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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.
https://forums.beamdog.com/discussion/65021/the-partridge-family#latest


The Forgetful Bhaalspawn

Prologue

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,

"Imoen...Ayla?"

"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 things...help 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.


Notes

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.

tbone1JuliusBorisovZaghoul

Comments

  • tbone1tbone1 Member Posts: 1,916
    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?

    JuliusBorisov
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    @tbone1

    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. ;)

    tbone1JuliusBorisov
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    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

    Reflections

    "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.

    tbone1JuliusBorisov
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    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

    Golems

    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"


    Notes

    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.

    tbone1JuliusBorisov
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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

    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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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".

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    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

    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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    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

    Khalid

    "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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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

    Escape

    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 ...no 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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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

    Irenicus


    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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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

    Athkatla


    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.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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.


    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    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.

    tbone1
  • laptopman666laptopman666 Member Posts: 283
    So, since this is about the partridge family, am i allowed to make Danny Bonaduce jokes? I enjoy his madness as he got older, hehe.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    So, since this is about the partridge family, am i allowed to make Danny Bonaduce jokes? I enjoy his madness as he got older, hehe.

    Sure, as long as you don't poke fun at David Cassidy..........sigh...............Oh David...........be still my beating heart. (mind, he looks a bit rough now)

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Ayla puts her plan into action to learn "stuff". Anything really, she has a lot of ground to make up.

    Chapter 13

    Waukeen's Promenade

    Ayla put her plan to regain her strength, educate herself and become familiar with the city into action over the next week. She had asked the Thundeburps where she could buy or borrow books and they had directed her to a Temple of Oghma in the Docks District which ran a library. She wasn't too happy about visiting the Docks after Trotter's warning about the Shadow Thieves, but figured if she kept to daylight hours she wouldn't run into trouble. But even so, she wouldn't go out without her sword, not after the last time. She devised a way to tie a shawl around her middle in the gypsy style that concealed it against her long dress unless somebody looked too closely. She kept her hair and in particular, neck covered, to avoid arousing any curiosity about how she had got such a scar. And so fully prepared, "plain Maude" took to the city to learn all she could.

    The first time she reached the docks the sight of the sea stretching away to the horizon took her breath away. Unable to resist, eventhough she had planned to simply use the library and stay away from the docks themselves, she made her way down the wide shallow steps to the harbour wall. The strong smell of fish, the loud cries of seagulls and the noise of ships being loaded and unloaded surrounded her as she stared at the wide expanse. It was exhilarating to think that from here she could go anywhere in the whole world and she leaned over the wall as if to get herself closer to far off places she couldn't even imagine. As she stood there transfixed by the sight, a fine ship sailed into dock and she watched as they moored alongside one of the jetties. She listened to the shouts of the crew as they tied up and took down sails, "Look lively lads", "get those sails down, jump to it" "Aye, Aye Captain Havarian", "All I need is some grog and a good lass on me lap", "get those ropes secured", and she promised herself one day she'd take a trip on such a ship.

    The Temple of Oghma and it's library was cool and quiet and dim compared to the bright sunlight of Athkatla and the noise and bustle the streets. At first the librarian had treated her with some suspicion, it wasn't often someone dressed in such drab, simple clothes showed much interest in his collection. But as the days passed and she turned up every morning, he became more accomodating and answered the questions she had. She was fascinated by the maps and poured over the place names of the Sword Coast looking for anything she might recall as she traced her route from Athkatla back to Baldurs gate. She thought to study some history but found that too daunting when she saw just how many volumes of "History of the North" there were before even considering the rest of Faerun. So instead she concentrated on expanding her currently very limited general knowledge. Customs, peoples, religions, geography, anything that would allow her to understand more when people spoke to her. She found some references to her exploits in Baldurs Gate and the recent troubles in the region. But inevitably they were written from the point of view of Amn and details were sparse. The narratives followed the path of Baldurs Gate coming to realise that it was foolish to threaten superior Amn rather than anything unsettling to do with Gods or their spawn. About Bhaal or the "time of troubles" there was very little apart from the basics and rather than draw attention to her interest, she decided that could wait until she returned to Candlekeep.

    Every afternoon after a morning of study, she wandered the city learning her way around the streets. She swapped the small basic map for a better more extensive guide that had been produced for visitors and she enjoyed taking in the sights. The more prosperous parts of the city were all on the opposite side of the river and though she enjoyed the broader tree lined streets and better kept areas, the amount of officials and guards present made her nervous. Especially as she hadn't wasted her time simply being a tourist and had lifted the odd purse when the opportunity presented itself. Her respectable yet unobtrusive outfit and scarf covered hair had allowed her to melt into the crowds easily and pick her targets with little risk to herself.

    The Temple district made her uncomfortable for an entirely different reason as she couldn't help but feel something of an interloper. And whenever she passed one of their large imposing entrances, always some acolyte, priest or follower encouraged her inside and started extolling the virtues of whichever deity the temple was dedicated to. Simply to avoid upsetting any of them, she posed as a follower of whatever God they were talking about. She had read about the various Gods but didn't really think any of them would want a Bhaalspawn as a worshipper considering Bhaal had been unpopular enough to get himself murdered. Of course she believed in them, her very existence was proof, but took the view that she was probably a bit of an embarrassment to all concerned.

    As a consequence she tended to stay on the southern side of the river and with the large area occupied by the markets and shops of Waukeen's Promenade, she was never short of things to see. The first time she had entered the Promenade she had been overwhelmed by the size and the crowds and the noise. But slowly she had become used to it and spent hours browsing the shops and stalls. It was easy to believe the claims of the various hawkers and hustlers outside the shops and amongst the stalls, that you could find anything the heart desired, if you had enough money of course. But unfortunately she didn't, so she contented herself with listening to the sales pitches and watching the people and learning what she could about this vast complicated society she found herself adrift in.

    On one of her visits there towards the end of the week, she came across the ruins where Irenicus had fought and her companions had died. The shock of seeing the devastation, which was still guarded and roped off from the public, froze her in her tracks. She stood there struggling to contain her sorrow and fear and memories while the crowds of shoppers pushed past her and threw annoyed looks in her direction. When she was able to move, she fled to a nearby inn and sat there shaking until one of the serving maids asked her if she was feeling unwell.

