heart. She tried to focus on the relief of seeing them alive again.

“They’re people, Raphael,” she breathed, still upset. She turned to face him, her eyes shining with tears. “Please…take me back to my room.”

His face twitched with an emotion that she didn’t often see on him. Raphael grabbed her arm hard, displacing them to her room as he lifted her reprieve, shifting into his cambion form. Tav cried out, the muscles in her legs giving, and she would have hit the floor if he hadn’t maintained his hold on her.

Where do you think you are?” he hissed, pulling her close to his face. He was terrifically beautiful, wings spreading behind him in intimidating rage. Tav couldn’t reply, only moaned softly as she tried to stand. His free hand grabbed her by the collar and walked her to her bed, unceremoniously dumping her on it. He watched her twist on it with disdain, some of his chilly dignity recovered. “I enjoy your strong will. It will make a beautiful weapon when I’m done shaping it…but please try to remember that this is the Hells, my dear. You can always move down a level, if you’re unhappy with where you are now.”

“Then move me,” she snapped, wrapping into herself to keep from breaking in front of him, and tearing off her own clothes. “Move me down. Show me who you really are, what this place really is. Or are you going to keep pretending that I’m not a prisoner?”

Raphael scowled when she called his bluff, clearly not enjoying the deadlock. Tav knew he wouldn’t move her; to show her the true horrors of his house, of himself, would only serve to cement her already powerful resistance to his deal. Where he had her now, the push and pull logged in tiny victories, was far more effective in distracting her from the reality of what signing a losing contract with a devil really entailed.

“Your little friends will remain where they are until one of two things happens. You will either break in exactly the way I need you to, in which case they will return to the mortal world with you, or you fail, and they return to Zariel.” Tav’s eyes closed as she shouldered the fate of yet more of her dearest friends. “They are under my safekeeping for now. You may be a prisoner, but you are also a guest in my house.” His expression softened for a moment. “Call for me when you need me.”

With a crack, he was gone.

Chapter 4: Eight Hells Down

Notes:

Thank you all for the kind reviews!! Sorry this took so long, I've had a busy weekend. I hope you enjoy this chapter!

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(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Are you sure that you can get us to the right place?” Shadowheart’s voice quivered as she clenched tightly to her mace, the glowing light of lathander that had accompanied her for years. Gale sucked his teeth in mild irritation.

“Yes, of course it’ll be the right place. This gate will be tied to Wyll’s sending spell, it should bring us straight to the spot that it was sent from.” He finished the last touches on the enormous sigil on the floor. Astarion held the leather bag of sacred items, watching him work with silent rumination. The vampire spawn was likely just as nervous as Shadowheart about the plan, but hadn’t brought up his concerns since their last discussion.

“What if they’re not there?” Shadowheart might sound reluctant, but Gale knew that she would brave the furthest reaches of the hells for any of them. He tried to hold onto that as he cast dimension door, tying the spell to the guided path provided by their portal. A dark, yawning hole appeared before them, no indicators on its end destination immediately apparent. Shadowheart and Astarion stared at it in trepidation; Gale rolled up his sleeves, grabbing his quarterstaff and backpack with some confidence.

“Then they won’t be far. It’s only been a day since their message, wherever they have gone we will likely not be far behind.” Gale didn’t mention that it was entirely possible for either of them to have been displaced, as was the tendency for powerful devils operating across the many planes of the hells to do. But if Wyll’s message had implied what he thought it had, then they didn’t have to worry about their friends moving very far. He turned to Shadowheart and Astarion seriously. “I understand if either of you wants to stay behind; if you’re going to back out, now is the time. Once we’re in Avernus, it’s very unlikely that we’ll have an easy path back. It’s more likely that some…or all…of us may never leave again. Octavia has earned my friendship for the duration of our lives, however long or short that time may be. You two have only yourselves to contend with, I shall not force you to follow me into the hells.”

Shadowheart and Astarion were quiet for several seconds.

“Well gods, now that you’ve made it easy,” Astarion snarked, glowering at Gale as he stepped up to the portal. “Don’t make us feel like sh*t or anything, Gale.

Shadowheart laughed, and the mood lightened just like that. It was as though the years had never passed them by, and they were the same adventurers that had once been bound by fate. Gale smiled, relieved that the dour air around them had dissipated. He stepped first through the portal.

_________________________________________

For two days, Tav was alone.

The hours passed like days. Constant torment dominated her attention, and no matter how she tried to distract herself, Tav spent most of her time suffering in her bed. Resisting, indulging, very little truly mattered with regards to sating her seemingly inexhaustible body. She was desperate for sleep. She was probably starving, though that was more difficult to notice.

Tav didn’t know why she’d been forgotten. Haarlep had remarked on rescheduling with the tailor, but she hadn’t seen either of them since the fitting. Raphael…

At best, Raphael was upset with her. At worst, he had actually forgotten her in his dungeon. She tried to imagine an eternity of her ongoing torment, and was struck with deep empathy for her dear friend Astarion. I would eventually lose my mind.

It had occurred to Tav that she could relieve herself, but she was loath to use one of the last two passes that she had. Once she was done with those, it would be a slippery slope of dependency and obsession, and she’d be exactly where Raphael wanted her. And by the time her friends came to get her, it would be too late. Besides which, she still hadn’t forgiven him for pulling that stunt with Wyll and Karlach.

The worst part of it was that Tav had quickly realized that it became easy to notice when Raphael was home…which hadn’t been often. Still, the brief windows of his return often had her as good as incapacitated, moaning and delirious in the big bed. It was easier to manage when he was gone, but still Tav found herself hardly able to focus on the simplest things. The book she’d borrowed from the archivist had helped at first, but once she became tired enough, she’d succumbed to the awful whirlpool that held her trapped in endless cycles of torment and exhaustion.

It didn’t help to remember the sight of Raphael between her legs, his intelligent eyes trained on her, hands warm and tight on her hips. Tav grappled viciously with the memory, fighting to keep herself focused on the task at hand. She was sitting by the towering windows, eating toasted bits of bread with nibbles of cheese, watching the colors change in the sky. She had a book on the geography of the Hells propped up on her knees, and was trying to figure out which level she was on. From the landscape and the heat, she was pretty confident that it was either first or fourth, but there didn’t appear to be anything in her view that could confirm it.

It might be important to fuel her inevitable escape, but studying the geography of the hellscapes wasn’t exactly the most effective distraction. Tav found herself shifting in her armchair, her thoughts drifting back to the hours with Haarlep, pinned to her mattress.

Godsdamn it. Tav closed her eyes, struggled to restrain her body, but it seemed that Raphael had returned from whatever he had been doing…and she was about to be confined to the bed yet again.

Worse than the physical ache was the dread that has started to leech into her mind. She imagined eternity like this, mindless frustration without hope of an end. It didn’t discourage her body, merely hung daunting over her mind as she succumbed fruitlessly to the unending pleasure of herself.

“Hello pet! Do you want to go to a party?”

Tav yelped at the unexpected intrusion, jolting upright in her bed. Her tired eyes thought for a moment that it was Raphael, but the curved smile and relaxed posture indicated that it must be Haarlep. Besides, Raphael rarely appeared before her in cambion form, whereas Haarlep seemed to prefer it.

She fought to still her hands, but her fingers pressed insistently regardless; Tav had soon discovered that once she started touching herself, it took a powerful level of will and despair to stop. Haarlep watched hungrily, and half of her prayed that they wouldn’t succumb to the same temptation that had caused her to call on Raphael once already. The other half of her almost asked them for a hand herself.

“W-what party?” she panted instead, trying to settle for a bit of both. She continued to work herself up, thankfully under her sheets at least. Haarlep stalked closer, indecision warring on their rugged features. Gods, he looks just like Raphael. It was not helping her situation.

“Some fancy, boring thing with the archdevils, some important figures. Probably a little debauchery, a lot of business…I have to go, but I’d rather play with you.” Their tail lashed mischievously. “I can’t help your condition, but I can cast a glamour if you want to go with me. Make you look like a devil for a night.” Tav almost laughed.

“Haarlep, I can’t go like this,” she moaned, knowing that it would be much worse in the same room as Raphael. She was also nearly delirious from the lack of sleep. Haarlep bit their lips, visibly fighting back their own desire to join her on the bed. Tav was surprised to feel touched; she didn’t know that a fiend was capable of feeling sympathy.

“I can probably sneak you into the rejuvenation pool. It won’t fix everything but you’ll have a little more control, and feel better besides.” Haarlep stroked the sheets longingly, their wings spreading to block the lights behind them. Tav groaned, desperate to invite them to bed, even knowing how it would turn out. You could use the portrait…imagine how it would feel to org*sm with them inside of you. The thought was powerfully tempting, even as she knew she’d been resisting it for days.

“Won’t you get in trouble?” she asked, glad that her hands were too busy to reach for the beautiful incubus. Haarlep laughed then.

“Probably, but I don’t mind that as long as it’s for something sexy or fun. Besides, Raphael likes both of us too much to kill us.” Haarlep crawled onto the bed, their long, lean frame dwarfing even Tav’s taller body. She turned her face away, fighting the urge to surrender. “Come on, I have a dress that would be gorgeous on you. You’ll have a good time, and maybe you’ll even enjoy the punishment after.”

“Haarlep, I don’t want to get punished.” She could hear how pathetic it sounded, even as she said it, twisting helplessly in her bed.

“Sure, babe. Let’s go, we don’t have much time. Some of the guests are already in the foyer, and I’m supposed to be down there soon.” Tav glared at Haarlep until they sighed. “Alright, alright, let’s see…if you do this with me, I’ll make sure that you get a free one tonight. Deal?”

“Deal!” She didn’t need to even think about it. If it meant buying herself time to keep her sanity, she could take a little risk. And if that little risk pissed off Raphael, then even better.

Haarlep snapped, displacing both of them into the boudoir. Tav squeaked and covered herself with her hands; she’d been naked in her bed, having been taken by total surprise. But it was only the two of them there. The pool looked warm and inviting, and Tav did need something to relieve her body and mind before attempting to deceive a room full of devils.

She sighed as she eased into the water, warmed to her bones, the shuddering ache easing from her as she settled onto the comfortable ledge of the pool. Her head tipped back, eyes closing. The rejuvenating pool felt like a deep, beautiful sleep, hot water whirling around her soothingly. She didn’t know how luxuries like these were built, but she’d never seen magic like this in the material plane. Tav was so relaxed that she almost didn’t notice Haarlep getting things ready.

“Gold or black?”

“Hm?”

Gold or black, darling. We can’t have you in red, it will clash. I’m wearing black tonight, but I don’t mind matching!” The voice shifted mid-sentence to something light and lilted. Tav opened her eyes to see Haarlep in female form, their slinky body wrapped in a long, tight black dress, with slits well up the sides and a neckline that nearly reached their belly button. Tav’s mouth dropped open, to Haarlep‘s appreciation. “Oh stop, I know it’s good. Now you’re next, hurry up and dry off.”

“Why are you going in that form?” asked Tav, genuinely curious. Haarlep smiled slightly, handing her a thick towel as she stepped from the pool.

“Can’t have two Raphaels at the party. You think wearing the same dress is bad, you should see how angry he gets when I wear his form to social events.” Haarlep held each dress in front of Tav, studying the shape with an expert eye. “Besides, I prefer to dress up this body for public things. I don’t get near as much leniency when I dress as Raphael.”

“You were wearing a harness ten seconds ago.”

“You know what I mean, darling. Now come on, put the dress on.” Haarlep handed her the gold, waiting for her to step into it. Tav pulled it up and instantly knew that she couldn’t wear it. The gown wasn’t too short, fitted and ending around her knees, and the neckline was high. But the sides of the dress were connected with delicate silver chains from the hem to the shoulders, revealing a truly appalling amount of skin. She looked up into the huge mirror mounted on the wall, at her dripping hair and dark eyes. The lines of exhaustion were gone, but the deep settled glimmer of despair frightened her.

“Haarlep I can’t wear this.” Her hands rose to take off the dress, but before her eyes the woman in the mirror began to change. She saw Haarlep beside her, their eyes glowing, hand raised above her. Tav saw herself change from a frightened half elf into a wide-eyed devil, with short black hair and long, curved horns. Wings and a tail burst from her, not illusions, but fully prehensile. When Tav’s mouth opened in surprise, she saw the sharp rows of teeth. The glamour even included makeup, smoldering and dark to accentuate her intense features. Her instinctive response was anger…but it was quickly followed by a subtle appreciation. This form might be an ominous foreshadowing of how she may look if they changed her, but for tonight, she was somebody else.

“Ohhh, look how luscious you are!! What else do you want? Do you want to be a little shorter for a night? How is the hair, do you want something longer or styled? See, I picked the gold for your transfigured skin, you look delicious!” Lascivious excitement colored Haarlep’s eyes, accompanied by an air of mischief. Tav didn’t know how nervous she should be, but it was a little easier to think straight after the rejuvenation.

“Are you sure this isn’t a bad idea?” she asked tentatively. The glamour was pretty effective, but if Raphael suspected anything, he could force her to drop it in a moment…and he would probably not appreciate her interrupting his social events, if he had even Haarlep leashed for the affairs. Still, the thought of sneaking a free org*sm with Raphael’s incubus had her blushing to think about. And if Haarlep was willing to take the risk, it must be either low in threat or a very high reward.

“It’s going to be just fine, stop whinging. At best you’ll have a night out of your birdcage, at worst Raphael will do something terribly sexy to us. Where’s your sense of fun?” Gods, they would get along great with Astarion. She almost smiled to think about her vampire friend running wild in the House of Hope. “Hurry, let’s head to the foyer! You can sneak in with the guests, they’re already starting to make a crowd.”

Haarlep grabbed Tav by the hand and dragged her through the open doors.
_________________________________________

Gale, Shadowheart, and Astarion stepped through the portal into a steaming hot cavern. They paused to gather their wits, take in the daunting surroundings.

There was no doubt that this was Avernus. Through the yawning mouth of the cave, fire rained down from the sky, lighting the jagged mountain range in orange and red. The air was so hot that it burned their throats even to breathe. Ripples of heat obscured everything, the rock beneath their feet cracked and blistering. Sweat broke out instantly over the three as they began to search.

They didn’t search for long. Two (one and a half) horned figures were lurking near the back of the cavern, and they jumped up in shock to see their rescue party.

“Gale? Astarion, Shadowheart! What in the hells are…oh for the love of Tyr, I can’t keep doing this. But why are you here?” Wyll burst angrily. He rounded on Gale. “I told you not to come!”

“We’re not leaving you, or Tav, trapped in the hells,” Gale responded curtly. “Tell us what’s going on.”

“We don’t know,” said Karlach, her initial excitement flagging. “I mean, we don’t know this part. Wyll and I were fine hiding out for a long time. Zariel found us eventually, she sent a big group to capture us both, and we spent a year or so fighting for her. It wasn’t as bad with Wyll, but we were figuring out our own escape. Then, something happens…I don’t know why, but our old ‘friend’ Raphael made a deal with her, and we’ve been stuck here since.”

“Where is here?” asked Shadowheart, looking around them. “What is this place?”

“Hot spring. S’not bad, it’s actually furnished lower down. I’m pretty positive that it’s a holding cell for political prisoners, but hey, I’m not gonna tell him how to use his hot springs.” Karlach gestured around them. Sure enough, further back in the cavern there were pools of boiling water.

“And you’re stuck here?” Shadowheart stared at the mouth of the cave. There was a massive drop off just ahead of it, but nothing else seemed to be blocking their exit.

We’re stuck here. There’s a barrier spell, and a good one too. I couldn’t break it, but Gale, feel free to try.” Wyll had given up on his anger, but the defeat in his voice was frightening. He sat at one of the low tables, burying his face in his hands. “By the hells, I told you not to come.”

“Well that’s news to us, Gale,” growled Astarion. He was already starting to sweat through his light armor. “Wonderful. Now we’re all trapped in Avernus. Good plan, great plan!”

“Oh, not for long,” laughed Karlach. “It’s much worse than that. Tonight, Raphael is moving his entire territory into Cania…this place included. Enjoy the heat while it lasts, because Cania is about to freeze your bits off.”

“Excuse me? Tonight? Tonight, tonight? Are you being serious right now?” Astarion’s voice rose in pitch, teetering dangerously close to panic. His head whipped from one person to another. “Cania? Wizard, I will kill you!” His scarlet eyes flashed dangerously; even Karlach took a step back. “I agreed to a quick adventure in Avernus; we’re not coming back from Cania! How do we get out of here!?”

“Cania! Mystra’s mantle, that’s going to make things complicated.” Gale stroked his short beard, seemingly unshaken by Astarion’s outburst. “I don’t even know how to make a portal out of Cania; we’ll have to find a resident to show us the way back.” He blinked and looked at the others in mild surprise. “Well it was always a possibility, obviously. Raphael just took his father’s throne, he was going to move at some point. Haven’t any of you read the laws of the hells?”

Obviously not,” Astarion groaned. “How do I switch sides? Is it just a sending spell, or, or something else? Gale, send a sending spell to Raphael for me. Tell him I want to switch sides.”

“Lighten up, Astarion,” Karlach laughed, throwing an arm around the smaller elf. “You’re with the family. Mama K will get you out of here.” Her voice was comforting, but the look in her eyes read the same deep fear that gripped Wyll’s.

Gale closely inspected the barrier at the mouth of the cavern, as Karlach showed the others around. A dull glimmer flickered across the entrance. When he reached out to touch it, he felt the power of the spell vibrating from the very walls. No, breaking this seal would not be a simple process, nor did he suspect that Karlach and Wyll would have the supplies necessary to make another portal. Gale also respected Wyll’s intelligence enough to assume that the warlock had already tried to teleport through the massive shield. He wondered vaguely how close the House of Hope was, for Raphael to displace the entire territory.

Realizing the kind of power that they had handed to the devil had given Gale many sleepless nights. But with luck, they would be able to right the wrong that had been unwittingly committed many years ago.

Gale turned to follow the others to the rooms, already putting their escape plan together.
_________________________________________

Tav would never have guessed that anywhere in the hells would make her feel normal, but the party was a breath of fresh air that she hadn’t known she’d needed. She smiled, chatted, snagged sumptuous treats from the piled table of delicacies. She even indulged in a glass of wine…sniffing first to ensure that it was wine, of course. The party was incredible, the first day of what was allegedly a week of planned celebrations. Several of the lords of Baatar were present, who she ogled at a safe distance. Very few mortals had ever seen a lord of the hells themselves. And one of them wants you to be his representative on the mortal plane…soon to be the most powerful of them all.

She kept a low profile, unlike Haarlep. The incubus reveled in attention, laughing in that charming tone, posing flirtatiously on all of the furniture, encouraging everybody who pursued their favor. They lacked for nothing; a crowd of devils slavered over their form at any given moment, pushed one another down for the opportunity to impress them. Tav couldn’t hate the incubus, even though they were the one to curse her. Haarlep was a creature of pure instinct, and a delight to watch even from afar.

And Haarlep had helped her tonight. They had fed the cover story to Tav, one for Raphael and one for strangers. To the devils, she was just a low ranking manager for Raphael. To him, she was a young handmaid of Zariel, who had brought a tremendous party of underlings to cater to her whims. Neither position was important enough for her to be in the crossfire…so long as she could avoid Raphael enough. And so far she was having no difficulties. As the party host, he was kept quite busy by guests ambitious to make the new archdevil’s acquaintance.

All the better for Tav, who was enjoying the innocent attention of a young cambion. There was so much going on that even her curse was harder to notice here. The music was low and rhythmic, the food and drink phenomenal, and everywhere she looked there was entertainment. On one side of the ballroom was a group of devils performing magic tricks with colorful flames, on another there was a contortionist, and on yet another there was, well, a group of devils practicing shibari…on a stage, in the nude…Tav had taken one look and rushed away, her heart pounding as her sex throbbed.

But other distractions were easier to handle. And for a devil’s party, some light bondage was to be expected.

Tav smiled at the cambion as he recounted his latest experience in the material plane, preening under the attention of what he thought to be a pretty, low ranking fiend. He was full of bravado, self importance, and narcissism; a shining example of his kind. But he, too, was nobody. Just some underling of an underling to the Archdevil Mammon, here as part of his arrival party. The archdevils Dispater, Zariel, and Mammon were all in attendance themselves, though Tav made sure to avoid their attention. It wasn’t difficult. They seemed only to care for each other’s respect and approval, treating even other guests as the staff.

Haarlep had been right after all. This was enough for Tav to start feeling normal again, even with the insistent pull of her own human urges.

“Are you even listening?”

The cambion’s voice, dark and sultry before, had shifted quickly into the whine of a spoiled child. He was nobody, even here in the hells, but he carried the pride and entitlement of all devils. You’re all the same to me. Tav smiled and batted her gold eyes, and he seemed to settle.

“My dear Immolat, I must steal you away for a dance!” It was Haarlep, their voice soft and easily recognizable. Tav’s acquaintance took in the shapely incubus with wide, hungry eyes. Tav didn’t mind shedding his company, as she’d long lost interest in his recounting of the plane to which she’d been born. “Excuse us, please!”

“Haarlep, what are you doing?” asked Tav, not resisting the pull on her arm. “I’m trying to lie low. You’re not exactly discreet.”

“Mmm but it’s time to dance, and none of these devils are tempting enough for me. You, however, make the most delectable temptress; I cannot even imagine you as a succubus.” Haarlep meant no harm with their words, but Tav flinched nonetheless. That was now the third time one of them had floated the idea to her. Haarlep’s hips twisted to the music, pleasure and joy radiating from the incubus. Tav watched in appreciation, understanding that this was truly their place of primal existence. Some of the devils around them began to dance too, intoxicated by the sensual aura. They found partners quickly, some even stripping down into states of further undress. Tav quickly realized that this wouldn’t be the same experience as any she’d had before.

A chill ran up Tav’s spine, heat spreading through her as she watched Haarlep dance. At first she thought it was a symptom of the incubus’s undeniably powerful charms, but she quickly realized that it was something else entirely.

“My, I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” a dulcet voice murmured in her ear. “Whose rising star have I found?” A hand touched her hip, sending a wave of shivers across Tav’s body. She gasped, her eyes closing as she focused on keeping herself upright. If she crumbled now, Raphael would know what she’d done immediately.

“M-mistress Zariel’s,” stammered Tav, trying to pin down her confidence before it fled entirely. “I am…nobody important, Archdevil.” She bowed deeply, hoping that Raphael wouldn’t be suspicious enough to inspect beneath her surface appearance. The cambion’s handsome smile revealed nothing about his thoughts. Tav prayed that Haarlep’s disguise would be enough to keep him distracted.

“Are you enjoying the show?” asked Raphael, glancing towards the dancing incubus. A rather large crowd had gathered, and were similarly succumbing to the call of the music; the devils danced sensually, fiercely, some climbing their partners lustily even in the middle of the event. There were no such human reservations present in Avernus. Raphael paid them little attention, his eyes fixed on his current party. Tav had seen that hunger before, though it was usually laced with an undercurrent of ambition. Tonight, she saw only the hunger. How would a devil nobody act around an Archdevil? She was so close to ending the night unscathed.

“Yes, very much Archdevil,” said Tav with as much deference as she could muster. She needed to find a way to put distance between them; her knees quivered, threatening to give at any moment. Beside them, she could see Mizora mounting one of her many consorts. He carried her off towards the food tables, disappearing through the throng of excited fiends. Is this turning into an orgy!? “I, I must check on my Mistress!” She turned to flee, but Raphael’s hand snagged her elbow. f*ck!! Turning to look for Haarlep, she saw that the incubus had found their own entertainment. Two very large devils were running their hands all over Haarlep’s body, to the delight of the audience.

“I’m quite sure your mistress is otherwise occupied, dear,” he said sweetly, pulling her closer to him. “How about we find an occupation for you?” His other hand slid to her lower back, easing her against his tall, muscular frame. Tav couldn’t help the moan that slipped from her lips, her hands clutching his expensive embroidered doublet to keep herself from falling then and there. She could feel excitement flooding her, already dripping on her own thighs. Raphael’s eyes darkened as he caught the scent of her intense arousal. His hand slid from her waist to her leg, lifting it to brace her, his tail waving low like a cat’s. Tav held his coat tightly, her wings waving to assist her balance; Raphael grasped her wrist and slid her arm up over the back of his neck. Tav knew she was in true danger when she felt her back press against a wall…her dress already hiked up to her hips.

Wait!” she gasped, pressing back against Raphael’s shoulders. His hips against hers felt like heaven, but she knew that if she gave in now, there would be no going back. “Raphael, wait!”

He froze at the inflection of his name on her tongue. When he looked up at her, Tav knew that she had been caught.

Ohh, you sneaky little mouse,” he whispered, cold fury in his eyes. His hands tightened on her, and he held her pinned against the wall. Behind him, his party had devolved into a debauchery of food, flesh, and blood; human captives were now being brought out, certainly for nothing good. “Damned Haarlep, I should have known that they would try this. It’s going to be a very long night for both of you, I’m afraid.” He didn’t set her down, instead weighing options for what to do with his errant ward. Tav pushed back in earnest, but Raphael didn’t budge. Her dress was still pushed up, and she was so wet that she was starting to soak into his pants…a detail that he didn’t miss. Raphael reached down and pulled his belt open with one hand.

“Raphael,” she gasped, shaking as he pressed himself against her. Tav’s eyes rolled back, everything around them fading out as she rose to near org*sm. Cambions were, evidently, larger than human men. Raphael leaned forward then, brushed her lips with his; he stopped just short of kissing her.

“If you had stayed on the path that I set for you, the correct path, then I would have allowed you to choose my form for our first tryst,” he said in a husky voice. His lips moved against hers delicately, soft and enticing. He stroked against her, more of a tease for himself than for her pleasure. Tav trembled helplessly. “Since you’ve decided to disrupt my festivities, I think you have effectively surrendered that privilege.”

The air left her lungs as he thrust into her, slowly, only the first few inches. Her back arched up off of the wall, mindless pleasure crashing over her repeatedly, her inner muscles fluttering as she danced along the edge of climax. Raphael bared his sharp teeth, his eyes fixed on hers as she lost control of herself. A deep growl resonated in his chest, a rumbling that she could feel in her own body. He thrust again, deeper this time, and harder than before. Tav’s arms snuck back around his neck, holding onto something as she fought to endure with her dignity intact. She bit her lips so hard that she tasted blood; they ached to beg for more.

For several long minutes, Raphael f*cked slowly in and out of her. Tav moaned into her arm, her head resting against his shoulder, legs tight on his waist. She was shaking so hard that she would fall if he set her down; the intensity was almost too much for her to withstand. She had the presence of mind to be grateful that he hadn’t forced the whole length into her at once, broken her on it in a night.

“I have one thing to do before we retire to my rooms,” Raphael whispered against her hair. Tav didn’t know how she’d let him stop. She had a death grip around his neck, f*cking Raphael -in public- at his own party. He didn’t withdraw from her, instead simply leaning back and snapping his fingers. There was a massive shudder around them, a crack like thunder over her head. Tav flinched despite her current distraction, feeling a small amount of dust shake down over her head. It was settled within moments. Raphael half-turned to his guests, now themselves fully engrossed in the entertainment. They were, to an individual, either f*cking, fighting, or killing.

“Welcome to Cania, my friends.” A loud cheer erupted from the crowd, which continued to carry on with their debauchery.

Without explaining what that meant, he turned his attention back to Tav.

“And now you and I are free to take this somewhere private.” Before she could protest, he displaced them to his room.

The atmosphere away from the party was distinctly more ominous. Raphael’s expression shifted from mild amusem*nt to severe, and Tav wondered for a brief moment if Haarlep had been correct in their assumption that he wouldn’t kill either of them.

Dumping her on the bed, Raphael turned away from her, stripping off his jacket.

Haarlep.” The command was quiet but firm; the incubus displaced into the room within moments, still disheveled from the party. They waved brightly at Tav, for whatever reason. That is not helping!! “What defense do you have for yourselves?” Raphael faced them both in his cambion form, wearing only his black underwear. His wings flexed behind him, huge and imposing.

“I just wanted to get out,” said Tav quietly. “You left me alone for days.” She would never give up the fact that Haarlep had promised her an org*sm…a fact that she fully intended to wring Haarlep’s neck with at a later time. Raphael nodded thoughtfully before turning to the incubus, who looked concerningly delighted to have been caught. It just now occurred to Tav that Haarlep might have a different definition of what a sexy punishment entailed.

“I thought it would be fun,” they purred, sliding onto the bed next to Tav. They positively wiggled with excitement at being found out. Tav’s head dropped. “I thought you’d like it, master. Doesn’t she make the most beautiful devil?”

“She does,” said Raphael, his golden eyes flickering back to Tav. “Should we make her one tonight?”

“No!” Tav burst, her heart flying into her throat. She closed her eyes on realizing that the bargaining had already begun.

“Then what. Am I going. To do. With you?” He punctuated each word sharply, stepping towards the bed with both of them on it. “You didn’t leave the house, so I don’t think anything permanent needs to be done. But I do not tolerate defiance, so tonight you will be taught a lesson. Haarlep, on top of her.”

The incubus crawled on top of Tav, positively panting with anticipation. Tav heard the sound of something being summoned, but she couldn’t see behind Haarlep.

There was a crack, and the incubus howled. Tav jumped terribly, a flash of blood spotting her face. She realized with a flood of horror that Raphael was wielding a cat o’ nine. The second stroke came immediately after the first, followed by five more. Haarlep screamed, their eyes rolling back and, to her surprise, their hips dropping to grind against hers. No, she and Haarlep in fact did not share the same definition of sexy punishment. Tav trembled beneath the incubus, forced to watch Haarlep’s expression for each biting lash; for the first time, she was being shown the devil in Raphael.

Raphael got to twenty before he stopped, by which Haarlep dripped with dark blood. Tav squeezed the incubus’s arms as a comforting gesture, although from their stiff nipples and undulating body, Haarlep needed little encouragement. They were smiling with giddy joy.

“Off. And male form, please.” Haarlep rolled off of Tav, shifting easily into their male form…and now Tav was alone with two Raphaels.

The real Raphael approached the bed, sliding onto it before pulling Tav on top of him. When she flinched back, he grabbed her hips firmly. With a flex he was inside of her again, and she hated how quickly she succumbed to the sensation. As much as she wanted to fight it, after watching Haarlep take twenty lashes with a bladed whip, she also couldn’t help feeling like she was getting off easy. Her hips moved without her volition, aching to chase satisfaction. Tav began to ride. Raphael reached up and pulled her head down, close to his face. Tav braced her hands on his chest and continued to mindlessly rock against him.

“Does that feel good?” he whispered, almost intimately, in her ear. Tav nodded before she could stop herself. “Good. Hold onto that. Haarlep, get behind her.”

The bed shifted as the incubus positioned themself behind Tav, their hands slow and sensual on her back. Even with the alarm in her head going off, she couldn’t slow down, her body pumping hard against Raphael. Another co*ck slid through the cleft of her ass, inciting that terrible mix of fear and arousal in her.

“Raphael! S-stop, I’m sorry,” she gasped, riding him almost frantically. She had been on the edge for so long, for days, and this was almost too much to endure by itself. The rejuvenation pool had restored her physical energy, but could do little for her flagging mind. She was almost out of sanity already.

“That’s not going to be good enough tonight,” he said snidely, releasing her hips to put his arms behind his head. He didn’t even need to hold her anymore, Tav was f*cking herself on him as fiercely as she could remember in her life. She simply couldn’t stop herself anymore, well past the point of control. Haarlep pressed against her, their co*ck slick with lubricant of some kind. They worked slowly, carefully into her ass, careful not to hurt or tear her; to the contrary, they had to hold her still to keep her from bucking too hard. Taking it was painful, but the physical effect of the incubus had never been more noticeable; Tav was absolutely delirious, pleasure shooting through her like lightning everywhere that the incubus touched. She couldn’t help but push herself back and onto both of them, her nails biting into Raphael’s chest, lips parted to moan.

“Hush darling, you’ll get what you need.” Haarlep’s voice was so gentle behind her, it almost made her forgive them for putting her in this situation in the first place. She cried out, overwhelmed by the feeling of both of them inside of her. Cambions, as it turned out, had some ridges that made her quiver to feel so intimately. Tav was trapped between two devils, reduced to a wet, quivering toy, helpless to stop either of them.

“Stop being nice, Haarlep, this is punishment,” said Raphael crossly. The incubus laughed before correcting themself at his sharp look.

“My apologies, master. Yes, slave, enjoy your…punishment.” The sarcasm in their voice didn’t go unnoticed. Raphael bared his teeth in a snarl. Tav didn’t like being in the middle of their spat, and definitely not when she was the prize they were pulling between their fangs. Haarlep started to ride her now, and the sensation of both of them forced breathless cries from her at every thrust. She was senseless, aching to come and also nowhere near of the right mind to endure it. “Do you want to whip me some more, master?” Haarlep summoned another whip, dangling it above him tantalizingly. Tav distantly hoped that neither of them noticed the mortal between them as an option. Her skin was so sensitive right now that even one lash would be excruciating.

“Haarlep, you and I will pencil in a private session,” Raphael growled. “Now shut up and grovel before I put the same curse on you.” Haarlep was really reaming her ass now, every pump sinking to the hilt. Tav’s mouth was open in a silent scream, unable to find the air for words or sound anymore. All she could do was endure the two cambions, both of them bucking into her in pursuit of pleasure. When she closed her eyes, she could only feel them; when they were open, all she could see was Raphael’s fierce, beautiful face.

“My benevolent, gracious, terrifying master, he who is most powerful, Archdevil Supreme Raphael, would you very kindly grant me the honor of subjugating this mortal in your name?” Haarlep moaned, pushing down on Tav’s back until she was pinned against Raphael’s chest, her back arched. She didn’t have the strength or power to push back, could only take their hard, consistent strokes. “Please allow me to corrupt her holy body with demonic seed!!” What!?

“Very nice. And you?” The question was directed at her. From their breathlessness, both of them were quite close to coming, and Tav couldn’t imagine the bliss of joining them. I would probably pass out. She had never wanted anything more badly. But to grovel toa devil, the one who had tricked, kidnapped, tormented and cursed her...

F-f-f*ck…y-you…” she forced through gritted teeth, tears running down her cheeks at the screaming despair in her body. Raphael laughed; he sounded nothing short of delighted. He and Haarlep were picking up speed, somehow pumping faster than before. Tav gasped, her teeth finding purchase on Raphael’s chest. She bit down hard enough to draw blood, tasting it burning and metallic in her mouth.

“That’s what I thought,” groaned Raphael, his hands finding her hips, thrusting up against Haarlep’s rhythm. Tav felt like she’d go blind with need; the two of them were now quivering, and she knew that it was almost over. She didn’t know whether to be devastated or relieved.

Both cried out as they climaxed inside of her, their seed searing hot and flooding her on both sides. Tav’s body stiffened, twitching around two co*cks as they unloaded in her, their respective owners pulling her down on themselves to milk the last drops out. Tav panted and trembled, unable to do much besides wait them out.

After several minutes of panting, and the eventual stilling of hips, Tav quickly realized her mistake. Neither cambion had softened, or withdrawn; if anything, they were harder than before…and after they caught their breath, one at a time they began to move again. Raphael’s smile gleamed sharp and wicked as Tav moaned in what she now knew to be true despair.

“I told you, my chosen. It’s going to be a very long night.”

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“Do we want to go to Cania or not?” Gale’s question on his return to the others stunned most of them into silence. They glanced at each other before staring at him. “Quickly, I suspect that we don’t have much time to decide. To go to Cania will turn the odds of survival against us, but we will be closer to finding Tav, and the crown. To stay in Avernus gives us more time to prepare, but that time may cost us in the long run. Raphael grows more powerful by the day…if he can displace territory across planes, he is closer to godhood than previously expected.”

“That sounds like two bad options,” Astarion grumbled. “Is there an option to go home?” The others grimaced, unwilling to admit how poor both of their choices were. Gale frowned.

“Not from right here. I think that there are a few ways to escape this cavern, but we don’t have the material to make a portal back into our own plane. Now, if we stay in Avernus, I suspect it will be much easier to get back. I don’t know how to set up a portal from Cania.” He was honest, despite the fact that the silent addendum was that Tav would be left behind. “So, who is staying? I will be following this place to Cania, but fear not, I will leave the appropriate instructions for making the portal behind, if anybody would prefer to stay.” The others exchanged worried glances.

“Godsdamnit, I hate Cania,” Karlach groaned. “Tav is going to owe me so many drinks for this, if we make it back alive.” The gorgeous barbarian marched over to a low couch and sprawled out, surrendering to the move. Gale nodded and looked at the others.

“Fine, I guess I go if Karlach goes,” Wyll sighed. “No use staying here without her. Zariel will probably just find us anyhow.” He pushed her legs up to sit beside her on the couch. Shadowheart rubbed her face.

“I wouldn’t want to be left behind in the hells,” she said softly. “And you sure that she’s still alive?” The question was directed at Karlach and Wyll, who both nodded grimly.

“Alive, and doing better than the lot of us, if appearances mean much,” said Karlach solemnly. “You said Raphael wants her to be his chosen, so she’s probably gettin’ wined and dined for now. Now, if she keeps saying no things will start to get real ugly, so we definitely don’t have forever. Raphael is patient, but he’s a devil to his bones. He’s either going to get what he wants from her, or he’ll give up and kill her.”

“Then I’m in too,” said Shadowheart, her eyes closing in acceptance. “We’ve stopped the crown and lived before, we can do it again.”

Everybody turned to Astarion, who grimaced in defeat.

“I assume that if you left me here, alone, I’d be figuring out how to find your grocery list of ritual body parts by myself?” Gale nodded, and Astarion sighed. “I need different friends.”

Notes:

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Please don't hate Astarion LOL I love him but we also all know how whiney he is! I hope you enjoyed the chapter :)

Chapter 5: Inheritance

Notes:

Thank you all for the kind reviews!! I seriously appreciate and read every single one of them. Please enjoy this chapter, it's turning a little fluffier than originally planned...but I would bear in mind that not everybody's intentions are quite what they may seem ;)
Also feel free to let me know if there's anything else that you're interested in seeing! I may or may not include it, depending on where the plot is supposed to go, but I will write for you all when I can. Enjoy!

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Chapter Text

The ground around them shook, boulders falling just outside of the cavern as whatever spell had been prepared for the move to Cania was triggered.

Gale was mostly impressed by the magic and preparation that it had taken to execute such a feat. There had to be perfect sigils interconnecting the territories, more than he could achieve on his own; but Raphael had an army of fiends, and the power of the Netherese weave, to help him facilitate such a move.

The others were more concerned about the possibility of being crushed to death. They huddled together in the back of the cavern; even Wyll, to Gale’s great disappointment. He had hoped that the warlock would at least appreciate a ritual spell execution of this scale. He had only heard of such feats, the displacement of land between planes, but never something as vast as this territory. The entire House of Hope, and Raphael’s surrounding lands, were being moved at the snap of a finger…and the firing of what had to be over a hundred thousand interplanar displacement sigils.

Still, the sound was admittedly intimidating. Rock and cliff shearing from the mountain, the earth cracking, even the sky rending, casting a rain of hellfire across Avernus. Gale stared out at it in wonder, keen to witness a historical event in the hells, even if it was to be his last moments. He was just dismayed to be the only one present capable of appreciating such powerful magic.

And like that, the skies changed. Red split into black and gray, flying shards of ice taking the place of smoldering flame. Gale gazed on the terrifying beauty of Cania, one of the few living mortals to ever lay witness to the frozen wasteland that made up the eighth layer of Baator. The wind screamed, battering itself across the protective magic barrier so powerfully that the spell shivered briefly. Gale knew that in the event it shattered, most of them would die in only minutes. Karlach may live for longer, but she would join them soon enough when the heat of her infernal engine quailed.

He wondered how they would get from there to Mephistar, the capitol of Cania, a city warmed by the legendary hellfires. He didn’t know its proximity to the cavern, or even their distance from the House of Hope. There was little information available on the mortal plane of Cania’s geography, even less of its governing cities and denizens. Gale couldn’t deny that this was a unique opportunity to learn about a plane that few had lived to speak of; assuming, of course, that he survived the journey. What better place to die though, than in pursuit of knowledge?

“Sweet hells, this is Cania? We’re really in Cania? Wizard, you had better have a plan to get us out of here alive.” Astarion had crept out from the back rooms, the others in tow. They all gazed in trepidation at the wild landscape before them, polar opposite to the fires of Avernus. Gale shrugged, several ideas starting to formulate in his mind already.

“Perhaps. Wyll, do you still have contact with Mizora?”

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Tav didn’t know when she had fallen asleep, but she’d lost consciousness at some point, for a brief and restless time. Light shone in fragments through the long curtains of the room’s windows, casting across her eyes until she slowly, painfully, returned to life. The air was colder than she ever remembered it being in the manor, but being sandwiched between two sleeping devils was more than enough to keep her from feeling chilled. Tav winced, her body aching horribly; both fiends were still lodged firmly inside of her, even asleep.

She shifted her hips, but Haarlep and Raphel were pressed so closely that she couldn’t gain an inch in either direction. And with both being in male cambion form, they were also far too heavy for her to push off. So she was trapped for the time being, snuggled securely in the middle of the bed. Raphael and Haarlep breathed deeply, their eyes closed in contented slumber. Haarlep’s face was somewhere above and behind hers; she could feel their chin resting on top of her head. Raphael was lower, his face level with hers, the tips of their noses nearly touching. His body was curved under hers in an arc, legs tangled with hers and Haarlep’s. She could hardly tell who was where, but one of his legs was hiked up, pushing her outside thigh high up and over his hip. Haarlep’s foot seemed to be hooked on her lower ankle, their combined leg locks holding her stretched almost painfully open between them.

Tav had never seen Raphael so at ease, the deep lines in his face smooth and relaxed. He slept soundly, for somebody brimming with evil. His face was very, very close; Tav couldn’t help but begrudgingly admire his strong, handsome features. Strands of his dark hair fell across his eyes, displaced momentarily. The errant hairs were uncomfortably humanizing. She reached up with the only limb she could even move, and gently pushed them back into place.

His gold eyes opened, bright and intense even half lidded. They took in her surprise, the darkness of the room, even her still-raised hand before they closed again, his arm around her tightening, his face nuzzling into her neck as he sighed. Tav’s heart pounded, and she tried to tell herself that it was fear.

Raphael shifting inevitably led to Haarlep starting to move, as their tight entanglement made it unavoidable not to disturb the others. Haarlep yawned over Tav’s head before their face nestled back in her hair.

She scowled darkly. Both of them had certainly enjoyed themselves, but she was sore and numb between them. The only upside, and probably the only reason that she could fall asleep for even a short time, was that she was too dead below the waist for the curse to really bother her at the moment, even with the two of them still inside of her. The downside was that if they started up again this morning, her mind might actually break.

And there was certainly a good threat of that. Haarlep was hardening again already, their hips shifting under hers. Raphael seemed to have gone back to sleep, but if the damned incubus kept moving, it might not be for too much longer.

Stop it!” she hissed over her shoulder, glancing frantically at Raphael to make sure he was still asleep. “No more, Haarlep!!” They stopped moving, and she felt rather than heard the low chuckle.

“Poor little mortal. Are you tired out already?” Haarlep’s voice was a whisper, also conscious of their sleeping master. “We can take another dip in the pool.” What had been a temptation only the day before had suddenly become ominous. The thought that they could dump her in the pool and safely start over raised all of the hair on her entire body.

No. Can you take me back to my room?” The thought of a hot bath alone and an ice pack on her sensitive parts sounded like the perfect way to spend the rest of her morning. Maybe if she was lucky, Raphael would be distracted entertaining guests for the rest of the week. As bored and tormented as she’d been alone, the full attention of both devils was in fact worse.

“And snatch you straight out of our master’s hands while he’s sleeping? That sounds like a wonderful way to get punished again. Are you sure that’s what you want?” Haarlep was right, unfortunately. Raphael had just finished exorcising his anger on both of them, and for the time being seemed to be content. Tav was inclined to rebel against her captor, but there was a limit to that which was necessary for her to withstand. And right now, she didn’t want to instigate another session if it could be avoided.

“You said I’d org*sm last night, by the way,” she grumbled angrily. Haarlep laughed again.

“You would have at the party, if you’d gone with the plan. But no, you had to give it away…and then just toss your second chance away too, after. I don’t mind the consequences, darling, but don’t complain about them if you bring them on yourself.”

Tav’s eye twitched, almost as annoyed at herself as she was with Haarlep. Yes, she’d assumed that there would be no price to pay, that she would cheat it out of Raphael…which she may have, if she’d maintained her disguise at the party. But scraps of her dignity were prime currency here, and they weren’t articles that were simple for her to earn back. Still, perhaps it could have cost less dignity to trick Raphael than to end up here. Haarlep never said that the plan was for Raphael to give it to me!

“Will you two shut up?” Raphael growled against her skin. His breath was warm, lips moving sensually against her neck. Tav couldn’t stop the goosebumps that raced across her body at his voice.

“Can you please pull out?” Tav grunted, pushing down on his hips as she tried to arch higher. A sliver of gold glowed as he cracked an eye open again, weighing her remarkably polite request against his own morning plans. He finally acquiesced, shifting his weight to withdraw from her, Haarlep following their master’s lead from behind. Tav gasped immediately, feeling first the gush of hot liquid, and second the agonizingly sharp pain of stretched and chafed skin. She couldn’t help whimpering softly, untangling her legs to ease some of her intense suffering.

“Go sit in the pool.” The muffled command would be more sensible if two cambions hadn’t been wrapped tightly around her. Tav struggled anyways, pushing at heavy limbs that seemed to fasten around her the more she worked to free herself. To make things worse, both of them were stirring from her efforts to get away, clawed hands grazing across her skin, co*cks hardening lazily beneath her, Raphael licking flecks of Haarlep’s dried blood from her neck.

No! Get off, let me in the pool at least!” she cried shrilly, one hand coming up to push Raphael’s face from her neck. He huffed a sigh, now fully awake, raising his arm to allow her to flee the bed. Tav bolted, scrambling from the blankets before either cambion could grab her. She hit the floor unexpectedly, her legs giving out the second that they assumed her weight, but she scrambled on her knees away from the devils in the bed. They didn’t pursue her; it sounded like they were starting back up without her, and she was grateful for the reprieve. Tav sank into the pool, moaning in relief at the regenerative effects on her aching, exhausted body. The pain eased quickly, melting into warm, soothing comfort.

Tav’s eyes closed, soaking in the healing strength of Raphael’s rejuvenation pool. It was no quick fix for so many sleepless nights, but the pain leaching from her body felt almost as good. The sounds behind her were getting louder; she couldn’t even tell who was doing what by sound alone, as both had assumed Raphael’s cambion form. If she watched though, Haarlep would still be showing the marks of their master’s whip from the night before, streaks of black blood marking their muscular back.

The shield at the door wavered unexpectedly, and Tav was surprised to see Korilla for the first time since she had been captured, accompanied by an imp holding a silver tray piled with food. She didn’t even bother covering herself; the scene behind her was exponentially more lurid than anything she could be doing in the pool. Korilla froze, her hands occupied by a thick black folder, and grimaced at the sight before turning to Tav with an air of respect.

Both of them?” she asked, shaking her head when Tav nodded reluctantly. “By the gods, you’ve got more mettle than I. Here, give this to Raphael when he’s done. And remind him that he’s to see his father for midday, in the gardens.”

“I’m not-” Tav protested, but Korilla had already turned to leave. The imp deposited the tray of food on a low table beside her, and she was immediately distracted by the offerings of fruits, cheeses, toasted bread, and jam. When she saw the starburst shandy next to it, she brightened considerably. Dropping the black folder, she poured herself a glass.

Sitting in the rejuvenation pool, chewing on toast and sipping sweet shandy, it was almost easy to focus on the tiny window of respite. She sank to her neck, one hand holding the glass afloat, the other her bread. Tav feasted contemplatively. She knew where the crown was, sure, but she had yet to make any moves on it. Last night had been her first moment of freedom in the house, unsupervised even. And despite her punishment, even Raphael had acknowledged that Tav had not left the house…and, she assumed in his opinion, gone easy on her. He and Haarlep were starting to grow complacent. If she encouraged that complacency, she would have her moment to seize and exploit it. What would be the correct move? She had to figure out how to get the barriers down. Could I use the archivist? If she fostered a relationship with the nondescript tiefling, she may be able to glean information on the protective barriers from him. Either way, the more information she could gather, the better her chances of surviving this ordeal.

Still…her biggest weakness in the hells was moaning and snarling on the bed behind her. Her clarity of mind came only when she was free of the curse’s effects. The moment that Raphael or Haarlep played it against her, she could do nothing else until relieved in some way, be it the rejuvenation pool or by one of their hands. If she was honest, only the day before she had forgotten the crown entirely, her mind fixated instead on her entirely human desire. So much of her plan hinged on how committed Raphael was to toying with her, how much time and effort he committed to breaking her spirit.

The sounds behind her were growing in intensity. Somebody, she assumed Haarlep, was squealing in pain or pleasure or both. The growling was getting louder, and Tav decided to sneak out onto the balcony before one of them remembered that she was still there. She dried off quickly and quietly, wrapping herself in a robe before she carried the bottle of sweet liquor through the beautiful glass doors.

Tav froze in the doorway, staring out at the mountain ridge ahead of her. She was jolted out of her paralysis by a sharp cry behind her, and turned to close the doors. Her hand stayed on the knob, trembling violently, for several more seconds before she could turn around again.

“Welcome to Cania.” She remembered his declaration only then, the snap, the shift of the entire building that she’d forgotten in the events that followed. Now, staring out at the icy mountains, the howling blizzard just outside of the protective barriers around the House of Hope, Tav realized what had happened during her lapse of sanity.

She was in the eighth layer of the hells, and there was now no going back without the crown.

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Karlach emptied the last box, wiping the sweat from her forehead as the team surveyed the full contents of the spring resort. There was plenty of food, wine, cooking utensils, towels, and other basic amenities for a mid-term stay.

“Alright. We know that basic magic won’t get us out of here, and we don’t necessarily want to displace right outside anyways. But we did get a portal in here, so we must be able to set one up that will get us out of here. Or, we bide our time and wait for Raphael…but from what we’ve deduced from what we know, that time would be far too late. We could possibly trick him with a feign death on one of you two, let him think that he’s lost a card against Tav.” Gale mused aloud with Wyll, a warlock who was very familiar with the operations and predilections of devils.

“That’s not the best course of action. The chances are small that nobody notices stowaways if they come, and taking the fight straight to him now is a bad idea. We need to find Tav before we run across Raphael,” Wyll reasoned. “Without the crown, we don’t have a hope of surviving him, and the only card we hold right now is that he doesn’t know you’re here.”

“If we can find Mizora, we can try to make a portal to her,” said Gale with less confidence. “I’m not exactly sure how the differences work in Cania versus Avernus, but it may be worth considering.”

“Yes, but if we mess up the calculations, then we could end up somewhere that kills us.” Wyll wasn’t wrong. Unlike Avernus, Cania was too inhospitable to be risky about where they landed.

“If my vote means anything, then it’s not for whatever that decision was,” piped Astarion unhelpfully, having just walked into the front room. The two spellcasters rolled their eyes and resumed discussion.

“We have no allies here. We have to take some risks,” said Gale, though even he sounded reluctant.

“We have Tav.” Wyll and Gale stared at each other in sudden understanding. “Better than Tav, we have the house. This place must be linked to the house, perhaps even by the sigils from the planar jump. If there is even one accessible from inside the cavern, we can use it to make the link to other sigils…including the House of Hope!”

“If there were a sigil in here, wouldn’t we have noticed it by now?” Karlach asked. She had a point; there were only two main areas in the cavern, a large sleeping barracks and the front view with the kitchenette and hot springs.

Slowly, they all turned to the boiling spring.

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Raphael eventually found her outside, huddled in an armchair, staring blankly at the stretch of gray and white mountains ahead of her. He had, for whatever reason, cleaned up and resumed his human form. She didn’t know why he bothered to maintain the facade around her, not after the last night.

“Beautiful, isn’t it,” he said, noticing the stolen shandy and pouring himself a glass. He sat in the chair beside her, admiring the view. Tav, even in her disbelief, had to agree, though she did so in silence. Despite its inhospitable ice and winds, the snowy tundra had a kind of raw, indomitable beauty that she’d never seen in the mortal plane. And the sky burst with intermittent darkness and color, thin strips of a boreal atmosphere blanketed by storm clouds. Yes, it was awe-inspiring, from the comfort of the warm magic of the house. She could never survive it alone, which had been the facet her mind had been fixated on before Raphael joined her.

“Are you here to send me back to my room?” she asked, her tone dull. She didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing, only that it was a thing that would eventually need to be done. And, with the effects of her curse back in full force, she had little spirit left to spar with Raphael today. There were two options ahead of her: a sleepless night of suffering alone, or a sleepless night of suffering with one -or both- of the devils. Neither sounded like a plan to look forward to. She could attempt to see the archivist, but had little energy to think past the initial seeds of her plan. Raphael studied her expression.

“Would you like to see Mephistar?” he asked unexpectedly. Tav blinked before looking at him with reasonable suspicion. She’d heard of the legendary capitol of Cania, but hadn’t anticipated ever being invited to tour it.

“Why?” she replied bluntly. Raphael gave her a strange smile.

“Because I’m going for family business, and I’ll be staying in the palace for several days. You can stay here alone, or accompany me as a part of my arrival party. As I recall, you were very recently raising a complaint to me over the apparent neglect of your needs. You can come along or not; I have no preference.” He laid the offer carelessly before her, but Tav sensed a deal to be made. She nodded, thinking hard. She didn’t know if the archivist would be in his arrival party; to choose now would be a gamble, but she knew that there might not be another opportunity.

“I’d need to rest first,” she said slowly, ready to softball her rebuttal. “And I’d like to…see the capitol under my own…mind.” She worded her request with great care. Raphael’s eyes glinted. “Would I be in my own form?”

“I’ll lift your curse for the duration of our visit, excepting circ*mstances providing reason to exercise it. These circ*mstances will include disciplinary action, preventative action, and my own entertainment…but if you give me no reason otherwise, I can certainly limit its use.” He laid the terms out before leaning towards her, his elbows on his knees. Raphael was an archdevil now, but he was also ever the lawyer. “Give me cause for embarrassment there, and you’ll wish very dearly for me to end your life.” Tav swallowed, setting her jaw in the face of her fear.

“When would we be departing?” She accepted his terms with grace. It wouldn’t be a betrayal to her oath to keep her head down for a few days, tour a wonder of Baator rarely witnessed by anybody alive. And if the archivist was along for the trip, she could sneak another success without Raphael suspecting her of wrongdoing. His eyes narrowed momentarily.

“Later today. Rest if you must, and you will come in human form. Living mortals of the surface are a rarity here; having one in my menagerie will be interesting to present parties.”

Tav didn’t like the way that he worded it, but he lifted a hand and just like that the curse was silenced. She burst into a relieved sigh, not having noticed how accustomed she’d become to the incessantly present ache. The muscles of her body relaxed, and she found herself almost instantly drifting into real sleep.

Raphael laughed, lifting her from the armchair easily and carrying her back into the boudoir. Tav didn’t have the strength to fight him, or even to walk on her own. She was asleep in his arms before he even set her on the bed.

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“Up, pet, it’s time to go!” The gentle voice in her ear was Haarlep’s, the feminine variant. Tav didn’t move; she was groggy from sleep, finally allowed to rest after having spent the last several days completely strung out. Hands shook her insistently. “You can sleep more when we get there, master Raphael has the portal up already. He sent me to come and pick you up, and I will pick you up if I must.”

“Then pick me up,” she mumbled into the pillow. There was a brief pause before two hands began to slide sensually beneath her. Tav jumped, now fully awake. “Alright I was joking! Gods, I’m up. What do I need? Where is everybody?” She rubbed her face, trying to focus. Her body was finally quiet, and she felt disoriented from her newly regained headspace.

Haarlep took her hand, pulling Tav onto unsteady feet. Their other hand lifted a set of clothes, a wool tunic with long pants, and a long, warm overcoat of white fur and silver trim. Tav slipped out of her lighter lounging robe, the one she’d found hanging by the pool before sneaking through the balcony doors.

“You don’t need anything, the staff has packed everything that we need. Raphael and then others are waiting for us in the hall of mirrors, so hurry up, little mouse.” Waiting? Tav didn’t know why he would be waiting on her, but she didn’t have a chance to ask. As soon as she pulled the boots on, Haarlep snagged her elbow and whisked her through the entrance of the boudoir.

Sure enough, Raphael and a party of around fifteen fiends, devils, and tieflings waited. They chatted excitedly, straightened each other’s clothes, and overall ignored Tav and Haarlep. With a thrill of hope, she saw that the archivist was also in attendance. Raphael turned as soon as he saw them enter, stepping through the dark, whirling portal. One by one, his party followed, until Haarlep waited along with Tav. They extended a hand, inviting her to go first; she assumed as a small measure of security, ensuring that she didn’t run off at her first opportunity. So she had little choice but to comply.

Little could have prepared her for the bright, freezing loveliness of Mephistar. Tav gazed around her in surprise, not expecting the heat that seemed to seep from the ground beneath her feet. It wasn’t warm here by any stretch of the imagination; she still clutched the thick coat around her shoulders, feeling the air’s stiff chill. But something protected the city from the speeding blizzard winds, and life sprung up in spindling towers of ice as far as she could see.

They stood high on a massive veranda, overlooking the striating bands of arched and vaulted buildings, blue and white from the ice, reflecting the light as though they were made of crystal. Tav shivered, her breath steaming in the frigid air. Haarlep linked their arm through hers, and she was grateful for the burning heat that poured off of the incubus.

Turning, she saw the palace that sat atop the peak of Mephistar. They had landed on its terrace, and all around them were ice sculptures of truly wonderful detail and proportion. Tav would have loved to stay there, examining the seemingly countless sculptures, but Raphael led his party quickly through the front gates. She tagged along, reluctant to leave the view but sure that she would see it again.

Their arrival was welcomed by what seemed to be the entire population of the grand palace. Royalty, nobility, devils of high status, even dukes and duch*esses of the other planes had arrived to greet the newest archdevil. Voices filled the grand hall, deafening in their celebration. Raphael smiled at its center, basking in the attention of his father’s subordinates, now his own. Tav did not like being unarmed in their company, but there was little that she could do for it but avoid too much notice. Many of the devils eyed her with interest, to her displeasure. Raphael was being escorted out by ice devils, she assumed to meet with his father.

To her relief, Raphael’s party was soon separated and ushered to their rooms. A smartly dressed gelugon approached, and seemed to be handing out room keys. They approached Haarlep and paused for identification.

“Consort,” said Haarlep confidently. The gelugon handed them a shiny gold key, then turning to Tav, who hesitated. “Also consort.”

Hey!” Tav protested, but Haarlep held up a hand.

“Mortal, just listen to me for once. You have no infernal bloodline, no wealth, and no profession in the hells. You will either be assigned your room as a consort or as a slave; for the love of Tiamat, don’t be stupid.” Haarlep squeezed the bridge of their nose, expressing frustration for the first time since Tav had met them. She groaned internally, more concerned by the day by how she’d somehow come to grow fond of the incubus.

“Fine. Consort.” She snatched the gold key from the ice demon, stuffing it into her pocket as the accompanying devils tittered amongst themselves.

“A mortal consort, how exotic,” whispered a nearby ice devil, glancing curiously at Tav. “Do you think it would be available for services?”

“She is not, thank you,” Haarlep growled with real venom. They followed another gelugon down a towering hall, silver and blue with crystals glittering along every frame and chandelier. Without a doubt, this was one of the most beautiful places that Tav had ever seen; nothing on the material plane could even compare. The gelugon stopped at a tall door, bowing deeply to the two before leaving them to settle in.

When Tav opened the doors, she saw a massive pile of luggage being emptied by a couple of Raphael's imps. They pulled lavish gowns, coats, boots, and jewelry from the bags, fully stocking the walk-in closet. Tav wandered the rooms in wonder, taking in the hot spring pools, sunken lounge areas, stocked bar, and massive bed. There was enough space on the bed alone for at least ten people; it was the largest she’d ever seen, and buried in luscious pillows and blankets. The towering windows offered a stunning view of Cania’s whirling storms, cushioned seating on the balcony welcoming observers.

Even the House of Hope paled to this. Tav found herself drawn to the shelf of books, reading that ranged from the anthropology of the hells to studies of the surface world. Anything that she could ever want was right here.

Except your friends, who are probably looking for you now. She closed her eyes and turned from the tantalizing spread of temptation.

“Lovely, right? These were my rooms before.” Haarlep walked through the gauzy curtains around the bed, their hands brushing the silky material. Tav turned curiously.

“Before?” she asked, realizing how little she knew about the incubus. Haarlep paused, considering her for a moment.

“Before I…met Raphael. I used to work for his father, here in Mephistar. I lived in the palace then. I hope to live here again.” Their hands stroked the curtains longingly. They smiled serenely at Tav. “You should stay here too. He likes you, you know.” She jolted in surprise.

Likes me? Raphael doesn’t like anything,” she snapped, unable to stop the blush that threatened her cheeks. Haarlep laughed, sliding into the bed. “He spends half of his time tormenting me, and the other half of his time coming up with new things to torment me with.”

“Oh please,” Haarlep snorted. “You get the softest gloves I’ve ever seen in Nine Hells. Gods, he can’t even bring himself to ignore you. I bet if you call him right now, he ditches midday with his father.”

Tav sat in silence for a long minute. She’d always viewed their relationship as antagonistic, Raphael as an opponent worthy of only her scorn. But the more that she thought about it, the more she realized how right Haarlep seemed to be. Despite her defiance, her rebellion, her outright contempt, Raphael had yet to cause real or intentional harm to her or her loved ones. In fact, he had stepped in more than once to protect them, bent to her demands, accepted her anger with his unflagging grace. He, a devil, the Archdevil of Cania, offered her grace.

“No,” she said in disbelief. ‘It was supposed to be a gift…’ “That’s impossible.” Haarlep rolled their eyes and groaned loudly.

“Come on. You escaped your room and didn’t even get punished for it! You’re a prisoner wearing over fifty thousand gold in infernal fur so you don’t get chilly in Cania.” They scoffed at her when Tav’s mouth popped open in indignant protest. “Spending a night f*cking two devils isn’t punishment, that was just Raphael finally indulging. You haven’t actually been punished since you’ve been here. Gods, have you ever been flayed? Do you know that some souls get that every day?”

“Oh sweet Mystra,” she moaned, sinking into a chair. “He likes me.”

“That’s a powerful weapon in Baator,” said Haarlep quietly. “One that you refuse to wield, for whatever reason. Raphael will be the Archdevil Supreme, and he’ll go on to conquer the realms. You could be his right hand, and you refuse. Yet the thought of being his lover is almost enough to turn you from your sworn oath.”

Hey!!” Tav snarled, sitting up sharply. “First of all, you’re wrong. Second of all, stay out of my head. You’re a devil, you can’t understand human emotions.” She didn’t know what Haarlep had felt, but hearing them say that out loud frightened the hells out of her. Haarlep shrugged, nestled comfortably in the nest of blankets.

“No need to be shy about it, little pet. The sin of desire is my very favorite one of all, and especially when it drips off of a sweet, delicious paladin like yourself. The way you lust for him is enough to make me want to call him here myself.” Haarlep twisted in the sheets, and Tav was immediately alarmed. She had assumed that her thoughts towards him had been purely an effect of the curse…she hadn’t had the time or wherewithal to dissect the thoughts beneath it.

