Summary: Edwin is suffering the effects of the Nether Scroll, distressed that they fail to treat him like himself. Mild Edwin/Female Bhaalspawn.
A/N: Alternative universe on one character reinterpretation point which will prove obvious. Written Yuletide 2012 for Person.
Thanks to LttP for proofreading!
He was back in the Academy of Eltabbar the night of the Summer Sun, and he had not prepared at all for his conjurer's tests.
Oh, a brain like his could easily learn all required. Quickly. Still better than everyone else. He opened a book at random and gazed at the symbols on the page. Pyro, dweyturn, sil—pyro. It wouldn't hold. Pyro. What was next? When was the examination? Perhaps he'd walk to the hall and find it already in progress. He looked at the roll of parchment with time and place and the words did not stick in his head. Outside the red-gold-gilt-lacquer of the examination rooms and he still flicked through pages. Then warped faces asked him what the answer was and nothing worked—
A familiar nightmare. Damn them! (Damn them all! All!) Clammy cool sweat coated him and the sheets were twisted around his body, and worst of all he awakened now and the other Thing was still in and of him—
He reached for a fire blast coiled in the knuckles of his hand, magic like a serpent striking to do his instant bidding even now—
"You w-were having a...n-nightmare?"
The vapid little narrow-faced chit stood over his bed with a lit candle in her hands, and a heavy nightgown and cloak over herself. The light sent eerie shadows into the hollows of the girl's thin bird's skull, but Aerie was hardly a lich waiting with blue fire in empty eyesockets in the graveyard.
(And damn that one we sent burning to a thousand and one hells if he is not so already! The fool! They are all fools!)
He had woken fully and nothing had changed of the infernal curse to his body: from one nightmare to the next.
"Those with nothing but foolishness to say should hold their tongues in the presence of those infinitely superior." He noted with dissatisfaction that it did not immediately silence the twittering elf, though his sarcasms and orders had prompted her to immediate obedience in the past. He untangled himself from the blankets—wretched coarse things; curse Adrian's stone-headed stinginess—trying not to touch his unwanted body; not to feel the utter wrong discomfort once more.
"I used to have p-plenty of nightmares," the featherhead girl went on boring through Edwin's ears with her pathetic chickenlike twitters. "Of...of losing my wings. And after K-Kalah, and after Uncle Quayle...it is bad," she finished with not atypical lameness. "You have been through much, Edwin..."
"And mine are terrifying and horrifying and assuredly worse than any of your insipid snorings," Edwin boasted, covering himself with the blankets while sleep refused to claim him once more. He rested a hand on the edges of his spellbook below the pillow—useless though it was to him in the key thing he wanted most at this juncture—damn once more the curse! "Why, I know of more than you could possibly imagine, chickadee. Obsessions, bewitchings, enthrallings, hellplanes, succubi, unearthly things, not least pure magic itself—I have breakfasted before sights that would no doubt cause you to shrivel into a puddle of feathers and tears, as part of becoming a powerful conjurer. (Uncle Homen and his public toenail-cutting, for instance. Truly terrifying.)"
Glimpses of the Nine Hells he had seen and would see again as he grew powerful enough to summon demon lords to fetch his slippers—
(And powerful enough for this curse, now!)
Aerie held her taper between long pale fingers. Edwin could see that she had covered the clotheschest—for he had appropriated the desk for his own spell parchments and twenty-three different shades of ink and seven carefully crafted quills—with her highly inferior equipment; her opened breviary for that ridiculous raccoon god by her simple-designed spellbook, a scatter of tattered acorns, bundles of primitive forest herbs in all likelihood with filthy mud still clinging to their roots, a single neat-trimmed quill and a few parchments. Wax from the taper was pooled in one corner and she had at least laid her paraphernalia in acceptable geometrical order for all the barbaric mutterings she did to that preposterous gnome entity.