    Pulling herself together, she asked about the ruined houses and was told of the battle and how the Cowled Wizards had dealt with the rogue wizard and his apprentice and how they had captured and imprisoned them. She had felt a flood of relief at the news that Irenicus was imprisoned with his helper eventhough she had been unaware of any apprentice. But that didn't strike her as strange or questionable considering how much else was missing from her memories of that time. She only half listened to the serving maid's long diatribe against magic users and "how lucky they all were to have the Cowlies keeping them safe". Eventually she interrupted and explained that she had been overcome by the heat and just needed a cold drink and a brief rest. When the maid returned with some lemonade, she had sat there sipping it feeling more at peace than she had for a long time.

    But that night she dreamt of Imoen, a pale wistfull Imoen who spoke in riddles and refused to meet her eyes. Imoen told her this was Candlekeep but they couldn't go back, only forward on the path they were following. She said she couldn't remember her life or the people anymore because she was so far away and something was pulling her even further. Then she faded away with an admonishment that ayla would be too late to help her. Ayla didn't recognise the buildings that stood behind Imoen, nor the figures she could see drifting aimlessly around the grounds. She called out to Imoen to come back then approached one of the figures to ask where she had gone but they vanished without speaking to her. Figure after figure dissolved as she approached them and she began running from one to the other to try and catch one before they disapppeared as if she was playing a game of tag. There was something that she needed to ask them but as she ran between them the harder it was to remember the question. Something about Imoen, something she should know. Out of breath and beginning to feel despair at ever catching one long enough to ask her question, she saw one final figure. It was her last chance and she forced herself to run again and as she neared them, the figure turned to face her and she saw it was Irenicus.

    "She clings to her past life and memories as you did. But as you did, she will learn to leave them behind and become what you both know you are and are meant to be."

    Ayla attacked without hesitation but as she lunged for him, the dream ended abruptly and she awoke in a cold sweat and breathing heavily back in her bed at The Five Flagons.

    She lay there as still as she could trying to recall the details before they vanished as dreams do when they end so suddenly. Was it a dream or a vision? Irenicus had said it was a vision and she could still hear his mocking tone saying the words. But why would she believe anything he said. Why was Imoen there when she was dead? Was she some kind of spirit, but then why not Jaheira and Minsc, Yoshimo even. The thought of their deaths sent a wave of guilt through her driving other details of the dream away. It hadn't been her fault but Imoen had been right, she didn't think of others enough. She had hardly mourned them so concerned she had been with looking after herself. Confused and ashamed of herself, she drifted to sleep but dreamed no more.

    The following day, after her customary visit to the library, she headed back to Wahkeen's Promenade. She had picked up a few ideas about what was appropriate when it came to remembering the dead from the books she had studied that morning. Stopping at one of the stalls she bought some flowers and headed to the roped off area to lay them there and say some prayers she had jotted down from one of the books. She wasn't sure who to say prayers too but she was hoping just praying would work. She reasoned that there must be some sort of listening happening from the Gods and whichever deity Imoen, Jaheira and Minsc had followed would pick them up. She was very hazy about the afterlife and souls and considered that rather ironic seeing as who her father was. But she would try and do the best she could for now.

    She saw the guards watching her as she approached and she kept her eyes down and meekly asked them if she could have a little time to pay her respects. But they were hot and bored and in no mood to indulge somebody who might be related to the troublemakers who had caused them to be stuck here and told her in no uncertain terms to clear off. Frustrated and with no idea what else to do she pleaded with them and to her embarrassment felt herself beginning to cry as she was turned back. A few passers by had stopped to watch which made Ayla feel even worse as she tried to wipe her eyes and get herself under control. Miserably she walked slowly away, head down with no clear idea of where she was going and still holding the flowers she had planned to lay.

    "Excuse me, excuse me Miss, might I have a word,"

    Ayla stopped and looked around for who was talking to her and saw that one of the guards had followed her. He looked a bit younger than the ones who had stopped her and his uniform had the look of being new. But she was in no mood for anymore talk, she was embarrassed enough as it was, and she answered him sharply,

    "Yes, what is it, can't you see I'm upset? What is it you want?"

    Taken aback by her tone, the young guard hurried to speak,

    "Err, no Miss, I mean yes Miss, it's just that you looked a bit lost," Ayla saw him starting to blush, "I thought you might need a bit of help, umm, with the flowers, where you could leave them like."

    Ayla glanced down at the bouquet she was holding then back at the guard,

    "I just wanted to put them there for, well you know, to mark the place," and to her horror Ayla felt herself beginning to cry again, (what was wrong with her?)

    The guard looked evenmore embarrassed than she did at that moment,

    "Oh no, please don't, look you shouldn't take any notice of what they said. Really you shouldn't, it's just that they're a bit fed up having to stand around all day," (he desperately thought of more he could say, she was really crying now and fishing for a hanky from her bag,)

    "It's been really hot this week and what with all the bodies under there," (oh shit, did I really say that and now she's crying more, keep going she might not have noticed), "It gets them down, makes them angry but they're really not that bad. They sent me after you to see if I could help." (it was a small lie, they'd told him not to be so soft)

    Ayla was crying hard by now, the full works, runny nose, screwed up eyes and wracking sobs that made it difficult to breathe, and she couldn't stop however much she told herself to do so,

    "It's...sob,...it's so unfair...sob...all I wanted to do...sob...was leave some flowers...sob...and they won't let me...sob..." she blew her nose loudly, "And I"m being pathetic...sob...and you're laughing at me...sob..."

    About the last thing the guard wanted to do at that moment was laugh, being swallowed up by the abyss was preferable than having to stand here with this crying young woman and feeling so utterly helpless. Nothing in his training had prepared him for this,

    "I'm not laughing, really I'm not, take a look at me, I almost feel like crying myself," (again? he had said something that stupid again? OK strike that, try comforting her), "there, there Miss, it can't be that bad now can it? Think of all the people who care about you, they wouldn't want to see you upset like this, would they now?" he asked and patted her hesitantly once or twice on the shoulder. And miraculously it seemed to have worked, because the sobs stopped suddenly, (how good am I?).

    But what came next rather spoiled the moment of triumph the guard felt. Ayla drew herself up and for a moment he wasn't sure what he was seeing because she seemed to have grown taller and something seethed behind her eyes as she stared at him,

    "Can't be that bad? Really can't be that bad? You have no idea, it's worse, much worse than anything you can imagine," she almost hissed at him.