Haarlep’s head co*cked suddenly. They paused as though listening, a strange smile quirking on their full lips. They turned back to Tav, serious again.

“You have a rare opportunity here, my beloved. Raphael is the brightest star in the constellations of the hells, and his stock rises by the moment. You are a favorite of his, perhaps even more so than I. Acknowledging how detestable you find the idea of escaping the mortal coil in the body of a devil, consider the possibilities that could emerge from a position beside him. Or better yet, what it may mean for mortals on your plane to have a representative of influence here.” Haarlep’s velvet voice was a shining bow on top of a dangerously wrapped gift. “I have to check on something. Tonight, he’ll be feeling magnanimous, self important. Let him treat you to a wonderful evening, consort.”

With a snap, the incubus was gone.

_________________________________________

Tav sat in front of the tremendous mirror, staring into her dark eyes as though they would tell her something she didn’t already know.

Was Haarlep right? Did she want him? Yes, she found herself thinking about Raphael incessantly…obsessively, even. But she’d attributed that to the curse that had been inflicted on her. Now that it was gone, she should be thinking about escape, and yet here she sat, idle in a suite the likes of which she’d never seen before. And Haarlep was gone, leaving only one consort behind.

Raphael treating her to a wonderful evening. Tav couldn’t imagine what that would be like. She’d spent her life fighting in the name of light and life, living humbly, protecting the innocent. Luxury had never been a consideration, and yet here it was in abundance for her now. All this time spent defending the just, and yet only under the eye of a devil was she rewarded. Where was Tyr? Why had he never answered?

She hung her head in silent shame. No worthy paladin fought in the name of Tyr with the expectation of reward. Her heart ached, torn between her obligation to justice and the silence of her gods. None intervened now, to save her from corruption. No prayers were answered, no savior sent. Every night she begged for salvation, and only Raphael seemed to hear her.

Tav didn’t know where there was left to go. She could flee the room, but to what purpose? There were no allies here. And from the hungry look in the ice demons’ eyes, she was more likely to end up butchered than free. She couldn’t escape Mephistar without the help of at least a mage. Tav didn’t know the first thing about Cania, but if the ice storm was an indicator, it wasn’t a place that she could run into blind. No, she was stuck in the capitol for the time being. And of somewhat higher concern, stuck in Haarlep’s suite.

There was a crack at the door, the subtle smell of sulfur. Raphael was back, after taking the midday meal with his father and their combined entourage. He was quiet for a moment, before noticing Tav on the floor in front of the mirror.

“Where is Haarlep?” he asked, nonplussed. She shrugged. “Oh. Well get dressed, I have a reservation in a top box and we’re not missing it.”

Tav took a deep breath, steadying herself before standing. Raphael, out of patience, snapped his fingers again, and a warm flame flickered over her body. Her tunic burned away, and in moments she was wrapped in a beautiful black dress, slim cut to her figure with a high collar and a very low back. He waved his hand and a long, midnight blue cape flew to her from the closet; she barely had time to catch it.

“Raphael,” she began, not knowing what to say to him. The curse no longer stood between them, as much her shield as it ever was his sword. She had no excuse anymore. He stopped and waited as she struggled to find the words. But she came up lost.

“Come. Dinner and a show in the city of Mephistar, most living mages would kill to see what you get to partake in tonight.” He offered her his arm. Haarlep had been right; tonight was Raphael at his most generous, having finally achieved one of his lifelong goals, the seat and respect of his father Mephistopheles. She took it, not knowing what else to do, and followed him through the doors. Devils on either side bowed as they passed, several glancing up in blatant interest.

“Is it not…strange, to escort a mortal?” Tav whispered, trying not to notice the staring. Raphael glanced towards her, pausing to snap before answering. She felt a heavy necklace, bracelets, and rings summoned to her body, a delicate and expensive set of diamonds.

“I told you, you’re a rarity here. A pet worth flaunting, at least in Cania. And you are far from nobody; whether you’ve agreed to it or not, you are my chosen.” His tone was smooth and honest, but none of the words he had elected to use made her feel any better. Tav scowled. “Besides, they all just assume I’m going to be drinking your blood at the end of the night. Come now, isn’t this better than an evening spent wasting away? Try to enjoy yourself. You’re only in the most beautiful palace in all of Baator…although I suppose I am biased.”

“”What kind of show is it?” she asked, trying not to look at the devils that filled the great halls. They were dressed in splendor, raucously celebrating the rise of the Archdevil Raphael. He bared his sharp teeth in a smile.

“Not one that you’ll enjoy,” he replied. “But an event I am expected to attend nonetheless. And if I must bear the onus of presence, you certainly shouldn’t have the luxury of leisure either. Chin up; if you sit prettily and behave yourself, I’ll take you to the frost gardens when it’s over.” The Frost Garden of Mephistar was known even on the mortal plane to be one of the most famously beautiful structures of the hells. Tav bit the inside of her cheek, instantly apprehensive about what she was about to witness if Raphael presented her with the conciliatory prize in advance.

They were led into a tremendous theater packed with high-ranking devils, all seated at tables loaded with drinks and attended by slaves. It was loud, even over the music, populated by Baator's elite. Tav had never seen so many variants of devils; there were powerful ice devils that seemed to make up the primary population of Cania, but also many noble visitors from other layers of the hells. They all watched the center stage with hungry excitement. Tav didn’t realize how tight her fingers were on Raphael’s arm until he pried them off to seat her at their table, an isolated room jutting from the wall above the ravenous audience. It was warm here, a fire crackling merrily behind them, dim lights against the dark backdrop of curtains and tastefully decorated ebony walls. The tables held heavy golden candelabra, red candles adding to the flickering light of the room.

The attending fiends brought food quickly. For Tav, they presented what looked to be some kind of roasted bird in wine sauce, and stewed vegetables. She stared in surprise, recognizing several of the items on her plate.

“They import food to the palace for mortal residents,” explained Raphael. “I believe that’s quail.” He had some kind of charred steak, but it was no meat that Tav recognized. The flesh was deep black, even the blood oozing from it as dark as coal. The smell was one she couldn’t identify, something strong and gamey. But Raphael seemed to enjoy it immensely, slicing a small bite as they waited for the entertainment to begin. Tav tore off a small leg of bird, nibbling at the crisped skin.

A row of mortals stepped from the darkness to the stage, or what seemed to be mortals. Tav nearly dropped her food in alarm; she hadn’t seen them come in, and none appeared to be tieflings. They ranged from humans to gnomes to elves, hands bound, either minimally dressed or entirely naked. Tav looked at Raphael, but he shot her a stern glance and a slightly raised, steady hand. She looked back at the stage and saw many more people waiting in rows behind it, mostly concealed by the darkness of the theater, but visible now that she sought them. The people on stage stood in silence for a long few minutes as the audience quieted, watching with a joy that neared rapture.

Before Tav could ask Raphael what was supposed to happen, the dozen or so people on the stage burst into sudden flame, white hellfire that she could feel even from a top box. Screams of agony tore from them, echoing over and across one another until a cacophony of pain reverberated from the very walls. Tav’s hands gripped the tablecloth so tightly that they trembled, her knuckles white. She couldn’t look away from them, their flesh melting off, bones splintering and cracking under the heat, blood evaporating as soon as it touched fire. The devils cheered and sighed, luxuriating in the veritable feast of mortal souls, roasting high on a platform before them.

I’m in the hells. This is hell. Tav closed her eyes and forced herself to focus on her breathing. The souls before them were already branded and dead; there was no saving them. In the hells, devils consumed the suffering of the dead. She knew that, and yet to see it with her own eyes was something else entirely. One of them was a child.

There was a small scraping sound, and she opened her eyes. Raphael had cut a bite from the breast of her quail, and was holding it up for her to taste. She had never been less hungry.

“Keep eating,” he said quietly. Her mouth opened obediently, accepting the small bite. “Try the wine.” He uncorked a bottle and poured the glass for her, hands steady. She chewed mechanically, tasting nothing as she swallowed. The screams were fading into sobs, choking, gurgling sounds as blood and organs burst. The thump of charred flesh and bone as bodies hit the stage. Her hand shook so hard taking the glass that some spilled on the tablecloth. Not trusting herself to sip yet, she set it as carefully as she could beside her plate.

As the bodies crumbled into ash, obliterated by hellfire, the next row of mortals stepped onto the stage. They moved as though they were compelled, but terror rang fierce in their wide eyes.

“What is this?” she whispered, calming herself enough to cut the next bite herself. Raphael looked silently pleased.

“A feast,” said Raphael simply. “It’s not the main event. They will exhibit promotions for the greater devils after, the last ones authorized before my father retired.” He sipped something thick and sweet from a chalice, eyes glowing from the wealth of suffering around him. Tav felt a deep ache in her chest, pity for the souls burning on the stage, dread for her own role in Cania.

“Is that what’s going to happen to me?” Her voice was soft but steady. Raphael’s hand froze, hovering above his plate with a slice of black, bloody meat. He slowly replaced it, touching his lips with an embroidered napkin.

“You wound me,” he said quietly. “I should hope that you know your soul is too high of value to be used for this kind of tawdry spectacle. No, my plans for you do not include public consumption. Well, not like this, anyways, and not unless it’s a spectacle that you desire.” His tone shifted into playful, but the screaming still rang shrill and desperate in Tav’s ears. She couldn’t force herself to play along tonight, instead focusing on not looking at the stage. She couldn’t block out the sounds, but the least she could do was avoid identifying any more children.

“But this is what will happen to the souls that you want me to send to you?” she asked instead, her eyes leveling with his. Raphael didn’t seem bothered by the question, finishing his steak and allowing the serving fiends to take his plate.

“Some of them,” he said agreeably. “Many will have simpler punishments, more attuned to their crimes on the material plane. The point of interest for you, however, is that you will be the one deciding who deserves to suffer. Can you think of no such being?”

Tav slowly returned her attention to the stage, watching the men, women, and children drop to their knees in horrendous torment. Faces flashed through her mind, each more revolting than the last. Gortash. The Bhaalists. The slavers. Orin. Cazador. Octavia despised the feeling of hatred, but even she couldn’t resist the bile that rose in her throat at even the thought of them. Yes, she would feel no sympathy to watch them burn into ash on stage, consumed by a horde of ravenous devils. They deserved that and more for the suffering and death they had inflicted on innumerable innocent lives.

“It’s not my place,” she said finally, trying to close the thoughts from her mind. Raphael smiled, his hand reaching across the table to touch hers.

“It can be.”

Tav finished her dinner, stomaching the remaining sacrifices with as much grace as she could muster. Raphael watched first the sacrifices, then the promotions, with keen interest. Promoting devils exploded into new form on the stage, some in a spray of gore, some in a flash of hellfire. All eyes in the theater flickered back to their new Archdevil, as eager for his approval as they were for the suffering souls presented to them. Their faces turned curiously to her, gazes crawling over her exposed skin like the parasites that they were.

As soon as the ceremony was over, Raphael stood and bowed, offering Tav his arm and escorting her from the top box. As soon as the doors closed behind them, she felt the suffocating tightness in her lungs begin to ease. She took several long, deep breaths, trying to wash the sorrow from her heart. Raphael walked in silence, just the two of them, across the empty halls of the palace. It truly was a masterpiece of architecture, rainbows of light cast across walls of iron and ice.

Passing through open arches, Tav’s breath stole away again when she saw the captivating majesty of the frost gardens blossom in front of her, trees and flowers of all variety, carved in perfect detail from the eternal ice of Cania. The absolute silence, even from the rage of the midnight storms, was broken only by the softest sound of music, as though playing from a distance.

She walked as though in a dream, her cape clutched around her shoulders, and she stopped at every small bush and flower to study the intricacies in great detail. The hands that sculpted these were intimately careful, the veins standing in relief on each tiny petal. A stone path wound through low trees, frosty rose bushes, tulips that caught the light like crystals. Each was a wonder in art and magic. This place would bring Gale to tears.

She turned, noticing that Raphael had shifted into his human appearance. Tav was surprised; she hadn’t expected to see it in Cania. He sheared a crystalline rose from the bush with a flick of his wrist, turning to present it to her with a smile.

_________________________________________

Gale, Astarion, and Shadowheart stepped carefully through the dark cellar, listening for any sign of the staff. The house was still, only a singular distance voice alerting them to the presence of fiends. It was much quieter than anticipated.

The spring had indeed been hiding a sigil, and to Gale’s satisfaction he’d been able to harness the magic to access the sigils in the House of Hope, safely transporting himself and his friends into the cellar. Most likely Raphael was celebrating his ascension in Mephistar; they only needed to find Tav, and they could return to the cavern prepared to make a plan. Hopefully she had been gleaning information during her stay.

A sound alerted them to the presence of another entity, and the three stowaways whipped around to see a winged devil behind them, her dark hair curling, golden eyes bright with mischief.

“Well hello, clever little things. You must be friends of Octavia. Welcome to the House of Hope.”

Chapter 6: Anything

Notes:

Thank you again for the kind reviews!! I hope you enjoy this chapter, reminder that this is still the enemies phase of enemies to lovers! Thank you all so much for reading :)

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Chapter Text

Why did I take it?

Tav held the spindly stem between careful fingers, pleasantly surprised by the cool strength of the treasure. It twirled between her fingertips, more stable than its delicate construction implied. It was like a little crystal sculpture of a rose, carved in pristine realism.

Vandals!” A voice barked behind them, and Raphael and Tav turned to see a gelugon racing towards them. They slowed as Raphael released his glamour, revealing himself to the ice devil. The gelugon fell instantly into a deep bow. “I, I apologize, your Archdevil. Many thanks for your presence in my humble creation. I am the gardner Yoggaa, I tend to these roses. Please, feel free to take as many as you would like.” Tav blinked in surprise. Gelugon held the appearance of repulsive, insect-like creatures. She would never have guessed that one of them had built this haven.

“It’s beautiful,” she said kindly. “Thank you.” The gelugon surveyed her with scrutiny before bowing to her too. At Raphael’s wave, it scurried quickly away from them, and he resumed his human form. “You don’t have to do that.”

“My form is nothing to me,” he said simply, strolling with her through the garden. “I am the Archdevil of Cania no matter how I present myself. And this form feels…appropriate, with you.”

It did feel appropriate. Her arm laced through his, and strolling through the frosty loveliness of Mephistar’s gardens, she could have been on a pleasant trip with her lover. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine a stunning winter walk in the mortal plane, arm in arm with a person that she cared for.

Maybe he gave her a rose.

Her eyes opened, and she was trapped in the hells with her personal devil. She looked up at Raphael, accounting for every inch of his beautiful face, crafted just for a mortal like her. He smiled, his hand coming up to brush her hair back from her face. It was warm and gentle.

When he leaned to kiss her, her face was already turned up. Raphael’s breath was sweet, flavored with the liquor he’d been drinking at dinner. She tasted it on his lips, a temptation that set her body aflame. As his hand slid up her back, pulling her close to him, she felt the curse smoldering gently inside of her. It ignited at his touch, just enough to make her moan into his smiling mouth, not enough to rend suffering to her.

He pulled her into his arms, hands sliding down her thighs to lift her before he displaced them with a crack that didn’t even phase her anymore. Tav panted against his open lips, her fingers winding into his thick, dark hair. f*ck it all. He was the devil, he was a creature of pure evil, he was incapable of loving her, and she was exhausted of resisting him. They were in her suite, the air steaming from dozens of hot springs, the only light from a smattering of low burning candles. Raphael’s eyes caught their gleam, reflecting a stalking predator’s.

She felt him carry her to the bed, like a lover would. He laid her down gently, the silk sheets drawing her in, and he soon followed, easing his weight between her legs. She felt him pull her dress up to her hips, freeing her from the strict confines of her gown. Raphael dragged her up the sheets to the pillows before relaxing against her.

f*ck it felt so natural. Tav could close her eyes and she would be anywhere. The stubble on his face, the intoxicating slide of his tongue against hers, the erotic pressure of his hips, all of it was so…human. Her legs wrapped around his waist, accepting him physically though her mind still fought to reconcile. Yes, he was a devil. But in human form, Raphael was impossible to deny. He kissed her like a lover, touched her like one, his eyes trapped hers with a warmth that she didn't know a devil could emulate. His hands slowly stripped her clothes off, as though he couldn’t simply displace them. As though he couldn’t force her to do, to feel exactly as he wanted her to. As though he wasn’t an Archdevil. And the only reason that a devil would act like this would be if he wanted something from her in return.

“Raphael,” she gasped, pushing back on his shoulders. For a brief moment, the infernal light flashed in his eyes, the fire that he buried beneath courtesy and illusion. “Wait, please.” The way he stared down at her…patient, frightening, disdainful, was a crack in the mask of his human disguise.

“You have no need to be afraid,” he murmured, pulling the fine white shirt over his head. “Tonight I will indulge you.”

Why!?

Why was he acting like a human? What did he want from her? Why did it have to feel so normal, so good, to be under him? Tav’s fingers flexed against his forearms, her back arching as he suddenly, and intimately, ground against her. She moaned, the sweet, organic rush of pleasure entirely different than the forced agony of her curse. She felt for him in her mind, sure that he must be present, but there was nobody besides herself. Me. I’m feeling this. She was succumbing to a devil.

Tav wanted to stop him. She wanted to want to stop him. But instead she wrapped her hands around his neck, thumbs touching the sharp angle of his jaw, and pulled his face to hers. She heard his belt come undone, felt his weight shift as he pushed his own clothes off, no longer having to wonder why he labored like a man when he was something more. This show was for her, small offerings made to present the realest version of a lover that he could be. Magnanimous, Haarlep had called it. He stroked her hair almost imperceptibly as they kissed, his bare chest just brushing her sensitive breasts, his weight between her legs delicious rather than maddening.

“Tell me what you want,” he whispered low in her ear, his co*ck sliding against her sex in agonizingly slow, rolling motions. Tav turned her face away, trying to choke back the whimpers that threatened to break free of her throat. He kissed her exposed neck, teeth grazing the delicate skin there. “Or show me, if you prefer.” He paused then, withdrawing slightly, and waited. Tav panted, overwhelmed by the size of the bed, the heat of his body, the splendor around them. She tried to focus herself on what was real. Raphael, following her eyes, co*cked his head and snapped. The suite around them melted away, into a smaller bedroom, its walls sturdy wood, a small fire warming them, the bed plush but discreet. My room. This is my room.

It was the most frightening, and thinly veiled, threat that she had seen before. Raphael was in her head somewhere, and she had no way of finding him. He pulled the memory of her home in perfect detail without her knowing that he was even there. What else does he know?

She tried to dispel the thought. If he was present, then he was listening to this too, and it was better for her to distract herself with the situation at hand than to risk-

I want you to stop teasing me,” she said, her hand sliding down his chest, his muscular stomach, tracing the short, dark trail of hair until she grasped his length in her hand, tightening her grip as his eyes rolled back. The muscles in his jaw clenched, his body arching over her in a ripple of motion. Tav prayed silently that this would be enough to keep him, and maybe herself, from her mind. So she accepted this compromise, though it was hard to pretend that it was with any kind of reluctance. She was drenched with need, sliding him into her with no resistance whatsoever. Raphael’s mouth opened at the sensation, his hips flexing instinctively into her, sinking to the hilt in her tight, wet heat. “I want you to give me the pleasures that I keep being promised.”

Raphael growled against her lips, and she could sense his urge to burst into cambion form. He refrained, but flashes of gold flamed hot behind his innocuous brown eyes. He moved in her, gradual at first, but with deep, slow strokes.

“Do you?” he asked, his kisses trailing fire down her neck. He held her head tilted to the side, exposing her sensitive skin to his teeth and tongue as she writhed beneath his weight. He pumped into her so slowly, and she could feel her curse stirring in response. “Show me the pleasures that you long for.”

She felt him then, his presence moving like a shadow through her mind as his body moved with increasing ferocity against her, in her. Tav’s heart hammered, but he only grazed the surface of her conscious thought before plunging forcefully into her fantasies. Tav shivered, shrinking from the touch of his mind on hers. She was a soldier of physical and spiritual strength, not equipped to repel even mortal mages from her mind, let alone an Archdevil. The sensation of Raphael simultaneously penetrating her body and her mind was terrifying, intimidating, and pleasurable in a way she had not anticipated. He wound more gently through her most intimate thoughts and memories, finding what he sought and then withdrawing from her with the same care. He smiled, and Tav’s stomach dropped.

Oh darling, you are in just the right place, aren’t you?” he whispered to her, one of his hands winding into her hair and pulling it back gently. He was picking up speed, and as before, she was helpless to do anything but surrender to his endurance. “My pristine little paladin dreams of her own subjugation, and here I am to offer it to you on a silver plate. Tell me how badly you want me to use you, my love.” His teeth were bared by her neck, voice hot and frightening in her ear. Tav trembled, her hands pushing back on his chest. Tears sprang to her eyes, small and secret pain from the intrusion. She felt him gently nip her ear and remembered the souls burning in hellfire, pain consumed by the devils around them. He groaned from the pleasure of her body, the satisfaction of her pain, hard as iron in her and now f*cking her with real force.

“I can’t,” she whimpered, dark shame coloring her. He was right. She had always fantasized of a lover who was skillful, dominant, powerful in a way that she couldn’t help but submit to. Who would use her body, take away the control that rested heavy on her shoulders. She had just never imagined that it would one day be Raphael.

“That’s alright my dear. I’m in no hurry for you to break, take your time. But you are going to ask me tonight, aren’t you?” His voice was velvet, so soft and husky that he almost sounded human.

Tav was close. She panted breathlessly, her pushing hands melting into fingers wrapping around the back of his neck, her legs tight on his waist, back arching off of the mattress. Moonlight shone through the glass windows, casting silver rays across his eyes. She was so close, spiraling mercilessly up and up, and he didn’t sound far behind her. His thrusts were strong, deep, and consistent, but his breath was growing more ragged by the second. Still, he waited.

“Please,” she mouthed wordlessly, voice caught in her throat. Raphael’s lip twitched, a small curl that he immediately crushed. He pulled her head back again by her hair, lowering his face next to her, his ear level with her lips. Faster he drove into her, until she was all but delirious.

“Say it again.” He growled low and dark against her silver hair. Tav quivered, trying to find the presence of mind to figure out if she was making an irreversible mistake. “Say it.

“Please!” she cried, her resistance finally folding. She felt his teeth on her neck, firm but controlled, impressing to her skin before releasing.

“Again.”

Please Raphael!” Tav’s voice tore from her, hoarse and desperate. Her hips ground against him in fierce need, her body entirely unleashed from her control. A fracture raced across her spirit, sharp lancing pain that she watched him breathe in like a perfume. It had not occurred to Tav to wonder if he fed from living suffering in the same way that he fed from souls.

“And what will you offer me for it?” He smiled in her face, every inch the devil despite his human features. Small wrinkles pulled at the bridge of his nose, reminiscent of a snarling animal. Tav didn’t have time to protest; with a flick of his hand, the force of her curse crashed back down over her, and she was no longer able to think. One word floated like a bubble from her chest to her lips, hardly audible.

Anything.

Her climax descended on her like a collapsing wave, rushing through her mind and body with searing, white hot pleasure. Tav couldn’t stifle her scream as it ripped from her chest, raw and primal, muscles in her body seizing uncontrollably as she was overwhelmed by the power of her curse shattering around her mind, body, and soul.

He followed her quickly, teeth latching onto the sensitive skin between her neck and her shoulder, snarling bestially as he claimed her body. His seed seemed to burn her body as she was filled, but her pleasure was dominant to all pain; she could only whimper in utter ecstasy, feeling his teeth pierce her as she started to pass out.

_______________________________________

“I assume you all must be here for either your friend or the crown; either way, a bit foolish to dive in Cania, although I’m sure that you’re very well aware of that.”

Haarlep perched prettily on a high crate, gazing at each adventurer in turn beneath their dark lashes. Gale, Astarion, and Shadowheart stood frozen, unsure of whether to attack the fiend before them. Haarlep was a devil, but they had yet to make any aggressive motions towards the small group. In a place like the hells, any potential ally was a valuable asset…and any enemy could be their downfall.

“You know where they are,” said Gale firmly. “And you know why we’re here. Who are you? What do you have to do with this?” His mind flickered through common subraces of fiends, their strengths and weaknesses. It was difficult to identify this one at a glance, humanoid for certain, but he detected an aura of powerful magic that hinted at illusory abilities. This thing is disguising itself. It was no ordinary devil. The fiend laughed in a high, tinkling voice, shifting form before their eyes to turn into Raphael. Adrenaline coursing through him, Gale prepared a hold monster spell, magic crackling at his fingertips. ‘Raphael’ smiled at them coquettishly…an expression he’d never seen on the devil before. The look alone was enough to make him stay his hand.

“I am Haarlep,” the fiend said softly. “Raphael’s personal incubus.” The mortal group stopped and glanced at one another before lowering their weapons. No, they certainly couldn’t trust this devil. But Haarlep would hold a depth of valuable information that they could use.

“Does he know we’re here?” asked Shadowheart bluntly. She stood back, her wary eyes trained on the handsome fiend. Haarlep shrugged one shoulder.

“Probably not.” Their voice was wicked. “Does a wolf feel the fleas on its back before he is bitten?” Haarlep shifted back into female form, stalking around them, not seeming to be worried about their presence. “Fear not, pests. Raphael is not here, and I doubt that he’s paying attention to the House. You are free to explore so long as you’re not seen, I suppose.”

“Aren’t you…going to tell him?” Astarion said pointedly, his hands on his hips. He looked around at the others, waving a dagger in Haarlep’s direction. “We’re just going to assume it’s not going to tell him? Come on, let’s just kill it.” Haarlep smiled.

“You won’t kill me. I can displace to my master’s side in moments,” said the incubus haughtily. “And he will return with the full power of the crown, to crush you with it. If you’re prepared to fight him right now, then by all means, make an attempt on my life. Personally, I have no reason to report your appearance. I have no knowledge of Raphael’s plan for you. He might even want you to be here.”

“Well that’s worrying,” Astarion grumbled. “Anybody else worried about playing right into a devil’s books?”

“Why did you come here, then?” asked Gale, paying close attention to the incubus’s words. “If you didn’t plan to report our appearance, and you don’t want to fight.” Haarlep’s eyes narrowed, quickly calculating the leader of the small reconnaissance team. Their eyes scoured Gale’s, searching for something in particular.

“I was bored,” said Haarlep, dragging a finger across Astarion’s shoulders as they stalked behind him. The elf jumped in surprise. Haarlep’s voice was cool and aloof, but Gale sensed an undercurrent of evasiveness to their answer. It wasn't lying, but it was avoiding the truth. “I was curious. And Master Raphael wanted to spend a quiet dinner with our dear Octavia.”

Gale’s eyes flashed with rage, and it took both Shadowheart and Astarion both to pull his arms down. His fingertips were bright and cold with ice magic. Haarlep watched with amusem*nt as he regained control over himself.

“No need to worry for your friend, she is quite safe,” Haarlep said. “And hopefully enjoying a wonderful evening. If you’re hungry, there is food for the mortal residents in the back of the cellar. I make no promises as to the coming and goings of others; if you are caught, the staff will certainly report your appearance, and that would be a boring way to end things. So stay to the shadows, little mice, and I will visit you very soon, if you still live.”

The incubus disappeared with a crack, and after a brief pause, Astarion groaned.

“We should have killed it,” he said, dropping his face into his hands. “It was obviously lying, why didn’t we kill it? Now it’s going to get Raphael, and we’re all going to die.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” replied Gale quietly. His brow was furrowed, clearly still conflicted about the information that they were offered, but his mind chewed quickly on the new information. “Devils aren’t always forthright about their intentions, but they’re ambitious creatures to an individual. It may have something to gain from us sabotaging its master, or at the very least playing its hand at a later time. I get the feeling that if it planned to report our appearance, it wouldn’t have taken the time to speak with us at all.”

It was hard to deny the logic. Haarlep could have displaced within moments of identifying them; hells, they had initiated the conversation. They wanted the group to know that the incubus was there.

“I hate devils,” grumbled Astarion, choosing to neglect the fact that he’d begged Gale to let him switch sides earlier that same day. "Sneaky bastards."

“Well, we should look around,” said Shadowheart. “Carefully. We need to take advantage of the empty house, and see what we can find out about Tav and the crown.” Gale and Astarion nodded, and the three set off to find a way out of the cellar.
_______________________________________
Tav woke up slowly, the dark storm outside obscuring the time or day or night here. Actually she hadn’t considered whether Cania functioned on time at all. It seemed to always fluctuate between storms, only occasional brief flashes of light piercing through the nigh impenetrable atmosphere. Flashes of light broke across the sky, sheets of ice falling over the land.

Looking around, it was easy to identify that she was alone in the consort boudoir. Raphael was gone, and Haarlep had not returned. A pain stung at her neck, and she reached up to gently touch the rough, dried scrape of blood there. She felt the sharp shards of memories of the night before pierce her chest at the thought of Raphael, shame flooding her as she collected the pieces of what had been done to her.

Raphael had penetrated her body and mind. He had extracted her darkest thoughts and secrets, used them against her, fed from her pain. And she in return had promised him…anything. She had promised anything to the devil.

Terror gripped her. Tav’s hand flew to her throat, as though to curse it for the words it had allowed to slip from the recesses of her mind. Had her oath been broken? Had she sworn herself to the devil!? How was she supposed to know if her oath remained intact? Tav prayed fiercely to Tyr, reaching into herself to feel the radiant magic that her oath to devotion had granted. Was it still there? She couldn’t tell; her fear masked traces of radiance, and she found herself grasping blindly in her own mind. Even if her oath was intact, had she just contracted her will to Raphael?

Panic overran her thoughts, and she leapt from the bed in fear. There was no sign of any of the staff that had accompanied them to Cania. It was dark and quiet; she couldn’t know how long she had been asleep for, what the time was, nor who was watching her. Her curse had left her again, but unfortunately it meant that she had no way to find her captor.

Tav pulled on the first available clothing options, a dark tunic and her boots, remembering to grab a cloak before she fled the room. The entrance of the boudoir dropped open at her touch; she was apparently free to come and go in this place. Raphael must harbor few concerns about her escaping into the wild eternal winter of Cania.

Outside of the boudoir stalked several imps and gelugons, armed and patrolling the long, vaulted corridors. They looked at her with curiosity, but none tried to stop her as she ran down the hall, searching for any familiar face. Even Korilla would be a welcome figure. Candles lit the halls with white flame, but also cast shadows over the faces of those who passed her by. Raphael had mentioned mortal residents, most likely tieflings, but Tav had yet to see a single one; they must be rarer here than in Avernus. She felt alone, stranded amongst enemies in the deepest levels of the Hells.

Turning a corner, she ran straight into Nephamor, Raphael’s archivist.

The dark haired tiefling caught her in his hands, just as surprised to see her as she was him. He dropped a stack of books that he’d been carrying, mostly leather bound notebooks marked with bits of paper. It seemed he had been organizing Raphael’s records while he was in attendance. Tav pushed herself back, on the defensive instantly, as Nephamor tried to recollect the scattered papers.

“You!” he said in shock, standing. “Why are you running out by yourself? Where is Haarlep?” He looked around as though the incubus would manifest nearby, and then clicked his tongue. “You’re not supposed to be unaccompanied. It’s dangerous here, especially for mortals. Someone should have checked on you by now.”

You’re here,” Tav said, gathering her wits quickly. “I don’t see anybody escorting you.” Nephamor laughed.

“I’m known here,” he replied, offering her his arm. Tav hesitated for only a moment before accepting it, wondering what chance had cast the tiefling across her path. “You are new, and by nature a curiosity. It is not common for an Archdevil to take a mortal consort…although certainly not unheard of.”

“I’m not a consort,” Tav growled, her nails tightening in Nephamor’s long sleeve. “I need to find Raphael. Do you know where he is?” Nephamor turned as though to lead her back to the boudoir, but Tav quickly dug in her heels. They stood in a deadlock at the center of the large hall. The tiefling looked surprised at her resistance.

“Now is not a very good time,” said Nephamor delicately. “I’m sure that if you wait, master Raphael will be back very shortly.”

“I need to see him now.” Tav felt her anger boiling up in her heart. Raphael was not going to use her for his personal torment and then leave her to piece herself back together. “Either tell me where he is, or I find him myself.” She stared down Nephamor, her dark eyes holding his in a glare. The tiefling quavered, his fear of Raphael clearly warring with his intimidation of Tav.

“I, I don’t know where h-he is,” stammered Nephamor, shrinking in his robes. “Miss Octavia, again, I’m sure that-“

Liar,” hissed Tav furiously, her eyes narrowing. She grabbed him by the collar, yanking his face close to hers. She was out of practice with her sword, but she was still stronger than some dusty librarian. Nephamor squeaked, dropping his books again. Strength aside, could she intimidate the truth from him, or was his fear of Raphael even stronger? “Tell me, or so help me I will put you in the ground.” The gelugons on guard watched with interest, but none stepped in to intervene. It seemed that mortal affairs were beneath their responsibility for intervention...which worked just fine for Tav.

“Please don’t,” Nephamor squeaked, his eyes wide. “Don’t look for him. He asked not to be disturbed, I’m sure you would do better to wait.”

Not to be disturbed? There must only be a few places to find privacy, as there were in any palace. And she could think of only a few that Raphael would be content to spend his time in.

“So either the library, an office, or the frost garden?” she thought aloud, listing out the only places that she could imagine Raphael might retire to. Nephamor’e eye twitched on the last one, and she had her location. “Thanks Nephamor. I’ll find him myself.”

“No, Tav stop!

She was gone before he could stop her. I only need to know that my oath is intact, and that I haven’t promised my soul. Although she had not physically signed anything, she knew that a verbal pact held sufficient weight for her to have real problems if it was sound. If Raphael had persuaded that from her, then she may yet have a chance to argue it back. Visions of the burning souls filled her mind, and she wondered whether they had felt the brand on their souls before they died.

Tav wasn’t exactly sure of which paths led to the gardens, but she searched every window as she passed it, looking for the distinct beauty of the sculpted orchard.
_______________________________________

“Last time I came here as an imp, this time as a debtor. We’re on our second deal with a devil, and somehow we always have to look like utter sh*t when we do it.” Astarion scowled down at his ragged disguise, plucking at the ratty clothing with two fingers. Shadowheart rolled her eyes, doing her best to look anguished as they wandered aimlessly among other shadows of lost souls. “If there’s anything to dissuade me from making another deal with one, it’s that our lives never seem to get much better after.”

“Seems there’s a lesson to be learned from that,” Gale replied dryly. “Now we don’t know how much time we have here, but it’s safe to assume that it’s not going to be much. Keep your eyes peeled for any vaults, trap doors, magical barriers, or what have you.”

They found the house easier to explore than most. Raphael loved order, and so every room, every statue and item, had a label. The house was built in the structure of a spoked wheel, so they merely had to stroll the curved halls, reading rooms as they passed them. With debtor disguises, nobody bothered to ask who they were. It seemed that only debtors and imps remained, conducting basic maintenance on the house.

“Let’s say we find it, what’s the plan then?” whispered Shadowheart as they passed a debtor crawling on the floor. “We can’t use it, I’m not even sure that we can touch it. We don’t know what the magic will do to you.”

They stopped at a door labeled “Archives”, looking at one another in understanding. It was closed, with a strong magical ward protecting the lock. They would need to find the key, wherever it was. Gale doubted that the crown would be there, but it may hold other important items of use.

“Let me worry about that.”

They didn’t bring up Octavia, but she was forefront in all of their worries. If Haarlep spoke the truth, then finding her would be much more difficult than originally anticipated. It sounded like Raphael was active in her indoctrination, which would prove to be a challenge in reaching her without garnering the wrong kind of attention. And, although they trusted her strength, Tav had only so much time to fight back until she was either forced or discarded.

“Do you think that the incubus can turn into anything?” It seemed that not everybody was occupied with concern for their friend. Astarion’s mischievous smile flashed across the hall at them, even as he fiddled with a locked door. He was able to open it, but it was only another balcony.

“…gross, Astarion.”

_______________________________________

Tav finally found the right doors. The brisk wind cut through even her cloak, chilling her to the bone as soon as she crossed the threshold to the garden. The shimmering bushes, eerie in their stillness, lined the stony path.

No one stopped her here either. She didn’t know what kind of protection was extended over her, but the devils certainly knew who she was by now. They stared as she stormed through the garden, searching for the man or cambion form of the devil who had kidnapped her.

The storm howled all around the palace, all darkness and shadow. The protective spell kept the worst of it out, the sound and ice that fell in waves against the magical barrier. Braziers were lit on every corner of the winding path, offering just enough light for her to look for him, but still it was difficult to make out any figures in the darkness. Tav searched tirelessly, sure that he must be here.

There. Raphael stood in cambion form beneath a cherry tree of sheer ice, writing something in a small black book. He appeared to be alone, finely dressed and making private notes of some kind. Tav felt righteous fury blind her, and she ran to him despite her screaming instincts.

Raphael turned at her approach, looking surprised to see her in the garden. She wanted to approach him reasonably, ask rather than demand, but the smug curl of his lip sent her logic flying behind out from under her. Before he could say a word, before she could wrangle her anger under her control, her hand swung back and she slapped him hard.

Hot rage flashed behind his golden eyes, and still she couldn’t stop. Tav squared up to him fearlessly, her hands balled into fists at her sides.

How dare you,” she snarled, braced to her full height. Raphael was much taller in his cambion form, which made it difficult to intimidate him. But she stood before him with the strength and courage of a paladin, albeit one who was still unarmed. “How could you take advantage of me like that!? What did you do to me?

There was a soft chuckle behind her, and Tav started, turning around. A towering devil stepped out from a curve in the stone path, previously concealed behind the dense orchard thickets. He was handsome, with straight dark hair, broad wings, and curled ram horns that reminded her of-

Oh. Oh no. Mephistopheles, the preceding Archdevil of Cania, walked before her, his blazing eyes scrutinizing her critically. Tav stood very still as it dawned on her that she had just accosted Raphael in front of his father.

She heard a snap, and the garden around her disappeared instantly, flashing into what seemed to be an office.

Tav stood still for a long moment, processing what had just happened.

She had been angry. She was still angry. Raphael had combed her thoughts without her permission twice, had used her curse against her to force her to beg, fed off of her pain, twisted her mind to make her agree to anything…regardless of whether or not her oath was even intact, he had assumed the risk with no thoughts towards her feelings about it.

The evening had been a series of threats under a thin illusion of kindness. He had shown her his power in more ways than one, shown her all of the different ways that she should be afraid of him. And the worst part was that it was working; now, standing in what seemed to be Raphael’s office, obviously displaced to be dealt with at a later time, Tav was trembling from abject fear. Cold sweat broke over her, her heart pounding as she wondered how much time she had until she faced his wrath.

Nowhere to run, and no allies, Tav was going to have to accept whatever consequences he deigned to inflict on her. She wondered vaguely if there were weapons in the office, something she could grab to defend herself.

As she turned to look, something else happened, and Tav instantly understood the extent of Raphael’s rage.

His hold on her curse disappeared entirely, and she was struck with the full force of it. Worse than that, it was more powerful than she remembered, even when it had been first inflicted. Tav’s knees hit the floor and she collapsed in on herself, moaning in agony, her knuckles white as she gripped the fine rug in her effort to ride out the pain.

This time was different. Before, pleasure had washed over her in waves, the kind of torment built to be endured over longer periods of time. This one was intense and sustained, keeping her on the edge with hardly even the space to breathe. All of her muscles constricted agonizingly, pain where there had once been pleasure. No, she had no hope of defending herself when she didn’t have the strength to stand.

“Tyr, protect me,” Tav cried, wondering if the gods could even hear her from the hells. They were silent, for any matter, determining her either too far or too unworthy to be saved. “Helm save me!

No one answered. Only Raphael would answer her, and she dreaded the moment of his arrival.

Haarlep!” Even the incubus was silent. Tav’s last hope smashed into pieces around her, and she writhed on the floor in mingled pleasure and pain. Her body seized, but this was not the throes of ecstasy she had experienced only the night before. Rather, it was a crippling torment that only served to send a message; Raphael was angry, and he planned to deal with her when she was at her lowest.

Tav couldn’t steel herself. She couldn’t fight him or the curse. All she could do was endure, and pray for the mercy of any god who would listen.

_________________________________________

Her begging was like a sweet hymn in his ears, playing soft and sorrowful as his father spoke. Raphael was furious at her insolence, but he had more important matters at hand than the pride of his paladin.

“She is willful,” said Mephistopheles, his white eyes gleaming with interest and malice. “Still so fierce. I’m surprised that you haven’t broken her yet. Would not Korilla make a better choice for your chosen? She is a mortal ward who has yet to leave your side. There would be no need to put such effort in her.” Raphael scoffed.

“Korilla has been in my employment for decades, father, but she works in the shadows on the material plane. She is either known as my agent, or not known at all. The paladin is known well across all of Faerún, even the remote corners of the world speak her name. Molding her is taxing on my time, but will be better for me when the work is done correctly.” He had plans for Tav, and didn’t appreciate his father’s scrutiny into them. Especially not when Mephistopheles had done such a poor job himself of establishing any kind of following on the mortal worlds. We wouldn’t be discussing this at all if she hadn’t interrupted in such a tasteless manner. Her pleas for mercy echoing in the back of his mind as she suffered in his office were an adequate compensation…for now.

“I trust that you know what you’re doing. Out of all my progeny, you were perhaps the best of them at managing mortal affairs. It was part of what made me select you as my heir, you know.” Mephistopheles finally let the issue rest. “I understand that you mean to unite Baator. Asmodeus will not bend his knee to you, my son.”

“He must. I hold more power than he, my armies are larger, and soon every level of the Hells will be allied to me. If he does not bow, he will break.” Raphael’s sharp teeth flashed. He respected his father’s age and experience, enough to understand the need to keep his council. Another devil, driven by greed and with no eye for the future, might have taken the opportunity to kill Mephistopheles, ensuring that no treachery would ever threaten their throne. Raphael harbored no such concerns. His father had ever cared more for his magical research than the throne, and both had seen opportunity in a familial alliance.

“You underestimate Asmodeus’s power then. He is not the same as other Archdevils; he is closer to his godhood than even you. You will need more than raw power to take his realm, and the attempt may still cost you everything. You need to be practical about how you approach this…and him.” Mephistopheles’s warning did not fall on deaf ears. Raphael nodded, his mind turning over the information. “You’ll need to meet with him, to claim his recognition as an Archdevil. Clean the malice from your mind, meet him with good intentions, and see for yourself what I speak of. Then, return to the safety of Cania and decide what you are to do.”

His father’s support was not of generosity; he, like all devils, saw opportunity in the power wielded by his son, and had allied himself to it. Raphael knew that Mephistopheles spoke the truth, and that his approach to Asmodeus must be carefully constructed.

So for now, he would send an attendant with a request for an audience. He would play the part of a humble servant, as he’d done a hundred million times before, to insects who had never been worth the mud scraped from his boot. He could bow to Asmodeus now, and wipe the god’s blood from his soles later.

In the meantime, his chosen still needed to learn a very important lesson…but it was one that could wait until she had given up on her prayers. She needed time for contrition, and he needed to calm himself rather than risk ruining his delicate process or even killing her in his rage. Until then, he could whet his appetite for torment with Hope. Although he had to admit that she’d been growing tiresome with the addition of his newer, markedly less frustrating charge.

Yes, it may be time to throw in the towel and kill her. He grimaced at the thought. Without a soul brand, Hope would return to her goddess after death, not into his realm, which was the outcome that she had been waiting for. He was loathe to lose a game to someone so pitiful, and yet it had become boring to come up with new means of torture. Still, better to exercise himself on Hope than to risk seeing Tav too soon after her offense.

“Thank you for your counsel, father. I will consider it heavily in my next moves.” He inclined his head briefly before departing the gardens, wondering what there was to be done about Hope.

Tav screamed in his mind in the most beautiful song of agony.

Chapter 7: The Hands of my Master

Notes:

Thank you to my readers and commenters!! I hope you're enjoying the fic, as always I very much welcome any and all feedback. Please enjoy this chapter <3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“The key to the archive has to be either in the boudoir or on Raphael himself, Gale I am telling you that there is no secret treasure vault. The archive is the secret treasure vault!!” Shadowheart hissed angrily, dangerously close to tearing her silver hair by the roots. Gale scoffed, his arms folded tightly. They were starting to draw some attention from the real debtors, who started to watch them with unwelcome curiosity.

“So you’re telling me that the key to the archives is in the boudoir, and the key to the boudoir is in the archives? That is inane, Shadowheart. We have either overlooked something, or we’ll have to regroup and come up with another plan, because as of right now we are out of options and running out of time!” Gale pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “We have to look again, there can be no other choice right now. We don’t have the time to return empty handed.”

Specters of suffering souls manifested and disappeared around them, their cries echoing softly from the ethereal plane. There was a sudden crack and the debtors, previously wandering close, dropped to the floor. The group had all of a second before Astarion pointed to the long end of the hall.

“Is that Raphael?”

Shadowheart dragged both of the men to the ground, prostrating herself in the hopes that Raphael wouldn’t recognize them. They donned the ragged debtor attire, but had run out of spells to disguise their faces; she hoped that burying her face in her arms would be enough to keep him from noticing that anything was off.

The devil stormed by them, his boots loud and angry on the marble floors. He passed them without a glance, and she could feel the heat rolling off of him as he walked. Raphael was angry enough to not pay his debtors notice, and she breathed a silent sigh of relief as he turned the long end of the hall, disappearing into another room.

Shadowheart, Gale, and Astarion exchanged glances before rising and stalking quickly behind him. They peeked around the corner, well aware of the danger that they were in. Raphael was standing beside an attractive sitting area; with a wave of his hand, a platform appeared. Gale turned to Shadowheart, mouthing ‘I told you so’ soundlessly.

“I’m going to pickpocket him,” breathed Astarion, leaning forward. Shadowheart and Gale grabbed him simultaneously, wrestling him violently away from the door. There was a mechanical whir, and Raphel disappeared into the bowels of the house.

Are you mad!” Shadowheart yelled in a whisper. “We are not risking that right now! Come on, we have to go back. Let’s tell Karlach and Wyll what happened, and figure it out from there.” With a tug, the team started to move quickly back towards the kitchen cellar.

“Wait!” It was Gale this time. He had frozen, and was staring hard at a specter lying curled on the floor. Shadowheart started to tug his sleeve, but stopped as soon as she saw the river of long, light hair, the short, pointed ears of a half elf.

“Tav?”

The specter began to wail, her hands tight in her hair, her body stiffening on the ground. As they watched in horror, her voice became clearer.

“Please, Raphael!” she howled, her opaque form shaking. “Please stop, I’m sorry! Please, somebody help me!!” Her voice rose in pitch to a shriek, agony lancing through every word.

They ran to her, falling to their knees, but as soon as Astarion touched the prone figure she vanished. The three of them sat in silence on the floor, staring at the space that their friend's shadow had occupied.

“No,” whispered Gale, his hand brushing the floor. “She can’t be…dead, right? Not yet?” He leaned on his extended arm, the other hand coming up to clutch the front of his robes in shock. “He wouldn’t so soon, right? Shadowheart?” He was reaching to her for help. Shadowheart bit her lips, fighting back tears.

“No, it’s impossible,” she said firmly, refusing to believe otherwise. “Raphael is more patient than that. She has to be kept imprisoned somewhere. She is alive, and if we don’t go now, we may not be able to help her.” She wiped her eyes angrily, pulling both of the shocked men to their feet. Even Astarion was shaken, his eyes locked on the blank space on the floor. “Come on!

Astarion recovered first, helping her to lift Gale to his feet. They stumbled back to the kitchens, sobered by the vision they had witnessed.

_______________________________________

Pain was difficult to bear under the best of circ*mstances. Octavia was no stranger to pain; at six, she had broken her first bone. At ten, she’d needed stitches in her head and right arm, after falling out of a tree. When she started training to be a Paladin of Tyr at only twelve, her rate of injury had increased exponentially. Broken fingers, sliced thighs and abdomen, concussions, lacerations…she had experienced it all. Pain had become an ally to be welcomed in order to be endured; she had learned this fact at a very young age.

Tav knew how to bear pain, or at least, she had thought she did.

This pain was no friend of hers. It possessed her body and mind, winding constantly through her barriers, finding her soft underbelly and barreling through it. It flexed between pleasure and agony, sabotaging any efforts that she made to isolate it. It was constant, overwhelming, bearing down on her with the kind of venom that broke her focus every time she thought that she had found it. It was pure hell, torment that drove her to cry to her gods for relief. And, eventually, to cry to Raphael.

For once, the devil was silent. There was no hope of trying to relieve herself, either. Curse of pleasure aside, all of the muscles in her body were wracked with the strain of bearing its force. To touch herself in this state was torture. Blood racing, breath quickening, skin burning, she couldn’t bear the thought of anything touching her.

Without the sun, there was simply no way to know how much time passed. Tav eventually fell into silence, her tears wetting the floor beneath her, her throat raw from screaming. She whimpered softly, enduring what she must, praying silently for the torment to end. Is this what my hell would be like? How long before her sanity broke? She had no idea if she’d been enduring minutes, hours, or days of this.

Her gods had abandoned her. Tav released them, losing the energy to think about anything besides enduring her pain. For an eternity she only endured.

There was a crack, the aroma of sulfur, and a sharp spike in her pain. Tav would have screamed if she hadn’t lost her voice ages ago, but fresh tears traced down her face to the rug beneath her, her body twisting as muscles contracted simultaneously. It took several minutes before she noticed the fine black boots in front of her face.

A hand buried into her collar, lifting her easily from the floor. Tav had no strength left to resist it, hardly enough to keep her head upright. Her eyes were blurry, but she saw Raphael examining her closely, frightening and resplendent in cambion form. She felt him touch her mind, testing the corners and the cracks, before finally he lifted the weight of the curse from her.

Oh,” she moaned, her entire body shuddering as relief flooded her. Her body ached horribly, but the burning agony was finally gone. She felt the curse simmering still, but flickers of desire were nothing in the wake of abject suffering. He placed her back on the floor carefully, walking to his desk and sitting at the armchair. Tav caught her breath gradually, every muscle fatigued beyond belief.

“Come here.” His voice was low and authoritative. Tav took a shaky breath before pushing up with her hands, her tear-streaked face lifting to look up at him. His eyes still flamed with anger, although there was much more control to it now. She wasn’t yet sure of what that meant for her, but she knew that she had little recourse but to obey.

Tav tried to rise, but quickly found that her legs could no longer take her weight. She looked at him again, and found no mercy hidden beneath the fury. And so, her spirit and her pride collapsed beneath her in a stab of pain almost as bad as the full weight of her curse. Almost. Tav began to crawl.

As soon as she reached his feet, she felt his hands pull her by the front of her tunic, dragging her up to straddle his lap, her head resting against his chest. She shook all over with fear and relief as she felt him stroke her hair comfortingly.

“Good girl,” he murmured, easing back in the chair. Tav was ashamed that she wasn’t revolted, only weak with the hope that her punishment was over. “Don’t worry, you’re almost done.”

Before she could process his words, her clothing was displaced with a snap, leaving her fully nude in his lap. Tav flinched, doubly exposed since he had left his own on, electing instead to simply open the front of his pants. Pulling out his ridged co*ck, he dragged her hips over himself, sliding easily over her slick sex. Despite the pain that it had inflicted on her, the combined pleasure of the curse had resulted in her being drenched down to almost her knees. She tried to bury her face in his shoulder, humiliated by the unwilling physical response, but he pulled her head back to scour her eyes. Satisfied with what he found, he released her hair, still rubbing her on his quickly hardening length.

“Here’s what we’re going to do now,” he said, pulling her weight up to start working himself into her. Tav’s mouth dropped open, unable to believe that her body wanted him still. Sure enough, her hips jerked instinctively, aching to swallow more of him. Thankfully he let her hide her humiliation against his collar this time. “You’re going to ride until you surrender to me again. I’m going to draft your contract. Deal?”

It was a rhetorical question. Tav could hardly squeak out a reply, her hips already working against his, her body flexing in carnal pleasure. Her arms were wrapped around his neck, holding him like an anchor as she rode. Her legs may not be able to hold her full weight, but they found the strength to brace against him.

She bucked mindlessly, her chest tight to his, her face buried as she chased the pleasure that had eluded her before. She was quickly brought to edge, close to org*sm with no possibility of triggering it herself. He was warm beneath her, passive, allowing her to set her own pace. Tav’s legs shook, even with one of Raphael’s hands supporting her thigh. His other…

There was a scratch of quill against paper. Tav had no strength to fight back anymore, but she did turn to confirm what she’d dreaded to be true; Raphael was indeed drafting her contract.

The ink was vivid red, what she highly suspected to be human blood, and the parchment a thin, fine stretch of skin. Raphael was writing up her contract right in front of her, while she was mounted to him against her will. She wanted to stop, to scream, to tell him that she would prefer to die than sign her life to him, but all she could do was bury his co*ck in her, rutting single mindedly in pursuit of relief.

And it was close, too. Her stomach quivered in fruitless anticipation, dancing on the edge of bliss, a thousand times as alluring after the ordeal Tav had just survived.

Working herself on him, Tav felt so close that she wondered if she’d be able to break past the physical and mental barriers herself. She moaned, nearly silent from her torn throat, riding harder and harder, every second feeling closer to success. Her muscles fluttered around him, flexing in anticipation, teetering on the very precipice of climax like a coin tipping over into a well.

Only a little more. A little harder, a little faster! Tav rode with determination, easily as fast as she’d ever galloped a horse. A frustrated snarl broke free of her chest; sliding herself on and off of Raphael frantically, she tried to force her mind and body past the confines of her curse, sure that she could break through it with enough effort.

Sweat broke out over Tav’s body as her muscles began to quiver and strain, protesting their exhaustion. She was quickly draining her energy, though her body demanded its fulfillment. She realized that, yet again, she had been fooled by desire. She was no closer to climax than when she’d started. All I’ve been doing is enthusiastically pleasuring Raphael while he works.

His hand was steady despite his wet, eager partner, writing in straight and neat lines across the paper.

“What do you think, love? Your friends free of their shackles, yourself back in Faerún, my power behind you. I can manifest when you call for me, if you’d like to add that to your contract, so long as you don’t abuse it. I’d much prefer our meetings to be in private, you understand. In return you lead my worshippers, contract my followers, and sacrifice your enemies in my name. How does that sound, sweetling?”

Ah!” Tav gasped, unable to string two thoughts together. She wanted to stop, give up on her chase, but she was too far gone for that.

“Oh, forgive me, my Octavia. I forgot. Is there something else that you want first?” He gripped her upper arms, prying her off of his chest to inspect her distraught features. Streaked with tears, eyes unfocused from pain and exhaustion, a thin line of saliva breaking from her lip, she looked a terrible mess. She still flexed her hips against him, a motion she had long lost control over. “Yes, I believe you’re nearly spent, love. Alright, let’s finish this then.”

Raphael lifted her off of him, to her mixed relief and anguish. He lowered her to her knees between his spread legs, his hand pulling her face into his lap. Tav’s lips parted obediently, taking him in her mouth without complaint. If it meant he wouldn’t leave her like that again, she’d kneel willingly whenever he wanted her. The silent truth of that filled her with horror and loathing at how abruptly her will had collapsed. And, worst of all, how the thought excited her.

He leaned back in the armchair, thrusting up into her mouth as she sucked gently, her dark eyes pleading for his mercy. Her submission seemed to exhilarate him; Raphael sighed, tipping his head back and groaning as he neared org*sm. 'Please, me too,' Tav begged silently. He smiled down at her generously…as though he could hear her. He probably can.

He shifted his weight, and she felt the firm, smooth tip of his fine shoe press against her actively dripping sex. Tav moaned around his rigid length in desperate need, leaning her weight back against it despite the ashes of her pride rising in active revolt. Why am I even fighting it? As though this isn’t the lowest that I can be brought to?

“Now.” His dulcet voice dripped with arrogance, dominance, and disdain. But her body responded anyways, launching her into an intense, sustained org*sm, her scream muffled by the co*ck lodged in her throat. Her hands clenched into fists on his pants, holding tightly as she frantically rocked her hips against him. The smooth leather, the rough laces…her pride shattered again as she was forced to org*sm against Raphael’s shoe.

Oh gods, how do I ever look at myself in a mirror again?

As she convulsed against him, Raphael arched his back and pulled her down on himself, burrowing deep in her throat before unloading inside of her. Her humiliation was apparently enough for him to finally be sent over the edge. Tav’s eyes closed, grinding the last echoes of her climax out as she choked and swallowed around him.

She stayed very still as her pleasure abated, not daring to pull off of him first. Raphael thrust gently for several more seconds, enjoying her thoroughly used mouth. When he looked back down at her, she fought her burning shame to hold his gaze. Raphael smiled.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, my dear. You’re going to have to do the other shoe.”
_______________________________________

“We storm the palace.” Karlach’s quiet seriousness was exponentially scarier than her fiery rage. She stared evenly at the others, their reconnaissance team having rejoined her and Wyll in the cavern.

Have you gone mad? That is assured to be our end. No matter what we’ve seen, our priority has to be the crown.” Gale’s voice broke with the pain of choice, his eyes turned away as he tried to accept his own logic. “Tav will have to hold out for a little longer. I believe in her. Once we get our hands on the crown, my magic will be strong enough to displace us all back to the mortal plane, and then this nightmare of an adventure will be over.”

“Besides which, she may not even be alive. So we cannot waste time trying to execute a failing mission…we have to find the crown first, Tav second,” Shadowheart followed up. Gale whipped around in shock and grief at her admittance of the possibility that Tav’s soul had already been eternally claimed. Shadowheart flinched, defending herself quietly. “We have to consider it, Gale. As much as we may hope that it isn’t true.”

Astarion snorted, and the group rounded on him. He didn’t back down, arms crossed in defiance.

“Oh please. Are we all remembering the same paladin? Octavia, right? Oath of devotion? Goody goody, ‘can’t even kill a goblin if it hasn’t wronged her first’ Tav? There is no chance that she’s already surrendered. And if Raphael kills her without a soul brand, she’s certainly not going to be in the hells. He might wear her down with time, or she him, but I get the feeling that that’s what we witnessed. Not a tormented soul. Well, maybe a little tormented, but not a dead tormented soul.”

Despite their clear annoyance over the visual, they breathed a collective sigh of relief. Astarion was right, for once. As grim as the vision had been, Tav was almost certainly still alive. Imprisoned, tormented, and lost in Cania, but alive.

“So you’re going back to the house tomorrow?” Karlach sounded hopeful, pushing past the gruesome image that her friends had conjured. Gale nodded.

“We have to. There’s a hidden entrance that we haven’t checked, and I have the feeling that he’s hiding something there. It may not be the crown, but it’s certainly going to be something. In the meantime, we have to decide what we’re going to do about the incubus.” Gale frowned, tapping his lips thoughtfully. They, at least, had the luxury of a little time. There was plenty of food stored here, plus they could now access the kitchens if they began to run low. Raphael was still playing out his game with Tav, for the time being. Darkness was starting to fall outside, bringing with it the horrible howling of the evening storm.

“Well we obviously can’t trust it,” Wyll insisted. “It’s a devil, it will only look out for itself. If it didn’t report you, which I still don’t truly believe, then it’s holding out for something worse it can do. I say we forget the thing entirely.”

“It could prove to be informative, if nothing else,” Shadowheart offered. “With a grain of salt. I don’t think we can afford to ignore any semblance of help, even from a devil.” Gale opened a crate as he listened, pleased to find a supply of mostly fresh vegetables.

“You know, you can let me handle them,” Astarion offered innocently. Karlach groaned, slinging an arm around his waist and hefting the smaller elf over her shoulder like a sack of flour. “Karlach no! Do not dump me in that foul water again!

“No devils!” she growled, pausing before tossing him onto a couch. Astarion hit the cushions with a thump, the wind knocked out of him. “Nobody is messing with the incubus. Got it!?” She turned to glower at the others, who quickly nodded. Her eyes softened. “I…I’m sorry. I just can’t watch somebody else go through it all over again. I love you guys too much to see you here.”

“Alright Karlach. No devils.”

_______________________________________

Tav woke slowly, painfully. She ached incessantly, in muscles that she’d never noticed before..which was saying something, for a paladin. She didn’t know where she was or what was happening, only that she was warm, and it was almost too dark to see.

She was braced up, leaning weakly against something. As her mind caught on, she felt a hand stroking her back very gently. Her thoughts were groggy and disorganized, but they began to seep back into her. Unpleasantly. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she had fallen asleep in Raphael’s lap.

Tav pushed against his shoulders, struggling to orient herself quickly. It was much darker than before, indicating that there was indeed a night in this realm. A dim light flickered behind her; Raphael was working by candlelight now, writing on a hovering document with one hand while he petted her with the other, his feet kicked up on the large desk to counterbalance her weight.

“Is that my-” she squeaked, her throat swollen and painful. Raphael paused, his quill hovering at the parchment, a drop of blood clinging to the tip.

“No,” he replied before replacing it in its floating holder. “This is for Korilla. I have to update some of my existing contracts since ascending.” He leaned back and gazed down at her, his expression calm and unreadable. “How are you feeling?”

“How am I…are you serious?” Tav whispered, unable to raise her voice anymore. “Let me off!!” He opened his arms, and Tav struggled furiously before falling to the floor. Her body hurt far too badly for her to move away from where she hit the ground.

Raphael sighed, standing and lifting her like a child. Tav’s hands clenched on his coat, but that was all she could do until she regained her strength. He displaced them from the office to the boudoir.

“I don’t want you here,” she sniffed, shoving back at him. Raphael didn’t respond, carrying her to the bed and pulling the sheets back to tuck her in. She might be notably more afraid of him after her ordeal, but right now her shame reigned supreme. And Raphael was in a better mood than before, a safer outlet for her indignance.

“I know,” he said, slipping under the sheets beside her. He dragged her close, his chest steaming hot against her back. Tav’s fingers clenched in the sheets, but she didn’t bother trying to wiggle away. “Tomorrow you can lick your wounds. I’ll be meeting with…professional associates. You’ll have the day to yourself.”

Tav sulked in silence, resenting his warmth, his breath against her hair. His hands on her body, holding her to him. How could her tormentor inspire such conflicting feelings in her?

“Raphael,” she said quietly, her voice soft in the darkness. He hummed sleepily against her back. “Is my oath broken?”

He was silent for a long time, before his hand slid from her shoulder to her chest, pressing firmly between her breasts. She sucked in a breath, before feeling his magic winding down to her core, probing for her radiant aura. To her overwhelming relief, she felt her magic stir in response. Something had suppressed it; probably being in the hells, or her fear, or both.

“No, it’s there,” he yawned, sliding his hand to her cheek. He breathed deeply.

“And, did we make a verbal contract?” Perhaps she was pushing her luck, but Raphael was unusually placid.

“Is that what that was about, in the gardens?” he asked in disbelief. “You thought…no, Octavia. A pact can’t be made under duress. The influence of the curse negates any contract, even a written one, that you could agree to. You can promise whatever you want while you have it. Haven’t you ever read the laws of the hells?”

What!?” Tav pushed herself upright. “Then why do I have it?

“Because some of us plan ahead,” Raphael murmured, tugging her back down beside him. “I don’t intend to contract you for a while, you can relax. You’ll be under your own mind when we decide that, because you must be. Now sleep, my darling.”

