Thanks for clicking on this...this oneshot is between Ammon Jerro and a wizard/assassin half-drow called Ankara which I thought up as a kind of unusual pairing just to challenge myself a bit. While writing though, I kind of grew to like the romance, Ammon is a lot more interesting than perhaps he might appear in the game and Ankara let me channel my inner femme fatale. Any thoughts or ideas? Please leave a review.
For the purposes of this story, I'm thinking Ammon Jerro is about 40-45 years old, which is kind of old enough to have had a grown granddaughter if you got married early as one imagines they do in Faerun.
It was something of a cliché to describe the soul as a flame, a spark …one could hear that kind of thing in a hundred religious houses, amidst the murmurs of prophets, the rustle of dusty scrolls, clerics had spoken in such half-formed metaphors, well, since there had been such a thing to speak of. Still, Ankara Kl'ildrian had always found a particular…resonance in that turn of phrase, what better way was there, after all, to describe the fundamental essence of a person than to speak of fire. Some, or rather many, there were whose flame was as sluggish and lacklustre as any enfeebled ember, scarcely rising from the murky ashes of their own existence, glowing so feebly that it was so easy to overlook them as to render them entirely beneath one's notice. Others burned brighter, so bright, indeed that they consumed the very substance of themselves, feasting on the rather unwholesome fuels of self-sacrifice and of heroism. Though it would be easy for the unwary to be dazzled by so bright a spark, in the end they were scarcely worth any more than the forgotten embers. They were gaudy, to be sure, but they would soon spend themselves, burn out, as it were, and, once that was done, well, there would be nothing left but the ashes.
Of course, the parallel took on a whole new meaning when one considered just how easy it was to extinguish the flame, fire could be smothered, suffocated, drowned, quashed beneath one's toe. And, if one looked into the eyes of a man as he died and saw the light go out within them, then one saw the spark fade as surely as if one had extinguished the light of a physical flame. Not that Ankara usually looked into the eyes of her victims, that would be deeply unprofessional, and she took pride on how deeply professional she had become. It was her way to kill from a distance, not unusual for an adventurer who was essentially a self-taught assassin with an aptitude for magic. Even so, there were occasions when she had cause to move in close, to see her victim's eyes, those were the times when she was killing, not simply because she had to, as she had many times, but because it had become something personal. She had killed Zeeaire that way, though the Githyanki Sword Stalker had been already dying, and Black Garius, well the first time, before he had come back from the dead, there would be a second, once she tracked the slippery Hostower mage down, and found a way to slit open his undead throat. And whether her victim was a millennium-old Astral being with an inferiority complex and a chip on her shoulder the size of the Sword Coast, or an ageing human mage who thought of the world as a plaything, that last moment, just before the spark faded, it was always the same, a flame she had just snuffed out. Yes, that was how Ankara thought of souls…but in the strangely whimsical moments that took her at times, she envisaged her own as something quite different. Fire didn't always burn hot, after all, one need only know a simple incantation, and there it was, in your hand, burning without heat, burning almost as cold as if you had laid your hand against a pane of clear ice; if her soul was a flame, it was that kind of flame, a cold fire.
Cold…yes that was the word that Bishop had flung at her the day he'd made a move on her, and she had rebuffed him, as coolly and professionally as she did everything else, a dagger to his throat and an incantation of force to send him slamming into the lake after he'd become rather too persistent for her liking, it was cold, or frigid bitch, or something like that, anyway. She smiled lightly, leaning her chin in her hands against the dressing table beneath her, a gesture which gave her an utterly incongruous appearance of innocence. She was, after all, half-drow, it wouldn't do for her to be seduced by a man who was as much of an animal as the beasts he hunted. Bishop's intentions had been painfully obvious from the start, but she had found the idea repulsive, it wasn't like Bishop was capable of anything more than a relationship functioning on a purely physical, primal level, he was no match for her intellectually. Nor was Casavir in fact, the paladin was far too preoccupied with his ideals, a relationship with him would be painful to the extreme, every move would be relentlessly contemplated, every action painfully regretted, no it would not do at all. That she found herself thinking of the two of them now, this night of all nights, was a cleansing exercise, she let them rise in her mind for a moment, let a smile touch her lips at their ridiculous pretensions to possess her, then let them go. No, there was only one man worthy of her, and tonight he would be hers.
