Title: Not Yet by Lightning

Chapter: Twenty-Two

Author: Jade Sabre

Notes: Well, here it is you guys: the grand finale. This is…a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as I've never finished something before, never put it out there for everyone to say with the little sticker that says "that's all there is; there isn't any more." So…thanks for sticking with me this far! You can now go back and read the whole thing from beginning to end without any interruptions or waiting! That's something, isn't it?

This chapter contains a tiny homage to "The Smell of Destiny" because I am a Sandwhore.

I owe thanks, once again, to several people:

Beehoon, my most faithfulest reviewer, who in exchange for her reviews got to listen to me babble on about my story probably more than she really wanted to. So, thanks for all the reviews, and thanks for listening!

To everyone who left reviews, because I seriously go back and reread those often, because they are like little warm chocolate nuggets for me soul. Y'all also helped me see my story from the perspective of someone who hasn't been sitting with it for a year, which really helped me focus my edits and just enjoy what I was doing. Also, I love feedback in any form. Mere words cannot express my gratitude.

To Rhia and Mozco, who write awesome fanfics that often distract me from mine, because I like to pimp out other people whose works are awesome.

And finally, to my dearest darlingest Quark, who betaed this fic for me and has probably read some sections of it at least four times, trying to help me make it better, despite the fact that she prefers happy bubbly lovey couples (though I haven't the slightest idea why she can't see Bishop and Laura in the light…). Je t'adore!

Of course, just because the story is finished doesn't mean you have to stop leaving reviews. Reviews are always wonderful, and do nothing but help, writing- and morale-wise.

Finally, if y'all are interested, in another month or so I'll begin posting my other NWN2 fic, currently titled "Falling Slowly." It's fairly different from this one, but I love it to death as well, and hopefully y'all will like it too.

Thanks again for getting this far with me. And now, before this note becomes as long as the chapter itself, I present to you…the end!

Disclaimer: I don't own Neverwinter Nights, or any of its sequels or expansions, or any of the characters contained herein, aside from my PC, who was created on a Bioware engine and thus probably therefore partially belongs to them too.


22

They found themselves in what looked like an antechamber, a small room with the small door they had come through on one end and a large, imposing version of that door on the other. Their footsteps echoed as they walked every inch, doing their best to search for traps with the little knowledge they had picked up from watching Neeshka work. Laura, almost cross-eyed with exhaustion, couldn't see anything at all and instead elected to stand in the middle of the room. She gripped her sword out of habit rather than conviction, and once the others stopped walking around, said, "Do you think we can rest?"

Her companions glanced at each other with varying levels of concern. "It looks all right," Casavir said.

"But everywhere else has appeared perfectly safe, and then the moment we sit down, something appears to attack us!" Sand was on the last strands of his self-control: his appearance was wildly mussed and streaked with blood, his eyes wide and very pale. His voice climbed in pitch, reaching near hysterics, as he said, "And I'm out of spells and if they attack again—"

"Know that I, too, am out of spells," Zhjaeve said, "and will be unable to supplement the kalach-cha's powers—"

"We're all out of spells. Even Grobnar," Laura said, glancing at the gnome, who seemed caught in a song, unable to stop singing, looking almost as traumatized as Sand did.

"Well I'm still running hot," Qara said, crossing her arms over her chest; Laura noted that her arms were shaking.

Sand didn't even sneer a response, which was a bad sign, though Jerro did say, "Even if you were, your abilities don't include protection, which is what we need if we want to rest."

Laura surveyed the others, Khelgar gripping the Hammer of the Ironfist in his gauntleted hands, Elanee making puddles on the floor as a sparkling water elemental. And Casavir, still standing tall and proud though his sword dragged the ground, and Jerro and Zhjaeve unruffled aside from the blood staining their clothes. She took note of herself, her trembling limbs, her swimming vision, and finally said, "I have to rest, or I'll fall over."

The others stared at her; she'd never, in her memory, admitted quite as much weakness as she did in that minute. She hated the feeling, hated the concern bordering on panic in the others' eyes—"Then we will rest," said Casavir, first to recover, first to jump to her aid.

"You rest, lass," Khelgar said. "I'll watch for yeh."

She shook her head. "If I rest, we all rest," she said. "It's only…" what? Fair? She laughed at herself.