It was a command, and one charged with compulsion. Tav felt herself fall quickly into unconsciousness.

He was gone when she woke. Tav sat up slowly, wincing as her body protested even the slightest motion. It wasn’t exactly light in the room, but the dark storm from before had lifted somewhat. The candles remained lit, but they looked more ominous than cozy. Tav looked around; it was quiet again. Her curse remained asleep, indicating that she had been forgiven for the incident in the gardens. She felt rested, but also achingly fatigued.

There was a sheet of parchment on the side table nearest to her. Picking it up, she saw a short list, written neatly in Raphael’s elegant script:

1. Bathe
2. Eat
3. Wait for Haarlep.

Tav scowled, replacing it on the table. As though I would try anything today after yesterday’s experience. She planned to not even leave the room until her ‘punishment’ was a slightly more distant memory. Still, her stomach twisted as she realized that she hadn’t even eaten the day before. Nothing except-

Her face burning, she quickly turned her attention to getting herself out of the enormous bed. Teeth clenched, legs shaking, she stumbled off of the cushions and towards one of the steaming pools, hoping for a rejuvenation bath. She crumpled to the ground beside the pool, her screaming muscles hardly able to support her weight. Slipping in, she shivered at the wonderful heat, chills running up her spine. She wasn’t sure if it held the same magical properties as the pool in Raphael’s House of Hope, but it certainly felt good.

And it felt even better when she saw the platter of fruits and cheese on a platform beside her. Tav bit directly into a thick wedge of durinbold, her hunger more intense than her sense of decorum. She ate ravenously, pausing only to pour herself a silver chalice of wine.

I wonder what my friends are doing. She wondered at the strange contrast of her time in Cania. Tav sat in the lap of luxury now, feasting on fruits, fine wines lined up beside the pools, a morning devoted to tending herself. But she had been shown how a snap of the wrong finger could change everything about her station in the hells.

No, she certainly couldn’t surrender to her fate. She needed to find her way out, crown or no crown, and escape her captor’s power. Is there an escape? If what Raphael said was true, then she would only be buying time by running. He would catch her eventually, perhaps even as a sacrifice by his next chosen…and then her day of torment would be her reality for all of eternity.

She shuddered horribly, unwilling to imagine her fate in his hands. I’d be sentencing others to the same though, if I took his deal. As afraid as she was of Raphael, the thought of sending anybody to him, even her enemies, was abhorrent. So…what do I do? Do I accept an eternity of torment in exchange for the lives that would be lost at my hand? Can I be content with the sacrifice knowing that somebody else will execute his will in my stead?

I must find the crown.

The pool didn’t run out of heat, and Tav actually dozed off for several minutes as she measured the balance of her own future.

Hello my darling!” A chipper voice snapped her out of her daze, and Tav splashed as she quickly sat up in the pool. Haarlep danced across the room, their arms filled with coats and bags. More infernal fur, it seemed, and merchant bags from whoever sold things in the hells. They wore a sleek, dark dress beneath a thick cloak. “I heard you had a rough day! And night! How are you feeling?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” mumbled Tav, sinking back into the hot water. She closed her eyes and tried to forget the sheer humiliation of her previous afternoon.

“Mhm, our baby has finally been punished, poor thing. You know, he got me too yesterday. Put me on a rack and really had his way with that whip, if you know what I mean.” Tav’s eyes opened in surprise, and she looked up at the femininely curved incubus, who was now opening boxes on the bed.

“What? Why?” she asked. Haarlep turned towards her slightly, offering her a little smirk.

“For not watching you, of course. It’s alright, love. I don’t mind being punished, although I may inquire a favor of you later.” Haarlep winked cheekily, revealing a box of expensive pastries. They carried the treats to the pool and set them next to Tav, stripping down. Tav, meanwhile, felt the bite of guilt at her heart. She’d gone in search of Raphael, and in return, even Haarlep had been tortured for it. The incubus slipped into the pool beside her, selecting a chocolate sweetroll coated in fine, white sugar.

“I’m so sorry,” whispered Tav. She meant it, too. Haarlep might be a devil, but they hadn’t deserved to be punished out of her own wrongdoing. “I won’t get you into trouble again. I didn’t know that would happen.” Haarlep laughed.

“I’m sure it will happen again,” they said cheerfully, offering the box to Tav. She felt sick from the thought of Haarlep subjected to Raphael’s anger, but she was also very hungry; she hesitated before picking up a tart. “Don’t fret, mouse. I enjoy a date with the whip as much as one with my master…both together can be rather sublime. You should try it sometime!”

Tav swallowed her bite of dessert and shivered at the thought. Raphael had yet to put his hands on her in violence; she couldn’t fathom being the subject and target of his rage.

“No, thank you,” she groaned, leaning her head back. She knew now that it was another rejuvenation pool…apparently a common occurrence in hell’s boudoirs. The realization was concerning. “Do you really enjoy that? You never want to leave?” Haarlep was very still for a moment, even their jaws still as they stopped chewing. Tav was instantly nervous; had she betrayed her intentions? She hadn’t considered how Haarlep might perceive that comment. Blasted fool, tell me that I didn’t ruin everything.

“Sometimes, I suppose,” said Haarlep finally, chewing and swallowing the rest of their treat as though nothing had happened. “But he has more potential than any other master I could have, save the archdevil Asmodeus. And he likes me better than Asmodeus does, so I gain more power and privilege remaining at Raphael’s side.”

“Is that all that you care for? Power and privilege?” Tav was pushing her limits, but she was genuinely curious about why Haarlep remained with their cruel master.

“What else is there? Freedom? I lack the bloodline to live in the way that Archdevils and princes of hell do. Ugh, I’d rather die my final death in Baator than crawl the material plane, digging roots to trade for scraps. The hells offer me luxury, wealth, influence, and privilege; what position in your world could I hold that has even half so much?” Haarlep didn’t seem angry at her questions, rather baffled. Tav was equally conflicted. She’d known devils to be ambitious by nature, but hadn’t realized that they understood no other value.

“There’s happiness in freedom, even a humble one,” she insisted. Haarlep scoffed.

“There is happiness in being fed too,” they retorted. “And sleeping in silk. And bedding the most beautiful nymphs that walk the planes. My time is composed of the fantasies that your mortal kin only dream of. They suffer at the hands of kings and receive nothing for it. I suffer at the hands of my master, and receive an eternal life of which mortals cannot conceive.”

Tav had no reply for that. How could she explain to a devil that happiness was not measured in pleasure and gold?

“Where did you get all of this?” she asked instead, changing the subject. Haarlep turned and smiled contentedly at the goods stacked on their bed.

“Traveling devils and mages visit Mephistar to trade for scrolls or knowledge, they often bring produce from their own planes, or even yours. Sometimes I ask Korilla for souvenirs. Today I went to the bazaar, gelugons from other citadels had come to trade. I bought a lovely fur for you.” Haarlep flicked their wrist, and one of the bags flew open, revealing a floor length black fur.

“Oh…thank you,” said Tav, touched that they had thought of her despite her hand in Haarlep’s punishment the day before. “I have nothing to give you.”

Oh but you do,” said Haarlep gleefully, leaning closer. “Tell me how your session was. He was very angry with me and I was second, he must have been a sweetheart by the time he got to you.”

Second?

Haarlep’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, as though catching their slip of the tongue.

“I…don’t think it was the same,” Tav said, her mind racing. Who had been first in line? “He lifted the curse, I don’t know for how long. At least hours, I think, it’s hard to tell time here.” Haarlep looked impressed.

“Hm, then you really did go through it,” they said in an awed voice. “That curse is truly awful at its full strength. I didn’t think he would use it on you, but I suppose I was wrong. Well, at least it was only a day. And you get a nice long break to recover! Where would you like to visit?”

“Is there a library here?” Tav asked innocently. She had a tiefling to apologize to; hopefully he hadn’t gotten in trouble for her too. That might make gleaning him for information about the crown challenging. Haarlep groaned in dismay.

“Sweet merciless Tiamat, not the library again. Wouldn’t you rather see the tower of torment? Or we can play together. There are much more interesting things to do in Cania.” Haarlep wheedled, trying to see if she’d be tempted by other options. They sighed deeply at Tav’s pout. “Fine, we can go to the library. But only for the morning, and I get to pick what we do after.”

“Deal.”
_______________________________________

Wyll and Shadowheart were silhouetted in the firelight, playing a fast and fierce game of sword, shield, and spear. The shield rebuffed sword, sword slices spear, and spear passes the shield…a traditional children’s game from Wyll’s memory. But the stakes were growing higher by the day.

Wyll had lost his third consecutive round, sentencing him to the bottom of their only betting pool. He groaned in defeated anguish as the others looked on in amusem*nt. Gale was roasting vegetables and a fat slice of pig on the hearth, supper for most of them. Most.

“Shadowheart come on. I fed him yesterday, I told you we need to take turns!” Wyll’s outburst was short lived. He had, after all, agreed to the terms despite his protest. Astarion rubbed his hands together, doing nothing to diffuse Wyll’s flash of temper. “This is ox sh*t! How is it even possible that only the two of us can feed Astarion!?”

“I’d offer to help, but my blood is not the most palatable,” said Gale, not even pretending to feel bad over it. “And Karlach’s is scalding. You two are the only ones with edible blood in this prison.”

“Sorry,” said Karlach, shrugging. Astarion unbuttoned Wyll’s high collar, the warlock blushing despite himself. He turned his face away, at the very least not looking at the vampire.

“I won’t take much,” said Astarion, sidling closer to Wyll’s neck. “Just a sip. We need to save some for tomorrow, when you’ve lost again.”

Shadowheart burst into laughter at the ribbing, filling her plate with savory roasted vegetables. The caverns were a more pleasant stay than their usual campsites, and she had missed the company of the others more than expected. Rescue mission aside, it had been nice to catch up.

“When we go back, we’ll probably need to lay low somewhere,” said Shadowheart, mulling over the future as she cut her portion into bites. Wyll tied a handkerchief around his neck, avoiding eye contact as he filled a plate. “Would Raphael be able to find us again?”

“If we get the crown, he’ll have much bigger problems to contend with than finding us. I hypothesize that his fall from grace will be catastrophic; he’ll most likely be killed for it, by archdevils who fear losing power and influence to him again. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to stay fairly anonymous for a good while. You never know how things will play out in Baator.” Gale sipped at his glass of red wine, turning over the thought in his head. “Other things could happen, of course. His father may step in to protect Raphael’s title. Raphael could maintain power in Cania; even without the crown, he’s the son and heir of an Archdevil. I doubt he’d be able to unite the hells without it, but he could certainly come after us for revenge. Would, I’d say. So long as we refuse a soul pact, we’re in no true danger. Well, none besides death of course.”

“Gods, I wish we’d never gotten involved in this,” Karlach murmured. “I told her not to trust him. We should have figured out another way to get the hammer.”

“Well we’re here facing the sins of our past now. And looks like it’s time to pay up.”

_______________________________________

Nephamor hadn’t been in the library, to Tav’s disappointment. She was worried for the tiefling’s safety, wanting to apologize for risking it the other day. But she was also hesitant to ask Haarlep; too much attention paid to the archivist could risk one of her devils catching on to her sniffing around the crown. And as she’d promised not to escape as a price for her friends’ safety, Tav had good reason to be concerned about the consequences of Raphael’s suspicion.

Still, the library had been an engaging place to spend several hours. The library of the Court of Mephistopheles was the largest that she had ever seen, encompassing far more than she was able to tour in a morning. Spiraling stairs wound up and down the structure, burrowing into the icy glacier below until hovering lamps were necessary to explore further. Devils, mages, and strange immortal creatures wandered the grand halls. On the main level, it was quiet, but brightly lit and attended by gelugons. As she explored further down, there were entire empty floors…and she began to see skeletons partially concealed in the corners of the grand place.

Haarlep followed her quietly at first, but was growing increasingly bored by the minute. They tried to entertain themselves, first with conversation and then with books, finally settling on offering snide commentary while Tav browsed. She wanted to be annoyed, but it was partially her own fault that the incubus was watching her like a hawk. Still…

“What’s your lifespan again?” Haarlep whispered, having been chided more than once for being loud. “A hundred years of living, and this is how you choose to spend them?”

“I’m half elf, so, almost three hundred actually.” Her snarky response didn’t feel as clever after she said it. Haarlep glowered.

“What percentage of that do you think this library has been?”

We had a deal, hush up and let me read,” Tav finally snapped. Haarlep sighed deeply, their head rolling back. They bit their nails, played with their tail, and fluttered in the air before finally sitting at a nearby table and falling asleep.

Tav flipped through her book, privately noting that she could shake Haarlep with reasonable predictability here. Not today. I don’t have a way out of Cania yet…but I might have to use this one day.

So she elected to stay close, knowing that she could earn some trust back now to expend at another time. There was plenty to keep her interest, which made the dusty, ancient corpses littering the rooms more easy to understand.

Despite the vast collection, she couldn’t find anything readily available on the crown of Karsus. Gale still had the old tome they had stolen from the Sorcerer’s Sundries, but it was useless to her eight realms away. Most likely, information on the crown was kept somewhere private here, especially since Raphael had taken over. I might be able to get information on secret books here from Nephamor. The tiefling had outright stated that he often studied here.

So she snapped her book shut, waking Haarlep from their nap. The incubus sat up with a start, yawning and wiping their eyes.

“I’m done,” said Tav, replacing her book on the shelf. “What do you want to do?”

“Oh thank the gods,” Haarlep burst. “Let’s go see the court! There have been so many back stabbings since Mephistopheles left power, we should go see how the aristocracy is shaping.”

Before she could decide whether that was a good or bad idea, Haarlep displaced them.

The court of Mephistar was the grandest room she’d seen, with a towering ceiling and gorgeous black and maroon curtains covering every window. There was a massive throne at the head, currently unoccupied as its resident was out on…business. It was intensely crowded with talking, laughing, burning devils.

Suddenly surrounded by fiends, Tav’s fingers twitched reflexively up, to where the hilt of her sword would be if she had been armed. She remembered too late where she was. They stared at her and Haarlep with interest, most of them not having seen the consorts since the group’s arrival.

“Octavia! What a wonder, you’re still alive. And a consort I hear, how prestigious! Are you enjoying your stay in the hells?” A sultry voice interrupted the tension, and Tav turned to see Mizora. “You know, power does suit you. How lucky for you to have been in the right place at the right time.”

Tav’s eye twitched. Mizora was at least part of the reason that she ended up in Raphael’s service in the first place…although she wouldn’t expect a devil to understand why it couldn’t be considered a favor.

“Where are Wyll and Karlach?” Tav asked pointedly. “Are they still alive? Are they alright?” She remembered what Wyll had told her long ago; Mizora had replaced his missing eye with a sending stone, enabling her to keep track of his location. She smirked, noting the iciness in the paladin's tone.

“They are indeed. Archdevil Raphael did you a great kindness, requesting them from my lady Zariel’s service. The tiefling was one of her favorites, but she made a suitable tribute to our supreme.” Mizora’s gaze scrutinized Tav’s admittedly dowdy appearance. She hadn’t thought to put on anything nicer than a wool tunic. “Oh darling, you can do better than this. You’re somebody now… come Haarlep, how can you let her run around looking a provincial?”

Before Tav could stop her, Mizora waved a finger and her tunic transitioned into an opaque evening gown, fastened at the nape and chest with silver clasps. She screeched, covering her chest with her hands.

“There, look how much better that is! Your master will be back tonight; it never hurts to look a little delicious.” Mizora didn’t seem to be speaking out of malice, but her words made Tav’s skin crawl nonetheless. “It's said that he’s fond of you. Any friend of the devils is a friend of mine, you know.”

Oh. Mizora’s intentions glimmered through her words. She was interested in her own stock in the aristocracy of the hells, and saw Tav as another foothold to the newly ascended Archdevil of Cania. She looked down at her almost exposed figure, glancing second at Haarlep for help. The incubus sighed and snapped, summoning a full set of underclothes for her. It was a black, frankly risqué set, but better than full nudity.

“Thanks, Mizora. Any chance that you can take me to Wyll? Or vice versa?” she asked hopefully. The devil laughed, her voice light and pleasant.

“So funny, that’s what I love about you. Of course not, my dear. I’ll tell you what, let me give you some advice though. Why don’t you bat those pretty eyes and ask him yourself? He bought them for you, after all.” Mizora shifted her weight, bracing her hand against her hip. “You’re dangerously close to being a favorite, paladin. Even I can see that.”

Tav grimaced at the words, although there was some truth to them. Raphael may not be as simple to manage as a human man, but he had shown his soft spot for her more than once.

She didn’t see Haarlep’s frown behind her, their eyes narrowed as they watched Mizora closely. Haarlep didn't speak though; despite their favoritism, Mizora was a powerful devil in her own right. She covered her full lips and laughed as she noticed their baleful glare.

"No need to sulk, dear one. I'm sure that he has a place in mind for you in his grand plans...even if it's not beside him. Beneath, perhaps? Wonderful seeing you, Tav. If you ever want for a friend in your corner, only call my name."

The stunning devil laughed and disappeared into the crowd.

Notes:

Quick admin note for some context...I ADORE Astarion, he's usually my romance choice (since Larion won't let me f*ck the devil yet and most of my own characters are slightly unhinged), but unfortunately because of my personal flaws, I couldn't make Octavia be the kind of Tav that I usually play lmao because ME Tav would definitely have sold my soul to Raphael for the pocketful of beans. I'd straight up be the debtor watching through the door.

So, Octavia is modeled specifically to fit her plot. It's why she's got a really good relationship with Gale, Karlach, etc., she is a lawful good character. And thus her relationship to the others is sort of framed around that characteristic, if that makes sense. Sorry for the long note, I just wanted to add a bit about the nature of her relationships to the companions!

Chapter 8: Bowshot

Notes:

Thank you all for the kind kudos and reviews!! I'm glad that there are others enjoying this ridiculously niche ship...feel free to leave comments if you like or want to see anything! I appreciate all of my readers <3 Thanks and enjoy the chapter!

Chapter Text

“Breathing down my neck isn’t making this easier,” whispered Astarion, pausing in his work to scowl back at Gale. The wizard raised his hands innocently, stepping back from the crouched vampire. “Go look at the paintings again, I need to take this one slower.”

“No rush,” said Shadowheart, shrugging. “We’re not in the devil’s home or anything, it’s not like he could just stroll up at any second.” She rolled her eyes, checking the halls yet again to ensure that only debtors roamed the house. Astarion growled, but didn’t respond.

Despite her criticism, it was without barbs. Astarion had brought several lockpicking kits for the journey, but all of them had broken on this platform over the course of several days. Determined to succeed, Astarion had expended a trip collecting the necessary tools from the kitchens, working with Gale to forge yet more lockpicking equipment. Impatient as they were, they couldn’t afford to ruin another kit.

Gale and Shadowheart shifted their weight uneasily. There was no telling what could be hiding down there; right now, the only clue that it could help them was that Raphael kept it well concealed. It could be a portal straight into Nessus, for all they knew.

“So…you and Tav,” said Shadowheart slyly, tilting her head to look up at Gale. He started slightly, giving her a quizzical look. “Did you two ever, you know…?” Her voice trailed off suggestively. Gale’s eyes widened, instantly flushing to his ears.

“Did we, oh,” he said, his pitch lifting. “Ah, well, ahem, not…not officially, you know. I mean, I certainly admire her personal qualities. I suppose we had a bit of a banter, of sorts. Truly unfortunate that our lives took us such a distance apart; perhaps none of us would be here if I’d stayed in Baldur’s Gate.” His brow furrowed, betraying the depth of responsibility that he had been shouldering privately. Shadowheart paused, realizing that she had accidentally touched something very sensitive.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” she mused. “I’m pretty confident that Raphael would have thrown us all in a prison if we hadn’t left the party quietly. It would certainly make a covert operation harder if he knew that we were here.” Gale considered her reply and lightened somewhat.

“It’s possible. I think the three of you made the smartest decision at the time, given your options. I don’t know if I could have restrained myself, were I in the same shoes. I’m glad that she had you with her…and to have you here with me now.” Gale rested his hand on Shadowheart’s shoulder, and they smiled amicably.

“Gods, are we working on our eulogies already? What are you two doing? It’s open.” Astarion stood back, his hand gesturing to the unlocked lever. Shadowheart and Gale jumped towards it, wary but eager to make progress further into their escape plan. They prepared shielding spells before descending into the bowels of the House of Hope.

The platform took them down, through a dark, rocky tunnel. It was somehow even colder here than in the mansion itself; they huddled together instinctively, feeling the sharp teeth of Cania biting through even the protective spells of the house. Shadowheart wondered if they were entering an unprotected area, if the doors would open and they’d have only minutes to live.

Golden gates opened in front of them, and it was a small relief that nobody froze on the spot. The icy wind was terrible here, only marginally shielded by the magical barriers. Gold and steel intertwined with dark rock, once pierced by the heat of Avernus. Ahead of them was a plateau, raised on spindling infrastructure. From the gates, they could barely make out a tiny figure.

With a soft breath of air, a woman appeared beside them.

She was a dwarf, short and beautiful with reddish, cropped hair. Her clothes were in shreds around her, her wrists weighted with heavy shackles. She stared at them, but her eyes seemed to look beyond.

“Don’t come any closer!” she whispered sharply, fear permeating every syllable of her warning. “There is nothing for you here. Run away, I beg you.”

“Who are you?” asked Shadowheart, her voice hushed. They could see now that it was a specter, like the shades that appeared in Raphael’s house. Like Tav. “Are you that person up there?”

“I am Hope, I think,” whispered the woman, almost inaudible. “No, I know I am. I know I am. Yes, that woman is me, I am she!” She laughed maniacally for a moment before cutting herself off sharply. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid to tell you that I’m mad. Leave, while you still have legs to run on!”

“Why can’t we just go get you?” asked Gale, pointing towards the figure. Astarion grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Because Raphael is going to notice if he’s suddenly missing a prisoner,” he hissed, surprisingly pragmatic when it was in their best interest. “And we’re already on a rescue mission. If we try to save every damned soul in the nine hells, we’re going to get ourselves killed.”

“I would love a friend,” Hope whispered longingly. “Yes, I would beg you to save her, but she’s guarded by beasties…and the Orphic Hammer is gone, sold away to the highest bidder. You’ll need my key to save me now, and Raphael keeps it on his person with the others.”

“What others?” Shadowheart quickly caught on. “He keeps keys? Are there keys to the archives?”

“That and more, but you’ll have to figure out what it is. He has a key, one key and one thousand keys, I’ll never know what they appear to be. The archives have keys too, but those are lost here too.” Hope was running out of sanity. Her words flowed in and out of reality, some mouthed without being spoken. She trailed into silence before looking up at the group of adventurers. “I’m so cold. I prayed for the cold and now she’s here, and isn’t it funny how I prayed for the cold?”

“Come on,” said Astarion, backing towards the platform. “We can’t help her. She’s already lost it, we need to focus on what we came here for.”

“Hope, where is the archive key? Does Raphael have that too?” demanded Shadowheart, snapping quickly in front of the dwarf's eyes. Hope blinked rapidly before looking up at her.

“In the boudoir,” she said, her spectral form wavering at the edges. “Climb for it.”

She disappeared, and they heard a long, low scream from the figure in the distance. An icy wind ripped through the cavernous prison, and Astarion quickly pulled them back to the platform, activating the lever to get them out of the prison before Gale or Shadowheart could resist.

“We have to go back for her,” said Gale, staring at the closed doors as they began to rise. “We cannot leave her here.”

“First of all, she’s not the only prisoner here, and I’m not even talking about Octavia. Raphael is a devil, he’ll have hundreds, if not thousands, of mortals underground. Getting attached to one won’t do anything but slow us down. Second, she said her keys are on Raphael; that’s not exactly a ‘now’ problem. Also, third, I’d like to remind both of you that I tried to pickpocket him and you stopped me.” Astarion held up three fingers to Gale’s face. “So no, she’s not coming. We don’t have time to empty the dungeons, we don’t even know how to get ourselves out of Cania.”

He had a point. Shadowheart and Gale were silent, visibly distressed over the woman’s torment, but unable to refute Astarion’s logic. It was rare for him to out-debate Gale, but the vampire’s instinct for survival was simply unsurpassed.

Still…the platform was slow, and the ride back up was remarkably more depressing than the ride down.

“…if the opportunity happens to present itself, and there’s no chance of us failing, and we’ve figured out how to escape without this biting us in the collective arse…we’ll go get her.” Astarion sighed deeply, rubbing his face. Gale and Shadowheart pumped their fists silently as they ascended back into the main floor of the house. Checking their corners, it seemed that nothing had changed.

“What did she mean to climb for the boudoir?” wondered Shadowheart as they walked out. They were quiet, staring at the golden barrier that seemed unsurpassable. After a long pause, they turned to the balcony doors open to their right, at almost the exact same moment. “The balcony!

Gale, Shadowheart, and Astarion raced to the edge, its terrifying fall into the abyss below blocked off by a safety rail.

One side of the stone barrier was broken, and from its rubble they could make out a narrow, broken, rocky ledge. Exchanging a glance, they began to make their way around the outside of the house.

The frigid wind made the already precarious journey into a deadly climb. Icy rocks, powerful gusts, and falling snow made the risk of falling more likely by the moment. They shivered under the crippling storm; even with the protection of the house’s magical barrier, Cania’s cold was strong enough to leach through.

There! Another balcony finally came into view, this one luxuriously spacious, and outfitted with comfortable furniture. Low tables holding wine and plates of fruits invited wandering guests, and the barrier seemed stronger here. As soon as they stepped onto the ledge, the wind died around them.

“Oh Lady of Silver…what is this place?”

_________________________________________

It had been several days since she had seen Raphael.

Tav had enjoyed the breath of freedom. She had spent each day with Haarlep, exploring the court of Mephistopheles, the library, even the famously secretive School of Hellfire. Despite her aversion to the hells, there was much to see in the enormous city. And despite her reservations, with Haarlep in tow, no fiend dared to look at her sideways.

Still…despite her experience in the hells, she was surprised to catch herself wondering what Raphael was doing. Her curse had been silent, giving her peace even when Haarlep started making overtures. Tav had initially been considering the idea, but as soon as she found out that the incubus wasn’t actually allowed to have sex with her or even bring her to climax, she’d lost motivation. The thought of simulating her harrowing experience under the curse, under her own power, was fully abhorrent.

And few others would interact with her either, besides Mizora, but she hadn’t seen the she-devil since their encounter at the court. Nephamor was difficult to find as well. She’d run into the tiefling only once, and very briefly. Due to Haarlep’s oversight, she hadn't been able to ask him about the crown, and they parted ways with disappointing brevity. Given the massive underground maze of a library, she wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t been able to run across him again.

The protective shield of Haarlep and Raphael’s favoritism was nice. The break from her torment was amazing. Still, Tav found herself to be feeling lonelier by the day; the residents of the capitol seemed to either be terrified of her, or mildly curious to the reason behind her presence. There were few mortals, if any; she’d only seen one other tiefling in passing, a woman who had quickly disappeared into the bowels of the library when Tav had appeared.

There was only one creature in the hells that seemed to understand Tav, to her deep and worrying realization. And she found herself wondering more often what he was doing, when he would be returning. Am I sick in the head? Her last memory of Raphael had been his torment.

No…that’s not right. Her last memory of Raphael was in his bed, his hand cradling her face, his breath on her neck. His divine magic, winding intimately through her core to stoke the flames of her radiant aura.

Tav winced, disturbed by the warmth of the image. It would be easier to despise Raphael if he had been a simpler creature. But the depth of his nature was what made him both sinister as well as intriguing.

The dark corner that she refused to address was the one that circled the shadows of her dreams. The worst part of this, of him, was that he had been right all along, ever since he plucked her desires from the depths of her very mind.

The thought almost made her sick, but Tav found herself constantly thinking about his hands on her body, his soft voice in her ear. And it’s not even the curse, is it. Her curse slept soundly…no, this was Octavia Sunrise, lusting after the one creature that she would never have imagined to occupy her waking thoughts.

She tried to distract herself with the day to day wonders -and horrors- of Cania.

It had been easier than anticipated for her to grow comfortable at the court. The devils there largely ignored her, either through their own perceived superiority or through the belief that she was only here until Raphael decided to finally kill her. They, besides Mizora, didn’t understand her importance to their Archdevil; why would they? Mephistopheles had never kept a Chosen. Thus, Tav got away with skirting around formalities, instead enjoying the latitude that she was afforded as something with more value than a coin, but less leverage than a devil.

So of course it came as a surprise when the master returned to house. Tav had been following Haarlep, not exactly paying attention to their interactions with the other devils. Haarlep spent most of their time flirting, she came to understand, and thankfully absorbed most of the attention wherever they went. She had been more than happy to just follow along, until the moment that she felt a familiar, and dreadful, stirring.

“Hello darling, did you miss me?”

A hand stroked along the back of her shoulders, twisting unexpectedly at her necklace. There was a tension on her neck; Raphael had slipped a finger through her diamond studded chain, twisting it to pull her around. Tav felt shivers run down her spine. Raphael is home.

Ah, welcome back,” she stammered, bracing her hands against his chest when he tugged her close. He smirked down at her, infernal gold eyes glowing, his fingers wrapped on her necklace like an exquisite leash. They continued down her body, lingering on the sheer outline of her dress. She knew what he wanted her to say, but she refused to surrender her pride so quickly. Raphael paused for a fraction of a second, and she could almost see him silently measuring the value of restraint versus discipline. To her relief, he was once again…magnanimous.

“Did you enjoy your time off?” he asked easily, releasing her chain. Tav rubbed her neck, conscious of the way the crowd of fiends was watching her. They hungrily took in the interaction, some of them only now understanding that Tav was no mere toy to their overlord. Raphael might be comfortable and confident in his power, but he spoke to her with a warm familiarity that few devils had heard from him before.

“Y-yes,” she said, her gaze shifting to the devils around them. There was a pregnant pause, and she knew that he, and they, waited for an honorific. Honestly, it felt appropriate given the surroundings. I’m not calling him master. “Archdevil.”

She saw the corner of his lip twitch before his features smoothed over again.

“Master! You’ve returned!” Haarlep’s excitement echoed across the hall, and Tav turned to see the incubus soaring over the crowd. They landed close, linking an arm in hers. She felt comforted by the arrival of her support, as fragile of a facade as their defense may be. “How was your trip to Nessus? I know how you love the ninth level. Is Archdevil Asmodeus well? Was Glasya there?” Raphael paused, his gold eyes flickering towards the raptly listening devils around them. He waved them towards the towering double doors, his attendants swarming around him for their orders.

“We’ll discuss the trip in detail very soon. Korilla, draft an invitation to the pit fiends under my signature, I want to see them here in three days. Adonides, Hutijin, manage the court. I’ll meet with both of you and my father on my return, have a list of recommendations for promotion and demotion. You two, with me.” Raphael rattled off orders, each of the listed names displacing as soon as they received commands. Something seemed a bit different about him. The cambion had always shown confidence, but the cold authority emanating from him was escalating noticeably. Remembering the promotion ceremony that she had witnessed, Tav wondered suddenly if his ego was not the only change that was coming for him.

Still, he gave them both a warm smile as the attendants were shed, their tasks in hand. It put her somewhat at ease to see that a strong foothold of Raphael yet remained. They walked through the shield to the boudoir.

“How did you two enjoy your days off?” he asked, switching out of his formal, intimidating black attire into a more comfortable looking suit. Tav didn’t have to worry about answering; Haarlep seemed eager to have their master’s attention back.

“We had a wonderful time exploring,” they purred, stalking behind Raphael and running their hands along the sleek, dark doublet. Tav was abruptly concerned that she was about to get pulled into the private receiving party. Raphael was listening, but didn’t seem to be indulging in Haarlep’s coy act. “Octavia was such a sweetheart, she loved the library so very much. But she didn’t want to play with me at all…waiting for our master to come home, I expect.” Their last words were whispered just loud enough for her to hear them too. Tav’s face burned as Raphael’s eyes met hers, amusem*nt and assessment reflecting in them.

“I’m allowed to not want to have sex,” she said firmly to both fiends. They chuckled, and for good reason; the stirring in her, despite its tight chain, was making her breathless. Raphael enjoyed her embarrassed blush for a few seconds before his hand raised and the whispers of lust evaporated. Tav was glad for the intervention, but Raphael being nice worried her.

“Haarlep, why don’t you meet up with Adonides and learn how to run the court? I need somebody that I can trust here, and you can take a break from watching Tav.” It was phrased as a question, but an Archdevil asked no favors. Haarlep hesitated, glancing at Tav with an unfamiliar expression. Envy?

“Yes, master,” said Haarlep softly, displacing from the boudoir. Tav was alone with Raphael for the first time in several days. She eyed him warily, cognizant of his power over her but also sensing a different atmosphere to the room. Raphael watched her analyzing him with an easy calm, before sitting down in a wide armed chair.

“What do you want?” she asked coldly, the thought of crawling to his feet still forefront in her memories of him. Raphael’s eyes gleamed as though he were thinking of exactly the same thing.

“Let’s go somewhere,” he said, tucking his hands behind his head and looking up at her. Tav froze; she hadn’t been expecting that. “Where do you want to go?”

“Home,” she said immediately, not thinking that Raphael was being serious. But to her surprise he turned his gaze up as though considering it. “Hold on, really?”

“Where’s home?” Raphael asked, tapping his lips with a finger. That wasn’t a no! Her heart exploded with hope before she could squash it. I can see my parents again before he kills me.

“Bowshot, it’s a small town outside of the Misty Forest,” said Tav, trying not to sound too excited. Raphael nodded, turning the idea over in his head. “My…my parents are there.” She took the risk, hoping that it didn’t sway the odds against her. Raphael met her eyes, scouring them for signs of deception. He could be in my head, I wouldn’t know it.

“I’d ask if anywhere in the hells interests you instead, but I know the answer to that,” Raphael replied jovially. “I’m not opposed to a trip to your plane. How do I know you won’t try to escape?” He had a point. Raphael may be a powerful devil, but outside of Baator there were other forces that could protect her, or even interfere with her captivity. Tav thought hard for several minutes, knowing what was at stake.

“You said I can’t make a pact while I’m cursed,” she reminded him. Raphael nodded. “I don’t suppose you’d remove the curse for a…very small promise?” He shook his head.

“If you want to go back to Bowshot, it’s on you to convince me.” He smiled, catlike eyes concealing whatever true intentions he harbored. She narrowed her eyes, wondering what her next move should be. I’m not crawling again. But I also don’t think that’s what he’s looking for either.

She thought about why he was considering her request in the first place, before squaring her shoulders in front of him. Raphael’s eyebrows raised, and she held out her little finger.

“I promise,” she said in a deadpan. “Promise. If you take me to Bowshot to see my parents, I will return to the hells with you. No complaining, no escaping, no plotting. If I’m lying, then…” She trailed off, unable to think of something worse he could be doing to her. Raphael laughed, a hard, genuine laugh that carried for several seconds, his head tilted back. He wiped his eyes, and then hooked her little finger with his own. She couldn’t make a formal pact with him, but it seemed this would suffice.

“Alright, pet. I like that. If you’re lying, then I’m going to pick one of your friends and make a coin of them. Deal?” He smiled, fangs bared. Tav sucked in a breath before she nodded.

Raphael stood, towering over her with her finger still locked in his. Tav tried to pull away, but his grip was too tight. In his cambion form, he was larger than her by at least two feet, and easily strong enough to lift her with that hook…if not rip off her finger. He released her and snapped.

They were suddenly standing in the House of Hope. Tav blinked and looked around; it was the room with the mirrors, the one she’d planned to escape through the first time they had come. The Chamber of Egress.

“Don’t get excited, they won’t work without me,” said Raphael, holding up his right hand. One portal in the back glowed, along with his eyes; he was searching for something. “You said by the Misty Forest, on the Sword Coast? …there it is.” The image in the mirror wavered, like ripples across the surface of a pond, and it suddenly shifted to reflect a cliff top view of her childhood town. Tav wasn’t prepared for the shard of emotion that sliced through her at the sight. She gasped quietly, her eyes filling with tears.

Raphael paused when he saw her eyes, looked back at the mirror before waiting quietly. Tav sniffed, wiping her face with one hand as she gathered herself. She hadn’t seen her birthplace in nearly two decades.

As she caught her breath, Raphael held out a hand. Tav took it and together they stepped through the mirror.

_________________________________________

“Now this is style. My goodness, look at these sheets; that must feel like sleeping in butter. Gale, touch the sheets!”

“Enough, Astarion!” ground Shadowheart through gritted teeth. She knew that the vampire was simply making light, but from Gale’s drawn expression, he was still very disturbed by the thought of Hope out on the ledge. “Have you found anything?”

“Handcuffs. Think we need them?” He smiled wickedly, actually holding up a pair of iron cuffs pulled from beneath the bed. The reaction he’d been seeking had been achieved; Gale and Shadowheart both exclaimed in horror.

“Gods, I meant anything that we can use to get into the archives,” she clarified, rubbing her temples. I’m going to kill him before we get out of Cania. Astarion huffed quietly, and started to tuck the cuffs into his pack. Gale quickly ran over and slapped them out of his hands, where they clattered on the floor.

“No! Don’t take those, we can’t afford to be noticed yet! If it’s not directly important to the mission, it stays!” He shook a finger at Astarion, who glowered.

“At least Tav thought I was funny,” he grumbled, shouldering his bag and standing. “You lot are acting like our funeral is tomorrow. All we need to finish burying this party is good old Halsin.

As she ran a hand along the wall, Shadowheart’s fingers touched something with give. A small button, hidden along the underside of a painting. It clicked, and a hidden safe opened beneath it.
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They stepped out onto the cliff, the frosty air enveloping them with cold familiarity. Tav stared out over the buildings, long settled memories of standing in this very spot returning to her. The small town had grown since her departure, certainly due to its proximity to the Trade Way merchant road. It was quiet from where they stood, but it had to be late morning now. Smoke rose in fragrant streams from the chimneys of shops and houses. White snow blanketed the town and surrounding area, although with her infernal fur coat, Tav felt no fingers of chill whatsoever.

She turned to Raphael, unable to mask her joy. He had stepped out of the mirror in his human disguise, the shorter, handsome version that she’d first met years ago. He was examining the small town with interest.

“What do you want to do?” he asked, apparently in no hurry. “Would you like to see your parents?”

“Not yet,” she said, needing time to prepare herself. “Can we go to the winter market? It’s always been my favorite of the year.” She remembered the berry baked tarts, jam jars, shreds of bread baked on sticks at the enormous town bonfire…Bowshot had boasted of its markets, a local event to support their farming community. Every winter the market was stood up in the town square, and she could already see the thicker column of white smoke that indicated the traditional cedar burn.

“Lead the way.” He offered her an arm, which she took eagerly. Tav didn’t know why Raphael was humoring her, but she far preferred it to his cruelty.

“How, how long do I have?” she asked quietly, as they neared the town. They stepped onto the main avenue, and she was suddenly acutely aware of the stares accumulating around them. She was wrapped in a lovely, gauzy midnight gown beneath her fur, and Raphael in his gold embroidered doublet. We look like royalty. She gave him a worried glance. “Oh, should we change clothes?”

“Why? Are they going to come at us with pitchforks?” He chuckled. “We can stay a day and a night. I have things to prepare before meeting with my generals, so we do need to return tomorrow.” He snapped his fingers, and their fine shoes were replaced with sturdier boots, for the dirt of the road. Tav sighed. She supposed that the strange looks were a small price to pay for the relatively generous gift.

They strolled towards the center of the town, which was marked by a great statue of a red deer above a fountain. The crowd was denser here, locals and travelers who had stopped to sample the market. Tav breathed in the scent of baked goods and ale, the fruity currents that were a staple of their winter sweets. She broke free of Raphael, wandering closer to booths that tempted the memories of her childhood. He trailed behind her, observing the populace with mild interest.

Tav lingered at a booth filled with fresh, warm sweet rolls, the soft bread studded with nuts and tart cranberries. She recognized the seller, although she was sure that they didn’t know her. It was a human woman, only a little girl when Tav had lived in the town, with distinctive red curls and freckles. Emila…her name was Emila.

Raphael appeared at her elbow, tossing the woman a gold coin. Emila gasped in surprise, lost for words at the generosity of a stranger.

“Just one,” he said smoothly, raising an eyebrow at Tav. She smiled and help up two fingers.

“Two,” she corrected, accepting the neatly wrapped rolls. They were warm in her hands. Raphael scoffed quietly as they left the booth, but slowed to admire the stained glass art at another.

“You know I’m not going to eat that,” he murmured, touching a hanging glass bird. “I’m not fond of your food.” He was being remarkably game despite the resistance, not a hint of impatience or boredom touching his voice.

“You can try it,” Tav insisted, holding one up to him. “It won’t kill you.” He gave her an even stare, and she was surprised by the skip in her heartbeat. Why does he have to be handsome? She reminded herself that he’d left her to be tormented, helpless and alone in a room. “I’m not fond of torture but I still have to put up with it.”

A muscle twitched in his jaw, and Raphael reluctantly took the little package from her. Unwrapping the roll, he succumbed to a very small bite.

Delighted with her minor success, Tav bit into her own, humming with pleasure at the taste.

“Octavia?”

They turned, and she saw a young man approaching. She recognized him too; his name was Liander, another half-elf who had lived near her growing up. He was a little older than her, a mixed wood elf with tan skin and dark curls. Tav had been a bit infatuated with him in her youth…worse, she’d dated him for a while before eventually leaving the town.

Raphael's eyes narrowed as he neared them, and Tav abruptly realized the severity of the danger that Liander was in.

“Lian!” she exclaimed, quickly looping her arm through Raphael’s. She felt his tension diminish, disrupted by her sudden attention. “How good to see you. I’m just in town for the day, stopping by to see my parents.”

“Oh, right,” Lian said, slowing to a stop in front of them. His eyes darted from her to Raphael, widening slightly as he took in the fine figure he cut in a dark suit. “Wow, you look amazing! And this must be…?”

“My husband, Raphael,” offered Tav, shoving down her personal grievances with him. Raphael could kill Lian in seconds; she couldn’t risk any kind of altercation. Raphael settled, appeased by her overture for the moment. Lian nodded, holding out a hand to the devil.

“A human man! Good to meet you, my name is Liander. Octavia and I go back, I didn’t know that she got married!” The surprise was expected, but she didn’t anticipate the twinge of disappointment in his voice. “You seem to be doing well.”

“Funny, she’s never mentioned you,” said Raphael coolly. Tav resisted the urge to stomp on his foot; she could feel the jealousy radiating off of him. No…not jealousy. That’s possessiveness. “You grew up here too, then? And just decided to never leave?”

Raphael,” hissed Tav, her cheery veneer cracking. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, Lian. It’s a wonderful town, I only wish that I’d had more time to visit. How are things with you?” Raphael shifted his weight beside her, visibly losing patience with the mortal’s presence. She tightened her grip on his arm.

“Things are going well. I’ve been running my own transport business, moving farmed goods from Bowshot to the other towns. It’s more than enough to live comfortably…although I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what you’ve been doing.” Yes, he must have heard about her heroics even from out here. She was glad that few others appeared to recognize her from newspapers.

“That’s so lovely! No need to be modest, I’m sure that this town owes you much of its growth. You’ve done wonderfully, my friend.” Sensing the spiking temper of the cambion poised beside her, Tav quickly tried to wrap things up. “I’m so sorry, we have a bit of a schedule to keep. It’s been nice to see you again, truly. I hope things go well for you.” Tav began to pull Raphael away, relieved that he followed. Lian, unfortunately, didn’t get the hint.

“Oh, well you must let me treat you both! There’s an excellent tavern that’s just opened, you’ll remember the owner. Gilfred, the boy with four sisters, he bought out an old flour mill and turned it into a restaurant. He’s really an incredible chef!” Lian reached out and snagged Tav’s free hand.

Several things happened at once.

Time seemed to slow around them, and Tav felt a shiver of cold, malevolent magic emanating from Raphael. Lian was stiff and immobile, struck with a holding spell so powerful that even his conscious thought was frozen. Tav’s grip tightened on Raphael, and beneath the surface she could feel the storm of his jealous anger. An icy, murderous rage was coiled in him, ready to spring.

“Raphael,” she pleaded, pulling her hand from Lian and touching his face. His teeth were bared in a snarl, eyes fixed on the frozen man. “Raphael!” He blinked before turning slightly to look at her. “Leave him. Come on, we can just go. He’s nobody.” The fact alone that she was trying to protect him was enough to disprove that, and he knew it. Of course he knew it. Nonetheless, whatever urge was driving him to be kind to her simmered in him still, and after several seconds he seemed to wrangle his temper back under control.

“You are mine,” he hissed in a low voice, his free hand shifting to the collar of her coat, pulling her face close to his. Time was still slowed around them, even the flames of the bonfire hardly moving. Tav swallowed and touched his wrist, a silent appeal.

“I am yours,” she whispered. Whether she spoke the truth or not was irrelevant; all she wanted was for the lives of the mortals here to be spared. Raphael glared into her eyes, reading her soul as easily as if the words were inscribed in front of him. “Raphael, please.

His teeth ground once, before he released her and the hold spell disappeared. Time reverted to normal around them, and Lian didn’t seem to notice anything awry. He smiled with a dazed, empty look on his face.

“We really have to go. It was very nice running into you!” Tav grabbed Raphael’s arm and fled before Lian could fully come to, taking advantage of his window of disorientation. Guilt bit deeply at her heart; she had been so concerned for her own desires that she hadn’t even thought about the potential danger of bringing a devil to her hometown. “You had better not come back here without me after we leave.”

Raphael was silent. He walked with her to another booth, this one offering mugs of warm pressed cider. He bought two again, humoring her with a small sip.

“I…apologize for my outburst,” he said suddenly, his eyes shifting away from her. “I don’t prefer to lose my temper.” It was stiff and formal, but more of an apology than she’d ever expected from someone like Raphael. Tav looked up at him in surprise.

“Why were you so angry? I didn’t feel like he said anything particularly worthy of damnation.” she asked, finishing her roll and washing it down with the cider. Raphael followed suit, whether he genuinely enjoyed the food or not. Snow was starting to come down in earnest, white flakes dusting the shoulders of his coat. Tav reached up to brush them off without thinking. His eyes followed her hand, and she was abruptly conscious of the motion.

“It wasn’t what he said,” Raphael growled, some heat returning to his voice. They continued to walk through the market, drawing eyes and whispers wherever they stopped. The next booth featured lovely wood and stone carvings. “It was what he thought. The fool was wondering if you would come back when I died. Because he thought I was human.” The sneer wrinkling his nose was enough to tell her what he thought of that. Tav laughed, not expecting that answer, and his eyes narrowed.

“You are literally in a human disguise,” she whispered, choking back her giggle. “You’re the one who didn’t think about that.” She at least understood why Lian had annoyed Raphael; even if it were true, it was a rather rude thought to have. With that being said, the poor man was at least entitled to his thoughts.

“I didn’t expect to be standing in as your husband,” he countered, and Tav’s mouth snapped shut. She felt her ears burning. “If you’d warned me ahead of time, perhaps I would have picked a different glamour.”

“I knew you were going to be jealous,” she mumbled, rubbing her hands together. The cloak kept her warm, but her exposed fingertips were starting to feel stiff. Raphael escorted her to the bonfire, adjusting the cloak over her shoulders to shake off some snow.

“I was not jealous,” he corrected her coolly. “I don’t need to be jealous over things that belong to me.” Tav glowered up at him.

There was a sound of laughter behind them. Turning, Tav saw a standing wood bar with rows of mulled wine steaming in heated mugs. Music began to play, the lutes and drums common to the Sword Coast. She held out her hand expectantly, and Raphael simply dropped a purse of gold into it. Mortal currency meant little to a demon who dealt in souls. She purchased two mugs of warm wine, enjoying the aroma of currant, cherry, and walnut in the brew. This, Raphael accepted without complaint.

Some people were breaking out ice skates, taking to the frozen lake. Others dragged sleds, and still others herded their friends and family around the busy market. Frozen fish, pressed flowers, even stacks of books were bought and sold all around them. Tav smiled serenely, content to listen to the joy in the lives around her. Bowshot continued to live long after I left it.

Tav ended her day with a small bag of souvenirs and snacks. Her father’s favorite baked apples, her mother’s red wine and pungent cheese. She had a lovely bone carving of a feather, the kind she used to braid into her hair as a girl, and sweet cakes that she had forgotten about before smelling them rising at the side of the bonfire.

Perhaps, even if her life ended in the hells, she could be content knowing that this place lived on. Another little girl would one day be born here, she too would seek greatness, and she’d bring it back to her home with her. She wouldn’t make a deal with the devil.

The sun was starting to lower on the horizon, and with it came the evening chill. People were starting to leave, both locals as well as travelers stopping in the town on their way through. Tav didn’t want to leave, but the day was ending, and there wasn’t much time left.

“We can go. My parents aren’t far, let’s do that first, and then I know of a good place we can stay.” She took one last look at the winter market, breathing in the brisk, smoky air, listening to the sound of laughing children. Would I have returned here eventually? Tav had settled in Baldur’s Gate, where she had been needed, but not until now did she realize how much she had missed the small town she’d grown up in. Maybe I would have come back. Maybe I’d have met Lian again under different circ*mstances. It was dangerous to think like that. Tav shook her head and released Raphael’s arm, walking ahead to the small road that she would always remember.

They strolled in the growing darkness, Raphael quiet as she led them through an overhang of willows and pine. The willows were stripped of life at this time of year, scrawny and dry as they waited for the return of the spring. Raphael paused when she opened the black gates of a graveyard, before following her through them.

She stopped at the worn, white headstones that she knew well. Edrin Sunrise. Daphne Sunrise. They were clean, though the grass was somewhat overgrown around them. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out the gifts; Raphael took the bag from her as she knelt at the graves. She carefully placed the wine and cheese on her mother’s, the apples on her father’s, scattering pressed flowers on both.

Raphael was silent behind her. Tav closed her eyes, remembering the kindness in her father’s hazelnut eyes, the warmth in his hands. The feeling of her mother’s lips against her forehead, her cool, smooth hands stroking her cheeks.

“Hi, mom,” she whispered into the darkness. “Hi, dad. I’m just…visiting. I know it’s been a while. I brought you some gifts.”

She cracked the wine open, pouring a bit into the grass over each before sipping from it herself. Tuning to Raphael, she waved him forward with her other hand. He hesitated before sitting beside her.

“This is Raphael, we saved the world a few years ago. Well, there are more of us, but the others couldn’t make it, so tonight it’s just me. And Raphael. Next time I visit, I’ll bring more people. I’m sorry that it’s been so long.”

Raphael sipped the wine, following her lead and pouring an offering to both of her parents. Tav half laughed, thinking about how scandalized they would be to know that an Archdevil was extending them honors.

They sat there for a long time in silence, finishing the cheese and bottle of wine together as the cold settled around them. Snow was coming down harder now, but the evening felt mild in comparison to even a moment in Cania. The graveyard was still and quiet; festivities died off in the distance as the market closed down.

“Oh, I got something for you too,” said Tav suddenly, reaching into her bag as she remembered. She withdrew a small charm, burnished silver and in the shape of a little cat. She fastened it to his wrist as he looked on in horror.

“I’m not wearing this,” he said, displacing it off immediately. Tav’s frown tugged at the corners of her lips.

“It’s your favorite poem,” she argued. “From Cormyr! Don’t you remember? I thought you’d like it.” She hid her smile with another sip of wine, trying to keep her gaze earnest and sad. Raphael’s lip curled, but he summoned the charm again, now staring at it in the palm of his hand.

“A cat,” he said seriously. “How clever. I’ll put it somewhere very special.” It disappeared again, and Tav couldn’t help but laugh. He rolled his eyes. “Now, where is this place we’re staying at? It had better not be your abandoned childhood home.”

“No, it’s a tavern room close by. It’s an old place, but they brew their own beer, and the owners are…were friends of my parents. They’re older now, I’m not sure if they’ll still remember me. But the food has always been great.” He hummed but didn’t reply, standing and clearing the litter from the graves with a snap of his fingers. Tav hesitated, standing at her parents’ graves with the devil who had stolen her from the mortal world.

He took her hand, and she jumped. Raphael had never done something so intimate, so benign. Kiss her, yes. Offer his arm, sure. Spread your legs, of course. Holding her hand at her parents’ grave was so…

“Why are you doing this?” she asked finally, withdrawing her hand and clutching it to her chest. He frowned.

“Does there have to be a reason?” he asked innocently. She started to walk down the stony path, one step ahead of the devil. “Can’t I treat my chosen to a nice weekend visiting family?”

Tav rolled her eyes, and Raphael chuckled. He hooked her arm in his, which she’d never admit that she was grateful for, given the amount of wine imbibed.

They made their way gradually towards the warm light of the tavern.

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She swallowed the last of her beer, warm and cheerful from the day’s end. Trying to forget that the handsome man across from her was the devil, and come morning he would drag her back to the hells.

Raphael ate nothing. He sipped on the finest red wine available in the small town, surveyed the noisy crowd around them. People had filled the tavern after market, come for warm meals and soft beds. Tav waved down the barkeep, worried for space in the inn.

“A room, please,” she asked, smiling at the older woman. Talin, friend to my mother. Talin smiled and nodded.

“Only one left, love. It’s yours, of course, for ten silver.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Don’t I know you? No, you can’t be…dear little Octavia? Daphne’s little girl? Oh sweetheart, of course it’s no charge. Welcome home my darling…and this must be your…” She gazed at Raphael, eyebrows raising at his clean, refined dress.

“Raphael,” he said charmingly, standing and taking her hand with a low bow. Tav was shocked to see a blush light Talin’s lined features. “A true pleasure.”

“Oh my,” she murmured shyly. “What a handsome fellow. Welcome to you too, love. I do hope you’ll be staying!” She laughed and curtsied, utterly charmed by Tav’s devilish companion.

“What do you think? Shall we head upstairs?” Raphael directed the question to Tav. She felt herself flush darkly, unaccustomed to being alone with him. She suddenly felt very aware of how close he was to her. He took her hand, the key from Talin, and led her to their room.

What am I doing? Tav felt guilt gnaw at her heart as she followed him. She hated him. His hand is warm.

He closed the door behind her, and Tav felt her heart pounding in her ears. Why am I afraid? She knew Raphael. She’d seen the harm, and the pleasure, inflicted by his hands. Yet, when he pulled her into his arms, she trembled like a girl.

His lips on hers felt different than before. Warmer, softer, like a real human man. Tav tried to temper herself, hold back and wrangle control over her response, but her body wanted to melt into him. His hands slid down to her thighs, lifting her and carrying her to the bed as though she weighed nothing.

He laid her down as though she were a maid on her wedding night.

Tav’s eyes closed, her lips tight between her teeth as he kissed her neck. His hands moved gracefully over her, loosening the fastens of her cloak and gown, them open to reveal her lean body beneath.

She wanted to resist, but her hands moved with equal haste. She stripped him of his coat, his fine shirt, his taste on her tongue until they were bare on the bed together, warm beneath the covers. Raphael the cambion was her captor. Raphael the Archdevil was her enemy. What about Raphael the man?

It felt right. Natural. Raphael kissed her so deeply, his weight comfortable between her legs. When he thrust into her, she gasped, her back arching.

He moved slowly in her, his lips and tongue languid on hers. Tav moaned into his mouth, reveling in the feeling. It was like nothing he’d done to her before. Lovemaking…this is lovemaking.

“Tell me what you desire,” he whispered in her ear, his breath raising chills along her arms. “Anything, sweetling.” She couldn’t stop the whimper that broke free of her.

“I want this,” she whispered, ashamed of the truth. “Bowshot. My life. Faerún. Gods, I want you.

He picked up speed, flexing inside of her powerfully. Tav quivered, heat flooding her as she neared climax. There was no curse driving her, either; she was about to peak from her body’s pleasure alone. There was no room for shame. Tav cried out in ecstasy, her arms tight around Raphael’s neck.

He slowed as she rode out her org*sm, body curved in an arc, her toes curling with pleasure. Withdrawing from her, he kissed her again while she still spiraled in her bliss. She hardly felt him lie down beside her.

Tav caught her breath gradually, her head spinning from the surprising intimacy of the coupling. No pain, no shame, no humiliation…why had Raphael treated her as a man would? She didn’t want to ruin the perfection of their day. But she couldn’t help the suspicion that seized her heart. Sitting up, still breathless, she looked down at where he lay watching her.

“Why?” she asked again, as she’d done in the graveyard. He lay calm beside her. He didn’t need to ask what she meant. Raphael shifted, until his head was in her lap; Tav hesitated before stroking his sleek hair.

“In a tenday, I will slay the Archdevil Asmodeus,” he said evenly. Tav’s hand froze above him, before shakily resuming her gentle strokes. “And I will make you the master of this world.”
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“There it is. The crown of Karsus.”

Chapter 9: Karsus’s Heist

Notes:

You guys are SO KIND!! I want to extend a special thanks to all of my guest commentors, I know that you guys don't always feel comfortable leaving reviews, so I always feel extra special when you do take the time to do so. And also my repeat reviewers, I for real love getting your feedback every chapter. Y'all are the reason that I keep writing these, I can't thank you enough for enjoying our very niche ship!! I hope you all enjoy this chapter, things are popping off in Cania!!
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Chapter Text

Tav woke to teeth in the joint of her neck and shoulder, firm without breaking the skin. She sucked in a breath, fingers tightening in the soft sheets, the darkness still enveloping the room entirely. There was no question as to who it was, or what was happening. Raphael’s arms curved possessively around her, his hands gliding over her body as he thrust into her. The hard grip of his hands, the light, smoked cherry scent that he always carried, the heat rolling off of him, all of it announced his presence before he could even be seen.

She stifled a moan, pleasure washing over her despite her soreness from the night before. She quivered, hips shifting against him until she was pressed tight against his. His skin was burning against hers, the only indication that she was coupling with anything but a man. It felt incredible in a room still crisp with the fingers of winter.

Teeth turned to lips, soft against her neck, trailing small kisses to her ear. She felt his tongue against the shell of her ear and gasped unexpectedly, lightning racing through her from the sensation. His breath on her skin was warm, steady, and surprisingly erotic. When he moaned in a soft, guttural tone, she felt her stomach burst into fluttering muscles.

“Raphael,” she murmured, her hands tracing the outline of his, arching back into him as she reveled in unadulterated bliss. His rhythm was slow, steady, and deep, agonizingly satisfying. His fingers and snaked down to her dripping sex, touching her with the lightest, gentlest strokes. His free hand grazed the soft skin of her breasts, brushing the very tips of her nipples with an electricity that was starting to blind her. Tav gasped, whined, twisted as she neared climax, her heartbeat pulsing in her ears, her legs flexed and trembling.

“Say it,” he hissed in her ear, his breath ragged, his ministrations slow and deliberate. Tav blinked, her breath coming in short pants as she tried to figure out what he was asking for. When he bottomed out in her, she saw stars. “Give. Me. Your. Offering.” Each word was punctuated with a sharp thrust, and she buried her low scream into the pillow. What does he want from me?

Tav knew what he wanted. Of course she did. Her eyes closed, face flushed, but the word had never felt so close to the tip of her tongue before. Now, her shame spiraled in unison with raw desire.

Master,” she whispered almost inaudibly, humiliation coloring her voice and flaming her desire. She buried her face in her hands, unable to either withstand or deny. Her ears were red to their tips, but the hot pleasure overtaking her reigned dominant. Raphael sighed against her neck, incited by her submission.

“Louder.” He pumped into her faster now, a growl laced beneath his voice. She cried out as he hilted in her, the pain of his forcefulness only exacerbating her blinding desire. He showed no indication of taunting her, dangling her org*sm over her head, only the single minded determination of a person fixated on their own pleasure. Tav suddenly realized that this was no play for control. He’s actually just getting off.

How she felt about it was irrelevant; if anything, it was something of a relief that his words weren’t born of manipulation or malice. Lust was a language that Tav knew well.

Master!” she screamed, every muscle in her as tight as a strung bow as she peaked. Her voice rose to a shrill scream, nails drawing blood from his wrists as she was violently overwhelmed by her climax. He held her tightly to him, keeping her in place until he was thoroughly finished, his moans punctuated by snarling as he neared his own peak.

Raphael shook with the force of controlling his form, finding his release inside of her with abrupt intensity. The scalding heat of him took her breath away, but Tav was finding herself more aroused by the sensation than frightened. He groaned deep in his chest as he rode out his org*sm, buried inside of her, his lean, muscular stomach flush against her. She ground her hips back on him, drawing out her pleasure as they finally began to cool.

The sun was starting to cast a glow through the frosty windows, lighting up the hands that were still wound around her chest and hips. Raphael’s breath was deep and slow against her neck. Tav felt more at peace than she had in weeks; his last gift to her, apparently, before their lives changed.

“Are you ready?” he asked, his voice low and sleepy. Tav flinched. She knew that she had to go back to Cania, and without complaint as she’d promised, but part of her was afraid that she would never see this Raphael again. Raphael, the man. She turned carefully in his arms. He didn’t question her, merely watched, his face inches from hers. The first rays of sunlight lit a honey hue in his brown eyes.

“How did you become Mephistopheles’s heir?” she asked simply. It was a benign thought that she’d wondered before. Raphael started, visibly put off by the directness of the question. “Gale said that you’re a cambion. Doesn’t that make you born from a mortal?” Raphael loved to talk about himself; she hoped that it would buy her a little more time in the plane of mortals.

“I am,” he said slowly. “I was. Mephistopheles sired many offspring, and many more tiefling descendants of those offspring. To be among them was never enough, especially not as a cambion. I proved myself worthy through a thousand years of suffering in the Pit of Flame, and I was reborn as the heir of Mephistopheles, and an ascended fiend. But I keep my cambion form as an homage to the strength of my ambition.”

A thousand years. It wasn’t easy to forget that Raphael was immortal. How could anyone? But a millennium of enduring Hells’ worst torment, to become the refined, charming man sharing a bed with her, seemed beyond the realm of possibility. She nodded silently, understanding more of the devil behind her.

“Your father died with your human mother,” said Raphael unexpectedly. “He was an elf, was he not? Your surname is Sunrise.” Tav felt a short, swift stab of pain in her chest. She hadn’t expected him to ask a question in return, and particularly not one so sensitive to her. She was sure that he didn’t intend to hurt her. Although, he is a devil. Raphael watched her reaction without sympathy.

“She was his true love; he left the Misty Forest forever to be with her. She died young, of an illness,” said Tav quietly. “He couldn’t live without her.” The agony of not being enough for her father to live for was scattered through her heart like glass. Raphael watched her step around it with the learned precision of a woman. “Did you know your mother?”

“She died when I was born,” said Raphael carelessly. “All mortal mothers of cambions do. She was nothing to me, nor my father, only a vessel for a potential heir. She executed her role correctly, though.” Tav flinched at the callous delivery of his musings.

“Is that what you would do to me?” she whispered, a dreadful thought that had occurred to her long ago. She couldn’t see his face from behind her, but she felt him laugh quietly.

“Is that what you want?” he replied, his tone guarded. She scowled. Of course not. “I hadn’t planned on it, but you would mother quite the formidable cambion. I’m not sure that I would want to tempt the hands of fate with the opportunity to craft something strong enough to dethrone me, only a few short decades after my own coronation.”