She was half-drow, yes, but she had as little mind to the manner of love her maternal ancestors indulged in as to the human preoccupation with physical attraction and youth, she had no need to prove herself by suppressing males entirely, keeping a harem, or whatever ridiculous customs the Matron Mothers had invented to salve their own petty inadequacies. That would be nothing but the inverse reflection of what Bishop had wanted from her, deeply unsatisfying. No, she needed a man who was her equal, in power, in intellect, in drive and vision, a very tall order indeed, but she had found him nonetheless, and this night, before the battle that would decide the fate of Ankara Kl'ildrian for ever, a battle she would be directing personally, she would at last have him for her own. Ammon Jerro…the warlock was a man like no other. To be sure, he was older than her, some twenty years at the least, and had been married once before, but what was that to her? If she had wanted someone as attractive as she was, Casavir and Bishop were still waiting no doubt, she had beauty enough for the both of them, and it was nothing to her, this physical shell, so easily destroyed or discarded. No it was his soul, his flame that had first drawn her, it burned with an intensity she had never encountered before, with such heat. Once she'd read tales of warlocks, and shivered with the pleasure of delicious terror at the thought of a being so alluringly powerful, even so she hadn't been prepared for his magnetism.
Despite this, there had been…issues between them for a long time now; she could not forget that he had slain Shandra Jerro, his own grand-daughter. Though she had tried to convince herself that the people who surrounded were nothing but tools, still she had felt oddly protective of Shandra, who had been like white and gold to Ankara's black and silver, until Ammon, in a moment of enraged fury, had killed her, unknowingly slaughtering the last of his own bloodline…well, the last of his bloodline unless Ankara intervened right now, and all went according to plan. Then, she had seen his remorse when they had returned to Shandra's home, seen him sincerely regret his actions, before her, with none of the pathetic self-pity another might have displayed, seeing him, even for a moment, so vulnerable, a man so powerful, so masterful, it had convinced her that here was a man not simply worthy of her respect, but of her love as well. She had, however, unexpectedly ran into another complication, when she realised that Ammon was so utterly focused on his quest to destroy the King of Shadows, the drive she had first admired in him, that he would view her attentions as an unwelcome distraction. She could accept being second in his concerns, at least until the King of Shadows was defeated, but how to get him to see that they could work together better than he could ever do alone? Well, she had solved that problem once and for all tonight, he would not be able to resist her.
She stood slowly, and gazed at herself in the mirror one last time. Everything was perfect. Unlike many half-drow, a rare enough group as it was, who inherited a confused and rather displeasing melange of human and drow characteristics that gave them a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable disparity, Ankara knew very well that she had inherited the best of both races, and they were harmonised in her completely. Her crystalline cheekbones gave her features a statuesque beauty, beneath eyes of a startling mauve colour. Her skin was closer to drow obsidian than the pallor of her human father, whoever he had been, giving her an exoticism she exploited to full effect where necessary. Her lashes were long, her hair, elegantly plaited, and arranged into a complex style, was ghostly silver, her ears gently tapering. Yes, it was a cold beauty she possessed, not like Shandra, whose beauty had been so alive and warm, but still she had it, and she could use it as she wished. And right now, she knew she looked breathtaking. She had shadowed her eyes heavily with a powder of crushed obsidian, of her own devising, so that the light falling upon it sparkled in a hundred tiny glorious facets of glass. Her dress was long at the arms and fell to her ankles, but it was sleek enough to show the promise of what lay beneath, thin black silk, black suited her, it made her look stunningly seductive as well as extremely dangerous. She looked like a witch, recalling the old taunts that had been flung at her back in West Harbour, the badge of shame she had later taken to wear with pride, what better way to ensnare a warlock, than to become that witch? But even so she knew that Ammon, like her, would never be overly impressed by the physical, tonight she would have to engage his ambition, his intellect, as well as his desire.
