My first foray into BG fanfic is posted on FF.net, but I thought I might as well post it here too. Any comments are very much appreciated.
And thanks, Domi, for reviewing it there.
The fire flickered uncertainly among the moss and scraps of cloth that were its kindling. It was poor fuel, but the best weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d been able to locate in the damp, endless night of the Underdark. It was very near to going out altogether, but I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t force myself to care. I stared through the flames, mind untethered to any particular thought, listening to the arrhythmic patter of water dripping from the stalactites above my head.
The emptiness surrounding me seemed a natural compliment to the void within. A cold serpent now coiled at my core where my soul used to be, eating away at my sanity and self-control but leaving my violence and rage untouched like a bitter rind.
I turned to look at JaheiraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sleeping face, only half familiar now that we were impersonating the drow. She slept uneasily, her brow knit and her mouth stern. At the angle her head was turned, the arch of her neck would be an easy target. She would die before she ever understood what had happened.
I waited for the reassuring pang of conscience that should follow that despicable thought.
Had I always disliked her? It was impossible to tell which thoughts had risen anew with the loss of my soul, and which had merely lain dormant until there was nothing to prevent their surfacing. Jaheira had never been cruel to me, but I had often caught her glaring at me when she thought I was not looking. . . hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t I?
Minutes later, I found my eyes still locked upon JaheiraÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s throat and forced myself to look in another direction.
My eyes fell next upon Valygar, who slept in perfect silence far away from the others. His life, as well, could be easily ended. . .
Before the thought was complete, it was drowned in a flood of guilt and misery. It took my breath away, but at the same time I was glad to know I was not completely without conscience.
As if Valygar sensed that I was thinking of him, he shifted and stirred. I continued to watch and he continued to awaken, until he opened his eyes and met my gaze across the dwindling fire.
The moment held beyond what I could endure and I looked away as heat rose in my face. Even so, I imagined I could still feel his eyes upon me, a gaze hot as embers in the midst of this cold darkness. I wondered what he was thinking.
Valygar stepped carefully around the sleeping bodies of our companions to crouch at my side.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are you well, Nigh?Ã¢â‚¬Â he whispered, and as always the simple concern in his voice made me tremble. I watched him from the corner of my eye, unable to face him. It was so strange to see the fine features, the midnight skin, and the pale hair that were the effect of AdalonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s magic, but to hear ValygarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s voice, familiar as my dreams. I opened my mouth to say yes, to assure him that I was fine, but the words stuck in my throat.
He watched me expectantly for a time, but still I could not make myself answer.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Of course youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not well,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said at last, and sighed. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I apologize. It was a silly question.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I feared he would leave, but he settled into a more comfortable position next to me. He seemed content to let me keep my silence, and I was thankful. I did not believe I could keep the waver from my voice if I spoke.
Days ago, before we had reached the Underdark, Imoen had noticed the clumsiness of my tongue and taken me to task for it. She had smiled at me, teasing, shaking her finger at me as if scolding a naughty child.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nigh, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re acting funny these days!Ã¢â‚¬Â she had said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Staring off into space, talking like youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve only got half a brain. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the matter, are you in love or something?Ã¢â‚¬Â She had laughed. I had not. She had looked to Valygar, then back to me, as the mirth had slowly drained from her expression. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, Nigh. . .Ã¢â‚¬Â was all she said, and her sympathy was far worse than her teasing could ever be.
She was right, of course. The thought of a relationship between me and, well, almost anyone was laughable. Pathetic.
I stared down at my hands, at the slender, tapered fingers gifted to me by AdalonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s illusion. This body was so beautiful, so unlike the one I had known for the past twenty years.
And before I could stop myself, the question came unbidden: did Valygar find me beautiful now as well?
Again, he seemed to sense my thoughts.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I cannot grow accustomed to this new body,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is like waking up and finding all my clothes replaced by the finery of a king: it fits, it has some advantages, but it is not truly me.Ã¢â‚¬Â He raised himself up on one elbow and looked at me. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It must be stranger still for you, Nigh.Ã¢â‚¬Â
With a smooth movement, he raised his hand and wrapped about his fingers a lock of my hair, newly smooth and white. I forced myself to meet his eyes, and hid my shaking hands in my lap. I wondered how well he could see me in the dark.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is terribly strange,Ã¢â‚¬Â I forced myself to say. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yet not unwelcome. Not at all.Ã¢â‚¬Â
My words were followed by silence, and after a time Valygar slowly dropped his hand. I felt the loss of its small weight like a physical blow.
Something in my countenance must have betrayed my thoughts. A look came into his eyes that was not quite pity or fear or suspicion, but an uncomfortable melding of all three.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You stare after me, Nigh,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said softly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In battle, while I walk, and even as I sleep, I feel your eyes upon me. Why?Ã¢â‚¬Â
A dozen reasons immediately crowded my mind, not one of which I thought he would want to hear. I had never meant to trouble him with my fruitless longings.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have been kind to me,Ã¢â‚¬Â I said eventually.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Is that such a rare thing?Ã¢â‚¬Â he asked, and the surprise in his voice was genuine. I thought of the boys of Candlekeep with their rocks and taunts, of the contemptuous inkeeps in Athkatla, of the way Imoen knew instantly that my feelings could never be requited.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rare enough,Ã¢â‚¬Â I said, as my throat tightened and a slow burn sharpened behind my eyes. A tear slipped down the delicate plane of the cheekbone that was not truly my own. ValygarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s black-gloved fingers checked its progress, then tentatively stroked the curve of my jaw. I leaned into the caress, disbelieving, watching in wonder as my own hand moved to his shoulder without my conscious command.
Valygar tilted my chin, leaning down to me, close enough that I could feel his breath on my skin and see the flicker of need in his eyes. A fragile hope bloomed within me, pushing away the black and hungry thoughts, filling me with a warmth and sweetness like nothing I had ever expected to feel.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nigh. . .Ã¢â‚¬Â he said, and took a short breath as if he would say more.
At that moment, a moist bit of kindling caught fire and sputtered loudly. Valygar flinched as if it were a thunderclap and drew back from me as if I burned him. The empty darkness yawned between us, wide as an ocean, as all I had dared to hope for crumbled away.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t,Ã¢â‚¬Â was all he said.
I knew better than to ask why.
Now, with AdalonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eggs safely returned to her keeping, I consider begging her to let me keep this body, this form which men could hate and still find beautiful. Yet I need only glance at Valygar to know that it would do no good.
He can no longer meet my eyes, and never speaks to me when it can be avoided. Not once has he mentioned what could have occurred between us. I do not know what I would say if he did.
I could continue to wear this pretty disguise, to pretend that I am delicate and graceful and charming, but in the end it would change nothing. I will always be what I am.
I stand still and straight as AdalonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s magic drifts across my skin, bringing with it the peculiar sensation of my muscles bunching and growing, my frame widening to hold my bulk. My skin fades from black to greenish-gray, and boarlike tusks find their familiar curve across my upper lip.
I close my eyes, just for a moment, and remember the feel of his hand on my face, his breath on my skin. One last moment of regret before I let this wasted love of mine disappear into the blackness that gnaws at my heart, before I return to being ugly both inside and out.
I wonder what he meant to say.