This is a romance inspried by Domi's wonderful Kivan mod. The usual disclaimers apply - I own none of the characters save Rain.
A SPLINTERED HEART
Dusk was settling over the wooded glen. There was a heavy sense of anticipation in the mauve light filtering down over the majestic trees, a clinging dampness in the air that moistened the skin and filled the lungs. The forest seemed to draw breath; poised. Up in the canopy, leaves briefly stirred in the faintest sigh of the wind, the only movement save for the last flitting of birds roosting for the evening, falling silent among the deep shadows growing beneath the arms of the ancient elven forest.
Taking in that stillness, letting it fill and settle in her being, Rain of Candlekeep sat cross-legged on a rise above the glen, her back to a large boulder carelessly tumbled amongst the tree roots. Moss crept over its rough face. It was clammy here in her chosen bower, mist pooling in the hollows, but she let her dark-grey hood spill unneeded down her cloak, heedless: right now, she wanted the cool kiss of the air on her cheeks and brow, the feel of the moisture seeping chill and laden over her long russet hair, lying in bright unruly locks against the coarse wool of her cloak. Here, now, she wanted to feel something.
Was this what it meant to be soulless? To have this...nothingness within? A vast, unfathomable stretch of emptiness where before there had been light and laughter and the shared warmth of camaraderie, no matter how desperate their circumstances always were, no matter how grim the trials they continually faced. Inside, Rain was a wasteland. Barren. It was an irony and contradiction all at once, for hadn't Gorion named her for renewal, for the lush beginnings that flourished with a deep, soaking downpour? The young elf in her was silenced, stifled. Her kin's natural joy and love steeped in nature had been ripped away, torn apart.
So here she now sat like a stone, passive and unmoving as rock, waiting for the moss to creep over her and cover her, waiting for the winds and fogs and storms to wear her down into nothing. Grinding what mere sliver of her spirit remained into dust.
For Rain, as she had once been, was no more. Her essence was now held by Irenicus: her captor, mutilator, destroyer. He had left her with more than just the garish red scars cross-hatching her abdomen and skin. He had plunged her mind into nightmare and plundered her innocence, abducting Imoen and murdering her dearest friends.
But he had saved the cruellest blow for last.
With that violent ritual in Spellhold, he had finally achieved his purpose: the stealing of a godling's pure essence, leaving Rain bereft of both her soul and her determination to fight on, leaving her drained of the elven life-force that had once flowed in her veins, connecting her to all that lay around her; forest, sky, season, kin. Elhan may not have admitted to it when he was gazing at her with his ruthless pity, but he might as well have: Rain knew it deep in her bones regardless.
The evening deepened. Inside her cloak, Rain shivered. The mist was rising, becoming denser. Down in the glen, the fire was blazing, an almost-cheery foil to her still and quiet melancholy. She could sense its warmth from far away, in that distant wasteland where she was so removed, so empty. If she closed her eyes, she could visualise her companions drifting around the flames below: Imoen, hunched into her red velvet cloak with her gaunt face turned to the pages of Rain's spellbook, hungrily devouring the arcane intonations and gestures of the higher magics that Rain had acquired in her younger sister's long absence. Rain had no need to study them right now. Her true talent lay in her formidable kensai grace, her magical arsenal simply adding to her already-lethal defences and offences.
Then there was Jaheira with her sideways glances and significant questions and replies, always watching, always measuring. Wondering when the Slayer would re-emerge. When Rain would turn. And gentle-fierce Aerie, hovering around Imoen with that special care she had, giving her undivided attention to her soulless human charge but still aware of her other companions' needs, recognising the unfixed cracks in the deepest portions of their hearts that went unrelieved, that cut deep.
He was still hurting from Rain's awkward rejection, fumbling and prideful and trying to hide his thwarted longing behind brash confidence, concealing the savage hit to his heart from a rival who didn't even know he was a rival. Rain had let him down gently in the soft green hills surrounding the d'Arnise stronghold, back when she had realised there could be nothing between herself and the newly-anointed knight while her heart lay tugged elsewhere.
Even if her feelings were unacknowledged and unreturned.
And never would be.
There was a quiet footfall on the forest floor behind her, emerging from the glen's sloping rim. A pause; another step. He was letting her know he was coming. He could be utterly silent when he wanted to be, a wraith that could come and go at will, soundless despite Rain's sharp elven senses.
Her name was a low, taut sound on his lips, softened by that characteristic husk. She made no answer. Instead, she went rigid as Kivan, her longtime friend, scout and ranger, moved through her small dell to stand before her, his movements light and graceful, barely disturbing the mist. He watched her a long moment. His black eyes were sombre, his sable hair curling down over his brow and tossed-back hood.
"It isn't like you to stray away from the fire for too long," he observed, measuring her reaction. "That's usually my failing." A quick, rueful twist of his mouth. "At least, that's what you're always complaining about me."