She dropped to her knees and bent until her head rested on the stone floor, a position of complete submission. Please, she prayed, the word becoming her mantra, over and over, a prayer for rest and protection and strength and something to soothe her mind. A desperate supplication to a god she knew was listening, one she knew she didn't deserve, her mind focusing to deliver the one word she thought might save her soul. Just one word: please.

She didn't know how much time passed, but gradually she felt her strength returning, and knew that her spells were reforming themselves in her mind. Her please continued in the back of her mind, as constant as her faith itself, as she straightened up and discovered the others in various positions of repose: Sand smoothing his robes compulsively, Jerro sleeping standing up with his eyes open, Casavir deep in his own prayers. Grobnar seemed to be playing his Wenderkazoo: a lullaby, judging from the way Qara was asleep right next to him, looking young and vulnerable. Elanee was an elf again, huddling next to Khelgar, and Zhjaeve sat cross-legged, meditating.

She suddenly felt an overwhelming rush of affection for them, her gratitude towards her god spilling over to include these people who were willing to follow her to their deaths, if necessary. She didn't want to be attached to them, and she wasn't—and she could tell herself she wasn't, but she knew herself in the depths of her weakness and knew that they were a greater gift than her spells, the greatest gift she had ever received. She wiped sweat off her face with her hand and pretended she didn't notice her own tears, and said quietly, "Report?"

"Know that I am prepared," Zhjaeve said, her eyes still closed.

"As ready as we'll ever be," Khelgar said.

"The gods are with us," Casavir said. "We will not fail."

Laura smiled at him before she could stop herself, and she saw his face brighten before faltering. Sand saved them from an awkward moment by saying, "I do not understand why I have followed you here, but I am prepared to keep going."

"Thanks," she said dryly, to match his tone, looking around for the others' assent as she stood. They followed suit and fell into position behind her as she looked up at the large door looming over them.

"Well," she said, "here goes."

She pushed against it, and it opened to reveal a huge, domed stone chamber. A statue of a woman, reminiscent of the statues from the Ritual of Purification, stood at the front of a large circle in the middle of the floor. Framing the circle with her were several large, glowing crystals, and in the middle was a large, black, roiling mass of shadow. And there, huddled against one of the crystals, was Neeshka.

Khelgar cried her name and ran over to her, Casavir and Elanee hot on his heels; Laura took a slower pace, glancing around the room as the hair on her back of her neck prickled. By the time she reached them Zhjaeve was already muttering a healing spell; the tiefling was bruised and bloody, shivering against the bonds on her wrists.

"I was wondering…when you'd show up…" Neeshka managed, looking up at Laura, her eyes hazy with pain and a deeper hurt.

Laura crouched before her and met her gaze, unwavering. "Who did this to you?" she asked, as calm as she ever was, clenching her fists to hide the fact that her hands were shaking. Soon enough, she told herself, though her outer trembling contradicted the peace she felt internally. She felt…calm, focused—prepared. Destined.

"Garius," Neeshka said, her voice just as flat.

She gazed at her for another moment, willing her to understand. "Then he will die," she said simply.

Neeshka stared at her a moment more, then broke into a painful smile. "I thought you'd say that. He—tortured—"

"She has lost a great deal of blood," Zhjaeve said.

"It's a trap," Jerro said immediately. "Her blood—"

"We need to get her out of here—" Khelgar insisted.

"We can't leave now!" Qara protested.

"Know that she is—"

"Too late now," Grobnar said cheerfully.

Laura straightened, leaving Neeshka in Zhjaeve's hands, and turned to see Garius strutting across the floor, the unearthly flame in his skull burning a little dimmer than the last time she'd seen him. He didn't have an expression to read, and his voice was as arrogant as always.

"So you made it," he said. "I didn't expect you to get this far. I'm impressed."

"You're stalling," she answered, glancing at the shadows on the floor, and the shape they were beginning to take.

"Perhaps," he said, and she thought she heard a smile in his voice. "You have done a great deal to disrupt our efforts, child, and for that you will answer—and you alone."

If he'd had lips, he would have been smirking at her. She refused to rise to his bait and said, "If you wish to fight me, so be it. Let them leave and we'll settle your debt."

"My debt?" He laughed. "It is you who have incurred the debt, child, and I believe it is time for you to pay. Your companions—" she saw a few of them start out of the corner of her eye, and felt Casavir immediately step behind her "—have the opportunity, now, to receive mercy and extract their payment from you."

