Summary: Irenicus and the Bhaalspawn and Ellesime.
Note: Came out of ideas kicked around with Late to the Party.
I was a paladin once.
I remember I was sickly as a child. I hated being in the company of others and my frequent megrims gave me pain almost too much to bear. I lay in the dark and grew thin and weak, but my foster father and Ulraunt of the Keep chased me into the sunshine and would not let me inside. I ran for my health. I read on my own; Ilmater called and aided me to make myself fit to answer. From the time he chose me the terrible headaches became bearable. From the time he chose me I could look into men's souls and see the buzz and tumult inside them that had hurt me in the first place.
The man who raises hand against his wife loathes himself above all else. Imoen remembered making Fannimere cry when she only meant to be funny and not to hurt her, that wasn't evil but the guilt grew in her anyway like black vines strangling inside her-- Hull killed people when he was in the army and hated it, a guard, drunk and trying to numb the memories that entered my head, the mud and the wounds and the men dying. Ilmater helped me to bear that pain...
The Broken God of the rack.
Then my foster father was killed. Imoen and I stumbled in his name to find Khalid and Jaheira, friends dear to us as they were to my father. Fair northlander Branwen. Ajantis, paladin of Helm.
I remember writing Ajantis Ilvastarr's name on parchment in one of my rare times alone. Then I burned it. He helped me. He held me by the shoulders when I was bowed by the thorns in my head of knowledge of pain and sin. He said nothing of feeling. Once he gave me a locket of his family. I don't have that any more.
I served Ilmater. I bear pain.
There were painful gifts on our journey. I thought Ilmater gave me these skills, for they brought me pain but helped us. I saw deeply. I understood each stroke of a whip the slaver gave to his prisoners. I healed pain, at the cost of taking it to myself. Then in my home of Candlekeep I learned what a doppelganger was.
I am a god's daughter, born in blood and pain.
I had a foster father named Gorion once. He was murdered; and I found the man who murdered him, for otherwise he would have slain many others. I killed the doppelganger who thought it was my father. I call doppelgangers it, because I know that is what they call themselves, having both and neither gender at once.
Its pod was called Tsssnss and it was forced to steal shattered memories of my father. Its life was pain; to a doppelganger, that was the purpose of life. Beaten by any stronger and bound first to illithid and then to the Son of Murder; bound in blood to die facing us...
Its silver blood was on my hands, and strong hands touched my forehead amidst the splitting headache.
I killed, but never out of hatred. For to know all removes the ability to hate. Not even Sarevok.
I dreamed of my brother's face turning quickly to a skull in darkness, and I woke with the gift to take shapes as well as understand minds. Without it we should have been found many times in the city. Again pain came with the gift, linked hand in hand: reshaping bone and flesh is neither easy nor pleasant.
Perhaps it would have been easier had my companions died in that city.
We lived. I remember I wept at my brother's death, but I killed him with my bare hands around his neck. I understood him. Afterward we set off for a call of Ajantis Ilvastarr's Order that help was needed.
I am made to ease the pain of others.
We never reached them. Perhaps the parchment was a forgery. They came in the night for us. The white ragged bats. I remember I felt Jaheira's death that night, and because his wife was dead Khalid could not be stopped but to break him into bloody pieces beside her. I prayed for Ilmater's holy symbol to keep back the monsters: but they swarmed. I knew no more until the cage and the knives.
I was a paladin once.
Irenicus--my captor--knew well how to craft a cell. My god was silent to my prayers. The force that had guided me for seven years could not reach me. I saw Branwen die in that dungeon. And my love Ajantis--
Ajantis Ilvastarr was never my lover. If I ever wrote that and destroyed it, it was a lie.
I saw one living face, one person. He chained me against seeing more. His eyes were blue, and he cut. I knew only him.
My sister Imoen saved me from my cage while explosions shook the dungeon and the Shadow Thieves invaded. A man--knife across a woman's throat, blind panic on first raid, the pain of the guild torturer when he had short total--was immolated to death before our eyes in a trap, too far for either of us to ease his pain. Our stomachs growled in sickening hunger.
You see, my love, there is wickedness in me as well. Let us stay by each other.