"I don't complain." Rain's denial was instantaneous but soft. "I understand your need for quiet. For solitude. I just worry about you, mellonamin. That's all."
This time, it was Kivan who didn't reply. He simply looked at her, assessing her mood. Then he slipped his bow over his head and sank to the ground in front of her, settling himself directly opposite, cross-legged as she was. He laid his longbow beside Rain's sword harness. Her paired crimson leather scabbards were bundled up together, lying within quick reach of her hand: a sword-saint was never without her blades. Celestial Fury awaited her touch, complimented by the charismatic beauty of the ruby-hilted Blade of Roses.
Kivan's gaze returned to her face. "Close your eyes," he murmured, his expression softening. Rain knew how she must look; Imoen was forever reminding her about how pale she was, how the shadows were growing under her eyes, dulling the deep sea-blue hue of her irises. Making them flat and lifeless. Making her lifeless. "Listen, and tell me the sounds of the night. Listen to the forest."
He was reviving an old ritual of theirs, one he had started long before Sarevok's defeat, when Kivan had carefully and deliberately taught Rain to hone her senses. She may not be a ranger like him, but a kensai was totally reliant on her agility and reflexes, needing to sense and know and listen. It worried him that she wore no armour; he had finally admitted it after Firkraag had fallen, when he was stemming the bleeding from her many wounds until Anomen could tend to her.
"Kivan, I don't –"
"Please." His voice was gentle but firm. "It will help you centre yourself."
Rain sighed but obediently closed her eyes. She cast her senses wide, feeling the absence of her elven connection once again, causing a sharp, anguished jolt in her heart. She winced. At least she felt something.
"Leaves," she quietly began, listening. "Whispering in the faint breath of the wind. Branches, rubbing and creaking together. Birds, settling in for the night."
"Name the birds."
She concentrated and tried, naming the ones still sending out their last fluting calls, stumbling over the others. She could hear their subtle rustling, but she couldn't feel them. She couldn't sense anything much past the dell. Digging her nails into her palms in frustration, painfully aware of how broken she was, Rain stretched her senses wider, seeking.
Her heart lurched. Rain began to tremble, not sure if it was the deep chill penetrating her skin, or the terrible, agonising truth that she was even emptier than she had first fathomed.
A deep well run dry.
By the time she had finished, stubbornly naming the things she could hear – the soft rustle of the wind in Kivan's hair and cloak, the measured rhythm of his breath – she was crying, tears seeping from beneath her lowered lashes. His hand gently reached for hers. He folded her cold fingers in his, offering silent comfort. She focused on that, drawing on his warm strength, feeling the roughness of his calloused skin.
At length he spoke. "I am sorry, mellonamin," he said very softly, his voice burred with sorrow. "I have tried to reach you many times before, through our shared elven spirit. But you were...absent. A mere shadow of yourself."
Rain shuddered. Bowing her head, she dashed away her tears with her free hand, opening her eyes but not looking at him. "Now you know," she murmured. She stared down at their linked hands, wondering when he would pull away. "What did I miss?" she asked, inwardly bracing herself for the stinging shame of failure that would flow from it.
For a moment, she didn't think he was going to answer, not wanting to make it worse for her. His hand tightened on hers. But then he spoke. "Squirrels," he told her hoarsely, "scattered over a clearing not far away. They are busy foraging for nuts. A young deer moving through the undergrowth: a male, a yearling, just budding his first crown." He went on, naming the creatures Rain should have sensed. A hot flush rose to her cheeks, her failings picked apart and examined, laid bare. Ashamed, she tried to tug her hand out of his grip.
"Don't," he whispered, surprising her. He captured her fingers again. "Don't close yourself off, mellonamin. Don't do what I have for so long." Reaching out with his other hand, Kivan gently put a finger under her chin and tilted her face, bringing her dulled gaze back to his. The ranger's jet eyes were bright with regretful compassion. His mouth was softer than usual, easing the weary lines of care and worry stamped into his angular features, sharpening his rugged elven beauty. "Rain, don't become me. You will feel once again when your soul is returned; this I promise you."
This, coming from a man who had exchanged what little remained of his heart for bloody vengeance, driven by desperate rage and grief and madness. To be punished for his faults, to atone for the murder of a wife he would never again see. Tazok's heart was a fitting example. Still he kept the vile thing, still he suffered, but still he refused to be set free.
And so it would remain, until Kivan made a different choice. Rain knew it as well as she knew her own heart. It was strange how she could be so empty and soulless, but still have this sweet poignant ache whenever she was near him, whenever he happened to glance her way. His reassuring hand on hers was not helping. She might be splintered in two, her soul stripped from her body, but her quiet, suffering love for him remained.
Rain dropped her eyes from his, not wanting any of her thoughts to betray her. She had sworn long ago never to tell him. It wouldn't do either of them any good.