His voice was light, but she sensed a steely confidence beneath his words. He spoke of dethroning, but Raphael truly harbored the belief that he would never be unseated, not even by his own offspring. Not even by me. With the Crown of Karsus under his command, he very well could be correct.

“Are you ready to return? I won’t do you the disservice of calling this resistance, but you may not occupy the entire morning with questions, love. We do have things to accomplish in Cania today.” He fielded his words like a gentle suggestion. Tav turned in his arms, until her face was close to his. She studied his warm eyes, the sweep of his dark hair, the beautiful, refined features set deep in a ruggedly handsome face. The human man that she worried would never return, not to Bowshot and not to her.

“Can you do something for me when we get back?” she asked in a small voice. Always the broker, Raphael did not respond, first waiting to see what she would ask of him. “Can you make sure that my…my parents aren’t in the hells?” His eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Really? Edrin Sunrise, the slayer of mortal men? No? Commander of an undead legion? Octavia, my dear, why in the name of Tiamat do you think that your parents would be in Baator? Was he, the wood elf, a servant of Asmodeus?” Raphael’s expression was twisted with mingled hilarity and shock at her request, seemingly torn between concern and laughter. Tav glared at him balefully.

I’m here, and I didn’t do those things,” she snapped angrily. “I’m a wood elf servant of the Lord of the Eighth.” His eyes darkened, and he kissed her deeply, his lips opening hers, tongue dipping between them with intoxicating warmth.

“Yes, you are,” he murmured into her mouth. She blushed fiercely, not having caught herself before saying it. “Alright sweetling, when we return I will set the archivist on a dire quest to find your parents. We’ll have him start in the layer of hells reserved for mass murderers, and work our way out from there. Will that suffice, for your peace?”

Tav refused to humor his teasing with a laugh. Her eyes narrowed until he lightly kissed her again, setting her face aflame. The lack of physical or mental power to throw him onto the floor was of some concern.

“Fine,” she huffed, pulling away from him instead. It had been among her greatest hopes and fears as a child, that her parents would live on but in a frightening realm such as the hells. If there is any benefit to be had from my current circ*mstances, it must be this. With the Archdevil of Cania as her benefactor, the wildest of her requests could be made simple.

He stood, his lean, muscular frame just visible in the growing morning light. Tav glanced surreptitiously; his human body was exquisite, broad shouldered and tempting all on its own. His clothes were replaced with a mere snap of his fingers, a high collared black and gold suit. Tav felt herself wrapped suddenly in a floor length red dress, two handsome black coats hovering at shoulder level. Raphael was ready to leave, apparently. She stood with not insignificant reluctance, but a promise was a promise.

Raphael shrugged into his coat, then co*cked his head for her to turn. The casual intimacy of him sliding her coat onto her was enough to make her shiver; when he kissed the back of her neck, it was all she could do to fight back her blush. What is wrong with me? She was a paladin of Tyr, why was her stomach fluttering at the barest touch of a devil?

Once she was standing, wrapped in her coat, she nodded to Raphael, casting one last glance at the land of her birth through the frosted windows before they teleported back into Hell.

_______________________________________

To Tav’s surprise, they reappeared in the boudoir of the House of Hope. She looked up at Raphael in confusion.

“I told you it was only a few days in Mephistar,” he said, kissing her forehead and straightening the cuffs of his sleeves. “You will stay here until we come to a decision. I’ll be planning the invasion of Nessus, but I will come back to sort your contract out, and to continue your…indoctrination.”

“Why can’t I stay in Cania?” asked Tav, torn between worry over her access to Nephamor in Mephistar, and her proximity to the crown here. She didn’t know which would serve to her advantage. She was also silently, privately, disappointed to be alone again. Raphael hesitated.

“I think you would benefit from a break from the court,” he said quickly. Raphael was an excellent liar; there were no tells to give him away, except that Tav knew there must be more to his decision. Careful, calculating, ambitious Raphael always had his reasons. When her eyes narrowed in suspicion, he conceded. “You are the only creature in Mephistar unbound by contract or hierarchy, and you have reason to benefit from my failure. I do not believe that you could succeed in sabotaging me, mind, but I’d rather we avoid the temptation altogether. As enjoyable as disciplining you can be, in excess it will be counterintuitive to my plans for you.”

Tav’s mouth dropped open for a fraction of a second before she recovered her composure. She hadn’t been expecting the exact truth, and didn’t know what to do with the knowledge that he knew she would most likely attempt to cross him. A devious smile teased at the corners of his eyes, and his hand lifted.

“Don’t worry, you won’t be bored,” he said, his tone decidedly wicked. Tav sucked in a breath as her curse ignited, not as overwhelming as her day of torment but enough to weaken her knees. She moaned in distress, her hands shooting to one of the posts on the bed frame as she steadied herself. Raphael watched her for several seconds, satisfied with her anguish. “I’ll return soon. Until then, any of the portraits in the boudoir will work.” He held up a hand, prepared to displace himself back to Cania.

Wait!” Tav gasped, her legs giving out. She slid to the floor, panting from the spiraling loss of her control. After all of their time together, after Bowshot, she hadn’t anticipated that everything would just return as they were before. The heavy handed reminder of her captivity was an unsettling and unwelcome one. “Raphael, please don’t do this!”

He froze, his eyes fixed on hers, hand still in the air. It took several seconds for her to recognize that the strange look on his face was hunger.

“I like that,” he said softly. His other hand lifted again, and she felt her pleasure spike sharply. What had been a moan escalated quickly into an agonizing cry. “I think I’d like to listen to that today.”

Raphael, no!

With a crack he was gone.

_________________________________________

“So, we know where the Crown is, and we know where the key is…and we know where the portals back to Faerun are. The only missing pieces are the key itself, and Tav.” Karlach spun up a quick synopsis of their intelligence, as the group sat huddled around the central fire. Despite the protective barrier against the deadly wind, the cavern dipped close to freezing at times. And without an overheating engine, Karlach was limited to warming only through direct contact now. Astarion huddled close to her side, having long forgone formalities in the face of the chill.

“First of all, I’m actually rather sure that that’s not the crown. But I also don’t believe that we have the hand to gamble on my doubt,” said Gale firmly. “What I do think, however, is that one of two options must be true: Raphael either has the crown on his person, at all times, or he has the key to it on him. Most likely neither of those things would look like a crown or a key, but he would safeguard it always. Tav is the lynchpin to finding out what that key is, and preparing a plan to retrieve both. We must get the key and the crown, simultaneously, and ideally escape through the portals. But we also aren’t sure that the same key will work in both places, so we must have a plan to escape into Cania if the worst happens. The bottom line is that we need to put distance between ourselves and Raphael. With or without the crown, we can buy some time further away from Mephistar and the House of Hope.”

Everybody nodded as though they had been suspecting of the same information, though glancing sidelong at one another and sharing small, tight smiles. This game of chess was certainly occurring between Raphael and Gale, with the others along for supporting roles. Even Gale, as distressed as he had been by the images of Tav and Hope’s suffering, was buried in the puzzle of understanding the powerful enemy that they faced.

“Then what do we need to do?” Wyll asked, deferring to the master strategist of their group. Gale’s brow furrowed as he considered their options.

“I’m very sorry to say this, but I think that the time has come to play some of our more unsavory cards. Wyll, I need you to get a message out to Mizora. Astarion, we’re looking for Haarlep. Tonight we make a move on Tav.”
_________________________________________

Tav refused to beg. She lay in the large bed alone, writhing uselessly as the curse sank its teeth into her body. Pleasure and pain intertwined fiercely, each grappling for control over her inert form.

She bit into one of the feather pillows, groaning in aching need, heartbeat pounding as she twisted. The urge held her relentlessly; worse still, memories of his hard length in her were still fresh and poised to tempt. More than anything, she just wanted him inside of her again.

No. He wants you to beg. He’s not going to stop until you surrender your soul, and accept the contract. Why he had indulged in her visit home, she couldn’t quite understand. Raphael’s end goal had never changed; Tav’s heart stung with the sorrowful understanding. He’d been manipulating her, and she had fallen for it yet again.

So she fought with the determination of a heartbroken woman, resigning herself to suffer eternally rather than give Raphael the satisfaction of hearing her beg him for relief. He would have ignored me anyways.

Tav’s growl turned to a groan, helpless and furious from where she was trapped in the devil’s bed.

“Now doesn’t this look familiar,” purred a familiar, feminine voice. Tav turned her head to see Haarlep at the end of the bed, biting on their thumbnail as they watched her with rapt interest. “Are we feeling playful again?”

“Knock it off, Haarlep,” Tav whined, glaring at the fiend. “I’m not really in the mood.” It was the worst kind of deja vu, and it had come crashing unpleasantly down on Tav only moments after her return from Bowshot. Haarlep watched her quietly for several minutes, just as infatuated by her suffering as Raphael.

“I’m sorry,” they said unexpectedly, climbing into the bed with her. Tav’s stomach dropped, and she would have scrambled away if she’d had the power. Instead she could only whine in misery as they touched her, one hand pushing her back gently while the other opened her legs.

“Please stop,” she gasped, even the lightest touch sending her spiraling. The pleasure was agonizing, sharp, uncompromising. Her hands clutched their shoulders tightly. “Haarlep, please don’t!”

Their lips brushed her ear, a warm tongue grazing the outer shell as their fingers stroked her. Tav’s teeth broke the skin of her lip as she fought to hold her ground in a deadlock with the curse. Tears stung at the corners of her eyes, every muscle in her body tight and shaking.

“I’m sorry,” Haarlep whispered again. They were beautiful in their female form, dark eyes framed by long, thick lashes, full lips enticing her to taste. Their brow was furrowed as though worried. “I need you to beg him for a little bit.”

Tav felt her heart lance with the second betrayal. She had neither the strength nor the energy to fight back, not even enough to question Haarlep. Her voice broke into a high, keening cry as the incubus slowly, sensually, slid their fingers deep into her. They worked her with a patient, steady rhythm that shattered every facet of her resolve.

Please!” she cried, tears running down her face. Shame, anger, and despair flooded her as her willpower was yet again broken by the fiends that had made it their goal to emotionally decimate her. “Gods, please don’t leave me like this Raphael! Come back!!”

She screamed, sobbed, begged for him to return. For him to lift her curse, let her come, anything but this. Haarlep listened in silence, kissing her when she quieted, stirring grief and incitement simultaneously in her. Their right hand held her wrists tight above her head, preventing her from escape or struggle, and their left pumped seemingly endlessly in her, as though determined to inflict the maximum amount of suffering allowed by their sad*stic master.

Haarlep tortured her for hours.

What had begun as a lapse in concentration devolved into a desperate, and genuine, appeal for help. Tav fluctuated between aching, agonizing sobs and prayer to Raphael, sometimes silent and sometimes aloud. She begged, bargained, and pleaded to no avail. Neither his return nor even his encouragement was enticed. Tav had no idea how long he planned to leave her like this, nor what she was being punished for. Is this even punishment, or is this my new reality?

She felt her spirit buckle, splintering as it took on the weight of her near total surrender. When she finally lost the strength to plead, either to Haarlep or Raphael, the incubus whispered in her ear.

“Now ask.”

They weren’t talking themselves, and they weren't talking about Raphael. Tav had been intimately aware of the massive portrait visible from this bed, had viciously fought back every shadow of temptation to use it. She couldn’t, within only hours of her return, use one of two remaining org*sms, especially not when being left alone with her curse was apparently going to be a recurring torment.

She shook her head. Haarlep growled against her neck, their fingers moving more quickly in her. Tav’s eyes rolled back, her hands fighting the restraint of the incubus. Haarlep was no warrior, but as a fiend they were still physically stronger than humans.

Ask,” they hissed, lowering their lips to her breasts to tease gently. Their tongue snaked across her nipples one at a time, grazing them lightly; the sensation shot straight down the center of her body like a bolt of lightning. Tav shuddered, her voice nearly broken from the constant rise and fall of her own screaming. Her dripping sex flexed on Haarlep’s fingertips, muscles quivering and straining with the urge to climax, as well as the force that was stopping her. Haarlep’s fingers plunged hard into her and she saw stars as her will bowed, then broke.

‘Pain. Become its bedfellow, and you will know true pleasure.’

“Oh gods, please can I come!?” she howled, locking eyes with the beautiful, arrogant face of Raphael’s portrait. Her body arched as though she were being electrocuted, every muscle tight and straining, a shriek tearing free of her throat. Tav had no remaining control; white hot pleasure raced through her very blood, crashing around her in a rush so overpowering that she all but lost consciousness in the middle of it. She screamed, cried, whined, lost her voice entirely, all an offering at the altar of the most powerful org*sm she’d ever experienced.

Haarlep never stopped drawing her out, their fingers stringing every last moment of her climax further. They kissed her face gently, soft lips lingering on Tav’s flushed, tear streaked skin. Tav would have shoved the awful creature from her if she could summon the strength; as it was, she could do nothing but gasp for air, fighting the black spots that threatened unconsciousness on her. Everything hurt as she finally began to spiral down, from her sharply cramping legs to her shredded vocal cords.

Haarlep lifted her from the bed when she quieted, carried her easily to the rejuvenation pool. Tav could do nothing but ball her fist against the incubus, holding tight to their gown. They walked dressed into the pool, soaking the hot water into their own clothes as they lowered her into it like a child.

Tav moaned in horrible relief as the pain was mended. A sob broke from her lips, devastated and furious at once.

Why?” she demanded, her dark, accusing eyes turning up. Haarlep frowned, their gaze shifting to the barrier on the door briefly. They waited for several minutes in silence, pouring water over Tav’s hair and washing her tenderly with perfumed oils. After a while, they leaned towards her, their lips brushing her ear again.

“Because he’s not listening anymore.” The incubus straightened again, as though nothing had occurred. Tav sat in numb shock, processing Haarlep’s whispered words quietly as they rinsed the soap from her hair. Raphael had been listening to her…of course he had, he’d even told her that he would. And now that she had culminated, there would be nothing of interest to him until the curse ignited again.

“Are you sure?” Her voice broke in surprise at the audacity of Haarlep. They smiled shyly, a devious light in their eyes. “Why…why would you do that?”

Haarlep pulled her from the pool, handing her a thick towel before summoning another gown. Tav dried herself off quickly, sensing that something unusual was about to happen.

“He’s going to be very busy,” said Haarlep quickly. Their voice was low and guilty, as though afraid that Raphael could catch them conspiring at any moment. This was a very different response than the light mischief Tav saw when Haarlep had disguised her for the party. “He likes to listen to you, but if you’re done he’ll occupy himself with war plans. Your only window of free thought is after you’ve lifted the curse…he won’t touch that time, but I couldn’t tell you before. I had to pretend that I was making you waste a pass. I’m so sorry.”

Haarlep sounded genuinely sorrowful over the violation. Tav couldn’t resist the urge to reach out and grab their hands; she had never seen a devil feel remorse.

“Why did you do that to me?” she asked, needing to know what the incubus had decided to cross their master for; there could be no light cause. Haarlep didn’t answer.

Their hand raised, and with a snap Tav was standing in the cold, yawning mouth of a cavern.

There was a sudden flurry of noise, bodies, and hands. She had no time to react, only uttering a short cry as she was swarmed by-

Tav!! Sweet holy mantle of Mystra, it’s you!!”

“Tav by the gods, you’re alright!”

The voices of her closest friends rose in an echoing chorus around her, and Tav’s flinch quickly morphed into desperately clenching hands, holding only any piece of the people surrounding her. She gasped, hardly able to believe that they were actually real. I thought I was going to die alone down here.

“You…you’re here!” she burst, her arm tight around Wyll’s neck, the other hand holding Shadowheart’s. “You’re all here! How are you here!? Where are we?” She looked around them, seeing the familiar ice storms of Cania whirling beyond the mouth of the cavern. Gale, Shadowheart, Astarion, Karlach, and Wyll, all warm and safe in this place. Tears stung her eyes again, but these were born of shuddering relief.

“This is incredible, we were so afraid that-“ Karlach’s voice cut off abruptly, unwilling to speak the words into existence. She tightened her grip instead, clutching Tav around the neck as though she’d never let the half-elf go again. “Well, all that we need to know is that you’re never going back again.”

Ahem,” Haarlep cleared their throat, watching in amusem*nt. “She does actually have to go back. But I’ll leave you all here to work out the schematics. Octavia my dear, I will return for you before nightfall.” The incubus gave her a sad smile before teleporting from the cavern.

“…why?” Tav murmured, staring at the quickly dissipating smoke. “Why do this for me?”

“Why does a fiend do anything?” said Gale grimly. “There is something to be gained.”

Tav didn’t respond to that. She couldn’t understand Haarlep’s motivation to help her, but she didn’t have the luxury of time to wonder for long. Instead she looked to her friends, still in disbelief that they were all really here.

“We don’t have much time,” said Gale, waving the others back. They withdrew, giving her the space to turn her attention to him. “We’ve found the crown, or whatever Raphael is showing us to be the crown. We’ve discovered that Raphael has a key to it on his person, although we don’t know what it looks like. I believe that we can make a play for both, but it might depend on the intelligence that you’ve gathered.”

Tav winced. Intelligence? She’d spent some time on it, but it sounded like Gale and the others had already figured out most of what she knew. It’s not my fault..I’ve been under guard for most of my time in Mephistar.

“We…Gale, thinks that Raphael would have something on him that he never takes off. It could be the crown, it could be a key, but it probably looks like neither. Is there anything that you’ve seen like that?” Wyll fielded the question gently. Tav didn’t even hesitate.

“A ring,” she said immediately. “He wears a gold ring. It’s the only thing that he’s never-” Her mouth snapped shut as she realized the cloud of implications around what she was about to say. Too late. Astarion stifled a choking sound, Karlach and Wyll both froze in their combined righteous fury.

“Alright…a ring,” said Gale slowly. “That makes sense, it’s something easy to keep on in, ah, any state.” His eyebrows were raised nearly to his hairline, though he had the decorum not to pursue her line of logic. Tav sucked her teeth, unable to stop her head from dropping shamefully.

“And this ring is on his…finger?” Astarion quipped wickedly. Shadowheart slapped the back of his head, her scowl threatening and dark. “What? You can’t tell me that you weren’t thinking it.”

Listen,” Tav growled, her eyes flashing. They collectively quailed before her. “We can unpack this whole experience another time. But for now, for this, I really need all of you to understand that I’ve gone through a lot to survive in Cania. I didn’t…I didn’t even know that you were coming. I thought that I was alone here.”

“I’m sorry,” said Astarion abashedly. His expression had shifted from teasing to sympathetic. “I was just trying to lift the mood. I didn’t mean for it to be at your expense.” Tav softened, squeezing his hand.

“So, the ring,” emphasized Gale, trying to reclaim control over the discussion. “We don’t have time for all of this, Raphael could be back in Tav’s head at any moment. Tav, do you think that there is any way for you to get the ring? Perhaps any way that could be predicted in a specified frame of time?”

“Hang on, are we making a play for the crown now?” Tav staggered back a step, trying to absorb what Gale was saying. “Right now? You have a plan right now!?” The move that she’d been praying for was finally happening, and she found herself frozen.

“Tav, the ring!” Gale insisted. “Can you get to it?” She nodded slowly. “Alright. Then I think we set up a time, split into groups. Wyll, you take the others to the archives. I will go with Tav, to get her away from Raphael as soon as she has it, and then we use the power of either to get out of Mephistar. We’ll have only seconds to react, as Raphael will realize quickly what’s happening.”

“Hold on, what about the ice?” added Karlach, pointing to the mouth of the cavern. “It’ll kill us in moments if we can’t get out through the portals. What’s the plan for that?”

“Infernal fur,” said Tav, laughing. “I have a closet full of it. I could ask Haarlep to drop some off here, from the boudoir, and we you can have it ready.” Tyr’s wing, I may actually escape from this place. Tav willed away the image of Raphael smoldering in the dim light of Bowshot’s frosty windows. But as she considered Gale’s fledgling plan, her stomach dropped. “Hang on, how close do you need to be to get me and the ring away?”

“That’s going to be the sticking point. We all must be in place at the same time; Wyll’s group at the archives, poised to take the crown, and myself hidden within a few feet of you. You’ll need to not only get the ring -although merely touching it should work- but also find a way to ensure he’s distracted. A devil will be able to see through invisibility, and even if I hide he’ll be able to smell me…you know him Tav, can you orchestrate a scenario where he might not notice my presence?” It seemed so complex an idea that the others’ expressions fell as they weighed what Gale asked of Tav. But her eyes closed in horrified acceptance as she processed what she was about to have to do.

“Alright,” she said sharply. She spoke to the entire group, more firmly than she could ever remember. “Whatever I do here to get to the crown, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to hear about it, until I’m ready to do either of those things. Is that understood? I trust all of you, and I will do my part to get us out of here. But there will be no judgment, no argument, not even questions, until this is behind us. Are we all clear on that?” Tav stared hard at Gale as she waited for their response. Stunned into silence, it was several seconds before they began to murmur affirmations.

“When should we be set up?” asked Wyll, looking from Tav to Gale. “We’ve figured out how to get anywhere in the house, including the boudoir. I’ll disguise my group as fiends on the staff, we can hang around the archives cleaning until we get the signal.”

“Tomorrow morning, be ready at sunrise,” said Tav, her mind sprinting. “Gale, come back with me and get the furs now, Raphael likely won’t be coming back to the house for a while yet; he’s drafting plans to invade Nessus. But I believe that he can be lured.”

Her idea was a risky one, but she was leaving Cania one way or another. Either she would escape, or Raphael would kill her. Either is a better option than leading his cult.

They nodded, and Tav closed her eyes in mixed relief and resignation.

_________________________________________

Haarlep returned for her as promised, their face lit with a friendly smile. The others backed away from the incubus, unwilling to trust that a fiend’s intentions could be anything but sinister, but Tav was genuinely sorry to know that if everything went as planned, she’d likely never see them again.

With a snap, Haarlep brought her and Gale back to the boudoir. She breathed a deep sigh, turning to the wizard who had risked everything to stop Raphael and save her from the hells.

“Thank you,” she whispered, knowing that the words would never be enough for everything that he’d done for her. And everything that you’re about to put him through. “How, uh, how close do you need to be tomorrow?” She knew the answer, but was still loath to hear him say it.

“Very close. Within a few feet, if I’m honest; we can’t spare a second. Raphael can teleport anywhere in the house, most likely anywhere in Mephistar without the use of a portal, and the only advantage on our side is surprise. Once you’re gone, he’ll know exactly what is happening, and he’s going to be on our tails faster than a singed gremishka.” Gale looked around the room, taking in the expensive decor. There were many places to hide, but unfortunately, Tav knew of only one plan that might succeed.

“I think it’s going to have to be under the bed,” she sighed, covering her eyes with a hand and blushing fiercely. “I’m so sorry, for this and for everything else. Gale, this plan is going to work, but it’s going to be…difficult. And awkward. And awful. Whatever happens, I need you to stay absolutely silent until I give the signal; it will mean that I’m touching the ring and ready to be teleported.” Gale nodded slowly, knowing better than to ask questions. She could almost see him reviewing her list of rattled off demands from the cavern, ensuring that his response fell in line with what she wanted.

“And the signal will be?” he finally asked, deeming it both necessary as well as within the confines of her terms. Tav ground her teeth, hating what was about to happen.

“The second time that I say master.”

Her face burned, and she didn’t need to look at Gale to envision the emotions that were most likely crossing his face. He was dead silent for a while, processing his own levels of shock, alarm, confusion, and disgust. He cleared his throat, hummed, and struggled to stifle his own screaming need for answers.

“Alright. Sounds like a…plan.” She could practically hear him begging her to explain what was going on, but Gale’s courtesy towards his friends was the only force of nature that could overpower his thirst for information. “I will trust you, Tav. I know that you understand what’s at stake.”

He pulled her unexpectedly into his arms. Tav jumped in surprise before resting her head against his shoulder, the wall of ice inside of her melting at the warm of a simple, unconflicted mortal touch. She sniffled, empty of tears but aching for the simplicity of mortal love. He held her for a long time before drawing back, knowing that their time was limited.

“It’s alright, we’re going to get you out of here,” he said, smiling reassuringly. Tav nodded, a shuddering sigh leaving her body. She could almost believe him.

After filling his arms with enough infernal fur to protect them from the icy storms of Cania, Gale teleported from the house, leaving Tav with the strangely silent incubus. Haarlep had watched their interaction with mild interest, hanging back to allow her some semblance of privacy. Now Tav turned to them with questions of her own.

“Why are you helping me?” she asked immediately. Haarlep smiled appeasingly, hanging back from her like before. Something was different about the fiend, although she didn’t suspect them to be malicious. “You know that they want to escape with me.”

“You’re running out of time,” said Haarlep quietly. “When you’re done with the passes, things are going to be much worse for you here. If you don’t end your oath or escape, you won’t be the same person anymore. He will break you, if you don't first lose your mind.”

Well that was good to know. Tav sucked in her breath, processing her quickly dwindling timeline; she hadn’t planned to use either of her two remaining freebies so early, but she also hadn’t anticipated that her friends would be hiding in Cania, already formulating their escape plan. It was a big gamble, and one that she had very little time to rationalize before its execution. I’m going to use both of them within a day of each other…that may be reason enough for Raphael to be suspicious. Still, it was the only way to both summon as well as distract him that she could think of.

But there were other factors at play too. Haarlep was a good liar, just as good as Raphael, but Tav suspected that it couldn’t be sympathy alone driving an incubus to deceive their master. Why does a fiend do anything? There is something to be gained. Gale’s words echoed in Tav’s head. Yes, Haarlep may have personal goals to advance through helping Tav, but what was more important was whether a successful escape was what they stood to gain from.

“Is it Raphael?” she asked point blank, surprising Haarlep. Their eyes darted briefly to the side. “It is, isn’t it. You’re becoming threatened by me here.” Haarlep began to smile, but it wavered from their usual cunning poise.

“I…I don’t want to hurt you,” they murmured, sounding almost guilty. “I was sure that this would go quickly, that you’d sign the contract and get sent home. The longer you’re down here, the more that I worry. He’s never asked for my true form.” Their voice softened, bled with pain and jealousy. Tav’s mouth opened in surprise, never knowing that a devil could sound so hurt.

“I would never replace you,” she said instinctively, forgetting for the moment that she wanted Haarlep to help her escape. “I don’t belong here, Haarlep. You do.”

She pulled the taller woman into a hug, enjoying the warmth that emanated from them. Haarlep immediately wrapped their arms around Tav, and she knew that the fiend had no plans to betray her.

But as she hugged Haarlep, she felt her short reprieve coming to an end. Tav closed her eyes, and for the first time she welcomed the invasion of her curse, the racing of her blood and the inflaming of her body. Raphael would not come to her tonight, no…but she would ensure that he could not ignore her tomorrow.

_________________________________________

Tav, for the first time, expended no energy resisting her curse. She touched herself wantonly, teasing her own skin, moaning in agonizing bliss as she tossed and turned in the silky sheets. Her hands stroked her thighs, her breasts, between her legs, luxuriating in the endless waves of pleasure that rolled over her body.

She moaned loudly, free in her isolation. Haarlep had returned to Cania, Gale to the cavern, and Tav was now alone with her curse again. Not totally alone. Raphael was probably tuning in again, listening to her suffering as he fed off of her at his leisure. So she made sure to punctuate her pleasure with soft cries for him, appealing to his interest in her without piquing enough curiosity for him to dig further into her mind.

It wasn’t difficult to lean into it; rather, it was a little frightening how simple it was to forget her own thoughts, her own goals, and let herself yearn for Raphael. Instead of thinking about escape plans, she focused on the sensation of his hands on her, the golden hue of his eyes, the feeling of his breath on the back of her neck. She unleashed her restraint, and finally succumbed to the temptation that had long grappled with her nature. It was easy, so easy, to finally let go.

And it had the intended effects. Tav found herself swimming in fantasy, reliving her nights with Raphael. On top of that, her scent filled the room, the heady aroma of sex that perfumed the air when she spent her nights like this.

Her exhaustion was of no consequence. It was her last night suffering in Raphael’s name, and she was determined to wring every second out of it for the benefit of saving her friends. The more desperate she seemed, the more believable he would find the collapse of her will. The more aroused, the less likely that he would smell Gale in the room.

It was completely insane, it was depraved, and it was her only chance at escape.

One night crawled by like an eternity. It was just as bad as her first night under the influence of the curse, her voice hoarse and body aching by the time the sunrise neared.

Tav laughed wildly in relief as she heard the window open, knowing that her eternal night was finally coming to an end. Gale was here, sneaking through the window of the boudoir like a thief. He froze with one leg across the threshold, staring in confused horror at Tav’s twisted, naked body on the bed. She was soaked in sweat, panting from pain, and her face was again streaked with tears.

“Tav-” he gasped, stumbling through the window and reaching for her.

No!” she hissed, pushing herself partially upright. “Stay to the plan!” They had no time to negotiate. Their friends were staging at the archives as she spoke, and she had only minutes to pull this off. Gale’s hands clenched in indecision for a moment before he acquiesced, scrambling under the massive bed. Tav waited for another moment, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath as she accepted her role in their daring heist.

When she opened her eyes again, she stared up at the portrait of Raphael. Each time it would demand more from her…luckily, Tav already knew what the third demand would be.

Please master, can I come!” she cried, moaning as she was flooded with pleasure again. Her cries surged into screams, fire coursing through her limbs as she writhed. She knew for a fact that Raphael was listening intently, as Tav expended her last chance for pleasure in the hells. It was that knowledge that she would use to summon him.

“Ohh…oh, Haarlep!

Tav nearly laughed as she called the incubus’s name.

There was a sharp crack, the scent of sulfur, and Tav had to suppress the delight in her immediate success. Raphael had been summoned, and he was furious. He crossed the room in several steps, displacing the clothes from his body with a snap of his fingers. Climbing into the bed, his hand tangled into her hair, jerking her head back.

She gazed up into his flaming eyes, admiring the beauty of his devilish features even as he struggled to rein in his rage.

“You contemptuous creature,” he snarled, sharp teeth bared. His tail whipped behind him, wings spread in silent threat. Yes, he was just as angry as she thought he would be by her bold, rebellious gesture. He held her face up, scouring it for the remnants of her guilt as his other hand plunged two fingers deep into her, reigniting the fading energy of the curse. Tav twisted and cried out, instantly tight and wet around him. “How dare you take that away from me. Oh, I am sorely tempted to put you on a rack to pay for that little act of insubordination. You knew perfectly well that that should have been my name on your tongue.”

He pinned her arms above her head, thrusting into her in one powerful stroke. Tav squealed unexpectedly, not anticipating the speed or aggression with which he would reclaim her. She was suddenly in a very disadvantageous position, her hands trapped and unable to reach his ring. She would need to reconsider her approach, if she hoped to get close enough to touch it.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, breathless with pleasure. “Please, Raphael!” He sneered at her, lip curling in disdain. Raphael liked to force her submission himself. She cried out as he thrust forcefully in her, pain and pleasure in one.

Raphael? I believe that you’re lacking in formality, pretty whor*. What else might you call me?” Yes, he was certainly angry. But Tav waffled, knowing that the moment she said master, Gale would teleport her away. And she needed to have her fingers on the ring for that.

“Archdevil,” she whispered instead, knowing that it would stir him equally. True to his nature, his eyes darkened, breath shuddered, and he slowed his pace in her. She let her eyes roll back, basked in the glow of bliss that she only seemed to know beneath him. “Archdevil Supreme.

“Good girl,” he growled in her ear, and his hands released her wrists. Turning her over, he allowed her to ride him to her pleasure. “Again.”

“Archdevil Raphael,” she sighed, moaning as she rode him slowly. There was no earthly bliss that could compare; Tav’s back arched, her toes curled, as she lost herself on him. Her aches from the night seemed to dissipate, consumed in the demanding flames of her desire. Her pleasure was so complete that, for a moment, she entirely forgot that she had another kind of goal waiting.

Suddenly recalling her friends, anxiously staged for their arrival, and her old flame beneath the f*cking bed, Tav began to pick up speed. She slid on and off of him fiercely, her cries growing in volume as she succumbed to desperation. Leaning forward to feel the base of his co*ck grind against her, Tav began to slide her hands over Raphael’s chest, his shoulders, winding up his biceps with gradually increasing worship.

By the time her fingers interlaced with his, her lips were brushing his face, settling finally on his mouth. She kissed him deeply, her teeth grazing his lips. Her fingers tightened, and she could feel the cool, gold band of the ring between them.

“Oh, master,” she cried.

The abrupt teleportation was so powerfully disorienting that Tav could hardly see what was happening around her. She stood naked and shaking in the archives, felt somebody tear the ring from her finger as somebody else threw a fur coat over her. There was a crash, a blast of crackling magic, and she saw a golden shield shatter; the Crown of Karsus, whisked away in Wyll’s hands as an arcane gate activated and she was jerked through yet another portal.

Now she was in a room of mirrors, and in only seconds she knew that it wouldn’t work, even with the ring and the crown. They touched the portal to Baldur’s Gate and it was only glass.

Gale had only time to utter a soft curse. There was a crack and the smell of sulfur, then an awful sensation as Gale executed the largest and farthest dimension door that any of them had ever seen. All six of them hurtled through space and time, the power of the Netherese weave carrying them expeditiously away from Mephistar. Gale screamed beside her, black fumes emanating from his hand, agony laced through his voice as they were dropped on a sheer, icy mountain cliff.

The wind of Cania howled relentlessly around them, shards of ice blasting against the side of the mountain. All around them was a blanket of white snow over glacier, with no civilization in sight. They had made it out of Mephistar, by some miracle, but were still trapped in Cania with an enraged Archdevil on their tail…and the Crown of Karsus in hand.

Chapter 10: Everything is Fine

Notes:

Holy moly, the collective response on the last chapter was INSANE!! Wow, I love you guys so much! I know everybody is here for the smut, I sort of try to keep the plot short and involved so it's not boring but I had no idea how invested some of you were! Y'all have no idea how pleased I am that people are interested in the storyline, I love slow build romances and I always center the story to help them along. Thank you all SO MUCH for your comments, reviews, and likes, you are genuinely such a gratifying audience to write for. You all deserve this early chapter (although unfortunately it's just plot...I need it to keep the story moving lol and I do apologize for that).

DO NOT WORRY, Raphael will be heavily featured in the next chapter!
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Chapter Text

The group took shelter in a nearby cave, the ice storm too thick for them to safely traverse the rocky cliff. It turned the skies gray, disguised plummeting cliffs beneath powdery white snow. Tav could hardly see past the end of her nose, so fierce was the storm around them. She was grateful for the help of her friends, as she had lost the energy to do anything but stagger along beside them, Astarion and Shadowheart keeping her upright.

Somehow, Wyll seemed to know the way into the cave. He led the rest of the team, hands lit by flames, their forms hulking under thick infernal fur. The cloaks, although Tav knew that they were keeping them alive, felt as though they were scraps of paper against the force of Cania’s icy wind. She was chilled to her core, colder than she had ever been in her life.

But she was free of Mephistar, free of Raphael, for the first time since she’d arrived in Baator. Almost. They stumbled into the rocky shelter, a respite from the wind if not the cold.

There were no materials to be salvaged here, no chance of furniture or food. The team was accustomed to making it work; they began to unpack travel bags, and Karlach revealed an unexpected surprise strapped to hers.

“I figured you’d want to be armed,” she said slyly, shifting her huge bag from beneath her fur. Hers was the bulkiest of all, and Tav saw that she’d tied something to the outside of the bag.

The armaments!” Tav cried, her hands flying to the shining silver and gold plates. They were masterworks still, even in their age, the steel and chainmail nearly as light as clothing. Karlach had even grabbed the matching sword, hilt decorated with the most realistic smelted feathers that she’d ever seen. The famed angelic armaments, stolen from the archives of the devil. She threw her arms around Karlach in joy, lost for the words to thank her friends. Karlach returned the hug gently, acutely aware of Tav’s battered state.

“You can put ‘em on later; I think Shadowheart needs to see to you.” Kalrach stroked Tav’s head one last time before handing her off to the cleric.

“I might need Gale too,” said Tav faintly, praying that one of them would be able to lift her curse. It was too cold for any of them to shed their cloaks, even out of the wind; the bone chilling freeze seemed to emanate from the very stones of the cave. Karlach unpacked some food, passing out fruit and dried meat from her bag. Wyll drew a bottle of wine, uncorking it to be passed around.

Tav sighed as Shadowheart cast a healing spell over her, easing some of the cramped weariness that plagued her body. Besides that, there was little wrong with her physically.

“Can you uncurse me?” she murmured, as Gale approached. The two of them glanced at each other before lifting their hands to inspect the magic that Haarlep had embedded in her. Tav noticed, when Gale lifted his hand, that he was wearing Raphael’s ring. The familiar gold sheen was as common and benign as any other ring, but a web of insidious black cracks had broken out over the skin of his hand. She felt her stomach drop as she stared. Shadowheart, touching the edges of the curse, gasped and dropped her hand in surprise.

Tav,” she whispered in horror. “How long have you had that? I don’t think I can even remove it, that’s the strongest curse I’ve ever seen. It’s just rooted in you.” Tav shivered, trying not to lose hope. If Raphael had found a way to make it unbreakable, she would have no choice but to end her life; there was no living with something like that.

“Hang on,” said Gale, taking a deep breath. He closed his eyes, and she saw the ring glow on his hand, and with it the black marks on his skin. He made a low sound of pain in his throat, one that finally burst from him as she felt the curse lifting from her soul like a giant parasite. His groan of pain turned to a choked scream, and she saw the cracks run up his arm like it was made of breaking glass.

“Gale, stop!” she gasped, but in another moment, the curse dissipated from her body as though it had never existed. She cried out in abject relief, as Gale fell to his knees, his free hand clutching at the wrist of the other. His breath hissed painfully through his teeth, body shaking as he absorbed the pain inflicted by the ring. It’s gone. The curse was gone, and Tav was finally free of Raphael. Her heart overflowed with hope, joy, gratitude…and, oddly, the barest twinge of loss. Unsettled by the feeling, she looked instead to Gale. “What’s happening? Why is it doing that?”

“It’s not the crown,” Gale ground through his teeth. His hand was balled into a fist, still shaking from the pain of using the ring’s magic. “It’s a conduit to it, and it’s cursed. I can’t keep using it, or it’s most likely going to kill me. Pretty clever, I must afford that to the devil, although I doubt he ever expected it to be used for an escape. Either way, it’s kept us alive to this point.” He was right. They were alive, and it seemed outside of Raphael’s immediate influence. Tav found herself continuously glancing towards the gaping mouth of the cavern, dreading the moment that his silhouette appeared. No, it seemed they had shaken him for the time being.

“Can you take the ring off?” asked Tav, disturbed by the network of cracks that now ran from his ring to his shoulder. He laughed.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” he said humorlessly. “No, it appears to be stuck for the time being. I anticipated that it might be cursed, if it were anything but the crown…luckily it won’t kill me instantly. That would be too short sighted for a devil to plan.” He scowled at the ring, stuck on his hand like a bomb.

“But, the crown,” said Tav softly, and they all turned to look at Wyll as he emptied his own bag. Pulling out the golden crown, they watched as he probed the artifact with his own magic.

Her heart fell as he sighed and shook his head.

“Not the crown,” he said bitterly, tossing the golden fake to the floor. “It’s enchanted to look and feel like it, but it’s just a showpiece. The real one must be somewhere else.”

“Then that was all for nothing?” Tav cried, hope dashing in her as she collapsed on the rocky ground. “No crown, and a cursed ring! And we’re still stuck in Cania!” She felt terror rising in her at the thought of Raphael finding them like this. Her time in the hells would be nothing compared to the rage that he would unleash on her and her friends.

“It was not all for nothing,” said Wyll firmly. He knelt and pulled Tav from the ground, holding her warmly. “We have you, and we have a way forward. Right now that’s enough.”

“We suspected that it wasn’t going to be so easy,” said Shadowheart grimly. “Especially when that incubus agreed to help us right away.”

Haarlep? Tav shook her head.

“Haarlep isn’t like them,” she said slowly, unwilling to believe that they would have betrayed her. “They risked their own life to help me. They were just jealous, that’s all.” As she spoke, Wyll and Karlach exchanged significant looks.

“Haarlep wasn’t jealous of Raphael’s affection,” Karlach explained carefully. “Haarlep would have been jealous of your access to his power. That’s all that a devil can care about. They might have helped you escape, because getting you out of their way seemed the simplest option, but if they thought for a moment that we had an actual chance at stealing the crown they would have interfered.”

“That was our first clue that neither of these would be the crown,” said Wyll bitterly. “But, the ring isn’t nothing. It’s a powerful conduit, and it may be able to help us locate the real crown. Plus, I doubt that he’s got a second one just lying around, so we’ve possibly cut off his access to it for the time being too.”

“If it doesn’t kill me first,” laughed Gale. Tav looked up at him with real worry, and he held up his hands. “Joking! I will not be using its power again until we at least figure out how to get it off of my hand. Or, I will reserve its use for times when our lives are in mortal peril. I don’t know how long I’ve got to live with it on, but my magic can keep it at bay for the time being.” His voice was somewhat strained, clearly struggling under the painful burden of the ring.

Tav tried to take comfort in the small successes. She was far from Mephistar, her friends were all alive, and as far as she knew, Raphael didn’t know where they were. They might not have the crown but they had allies and a lead.

Karlach dropped a pear in her hand, and a strip of dried beef. She tousled Tav’s hair before sitting next to her on the cold ground, infernal fur bundled up to her chin.

Tav leaned against her, biting into the fruit with relish. She had struggled to eat under the influence of the curse, and now she could finally enjoy the sweet, crunchy tartness of a pear without forcing her way through a meal. Despite the fact that her last several weeks had been spent eating her fill of delicacies, nothing tasted better than the rationed scraps tossed onto her lap in a cave.

“Thank you all,” she whispered, swallowing her third bite of pear. “For not leaving me behind.” She would never be able to repay them for this. The rest of the group sat nearby, huddled together in furs to combat the bite of Cania’s frost.

“What’s the plan now?” asked Shadowheart, her arm linked in Astarion’s. The tip of his nose was nearly blue, and he looked quite miserable.

“The Wandering Citadel,” said Wyll, pulling a map from a pocket of his backpack. He unfurled it and pointed to a small landmark in Cania’s vast wastelands. “Mizora placed this waypoint by the cave for us to teleport to after getting the ring. We’ll meet her at the Wandering Citadel as soon as the storms die down in the morning. It’s one of the only oases for mortals in all of Cania, and it has an underground library that might have the information we need on Mephistopheles’s hidden archives.”

Mizora?” asked Tav, dumbfounded. “Mizora is helping us!? Since when? She’s the one who trapped us down here!”

“She has a lot to gain from Raphael’s downfall,” said Karlach, finishing her rations. “She might act like his agent in the open, but if Raphael loses the crown, then Zariel stands to regain power as an Archdevil. Mizora won’t openly cross him until she’s forced to, but she’s amenable to lookin’ the other way if she thinks we’ll be her test dummies, sniffing around for the crown.”

Tav shook her head, feeling warmer from her hold on Karlach. She could never understand devil politics the way that Wyll and Karlach could. The scheming, the betrayal, the complete absence of trust…she could finally understand why Karlach had lost her will to live in Avernus. Raphael had grown in these waters, was whetted to manipulation before any of their great grandparents even existed. He navigated them with the agility of a native, born and bred to climb the ladder of power. I was only ever just another rung.

The storm grew dark outside, and the temperature still continued to drop. Tav trembled, her hands ice cold, her face burrowing into the neck of her coat. Even with infernal fur, the chill of Cania was near insurmountable. They fell into silence, focused on conserving heat.

“Well isn’t this a treat,” muttered Astarion, his voice muffled in his thick coat. He was huddled on Karlach’s other side, Shadowheart clinging to his free arm. “Gods, why haven’t we visited Cania sooner? I can’t believe we got our hands on the all-expenses paid kidnapping. Usually it takes months to book a spot like this.”

“Will you shut up?” Shadowheart mumbled, turning her face into his arm. “This is terrible enough already. Your whinging isn’t making it any warmer.”

“This is the worst mission. Not the worst rescue mission, not the worst mission into the hells…the worst mission.

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“Holy hells, did you actually fall asleep?”

Tav yawned, snuggling closer to Karlach as faint light pierced the cave. Cania was never truly bright, but when the storms eased, some of the silvery sky beamed through the thick cloud cover.

It was still cold, sure. But Tav hadn’t slept in days, having spent her last night in ceaseless torment. The cold was nothing compared to the physical and mental torment inflicted on her in Mephistar. She stretched aching limbs, tight from shivering through the night.

They packed up the cave, taking advantage of the clear sky to make their way towards the Wandering Citadel. Raphael had yet to find them, which was a relief to Tav. She imagined that he must be frantic by now, possibly even interrogating his staff for indicators towards her location. Oh gods…what about Haarlep?

She quickly brightened as Karlach presented the beautiful set of armor, silver and gold steel shining like water. Tav slipped into Shadowheart’s spare underclothes before shrugging into the feather-light chainmail and plates, still in wonder at the quality of the ancient armor. As she grasped the hilt of the great sword, she felt the fire of her oath light within, the guiding beam that had always led her true. For the first time in weeks, Tav finally felt like a paladin again. Even beneath the furs, she glowed with renewed energy and pride.

It was somehow colder outside. Tav shuddered, her shoulders hunching as they made their way through ice and snow. The wind clawed through their layers of fur and clothing, demanding its claim on their mortal bodies. Few creatures survived the cold of Cania; once they left, Tav hoped to never experience it again.

Wyll led them bravely through the mountain pass. He studied his map carefully, forging a trail into several feet of ice and snow. It was slow, torturous, and disheartening work. True to her name as the eighth circle of the hells, Cania taxed her mortal visitors in measures of sheer misery.

She found herself next to Gale, struggling together against the shocking hostility of the landscape. The wind was strong enough to cover words, though not so strong as to knock them off of the cliff face anymore.

“So, I know I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he began awkwardly. Tav grimaced; despite her stipulations, she’d known that Gale wouldn’t be able to just breeze past what happened in the House of Hope. “I assume that the, ah, curse, was a big part of what was going on with…him?”

“Yeah,” Tav sighed, accepting that it wasn’t going to be so easy glossing over what they had all endured in Cania. The saw Astarion’s head twitch slightly, as he resisted the urge to turn. “Yes, we were sleeping together,” she said more loudly, clearing the air once and for all. “No, it wasn’t particularly consensual, so I still don’t want to talk about it.”

Liar. A strand of denial, and shock, laced through her heart. She forced it down, unwilling to address it. Yes, Raphael had manipulated, cursed, tortured her. Tav knew that for much of what she’d succumbed to, she hadn’t been under her right mind. But there were other moments when, free of the curse, she had accepted him willingly. More than willingly. Fantasized about him, even. The complexity of their relationship wasn’t a thing that could be simply put into words. He had assaulted her, body and mind, and yet she found her thoughts returning persistently to his hands on her body, his smile. His lips on her neck. She chewed on her partial truths, wondering how much time she needed to dismantle what she had been through.

“Perfectly understandable, I’m sorry to have brought it up,” Gale replied quickly. “Very thoughtless of me. You did everything that you needed to do to survive, and nobody here would dare to hold that against you. If, if you need to talk about it, I am here.”

“I know,” she muttered, guilt lancing her at his sincerity. Gale was kind; above all, Gale was kind. She had once felt her heart stammer at his gentle soul, his deep eyes that conveyed so much of the man that he was. Why was her heart quiet now? Her soul felt raw, scorched and empty from the extraction of her curse. Tav wasn’t sorry to see it go, but it left her bruised and exhausted, too weary for new love to spark.

The path before them began to clear, and with it came new revelations. Interspersed between sheared rock faces were stretches of glacial ice, gradients of white to midnight blue. Creatures were frozen into the ice, visible faces twisted into expressions of pain, terror, and agony. Some looked disconcertingly human, mages and humanoids who had wandered Cania in search of forbidden magic. Some were unrecognizable behemoths, their bodies broken or entirely severed by Cania’s unforgiving storms.

They tried not to stare too hard into the museum of desiccated corpses. Mostly.

“Is that a kobold? How did it even get down here? Gale, do kobolds have wizards? Did you know that one?” Astarion’s tireless humor was enough to crack the gloomy cloud that hung over them. Tav snorted, feeling some of the weight lift from her shoulders. Even in the bitter cold, her friends could make her feel light. The thought of a kobold sentenced to the eighth circle of the hells was enough to have them all fighting back laughter.

“Maybe it’s a warlock,” Tav joked, and they chuckled despite themselves. “To some truly desperate devil.”

“He’s obviously here to pay for his sins in the material plane,” Shadowheart quipped. “None of you have heard of Sneg the Relentless?”

They laughed hard, feeling somewhat guilty for their humor at the poor thing’s expense. But it made the slow trek through ice and snow go by easier, at least.

“Why did you have to name it, Shadowheart? Now we have to go back and dig him out,” sighed Karlach, chuckling. “No Sneg left behind.”

“I am not turning this expedition around for a-”

As Wyll turned to join in the fun, the ledge beneath his feet shattered in a spray of ice. The next closest to him, Karlach, lunged, and by a hair she caught the tip of his cloak; Wyll slipped partially out of it, one hand caught in the sleeve while the rest of him dangled above a dizzying, hundreds-foot plummet into a black sea of ice. His good eye was wide and terrified, fixed on Karlach’s as she cried out from the strain of holding his full weight, along with the pack of goods he carried. Wyll dropped it immediately, keeping only his rapier.

Tav and the others ran to her, grabbing Karlach’s arms and waist to help her pull him up. Without the pack, it was easy for her to get his feet back on the ledge, but Wyll’s body was already seizing violently. Karlach hesitated for only a moment before realizing what was happening; rather than waste time shoving him back into his infernal fur, she pulled him into hers, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him against her engine.

It had only been seconds of exposure, but without the protection of his cloak, Wyll was speechless from the claws of ice and wind. His mouth gasped for air without making a sound, his chest still thawing out.

They all looked on in horror, realizing how quickly death would race to them here. Karlach’s eyes closed, her head resting against his as she tried to slow her own frantic breathing. She sniffled, clearly shaken by the close call. Wyll took several minutes to stabilize, expedited by the warmth of her infernal engine. When Karlach nodded to Tav, she picked up the other side of Wyll’s cloak and slipped it through Karlach’s, allowing him to fold into it without baring him to the elements again. He caught his breath, pulling the hood up and stepping back from her on unsteady feet.

“Let’s keep moving,” said Karlach, her arm interlocking with his. “We’re nearly at the citadel. Hopefully there’s still some protection in place there, and we can make camp.”

Sobered by the close brush with death, they moved with purpose through the rest of the pass.
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It was almost easy to miss the Wandering Citadel. Its walls were buried almost completely in ice, and cut from the same gray stone that made up the foundation of the mountain range. Only the faint light of torches, lit by arcane fire, gave away the presence of anything hidden beneath the weight of the storm.

The entrance was simpler to find, merely a black iron gate flush against the rocky face of the mountain. They pried it open, barely slipping through with their bulky cloaks and equipment. Inside the wall of the citadel, it was noticeably warmer, the wind cut significantly by physical barriers. Lamps of violet arcane fire glowed from distant walls, the only identifying markers that could distinguish this place from any other makeshift bunker.

It also seemed to be totally empty. All around them were low buildings in various states of disrepair, some totally collapsed, others broken open and appearing to be empty. Almost nothing was intact, scrap bits of wood and metal poking up from the ground to indicate that there had been life here once. They looked around, and then at each other, before Wyll pointed. Karlach was still supporting him under one arm, though he appeared to have warmed up.

“There’s a hidden bunker,” he said, indicating towards a bent, leaning flagpole. “A hatch by the flagpole, it’s marked on Mizora’s map. Come on.”

“Wait,” said Karlach, as the others began to step forward. “It could be a trap, couldn't it?” They hesitated.

“It probably is,” agreed Gale, walking towards it anyways. “But it’s not like we’ll survive out here either. Come on, I’ll go first.” He spoke with confidence, though his arm was streaked with the frightening black marks. Gale would sacrifice his arm, his life, without question; the knowledge made Tav sick with fear. Despite the way he clutched his arm in pain, she could see a glow of excitement in his eyes; the power of the Netherese Weave, finally channeling under his control. A dread that she had long forgotten began to seep into the pit of her stomach again.

They followed him anyways. Finding the hatch quickly, Gale and Astarion pulled it up, and they all descended through the narrow entrance.

The first thing that they noticed was the warmth. Arcane fire lit every corner, burned merrily in a pit in the center of what appeared to be a tremendous, abandoned library. Sighing in relief, they finally shedded their overcoats, gathering by the fire to defrost toes and fingertips. It was empty of life here too, as evidenced by the thick layers of dust over everything. Bookshelves were collapsed and in disrepair, their contents spilled across the floor. But the ancient fires still burned, offering a small oasis for traveling planeswalkers.

After a quick recovery at the burning pit, they conducted a sweep through the library. It seemed to be well and truly empty, and they secured the hatch for added protection before setting up a camp.

“I wonder why it’s empty,” said Shadowheart suspiciously, looking around at the boarded doors and windows. It was mostly underground, but small slats of thick glass towards the ceiling offered glimpses of the darkening storm outside. “You’d think that there would be refugees here.”

“I’m sure this place goes through cycles of occupation and eviction,” said Wyll wryly. He sat down by the fire, still shaken from his near death experience. “There are lots of little corners around Avernus like this one. Some old bunkers, ruins, or the remains of secret towns. They fill up and then the devils find them, and they’re emptied out again. From the looks of the buildings outside, this place has gone through its fair share of exterminations.”

“Why a library though?” Shadowheart replied, picking a book up off of the floor. She flipped it open and scanned its contents, finding nothing extraordinary. “Seems a bit strange for the hells.”

“Not at all,” said Gale cheerfully. He too was going through books, though he seemed to be looking for something specific. “Mephistopheles is the most academic of Archdevils. Cania is supposedly full of places like this, pockets of lost or hidden research. You know, many mages willingly sacrifice their souls to spend an eternity studying magic in Cania.” He sounded more awed than Tav would have preferred.

“At the School of Hellfire, right?” she added, sitting by the fire next to the others. Gale nodded.

“Sure, or even just in Mephistopheles’s library. I’d give, well, I was going to say my right hand…” He looked at his scarred hand and laughed. Tav perked up at that.

“I’ve seen it,” she said, and Gale quickly looked up. “Haarlep took me there several times, when Raphael was visiting Nessus. It’s massive, it goes so far underground that I couldn’t even see to the bottom from the central spiral. It’s incredible.”

“You’ve very lucky for that,” said Gale, impressed. “Very few mortals could boast of visiting the library of Mephistar and returning. He’s known to guard those secrets closely.”

Tav didn’t want to tell him that not only had she seen the library, she’d also seen Mephistopheles…when she had slapped his son right in front of him. It would have been a memory that made her laugh if it hadn’t been immediately followed by her worst punishment in the hells.

As they unpacked their sleeping rolls, there was a sound that sent adrenaline through Tav like a bolt of lightning; the crack of a devil displacing nearby.

She was on her feet, sword in hand, before she saw that it was Mizora who walked towards them. Tav’s heart was pounding, her entire body shaking viciously as she struggled to regain control over her panicked nerves. Karlach took the sword from her hands, grabbed her arms and lowered her back to the ground as Wyll approached his patroness. Tav sat huddled by the fire, her hair still standing on end; Mizora cast an amused glance towards her before focusing on her warlock.

“Well?” she asked sweetly, her eyebrow lifting. “What did you find?”

“Just a conduit, not the crown,” he said bitterly. “We can’t get it off of Gale, maybe you can try?”

“Hmm, I am nothing if not a benefactor of the needy,” she said, leaning forward to inspect the ring on Gale’s hand. “If I can get it off, though, I’m going to keep it.”

“Then we will take our chances elsewhere,” said Gale, withdrawing it from her and closing his fist. “Thank you for your assistance, Mizora. But if you want us to find the crown, we’re going to need to hold onto the ring.”

She gazed at it with real venom before smiling again.

“Of course. I defer to your judgment, wizard. Just keep me informed on the plan…and don’t go dying on me.” She lifted her hand to teleport, but paused and glanced towards Tav. “Oh, and don’t lose Raphael’s little pet either. If you can’t get the crown from him, I’m going to be the one to return his consolation prize.”

She vanished with a snap.

Tav folded her arms around her knees, her heart sinking horribly. It had been so good to be with her friends that she had chosen not to think about the possibility that she could end up back in Raphael’s power after all of this. What he would do to her if it was Mizora who recaptured her. Would he forgive me if I went back on my own? She flinched, realizing that the answer was probably yes. He’d love that, actually. He would also most likely punish her either way.

Would he turn to pain? He’d mentioned the rack before her escape…she wondered how much longer she would have had if she hadn’t escaped before she ended up there anyways.

“Hey soldier,” Karlach murmured, shaking her a little. She slung an arm around Tav, holding the paladin tight to her side. “It’s alright. You’re not going anywhere yet, get out of that head. I know the hells are a scary, sh*tty place, but you can’t think about them too hard or you get distracted. We still got a mission to do, and we’re going to get out of here alive. I promise.”

Tav took in a deep breath, nodding and sitting up a little. Karlach was right; if she sank too far into the whirlpool of her own fear, then she really would get stuck in the hells.

Was it worse that she missed him, too? That the thought of running back to him was almost as alluring as it was frightening? He would punish her, she knew for certain…but he would kiss her first. Hold her, breathe in the scent of her hair, to be sure that it was really Tav come home.

Yes, it was certainly worse.

Gale finally sat beside her, his arms filled with a collection of old, dusty books. He pulled out one excitedly, opening it to the first page. She read it over his shoulder: The Shadow Weave of Netheril.

“This is a rare book to find, even in the hells,” he said cheerfully. Tav eyed his hand with some concern, seeing it clenching into a tight fist even as he spoke. Despite his outward manner, Gale was suffering greatly from the ring. The cracks over his skin seemed to shrink and expand periodically, as though it fought back against his suppression of it. “Something here may be helpful to the interest of controlling this magic.”

“Is it the Netherese magic, or infernal?” asked Tav. Gale looked at the ring, his brow furrowing.

“A bit of both,” he said grimly. “Definitely infernal, but the power of the spell is exacerbated by Netherese weave. I’m not yet sure how he did that, usually the one magic consumes the other. Raphael figured out a way to harness the power of the crown without forsaking his own…impressive, and it may take some research before I can replicate how he did it. And in doing so, how I can undo it.” She didn’t like the gleam in his brown eyes as he examined the ring. Gale had spoken of harnessing the power of the crown before, had been devastated when she signed the contract to Raphael. She hadn’t dared to tell him then, that she had done so both to save the Gith people as well as out of her concern for what would become of him with access to that kind of strength. Raphael had seemed like a safe choice at the time, a divine creature already born into that kind of world.

Which, to be fair, was now a mark against her own character judgment. Octavia Sunrise, you trusted the devil not to screw you over.

“It looks like a good read,” she sighed, settling on complacency since she could no longer trust her own concern. Gale paused, glancing towards the back of the library.

“You know, there’s an enclave in the back with another flame pit, if you want to…read with me,” he offered, a faint blush lighting his ears. Tav looked up at him in surprise. “With a couch. It’s a little broken, but we could make it cozy.”

It took a moment before Tav realized that he was flirting with her. She recognized his hesitant, awkward proposal, similar to the light banter he’d had with her years before.

Oh!” she started, her eyes widening. “I, um, I don’t think I’m really in a good place to…to think about that kind of thing right now. I think I need some time before I’m ready to be, ah, intimate with somebody.” She knew that Gale probably had no intention of making any kind of sexual overtures towards her tonight, but even the thought of being alone with someone else incited anxiety. Gale put up his hands placatingly.

“No, I understand! Of course, I meant no harm by it. I just thought that it might help to get away from the chatter, but if you’d prefer to stay here I understand.” Tav nodded gratefully, and Gale smiled. “Circ*mstances aside, I’m glad that we had the chance to reunite. You’ve been on my mind for a while now, and I’ve been a coward about visiting. I thought…I mean, I was sure that you had settled into Baldur’s Gate.”

“I have,” said Tav shyly. “I am fond of the city. Counselor Florrick employed me, and I’ve been working as a captain under her for a while now. I wish you had visited…it’s turned into a beautiful place to live.” It had improved noticeably since their time there. The refugees mostly housed and employed, the destruction of the city repaired, it had flourished since the expulsion of the mindflayer invasion. Tav understood why Gale had returned to Waterdeep; his only family lived there still, and he needed to take care of Tara and his mother. But she had always wanted to live in Baldur’s Gate, and her opportunity to settle had been then. It was a decision that had cemented their parting of ways, even when Tav knew that she could have had more.

But that wasn’t the truth that separated them now. Now when she closed her eyes, she saw another pair; catlike, wicked, and fixed on her own. The power and obsession that radiated off of Raphael was a poison that was more difficult to extricate from her body than her curse had been. She was free of one kind of pain, and shackled by another.

They talked until the dim light filtering through the surrounding windows faded, and the howl of Cania’s wind rose outside. Karlach fell asleep first, propped up against a bookshelf with Shadowheart’s head in her lap, who was second. Wyll was third, leaning against her side. Tav noticed with some amusem*nt that he had interlaced his fingers with Karlach’s, and wondered briefly when that had started.

She was next, her eyes closing to the lull of the fire and the soft conversation between Astarion and Gale. They were arguing in humorous, hushed voices over the draws and benefits of advanced schooling, and she had never felt more at home than falling asleep to the sound of their heated voices.

One by one, they slipped into a peaceful, undisturbed sleep.

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The sound of the roof collapsing around them had everybody on their feet in seconds, yanking on armor and grabbing the hilts of staffs and swords. It had been years since Tav had been ambushed in her sleep, but thanks to long standing habits, her sword and armor were perfectly staged to be yanked on and strapped in seconds. The spellcasters were ready first, needing only their clothing and quarterstaffs; Astarion was second in his light armor, daggers already pulled in the face of the threat. Karlach, Shadowheart, and Tav came in last in their heavier steels, and they took quick inventory of the team before turning to face the incoming threat.

Nobody appeared immediately, but Tav could smell the sulfur that accompanied the approach of a devil. Her heart pounded as she wondered if they had finally been found by Raphael. The roof had collapsed strangely, the center split open to protect the center of the buried library…almost as though whoever had executed it had done so to avoid crushing the inhabitants within. The sign made her very nervous; it was exactly the kind of forethought that Raphael might have. And if Raphael spared them, it was doubtless with the intention of inflicting pain of a much more horrific variety upon them.

Wyll jerked his head and lead them to the staircase, mostly destroyed but still navigable. They climbed quickly, though cautious in the face of an enemy that had yet to show themselves.

When they popped through the hatch, the whole team staggered to a halt in the icy arena of the Wandering Citadel. Two devils stood near the center, one of them easily identified to be Mizora. The other, Tav had never seen before. She was tremendously tall, her skin pure white, and a flaming halo encircled her bare head. But on noticing Karlach’s quickly escalating rage, Tav had an awful revelation.