I was too weak. Mindless goblins threw themselves on the two of us and my sister Imoen died, her throat slit. Then her body--she was another Child of Bhaal--the goblins fled from her apparition-- Nobody was alive any more. I do not like to remember this. And I shall not.
I shall not remember finding the old corpse of Ajantis Ilvastarr in a waste pit.
Battles crackled on above. My form changed and shifted and I kept myself away. Strange gusts of air blew; the earth shook; jets of acid sunk into my flesh. I should have died like my sister. But Irenicus' lessons were an advanced course in those I had learned long ago: to live in pain. I stumbled past strange bubbling things; and I gave a mercy death to a half-existing thing suspended in a tube of blue. Magical devices creaked and even the air could not be breathed in some passageways.
When I fell into a dark room, I had no thought but to rest some little while. I had no strength left even to weep. But then the woman came to me.
"I...am not her," she said. In a blinding flash the sum of her pain came to me. "I am not her! I am not her and cannot be her! Leave me! Die!"
She cast like a druid or like a sorceress, or like me. She flung herself on me in her madness and tried to claw out my eyes. I saw into her, and perhaps I felt Ilmater's gifts for the last moment I should do so--
But as Her lifeblood flowed over my hand that held the goblin's knife into her heart, I remembered nothing else. She was a god's daughter, of a sort. She died. Instead of golden ash she left behind fresh grass shoots in the ground, the growths strangely stunted, and memories.
My bones ground and changed. I lay against that damp stone wall, my red-gold hair tangled and soaked in blood, and I waited for him to come to me.
There was a forest. I remember a forest. I remember a leaf. I remember a tree. I remember love, of a sort.
Was it protection? Or was it pain?
"Jon," I said, when his icy footsteps echoed, "I remember. I love you."
He knelt at my side and touched me with cold hands, and I understood what I had done to him.
"Stay with me," I asked. "Please stay with me."
We were left until the battle had died.
I remember a tank. I remember parts of me in other tanks. I remember him over me, trying to make me remember our home and our love.
"I hurt you, love. Joneleth, forgive me."
They know not what they do. He knew.
He wore a mask; his eyes were blue. He ran his hands greedily over my face in the dark, my eyes, my lips, my chin, his face in my hair. Joneleth was my love once, and it was only fitting for me to turn to him again.
"Ellesime. At last it is you."
"I won't leave you again, Jon. Only stay with me here."
"I have no soul," he said. "I had the memory of our love. Then a memory of a memory. Then nothing."
"Then share mine," I said, for I was daughter of a god. I kissed the dusty lips of my old lover, and below the mask his face was cracked and rotting.
I remember you, Joneleth.
I remembered a mirror of an elf-archmage in beauty and glory. Suldanessellar's Queen loved Joneleth, and the Tree's song touched both their hearts.
"Share mine," I repeated. "I can bear your pain. Love."
We lay together in my chamber. It was not my chamber, but only like; symbol and art of Rillifane Rallathil, interlocking leaves and vines, pearwood chased with ivory and oak. A mirror edged by grapes and apple leaves was mantled by a thin voile curtain that concealed any reflections on its silvered surface. Windows to the air and forest were painted scenes of our home. Our circled bed was covered in new linen, sweet elderberry and wintergreen freshening the air. The Shattered One had remembered when he had first come to this place.
I shattered him.
"I cannot..." He held me, but there was no warmth between us. "I sought to capture this once again. Ellesime, the experiments I have done to reach this point..."
"Peace, Joneleth. I am happy to be with you. It will come in time."
"You promised me a share in your soul. That must be a geas between us," he said, and the spell began.
I sat up in our bed. He had brought his study to our bedroom; we could not bear to be separated. The gold of my divine father animated him and gave him life back day by day. It was his magical study and his life's work; we were together always.
"Ellesime, it grows in me. The experiment increases. And you are still whole, are you not? Half of a divine soul each. A fair exchange is not a theft. Are you ready for me?"
I scarcely left our bed; he did not need me to go far. "I always am," I said; below the sheets I wore only scraps of silk and velvet that he had given me to please himself. He dropped his work and came to me.
"I feel you, Joneleth. Anything you want is fine."