And the girl tried a half-hearted giggle, of all foolish things. "It's j-just us then, for now. Adrian is still down there."
So the fool Bhaalspawn attempted to experiment upon her powers of alcohol tolerance with the other bloodthirsty dwarf amongst their group, the shifty bounty hunter, and the accursed bard temporarily laying aside his questing to see below the flightless chicken's robes. Aplenty concubines have far more appeal. The buttons of the coarse nightgown were modestly drawn up above an elven iron-washboard figure. He doubted the insipid circus girl's ability to draw a first glance let alone second—and to think of why he roomed with the women brought him again to wretched discomfort that this female's form he was prisoned in was not his body, not his shape, and hips and chest and the way he felt attuned with absolutely none of it and could not bear to think of any bodies whatsoever...
"Aerie," Edwin said carefully, "I demand that you lay aside whatever pitiful pleadings you are attempting to work on, and heal me from this body. It's extremely selfish that you have not already left your trivial projects to fly to the winds." He saw a trace of remorse (about time!) upon her features. Let me not have lost my touch for ordering slaves about at least! She was all they had in the way of a healer—this mere wretched drenched-tarsiiform female—and yet easier to ask from her than hatchet-faced Harper harpies, or mad Cyricist gnomes—and in addition she was a wizard.
Yes. Aerie was a wizard and a healer and more than anyone else it was her duty to peel this skin from him. He must be restored to his true glorious form. His. The shape that he knew all to well he was. (Let it not bring his begging to too abject grounds, and let not the late hour disintegrate his keenest of minds!) He whirled above her, his sleeping robe flung intimidatingly in the air. (At the least it had not transformed as his wizard's robes had to an ancient Netherese torture device that revealed all he would not possess, let alone display!) "You will remove this curse from me or perish from misaimed spells in the attempt! I am on my knees!"
"You're s-standing," Aerie pointed out.
"And missing—my own shape, my own body! It is nightmare—can you not see that? When the bounty hunter speaks of his handiness with a needle; and the male dwarf makes obscene remarks (none near to my sophistication at that); the bard dares to compose limericks; as to Adrian—and you...you—"
And it occurred to him that he considered the avariel girl less intolerable than many others in the great mass of peasants and ignorant phillistines; not that her slightly lesser deficiencies said anything much, or anything at all. She was generally quiet and almost acceptably spoke only when spoken to. Albeit with a tendency to whine upon her sore feet and unwillingness for the avariel to tramp underground, and alternate that with attempts of mindlessly cheery optimism and threats to accidentally turn people into chickens for humour value (undoubtedly overcompensating!). She was a pathetic apprentice in the field of magic and followed the healing arts of the aforementioned ridiculous gnomish raccoon, and beside him on the battlefield she was occasionally helpful in remedying his papercuts and suchlike, and employed spells that were large in raw numbers. She usually assisted him when he demanded. She held the back with him while the remainder of the fools and barbarians charged forward to seek their deaths.
He'd still have preferred the drow.
And the other part to Aerie, Edwin thought, was that she like other wouldbe do-gooders was ever stupidly, foolishly led along by the power of her vain self-image. Tell her that a truly good person would help here, help there, heal the warts and ingrown toenails of the poor little baby orcs, bestow lengthy back massages upon needy tax collectors, show care and compassion to future world conquerors who were but the victims of a misunderstood childhood, and she would obey.
(Yes, she will believe anything when the time comes for me to take over the world.)
(In my own body; by all the gods that is no unusual wish to demand!)
"Aerie, please heal me." Edwin seated himself on her bed quite willingly and allowed her to rest beside him.
She looked at his body; he clutched the man's sleeping robe he preferred to himself.
"There is n-nothing to heal," Aerie said, as if she were Edwin himself explaining some elementary principle of magery that barely needed explanation at all to the witless. "You wished for a glorious, changed body. The lich's scroll provided you with one. You are not injured."