    And the guard for all his youth and inexperience, that day was a true hero,

    "Well, at least you've stopped crying now, that's got to be an improvement." (what the hells am I looking at?)

    And then it was gone, whatever had been called up from within retreated and Ayla started laughing openly and freely.

    "True enough, I'm sorry, I've made a complete idiot of myself and you were only trying to help." she smiled at him and he noticed for the first time that she was rather pretty even with all the snot and blotches.

    "That's alright Miss," he smiled back, (and put what he thought he had seen down to stress), "I was just going to suggest you went to the cemetary, the gaveyard, with the flowers. There's a chapel with a priest there who might be able to help you with prayers and stuff, you know, if you've lost someone." He cast his eyes down in sympathy at the flowers Ayla still held onto.

    "Really? Well thankyou, I'm new to the city so I didn't know. Look, you had better go back now before you get into trouble and again, thankyou so much you've really been a help."

    As the guard returned to his comrades, he found himself smiling and thinking to himself, well really, how good am I?


  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Ayla finds herself being haunted by a small friendly ghost and is sent on a mission.

    Chapter 14

    The Graveyard

    After checking her map, Ayla headed to the graveyard as soon as the guard had left her to return to his post. It was on the other side of the slums which she had passed through earlier in the week on her travels round the city. The smells and piles of discarded rubbish were too much of a reminder of her previous journey so she hadn't lingered or entered the large inn that dominated the area. Not surprising, she thought as she made her way through the large arch that seperated the area, the sewer I followed must run underneath here down to the river. A few beggers approached her and asked for money and she distributed a few coppers before hurrying on so that she didn't have to listen to their tales of hardship. She had made the mistake before of stopping to talk and had almost lost her purse to a pickpocket who used them as a distraction.

    It didn't take her long to get to the impressive domed gateway of the graveyard and she hesitated before entering. At the front of the cemetery in the area considered the most prestigious, the large vaults and tombs jostled for space. She could see what seemed like hundreds of columns and decorated porticoes, each trying to make more of an impression than those surrounding it. Heavy bronze doors inlaid with inscriptions and names sealed the vaults and added to the sense of importance that those laid to rest here had felt was their due in death. Ayla gave an internal shrug and reminded herself that she probably had more power here than most of them because of her father. It was a comforting thought, although probably one she shouldn't share with anybody, and she headed through the arch with a degree of confidence.

    She quickly found the chapel and priest the guard had directed her to and explained to him what she wanted. Of course it wasn't straightforward as she could only tell him the names and nothing else. But the priest had been helpful and promised he would say some prayers for their souls and suggested she find a quiet area to lay the flowers and add her own prayers. Relieved to have at least done something, she wandered the graveyard until she reached the older, less crowded areas and laid her flowers and read out her jotted down prayers. She hoped it was enough, the dream had been unsettling and she hadn't enjoyed the feelings of guilt it provoked.

    That done and with it being too late in the afternoon to resume her usual sightseeing trips round the city, she stretched out on the grass under the trees. It was another warm day and she enjoyed the feeling of being away from the bustle of the crowded streets and markets. Thinking about it she realised that she hadn't been away from people since her escape nor free of the tension of being on her guard. But here in this quiet corner of forgotten graves which were being overgrown by trees and ivy, she felt she could relax. So much so she hitched up her long skirt and unwound the scarf she always wore to cover her neck and hair and kicked off her shoes. Better, she thought, much better as the sun warmed her skin and she listened to the sounds of birds rather than the ever present hum of conversations.

    When she saw the sun begin to set she knew it was time to head back, she was wary of being out after dark after her experience with the would be muggers as well as the warning from Rampah when he had first spoken to her. Until she was able to wear some armour and have a sword within easy reach as well as carrying a decent bow, her only real defense was anonymity and that was much harder at night. Sighing at the thought of having to resume walking around in her long and bothersome dress, she made her way slowly through the long grass back towards the main part of the cemetery. On the way the high pitched cries of numerous birds caught her attention and she watched as they swooped and hunted and followed them until she saw nests built under the overhang of a large tomb. Creeping closer she watched quietly as they delivered their catch to their chicks who poked their tiny heads out of the mud built nests. She'd have to look them up and find out what they were called, yet another thing to learn about.

    Leaning against the large bronze door of the vault to watch, she felt that it was loose and that the large, ornate lock looked worn and well used. And so without really considering whether what she was doing was at all sensible, she pulled out the set of lockpicks she had bought and set to work on unlocking the mechanism. She had plenty of time and nobody was around to stop her and it felt good to practise a skill that she hadn't had much opportunity to use recently.

    "She doesn't want to be doing that, the King will get proper upset"

    Ayla froze at the sound of the voice, small and high pitched, a child? She looked around in alarm and spotted the tiny figure who stood a few feet away with a worried look on his face. Not dangerous, so she relaxed and moved her hand away from the hilt of her sword which she had instinctively reached for. OK, so now she had to explain what she was doing, she didn't want him calling any guards,

    "Umm, I was just trying to fix the lock, it looked a bit broken. So anyway, who is this "king" then?" she asked trying to change the subject. He looked very young so she hoped he should be easy to distract.

    "You heard me? You can see me?"

    "Well of course I can see you, you're only standing a few feet away and not even trying to hide. You need to do a better job than that if you don't want to be seen. I could give you some pointers", offer him something and get him on your side, good plan she thought.

    "She can see dead people," the small boy let out a whistle of surprise, "well that's unexpected".

    "Who can? Where?", Ayla looked around quickly but the area was still as empty as it had been earlier.

    "You silly, here," he answered, then gestured to himself with his thumb, "me".

    It was Ayla's turn to be surprised, he was dead? But he was so small, a halfling she thought, remembering the book she had used to identify the Thunderburps. Hardly enough of him to be a person and dead already?

    "Oh, err sorry, I didn't realise. You look kind of normal."

    "Well why wouldn't I? What did you expect something floating around in a white sheet going woooo?" the small boy rolled his eyes and started to pout.

    Ayla considered the question, she'd seen dead people, a lot of dead people and a lot them dead because of her. But they had looked anything but "normal", more grotesque and leaking bodily fluids all over the place so why would she be expecting a floating white sheet? Never mind, he looked like he was getting upset and he might be dead but he was still a child, try another change of subject.

