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The Forgetful Bhaalspawn (coninuation of The Partridge Family)

Author's Note

Nobody will be more surprised than me that I am attempting to carry on with Ayla in Shadows of Amn. Unlike the first part, The Reluctant Bhaalspawn aka The Partridge Family, this isn't a playthrough though it is based on the way I playthrough the game and react to the characters I meet while playing. Also there's going to quite a few references and ongoing jokes from The Partridge Family. It's going to be a bit different to the conventional story, Ayla doesn't want to be and has no interest in being the hero. She just wants to go with the flow and enjoy that, there's always something to laugh about after all.

Here's a link to the first part if anybody is interested.

The Forgetful Bhaalspawn


It was quiet in the large room almost peaceful. If you ignored the sounds of laboured breathing, the intermittant clink of chains as the captives tried without success to ease their discomfort. Though it never lasted long before some new torment was visited upon them. To the captives the hours had long since stretched into days, then weeks until none of them had any hope of there being any other existance. Of course if any of them thought about it, they knew there was a different existance, a different life, but the contrast was too painful to consider. Better to focus on the here and now and survive. Eat the slop they were served however bad it tasted, tend to their wounds as best they could, answer the questions, appear subsevient, endure. What else was there to do? When every plan to escape had failed, every attempt to bargain with their captor had been met with derision, their threats and questions contemptuously ignored and the regular application or threat of whippings and torture.

The near silence was interrupted by the sound of the door being unlocked followed by heavy footsteps entering the room. In the early days (or was it weeks, none of them could be sure) those footsteps would circle the room, pausing before each cage as the man considered which of them to take away. And those not chosen would guiltily feel relief that this time it wasn't themselves. Two of them had never come back.

But for some time there had been only one cage that caught his focus, one captive. Separated from the others at the other end of this large room, they had long given up calling out in hope of a response. The only way they knew the captive was still alive was because the man always went to it and they could hear his mocking voice from out of sight.

"Ah the Bhaalspawn has awakened, time for more experiments"

If Ayla had been present she would have rolled her eyes at the innanity of this attempt at humour, and the sheer lack of originality considering he came out with it every bloody time. But she had long fled this reality and had withdrawn to where he couldn't reach her. It was somewhat ironic that his attempts to release the Bhaal taint had facilitated her ability to be nothing but the taint in her head. Had strengthened it to the point where it could protect her. The taint that he had purposely goaded had become her whole existance. She embraced it's anger, it's hatred and used it as a shield against him. This existance was meaningless, her real life was as part of Bhaal and soon it would end. There was no outward sign of resistance although the taint told her to attack and kill her tormentor for the insult afforded her as a Bhaalspawn. She knew he caused her pain but after, the anger would burn so fiercely she could see, hear or feel nothing else.

Chapter 1

Rudely Awakened

"Wake up, wake up"

Voices reached me as I lay in the cage, penetrating the comforting fury. Different to the guards or the man, female and male. Of course I tried to ignore them, what trick was being played now? What new torment had the man come up with to provoke a reaction?

"Ayla, wake up, it's me Imoen, we have to get out of here"

"She maybe too injured, we need to get her out of this cage so I can examine her" another voice addressed the first.

I didn't recognise the names, didn't recognise the voices and the idea of "out" was absurd. My world had shrunk to the size of the cage, it was safer here, just me and the comforting anger. I carried on ignoring them. I could hear the sounds of the lock being manipulated accompanied by the sound of exasperated breathing that occurs when you are trying to do something complicated too quickly.

"Finally, that's it, come on Ayla, I've got the door open".

A hand reached into my sanctury and gave a tentative shake of my shoulder. That was too much, how dare they disturb me like this? Hadn't the man done enough, weren't the spells he threw at me adequate without conjuring demons to taunt me? I turned and sunk my teeth in the offending hand, demons or not, there were limits.

"Ayla, it's me Imoen, ouch, you bit me, what the f..., I'm trying to get you out of this cage".

There was a quick movement backwards and a cry of surprise. The voice sounded hurt, offended. Something here was different. The man and his servants never showed any emotion, never any surprise.

"Be careful Imoen, she may have be under the influence of some spell or have been driven mad. Perhaps we should get Minsc to get hold of her so we can talk to her"

"Perhaps if I let Boo talk to her, sometimes I get very angry but I can still hear Boo"

So they wanted to talk, the man never wanted me to talk. Too fond of droning on himself to let anyone else get a word in edgeways. Another difference. Perhaps they would go away and leave me in peace if I spoke to them? I slowly sat up, and turned towards the voices. Three people, a young woman, an older severe looking woman and a large bald man. They were dressed in a motley collection of armour and carrying weapons, none of which looked very good. The women had pale faces and dirty hair, they looked thin, tired and worried. The man appeared in better shape though he shared the same look of one who had been captive for some time. Too thin in the face and neck compared to the impressive bulk of his torso. Not guards then, nor demons which was a relief.

"What do you want? Why are you bothering me?" I snapped and they all took a small step backwards looking shocked.

"Ayla, it's me Imoen, don't you recognise me?"

Blue eyes widened with concern looked back at me , dirty strawberry blond hair, pale skin, a little shorter and thinner than me. The names Ayla and Imoen meant nothing. I tried to think, to remember anything about the girl standing before me as she obviously expected me to. But there was nothing that sparked any recognition. I tried saying the names aloud in the hope that would trigger some memory to surface,


"Yes, Ayla, that's your name, " she nodded encouragingly, "I'm Imoen, and this is Jaheira" indicating the woman next to her, "And that is Minsc. We were together, surely you have to remember?"

It was such a strange concept to be presented with. What was there to remember? There was a cage, there was a man, there was pain, there was anger, there was the knowledge that this existance wasn't at all real. Was anything or had anything ever been different? "Yes", whispered the taint in my head urgently, "you were a God and will be again but now you need to fight for it. Now you need to RUN". The last word was a scream rather than a whisper and my whole body jerked in response. So loud, surely the others must have heard it? Then I felt the taint slipping away, retreating, burying itself in my subconscious. Leaving me empty, lost, but more than that, afraid. The man would come back and I would be alone.

"We need to get away from here, we need to go before he comes back." I almost shouted at the trio still anxiously watching me. I didn't need to tell them who I was referring to, the look of fear from all of them told me that I was not the only one he had hurt. "I don't remember anything, it doesn't matter, we need to go" the urgency conveyed by the taint carried in my voice and Minsc hurriedly reached forward to help me out of the cage. "You can tell me more as we move".

Jaheira agreed immediately, "I need to find Khalid, I haven't seen him for some time. Can you remember how to fight, how to use a sword? We found some weapons and armour in a side room."

As we walked, Imoen and the others tried to tell me what they thought I should remember. It was all a blur of names and places. I was only half listening. None of it sounded familiar or even believable. And I only had their word that they were who they said they were or that I was who they said I was. I thought about my name, "Ayla", it would do I suppose, could have been more impressive, a few more syllables, perhaps a surname? When we reached the stash in the small room, I tried a few of the weapons in the hope that something would feel "right" if not familiar. And was suprised and gratified to find that whatever else I couldn't remember, wielding a sword or shooting a bow was not one of them. It was the Katana that I settled on, it felt better and was slightly better quality than the other swords. A suit of ill fitting splint mail and a battered helmet was the best on offer in the way of armour. And so, ill equipped as we were, we started along the passage that looked the most likely to lead to the outside.

"Sorry, what was that again? So if I press the button I die and somebody might live, if I don't press the button somebody might die and I live, and if nobody presses anything everybody dies and if everybody presses everything everybody dies? Doesn't really seem very good odds. Can you give me a hint? Best of three? Can I persuade somebody else to press the button?"

After fighting our way along the passage from the room where we were caged, we had come to a room full of pools of water and had been stopped by a genii who seemed to know my name. Which put him at an advantage compared to me but it did confirm that the three people I had been trying to escape with were telling the truth. Or at least a truth. I was much more interested in the pools of clean, warm water than answering questions. Not only was I able to wash some of the accumulated dirt off, when you gazed into them you could see things, pictures. After so long being deprived of seeing anything other than the bars of the cage I found then fascinating and curiously peaceful. The genii was growing impatient though, after posing his nonsensical riddle for the third time.

"I think I'll pass on doing anything, doesn't make much sense either way"

The collected gasp of disgust from the others signaled that somehow I had answered wrongly, well if they had understood what to do perhaps they should have volunteered for the whole button pressing exercise in the first place? The genii called me a coward and summoned some goblins to fight. That I could deal with as I had found out on the way to this room, I was good at fighting. The genii then told us to look for a "Rielev" as the reward for answering his riddle, (or not as was the case). I got the distinct impression that my companions were less than pleased with me. I heard Imoen telling Jaheira, "that it was what she expected considering I had left her on the road to Candlekeep after nicking her stuff". If I could have remembered what she was talking about, I might have felt guilty.

We found "Rielev" in a large glass vat of liquid, what it was was difficult to tell. The glass was dirty and the liquid cloudy but perhaps it was just as well because his tormented voice was enough to inform us of his suffering. The man had promised him eternal life but then had forgotten him and left him in this state of suspended animation. He begged us to end his life and in return gave us some directions and instructions to aid our escape. To get the doors open in this complex we had to activate the Golem that was used for cleaning and maintenance. Another room contained more glass vats, some of which had still living occupants, if you could call it living. We broke them all and killed the mishapen lumps of flesh that tumbled out with the liquid. It was a mercy. Imoen was badly affected, crying and asking why death was pretty, telling us that "he" had forced her to see things, do things. Jaheira comforted her as best she could but we didn't have the time to stop, we had to keep moving.

We passed through a library and then we were ambushed by Deurgars who must have been working for our captor. Considerably outnumbered, we fell back and Jaheira threw a spell of entanglement to halt their attack. As the sticky vines caught their arms and legs, we pelted them with arrows. I had the feeling that I had done this many, many times before because I fell into the rhythm without thought. Choosing my targets, picking them off one by one, aiming first to disable in case they escaped the trap and then arrows that would kill. Imoen followed Jaheira's lead and cast a sickly green fog over the entangled foe which caused some of them to fall unconscious and others to start retching. A few managed to fire the crossbows they were carrying but the mail myself and Minsc were wearing managed to deflect those that were on target. We waited for the fog to clear and the vines to disolve and then we searched the corpses for anything that we could use.

Returning to where we had activated the Golem, we followed the passage down to where it had opened the doors into the sewer that linked this part of the dungeon to the next. And once again found our way blocked, this time by a strange squat creature with long flapping tentacles. We immediately let fly with our bows and sling but were unable to inflict any damage on the creature. Whereupon Minsc, with a bellow about smiting evil that would surely have alerted any guard in a two mile radius, grabbed his sword and attacked it wildly. Seeing that the creature's attention was now firmly focused on Minsc, Jaheira and I followed and laid into it's backside. We needed to kill it fast in case anything had been alerted to our presence. Minsc was being hit with the tentacles and was moving slower and slower, some kind of poison effect. But instead of turning on us, it carried on laying into Minsc which gave us the advantage we needed. Imoen let fly a round of magic missiles and between the three of us, we brought it down. Jaheira managed to cure the poison and we dosed Minsc with some of the potions we had picked up. But all of us were feeling the effects of the constant fighting, we needed to rest a little, but somewhere better than this.

I suggested to the group we returned to the pools area where we had encountered the Genii, the way behind us was now clear and we would find water for drinking. The others weren't keen but did see the advantages, then Imoen spoke up,

"If we carry on down that corridor", she said indicating the one in front of us, "there is a bedroom which would be more comfortable"

"You've been here before? You know this area? I thought you were locked up with Jaheira and Minsc," I asked.

Jaheira answered for her, "No, Imoen wasn't with us, she was held somewhere else"

"Where, we've passed no other cells or cages? Imoen, where were you imprisoned? Are there any others we should be looking for? Was the one Jaheira is looking for with you?"

Imoen looked away. seemingly not able to meet our eyes, "It isn't what you think, He kept me close, showed me things, told me things, made me...made me do him with his experiments".

My blood ran cold with those words and deep inside the taint stirred, I knew what he called 'experiments'. "Did he force you? Were you under some spell?" I asked, wondering what he had wanted with her.

She looked down, her voice came out as a whisper, "I don't know, perhaps, it's all mixed up in my head." She started crying and Jaheira moved to her side and tried to hug her, "It's all right, you'll see, we'll find Khalid and get out of here, just stay strong". The words didn't seem to quiet her, instead she roughly pushed Jaheira away and stepped back, "You don't understand, you don't know what I've done, none of you".

"So tell us, tell us what you know of this place before we stumble blindly into more trouble", I couldn't keep the anger I felt out of my voice. We had been walking and fighting for what seemed like hours and now I was hearing that one of us knew more than they had told us.

"I can't, you'll hate me more than I hate myself because I wasn't strong enough to refuse" she started to cry again.

Minsc struggled to his feet, he was still suffering from the effects of the poison the creature had infected him with, " Don't be sad little Imoen, you couldn't have done anything bad, we know you, we trust you" he said and gently patted her shoulder.

Unbidden the words rose to my tongue, "Jal khaless zhah waela", all trust is foolish. I didn't recognise the language I had spoken but they rang true to me at that moment.

"Jaheira whirled around angrily at the words, "You dare to speak Drow to me?"

Drow, how would I know Drow? "I didn't know it was Drow, it was just some words I remembered" I answered, surprised at her hostility.

"There was a Drow in your group when you were hunting Sarevok, and a Red Wizard. Khalid and myself were very disappointed with the choices you made, not at all what we expected from somebody raised by Gorion" she replied, "You wouldn't listen to us."

Minsc's attention left Imoen, I could see him frowning as if trying to remember something, "A Red Wizard? Why would you have anything to do with such evil? There was a wizard on a bridge...Minsc doesn't remember what happened next. Dynaheir helped him but then she went into a house... And then she was killed here by the evil man who hurt us" he stopped talking as if the effort of so many words had drained him and he couldn't continue.

Something was wrong here, none of the names meant anything and now these people had let it slip I didn't travel with them and disapproved of my actions. Why had they acted as if we knew each other? As if we were friends or comrades? What did I know about them anyway? Nothing other than the stories they had told me, how would I even know if any of it were true? Imoen had said I'd left her, why would I have done that without reason? And now she was saying she had helped the man who had tortured and kept us locked in cages. That she knew the way around this maze of passages when she had said nothing before. How had we ended up here together? My thoughts whirled, the phrase repeating in my head, all trust is foolish, all trust is foolish.

Why couldn't I remember anything from before they had found me in that cage? What had the man done to me? Could they be part of this whole nightmare, part of some deception? It was too dangerous staying with them, at any moment they could turn on me. Or be leading me back to that cage. I'd heard and seen enough. I grabbed Imoen and drawing my sword backed towards the door leading back to the library.

"Stay away from me, I warn you or I'll hurt her".

Minsc lurched forward fumbling for his sword, if it came down to it in his weakened state I could probably deal with him. But not all three and two of them had magic. Jaheira grabbed his arm and pulled him back to her side.

"Ayla, you have to calm down, we don't want to fight you, where have you got this idea from?" Jaheira said holding out her hands in a placatory manner.

"You said I didn't listen to you before, but who are you? Who are any of you? I don't know, I can't remember, I can't...I can't trust you"

I pushed Imoen from the steps and she screamed as she fell. Jaheira jumped forward and managed to catch her as Minsc drew his sword and made towards me.

And then I turned and ran.


Well I hope that's provoked some interest. And of course I'd very much appreciate any feedback. The beginning of SOA is grim, no getting away from that so just have to grit my teeth and get through it. And of course if you have played Baldur's Gate without any of the "Canon Party" it's hard to reconcile. In game there is the option to say you can't remember anything. I don't think there are many stories that run with that so wanted to give it a try.



  • tbone1tbone1 Member Posts: 1,725
    Are there any updates for this? You RP this game quite differently than I do, and I like your writing style, so pleeeeease any more on the way?

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    There will be an update but when.......
    Run into "too many possibilities to where to take the story and do any of them make sense anyway to anybody else except me".
    It's all Imoen's fault. ;)

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699
    There have been some changes to the way I'm writing this. First off, big change, gone to third person perspective rather than first. The reason being it simply wasn't working well for me as I'm expanding the story from the base of being a playthrough. I was sick of me, me, me, I, I, I, let alone anybody else. Second, Irenicus dungeon doesn't fit well with comedy, it's simply not funny so any jokes feel very forced. So as I said before, just have to go with it as it is and get through this "serious like" and keep the lighthearted stuff for later. And I promise you it will get lighter, much lighter.