"(As if my body would not be glorious in any configuration,)" Edwin protested, though his heart failed to be in it. "Fool of a feather-headed child!" He ignored her twittering protests that she had existed more years than he. The magic built red-hot through him, and he would have loved nothing more than to rain fire upon her and this entire inn and any who dared look upon him in this foul shape until they were all ash and oblivion. "The wrongness creeps in me like a strain of rot wearing through the entire skin! Every moment is disorientation, every movement precarious."
Only the red power at his fingertips remained all his own.
"I am missing crucial parts of my own self. (And there are concubines aplenty in mourning.) Much of me is, simply...gone." He realised that he spoke unaccountably softly and showed the elf much more understanding than she deserved.
"Missing parts," the formerly feathered flibbertigibbet repeated, and a slight smile played about her small lips. "Edwin, I do not know nothing about that."
He startled. The detail had slipped his mind. Amazingly so, given her endless whining on the subject. Why she did not understand the principles of stoicism and not disturbing her betters with the flapping of her mouth he had no idea. "Yes, yes, those wings. Prattle if you desire about your trivial complaint."
"They can n-never be replaced because I have grown and the wounds w-were long sealed. It's not like your case, though, because the magic in the Nether Scroll remade you, not...not cut parts away and buried them below other parts." A blush reddened her cheeks and she took care to speak the second sentence quickly to him. "If there w-were another..."
Edwin coldly put her off. There was no need to remind of his loss of all the ultimate magical power he had hoped to gain from the now-dissolved ancient parchment.
"Korgan. Haer'Dalis, the infernal bard. (A clever pun, that.) Yoshimo. Adrian. Salvanas," Edwin demanded. "They have ceased to see beyond this skin. They have confined me with Adrian and you on this little girls' only night." He spat the words out.
His thoughts turned back to their leader, the child of Bhaal and supposedly of his power. Of Adrian's thick glossy beard and hair, plaited with gold and copper in rings not without taste nor value. Of her beetle-black bright eyes glinting below her dwarven helm. Of Adrian's generous well-arranged figure, short though she was; and forceful with it, rather too fond of clipping people with axes. No doubt she still tried to equal Korgan drink for drink and barfight for barfight below.
"Adrian does...does feel sorry for you," Aerie stumbled, still sitting by him upon the bed, the warm taper casting light and dripping wax over her cloth-covered right knee.
"It is the least I want," Edwin snapped in return. It upset him that the pitch of his voice ascended higher than it had been since certain embarrassing incidents in puberty, and he stopped speaking for a moment to return it to acceptable tenor.
"I d-did not mean to drive your hope away. Be cheerful," Aerie twittered. "Your change was done by magic and there m-must be other magic to help it. At least you are not a chicken!"
"(Only addressing one.)"
"Or a s-squirrel. Adrian speaks of funny stories with the wand that you were given in Baldur's Gate—" She giggled. "Or a cricket, or a mouse. Or a, a toad! Though toads are quite pretty if you take the time to look at them, when they have such jewel-like eyes."
"(You are the one who desires to kiss specimens of that nature, such as the bard.) Or a red dragon," Edwin said sulkily, "that would have been an impressive change in form. (They would pay attention to me at last.) I am no more female than you are a...a large male ogre."
She was pitifully weak and had indeed been forced into playing that role when Adrian had freed her circus. Edwin hadn't expected to see her sudden shocked start. Surely she did not still whine upon that trivial event.
She slowed and spoke very carefully, stating the obvious. "Edwin, I am an elf and I am called Aerie. The...the people here would never have been able to say my avariel name in any case...and Uncle Quayle always knew who I was. I wish he was not gone..."
If she was on the verge of snivelling then Edwin swore that he would conjure her into a hellplane with imps to dry her tears. After all, it was he who had asked her assistance.
"Most barbarians here have barbaric speech. Your name is Aerie and you are a pointy-eared androgynous tree-kissing pretentious long-lived fool of a girl who wastes the time that she has," he lectured if she had a lapse in memory.