    "So Hello anyway, I'm Maude and your name is? And why can't people see you?"

    "I'm Wellyn. I dunno why they can't, the others say it's because they're too busy being alive to notice. You're different though, you're both," Wellyn shrugged, not able to explain more.

    "The others? I haven't seen anybody except you, are they children too?" Ayla hoped they weren't, it was sad enough seeing this little boy. And what did he mean when he said she was both, in the main she felt pretty lively, as much as anybody else surely.

    "No children, no," Wellyn looked a bit downcast but carried on, "there's a few of us around, but they won't let you see them unless they want you to. Most don't stay here long, they pass on," he paused looking at her and noticing her confusion. "To the heavens, you know, unless they've been bad of course, then it's down there," Wellyn thumbed at the floor and stepped much closer to Ayla. He lowered his voice to a whisper, "to the hells. That's why some of them stay here for so long, they're scared of where they might end up. That one whose tomb you were trying to open, he's a right nasty bugger, calls himself the Crypt King, he's been here ages, I'd keep out of his way if I were you."

    Ayla looked over her shoulder at the heavy, suddenly sinister looking door she had been trying to unlock and felt a small shiver run down her back. It didn't help that now Wellyn was so close she could see he was slightly see through and she could feel the cold surrounding him.

    She bent down to his level and whispered back "Oh OK, thanks for warning me. Maybe we should move away then just in case, ummm, where have you come from?"

    She hoped that it wasn't a rude question considering the circumstances. What was the etiquette concerning speaking to dead people about where they were buried? Was it something you didn't mention, but on the other hand, he'd been quite open about beng dead.

    Wellyn brightened up at the question and Ayla breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't been rude.

    "Come on, I'll show you. It's much nicer than this place, Mum and Dad come everyday to tend the flowers."

    Wellyn led the way back to near the front of the cemetry and chatted on the way small children do about anything that came to mind. About his home and his parents and about how they visited him and spoke to him. He told her it was a shame they couldn't see him and he wished he could tell them he was alright and that he didn't want them to be so sad. By the time they got to the small grave with it's simple headstone and bright flowers, Ayla had given up even trying to stop crying. Even when Wellyn told her not to be such a big girl and that now she was behaving like everybody else.

    She knelt down at the grave and with difficulty managed to control herself enough to speak,

    "It's beautiful Wellyn, you must be very proud." The smile he gave her nearly set her off again but she took a deep breath instead and asked the question she knew she had to ask. Softly she said,

    "But Wellyn, what happened to you? Why haven't you passed on? You shouldn't be here with the bad dead people, you're just a child."

    Ayla saw a look of fear and pain cross Wellyn's face and her heart ached for not being able to comfort him and she worried that he might run away. But instead he focused on a point behind her rather than look at her,

    "You see, Dad was late home from work and Mum had to run to the shops. This man came, he must have been watching and thought there was no one in the house. He started taking our stuff. I tried to hide but he heard me and then...and then he hurt me, hurt me really badly...and then all I could do was watch. He took everything he could pick up...and my bear, my bear Littleman. That's why I'm stuck here, he's got my bear, I can't go without Littleman."

    Wellyn stopped and Ayla could see he was getting angry. She was feeling it welling up inside her too and he must have sensed her agreement.

    "I tried to get Littleman back. I followed the man but he got scared and pretended he couldn't see me. But he was lying, I know he was lying, so sometimes I go and try and make him see me so that he has to give me Littleman back. But he gets scared even when I don't do anything. It's not fair, he's not his, why should I let him keep him? I'll follow him and really scare him next time."

    Ayla thought that if the man could see the look on Wellyn's face at that moment, he wouldn't hesitate to give the toy bear back. Unless he was very sadistic as well as being a cold hearted murderer. Perhaps he thought Wellyn would give up or he could run far enough away. She needed to help the boy,

    "Wellyn, perhaps I could get the bear...Littleman... back for you? Would that help? Or do you have to get him yourself?" and as she asked she wasn't sure if she meant the bear or the man himself.

    "What you?" Wellyn scoffed at the idea, "but you're just a girl."

    Ayla stood up and drew out her sword and held it out for him to see. Then gave Wellyn an amused wink as she saw him looking at her face with new found respect,

    "Fair enough, I'm just a girl. But a girl with a very long and very sharp sword."

    "Cool, where'd you get that? Is it yours? Can I hold it?" Wellyn reached out eagerly for the katana even though it was taller than him.

    "Errr, can you? Well OK, but be careful"

    "Or what? You worried I might hurt myself?" and he started giggling as his hand passed straight throught it.

    "So what do you think, you reckon I can try and get your bear back?"

    "Yeah, you just might. His name is Llynis and he's at the Copper Coronet, room number 4," Wellyn by now was walking through the sword and stopping halfway pretending to be impaled on it and clutching his middle while making horrible gurgling sounds.

    Ayla told Wellyn she couldn't try that night as it was getting late. But she would go and find this Llynis tomorrow and come back at the same time as today and let him know how it went. But before she left, she spent some time playing with him as she was enjoying watching him have some fun. They invented a game of sparring where Wellyn tried to avoid being hit while Ayla tried to catch him. And she had to admit, not only was he very small and fast, as he couldn't be hurt, it was an excellent work out for her.

  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Ayla meets a companion, an NPC. About time too even if I say it myself. There's more (obviously) but the chapter was getting too long but hopefully the follow on won't take as long to put up.

    Chapter 15

    The Copper Coronet

    Anomen Delryn occupied what he had come to think of as his usual position in the Copper Coronet and watched the people and the comings and goings of the large common room with undisguised contempt. He hated standing here and he hated his stubboness that had kept him returning each evening. He doubted he would ever find anything worthy of his time but with little money and no influential family or friends his choices were severely limited. He needed to prove himself in order to have any chance of passing the test of Knighthood. That had been made clear to him by his superiors after his disobedience on the last campaign against the Hill Giants.

