The Cold Dawn
By Anne Whynn
#WARNING: Spoiler alert. If you haven't played the game, some things won't make sense. If you haven't finished the game, this oneshot contains spoilers for the end. Read at your own risk.#
AU, no Mask Of The Betrayer, alternate ending.
A oneshot drabble dedicated to a friend on , Kaana Moonshadow. You know who you are, baby. 3
The breaking dawn had never been so cold.
Even as the warmth washed across her face, chasing away the shadows that she had just defeated, she felt as if she had truly taken all the falling rock onto her shoulders. That, or it now sat firmly on her chest, over her heart, creating an ache that was simply unbearable.
The dawn should signify some form of victory, she supposed, an aesthetic and poetic salute by nature for the feat that she had just accomplished, turning back the night as she herself turned back the King of Shadows.
Why, then, did she feel like she lost?
If such was the cost of victory, she never wanted to know defeat.
Her entire body felt heavy, weary, every ache and pain boring through her mind until she found it hard to concentrate. She was spelled out, run dry, she felt as though she couldn't draw her blades to break a seal on a missive let alone defend herself from any attack. Her muscles had reduced to water, her joints stiff like ancient, rusted iron and she felt she weighed as much as a golem.
She could barely lift her head to stare at the colour splashing across the distant horizon. She didn't even have the strength to cry in grief for the things that had been lost.
For the things that had been taken.
Of all her wounds and all her grievances, for the ache in her mind from the spells she had used and the blood that stained her leathers, nothing, nothing compared to the pain in her heart.
The King of Shadows himself could have reached in to her chest and removed the offending organ and she thought she would not have missed it one bit. Not if it were this complicated, this painful. Certainly it wasn't worth it.
As Kalack-cha, she things had been simple, straight forward. As a member of the Shadowthieves, she had done as she had been told, grudgingly, because it got her what she needed. A member of the Nine had given her benefits and, though it put her in opposition with Axle, things had not become overly complicated.
Even as the one destined to wield the Ritual of Purification and the Silver Sword of Gith against the once Guardian of Illfarn, there had been no ulterior motives, no complications.
The assassin turned reluctant hero was very straightforward.
But as Illythra Shadowstep the woman…
That was very different.
Hovering on the finite edge that lawful evils walked, with her own code of conduct and sort-of honor, she found the most complicated part of her life was her emotions. Her morals were her own and she refused to bow to another's. She would take the law into account as far as it would take her, but she had no qualms about ending life to get her way. Certainly she hadn't felt an iota of sadness when Ember had lain slain around her, only that she had been accused of a crime she had not committed.
She'd rather take credit for the things she had done. Especially when it didn't mean that Luskan was going to do its best to remove her head from her shoulders.
Therefore, it had not been a small sensation of gratification that had warmed her the night she sent Torio Claven to her death at Luskan hands.
She had saved Nasher because she had to.
She had served Axle and slain Moire because it suited her. Then she had slain Axle, too because the bastard thought he could order her around.
She had become Knight Captain of Crossroad Keep because she had little choice otherwise.
She was the Kalack-cha as a legacy of her mother's last moments and, to preserve her own life, she had driven back the King of Shadows.
Take that, Ammon. Motivation doomed to fail Mask's ass.
When it came to conflict, to battle, to bloodshed, Illythra Shadowstep was impassive and unmoving. Death was what her business and business was fun.
But in matters of the heart… her only resource was her foster father Daeghun. Which was a great help if one wanted to be as cold as fresh turned grave, true. But there was grief-stricken countenance she had spied on his face when he visited the lone grave which belied the agony that lay under the coldness.
Which, she supposed, meant that one couldn't have ice in their veins all the time.
Sometimes… sometimes that ice melted. Sometimes it even became molten liquid, hot and passionate, a fire stoked deep within the core of a cold being.
Rare was the person that could elicit such a fire. They could either be cherished or turned away with the want to preserve the ice. But when that person got too deep, the hooks sunk into places no blade could reach, removing them would be like removing a limb.
So, as she stared at the bowed back of his head, she realized her course of action, as foolish as it was.
He looked up when she deliberately knocked a piece of rubble away, sending it bouncing across the debris at her feet. His unshaven face was shadowed and hollow, like the King of Shadows had drained something from him in the fight he had not been a part of. His golden eyes had lost their luster and, though they still reminded her of a hunting wolf, they seemed… empty.
"Come to kill me, have you?"
Normally his voice made her want to smile, to lower her lashes in that way females did when they encountered something alluring and interesting. The snarl and scorn that was intertwined in his words like colored threads in a rich Wizard's robe only made it more intriguing, rather than turning her away.
But now she just wanted to sit down and… and she didn't know what. She just wanted to rest…
She normally liked bandying insults with him, liked provoking him and backing him into a verbal corner until all he could do was agree with her or make himself look stupid – and they all knew that he never liked looking stupid – but this time, so tired and aching in places she didn't know she had, she spoke plainly.
"Would it surprise you if I did, Bishop?"