    Chapter Two


    "Minsc come back, stop", Jaheira barked an order at the confused and injured ranger, "it would be folly to follow her, I fear she has been driven mad by that man and we would endanger ourselves".

    "But we can't just leave her" Imoen made towards the passage as if to follow the fleeing woman and started to call her name.

    "But child, what can we do, we are in no fit state to confront her and we cannot risk her attacking us. We are in enough trouble as it is without trying to drag somebody with us who doesn't trust us". Jaheira paused seeing the distress her words were causing Imoen, "I know that you were friends, that you grew up together, but you haven't been with her for a long time, perhaps she is not the person you remember?"

    "No, she's exactly the person I remember, always causing trouble," Imoen turned back from the passage, "I had just forgotten." Imoen gave Jaheira a rueful smile, "She was never comfortable in Candlekeep, always believed there was something she wasn't being told. Turns out she was right, it could make a person paranoid don't you think? And now she doesn't have any memories which isn't going to help any."

    "Then we should move on," Jaheira answered, "we need to find somewhere safer than this for Minsc to recover and carry on looking for the way out. We saw the bodies of people from outside who seemed to have attacked this place, there must be an exit somewhere. You said there was a bedroom along that corridor?"

    Imoen again looked away before answering, "Just promise me you won't ask how I know, not now, not while we are still trapped here".

    Jaheira nodded her agreement, "I agree, nothing can be gained by discussing this now, let us just work on getting free and finding an exit. And then we can think about reporting this place and perhaps getting help to find Ayla. We need to find where he has been keeping Khalid as well, I will not leave without him."

    Between the two of them, they helped Minsc along the passage leading to the room Imoen had spoken about. Before they stepped over the threshold, Imoen pulled them back. "Wait", she ordered, "there are traps here, I need to disarm them." She quickly went to work, creeping carefully forward, studying the lay of the carpet for taletell signs of trip wires and pressure pads. The room was comfortably furnished with a large bed and various cupboards and shelves, nothing like the sparse utalitarian chambers they had passed so far. It was an incongruous sight, appearing as it did so relatively close to rooms of torture and torment. Once the traps were disarmed, they helped Minsc to the bed and in spite of his protests that he must be ready to fight, Jaheira insisted he lay down and got some rest. Pointing out that without his strength, their chances of escape were severely affected.

    Imoen took a seat near the bed and started looking through the various magical scrolls they had found in the library. She wouldn't be able to learn them, not in the limited time they had, but she could cast them from the scrolls directly should they need them. She traced the runes gently with her finger and quietly murmered the words she would need to speak, familiarising herself with the patterns she would need. Jaheira sat and watched, trying to relax, knowing she needed to rest. But she felt a growing impatience, it was one thing to know one had to take rest when it was possible, another to act on it. After trying for some time to relax, to reach within herself and find some inner calm, she shook herself and stood up abruptly, startling Imoen.

    "It's no good, I can't just sit here waiting. I need to be doing something."

    Imoen objected, pointing out that it would be safer to stay together until Minsc had recovered enough to carry on. But Jaheira was adamant, assuring her that she wouldn't be long and just wanted to check the next room and that she wouldn't go beyond earshot. She tried to mask her growing unease that was being made worse by sitting still and doing nothing but Imoen had known her for a long time now and understood her impatience and need to be doing something. With a firm promise that she would go no further than the next room, she left Imoen watching Minsc and practising the spells.

    Jaheira walked quietly down the short passage opposite to where they had entered the bedroom. As she walked she had the strangest sensation that up ahead she could see daylight and smell fresh air. She quickly dismissed the idea as being wishful thinking, but as she approached the end it became clear that there were trees ahead. Her heart leapt, could they have found the way out so easily? Three large trees, their branches arcing overhead, their roots buried in uncovered earth and amongst them growing flowers and plants occupied the large space she found herself stepping into. Overwhelmed at the sight and staring up at the canopy of leaves overhead she didn't notice the three figures who appeared from the trunks of the trees. Their voices reached her, soft and musical, the three of them talking as one, the words over lapping,

    "Stranger, different to the other, but lost, no fear from us, we will not hurt you, help us, yes, please help us, we need your help."

    Jaheira stared at the three women, Dryads, Dryads here, was she dreaming?

    "Who are you? What are you doing here? And these trees, how do they grow here? How can I help you?"

    the questions spilled out and the dryads recoiled at the quick demanding tone. Jaheira calmed herself knowing how flighty these woodland beings could be and tried again in a softer tone. She didn't want to scare them off, though where they could run? With some patience she slowly asked them what they knew of this place and of their captor. She learned that his name was Irenicus and that he had been using them in an attempt to replace lost feelings and emotions that he was incapable of producing himself. She could well believe them after seeing the horrors they had passed let alone the treatment he had dealt her and the others. A man without emotion, without feelings, that explained a lot. Though not why he had captured a Bhaalspawn, what would he have wanted with Ayla? She asked how she could help them and they asked her to deliever the acorns from the trees to their Grove where they could be replanted and so set them free. Of course she had the acorns already, what Druid finding acorns on a dead body wouldn't have picked them up? The very idea.

    After talking to the Dryads and still reeling from the shock of finding such an unexpected room, (though was it a room? Magically open to the sky which allowed sunlight to stream down through the branches of the huge trees yet sealed off from the outside) she asked if she could stay a little and sit under the trees. The thought of feeling the earth again underneath her and being closer to nature was almost intoxicating after so long in this dungeon. She sat down with her back against one of the tree trunks and buried her fingers into the earth. Leaning back and closing her eyes she breathed in deeply, savouring the scent of the trees and the soil. She felt the peace that had eluded her earlier settle around her, enveloping her. This was where she gained her strength, through her connection with nature. But how much time had she spent with Khalid following a path which always took them away from where they were happiest? Too long, too many years believing they could make a difference when sometimes it seemed the only change was to themselves. Perhaps it was time to leave the Harpers and concentrate on what they both wanted? Khalid had been saying for some time that he would like to settle and had suggested (though timidly and without any pressure of course. she smiled inwardly at the memory) that they think about a family. If, (no, not if,) "when" they finally got away from here perhaps they should consider it seriously. Almost dozing under the calming influence of the feel of the treetrunk at her back, she sent a prayer to Silvanus in the hope that he would hear her through this connection.

    Ayla ran along the passage back to the library where they had been attacked and ducked down behind one of the bookshelves. She melded into the shadows and tried to bring her breathing under control while she listened for footsteps that would signal that she was being followed. She heard them calling her name but heard nothing to indicate any approach along the corridor. It was a relief to her when it became clear that they had decided to leave. She hadn't wanted to hurt them and still didn't. As the flood of adrenaline that had caused her flight began to ebb, she tried to think rationally about her situation. It was bad whichever way it was looked at, still trapped, alone and unable to remember anything about her life beyond the previous few hours. She buckled down hard on the wave of panic that threatened to overwhelm her when she considered the enormity of it and pushed away any thoughts of her captivity. She needed to concentrate on the now, on what she had rather than what she didn't. What her next action would be and from that, what her next action would be, a step at a time, stay alive, rely on her instinct. And that was something she had in abundance. She didn't know what a "Bhaalspawn" was, the name her captor had always used when referring to her. But she knew that there was something buried deep inside her that he had wanted and that made her a "something". Not dismissable, not nothing and that could be built on even when all the other foundations had been stripped away.

    She became aware that she had been sitting in the quiet and the dark for some time and that she needed to move on. One leg had fallen asleep and she dragged herself to her feet, quietly cursing at the onslaught of a massive attack of pins and needles. She couldn't help but appreciate the irony of being incapacitated by pins and needles after what she had previously endured and strangley it helped to lighten her mood. Something normal and mundane, it was somewhat welcome. Realising that she was hungry and thirsty she remembered they had seen evidence of living quarters where they had killed the Duergars. Perhaps there would be supplies there. And anyway it would be as good a place as any to start and so made her way towards their quarters. The smell hit her before she reached the room, she had momentarily forgotten that the stinking cloud had made many of them retch before they died, as well as the smell of voided bowels and ruptured guts. It had been a vicious battle, death really wasn't pretty at all she mused, thinking of Imoen's earlier strange turn of phrase. Swallowing hard and trying not to gag herself, she abandoned her plan to search the room and instead decided to return to the pools where they had been confronted by the Genie, at least she would find water there.

    The largest pool was being fed by a trickle of water emerging from the rocks that formed the walls of the cavern. And taking the view that water filtered through rock was likely to be reasonably untainted, Ayla drank greedily from the small stream. It's not like she had much of a choice anyway and it tasted wonderful to her parched throat. Finally sated she once again considered her next move as she idly watched the images in the pool. They seemed to be depicting a history of some sort, creatures changing, or evolving, from one form to another over an immense span of time. Adaptations being made to cope with the changing enviroment, those unable to adapt disappearing from the chain. Eventually becoming recognisable to her as the animals and people of the world she was familiar with. Perhaps there was some hidden knowledge being conveyed here that was tantalisingly just out of her reach? She shook herself and told herself off for such flights of fancy, that kind of thinking was surely the preserve of madmen. Where were the Gods?

    Refreshed and rested Ayla set off again, she had decided to explore the various rooms and passages they had previously passed through in case they had missed any exits they had overlooked in their hurry. But before she had gone far, she heard the noise of a distant alarm ringing urgently through the quiet complex. Ahead of her, the sewage Golem accompanied by two others emerged from rooms off the corridor. They moved purposly and fast away from her towards the sewer and grunted the words "intruders, intruders in the complex". Hurrying after them and holding out the command stone she had used previously she called out to them to halt. The leading Golem slowed and turned towards her but the other two pushed past it mindlessly following some previous orders.

    "Where are you going" she demanded of the Golem.

    "Intruders, intruders they must be stopped"

    "intruders here...from outside?" she thought of the bodies she had seen as she had transversed the passages. Had somebody come from outside to attack this place?

    "Where are they, is there an entrance nearby?"

    The golem looked through her, incapable of answering and repeating the words, "intruders, intruders they must be stopped".

    She realised she would get no further information from the Golem but the word "intruders" was clue enough. If somebody or something was attacking from outside then this was her chance to get out while they were distracted. She would even be prepared to help if it could lead to her escaping. Leaving the Golem standing there unable to move as she had the command stone, she ran after the other two who appeared to be unaffected. She caught up with them easily, they moved fast but not as fast as a person running, and followed at a safe distance. Forming the plan to hang back until she could see what they were facing and to look for a chance to get out herself.

    Imoen turned quickly from where she had stepped into the room with a note of panic in her voice,

    "Can you hear that? I think I've triggered something, but there wasn't any sign of a trap across the doorway. I can see there are other traps but not that one."

    The three of them listened to the the sound of alarm bells ringing in the distance. The Dryads had told them not to enter the room but they had no choice because they had also told them the key needed to activate the portal to the upper floors was hidden somewhere in this room. Seeing no way past the obstacle, Imoen had volunteered to enter the room. She was the only one of the three who could disarm traps anyway. Jaheira had been tempted to let Minsc simply trigger them and hope she could deal with any injuries. Her feelings of protectiveness towards Imoen had grown since she had overheard her talking to the Dryads about Irenicus and what he had subjected her to. Her blood had run cold at the knowledge and she had vowed to exact revenge on him for the girl alone. But she couldn't let Imoen know what she had heard, it was something she would need time to deal with. Jaheira had suspected when it became clear that Imoen knew her way round these rooms but that didn't make it any easier to hear.

    "Can you disarm the other traps?" Jaheira asked, "if that alarm is triggering some response we would be better able to hold them off from within."

    Imoen nodded and turned back to her task, carefully removing the trip wires that weaved across the rest of the floor. As she finished the last of them they heard the rumble of fast footsteps approaching from the direction of the sewer. They crowded into the room and prepared to be attacked.

    Following the two remaining Golems, Ayla found herself back in the sewer where they had killed the monster that had poisoned Minsc. And then they were passing into the passage where she was sure the others had gone. Had they managed to find a way out or meet the intruders that the Golems were intent on stopping? The thought encouraged her to move closer to the Golems who seemed to have no interest in her at all. The finely furnished, comfortable bedroom was as distracting and surprising to her as it had been for the others and she paused before carrying on. The golems made so much noise it wasn't likely that she would lose them. A quick survey of the room revealed a few locked cabinets that she didn't have time to deal with now if she wanted to keep up with the hunt. But on a shelf tucked away she espied a helmet and a jolt of recognition sparked through her. That was hers, she knew it without doubt. It was old, that much she could tell partly because of it's battered appearence, and had powerful enchantments as well. She picked it up and the name and a memory came to her, the Helm of Balduran and a fight in a city street at night with armour suited opponents carrying flaming swords. But which city? And who was fighting alongside her? It was more like a vision than memory, just a scene and she shook her head in frustration. But she reasoned, at least it was something rather than the total absense trying to remember anything had produced so far. It felt entirely right as she donned it, eventhough the enchantments meant that it would fit anyone, and she felt a little of herself returning.

    As she left the room to catch up with the golems another sound came to her from ahead, over the insistant ringing of the alarm and the noise the golems themselves made. Voices in the distance and fighting. She sped up, she needed to make her escape, she was so sure it was near. That conviction was strengthened when she saw trees appearing at the end of the corridor. This was it, the outside, she'd made it. Now she needed to think how to get past the fighting without being seen or to convince those fighting that she was not a threat. Emerging into the sunlit chamber, she saw the golems at the far end trying to fight their way through an entrance. But not to the outside, merely into another room. And as she ran towards them she realised that the trees were somehow growing inside as well. This being the outside was an illusion and she pulled up, disorientated and confused and bitterly disppointed. The golems were fighting people inside, and as she watched trying to make sense of what she was seeing she recognised who they were fighting.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699
    edited October 2017
    Just a short chapter, I desperately need to get out of this lower level for my own sanity. let alone the characters. Also I have a new short story I want to write with Ayla and Co. set before BG2 and time is running out, big hint "Halloween is Coming To Baldur's Gate" for anybody interested.

    Chapter Three


    Ayla watched as the golems tried to force their way into the room. A makeshift barrier had been erected from various pieces of furniture across the doorway. Behind it she saw Minsc beating whatever part of the golems he could reach in an attempt to destroy them whilst Jaheira tried to shield him. Further back Imoen was firing arrows but they were doing no damage. The golems mindless struggle to force their way into the room meant they were hampering each other. But the barrier was flimsy and it was clear that eventually brute force would win through. What on earth had they done to provoke this attack was her first thought and it was not without a certain amount of exhasperation. Of course she could just leave them to it, but she knew that she wouldn't even as she considered it. Drawing her sword she cautiously approached the golems from behind, fully ready to run if they turned on her. At least that would draw their attention and give the others a chance.

    Instead the golems ignored her, just as they had done when she had been following them. Whatever misdeeds the golems had been programed to react to, she was obviously not included. Even after a few experimental hits of her sword on their backs they were still focused on attacking the people in the room. Realising that gave her (all of them in fact) a massive advantage, she laid into them in earnest, aiming for the more vulnerable spots of necks and arms. But the constructs were made of hard baked clay and her sword skittered off of them doing no damage. They would need to be cracked or shattered, much like an earthenware pot. She carried on hitting the golem about the head regardless, simply to try and distract it from it's intended target. Desperately she shouted past them to Minsc who was using his long two handed sword with as little success as she had had,

    "You need to use the hammer, the one you used to break the glass jars and Imoen, stop shooting arrows and cast haste."

    The three of them hadn't seen her approach from behind the golems and they reacted with surprise, Jaheira taking a step back and inadvertantly allowing her guard to drop.

    "Not use my sword? Then how can we kill them?"

    "The hammer, use the hammer," Ayla repeated, "don't argue, just do it."

    Thankfully Minsc was used to taking orders and grabbed the hammer from where it hung at his belt though he didn't look particularly convinced.

    Then one of the golems took advantage and landed a heavy blow on Jaheira, knocking her to the floor, leaving Minsc without the meagre protection she had been providing. Imoen dropped her bow and ran to help her instead of doing what she had been told, frustrated, Ayla yelled again,

    "Leave her, if Minsc goes down you're all dead."

