This little piece sees Rain in Spellhold, coming to terms with the brutal aftermath of Irenicus' dark ritual. The usual disclaimers apply, and I own none of the characters save Rain.
INTO THE VOID – PART I
That thought – that silent, screaming cry! – rang and rang in Rain's stunned, terrified mind, the pure horror of what she was, what she had become, driving her into the utter darkness. She fled as she had never fled before. Her feet – her talons! – pounded and pounded down the stone corridor, crashing and clawing with an eerie, almost-metallic shriek that Rain somehow knew came from her wickedly-curved nails, sharp as scimitars. Those claws scratched as she ran, digging gouges in the stone as she suddenly skidded to a stop, coming up hard against a wall that bled red colour in her shifting, crimson vision. She wavered dizzily, disoriented. Pain and rage and fear twisted black through her insides, spreading their venom, but only the stark terror was entirely her own.
The rage belonged to something else. The creature. The urge to kill, to reach out with her hands and snatch and rip and rend, that belonged to the monster, too.
It was the pain they shared. An incredible agony that, even now, was rippling in a crippling, scarlet wave down their huge, barbed spine, all the way to the lashing tail that whipped about angrily like a cat's. It struck the sides of the too-small corridor, smashing against stone.
What am I?
The absolute horror of it choked Rain's mind. Weakly, she looked down at her upturned palms, her head buzzing and pulsing with a sick, reeling sensation that came from her far greater height. The floor was too distant, floating as a sea of red.
Her hands. Her arms. They were monstrous, ugly things; clad in a thick shield of overlapping, scarlet scales that glistened wetly in her strange red sight, shimmering almost like the supple, gleaming skin of a snake. Her fingers were claws, clenching into cruel hooks as she fisted them, digging her nails hard into her leathery skin.
No. No! This is not me!
Her despairing cry ripped from her throat. Her voice – her own, elven voice – issued from that wide, snarling mouth, and Rain screamed harder, the madness finally taking her. It brought her down in a whirl of blindness, the utter fear and agony of her horrific, changed state drowning her senses. Her body shuddered violently, warping as though stretched over a torture rack. Rain shrank into herself, trying to pull herself small and tight. Then there was the hard slam of cold stone beneath her knees, and Rain doubled over, her hands splaying on the floor as she retched and heaved, coughing up her insides until there was nothing left to spill.
The crimson, hazy field of light slowly bled from her eyes.
The heavy darkness pressed close, crushing her where she knelt, on all fours. Smothering her down.
With a sharp, catching breath, Rain pushed up from the floor with the last of her strength, gasping as each muscle, bone and sinew in her body protested in sheer, tormented agony. It was unbearable. The dizziness crowded close, the sickness beginning to rise again. Rain swallowed hard, trying to choke it down, and forced herself to move, crawling through her utter exhaustion to find the far wall. She bumped into it, hitting her head. Frustrated tears sprang to her eyes. She sank down to the floor, and huddled up against the wall on her side in painful, dejected misery. The deep chill of the stones stole through her, numbing her naked, vulnerable flesh. With only her russet hair to cloak her, tangled now, Rain drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her pale arms tightly about herself, shivering uncontrollably as she pressed her brow to the wall.
She closed her eyes and fell into nightmare.
Stay awake. You must stay awake.
Rain whispered those words to herself, holding tight to them as she tried to fight off the heavy, drugged mist that lingered in her head, dulling her senses. The fatigue was unnatural, dragging her down to the floor of her cage where she could not move; a product of Yoshimo's spell components, designed to render her helpless, unconscious.
Yoshimo. The traitor.
That gave her the strength to lift her head, but it cost her. The throbbing pain in her temples spiked with the movement, making her breath hiss out sharply through her teeth. She tried to hide her wince. Slowly, painfully, she reached for the iron bars of her cage and gripped them in white-knuckled fists, using them to help her rise, rise to her knees.
She found him immediately. He had begun to pace, back and forth behind the long table, covered in a pristine white cloth, that was the unusual centrepiece of this otherwise barren room of cold grey stone. Barren, save for its other occupants; Imoen, blank-eyed and distant, as though she was locked inside the same drugged haze as Rain. The same nightmare. And there, in a well of shadow away from the soft, flickering light of the candelabras, illuminating the table, was Bodhi. The vampire smiled widely at Rain, revealing her sharp, fanged teeth. There were other cages, like Rain's, filled with people she did not know; their expressions ranged from defeated, crushed and hopeless, to desperate. An emotion that Rain understood entirely too well.
