This is a short series following on from 'A splintered heart', again inspired by Domi's Kivan mod – she is exceptionally talented, and I hope my small offering does her justice. Once again, the usual disclaimers apply, and I own none of the characters save Rain.
CHAPTER 1 - REFORGED
It was hot in the forge, stifling. An inferno of flame and air and unbearable heat, stinging the eyes and throat, sapping away all strength. The clatter of hammer on metal vibrated through the smoky space, shrieking in Rain's sensitive elven ears. She winced and tried to ignore the dull thudding echoing in her temples and head.
Cromwell was relentless. The blacksmith's arm fell again and again on the anvil, the entirety of his stocky strength behind each blow. His concentration was precise and exacting. Each strike worked the patterned steel gleaming silver in the firelight, and already Rain could see the beautiful weapon the reforged blade would become.
A longsword to bring balance back to Faerun, Cromwell had called it. The Equalizer. Rain only wondered whether it would bring balance back to her.
The thought hissed in her mind, slipping like the forge's black smoke through her awareness, insidious tendrils that were not quite there when she shifted her focus to examine it, melting like vapour into the background of her soulless being. It had been this way since her first changing. She might have more control over it now, and would fight against it with every breath, but it was at times like this when the Slayer drifted closer, when Rain was pushing the limits of her endurance and strength. Then the dizziness loomed, seizing her mind with dark shadows.
Too hot. It was too hot in here, even stripped down to her thin cotton vest that was no longer white but streaked with soot and grime, and the film of sweat that clung to her skin. Rain paused in her working of the bellows to wipe her arm across her face. Cromwell flicked her an impatient glance, and Rain gritted her teeth and set to fanning the furnace again.
This time, it was a sudden rush that made her head swim, forcing her back a step from the flames to steady herself. That feeling of separation was starting again, the sensation that she was floating free of her exhausted, physical body. The Slayer stirred, scenting weakness.
The bellows dropped to the floor.
Turning away, Rain blindly groped for the nearest bench and leaned over it, her head hanging low and eyes tightly closed. Anomen was there in an instant. His hand was on the small of her back, steadying her, but Rain barely registered it; all that mattered was the feeling that he would not let her fall.
"Rain," he said urgently, well past the formalities of the 'my ladies' in this very acrid, primal place where she was in nothing but her light underclothes and stained breeches rolled up past the tops of her boots. Fortunately for her, they were all in the same dishevelled state of undress, and had been for hours. It was just too damned hot. "Here, rest a moment. Catch your breath. Do you need some water?"
She managed a nod. He reached for the flask at his belt, but Rain stubbornly righted her body again and uncorked her own metal flask. She lifted it to her parched lips and tipped her head back. Only a trickle wet her tongue, and then it was gone.
Letting out a slow breath, she stoppered it again. "Empty," she muttered, her voice hoarse. She pushed away from the table unsteadily and glanced at the pail of clean but bitter water by the far wall.
"No, take this." Anomen pressed his flask into her hand, insistent. His brown eyes were grave where he studied her, and his mouth was unsmiling; this time, his gallantry was born of deep concern, and not due to any desire on his part to take advantage of the situation. Looking up into his earnest face, Rain understood and silently thanked him for it. She accepted the flask with a tiny nod. Then she turned aside so his hand fell from her, and drank deeply, grateful for small mercies.
She lowered the flask again. Across the forge, Kivan's gaze cut into hers, a gleaming of hard black stone in the leaping light of the fire he stoked. His face was as weary and soot-streaked as Anomen's, all three of them filthy with charcoal and smoke. His lean, muscled arms were bronzed in the orange and red light, his sable hair a damp tangle at his shoulders. His expression was utterly still.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Rain looked away and handed the flask back to Anomen, feeling as though she had done something wrong. Which was ridiculous, because they had said all they were ever going to say that evening in her forest bower, two nights ago now, when this strange something-but-nothing between them had finally ended in this terrible, strained silence. Since then, Kivan had been polite but distant, always on the fringe of her vision but rarely venturing closer, the two of them putting up an unconvincing pretence of normalcy that everyone else saw through.