    The words seemed to get through and she saw Imoen begin to cast though it seemed agonisingly slow, finally she felt the familiar feeling of time slowing down around her and the golems appearing to be moving in slow motion. That gave Minsc the chance he needed. But he wouldn't be able to hold them off on his own nor damage them enough to stop them. She needed to find something heavy to use so she could inflict some damage herself. Looking around she saw some floor stones that had been forced loose by the roots of the trees and she darted to pick up a good sized one. Holding the stone in both hands she attacked the back of the head of one the golems. It wasn't easy, the angle was awkward as she was hitting something slightly taller than herself, but the haste allowed her to hit again and again even if not so hard. Small cracks began to appear, spreading out as she pounded away. Her arms were aching and she was running out of breath but she could see Minsc was struggling himself, at least she wasn't being attacked she thought. Imoen cast some magic missiles to help Minsc but Ayla knew they wouldn't have any effect but she couldn't spare the breath to call out. A dark fluid began oozing from the fractures and running down the neck of the golem and it's movements became less coordinated. Eventually the hard surface cracked completely open and it crashed headlong into it's companion, the fluid now gushing out as it fell. One down, one to go she thought. But the other golem, between being crashed into by it's pair and Minsc's hammer was already lying motionless on the floor. Bent double trying to get her breath back Ayla surveyed the room and the three occupants, Jaheira was still lying on the floor with her back to her with Imoen leaning over her.

    "Is she dead?" Ayla finally managed to gasp out as her breathing returned to normal and the haste spell wore off. Imoen shook her head, "no, but her shoulder is broken I think and she's unconscious."

    "What about you Minsc? You took some heavy blows there, anything important broken?" she could see he had a black eye and couldn't surpress the thought that if it was only his head that had been hit that wouldn't classify as important.

    He answered slowly, still breathing heavily, "No, just bruises, some fight eh? Minsc doesn't like evil that can't be fought with a sword, Boo says it was lucky you came to your senses and came back to help".

    Of course, Ayla thought, Boo that rodent he carried around. Perhaps she should get one, might help with the memory loss. I mean if she going to be a crazy might as well go the whole hog.

    "Why did you come back?" Imoen suddenly asked, "You said you didn't trust us and ran, so why now, why did you help? You could have just left us and got away."

    It was a good question and one that Ayla didn't truly know the answer to. It had seemed so obvious at the time that she couldn't just leave them to be crushed to death by those constructs and she had acted without really considering doing anything else. But then it had seemed obvious that she needed to get away from them earlier. She remembered her earlier thoughts, trust to instinct, a step at a time, live in the now because there wasn't anything else. And in some ways it had worked in their favour, the golems had ignored her which allowed them to be defeated. She didn't have an answer and indicated as much with a shrug.

    "So will you stay with us?" Imoen persisted, "we need your help, can we depend on you to stay with us now"

    Another question but this one she could answer,

    "No, I don't think you should depend on me. How can you when I don't know who I am?"

    Imoen nodded her acceptance and then turned back to Jaheira but she couldn't hide how much that had upset her and Ayla felt both guilt and relief. At least now there was a clearer understanding of the situation and no expectations would be placed on her. She would stay with them and help get all of them out of here unless it got to the point where her own survival became compromised. It was the most she could offer when she currently had so little of herself. And anyway, they didn't have time to worry about anything other than reviving Jaheira right now, she doubted they would be prepared to leave her behind. If she could use her limited healing powers to help her regain consciousness, Jaheira would then be able to use her much more powerful powers to heal herself. With that thought, Ayla moved to Jaheira's side and applied herself to the task. The healing energy flowed easily and naturally and it didn't occur to her to question where it came from or how she knew how to use it. Consequently it was something of a surprise when Imoen expressed her surprise at the ability. She would have assumed it was something anybody could do had she thought about it at all. It was another piece of the puzzle of what and who she was.

    Waiting for Jaheira to recover enough to apply her own healing to her wounds, Ayla decided it was about time she found out as much as she could about the past from Imoen. Although they had spoken previously, at the time, fighting their way through the dungeon, it had gone in one ear and out the other. Already so confused, she had been unwilling to listen to anything that added to it. But now she sat quietly with Imoen and Jaheira and listened to the recounting of her life up to this point, or at least the pieces they knew, including what they had learnt from the Dryads. It was a strange experience, she found herself wondering if she wanted to be this person who had apparently saved the region from war, killed her evil brother and was the offspring of the God of Murder. So that's what a Bhaalspawn was, as was the man she killed who was trying to start the war. And it was probably why this 'Irenicus' had captured them, she already knew he had been after something inside her, it must have been that God taint. Though what on earth he thought he was going to do with it she couldn't even begin to guess. It was all too much to process now, best to put it away and consider the implications later. They needed to be moving. Between the potions they had found and the healing, Jaheira and Minsc were patched up enough to carry on.

    It didn't take long to find the portal key, once the traps were disarmed it was quite straightforward for Ayla and Imoen to open the cupboards and chests. They took what they could carry, a few gems, potions and scrolls that could come in useful. The Dryads came to speak to them before they left, reminding and begging them to take their acorns to their grove in the Windspear Hills, though where that was was still a mystery. As they passed through the bedroom where Minsc had rested, Imoen once again became agitated and distressed telling them that this room and the other were a sort of shrine to some woman that Irenicus had known, an attempt to recreate his emotions. A link to his past love. Ayla blurted out her first reaction without thinking,

    "So this whole place is about some woman who dumped him? What a loser, must be an Elf"


    I hate fighting Golems, it's the one fight I dread in BG2 so usually use the very cheesy option of hitting them from range if poss. with the missile weapons that affect them. Thankfully the game designers recognised my fears and considerately created the various scenarios where a big, lumbering Iron or Adamantine Golem blocks a doorway. But not here obviously. I wasn't sure if Clay Golems were considered hard baked or squishy, so went with hard baked as it makes more sense I think.

    As usual, any feedback most appreciated.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    Better late than never as they say, I do need to get back to writing this.
    Still in the dungeon, still hating the dungeon. I'm beginning to give up hope here. It always struck me that there were massive plot holes in the narrative at the start of the game. So here's my version of how Yoshimo became involved with Irenicus. Which of course will mean I have to put Irenicus' viewpoint as well at some point. Oh joy.

    Chapter Four


    Yoshimo paced the room before the portal that was the entrance to the lower levels. How had he got himself trapped like this? He prided himself on being able to escape any difficult situation and took quiet pleasure in knowing that people thought of him as a "slippery character". But this? Like a fly in amber, defenceless and helpless waiting for death. The only hope of escape was to follow the instructions of a man he hated almost as much as he hated the Bhaalspawn.

    Once again he found himself thinking of the course of events that had led him to this situation. It had all seemed so promising when his father had called for his help to find his sister Tamoko, a chance to rectify his mistakes and regain a little of his father's respect. He was well aware of how much he had disgraced the family name by abandoning his training as a Ninja to become a common thief. That Tamoko had stepped forward to take his place added to his guilt as that was the path that had led to her death. Of course Sarevok bore the blame, but deep down Yoshimo knew that if he had stayed, had been there for his family, his beautiful sister would still be alive.

    As he had set sail for the Sword Coast from Kara-Tur, Yoshimo had been full of his plans for the future. He would find Tamoko, get her away from this "Sarevok" that she had written about at length in her letters. Letters that had been full of praise for the man, about his destiny and her part in it. In the more recent ones, she had displayed a cult like devotion to Sarevok and that had prompted their father to ask for Yoshimo's help. And when they both returned, he would turn his back on thieving and try and regain the respect he had thrown away.

    But of course, nothing had happened the way he had planned. Tamoko had already been killed by the other Bhaalspawn by the time he arrived at Baldurs Gate. Cut down in the underground city because she was in the way, left to rot with no proper burial rights and her name besmirched throughout the city as Sarevok's whore.

    Yoshimo felt the anger whelming up in him, almost choking him with it's intensity. He needed to calm down if he was going to be able to pose as an innocent fellow prisoner. But that thought did nothing to calm him. Instead of being able to challenge the Bhaalspawn, call her out for the murder of his sister, Irenicus had ensured that he could do nothing more than become a helpful companion. He had thought about ignoring the order, but that had caused his body such pain, such agony, that he had collapsed writhing on the floor incapable of moving until it had passed. It was only then that he had realised that he had been put under a geas that would kill him if he tried to break free from anything Irenicus instructed.

    Yoshimo breathed deeply, using his former training to calm his heartbeat and bring his emotions under control. He thought back to his time in Baldurs Gate and how he had first come into contact with Irenicus. He had arrived less than a week after Sarevok's defeat when the city was still celebrating the escape from the threat of war with Amn. The name of the victorious Ayla was on everybody's lips, she was proclaimed as a hero with her companions, the saviours of the Sword Coast. The more Yoshimo heard of her exploits, the more his resentment grew. He tried to recover the body of his sister but the authorities refused him, she would be left where she lay in the City of the Dead with no funeral rites as was befitting a traitor. He was told he was "lucky she hadn't had her head removed and dispayed in public as a warning". Sarevok had left no remains but his great sword and battered armour were being displayed in the Hall of Wonders and the townsfolk queued round the block to gaze in awe and disgust at the relics.

    He saw Ayla once on the street, surrounded by guards and well wishers. He didn't approach her, it would have been foolish to do so and better that she didn't see his face if he meant to kill her. He was surprised by how young she was, hardly more than a teenager. How could somebody so young have murdered his sister and killed Sarevok? He needed to know more about this murderer, so made it his mission to find out all he could. It wasn't long before he heard the rumours about her heritage, how she too was a Bhaalspawn and Sarevok's sister. It was during this time when he was frequenting the inns and taverns, using his gold and his easy going manner to elicit gossip, that he was approached by Irenicus with a proposal.

    Yoshimo didn't like, trust or want anything to do with Irenicus on first meeting him. His every instinct told him to keep away but he was desperate. His dreams at night were haunted by his sister's unavenged death and her rotting corpse beneath the streets of Baldurs Gate. He used the excuse that he was spending all his time in the taverns and inns because he was gathering information about Ayla. But the truth was that he was drinking more and more because Tamoka rested uneasily and her decomposing spirit came to him at night, pleading for rescue and vengence.

    Irenicus initially wanted Yoshimo to steal Sarevok's sword from the Hall of Wonders, nothing more than thievery, though not an easy task. He promised a large amount of gold and the help of his magic to accomplish the theft. It was only after this had been accomplished that Irenicus had let it be known that he had an interest in Ayla. Yoshimo leapt at the chance in spite of his misgivings. Nothing he had been able to do so far had got him close to accomplishing his goal. He had seen Irenicus was a powerful mage, with his help they could isolate her. And so they had made a deal, Irenicus would have Ayla until he was finished examining her and Yoshimo would then get the chance to avenge his sister's death.

    Yoshimo grimaced to himself at the memories, how could he have been so foolish? It was obvious to him now, now when it was too late, that Irenicus had known who he was and about Tamoko before even approaching him. In the time since then, Irenicus' power had become more apparent to him. He had watched as Irenicus had woven his spells causing many of the influential figures in Baldurs Gate to turn against wanting Ayla in their city. Yoshimo had done his part as well. Spreading rumours amongst the network of thieves and street people about her intentions to control them. A few murders of outspoken critics of the Bhaalspawn had encouraged people to believe that she had plans to take over from the Dukes and rule the city in their place.

    And throughout this time of fermenting unrest, the Bhaalspawn herself had appeared totally oblivious to what was happening. That had angered Yoshimo even more. That she could be so unaffected by what he was doing he took as a personal affront. Whan she decided to leave Baldurs Gate and return to Candlekeep for some time, he saw it as the ultimate snub. He was even emboldened enough to complain and rage about her leaving to Irenicus. But Irenicus had soothed his outrage by telling him everything was going to plan and that the Bhaalspawn would soon be traveling south with a small group and that was when they would take her.

    Yoshimo remembered the ambush and the kidnap though it gave him no pleasure to recall the details. It was there he had met Bodhi for the first time and discovered Irenicus' sister was a vampire. And it was then he truly understood what he had become involved with. Too late though, too late, he thought to himself. Yet he still didn't try to run. For the first time since arriving from Kara-Tur he was close to the Bhaalspawn, close to achieving his goal. And so he came to Athkatla and carried on working for Irenicus, acting as go between and his spy on the streets.

    It was his contacts in the Shadow Thieves that had alerted him to the news that they had found the body of one of their missing members in the sewers that were connected to this dungeon that Irenicus occupied. Two days ago he had come to tell Irenicus and had found himself the target of Irenicus' frustration and rage that his plans may be interrupted. He had been locked in a cell and told that he would die there. That was until the attack began. Then Irenicus had come and given him his orders, find the Bhaalspawn, should they escape from the lower levels, and follow them. He hadn't even told Yoshimo about the geas, so confident was he that his orders could not be ignored. Or perhaps he had wanted Yoshimo to experience the agony of trying to act with some free will as a warning?

    So here he waited, guarding the portal to the the lower levels. Exhausted and hungry, and all the paths before him equally damning. If the Bhaalspawn attacked him he could not even defend himself nor could he tell her the truth. The only option was to live the lie and accompany the one person in the world he hated more than Irenicus.

    Thankyou for reading. Would love any feedback which will encourage me to carry on and eventually, (one day, one day), get me out of this bloody dungeon.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    Miraculously I have managed to get my head down and carry on writing, pretty darn impressive even if I say it myself. It's called a "dungeon crawl" for a reason I have now found out.

    Chapter Five

    And Then They Were Five

    The four of them stood before the shimmering portal with Imoen holding the wardstone,

    "So how does this work then, should we hold hands, how will it know we are a group rather than just Imoen?" Ayla asked.

    Nobody else seemed to know the answer so there was some awkward shuffling around arranging themselves so they could hold hands just in case and step through the circle together. She and Minsc flanking and hanging on to Imoen and Jaheira and with their swords drawn in the other hand. As Ayla pointed out, nobody knew where they end up or whether they would meet any opposition. It made for a tight squeeze, not at all ideal if there was something waiting for them on the other side. They also thought it better to step forward simultaneously on the count of three, nobody wanted to leave an arm or leg behind on the wrong side though Imoen insisted it was just like stepping through a doorway. But Ayla couldn't help but contrast the reality of stepping into a silver, magical blank space with being able to see where you were stepping. As it occured though, it was exactly as Imoen had described and they emerged unscathed and thankfully intact into a what seemed like a small storage room. As they squinted in the brighter light and attempted to make sense of their new surroundings, they were approached by a figure.

    Watching the portal, Yoshimo had seen their shadows on the other side. He had watched as they bunched themselves together and wondered what they were up to as no sound carried across the barrier. In preperation he moved to the other side of the room and adopted what he hoped was a friendly yet apprehensive smile whilst holding his hands out to show he carried no weapons. So this was it, he was about to start the performance of his life, the stakes couldn't be higher,

    " So, there is sanity in all this madness. If you are not in league with the evil that dwells in this unholy place, Yoshimo begs your assistance"

    Minsc and Ayla immediately rounded on this newcomer holding their swords drawn while Imoen started a spell. Only Jaheira had the presence of mind to speak first,

    "Are you a prisoner? Where have you come from? Do you know the way out?"

    "And who is Yoshimo?" added Minsc.

    "Drop the sword belt and the bow" Ayla stated flatly.

    "Yes, yes of course," Yoshimo hurried to comply with the order but his hands were shaking and he carried on speaking to cover his fumbling, "but you are mistaken. I am a prisoner, you'll find no threat from me. I just want to get out of here, away from that madman. Do you know where he is? Do you know how to get out of here? Please don't kill me, I'm not trying to stop you, I need your help. Who are you? My name is Yoshimo."

    Yoshimo was aware he was babbling but the shock of seeing the Bhaalspawn so close had rendered him temprarily incapable of coherent thought. Finally he released the buckle of his sword belt and his sword dropped to the ground. Some of the tension in the room dispersed and Imoen cancelled her spell but Minsc and Ayla still held their swords drawn.

    Jaheira was the first to speak again,

    "So you say you have been imprisoned here as well? I haven't seen you before, where were you held? Have you seen anyone else being held, a man, his name is Khalid. My husband, we need to find him."

