Author's Note: Hey, all! This is a story I've been working on for a bit, and I figured since I'm on a BG kick anyway I might as well post it up here too, since there's a subforum for it. My first serious attempt at a fic for the franchise, but I've got a decent record in other fandoms, so hopefully it's enjoyable. It's been fun to write so far, at least! Spoilers for the games, of course, as I'm writing this with the intent that even people not familiar with the series can enjoy the piece.
Oh, and I'm new to the forum, so if I'm violating some sort of forum etiquette in the way I post it, PLEASE let me know?
Brothers and Sisters
There are some places in the Realms that no good can possibly come of, and this was one of them.
The temple was, itself, a place obviously meant for darkness. Hidden away beneath the ground, surrounded by undead, lit only by flickering torches illuminating the skull engraved upon the floor and surrounded by a circle of teardrops—or possibly drops of blood—it was already not a place that any sane body would linger in. The circle of robed figures surrounding the altar set at the northern end of it, opposite the entrance, a low chant echoing between them, did not improve the scenario. The four armored black knights, Deathbringers clasping massive runed broadswords, made things worse still. The high priestess, her robes coated from head to toe in shimmering red blood, the sacrificial dagger clasped lovingly to her chest and an expression of almost sexual bliss on her face, completed the ensemble so perfectly that anyone who stumbled upon this most unholy of locations would be running for his or her life the instant they saw it. Assuming they could, considering the ghouls and animated skeletons that roamed freely about the caverns outside. The clerics no longer held magic to command such things, sadly, but the doors kept them out well enough, and they were naturally attracted to the temple site by the energy left by years of dark rituals. It would be foolish to disregard such valuable guard dogs.
It was the children, however, that were the worst part.
There were seven of them, ranging from infants to youths approaching their tenth year. Most looked human, but the humanoid races were often hard to differentiate as children, and the priests had hardly bothered to label them, so only a few were obvious. Two elves, one Gold, one Moon, identifiable by the odd shade of their skin and the points of their ears. One particularly large lad, dark skinned and far larger than his seven summers would have suggested, was clearly too tall already to be anything but human. One young boy, no more than four, already had a few thin whiskers that clearly marked him as a dwarf. But all had one thing in common: Save for one, each was kept in a separate, rusted metal cage that seemed more suitable for a kennel than a child.
There were also ten empty cages. They had not been empty overly long.
Most of them screamed, or cried, or begged for mercy, though not all. The young Moon elf sat in absolute silence, staring into space. The dark-skinned human gripped the bars of his cage tightly, his already impressive muscles straining against the rusted iron.
And the only child that was not caged, a toddler not even to her second winter, was quiet and focused less on her shrieking companions and more upon a small cloth doll she played with in the corner of the temple. After all, she had little reason to be scared. She was not caged, was hardly old enough to realize what was going on, and most tellingly of all, her mother was there to keep her safe. She was discomforted by the noise, but mama had told her to keep quiet, and she was a good girl.
The high priestess rubbed the knife upon her robes, doing little but smearing the blood around. It was not intended to clean anything, but to bathe her in the love of her god, to carve upon her body and soul the joy of this holy day. A few motes of golden dust floated off the empty altar, drawn into the skull upon the floor, which seemed to briefly glow in response.
"Another," the high priestess murmured. "Our lord stirs."
The Deathbringers, faces hidden behind blank black helmets carved in the skull that was the lord's holy symbol, approached the cages and took out the oldest of the remaining girls, a child on the verge of growing into a woman. She screamed and wailed, kicked and bit, and was met with nothing more than annoyance as the only damage done was cuts to her own small fists on the jagged armor of her captors. Emotionless, cold, the four warriors strapped the girl to the altar with the shackles already placed upon it, ignoring her shrieks of terror and pleas for her mother.
"Do not worry," the high priestess said warmly. "Your mother is gone, but soon your father will be here."
The child blinked tear-stained eyes in confusion, briefly calming...
The sacrificial dagger dove into her throat, slashing open the artery and pulling out almost before the startled child even knew she'd been stabbed. She tried to scream, tried to cry, but produced nothing but a wet gurgle as her eyes grew glassy and dim after only a few seconds. The blood ran down the altar freely, spraying across the face of the serenely smiling priestess. She did not turn away, merely closed her eyes and basked in the warmth.
"Our lord and master, hear our prayer," she intoned as she had done after each of the sacrifices before. "This life we give to you, as you gave it to the world. Feast upon it, and return to us." The circle of clerics repeated her words softly, each clutching an identical, albeit cleaner, dagger to their chests, the blade etched with the same skull and teardrop as the symbol on the floor.