"I'm sorry love," said Mizora, shrugging helplessly at Wyll. "I presented your case, but unfortunately my mistress is rightfully distrustful of mortal ambitions. She does know them best, after all."

f*cking Zariel,” snarled Karlach, hands tightening on her greataxe. Her eyes flamed, her engine growling in her chest as she braced herself to attack. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve been informed that you have an artifact of mine,” said the tall archdevil, her jet black eyes piercing each of them in turn. Her voice echoed hauntingly around them, deep and resounding like a god’s. “Only a ring, but it should be all I need to reclaim my power from Raphael. I no longer require your services to find the crown; hand it over, and I will leave you here alive. Resist me, and you will be buried with the rest of this place.” She waited expectantly. Tav shivered at the sight of her; Zariel was an ancient archdevil, a fallen angel who had spent millennia in battle for Avernus.

“She’s lying,” said Gale through gritted teeth. “She’ll kill us either way; she just didn’t want to risk destroying the ring.” Tav stared at him, wondering for the first time if Gale would lie to them.

“I’ll take that answer,” laughed Karlach, swinging her ax back. “Zariel, I’ve been waiting a long time for the chance to kill you.”

“Oh, good,” muttered Astarion, shivering violently. “I’ve always wanted to die somewhere with my co*ck on the inside. Gale, I f*cking hate you for this.”

Chapter 11: Broken

Notes:

I do not know what's wrong with me but here's the next chapter LOL I have been thinking about it so much that I had to just get it done.
I know I didn't respond to every commentor, but I will drop notes at some point to you guys' reviews on the last chapter. Thank you all SO MUCH for your feedback, I adore it and it seriously motivates the hell out of me!! This is for you guys, y'all deserve the best work that I can give you :)
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Chapter Text

Tav had never been much of a scholar of the histories of Baator, but she knew Zariel. Everybody in the world knew Zariel, the Archdevil of Avernus. Once among the highest of angels, and a leader of mortal warriors into the hells, Zariel had fallen to the same pride and hubris that plagued her hellborn adversaries.

And now the archdevil herself stood before her, a creature of legend that had existed before the foundation of Faerun itself. An avatar of wrath, pride, and unadulterated martial prowess. She commanded the power of an eternity fighting in the hells; they commanded the strength of the gods.

Tav braced her greatsword, eyes fixed on the ancient archdevil, but her peripherals tracking Karlach and the rest of her team. They were tense and poised, ready to strike together; it had been years since she’d fought beside them, but her soul sang with joy at the natural rhythm of combat. She may not understand the politics of the hells or the heart, but she understood the nature of battle like her oldest lover.

Zariel drew her longsword and a spear, her stoic face twisting into fury. Hideous black wings stretched behind her, lifting her enough to hover just above the ground. Her armor was jet black, marked with deep gauges from epic battles that Zariel had known before; this was no orchestrator of wars. The Archdevil Zariel was a warrior to her core. Tav felt grief and anger clashing in her own chest. She had no fear of death, not when her oath rang true, but she knew that they stood little chance of defeating Zariel, even with the ring. This might be a chance at vengeance and redemption for Karlach and Wyll, but it was one that would likely cost them their lives.

As though a signal had been triggered, Karlach and Tav launched together at the towering devil, the fallen angel that had ruled Avernus for millenia. That had stolen Karlach’s heart straight out of her chest, made a machine from a living woman.

Wyll and Astarion raced for Mizora, swords and daggers drawn. Mizora was a spellcaster, who had clearly not anticipated being a part of the fight. Astarion, being the light-fingered rogue that he was, shot off two arrows before she even realized what was coming, hamstringing the confused and angry devil. Wyll’s rapier flashed on his approach. With Mizora being the source of his own magic, he didn’t even try to use it against her here.

Panicking, Mizora quickly shadow stepped further from the fight, high up onto a nearby building. Indignant outrage flashed in her eyes, and she prepared to defend herself.

Zariel harbored no such reservations. Forged in blood and steel, she parried both attacks so fiercely that Tav was knocked off her feet, launched sideways by the powerful stroke of the ancient blade. She barely held onto her own sword, tumbling across the ice landscape. Karlach dug in her heel and whirled on the spot, using the parry to give her next swing momentum. She landed it, and the battleax glanced off of the side of Zariel’s armor as though it were a brush. Neither dent nor mark was left in its wake.

The archdevil raised her sword, red flames encasing steel as she lunged towards Tav on the ground. A massive wall of ice shot up between them, but the force of her blade plunged through it, bringing the ice crashing down all around them. It broke into enormous, deadly shards, and Tav barely rolled away in time to avoid being crushed. Zariel, disoriented by the burst of white, turned to defend herself from Karlach, who had taken advantage of her turned back. She parried the ax again, her reflexes saving her from a direct hit just in time.

As Zariel turned to Karlach, a blast of radiant light struck her from Shadowheart’s mace, and Tav felt a thrill of hope to hear the archdevil cry out in pain.

The hope only lasted for a moment. Zariel raised her spear, and before any of them could react, a thundering blast of fire rained down directly from above.

Tav screamed, her ears ringing with the cries of her team around her. Unforgiving molten rocks battered them to the ground, crippling her, Karlach, and Shadowheart, burning infernal coats and crushing the plates from their armor. Blind with agony, she could hardly hear Shadowheart’s faint spell beside her; the ground shook from the force of Zariel’s approach, her blade swinging back to end their lives.

Vos Curo!” Shadowheart gasped, her powerful healing magic filling the air, salving burns and sealing wounds quickly. It didn’t matter, Archdevil Zariel was bearing down on them, and within only moments would end their lives.

No!” cried Karlach, defiant in the face of death. She launched herself at Zariel, greataxe wound back to strike, but she was slower than the devil’s dancing sword.

Dolor!” cried Gale, the blast of force magic knocking Zariel’s strike enough to keep her from landing a fatal blow. Her sword glanced off of Karlach’s armor, and the tiefling cried out in pain, but scrambled away from the devil intact. Zariel’s sharp teeth were bared in annoyance, her black eyes blazing as she tracked the mortals surrounding her.

Zariel was impossibly strong, her armor impenetrable, her vigor relentless. She was nearly impossible to deter, and too strong to be crippled or slowed through mortal means. Tav dodged a blow of her sword, knowing that with a single strike Zariel could end any of them. And once one of them went down, the rest were not long to follow.

Somewhere in the distance, Wyll cried out in pain. Tav had neither the attention nor the time to check on them, instead praying against all odds that their quickest fighters were managing Mizora better than she and Karlach were handling Zariel. Thus far, nobody had managed to land a substantial blow. But Tav could sense that Gale was waiting for the opportune moment to land a strike with the ring’s power behind it. She wondered faintly if it would be his last.

“You’re wasting your energy and my time,” said Zariel, tracking them as they circled her. Her stance was loose and comfortable, a deity simply playing with her food. “Just give me the ring, and we can make this simple. If you break it, it will be of no use to you either.” She was watching Gale, wary of the marks of the curse on him. He tightened his fist.

“Walk away, Zariel. I have no fear of breaking this ring to keep it from you,” said Gale, his voice and conviction firm. Zariel could read it in his eyes, and she scowled furiously.

“Then I’ll send my army to dig you from the ice,” she screeched, her hand raising. Gale was fast; he summoned an impenetrable dome on pure instinct, just in time to protect them from the rain of fire that fell like meteors all around them. It pounded viciously at the dome, sending flashes of sparks and light in all directions.

Cracks broke out across the top as fire and molten rock bombarded them. Gale’s hand trembled under the force of maintaining their shield, and he glanced over at Tav, fear coloring his expression.

“Octavia, I’m-“

It shattered in a burst of light, and they had no time to escape Zariel’s endless volley of fire. Rock smashed their armor, crushing them to the ground as fire burned through their remaining scraps of infernal fur and any exposed skin. Tav saw black spots in her vision, overwhelmed by the barrage of pain.

Perurē!” As soon as the dome broke, Gale struck Zariel with a bolt of lightning, black fumes billowing from the ring as he powered it with the force of the crown. It struck true, and Zariel flew back, her form wracked and twitching as electricity burned through her.

Gale fell to his knees, crying out as the curse raced up his shoulder, cracking the skin up to his neck. His breath hissed through his teeth, hard and painful as he fought it back.

Tav reached towards him, but she was suddenly struck with the flat of a blade. Flying across the tundra, she felt her sword leave her fingertips, disappear as she tumbled. Scrambling to a stop, Tav looked up in time to see Zariel step on Karlach’s chest, pinning her infernal engine between her foot and the hard rock and ice beneath.

“Stop!” she cried, lurching towards her, dizzy from the power of the blow. The world spun beneath her feet, and Tav stumbled to the ground twice before finding her balance. She fumbled and grabbed for her sword, struggling back in the direction of the others. Gale was frozen in place, forcing short breaths through his teeth as he fought against the destruction of the ring.

She could see Wyll lying still on the ground behind, Mizora shooting bolts of flame as she hunted for Astarion, who Tav presumed to be invisible. It was only a matter of time before she succeeded; there was an infernal cloak lying burned and shredded on the ground next to Wyll.

“You are vermin,” spat Zariel, bolts and steel crunching as she pressed her weight down onto Karlach. The tiefling groaned, her greataxe out of reach; she could do nothing but push back against Zariel, trying to relieve the incredible weight. “All of you are no better than rats crawling around in the dark, devouring each other so as to not be the first to die. And you dare, dare to presume yourselves strong enough to resist me? I am the mother of mortal evil, commander of your armies! You are nothing!

Flagra!” Shadowheart’s lone voice echoed in the storm, radiant power striking Zarial hard enough for Karlach to roll free of her. Furious, the archdevil turned and launched a wheel of fire at Shadowheart, forcing her to leap out of the way; it exploded on impact, sending the cleric flying into the side of a building. Tav heard an ugly crack as she made impact, before falling into the snow with a soft moan.

Zariel turned back to Karlach, swinging her sword back with lethal intent. Karlach reached for her greataxe, too wounded to roll away, and Tav felt her feet pounding rock as she broke into a run. She panted, her pain forgotten as she raced to save her friend. Not Karlach…please not Karlach!

She met blade with blade, her greatsword immediately flying from her hands again. Tav had run out of strength, and was only able to parry a single blow. She stood over Karlach, ready to die rather than watch her be mutilated.

Zariel laughed then. She tucked her spear over her shoulder and reached down, grabbing Tav by her breastplate and lifting her with one hand. Tav gasped, grabbing onto the devil’s wrist and fighting to free herself. She had expected to be struck down instantly.

“The great Raphael’s pet paladin,” she sneered, examining Tav’s face closely. “The little chosen that he was breaking so very gently. You, I will save for last. I will bring you back to Mephistar with me alive, and when I reclaim my power and unseat that runt, I will force feed him every ounce of subjugation that he kindly handed to me. He will watch me break your body and soul in ways that he never knew possible, and then he’ll kneel at my feet over the shards of your bones.”

Zariel’s black eyes flashed white, and Tav felt the great devil force her way easily into her mind. She saw images one by one: her body mutilated, skin cut and flayed from her flesh, coals burning in her body, anything and everything that could be cut off amputated. Everything that could be done to inflict suffering on a mortal until she was begging Zariel for mercy like she had never begged a god before. Breaking her oath for a minute of respite. And, when she had been wrung dry and pressed into a single howling coin, the same torment being inflicted a thousandfold on Raphael. She tried to eject the Archdevil from her mind, sickened by what she saw but Zariel’s clamp on her was an immovable anchor, forcing image after image before her eyes until Tav was screaming, nearly feeling the knives as they cut apart the fragments of her own being before her.

They stopped in time for her to see Zariel’s sword plunge, and she heard a gasp as Karlach was impaled through her shoulder, crawling for her greataxe. Tav shrieked, thrashing fruitlessly in Zariel’s grip. Wyll, Gale, and Shadowheart were stirring faintly on the ground. Astarion’s spell concentration had broken under the force of the cold, and Mizora was now toying with him on the ground.

And Tav realized that there was something worse waiting for her at Zariel’s hands than death. The archdevil smiled, baring jagged teeth at the weakly struggling paladin in her hands. They had come at her with everything, and it hadn’t been enough.

Something struck Zariel from the side with blinding force, and Tav fell from the archdevil’s hands, hitting the ice heavily. Disoriented, she could do nothing but reach for Karlach; the tiefling whimpered quietly at her touch, but didn’t seem to be fighting back death. She tried to account for the others, but they were scattered across the empty field of the citadel.

A whirling tornado of white fire engulfed them with a thundering crack, so bright and blinding that for a moment, Tav wondered if they had died. The heat of it seared her skin, and she realized that it was a storm of hellfire that encircled them. A piercing shriek penetrated the icy air, haunting and echoed, and it took another moment for Tav to recognize that it was Zariel.

Hellfire was a magic exclusive to students and warlocks of Mephistopheles, few and far between even in the hells. Tav knew of only one Hellfire master herself.

Raphael had finally arrived.

She burst into giddy, relieved laughter. As she pushed herself up, she saw him standing in glorious cambion form at the center of their collapsed party, his hostile glare fixed on the devil who had leapt back from his white fire. Zariel extinguished it from her body with a brush of wind, and she stared down Raphael with such venom that Tav recoiled.

“I must extend my personal gratitude, for going out of your way to track down my very dear lost pups,” said Raphael coolly. Despite his stiff formalities, waves of wrath emanated from every inch of him. His wide wings quivered in the cold mountain air, tail lashing angrily. “I expect you to take your leave now, Archdevil, and I will handle them from here.” The flames died into embers around them, burning low but hot enough to keep their team from freezing. Zariel laughed, the sound high and shrill, sending shivers down the spine of every mortal on the field.

“You always were an ambitious brat,” she snapped, her own wings spreading as she paced closer to him. Her sword scraped the ice menacingly as she dragged it along the ground. “Nobody ever thought that you’d replace your father. Even Mephistopheles only named you heir to keep you from reaching above your station…but that couldn’t stop you. You, who suckled power from the blood of your father while I was laying waste to demon hordes. You think that you can stand against me, because of a human artifact? Little fool, I was born in the ocean that you still dip your toes in!”

“And that’s why you will lose Avernus,” said Raphael, his form shimmering before them, warping into something dark and enormous. Tav sucked in her breath as he changed form, black scales erupting over skin, flames shining beneath them. The ridged tail became long, thick, and dark, a weapon in and of itself. When he stepped forward, he towered above even Zariel. He had taken the form of something ancient and titanic, a dark creature whose wings cast them into his shadow. She had never seen anything so terrifying, or magnificent, before. “You are old, like my father. You are trapped in your ways, complacent, distracted, overconfident like my father. But unlike him, I will not leave you alive.”

“You are without the power of the crown, and a mere child of an archdevil,” she sneered in reply. “When I kill you, I will feed your flesh to my legion, and they will claim the Nine Hells in my name.”

He lunged at Zariel, who couldn’t react in time to rebuff his assault. She was sent hurtling backwards, her wings flapping wildly as she fought to get her feet under her. Raphael gave her no time to recover her balance. His claws flashed with white fire, and he gouged deeply into her shoulder. The archdevil howled, before launching herself away from him and throwing her spear violently.

It pierced Raphael’s thigh, but he merely yanked it out and threw it aside. Black blood began to wet the ground, smoking where it landed on the ice. As the archdevils clashed again and again, making and breaking contact, they tore apart the ground, walls, and buildings that remained. Bursts of hellfire sent waves of searing heat through the air, singing even the mortals on the ground below.

Vos curo,” said Shadowheart weakly. Her magic was fading fast; she had only enough to get them on their feet. Running to Astarion still on the ground, she knelt and pressed a hand to his chest. “Te curo.” He sat up, stunned from his vicious scuffle with Mizora.

“Come on, we have to get back,” said Karlach hoarsely. “We can take cover by the mountain. We have to get out of the way.” She pulled Wyll to his feet, reaching for Tav’s arm to help her stumble upright. Tav could hear the metal in her chest grinding, bent and crushed from Zariel’s attacks. Gale lingered, watching the archdevils closely as they fought. He propped himself up against the stone wall, still holding his own arm tightly.

Zariel’s blows were becoming desperate. She was fast, but she was weighed down by her weapons and armor. Raphael, younger and unhindered in his ascended form, moved more quickly than she had anticipated. He dodged nearly every blow of her sword that she tried to land, fighting with teeth, claws, and that scorching hellfire that burned even devils. Zariel, pained and enraged by the white flames, struck out at him without the precision that she’d shown before. Finally, she shifted into her own ascended form, a terrifying white devil with a halo of black fire all around it, and the ground beneath them began to shake from the weight of two archdevils fighting for their lives.

Several of the buildings collapsed fully, sending ice and dust into the air. Karlach’s judgment had been correct; the mountain protected them from the worst of the collateral damage. Zariel seemed to have forgotten them completely, and Raphael maintained his position between them, shielding the mortals from her attention. Tav stared up at him, awed by his power and her own deep well of gratitude. She’d been so afraid to be found that she had never considered that he would be her last defense.

“That’s no cambion, or ascended fiend,” murmured Gale, his eyes wide as he observed them. “Raphael has a full archdevil form. That is…well, worrisome, but incredible to witness in person.” Tav didn’t need to ask what he meant. Raphael’s form, a terrifically enormous devil, was larger and more powerful than any she’d seen in the Hells thus far.

Still, despite his size and raw strength, Zariel was no novice. She had been a ruling archdevil of Avernus for longer than Raphael had been alive, and she knew well how to adapt to her fight. Having shedded the weight of her spear, she adjusted her grip to two handed on her longsword, and the pace of the combat immediately began to pick up. She slashed with expert speed and skill, driving Raphael back and forcing him to maneuver around her blade. Her technique was more powerful, more graceful, than any mortal master; watching her fight, Tav realized that the archdevil had been toying carefully with them, more concerned with destroying the ring than winning. Against Raphael, Archdevil Zariel withheld no punches.

A small movement caught Tav’s eye. She saw Mizora backing away from the roof, clearly torn between staying to observe her mistress’s victory and fleeing in the event of her loss. None of the mortals moved to stop her from fleeing. If Zariel won, then it would be one less devil to fight. If Raphel won, then finding Mizora would be his problem, not theirs. Although we’ll certainly have a different set of problems to contend with.

“So, remind me, who are we rooting for?” asked Astarion, his arms folded as he watched a legendary battle between two archdevils of Baator with guarded interest. “Raphael did save us, but is that…good? Should we be running?”

Tav winced as Zariel finally landed a devastating blow, her sword impaling Raphael through his belly. He roared in agony, his feet lifting from the ground as it sank to the hilt. The lean, scaly body writhed on her sword, tail striking the ground so hard that it rendered enormous cracks throughout the glacier. Zariel’s teeth were bared in murderous intent, but dark blood leaked from her lips. Blood soaked the ground below them, dark and slippery as it melted through ice.

“No,” said Gale, eyes shining. “We hold our ground for the right moment.” His hand was tight on his shoulder, keeping the curse at bay as they watched. Tav felt that seed of dread again, at the raw ambition coloring his dark eyes. It was exactly like before. She was sure then that he had no intention of turning the crown over to Mystra. His goal coming into the hells may have been to save Tav, but Gale had experienced his taste of indomitable power, and he thirsted for more.

Tav’s heart hammered as she watched Raphael’s body arch on the sword, shuddering from fatal damage. He had been her captor, but she felt a strange agony watching him suffer like this. He lashed once, then twice, each time his tail striking the ground below as he fought back from the grip of death. Zariel lifted her other hand, drawing a dagger from her belt, and co*cked her arm in preparation to sink it into his neck and end the fight. Tav’s hands flew up instinctively, as though she could stop her.

Raphael lunged forward, rows of jagged teeth sinking into her neck. Zariel couldn’t scream, only choke as the hand holding him up lost its grip on her longsword. It slid from his belly, clattering uselessly to the ground below. Raphael tore her throat open, blood gushing down both of their fronts in a river, and went back for a second tremendous bite as her dark wings flapped uselessly around them. His teeth crunched through skin, flesh, cartilage, even bone, meeting at the center of her neck before he ripped the mess of flesh from her. Blood and meat poured to the ground around their feet, both devils profoundly wounded and in the final throes of their fight. They staggered to the ground together, Zariel’s wings flailing wildly as she slipped in her own blood.

“Oh gods,” said Astarion, grimacing. “That is horrifying. And you know it means something when I say that.” They collectively nodded.

Zariel’s body fell heavily to the ground, a twitching mass that began to smoke and disintegrate before their eyes. The shuddering body crumbled into a mountain of ash, quickly scattering under the wind. With a crack, Mizora was gone from the roof.

The dark devil limping before them turned, shifting to the form of a man. Raphael panted hard, his hand at his stomach to staunch the flow of blood from even this body. He was coated in black blood and gore from his nose to his boots, hair violently disheveled and eyes dark and deep in their sockets. Tav had never seen him so exhausted. The party stared in apprehension as he approached, stopping at the edge of the flaming circle. He was battle worn and thoroughly mutilated, but he was still an archdevil.

“Zariel is…dead?” asked Astarion, watching the last handfuls of dust disappear from the ground where Zariel had fallen. Raphael shook his head, spitting a strip of flesh from his teeth. He wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand, making an annoyed huff when he saw that his hand was even bloodier than his face had been. His expression, his voice, were too tired to be anything but sincere.

“No, just an avatar,” he coughed. “Zariel is a very old devil. Without the crown, she would kill me in martial combat one on one. But her main body is in Avernus, and it’s hard for her to get down here. And she still has to recover after losing an avatar of that size and strength. She won’t make it in enough time to be a problem.” He was shaking with the effort of standing, and with an ember of fire he began to sear the deep wound in his stomach closed. The smell of blood and burning flesh saturated the air around them, calm for the first time since the ambush.

The hair raising on Tav’s neck was the only warning that she received.

Macte virtute!” she screamed without thought, her hand outstretched, radiant magic flying from her as she thrust her arm forward. Sanctuary.

Torreo!

Gale was a fraction of a second late. The ring flashed black, Netherese magic fueling his disintegration spell, but a halo of light illuminated Raphael the moment before it landed. The killing spell dissipated harmlessly around him, fading into the snow.

Everybody, even Raphael, turned to stare at Tav in disbelief. Her hands trembled at the weight of what she had done, without conscious thought or decision. She had protected Raphael, and in doing so thrown away their only chance at success. Everything that her friends had sacrificed to save her, gone in one split second reaction.

Pain lanced her chest, so sharp and tangible that Tav’s hands flew up to feel for the spear. Her knees wobbled, giving out from under her, and her mouth opened and closed to gulp for air. A cry fell from her, empty of force. Her hands hit the ground as she felt her radiant aura draining from her soul, spilling freely from her like blood from a wound.

Her oath was gone, only a hollow echo remaining in her soul where radiance had once brimmed.

The ground blurred beneath her hands, first from pain, and then from tears. Tav’s fingers curled into the snow, her breath harsh and ragged, anguish hotter than Zariel’s flames tearing through her. Tav had betrayed herself, her friends who had risked everything, her god who had gifted her years ago, at the young age of twenty, to fight the forces of evil. To kill the devil that she had saved instead. Her god.

Gale screamed, black and red ruptures streaking across his skin, fissures opening as the ring burned with cursed power. His ringed hand outstretched, he fought a losing battle with the deadly weave; it seemed that he had used his last spell. As his body fell to the ground, Raphael threw a shield of his own infernal magic, seizing the ring and encasing it only the moment before it exploded into shards of black and gold. Gale cried out, his arm burned badly, but he remained intact. The ring disappeared, having fulfilled the parameters of its curse, and they were left stranded in the hells without even the conduit to Karsus’s Crown.

His moans of agony faded, and they all died into silence as Tav began to howl. Hatred coursed through her veins, flooding the empty pools where her devotion had once flowed.

“All this time, all this time you could hear me down here?” she sobbed through clenched teeth. Her breath deepened from grief into rage. “All this time! Tyr, you self righteous snake!” Her scream echoed through the unfeeling valleys of Cania. None could respond. There was no comfort afforded to a betrayer of friends. “I was not loud enough for your mercy, but enough for your scorn? I begged you to help me! I was your most devoted servant, you could not afford me a moment of your faith? How dare you forsake me now! I forsake you, you lying bastard!” Rage, wrath, and injustice filled the hollow of her radiance. Tav screamed mindlessly, heard but abandoned by her god in the bowels of the hells.

A hand grabbed her elbow, pulled her upright when she had no strength to lift herself. It was Raphael. Tav tried to push him away, despising him just as much as she hated her own spiteful god, but despite his wounds he was still strong.

Get off of me,” she spat venomously. “This is your fault! I wouldn’t be here, none of us would be here, if you had left us alone!” Tav’s voice cracked, devastation finally breaking over the surface of her rage. Her strength left her, and she had no will left to fight Raphael. “Why did he leave me only now? Why did Tyr leave me?” Her voice had died to a whisper.

“Come on, love,” he said gently, tucking an arm under her. He sighed and looked at the rest of the group, as Tav continued to cry softly beside him. “Well…I have to admit that I didn’t expect your grand escape to take you out of House of Hope, let alone make it this far. It speaks highly of your competency as a team, which I suppose I must commend. Let’s rest for the evening, and in the morning I’ll take us back.”

“Hold on, you knew we were here?” asked Shadowheart, helping Gale to his feet. She glanced with concern at his wounded arm. She was devoid of magic, unable to even help with his pain. They held back, as wary of Raphael as before, but without the magic or strength necessary to fight him. He, too, was deeply worn from battle.

“Of course. You believed that this challenge was truly just for Octavia? No mortal rules an empire alone.” He gestured towards the partially collapsed library. “Now come along before the storms reach us. I can reignite the arcane barriers once we’re inside.”

“No way in hells are we going with you!” snarled Karlach, her eyes flashing furiously. “Give us Tav, and get the f*ck away from us before I rip your head off!” He frowned at her vulgarity, as though he hadn’t just ripped another devil to pieces with his teeth.

“None of you are fit to travel. Let’s take an evening off, call this a truce, and deal with this like civilized people in the morning.” The calmly spoken sentiment would probably have landed better if Raphael hadn’t been drenched in blood. Nevertheless, the remaining five glanced at each other, taking a moment to assess each other’s injuries. Wyll and Gale were barely conscious, Karlach was still bleeding profusely, and Astarion was down an infernal cloak, warmed only by the remaining embers of hellfire around them. Shadowheart had exerted all channels of her magic, and was down to the medical kit in her pack. Tav was barely on her feet, held up by Raphael’s grip on her and delirious with grief. Even he looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes and his free hand pressed against his pierced and burned stomach.

“Fine,” said Shadowheart, giving Karlach a significant look. “Truce, but only for tonight. We leave without you tomorrow.”

They followed Raphael back into the collapsed library.
_________________________________________

Tav didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. She could only curl up in a ball as Raphael lowered her to the broken couch, tucking the torn infernal coat around her before returning to the open center of the library.

The roof lay in pieces around them, snow filtering down from the open roof. Raphael looked up at it grimly, before lifting a hand and casting an arcane barrier around the entire building. It was instantly warmer, the heat fueled by his infernal magic. The others couldn’t exactly relax near him, but they at least shrugged out of their thick coats.

Raphael returned to Tav as the others argued in hushed voices over whether or not they should risk sleeping. He knelt beside her and carefully stripped her of the angelic armor, starting with her helmet. He folded the plate mail neatly on a shelf beside her, making a small, disappointed sound when he saw the gauges in it.

Summoning a small bowl, he quickly melted snow into hot water, and dipped a strip of cloth in it to clean her face. Streaked with dirt, blood, and tears, she could barely accept his patient tending. Like Tyr, she wanted to rip Raphael’s spine out of his body.

“Don’t touch me,” she whimpered, her arms curled tightly around herself as though to hold the shards of herself together. “I don’t want you.”

“Hush, pet,” Raphael murmured, one hand keeping the water warm while the other wiped the sweat and blood from her body. As much as she hated him, it was incredibly soothing. “You’ve had a long day. Rest, I’ll watch over you.”

Karlach and Gale glared across the library as though they were about to argue for custody of her, but neither of them said a word. Tav knew that what she had done was unforgivable. She had trampled on their sacrifices, and was not worthy of their friendship anymore.

The shame of her betrayal rooted deep in her heart, pushing more tears that Raphael gently cleaned away. She opened her dark eyes to glower at him. But as much as she despised Raphael, she hated herself even more. Self loathing overwhelmed her at the mere thought of what she’d done.

“You’re covered in blood,” she muttered, genuinely distracted by the sheer quantity that coated him, drying black on his skin and soaked into his previously fine clothes. Raphael smiled grimly, emptying the dirty water on the floor and scooping a bowl of fresh powder that had settled on a bookshelf.

When he returned she took the cloth and bowl from him, dipping it in the hot water before carefully wiping the blood from his face. She rubbed gently at his skin, sad and surprised at how natural the intimacy felt. Her hand lingered on his cheek, and his honey colored eyes opened slowly to look up at her. She knew that the glow in his eyes wasn’t love. It could never be love.

“Why did you help us?” she asked softly. Raphael took the bowl from her, scrubbing the blood from the back of his neck where it was starting to flake and dry.

“I was always going to help you,” he said seriously. “You can’t all go dying on me, I have plans for you. I just didn’t think that you’d get so far away, so fast.” Tav closed her eyes. The whole time, Raphael had known she would escape. He had factored it into his regime, planned it. She didn’t know what to feel anymore. He was the antithesis to everything she stood for. And yet, when I call he answers. Mostly.

“And what now?” she asked in a small voice. Tav had nothing left to her anymore. Without her oath, she was just another wayward soul in the hells. And she’d been dreading this, the moment of capture, since she’d escaped the house. Raphael chuckled.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Sleep tonight.” Tav knew that she should be terrified of him, she had no reason to believe that his intentions were anything but evil, but he had come for her. He tucked the blanket around her, his warm hand stroking her face. Tav had nearly fought to her death that day. She’d lost things that she hadn’t expected to lose…and at the same time, saved things that she hadn’t expected to save. Raphael had saved things she hadn’t expected to save. She didn’t have the strength to think anymore.

“Listen, so sorry to interrupt, but it’s a real downer on that side of the room. I’m not sure what’s going on over here but it’s a lot sexier than that mess. I’m switching sides, scoot over.”

Astarion pushed Tav’s legs aside, to Raphael’s displeasure. Tav didn’t complain; despite her harrowing experience, she actually appreciated the levity that Astarion brought with him wherever he went. She didn’t want to think anymore, wasn’t ready to deal with the consequences of what she’d done.

The vampire tucked himself into her furs, nestling against her back and sighing blissfully from her warmth. Tav’s heart was near bursting; at least one friend had elected to remain at her side. She reached up to touch his hand at her shoulder, squeezing it tightly. Astarion closed his fingers around hers, returning her touch. She knew that he was highly particular about sharing even platonic shows of affection, so his choice to comfort her over his own reservations meant more to Tav than she could express.

Raphael glowered, but didn’t object to Astarion’s presence. He was visibly jealous of her easy acceptance of the elf, despite knowing perfectly well why Tav hadn’t welcomed him with open arms.

He slid to the floor, back leaned against the couch that Tav was bundled up on with Astarion. Raphael needed no blankets; his blood ran hotter than any fire summoned here. Besides which, his barrier was generating a surprisingly cozy environment. Tav felt her eyes growing heavy, exhausted despite her troubled heart. Across the room, she could see the others starting to doze off despite their intense suspicion.

“Raphael,” she whispered, hearing Astarion start to snore at her back. The cambion turned his head slightly. “Are you going to kidnap us while we’re asleep?” His eyes narrowed, although it was a valid question.

“Probably not,” he said finally, leaning his dark head back and closing his eyes. “I did promise a truce.”

Tav fell asleep.
_________________________________________

Shadowheart warmed her hands at the fire, watching the sleeping group with worry. She’d sewn and wrapped all open wounds, rubbed salve over Gale’s burn that would help her to heal it when her magic was replenished, and everybody with a head wound was resting it on ice.

They slept deeply despite their pain, finally warm in the heart of Cania’s wilds. She glanced towards the far side of the collapsed library, to the smaller group huddled against the other wall.

Tav was sleeping soundly on the couch, Astarion’s white curls sticking up from behind her. They were wrapped in the cloaks like blankets, as worn out as the others around the fire. Raphael was leaning upright against the couch, and through the darkness she could see his eyes catch the light as he watched her.

Deeply unsettled to be under such close observation by a devil, Shadowheart couldn’t help but stare back, frightened that he might make a move towards her in the dark. They stared each other down in the darkness. As it were, he seemed to only be guarding Tav.

“You alright?” Karlach’s weak voice broke her from her stupor. Shadowheart shook her head slightly, jolted from her hypnosis. When she looked back at Raphael, his eyes were closed. Grateful for the interruption, she turned to where the barbarian was stretched out on the floor.

Karlach’s question made the cleric laugh a little. Shadowheart had stitched half a foot of Karlach‘s shoulder back together, yet she was the one being asked if she was alright. As far as damages went, Shadowheart had taken the lightest out of all. Her chest hurt from a cracked rib, but otherwise she had made it out alright.

“Yeah,” she replied softly. In the silence, even quiet words seemed to carry. Raphael didn’t appear to be listening to them, but she didn’t know how far she could trust that. “What are we going to do?”

“Leave,” murmured Karlach. But even in her voice there was hesitation. Where? She’d been staying in Avernus, but if Zariel found her and Wyll now, after partaking in her humiliating defeat…

“Could go to another layer maybe?” Shadowheart suggested, thinking along the same lines. “But how are we going to get out of here?”

“We got coats, we got Wyll and Gale. We’ll find a way.” Neither of them needed to call attention to the fact that most of the infernal coats were either burned or shredded beyond use. Karlach didn’t sound confident, but she was sure that she did not plan to ask for Raphael’s help. “We always do.”

“Do you think he’d send us back?” she asked quietly, watching his face across the room. It was darker there, hard to make out his features, but his eyes stayed closed. Karlach pushed herself up, grunting in pain.

“No, and we’re not going to ask him,” she said firmly. “I told all of you before and I’ll say it again. Devils do not give gifts, they don’t just go away. Once you’ve said yes to one, they will haunt you for the rest of your f*cking life. And no gods can help you once you’ve branded your soul. Look at us now, Tav signs a godsdamned contract to Raphael, and five years later we’re all back in the hells. Do not promise him anything, do not ask him for anything. Tomorrow we find our own way back.”

“And Tav?” Shadowheart’s voice broke slightly as she stared. Raphael’s eyes slid open, catching the light of the fire. Karlach was silent for a while.

“Tav and Astarion can choose on their own. They can come with us or go with him, I won’t try to make that decision for them. She seems to be fine without us down here, anyways.” Hurt and bitterness laced together in Karalch’s tone.

“You know she didn’t mean to do that,” murmured Shadowheart, understanding the pain of betrayal. She hadn’t forgiven Tav herself. Karlach sighed, laying back down on her bedroll. It was late, and warm. Dark storms flew overhead, quieter behind the arcane barrier.

“To save him? She did.”

Chapter 12: Damn the World

Notes:

This chapter is heftyyyy with plot, but also a little bit of sexy. Thank you all so much for the reviews, I hope you enjoy this one! There's more to come, and we're finally reaching the culminating point of Raphael's scheme! Please feel free to leave opinions below, and thank you all so much for reading <3

Chapter Text

She could smell him before she woke up.

Tav didn’t know when his scent had become familiar to her, but she knew Raphael was near before she even opened her eyes. Astarion’s cool touch was an unfamiliar one, startling her from her sleep in the early morning hours. But Raphael she knew, even beneath the blood and ash.

Her groggy mind first processed Astarion’s cold hand on her arm, relaxed as he breathed evenly and peacefully into her hair. He was flush against her back, snug and layered beneath tattered infernal fur, and still he somehow leeched the warmth from her. Tav wondered, at first, how she had slept through the night without being disturbed by his lack of contribution to the group's body heat.

She didn’t wonder for long. The strange contrast in temperature alerted her to her hand hanging off of the makeshift bed, wrapped in Raphael’s and pressed against his chest as he leaned back against the side of the couch. Oh. He radiated heat, warming not only her hand but also the cushions beneath her. Tav didn’t know if she’d reached for him instinctively or if he had noticed the chill and taken her hand, and she wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to know.

Is he asleep? His eyes were closed, and he looked markedly better than he had the day before. The dark circles were gone from his eyes, and some of the color returned to his complexion. His hair was still a mess, and dried blood flaked from nearly every inch of his face and body. But beneath that, it seemed that a night of rest had recovered some of his strength…which, in hindsight, was not very good for any of the rest of them.

His thumb stroked the top of her knuckles, and Tav’s heart stuttered. No, Raphael was not asleep. His head turned slightly; she had the uncomfortable realization that he could probably hear her heartbeat. Either that or he’s in your head again.

“It could be both, you know.” His voice was tired and amused. Tav scowled at the flagrant intrusion.

She wanted to yank her arm back. The pain of throwing everything away for her own damnation was fresh, and she still ached to feel the hollow in her soul. It made her want to curl up and die, leaving her body frozen in Cania as a warning to any who ventured here. It made her want to cut him into pieces.

But he stroked her fingers, and just like that he was an anchor. Tav’s heart drifted down, sinking in her chest until she could feel nothing except for his warm hand on hers. She had abandoned everything. What was left for her, but damnation? At least it waits with open arms.

She took a deep breath and reached tentatively into herself to feel for her oath. Radiance was gone, that much she knew, but she felt surprisingly strong despite its absence. The golden power that had flowed through her veins was replaced with something else, something dark that she didn’t recognize.

She touched the pool and was overtaken by rage. Shivering, she maintained contact to understand the nature of this new power. Forged by the abandonment of a god, it held a deep strength that she hadn’t expected. But beneath that ran a current of something that intimidated her.

Tav remembered the night that Gale had shown her his magic, the weave of Mystra; Gale’s magic was beauty, it was art, purity, and power. Her own magic of Tyr had felt holy, her very own stoic touch of the divine. This new power was something large and frightening, almost bestial in nature. It twisted and coiled restlessly, emanating a vicious malice that she’d only felt in one other kind of magic. It feels like infernal magic.

Something touched her then, pulled her back from the pools. Raphael was watching her test the boundaries of wrath, acquainting herself with the dark power that the remnants of her oath had gathered in her heart. She frowned, shrugging him away; despite her apprehension, she knew that this strength was wholly her own. His hand tightened on hers, a tether that kept her from falling into the dark water.

She reached again, tasting hatred as it steeped up from her soul. It was more volatile than radiance had been, fighting to flood her control. Tav shivered and released it, feeling the power sink back to its pool, crouching in wait for the moment of need. She didn’t know how she felt about this kind of magic, but without radiance, it seemed to be all that had been left to her.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Raphael watching her, his head leaned against the side of the couch.

“You look awful.” Tav’s voice was low and hoarse, her body sore. Raphael’s lip curled at the insult. His eyes were brighter than they had been before, but besides his face he was still crusted in dried blood. It reeked too, a rotten, metallic scent that clung to cloth and skin. She grimaced and coughed. “You smell awful.”

“I’ll pencil in a bath when we return,” he murmured, closing his eyes again. “How are you feeling?”

Furious indignation throttled her immediate response; she wanted to strangle him until his pretty brown eyes popped out. His hand tightened on hers before she could rip it out of his grasp, and she took several deep breaths before taking an emotional inventory.

She had betrayed her friends, and in return her god had abandoned her…but Tyr had truly abandoned her long before that moment. Tav vividly recalled the way she had screamed and cried for him in Raphael’s office in Mephistar, only to be met with silence. Could it be that Tyr knew all along that I would forsake him for a devil? Was it her inevitable failure, or the indifference of a god that had left her at the mercy of the hells?

And why did I save Raphael?

Tav sighed. She didn’t truly need to wonder why she’d extended sanctuary at the moment of reckoning. She knew exactly what had driven her to act. The same feeling had lodged in her heart both the moment that he arrived to stop Zariel, as well as during his transformation from bloodied fiend to bloodied man. Somewhere among the shock, relief, and joy, somehow the first fingers of possession had rooted in her too. She grimaced at the revelation; even knowing that obsession had been his goal from the beginning, she still failed to throw the yoke from her shoulders.

And for love, her god had abandoned her. She brooded over the murky complexities of mortality, divinity, and the ethics that flexed between them for some time, not noticing that she had never answered Raphael’s question. He didn’t interrupt, but he wasn’t the only immortal in her corner either.

“Octavia, can I have a tiny sip?” mumbled Astarion sleepily against her neck. He yawned, sharp fangs grazing her skin. “I’m starving…”

Tav flinched, having forgotten Astarion behind her, and was ripped from her contemplations with no significant resolution. She blinked and turned slightly towards him.

She had been the first of their party to ever feed the vampire, although he had only bitten her once or twice since. When they had adventured together, Astarion had mostly slaked his never ending thirst through their enemies, goblins and slavers who were fated to die anyways. It had been a long time since Astarion had fed from her, and she had not missed the sharp pain of his teeth in her neck. But she also knew that he must be feeling weak from their fight the day before, and was prepared to accept the burden of keeping him strong.

She felt the growl before she heard it, low and vicious in Raphael’s chest. When he turned his head, she saw that his lip curled enough to show teeth.

“Now that is where I draw the line, parasite,” he snapped, dark eyes glowering at the elf. “You will find another host, or you will wait. If I’m not drinking blood, then you certainly aren’t either.” Apparently both males were feeling peckish; she’d never heard Raphael sound grumpy before. Tav huffed, withdrawing her hand and sitting upright. Of course I lucked out with the honor of both blood drinkers taking my side.

“Nobody is getting blood,” she said crossly, shifting away from both of them while she glanced at the stirring party across the library. Karlach was packing her bag with sharp, angry motions, her head down and back turned. Wyll hovered at her shoulder, passing blankets and medical equipment in silence. Gale was digging through his pack, drawing dried vegetables from the hoarded store of food.

His eyes caught hers, and he paused before separating the food into distinct sections. After some consideration, he stood and carried a cloth of dry bread and fruit across the threshold of the fire pit. Shadowheart moved as though to stop him, but her fingers curled and she let him pass. Gale walked to Tav, shame and betrayal blanketing them as he stopped in front of Raphael.

The devil didn’t rise at his approach, instead staring up at him from where he relaxed on the floor. Tav stood, aching for and terrified of Gale’s acknowledgement. The wizard seemed at a loss for words for several moments.

“If you’re hungry,” he finally said, holding out the rations. Tav, swallowing the thick feeling in her throat, could only nod as she reached for the food. Gale’s brow furrowed as he leveled a stare at Raphael, clearly fighting some personal demons of his own. “I’m…grateful…that you saved my hand. There should be enough for both of you.” He didn’t have it in him to hand food to Raphael, the loathing broadcasting clear in his hard gaze. But apparently Gale was at least reconciling with the conciliatory prize of keeping his hand, and most likely his life, due to Raphael’s reaction the day before. With that being said, the devil was still the whole of the reason for their team being in the hells to start with. So a forced olive branch through gritted teeth was still leagues more than Tav had been expecting.

Gale turned and departed quickly, Karlach scowling at him as he approached. Tav clenched the food tightly, wondering if it was possible for her to make things right again. Looking down at the rations, she offered Raphael the bread. He stared at it for a moment before raising an eyebrow at her, and she sighed, replacing it in her package and sitting next to him on the floor to eat.

_______________________________________

Raphael hung back in silence as the captive team started to run down their options, his arms crossed over his chest. He leaned against a stone wall, clever eyes tracking each of them as they argued amongst themselves. Tav sat on the cold floor beside him, listening as her friends worked through all possible choices that remained for their escape. They had all gathered at the central fire pit, still separated by an invisible border across the center of the library.

“We just need to get somewhere populated. Once we find a portal, we make our way up through the levels…if my studies hold true, then each level of the hells has portals to the ones above and below,” said Gale patiently. His brow was furrowed, a clear indicator that he was quickly counting down their chance of survival.

“Mizora’s map is gone, and she won’t come back while he’s here. And if he goes, we lose the barrier. How are we meant to find a populated refuge? We’re in the middle of nowhere.” Wyll, as much as he loathed devils, sounded defeated. He glanced in their direction, the first cracks of their resistance showing in his hateful gaze and clenched fists.

“Can’t we keep looking through the library? There has to be something here to help us, it’s a library.” Karlach was the most determined of all, her jaw tight and her arms folded across her chest. She had her back to Tav and Raphael, refusing to even consider asking for his help. It pained Tav to be so castigated, but it wasn’t her place to resent it. She deserved nothing less. “We can stay here, maybe find something useful. This place is massive, it has to have a map somewhere.”

“But how much food have we got? I dropped my pack, and I was carrying most of it,” said Wyll, rubbing his eyes. “We’ll run out fast…we have maybe days, and that’s only if no devils come across us here. They scour places like these in Avernus for prey, and you know they’ll come here too, Karlach.”

“Also our furs are mostly burnt up,” Shadowheart said sullenly. She gestured to the pile of stripped cloth, torn and singed into near uselessness. “We don’t have enough for all of us to travel. I don’t even think we could make it to the waypoint.”

Tav remained silent. She could practically feel the smug satisfaction rolling off of Raphael, his undeniable nature as a devil baring its fangs as he basked in their growing aura of desperation. He had no need for mortal food, not with the buffet of frustration and despair available here. She lowered her head into her arms, plunged in shame as she acknowledged that their current predicament was entirely her own fault.

“That’s not true, sweetling,” he murmured, his voice too low for the others to pick up. His hand stroked her hair tenderly. “If your friend had succeeded in killing me, you’d still be stuck here in exactly this situation. Only you’d be short one wizard, and one highly benevolent patron.”

“Get out of my head,” she growled in response, swatting his hand from her. He lifted it before she could land a blow. She hated to admit it, but he was technically right; if Gale had killed Raphael, the ring would have detonated on his body, probably killing him. And they would still be stuck in Cania, maybe even dead from exposure. Regardless, she was certain that her team freezing to death here would be a better fate for the world than to return with the burden of Raphael’s cult on their backs.

“Can’t we call it a church? Cult is so…primitive.”

Tav groaned.

“Listen, I know we didn’t want to bring it up,” said Astarion, walking towards the others with his hands raised. Karlach turned on him, flames sparking in her chest as she fumed. “But we could see what he has to say. It wouldn’t hurt.”

You shut the hells up, and get back on your side,” Karlach snarled, her remaining patience expended. “Don’t act like you didn’t jump ship the second that you thought he was going to kill us. I can’t even look at you right now, Astarion.” The elf raised a hand to his chest as though offended, but Tav didn’t blame Karlach. As much as Tav loved Astarion she also knew that he was an opportunist at heart. He huffed angrily, turning his heel on the others and sitting on the floor beside Tav.

“Well, I’m not dying here,” he muttered, arms crossing over his chest. She almost laughed, throwing an arm around his shoulders. He might be a conniving survivalist, but he was also irrevocably dear to her. Gods, I loved them all. And with only a moment I betrayed them.

“You can rest the lash, love, what has been done is done,” said Raphael softly. She glared up at him, hating that she couldn’t even detect him in her mind. “And all will be well again, if you can trust me for another day.” He smiled at her, and a deep trepidation clawed up her stomach. She was suddenly very worried.

“Leave them alone,” she whispered, her hushed voice tinged with horror. “Let them go, please. I’ll stay.” Raphael laughed, loud enough to draw attention from the others. They fell silent and watched.

“My dear, don’t you remember the last time that you said that?” he chuckled before sighing. “No, that window has long expired. We’re drawing near to the last act, and I’m afraid you will not be interrupting it with mercy. Have faith, darling, they are going home. I will not harm your friends.” His eyes flicked up on the last word, catching the group watching him. They started, before hesitating and exchanging glances. Karlach’s expression turned from hard to pleading.

“Don’t,” she said quietly, before Gale stepped towards Raphael, his shoulders squared. He avoided Tav’s eyes, his own dark with distrust.

“How can we know that?” he asked, voice guarded. “How could we be sure?” Gale didn’t want to trust Raphael; hells, he didn’t even trust Tav anymore. But he understood that they were running low on options, and Raphael had yet to make his proposal. The devil smiled before stepping towards him, his hand shooting out to grab Gale’s wrist.

The wizard flinched, but didn’t defend himself yet. With a quick exertion of power, Gale’s long sleeved shirt shredded up the same arm; he tried to jerk back, but Raphael maintained his tight grip, forcing the man to turn before his friends. They jumped to reclaim him, freezing when they saw what Raphael had exposed.

The black marks left from the ring had mostly faded, leaving only thin lines where they had cracked Gale’s skin. Tracing up his arm, over his shoulder and onto the top of his back, they could finally see the pattern that he had been forging in his own skin every time he used the ring.

It was a circular shape, perfectly symmetrical, with seven points shaping a star. Tav had seen it before, though she couldn’t have recalled the exact design; it was a star set in the ring’s signet, as well as across the ceiling of his boudoir. It’s Raphael’s sigil.

“To steal from a devil is a violation of the Pact Primeval,” said Raphael, releasing Gale’s hand. He wrenched back, rejoining the others across the room. “In doing so, you forfeit certain protections as a mortal. Had I not stopped the ring from completing its task, your wizard wouldn’t be released to his beloved goddess; he would have been consigned to me, soul instantly surrendered into my debt. Although you are altogether stowaways and thieves, I extended my kindness and saved him from a permanent soul brand. My soul brand. If I had intended harm on you, all I had to do was…nothing.”

Gale’s eyes narrowed as he measured Raphael’s words, his intentions.

“He’s lying to us,” said Karlach, sensing the fracturing willpower around her. “Gale, he’s lying. He won’t help us for nothing, we can figure something else out. We always figure something else out. Please don’t listen to him.” Her voice broke as Wyll took her hand. He pulled her into his arms, hugging her to him.

“And if we go back with you, what then?” asked Gale suspiciously. Tav’s eyes closed. Raphael’s poker face was unsurpassed, but she knew that he was celebrating an early victory. He bowed his head slightly, feigning a concession.

“We clean up, have a little rest and supper, and the only thing I will ask of you is to listen to my proposal. Whether you accept or decline my offer, I will immediately return your party to the mortal plane…excepting my Octavia, of course.” There it was. His voice, his manner, was so disgustingly cordial that it was easy to forget the schemer that stalked behind the flattering, smiling, bowing façade. Tav winced, unwilling to imagine the punishment that Raphael was patiently waiting to inflict on her body, mind, and soul. Gale instantly caught the same clause, and she saw his jaw set.

“No deal,” he said curtly, refusing to look at Tav again. “We find our own way.” Tav felt a tear stain her cheek, her chest hurting as though she could feel the spear again. Even in the wake of her betrayal, they refused to surrender her to the devil she had chosen over them.

“Gale,” she breathed, every face turning towards hers at the word. Tav finally stood. “Take the deal, please. This is my fault…none of you should die here for me. I’ll stay.” As frightened as she was, she was certain that she couldn’t allow a single one of them to die for her now. Buying their freedom was the very least that she could do to atone for her grievous sin. Raphael sighed.

“No souls will be doomed today. Continue to bargain amongst yourselves; before night falls I will leave this place. You may either come with me to the portal, or stay here and freeze. Follow, and I shall return you to your world.” Raphael turned to Tav, smiling wickedly. “Except for you, chosen. You belong to me either way.” She shuddered as his fingers brushed her cheek. His tone was light and friendly, but she knew exactly what he meant.

“Raphael,” she murmured, gasping when his hand tangled into her hair. He pulled her face close to his.

“That’s enough talking, pet,” he purred, glancing at her parted lips for a fraction of a second. “Let your companions decide their own fates. Yours remains in my jurisdiction.”

She fell silent, complacent for the first time. It was impossible for her to cling to the tenants that had been stripped from her very soul. All she could do was wait for her friends to decide.

“If we refuse to go with you…what happens to Tav?” asked Gale warily. She wanted to cry; even now he defended her. Raphael chuckled, his hand sliding from her hair to rest on the back of her neck. Tav’s eyes dropped to the floor. She might have complicated feelings towards the devil, but she knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she did not want to go back to Mephistar with him.

“Octavia comes with me,” Raphael replied coolly. “No matter your decision. Her freedom is dependent on a signature.” They bristled at his arrogance, but there was little to be done for it. They were on the devil’s home turf. They might be somewhat recovered, but if Raphael even broke the arcane barrier around them, they would freeze within minutes. He commanded a checkmate, and all parties knew it.

“I’d rather die here,” mumbled Karlach in a muffled voice. Wyll held her face to his shoulder, his expression grim.

“I know, darling,” he said softly. “But I need you not to do that to me. I need you to make it out of here alive.” She sniffled before drawing back to glare at him.

“You’re going with him.” It was an accusation, not a question. Wyll grimaced.

“Is there another choice?”

What are you going to do to me if I don’t sign? Tav directed the silent question at Raphael, and she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. He glanced sidelong at her, weighing her question carefully.

First, or eventually? She hadn’t expected to hear his voice in her head. Reading her thoughts was one thing, projecting his power in her mind was another entirely. His strength as an Archdevil was only growing with time.

Either.

Raphael breathed deeply, and the sound of arguing faded away. Tav stifled a gasp as an image played in her mind, just like how Zariel had projected a thought, though his vision was empty of the horror and gore. Still…tension strung through her chest as she saw her own body stretched over a torture rack, nude and facedown, secured at her wrists, elbows, ankles, knees, and neck. Her heart quickened to see human Raphael pace around her form, basking in his luxury of time. To her surprise the projection of him glanced up, as though he could see her watching nervously from just above.

His hand hovered over a table of instruments. A variety was laid out neatly for his perusal, and some of them made her swallow in fear; knives, needles, even saws. Bladed whips, scissors, hammers…each tool made her breath quicken in terror. His fingers brushing lightly, almost intimately across steel. Her body trembled on the rack, though sweat beaded on her skin. Raphael tasted her fear with deep satisfaction. Tav had rarely seen such open excitement in him before.

They paused on a leather strap, stroking the dark, hard material slowly. Hope exploded in her chest, as though she were trapped in the body of the woman on the rack. Raphael smiled, his eyes locked on hers, and picked it up.

The feeling of relief was short-lived. The force that he swung it with was as explosive as it was unexpected, and Tav could feel the visceral scream erupt from her body, as though it tore from her own throat. She saw it break skin, felt herself gag from the pain. His hand ran down her spine, contrasting the agony with a comforting stroke; as he passed in front of her liminal form, his edges shimmered, and he morphed easily into the shape of a cambion. His eyes burned hers as he leapt nimbly onto the rack over her, straddling her legs with a devilish smile. His tongue ran teasingly over the tips of sharp fangs.

Pleasure called as he thrust leisurely into her, offering respite from suffering. Tav shuddered, felt herself grasp at the lifeline she’d been thrown in her desperation. Her body moaned, back arching as much as it could in the restraints. Raphael moved slowly in her, his hand sliding sensually up the unmarked side of her ass.

His second strike, nearly as hard as the first, landed on her shoulder, and she howled. Her relaxed arch turned fierce and strained, fighting the restraints for several minutes, his pace still unhurried. It didn’t take long after that before she drew her relief from pleasure again, and a brutal pattern began to emerge.

Tav watched with horror as it continued, on and on until her back was bloody and raw, the screams and moans devolving into sobs. Despite the pain, she was shocked to watch herself climax several times throughout the lurid event. Tav was as frightened as she was aroused by the scene playing out before her.

“I saved your life,” she whispered, not even sure if she was speaking in her material body or not. Raphael paused, glancing up at her. “This is my reward, for saving you?” The devil laughed, her body panting and clenched tight beneath him.

“No,” he said, and the image faded. He was still there though, so godsdamned present in her mind. “You only asked me about your punishment. I’ve told you before, submission is always rewarded.”

Another vision appeared. Tav recognized the boudoir, though it was illuminated only by candlelight. A winter storm blew outside the windows in silence, but this vision was warm and welcoming. Rose petals, white enchanted frost from the Garden of Mephistar, littered the floor, the pools, even the bed itself, their aroma sweet in the air. Tav’s feet landed gracefully on the floor, and she looked around the room in wonder. It was quiet, only the sound of running water in the air as she walked the thick, lush carpet. She remembered the boudoir intimately, but had never felt so comfortable in it.

Hands touched her hips, and she turned to see Raphael in beautiful human form. He smiled down at her, his hands sliding up her waist, pulling her into his arms and against his body. When he leaned down, her eyelashes fluttered closed. She moaned softly against his lips, her hands running up his arms unconsciously; within moments he lifted her, carrying her to the bed.

The silk on her back was cool, the man leaning over her searing hot. Tav panted, legs parting at the natural weight between them. His fingers tangled in her hair, lips peppering her face with soft, scorching kisses. Tav’s eyes rolled back, legs tight on his waist, her own hands gripping the back of his neck as he-

Hey! Can you two stop being horny? I’m not saying that I’m not highly interested in whatever is going on right now, but this is probably not the best time,” hissed Astarion, abruptly breaking Tav’s trance. She blinked suddenly, wrenched back into her actual body. She realized that her breath was hard, knees trembling, even her balance wobbly as she reconciled the abrupt shift back into reality. Glaring up at Raphael, she was chagrined to find that he looked perfectly normal, watching the argument unfold as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

“Did I…say something?” she breathed to Astarion, wincing as she spoke. She almost didn't want to know. But the elf smiled wryly at her.

“You didn’t need to. I can hear your blood racing.” His voice was soft and smug…but at least the incident seemed to go unnoticed by the others. His scarlet eyes flickered towards Raphael. “I took an educated guess at the source. Apparently I should have been visiting you a lot more, devil.”

“Careful, elf,” said Raphael coolly. He co*cked his head to pin Astarion with a hard look. “I might be persuaded to keep you, too.” It was a threat and temptation in one. Tav shivered, wondering if Astarion had any idea what that kind of attention entailed. The vampire smirked, preening under the archdevil’s calculating stare.

Enough,” said Tav, casting each a warning glance. Raphael settled back, but his eyes flirted dangerously towards Astarion. Tav felt an odd bitterness sour her heart, and Raphael laughed quietly. When he bent to whisper to her, his lips touched her ear.

“No need to be jealous, little mouse, you’re still my favorite. You know, I tortured my whole staff to find out where you ran off to.” Raphael chuckled lightly, though Tav couldn’t imagine the horrors he’d inflicted on his own fiends. After a moment, she realized what his finding them must mean.

“Oh gods…is Haarlep alright? Are they still alive!?” Her voice raised higher than she’d intended, drawing the brief attention of the others. Raphael’s brow knit, and he frowned.

“Haarlep? What would be wrong with Haarlep?”

Tav froze, her mind staggering to come up with a believable answer. She’d assumed that Raphael must have tortured the incubus to figure out how she’d escaped, and now realized that she might have been mistaken. She was silent for several long seconds, mouth hanging open as she tried to think of something, anything, to say.

“…I just…miss Haarlep.”

“I’m going to kill that stupid incubus,” Raphael snarled, teeth bared. No!! “Unbelievable. Running around behind my back helping mortals? A decade or ten in the dungeon should straighten that out.”

“Raphael no!” Horrified at her second betrayal in so many days, Tav couldn’t help the urge to protect the incubus who had risked their life to help her, despite the others’ interpretation of Haarlep’s ‘generosity’. They may foster their own motivations, but the fiend had almost always tried to be kind.

Raphael glowered at Tav as she clung to his filthy sleeve, clearly annoyed by her reaction. He shook her off and huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Keep denying me and you’ll get to be neighbors. Now calm yourself, your friends have come to a consensus.” He was right, and from the storm darkening Karlach’s expression, Tav had a feeling she knew which one. Gale was again the person to cross the threshold; she wanted to believe it was out of respect for their friendship, but she saw the familiar spark of ambition starting to burn in his eyes again.Despite what he said about Haarlep, Gale nursed a similar opportunistic streak that seemed to always point to power. And he may have found something to be gained from Raphael as well.

“We’re coming with you, on the terms that you will return us to Faerun immediately after we hear your offer,” said Gale, holding out his hand to Raphael. Tav saw that it was the damaged one, still marked with the faint lines of Raphael’s seal. “And with the understanding that you won’t guarantee it now, we would still like to bargain for Octavia’s freedom.” His posture and expression were steely, his hand steady. Tav glanced at Raphael, her heart sinking to see the corner of his mouth twitch as he shook Gale’s hand.

“Deal,” he said easily, sounding amused. “We will leave as soon as you gather your things.”

_______________________________________

The arcane barrier collapsed in a lovely, flaming shatter, falling to the ground around them in a circle of white fire. It burned hot and steady like a tremendous halo, sustaining a comfortable heat despite the deadly fingers of frost all around. Raphael waited, watching patiently as his mortal wards reluctantly drew near; despite its protective nature, hellfire burned at an incredible heat.

Gale followed close after Tav and Astarion, his curiosity unabashedly piqued. As little as he might trust a devil, Raphael had clearly purchased some extent of his trust with the reveal of his sigil burned into the wizard’s skin. Given his close call with damnation, it seemed that Gale was finally prepared to negotiate. Tav couldn’t help but hope that it was an indicator he might be willing to forgive her.

Karlach was last, her scowl dark and foreboding, her hand clenched tightly in Wyll’s. He seemed more remorseful than angry. But all of them complied, shouldering their bags and accepting the aid of the devil. Tav couldn’t help but be begrudgingly impressed by Raphael’s brokering; down to the individual, he had successfully manipulated the unequivocal participation of the entire party. The realization inspired awe as well as dread for the trials yet to come.

Tav stayed close to Astarion, well aware of her role in their situation, despite the fact that nobody openly directed their resentment towards her. The elf seemed to be content, if not outright cheery, similar to his response to being revealed at Raphael’s ascension party. Tav had to respect his confidence, as misplaced as it might be in this particular circ*mstance.

The team gathered, Raphael raised his hand, and a fiery red sigil began to carve into the ice below them. Power reverberated around him, pulsed beneath their feet as it flowed into his demonic seal. She felt the air heat around them, their feet lifted from the ground, and with a shudder of force they were displaced to the waypoint they had walked from the day before. As soon as the violet sigil appeared she felt him trigger it, and with a crack they were standing in the palace of Mephistar.

Fear shot up Tav’s spine as she found herself exactly where she had fled from only days before, polite applause from aristocratic devils welcoming their master home as though he’d executed a magic trick. Her breath short, her palms sweating, she felt as though the trap around her had closed. Raphael bowed to his court before displacing them one last time into a suite that she didn’t recognize.

The splendor surrounding them was a stark contrast to their battered and bloody condition. Marble floors, a vaulted ceiling, a hot spring waterfall, and exquisite art stretched across the suite. Massive doors peppered the walls, some open to reveal comfortable and lavishly furnished rooms. Every table was loaded with wine, fruit, sweets, and flowers, every lamp lit with warm arcane fire. The mortals looked around themselves suspiciously, taking in the finery with the wariness of feral cats.

“Relax today, eat your fill and refresh yourselves. There are clean clothes available in the wardrobes. No need to escape this time, I will open the portal to Baldur’s Gate tomorrow. I will retire myself; if any of you have need for me, all you need to do is call.” Raphael bowed again, his smile clean, courteous, and deeply unsettling. With a snap, he displaced from the suite.

Tav displaced with him.

She gasped, not anticipating the sudden transition into the boudoir. Haarlep was nowhere to be seen; it was just her and Raphael, and she felt her stomach drop as he turned to her, his expression cold.

When he buried his hand in her hair and pulled her face to his, she squeaked in surprise. His lips were hot against hers, his other hand coming up to caress her cheek. She was still, not knowing what to expect, and he growled against her lips.

“I see you’ve managed to get rid of your curse,” he whispered softly, his breath warm. “I suppose that should be the first thing I replace, shouldn’t it?” Tension gripped her, and she quivered in his arms. He kissed her fiercely, passionately, one hand loosening to stroke her hair and the other sliding down her back. Tav couldn’t stop the small moan that he pulled from her, body warming despite her screaming instincts.