    Yoshimo thought quickly, of course he knew what had happened to Khalid, Irenicus had allowed him to see the results of that little display nearly a week ago as a reminder to keep him in line. Just as he had been shown what Irenicus had done to the witch for probably the same reason. He covered his knowledge by describing how he had been drugged when captured a few days ago from the streets of Athkatla and apart from the inside of the room he had been locked in, had seen nothing of the complex or of anybody else being held.

    "So you think we are still in Athkatla, or Amn?" asked Jaheira.

    Ayla moved away and quietly asked Imoen whether she knew Athkatla as the name meant nothing to her. It was more prudent to not let everybody know of her current predicament and she was relieved to find out that she wouldn't be expected to know anything about the place. Apart from that her feelings were ambivalent, right at the moment one place was much like another and everywhere was preferable to here in this bloody dungeon.

    Whilst Ayla and Imoen had this whispered conference, Jaheira had decided that Yoshimo could be trusted and that having him along would help them escape. Ayla wasn't sure whether this was a good idea. On the one hand, another sword arm would be welcome. But on the other, the sword he carried was very good quality and she could make very good use of it. She whispered this to Imoen who was suitably appalled at the very idea of nicking his sword for herself and leaving him behind. So much so, she went out of her way to welcome Yoshimo to the group glaring at Ayla as she did so. Ayla made a quiet mental note to stop running ideas of questionable morality past Imoen.

    Yoshimo told them he was currently trapped in this room because the next room contained a series of small portals that were spewing aggresive memphits that attacked anything that entered. He said he had barely managed to get the door closed and that he didn't dare to face them alone. As there was no other exit other than the portal to the lower levels, there was nothing to be done but to face the challenge. It was decided that Minsc should use his superior strength to try and break the portals while Yoshimo and Ayla, who were both fighters who relied on speed and agility, would try and distract and kill the memphits. Jaheira and Imoen would stay back near the door and use ranged attacks and spells for backup. Once again they stood in a huddle before the door while Jaheira cast protective spells on them, and Imoen, haste.

    As soon as the door was opened, Ayla and Yoshimo rushed in and zipped across the room drawing the agitated, flapping memphits away from the portals. They were soon surrounded and then made a stand, back to back, weaving and ducking to avoid the worst blows and slashing at the memphits. They were both fast fighters as it was and the increased speed from the spell made them a formidible unit delivering more damage than the memphits could inflict. Meanwhile, Minsc was systematically destroying the line of portals that were ranged along the opposite wall. A memphit suddenly popped out of the last portal and cast a colourful spell at him but all it did was blind him. And when Minsc was that close to unmoving, smashable objects it would take more than that to stop him. Jaheira ran to his side and guided him to the last portal in the line so he could carry on smashing them with his heavy, two handed sword. While Imoen cast a volley of magic missiles at the memphit that had blinded Minsc.

    Once the last portal had been broken, the fight was over quickly, Jaheira and Imoen joining Yoshimo and Ayla to finish the last of the memphits. Minsc had been told to sit down and stop waving his sword around until the blindness had worn off. As they got their breathe back and Jaheira cast a few minor healing spells, Yoshimo turned to Ayla with a smile,

    "You fight well in the style of the east. You must have had a master from my country teach you at some point".

    Ayla looked at him blankly trying to work out an answer, stumped she lamely answered,

    "Yes, definitely a master from...where was it you said?

    "The east"

    "Right the east, yep the east, that's where he said he was from...a long way... east?" Ayla answered brightly (and mentally added another task to her to do list, "find map").

    Yoshimo's smile faded, "Yes, it's a long way east, I'm very far from home". He turned away quickly before she could see his expression and added, "but hopefully one day soon I will return."

    As the smoke from the fires the memphits had used to attack the party began to drift away, they became aware of the unpleasant smell that permeated the long, dimly lit room they were in. Not wanting to linger any longer than necessary, they quickly searched the chests and cupboards for anything useful. It didn't take long as Yoshimo proved himself a capable lockpicker and trap disarmer which, with his fighting skills made him a valuable asset to the group. As they made their way to the opposite end of the room from the door they had entered, the smell became worse.

    At first it wasn't clear to Ayla what she was looking at, so violated was the corpse that lay upon the stone slab at the far end of the room where she was looking for chests to open. But as she looked and her brain began to make sense of what she was seeing, she turned away gagging. The body had been opened from neckline to crotch and the skin peeled back to expose the inner organs, some of which had been removed and were laid rotting atop the slab alongside. The head had not been spared either, some of the scalp and cranium were missing and one eye was gone. The slab and the floor beneath were covered in black, dried blood which had had just been left where it had poured from the cadever. The skin was discoloured and the body bloated. Taking deep breaths through her mouth and struggling not to vomit, Ayla hurried to the others who were further down the room.

    "There's a body up there," she indicated the direction as she bent over with her hands on her thighs, swallowing hard to stop herself being sick. "It's been mutilated by someone and left there, that's the smell. Let's get out of here".

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699
    This chapter is very dark with some very nasty things in it including rape. I hated writing it and I'm not sure if it works as a way to explain Imoen as she appears in game in the dungeon. Maybe gone too far, but really trying to understand how Irenicus went about releasing the Bhaalspawn essence from somebody who never showed any signs of possessing it. So feedback would be welcome.

    Chapter Six


    Imoen had known all along that at some point what had happened to Khalid would be discovered. At first she hadn't recognised the room they were in, when she had been brought here before she had been so confused and terrified her surroundings had hardly registered. Irenicus had used one of the golems to carry her through the portal to this room from her cell below and he had said nothing to her the whole time. She believed at the time he was going to kill her as he had been ignoring her completely for days. In marked contrast to the previous weeks when he had frequently come to torment her, lecture her, question her, enchanting her and forcing her to kill and maim other prisoners of his choosing.

    He had isolated her from the others within hours of them arriving here after the journey from where they had been captured, keeping her on her own in a different area. When a few days later the guards had instructed her to bathe and dress in a long gown they provided, she had naively believed that somebody from the outside had come and that it was an attempt to cover up the brutal treatment that they had received since the kidnap. Instead she was taken to Irenicus' curiously furnished rooms where he waited for her.

    At first he had tried to engage her in conversation, pouring her wine, asking her to sit with him. He had called her Ellesime and behaved as if they were a couple. When she had protested and demanded her and the other's release, he had slapped her hard across her face, yet with a languid casualness, and then carried on as if nothing happened. She picked herself up off the floor and again protested, and then he hit her again, and again. Dazed from the blows and with blood pouring from her mouth and one eye beginning to close, she had once more struggled to her feet and cast a burning hands spell at him that he merely shrugged off. Then she launched herself at him, stratching and clawing at the mask he wore. He had caught her wrists easily and held her still,

    "I see you are going to make this difficult, no matter, do you seriously think you can overcome me?" he sighed as if it were she who was causing him pain and cast a spell. Imoen recognised the words and tried desperately to break free but she was too weak, too injured. Just before her own free will was overcome by the charm spell, one emotion rose up from her subconscious which almost cancelled the effects, blinding and overwhelming rage at the man who stood before her.

    When irenicus had finished with Imoen he had left her with the Dryads. They had healed her wounds with their magic and had tried to comfort her as she sobbed in their arms. When she had found out from them that this was to be her existence, that they had been here for years for the same purpose, she had thought to kill herself. But they had stopped her with their strange singsong speech, promising that there was always hope and she mustn't give up. They had shown her their trees, how they still grew even in this dreadful place and encouraged her to take strength from that.

    She wasn't sure how long had passed when Irenicus called for her again. She had been taken from the Dryads and locked back in her cell, totally alone, hearing nothing other than her own voice and with nothing other than her own thoughts. The guards would not speak to her however much she tried to engage them just to have some respite from the echoing loneliness. She thought she would go mad, and perhaps she did. She knew he had raped her but it was like looking into a void, where she should remember there was nothing, and that nothing scared her more than anything. So she tried to fill the hours thinking about anything else. She started to talk to herself to break the silence, long imaginary conversations with people she knew or imagining scenarios where she would talk to strangers she created in her head. And as the days passed, they began to became more real to her and she began to hear them talking back to her in her cell. They told her what to do next time she was in his presence, they promised they would be with her. She must kill him or be killed herself but she needed to be clever about it.

    So she sat and drank wine with him, the taste of it warmed her, encouraged her to watch for her chance. She pretended to be Ellesime, she played her part in his charade and heard the whispering in her head. It came when he had turned from her to fetch some more wine, she had broken her glass and leapt at his back aiming for his neck. But the noise of the glass breaking had alerted him and by the time she had struck with the jagged broken glass, he had activated magical contigences, one of which turned his skin to stone. He seemed unsurprised, and worse unshaken and as she backed away he had simply shook his head and started to cast the charm spell he had used before. As she recognised the words she had stopped backing away and instead focused on resisting the spell. The voices whispered and anger inside her had blosomed in answer to her will and the spell failed. Irenicus paused in surprise and then had recast the spell, and again it failed.

    Taking advantage of the confusion this had caused him she attacked again, slashing at his eyes with the broken stem of the wine glass. Screaming at him that she would kill him, that he would not have her. But she hadn't understood or recognised the protection spells that had been triggered and she could do no damage. As she slashed wildly at his face without any thought other than to kill him, hurt him, Irenicus had stood there watching her with a look of intense concentration. Finally he grabbed her hands forcing her to drop the glass and held her in place with his magically enhanced strength, then still searching her face he spoke,

    "Is it possible? What were those Harpers thinking putting the two of you together? Tell me child, who were your parents?

    Imoen struggled to break free but he had her arms pinned to her sides in a vice like grip that was hurting her as she thrashed against him. He shook her like a rag doll then asked again,

    "Who are your parents?"

    Out of breath, despairing of escape and feeling like her arms were on the point of breaking, she glared at him,

    "My parents? Why do you want to know who my parents were? I'm an orphan even I don't know", she answered, almost triumphantly because it was something she could deny him.

    "You have no idea do you? How could I have not seen this. This aging is causing me to miss the obvious, are my mental facilities beginning to fail so soon..." Irenicus stopped himself talking and the look of hatred that burned in his eyes caused Imoen to flinch. He then seemed to to pull himself away from this line of thought and refocused on Imoen,

    "So you're one of the children as well, oh my dear girl, we have a lot of work to do"

    "What are you talking about? What children?" Imoen faltered, suddenly scared of the answer.

    Distractedly Irenicus answered her as he started to pull her her back to her cell,

    "That you are a Bhaalspawn of course".

    Back in her cell Imoen tried to digest what Irenicus had told her. She couldn't sit still and paced around the narrow confines of the cell, searching her memories for any sign that would either confim or deny what he had said. And she came up with nothing. In Candlekeep, Ayla had always been the focus of attention, adopted by Gorion who was a venerated mage, indulged by everyone other than Ulraunt (who disliked both girls equally), headstrong and allowed to get away with just about anything. Whereas Imoen was always made to feel like she was lucky to be allowed to live there. She was expected to live in the Inn and when older, help out her foster father, Winthrop. It was Imoen who had shown an interest in magic, who had excelled in their lessons, but when Ayla refused point blank to learn anything to do with magic, the lessons had ceased. As if she wasn't important enough to be taught alone.

    Of course the unequal treatment they had received had caused friction between them. Ayla had never denied being favoured or that it was unfair, but the solution to the problem as far as she was concerned was that Imoen should demand better, kick up more of a fuss, obstinately refuse to accept her treatment. It had irritated her when Imoen chose to put up with things, stay unaffected and good natured, and that was what ultimately led to them drifting apart. When Imoen had learnt of Ayla's defeat of Sarevok and consequently that she was a "Bhaalspawn", their respective treatment in Candlekeep had made more sense to her. It didn't stop her feeling the old resentment, but she had thrived under the care of Jaheira and Khalid. She was being tutored in magic which she loved and for the first time in her life, she was the center of attention and in receipt of genuine affection. The jealousies of their former lives seemed petty in light of the knowledge.

    And now Irenicus had told her she was a Bhaalspawn too, what was she to make of that? How could she even begin to encompass what it might mean? She wasn't like Ayla who tended to ignore anything she didn't like and carry on regardless. No, he had to be mistaken, there had been no signs, nothing. But the thought of what he would do when he found out that he had been wrong filled her with almost more dread than what he had said being true. And then there was what he had said, that "there was a lot of work to do", what could he have meant?

    Imoen found out what Irenicus had meant over the following weeks. He had given her spells to learn, destructive, harmful spells that killed, books that listed the effects of totures, books on anatomy, books on dying and death. Each book would be left with her, one at a time and though she tried to resist reading them at first, the emptyness and boredom she experienced was enough to drive her to them. They made her cry, to slam them shut in horror at some of the things described. But then hours later, when the temptation to have, to do anything rather than sit in silence and solitude, would overcome her revulsion and she would read eagerly. Rationing herself to a page at a time until the words and images were burned into her mind. And then her dreams would be filled with what she had learnt from the books and she would wake up fully rested and unexpectedly at peace.

    He came to her cell nearly everyday, he would take her and show her the experiments he was performing without telling her what he wanted to achieve. Merely displaying what a spell could do to a body, how a body reacted to pain, how death could be a release. He lectured her and she learnt that if she wanted to talk at all, she was only permitted to ask about the process. She found herself waiting on him, anxious to be out of her cell at least for a short time. Thinking of questions she could ask him so she could hear her own voice. The few days he didn't come, she gnawed her nails to the quick, dreading being left with nothing except the silence. At the back of her mind she knew she was being manipulated, brainwashed, but the fear and the isolation were too much for her to bear.

    He had instructed her to kill for the first time and she had resisted, begging him not to force her her to take a life. So he had charmed her again and she had woken up back in her cell covered in the blood of the victim she immediately knew she had killed. It seemed pointless to refuse she reasoned, she justified her compliance with the thought that she could at least be quick. But the truth was she wanted to remember, she wanted to experience it. She wanted to be the one who dispensed death, the one who granted their release. She wanted the warm feeling of approval that emanated from somewhere deep inside herself that had started to manifest itself when she thought of killing.

    Khalid had already been killed when the golems brought her to the table where he was laid out, Irenicus stood silently waiting for her at the side. She had been left for days on her own in her cell. Nobody had come near to leave food or water and she had eeked out the few rations she had, all the time trying to keep at bay the thought that nobody would ever come. She had screamed for Irenicus by name through the door of her cell, then recoiled in shame at what she was doing, before repeating the same action over and over until her throat was hoarse. She knew he was a monster, but she was so far driven to despair she no longer cared.

    The overwhelming feeling of relief that there was already a dead body on the slab and that this was just another lesson caused her to not realise at first who he was. Irenicus had greeted her cordially and handed her water which she drank greedily before thanking him for saving her. He nodded acknowledgement of her thanks and told her if she would just perform this last act for him, she would be free. Unthinking she took the tools from Irenicus and turned to the task, it was just another experiment, another lesson where she would cut and Irenicus would tell her where.

    She wasn't sure when she recognised Khalid, was it when she had made the first incision, or when she had moved onto the head? She had been listening to Irenicus, asking her if she could see, if she could sense where death had started or how long it had taken life to leave. She had been interested, leaning in close to see if she could sense the answer, feeling the stirring of the instinct inside her. And then she had seen who corpse was. She had registered her surprise, pulling back to look again at the face.

    "You recognise him don't you?" Irenicus asked.

    "Yes...Khalid" Imoen answered, saying the name as if it were strange to her, "Did you kill him?"

    "Of course"

    She bent back to the incision she had made, it was too late to care. She felt nothing other than curiosity about the death. As Irenicus handed her the tools and gave her his instructions, she fell automatically into obeying her master.

    Reading it back I can see it's a bit rough, sorry. But as said, hated writing this, really not my thing at all. But nonetheless, I felt something was needed to explain the behavior from Imoen and she gets an incredibly rough deal and that's kind of overlooked in the game.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699
    Another miserable episode in the fun house known as Chateau Irenicus. This is what happens when you pile on the misery, the people having to write it start getting a little crazy.

    Chapter Seven


    "It wouldn't be the first body we have seen in this place," Jaheira answered thoughtfully, "though from your discription and the smell, it doesn't appear to be one of the attackers who enabled our escape. May the Gods see fit to guide their soul, there is nothing we can do for them now. If you have recovered, we should move on."

    Straightening and taking deep breathes through her mouth, Ayla nodded in agreement, "And everybody, try not to look".