She stared at him, and after a moment said, "I never asked for them to follow me. They are free to come and go as they please, and yet…they are still here." She almost said thank you, but didn't want to give Garius any more ammunition than he already had.

"You speak as if there are no fractures in your group. But you know there are struggles," Garius said, his voice becoming almost silky. "There are contentions of power and loyalty—"

"I never asked for anyone's loyalty," she said. "If any of them didn't want to be here they would have left already."

"Funny you should mention that," he said, "for I have met someone who can, in fact, think for themselves, and recognize the true enemy here…"

She felt her gut—her entire being—seize up, as solid as Casavir's voice as he uttered a single name: "Bishop."

o-o-o

She looked cold.

He wasn't quite sure why this was the first thing to spring to mind—for starters, the fact that she looked dirty and tired was much more obvious—but as he stepped up next to the Shadow Reaver, he could only think how cold she looked.

"It's over, Farthing," he said, and she didn't even have the grace to have a glint of amusement in her eyes. "It doesn't have anything to do with you," and her face was immobile, "but your uncle…well, some things just can't be ignored."

She was staring at him, waiting for him to explain, and yet he could see nothing of Laura in the frigid woman staring at him from a few feet away. He felt a muscle in his jaw twitch, and he said, "I'm almost sorry," as harshly as he could.

"How quaint," she said.

"I don't get tied down to things," he said.

"I can respect that," she said.

"It doesn't have anything to do with you."

She waited.

"Duncan," he said finally. He hated the fact that the others were watching, hated that even the iciest glares from the pale-eyed paladin and wizard were nothing compared to the expression on her face.

"Duncan."

"Oh, go on, Bishop," Garius interrupted. "We have time."

"You're stalling," Laura repeated.

"Do you want to hear the boy's story or not?"

Bishop tensed, clenching his jaw shut and shifting to hide his hands as they balled into fists. Punching the Shadow Reaver wouldn't actually hurt it, and nothing was going to make her stop looking like that.

"Do I?" she asked, shifting her attention back to him, sounding utterly apathetic.

"He saved my life," he said, focusing on her, willing her to give him something, anything. No, he didn't want anything from her—he'd already had his fill, been there, done that, fucked her most of the ways he knew how and a couple of ways he hadn't known until they'd met—he didn't need her to do anything. He didn't even have to explain it to her. Besides, what would he say? Fuck Duncan, I have to leave because I want to stay? She would only stare at him like she stared now, not as if she didn't comprehend, but as if she could comprehend and didn't care to.

Shit. He was damned from here to eternity.

"Found me outside my burning village, about to die, surrounded by dead Luskans. Decided it would be cute to save my life."

"But."

"But I was the one that set the place on fire in the first place. So he thought it'd be cute to blackmail me with his knowledge."

"You set your village on fire."

"Luskan initiation ceremony."

"Your own village?"

He couldn't suppress a shiver at how toneless her voice was; he couldn't forget the look in her eyes when she'd seen Retta Starling's dead body. "It wasn't a West Harbor village. It—" she didn't even flinch when he said the name of her village, by every fucking god in the Nine Hells "—for every person like you there's a village with a hundred like me, all right? It didn't deserve to survive."

"Arbitrating justice, are we?"

His lip twitched in a sneer. "I was going to kill the Luskans too, trap everyone all together. And I tried to tell them to get out, and they didn't go. And the Luskans figured it out. And there I was, all ready to die, and Duncan decides to give me my hell on earth instead."

There were other things he could say, like I tried to tell them to leave but they wouldn't, they wouldn't listen and they deserved to die, I couldn't stop them or I felt so free when I thought I was going to die, and he took that away from me—but he'd never said anything half so private in the dead of night when she was asleep in his arms, and he certainly wasn't going to say it in front of her stupid companions and the smarmy Shadow Reaver, not when he wasn't even sure she was there.

"So now I'm calling my own shots again, got it? My debt to you is over."

"There was never a debt to me in the first place." She shrugged and he felt his resolve crack. "I've said it a hundred times: no one is obligated to me. Whatever your perceptions of the situation may have been, I have never considered you to owe me a single arrow in an enemy's back."

She was lying, he told himself sternly, though he knew she never lied under the best of circumstances and that these certainly didn't count.

"As touching as this is," Garius said, his voice like an oil slick over a pond, "it's time to end the conversation. Our lord approaches."

"I—" he started, turning on the undead wizard.

"Silence, Bishop."