"Yes," she said, and red flames came into her pale cheeks. "I am an elf and we do not have the same customs for man or woman as humans. But I have l-lived most of my life among humans. I'm a woman and elves would know this. And you know...from your experience...that it is not the b-body that makes the person..."
Edwin stared at the girl again. She was Aerie; an insipid, small-figured elven chit with a gawk's large staring eyes and long hair above her modest robes—none of which said anything about gender, particularly for an elf. She was... (No, wait, she was not telling him this.) Briefly, she allowed her robes to slip across a thin chest far too planed for even a female elf, and quickly covered herself again.
(Oh. It appeared that she was telling him. It did not make him feel any better.)
"S-some on the ground have...difficulty...with this. I have wondered if Haer will..." she said. "There are people who understand this and I thought that you might wish to know that, as Adrian thinks of you... But p-please tell nobody, Edwin, please, especially not him or Korgan..."
("I've heard there are kinds of underthings for underendowed women to pretend to have cleavage," he almost told her, and he might well have done before in any case at one of those times the girl fretted over her looks.)
There were people who paid more for gender-confused concubines back in Thay and previously he would have thought all involved were fools craving paltry pretences and exoticism. He had confidence in his own tastes and own self.
She—he could still think of Aerie in no other sense—pleaded with him, trying to express some measure of understanding. Her wings she missed but it seemed the rest of her body was her own; not that he would tolerate the same, not when other scrolls of power could restore him and grant great power. I am Edwin and I will always be...and she is occasionally tolerable.
"The point is gathered, Aerie. In case you were wondering I have always had higher standards in my women than immature elves."
She gave him a warm—almost overjoyed—smile, and began to speak on as if they were the best of friends. He sat resigned with her, bearing the contact of arm on arm, and let a heatless crimson flame dance between his fingertips to illuminate the room.
The inevitable rumbling came when Adrian shouldered her way in, the stench of alcohol attending her and the axe hilted on her shoulders.
"You get to sleep, Aerie, or ye'll be dead on your feet 'fore we're halfway finished walking on the morrow," she commanded. The avariel jumped up with alacrity to follow orders—there was something in that voice of command. Edwin watched the dwarf settle for the night; watched her peel off clinking chainmail for nightshirt. No adventurer ever had guarantee of privacy. Adrian glanced at her beard in a cracked, beaten mirror and ran a comb through the smooth dark red strands.
"Thought you'd not mind excuse of staying away from that kuldjargh chathwurn's sawing through the night. Nine hells, it's no easy job to haul him down!" She used the dwarven words with her western human accent. Adrian was still bright-eyed despite the heavy smell of what she had drunk; it never took her down until the last moment possible, and it had been that way since the Sword Coast. A plum-red flush brightened her round cheeks.
Adrian feels sorry for you. Adrian thinks of you.
Deeply unlikely. She had better not lend me pity. Edwin moved to his own bed.
"I see no difference when you too eschew intelligent conversation to lie in copious pools of your own vomits and excretions," he said. There was much he could say and still not provoke her, for the sake of their long time trampling about undertaking various foolish quests under unhygienic conditions.
Adrian's smile was concealed below the rings in her beard, glinting reddish and gold in the illumination of his magelight. "Listening to drunken gossip's got its points. Let's get the drop on those Thayvians looking for you."
She would kill his superiors for him; not without his necessary magical prowess, of course. In time he would return to Thay in triumph. His ambitions remained.
"There's been a foreign wizard staying in the Seven Vales and getting pally with those Cowled oiks," Adrian said. "I say we get Missus Patricia to let us in to pay him a visit before anyone knows who you are. How about it, Edwin?"
She called him by true name so easily when they were alone together. And that, he thought, would for now be enough.
"First let my superior intelligence refine the plan," he boasted, and they began to talk once more.