    They made their way down the long room hugging the wall furthest from the shadowy alcove that Ayla had indicated. Almost tiptoeing to avoid disturbing the silence and trying not to breathe deeply, each of them wrapped up in their own thoughts as they approached the door. The knowledge that here was a person, although unknown to them, who had suffered a fate which any of them could have shared cast a sombre reality. Heads bowed they kept their eyes averted, almost as a sign of respect for the dead stranger who had been left here to rot.

    Except for Imoen who seemed rooted to the spot where Ayla had told them of the body. She tried to walk and catch up with the others, but the memory of what had happened here and what was ahead paralysed her. The conflicting thoughts of knowing that she had to tell Jaheira that it was Khalid and yet knowing that it would destroy her spun in her head. And what would Jaheira, even Minsc for that matter, think of her for not telling them earlier when she had had the chance. Would they turn on her as Ayla had done earlier? Look at her with the same disgust they viewed Irenicus? How would they, how could they understand when she didn't herself. She felt the tears rolling down her cheeks and buried her face in her hands. And even then the thoughts reverberated, was she crying for Khalid, for Jaheira or for herself?

    The others had reached the exit before they realised that Imoen hadn't followed. Turning to look back and not wanting to call out, Ayla gestured her to follow as they stepped into the corridor. The fresher air was welcome and for a few minutes they did nothing but breathe while they waited. When Imoen didn't appear, Jaheira cursed quietly under her breathe,

    "Foolish girl, what is she doing, I'll have to get her", and taking a deep breath of the sweeter air she stepped back into the room.

    Jaheira saw Imoen still standing in the same place they had left her and hurried to her when she saw she was crying. A wave of sympathy overcame her to see her crying so piteously in this room of death and decay. The thought of what the girl had suffered at the hands of Irenicus overwhelmed her feelings. She thought of Imoen as a daughter, she had come into her and Khalid's life and had filled a gap that she hadn't even been aware existed. The thought of her being hurt aroused a fierce protectiveness and she hugged Imoen close to her as she reached her and rocked her as she would a child. She patted her back while murmering quiet assurances that they would escape, that they would survive together, that everything would be alright.

    Imoen felt the arms around her and when she realised who was hugging her she wanted to die rather than tell what she knew. But the whispered assurances and the feeling of being loved gave her strength. How else could she repay that love except by telling Jaheira what she had to know? If afterwards she was hated, it was a price worth paying for the love she had recieved from Jaheira and Khalid. She pulled back from the embrace and struggled to stop crying,

    "Jaheira, jaheira...I have to tell you..shhh...please listen" swallowing hard and catching Jaheira's hand she looked up at her face, "he's Khalid...Jaheira...he's Khalid".

    At first Jaheira was confused, not understandng what Imoen was saying. But as she followed the direction of Imoen's gaze to the shadowed corner which they had so studiously avoided looking into after Ayla's warning, realisation dawned. Pushing Imoen away and wrenching her hand free she turned and ran towards the stone table. As the sight there greeted her she stopped, screaming Khalid's name and her hands flew to her mouth as if to hold in her soul as she felt it being torn from her body.

    Ayla had watched from the doorway as Jaheira softly made her way down the room to Imoen's side and then watched as she comforted her. Of all the times to have a breakdown, she thought to herself. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but when Jaheira violently pushed Imoen to the floor and started to run across the room, she insinctively reached for her sword thinking that they were under attack. It wasn't until Jaheira called out Khalid's name as she neared the stone table that she and the others were aware of what was happening. And even then, it took some time to understand. Minsc had reacted to Khalid's name being screamed out and was trying to get past Yoshimo who was blocking his way. Ayla noted with some surprise how quickly Yoshimo had reacted, but understood what he was trying to do, if Minsc saw that body and it was Khalid, he might fly into a rage and endanger them all. She manoevered herself between them and clutched the sides of his face, forcing him to look at her,

    "Minsc, stop, just stop, Khalid is dead, he's dead, it's too late, you have to calm down". She watched as the haze in his eyes that was threatening to take over began to clear and he processed what she was saying.

    "Khalid is dead? But how, we were looking for him, jaheira said we must find him." Minsc struggled with the effort to understand what Ayla was telling him.

    "It's too late, too late to do anything for him. Listen, Minsc, listen to me, I need you to take care of Imoen, can you do that? Can you look after her? I need to go and talk to Jaheira"

    Minsc didn't react and Ayla thought he hadn't understood, but then he nodded, "Imoen? Of course Minsc will look after Imoen, where is she?".

    Ayla let go of his face and then to her surprise, found herself hugging him when she saw the tears that were beginning to form in his eyes,

    "Thanks Minsc, right now we need you to be strong," she said as she tried to encircle his huge torso in a comforting embrace. It wasn't very successful but Minsc seemed to understand it was the thought that counted. She then turned to Yoshimo who was still blocking the doorway,

    "Go get Imoen, carry her if you must but get her out of that room, I need to try and speak to Jaheira".

    Ayla stepped back into the room as Yoshimo hurried to fetch Imoen from where she was still lying on the floor. She could see Jaheira on her knees before the stone slab which held the remains of her husband. She knew there was nothing she could say, nothing she could do to help but she couldn't just leave her there. Not with that thing, Khalid she reminded herself, but it was hard to reconcile the ghastly sight with the thought that it had once been alive and loved. Had she ever been in love? She didn't know, she didn't have any terms of reference for what Jaheira was feeling so what could she do? But she had to try.

    She reached out and gently placed her hand on Jaheira's shoulder, "Jaheira, I'm so sorry, I didn't recognise him, I would have told you, warned you"

    Jaheira swung round, and whiplash fast rose to her feet, "Shut up, just shut up, you did this, this is because of you, don't you dare speak to me of being sorry. You have no right."

    Ayla stumbled backwards, the look of anger and hatred on Jaheira's face set her on edge and she fought the urge to answer in kind, "Jaheira, you don't know what you are saying, of course you are angry, we all are, but this had nothing to do with me. It was Irenicus, you know it was Irenicus".

    "Irenicus, of course, Irenicus, but what interest would he have in us were we not accompanying a Bhaalspawn? Had we not been sent to see you away from Baldurs Gate? I should have listened when they told us to deliver you to them instead, that you were too dangerous to be allowed to go freely. That they couldn't watch you now you had left Candlekeep and with Gorion dead. But no, Imoen and Khalid"...her voice caught on a sob and she took a deep breath fighting to control herself.

    "They said you deserved a chance, that you hadn't done anything wrong, that the Harpers were wrong. And look at what that has cost them. So don't tell me you are sorry. Do you even care? You say you don't even know us so why do you care?" Jaheira stopped talking and turned back to face Khalid's body, "Just leave me, go away, keep your words for somebody who wants to listen."

    Ayla stood in stunned silence trying to unravel what she had just been told, none of it made any sense to her. She was being blamed for being captured? How did that work? And who were the Harpers, and how dare they decide that she should be locked up. Had she been imprisoned in Candlekeep rather then simply raised there by her foster father for her own safety? Dammit, somehow she had to get her memory back and escape from this web that was woven around her. But that would have to wait, right now she had more pressing matters.

    She reached out again and this time she clasped Jaheira's shoulder firmly and spun her round,

    "You want to believe I don't care, fine. I don't care and you shouldn't either whether I do or don't. Right now, we are a group of strangers trying to get out of this fucking nightmare and I need you to pull yourself together. I'm going to find something to cover up the body and then we are going to move on. All of us."

    Ayla quickly turned away leaving Jaheira to make what she would of what she had said. She hoped it had been enough to shake her up, Jaheira being angry with her was better than her falling apart with her grief. She moved through the room, checking the chests and cupboards until she found an old folded up blanket and then she returned to Jaheira.

    "Help me with this, then you can have some time, we'll wait outside in the corridor for you," she said emotionlessly as she handed the corners to Jaheira. Between the two of them they managed to cover the worst of the injuries, the torso, the head. And there was some small measure of relief when the body was shrouded for both of them. The smell was still overpowering but the need to act had rendered it bearable, at least while they performed this task. With a nod to Jaheira she headed back to the others and as she walked away, she heard Jaheira beginning to pray for the soul of her lost love.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    A long chapter (for me) but lots happen and miracle of miracles, they manage to get someplace else. Only eight chapters, it was a breeze. As usual would love any feedback.

    Chapter Eight


    Yoshimo had hurried to Imoen as directed and with a lot of encouragement he had managed to get her to her feet. She hardly seemed to recognise him, instead she stared blankly around herself until she saw Jaheira at the far end of the room. With a start she tried to move towards her but Yoshimo held her back,

    "You need to come with me out of this room, don't disturb her, there's nothing you can do. Ayla is going to talk to her".

    He wondered what connection she had with what had happened to the corpse or even how she had known where it was. Irenicus had told him nothing about his prisoners, had never let him see them. Apart from knowing that Irenicus wanted to test the Bhaalspawn, find out what he could about her powers, he had never been told anything of his plans or why he had kept the others alive. Initially when they had been captured on the road, he was surprised they hadn't been killed immediately. He was not alone in that, Bodhi had been furious when Irenicus had refused to allow her to feed on them. Yoshimo shuddered inwardly at the thought that he had anything in common with that monster.

    They made their way slowly to the door with Yoshimo having to support Imoen so that she wouldn't stop and collapse again. As they neared the end, they caught the tail end of the conversation. They heard Ayla telling Jaheira that she didn't care and Yoshimo flinched, tightening his grip around the girl's waist. Imoen turned to look at him,

    "It's not what you think, Ayla's not like that, not really, though she wants people to believe it".

    Yoshimo realised his expression was in danger of betraying him so he covered his reaction with a small nod of agreement,

    "Of course, I'm sure there's more to it, come, let's leave them," but inside he was seething.

    This was how she had treated his sister he was sure. Not caring, killing her without a thought, the actions of a murderer without pity. He was almost pleased with the thought of what she must have suffered at the hands of Irenicus. She was still alive after all, she had been lucky, he wouldn't have shown her that mercy.

    Ayla returned to the passageway where they would wait for Jaheira. She pushed the door almost closed to offer Jaheira some privacy though she knew it would make no difference to her. Minsc was with Imoen, both of them sitting with their backs to the wall and she had one of his arms encircling her shoulders. She had stopped crying and looked to be almost dozing as she leaned heavily against him. Minsc threw Ayla a small smile as she entered and she returned it, grateful for his reassurance. Further along on the opposite side, Yoshimo sat on his own cleaning his sword with an old rag he had found.

    She made her way past Minsc and Imoen to Yoshimo and slid down the wall until she was sitting beside him,

    "What a mess," she said quietly half to herself before addressing him, "If you have any of those rags spare yoshimo, I might as well use the time as well."

    Yoshimo handed her some rags and they both proceeded to clean as much of the dirt off the swords as they could in silence. Yoshimo thoughts raced, her being so close to him was making him nervous, he could feel the undercurrent of the geas running deep inside him. His hands shook slightly and he misjudged the sharp edge of his sword and it cut deeply into his palm. With a yelp he pulled back his hand and instinctively shook it spraying himself and Ayla with blood.

    "Stop it, let me see, stop it, you're getting blood everywhere", Ayla grabbed his hand, "it's not like we haven't got enough covering us already".

    Yoshimo let her take his hand and his heart thrummed in his chest with the wrongness of it and he wasn't sure whether it was the geas or his own revulsion. Ayla bent and looked closely at the large gash that was running across his palm and dripping blood on the floor.

    "Hang on a minute, I can fix this, just keep still, trust me,"

    Yoshimo almost laughed out loud at that, if she could read his thoughts she would know it wasn't him who needed to be worried about trust. The thought that she was oblivious to his true motives gave him a sense of superiority and calmed his nerves enough that he could answer,

    "Have you got a healing potion? I don't want to be a burden and let you have all the fun fighting alone", he answered jovially as if they were old comrades in arms.

    "No need for that, it would be better to save them, I can deal with this," Ayla smiled at the small joke he had made and proceeded to direct a small amount of her healing energy to close the cut. "There you go, good as new".

    "How...what did you do?" Yoshimo swallowed, "How did you do that, I didn't hear a prayer".

    "To be honest I have no idea", Ayla answered, "I thought everybody could," she stopped, then caught herself, "at first that is, years ago, back when doing it for the first time, not just an hour or so ago and surprising everybody, that would be silly thinking that then".

    Yoshimo wasn't even listening, suddenly he had realised the enormity of what this person, this thing sitting next to him, was. Tamoko had never had a chance he thought, caught between two warring Bhaalspawn, she was never really important to either. But one was already dead. He stopped himself before finishing the thought but the geas responded with a sharp reminder which drained the blood from his face.

    "You've gone awfully pale", Ayla said looking with concern at his face, "I don't think you lost that much blood. But just sit quiet for a while just in case, I need to talk to Imoen anyway".

    Ayla crossed to where Minsc and Imoen were sitting and crouched down,

    "Imoen," she said gently shaking her shoulder, "wake up, I need to talk to you".

    Imoen flinched and it was a moment before she registered where she was or who was talking to her and rather than trust her voice, she nodded. The two women walked a little further along the passageway not talking until they were out of earshot.

    "OK, I'm having a bit of a problem here, you keep on knowing stuff that you shouldn't know. So how about you tell me what exactly is going on here before we walk into something that can be avoided", Ayla kept her voice low but the intent behind it was clear.

    "Irenicus...", Imoen cleared her throat before continuing in a faltering voice, "he taught me things, about death, about dying. He gave me books, books full of death and pain and murder, and he showed me spells. And then...then he made me demonstrate what I had learnt. I couldn't stop him, I couldn't stop myself. I tried, you have to believe I tried," she stopped talking and looked down at her hands as she wrung them together.

    "I do", Ayla softened her tone, "You did what you had to to stay alive, I can't blame you for that, nobody should".

    "Not just that, worse" Imoen whispered without looking up. "Please, I can't say it, I can't think about it, I tried to kill him when...but he was too strong. And then he saw something, he said it was inside me and needed to be released," She stopped talking and carried on staring at her hands.

    "What did he see Imoen? What did he want to release?" Ayla asked gently wondering what could be so bad.

    "He said...he said I was a Bhaalspawn too...but I've never felt anything, never," she looked up, searching her face for something but Ayla wasn't sure what.

    "Ohhh...right, and so you didn't suspect anything I suppose? So this Bhaalspawn thing, it's not good then? You don't like the idea?" Ayla asked, a bit confused as to why this was causing Imoen so much distress.

    Imoen looked shocked at the question, "Of course not, I'm not murderous and evil offence of course" she added hurridly.

    Ayla rolled her eyes, "None taken," she answered dryly.

    "Sorry, that kind of just slipped out, I really don't think you are murderous and evil," Imoen smiled tentatively at Ayla, but then continued, "Though you are perhaps a bit erratic and far too concerned with yourself and you don't think about others nearly enough...

    Ayla interrupted her, "And you were doing so well with the 'placating the evil Bhaalspawn'," she looked amused, "how about we have this conversation sometime later?".

    "Err yes, good idea, later," Imoen answered and matched Ayla's smile with a giggle. She'd almost forgotten how Ayla could make her laugh and how she rarely took offense, prefering instead to come up with a quick retort. She was glad Irenicus didn't seem to have been able to break that spirit. The person who prefered to breeze through rather than wallow in misery was still present even with her memory gone. The reminder of Irenicus caused her brief moment of mirth to fade, she asked hesitantly,

    "Ayla, what did he do to you?" there was no need to say who.

    Ayla frowned and thought for a moment before answering, "It's like a dream, a dream I haven't wanted to think about in detail. But mainly he made me angry, so angry. He hurt me, I haven't looked closely but I think I have a lot of scars," she swallowed hard, that was something she couldn't face, not now, not here. Then she continued, "But not just me, the part of me which is Bhaal, the taint, was furious that he would dare. I felt it taking over and it was a relief."

    She stopped seeing Imoen's confusion, "It's difficult to explain, it was like a shield, it protected me, it fueled the anger. There was no room to think of anything else, to feel anything else," Ayla finished speaking with a shrug. Wordlessly Imoen stepped forward and hugged her and Ayla returned it gratefully. As they parted Imoen glanced back down he corridor and Ayla saw her distress,

    "I haven't been anywhere else up here, only that room. Only the one time," she looked as though she might cry again but then seemed to find some resolve. "I have to tell Jaheira what happened to...Khalid," she fought with the effort of saying his name, "He was already dead when I...when what was done to him happened."