Watching her, Kivan sighed. "I want to take care of you," he said, briefly increasing the pressure of his fingers. "I want you restored as swiftly as possible." His voice changed, hardened. "Irenicus has much to pay for."
She nodded in agreement. But her usual passionate fire was banked and dulled, her will depleted, her body chilled and weary. "We restore Imoen first," she said quietly. "Then we go after him."
"Yes." He looked at her in the falling night, his elven eyes keen on hers. There was a slight hesitation in him, a new indecision. His fingers loosened. Kivan made as though to move away, but changed his mind, tensing. His spine went rigid. "Rain," he ventured uncertainly, frowning. "We have travelled together a long time now." His voice lowered, rasping. "Much has changed since I first met you by High Hedge."
Rain couldn't answer; her throat was clogged with fear, the blood roaring in her ears. Was this a cautious, tentative beginning, or a swift certain end? Unsure, stricken, she looked away.
He sensed her confusion and paused, the hint of a catch in his breath. She could almost feel him backing away from what he had just said, hastily rewording everything in his mind. But his hand steadied on hers.
"Once Irenicus is dead, and you are freed, we must talk," he said gravely. Rain flickered her eyes back to his sober face. "Eventually, our group will go its separate ways, once our task is done. Anomen will return to the Order, but I imagine Imoen will stay by your side." Rain nodded stiffly. "As for Jaheira and Aerie, I cannot say. But I must decide what to do."
She swallowed painfully. "Will you return to Shilmista as you intended?"
Kivan regarded her soberly, his expression guarded. "I don't know," he finally allowed, his voice roughening again. "That is one of the things I need to decide." He glanced down at her hand still resting in his. "I need time to think, mellonamin. To consider what was – " His voice choked off. "To consider what was said to me in Spellhold," he finished bitterly.
Deheriana. He needn't say anymore; Rain knew precisely what he meant. If Kivan was no longer certain about returning to Shilmista, then he must be finally coming to terms with Aphril's warning.
That Deheriana, his slain wife, was not awaiting him in Arvanaith.
"Soon," he whispered, his voice dry, "I must return to where she fell. I must... I must say my farewells." He bent his sable head and fell silent.
Rain gazed at him, her heart going out to him. There was a world of sorrow, grief and loneliness in his desolate black eyes, and it moved her deeply to see it. "Would you like me to come with you?" she asked after a time, very quietly, very hesitant. She didn't want to assume anything. "I could support you, if you will let me."
He was very still for a long time, tense and silent. "No," he finally said, firm. "This is a thing I must do on my own. I want no company for this." He straightened his back and withdrew his hand, resting it on his knee again. The distance between them suddenly felt cold.
"As you wish." Rain's voice was ragged, barely there. A piercing hurt stabbed through her. Finding her feet again, her customary grace hampered by her body's icy stiffness, she turned away from him and bent to pick up her blades, buckling their familiar weight into place at her hips. Her fingers were trembling. Rain fisted them and fought for control again, her heart clenching into an unbearable, twisted knot.
So, this was what it felt like to have an ending. An ending before anything had even begun.
Unable to speak, she faltered, stumbling across the dell and heading for the darkened trees. She heard Kivan rising behind her.
"Rain, I didn't mean –"
She shook her head harshly, blinking back tears. So much for not telling him. She might as well lay her broken heart before him, to end the torment once and for all.
"Rain!" He caught her swiftly, lunging across the bower and taking her shoulders in his hands, pulling her to an abrupt stop. She stiffened in his grip, humiliated. "Rain, listen to me," he said urgently in her ear, pulling her back against his chest. The hilt of his dagger pressed uncomfortably into her back. "I want... I need..." He exhaled a heavy breath. Silently, he lowered his head and buried his face in her russet hair, his hands sliding from her shoulders to her elbows, very gently. "Just give me some more time," he whispered. "I need more time."
Rain stood there shaking, her heart flayed open. Tears stung her eyes. How could she have gone from feeling absolutely nothing, absent and empty and soulless, to this?
Mutely, unable to believe what she was doing, Rain shook her head, feeling Kivan immediately stiffen. "I can't," she said, choked by tears. "Don't you see? I don't have more time." She drew in a shuddering breath, feeling his hands drop uncertainly from her sides. A wave of misery went through her. "I am dying, Kivan. It won't take long now. Each day I am weaker, my strength and will ebbing away. I am not so quick as I once was. I can feel my body separating from my mind, as though I am not entirely here, not all contained within my skin."
That made her think of the Slayer. She shivered, and Kivan shifted closer to her again, lightly moving his mouth over her hair, tender and warm. Rain closed her eyes tightly against the wash of feelings going through her.
"I am fading," she finished roughly. "Soon there will be nothing of me left. Time is a luxury I don't have."
Gently, Rain disentangled herself from him and headed for the trees, letting the comforting darkness swallow her anguished heart, hiding her tear-streaked face from him.
This time, Kivan let her go.