Please,” she gasped, unable to articulate what she even wanted anymore. Raphael caught her bottom lip in his teeth, dark eyes blazing down at her before he ran the tip of his tongue along its edge instead. Her legs shook under her, threatening to dump her on the floor if not for his arm hooked around the small of her back. She couldn’t even think enough to be afraid.

“Please what?” he murmured against her skin, trailing burning kisses down the side of her neck. He picked her up, just as he’d done in the vision, and carried her to the lush, enormous bed. “I believe you owe me a title, and an evening of atonement besides. How about we wash all this blood off of each other, have dinner together on the balcony, and enjoy one last night of innocent debauchery?”

Alarm bells sounded in her head, and Tav struggled to surface. The silk at her back, the scent of roses perfuming the air, and the ominous implications behind his words were enough for her to recognize the scene playing out around her. This was her reward…because her punishment was anticipated to soon follow. Raphael’s proposal sounded heavenly, as divine as any could get in the hells. She was grievously tempted to spend the night forgetting her many mistakes. Pretending that Raphael loved her, that she wouldn’t be facing the hardest choice of her life in only a day. That he wasn’t her savior and her tormentor in one.

“No,” she murmured, pushing back on his shoulders. Raphael stopped, drawing back to observe her with his hauntingly beautiful eyes. Her body wanted him badly, legs relaxed and open at his hips. Even covered in dried blood, he was desirable. “Please don’t. I want to go back.”

It was only with the sheer force of will that she could release his collar. Raphael paused before releasing her, giving her space to catch her breath.

“Was tonight my reward?” she asked, her chest tight with pain. Raphael didn’t respond immediately. He seemed to be lost for words, for once. “And then tomorrow, my punishment?”

“It doesn’t have to be,” he replied slowly, sitting beside her on the bed. “Everything would be easier if you’d just sign the contract. You could command more power than you’d ever dreamed possible, and I would be your devoted patron. We can shape your world together. Every night can be like tonight, with me, if that’s what you desire.” The back of his hand brushed her arm, trailing goosebumps over her skin. Tav could see it so easily, the love of an archdevil purchased through conquest. Purchased through souls.

“And the price,” she replied, her eyes closing. “Is the damnation of mortalkind.” Raphael didn’t reply. “Can you send me back? I need to think.”

If he touches me again, I’m afraid that I’ll stay.

She knew that he was in her mind. He must be in her mind. But he reluctantly raised a hand, ready to snap and displace her back into the guest suite.

“You know, I am fond of you.” He spoke so quietly that at first, Tav wasn’t sure that she’d heard him correctly. When she turned to face him, he snapped and she was standing in the center of the suite.

_______________________________________

Karlach refused to unpack, or to touch any of the food offered on the tables. Wyll swallowed hungrily, trying not to look at the platters of fruit and cheese. Exquisite wines lined every shelf, aged delicacies that begged to be opened. He longed to have a romantic evening with the beautiful tiefling, treat her to the kind of luxury and comfort that she had always deserved. But she simply, and understandably, couldn’t trust anything offered by a devil.

“I can’t believe you,” she muttered, glaring at Wyll over her shoulder as she unrolled a sleeping mat on the floor. “Any of you, but you most of all. You, of all of them, should know better than to trust one of their kind.” The loathing burning in her eyes as she took in the obnoxiously decadent room never wavered for a moment. Wyll winced, knowing that she was probably right. He’d committed his fair share of sins, but she had suffered the most at the hands of Baator.

“I know,” he said humbly, unrolling a sleeping mat beside hers. “I’m sorry. I just can’t bear to see your life end here. If we’re going to die, it should be together, in Faerun.” A small white lie couldn’t hurt. Wyll would rather tear out his other eye than see the woman that he loved give up her life.

She glowered, but didn’t respond, stretching out on the floor instead. Wyll didn’t complain; he was lucky to unroll his mat next to somebody as extraordinary as Karlach. But he did wish that she’d be a little less suspicious of the beds. How long has it been since we've slept in a bed? Never mind sleeping; how long had it been since he’d made love to her in a bed? Worshiped her incredible figure in a bed?

He tried not to think about it too hard, shifting against the floor. At least the carpet is thick. Karlach crossed her arms behind her head. Wyll turned towards her, wondering if he could tempt her into a more comfortable option.

“Do you think she’s going to sign?” Karlach asked softly, staring up at the ceiling. Wyll reached for her hand, withdrawing it from under her neck. He knew how Karlach had loved and admired Octavia. “I’d never have thought she would. But after yesterday…I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what I would do if she did.” She spoke from a broken heart. Wyll squeezed her fingers lightly.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Love makes people do strange things. I want to believe in her capacity for good. Tav is the best among us.” Karlach groaned.

“Don’t say that,” she grumbled. “You know that devils can’t love.” Wyll smiled grimly; he knew better than anybody that a devil couldn’t love.

“He can’t, but she might,” he said. “It’s funny how that works sometimes. I hope she has the sense to see through it. I agree that he’s going to hurt her. Probably hurt us all. Hopefully, if she turns him down, this is the last we’ll see of Raphael.” Karlach laughed, a short, humorless bark.

“If she turns him down, we’ll never see her again,” she said sadly. Despite Tav’s betrayal, her words were lanced through with hurt. “She’ll die down here. I know she will. And if she says yes, we’ll never be free.”

Wyll couldn’t refute her. Her golden eyes were turned down in grief, a frown tugging at the edges of her lips. He reached for her; he couldn’t help himself.

“I don’t mind,” he whispered, drawing her gaze with his own. “I’m free with you, Karlach. I’ll always feel free with you.” He kissed her tenderly, brushing her lips with his own. The tension eased from her muscular frame, and she leaned into his embrace. Despite her toned body and intimidating height, Karlach had a sweet face that communicated a vulnerability to her closest friends…and lovers.

“You’re sweet,” she said, leaning her forehead against his. Their horns brushed each other’s gently; Wyll had quickly learned to love his horns, long and curved reflections of hers. “Too sweet. You make me forget how much danger we’re in.”

“We’ve been in danger for years, sweetheart,” he chuckled, pulling her close. “Our world has been dangerous since the day I tried to kill you. Why don’t we take a break tonight? I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty confident that the bed isn’t a mimic.” Karlach’s lips set in a grim line, but Wyll could see her considering his offer. She glanced reluctantly towards the bed.

“I suppose it might not kill us,” she said slowly. “It might be nice to sleep in a bed for once.” Her will wavered.

“And have a bath?” Wyll had been eyeing the hot springs, and ached to feel clean again. Karlach scoffed, her eyes rolling.

“You know, you’re just as bad as the devils,” she sighed, sitting up. “Fine. A bath and a bed, but that’s all. I’m not touching the food, and neither are you.”

Wyll smiled, accepting the small concession despite the mouth watering smell of perfectly ripe fruits. He could spend another night nibbling on dried vegetables. He could spend a lifetime eating field rations, so long as it was next to her. And may gods help anybody who tries to hurt her again.

He followed her from their room, stripping down to occupy the bath. It was awkward, having one shared pool in the center of the suite. So they were quick and guilty, sharing a giggle as they slipped into the hot water. Wyll blew out a satisfied breath, immediately sinking down to his chin; the pool was clean, steaming, and scented, constantly circulating around them, washing away their sweat and grime. He touched Karlach’s hand beneath the bubbles, heart full as she wove her fingers through his.

He pointed to a bottle of wine, eyebrows raised; it technically wasn't food. Karlach’s eyes narrowed momentarily, before she finally surrendered with a shrug. Wyll popped the cork, pouring into two readily available glasses; she clinked with his.

The suite was otherwise empty, Gale, Shadowheart, and Astarion exploring their rooms. They would eventually want their own baths, so Karlach and Wyll tried to be quick.

An unexpected crack shook the glasses, and Wyll and Karlach instantly sank up to their eyes in the water. Expecting Raphael, they glanced towards each other before floating to the edge of the pool. But it was Octavia.

The paladin stood on trembling legs, her head and shoulders bowed in defeat. They had all noticed that Raphael had taken her with him when, but there hadn’t appeared to be any doors leading out of the suite. So instead of speculating, they had retreated, hoping that she was safe despite her treachery.

At first, Wyll worried that she was hurt. Her balance wavered, before she fell to her knees, seemingly alone. She shook with a silent cry, leaning forward onto her hands, her hair covering her face. After several seconds, she pushed herself upright, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

Wyll heard a soft sniff, and turned to see Karlach’s features stricken with pain. She struggled to control her breath, her hand clenching his tightly. The tiefling was angry, he had no doubt, but she was too kind to wish pain on another. She barely kept it together in time for Octavia to pull herself together, and disappear into one of the other rooms.

“We have to help her,” she whispered pleadingly. Turning to Wyll, he knew that he couldn’t deny her anything. “Please, we have to get her away from him.”

Wyll nodded, though his heart sank. He had no doubt that Raphael was not bluffing; if Tav failed to sign her contract, she would be imprisoned here forever. Of this he was sure. He knew that Karlach didn’t mean for him to make sure that she signed her contract; that was a different kind of ‘freedom’. But he didn’t see another way to save their friend. She’s still our friend, even with what she did. Six years ago, Wyll would never have understood why Tav had protected Raphael. Now, after what they had been through, after he’d come to fall deeply in love, he could finally empathize. And like Karlach, he wanted to save her.

But with his ascension and the power of the crown behind him, Raphael was simply too strong to be destroyed by their party. He was now an archdevil, powerful beyond their reach and ambitious beyond their understanding. So he could only smile sadly, pretending that they still had a chance to succeed. He would pretend anything to protect the woman that he loved.

Pulling Karlach close, he kissed her forehead and racked his brain for any option besides abandoning their friend to the mercy of the hells. Raphael will dominate the hells soon, and we’ll die trying to protect our world from him. He didn’t dare say it out loud, but allegiance seemed to be the only way out of this. Can I damn the world for her? The question weighed heavy in his heart, his arms tight around the one person that he'd sworn to protect.

Chapter 13: Everything, Nothing, and Something Else

Notes:

Thank you all so much for the reviews. This chapter took a while, I've been in school/at work all week and had some later days than expected. I'm really grateful to everyone who has been enjoying this niche fandom and sticking with my fic, and especially for my reviewers, who really keep me inspired to write. Thank you all!!!

I will finish this fic, I have the ending and epilogue planned...and the next one may end up on its heels haha if anybody wants another perspective of a significantly sketchier (and maybe a little dirtier) assassin Tav! Anyway, please enjoy this chapter!!

Chapter Text

Tav’s head tilted back in her bath, washing blood and grime from her hair in scented water. Rose oil floated at its surface, the sides of the great pool lined with every kind of soap and lotion. Though they may despise him, Raphael really did have an incredible style of living.

At least he had left them for a day and a night. Tav hadn’t seen much of the others; she assumed that they had retreated to their rooms to regroup and recover, but that was optimistic. Even at a camp, they had always spent their evenings collaborating on plans and bonding. No, they hadn’t forgiven her for her flagrant betrayal, and they didn’t know what to think of her relationship to Raphael. Come to think of it, neither did she, really.

Her heart hadn’t changed in the night. She had hardly slept, despite her freedom from the curse, plagued by worry for the future of the world. Worry for the future of her friends, who were now trapped as prisoners alongside her. Tav wondered what kind of torment he would bestow on them, how he would use them to make her suffer.

Yes, Raphael had promised to return them to the material plane. She had to hope that he would hold true to his word; he often did, despite his natural inclination to manipulate. Although it could have been a simple lie, told to convince them to leave the Wandering Citadel peacefully.

You have to stop thinking like that. You’re already losing your mind. Tav had been running in circles in her mind from the moment of her kidnapping; even as their options dwindled, she found herself unable to sacrifice her hope. To surrender now was to go against every truth that she’d ever believed in. But despite her beliefs, her stomach plummeted when she thought of the reality of sacrificing herself for the sake of the world.

Tav washed quickly, drying with a thick towel and changing into a clean tunic and boots from the wardrobe. She would have returned to her rooms, but there was a hesitant knock from one of the doors; a courtesy to anybody using the common bath. It was Shadowheart.

The cleric stepped out after a moment of silence, freezing when she saw Tav. But she approached anyway, herself clean and dressed in a comfortable shift. She stood nervously, her hands fiddling without her usual weapons at hand. Shadowheart had not berated Tav, not at the citadel and not over Raphael. She had been quiet since their fight with Zariel.

“Should we be…armed?” she asked quietly, her gaze darting towards the doors. Without a way in or out of the guest suite, they really didn’t know how to set up any kind of perimeter. Tav shook her head grimly.

“Not much point to it now. I don’t think he’s going to attack us, besides. He’s been waiting for a long time to show us the contract. I’m surprised it’s taking this long, honestly.” She had no reason to lie about it; Raphael had been talking about the stupid contract for as long as she’d been in his captivity. Hells, he made me come while he was writing the damn thing. The memory made her flush darkly. “I think we should have some food and wait.”

Shadowheart nodded, and the two women sat uneasily at one of the tables. Wine, cheese, and fruit were stacked in abundance; Tav cut wedges of cheese while Shadowheart popped the cork from a bottle. She relaxed somewhat, smiling sheepishly as she broke the cork and was forced to dig the rest out with a sharp knife. Shadowheart was notoriously bad at opening wine, Tav remembered.

Tav stifled a laugh at the bits of cork floating in her glass, sliding a plate of cut cheese across the table as a trade. Shadowheart’s lips twitched in a small smile. She and Tav had not gotten along when they'd met, their religious beliefs clashing from the onset of their alliance. But they’d overcome their differences of belief, and Tav had always stood behind Shadowheart since.

They broke their fast on fresh food for the first time in days…weeks, for Shadowheart. Sweet grapes, crunchy and ripe, burst decadently as they bit down into them. Shadowheart cut a loaf of fine bread, smearing soft cheese across the warm surface.

“I’m not mad, you know,” said Shadowheart finally. “Not really. I mean, I was, but not anymore. I know you didn’t mean to put us in danger. And you’ve trusted me before…I can trust you now.”

Tav’s heart wrenched, and she reached for Shadowheart’s hand. The thoughtful, reclusive woman smiled and squeezed her fingers. Tav didn’t feel like she’d done anything worthy of redeeming her trust, wished that she had the confidence in herself that her friends seemed to save for her, but she appreciated the kindness of a friend just the same. It felt good to know that they were not enemies.

The others were starting to emerge from their rooms, exchanging mixed looks at the sight of the two women sitting together to share food. Astarion approached immediately, pulling up a chair and setting down an elegant decanter from his room. Gale didn’t approach directly, but he did settle into a chaise close by. Karlach and Wyll, after sharing a significant glance, joined him. But not before Karlach cast a pained glance towards Tav.

She hadn’t totally destroyed her friendships, it seemed. They spoke softly, some snagging plates of food from the surrounding offerings. Karlach and Wyll didn’t seem to be eating, but they didn’t comment on the others partaking in a meal. Gale poured himself a glass of wine, toasting some bread with his fingertips before trying a bite. He glanced at the bookshelves, combing the titles by their bindings. Astarion seemed more cheery than before, and it didn’t take long for her to see why. Pouring from the decanter, she saw that the liquid was far too thick to be red wine; it seemed their captor had thought of everything. Astarion’s room had been provisioned with a stock of fresh, warm human blood. She grimaced, and Shadowheart gagged as she processed the same information. Astarion scoffed back at them.

Excuse me, but I consider this to be highly genteel for a host. I don’t see any of you jumping to offer me your necks.” He sipped delicately at the warm blood, enjoying it immensely. “And what a lovely vintage.”

“He’s not a host, and we’re not on vacation, Astarion,” Karlach grumbled, rolling her eyes. She had equipped her armor and her weapons, already prepared to fight her way out…as had Wyll, in a show of solidarity. “Just drink it and get your bow, we have to be ready to-”

There was a crack, and Raphael was standing in the center of the room.

He was clean and groomed as well, his hair brushed back into its usual neatly styled waves. He wore a fine, black and red doublet, the high collar fastened just under his chin. He brought with him the smell of sulfur and dark cherries, an enticing and intimidating combination; they rose to their feet collectively, unsure of whether to run for weapons or stand their ground.

The one thing that they all did notice was the shining, new ring on his middle finger, exactly like the one they had broken in the Wandering Citadel. Dark power emanated from him, and Tav instantly knew that he had commissioned a new conduit to be crafted. Raphael had returned, and he was again wielding the power of the Netherese weave. He smiled charmingly, cat eyes content in the final stages of his plan. When he spoke, she knew that he addressed them all.

“It’s good to see you all so rested and restored. Now that we’re all settled in, how do we feel about reviewing the terms of my new deal?”

A spectrum of emotions washed across the group, from Gale’s interest to Karlach’s blatant revulsion. But they gathered all the same, curious in spite of their instinctive reactions.

Raphael’s expression was calm as they waited, reveling in their mixed dread and anticipation. He snapped, and a contract appeared floating in the air before them, this one with so many clauses and annexes that it was bound like a book. They stared at it, as it flipped open to display the first page.

“First things first, we should review the parameters of the contract. You all will be consigned beneath one document, each subcontracted individually under Octavia. The stipulations of this document will not be valid until she is signed. Feel free to review your provided copies for the specifics; this proposal will only be an overview. You will all serve as her council, providing support, guidance, protection, and recommendation to her leadership. Your task will be to commission first officials, and then followers into the church of Raphael. You’ll assign contracts into my service, the guidelines for which are dictated within the annexes, and then soul brands to our militants to pass along in combat... as required. There are a few pages of guidelines and conditions, please review them thoroughly and we can adjust them to your expectations as necessary.”

He turned first to Karlach, who scowled.

“I have no contract for you, my dear. I respect that you will never bend your knee to a devil again. So my deal for you is simply a gift: your heart and your life restored. Goodbye, pride of Zariel.” With a snap, Karlach was engulfed in white fire; when it died away, she stood before them breathless and whole, shock coloring her face. She and Wyll cried out simultaneously, her hands flying up to feel her sternum, him running to her in disbelief.

Wyll never reached her; with another snap, she was gone. Raphael laughed at their shocked expressions. “Worry not pets, she waits for you in Faerún.” Tav stared in horrified silence at the place where Karlach had stood; with the power of Karsus, Raphael had restored her form in only a moment. Why would he do that for nothing? Wyll’s hands clenched on air, empty grief and hope clashing viciously in his eyes.

Raphael then turned to Astarion.

“Yours should be the most predictable. For your offer, the full powers of vampiric ascension of course, with the soul price waived. And just because I like you, Cazador’s failure landed him in the service of my father…and through inheritance, me. You may have full authority over his schedule for the duration of his residency in the hells.” Raphael bowed, politely subverting his attention from Astarion’s choked excitement. The vampire turned, coughing, and leaned against a table to gather himself before returning to the smug devil. “And, since you’ll be around, free reign to visit me in Mephistar.”

“Done. Where do I sign?” Astarion laughed his high, titillating laugh. “Just kidding. I’m not kidding. Where’s the pen?” He looked around them wildly for a pen. Raphael chuckled before turning next to Wyll and Gale.

“Magi, the next offer is for both of you. Hellfire magic is only the first to be assumed; you will also have equal summoning command to my legion. Wizard, I offer you my protection and provision to explore the hells at your leisure. Warlock, I believe you’ll need to sign a new pact, with a new bind, since your patroness has taken a respite. Zariel is in my debt, and I think Mizora could benefit from some humility as a part of her mistress’s price…how about a pact of the chain, and your human form restored?”

Both Gale and Wyll stared, dumbfounded, at the proposal. All of the power and control that Raphael could offer them, at the mere scratch of a pen. And to document the hells as no mortal had ever done before, Gale would seal his legend in history, be the envy of every magus alive. But Gale recovered quickly.

“And Hope,” he said firmly. Raphael froze, his eyes narrowing slightly, although his smile remained plastered on his face. Tav frowned at them, lost. “The dwarf. She comes with me.” Tav didn’t know of whom Gale referred, but she did notice that he had stopped framing the contract as a hypothetical. And from his slight pause, so had Raphael.

“I will take it into consideration, of course,” he said smoothly, the tension in his shoulders indicating that he wasn’t happy at all about that addendum. Tav’s eyes flickered from him to Gale, wondering who Hope was.

Raphael recovered and turned to Shadowheart, the last of the party.

“Cleric, to you I offer your memory, and the removal of Shar’s curse. My father kept several traitors of the dark goddess in his service; I’m sure that she would be amenable to reconciliation. You and your loved ones will be forever free from her reach.” He bowed to her too. Shadowheart nodded, her brow furrowed as she reluctantly considered a future where she wasn’t debilitated by her own past. Raphael straightened and addressed the whole of the group. “For all of you, afterlife eternal at your choosing. Unfortunately with a soul brand, you do have to come to me…but there’s no reason for that to be such a terrible thing. If you’d like to ascend into my council of fiends on death, I would welcome you with territory and a title. If you’d prefer to live in your chosen style of luxury, I will accommodate. This stipulation is negotiable up until the moment of final death, and unique to each signatory.”

Tav stared in horrified wonder. She’d had no idea that Raphael would offer such a profoundly curated deal, carefully tailored to each member of her team. They stood in awed silence, processing the weight of what the devil offered.

Raphael smiled one last time.

“Octavia, I believe you know the parameters of your own deal. Please review your individual stipulations; the door is open, and I will be waiting in the room of Egress to release you as a party back to the material plane when you’ve come to your decision. I will be sending you together, so ensure that you come to a collective agreement first. Octavia will present the group’s decision to me on completion of your review. Friends, I now leave you to your ruminations.”

With a snap the devil was gone…and the first tectonic shift began to move beneath Tav’s feet. A pen appeared beside the contract, floating innocently.
_________________________________________

Astarion was first.

“Give me the pen, we’re signing,” he said shortly, stopped only by Gale’s hand grabbing his sleeve. He jerked free, glaring at the wizard. “We are signing. We did the hero thing last time, goody for us and everybody else, but this is a once in a lifetime deal.” Even Gale was hesitant; he approached the book, flipping through the pages as it floated before them.

“I don’t understand,” he murmured, reading through it. “There has to be a catch.”

“The catch is people,” said Tav firmly, her arms crossing over her chest. “We’d be damning people.” Gale held up a finger, his other hand pressed to the paper.

“Yes, and I would agree with you if the terms were different. But the stipulations are so…lenient. It doesn’t make sense. There is no quota, little dictation, no ramifications for us, and the terms for further subcontracting are extraordinarily broad. Why on earth would he want to enlist us with a contract like this?” Gale’s eyes were hungry as he read. “Wyll, you’re the expert. Come and read this with me.”

Wyll glowered before reluctantly moving closer, reading over Gale’s shoulder with an apprehensive eye. His brow raised as he progressed.

“It’s…strange, I’ll admit,” said Wyll slowly. “Not like my contact to Mizora. Hers was very specific on ownership and authority, I knew well what I was sacrificing. But this one is cut and dried. Almost like it’s intentionally one sided. I don’t really understand it either.” He continued to read. Tav saw his hand reach up to stroke one of his long horns.

As she watched the factions begin to form, Tav quickly realized why Raphael had “gifted” Karlach with her freedom…and it wasn’t a show of good faith or respect. Astarion, Gale, and Wyll were consumed with analyzing the contract, only Shadowheart standing next to Tav with an expression of deep concern. Raphael hadn’t fixed Karlach and sent her home as a kindness. He identified the person most likely to fight on my side, and got her out of the way..and in a manner to make an appeal to the others, at the same time. Shadowheart’s fingers stroked her cursed palm unconsciously, though she didn’t approach the others that had gathered around the contract.

“You came here to stop him,” said Tav weakly, feeling even Shadowheart wavering beside her. “We still can.” She didn’t even know if she believed herself. They had no idea where he’d stowed the Crown of Karsus. Hells, it could be anything from a brick in the wall to the cushion that the fake crown had rested on. He would break her mind if she stayed; she had seen it firsthand, been dragged forcibly to the edges of her sanity, dangled over the cliff by the devil who had figured out how to make her crawl. Even if she knew how to kill him, she’d already proven that she couldn’t, shackled as she was by her own mortal heart.

She knew that he would break her, and so she fought hard against the urge to imagine a world where he didn’t.

“Octavia,” said Astarion in a hushed voice. “You have to read your section. This is…everything. It’s the kind of power that changes the world. You would change the world.” They turned to her, and her eyes closed. Anguish filled her as she finally understood Raphael’s plan. His grand scheme played out before her in her mind, a hideous orchestration.

The leadership of Faerún’s savior, Octavia, would convince the world of the righteousness of their path; even her own friends stood ready to believe. Raphael would fill them all with the kind of power that rules undisputed. But everybody, even gods, will one day be disputed. Absolute power corrupts absolutely…and soon her followers would become her army. Her army would be soul branded, mages and warlocks and warriors fighting in the name of their deity, Raphael. She would impose rules, laws, boundaries to protect, and they would uphold them, sending at first only criminals into the hells. Then it would be assassins, come to overthrow the kind of power that inspires both devotion and fear. Then it would be challengers, political and national rivals. Her borders would expand, either crushed or absorbed by doctrine. In order to maintain peace and prosperity, wars break out around their territory. Eventually, after decades of rule, for every murderer who was condemned to the hells by her laws, a thousand more died to uphold it. Their souls brands taking them straight to Cania. Refugees of her conquests come to her in desperation, signing their souls to the devil for money or food or somewhere safe to sleep. One day burning to ash on the parapet of the devil’s court.

And her friends, her closest allies, would waive their own guilt with their faith in the infallible, incorruptible Octavia. Even branded with Raphael’s own oath of conquest. Would she one day succumb to the crushing despair of her own world order, and accept his curse of immortality as a devil?

They looked to her now with hope. Gale’s light of ambition had caught spark in their eyes, too. Astarion waited for one more moment before turning and snatching the pen, flipping through the pages to find his own subcontract. He sighed his name quickly, fiercely, ink spitting behind the scratching pen. His jaw was set when he turned back, but none of the others refuted him.

“I’m signing. We’re signing. I deserve to be free of my godsdamned curse.” He assessed each in turn before handing the pen next to Gale, who looked warily at the book. He fiddled the pen between long, slender fingers as he weighed their choices.

“Do we have time to think about it?” asked Shadowheart softly, her brow knit. She had that look in her eyes again, a distant stare that seemed to ease into her features when she was thinking about her parents. They were in Baldur’s Gate, alive and alienated, still a world apart from the daughter who had long forgotten them. But Shadowheart among them was the most wary of the price they would come by.

“I’m sure we have plenty of time,” muttered Wyll, his voice conflicted and pained. He glanced towards Tav. “I’d still like to see Karlach soon. I can’t believe she’s…I mean, he…” He abruptly stopped speaking. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, his good eye misty. “She’s whole. She’s out of the hells. Gods, we could make a real life together.”

Wyll, at least, seemed too overcome to seriously consider the deal. After accommodating Gale’s initial request for review, he had stepped away from the contract. She could see him shaking slightly, his shoulders hunched forward as he processed what they had witnessed.

“Do you think that was…real?” he whispered, brow furrowing as he voiced the painful reluctance to hope. “Do you think he fixed her, just like that? Could it be a trick?” Hoarse, ragged, painful disbelief colored him. Wyll’s legs trembled, nearly dumping him to the floor; Tav moved quickly, to help him get to a couch. A gentle sob broke from his lips, and he turned away from them. His hand moved from his mouth to his eye, his scars, his horns, the terrible and undeniable symbols of his bond to Mizora. Raphael had promised him wholeness too, an implicit forgiveness for the treasons of his past. A fresh start for two mortals who had earned a lifetime of rest. And without Karlach contracted, Wyll could finally protect her from the hells.

Gale turned to Tav, his hands pressed together. Their master tactician sighed long and slow, visibly turning over every possible avenue and finding only one answer.

“No, Gale,” Tav murmured. She bowed her head, her heart aching as one by one her own friends wavered. “Please don’t ask me to do this.”

“Would it really be terrible?” he asked quietly. All of them listened, even Wyll with his head in his hands on the couch. “We’re good people. You’re a good person. People are sentenced to the hells in every generation; hundreds of thousands fall from grace, commit atrocities, sign their souls, in lives already without peace or leadership. Do you believe that we are so much worse for the world?”

Tav’s heart pounded, her head ached as she forced herself to stand against him. Gale was smart, the smartest among them, and if anybody could sway her belief it was him. She shook her head, trying to remember every instinct that had screamed at her right up until this moment. Raphael is evil. Raphael would consume the mortal world. She loved him against belief or good judgment, but she could never hand him the reins.

He had brought them here, allowed them to track and kidnap her, under the knowledge that they were the key to breaking her will. Tav could have laughed, it was so ingenious. She couldn’t trust Raphael on principle, so he’d weaponized the only people that she could.

Tav would have to deny it all: his power, her love, her life, and her closest friends. He would take everything from her, if she denied him now. Can I sacrifice the world for that? She knew the answer already.

“Let me go talk to him,” she said, her tongue heavy in her mouth. The others nodded, glancing towards each other as she stood. “You don’t have to sign it right now, don’t worry. Take some time to think about it, I’ll be right back.”

The lie stung as it left her. Gale and Shadowheart glanced up, both of them alerted by the strange tone to her voice. Tav wasn’t accustomed to lying to her friends, but she called him before they could stop her. Before any of them could even stand, she grabbed Astarion’s dagger from the table and tucked it into her belt. I always did hate to go in unarmed.

Raphael!

With a crack, she disappeared.
_________________________________________

He looked so godsdamned smug, leaning back in the comfortable chair in his office. As she saw a wicked gleam flash through his eyes, she was sure that the choice of location was intentional. Tav well remembered the thick maroon carpet, and the raw sores it had left all over her writhing body. She felt the discomfort pass through her with a mild shudder.

“I should have had you call me master,” said Raphael, resting his foot across his knee. He watched her approach with uncontained satisfaction; the devil had played his last piece, and she was very sure that he knew how things were going in their suite. “I really liked to hear that falling off of your tongue.”

“You look pleased with yourself,” Tav replied in a low voice. She couldn’t even pretend not to be somewhat impressed. Raphael had won, his plan so methodical and carefully executed that she’d been sunk before she even realized that they had never stood a chance.

Walking towards him, she slid lightly on his desk, sighing as the weight lifted from her feet. Raphael’s eyes twitched slightly; she knew that he wanted to tell her off. He was waiting to tell her off, waiting for the one signature that would give him ownership over her. Her fingers pushed a neat stack of papers, offsetting them by only an inch.

His hand shot out to grab her wrist, tight at first before relaxing, as though he’d caught himself. He smiled, but his eyes narrowed up at her.

“I like you better on the floor,” he said softly, standing up at the desk. With her sitting, they were close to eye level with him in human form. As a cambion he’d dwarf Tav, even with her perched on a desk. But this Raphael, patient, waiting, coaxing Raphael, presented himself as human. He stepped close to her, sliding between her legs with a brush from his hands on her thighs. She shivered.

“I know,” she replied just as quietly. “You like to break strong things too much to actually destroy me.” She’d learned his nature well. Raphael might come across to some as gentler than his Archdevil peers, but it was all to serve his own pleasure. He leaned close, lips brushing hers as he breathed in the scent of her clean skin.

“Suffering just doesn’t taste as good when it’s from something pitiful,” he sighed, his hands sliding to her hips. Tav’s body tingled, aching to feel him against her; as though he were reading her mind, he yanked her flush against him. “Pain and subjugation extracted through the proud, and the mighty? A banquet. And I’ve always had my father’s good taste.”

His tongue ran along the side of her neck, searing hot. Tav gasped, her back arching and her eyes rolling back, hands gripping his shoulders before she could stop herself. He nipped once, playfully, before groping hands turned fierce and her tunic was yanked up to her waist.

Raphael flashed his cambion strength once, viciously ripping the calfskin pants from her. She jumped in fear, but the claws were gone when his fingers touched her again. His patience wholly expended, he quickly unfastened his own belt.

“Bold of you to deny me twice,” he hissed in her ear, his hips pressing painfully against hers. He was fully erect, hot and hard against her dripping sex. Tav stifled a moan; even without the curse, she wanted him. “First to trick me, which you still haven’t atoned for, and second to prolong my good graces? I’d dare to call you co*cky, little mouse. Open your legs.” Tav obeyed, slowly spreading her legs wide.

He flexed against her, enjoying the warm, slick wetness of her desire, before burrowing into her with several short thrusts. She gasped, her balance shaken when he pulled her to the very edge of the desk.

“This is only going to make up for the second offense,” he said, baring his teeth. Tav fought a losing battle against the sounds fighting to be free of her chest. “And only if you’re very, very well behaved. So first, we’re going to get you off of my desk, aren’t we?” His arms wrapped tight to her waist, and he lifted her easily from the fine wood furniture. Tav moaned loudly as he was buried in her to the hilt, her own weight forcing her to take him as she wrapped her long legs around his hips for leverage.

Turning, Raphael dumped her onto a low chaise, sliding free of her to stand at the foot. His dark eyes blazing down at her, he slowly unfastened his doublet, shrugging from it while maintaining his calculating stare. Tav shivered before reluctantly unfastening her belt, tugging her tunic over her head. Something about his presence made her submissive, even without the curse, she was chagrined to notice. She lay bare and shivering on the thick, luxurious cushions.

“You didn’t tell me before,” she whispered, her hands moving to cover herself before she saw his eyes narrow. “What you would do to me if I refused.” Let me see your cruelty, so that I may uproot you from my heart. Raphael smiled.

“Why don’t I show you?” He waved his hand, and the room around her disappeared. She was on a floor again, this one of cold and dirty stone. Dim light filtered from somewhere far, illuminating the gray steel of bars, the dust and shimmer of ice that coated every inch of a cell. It was ice cold here, screams and cries echoing and dying distantly, no physical comfort afforded to her here. There wasn’t even a blanket on the floor.

But despite the cold, her body was twitching and boiling, alight with a flaming lust that was all too familiar. She gasped, staggered by the force of her pleasure and pain, hardly able to think and totally unable to stand. She panted in whines and soft grunts, writhing in agonizing ecstasy.

As her mind folded unwillingly into the suffering creature’s body, Tav noticed that her first assumption had been wrong; she had been gifted one physical comfort. A toy, long and studded with familiar ridges, was clutched tight in her desperate hands, working her painfully towards an org*sm that she knew would never arrive. It was with a unique kind of shame that Tav knew she could recognize Raphael’s co*ck from the feel of it inside her.

How long have I been here? Her entire body was seizing with pain, cramping muscles that screamed from her shoulders to the soles of her feet. Her throat was torn from overuse, tears dry and run of their course. There was a strange and awful depth to her despair, an acceptance lacing through her physical need. She had been here for a long time, the mind of this creature broken already. There were no others, no worlds, no masters or slaves; it was just Tav, and a hunger that never ended. It would always be Tav and hunger.

An unexpected warmth enveloped her, and her conscious mind jerked awake inside of the broken body. She lacked the strength to free herself from the vision, but in another world Raphael was embracing her on the chaise. Tav remembered suddenly that it was only a dream, that her friends waited for her somewhere.

She quivered as she felt hot kisses on her face and neck, invisible and yet more real than this prison. The weight of his body between her legs was jarring, as this form was curled on her side. Tav turned her onto her back with effort, to dispel the strange sensation. Her hands ached as they continued to f*ck her on the toy, and she shuddered when Raphael pumped languidly into her again. From pain or pleasure, there was no way for her to know anymore.

“This is one month, or perhaps two,” she heard him whisper viciously. His breath was warm against her ear, teeth grazing sensually at the sensitive skin there. Her real body moaned. “The guards feed you, keep you alive for me. I don’t visit you; I don’t need to. That toy I left you is one of Haarlep’s favorite creations. I can let you pleasure me with it, whenever I’m in the mood to reap your pain.” He breathed in her agony now, the hopelessness that wracked her mind even though she knew that it was only a vision.

A thrill of disgust raced through her blood, though her real body quivered at the thought. She felt her hands working furiously, her c*nt tight and aching around the enchanted toy. Somewhere, Raphael was enjoying every drop of pleasure that she wrung from her own suffering.

And he enjoyed her now, too. Though she couldn’t see him, she could feel him on her, his hands roaming her face and body, his lips brushing hers. His hips pressed so hard that she was sure she’d wake to bruises. Her material form ground back against him, sighed, arched into his hands. Her vision sobbed silently on the cold stone floor, limbs hurting sharply from strain and exhaustion. Raphael feasted on both, tasting her pleasure and her pain as he stroked into her again and again.

It felt as though it dragged on for hours, her two minds warring for dominance. One relished natural satisfaction, reaching a sweet climax, her legs tightening around Raphael’s waist. The other was untouched by pleasure, still mindless with agony and desperation. Both gripped Tav in alternation until she wasn’t sure which one was real.

They united when Raphael reached his own peak, groaning in her ear as his hips jerked into her with force. His hands wrapped around her shoulder blades, pulling down on her body as he spilled intensely into her, pumping deep until he was panting and breathless. Tav whined weakly beneath him, arching into him even as his weight pinned her down. His seed burned sharply, a sensation that she had become accustomed to.

It seared both bodies.

She realized that her imprisoned body had felt it too, cried out from the pain without any of the corporeal comforts that he afforded to her now. She felt the slippery heat in her, physical evidence that it hadn’t been an illusion; the Raphael in her vision had climaxed too, and she’d received it without even seeing her master. Shock dawned as she realized why Raphael had bothered to keep her alive.

“That’s right,” he murmured, kissing her neck. “I’m going to breed you. That beautiful streak of willpower will make our offspring the most formidable chosen alive. My chosen. And you’ll be the one to have the honor of creating them.”

Dread, fear, and horror gripped her heart, even as her hips twisted on the toy, milking every drop from him. Tav remembered what Raphael had told her about the mothers of cambions; she would not survive the birth of this monster. She had no hope of stopping herself, and the piteous creature here was far beyond redemption. She couldn’t know if she had asked him to reconsider, regretted her decisions leading to this, or sacrificed her morals to beg for her contract. This Tav had long surrendered to her own fate.

“Please,” she mouthed the word silently, unable to speak anymore. Her material body tried to push him back, but she couldn’t control it. Raphael kissed it, his tongue sliding erotically against hers as it responded out of instinct. He was still inside of her, relishing the heat of her body around his ebbing erection; she still moaned and ground against him, enjoying herself without the influence of her mind. Tav tried again, her voice hardly a squeak. “Raphael!

“You want me to let you out?” he asked, holding her body close as he thrust into her. It sighed in delight, a senseless doll that refused to obey her anymore. “Clean it off.”

She quavered, her body demanding for her to continue her own torment. Beyond simple need, she knew that she’d be in excruciating pain the moment that it was removed from her. But she tried anyway, her teeth cracking together as she forced her hands to still, every muscle shaking as inch by inch she withdrew the toy from herself. Like a beast of its own mind, her sex erupted in torturous fire, desire blown beyond imaginable proportions. Her lips parted in a silent cry, fresh tears streaming as she forced this pathetic, worthless form to obey her. Every centimeter was won with a sheer force of will.

Finally, she held it in fiercely shaking hands, wanting nothing more than to plunge it back inside of her, satisfy the urge that had grown into hideous need. But she swallowed her agony and pride, determined to be free of this awful trap, and opened her mouth. Sliding the dripping toy over her tongue, she shuddered at the raw, musky taste of desire.

With a crack, the vision was gone. But she hadn’t returned to Raphael in his office; she was standing in a room of gold and marble, with ebony wood floors. Tapestries hung from the walls, depicting various scenes of divine images. The vaulted ceiling towered above, and the rich decor was finer than any palace. Tav looked around, wondering where he’d taken her. Raphael was nowhere to be seen, nor felt. She felt no connection to her material form, but was sure that he wouldn’t have displaced her. It was quiet here, save the soft singing of a nearby fountain. By the tremendous double doors, six guardsmen stood in shining silver armor.

Black crests embellished their armaments, and she flinched as she recognized them. It was Raphael’s sigil, black on a backdrop of scarlet and gold.

She walked to the windows, her stomach sinking as he showed her the alternative. She stared out to see an army of branded souls, each bearing the symbol of the devil on their chest with pride. Looking down, she saw herself adorned in pristine angelic armament, a smaller crest burned over her heart into the steel.

Past the soldiers stretched a city of clean, white stone, day breaking over the populace. Tav stared out for a long time, until she was interrupted by a touch to her hand. Turning, she saw Raphael in his human form, dressed in dark, comfortable clothes. He kissed her lightly, his fingers grazing her cheek, his eyes lit with the glow she’d seen before. A new enchantment engulfed her soul, this one unfamiliar to Tav, neither oath nor curse. It was Raphael’s soul brand, wrapping her in its protective embrace.

“Come back to bed, my love,” he whispered in her ear, brushing her hair back from her face. She leaned into his touch, warmth and security igniting in her. He was hers. He would be hers until the end of time. Tav took his hand, and followed him from the imposing room. They passed by a throne as they walked together.

She woke with a gasp.

“Welcome back,” purred Raphael, his hand caressing her face and hair. He held her close, his warm body still flush with hers. Tav’s hands braced against his chest, torn between relief at her return and the urge to shove him off of her. He kissed her so gently. “Did you have a good time? Do you want to see more?”

“That’s all, then?” she asked, her eyes closing as she fought to dispel his grip on her mind. Sensing her fragility, he withdrew. “Everything, or nothing?”

“A bit worse than nothing, one would think,” he said stiffly. “But I suppose. No great reward comes without cost. Octavia, I want to shape your world with you. Why won’t you take my power?” His voice was soft, the tone unusual to his typical formality. He sounded more human than she’d ever heard him before.

“You set this trap for me, and then expect my trust?” she laughed quietly. “I don’t trust you. I don’t trust myself, either. My mind, my feelings, are my enemies now. Even my thoughts aren’t my own.” She pulled away from him, standing shivering and naked in the warm office. “You succeeded. I’m only an extension of you, now. Even my own friends want me to sign…you won. I have to tell you that you won.”

She slowly lifted her tunic from the floor, dragged it over her head as grief tore through her. She fastened her belt, trying to gather herself before turning to face him again. Raphael didn’t respond, watching her dress herself silently. Her breeches lay in shreds on the floor by the desk.

Octavia turned to look at him. She drank in his handsome, rugged features, his eyes that she’d found herself falling into. His incredible intelligence that had conquered her heart, shaped her mind. She could burn the world in his image; she was the only one who could do it.

“I don’t trust you. But I love you, I think.”

Shock flew through Raphael’s eyes, shattering his performance of sincerity. In his moment of confusion, Tav did the only thing that she could think of to escape her two fates.

She yanked the dagger from her belt and plunged it up into her throat.

Or, she tried. The very tip punctured delicate skin, a stream of blood running down her neck as her arms shook with the effort of trying to force it through. She cried out, her teeth clenched together, knuckles white on the handle of the curved dagger. Raphael stood frozen, one arm thrust towards her as he crushed her strength with a lightning-fast hold spell. His eyes were wide and terrified, the first time she’d ever seen fear in them.

Tav screamed, her voice rising in rage, a crescendo of her pain and frustration. She fought violently for control of her mind and body, only needing another inch to end her captivity. One inch, and my soul is released. An inch and this ends.

“Please let me go,” she pleaded, her voice breaking as tears slowly filled her eyes. Her arms shook behind the dagger, only needing a moment of his concentration to break for her to succeed. “Please, Raphael. Have mercy.”

He panted breathlessly, his hand curling into a fist as he suspended her in the moment before she could take her own life. He trembled too, though she wasn’t certain why; she’d seen him hold three of them in this spell easily. Every second, she fought his control. A strand of his hair had fallen across his eyes.

Let me go,” she howled then, her spirit finally beginning to break. “Raphael, I am begging you, I can’t go on like this. Please!” Her jaw tightened and she pushed with all of her strength, praying to Tyr for the power to break his hold. Her vision blurred, her breath came in gasps, and with every ounce she fought his mind with her own. All she needed to do was gain an inch, and it would finally be over. Tav fell to her knees on the floor, all of her strength aimed at driving the dagger.

Through the blur of her tears and strain, she saw a thin streak of reddish black drip from the inner corner of Raphael’s eye. He gasped, one hand rising to touch the liquid while the other maintained domination on her body. Drawing back, his gaze lowered to his stained fingers. He stared in wonder, and then horror.

Looking back at her, she saw the pieces of a hidden puzzle fall into place behind the dark eyes. His holding spell shifted around her, and she felt the command before she could hear it.

Sleep.
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Darkness enveloped her kindly. Tav shifted, weighted by an exhaustion that felt eternal; she never wanted to wake from this darkness. It blanketed her, soothed her suffering with the kind of numb forgetfulness that almost made her understand why Shadowheart had so loved the Lady Shar. Dreamless, thoughtless, it was a mercy to forget. Mercy…

She wanted to sleep forever. Sleep. Why does that sound strange to me? She didn’t care. Tav was warm, she was safe, and she had never wanted for anything else. Even her home smelled-

Tav shot upright, blood rushing to her head as the world around her spun. Home. It had been so long that she’d forgotten the scent of fresh cedar, beeswax candles, her incense sconces. She blinked in near total darkness, the cool night air familiar on her skin. People chattered outside, the streets of Baldur’s Gate nearly as busy through the night as they were in the day; having lived in the city for years, Tav had become accustomed to the sound of talk and laughter. Hells, Raphael’s house had been more of a shock to her senses.

Raphael’s house. The House of Hope. Tav’s mind reeled, her hand bracing her even where she sat upright in her bed. Had it all been a dream? No, impossible. Her memories flooded her, one image after another flashing through her. The party, the curse, her captivity and escape. The Wandering Citadel. The recapture, and the contract…the contract! What happened to the contract? They had been looking at the contract, her friends had been looking at the contract. Where are my friends? Are they still here? Or, there? She would have thought it a nightmare, but instead of slipping through the cracks of her mind, her memories of Cania only grew stronger. No, she’d been trapped in the hells for weeks.

Tav tried to take deep breaths as she collected herself. Could this be another trick? She remembered trying to kill herself in Raphael’s office, after the futures he had shown her. Was this some illusion, like the others? Was she captive and mindless somewhere, this vision keeping her from seeing herself break? How could she know?

“Raphael?” she called softly into the dark. She was half afraid that he would answer her, unveil yet another sinister plan that he had concocted to manipulate her into his agency. The silence almost felt worse, somehow. “Raphael?

Nothing. The world was quiet and still. She looked around, waited for the telltale sound of displacement, the acrid smell of sulfur that accompanied the arrival of a planeswalker. She was met with only the silence of her home, the murmur of pedestrians outside her window. Tav stood on shaking legs, feeling the grainy wood beneath her feet, touching the familiar doors of her wardrobe, opening it to run her hands through the array of clothes hanging there. It was so familiar, so mundane, that she felt as though she’d lost her mind. Too real to be a dream, too surreal to be reality. Without sense or explanation, she’d found herself in her home. Raphael has shown me my home before. He certainly held the power to trick her with her own memories. But even then, he had allowed her to watch him perform the illusion.

Creeping down the stairs, walking through darkness to her kitchen, she touched countertops and felt dust. She opened her cold box, saw ice settled over her stored food. She hadn’t dreamed of her disappearance; Tav had not lived here in some time. Every minute detail reflected an abandoned house, down to the single dirty cup sitting in her sink. As little as she could believe it, she was finally starting to think that she really might be standing in her own house.

Why am I here now?

Tav opened her front door, hesitant, waiting for the illusion to fall away. People walked by arm in arm, children ran home to their parents, stray cats sniffed along the alleyways. Notices and letters were nailed to her door, paper reminders from bill collectors, worried notes from friends or coworkers. Every detail was exact, down to the smell of dust and rain. Tav watched life pass all around her for a long time, before she slowly closed the door again, her mind several existences away.

She sank to the dusty floor, wrapped her arms around her knees as she waited. She had no idea of the time, nor the date, or even whether any of this was real. She dozed off once or twice, too disturbed to truly sleep. It must not be real…where are my friends? She waited for Raphael to appear and tell her that it was a vision. Or for the gods to tell her that she was dead. Or anything, really. But the only thing that arrived, slowly and with discomforting predictability, was the first crack of dawn, seeping through her kitchen window. The dog that the family next door kept began to bark, as he always had.

I’m back in Baldur’s Gate. And Raphael was gone.

Chapter 14: Echo of the Divine

Notes:

I'm so sorry it's late, I have a lot of work/homework coming up so the next chapter may also take a bit of time. I mentioned a playlist to one commentor, here's a couple of songs I listened to for inspiration for some scenes:

Sinner&Saint by Tommee Profitt (good fit for either Tav or Raphael, tbh)
V.A.N. by Bad Omens/Poppy (Tav and Raphael relationship vibes)
Insanely Illegal Cage Fight by Dal Av (for the fight against Zariel lol)
Derniere Danse - Techno Mix by Indila/BENNETT (LOL)

Anyways, as always thanks for the reviews and I'm so happy that you're enjoying my fic this far!!
Additional side note, my next fic might actually end up being Raphael/Astarion, it'll be darker but I am drafting the plot already so I guess the ADHD gods decided I'm not free from this fandom yet hahaha

SONG REC FOR THIS CHAPTER: WHICH WITCH BY FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE (at the end)
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Chapter Text

What is one expected to do when their world is jolted out from beneath them? And then what does one do the second time?

Tav wasn’t sure where to start. So she boiled a pot of water, and made herself tea with the dry leaves she had stored in a small wooden box on her kitchen counter. She’d always liked to start her mornings with tea, especially on her days off. Though she felt like it had only been a few hours since she’d eaten, she could have a mug of hot tea.

Sitting at her kitchen table, watching the morning turn bright, she ran down the list of possibilities in her head, wondering which of them her friends had been lost to. If she was trapped in a vision, then she needed to figure out how to wake up, or shake free of it. The last she’d seen, they had been arguing over the contract; without her, Raphael could say or do anything to them. Her stomach sank as she realized that it was entirely possible for him to offer them each their own contracts, in the hopes that she would join them.

If this wasn’t a dream, would her friends have been sent back too? Where would Raphael even send them? Would they be in Baldur’s Gate, too? Were they dead in the hells? Were they prisoners? She’d have to figure out how to break into Cania again by herself.

“Raphael?” she whispered his name again, feeling for his presence in the silence. Sometimes he’d been a ghost in her mind, entirely undetectable. Sometimes he had let himself be known. Either this was one of the former, or he had truly released her. “Can you tell me why I’m here? Am I here?”

Nothing. Tav tried to ignore the stab of pain in her chest, knowing that if he’d given up and released her, then she had technically won. Still…he could have told me what happened.

Tav quietly drank her tea, trying to decide if it was worth her time to figure out where her life had left off. Counsellor Florrick, at the very least, must be frantic. If it was a dream, was it too mundane to send a letter? It couldn’t hurt. She drew a pencil and bit of paper from her cabinet, tapping the charcoal tip as she wondered how to explain where she had been for the last several weeks.

The paper remained blank, her mind drawn irresistibly towards memories of her time in captivity.

Tav put the paper away, deciding that it might be better to explain herself in person. Then again, checking on her friends first seemed more appropriate; at the very least, Shadowheart didn’t live too far. Tav wasn’t sure if Raphael would have released them too, but she had to at least check. It was the only starting point that she could think of.

When she reached her front door, a knock interrupted her before she could turn the knob.

She opened the door to see Shadowheart, Gale, and…what appeared to be Astarion, standing there. The figure was wrapped in layers of cloth and shrouds, protecting him from the light of the sun.

They stood in silence for several long seconds, staring at each other in shock. Tav took in their battered, burned, and dirty clothes, the dark circles under their eyes, the scrapes and bruises all over their exposed skin. Blood dripped slowly from open wounds, and they all seemed to wobble on their feet.

“Holy hells, get in here!” yelped Tav, finally jerking free of her surprise. She ushered them into her house, their boots trailing dry leaves and dirt on her wood floor. She closed the door behind them, rushing to pour three additional cups of tea. “What is going on!? Where are Wyll and Karlach? What happened to you?” Astarion waited for her to close the blinds before stripping off his layers.

“Do you have anything stronger than tea?” asked Shadowheart wearily, pushing back sweaty bangs with one hand. She slumped back in her chair, sighing in relief as she relaxed. Tav set the kettle on the table anyways, before turning to find a bottle of wine that she distantly remembered buying.

“Sorry for all the…um,” Tav started, gesturing to the cold, unlived kitchen. They stared at her in silence, and she quickly filled several goblets of sweet red wine. Gale has never even been to my house. She sat down, passing the drinks out before folding her hands on the table. “So, what happened? I might be crazy, but are we actually in Baldur’s Gate?”

“Well, apparently some of us had the luxury of Raphael knowing where they live,” snapped Astarion, plucking a twig from his curls. “How wonderful it must feel to be so very special. We all got dropped in the middle of a forest, so since we had to bushwhack our way here, I’d say we’re certainly in Baldur’s Gate.”

“Dropped in a forest eventually,” Shadowheart corrected, glaring at Gale. “After you disappeared, Raphael came back and told us that the deal was off. Gale here asked what happened to you, and refused to believe that the devil had sent you home. So, we got into a fight. With an Archdevil. In his house. It didn’t go well, in case you felt it necessary to ask.”

The extensive burning on their clothes was more than enough to corroborate their story. Gale rolled his eyes, not looking remotely apologetic for dragging their team into a fight.

“Point one, it was exceedingly suspicious that he wouldn’t explain why the deal was being withdrawn,” Gale said sharply. “Point two, he’s kept Tav captive for weeks and then just…says she’s gone? Point three, he’s the devil!” The atmosphere here was considerably more tense than at the House of Hope, even with Tav’s betrayal. And they still hadn’t acknowledged the disappearance of Wyll, either.

“Can we back up? What in the godsdamned nine hells happened down there?” Astarion cut across the bickering, his flaming eyes turning on Tav. “We had him! We were so close to being the most powerful people in the world! And here I am, hiding from the sun again just like…like before.”

His voice died, eyes forlorn as he struggled to process outrage and grief. Astarion, more than the others, was dealing with the crippling loss of his flighty hope.

“I don’t know,” said Tav honestly. “He was trying to get me to sign, I kept refusing. He…he sent me back. I don’t know why, and he won’t answer me.” Tav hesitated before deciding not to tell them how close she had come to taking her own life. With everything going on, it seemed to not be the best time to disassemble that experience with the whole group.

“What do you mean he won’t answer? Have you been praying to him?” Gale rubbed a hand across his eyes. “Octavia, far be it from me to be judgmental, but we just got you out of the hells.”

“We? Seems to me that she got herself out of the hells. We almost got our bloody souls reaped, thanks to a certain thinks-he’s-so-smart wizard that I know.” Astarion’s eyes were closed, his features drawn, brows furrowed in anger. “You know, if you’d all let me make the decisions, I guarantee we’d be better positioned in the world. As it stands I don’t see why I’m still friends with any of you.”

“Alright, let’s relax,” said Tav nervously. A great rift was forming, tearing viciously through their team. “Where are Wyll and Karlach?”

“Don’t know,” Shadowheart sighed. “We know what we think we saw. We think Karlach was probably dropped near where we were, but even if that’s true, she was gone by the time we got there. Wyll left to find her, and we split off to find you.”

“Is Raphael…” Tav started, before hesitating. Shadowheart groaned, and Gale looked increasingly concerned. “I mean, is that why he’s quiet? Did you kill him?”

“Oh darling, that’s a bit embarrassing,” laughed Astarion, leveling her. “No, your torturer is fine. We only landed a few hits on him before he got fed up and displaced us into the middle of the forest; after, of course, he dropped a f*cking hellfire meteor on some unfortunate individuals.” He glowered at Gale again, before turning back to Tav. “If he’s not answering your calls, it’s definitely because he’s ignoring you.”

Ouch. Tav grimaced, swirling her tea and trying to bring herself back into the present.

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing that we all made it, anyway,” she tried to press forward. They were truly in Baldur’s Gate. “We should probably go find Wyll and Karlach.”

“We need to regroup, and make a new plan,” said Gale firmly. His eyes were exhausted and fierce. “We lost the battle, but we have to win the war; might I remind you that Raphael still holds the crown of Karsus, and eventually somebody is going to have to deal with him!”

“Absolutely not. Nope. I got what I went for, I’m not going back for round three with the devil,” snapped Astarion. “If you want to die in the eighth layer of the hells, be my guest; I’ve seen Cania, my bucket list is complete, I will not be partaking, thank you.” He gulped down the rest of his wine. “Octavia, do you have a guest room that I can sleep this bloody daylight off in? I feel like it’s quite literally the least you can do after fumbling the single greatest contract that’s ever been written in all of recorded history.”

He was angry and tired, but Tav knew that he’d recover quickly. After some time in Faerún, Astarion would remember the trials that had brought them together, the changes that defined him when he rejected power for freedom. Or he’ll hate you forever.

“Alright, I think you should all get some rest,” she said slowly, holding up her hands. Gale and Astarion seemed nearly ready to leap at each other across the table. Shadowheart was already starting to fall asleep, still sitting upright. “Shadowheart, you can take my room. Astarion, there’s a guest room upstairs and to the left. Gale, if you don’t mind taking the couch for now, I can run out for some food. And to let the counsellor know that we’re back. And put out word for the Watch to look for Wyll and Karlach.” She didn’t know what else could be done, but she was the most rested of the group by far. All three of them looked exhausted and livid, the cracks in their alliance seeming to puncture even years of teamwork.

“Fine by me,” said Astarion, standing up. “I could use a break from being tricked into the hells.” He stalked up the stairs before any of them could respond.

Shadowheart stood next, shaking her head.

“Thanks, Tav,” she said simply. “I could use a rest. Thank you for handling things.” She smiled and followed the vampire, leaving Octavia with Gale.

“Why didn’t you come back?” he asked in a broken whisper. Tav flinched. “You left us there.”

“I didn’t,” she replied, guilt burning in her chest. “I tried, Gale. I knew what he was going to make us do. I figured that he needed me to do it…so I…I tried to take that from him.” Her words faded until they were nearly inaudible. Gale froze.

“Pardon me, what do you mean by that?” Gale looked and sounded as though he’d been shocked back into reality. Tav frowned, the memory of her last moments with Raphael weighing heavy. She hadn’t wanted to share with the entire group, but of all of them, Gale would understand the concept of self sacrifice for a greater good.

“Raphael needed me,” she repeated. “So I pulled a dagger on myself. He stopped me, but never told me why. And then I woke up in my bed.” That was all that she knew. Gale’s mouth dropped open, his mind running at a full sprint even without the energy to cast spells.

“That’s highly interesting,” he said slowly. His eyes had that specific intensity that they only found when he was chasing a thought. But he shook it off with a start. “I mean, alarming. I understand the train of thought, but by Mystra, that’s dark. How are you feeling now?”

“I don’t know,” said Tav truthfully. “Glad to still be alive, I guess. Confused. Numb. Maybe…maybe sad. Why am I sad? I’ve been trying to escape for so long.” She buried her face in her hands, loathe to face the possibility that she missed him.

“Well, you know, human emotion is a brilliant and beautiful complexity of the mind,” said Gale after a brief hesitation. “Not everything makes sense. I’m sure that, despite your trials, there were moments of…incomprehensibility…that obscured Raphael’s true nature, and appealed to your sentimental side. You know how manipulative he could be.”

Tav knew very well. Still, she felt strangely sure that it wasn’t his manipulation that had fostered their bond.

She stood and shook her head slightly, trying to clear it of thought.

“I’m going to see Counsellor Florrick. I’ll pick something up for dinner; please try to rest.”
_________________________________________

Florrick hugged Tav tightly, her relieved gasps echoing slightly off of the walls of the castle. Tav hesitantly returned the hug, touched by the older woman’s concern. She hadn’t expected such a warm welcome, seeing as she’d abandoned her position on the Watch without warning. After a long embrace, she carefully set her small crate of food to the floor.

She’d done their shopping first, feeling more grounded with every second of the mundane. Filling her wooden crate with milk, cheese, fresh meat, and local vegetables had felt undeniably mortal. Tav had loved to visit the markets before her time in the hells, greeting farmers that she knew from outside the walls of the city, picking through seasonal fruits that reminded her of her home in Bowshot. Although she had always liked and respected Florrick, she also felt deep trepidation at the inevitable questioning. Tav knew that she had nothing to hide, but the inevitable pity inspired a sense of dread in her.

Nonetheless, it was her duty to report their collective disappearance. And Florrick could certainly be helpful in finding Wyll and Karlach. Besides which, Tav had felt overwhelming guilt at the worry she’d put the poor Counsellor through. And after everything she had done to support and vouch for Tav’s work, too.

“I’m so glad to see you safe,” said Counsellor Florrick breathlessly, hands clasped together. “We were so worried, Octavia, when you disappeared. We sent people to your house, launched an investigation, we even, ha-ha, we commissioned a warlock to send an inquiry with her patron in -can you believe this- Baator, on your whereabouts, just in case you-”

Her words cut off at the expression on Tav’s face, fully draining of blood as she registered the paladin’s grim acknowledgement. She stepped back, nearly losing her balance before lowering herself into one of the council chairs.

“Great goddesses, the Hells? Are you serious? How in the world did you get tangled up with a devil?”

Tav knew that Florrick didn’t intend the double meaning of the phrase, but it made her blush nonetheless. She bowed her head slightly, hoping that her flicker of embarrassment would be interpreted as abashedness.

“The crown,” she said softly. “The contract from before, it was the same devil. We…sorted it out, I believe. I’m not entirely sure, but I hope. Wyll, the Duke’s son, is also here but he may be lost searching for one of our friends; can you send word to the Watch? We believe them to be safe, but have to let them know that everybody is at my house. Can you do that for me? I swear to you, I’ll repay you for this.”

Tav bowed deeply, very aware that her first act on returning from weeks of total disappearance was to ask for help. Florrick’s hand on her shoulder was warm and tight.

“Sweetheart, take as much time as you need to find your friends. We’ll do everything in our power to help, we owe that much to the savior of Baldur’s Gate…and my captain of the Watch.” Florrick smiled reassuringly, and Tav wanted to fall into her arms. But she held herself together, knowing that right now they needed her strength. “Is everybody alright? What happened?”

“We’re all alive, if that’s what you mean. No permanent damage. But a lot happened, and I think it may be a while before we’re ready to do any kind of debrief. Shadowheart, Astarion, and Gale are at my house, but we don’t know where Karlach and Wyll are. I’m worried for them.” Tav spoke honestly, knowing that Duke Ravenguard would want to know that his son was missing. Hells, Wyll may even be heading for his house, if he’s looking for Karlach. She wasn’t sure where they might try to find each other, only that they would both be looking.

“Of course. I’ll send couriers to his house, and we’ll send a notice around with the city Watch right away. If you need anything else from us, please let me know.”

“Thank you. This means everything to me. I’ll speak more of this soon, I promise, but finding Wyll and Karlach must be first.” They hugged again, briefly, before Tav turned to go.

It was only after she left the castle that she realized Florrick must have noticed her broken oath, and chosen not to remark on it. With a greater sense of shame, she accepted that the feeling would probably be a recurring one for the rest of her life.
_________________________________________

They sat around her hearth, sipping wine as Gale finished turning the last slice of roasting pork in the fire. Fresh bread, roasted meat, and vegetables fried in fragrant oil were a welcome supper for, well, most of them.

“No killing anybody,” called Shadowheart as Astarion stalked from the house, only seconds after the sun had set. She sighed, shaking her head as the door closed behind him without a response, and took another deep drink. “He’s slipping away.”

