This was not how things were meant to happen.
The book in front of me seemed to blur; for once in my long life, the arcane texts held no appeal. The words and sigils I had so long ago scrawled eagerly across its pages seemed diminished; a useless memento of a past life that had been mine. A life I was forced to leave behind: I snapped the book shut, and the muffled thump sounded an ultimatum in the darkness.
My familiar - Blackwing - was asleep, nesting in my bundled up cloak in the corner of the tent, and not wishing to wake him I left the garment behind as I crawled out into the night. It was cold - the desert at night - and I wrapped my arms around myself, watching my breath mist in front of me. The stars were bright tonight – even without my superior elven vision it would have been enough to get about by. But of course, I could see even better than that; I could see the dunes stretching in every direction like a frozen sea, and for a moment I thought I could could see them churning, hear the roar of the ocean. I shook my head. This was not an ocean. By definition of being a desert it lacked water. The roar was my own blood, the sound as it coursed through my veins immense in the utter silence.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” a voice said.
“It is.” I replied, and the idea that the voice should know what I was thinking seemed laughable. So I did, a small sound that may have only been in my head. But so was the voice so it didn’t matter.
It is. What is? “What is?” I asked, and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted an answer. The question seemed to be amusing, because someone giggled slightly. It might have been me, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Many things are beautiful.”The reply came. “Places, people, feelings. Even the ones most people shun. Fear is beautiful. You know the fear you saw in your mate’s eyes? Even that was beautiful.”
“It was not.” I replied, shivering.
“You disliked it because of what you thought it meant; that you would never be able to see your mate again. Never be able to talk to him, touch him, lie together under the stars. You disliked it because you though it meant you could no longer love him.”
“Inkyrius hates me now.” I protested.
“So? If you love him, why should that matter? It never bothered me.” Another laugh.
“You’re evil. You can’t love.” I told the necromancer. She laughed again, and this time I knew it was not my own voice, although for some reason I yearned to join in.
“Oh, don’t confuse goodness and love. Admit it: if you could see that fear again, and the only other option was never seeing him at all, you’d take the first choice.”
“I don’t enjoy the pain of others.” I said, but without much enthusiasm. There seemed little point in arguing.
She laughed again, and this time I joined in. Suddenly insubstantial fingers wrapped themselves around my neck, twisted painfully in my hair, and Haerta’s voice hissed in my ear: “I know what you’re really like, elf. You can’t deny that the idea didn’t cross your mind, hasn’t occurred to you every day since. You wouldn’t have signed away your marriage so emotionlessly if you didn’t think you could take it back as soon as this was over. By force if need be.”
“N-no.” I choked. The imagined hand on my throat made it hard to breathe, and each breath of freezing air burnt my lungs.
“And why not?” She continued. “He’s just a baker. You? You’re a powerful master of the arcane, the laws of reality bow before you and so should he.”
I felt that I should protest this, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. In some ways, admitting to someone the darker thoughts my mind had begun to stray to recently would be something of a relief. Especially if that someone wouldn’t be horrified the way my other companions would be. They already believed me to be insane. “It’s… appealing.” I admitted to myself. The voice chuckled softly, and then Haerta pressed her lips to mine. I kissed back; the odd taste on her lips was intoxicating, the scent of destruction – smoke and blood and decay – clung to her robes even now. We tumbled down onto the soft sand, still locked in an embrace, hands clutching, nails cutting painfully into soft flesh. I was laughing now, laughing and screaming out of pure, unchecked exuberance and pain and-
Miss Starshine was standing a few feet away, staring at me lying there in the sand. I slowly uncurled, wincing as the small cuts my nails had left in my skin began to smart. The laughter had gone, because now I was silent.
“…Vaarsuvius?” Haley looked more than concerned. She didn’t understand.
“My gods, what are you doing out here? I thought someone was being attacked!”
I stared at her blankly. She couldn’t understand. She was scared of me; I could see the fear in her eyes.
It was beautiful.