Ascendancy of the Last - By Lisa Smedman

Ascendancy of the Last

Book 3 of The Lady Penitent series

A Forgotten Realms Novel

By Lisa Smedman


The sava board hung in mid-air, a bridge across an endless divide.

On one side of this line lay the Demonweb Pits, a vast plain of tortured rock under a purplish-black sky. An enormous black spider with red eyes dominated this landscape: the goddess Lolth, in one of her eight aspects. Sticky white webs stretched from her body to points near and far within her realm. They zigzagged back and forth between the spires of black rock that twisted toward the sky, and filled the many jagged craters that pocked the ground. Tiny bulges pulsed through these hollow webs: creatures, mortal and otherwise, who had found their way into her realm, either through death or deliberate folly. Muffled screams and moans came from within, bleeding out into to the sulfurous air.

On the other side of the divide stood a forest: Eilistraee’s realm. A wind carried a whisper of song through tall trees, rustling branches heavy with moonstones. Half of the fruitŹlike orbs retained their original coloration—milky white with glints of shifting blue. The rest had darkened to a shadow black that drank in the moonlight dappling the forest. All lent a sweet perfume to the air.

Under these branches stood the goddess herself, a tall, lithe figure with coal black skin and moon-pale hair that hung to her ankles. Once, she had walked proudly naked through her realm, but now she wore a loose black shirt and trousers that hid her feminine curves. A mask—black, but glinting with moonlight as her breath stirred it—hid her face from the eyes down.

Eilistraee’s twin swords hung beside her hips, suspended by song and magic. As the goddess contemplated the sava board, she played with an assassin’s dagger, absently twirling the blade by its strangle cord.

Spotting something, she stiffened. “What is this, Lolth? Another of your distractions?”

Lolth paused in her web spinning, tore her abdomen free of the sticky strands, and scurried closer. Faint wails poured from the severed strands of silk that fluttered in her wake. She lowered her head until her palps brushed the board. “I see nothing amiss.”

Eilistraee flipped the dagger and caught it by the hilt. She pointed the weapon at the sava board. “There.”

“Ah.” Lolth’s spider mouth smiled.

On the board stood hundreds of thousands of playing pieces. Slaves, Priestesses, Wizards, and Warriors stood alone or in clusters on lines that radiated from the players’ respective Houses. At the spot Eilistraee pointed to—a spot uncomfortably near the heart of her House—the board had grown spongy. One of her Priestess pieces was slowly sinking into this spot. Already it was ankle-deep.

Lolth chuckled. “Looks like you’re going to lose more than one piece.”

Other purplish-red stains appeared on the board, all of them close to Eilistraee’s House. They bulged. Figures rose from them: priest pieces that had not been in play before. All had the faces of drow, but with bodies like blobs of hardened wax.

Anger blazed red in Eilistraee’s eyes. “Ghaunadaur,” she growled. “And his fanatics.” The swords at her hips thrummed their displeasure. She pointed her dagger accusingly at Lolth. “Leave was neither asked, nor given, for another to enter our game.”

“Do not accuse me of cheating, daughter,” Lolth replied. “The Ancient One heeds no Mistress. Ghaunadaur was old even before Ao’s time. The god of slime comes and goes as he will. I neither command nor compel him.”

“You drove him from the Abyss once before.”

“And like a boil, he rises once more. Perhaps this time, you’ll lance him for me?”

Eilistraee fumed. She had no doubt that Lolth was behind this. Even as she watched, several of her other pieces sank knee-deep in the spongy board. These spots of corruption, as dark as bruises on fruit, were spreading, joining together. If left unchecked, they would completely encircle Eilistraee’s House, cutting off a large number of her pieces from the rest of the board.

Lolth must have maneuvered Ghaunadaur into choosing this moment to strike, but why? Eilistraee scanned the sava board, searching for the answer.

Then she saw it: the move Lolth must have hoped she wouldn’t spot.

Eilistraee reached for her strongest Priestess piece, the one that held the curved sword. When she saw Lolth flinch, she knew she’d made the right choice. She moved the piece forward along a path that allowed it to spiral into the very heart of Lolth’s House. The move wasn’t an attack on Lolth’s Mother piece, but it accomplished the next best thing. It blocked the