Tav knew that her friend didn’t mean physically. Her heart sank. Astarion had come very far since his centuries as a slave, and without Cazador, had transitioned well into his own small, reclusive estate. He’d enjoyed his life in Baldur’s Gate, or so she had hoped; he seemed to be cheerful nearly every time she’d seen him since. Returning to hunting animals to avoid suspicion, he’d managed to make a stable life for himself. Tav hadn’t realized how much he’d yearned for more, not until she saw his face at Raphael’s offer.

How could I never notice? Tav’s eyes closed in shame, understanding that she hadn’t been the friend he needed. None of them had.

“Do you think he’ll go back to him?” asked Tav slowly. “To Raphael?” Shadowheart shrugged.

“He might, but a vampire spawn doesn’t have much to offer a devil by themselves,” said Gale from the fire, rising with several plates of meat. “His soul isn’t exactly of the finest vintage. He might try to offer something like Cazador’s sacrifices for ritual ascension, but Raphael knows we certainly wouldn’t let him accomplish that. The most we should worry about is if he’s captured…but Raphael had us already, and let us go, so who can say what would happen. Were I a gambling man, I’d put my money on Astarion getting a one way ticket back into the woods.”

Tav felt somewhat better at the thought that Raphael might not take Astarion back. That their ordeal was finally over, contracts abandoned. She bit into her food, as appreciative as ever for Gale’s skill in the kitchen. It was delicious, perfectly seasoned and marinated in red wine. Still, it fell in her stomach like rocks, weighted under her lonely confusion.

‘Raphael?’ Only silence.

She met Gale’s eyes, feeling guilt wash through her as he gave her an admonishing look. He didn’t call attention to it, but she knew he was worried. She was worried too.

“So, the Crown of Karsus,” said Gale firmly, leaning back against the couch. “We don’t know where it’s kept, we can’t reach it ourselves, and it’s going to lead to the ruin of the mortal plane. But, we also know that the hells are run on politics, Raphael has quite a few enemies that would benefit from his downfall, and Mizora, Zariel, and Haarlep are our most likely allies…despite not ending on the best of terms with the Lord of the First. He also, rather stupidly I might add, used the exact same item as a conduit for power. Oh, and best of all, he has no captives; believe it or not, I would actually say we’re in far better standing than the first time around!” Shadowheart groaned.

“Really? Must we do this again?” she sighed, burying her face in her hands. “You forgot to include that Astarion is out, we no longer have any infernal fur, and no map of Cania exists on the mortal plane. Oh, also he just beat the daylights out of us, and I don’t really want to go back either, to be perfectly frank.”

“The world depends on us!” Gale said angrily, tossing his fork back onto the plate. “Worlds, even! A devil cannot have that kind of power, I have said this time and time again! It was a mistake for us to ever give it to him in the first place!” His eyes were on Shadowheart, but his words lanced Tav’s chest painfully.

“You don’t care about the world or Raphael, you just want that power for yourself,” said Shadowheart, incensed by Gale’s outburst. She put down her plate too, her arms folding around herself tightly. “We did it for Lae’zel. If she were here-”

She’s not! And she’s never coming back, Shadowheart! Now we must make decisions for us, for our world! Lae’zel only cares for the Astral Plane, she was never going to-”

“I think I’m going to go to bed,” said Tav suddenly, standing. The others were abruptly quiet, realizing that the discussion had escalated into yelling. Something was deeply wrong. This contract, the promise of power and the threat of damnation, seemed to have torn what remained of their friendships to pieces. “You know where everything is, please help yourselves to, um, to anything. Have a good evening.”

She rushed from the living room, feeling the crushing suffocation lift from her as she fled. It was unbearable, the catastrophic fracturing of their bond. She couldn’t bear to witness it anymore, didn’t know what she could have done to save them. You could have accepted the deal. They all wanted you to accept his deal, whether or not they would say it. She shook the thought from herself, firm in her conviction that she had made the right choice. But, truly, it had cost her everything. Raphael gone, her friends torn apart, and her oath only an echo in her soul.

Solitude was the only source of comfort. Tav took several deep breaths, alone in her room, and slowly stripped down into her bedclothes. She flinched as the vision Raphael had once presented to her flashed through her thoughts; him in her room, in her bed with her, making love to her in human form. Making her beg him for relief, kissing her deeply as she cried for him. He was here once before, even if it was only in her mind.

Now she slid beneath the covers alone, and they had never felt so cold. Still, she was exhausted of her day, her spirit weary beneath the weight of collapsing friendships. So despite the heaviness in her house, she fell quickly into sleep.

The sound of rain grew louder, punctuating her sleep with fits of restlessness. Tav turned, her heart jolting at the sound of thunder outside, dominating the usual chatter of carts, vendors, and pedestrians in the city streets. The laughter of children, silenced by the cold hammering of rain.

Her eyes opened, her breath stopping in her throat as they immediately caught the light reflecting from the eyes of an apex predator. These eyes she knew; they glowed just over a foot away, shadows crossing them as rain washed in sheets across glass. They were cool and unblinking, a hunter stalking its prey with the confidence that it could never be outrun.

Tav’s hand slid from her side, wanting to touch him, gliding up his arm in fluttering disbelief. As she always remembered, his skin seemed to burn hers, rippling with the constant and overpowering heat of Baator. Scorching with the fire that lived beneath the skin. Memories of his lips on her neck floated into her mind, and with them his hand closed on her wrist, dragging her across the short distance between them. Sliding down the small of her back, pulling her flush to his body. Tav blinked, and she could see his head crowned by magnificent horns. She blinked again and he was a man.

He stared down at her impassively, almost angrily. Tav longed to accept his rage, take the fire from his heart into her own; she had so much empty space in there, after all. She leaned forward, her forehead resting against his chest, hand sneaking up to tangle into the curls on the back of his neck. The words that had lived in her silent shame, were as clear to him as they had ever been.

Don’t leave me again.

His fingers brushed her chin, lifting her face to his, and Tav moaned to feel herself ignite at his touch. He kissed her gently at first, only the soft feel of his lips against hers, his eyes half lidded and human. When she felt his tongue brush hers, her grip on him tightened, wanting to feel his body burning against, inside of, her own. His arms tightened on her lower back, one hand sliding to her knee to hike her leg up over hip.

They undressed each other hastily, almost clumsy with desire. Every time Tav blinked, she saw flashes of his cambion form, as ominous as it seemed to be fleeting. It wasn’t until she felt him lining up with her entrance, hips flexing to lodge the tip in her, that she spoke.

“This isn’t real,” she whispered. The vision stared at her in silence, still reflecting the silver glow of light from the moon. Raphael wasn’t clumsy. Raphael didn’t need to undress her; he could displace her clothes in a moment. And Raphael, above all, relished and desired her suffering.

Still, she whimpered when he thrust into her. She grasped the pleasure tightly with her mind, knowing that it was only a dream before she could even think to wake up. He kissed her throat with slow, lascivious passion, one hand in her hair to keep her still, the other at the small of her back, pressing down as he pushed up into her. Tav couldn’t keep her composure; if this was a dream, then it was a hell of a detailed one. She twisted her hips down at every thrust, luxuriating in raw, full feeling of him.

They spent the night like that, pairing at an achingly slow pace, until the first light of the sun broke the horizon and-

Tav’s eyes opened. She inhaled suddenly, her legs twisted, hands gripping her sheets tightly. A light sheen of sweat had broken over her skin, and she felt breathless. Restless. As the memory of her heartbreak seeped back into her consciousness, she felt her throat grow tight with sorrow and frustration.

Frustration of more than one kind.

_________________________________________

She hadn’t been to the Stormshore Tabernacle in some time.

Tav used to come here, when she had been a paladin of Tyr. Prayer had always inspired her, made her feel connected to her deity, settled any conflict in her heart. She was a faithful paladin of devotion before, among the highest ranked in Baldur’s Gate by the time they exiled the mind flayers. Her faith had been her pride and joy, inspired only confidence that she was on the path of righteous holiness.

And now she walked into the place of worship as an outcast. Few paid attention to her arrival, but Tav couldn’t even look at the mighty, towering image of her god. She knew that she had no place at his feet anymore; she had betrayed him at her darkest hour. And neither was she willing to amend, because he had betrayed her too. So she turned to an unfamiliar altar, one that she’d viewed with mingled respect and foreboding before. Tav had learned that all deities had their place in the world, even those of darkness and evil. She knew that good and evil existed in eternal balance, and despite their conflict, it was necessary for life to find a place between them. Still, the worshippers of dark gods left much to be wondered and feared. And here she was, the traitor of Tyr, seeking the guidance of one dark not-quite-deity in particular.

Tav knelt at the altar of the gods, staring listlessly into the iron bowl at its feet. She felt the eyes of Tyr’s statue burning into the back of her head, watching her pray to a creature of darkness and evil. A devil.

“I’ve been here so many times, but never for you,” she whispered, acutely aware of the people around her. Others made offerings to their deities, some casting strange looks to the woman who spoke softly to her patron with nothing in her hands. “I know you hear me, Raphael. I would thank you for my freedom, if I could be sure that you granted it. I…have been dreaming of you. I don’t know if you’re sending them to me, but they are difficult to bear. If you’ve sent them, please grant me respite. If not, well, I suppose this is a little embarrassing.” She laughed softly, feeling awkward. Tav didn’t know why she was praying to him; if she were smarter, she’d count her blessings and never look back. If she were stronger, she’d tell him that she never wanted to see him again. But something in her chest remained sharp and lodged, a heartbreak that she had no power over.

Raphael did not respond. The ache deepened, and Tav remained still and silent for a long time, trying to find the peace that the Stormshore Tabernacle had once inspired in her.

Tyr inspired that peace. She glanced over her shoulder, taking in the towering, imposing statue of Tyr. Paladins of all backgrounds were gathered near it now, offering prayers during the break of their workday. One of them glanced towards her, his eyes lingering on her armor. Tav was dressed in the armor of a city Watch paladin, but she bore none of the colors that would have signified her brand of oath. That omittance alone identified her to be an oathbreaker, and as the young paladin realized that, the color drained from his face. His face rose to the statue of gods, as he visibly wondered to which entity she must pray now.

Tav tried to ignore him, turning back to her silent statue. Her head bowed, and she drew a knife from her belt. Holding her hand above the iron bowl, she made a small cut, squeezing three drops of blood before wrapping it in a bit of cloth. The paladins who noticed her small motion whispered among themselves before scurrying from the tabernacle, leaving her mostly alone.

“A gift, for the gift that you gave to me,” she murmured, her eyes closing as she tried to accept that he might be truly gone. “Thank you for not taking the world from us.”

She knelt at the altar for a long time, ignoring others who came to make offerings around her. In silence, she waited. Tav knew that she should be grateful, even without knowing why Raphael had shown mercy. She was grateful. But still, her mortal weakness cried out at the indifference, wounded by the knowledge that he chose not to listen. She’d spent so long in his thrall that it seemed strange to be alone in her head.

There was nothing left to say, if he did not want to be heard. Tav tried to silence her mind, but her heart mourned plaintively. Embarrassingly. She was deeply ashamed of how much she longed to hear him again. I was a paladin of Tyr, and I cast aside my oath away to protect the devil that discarded me in turn. She tried to calm her mind again, summon the tranquility that prayer had always offered. Raphael was not tranquility; he was chaos, destruction, seduction, and power. He was all that she could think and dream of, and she loathed herself the most out of all for that.

Tav waited for her soul to quiet. She raged, grieved, and fumed in waves, seeking the moments of peace between storms of emotion. It was a long time before she found silence, and by the time her heart was calm, it was dark outside.
_________________________________________

They all left her house, eventually. Astarion didn’t reappear after the next several nights of hunting, and no word was received of either Wyll or Karlach. So, Gale elected to look for them, being the most traversable of the party, and with tempers fraying all around. After they had gone, Shadowheart had excused herself to tend to her own matters. She’d been missing from the Selunite temple, and needed to fold back into her own life as the others had begun to do.

Days passed without incident, notice, or any indication that something horrible was going to happen. Then a tenday. Slowly, slowly, the small demands of life began to surface above the immediate crisis; a notice on her door warned of an imminent seizure, and Tav laughed hysterically as she remembered outstanding bills to be paid. For the first time in what now must be months, she wondered how much money she’d stored at the bank. By all accounts, what had seemed impossible appeared to be true; they were home, and Raphael was no longer haunting them.

This wasn’t like before, chasing leads for a cure of their tadpoles, or solving murders around the city. Every possible lead was shut down, every warlock commissioned having only a shrug of confused silence to offer. Neither man nor devil would speak to her of what happened to Raphael. Mizora was a potential ally, but even she was impossible to reach without Wyll. No, their leads to an answer each fizzled to nothingness, and even Helisk had nothing to say. Despite her connections to the hells, she’d heard next to nothing about Raphael’s mortal pets…only that there was an upheaval still ongoing in Baator. Zariel had somehow retained her seat as the Archduch*ess of Avernus, and legions were gathering in Cania…but that was all the information that she could offer.

Tav shouldn't need to seek answers. She excused herself with the idea that it was only in pursuit of assurance, her need to know that Raphael was not preparing an invasion of her world, but she knew why she sought explanation. You told him that you loved him, and he exiled you from his plane of existence. This conquest she pursued alone; her friends were gone, occupied in reclaiming the shards of their own lives.

Tav could never be sure, but she suspected that none of the others would venture back to Baator to challenge Raphael anytime soon. Astarion and Shadowheart had certainly not been convinced, each for their own reasons, and Gale wouldn’t risk it without at least finding a team to support. That was at least partly why she suspected he was looking for Wyll and Karlach; despite their near miss with death, neither of them would be comfortable with the ongoing political shift in the hells.

But without a thief, she wasn’t sure how far Gale would get in his search. Tav sorely wished, and not for the first time, that Gale would give up his dreams for power. It had been easy to forget his ambition in their years apart, simpler to reminisce on their heroism. She’d forgotten how drawn he had become to the allure of divinity, all the way up until the moment that he had slipped Raphael’s ring onto his finger.

So as their team fell apart, Tav let them go. Astarion, she hoped to find again soon; she owed him her support, and a cure for his condition. He withdrew out of his own anger and grief, but she knew that he would come to understand the cost of freedom. Shadowheart, she trusted would remain close. Every day she checked with the city Watch for word of Wyll and Karlach, worried the most about their whereabouts…but as Gale drifted from her scope, she accepted his distance with a heavy conscience. Gale had endured the most to save her, and had walked away empty handed. They all walked away empty handed.

Eventually, the call of the mundane became too loud to ignore.

She tried to return to her work, on top of the ongoing search for her lost friends. Tav met up with her headquarters, fell back into the schedule with her specialized teams. She did her best to explain her absence, without really explaining her absence…and with blithe smiles, they accepted her back. She hung in the back of meetings, trying to adjust to the life that had continued to hum along without her.

Counsellor Florrick mostly let her be. Tav caught the older woman eyeing her sometimes, sometimes with curiosity and sometimes with pity. She hated the pity. Tav tried to be patient. She was sure that, in time, their path forward would present itself; it always had. But for now they needed to wait. At the very least, her friends needed time and space to process everything that they’d been through. You need to process everything you’ve been through. She tried to shake the nagging voice from her head. Tav was strong, she was always strong. The others had chosen her for their own leader, sensing the fortress of strength that defined her physical and moral codes.

Direction was difficult to find in the upset. She was technically still employed, but didn’t belong at the castle. Her friends needed her, yet they floated away from her in the ocean of confusion and spite that had followed their return. Tav had a strange and persistent feeling that Karlach and Wyll would have answers, although she suspected that to be merely a splinter of hope in an unexplained void of answers. But it was the only thing she could do, considering the state that Raphael and her friends had left her in.

She searched. And when they didn’t turn up, she spiraled.

With neither friends nor direction, Tav began to withdraw from the life she’d known. She had nobody and nothing left; Astarion was gone, fled into the sewers or forests of Baldur’s Gate. She tried sending him a message, to no reply. Shadowheart would still see her, but the cold distance in the woman’s voice gave Tav chills. Despite their friendship, she too needed space to think about the design of her own future. And Gale…

Gale disappeared. She didn’t know if he’d found the others and joined them, if he’d left in search of Halsin and Jaheira, or if he had merely decided to pursue the crown on his own, but the wizard was gone. Florrick didn’t know where any of them had fled to. They were adults, not children lost to the wild, and as they departed her life Tav was forced to let them go. It was right, wasn’t it? It’s not like they had kept in constant contact before the events in the hells had transpired. And it’s not like she deserved better from them, traitor of a friend that she was. Like waking from a strange and awful nightmare, Tav felt the discomfort and loneliness of normal life wrap around her. She didn’t remember being lonely before.

It was perhaps this loneliness that drove her to visit the temple with more and more frequency. She knelt almost daily at the feet of the faceless altar, long past the hope for a response. No, she prayed to nothing. She asked for peace, for guidance, direction, anything but this spiraling despair. She prayed to any deity that would still listen, though none would answer her.

She prayed to Rapahel sometimes, but that felt more like a soft and sad conversation. She’d tell him about what had happened: the disintegration of her friendships, the meaninglessness of her work, the shame that she felt in her deep well of need. He never responded either, but it gave her some comfort to speak anyways. Some.

Tav didn’t really know why, but one day she walked into the tabernacle and stopped at the altar of Tyr.

Staring up at the foreboding expression carved into his statue, she felt a moment of trepidation and wonder. It was late in the evening, with most people gone from the temple after their post-work visit. After a brief pause, she walked to the great statue, checking behind her to see if any paladins or clerics remained. Only one lone worker stayed, sweeping the floor in straight, neat lines. She hesitated, afraid of the hurt that it would inflict to kneel at the feet of Tyr and feel nothing.

Don’t be a child. You have nothing left to lose, just kneel.

Tav knelt, and with a blast of light the tabernacle disappeared.
_________________________________________

A great storm blew all around her in a ring, rising farther than she could see, obscuring the walls and people and statues that decorated the beautiful temple in Baldur’s Gate. Tav’s arm flew up to protect her face; this was no displacement. She knew the feeling of teleportation.

As she lowered it, a figure manifested before her, the largest man that she had ever seen. He towered above her, seeming to be made up of the clouds themselves, and yet sturdier than mortal flesh. The wind and clouds took form around him, and she began to recognize the details of the feature. Blazing light for eyes, armor shining brighter than the light of sun, and a whipping cape of black storm clouds, she recognized the symbol shaping in his chest. A great paladin with a white beard, flowing hair, and blinding armor formed of the air and clouds.

“My exalted Octavia, divine warrior above all paladins, you have finally come to me,” boomed the tremendous figure, the silver glow in his eyes fading back to reveal dark, empty sockets, Tav stared up in disbelief, overwhelmed initially by the splendor around her. They stood as though in a white sky, a silent storm whirling around them harmlessly, golden rays of sunlight piercing every opening of the sky. She felt oddly as though they were in the center of a halo. It must be a vision, and yet it felt sharper and clearer than anything she had seen in her life. And a feeling enveloped her, taking her longer to identify because this one enveloped her from outside. Radiance, felt for the first time in the very air around her.

Finally realizing that she stood before her god, Tav fell to her knees, her hands hitting the misty ground in fists. Her hair fell forward to hide her face, and she quivered in fear and awe. Holy Tyr, the father of justice, the patron that she had betrayed, had summoned her for judgment. She didn’t dare to glance up, sure already that she had failed. His words processed more slowly. Divine warrior? Her anger processed more slowly still, and at last she pushed herself up from the ground, recalling the days spent in prayer. She may live forever in awe of her god, but she had a grievance to settle with him first.

“You let this happen,” she said, her voice weak initially. Tyr’s empty eye sockets seemed to track her movement, his good hand resting on the hilt of a greatsword twice the length of her body. “You abandoned me there. You let him break me. Humiliate me. How dare you call me exalted; I am the most forgotten of your paladins. I am nothing.” Tav held her composure, but her words were filled with grief and conviction. She readied herself to be struck down for her blasphemy.

To her shock, the great god bowed his head. His right arm, only a stump at the wrist, rested on top of his left.

“Yes, child,” he said softly. “I left you there. And for that, I am sorry; you were part of a far greater plan, and in pursuit of justice, we dealt you the gravest of cards. My influence in Baator is limited, as is dictated in the pact primeval. When Raphael acquired the crown, we foresaw an upheaval of terrible proportion, one that would forever change the course of mortal life. One that would permanently disrupt the balance of good and evil. And one where Raphael ascended to godhood over fiends, our equal in power, greater still in projection. Shackled by an ancient pact, we could do nothing ourselves…nothing but allow one of my own Chosen to venture for us into the depths of the hells.”

“Chosen?” Tav replied, feeling faint. How long had I been a Chosen of Tyr? She’d known her radiant power to rival or best that of any other, but she had never been called on by him before. “Why me?” She knew why. Raphael had called upon her aid once, formed an irrevocable bond that even the devil himself had respected. She remembered the plaque adorning her first contract with him, displayed proudly at the front of his archives; then, she had assumed it to be in jest, salt to rub into the wounds of her captivity. My Most Cherished Client.

“The Archdevil Raphael has long loved you,” said Tyr solemnly. She jerked back at his words, not understanding them. “Love takes many forms, particularly among the divine, and she leaves the worst of them to the wicked. She is sacrifice, mercy, and generosity…and her dark side is obsession, jealousy, and hatred. Like the goddesses Selune and Shar, they are of the same coin.”

Obsession was an understatement. She shook her head, remembering the stack of unopened letters in her house from before, the invitations, her capture, his dauntless need for her undivided attention. Did Raphael know that I was a Chosen of Tyr? His determination for her to break her oath, a pursuit that he was willing to shatter her body and mind to achieve. He knew. Jealousy, hatred even, had spilled from his every action.

“Then why did he send me back?” she asked, finally putting the pieces together as Tyr handed them to her, one by one. The great god laughed then, a chuckle that sounded like thunder and rain.

“Devils like to think themselves above the ‘weakness’ of good. They view it as a fatal flaw to power, which they hold dear above all, and in some ways they are correct. In the Hells, love and kindness are to be exploited, and so they must reject it every turn to protect their power. Raphael believed himself above such a mortal folly; it is, after all, a pastime of many devils to kidnap and corrupt our paladins and clerics. Without a doubt, his intentions began as selfish. He did not realize that love is selfish too. It took your sacrifice for him to finally realize that he was no longer corrupting a paladin of Tyr; he was breaking a treasure that already belonged to him. No, I did not interfere, when you walked willingly into Avernus.” Tyr paused then, and she felt his pain at the admittance. “I knew that he would break you of your oath, but I also knew that you were the greatest challenger for your kind. If any of my paladins were strong enough to withstand the devil, to outlast his temptations until he was forced to see the other half of his coin, it would be you.”

“I wasn’t strong enough,” she whispered, her head bowing. “I fell in love with him.” She silently cursed her human heart, the source that she’d always blamed for her strong, reactionary emotions. Had she been fully elven, she might have sustained the foresight to look beyond her feelings.

“Raphael is half human too, though he does not like to remember that,” Tyr replied. “Archdevil or not, what he altered in his blood cannot be changed in his soul. Cambion are stronger for that, in some ways; their eternal self loathing makes them powerful creatures. But love and hatred are forged together. It is your human natures that call for one another, even now.”

Tav flinched. She knew that Tyr could hear her heart; of course he could. How humiliating, to stand in front of my god and be seen.

“So he sent me back out of…mercy?” she asked, trying to see what the gods could see. She felt abashed for the question, sure that the great god of justice would not indulge the pettiness of mortal curiosity. But he did.

“Nothing so simple. As angels can fall, a devil can rise, at an unthinkable cost to their power: all of it. Raphael saw you then as not only a weakness to be exploited against him, but also a threat to his infernal strength; you witnessed it in that final moment, a strike at the very core of his magic as he was unwillingly faced with the truth of his obsession. The deal ended then; he knew he would have to either kill you or release you to protect his power. And that, my dear, is where we can now be thankful that he did choose both selfishness and mercy. Raphael would not surrender his power, but the thread of humanity in his soul -that he so despises- would not let him kill you either. And here you stand.” Tyr spread his arms, swinging up the sword to gesture around them. Tav looked around silently, her head spinning with the information. Tyr had held a greater plan for the world, and thus allowed her the injustice of her fall.

“And what now?” she asked in a small voice. She should have been relieved to know that Raphael could not kidnap her again at the risk of losing his power, but all she could feel was grief. Will I never see him again? The question was silent, but she knew that the god Tyr read her heart as easily as he read her words. He smiled gently.

“Raphael withdraws his forces into Cania as we speak. He has shelved his great plan to overthrow Asmodeus for the time being, leaving the balance of justice intact as he regroups to better understand and defend his power. He remains Archdevil of Cania, but as his father has done before, has raised its walls for his study and seclusion. You, my dear, are free to live the life that you choose. Should you desire it, I would gladly restore your oath of devotion now. There is none more deserving.” Tyr extended his left hand, bracing the sword with the stump of his right wrist. At first, Tav’s hand lifted, but she hesitated as she weighed his words.

“I…I need time,” she whispered. “I am honored by your offer, for this, but the injustice done to me was profound. I have not forgiven you yet.” Tav bowed deeply, shaking all over as she confessed to her god. Tyr nodded.

“I would not expect so. Your strength has always been your own, Octavia; you have never truly needed an oath. But, if I may make a recommendation,” he continued, his tone lightening considerably. Tav looked up at him. “Raphael will come to you again, and he will offer you another deal, of a singularly unique nature. He will realize soon enough that he has no other choice. When he does, I would advise you to consider it.”

Tyr was advising her to sign a contract with the devil she’d escaped? Tav’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and the great god laughed again.

“I would not offer this lightly. You are loved by an archdevil, my dear. If that secret is revealed, then you are once again a threat to his power. And if you are not going to be under my protection, you may as well be under his.”

“You’re…alright with that? He’s evil.”

“If you accept his contract, you may never return into my service. But there is a touch of the divine in two mirrors of the soul, existing in perfect symmetry to one another. The son of Mephistopheles, a daughter of Tyr, shackled by twin human natures. You each have the power to change the other; if you choose to assume the mantle of safeguarding your strength, I believe that you can survive him, and live a life of good.” Tyr raised his hand, preparing to return her to her world. “You may yet change his nature. But for now, Raphael will not pursue his domination of the hells while you live. And the balance of good and evil remains, in no small tribute to your sacrifice. Thank you, Octavia Sunrise, for proving yourself the worthiest of my Chosen. May that burden now fall from your shoulders with light and grace.”

The great god of Justice bowed to her over his greatsword, and for a moment she thought that she would faint.

“Thank you for your guidance,” she managed to say, her voice weak and broken. Tyr passed his hand over her, and she felt the light of radiance fill her for the last time.

When she opened her eyes, she was still kneeling at the altar of Tyr, and a magnificent greatsword was at her knees. She touched it in disbelief, taking in the sharp, flawless silver. As she touched it, the sword’s name rose in her mind unbidden.

Echo of the Divine. Radiance, gone from her soul forever, was embodied in this final gift from Tyr.

Octavia bowed her head to the altar and cried.

Chapter 15: Heartbeat

Notes:

I sure hope you guys are HUNGRY!!! :)

Lol thank you so much to my reviewers, unreal that I actually finished this chapter this weekend but I really hope you all enjoy it! I'll probably add to this note tomorrow, I'm super tired and behind on homework. But, sadly and also with excitement, coming up on the end of this fic!! I hope you all like this one!
SONG REC FOR THIS CHAPTER: THE FRUITS BY PARIS PALOMA
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Chapter Text

Time in the material plane moves differently to an immortal creature. Months pass like moments, years as days.

Tav knew enough of the immortal to not expect Raphael within the week. She knew that, if Tyr spoke true, he would be shaken by the brush with his lost humanity, drawn by his instinct to protect himself. But the knowledge that he would return provided enough peace for her to focus on straightening the lines of her own world.

She wavered in the decision of telling her friends of her vision of Tyr. They were experiencing their own balancing of their souls, and she didn’t want to intrude before they were ready to talk about what had happened. Besides, this particular choice felt like a very personal one to make.

So, Tav was patient. She stopped visiting the tabernacle, finally sated of her hunger for answers. Wait for Raphael. She cleaned her home, stocked her kitchen, and put on her uniform again. Days turned to weeks, turning into months before she noticed. And the ease instilled in her through Tyr remained.

The white and blue overcloth that had always decorated her armor sat folded on a shelf in her room. It gave her an odd sense of grief and pride to see; Tav had never understood oathbreakers well. She had seen the rare oathbreaker paladin before, those who had not surrendered their craft anyways, and her instinct had erred towards disgust and fear. Now, she finally understood the sacrifice of finding something worth breaking an oath for. Whether Raphael deserved the honor was yet to be known.

Counsellor Florrick never raised the question, nor did she ask Tav to stop working for the Watch. I guess when you save the city, you earn a little elbow room for some mistakes. Regardless, the willingness of her superiors to turn a blind eye didn’t mean that others would. The recruits were terrified of her, despite her friendly smile, and some of her own coworkers avoided her in the barracks office. Tav accepted this, too, with grace.

One eventually spoke up, a druid elf that Tav had often patrolled with before her capture. Her name was Silphi Mune, and one morning at the outdoor arena she brought Tav a mug of hot tea after her great weapon training seminar. Her jaw had that particular set, golden eyes fierce as she gathered the courage to ask. Tav smiled slightly, still warm from training, and co*cked her head to gesture towards the door. They walked from the training room together, Tav setting her sword in her backstrapped sheathe.

“So, I’m not casting judgment, and I still want to be friends, but are you ever going to talk about…” started Silphi, before her voice died off. She blushed brightly, embarrassed despite her determination. They had been almost-friends, assigned only a few weeks before Tav’s disappearance. She had liked the druid a lot, in particular for the bold nature that she showed now. Tav laughed, setting her tea on a high fence post.

“The oath?” she said, her fingers rising unconsciously to touch the bare steel of her breastplate. She sighed. “I guess I have to at some point. All I’ll say for now is that on my tour of the hells I defended someone that Tyr…would have preferred me not to defend.” An oversimplification, to be sure, but to explain everything that had happened over the course of her captivity would be far beyond what she was willing to do in one morning. Silphi nodded, her eyes flickering briefly to the sword on Tav’s back. Echo of the Divine had been the hushed star of conversations since Tav’s return to work, a unique sword enriched with Tyr’s touch of radiance. It was rare to be blessed by a god, rarer still one as mighty as theirs. And to be bestowed upon an oathbreaker, unheard of. Silphi didn’t even need to ask.

“Forgiveness,” said Tav simply. “Because I loved him.”

The young druid clearly ached to know more, but she merely nodded in response, sensing Tav’s need for time and space to deal with what had happened.

They drank their tea in silence, watching the trainees walk through defensive greatsword maneuvers. Tav felt the ease and respect replace the tension between them, and realized that Silphi too had come to understand.
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Astarion was the first to return, his knock unexpected and hesitant at Tav’s door late one night. She answered it, relieved to see the bedraggled elf despite the conditions of his departure. She stepped back to wave him through her doorway. The rogue was more than capable of fending for himself, but even with Cazador gone, she worried for him. He was a competent hunter and survivor, but guards roamed the streets every night for creatures such as him. And a less understanding or educated Gur could mistake him for a danger. He could also become a danger again.

“You know, you always were my favorite on the old team,” said Astarion, his voice tinged with exhaustion. He collapsed at her table, his boots and cloak splattered with dark mud. Tav quickly took his cloak from his shoulders, hanging it by the door. “Even if you were truly a stick in the mud at times. I mean, a real pile of wet laundry. But I feel as though your traipse through the hells really helped me to see that deep, deep down, you’re just as dark and corrupted as any of us! Maybe even worse, in some ways!”

“Hello to you too,” she sighed, sitting opposite to him and examining his face carefully. Eternally young, he didn’t exactly wrinkle with stress and time. But his eyes were tired, his color drawn, and his clothing stained with blood. “Are you alright? Did something happen?”

“No,” Astarion mumbled, his eyes closing. “I mean, yes. I found them.” He sighed, running a hand through disheveled white curls. Tav frowned, popping open a bottle of wine to share. She poured two glasses, setting one before him.

“Them? Them who?” She was exhausted herself, having spent several weeks catching up with work assignments. Her old platoons had turned their leadership over entirely, leaving her with a brutal stack of paperwork to handle if she wanted to resume control over her old job. As refreshing as it felt to return to normal life, she had been working much longer hours than usual. Astarion stared at her blankly for several seconds.

“Karlach and Wyll.”

She nearly dropped her glass, catching herself before she could spit the mouthful of wine on him. Astarion’s mouth opened in horror, and he reared back in anticipation of what nearly happened. Tav choked, then swallowed her drink. Hells, I’ve had the entire Baldur’s Gate Watch running laps to find those two, and Astarion did it alone!?

What? Where? Why didn’t you tell me?” her voice raised slightly, though she fought to keep from sounding accusatory.

“I did. I mean I am, that’s why I’m here. They didn’t want me to tell you. I think they’ve been talking to Shadowheart, but I’m not sure. Honestly I don’t care either way. If they want to live in the sewers, far be it from me to tell them otherwise. We’ve all certainly been there at some point in our lives, right?” He laughed humorlessly. “Speaking of sewers, do you mind if I stay here for a while? I just can’t do the underground right now, and my townhouse was foreclosed on, and you couldn’t pay me enough to be in Cazador’s old haunt.”

Tav nodded, privately relieved that she didn’t have to worry about him running loose in the sewers for a while. He would leave again, coming and going like a much-loved feral cat, but she kept a window cover in her guest room just for him.

“You know the house rules,” she reminded him gently. “No hunting civilians while you’re here. Well, really you shouldn’t either way. Definitely no killing anybody.” Astarion chuckled.

“There’s the stick in the mud that we all love.” He pushed himself upright wearily, leaning over to kiss the top of Tav’s head as he stumbled towards the stairs. “I’m going to take a long, hot bath.”

“Wait!” Tav twisted in her chair, and he paused at the foot of the staircase. “Karlach! Was she, I mean-”

Astarion nodded, solemn for the first time.

“Whole,” he said. Shadows of loss, regret, and resentment moved fleetingly through his eyes. “She was whole.” He disappeared up the stairs, leaving Tav by herself in the kitchen again. She sat for a long time, pushing food around her plate as she mulled over the information Astarion had brought her. Wyll and Karlach were here, in Baldur’s Gate the whole time, and they were hiding from her. Why would they hide from me? Well, it didn’t take much of a genius to riddle out; she was Raphael’s target, and none of them knew for certain whether he would return to reclaim his dues. It seemed that rather than risk their chances of being reclaimed for the hells, Wyll and Karlach were choosing to wait things out.

That, and Mizora is still floating around. It was distinctly possible that they were also dealing with the agents of Avernus, considering the state that Zariel had been left in, and Wyll’s existing contract. Actually, what is going on with that? If Raphael had withdrawn from Avernus, why hadn’t Mizora appeared to drag him into the hells? Fighting her had to be a violation of some kind. After a pause, she remembered that Raphael had “cut a deal” for the two, way back at the beginning of her stay in his house. Holy hells, does Raphael own his contract??

She groaned, sliding her head down onto her kitchen table. If Raphael owned Wyll’s contract, which he very well might, then she had to remember to include that in their forthcoming deal.

It could be years before he appeared, knowing the habits and peculiarities of the devils. Tav sighed deeply.
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One night, after another month, Tav was awakened to the smell of sulfur.

Astarion had left only the week before, promising her to be safe before disappearing into the underground of Baldur’s Gate yet again. Tav suspected he couldn’t abide by her rules on eating, choosing to prey on locals, and could only hope that he was leaving them alive. She hadn’t heard anything about mysterious sewer killings, anyway.

Still, that left her alone in her house. Tav sat up in the darkness, her vision adjusting to the dim glow of the moon shining through her window; her half elf eyes took in a fair amount of the light, even with hardly a sliver of the moon in the sky. At first, a thrill ran through her as she recognized the smell. But as she realized that she hadn’t heard the sound of displacement, Tav knew that it must be something else. She leapt from her bed, lunging for the shortsword mounted on her wall rack.

Too late. Invisibility spell breaking, a fiend appeared beside her, its hands closing on her throat as it dragged her to the floor. Tav grabbed its burning wrists, kicking back viciously as she fought. One kick swung wide, the other landing square on its hard stomach as she struggled. With a grunt, the devil fell to the floor, hands loosening.

Tav shoved it hard, rolling away from it and reaching to grab the hilt of her short sword. As she swung it, the unexpected ring of steel met her thrust, and a second friend appeared. This one wielded a spear, and it tried to disarm her with a deft twist. Tav barely clung to her sword, getting her feet under her as she faced down two fiends in the dead of night.

What is going on!?

They underestimated their prey. Tav might be under equipped and unprepared, but she was no typical mortal. As the fiend stabbed its spear at her, she wrestled it from his grip, flinging it immediately at the further adversary. It dodged more quickly than she was expecting; these were clearly no lesser devils, either.

Were she better prepared, neither would stand a chance against her. Still, Tav posed a more serious challenge than they had anticipated, even with a simple shortsword. She swung with a ferocity that surprised them, and landed a deep slash on the nearer fiend. The other flew towards her, and she had little time to brace herself for impact. It smashed her into the wall, the air crushing from her lungs with a pained gasp. Her sword fell from her hands with a clatter, a devastating error in the fight.

She threw a punch that nearly knocked it off of her, but these devils were strong. The one on her wrapped its steaming hands around her neck again, and she noticed that it squeezed with very precise care. They want to take me alive. Tav thrashed, landing another kick that audibly cracked its rib, but it clung to her tenaciously. They wanted to take her alive badly.

Their bright red skin identified them as most likely fiends of Avernus, agents to the Archdevil Zariel…and she could think of almost nobody else in all of Baator that she wanted to see less. Down but not out, she wedged her fingers under its claws, trying to keep enough oxygen flowing to not pass out. If she went unconscious, Tav very much did not want to imagine where she would wake up.

As she noticed the other fiend recovering behind it, picking up its spear, her stomach sank; this was not a good position to be in. Bracing herself against the wall, she coiled her legs beneath her to attempt to launch it onto its back. A clap of thunder echoed in her head, and she wondered if she was about to pass out.

Before she could move, both fiends erupted into whirling white fire, horrible sounds erupting from them as they fell to the ground, trying to put themselves out. Tav landed on her feet, noticing immediately that the fire failed to burn her or her furniture; even the floor was unmarked. Only the fiends burned, flesh sloughing from bone, both crumbling hideously. Behind them stood another devil, taller and silent, with broad, sweeping wings that seemed to swallow the room. Tav panted on the floor, her hand at her throat, and wondered if she was hallucinating.

The squealing fiends collapsed into piles of ash, quieting as Raphael stepped over them. As he walked towards her, his form shifted from cambion to man, although his steely gaze never faltered. After a moment of hesitation, Tav pushed herself up from the floor, realizing that he was actually standing in her bedroom.

“Witless creatures, to believe that spilling a drop of power is equivalent to being weak,” he said with disgust, not sparing either of them a glance. Despite his confidence, she saw the way his lip curled slightly, simmering over the apparent loss of even a fraction of his strength. The urge to run to him was nearly overwhelming, but Tav forced herself to hold her ground.

Tav’s pounding heart slowed, then stuttered, as he stopped before her. Raphael waved a hand, and the candles in her room instantly lit with white fire.

“I do hate to be cliche, but the time has come for us to have a little talk.” His tone was low, serious, and guarded, but Tav felt the ghost of a shiver race through her. Gods, how I missed his voice. She nodded slightly, expecting him to displace them to his house, but after a brief pause his eyebrow raised. Oh. Here. She gestured towards the window, beside which sat an intimate reading table in the nook of her room. The ashes of the fiends dissipated, like Zariel’s had in Cania, and her room seemed much as it had before, besides the damage to her walls.

Raphael took the opposite chair, and Tav had to take a moment to summon her wits. It was the dead of night, she’d just survived an attempt on her life, and Raphael was sitting in her bedroom with her, here to barter another deal for her soul. Raphael is here. Sitting across from him, Tav felt as though she was in a dream. She took several deep breaths, closing her eyes as she gathered herself. He waited politely.

“It’s good to see you again,” she said finally, opening her eyes to fix him with her baleful stare. He didn’t move, but she saw a small crease form between his eyebrows. “How have you been? Do you want something to drink? Wine?” Tav’s mother had always taught her to be courteous to guests in her home, and at a loss for what else to do, she fell back on it.

“I have been busy. No drinks, thank you,” he replied softly. “And you should refrain as well, until some matters are settled.” Right. “A pact can’t be made under duress.” From the sound of it, Raphael intended to make a decision tonight…whatever that entailed. She recalled her conversation with Tyr, the brief mention of Raphael choosing to let her go over killing her. She wondered, fleetingly, if that remained an option to him.

Tav frowned at his near-imperceptible blink.

“If we’re going to make a deal, I’d like to ask that you stay out of my head for it,” she said, folding her arms apprehensively. “Also, I feel like you should have more to say to me, after how things ended in Cania. You never answered me, I’ve been…” She snapped her mouth shut, staunchly refusing to say the words. Of course he must know that she had been praying to him. She felt him pause, then a brush as he withdrew from her mind.

“I know,” he said, choosing not to antagonize her. That’s a first. “I needed to get some affairs in order, close or secure the portals in Cania while I initiated study. I’ve released the other planes from their duties for the time being. Until I understood the boundaries of…this, and my power, I couldn’t risk contact with you.” This. Tav nodded.

“And what did you find?” she asked, unwilling to reveal her hand too soon. Raphael studied her guarded posture, her careful eyes.

“That we need to make another kind of deal.” His tone was firm, and he leaned towards her, his hands folded on the table. They sat opposite the other, as though brokering an agreement in a hostage situation. The wild urge to laugh seized her for a moment; Tav hid her smile with a hand before collecting herself again.

“Alright. Let’s hear it,” she said, leaning back in her chair, unable to wipe the remnants of humor from her features. Raphael didn’t look amused, his trademark grimace growing more pronounced by the second. He didn’t yet know what Tyr had told her.

“As should be obvious after tonight, you’ve got a target on your back for hellspawn now. Devils from all layers of the hells will be swarming to you, and to Baldur’s Gate, in efforts to capture my unguarded chosen. Whatever reservations you have of me, if you don’t sign your soul into my safekeeping, one of them will eventually succeed.” His expression was perfect, steady with just a touch of concern. Tav nodded thoughtfully.

“So I suppose I should just…give it to you, then?” she asked, trying in vain to keep the light teasing from her tone. “That’s convenient. Do I get a certificate?” Raphael’s eyes narrowed; thousands of years old, he was not an easy creature to tease.

“You may find this laughable, but I will not watch over you forever,” he said snidely. Liar. “So you can either bind your soul to me, or you can be dragged through Avernus to Zariel.”

“You’re so concerned for my well-being,” Tav replied, looking down to hide her smile. “I don’t know, I might take my chances with Zariel. I feel like I can take her.”

Raphael fell silent. Tav tried not to laugh, fighting to hold her composure as she called his bluff. This is probably not the right way to handle things. She didn’t care; Raphael was here, and the only thing she could feel was joy. The urge to taunt him just a little, pennies in return for what he had done to her, was simply not resistible.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything before you go? I can make tea, if you would prefer. I have sweet rolls too, although they’re not as fresh.” She stood, and he stood with her, stepping close.

“You asked me to stay out of your mind, and I have respected that. Do not toy with me, Octavia.” His eyes blazed, lip curled as though to bare teeth. Despite his show of aggression, she knew that he was simply baffled by her lack of appropriate response. Which, if she wanted to set him off balance for the purpose of brokering the best deal to her interests, was not a terrible thing.

“Why did you send me back?” she asked quietly, looking up at him on the edge of boldness. He took a half step back, seeming to finally sense that Tav knew well the cards in their hands. “Come on. Let’s go to the kitchen, we’ll have a drink. I don’t plan to fight you tonight.”

Raphael followed her down the stairs without a word of rebuttal, seeming to be reconsidering his strategy. Tav led the Archdevil of Cania into her kitchen, smiling when he ignited the fire of her hearth without a word. As the bread and water warmed, they sat at the larger kitchen table, a soft cedar that gave an aromatic fragrance to her downstairs. Raphael measured her easy confidence with closer calculation, assessing a new plan of attack within seconds.

“You knew that I was coming here,” he said slowly. “You knew about the deal. Who told you?” He was angry, and still guarded. Tav laughed, knowing better than most how little any mortal could hope to hide their intentions from him. She looked at Raphael and, perhaps for the first time, felt no fear.

“Tyr,” she said shortly. His lip curled, eyes flashing gold for a moment. “He offered to restore my oath.” Raphael scoffed.

“You’re lucky to have refused him, then. That oath wouldn’t protect you from the hells, but it would certainly have made things more difficult for me. I likely wouldn’t have had a choice but to kill you.” He spoke so easily of her death, as though it were little more than an inconvenience to him.

“Charming. And you plan to protect me from the hells by…damning me to the hells?” she asked pointedly. Raphael frowned.

“No devil would kill you. They would steal you to have leverage over me; you’re an alluring target for any who wishes to usurp my power in the hells. If you were taken, the suffering subjected to you would be…unimaginable.” An emotion flickered across his face that she had never seen on him before. Dread? “I could not allow that. I would give you a gentler death now, were that the trajectory of life before you.”

“It seems very unlike you to not simply kill me then,” she replied. He glared at her, visibly aggravated by his lack of influence over her. She knew exactly why Raphael could not kill her, and was patiently waiting for the moment he realized what she knew. Pushing back from the table, he towered over her, heat pouring off of him in waves as he grappled with rage. Tav stayed very still. Gods, he’s beautiful. It had occurred to her that Raphael might snap and take her life. But somehow, she simply knew that he couldn’t. The devil she knew was always composed; the only reason for him to break that composure now was his desperation to get what he came for.

Do not test me, mortal,” he snarled at her. She could see him restraining the desire to burst into his cambion form. He didn't need to; the fire of the hells was alight in his eyes, hideously dark magic shimmering in the very air around him. His hands slammed onto the table, the force nearly cracking wood. “A moment of generosity does not entitle you to disrespect me in turn. You will bend to me, or I will break you.

“Oh, sit down, I’m going to sign.”

Raphael jerked upright in surprise, the momentum snatched right out of his anger, and Tav stood to get the simmering water. She ladled it over two cups of aromatic tea leaves, placing both on the table before turning to grab the basket of warm rolls. He stared at her in intense confusion, and she saw his guard finally start to slip. Resuming her seat across from him, she folded her hands on the table.

“I know that you need this,” she said simply. “But I don’t plan to give you something for nothing. I’ll sign a contract with you, if we can come to an agreement on the terms. You go first.”

Raphael took several seconds to collect his thoughts. His eyes were narrow, gaze intense on her as he measured her yet again in the form of an opponent.

“A soul brand,” he started, although she shook her head. “A soul brand would take you to Cania in the event of your death, and I can ascend you immediately under the terms of your contract. While living, it would protect you from mortals and hellspawn alike, so long as they were lower ranking than I.” Raphael needed a soul brand out of this, and he didn’t know that she was already well aware of the fact. He walked a razor thin line at her kitchen table; if he could just possess her, he was free to submit to greed and obsession, his dark half of love. If he couldn’t, then he risked becoming sacrificial to her, or even losing her, at the cost of his power. And the Raphael that she knew would rather take her life, albeit ‘gently’, than do that. How many souls will mine be worth to him?

“Would I be a devil?” she asked, unsure. “Would I be different?” She’d considered this already, from her limited knowledge on afterlife in the hells. Following her conversation with Tyr, she’d begun extensive reading on the subject, not having planned for an afterlife outside of his realm before.

“Not if you don’t want to be,” he said, his voice softer. “You would make a beautiful devil. But as an uncorrupted soul, I can let you keep your form if you prefer it. I have the power to give you nearly any form.”

Tav was silent for a long time, deep in thought. She lifted the steaming mug of tea, sipping to steady her nerves as she weighed the value of a soul. At least Tyr had warned her, so she’d already had some time to think. Raphael mirrored her, certainly more of a motion to put her at ease than out of true enjoyment. But he didn’t seem to mind the tea.

“If I accept a soul brand, you can never invade the material plane,” she said finally. “As a part of my contract. You can take over the hells, and continue to make deals with mortals, but your legion never sets foot, hoof, wing, whatever, as an invasion force. The price of my soul is you will never lead irreparable damage to the balance of good and evil in this plane.” Raphael’s eyes widened, his breath caught as he considered the weight of her offer. Tav had already thought of her counter offer, known what Raphael would consider to be too far. He could still ascend to Archdevil Supreme with the material plane intact, still hope to rule over the hells. He could achieve godhood. Raphael replaced his mug on the table, turning it over in his head. “And you have to let me live my mortal life out, to its fullest extent. If I die from any cause but natural, the contract and soul brand will be rendered entirely void.”

“Your contract would lawfully expire in the event of either of our final deaths, but I could certainly include protections, as well as restrictions against any plans for your murder. What I mean to say is that never is a rather impossible term. Still, wouldn’t you prefer me to cure your friend of vampirism instead?” Raphael countered her offer, but they both knew that there was no backing down from the protection of the mortal world. Still, she might have more to give.

“Cure Astarion of vampirism, and I’ll wear your sigil. Tastefully,” she said, hesitating as his eyes lit up. “I will not run a church, Raphael. Nor will I brand nor influence a single other soul for you.” His interest waned into disappointment, and then consideration. As much as Raphael wanted to come out on top, he couldn’t quite resist the draw of the barter.

“You wear my sigil, and while mortal, one week out of the month you spend with me in the hells.”

Tav nodded, and she saw the hovering quill dance along the lines of parchment as clauses were drafted. She took another deep breath, closing her eyes as she accepted the price that she’d known would come for her.

“What else do you want?”

“Shadowheart’s curse lifted…and you may reinstate mine,” she said in nearly a whisper. Raphael’s eyebrow lifted. “With conditions! Only in the hells, and I want a safe word.” Raphael tapped his lips, the quill pausing as he considered.

“My dear, don’t you trust me?” His voice was playful, so teasing that she didn't even need to dignify that with a response. “I’m rather glad to see that it’s grown on you. Lightly and under predetermined circ*mstances in other planes, and one use of the safe word per week in the hells.”

“Lightly by a mutually agreed upon standard, and unlimited use of the safe word in other planes. After death, safe word always.”

Rahael nodded, and the pen scratched.

“Hope, freed. One week out of the year without a safe word, until my death.” Tav didn’t know who Hope was, but Gale’s tension over her was enough to signify how important this would be to him. Raphael’s expression didn’t change, but she felt a strange tension in him relax.

“That week might be spent on my rack,” he warned, the quill moving anyways. Tav shivered, more bothered by the fact that she didn’t hate the idea. She would never admit to him that the vision he had shown her had occurred to her several times since in her fantasies, right alongside some of her experiences while under his curse. Unbeknownst to Raphael, she was getting quite a bit more out of their bargain than he had anticipated.

“That’s why I had to make sure I’d get something worthwhile for it,” she said coolly. Raphael might break her of her facade soon enough, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction now. “Let’s make a few boundaries for torture though.”

Tav wasn’t sure how long they sat at the table for, haggling the details of every last word of the contract. Her attention never wavered for a moment, knowing full well that this document would define the rest of her existence as a mortal and then beyond. She could never have imagined how specific definitions could be until tonight, not until she was arguing with Raphael as to what characteristics constituted the category of “bladed” regarding the annex on banned torture instruments. But one sacrifice at a time, she claimed every inch of life and freedom that her loved ones had longed for. Karlach forever free of the hells. Wyll’s contract released. Astarion’s cure. Hope’s freedom, and Gale’s safe passage in Cania. Shadowheart released from her suffering. There was a cost to it all, but the man who claimed the price had commanded her soul before they had even sat down at the table together.

And, most importantly, her world was safe. No longer the chosen of Tyr, she was his sacrificial lamb in the defense of balance, and it was by her own hand after all. He was right. My oath has always belonged to me, and it was mine to give away. Every clause in the deal could be mutually adjudicated, right up until either of their final death, at which point it was to be rendered void. She was sure to cover her bases on murder attempts, either direct or indirect.

As they finished up the details on defining the parameters for her afterlife, Raphael grew quite serious. She had claimed much in exchange for her soul, everything that she could have hoped for, and he was growing irritated by her ability to use his once secret desires against him. As he read through the contract with a furrowed brow, she knew that she had succeeded in what she’d come to the table to do. Tav felt her heart soar, knowing that she was going to sign the future that she wanted to see into existence tonight, in exchange for a single soul that longed to be his. Finally, sated but not satisfied, Raphael begrudgingly handed her the quill. They were both exhausted after hours of negotiation, the first light of dawn beginning to seep into the sky outside. Raphael worked hard to barter her down, but as she was already aware of the stakes at play, he had little hope of forging a better deal on his end.

“One last thing before I sign. You’re going to have to say it.” Tav’s hand hovered over the contract, suspended in time as she stared across the table into his dark eyes. A muscle worked in Raphael’s jaw, his glare flashing dangerously across the table at her. He had been thoroughly extorted for their deal, and from the barely-restrained fury in his expression, he was well aware of the fact. But she leaned towards him anyway. “Say. It.

Raphael was perfectly still for a heartbeat, before his gaze darted to the side, as though ensuring that the two were alone. To her complete and utter surprise, the faintest tinge of red touched his cheekbones, right under the pitch black fury in his eyes. She could almost hear the angry growl in his chest as he stood and leaned across the table, his teeth baring beside her ear. His lips brushing her so slightly that every hair on her body stiffened as he whispered.

I love you.

His warm breath on her skin sent an inferno tearing through her, and before she could attempt to control herself, Tav lunged at him, her hands fisting into his high collar and pulling his face to hers.

He dragged her across the table in fierce response, arms wrapping tightly around her back, sending dishware smashing to the floor and nearly upending the furniture. He was heat, teeth, and tongue, vicious and hungry hands that tore her clothing apart, lifted her to carry her back up the stairs to her bed. She felt her own hands tangle in his hair, anchoring her lips to his; she breathed him in like oxygen.

Raphael stumbled up the stairs with her in his arms, Raphael the man, the thread of human that was hers alone to see. Her thighs tightened around his waist, lips tearing from his to cover his face, his neck, his ears, anything that she could reach in her hunger. Sitting across the table from her angry cambion, watching him stalk her like prey, had been almost too much to bear; now that she belonged to him, she could not wait another second.

She distantly felt the bed under her back as he collapsed them onto it, crawling over her and between her legs, ripping his own fine shirt and jacket off with the same frantic energy. This time there was no illusion of pretending; the energy of a starving man gripped him with violence. His weight trapped her comfortably beneath him, although it also reminded her of how ravenous her body had been for his touch. Her legs wrapped around his hips, pulling him close as his taste and scent filled every corner of her consciousness.

He ground against her, and she whimpered into his mouth to feel how badly he longed for her too.

“Do you have any idea how hard it was to stay away from you?” he said, tearing free of her lips to kiss his way down her throat. One hand unfastened his pants, tearing them off as Tav took advantage of the pause to remove what remained of her own clothing. The evening was cool, but with a devil between her thighs she was almost burning up. “When you pray to me, when you dream of me, and then whisper your dreams into my mind…do you have any idea what I wanted to do to you for that?”

“Show me,” she moaned, feeling his hot skin flush against her own. She imagined him biding his time in the hells, forced to listen to her voice recounting her fantasies to him from another plane. Wondering for a moment if she could have endured that, she knew the answer instantly.

His hands slid up her arms, pulling them above her head and holding them tight with one hand; the other gripped her hair at the roots, his weight resting on an elbow.

Raphael filled her with several deep, slow thrusts, her head held back so he could watch the ecstasy overwhelm her. She gasped, blushing brightly when she opened her eyes to see him watching her.

When he was buried in her, he stopped moving, studying her expression for several seconds as she tried to shift her hips against him. The desperate energy melted into something slow and smoldering, temporarily slaked by the very finality of her position. Her body trapped beneath his, her soul bartered away, she well and truly belonged to Raphael. And he was going to take advantage of that tonight, she knew.

His hand relaxed in her hair, easing her back and sliding to cup her face instead. Tav felt a quick burst of surprise as he leaned towards her, his lips moving soft and warm against hers, his weight resting between her legs. Her lips parted, and the slide of his tongue against hers made her back arch beneath him. Her hands fell to his shoulders before wrapping around the back of his neck. For a long time they lay like that, Raphael moving very slowly and gradually to maintain the barest ghost of friction.

“Can I summon you to my house for this?” she whispered against his mouth, feeling him smile. Dwarfed by her trepidation, she hadn’t dared to imagine what their future would look like, at least logistically. The realization that she might be spending every night in his bed like this staggered her.

“We still have time to make adjustments to our deal,” he conceded immediately. She felt him flex inside of her, her eyes rolling back in response. “But fair is fair, we’ll take turns visiting in the evenings.”

“Every night?”

“Every night.” Burying his face in her hair, Raphael breathed deeply before withdrawing, sliding almost fully from her until only the tip of his rigid length was inside of her. He thrust back in just as slowly, so deep that stars seemed to burst behind her closed eyes, pausing before repeating the agonizingly delicious motion again. “Will you call me master?” Tav shivered. Gods, she wanted to.

“Will you call me ‘love’?” she asked in reply, her voice growing faint as her will wavered. Raphael laughed softly. He was f*cking her at a slow, steady rhythm now, each thrust so deep that her muscles quivered around him. She was wet and aching with need, fighting to rock her hips against him, but he made her take him slowly, reveled in every luscious centimeter of her tightness.

“I already call you that.”

“My, the mighty soul broker talking a client out of an easy win?” Tav teased, gasping when he pumped forcefully into her. Her fingers tightened on his neck, nails digging into his skin as her body seized unexpectedly. She forced her words through gritted teeth. “You have to mean it.

“That is an easy win, then,” he purred in her ear, nibbling playfully at her neck. “So do you.”

Raphael pushed himself up, his hands pinning hers to the bed now, strands of his dark hair curling around his face like a halo. She gazed up at him, smitten by his human form, and half longing to see his wings open behind him. His pace quickened, and Tav found herself unable to staunch her helpless cries, dizzy with desire.

“Say it, my love,” he murmured, his fingers interlacing with hers as he thrust fast and hard, eyes burning as he watched her spiral towards climax. Tav could hardly string two thoughts together, let alone a sentence; the illusion of mutual effort was gone. Raphael was now f*cking her into her mattress so hard that she was sure they were going to break through the floor. She tried to stifle the sounds bursting from her chest, horrified that her neighbors would be alerted, but Raphael had her hands pinned on either side of her head. “Say it.

Mmh…master,” she gasped, blushing fiercely when he groaned. Tav’s org*sm spread through her like a summer storm, a rolling wave of heat through her body the only warning before lightning shot straight up from her core. She screamed, half from shock and half from blinding pleasure. Raphael’s breath was ragged now, hissed through clenched teeth as he felt her sex tighten and ripple around him. He didn’t slow, maintaining the same grueling pace he’d set before, dragging out her climax relentlessly. Tav struggled to free her hands, frantic to smother the heated sounds that he pulled from her, but his grip on her wrists was like iron. “Master, please!

“More of that,” he growled, his eyes dark as he watched her lose herself to bliss. Raphael was breathing hard, close to his own peak; Tav wanted it desperately. She wanted it so badly that her body ached, her toes curling. She wanted to feel his release inside of her, watch the brutal surrender to animal instinct. And more than that, she was nearly senseless with the sensation of being taken roughly.

“Please, master,” she moaned, finally free to mean it. Tav was shaking all over, overstimulated and still wracked with her own org*sm. “Gods, please, Raphael!

A sharp cry and his rhythm broke, his hips driving into her erratically as he surrendered to the hot, slick grip of her on his co*ck. Raphael fell onto his elbows, teeth closing on her neck as he bucked deep into her. Tav felt the searing heat erupt within as he thoroughly spent himself, hips pressed to her hard enough to bruise. Her inner muscles fluttered around him, quivering and sensitive from the intensity of her climax.

He rolled to his side, still hard inside of her, grinding sensually into her to enjoy the slippery warmth. Tav gasped quietly, both for air and from the incredible sensation. It was a longer time still before he withdrew from her.

They lay together, breathless, turned towards each other with fingers interlaced between them. His eyes were half lidded, watching the sweat cool from her forehead as the sun slowly broke the horizon. Tav’s gaze flickered for a moment to the gold band on the first finger of his right hand, and Raphael chuckled.

“You had better not suddenly teleport out of here,” he said in a low, tired voice. Tav couldn’t help but laugh, remembering the last time she’d held his hands like this.

“I think if Gale were hiding under the bed this time, he’d definitely be a pancake now,” she murmured, kissing him with a mischievous smile. “You didn’t have to be so rough.” She didn’t mean it, and he knew. Her entire body ached though, either strained or chafing from the vigorous sex. Raphael clicked his tongue.

“You have been telling me of your dreams nigh every day for the last four months. Tonight was a tenth of what I’ve considered doing to you for that.” He frowned at her. “You’ll see the other nine another time. But that does remind me, we have one last clause of our deal to review before I go.”

“Gods, right now? Really, Raphael, you don’t have to-”

Tav quieted when he snapped, and two gold rings appeared. One was smaller, more delicate, inscribed with rows of miniscule infernal characters. Her breath caught tight in her chest, and she felt faint as she stared at them, instantly forgetting what she had been about to say..

He took the smaller ring, as the other hung suspended in the air between them, and gently slid it onto the little finger of her left hand. Tav stared in wonder at the buttery metal, the faint and elegant writing all around it.

“Your copy of the contract,” he said, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Go ahead, activate it.”

Tav closed her eyes and touched the ring with her magic, feeling it warm on her finger immediately. Then, as though he were behind her, she could hear his low, husky voice whispering the terms of their agreement in her ear. It was so close, so real, that she could almost feel his lips against her. Tav knew within moments that she’d soon have her own contract permanently etched in her memory, word for word. She listened to the whole thing through, feeling Raphael’s thumb idly stroking the back of her hand as she shivered. After reading the names of the signatory parties, he had left a gift for her at the very end of her own contract. ‘I love you, Octavia.

His lips touched hers, and she tasted her tears.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you,” she whispered almost unintelligibly, tugging a hand free to wipe her eyes. The other ring floated before her, and she plucked it from the air before fixing it gently on his left hand. She sniffled, and he laughed lightly.

“You cry a lot, for a paladin.”

Tav glared at him, wiping her face again before he took her wrist and kissed it. She didn’t pull away, immediately softening from the intimate heat of his lips on her skin. How could I ever love a mortal man again? How could I love another?

“There’s nothing wrong with crying,” she grumbled, privately glad for the moment of levity. She hiccupped quietly, more annoyed than embarrassed.

“I like it,” he chuckled, catching her fingers in his again. “Probably for the wrong reasons though. Here, try mine.” She felt his ring warm as he activated it, wondering how he would have inscribed her voice into it, but no words met her ears. Instead, a quiet thumping sound pulsed through her, and it took a few moments before she realized what it was.

My heartbeat.

Raphael kissed the tears from her eyelashes this time.
__________________________________

“Alright, we didn’t say anything about the oath, or the sword, but my gods, Octavia…

Tav flinched, guilt flashing through her features momentarily. Counsellor Florrick rubbed her eyes, sighing deeply as she took in the spectacle before her.

At her side stood Silphi, her arms crossed in defiance before their superior and mentor.