    That was a relief Ayla thought, but she doubted Jaheira would listen, not yet, "Imoen don't, not now, it will make things worse. Don't tell her any of this. She blames me, she's angry with me, that's enough to keep her going for now. And that's what we all need to focus on. Come on," she said hooking Imoen's arm with her own and patting her hand, "lets get back to the others."

    They waited silently in the passage for Jaheira, each wrapped in their own thoughts. As Ayla was thinking of going to fetch her, prepared to drag her away if necessary, the door swung open and Jaheira joined them. Before she could speak, Yoshimo rose to his feet and approached her,

    "I am sorry for your loss, a good man has fallen here".

    Jaheira turned on him angrily, "What do you know? What can you know? Say nothing, keep your words to yourself I have no wish to hear them. Nor from any of you" she added, looking at each of them in turn, "No more words, words are useless, we will move on and one day I will make those responsible pay I swear". She finished talking and strode past them and stood waiting further along the corridor. They got up silently and fell in behind her and Ayla gave Imoen a warning shake of her head when it looked as though she would try to speak. She could sense how close Jaheira was to striking out and although she sympathised with the emotion, a fight breaking out in the group would not help them escape.

    They made their way along the passage cautiously and apart from a small group of Deugars that were easily dealt with, met no opposition. It seemed as if this part of the complex was clearer and the fighting had moved elsewhere. They came to a large mosaic floored hall where they were challenged by two crossbow wielding guards. But before they could engage, some kind of trap was activated and as they watched, the guards were frozen by a thin beam of ice and blasted by fire. Carefully skirting the colourful and deadly floor they headed towards the nearest of the corridors that branched off of the large room. Coming to a door at the end they opened it warily, each of them with weapons at the ready.

    Three men dressed in the same uniforms they had seen on some of the dead bodies they had passed stepped forward. They were the first they had seen still alive of their unwitting liberators,

    "More of them? Stop right there and drop your weapons, you won't get past us so easily and we're not about to die to more of Irenicus' scum," demanded the leading man. His eyes darted nevously over the group betraying his fear in spite of his attempted bravado.

    "Who are you?", Jaheira asked, "we are trying to escape, we were prisoners here".

    "We have nothing to do with Irenicus, look at the state of us" Ayla added gesturing to her filthy and battered armour. The man seemed to hesitate, "Then who are you? Why are you here?".

    Imoen pushed forward from the back of the group and approached them, her patience breaking at being held up,

    "We were prisoners we told you and you aren't going to stop us, nobody's going to stop us getting out of here even if we have to fight you."

    Ayla inwardly sighed and readied her sword, that was possibly the worst thing she could have said she thought to herself. She grabbed Imoen and thrust her roughly behind her as the three men attacked. Both sides driven by desperation fought fiercly but the advantage was with the larger group and the fight was short and brutal. After they downed healing potions they had collected and searched the bodies, they moved through the room to a door that opened into a large underground cavern.

    "This is the sewers, the main sewers under the city", Yoshimo said as he pointed to the large brickwork arch at one end of the room. "They flow down to the river if you follow them. But it looks like somebody has made a tunnel leading up to the street and that's likely where these fellows attacked from," pointing at the opposite end. They looked to where he was pointing,

    "Urgh, so that's the smell," Imoen made a face, "I don't fancy going down the sewers."

    "Minsc agrees with Imoen, he has had enough of tunnels and darkness and wants to get out into the sunlight."

    Ayla found herself agreeing, sunlight she thought, could she even remember what that felt like? She was troubled by the amount of bodies they could see lining the walkway that had been built across a small underground river they would have to cross. But then if these men had fought their way in, they could fight their way out she was sure. They would just have to proceed cautiously. They fell into line, Imoen and Minsc pushing to the front excited about the prospect of getting out. Jaheira followed behind them, she had barely said a word since joining them after Khalid. Neither looking left or right her eyes focused ahead and her thoughts focused on revenge. Yoshimo and Ayla brought up the rear, falling behind as they inspected the bodies littering their path.

    Once they were across the rickety bridge, their pace quickened. The steeper incline of the tunnel encouraging Imoen and Minsc to believe they were nearing daylight and they spoke excitedly to one another as they sped up. Ayla followed more slowly with Yoshimo, something was bothering her about the dead they were seeing. Too many, none injured and still alive and so little blood, it almost looked as if they had just fallen where they stood. She crouched down by one and turned it over to see better in the dim light. She pulled back with a start when the face was revealed, the corpse had the appearence of something that had been dead for centuries. The skin brown and shrivled, the tongue backened and dried, the eye sockets hollow. No other injuries could be seen, Ayla thought quickly, this was spell damage and a powerful spell at that. She called up ahead to Jaheira who was doggedly following Minsc and Imoen, though a little behind.

    "Jaheira, quickly, tell them to stop, I think Irenicus could be up ahead,".

    Jaheira reacted with alarm breaking into a run to catch the leaders and calling out to them to wait. Ayla bent back to the body trying to understand what had happened and she saw that the clothes were the same as the three men they had had to fight She was aware of Yoshimo standing just behind her and she was about to ask him if he recognised the uniform when something struck her hard. A bright, burning white light of pain exploded in her head and she heard her collarbone break before toppling over and lying face down, gasping and screaming in agony.

    Yoshimo had stayed close to Ayla as they made their way across the bridge. He too had inspected the bodies but with detatched disinterest, he knew full well what had caused this carnage. Irenicus was up ahead and soon he would recapture them and then what? His job would be over and he would be disposed of in all probability the same as these victims he was looking at. Almost resigned to his fate, a certain calmness had overcome him and he moved as if in a dream. His breathing was steady and he spoke easily as they moved along the passage behind the others. It was only after Ayla had called out to Jaheira and then bent back to the corpse that he saw how exposed and vulnerable she was. Without consideration, he knew this to be his only chance and he lashed out as fast as he could with his sword. It wasn't fast enough, the stroke he had meant to sever her head went awry as the geas grabbed hold of him and he spasmed violently. He fought to hold onto his sword through the pain. And as he fell he felt the blade bite deep into into her shoulder where it met her neck. Before never feeling anything ever again. Except the unbearable torment and agony of the geas as his body revolted against itself.

    Ayla lay there, unable to move. She could see the dirty floor she was lying on and she could hear roaring in her ears and screams that sounded as if they were coming from somebody else. Shock and pain had paralysed her momentarily. She could see the blood from the savage cut pooling on the floor and then the roaring, rumbling sound grew so loud it blanked out everything else. Dust was billowing around her face and she could taste it as she breathed and then she remembered. This was how a Bhaalspawn died, they turned to dust and she remembered watching as Sarevok disintegrated in front of her. The same billowing clouds of dust that now signaled her death. She closed her eyes and waited.

    "No", the voice filled her head, "No, this is not how a Bhaalspawn dies, in the dirt to a common thief". Where it came from she didn't know, somewhere deep inside where the taint lay buried. And with it came the rage. She (or it, she couldn't tell) forced her to move her other hand to her shattered shoulder. Gritting her teeth against the pain she called up the healing energy and directed it into the wound. Something answered and more energy than she could usually summon forced it's way to the surface and into her body, repairing the shattered bones and knitting the skin together. She felt the blood that had been pouring through her fingers lessen and stop and she rolled onto her back and lay their panting with the effort she had just spent.

    Slowly her breathing calmed down and she tried to understand what had happened. Why had none of the others come to help? Did they just leave her because they were so close to the exit? Had they just used her to get this far? And who had attacked her? Weak with the loss of blood she pushed herself upright with her uninjured arm, the other was still too weak to use. Orienteering herself by catching sight of the bridge they had crossed she turned to struggle to her feet in the direction they had been moving. But instead of the smooth, gently sloping tunnel they had been following coming into sight, a great wall of rock and tumbled masonary greeted her sight. Confused she turned around, had she been moved somewhwere? No, she could see the wooden bridge they had crossed. She scrambled at the stones, calling out the names of Imoen, Jaheira, Minsc and Yoshimo begging them to help. When she dislodged a large stone it caused a further fall of rocks and she jumped back hurridly. She strained to hear anything, any voices answering her, anything at all. But the silence was absolute other than the sound of running water she could hear from the sewers.

    She turned around, panic beginning to take hold and she caught sight of the body of Yoshimo. He lay on his back, but looked anything else than undisturbed. Blood had poured from his eyes, nose and mouth and great black pustules had formed on his face and where his skin was on show. His limbs were twisted and contorted, broken bones protruded through the flesh on his arms and legs and his hands. She looked away, sickened at the sight not knowing what could have caused such devestation to a body. And then she saw his sword, unsheathed, lying close to where the blood she had shed still pooled. She picked it up and saw the blood on the blade and felt with her hand the roughly healed wound, running her fingers along the shape of the cut. All dead, all of them dead she thought. And if he hadn't tried to kill me I would be under that pile of rocks as well. But why?

    Unable to comprehend the enormity of what had happened, that all the people she knew in the world were now dead, her brain mercifully shut down. She switched to automatic pilot, gathering what she could from the bodies. She swallowed some healing potions, drank down a water bottle she found on one corpse and stashed one she found on another. She took any gold or gems she could find and a bag to hold everything, utterly alone in the encompassing quiet she worked diligently. Unthinking and unfeeling, the mantra played in her head, one step at a time, concentrate on the now, nothing else matters. Finally she unfastened a torch from the wall and holding it aloft with her injured arm and Yoshimo's sword in the other hand, she headed through the brick archway further into the sewers.

    She walked for what must have been the best part of an hour. Crossing incoming tunnels where they emptied into the main channel she was following, she stopped at junctions watching carefully to ascertain the flow of the water then following where it led. She could feel the ever present slight downward slope but nowhere did it get any steeper. She became oblivious to the muck and filth she sometimes had to wade through and had long ceased to notice the smell though she knew it ever present. Small creatures scattered as they heard her coming, rats paused their scurrying to peep out from their hiding places as she passed. Doggedly she walked, one step after another, neither hurrying or dawdling, grim determination the only emotion she allowed herself to feel. She blocked all thoughts of what had happened or what would happen, there was nothing but the next step.

    The rush of water at her feet had grown steadily faster and the tunnel wider as more and more offshoots emptied into this main channel. So focused was she on keeping going and watching where she stepped, she didn't notice the gradual lightening of the tunnel until she noticed the torch she carried wasn't casting much light itself. Pausing and lifting her head she stared ahead and was greeted by the sight of a bright radience ahead of her. It was so bright it made her squint and she could see nothing past it. A pulse of joy and excitement thrummed through her and she hastily dampened down on the feeling of relief that flooded through her. She wasn't free yet, she wouldn't make the mistake of believing it yet. As she neared the end of the tunnel and her eyes adjusted to the stronger light flooding the entrance, she began to see the vista that was opening out before her. She stopped at the mouth of the tunnel and stared in wonder at the view before her and only now did she let herself believe that she had escaped.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    Sorry there's been a bit of a delay, haven't been able to sit at the PC, back trouble. So this finally finishes the dungeon and we get to find out what happened to the rest of the party.

    Chapter Nine


    Imoen and Minsc could hear the sounds of fighting ahead of them as they hurried up the tunnel. But it did nothing to deter them from the desire to be out and to leave the horrors they had both endured behind them. Whatever was ahead was better than what was behind. Imoen had had to break into a jog to keep pace with the tall ranger as he forged forward with his sword drawn. They both heard Jaheira's warning that Irenicus may be up ahead and Imoen slowed down and called to Minsc to stop. But the warning had the opposite effect on Minsc. At the sound of the name all Minsc could think of was watching helplessly as Irenicus had murdered Dynaheir in front of him. But now he was out of that cage, now he would get the chance to avenge her and cut down that monster. He quickened his pace and Imoen felt she had no choice but to stay with him. Shouting back to Jaheira to tell the others to hurry up, she ran after Minsc and caught up as they emerged from the tunnel.

    The scene that greeted them was chaotic and full of the noise of fighting. Huddled groups of fighters were trying to take cover behind the crumbling walls of the building that had been used to conceal the entrance to the dungeon. Many were dead but those still alive were desperately trying to fight back by firing arrows and throwing explosives at the man who had them trapped. All of them having come to the grim realisation there would be no escape. Through gaps in the front wall, Imoen and Minsc could see more fighters outside in the open courtyard in front of the building converging on a figure. But without even the shelter of the shattered masonary, they were being easily cut down. Flashes of bright light signalled the use of a powerful spell and they watched as most of the attackers fell writhing to the floor. So focused were the fighters on the mage who was killing them in such numbers, Imoen and Minsc were ignored as they crouched down trying to make sense of what was happening. Jaheira joined them seconds later and urged them onwards, out of breathe from running to catch them,

    "We need to take advantage, move quickly, to the side, look there's a way out over there, go, move now", she panted pointing at a gap.

    "But the others," Imoen protested, "we have to wait for them".

    "No time, easier to make it out in ones and twos anyway", Jaheira pushed Imoen and Minsc roughly in the direction she was pointing, "we'll meet up when we're out".

    Unsure and confused about what was happening Minsc and Imoen followed Jaheira's instructions and hurried to the gap that had been blown in the wall. It was to the side of the building and out of sight of the main fighting which gave them a chance. But as they crept and hurried away, a massive explosion ripped through the house behind them. Throwing themselves on the floor, they covered their heads as debris and dust rained down and gritted their teeth against the earspliting noise. Finally it ceased and they lifted their heads to look back from where they had come. The building was gone, obliterated along with all those who had been trapped. The tunnel beneath collapsed and full of the rubble from the building above.

    Imoen scrambled to her feet, quicker than Jaheira could stop her, and ran back to the now shapeless mound. She started to call out for Ayla, crying and pulling uselessly at some of the nearest stones. Minsc joined her and started trying to dig with his hands, picking up rocks and bricks and throwing them roughly to the side. Jaheira tried calling them back from where she was still concealed but to no avail. It was obvious to her that nobody could have survived the explosion but they didn't want to listen. She moved towards them to try and get them to leave. Then the voice of Irenicus called out to Imoen from the center of the courtyard,

    "So child, you have escaped, how very inconvenient of you."

    Imoen spun round at the sound of the voice and without hesitating cast a string of missiles at the mage standing alone. Minsc took his cue from her and with a bellow of rage advanced fast across the distance seperating them,

    "Monster, murderer you will pay for Dynaheir, I will have my revenge".

    Jaheira tried to grab Imoen to drag her away but she was shrugged off as Imoen fell into another spell.

    The missiles were absorbed easily by the spell protections Irenicus had surounded himself with and then, with a barely perceptable movement of his hand Irenicus froze Minsc in his tracks as he advanced. Imoen was already chanting another spell and Jaheira joined the offensive with one of her own, but before she could finish the incantation, Irenicus spoke again,

    "Stop this nonsense, do you really hope to injure me? Enough! And where is your "sister", or did you leave her behind because you did not want the competition? Perhaps there is more to you than you have shown".

    At the word "sister" Jaheira lost her concentration and her spell fizzled out, what was he talking about? Imoen knew he was goading her and she knew she shouldn't give him the satisfaction of reacting. But the words stung, to suggest that she had abandoned Ayla when she had just been killed by the explosion hurt too much. It drove away all thoughts other than wanting to make him pay for what he had done and she screamed at him as she released another round of missiles at him,

    "She's dead you fucking idiot, dead under that" she pointed at the rubble, "So go on making yourself look stupid, at least she managed to get away from you."

    Irenicus started and for a moment he looked confused, "She was killed, the Bhaalspawn was killed?"

    But that's not possible he thought to himself. He cursed at himself for allowing his plans to be ruined by his reckless pursuit of the shadow thieves. How could he have lost control so much? He began to move towards Imoen and Jaheira readying a spell to get rid of the Druid, determined that she wouldn't escape, she was his last chance. But as he neared her, the hiss of magic alerted him to Cowled Wizards teleporting into the area.

    "You will cease this spellcasting immediately" announced the first of the wizards to appear as he stepped from the portal.

    Irenicus redirected the spell he had been aiming at Jaheira and disintegrated him before he had a chance to say anything else and turned the next spell on the following wizard and then a third. But then more were beginning to appear and soon he, Imoen and Jaheira were surrounded. An older seemingly more superior wizard stepped from the newest portal. Shrouded in powerful spell protections he called out to them,

    "You can kill us but we are many and eventually you will be overcome. Now cease your magics and surrender to us"

    "But we've done nothing wrong," Imoen pleaded with the wizards nearest to her, "We were prisoners and he captured us, you have to let us go, this has nothing to do with us. I don't even know where I am". Jaheira joined her protesting their innocence,

    "This man killed my husband and our companions, take him and kill him for what he has done, we are innocent and we need your help not your condemnation".