Grimly, Rain tightly guarded her heart. She had no choice. Bleakly, she drew what tiny portion of her essence remained and walled herself off, trying to think only of the desperate fight still to come, what was needed to restore first Imoen's soul, and then her own.
"My thanks," she said to the worried knight. She shifted her glance to Cromwell, apologetic. "I just need some air. I'll be back soon." She started for the door, weaving between the tables overburdened with weapons of war, bent on escaping this cloying prison of heat and smoke. She recognised Anomen's heavy tread behind her, uncertain, and then the small shake of Kivan's head in the periphery of her vision.
"Let her go."
Outside, the air was almost sweet to Rain's starved senses, and blessedly cool on her flushed skin. She dragged in a deep breath and filled her lungs with brine. Belatedly, she remembered the rotting weed and fish stewing beneath the wharves in Athkatla's sullen heat, and nearly gagged. Her elven connection to the world may be gone, but her overly fine senses remained.
Pulled towards the restless sea washing around the great ships, she wandered down Cromwell's stairs to the docks, heading for the seawall. It was very late in the afternoon. The sky churned with low, dark clouds. Over the ocean, a heavy blue mist was falling, veiling the harbour.
Rain. Her namesake. She lifted her head, feeling her weariness slipping a little, just enough for the dizziness and shadows to begin to retreat from her mind. Her head felt clearer. Slowly, she tilted her neck from side to side, trying to ease out some of the stiffness from her sore muscles. Her russet hair tickled her neck where it was caught up in an untidy knot.
Light steps sounded on the stone flags of the docks. Rain shifted slightly, her body instantly tensing, but it was not a thief or a ruffian mistaking her for an easy victim; not this time. Her heartbeat quickened. Somehow, she always knew when it was him. Even now, stripped of her elven soul.
He said nothing at first, simply coming to stand beside her at the seawall. He carefully rested his folded cloak on the stone top. Her gaze dipped to it, noting in passing that the tattered green wool required mending yet again. A faint smile tugged at her lips. There were some things that Kivan was obstinate about; keeping this threadbare cloak was one of them.
So was keeping Tazok's heart.
Her smile faded.
Kivan turned to face her and leaned against the wall, one hand on his bundled cloak. She could feel the intensity of his gaze as he scrutinised her. "Are you alright?" he finally asked, very quietly.
Rain gathered herself and raised her eyes to his. He seemed worried now, his earlier disapproval banished. "Not really," she admitted. "It was just too hot in there, and I am tired." She sighed, feeling the weariness settling in her bones again. "Very tired. I am getting weaker far more quickly now. Things that I took for granted before are now much harder for me to do." She remembered her acknowledgement that she was dying, spoken to him those two nights ago, and knew it again to be the bitter truth.
"My dizziness is worse," she told him. "Sometimes... Sometimes it nearly takes me back there, to when I..." She swallowed grimly and made herself say the words. "To when I became the Slayer," she finished, her voice nearly inaudible.
He shifted, his expression softening. Rain thought she felt something warming in him, a hint of the affectionate care and concern that had seemed missing these past days, hidden from her. For a moment, things almost seemed right between them again.
"You will not become the Slayer again," he said firmly, as though trying to bolster her fading will with his own. "You won't let yourself. And," he said more softly, "I won't let you either."
She glanced at him wryly, one brow lifted. "If I do change again, I don't see how you'll be able to stop me," she pointed out. "What will you do, sing to me, or try to charm me like one of your forest creatures?"
Kivan's lips twitched. "Have you ever heard me sing, mellonamin?"
Rain hid her own smile. "Once. I heard you singing under your breath while you were on watch one night, when we were in the druid's grove."
Now his smile did break out, his black eyes gleaming with silent laughter. "And?"
"And," she said playfully, continuing their banter, "your voice was fair enough, my dear friend, for a ranger. But I don't think that will elevate you to the lofty rank of a bard."
He shook his head as though offended, but his grin widened. "Then there you have it," he informed her lightly. "No singing. But there is still the option of charming you, I might try that."
Too late, he realised how close they were coming to what lay between them, and his expression changed. Rain hastily glanced back over the harbour, turning her face away. Her heart thudded in her chest. A sick feeling was creeping over her, the miserable twist of heartsickness. For a moment she was silent, trying to restore her composure.