The child on the altar ceased struggling after a few seconds, the flow of blood from her throat slowing, then stopping. After a few short moments, her body vanished, dissolving in soft green light, which then shattered into motes of dust which were drawn once more into the temple's holy symbol.
"Another," the high priestess said, once again. "Our lord stirs."
The Deathbringers moved from their positions around the altar toward the cages once again, before the priestess said, "No. Stop."
"Mistress?" the leader of the warriors asked.
"My daughter. Bring my daughter to me," she said, smiling at the small red-haired toddler with her doll.
"I thought she was to be last?"
"Sentimentality only, commander. And now that we are here, so close... she should meet her father." the priestess's bloodstained smile was warm and maternal, a grim sight considering the blood that coated her like a second skin. "Bring me my daughter."
The Deathbringer commander shrugged, walking toward the toddler, who looked on quietly, without complaint. And why not? He had helped care for her all her life, and she knew her mother wouldn't hurt her. The commander reached down to pick up the child...
And the wooden double-doors of the temple blew inward, lightning searing through the temple in a blaze of sudden light and thunder, the smell of ozone filling the enclosed space. The bolt of lightning slammed home on the dais near the altar, striking one of the priests in the back, the man screaming as the electricity roared through him, his flesh blackening as he fell to the floor in a twitching, smoking mass.
Twelve figures, men and women alike, rushed into the temple, armed and armored, led by a young, black-bearded man in a gray robe. "Secure the children! No quarter!" he commanded, lightning still dancing between his outstretched fingers as he dove into another casting. Four of his companions halted with him, one raising a wand and the other three letting fly arrows, as those of their group armed with melee weapons charged into the fray, swords and spears at the ready.
The Deathbringers met them; outnumbered, but armed and armored with finer gear, they halted the charge dead in the center of the temple. Swords met and clashed, the fighters taking lead slamming against the Deathbringer line with steel as the spearmen backing them jabbed through holes in the melee, seeking holes in the enemy's armor. Arrows slammed into them and skipped off plate steel, one bolt flashing past to strike another cleric in the eye. The man did not even scream as he fell bonelessly.
The high priestess snarled, her expression shifting with mad speed from serene joy to insane fury as her eyes locked on the painfully familiar figure of the mage leading the attackers. She cast off her blood-soaked robe, revealing a shirt of dark chainmail and a mace at her side, screaming, "They must not take the children! Kill them! Kill them all!"
The surviving clerics followed suit, drawing slings, wands, and hammers from beneath robes. Their god could not hear them, but each was a killer, and they joined battle with deadly intent. For a time, it seemed they had the upper hand; with the addition of the clerics, the battle raging in the center of the temple was even in numbers, and the Deathbringers had held back the attackers on their own. A warhammer swatted aside a longsword, and one of the armored knights struck in, cutting the man nearly in half with a single swing of his massive blade. The attackers began to fall back, the swordsmen dissolving into the line of pikemen behind them...
And then the mage finished his casting.
The fireball slammed into the altar and exploded, shattering the stone table and incinerating the two priests still standing near it slinging stones, and it became clear that the attackers falling back had been all part of the plan. The flames roared back through the center of the temple, rolling over the priests and Deathbringers, but stopping just short of both the children and the attacking warriors. This time, ironically, it was the Deathbringers who took the worst of it, their thicker and all-covering armor soaking the heat in, cooking them inside the steel. The priests screamed in agony, flame rolling over them, burning them and heating their chainmail.
The attacking warriors redoubled their assault. A Deathbringer who had cast aside his burning helmet to gasp for air fell, a spear driving into his neck. Another went down to an arrow slipping into the mouth-slit of his helmet as he reeled, stunned. The tide turned.
For the first time, the redhaired toddler began to cry, as she saw her mother fall. Death, she had seen all her life. Mama had never been hurt. She shrieked, uncertain and terrified, huddling against the walls of the temple.
The young, dark-skinned boy blinked in confusion and pain. The blast of the fireball had not harmed him beyond some bruises, the shock throwing him against the bars... but it had also knocked some rocks free from the crumbling ceiling of the buried temple. One had landed in his cage, and the lock was rusty...
The boy slammed the rock home, and the lock shattered with a single sharp snap. He broke out, repeating the process five more times, letting the doors fly open. "This is all you get from me," he snarled at the other children, before running for the door as the two warring parties clashed.
Of the five children still living, the halfling girl was too small to run, too broken to realize she should. She sat blankly in her cage, staring at nothing and sobbing quietly. The dwarf boy and the human boy were screaming, panicking, huddling to their cages as if the bars would protect them from the madness.