He glared at him, not bothering to hide his rage, and then, through the haze of his anger, he heard her voice—flat, but with that wry, teasing undertone so faint he wasn't sure he heard it. "Taking orders from Garius, are you?"

His face broke into a grin, marred by his fury at the world, twisted with relief. "Watch it," he snarled. "I—"

"I said enough," Garius said sharply.

Bishop snorted. "Well, if that's all you needed me for, I guess I'll be going now." He turned.

"Where are you—"

"I really think you need to start fighting your own battles. You face her on your own." He wasn't looking at her when he said it, which was probably for the best. Cut and run and nobody got hurt.

Well. He didn't get hurt.

"You will die if you leave here, Bishop," Garius said, his voice surprisingly menacing, considering its lack of bodily force. "I will come for you when I'm done."

He heard a scuffle going on behind him and ignored it. "Garius," he said, laughing to himself, laughing at the world, "you're going to die if you stay."

He walked away, listening to his laughter echoing in his mind—and then he heard an "I won't!" and felt a sudden sharp pain in his chest.

He looked down and saw the tip of—something sharp and pointy—he tried to reach around to pull it out, but—that was strange, the ground was awfully close, he needed to—sticky, wet, blood—these were all feelings he was accustomed to dealing with but—not—like—

Neeshka doubled over on the ground, howling with pain and panting with the exertion of defying the binding on her blood, but her dagger flew true, embedding itself in Bishop's back as he walked away, sending him to the floor in an instant.

o-o-o

And Laura could only stare.

Garius was saying something—laughing—Khelgar was congratulating Neeshka, trying to calm her tremors—

Laura stared.

Garius kept talking—he was talking to the others now, his voice diplomatic, his words cunning, and the others were listening—

Laura stared.

Qara walked across the room, and she didn't notice. Neeshka screamed as Garius applied more pressure to her blood, and she didn't notice. Sand could've been declaring his undying love for her, and she didn't notice.

She no longer had the advantage of revenge; she no longer had the advantage of being a single person, the living heart of the sword; she was a thousand shards held together with sheer disbelief, quivering, waiting for the suspension to end, prepared to shatter at the first distraction.

Know that it is your will that guides the Sword, that unless your will is focused, the sword is nothing more

Nothing more than what? Nothing more than—she was nothing, she didn't—she couldn't—

And then she saw an opening, and a plan emerged half-formed in her mind, and oh it was stupid but she hadn't realized what was holding her together. Oh my God, she prayed,forgive me for being weak. Oh my God, forgive us all.

o-o-o

Smoke. He smelled smoke.

He smelled smoke and his nose hurt.

Laura must've brought him back to life.

Then his chronology of events caught up with him and he thought no, stupid, Laura wants you dead—and he had been dead, he was fairly sure of that—something was turning him over, putting him on his back—oh, right. The knife. Or something. In the back.

Then he felt a hand on his cheek and his eyes snapped open.

She was staring back at him, her eyes wide and—tear-filled. He blinked, thinking his eyes were having trouble focusing, but there she was, one trembling hand covering her open mouth as she crouched over him. The room was dark, smoky—someone must've done something obscuring—the sounds of battle were in his ears—her thumb was brushing along his jaw—and they were staring at each other, like neither could quite believe what they saw.

He tried to speak, then—"Don't," she whispered, her voice shaking—then she was kissing him, oh gods—then she pulled him up to a sitting position and said, "Get the hell out of here."

He tried to speak again, and she said, "Don't. I need you to get the hell out of here and not come back, and I need you to do it now. Get. Out."

She pressed her lips to his forehead, her hand lingering on his cheek as she got to her feet—and then she was gone into the smoky darkness, and he was alone again. And alive.

Strangely, he didn't mind.

He grabbed his bow off the floor, stood, and ran in the direction his instincts told him the exit lay. The sounds of battle echoed behind him; fresh air lay ahead, and the freedom that came with people thinking you were dead. And the swamp held all sorts of nooks and crannies to wait out the battle, the kind that only a native would be able to find, if they knew they needed to look.

He grinned to himself, and went.

o-o-o

The smoke cleared, and he was gone.

The others didn't notice; the raging battle with Qara and Garius drew their attention away; but she saw, and the last of her worries disappeared from her mind, gone before she could even determine what they were, but it hardly mattered now. She felt a spell building up her in mind as she prepared herself, centering her concentration on the battle—not the battle itself, but the victory to come.


Thank you
, she said, and the lightning struck.