He gave me blank parchments; I burned them.
He gave me a book of elven poetry, the kind blessed by priests of Corellon, the pages alight with illuminated beauty. It must have been some time since last I read in our language. But some of the verses flowed through me as if we had once known them by heart.
The waters bear the Tree and the Tree bears the children and the life of the children is Suldanessellar. Green leaves in a flood.
"Look to the mirror, Ellesime." He drew me up, giving his arm to me. For the first time he set aside the veil that covered it. "You see yourself. Do you see yourself?" My red-gold hair; my elf's features; my paler skin from the time inside of late; the lines of my god-daughter's face. My own eyes green as the Tree.
Never a muddy brown. My Joneleth's eyes were always blue. They called him among the most comely in Suldanessellar; but perhaps it was his mind I loved...
"Could you bear the ugliness of my face as it is now below the mask? The marks of what you had done to me fade, but I am still so very far from what I once was. Next to you repulsive indeed."
"Yes, Joneleth. Take down your mask."
His eyes were the same. The skin was no longer rotting, but he was scarred and badly burned. But between the dark red fresh skin had begun to grow at last. I touched his cheek between its memories of pain.
"Say that I could never be ugly to you. Say it."
I healed him piece by piece.
"You shattered me, Ellesime. Are you sorry for that?"
He used no knife. "Forgive me, love. Forgive me," I said.
"I saw further than you. I saw grander possibilities for both of us. I understood your divine blood and the Tree more than you ever did."
"I know, Joneleth."
He drew me close once more. "Say it again."
"I love you, Joneleth."
I smelt the vampire long before she walked into Joneleth's study. I retched, sickened by the undead. Joneleth reached for the mask on the table by the bed and covered his face to wait for her.
She must have expected him to be masked.
She stalked in as if not one of his doors were barred against her, and leaned against the wall and fiddled with a statue of a horse in light ash wood.
"Dear brother, what have you been doing these past months? I almost suspected you were off on a long voyage. More importantly--" And she crossed over to Jon, and for the first time made the threat of what she was palpable in her voice. "You promised me," she hissed. "Have you dared to lose both Spawn?"
Cold undead came from trees above in the night. Is it I to remember that?
"I found a residue of tainted ash by the goblin passageway," my lover said without emotion. "The creatures are quite irrational. I must have underestimated my experimental parameters."
"--Both Spawn!" the vampire shrieked, and flung the statue of the horse hard against the wall. Three of the wooden legs broke. "Well, brother, fix it! There are others--my spies tell of an elf in Tethyr, a drow, some more exotic still, perhaps more powerful--go find them!"
Her brother remembered her name was Bodhiyllithe, once.
"By all the dark gods, what is this hopeless delay while my servants are destroyed in guild wars? Yet another of your clones? Is this one particularly good, perhaps?" Bodhi made her way over to me, dark tongue darting over a fanged mouth. I looked at her in revulsion. The vampire paralysed with her deathly gaze. "Give her to me like the others of her you've played with. How many is it now?"
Thirty-one, lingered in my mouth, but my lover gave no answer as if he knew it not.
"Leave her, Bodhi! Leave my wife!" Joneleth said, fury blazing in his blue eyes, striding to protect me.
"She's only a clone!" the vampire said. "You waste my time bedding a doll you made? You mad fool, Jon.
"I can change that," Bodhi said, leaning over me. "I can show you exactly what she's for."
The vampire touched me, and I could not escape her black eyes. I screamed. Elves cannot bear undead.
Then Joneleth grasped his sister's dead hand and cast a spell without mercy. Her dead flesh blackened first on that hand, and then the rot spread to the ends of her body. Her pale skin peeled away from bones in blackening strips, and then the bones too unravelled and tore to dust. All the time he cast the spell Bodhi shrieked an unending pain that echoed through my head, and he brought the vampire to a true death.
He protected me.
"Ellesime," he said. "You remember. You are true."
"I remember everything, Joneleth."
My lover said that the city was dangerous in a guild war. Undead roaming the streets. Elves know that magic to be abomination, though my Joneleth studied it in order to understand it. It has been some time since I have seen the Tree that guards the city. I can remember why Joneleth was exiled. I must have shared his exile.