The Moon elf boy grabbed the little Gold elf girl, and dragged her from her cage even as she squeaked in protest. He was older than her, and larger, and though she struggled briefly he pulled her along without much effort, sprinting for the door.
"The children!" the high priestess screamed, running for the cages and ignoring the arrow that slammed into her thigh, the fanatic madness overwhelming the pain. The sacrifices, the ritual, had given the essence in the children greater power. It would delay the awakening to simply kill them...
But it would delay it far more to let them live, and her lord stirred.
She slammed open the door of the first cage and brought her mace down on the child within.
Gorion cursed, drawing a silver wand from his belt and aiming it at the priestess. It was too late to save the first of the children, but gods willing...
A hurled warhammer slammed into his wards, the magical protections dulling the blow but doing nothing to stop it from obscuring his vision and balance. He cursed once again, shifting his wand to aim at the charging cleric, and sending a wave of cold against the zealot, freezing him in mid-step. The wand, its final charge used up, disintegrated in his hand.
He shifted his gaze upon the priestess once again, casting the quickest spell he could think of that would not endanger the children. Tiny bolts of red-white light struck out, searing into her flank, exacerbating her already existing wound.
She barely seemed to notice, her mad smile only growing wider as she brought her mace down a second time, on a second child.
Gorion snarled in rage, focusing his mind, and cast again as she limped to the final cage. The words slid from his lips without a stutter, his fingers weaving, and another magical missile, and arrow lined with fire, leaped from his fingers. The woman clasped the final door in her hand...
The arrow slammed into her spine, flames running down her back, and she tumbled, twitching madly. He sighed, running over to the cage and kicking her mace away. "It's over, Alianna. Not this one. You don't get this one."
The priestess looked up at him, a snarl on her face and madness whirling in her dying eyes. "Should have known... you were... one of them. But you were handsome and... well... a woman who has lost her love is... often weak for a handsome face..."
"If it helps, you did not give away enough information, no matter how much I... pressed," Gorion said flatly. "We found one of your acolytes who had fallen to Cyricism, and he sold the temple's location to us. You can die secure in the knowledge that your failure was outside your control. We are taking the children."
"The children..." Alianna the priestess said softly, as her hand slipped to her belt, "belong with their father."
Gorion's eyes had just enough time to widen as she slipped the small bottle from her pouch, and raised his quarterstaff to crush her skull...
Just a second too late.
The Oil of Impact detonated, the fireball blinding and deafening.
The Moon elf boy ran, the small golden-haired girl dragging behind him. "Stop pulling!" she shrieked.
"We have to run! They're going to come after us!"
"Shut up! I'm not going to leave you, so just follow me!" he snapped back, stopping to shake her a few times. "We have to run, don't you understand?! I know you're scared, but..."
The girl sobbed, rubbing tears from her golden-skinned face, black eyes shimmering. "I... I... I... I'm just..."
He sighed. "I know you're scared. But we have to run. These people, they... they... my mother was... we have to run. Please."
"Y-yes. I'm... sorry," the girl said. "I... I wouldn't have... th-thank you. I was too scared to run. So thank you for saving me." She leaned in on impulse and kissed him on the cheek.
"You were the only other elf. I... well, I don't know. I could only take one, so..." he stammered, blushing furiously. He was older than he looked, past his tenth year, but he was still at an age where he was not quite sure how to react to this. "Look, let's just go, we can't stay here."
She nodded. "Right, I-"
She cut off, her body jerking oddly. The boy blinked in confusion as she fell forward into him, until he looked down and saw the arrow protruding from her chest, piercing through her filthy gray prisoner's robe...
Her body faded into light and dust before she even hit the ground. The last sight of her face the boy saw was the terror in her eyes vanishing into light...
A tall man with dark hair and plate armor, still holding a bow, stepped forward from the ruins littering the cavern, a woman in plain clothes at his side carrying a long, curved sword. "Galvarey," she said softly. "Gorion told us to act as the rearguard while he saved the children. What have you done...?"
"I saved her," the man said firmly, putting aside his bow and drawing a short sword as he walked toward the horrified young elf. "from a life as herself. It was the best I could do for the abomination."
"Gorion trusts too much, Kail." Galvarey picked up the young elf by his hair, pressing the short sword against his chest. "You don't want to live a whole life being hated and hunted by everyone in the world, do you boy? It's quicker this way."
"He's just a child..." the woman said softly.