She was well aware, as she stepped from her room in the midst of Crossroad Keep, that many would find it strange to organise an elaborate seduction while she in fact waited for the morning that would bring with it a horde of undead that she would have to face with the precarious army of Greycloaks she had organised in this keep, but for Ankara, what better time could there be? Danger, and opportunity, hummed in the very air, tension tingled across her skin. She could scarcely feel the cold, though the night was biting, the stone passages held the icy breezes deep within their substance, the shadows were stalked with freezing currents, it did not touch her. Still, she could not help but feel a slight tingle of apprehension at the thought of what was to come, a strange, refreshing sort of feeling, she had not felt something like this in a long time. Gliding along the empty corridors like a ghost, like a shadow, she touched a dark hand to the stone, savoured the roughness of the stone on her fingers. Her silent footsteps led her unerringly onward, downwards and onwards, through the quiet fortress, her keep, as her mind soared above her, skirting the high possibilities that this night might bring her. She had often wandered the keep at night since she had first come here, finding the silence and emptiness of the castle at night soothing, they roused the mind to the kind of high thoughts she most favoured. None were aware of these nocturnal hauntings, she could easily evade the clumsy Greycloak sentries, and she preferred to keep it that way, but never on all those long nights had her stride forward been quite so purposeful as it was now. And it led her to the place, to the door she had scoured so many times with her gaze, where the feverish soaring of her spirit had brought her before, a simple, wooden door, somewhat scarred and pitted, as austere and unornamented as the tastes of he who was within. She had no doubt he was still awake, he rarely slept, she had noticed that, it was another thing they had in common. Alike they had little time for dreams, and little desire for rest. Besides, she knew well what effect she could have on men if she chose, even those as strong-minded and sharply focused as Ammon, would she be even now haunting his thoughts? No doubt it was so…he had been alone a long time, and she had witnessed how her coy advances over the days before had unsettled him. What effect, she wondered with a smile of light amusement, would her more direct approach have tonight? It would be most delicious to discover…slowly, black silk rustling against her smooth skin, she raised her hand to the door, and tapped her fingers against it, once, twice. Though her touch was, as ever, light and insubstantial there was no doubt in her heart that he would hear…
Of course he heard, and he knew the instant he did that it was her…who else would have the daring to come to his door in the night? Who else would have any reason, or inclination, to do so? He knew well the way others looked to him, with hatred, with loathing, they knew him for what he was, murderer, kinslayer, warlock…but he was no prancing noble to court the fawning adulation of the masses, if others feared him, it was because they had cause to. He would kill them all without a moment's thought if it gave him the chance to slay that monstrosity that even now stirred in the shadows of Merdelain. It had become clear to him long ago that only he, Ammon Jerro, knew what sacrifices had to be made, would be necessary or else Neverwinter, the Sword Coast, everything these men and women held dear would be swept away under a tide of darkness. He had long given up hope of making anyone understand, after all, what other man here had been to the Hells and yet returned living, what, then, could they possibly know of pain, of suffering, of sacrifice? But she was here, and she was different…her eyes, those eyes of deep purple, it sent a shudder through him to even think of them, looked upon him with a disquieting intensity, an intensity no woman as young as she should have possessed, her smile, when it touched her ashen lips…was haunting, enigmatic. She was…a mystery, Ankara Kl'ildrian, a mystery that kept distracting him, that kept teasing at his thoughts, even now, so close to the fulfilment of his life's work, so close to what he had given everything for, so close that he could not afford the distraction. But even so, even despite the whispered seductions in his ear, the silken touch of her fingers falling accidentally upon his hand, running up his arm, her eyes caressing him with an even bolder intensity…he had still never suspected, even in the disorientating haze of desire she always left behind, that her attentions were anything more than some filthy drow game, and he had responded accordingly, hoping that gruff anger would be enough to frighten her to those who would be more amenable to her teasing. But now…she was here, and the trembling ran up his arm as though she had touched him already…he knew what she had come for. As he walked slowly to the door, unbolted it, and drew it back upon its hinges, the cold sense of purpose that had ruled him for so long whispered that he could not allow her to do this to him, to weaken him when he most needed to be strong, to wear away at his resolve…but then his gaze settled upon her where she stood and he saw her standing in the moonlight.