The Ranger turned away and hunched his shoulders again, not answering her whisper-soft words. He had once told her that her voice was something akin to the breath a man feels on the back of his neck right before his soul is sent to Kelemvor. Another time he had told her that her angry words sounded something like the hiss of a keen blade as it cleared a metal sheath.
He also said that some things she whispered in his ear were like warmed honey with a bite…
She turned away from him as well, as if the physical movement could banish the memories that rose unbidden in her mind. Staring at the dawn once more, the two lapsed into silence, each consumed by their own thoughts, one waiting for the other to decide and the other waiting for herself to come to a decision.
The sound of movement made her glance behind her, but it was only the others, those that survived, moving through the debris, waiting for her to be done.
Khelgar, she knew, would want her to cleave his head in two and would rant for many a day about it. A part of her was inclined to do just that. For all of his brashness, Khelgar had been her most stalwart and dedicated companion. From the get-go, she could peg his loyalties completely, something she liked. His brash and coarse personality was also deeply appreciated. He had no ulterior motives.
Neeshka would want the same but would still find some way to argue with Khelgar about it. Annoying as Illythra found the teifling, Neeshka did have her moments of humor and she recalled with amusement the many conversations she had had with Khelgar at the Sunken Flagon, whilst she herself drank a tankard of ale in silence.
Sand… Sand would probably want her to do something terrible to Bishop, but he had always been squeamish around death. Certainly she liked the Elf, but his time in the Luskan Hosttowers had scarred him. He made up for it in other ways, though. For all of his whining and cynicism, his keen eye and quick wit as well as his talent with the arcane had saved her life in more ways than one.
Despite it all, she actually liked the cantankerous Moon Elf.
Qara, well, Qara was dead. Good frigging riddance. Illythra could never stand the immature brat. She would have slit her throat long ago, really. It wasn't satisfying to end her life when the girl had turned against them, though the look of terror in her eyes had been quite gratifying.
I really should listen to my instincts more.
Elanee had left them at the Mere. Or tried. Illythra had left her a parting gift in the form of a dagger between the shoulderblades as she vanished into the haze of the Mere. No one but Ammon and Bishop had seen her drop or heard her give a startled cry, but both seemed to approve.
Speaking of the Warlock, Ammon was off in his own little world, staring off into the distance. Of all her companions, his mind was the second most mysterious to her. That was not something she liked. She preferred it when she could tell where a man's loyalties and thoughts lay, but Ammon was a puzzle box with no solution. Every time she thought she was getting close, another facet would move and she'd have to start all over again. Part of her thought he would want her to end Bishop, but another part thought that he wouldn't care, in the end.
Once again, against her will, Illythra found herself liking someone. This time it was the Warlock, for whatever reason. Normally she wouldn't trust someone whose mind she couldn't pin down, but something told her that he wouldn't betray her.
Grobnar, the amusing little fellow, would have wanted her to forgive Bishop. He would have been the only one, she supposed. But he had fallen in the final conflict, throwing himself over that damnable construct. Ever the fool, even to the end.
Zhjaeve… well. She had simply vanished. Illythra imagined that she had fallen in the escape, for she had survived the battle, but she hadn't been there when they emerged. Not that Illythra could bring herself to care, nor even afford her the begrudging respect she gave Casivir. Whilst Grobnar had put a smile on Illythra's face every now and again – and she had found his spells as a bard most helpful – if she had heard Zhjaeve say 'Know' one more time, she would have put her scimitar through her eye.
The biggest problem would be Casavir. Or would have been… had he not been slain in the escape. Surviving the final battle, he had given his life for their escape, something that had shocked Illythra, considering their relationship. They had shared a final moment of understanding, her blue eyes gazing into his own as he stood under the caving door, giving them time to escape. There had been no love in either expression, just shock and gratitude in her own and respect and determination in his.
Perhaps, also, a little bit of sadness.
Casavir may have seen something in her when they first met in Old Owl Well, but upon finding her dark nature (and her worship of Mask) whatever he saw in her had dwindled to merely respect.
Not that he hadn't tried… The man had seen and loved the hero in her. But he had not seen her, truly. The fact that a paladin of Tyr could have feelings for an assassin of Mask and expect her to return them was evidence enough of that.
But he was… he had been a good man and though Illythra was not a woman to care for good men, she did hope that his sacrifice for their lives allowed him to be at peace with himself.
Twisting from the painful thought of failure that was attributed to the memory of the farm girl, the assassin returned her gaze to Bishop. He was still sitting there, waiting for her judgment.
He had betrayed them. His hand had caused the end of many warriors. May have cost them the battle. But Illythra had seen something in his eyes, something in his face when she convinced him to leave the battle, convinced him to stay out of the fight between the King of Shadows and herself.
Something that she couldn't identify but wanted to hope at the meaning.
The hiss of her scimitar, a blade that she herself poisoned and enchanted called Lifetaker, made him glance at her. Once again something unidentified shimmered in the gold of his eyes, before he turned away again, defeat in every line of his body.
"Why did you stay, Bishop? You could have been long gone by the time we got out. If we got out. So. Why did you stay?" Illythra spoke to her blade, testing its weight in her hand and the strength remaining in her arm.