But it was Irenicus who pulled her reluctant eyes, the true master of this room. He stood tall, confident, supremely unconcerned by the fearful mutterings coming from the other cages, the useless pleas for freedom. His masked head was bent over an elegant ceremonial dagger as he tested its sharp, whetted edge with a forefinger. Jewels winked in the candlelight; tiny rubies and diamonds, set into the gleaming haft of copper-gold. It was too beautiful, too graceful and fine for the bloody purpose he intended for it.
Rain averted her eyes from the dagger. Swiftly, she glanced at Yoshimo again, his betrayal working its own bitter knife into her heart.
"How could you?" she breathed, her voice dry and uneven, wavering slightly. "How could you do this to us?"
Truthfully, though, she didn't care about his answer. His reasons meant nothing to her. He was a bounty hunter, and she had been his bounty all along. What stung was her own confirmation that she had knowingly walked right into his trap. She and Kivan had both suspected him of being false, of smiling too brightly from his assassin's face, yet she had still allowed Yoshimo to accompany them to Spellhold. It was her own fault. Her own doing.
Yes, she whispered in her mind again, but I always knew this place might end up being my grave. I always knew who awaited me here, who demanded my coming.
Yoshimo sighed, resignation worn into his tired, unsmiling face. "Give it up, Rain," he said wearily, though he could not seem to look at her. He kept pacing, restless and agitated, frowning at the floor. "What's done is done. I cannot change things, even if I wanted to."
Rain said nothing to that. Pointedly, she looked away from him, not about to waste any more of her last, precious moments on him. She was beyond cold; she was ice, frozen in her very centre. To Rain, Yoshimo was already dead.
And soon enough, she would be too.
The thought struck a wrenching bolt of fear inside her. For the first time since her waking, despair rose up to choke Rain's throat, so thick and black that she nearly gagged on it. With an effort, she pushed her misery down, gripping the iron bars so tightly that her fingers ached, clenched too hard. Kneeling in her cage, her bright hair falling loose about her shoulders, down her back, Rain gazed out between the bars and sought her companions, imprisoned as she was behind stout, unbending iron.
Oh, my friends.
Sorrow clenched her heart.
They were still struggling to wake, all five of them. Aerie was limp on the floor of their cell, her golden hair spilling over the stone, and Jaheira fared little better. Anomen was sitting upright, his head in his hands as he shook it, trying to clear his mind of the effects of the spell. Xan was a slumped, defeated figure in rumpled purple robes, looking at her with empty, deadened eyes. Watching the end coming for her at last, powerless to prevent it.
It was Kivan who was still fighting. Making himself move, stumbling to the bars of the cage where he collapsed down hard, driven to his knees. He didn't seem to notice. His entire focus was on Rain, his anguished black eyes riveted on her face. Utterly helpless, horrified, he gripped the bars hard and twisted them, as though he could shatter them with his very fury. His eyes were wide and staring, his grief so vast, so stark and naked, that Rain suddenly knew he must have looked this way when Deheriana fell. She had only seen this sorrow once, flaring out from him in grievous, painful waves.
The day he had taken back his bow from Imanel Silversword. Reunited with Deheriana's wedding gift at last.
Rain sucked in a quick breath, cut by his grief. Guilt stabbed through her. She had unwittingly done the worst thing she ever could to him; she had led him here, to where her death awaited her, and now he was going to witness her own murder, unable to stop it. As helpless as he had been when Tazok ruined his wife.
My fault. It's my own, damned fault.
Shame flushed her, sudden tears misting her eyes. She blinked hastily, not allowing them to fall, and whispered her apology to him, unheard but felt across the room. The Spirit shivered with it.
I am sorry, mellonamin. I failed you.
Kivan's face twisted with fresh anguish. His jet eyes were too bright, too soft and despairing where they locked with hers. He shook his head, sable curls brushing over his shoulders. No, he mouthed to her, and she could almost hear his husky voice in her ears, rough with his great, deep sorrow. It is I who failed you. I should have seen this coming.
This time, Rain shook her head, and she meant it. No. This was not for him to carry. Not her death. Not what had happened here, what would happen here.