“High Guard Elfric has already started the inquiry, and he said that Captain Sunrise is not to be admonished until it’s complete,” said Silphi firmly. “If what she says is true, then Tav still serves the Watch. And she may have the potential to hold a very specialized role in future escorts and patrols.” Since their conversation at the training grounds, Silphi had become Tav’s loudest defender…and few wanted to be on the angry side of a druid who regularly wildshaped into an owlbear.

Still. She had returned to her position after her night with Raphael with an admittedly strange combination of angelic armor, a ring of unimaginable infernal power, and the seal of a devil burned into the top of her breastplate. She’d been secretly pleased that Raphael had been unable to remove the long gauges left by Zariel, but it did add to the peculiarity of her overall appearance.

“I know, Counsellor,” she conceded, holding up a hand as Silphi began to protest. “I can take some time away while all of this is sorted. I have, um, a week of obligation to fulfill anyway.” She grimaced, knowing that she’d be permanently reducing her position to part time even in the best of circ*mstances. Oh well. It’s not like I took this job for the money.

She and Silphi left the office together, both breathing a sigh of relief that the counsellor had not pressed the issue. An oathbreaker paladin, blessed by Tyr and conscripted into the service of an Archdevil…it was unheard of, in the extensive history of the Baldur’s Gate Watch. But saving the city from an invasion of mindflayers was equally unheard of, and so her seniors treaded new ground in pursuit of assigning her appropriately. Or firing, and then exiling me in disgrace. Whatever happened, Tav was sure that she would be alright.

“Oh, the team had this made for you,” said Silphi, stopping to dig into her bag. She shyly withdrew a clean, folded grey cloth. “There isn’t an official color or design, but it’s certainly better than having you run around in bare armor.”

Tav took the material, letting it fall open and staring in disbelief. A charcoal and grey overcloth, empty of a crest, but with a V-cut that left just enough room for…

She pulled it over her head. Raphael’s sigil was displayed proudly at the top of her armor, black marks of infernal writing over the unofficial colors of their oathbreaker. Touched, she pulled Silphi into a hug.

“So, the ring,” said Silphi slyly, as soon as Tav let her go. “You never told me you were getting married! When are we to meet your husband? Or, perhaps wife?” Her eyes were wide, excited to turn over yet another stone in the mysterious circ*mstances of her friend’s disappearance. Tav cringed, rubbing the back of her head as she balanced the eager request.

Raphael hadn’t defined the nature of their relationship, and she knew that devils usually kept consorts rather than wives. But the play into mortal tradition with a ring, and his unusually soft willingness to humor her as he had in Bowshot, made her sure that he wouldn’t mind the title. Still, none of that was simple to explain to Silphi, who had yet to fully understand the events around Tav’s time in Baator. She would meet Raphael one day. She would know everything one day. But for today, Tav just wanted to share simplicity with a friend.

“Probably soon. He has a knack for just…showing up.”
__________________________________

Tav had hardly gotten her boots off by the time the banging started on her door, so hard and sustained that she worried it was going to come off of the hinges. She rushed to open it, with hardly enough time to process the amount of people who had been waiting for her.

As soon as the bolt unlatched, half a dozen people poured into the room, their clamoring drowning one another out as each shouted to be heard. Tav gasped as she was grabbed by her arms and shaken, faced with Karlach for the first time in months. For the first time since she’d left them in the hells.

“You didn’t! Tav, please tell me that you didn’t!” The tiefling cried out in grief and rage, and typically Tav would be afraid for her life, but Astarion’s report had been true; Karlach’s body had been restored, her hands the usual kind of warm, her fury the usual kind of fury. No flames erupted from her, and Tav couldn’t even pay attention to what was going on around them. She reached for Karlach, pulling the barbarian into her arms. Karlach was still yelling something, but she couldn’t care less.

“By Mystra, Octavia, what did you do?” Gale’s hand closed on her shoulder, but the wizard had no hope of tearing the two apart. He eyed Wyll, who tugged at Karlach’s arm.

“Sweetheart, come on, put her down,” said Wyll gently, pulling harder as he was ignored. “Karlach!”

“What did you do, Tav?” whispered Karlach, her arms crushing the paladin. Tav laughed in relief. Every moment of eternity would have been worth it, for this. Remembering the others, she pushed back, looking around the room.

Gale stood with a pretty woman with short cropped bronze hair, who hung back apprehensively. Hope? It had to be. She saw Shadowheart, who looked as though she were attending a funeral. And behind her…

“Astarion,” said Tav, moving towards the man in the very back. Unlike the others, he carried himself in almost a trance, his shoulders forward and arms wrapped around himself. The depth of wonder and disbelief in his eyes was enough to cast the entire room into silence. His eyes. His eyes were silvery blue, heartbreakingly beautiful. Tav touched his arms. Warm. Tav’s chest felt too tight for the emotion it held. She didn’t know how Raphael had executed his half of the deal so quickly, but here they all stood, awed by the power of one soul. He must have used the crown.

“You did this,” he said softly, and she saw his gaze fall to the sigil at her throat. She wore her armor still, covered with the shadow of her oath, and branded at the top of her breastplate with Raphael’s mark. “You sold your soul for this.”

Tav nodded wordlessly, not knowing what she could possibly say to express the profound joy of seeing Astarion mortal once more.

How could you!” screamed Karlach, making everybody jump. The mighty barbarian fell to her hands and knees, shaking with grief. “We could have…we should have…Tav we can fix this, we can get your contract back. We have to get it back. You can’t do this, you can’t put that kind of burden on us! Why didn’t you…why didn’t we…I, I'm so sorry.” She gasped for air, her head bowing nearly to the floor. Wyll dropped to a knee beside her, his hand resting on her back.

“It’s really alright, Karlach,” said Tav faintly, not actually expecting Raphael to uphold his end of the contract so soon. I guess that should be a good sign. It really did hammer home the fact that he owned her soul now, a thought that still made her nervous. “If it makes it better, I didn’t just do it for you all, although I would have considered that to be a worthy sacrifice. Come and sit, let me take my armor off, and I’ll tell you everything.”

She shed her steel wearily, wondering where to even start.

“By the gods…our plane? Our entire plane?” Wyll sat back in disbelief, his eyes wide. “I signed a contract just for Baldur’s Gate, and you saved all of us. Everybody. Does Counsellor Florrick know? Somebody has to know what you did for the world.”

“No,” said Tav quickly. “Please don’t. I already have to deal with her grooming me for politics, I do not want more notoriety. Besides which, it would just accomplish Raphael’s original plan, to vault me into power and then use me as a pawn to gain souls.” As she said it out loud, it occurred to Tav that her corruption was still a distinct possibility, and one that Raphael was likely already considering as an avenue out of his many promises. After all, every premise of their contract was negotiable, and if he found a way to change her nature, that would certainly be one way for him to overcome. No, if she meant to protect the world, she must first guard herself.

“Can we go back to Tyr?” said Gale, absorbed by the mythos of yet another of their gods. “Was it certainly a vision? You said he gave you a sword, did he hand it to you or did it just appear? And you said that he told you to sign, that’s quite unusual for a god of his alignment. Then again, I suppose Mystra has strange relationships with some of the deities of chaos, so far be it from me to comment…that’s quite remarkable, let me see the sword.” He stood without waiting for answers, crossing the sitting room to examine Echo of the Divine more closely.

“Your soul,” said Karlach sadly, cupping a mug of hot mulled wine and staring into it. “I’m so sorry. I should have come back sooner, I shouldn’t have…shouldn’t have been so upset with you. This is my fault.”

“Don’t, Karlach,” said Tav, aching to see her friend hurt so badly. “This was my decision to make. Even Tyr released me to do it. And I know everything is going to be alright, the world will stay in balance. And I wanted to do it.” Karlach’s beautiful gold eyes flashed.

“Nobody owes the world that much,” she said angrily. “You shouldn’t have sacrificed yourself for this. That was yours, he had no right. And the ring, unbelievable that he would pick something so insulting. f*cking devils.” Tav bit her lips, knowing that Karlach may never truly understand that she had made the choice willingly. The dwarf sat on Karlach’s other side, her eyes fixed on Tav with open curiosity. Strangely, she saw a reluctant understanding in the woman’s eyes.

“Hope,” said Tav, and she nodded. “You were his prisoner.” Hope nodded.

“For many years,” she murmured, shuddering. “He tortured me for many years. I…I am thankful for your sacrifice, although I cannot know what it will entail for you.” She gazed at Tav with mingled sympathy and horror. “You are either very brave, or very stupid. Perhaps you hope to change him. For your sake and for ours, I can only pray that you succeed.” She stared down into her wine, unable to stop the quiver of her hands around the cup.

“Perhaps both. Well, should I fail, at least I bought time,” said Tav more lightly. She knew well how heavy the burden weighed. “And should I succeed, then the world will be better for it. I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through. Gale mentioned you to Raphael, he’s the one to thank for your rescue. If I can help it, I will do my utmost to protect innocents from him.” Tav hadn’t considered how she would handle the daunting task of freeing the captives that she was sure he kept now. Hope looked to be thinking along similar lines, although she was too tired to dig further into future plans. For now, she seemed to be simply engulfed in what must be a very difficult adjustment to her life.

“Octavia, we wanted to apologize,” said Shadowheart softly. The others fell into silence, even Gale by the sword rack. He stood and returned to the group, crowded around her hearth, watching the embers burn low as night overtook them. “We should never have left you, after coming back. We always handled everything as a team, and we should have stood together then too. Instead we ran, and you handled it alone. You were incredible, but it was still wrong of us to just go.” The others murmured their agreement, and Tav had never felt fuller.

“If you can forgive me for ruining your weeks-long plan to kill Raphael, I can forgive you for what happened after. Thank you for coming to see me, but I would have done this for you anyway. I would have done this anyway.” She turned to Wyll. “I asked him not to change your form unless you wanted it; do you?”

He froze, fingers rising to touch his horns, before turning to Karlach and relaxing.

“No,” he said, taking her hand in his. “I’ve grown rather fond of them, if I’m honest. And Karlach loves them, so I suppose they can stay. Thank you, though, for voiding my contract. You may enjoy your time in the hells, but I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of an eternity there.”

“Alright, alright,” laughed Tav, overwhelmed by the incessant gratitude. “That’s plenty of thanks, for something I had planned to do for months. Now that some curiosity is settled, what say we to some drinks and good storytelling?” She popped another bottle of sweet sherry open, refilling glasses as the group passed them around.

Hope excused herself shortly after, clearly burdened by her very recent release from Cania, and her own memories that plagued her of the torment there. Tav watched her go with deep concern; she understood Raphael’s nature, but was reluctant to explore that corner of his appetite. With luck, her decision would spare thousands of innocent souls from a similar fate.

Their night evolved into a more cheerful evening of reminiscing, exchanging stories, and breaking into smaller, softer conversations. It was very similar to evenings spent camping together before, the tension easing as reality settled over them. Karlach and Wyll leaned against one another, their fingers intertwined, her eyes fluttering shut slowly as Wyll laughed with Gale. Shadowheart stared into the hearth, her expression more peaceful than Tav had ever seen. She noticed the cleric stroking her palm from time to time, as though remembering the pain that Shar had plagued her with.

Astarion sat alone and in silence, staring through the cold glass of the window.

Tav made her way towards him. He had been quiet through most of the night, his features relaxed and dreamy. Beneath the veneer of disbelief, she could sense something closer to sadness.

“I forgot how good wine tasted,” he said as she sat beside him. He turned towards her slowly, as though reluctant to tear his gaze from the stars outside. “And food, gods I missed good food. And my face…” His fingers lifted trembling to a pale cheek, stroking the skin there. Tav smiled, floored by how lovely his eyes were. Without the intense scarlet hue, they reflected innocence. “I can never repay you. I saw the sun again today.”

“You’ll see it every day,” said Tav, taking his hand. “For the rest of your life.”

“The rest of my life,” Astarion echoed quietly. He turned back to the window. “Until I die. I’m going to die. I’m not immortal anymore. I used to pray to die, you know.”

“I know.”

“Now I have to do something with my life, I guess. What do you do after spending two hundred years as a slave? My…my parents must still be alive, I suppose. Do you think they would know who I am? Do you think I might find them?”

“I think you should look,” said Tav, watching the storm of emotions swirl in him. Astarion had gained, and lost, more than anybody besides perhaps herself. “I’ll help you.”

“Thank you,” he murmured, his eyes closing. “I know you’re sick of hearing it, but really. And tell your devil that I said thank you to him, too.”

“He really doesn’t need the praise,” Tav sighed, laughing slightly. “You know how Raphael is.” Astarion nudged her with his shoulder playfully.

“It’s always good to have friends in low places, darling.”
__________________________________

As the evening turned to night, the fire fizzled out, and her friends slowly fell asleep. Gale and Shadowheart took to her couches, each sprawled comfortably on the large cushions. Wyll and Karlach accepted her guest room, helping each other up the stairs with sweet, soft giggles. Astarion stayed in his armchair by the fire, his eyes glowing with moonlight as he watched the crescent move across the sky.

Tav headed up the stairs to her room, knowing that things were finally right in her world. Her sacrifice had meant something, and though she’d done it for the balance of the gods, seeing the joy and freedom in her friends was a singularly wonderful experience. Her mind was quiet, her fingers playing with the warm band of her gold ring as she put out the candles in her room. The infernal script along its sides was soft to the touch, carved with the delicacy of a masterpiece.

Her future sprawled out ahead of her. Crawling between the cool blankets of her bed, she couldn’t help but close her eyes and heat her ring, listening to his voice as though he whispered into her ear.

I love you, Octavia.

Chapter 16: Regalia

Notes:

I am DEVASTATED to see this story end. Hopefully it frees me of my curse (fixation) for a little bit though, and I can finally focus more on school and work. But don't worry, I will definitely be following up with more, probably a little slower than this (absolutely maniacal) one.

I wanted to take a minute to thank my readers and reviewers profusely. You've all been an incredible source of inspiration, I genuinely enjoy reading every single review on this fanfiction and I guarantee I'll continue to do so after it's done. It was a true, genuine pleasure to write this for all of you, I legitimately got so excited to edit and publish chapters for your responses. Thank you so much for being an incredible audience, I will continue to publish on here and LOVE your feedback. After tonight I'll take a bit to go back and reply to commentors on this and the previous chapter. I hope you enjoy this epilogue, even if it might not be what you expect!

Love you guys, thank you for a great time. I'll be here 🫶🏼

Chapter Text

Epilogue
--------

Tav eyed the woodline uncomfortably, although her horse seemed to be undisturbed by the strange quiet of the forest. She rode at the front of the caravan, her gray banner far more of a warning than a challenge. Something felt off, and Tav was quite familiar with the consequences of being caught unawares.

“Oh, can you relax,” laughed Silphi, riding up beside her. The druid beamed, delighted to be tasked for a mission away from the city for once. “It’s an escort, not an ambush. Besides, nobody could even know that we’re here, since the trip is off schedule anyways.”

“An escort for the oldest daughter of a council member of Amn,” said Tav grimly, glancing back at the carriage. The lady Evangeline had arrived at Baldur’s Gate with her own guard team in a nondescript carriage, but after losing most of them to an encounter with bandits on the road, had requested the fiercest support available for her return. And, of course, there was no stronger defense than Captain Octavia Sunrise and her specialized team. So she found herself on a several day trip out of the Sword Coast, on a guard detail for a political representative, as well as one of the wealthiest heiresses in Faerún.

Just over a year after her deal with Raphael, Tav’s life had taken several interesting turns. She glanced down at her ring, now bartered to the point where it had become fixed to her finger. Usually it inspired a deep feeling of love, but lately that feeling had become tainted by annoyance.

Her new team had become a pleasant distraction from the complications of her personal life. After Tav was cleared to remain on the Watch, Silphi had volunteered to accompany her reassignment to a specialized security team. In addition to the druid, Tav now held command over a cheerful young wizard named Talyn, Ilharess the half-drow fighter, and their cleric Chime.

Outside of the watch, she also occasionally recruited several others who she trusted enough to accompany her on certain missions. Looking back at the carriage, she saw the curtain in the window pulled back as far as it would go.

“Haarlep, can you please not ride right next to the carriage? She’s nineteen, give her some space.”

“I am not even looking at her,” huffed Haarlep, spurring their horse to catch up. “You know very well that this glamour is for Astarion; it’s not my fault if she likes what she sees.” They tossed their hair haughtily. Tav rolled her eyes, more than accustomed to the incubus’s antics. Forbidden from wearing Raphael’s forms when visiting, Haarlep often chose that of a human man…an exceptionally handsome one, with thick, long hair and dreamy green eyes. Their preferred form was so beautiful that men and women alike stopped dead in the streets to stare, which Tav didn’t mind at all, since it usually tore their attention from the hellbound oathbreaker paladin working for the Watch.

We do have quite the strange team.

“And I do so enjoy it,” called Astarion easily from behind. He was certainly no better, proving himself nearly as tempting of a view as the careless incubus. Astarion had returned to studies in an effort to reinstate his education as a magistrate of the city, but he didn’t turn up his nose when Tav asked him for support on important missions. The pay wasn’t glamorous, but he enjoyed the opportunity to benefit from the political connections that Tav often found herself involved in.

“Both of you get up here. Silphi, please cover the east flank. This is where the ambush happened last time, and I don’t want anybody to get distracted.”

Silphi nodded, slowing until she was beside the carriage. The little curtain dropped with a disappointed flick, and Tav stifled a laugh at Silphi’s offended glare. The druid was certainly pretty, but few mortals could compare to a true incubus.

“You know, I used to think you were lying about the surface world, but it’s much more fun than I had expected!” said Haarlep cheerfully, having already forgotten the young heiress. “Everybody is so nice to me. And your secret little missions are such fun!”

Of course they are. Once the Watch met Haarlep, it was over for her entire interrogations department. They begged Tav to request the incubus’s assistance from time to time, but Haarlep’s favorites were those sentenced to death, who often requested the services of the incubus rather than the noose. On top of that, not even enemies could bring themselves to attack the beautiful fiend.

Still, she couldn’t resent them. Raphael had agreed to their request to visit Tav regularly, seeing the incubus as yet another security measure to keep his consort from being assassinated or kidnapped into the hells. Not that I need it. And Haarlep had been growing more and more fond of the mortal world, seeing it as a quaint little vacation from their usual duties in Cania. Now that their fears of being discarded had been relieved, as both Raphael and Tav had insisted on keeping the incubus, Haarlep had relaxed into a much happier creature.

“You have the prettiest eyes…how I wish you’d let me take your form,” they sighed, gazing lovingly at Astarion as he rode up beside them. “You know, if you do, you get to feel twice the pleasure when we-”

Alright, I didn’t pull you up here to flirt,” said Tav loudly. Raphael’s restrictions on her relationship to Haarlep had long since been lifted, but the incubus loved to entertain themselves with their favorite handsome rogue on their short visits. “I need you two to keep lookout. There’s something going on in the woods, and we can’t afford to lose focus.”

“I mean, can’t we?”

Astarion’s flippant response was punctuated by the sound of arrows, a spray of them hitting the dirt in front of their horses. Meant to threaten rather than kill, the caravan skidded to a halt, and Tav’s heart plummeted.

An enormous party of bandits emerged from the shadows of the forest, comprised mostly of rogues, archers, and fighters. Six stepped into the road just ahead, with at least ten more on each side, and likely more behind. Evangeline’s remaining guard consisted of four armed fighters, and with Tav’s seven, they were still heavily outnumbered.

The report coming in hadn’t covered so many enemies, only five in the initial attack. But clearly the message of her ambush had spread across criminal networks, and many more had arrived to take their shot at the chance of kidnapping a famously wealthy, powerful heiress.

Even worse, the caravan was close to the southern border of the Sword Coast, and these bandits came from further down the road in Amn. They didn’t appear to recognize the paladin before them.

“Listen, I promise you that this isn’t worth it,” called Tav, reining in her horse. They pulled the large convoy to a stop, the guards tightening ranks on the carriage as instructed. “Please turn around and leave, I am begging you. It’s not going to go how you think it will go!”

Astarion sighed and readied his bow beside her, well versed in their standard procedure...which was to shoot as many as possible, as fast as possible, and all as accurately as possible, at the first sign of violence. The bandits laughed, the first sign of real danger. Tav’s horse shied nervously from the sound, echoing through the trees around them. Even more were emerging from the darkness, bringing the total number of bandits close to sixty. f*ck.

“Oh, I’m sure that you would love for us to leave, but unfortunately we’re here to make an important pickup,” said one of the men in front of her, a broad shouldered barbarian carrying an ax. “Drop the girl, and we might let you go.”

“He’s lying,” said Haarlep brightly. As a devil, they had keener senses than most. “You had better get them out of here soon!” Tav clenched her teeth.

“I know you don’t know who I am, but-”

A sharp whir cut through the air, the arrow hurtling straight towards Tav’s chest.

White fire erupted around her in a massive tornado from her ring, quickly engulfing the arrow along with the entire band of enemies encircling the caravan. Tav cried out in angry disappointment, her head tipping back in defeat as the bandits on the outer rings of the fire began to scream and run. It was too late…before they could make it further than a few steps, the fire swallowed them entirely, bright white sigils flashing over their bodies as they burned and died.

The flames faded as the last enemy fell, and the carriage door slammed open, the girl leaping down to see the burned bodies.

“Incredible!” she cried, her hand clutching at the neck of her gown. She stared at the evaporating plumes of smoke, the untouched forest and guards. “Incredible!! Oh gods, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! You have to come and work for me, I’ll pay anything!

“I didn’t do anything,” grumbled Tav sourly, hearing the crack go off behind her. She turned to glower at Raphael, who looked nearly as smug as he did sharply dressed. “What is even the point of being a paladin? Can you wait and let me handle things next time?” Evangeline stumbled back, shocked by the sudden appearance of the Archdevil of Cania.

“Hello, wife,” he said, taking her hand to pull her down from her horse. She fell into his arms with a heavy and irritated thump before being placed on the ground. “You skipped your visit.”

“Don’t change the subject,” she growled. “You know I’ve been working. As I said before, can you please let me handle things before stepping in? They didn’t all need to be sent to the hells.”

“Clause eleven, subclause phi, section four: the benefactor must provide services deemed necessary to ensure the ongoing survival of the signatory party in support of ‘natural death’, up to and including performing the removal or execution of adversaries deemed hostile through thought, action, writing, or word. Addendum thirty-nine: in exchange for the ‘friendlies’ exemption, signatory accepts the equal exchange of branding authority.” Raphael smiled down at her before pulling her into a hug, his dark eyes glowing. Tav scowled back; he always had a special little smirk saved for when he used their contract against her. “I’m sorry my love, we’re still perfectly within the parameters of our deal.”

“Yes, I know my contract. We have too many addendums, can you at least give me a faster recitation on my ring?”

“No.” He kissed her forehead before releasing her. “How is your trip going? You’re almost in Amn.”

“Hi, Archdevil!” Silphi slid from her horse, skipping up to Raphael. “Are you coming with us to the benefit? It’s supposed to be a very formal event, you would adore it!”

“I am, I planned to meet you in Athkatla. I have some business in the City of Coin, but Octavia knows how I feel about travel.” He slipped an arm around Tav, fingers brushing her hip lightly. She was still upset about the dozens they had just sentenced to an eternity in Cania, but there was little to do for it now besides brainstorming yet another addendum to mitigate the damage her last one had done.

At least these ones were criminals. Despite her valiant effort, Tav hadn’t placed enough specifications on the definition of “protection,” and she had been paying dearly for the oversight over the course of the last year. Raphael’s ring, as touching as her enchanted heartbeat had appeared, turned out to serve as far more than a sentimental token of his feelings towards his mortal wife. She had quickly learned that it doubled as an indicator towards her emotional state, and subsequently blew up her entire row of townhouses in hellfire one night after spilling boiling water on herself.

Her neighbors thankfully hadn’t been dragged to the hells, but they weren’t any less dead for it. Tav had quickly moved to a larger property with land, a bonus that Raphael had been visibly delighted over, considering he spent half of his evenings on her plane. And a long series of adjustments to her contract began, whittling away at her freedoms until they landed on the point she stood at now. Still an explosion of hellfire, but scaled to her environment, and restrained to mortal, immortal, undead, mechanical, spiritual, summoned, and enchanted enemies. And, with the hefty price of safe passage for friendly and neutral parties in the vicinity of it going off, she had allowed Raphael to enchant her with the authority to soul brand others.

What Tav hadn’t realized was that the execution of her ring’s protective inferno would apply the soul brand automatically, delivering a platoon of fresh souls straight to Raphael every single time it was triggered.

Despite the grim outcome of these sporadic encounters, the demand for her professional support skyrocketed; Baldur’s Gate’s city councellors had argued vehemently with her when Tav had tried to turn in her uniform, almost universally insisting that she remain on the Watch. Although her radius in the moral spectrum was decidedly gray, really encompassing victim, judge, jury, and executioner, they had insisted that she was a critical asset to the city’s most valuable security missions. And, to their credit, they weren’t necessarily wrong: Tav had a zero percent failure rate since she’d been branded.

The upside that kept her complacent in the workforce was the fact that after only a few missions, every criminal in the Sword Coast turned tail at the very sight of her colors. And her reputation spread further still, an unignorable warning to any who felt the urge to challenge her. The encounters ending in tragedy became so few and far between that she eventually felt less guilty about staying on her job.

Nobody else on her team found her predicament to be of much concern. Raphael had charmed them immediately, and even with the horrors of his soul brand, they were always happy to see him. Astarion laughed as he surveyed the field of corpses surrounding the convoy, and Evangeline’s guards resumed their formation around the carriage.

“It’s somehow funny every single time,” Astarion chuckled, watching Haarlep slide from their horse to leap into Raphael’s arms. “I know it’s extortion, but my gods, you must give him credit for being creative.” Astarion laughed helplessly from atop his horse.

You’re supposed to be my lawyer,” Tav groaned, sliding a hand over her face. “Help me come up with something to get the soul brand off of the ring.” She’d appointed her own legal team to review her contract, and assist her with adjudication going forward, including Talyn the wizard. He was young, but hand selected for her team due to his extensive studies of Baator. What she hadn’t anticipated was Talyn’s near hero worship of the archdevil. He ran up now with the others, awed into excited silence.

“Love, nobody bests the devil at his own game,” said Raphael smugly. He stroked the incubus’s hair as they snuggled him adoringly. “Although I will admit that you played a truly remarkable hand. Now hurry along, I will meet you at the gate.” He pushed Haarlep gently towards their horse, raising a hand to displace himself.

“No, come with us!” called Silphi pleadingly. “Come on, we’re almost there! You can ride with Tav, I’ll take her bags. Thatcher can carry you both!” Silphi was technically correct, as Tav’s horse was a sturdy half draft, and Raphael was dressed in light summer clothes. He considered the large bay horse with skepticism.

“I suppose it’s not far,” he conceded, turning to hold his hand low to Tav. “My lady.” She accepted the step up, secretly pleased to see him flick mud from his hand with mild disgust before climbing up behind her. Her team resounded with soft ‘awww’s’.

“I want that, where do I find a husband like Raphael?” sighed Silphi to Talyn, who nodded in shy agreement.

“You guys know he’s the devil, right?” Tav called to them, flushing red as she felt the heat of him behind her, his thighs straddling hers. She thanked the gods that she was wearing armor, so at least she wouldn’t feel him against her ass.

“He’s hot,” said Ilharess, shrugging, most of her face concealed beneath her hood. She had a wife, but didn’t mind Raphael’s company. “Also, you’re the one who married him.” They resumed their path down the road, horses stepping over or around the piles of ash as though accustomed to the routine.

“I like your friends,” Raphael murmured in her ear. He kissed the sensitive skin behind it, making her shiver as he turned Thatcher back to the road. “I’m glad you didn’t accidentally kill them.”

Me?” Tav hissed back at him, half turning in her indignation. “You’re the one who made the ring impossible to remove! And explosive!

“All entirely necessary, and legal, precautions,” he said loftily. She was mad, but he did make for a comfortable backrest. Tav grumbled to herself, anger simmering back into simple annoyance. You did marry him. “I made some arrangements, we’ll be hosted in the Center District on arrival.”

The others whooped behind her, those closest enough to hear. Their temporary lodging had been assigned to the Guards District, but Tav knew her team had been secretly hoping for Raphael’s attendance on their trip, as he had a tendency to pull favors for better rooms. The Center District was certainly not the most luxurious place in Athkatla, but there was far more to do there than in any other section.

“Really? Not the Scepter District? Here I thought you were somebody important,” joked Tav dryly, familiar with the counties separating the massive merchant city. The Scepter District was the finest, housing only the wealthiest, oldest families in Amn. Raphael chuckled, and she could feel his laughter against her back. One of his hands slipped from the reins to wrap possessively around her waist.

“You’re getting rather cheeky, my love. Of course I could set us up there, but my business is elsewhere.” His breath was warm on her neck. “Now, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve been very polite to you, and have yet to hear one kind word in response. One kind word in particular.” His voice lowered, a private demand for only Tav to hear. She clenched her jaw, knowing exactly what he wanted.

“Now?” She glanced to the side to ensure that the others were further behind. Astarion and Haarlep had fallen back, resuming their playful flirting just ahead of the carriage. Neither was paying any attention.

“Now.”

Master,” she whispered, blushing deeply. He hummed against her skin, satisfied.

“That’s all, for saving your life?” It was a question and it was not a question. Tav grimaced, but her hips shifted slightly in the saddle.

“…thank you, master.” Her voice was too soft for the others to hear. Raphael breathed in her humiliation, his hand sliding along the inside of her thigh. Her curse might be dormant for now, but there was nothing stopping him from tempting her naturally. “You’re a lot, you know.” She sounded breathless even to her own ears.

“I should never have treated your suffering like a buffet,” he sighed, holding her to him. “It was in poor taste. You’re so much more suitable as a delicacy, my little mouse.”

Tav didn’t respond, vividly recalling their last week together in the hells. Raphael had taken her to a different layer every visit for the last few months, intent on showing her the nine levels of Baator. Their last trip had been to Stygia, the bottomless ocean through which ran the mighty river Styx. Hosted by a gorgeous barge to the city of Tantlin, Raphael had spent every night indulgently ravishing her, and every day finding new ways to subjugate her. She had thought it would be easier to resist her curse when she was familiar with its torment, but to her chagrin Raphael knew how to exercise it in ways that would make her do almost anything for relief.

It had been humiliating, painful, and humbling. It had been one of the most erotic experiences of her life. The memory of Raphael restraining her to the floor all day and then f*cking her senseless afterwards still sent her reeling in the saddle.

“Thinking strange things, my love?”
_________________________________________

Their arrival in Athkatla was met with unsurprising fanfare, nearly all of it for the young woman concealed in the dark wood carriage. Tav would have enjoyed the chance for anonymity, had she not been marked by so many strange sigils and designs. Between the cheers for Evangeline’s return, she saw glances and whispers exchanged in the crowd. Although some regions were remote enough for her to get away with the mark on her chest, the City of Coin certainly had more than enough infernal debtors for a devil’s sigil to be quite recognizable. As for the devil beside her, well, even disguised as a human he was the object of focus for many of the onlookers.

“I’m not wearing all of this later,” she said to Raphael behind her. “We’re in regular clothes tonight. I’m allowed not to during my time off.”

“I know, pet,” he said in reply, sliding from Thatcher’s wide back to walk beside her. A lord approached, intending to greet Tav as the team captain, but he stopped dead as he recognized Raphael.

“Ar-lord, I mean, m-master…Master Raphael,” he finally settled on a title, his eyes wide and horrified. He bowed deeply. “What an unexpected surprise! How wonderful, Councilman Charin or did not inform me that you would be accompanying-“

“Councilman Charin is not entitled to my comings and goings,” said Raphael coldly. “I decided to attend the benefit; you’ll find my invitation to be in order.” There was a distinct chill in the air. Raphael was more cross than previously indicated, or it could be that this specific man had peeved him off before. Raphael’s attitude and the lord’s immediate groveling made Tav think that he was likely indebted to a devil, and not the one beside her. As she well knew, her husband maintained certain courtesies towards his direct clients.

“Of course, of course. Let me take your horses, we must host you in one of the guest houses in Scepter! No need for royalty to stay among the common rabble, come along.”

“We’re perfectly fine in Center, I have business to attend to here. You may take the pup, and let the Councilman know that we’ll make our way to the banquet in due time.” He tipped his head back towards the carriage, where Evangeline cowered. Despite her wonder at hellfire, she had been too frightened to emerge again after Raphael had joined their party. Tav had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t going to be getting that job offer from her anytime soon.

“You’re not even on our task force,” she growled at him, sliding down from her horse. Raphael led the rest of her team on foot to Silverale, one of the finest and oldest inns in the city. The others dismounted and followed suit, chattering excitedly behind the pair.

“I’m sorry my love, friend of the family,” he said, taking the reins from her hands and kissing her cheek. Raphael’s code for ‘indebted to somebody in my direct chain of command.’ “You may check us in if you’d like, the suite should be under my name. Go ahead and get comfortable, I have people to see but I will join you tonight.”

“You’re an archdevil, shouldn’t you be working in Scepter?” asked Tav curiously, her fingers closing on his hand. Raphael stopped and turned to her. “I thought you’d be managing bigger fish, so to speak.” He laughed, good humored once again.

“A common misconception, that a greater devil will only work with “greater” clients. Money is certainly important to a fledgling, necessary for building a foundation of buyers. By the time you reach my position and experience, you’re far beyond dealing in gold; the wealth of mortals is no more than another tool. One fatal illness in the right person, and even the kings of Cormyr would pour from their treasuries. A greater devil deals in souls, and the greatest still in power.” Raphael spoke evenly, as though reciting a lesson. Tav had the chilling feeling that that was exactly his intention, as though he were mentoring a fledgling devil himself. “There is a certain power among the elite, and their relationships to be maintained, but the trick is to remember that the next greatest hero is always yet to be born. Develop the nose for finding them, and you will never go hungry, sweetling.”

“You came to me to make a deal over souls, even as an Archdevil,” Tav pointed out. Raphael smiled, pulling her to him with one hand and kissing her gently.

“I wasn’t hunting souls, I was hunting you.”

He vanished.
_________________________________________

Tav cut the thick flap of the envelope open, pleased to see several pages of text concealed within. Drawing the densely filled sheets out, she settled into the bay window of their Silverale suite apartment. Her wet hair was piled and wrapped in a towel, feeling wonderfully clean after several days of travel. She had tugged an overlong shirt over bare skin, just something comfortable to lounge in before meeting up with the team for supper.

Raphael had reserved the entire top two floors, to the delight of the others. They quickly scattered into the luxurious rooms, unpacking for the short stay allotted by the city. Although the escort mission was complete, they had all been invited to the Athkatla banquet as a gesture of gratitude. Tav wasn’t fooled, and neither was the Council; they were far more interested in meeting the hero of the Sword Coast…and although nobody would dare to say it outright, her infamous patron and husband.

Still, the politicians running the Sword Coast loved to exercise their newest instrument of diplomatic power. So Tav had been instructed to attend, smiling and ready to make friends.

The letters helped. Before departing, Tav had made sure to pack her latest messages from the old team, knowing that they helped her to focus on what was truly important.

Wyll and Karlach. The letter from them was long, written in Wyll’s neat, uniform script, and stamped on the front with his family seal. They had gotten married within a month of escaping the hells, and were touring the Sword Coast now as ambassadors of the Grand Duke. Their friendship had taken a heavy toll from her contract with Raphael; he was certainly unwelcome from their company, and Tav had suffered through the grief of losing certain aspects of their prior relationship. She couldn’t blame them; Karlach had been right. Devils had a way of sticking to you once they found their way into your life, and having escaped a life in the hells by the skin of her teeth, Karlach was wary of being fooled by one again. Still, they took the time to write her long and detailed letters, certainly out of fondness and respect for the bond they had once shared. She wasn’t sure, but from the wording in this letter, it seemed they were considering trying for children soon.

Gale. He had not written nearly as much, which was surprising given his verbosity. He was rather busy in Waterdeep, having taken a job teaching at the Blackstaff Academy, and it sounded like Hope had taken up with him there. Tav had seen Hope again at Karlach’s wedding, truly speaking with her for the first time since they had met in her house. She was sure that the dwarf was enjoying her stay in Waterdeep, and wondered if she would become a permanent resident there. Like the others, Hope maintained no desire to see more of Raphael.

Shadowheart had no need to write; she visited Tav often, taking on a role in the Selunite Temple with Isobel and Aylin. She and Astarion had stayed closest to Tav, regardless of the cleric’s reservations about Raphael. Shadowheart had even attended dinners with them more than once, although she was adamantly opposed to revisiting the hells.

Still, on these extended missions, it meant a lot to Tav to have something to remind her of the friends she had sacrificed for. The distance among them shifted and changed over time, but she knew that they would come to her aid should the need arise. Others wrote too, though more sporadically; Halsin, Jaheira, even Minsc sent her notes from time to time. Tav liked to save them for long trips, when she had the most time to write thoughtful replies.

She read each letter through several times, smiling to herself as she considered how their lives were moving forward. She reflected on her own, pleased with some of the changes, apprehensive about others. The thought of family had never really crossed her mind before, and Raphael seemed to produce a new adventure for her every week; ‘settling down’ wasn’t exactly on her plate.

But without the desire for family, or the urge to pursue a life of power, and now with the daunting possibility of eternity sprawling before her, in which strings did her future hang?
_________________________________________

Tav didn’t turn at the sound of Raphael displacing into the room.

“I picked up a dress for you to wear tonight,” he said, and she glanced towards the bed to see an exquisite, dusty rose evening gown, complete with a pair of shoes and delicate, silver strand jewelry. Tav didn’t mind that Raphael liked to pick out her clothes for formal events; she had never enjoyed putting outfits together, and her promotion had come with the unfortunate side effect of mandated elbow rubbing.

Her devil, however, was exponentially more mindful of appearances. He wore a freshly tailored black suit with blood red trim, the cuffs and collar accented by the exact same shade of rose as her gown. Begrudgingly, she had to admit that they would look incredible standing together.

After checking himself in the mirror, Raphael shrugged free of the jacket, snapping it out of the plane rather than risk letting it wrinkle. Tav laughed.

“The banquet doesn’t start for a few hours,” she said, setting down her stack of papers and eyeing his clean, pressed clothing with speculation. “Excited?”

“Always,” he purred, stalking towards her before leaning his hands on either side of the bay window ledge. Tav’s heart pounded; no matter how much he might annoy and antagonize her, she was always smitten first. “A little preparation can go a long way. Speaking of, why don’t you tell me how your little friends are doing?”

As he spoke, his hands teased the buttons of her long shirt until it hung gracefully from her shoulders. Tav didn’t even bother covering herself, knowing that he would stop her. Raphael slid his arms under her lower back and bare thighs, carrying her to the enormous bed. As he walked his form shifted into cambion, larger and more imposing.

Tav gasped slightly when he set her on her feet, his hand grabbing the back of her neck and turning her to face the lush bedspread. After a brief pause, he stripped off the shirt and bent her forcefully over the mattress.

“Ah, Wyll and Karlach stayed in Baldur’s Gate,” she began, finally finding her voice. “I think they’re trying to have a baby.”

Children. What a bane to mortal ambition.” His hands ran up the outside of her thighs, and Tav heard the soft thump of his knee hitting the floor. She shuddered to feel his warm breath against her, the barest brush of his tongue. “Open your legs.”

She obeyed, widening her stance enough for her back to arch slightly. Raphael kissed the back of her thighs, the feeling of his scorching lips making her bite the silky bedspread to stifle her moan. Satisfied, she could feel his smile against her hypersensitive skin. He teased her at an agonizingly slow pace.

“G-Gale is back in…Waterdeep,” she gasped, quivering as he dragged his hot tongue up the dripping center of her sex. She whimpered into the blankets as he repeated the motion several more times, her knees starting to feel weak. “He’s working at a, ah, the academy.” The soft but firm pressure, combined with the incomparable sensation of his searing touch, sent her spiraling into near wordlessness.

Raphael hummed rather than stop his attention for a response; the low vibration was heavenly.

“You’re lucky I just bathed,” she said faintly. Impatient after days of sleeping alone, she resisted the urge to beg him to take her. If he sensed that she was too desperate, Raphael would immediately move to exploit that. He froze, before co*cking his head to give her a level stare as she looked back at him over her shoulder.

“You think I’d be doing this if you’d just gotten off of six days on a horse?” he asked dryly, and she choked back a laugh. He half smiled, enjoying her humor, before resuming the task at hand. He kissed and teased her with single minded dedication, leaning in as she surrendered to her instincts and rocked back against him. Her muffled whining grew louder, desire flaming into overwhelming need. Just as she was about to give in and ask for him to f*ck her, Raphael stopped again.

“Where’s Haarlep? Should we get Haarlep?” He looked around the room, seeming to realize for the first time that they were actually alone. Tav couldn’t even respond, her face buried in her arms. “Haarlep!

With a crack, the incubus appeared, freshly bathed and wrapped in a clean white robe. They looked breathless already, the robe disheveled at the shoulders, but didn’t complain about the abrupt summoning.

“Oh master, how lovely,” Haarlep exclaimed instantly, eyes widening at the sight of Tav bent over the bed. Raphael smiled and stood, to Tav’s extreme displeasure. Instead of greeting them, he crossed the room to snag a chair from the desk. “Are we playing tonight?”

“Why don’t you two go first,” said Raphael, easing back into the comfortable chair. “Whatever form you want.”

Thrilled, the incubus instantly shifted into one of their favorite forms…and one of Tav’s, too. It was a tall, slim, smoldering devil with jet black hair and lovely golden eyes, her skin the color of cinnamon, dark freckles scattered across their shoulders and back like a constellation of stars. Peach colored wings fanned behind them. The robe vanished, leaving them in strappy black lingerie.

Pulling Tav upright, they fell easily into her arms, plush lips soft and fragrant against hers. Tav smiled and relaxed, the two climbing onto the bed with practiced harmony. Haarlep’s lips were delicious, a heady mix of red wine and intoxicating incubus saliva. After what felt like a moment and an eternity of making out, Tav began to feel light.

Free to enjoy each other fully, Tav and Haarlep had spent many nights doing just this, some with Raphael and some without. Although the incubus was a welcome partner in the bedroom, Haarlep was a flighty creature who enjoyed an active chase…and occasionally one with a kill.

Still, evenings like these were treasured, when all three had the time and interest to play together. Tav’s hands roamed Haarlep’s sleek body with a keen hunger, fingers lingering along the straps of their lingerie as she sank into blissful indulgence. Leaning towards them, she let her fingertips graze very intentionally along the firm tip of each breast. The incubus whined into her mouth, eager for more, and quickly pushed Tav down.

Ah, on your back Haarlep,” Raphael checked them. They growled against Tav’s lips, sharp teeth snagging her skin before they reluctantly withdrew and turned over. Raphael stood then, gesturing for Tav to step off of the bed with a quick curve of two fingers. Sliding from the bed, he positioned her in the same stance she’d occupied before; legs spread, and her torso bent over the mattress. Only this time, Haarlep was squirming with excitement beneath her. Their slender legs were parted and quivering at Tav’s face, wings spread across the blanket on either side.

Tav kissed the incubus’s stomach, her hands sliding down Haarlep’s hips teasingly as she felt them start to lap at her with sharp impatience, their head at the very edge of the bed beneath her.

Raphael knelt again, and the two lavished her dripping entrance with demanding lips and tongues. Tav whined against Haarlep’s wet heat, trying to keep her senses enough to reciprocate, but she was no match for two experienced devils.

Her whole body shook from the urge to climax, and she could feel Raphael holding her release tightly under his control. He quickly wrapped his arms around her thighs, bracing her without stopping his ministrations. Haarlep wrapped their legs around the back of Tav’s neck, muffling her scream as Raphael pushed slowly into her, his longer cambion tongue almost dropping her to the floor. No longer able to focus on anything but org*sm, she bucked hard against them.

BANG BANG BANG

Excuse me, first of all you can’t just snatch someone’s partner right out of a bed, who raised you!? Give Haarlep back right now, before I come in there!” Astarion’s voice rose high and angry from just on the other side of the door. “Secondly, while I’m here, I’m going to point out that it is absolute bullsh*t that the person in the party sleeping with two devils is the paladin.”

Everybody on the bed froze, Raphael turning slightly to look at the locked door behind him. He and Haarlep exchanged a glance between Tav’s legs.

“Octavia?” He fielded it to her. Tav, panting and aching with the need to come, growled.

“Gods no, I work with him,” she huffed, biting the inside of Haarlep’s thigh firmly in an attempt to re-engage. The incubus moaned, twisting slightly beneath her. “Haarlep, if you want to go back then go ahead.”

“Haarlep, what do you think?” Raphael redirected the question. “Go back, or let him in?” As they turned the thought over, he delicately licked his wife’s flavor from Haarlep’s lips.

“M-master,” they whimpered, kissing him passionately. Tav rolled her eyes, already knowing what the incubus would choose.

No, you two don’t get to outvote me,” Tav snapped, turning her head back towards them. The devils were making out fiercely between her legs, small growls punctuating nips. “He’s my friend and I’m saying no. He’s also my lawyer, and that’s called a conflict of interest! Raphael, you hardly have to see him, so you don’t get a vote at all.”

Raphael chucked, rising from his knees to stand behind Tav. As he did, his form shifted to human, a better height accommodation for her bent over the bed. But rather than his co*ck, she felt two fingers push into her, stroking deep and slow as Haarlep resumed sucking on her. Tav’s head dropped again, waves of shivering pleasure washing over her. She moaned between Haarlep’s soft thighs.

“Then how about I make an offer, instead?” His tone was low and playful. Tav felt herself flex around his fingers, more excited by the thought than she wanted to admit. “If we let him join, and if he agrees to my conditions, I will let you choose who, if any, to soul brand when your ring goes off. To be upheld for one year.”

Tav considered it. A year was a long time for her to figure out what she had to do to make it permanent…and the exchange didn’t cost her much. Still, she weighed the possibility of consequences, if any.

“I’ll make it simple; you don’t even have to touch him. I won’t either, if you prefer. Your only condition is that you must deny him three times.”

“Dare I ask you to tell me if this is a trap?” sighed Tav, pushing herself up from Haarlep. “You’re not going to hurt him, right?” Raphael smiled and held up his hands, letting her get up from the bed.

BANG BANG BANG

“You have my word; nothing will be done to the elf that he hasn’t agreed to, and no harm will come to him. Besides, if he doesn’t fully enjoy himself, I’m sure that Haarlep will be amenable to making up the difference at a later time.” The two exchanged a look, and the incubus immediately positioned themself attractively on the blankets, wings relaxed in an elegant sweep behind them. Tav rubbed her eyes, her excitement dampened by the interruption.

“Fine. But if I say stop, it stops.”

“My love I remain at your disposal, but I would never dare to separate lovers. Should your friend wish to leave, he is free to go. If you are uncomfortable, I’ll send him out with Haarlep. Are you satisfied?”

Unable to figure out the catch, and knowing that even one soul saved could be worth the risk, Tav finally nodded. Eyes gleaming, Raphael immediately turned and walked to the door, shifting back into cambion form as he went. Suddenly self conscious, Tav grabbed a sheet to cover herself before he opened it.

About time you, ah,” Astarion jerked back, not accustomed to seeing Raphael as a devil. Though rattled, his eyes flickered to Haarlep on the bed behind him; though in a different form than when they were teleported from his room, Astarion was well acquainted with this body. Tav could see him swallow. “I…I’d ask if I were interrupting, but to be fair you interrupted me first.”

Raphael chuckled and leaned down, lips almost touching Astarion’s ear as he whispered. He murmured something too soft for her or Haarlep to hear, but from Haarlep’s excitedly thumping tail, the incubus was well aware of what was about to happen. Astarion looked up at Raphael, eyes wide, seeming to think about whatever he had been told. Apprehension and desire colored his expression equally.

Behind Tav, Haarlep’s legs slid apart.

As soon as the elf crossed the threshold of the room, the incubus moved towards him, quickly wrapping their nude form in his arms.

She and Astarion met eyes briefly, and Tav almost said something, but Raphael snapped and two large armchairs appeared on opposite sides of the room, directly across from each other. As though they were of one mind, he drew her towards one at the same time as Haarlep took Astarion to the other.

He sat and pulled her into his lap, straddling his thighs. Haarlep pushed Astarion down and mirrored her.

“Raphael,” Tav started softly, falling silent as he kissed her. His hands buried in the sheet around her, holding her tight against his body. Still dizzy from Haarlep’s kiss, she felt warmth pool low in her belly.

“Relax, you’ll both enjoy yourselves. Don’t you trust me?” He smirked against her mouth, already knowing the answer. Tav sank her teeth into his lip, hard enough to feel the burn of his blood. Raphael snarled appreciatively, his eyes dark with desire. “Ignore them if you like; why don’t you undress me?”

It was easy to ignore them from his lap, wrapped in cool silk sheets. Tav unbuttoned his shirt slowly, her fingers trailing on searing skin as she stripped him. His intense golden eyes were fixed on her, wings curved around her to give the illusion of privacy. Beneath her, she could feel his hardness straining against her.

Once his shirt was off, he displaced the rest of his clothes. Tav arched up to slide him into her, but Raphael held her still. With a mischievous smile, he tugged her sheet off, baring her in the warm room. Tav stiffened, but didn’t resist as he turned her around in his lap, spreading his legs so she could brace her toes against the floor.

Lifting her hips, Raphael began to pull her down on him. Tav’s lips parted in a moan, her eyes rolling back as she felt herself stretching around him. He was too big to take comfortably in cambion form, and Tav began to gasp, and then squeal, from pain as he forced inch after inch into her.

The other party across the room took no notice. Haarlep was now riding Astarion energetically, their sleek back to Tav and Raphael, their wings open and tail swishing. Astarion gasped beneath them, hands grasping their waist. His eyes were half closed, a muscle in his jaw tightening as he tried to hold back against the insistent incubus.

Raphael’s hands relaxed, and Tav lifted to relieve herself of the pressure. Her back arched as she leaned forward to brace her hands against Raphael’s knees, and she felt his hands move to stroke her lower back. She worked herself on his co*ck slowly, shivering at the raw sensation of her sex choking on him. He didn’t rush her; the view from behind must have been delicious, because he leaned back and let her set the pace.

Ah!” Astarion cried out across the room, his legs flexing up as he arched into Haarlep. He seemed about to climax, his white curls a tangle of silky sweat, his eyes closed against the force of nature that was the incubus in his lap. He bucked up into them, and despite the intimacy of the moment, Tav found herself unable to look away. She’d always avoided thinking about him from that perspective, but she had to admit that he looked beautiful like this. Right on the edge of org*sm, she couldn’t tear her eyes from him.

Astarion arched, panting, his tendons visible from across the room where she rode Raphael. To her initial confusion, nothing seemed to happen. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. Tav stared in growing realization and horror as she recalled the sole condition that Raphael has given her. ‘You must deny him three times.’

“T-Tav, can I,” he gasped, humiliation and submission coloring his tone. He clung to Haarlep desperately, aching to come. Raphael sat up then, his arms wrapping around her. His teeth sank into her shoulder, a gentle reminder.

“Not yet,” she murmured, sucking in her breath as the pleasure that had been due to him coursed through her body instead. She couldn’t help it; Tav rode harder and faster, delirious with the feeling of a stolen org*sm.

Octavia!” The pitch of his cry held a disturbing familiarity, the kind that had once echoed back to her unanswered. Fear, pain, and a desire so ferocious and primal that there were no words that could capture it. Now, for the first time, she was watching someone else experience her own suffering.

“If you break your condition, the deal is off,” Raphael whispered to her, before kissing her neck passionately. His hands roamed her body, stroking her thighs, teasing her breasts, stoking the flames that sent her into blissful nirvana. His hips rocked beneath her, just enough friction to sustain the tremors of her climax.

“I’m sorry,” she cried, flushing with shame and carnal satisfaction as she peaked again, this time riding Raphael fiercely despite the agony of taking his size. She tried to stifle her moans with one hand, biting down on her palm as she milked herself helplessly on Raphael. He was quiet, enjoying her pleasure taken at the expense of another. She could feel the muscles of his legs tremble, the hot slide of his tip leaking gratuitously inside of her. Raphael was holding back, but his excitement was palpable, and his own climax not far off.

Octavia please!” Astarion howled, jerking her out of her reverie. There was a violent motion, Haarlep twisting and dropping both of them to the floor. Now trapped beneath the incubus, Astarion’s entire body was almost paralyzed with tension. His hands were clenched on Haarlep’s hips, shaking as though he didn’t know whether to throw the incubus off of him or pull them in. Tav was intimately familiar with the feeling. “Octavia!! Please, you need to say yes!

Pulling herself together, she twisted in Raphael’s lap.

“What did you say to him?” She could hardly force the words out, but she needed to know. Raphael chuckled against her back, the deep vibration shaking in her chest.

“I told him that he had to ask you,” Raphael whispered, now pulling her down on him hard. Tav could feel her soft, stretching lips kissing the base of his shaft, his back arching. “And that he could only ask three times.”

Oh. She saw the game now. Tav was going to have to either break her deal, and with it her agreement on the soul brand, or she was going to have to choose to subject her closest friend to the same torture that she had eventually come to accept for herself.

“Do we have a divorce clause?” she groaned, sweat dripping from her brow as she watched Astarion whined on the floor under Haarlep. The incubus held nothing back, seeming to be as determined to make him scream as they were to enjoy themself doing it.

What if nobody triggered her ring for the next year? What if someone did, and hundreds were damned that she could have saved? What if Astarion couldn’t forgive her? Was one life worth inflicting suffering if it was against someone else’s will? It must be. Was it because she wanted to spare a life, or because she felt a flame of lust spark at the desperation in his eyes? He has only a moment of this, I live this every month.

“I’m sorry,” she cried, her body straining, clenching almost painfully on Raphael’s lap. He held her close, supporting her weight to keep her from falling as she endured the whirling vortex inside of her. Her third climax, his, crashed mindlessly around her, engulfing her entire body in searing pleasure. “I’m so sorry! Raphael, please stop!”

With a snap, both Astarion and Haarlep disappeared, and Raphael lifted Tav from the chair, carrying her to the bed. Laying her down, he thrust back into her with a hard, deep pump. His rhythm was already erratic, close to release after watching her; she winced as he bottomed out, despite the flash of arousal at his violent need.

“Astarion,” gasped Tav, tears in her eyes. Raphael kissed them lovingly, but didn’t slow in her.

“Is perfectly fine,” he reassured, catching her lips in his for a few long, heavenly minutes. “Now you can trust me, my dear. Haarlep is going to reward him with the kind of night that most mortals will only see in their dreams…and he’ll get his satisfaction.”

“Then why?” She shuddered, pleasure and pain overwhelming her. Raphael f*cking her in cambion form was always intense, almost frightening in the balance between helplessness and power.

“For me, sweetling,” he whispered. “I wanted to watch you enjoy it.”

He saw. Of course he saw. Raphael knew her heart like nobody else, could smell the selfish, petty, pridefully human half of her as well as he knew his own. Astarion had never been in any danger; Raphae’s end goal was to watch her choose to do something wicked. No. He wanted to watch me enjoy choosing to do something wicked.

“Gods, I’m going to be fighting you forever, aren’t I?” she groaned, biting her lips as he slammed into her. Black spots danced behind closed eyes, begging her to endure and reveling in the act of enduring.

“Doesn’t that sound like a thrilling eternity, wife?” Buried to the hilt, he kissed her more slowly than she was expecting. Tav felt herself melt. It does. Her hands slid to his face, before wrapping around his horns to hold him close. He growled quietly, and she could feel his release in her.

“I love you,” she whispered, the truth that persisted no matter what face her husband wanted to show her…because as much as he knew the nature of her heart, so too did she know his. Raphael smiled against her lips.

“I love you too.”
_________________________________________

Tav smiled uncomfortably, her arm looped loosely in Raphael’s. The dusty rose gown hung elegantly on her, floor length with a high lace neckline and a low, seductive back. At her throat was the silver necklace, a familiar sigil hanging at the end of it above the curve of her breast.

Raphael had functioned with a fair amount of anonymity when she’d first met him. Despite his rank and power in the hells, he had been only one of Mephistopheles’ many children, and a half bred one at that. After his ascension to Archdevil some notoriety was to be expected, and Tav had certainly seen and heard it in Baldur’s Gate.

Athkatla, however, was a whole other story.

Who knew that so many socialites here deal with devils? Despite the fact that none would acknowledge it out loud, and certainly they did not crowd him, it seemed that everybody at the banquet knew her husband. Some walked up and greeted him as an old friend; others discreetly fled the room. That particular deferential tone that she’d born witness to for the last year tainted the words of every single individual who even approached them, from the serving staff to the lords and councilmembers.

The banquet was a spectacular, enormous event, hosted in the magnificent Glass Tower in Scepter District. The ceiling was vaulted so high that she could hardly tell the glass ceiling from the scattering of stars above it, and both real and magical flowers decorated every pillar and wall. Tables were stacked with food and drink, music playing from magic boxes all around the room in gorgeous synchrony. There was talk, laughter, speeches, and plenty of space for eating or dancing. Wait staff wound through the crowd, offering drinks and snacks to any too occupied for the offering tables. Tav had never seen so many well-dressed people in her entire life; priceless jewels studded the necks, heads, and hands of every person in the room. She performed the appropriate courtesies to Evangeline’s parents, before trying to melt back into the crowd…an impossible task, now.

Her team stayed close, as was protocol at large events, but some of them basked in the glow of Raphael’s halo of power more happily than she would have preferred. She caught Talyn staring at her sigil with desire as clear as the freckles on his face. With substantial chagrin, she knew that he would be signing a contract before his time on their team was over.

Equally unwelcome was the host of nervous petitioners, those too intimidated to approach Raphael directly, and seeing Tav as a more palatable option for appeals. From the damned begging her for a way out of their contracts, to the desperate seeking a deal, she found herself swamped by them nearly every time she stepped away from Raphael.

One man had fallen to his knees as she’d gone for drinks, his hands fisted in the hem of her gown as he begged. Tav, her heart wrenching, quickly took his story to Raphael.

“Raph,” she whispered, slipping back to his side and catching him in the lull of conversation. As she leaned towards him and handed him the second glass of wine, she noticed several others around them quieting to listen. “There’s a man, I think a lord…Nolten?” His eyes flicked over her head, straight at the man who had accosted her at the drink table.

“A waste of your time, my love,” he said simply. One highborn woman standing near him laughed, but most others looked away. “Lord Nolton is coming to me whether I help him or not, I have no reason to interfere with the process. So unless he decides to turn a new leaf, he’s already as good as product.”

“Your wife?” said the woman, smiling at Tav. There was a strange aura around her, and Tav wondered briefly if she might be a warlock. “It’s all over the community here, I’ve yet to have the honor of meeting her. Lady Britt Silverine, it’s my absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She had an incredible mane of dark red hair, pinned back in gold.

Tav shook her hand, trying to be friendly despite her nerves. She hadn’t seen Astarion or Haarlep, and was worried about their absence. She was sure that Haarlep wouldn’t hurt her friend, but still…she wondered if she should excuse herself to check on him.

“Your elf is fine, darling,” Raphael whispered in her ear. “And I don’t think that he would appreciate you interrupting him right now. I promise, he’ll be alive and very, very happy come morning. Although possibly a bit worse for wear.”

She sighed, taking a swallow of her wine as she anchored herself to his side. At the very least, Raphael certainly commanded attention, so she could at least get away with relaxing next to him. He handled the lion’s share of conversation, leaving her free to hold back and admire the general ambiance.

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the ‘ero of Baldur’s Gate. Haven’t seen you in a tenday or forty.” One voice, loud and abrasive, rang out above the din of the crowd. Tav’s head shot up as she realized that she recognized it.

Whipping around, she saw Mol standing behind her. Her jaw dropped open, and she ran to the girl immediately. She looked dramatically different from when she’d seen her last, at least fifteen or sixteen now, and sporting a dashing black tunic with silver filigree trim. Tall and lean, she stood just above Tav’s shoulder.

Mol! What are you doing here?” Tav demanded, abruptly worried. She looked wildly around the room for any sign of tieflings. “Where is an adult? You’re…you weren’t kidnapped, were you?”

Mol sighed heavily and rolled her eyes.

“Gods, nearly forgot what a mum you are. Thought shackin’ up wi’ a devil would loosen you up. S’alright, I still like you! You’re a real card. Go on, where’s dad, then?” Mol looked around before spotting the devil socializing behind Tav. “Good, makes it better when he’s up here you know. Hate makin’ trips to Cania, Avernus was easier. Hot, but easier.”

Cania? Mol, did you sign a contract?” Tav asked, disturbed. She recalled a brief memory of the tiefling playing chess with the devil, but hadn’t heard of or from her again finding her in the Thieves Guild. Raphael hadn’t mentioned a contract either. But if she’d been making trips to Avernus, that meant Mol had signed before even Tav.

“‘Course. Been signed for years, way back after Moonrise. He don’ ask for much, but this one was a doozy.” She held up an envelope, stamped and sealed with the emblem of Candlekeep. “Says Candlekeep on the letter, but best believe I didn’t find it there. He owes me for this one.”

Speechless, Tav could only nod and follow Mol. The girl wound her way comfortably through throngs of aristocrats, cheeky enough to elbow through some as she made her way towards Raphael. On catching her eyes, he smiled.

“Ah, if it isn’t my favorite client,” he said warmly, snagging a chalice of wine to trade for her envelope. He tucked it into the jacket of his suit. “How kind of you to execute the delivery, too. As discussed, you’ll find the terms of this contract fulfilled. But I insist you stay, and enjoy yourself in Athkatla before running off this time.”

“Sure thing boss,” Mol replied, saluting and taking a swig of expensive wine. Initially dubious about the presence of the young, raucous tiefling, the surrounding nobility seemed to shift the instant that they realized who she worked for. “Top suite at Silverale, right? Serves breakfast? I’ll be by.”

She sauntered off with the cheerful confidence of a teenager too addicted to life to consider consequences yet.

“Do I want to ask what errands you have Mol doing?” she murmured, linking her hand in Raphael’s arm again. He leaned towards her and kissed her head.

“Relax, my love. Mol has a long life ahead of her; she’s merely a pawn in a much, much broader plan. She still has plenty of time to unwind herself from damnation, and you won’t be able to deprive me of the enjoyment of watching her try.”

She saw the edge of the letter beneath his jacket, felt his hand slip down to her waist. The words were as loud as they were unspoken; Tav’s time to unwind herself was long behind her. She was his through better and worse, the dearest treasure in his vast collection. The thought brought her warmth, and simultaneously chilled her to consider the impossible scope of eternity. Who will I be in three hundred years? A thousand?

Whispers laced between the words of audible conversation, discussions weaving through the backdrop of the party. She smiled and nodded, leaning on Raphael as he skillfully navigated the social complexities of Athkatla’s elite. Try to fade into the background, as both the hero of Baldur’s Gate and the wife of an archdevil.

Her eyes caught Mol’s expression as the tiefling leaned towards the woman from before, Lady Britt. Tav could make out a sigil hanging from her earring, identical to the one on her own necklace. She couldn’t hear the words, but her mind registered them anyways from the movement of the girl’s lips.

‘The Sceptre of Karsus.’

Raphael's finger touched just under her chin, lifting her face to his for a kiss.

Chosen - Darkhorse6 - Baldur's Gate (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)
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