The human Ranger stared at the tiefling Assassin, at the wicked marks drawn across her eyes, the vivid blue of her gaze standing brightly against her dusky skin and black hair.
"I don't know."
The uncertainty in his words made her stare at him for a moment longer, before she whirled her blade around her hand like she was fresh from sleep and not emerging from the fight of her life.
"I don't forgive betrayal. Elanee should have taught you that."
Those golden eyes closed.
Illythra dropped down slightly, curling her arm over her body and turning the blade in her hand so the weapon faced Bishop's throat. Stepping to one side, she rose up to her full height, the blade singing through the air.
Droplets of blood, like liquid rubies, shimmered through the air and splashed the ground.
The sun broke over the horizon and bathed the dark scene in a light that was now inappropriate. The two figures were motionless for a second, before Illythra cleaned her blade on her grimy sleeve and slid it home at her hip.
Bishop blinked open his eyes, then touched the wound that she had opened in the left side of his face.
Illythra didn't look at the others, who had stopped moving by her keen ear. She ignored the whispers as she grabbed the front of Bishop's leathers. His startled expression was the last thing she saw as she closed her eyes and pressed her lips to his. This kiss was harsh, punishing and when she tasted blood she didn't know if it was from the wound or from one of their mouths.
At first he was stunned to the point that he let her be so aggressive, but as per usual, he couldn't just let her be dominant. His arms went around her and he got to his feet, crushing her body against his broader one. Blades and straps and buckles dug in to flesh but neither of them cared. The kiss was angry, frustrated, punishing the other as the two fought for dominance.
When they finally broke away they were both breathless, his gaze unfocused and a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth, joining the droplets that dripped from his chin.
His thumb brushed over her lip and he licked the blood from it slowly, keeping his eyes on her. Her stomach tightened at the familiar expression on his face, savage hunger, a dark passion waiting to be unleashed.
"I don't love you."
She didn't laugh. It wasn't the time to laugh. Hell, she was so exhausted, if she laughed, she was sure her jaw would fall off. "No. You just have second thoughts about all the people you betray." As his face hardened, she continued, "Just like I don't kill everyone that betrays me."
Silence fell as comprehension dawned on his face, "You-"
She held up a hand. "Words of endearments pass between people like Elanee and Casavir. We are neither."
"Thank the gods."
"We are different. We will show in different ways." She looked pointedly at the scar.
"You scarred me as a sign of affection?" He looked amused, tilting his head in that way she adored. "My, my."
"No," she returned, her eyes half closing finally at his voice. "I scarred you because it made me feel better."
"Am I going to have to tolerate a lot of scarring? My back's a mess from your nails as it is…"
"Oh, perhaps," she purred, slipping out of his arms. "Besides. If I kill you, I'll have to go through the trouble of getting another ranger all trained up. Oh. You might want this. For…" She waved a finger at the wound, which she knew would rapidly be poisoning his blood. Her other hand held up a vial of deep purple liquid.
He made a noncommittal sound as he took it from her.
Turning, she walked back to the others, staring at their shocked expressions. "As I figure it, I have another forty or so years before you kick the bucket. Plenty of time for lots of revenge."
A hand grabbed her wrist and she jerked to a stop, startled. Turning to look at him, she saw that emotion in his face again and she found that she was right as to it's meaning.
He would never say it. He would never let the words pass his lips. But he didn't have to. Maybe one day he could say some things, give voice to some of the things he felt. If he ever sorted it out. But that would never pass his lips.
She supposed she was the same.
So she let her eyes speak for her, a silent communication that was only for them.
A golden apology.
One could not hate the nature of the wolf. The wolf did what it did because it knew no other way. It was wrong to hate the wolf for being the wolf. You may hate some things they did, and be unable to forgive those things, but it was not right to hate the wolf for doing the things a wolf would do.
As it was wrong for her to hate him for doing something he would do.
He had bitten her, and she would never truly trust him not to do so again. She would never trust him, really. But, at the same time, he couldn't trust that she wouldn't get her revenge somehow by leaving him for dead. It was their nature. They were not trustworthy beings.
She would take what she could get, and give him the same in return.
"Just don't do it again," she said, smiling darkly.
The corner of his mouth twitched as he released her wrist and she began walking once more.
Everyone was so shocked at her words that she was able to walk through them without hearing a word of protest. Then, when they began, Ammon silenced them with a harsh sentence, each one retreating into their own world.
When she felt someone move up beside her, Illythra turned her head slightly and saw the shoulder of ranger's leathers.
"I don't love you," Bishop said again.
"Aye," she returned. "I don't love you, too."
Is done! Did you like? XD I think this is how it SHOULD have ended. And MAN it is HARD to walk the path of a Lawful Evil, but Illythra does it well. Somehow.
Yes. Illythra is my PC from Neverwinter Nights 2. A teifling rogue turned assassin with a few levels of fighter to allow her to punch someone's lights out. A perfect balance.
I hoped you liked it! Thank you for reading!
Remember to review, please! Feedback is the sustenance of all authors!