    Irenicus saw the doubt on the faces of the wizards, they had seen who had cast the powerful spells that had killed their members and knew it wasn't the two women. He reacted quickly, he could see how scared the wizards were and he needed to keep Imoen close to him. Later he could free them both he was sure and have her under his control.

    "I will surrender to you but you will take the girl as well".

    The wave of relief that passed between the wizards waiting for his next move was almost palpable and they agreed without hesitation surrounding both Irenicus and Imoen in spheres of containment. Jaheira tried to hold on to Imoen's hand but the magical barrier broke the contact. Imoen screamed and begged them to let her go, she called out to Jaheira to help her and then they were both whisked away. Jaheira shouted out to her and then begged the remaining wizards to release her but they wouldn't listen and instead told her to leave before she was arrested as well. By now the city guards had begun to appear and Jaheira didn't doubt they would listen to instructions they were given by the Cowled, she knew the power they held in Athkatla.

    Realising there was nothing more to do now, she waited quietly for the spell that held Minsc to wear off preparing herself for the prospect of telling him what had happened. And what had happened she thought to herself? What had Irenicus said about Imoen being Ayla's sister? Was he telling the truth or merely attempting to torment them some more? Was that his interest in her the same as Ayla? Could she and Khalid have been fooled? By Imoen, by the Harpers themselves, Gorion? Was there anybody she could trust anymore with Khalid gone? At that thought she broke down in tears, how she missed him, wanted him next to her, wanted this to be all part of some nightmare that she could wake up from. She had held back her sorrow up to this point but now the dam broke and she huddled down on the steps surrounding the ruined building sobbing. Oblivious to the curious looks being thrown her way by the nearby guards, alone and lost in her utter despair.

    And that was where Minsc found her when he regained his senses. Saying nothing, he crouched down beside her and encircled her in his arms and together they cried for their losses, Yoshimo, Dynaheir, Ayla, Khalid and now Imoen.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    A quick, short chapter and we find out where the sewers delivered Ayla. It seemed a natural place to stop rather than change the mood mid chapter and start getting some other voices. Bit of artistic licence for the location, if you look at the map, just imagine the sewers running under the slums from the North of Waukeen's Promenade.

    Chapter Ten


    Ayla stood at the edge of the tunnel and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. It was in stark contrast to the darkness of the sewer that she had been following and to the greys and harsh artificial light of the dungeon she had left far behind. So much so that it caused a momentary dizziness and she had to lean heavily against the rough brickwork of the sewer entrance and take deep breaths to stop herself from falling. Some five feet below her the river flowed past her position and she could hear the lapping of the waves as they slapped against the wall. And in spite of the smell and the dirt, with the sun catching and glinting off the broad surface of the water, the river was beautiful to her. Tentatively she leaned from the shadowy entrance and reached out with her hand until she could feel the warmth of the sun. She flexed and splayed her fingers reveling in the feel of the heat, lost for the moment in the wonder of it.

    Reluctantly she withdrew her hand, she knew she still had some distance to go before she could feel safe. She looked out across the river trying to get her bearings and to see where she had ended up. In front of her across the great expanse of water she could see the city rising up from the opposite bank. Bigger than anything she had seen before. Just further downstream, a great bridge spanned the distance between the banks, so big she could see houses and buildings built atop it's massive arches. Above her was the sheer brick wall of the embankment that contained the river and the city extended far beyond on this side of the river as well.

    Overwhelmed she stood and stared around her, there were buildings as far as she could see lining the riverbank. And the noise, as well as individual shouts and calls, the air seemed to hum with the noise of the city and the river. She heard the clanging of metal from smithies, the rumbling of cartwheels and hammering from building works reaching her from behind the wall. And from the river the sounds of gulls calling, boats being unloaded and shouts from dockers and sailors. She ducked back into the shadows and hid as a boat sailed past and then watched it as it moored at one of the wooden jetties that were built at the base of the great bridge.

    She needed to move on but the thought of entering and becoming part of this huge city terrified her. She was an outsider, people would ask questions she couldn't answer and wonder why she couldn't. She had no way of knowing what was true or what were lies. The awful realisation of how vulnerable she was came to her and she sat down in the tunnel mouth in despair. Should she hail a boat and ask them for help? But what if they turned on her as Yoshimo had? It wouldn't be safe to let anybody know that she had escaped through this sewer, how far did Irenicus' power spread? No, better to get away from here on her own and leave no trace. But how? There were no steps or ladder from the tunnel leading upwards, only some rough metal staples set in the stonework down to the river. They must access the sewers from boats she thought to herself.

    She looked across the water at the mooring docks at the foot of the bridge. That's where she needed to get to. From there she could make her way into the city and get lost in the crowd, nobody would know where she had come from. Could she swim across to there, it wasn't far? She watched the current for a while, checking how fast the water was moving. It's didn't look as though it was too strong, the river moved sluggishly and the boats she had seen moved quite slowly. She didn't think it would be too cold either, the late afternoon sun was still hot and the people on the boats had been wearing light vests or stripped to the waist. It was the best plan she had, she could do this. After all she had been through, a short swim would be nothing she told herself and safer in the long run.

    Buoyed with the prospect of having a plan that would get her away from the sewer Ayla hurriedly set to work. She removed her boots and stripped down to her vest and leggings and dropped the discarded armour and boots into the water below to ensure she left no trace that she had come this way. As she paddled about in the filth in her bare feet and watched them sink, she started to look forward to immersing herself in the water as well. Not that she would be stupid enough to swallow any of it she thought, if nothing else that would surely kill her. She slung her sword and belt over her bad shoulder leaving the other arm free to paddle, she didn't dare keep it strapped on in case it pulled her under. She tied the bag containing all the gold and gems she had collected loosely round her neck, it wasn't too heavy and she would need the money. Lastly she went through the potions that were too heavy to carry. She drank the couple of health ones remaining rather than waste them and threw away the rest. Settling the Helm of Baldauran firmly on her head, she wouldn't leave that come what may, and settled down to wait until there were less people around.

    She judged it was late afternoon and she hoped that as evening came, businesses would start to close and people would start to head home. She couldn't very well swim up to a busy landing stage and expect to be unoticed she thought. And although she was anxious to get going having decided what to do, she forced herself to be patient. Eventually she was rewarded, the landing stages were beginning to clear as boats were finished being unloaded and moored for the night and workers left. She had picked out the most likely place to head for, a section clear of any craft and where she could see steps to help her get out of the water. Finally it was time for her to make her move and she backed her way carefully down the rungs towards the water.

    And then she had the awful, mind numbing thought that stopped her halfway down, could she swim?

    She didn't know. She hung there wracking her brains trying to remember but nothing came to her. She argued with herself, of course she could swim, everybody can swim. But what if she couldn't, what if she just sunk like the armour. Indecision beset her and she could neither go up or down until her arms began to ache from the strain of holding her up. Realising that unless she did something soon she was finished anyway, she came to a decision. There was only one way to find out and having come this far she had better see it through and pull herself together. Gingerly she lowered herself into the water, at least she had been right about that she thought, it wasn't too cold. She held onto the last rung as she acclimatised herself and experimentally kicked her legs around. Thankfully it felt natural, familiar, much like picking up the sword, and with a fortifying breath she let go and struck out for the bridge.

    She felt the current catch her though it wasn't strong, and she angled her direction diagonally across it. Her sword was dragging at her side, far heavier then she expected and she had to kick hard to keep afloat. She couldn't use the arm that had been injured, so instead she clutched the sword to her side to stop it dragging so much. Breast stroke with her legs and a sort of sideways crawl with her good arm was the best she could manage. But that did mean she found it easier to angle herself the way she needed to go. She kept her head above water to watch for the landing place and her helmet began to make her neck ache. She kept telling herself it wasn't far but it still felt much further than it had looked and she was tiring fast.

    She didn't quite get to the spot where she wanted. Instead she had to grab the first part of the wooden structures she could reach and hang on gratefully as the current tried to sweep her under the bridge itself. Then she pulled herself slowly from piling to piling under the cover of the jetties until she reached the steps that would allow her up onto the wharf. She had to wait a while to get her breath back before climbing heavily and clumsily up the steps. Unable to stand, she crawled across the small dock dragging her sword and leaving a trail of water behind her on the wooden planks. She got to the wall at the back and propped her back against it and just sat there. She was breathless, cold and exhausted and couldn't move any further.

    But she had made it.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    This is a continuation of the previous chapter and finishes Ayla's journey from dungeon to safety. Or at least to where she can get a decent meal and shelter.

    Chapter Eleven

    The Five Flagons Inn

    "Miss, Miss, you alright? Have to try and wake her up, can't leave her. Not safe at night here, Rampah knows. Miss, come on now, you got to wake up."

    Rampah leant down to take a closer look at the the unconcious woman. Cor Blimey he thought to himself as he saw the scarring on her shoulder, this one has been through the wars, looks like someone tried to take her head off. She must be off a ship and swum for it. A pirate or something, that sword too. He shook the young woman's shoulder and spoke louder,

    "Wake up, come on now, wake up, nights coming and you can't sleep here it's not safe."

    He wasn't sure what happened next as it was so fast and unexpected, but he found himself pinned against the wall with the long, very sharp looking sword threatening his neck. The helpless looking, sleeping begger suddenly wasn't looking nearly as helpless, rather more murderous, and not for the first time Rampah thought to himself I really need to start minding my own business.

    "Where am I? Who are you? Answer me quick or it will go bad for you" Ayla demanded at the same time as trying to wake up. I must have fallen asleep she thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she cursed inwardly.

    "I don't want no trouble, no Miss, you won't get no trouble from Rampah. Just trying to help, bad things around, trying to warn you" Rampah would have shook his head to emphasise his words but that sword was far too near his neck to risk any movement.

    "You're on the Bridge, you must know the Bridge, biggest bridge in Amn, famous too," he answered with a note of pride in his voice.

    Of course the bridge, Ayla remembered the swim. She glanced around at the shadows and the lights shining from the windows of houses. Her clothes were only damp, not dripping, how long had she slept? The wall at her back had been warm from the sun, she had just planned to sit there for a while to get her breath back.

    "Where is this bridge? What city?" she demanded, turning her attention back to the begger who had woken her up.

    "Athkatla, what's wrong with you, had a few too many and fallen overboard?" Rampah answered with a chortle, then saw the look on her face and remembered the sword. "No disrespect Miss of course, can happen to anyone, can't blame you, been there me self, starts off with good intentions, next thing you're in the street watching the sun come up and wondering where all your money's gone."

    Ayla tried to make sense of the string of words and gave up, few too many of what? She checked her money bag, nope still there, was he simple or something? He didn't seem like a threat at least and she lowered her sword and stepped back,

    "So, Rampah is it? And this is Athkatla?"

    With the sword away from his neck Rampah nodded enthusiastically,

    "Yep, the City of Coin itself where you can buy anything if you've got the cash. And plenty to get when you haven't, if you get my meaning," he tapped the side of his nose and winked at her.

    Now what's he doing Ayla thought, should I do the same? Pehaps better not to encourage him.

    "What did you mean about falling "overboard?"

    "Well I reckoned you were off a ship seeing as how you've been in the river," he gestured at her clothes which were plainly still damp.

    So he thinks I'm off a ship Ayla thought, that actually sounds like a believable story for me being here, could come in useful. What else was it he had said?

    "You said something about it not being safe here?"

    Rampah's face fell, "Nah. bad things happening on the street at night, you don't want to be outside. Young woman like yourself needs to be somewhere safe even if she's got a sword. I can show you to the Temple if you haven't got any money, they let's Rampah stay there sometimes."

    Ayla shook her head quickly, too many questions from Temples. Rampah didn't miss the undercurrent of her reluctance and gave her a questioning look.

    "I have money," she opened her bag and fished out five gold and handed it to Rampah, "here, for your help and a cure for your curiousity," and gave him a warning look. Is there an inn nearby I can get a room?"

    Rampah pocketed the coins and gave a nod of understanding,

    "Try The Five Flagons, the Thunderburps will see you right if you've got money. And they mind their business, they're used to unusual folks passing through. Just at the top of the steps, I gotta get going, thankyee for the gold and good luck to you Miss," Rampah tipped his head and turned to go.

    "Wait, one more thing," Ayla retrieved another five gold from her bag and held it out to Rampah, "A name, a common name round here that won't be noticed, do you know one?"

    Rampah thought for a moment,

    "Maude, used to have an auntie Maude, nice lady, lucky too, married into money and moved away. Maude yep, that'll do you fine."

    As Rampah left her Ayla tried out the name, Maude, simple and straightforward, wouldn't be something people remembered she hoped. She looked up the stairs to where Rampah had indicated and was able to see the bright lit windows of the inn. Steeling herself she made her way up the stairs and thought, now for the hard part. Virtually undressed and looking like something from the gutter, persuading the inn keeper to let her in was going to be difficult. As the inn came into view her heart sank. It was a large and busy at this time of the evening, too busy to simply approach the entrance, she'd be stopped before she got inside. She made her way round to the back where the kitchens opened out to the courtyard and the smell of cooking from the open door set on her edge. She couldn't remember when she had last eaten and had to fight the urge to simply barge in and grab whatever she could and to hell with the consequences. Really stupid idea she told herself severely, waving her sword around and killing anybody who got in her way was not going to go unnoticed.

    She removed her helmet and sword belt, took out a large handful of gold and quietly approached the back door and knocked until she got the attention of one of the maids,

    "What is it? What do you want?" the maid demanded impatiently, "Oh the gods, what have we got here, looks like something the cat dragged in. What do you mean interrupting us at dinner time? I suppose you want some scraps, get away with you, coming begging at the door at this time. The cheek of it, I've a good mind to call the guard. Here Uda, come and have a look at this."

    Ayla straightened to her full height in the face of the tirade and spoke firmly and clearly,

    "I am not begging, I wish to speak to the owner. I have gold," she held out the generous handful of gold, "I would like to rent a room, a bath and be fed. Fetch him at once."

    It was not at all what the maid had expected and she stood there dumbstruck. The cook who had been listening started to laugh,

    "Well that's shut you up, that's got to be a first. Well go on then, fetch Samuel, this I have to see."

    The maid hesitated for a moment, but then the combined authority of the cook and the unexpected response from Ayla and the sight of the gold, sent her hurrying out of the kitchen to fetch the innkeeper.

    She returned shortly with Samuel Thunderburp in tow and Ayla could see her whispering to him and the scandalous expression she wore left no doubt as to what she was saying. With a flourish she indicated Ayla to him,

    "Here she is, looking like a street rat and ordering me around like a Duchess, I've never been so insulted. Mark my words Samuel, I won't take being treated like this by some guttersnipe thinking they can just speak to me with ne'er a by my leave."

    "Oh give over Susan," the cook interjected, "you were threatening her with the guard."

    Ayla shot a grateful glance at the Cook, Uda, before turning her full attention to the innkeeper. He was so small, why was he so small? Not important, she needed to persuade him to let her stay, she couldn't wander the streets dressed as she was even without the warning Rampah had given her. Keep up the facade of being a noblewoman fallen on hard times would be the best bet, it had shut the maid up to some extent and got the Cook onside.

    "Mr Thunderburp? I was told you had rooms to rent. As you can see I am in dire need of shelter and I have money enough to pay. My name is Maude and have recently befallen some ill fortune and need somewhere to recover," Ayla stopped, waiting for his response, had she laid it on too thick?

    The Halfling, Samuel Thunderburp, had been busy behind the bar when Susan had come to fetch him. By the time they had got to the kitchen he had already heard from her about this beggers bare feet, her filthy clothes that were barely respectable, her dirty matted hair, the surely stolen gold she carried and her lack of respect for the maid. What he hadn't been told was that she stood straight, looked him in the eye, carried a valuable sword and an ancient, enchanted helmet. Her speech was educated and he could hear the trace of an accent, but what took him aback was the way she held herself. Without doubt, he thought to himself, this woman was a fighter and a strong one at that. The ugly scar he could see at the base of her neck wasn't old and he would have doubted it survivable if asked. From his past adventuring days he had seen the type before, but still there was something different about her. Nonetheless, right at the moment he could see she was in trouble and turning her away went against the code of his former profession. Let alone if his wife came to hear about it.