    One of his fellow would-be knights had helpfully suggested that he try the Coronet as it was well known as a venue where recruitment for adventurers and fighters took place. He had eagerly followed the suggestion and it only dawned on him that the suggestion had been made as a jest after returning to the headquarters of the Radiant Heart and hearing the sniggers and pointed jokes being made at his expense. Of course they were aware that the Coronet contained the most reknowned brothel in Athkatla and his rigid attitude when it came to such things. With immense difficulty he had managed to contain his anger as he knew that another outburst would see his expulsion from the Order. Instead he had attempted to brazen out his naivety of believing his comrade with heavy hints that he had met somebody interested in employing him for some glorious adventure they would all leap at the chance of being a part of. But that was over 2 weeks ago, and now only his pride kept him returning.

    The memory of his most recent humiliation caused him to redden and stiffen in embarrassment and he looked around hurridly to see if anyone had noticed. It was bad enough feeling forced to be in this establishment with it's attendent collection of drunkards, thieves, fighters, ruffians, cheap women and all the other assorted lowlives without drawing attention to his discomfort as well. Not that any of them were unaware of his situation by now he was sure. There had been too many times he had refused a drink or a woman with embarrassment and failed to join in with any of the coarse humour that passed for entertainment amongst the patrons. They avoided him in the main now, the joke of him being there had grown old. The owner Lehtinan only allowed his presence to help convey the impression that everything in the Coronet was above board. Anomen was being used and he knew it. He inwardly cringed at the hopelessness of his situation and clenched his mace in frustration.

    Perhaps he should have taken up the chance that had been offered to him by the severe looking Druid and her simple minded companion and gone with them to Trademeet to help with the wild animal problem? But surely he wasn't that desperate, a would-be knight dealing with common wild animals. A week ago it was beyond even the humiliation of the Coronet but now he wasn't so sure. But then he remembered the Druid's rude and dismissive manner as well as her huge, tattoooed companion talking to his tiny pet as if it could understand. No, he could endure the Coronet a little longer. Relaxing a little, he told himself he could stand this, must stand this, for another hour before he could return to headquarters and he continued his waiting with stoic resignation.

    A disturbance and raised voices coming from the main door caught his attention and he looked across to see what had disturbed the usual drunks who hung around the small fighting ring set up there. A woman was standing stock still in the way of them seemingly oblivious to the noise around her. Anomen saw that her head was covered and judging from the plain and drab dress she wore, he dismissed her as somebody from the lower orders who had entered by mistake. No doubt looking for her errant husband who was most likely either drunk at the bar or visiting the upper rooms. Anomen sighed to himself, it was a common occurance, earlier in the evening Tiana had dragged her husband out by his ear to loud applause from the room.

    But still she didn't move and Anomen could see the drunks getting bolder and beginning to jostle her. He would have to intervene, though it annoyed him to be bothered by something so inconsequential. Still,she was a woman after all and plainly not one of the prostitutes who frequented the inn. By the time he had crossed the floor though, the woman seemed to have shaken herself out of whatever had overcome her and was staring intently at the men around her as she backed up. And he got the distinct impression she was readying for an attack which caught him by surprise. She must be drunk for they will knock her senseless, he thought to himself, as he angled himself between them and brandished his mace. Faced with the tall, armoured knight wearing the insignia of the Radiant Heart the troublemakers backed off quickly but not without aiming some crude insults his way.

    Turning back to the woman to admonish her for being so foolish, Anomen found the words dying on his lips. She was standing with the poise and readiness of a fighter with a good quality sword in her hand and the focus of somebody who knew exactly what they were doing. He felt the hairs on his arms stand up as he sensed the danger and the feeling that she had worked out exactly how she would kill him if she had to. But she was also young and attractive and as she watched him intently he could sense no latent hostility. She simply waited with a confidence, that was belied by her dress and her youth, for his reaction. Fascinated, he lowered his mace to show his good intentions and addressed her formally with a small inclination of his head,

    "My lady, excuse my presumption, but perhaps I can be of some help?"

    Ayla had spent the day following her usual routine as Wellyn had told her the man she was after would most probably be away from the Copper Coronet until later in the day. She visted the library in the morning as from what Wellyn had told her, her knowledge of the afterlife was still very rudimentry. She really thought that it was something she should try and learn more about, you could call it the family business she thought to herself with a wry grin. Plus if dead people were going to start accosting her, she had better be a bit prepared.

    After, she headed to Waukeen's Promenade as she had a couple of purchases in mind. Most important, her "sparring" with Wellyn had really underlined how impractical a long dress was to wear when trying to move fast and she relied on her speed more than anything when it came to defending herself. She needed some armour and there were numerous shops where she could try and find something suitable. She still had some money but it wasn't long before she found out that she only had enough for the most basic studded leather suits made of what she considered inferior leather. She browsed the displays in the shops with increasing frustration finding nothing she liked in the price range she could afford as well as growing impatience with the shopkeepers dismissive attitudes. Finally admiting defeat, she stopped for some refreshment then made her way to the slums.

    The Copper Coronet stretched along the the length of the street in a haphazard mess. Obviously the original inn had extended over the years and taken over the adjoining buildings and incorporated them into it's business. There were at least two entrances on the ground level that Ayla could see, then above a large flat roof where patrons could drink with entrances there as well. She couldn't tell from the road how far back the premises extended as above street level, it had seemed to grow underneath existing buildings. It wasn't at all clear which were still private houses and which were part part of the Inn itself. She had noted it's size before when passing through the slums, but only now standing before it did the complexity of the building become apparent. Finding this Llynis was going to be more complicated than she had thought even with the number of the room he occupied. Resigning herself to the task she had promised Wellyn to undertake, she made her way to what looked like the main entrance.

    Pushing her way through the heavy door what Ayla noticed first was the size of the common room that opened out before her. Dominating the middle was a long cooking fire and as it was early evening, cooks and serving women were busily heaping up dishes and delivering them to patrons who were sat about at scattered tables. The air was overwarm and smokey and full of the sounds of conversations and barked orders. A small band of musicians was set up in one corner of the room and had just finished playing a tune and she could hear some applause and calls for another song. Ayla gathered herself together at this assault on her senses, and headed determindly towards the bar at the far end of the room. But she had only taken a few paces when she heard a voice,

    "ere now, get out, I don't like your type in here."

    She stopped moving, confused as to why that sounded so familiar and looked around for the speaker. A roughly dressed, bearded man waved a large tankard at her and looked as though he was about to say more but then the band started playing a new tune and Ayla remembered why.

