Chapter 18: Consequences
Maeve had a few revelations in the days following.
First; life in a cave wasn't exactly stimulating, and although there was some certain stimulation in spending much of that time tangled around Bishop. She still had entirely too much time to think.
Second; she realized that some clichés are true. It was a stupid notion, getting all sentimental now, but Maeve figured there was a reason some of these things became so well known. Of course, most of these little sayings were foolish at best and at worst? Well, at worst, they lead people to come to pointless conclusions. But still, as much as she hated to admit it, sometimes they were true.
Third; she realized that most people think the worst combination is fire and water. Two opposites, incapable of co-existing. Those people were wrong. Fire and water temper one another. Together they prevent the other from getting out of control. Indeed, the worst combination was fire and fire. At their best, fire and fire are a smoldering passion; a grand desire that poets write about, bards salivate over and young girls dream about. When not at their best, fire and fire become a raging inferno, destroying everything in their path, and eventually, once everything else is destroyed? Then they destroy each other.
Which brought her back to the cliché again, and an undeniable truth: If you play with fire, you get burned.
And Maeve was feeling rather singed around the edges, and somehow she didn't expect things were about to get any better. Bishop swung between sullen, stony silence and passionate, shrieking rage. Once the floodgates were open, once he finally started to speak and to tell the truth, he couldn't stop. Maeve was truly shocked by the sheer level of horror. She knew that Bishop's life had been far from perfect. Her own life hadn't exactly been peaches and roses after all, but she imagined that to get to the disturbing level of fucked up that was Bishop, it would have been pretty bad.
She had no idea.
Maeve wanted Luskan back, just so she could go on a bloody rampage and kill them all. She knew, from personal experience that the Luskans weren't exactly known for their kindness. They had wanted her head on a pike. But the sheer amount of depravity . . . torture, sexual abuse, tests of the most hideous violence. Burning down a village was just the icing on the cake.
Now, he'd settled back into one of his frightening silences. It was, by far, more terrifying than when he raged. When he screamed his throat bloody, brandishing his dagger, threatening to destroy himself and take the rest of Faerun with him . . . at least them Maeve knew what to expect. But this silence, this stillness. . . he didn't move, but sat motionless as a stone. The hilt of his dagger lay loose in the palm of one hand, the blade laying quiet and deadly in the other. His hands were cut from his earlier rampage, and little crusts of dried blood decorated his skin like grizzly paint.
"Bishop?" Maeve managed to whisper, although she wasn't sure he'd be able to hear her over the thunderous sound of her heart thudding against her ribs.
"What?" he snapped, glaring up at her from under his eyebrows.
"I . . . I think," Maeve stuttered, uncharacteristically at a loss of words. "What I mean to say," she continued as she gathered her wits together, "is that we can't stay here forever. So what do we do? I mean, everything has changed now . . . I know we can't just go on like nothing has happened."
"Why can't we?" Bishop grumbled in reply. "Stay here forever?" He paused for a moment and looked up at her.
"What do you mean?" The hair stood up on the back of Maeve's neck.
"We should have died in those ruins," he said emotionlessly. "You know it as much as I do. We should have never sided with the King of Shadows."
"What?" she snorted. "Having a sudden attack of morality? Why now?"
"Not morality," Bishop grunted. "I don't even know what the fuck that is."
"Then what?" she asked.
"Fate," he replied. Maeve stared at him and he matched her glare, still looking up at her from under his eyebrows. The old sardonic expression he use to wear was gone, replaced by something infinitely colder.
"I don't . . . ," Maeve began, but stopped suddenly as Bishop leapt to his feet. His fingers tightened around his dagger fiercely and his had struck out and grabbed her by the collar of her tunic, yanking her to her feet. Maeve felt the hard, sharp point of his dagger pressing against the soft flesh of her belly, right below her ribs.
Maeve's breath caught in her throat.
"Fate," Bishop continued, apparently deciding he now had her undivided attention, "is something you earn. Not some bullshit from a god who could care less about what we do. Well . . . with one very important exception."
"What's that?" Maeve whispered, trying to keep her breaths shallow to avoid the blade.
"I know where I'm going when I die, because, in case you forgot, I've had the pleasure of dying once before. Probably the only useful thing Casavir ever did," he continued. "But you," Bishop grunted, "I'm not sure there's a hell dark enough for you."
"Probably not," Maeve muttered and lied. She wasn't sure what was in store for her, true, but one didn't get blessed with divine invocations when headed for the hells. Well, at least not in her estimation. But now was not the time to argue with him.
"And you earned the hells. Shadow and hells," Bishop spat.
"I suppose I have," Maeve replied. "I did destroy the Sword Coast."