It was like a blow to the stomach, a physical blow, he was left breathless, reeling for a moment, he who had always maintained a stalwart grim composure since the day he had lost his family for ever. She wore black, black shining silk that cloaked her whole body while somehow contriving to reveal the deeply sensual curves beneath, against it her dark skin and flowing, shimmering silver hair were striking, and beneath her eyes that were almost like liquid darkness in the gloom her cosmetics shone in a way that was at once ghostly and utterly alluring. It was as though she had tried to imitate the way his own tattoos glowed when he channelled his power, to draw his eye to their similarities.
"Ammon…" She murmured, that elven lilt that had once so repelled him now seemed now to strike some chord deep within, promising enigma and pleasure alike.
"Ankara" He said, his voice, after hers', was a rough rasp, still he managed to speak at all, and it would have taken one more skilled even than her to detect the strain her presence caused…or could she see it nonetheless? Sometimes it seemed as though her gaze was able to find everything about him, no matter how securely it was hidden. "What are you doing here?"
"I came for you Ammon" Of course she had, that was a self-evident, but still though the answer had floated in the air between them before her voice had stirred it, once spoken it seemed to shift the air itself, making it harder to take in, to breathe, harder to speak.
"No Ankara" But he was not like the others, he would not let her rule him, he was still himself with her, and he knew that she was dangerous. Whatever had brought her here, whatever made her want…him of all people, it was a mistake. If she had come for simple pleasure, there were others in the castle who would be more than willing to give it to her. He was not, such…frivolous desires had no place now, they would only weaken the both of them. He had to be ready to give everything if and when the time came, himself, her, everything. If he could not, if her touch brought memories, regrets, that would weaken his resolve, then all that he had done was for nothing. The King of Shadows had to be stopped, that was all that mattered, all that must be in his mind right now. And if she had, by chance, developed some girlish infatuation for him…then he had even more reason to stay her before she made a mistake. However much he might want it otherwise, she was the one who possessed the four Rituals of Purification he had not reached, she was the one who had to strike at the King of Shadows, she had to be ready herself, ready to die. "This is no time for such…thoughtlessness"
"Ah but Ammon, I have thought about it deeply" She glided through the door before he could stop her, her slender body slipping past him, brushing against him imperceptibly as she did so. He had no doubt it was intentional. "I have thought about it…every night for some time, lying alone in the cold" She continued, her voice low and thrilling, a sweeping glance taking in the bleak austerity of his room, before she turned back to him, her silver hair fluttering behind her. "I…have wanted you" She breathed.
"No doubt you have wanted something, but it is not me" Ammon answered sharply, cutting through the fog of desire she wove about herself "I am not one of those fools to be played by your whims"
"No, you are not" She laughed softly, the sound was rippling, deeply seductive "And that is why I am here now, Ammon, because you are not a fool. Because you are a man"
"Have you not had your fill of men?" He snapped, cuttingly. Anger warred with a new surge of desire, and he despised his weakness, to respond to her just as she wanted. He had set aside desire, held it in contempt. But now, she need only do her whore's tricks and he was already afire! "Bishop, Casavir, now you come for me…I will not be your toy, foul half-drow!" He snarled
"If that were true, would I be here, now tonight?" Her voice rose, her eyes flashed, he knew he had wounded her pride, cold and towering as it was, that he had broken through that iron control, he felt a savage triumph to have so affected her, let her know what it was like. "Or was I mistaken, are you a truly a fool then?"
"Are you?" Ammon roared, and about him the smell of brimstone and flame whirled and stirred the stale air, as his power ran up within him, a burning stream that touched the tattoos across his face, setting them ablaze. "Did you really think I would give in to your wiles? I who have bound succubus and erinyes, who have faced temptations beyond what you can even hope to dream?"