    The Copper Coronet disappeared for her and was replaced with a quieter, more prosperous looking Inn and the music playing was the same. The man was Marl, she remembered, and she and her companions had met him and managed to dissuade him from fighting them. Her companions, she remembered with excitement, two of them, a halfling and a wizard dressed in green. She remembered their relief at reaching the Inn that night, where was it, Beregost, yes, Beregost. She frantically tried to pin down the memories that were filling her head, names, the names of her friends, what were they? Why had she been so scared of the roads at night and so glad to reach Beregost? What were their names? Concentrating hard she fought against the voices that were trying to interrupt the chain of recollections. The wizard who helped her defeat Sarevok, she must remember his name, he could tell her so much. It came to her like an echo just before the impressions disappeared and the noise of the Copper Coronet returned, Xzar. She had a name, Xzar, she would find him, she had to find him.

    Ayla was pulled back to the present by the voices surrounding her and they sounded angry and loud. She quickly backed away from the small knot of men gestulating at her not entirely sure what was happening. But faced with the prospect of being attacked she fell into preparing herself for the fight. She drew out her sword and studied her opponants, where was the weak link and who would she attack first were the questions that ran through her mind. They drove away the almost trance like recollections that had been evoked by the music and sounds of the Inn but she felt more of herself than she had for sometime. She had remembered being a person in a real setting, unlike the usual emptiness of anything before Irenicus. And she had a name, a thread she could follow back and find herself.

    But right now she had to stay focused and stay on her guard. She watched as the tall, broad shouldered knight intervened on her behalf and waited to see if he too would turn on her. She studied his splint mail armour and worked out where she could strike with the most debilitating effect then move fast enough to avoid the mace.

    ""My lady, excuse my presumption, but perhaps I can be of some help?"

    She almost laughed out loud at the over formality and unexpectedness of the phrase considering they were both standing with weapons drawn in possibly the most disreputable inn in Athkatla and she was working out how to kill him. But he looked far too serious to be joking and as his eyes searched her face she realised with some suprise that he was being totally sincere. Lowering her sword, she nodded her acknowledgement and went along with the tone he had set.

    "I must thank you, Sir Knight, for your intervention. I'm afraid I am not familiar with this place."

    and finished with a slight frown as she surveyed the large room. It looked even bigger than it had from the outside. She could see two staircases leading to the upper floors and two more exits from this room alone. And each of them had armed guards stationed to stop anybody who tried to enter, which meant they could also stop anybody trying to leave. Wellyn had really not been at all clear on the details but she supposed they hadn't been much of an issue for him. The Knight interrupted her thoughts when he spoke again,

    "I can see something is troubling you, my Lady, will you allow me to help?"

    "Possibly, "Ayla said with a smile, "I want to go upstairs but the entrances seem to be guarded. It's very strange, does one have to pay to visit the rooms?"

    Anomen gave a strangled gasp, surely this well spoken and attractive young women didn't seriously want to visit the upper rooms of the Copper Coronet? He had never even considered doing the same himself and always ignored the enticements sent his way by the scantily clad employees (much to their amusement it had to be said). She must have made a mistake and be thinking of some other Inn,

    "I don't think that's a good idea, my Lady, I'm sure there are more suitable places for you."

    "Well yes, but I'm here to find a man. And once he's given me what I need I shall be on my way. It shouldn't take long as I'm not going to waste any time talking to him. Just as long as he gives me what I want."

    Ayla thought it best not to tell this knight that she was going to kill him as well if she could. She was getting the impression that he took the law very seriously, in fact took everything very seriously. And looking at him now she could see he was already getting upset about something and was turning an interesting shade of red. She carried on in an attempt to explain,

    "Though I'm not sure whether I'm looking for a man or a halfling. I suppose I'll find out in the room, it makes no difference as long as he gives it to me."

    Though a halfling would likely be easier to kill, all things considered, she thought to herself.

    Anomen couldn't believe what she was saying to him and with such a look of innocence on her face. What depths of depravity had this young, blue eyed and comely woman sunk to that she was seeking out companionship in the Coronet? He wouldn't allow it. It was his duty as a would-be Knight to step in and stop her from this path of sinfulness before it was too late. Reaching forward he clasped her hand and looked deep into her eyes,

    "My lady, I cannot in all conscience allow you to throw yourself away like this. You deserve more, much more and I cannot begin to understand why you would consider such a course of action. Come away from here and together we will pray to Helm and ask him for guidance that you may yet be saved." Anomen stopped and stared imploringly at her.

    "Errr.. Okayyy...but I have to get Wellyn his teddybear back. And fair enough, you've realised that I am going to kill the bastard but I reckon Helm wouldn't be too upset about that," and she tried to ease her hand out of his grasp.

    "What...wait...you're trying to get something back and then planning to kill the man?" Anomen suddenly dropped her hand as if burnt and turned an even brighter shade of red.

    "Or halfling, halfling would be easier," Ayla flexed her fingers to get the circulation going again. "What else did you think I wanted?" she asked innocently.

    Anomen would rather suffer the hells than answer that question, once again he had made a complete and utter fool of himself. But surprisingly the young woman didn't seem to be aware of his mistake, perhaps he still had a chance to help her. It would ease his conscience a little at least for the thoughts he had had.

    "A drink, my lady, I wondered if you would care to join me?" Anomen almost held his breathe waiting for her answer and hoping against hope that she would accept his explaination.

    "Ummm, yes, thankyou, that would be nice. But you really didn't have to get so worked up about asking and I'm sure Helm wouldn't be interested. I'm Maude, by the way, and your name is?"

    "Anomen, Anomen Delryn, look there's a table free over there"

    N.B.

    If you haven't read the first part of this, "The Reluctant Bhaalspawn", then how shall we say this? Let's try,

    Xzar is not the wizard she is looking for


    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    The second part of the visit to the Copper Coronet as promised. I'm afraid things don't get much easier for Anomen, maybe even a lot worse.

    Chapter 16

    Ayla and Anomen Find Llynis.

    Ayla followed Anomen to the table he had indicated and took a seat while he went to fetch their drinks. The Inn was busy, much busier than any other tavern she had visited in Athkatla and had a lot of coming and going through the various doors and up and down the staircases. She'd accepted the offer from the Knight so that she could have a good look around without drawing any more attention. As she waited she watched the guards checking people before letting them pass. That was going to cause a problem, unless of course, she rented a room herself and could show them the key? They would have no reason to stop her then, she'd be just another guest retiring to their room. It was still early in the evening and they shouldn't be fully booked yet. Pleased with the idea, she waited for Anomen to return and watched the rest of the room with interest.