"Not for that," he muttered. "For this," he said, and kissed her. Maeve returned his kiss instinctually. A little voice in her head told her she was mad, loving him even now, with a weapon pressed between them. She imagined that tiny voice was her conscience. But, she hadn't bothered to listen to that little voice before, so why change now? Bishop pulled away and stared for a moment, and then he dropped his eyes, fear creeping into the corners of his expression.
"For loving you?" she whispered.
"For trying to save me, for resurrecting me," he said. "For Esmerelle."
"Our daughter," Bishop hissed. "She should have never been born. And who knows what horrors she'll inflict on the world, with my blood in her veins."
Maeve tried to pull away in a sudden fit of anger, but Bishop held her too tightly. He thrust the dagger closer and Maeve felt the unmistakable prick of the metal as it pierced her tunic and touched flesh.
"How can you say that?" she said, her face red. "She's done nothing. Your blood didn't make you a monster, Luskan did. You made a choice to be a fiend."
Bishop snorted. "A choice; I've never had a choice in anything I've done. Not even this."
He glared at her, the firelight flickering in his amber eyes. His face was hard; his eyes colder than Cania. His eyelashes flickered, just enough for the motion to distract her. And then his hand moved. Only a handbreath upward, but it was enough to plunge the dagger through her pale flesh. Maeve felt a rush of heat as her blood spilled in a torrent over his hand.
Then cold. As cold as Bishop's eyes. Or as his heart. He let her go and she collapsed to the ground.
The edges of her vision darkened. She tried to muster her energy to heal herself, but it was as if the dagger had not only cut her flesh, but her connection to Sune as well. She stared at Bishop. Her blood was on his hands and splattered on his leathers, down his legs and on to the floor. But there was no pain, only coldness and the sound of Bishop's now frantic panting.
He dropped to his knees, the dagger still clenched in his blood soaked grasp. The cold stone of his expression broke like a dam in a spring flood. Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. He brushed at his eyes, smearing blood across his face.
"It was going to come to this eventually," he muttered, reaching out and cupping her face in his hand. "It was my fate, more than yours. I destroy. I've destroyed everything I ever loved. Why did you think you would be different?"
"For what its worth," Maeve said, her voice hardly audible. "I forgive you."
"Hmpf," Bishop snorted. "Somehow I knew you'd say that." Gently, he leaned down and pressed his lips against her cheek. Maeve felt the softness of his lips and the scratch of his beard, but it was like through a veil of silk, and not against her skin. His skin felt hot as fire, but she knew that was because her skin was like ice. Her own fire was sputtering, and she knew there was no getting out of it.
"For what it's worth," Bishop echoed. "I am sorry."
"I know," she murmured. Her eyes slid closed. She could see the light from the fire through her eyelids for a moment. But it faded quickly and peacefully into shadow.
His hands still stained in blood, Bishop walked away, although he'd done one last unexpected thing before leaving. Using a vial of Alchemist's Fire and an empowered arrow, he'd collapsed the entrance to the cave and sealed Maeve's cold, still body inside. Using his skinning knife, he carved her name into a nearby tree along with a crude representation of Sune's face. But once the last flake of wood fell to the ground, he turned away and didn't look back.
There had always been a dark cloud over his head, casting long and fearsome shadows across his life. But until this moment, he knew there would always be moments when the persistent sun would manage to break through the cloud and he'd have sunshine. Maeve had been the brightest ray of light -- and the worst bolt of lightning -- he'd ever known.
Now the cloud was not just over his head, it filled the entire sky from horizon to horizon, casting a grey-green pallor on everything. There were no more shadows, because to have a shadow there needed to be light. The light was gone now. Whatever joy he'd been able to eek out of his miserable existence before would seem hollow indeed. Ale and tobacco, perhaps a moment of pleasure, but they were never enough, even before. Gold? For what purpose? And whores? Ah, perhaps there were more beautiful women than Maeve, certainly there were. And more attentive and even more skilled in the arts of love? No doubt. But more . . . Even comparable? Never.
He'd considered for a moment, still standing over Maeve, if he should end his own life. Oblivion seemed as alluring as a siren. Bishop held the dagger to his own throat for a long time, still as a statue. But he couldn't cut. There was no fear, and pain never bothered him. It was instead something else drilled into him, beat into him, by Luskan. Survive, no matter what. Kill everything, and stay alive.
He hated Luskan. He hated the man they had made him. But he couldn't change who he was. What they'd done to him was too much a part of his soul now. He could cut his throat, but he couldn't cut the blackness out of his heart. So he walked away, alone and silent, his bow slung over his shoulder and blood encrusted dagger back in the sheath on his belt.
Like a ghost, Bishop disappeared into the trees.