"Spellhold has an array of underapplied gimmors and devices," Joneleth said. "My plans are drafted, detailed. They will please you when they are implemented." He had lain the mask near permanently aside. The scars and burns on his face would always remain, but they had faded into darker hollows above his strong bones. "To go as a captive would save time, but I have greater reserves of that now and I would not risk you to those petty mortals. My sister found me a ship."
"Then we will sail, Jon?"
My love is kind to me. He tells me so.
"To an island of fools with magic they know not how to use."
We travelled cloaked and hooded as if we could bear the sun as little as a vampire. The crew were crude and barely above pirates; my lover protected me from them in the cabin we shared on the waves.
"Might I step out to see the sun, Joneleth? Even once?"
"No. For you promised you would stay with me, Ellesime."
"And I will. Let me try to ease your scars."
I am a god's daughter, born in blood and pain.
"I'm Dili! I wonder what I'm going to be today. You can be something else today, too!"
Joneleth had easily conquered the asylum. I had begged him to spare the lives of all he could. The inmates had not challenged him, and Dili was but a child.
Once I was told I might never be hardy enough to bear children and live.
Maybe that is true for all elves.
"I'm going to be a doggie today!"
"Very lovely, dear child."
"Tomorrow I'm going to be Joneleth!"
"So many pretties, piled up beyond the sky."
"Into the planes and beyond! His footsteps are always cold! They walk around him though they see him not! Always cold and never warm!"
"But who were you before your face changed?"
The child's hands slipped out of mine. She took the face and shape of my lover. I laughed, thinking it a joke.
"Or did your face change and then did it stick that way?" Dili said, still in the stolen form, and Joneleth became displeased at her insolence.
We stayed in the asylum for many days.
"My punishment had to be terrible, my love. Because yours was of me."
"Dili will take no more faces."
"That," Joneleth said, "is the point."
He brought me close.
Suldanessellar is home to an elf; home to all elves. Jon raised an army from old summoning tomes in the depths of Spellhold, from portals created to planes unknown. A dragon. Rakshasa. Djinn. Golem constructs. A deal with drow.
Then they attacked the city of trees in our name.
"I smell fire and smoke. I hear screams and shattered buildings. This is cruel, Joneleth. Do as you wish to me; please end this."
It was the first time I had dared to ask my love for anything, and it frightened me. He held me from behind my back. He wound a hand over my eyes.
"The divine power is in both," he said, "but I am the one who knows how to use it." He twitched his fingers, and a black blindfold that smothered sound settled across my face.
Then he flew above Suldanessellar of his own power, and I was in his arms.
The thick fresh smell of acorns filled the air. The blindfold melted from my face with a gesture of Joneleth's; I stood in sky and yellow sunshine. Fruit-bearing vines wound around broad branches thick with leaves. Suldanessellar's Tree was tall as a mountain, high as the sky. Parts of it greyed and were shorn and burned in battle.
The Tree was dying, and I felt nothing of it. Joneleth's hands were upon me and I did not doubt. I only protected him with golden shields out of the divine power within me; I attacked none. There was another of me, a strange reflection who wept and sorrowed for Suldanessellar. She fought bravely upon the Tree; but Joneleth's magics were powerful. Then she lay dying in pain. I felt her life end like water draining from an old riverbed. She gave her last breath, and the moment after that fresh leaves blanketed the Tree of Life even as her body disappeared. Joneleth watched her die.
I remember...blades of grass.
But I also remember long nights.
"What is your name?" Joneleth said.
Then the blade of an elven warrior pierced his back from behind. I took his pain from him before they captured me as well.
"Ellesime. You are Ellesime and you love me," Joneleth says, running his fingers across my face.
And I beg his forgiveness.
The elves imprisoned us both far below the ground, you see, in a black dimension impossibly small and vanished too far below the earth for any to find. It is a spell that anyone fears. Perhaps the bones of the elven mages who cast the spell already lie below the earth in their own way, and so none will ever find Jon and myself.
Chaos will be sown in their passage, I remember once hearing in song so long ago.
Chaos cannot be sown where I wait.