"Ammon…" To his surprise, the cold anger flashing bright across her face, gave way suddenly to a light, almost a child-like, smile of amusement, except her eyes…they could never look child-like, and she laughed softly. "Of course, I was mistaken" She stepped closer, silk rustling about her "You are not like the others…but tell me, you do not truly believe those ridiculous rumours about me ,do you?"
"Should I?" He growled, she might stand there, and laugh, but she truly had no right to do so. Foolish girl…he was still angered, but her wrath and her laughter alike had only roused in him a greater desire to understand her, this quicksilver creature.
"Of course not" She said softly, winding ashen fingers in the strands of her silvery hair "And I do not think you do. You and I are alike, we make our own realities"
"I do not believe we are much alike, Ankara" He shook his head "Except that we are both bound to the fate of the King of Shadows, both bound to slay him, and we have not the time for these games."
"I assure you, I am deadly serious" And so she was, amusement fell away, she faced him, slender and slight, and deadly, but beautiful, like an unsheathed blade gleaming in the moonlight "Come, Ammon…it is you who are playing games. You and I are meant for one another"
"You speak foolishness" He answered, stepping back from the door, giving her a wide berth to exit. "It cannot be"
"And yet, you want me nonetheless" She spread her arms, as though to welcome the embrace of the moonlight that slid over her body, giving the silk a rippling, almost liquid sheen. "Is it such a hardship to think of giving in, am I displeasing to you?"
"Do not taunt me Ankara" He warned "I am damned, my body and soul given to the Hells, do you truly think I have any mind to pleasure?"
"I think, damned or no, you remain a man, Ammon" She answered "And I am a woman, and here for you…" She stepped slowly, silently, closer to him, and he did not step back, for her eyes were like cold jewels, touched within by a secret fire, and they held him there "The future, the past…" She gave an elegant shrug, waving her hand slowly as though to discard them from her "We are here, Ammon, let them go, now…"
"How could you even hope to understand?" He muttered darkly "I gave my soul to destroy the King of Shadows, and it was for nothing. My family is dead, I killed my own granddaughter in front of you"
"And you destroyed my home, Ammon" She shook her head "West Harbour was the reason this whole journey began, do you think I don't understand loss? But right now, here, we have one night when the past is done, forgotten, when the future will only come when we decide it" Softly, silently, she stepped over to him, almost as though she had slipped through the shadows themselves in one single, graceful movement to stand now in front of him, mere inches away. So close, indeed, that the silk seemed no barrier, and the warmth of her flesh seemed to flow into him. Somehow he had always imagined her skin would be cool, as cold as carved marble, but now it seemed almost to burn his, even despite the space between them. "Give yourself to me, and I swear I will discover the secret to break your contract…even the writ of Hell can be denied, if we only have the strength and cunning to seize the opportunity" Never could he have imagined that a mere whisper could be so physical as hers', it touched him deep, seeming to swirl around him with a silken grace "But now…there is only you and I. It is time, Ammon"
"Ankara" He rasped hoarsely…as she reached up towards him, her fingers lightly stroking his cheek, but even with that merest of touches, a charge seemed to pass between them, an instant's volatile connection, so powerful he almost gasped. It had been a long, long time since he had ever been with a woman…"Ankara…"
"Hush…" She murmured, every tiny move she made he could hear in the darkness, the rustle of silk, the light patter of her tongue against her lips, the curling of her fingers as she toyed in the rough bristles of his beard. "It's you and I now…always"
And he looked at her, her dark skin framed by its silver hair, feeling the warmth of her breath as she moved closer, her hand slowly twining about his neck, and he thought of his wife…of the family lost to him for ever, of the ruin his life had become, of the ghastly spectre of the King of Shadows, but slowly, softly as her lips touched his, and the mauve of her eyes blurred into one sweet, brilliant shadow before him, he let it go. She was right…the past was done with now, what mattered now was right in front of him, right now. He raised his hands and drew her close to him, and forgot in the sweetness of her embrace. Even a cold fire such as hers could burn the past away…