    Apart from the tables dotted around full of people eating and drinking, there was some trading going on in one corner, a small fighting ring against the wall near the entrance, the group of muscians she had noticed before, and the long bar that was obscured by people standing around drinking. It wasn't so much an Inn, she thought, more like a small town. Amongst all this mayhem, there were people wandering around dressed in anything from almost rags to armour to fine silks and she was careful not to catch anybody's eye when they looked her way. The noise was loud and when one of the doors leading off this main room opened, the sounds of cheering and fighting were added to the din. It was too much to take in and she didn't really understand much of what was going on. It was with some relief she saw Anomen making his way back to her, this what not the place to linger and hope to go unnoticed.

    He had purchased a small carafe of white wine and poured for both of them after taking his seat and Ayla could see from the way he looked at her there were going to be questions. She fleetingly wondered if it wouldn't have been easier to just kill him, then chided herself for the thought. She could do this, a bit of chit chat over some wine, all around her people were doing the same and they hardly looked that clever.

    "My Lady, I would be interested to hear more about your reasons for pursuing this man? You said he has something of yours?"

    "Not mine, a boy's teddybear, you see, Wellyn, the boy, asked me to help," she saw the look of enquiry Anomen gave her and realised she would have to provide more details. He'd ask anyway so better she get it all out at once.

    "This is going to sound a little strange but I was at the graveyard and I was approached by the ghost of a small boy who told me that he had been murdered by this Llynis fellow and couldn't pass on because the man had stolen his teddybear. He had tried to get the man to give it back himself but had been refused so I offered to help."

    Ayla finished and stared at Anomen over the rim of her glass as she drank her wine. She didn't care if he disbelieved her, but she could do without him interfering so better he left thinking she was an uncompromising liar. She considered the possibility of him drawing attention by pointing and shouting lunatic at her to all and sundry, which would be inconvenient. So she held her gaze, daring him to disbelieve her.

    Of all the things Anomen had expected to hear from her this was not amongst them. He had registered her saying something about a "teddybear" but his self humiliation at that point had rendered most details incomprehensible. And now she was staring at him and he could see the challenge in her eyes. It provoked his pride and lying or not, he decided he would find out one way or the other by going with her.

    "So my lady...Maude, your plan is to restore the bear to it's rightful owner and lay the spirit to rest? It's a noble goal and one I would assist you with though I cannot approve of your plan to kill the man. He should be brought before the proper authorities and made to pay for his crime."

    Anomen waited for her answer feeling his mounting tension. If she refused his appeal to follow the law, as a Follower of the Radiant Heart he would have no choice but to stop her.

    "You'll help me?" now it was Ayla's turn to feel surprised. She hadn't expected that, his initial offer to help had struck her as an automatic response that sprang from his desire to appear chivalrous rather than anything more.

    "Fair enough. As long as I can get the bear back to Wellyn, you can deal with the man as you see fit," and nodded her agreement. She gave Anomen a quick smile, both at the thought of helping the boy and to express her thanks. She would have killed Llynis without regret but if this Knight was going to help her, well better to stay on the right side of the law if possible.

    Anomen felt the tension drain out of him at her answer and smiled back in response, she really was very attractive. Modest too, though he would have liked her to remove her scarf so that he could see her hair. Judging from her accent and her fair skin she was from the North and he fell to imaging her hair as being the colour of the sun. Tumbling down freely across her shoulders and back...with a start he was pulled back into the present by her next question.

    "So Anomen, now I've told you what I'm doing here what about you? Offering to help me with Llynis, this doesn't seem the place for that sort of thing,"

    Ayla looked around the room and raised an inquiring eyebrow. She had worked out over the last week that if people got an opportunity to talk about themselves they didn't tend to ask awkward questions about her. She was proved right, more than right and she listened as Anomen told her about being an apprentice Knight, a Cleric of Helm, his beloved sister, his desire to prove himself and his waiting around here to find quests worthy of his time. After a while she was beginning to lose the will to live, it was hot in the common room and she didn't dare remove her scarf. She treated the scar on her neck everyday with her healing and it was fading fast but was still too noticeable for her liking. Especially as Anomen was tending to gaze at her so much, too much she began to think, did she have dirt on her face or something?

    She finished her wine and waited for a pause, then quickly interrupted suggesting that they had better get moving and find Llynis, using the excuse that she had promised to see Wellyn that evening. She felt a little guilty at the look of disappointment that crossed Anomen's face, he seemed a good sort and she didn't want to upset him. But that was quickly replaced by one of dismay when she explained her plan to rent a room upstairs to get past the guards. Not waiting for the objection that she could see he was about to come up with, she stood up and started to make her way to the bar. Anomen followed her and she could hear his complaints, none of which made any sense to her, it was normal wasn't it to rent a room at an inn? Why was he getting so agitated?

    Lehtinan, the owner, was charming and helpful and directed her to speak to Bernard about a room. He mentioned various entertainments that were available in the Coronet but none of them appealed to her. She didn't want to see people fighting, she had seen enough of that to last her a lifetime. And his offer of companionship simply confused her as Anomen was standing right next to her making strange strangled noises. She thanked him anyway and dragged Anomen with her to find Bernard. He'd gone that curious shade of red again and she wondered if perhaps he suffered from some illness.

    "So you want a room do you?" Bernard looked at her and Anomen, "Will that be for the whole night or just an hour" he asked with a leer. A man standing by his side at the bar interrupted after looking Anomen up and down,

    "Oi, Bernard, you should give them a discount, can't see him needing it for more than half hour."

    The gaggle of men sitting with him laughed and raised their glasses to salute the joke, "Nice one Salvanas".

    Bernard tried not to laugh as well, business was business, "Now come on Salvanas, don't be rude, you know what they say, it's always the quiet ones," and the men laughed even harder.

    Ayla heard Anomen not too quietly spluttering at her side, "you dare insult the lady, come outside and say that, and to me, as if I couldn't...hours I'll have you know...many ladies will tell you...not that I'm saying..." and she kicked him to shut him up.