"Seriously though," she said, returning to the topic of the Slayer. "It was terrifying enough last time, slowly coming back to myself and seeing the damage I had caused." Her eyes dropped to his cloak; several of the mended slashes had been her doing, rent by her claws.
The Slayer's claws, she amended.
"If I do change," she whispered, "I want you to run, mellonamin. Do not hesitate. I don't want to see you hurt."
Kivan was quiet a moment, pensive. He gazed out at the ocean as she was doing, but then rested his eyes on her again. "Nor do I want to see you hurt," he said quietly. "Never again."
Well, they had that in common. Rain straightened her back and raised her head, closing her eyes in relief as the first cold raindrops hit her head, striking her bare shoulders and sliding down her skin. She listened to the increasing patter of the rain on the stone flags and drew comfort from it, the music of the water a balm to her bruised heart. Idly, she tilted her face from side to side, letting the rain run down her cheeks and nose. She wondered if it would smear the soot.
"Rain." Kivan's voice was very soft. There was a new note in it, something she almost recognised, tantalising the edge of her senses. Something warm and low and strangled. Her eyes flew open; she wasn't sure if he was addressing her or merely noting the weather. When she looked at him, the twinge in her heart sharpened, for he seemed almost bemused, regarding her with what might have been awe or admiration, or even mellow desire. Kivan blinked, returning to himself hastily. He gazed at her through the curtain of rain. "Do you know," he said quietly, "I think of you whenever it rains, now. Every time."
"Oh." Despite the wet chill seeping through her, Rain felt a blush rise to her cheeks. She dropped her eyes from his and suddenly blanched, realising with horror that while her vest was no longer white, the thin fabric was clinging wetly to her skin, leaving little to the imagination. "Oh!" She folded her arms across her breasts, her flush rising more hotly than before. Kivan was already shaking out his cloak, settling it around her shoulders warmly.
To her indignation, she realised he was shuddering with muffled laughter. Rain swatted at him, giving him an irate glare. "How long were you going to let me stand there like that?" she demanded, still blushing furiously. "So much for you being the pinnacle of nobleness and gallantry, ranger."
He was still trying to control his laughter. "Peace, Rain," he choked out, his dark eyes bright with humour. "I only realised when you did. And I never claimed to be noble or gallant; that's Anomen's domain."
Rain huddled under his cloak, seeing the humorous side of it now that she was decently covered. "Well," she said, losing the battle to hide her own smile, "thank you for restoring my modesty, ranger."
That grin pulled at his lips. "What little modesty you had," he rejoined, "looking like a ragged street urchin with your breeches rolled up past your knees, and charcoal streaked across your face." He easily evaded the next swat of her hand, laughing under his breath as he neatly sidestepped her and ended up behind her, pinning her arms to her sides beneath his tattered cloak. He sobered then, directing her glance to a group of rowdy sailors stumbling out of the nearby tavern. "But beneath that war paint," he said softly, "there is still a beautiful face, and I do not want to see you come to any harm, Rain."
She nodded, barely breathing. Kivan's hands were still on her, but they were gentle now, holding her almost the way he had in her darkened bower. It brought that sharp ache back to her heart.
Before she could think of what to say next, the door to Cromwell's forge opened and Anomen emerged, seeking them through the falling rain. He approached swiftly, determination in every step. As he drew closer, he eyed Kivan's hands. Something dark settled in his face.
"It's nearly ready," he said shortly, staring fixedly at Rain's wet face. Kivan's fingers tightened, ever so slightly. She couldn't see his expression, but something seemed to pass between the two men. Anomen's mouth thinned. "Are you coming, my lady?"
They returned to the searing heat of the forge, Rain's hair and clothes drying out damply. But when Cromwell laid the finished sword across her reverent palms, her discomfort was forgotten.
The Equalizer. Balance.
Rain slowly drew the beautiful blade from its scabbard and gave it an experimental swing, feeling the grace and power in its silvered arc. She met each of their eyes in turn. "Come," she said gravely. "It is time to see to Bodhi. And then Irenicus."