    "No need for the "Mr Thunderburp", it's Samuel to my guests," he offered his hand to her, "so you need a room then and that's what we are famous for. Never let it be said that Samuel doesn't keep the best run Inn in Athkatla. But if I may be so bold, how did you end up here? I can tell you are from the North by your accent so why the Bridge?"

    Ayla shook his hand daintily as if she were doing him a favour and hid her relief at his acceptance.

    "I came by sea, but the company was not good so when I saw the bridge I escaped overboard," she stopped and shrugged as if it were nothing more than an inconvenience that any well bred lady should be able to cope with. While inwardly begging him not to ask for more information as that was about as far as her knowledge about ships went.

    "You swam here, well I never, that must have taken some courage" Samuel expressed his surprise and even Susan looked impressed. "You must be exhausted, I'll get a room sorted out, in the meantime, Uda get our guest something to eat," he paused and Ayla saw the look of doubt cross his face as he looked back at the main room of the Inn.

    "I would prefer to eat here in the kitchen for now and could you arrange a bath in the room? And here take this as a deposit" Ayla handed over her handful of gold. She knew it was far more than the cost but it added to the facade and gold had a way of answering questions.

    Samuel nodded his thanks, and thought about informing her it was too much. But he recognised the bribe for what it was and pocketed it without comment. And although he believed that she might well have come off a ship, he was pretty sure that wasn't all there was to her story. Ah well, he thought, she wouldn't be the first he'd met to have something to hide and gold was gold whoever was paying.

    "Take a seat then, Uda will look after you and I'll go and see about that room and the bath. Come on Susan, I'm going to need you to get that room ready."

    Ayla sank gratefully into a chair at the table, well at least I'm going to get fed and at least one night in a bed, she thought. And a bath, the thought almost made her dizzy, the river had washed off a lot of muck but the water could hardly be considered clean. Then Uda served her a bowl of meaty soup, bread and a large glass of milk and with enormous self restraint Ayla politely picked at the bread, sipped the milk and carefully spooned her soup. When what she really wanted to do on first tasting the food was to simply bury her face in the bowl and even wondered what it would be like to bathe in it as well. Sod water, soup was much better and so she gladly accepted the offer of a second bowl.

    After her meal she was shown up the backstairs to the room she had rented but by this time she was on the point of passing out she was so tired. Her stomach was feeling tight and almost uncomfortable and she wondered whether she would be able to bathe before passing out. But catching sight of herself in the mirror in the room settled that thought as although bed looked large and inviting, it was so clean she couldn't contemplate crawling into it in this state. So she tiredly washed her hair first in a bucket with the soap provided as it was too dirty and matted and would make the bathwater filthy. And after, she climbed into the bath and did the same for the rest. She should have enjoyed the feel of the hot water and luxuriated in the sensation and smell of the soap, but frankly she was past caring. Sleep was all that mattered to her. After she dried herself, she wrapped her hair in a towel and collapsed into the bed, and fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,699

    Ayla starts to find her feet, gets some clothes, more food and practises being "Maude". All good stuff, things are looking up.

    Chapter 12

    Out and About

    Ayla woke up to find the room flooded with sunshine and for a while just lay there luxuriating in comfort and the feeling of being safe. She judged it was late morning by the light and the sounds coming through the window from the street below. The room was quite large, she'd hardly noticed the night before, and she was in a generous double bed. As she stretched her legs out and enjoyed the feeling of soft clean sheets against her skin, the contrast with what she had experienced before was almost miraculous. It was hard to believe that all this had existed while she had been in that cage.

    Eventually she was forced to move as she needed to relieve herself and get a drink of water from the tap in the bathroom. The air was warm, wonderfully warm after the cold of the underground and she wrapped herself in a sheet and went to the window and opened it wide. Then she sat at the window seat and just breathed in the fresh air and absorbed the sounds from the people below going about their business. Normalacy she thought, life, and I need to learn and remember how to rejoin it.

    She hadn't been sitting long when the aroma of cooking reached her and she was reminded that she hadn't eaten since the night before. The only clothes she had were the ones she had escaped in and when she picked them up off the floor, the smell alone was enough for her to reject them. So wrapped in a sheet, her hair still in the towel, she crept out of her room and attempted to find a maid to order some food in her room. Of course it would be Susan whose attention she managed to catch from the top of the stairs, and of course she complained about being dragged from her work in the dining room. But the woman was a guest, and a rich one at that Susan thought to herself, so she begrudgingly agreed to bring her some lunch.

    Ayla returned to her room and waited with growing impatience for her food. So when there was a knock at the door she quickly responded and was startled when, as well as Susan bearing a tray, a waist high woman bustled her way into the room.

    "So here she is, our very own little mermaid, though not so little," the woman chuckled looking up into Ayla's face. "Thalia Thunderburp at your service ma'am, my husband's told me all about your dramatic entrance, it's Maude isn't it? I could hardly credit it when he told me you'd managed to swim here. Carrying a sword as well how on earth did you manage that?" but before Ayla could answer, she started speaking again.

    "Oh but look at the state of you, pale and as thin as a rake, and here I am bothering you with questions. Pirates was it? If I could get my hands on that scum they'd think twice about kidnapping a young woman like yourself. It makes my heart bleed to even think about how they have mistreated you and you being so brave and all and managing to escape."

    She stopped talking and Ayla was sure she could see her eyes beginning to water at the thought of those "pirates". Just as well she didn't know the truth, she'd have a breakdown Ayla thought somewhat grimly. Again before Ayla had a chance to speak, she carried on after dabbing at her eyes with the edge of her sleeve,

    "And here you are without a stitch to wear having to rely on strangers like some poor abandoned baby. Well never you worry, Thalia will sort you out don't you worry about that. You'll find the Thunderburps reputation for doing right by people is well earned."

    Thalia turned to Susan who had just deposited the tray of food on the table, "I'm going to need you to run out to the market, Susan, and get this young lady some clothes. She can't go around all day wrapped up in a sheet, I'll make you a list. Now what size are you Ma'am?"

    The utter confusion Ayla was was feeling must have been obvious because Thalia Thunderburp leaned forward and patted her hand kindly,

    "Well never mind, we'll go for a medium so you can put a bit of weight on, starved you did they? The bastards, hanging's too good for them if you ask me, you can use a belt in the meantime. Well come on Susan, don't just stand there we've got work to do. Now don't you worry about a thing, just sit yourself down and eat up and get your strength back, we'll be back in a jiffy with something for you to wear and some bits and pieces you might need."

    Thalia headed out of the room shooing Susan before her.

    Ayla managed to find her voice as they left, "ummm...thankyou, I'm sorry to put you to all this trouble," she called out weakly as the door shut. She stood there for a few moments feeling rather as if she had just experienced a small, benevolent tornado that seemed to have adopted her. Though judging by the look Susan had thrown at her as she had been hustled out, she had better be very generous when it came to a tip for that one.

    As good as her word Thalia Thunderburp, with a mutinous looking Susan, returned within the hour laden with packages. Once again Thalia entered without ceromony and proceeded to reel off what they had bought for "Maude". A couple of linen dresses and some underclothes, shoes, toiletries and a few accessories, "just the basics to get you looking respectable so you can venture out. We wouldn't want you to feel like a prisoner after what you've been through and the fresh air will do you good, bring some colour back to your cheeks."

    Ayla found it much easier to talk now she had got over the initial shock of this garralous but kindly woman. She was able to answer her questions easily, mainly because Thalia tended to answer her own questions anyway and Ayla simply went along with the tale she had invented. She was a lady from the North, had been betrayed by a man she trusted ("a ne'er do well who had taken advantage of her innocence" according to Thalia) and sold to pirates. She had managed to escape and when she got her strength back she was going to return to her family "who must be at their wit's end worrying about her". Susan stayed silent at this explaination of her background and Ayla got the distinct impression she wasn't so convinced. But when she cleared the table and found 10gp under the plate for her, she joined in enthusiastically with her own embellishments of the saga. Before long, Ayla had a complete backstory, not that she understood many of the references or place names (what's a ne'er do well? and why would pirates buy her?). But she nodded and smiled where appropriate and hoped they put her reserve down to shyness.

    Eventually they left and Ayla was able to examine what they had brought. The dresses were serviceable though a sort of brown sludge colour that made Ayla wish she had tipped Susan earlier. Before dressing, there was one thing she had to do which she had been avoiding so far. Slowly she removed the sheet and took a good look at herself in the mirror. The sight that greeted her caused her to take a sharp intake of breath. Pitifully thin and pale, the scars she now wore stood out in stark contrast and she had to fight back the urge to cry out when dark memories scratched at her consciousness. Irenicus she thought with rising anger as she stood there, but she had escaped and survived and that's what she must focus on. The past was dead.

    She finished dressing quickly and wrapped one of the scarves provided over her hair and across her shoulders to cover the cut from Yoshimo. Standing again before the mirror she critically appraised her outfit. Drab and unoticeable in a crowd, exactly what she hoped for, perhaps the colour "brown sludge" was a stroke of genius on Susan's part. The thought amused her and she began to feel more like herself. Plain "Maude" in her plain outfit, she could pass as a servant or a shop assistant and nobody would give her a second glance. Of course she couldn't go out with a sword though and that worried her, but she wasn't going to venture far. Satisfied she took a deep breath and headed out of the room and made her way down to the main part of the inn.

    It took her a while to leave the Inn, Thalia and Samuel had greeted her appearence with enthusiasm and told her how much better she looked. Thalia had insisted she sit and have a cup of tea with them while she gave her instructions and directions as well as producing a small map of the city area for her to follow. Eventually Ayla managed to get away and she stepped outside with a sigh of relief. Though very kind and helpful, she could do without the interest. The fact was that although she had gold for now, it wouldn't last for ever and she already had a good idea of what she would have to do to get more. She was a thief after all she thought, not exactly the "respectable lady fallen on hard times" they had helped create.

    Ayla made her way to the small market across the way from the inn. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and she browsed the stalls looking at the wares on offer with pleasure. She still had some gems to sell and she exchanged them for a small enchanted dagger. Not having any means to defend herself made her nervous and she tried to think of a way she could carry a sword while wearing her dress. She would have liked to pick up a bow and some arrows as well, but there was no possibility she could carry one and keep up the image of "respectable Maude, nothing to see here". No, she thought, better to keep her head down for a week or so, learn what she could and then move somewhere else in the city with the long term aim of gathering enough funds to get back to Baldur's Gate.

    The formation of some sort of plan was comforting and she wandered contentedly along the river taking in the sights and the sounds. Nobody paid her any attention and she enjoyed the feeling of anonymity. As she made her way from one end of the bridge to the other, she took note of the different houses along the way. There were a couple that looked more prosperous that pricked her interest, perhaps she could slip out at night from the inn and have a closer look. She put the thought away for now, but she was going to have to start getting money and she didn't really have any other skills except for fighting.

    At the end of the bridge she started to make her way back to the inn so she crossed to the other side and made her way along the narrow path behind the more imposing buildings. She had seen the Temple of Helm from the front where she thought Rampah might have been planning to take her. But she had avoided entering as she had no idea who Helm was. Tomorrow she would have get her hands on some books and make a start on filling in the gaps in her knowledge. First some maps she thought, then some history, local customs, temples, peoples, animals, perhaps they would have some reports about her exploits along the Sword Coast. Lost in thought she didn't notice the two men following her and was startled when one stepped in front of her and barred her way.

    "Stop right there missy and hand over your purse if you know what's good for you"

    "My purse? Why do you want my purse?" Ayla stalled for time while she took in their appearance. Both wore shabby leather armour, the one closest to her carried a basic, unpolished sword and his eyes darted around nervously. The second stood a way back and carried a crossbow but didn't look that comfortable with the weapon. She silently cursed not having her sword with her because they didn't look like anything she couldn't deal with normally.

    "Here" the first man laughingly called to his companion, "did you hear that? Must be new round here." His face relaxed, she wasn't going to cause him any trouble he thought. Then he took a threatening step towards her and with a scowl demanded,

    "OK, missy, I'll make it simple, your money, give us all your money and make it quick."

    Ayla shrank back as if in fear and with a small cry made a show of fumbling with the purse at her belt,

    "This is all the money I have, but you can have it, just don't hurt me, please I beg of you, look, see you can have all of it," she spluttered out with a sob in her voice. Then she released the purse from her belt and seemingly dropped it in panic at his feet and a few gold pieces spilt from it,

    "Oh no, I'm sorry, wait, wait I'll get it, just a minute, I'll get it for you, just don't hurt me" she begged with another small sob.

    She crouched down and scrambled on the ground for the purse and the coins that had spilled out. She could hear the two of them sniggering at her grovling around on the ground. Good she thought, they're off their guard, I should get an award for this performance. As she placed the spilt coins in the bag she firmly clasped the dagger she had placed there earlier and then with a quick, smooth movement thrust up and as hard as she could into the groin of the man standing over her. The shriek of pain that he let out was really like nothing she had ever heard before, quite extraordinary and very high pitched. He clutched at himself as with a twist she jerked out the knife and blood began to stain the crotch of his trousers. As he doubled up Ayla took her chance and wrenched his sword from the other hand.

    "Oh shit," the second man exclaimed and Ayla heard the click of him loading the crossbow. Still crouching, she grabbed the injured one by the belt and dragged him in front of her and heard the bolt slamming into his back. As he collapsed on top of her she thrust him roughly to the side and then she was up and advancing on the second man who was trying to reload the crossbow. Stupid, Ayla thought as she reached him and buried the sword in his chest and slashed at his throat with the dagger. And not nearly fast enough considering she was hampered by her dress. She left him bleeding out on the floor and went and checked the other one but he was already dead, the crossbow bolt having pierced his heart at such short range. She quickly rifled through their belongings not wanting to be caught with the two bodies. She found a handful of money and a couple of invisibility potions, now that was surprising and she realised how easy a mark she must have looked. "Plain Maude" indeed, she could certainly get used to the advantage it gave her.

    "Well that's not something you see everyday, young woman taking on and besting a couple of thugs"

    Ayla spun round at the voice and caught sight of a short man lurking alongside the back wall of the temple. She hadn't seen him before the attack but he didn't seem to be threatening her. He hadn't taken any part and seemed to be unconcerned with the two bodies but she held the sword ready just in case.

    "And you didn't think to help? Just waited to see the outcome then?" she snapped at him in disgust.

    "Well I didn't want to interfere and anyway you seemed to have things under control. Let me introduce myself, names Trotter, independant trader, no need to be cross. Just looking for the opportunity to make a living. Can I interest you in a little business? These two here, I could give you a fair price for the sword, crossbow, armour and those potions.

    "Do you know who they were? Are there a lot of thugs like these about?

    Trotter shrugged, "there's a few around like these two not affiliated with the Shadow Thieves. Minor thugs looking for opportunities so you always need to keep an eye out. But see, they run the risk of being picked up by the Shadows, probably why they set on you, easy target on a quiet corner".

    "Well they won't make that mistake again. These Shadow Thieves? Who are they?"

    "The guild, you know, they run the streets and the docks. You must be new to the city if you haven't heard of them. Not much gets past them and if you're in the business... well let's just say you don't want to run up against them. So anyway as I was saying, about that trade, what do you think?"

    Ayla considered, she could hardly lug the stuff back to the tavern and anyway, what would she do with it.

    "How much you offering?"

    "I'll give you 20 gold for the gear and another 50 gold for the two potions."

    "I'll take the price for the gear but not the potions, never know when I might need them. The name's Maude by the way. Are you usually here? Might have some more stuff in the future if you know how to keep your mouth shut".

    Trotter beamed at the suggestion and thrust out his hand for a shake on the deal. Shame she wouldn't part with the potions but he got the impression that this could be a profitable arrangement in the future,

    "No worries on that account, me middle name's Discretion," he answered with a wink. "If you take a look at the rest of my stock it will put your mind at rest."

    They shook on the deal and then Trotter showed what else he had for sale. Ayla figured most was stolen as there were some good quality items at a fraction of the cost in the shops. Nothing she needed right now but good to know about. Pretty satisfied with the outcome of the adventure, she bid him a cheerful good night and made her way back to the Inn.

    N.B I love the name Maude, a favourite book of mine as a child had a heroine named Maude and I've always wanted to use it. I think it's a shame it's considered so old fashioned nowadays, she was an Empress after all.

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