In the very corner of her eye, she saw Irenicus approaching her cage, that beautiful, terrible dagger in his hands. His fierce, triumphant eyes were hard cerulean gems in the stitched leather mask of his face, boring into her. His shoulders were straight and assured, his long strides radiating purpose, and Rain knew that her time was almost up. She glanced back to Kivan quickly. His hands were tight, impotent fists, clenched around the bars.
She wanted to whisper what was in her heart.
I love you.
She wanted to hear his long, regretful sigh, and his soft, broken reply. I know.
She did not. Instead, she lifted her chin and met his eyes, and found her inner fire again. Her strength of will. She let it blaze up inside her, roaring to life in her determined blue gaze. I will fight, she told him fiercely. Fight to my last breath.
He jerked, his expression open, raw and tortured. But then he nodded, ferocious, and added his own stubborn, indomitable will to hers. Fight, Rain. Keep fighting. And I will fight for you.
She nodded calmly, accepting his silent pledge.
And then Irenicus was before her, smiling that cold, hard smile that made the very blood freeze in Rain's veins. She looked up at him, tensing in her cage.
"Enough of this," he was saying in a terse, implacable tone, rife with impatience. He gestured curtly with the dagger. "I have waited far too long for you to come to me, Rain. I shall wait no longer." Holding her gaze, the deep chill in his eyes somehow burning her, like a bitter frost, Irenicus held out his palm and swiftly drew the dagger across it, opening up a long, nasty gash. Blood welled, thick and crimson. He held out that hand to Rain, as though he were a courting nobleman, offering to assist his lady to her feet.
"Come now, Rain," he said, and his voice turned almost silky, with a cool, gentle touch. The tender murmur of a lover. Rain stared at him in pure terror; on Irenicus, that voice was utterly horrifying. "Stand up," he compelled her through her daze, "and let us be done with this useless charade. Your soul is mine."
That tore through her horrified trance. Suddenly furious, her eyes spitting blue fire, Rain pulled herself up to her feet, using those bars for leverage. She stood her ground, facing him down. Absurdly, they had dressed her in beautiful white silk while she slept, and it struck her how terribly mad Irenicus was, as if she were a young bride, a maiden on her wedding day, going to him, her tormenter, as her groom.
Madness. Utter madness.
She shook her head, incredulous. "Never," she hissed, the anger burning so hotly within her, so bright. "My soul is my own. I am not yours, Irenicus. You will never break me."
Irenicus went stone still. His icy glare pinned her down, so cold that she couldn't move, couldn't speak. Then his bloody hand shot out, through the bars of her cage, and he seized her chin in a cruel, lethal grip, his fingers forming an inescapable vice. He squeezed hard, violently, hurting her. Trying to make her cry out. Trying to master her.
"Such fire you have," he said in a flat, detached monotone. It was eerie, seeing how his cold, mad malice manifested itself in his vivid, frozen eyes. "Yes," he said more thoughtfully, considering her anew. "Your soul will replace mine very nicely. Come, then, Rain. Come to your death."
She was fighting him tooth and nail, clawing and kicking and twisting in his grasp. But Irenicus was unnaturally strong, and so was his vampiric sister. They bore her down to that white, cloth-covered table, and the yellow light of the candles spun off the dagger, sparking from the brilliant, glittering jewels in the gold-gilt haft.
The tip of the dagger descended for her breast, slashing a perfect cross through the silk of her dress. Marking her heart, where her soul lay.
Rain screamed, her immense pain and terror filling up her senses.
The void beckoned.
She slipped within.
It was done.
Her fire was gone.
A light gone out; a flame guttering into the lonely cold of an absolute darkness. There were no stars, no pinpoints of faint, twinkling light to lead her out of this nightmare abyss.
She floated in the black void, adrift. She had no anchor, no way to guide herself back.
Or did she?
The thought was foreign, not her own. There was something else floating with her, towards her. An alien mind that instinctively made her recoil; a black, diseased touch that felt old, savage, and incredibly powerful. It reached for her, seeking, and Rain immediately shied away from it, trying to evade its pursuing grasp.
It had her: bloodied, scarlet claws dug into her mind, leaving their agonising, indelible mark.
Rain gasped with horror, trying to pull away.
The thing howled; a high-pitched, baying snarl of thrilling victory. It laughed, revelling in its conquest, and wormed its way further into her thoughts, into the lost, vacant space where her soul had once resided.
I am the Slayer, it told her, smiling. And I am in you.