The man with the dark beard pressed his sword more tightly against the elven boy's face, his expression grim. "Yes. A child of-"
He was cut off, then, by a hurled rock slamming into the side of his head. He snarled in rage as the elf boy sprinted away into the ruins, his eyes scanning the ruins for the source of the missile, and not seeing the young, dark-skinned boy slipping away into the shadows.
"Find him. Kill him. We can't let any of the children escape," Galvarey snapped, raising a hand gingerly to the bruise forming on his temple. He and Kail ran into the ruins after the boy...
The first ghoul found them in seconds, the price of speed over quiet. Their approach had been quiet and warded by spells both divine and arcane. Those wardings had expired, and the sentries noticed them. Two warriors clattering with metal were more of a target than a couple running children, after all...
The two fighters stood back to back, weapons raised as a dozen ghouls swarmed in at them from out of the ruined buildings of the dead city, hissing madly.
The elf boy and the human boy ran, as their pursuers fell into the rhythm of battle.
Gorion had been warded against flame. The light and smoke stunned him, the shock hurled him back, but the flame rolled over him without doing more than minor harm.
The child, and the priestess, and the warriors fighting in the center of the temple were not so lucky.
"Stand," a rough female voice said, pulling Gorion to his feet. "No good comes of the rest of us dying in this pit."
"Jaheira," Gorion said with a sigh. "We failed, didn't we."
"Aye, but not so horribly as if we had not intervened at all," Jaheira said firmly, running a gloved hand across her sweaty brow. She had been near the entrance with the archers, and taken only the lightest brunt of the blast. "We stopped the ritual, if nothing else. Though damn if the price was not high..."
Gorion's eyes widened. "Khalid?"
The woman smiled grimly. "Thank Silvanus he can handle a bow," she nodded back to the door, and her husband, who, against all logic or reason, waved at her, smiling nervously, his bow held at his side. "All those in the melee..."
"I saw," Gorion said with a sigh. "At least a few of the children escaped in the madness... it's more of a chance than they had before. But... but I had hoped we could save at least one..."
A soft, sniffling sob rang through the silent temple. Gorion, eyes wide with frantic hope, ran to the source of it, his robes swirling around him, and found her. Hidden behind the pillar, a young thing, no more than two, dressed in finer clothes than the children in the cages had been, bright red hair pulled into a ponytail...
The same as the hair her mother had had.
He had been seeing Alianna under cover for the better part of three months, trying to divulge some information from her. It had been among the more unpleasant assignments he'd ever undertaken. The priestess had been... like a serpent wearing human skin. Playing at being a woman of society, daughter of a wealthy merchant, walking among the Baldur's Gate gentry like she belonged there. Gorion had known what she really was, more than one agent had delivered the description of a priestess matching her description at the high temples of the Lord of Murder, long before the Time of Troubles. He had known she was still involved... just not known where she did it, in secret.
The information really had come from a fallen Acolyte. He had 'courted' Alianna for three months, and found nothing of value from her. Not even that she'd been a mother to one of the Children herself.
The toddler looked up at him, tears streaking her face, and said one of the only five words she knew. "M-mama..."
Gorion smiled sadly, and pressed a hand to her forehead, a minor spell to lull her to sleep slipping from his fingers. "I'm sorry, little one. I'm sorry, but no."
"Gorion!" Khalid shouted. "G-Galvarey is back. H-he said that... that the undead took the children who escaped. H-he couldn't save t-t-them. Gods above..."
Jaheira snapped. "The creatures approach, and we've no spells of warding this time. All of you, get together. I'll patch what wounds I can, and we'll have to make a run of it."
Gorion sighed, wrapping the toddler in his cloak and preparing for another long sprint. "Just one. Just one..."
A mage in gray carried a red-haired young girl out of the darkness, her face streaked with tears and ash. The sun shone onto her copper-red hair, and he stroked her head as she slept.
In the alleys of the city of Baldur's Gate, a pale young elf and a dark young man crawled out of the sewers and turned to each other, their eyes far colder than boys their age should have been.
"You saved me?"
"I drew them in. Distracted the monsters. I didn't even see you," the human boy said. "I told you when I opened the cage: that's the last you're getting from me." His eyes were cold. Too cold for his age by far. "That's the last anyone is getting from me."
The elf tilted his head to one side. "Good. Then I don't owe you."
They each nodded once and ran in opposite directions, the human deeper into the city, the elf towards the gates.
Three children, each one meant to die, each one a survivor, took three different paths into the world.
In an empty, lifeless temple, among the corpses of his faithful and his foes alike, the skull of a dead god grinned in darkness.