    "The room for an hour would be plenty," and she was very pleased with the thought it wouldn't cost as much. The men around laughed even harder and she ignored them as she handed over the money.

    "Well would you look at that, cool as a cucumber, 'ere lad, I reckon you might need some pointers", and they slapped each other on the back and roared at the joke.

    Ayla grabbed the key and Anomen's arm and dragged him as quick as she could towards the stairs. She figured Anomen was going to going to get into a fight if they didn't move and they had a job to do. As they reached the stairs they heard one more raucous outburst of laughter and, "Cor Blimey, she's keen, need any 'elp lad?"

    Ayla hung onto Anomen's arm as he started to pull out his mace and make his way back to the bar, and whispered to him urgently,

    "Anomen remember what we are here for, Llynis, remember," and it did the trick because he turned and allowed her to tug him up the stairs. Though when she glanced at his face she wasn't sure whether he wanted to murder somebody or simply disappear into a hole.

    They found the room easily as it was near the front of the upper floor and Ayla was pleased when she realised Llynis' room would have to be nearby. The long passageway hung with curtains she had seen leading to rooms futher back in the building had worried her at first. But it looked like they would have no need to go in that direction at all. She used the key to unlock the door and checked the room but didn't enter, it would provide a bolt hole if needed but she had no intention of waiting any longer. She was a bit concerned with Anomen's silence and obvious discomfort, the men at the bar had seriously upset him but she didn't understand why. The jokes had gone over her head as she had no idea why the inn would rent rooms for an hour. Perhaps people needed a nap after they had been drinking? The Coronet did look to her like the type of place where people spent a lot of time.

    Whispering to Anomen to follow her, they made their way past the other doors until they found the right one. She quietly picked the lock then mouthed to Anomen to wait and then slipped silently inside, leaving the door behind ajar. The room was small and held a bed, a washstand and a small table set against the wall where Llynis was sat with his back to her. He had been eating and he jumped violently at the sound of her voice turning so quickly he knocked his glass over then swore when the liquid spilt into his lap.

    "Tell me, are you Llynis?" she snapped the question at him not caring to be polite.

    "Now look what you've made me do, dammit, and how did'ya get in here? What do you want, creeping around like a ghost, I'll call the guards."

    She practically snorted her derision at the threat, seeing him before her and remembering Wellyn was making her angry. His mention of a ghost confirmed she had the right one. She advanced towards him,

    "A ghost? Been seeing ghosts have you, ghosts of little boys perhaps? Little boys you killed and then stole from?"

    Llynis backed away and she saw the blood drain from his face.

    There was something about the way this woman was looking at him, something behind her eyes that threatened to spill out and devour him. He'd seen death before, of course he had, inflicted it on many, but this was different. This was eternal suffering and and no escape. He saw the Knight step into the room behind her and threw himself on his knees begging for mercy,

    "Look, I'll give you back the bear, anything, I'll go to jail and face the courts just keep her away from me, please Sir I beg of you."

    Anomen was unsure what was going on, he'd heard the exchange and couldn't understand the terror that had gripped this Llynis. He'd been so relieved to find out that Maude had been telling the truth. What did he mean, Maude hadn't even drawn her sword. But he remembered his duty and the man had surrendered to them so he laid a warning hand on her arm to remind her of her agreement. Maude shrugged him off but then nodded, the courts could deal with him, she needed to get Wellyn his bear. She told Llynis to fetch it and he scrambled up from knees and went to the chest and made a show of unlocking it. Then before either of them could react he had swallowed down an invisibility potion, laughing and cursing them as he did so.

    "Blast him", Anomen exclaimed and backed up to block the door as he readied his mace. Ayla didn't waste time pulling out her sword, instead she reached for the bedspread and flung it in the air in the direction Llynis had disappeared. As it settled it outlined the shape of the halfling nearly at the door and Anomen stepped forward quickly and brought his mace down hard. There was a sickening crunch and the outlined shape subsided on the floor and didn't move any further. Gingerly and by this time with her sword out, Ayla pulled back the cover,

    "Umm, I don't think he's going to jail," she said as she looked at the mess that had once been his skull.

    She heard Anomen make a sound of dismay and felt sorry for him, he was so keen to do the right thing. Perhaps if he saw Wellyn he'd realise that he had, Llynis was trying to escape after all and the world was much better off without him.

    "Look, why don't you come with me to the graveyard and help me give Wellyn his bear back. You're not scared of ghosts are you?" she asked as she moved to the chest and retrieved the teddybear, as well as some other potions and gold she found there.

    "No my lady, I am a Cleric of Helm," and she saw him straighten a little as he said the title.

    "The undead tend to flee in terror when I channel His power, no I am not afraid of ghosts," and she watched as he raised his chin and a look of devotion came into his eyes.

    She wondered what it must feel like to have such a connection with a living God as opposed to carrying around part of a dead one. Though she was aware that what Llynis had seen in her had been very alive to him, and the wellspring of anger she drew on felt alive to her. She would have to be more careful in the future, especially around devotees like Anomen. She put the thoughts aside for now and she searched the room quickly because she just knew Anomen wouldn't approve of that.

    "Well that's great, though you won't scare Wellyn will you? I don't think he's undead, just a bit stuck here."

    "It will be an honour to accompany you and help you return his bear," Anomen answered stiffly and she could hear the worry in his voice.

    So formal she thought, he really needs to relax a little and take what comes with a less rigid approach. Perhaps I should suggest he reports this and make it more official.

    "I suggest we just shut the door and leave, I doubt anyone will find the body yet. You can report him to the city guard, let them know what he did and let them take it from there," she smiled at Anomen hoping to bolster his confidence that they were acting in good faith.

    He responded favourably to the idea of letting the authorities know and began to look a little less troubled. They made their way back past the room they had rented and Ayla retrieved the key she had left in the lock.

    "You know, this really hasn't taken long at all, only about half an hour, can't wait to give the key back and get out of this inn."

    She heard a loud groan from Anomen who was following behind her and wondered what on earth was the matter now.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Ayla and Anomen return Littleman the Bear to Wellyn and Anomen comes to the rescue. Much to his delight. It's hard being a hero when nobody wants any heroing.

    Chapter 17

    Buried Alive!

    For the sake of Anomen's health and sanity they exited the Coronet via the door that led to the upper drinking terrace. Ayla left the key with the guard on the staircase rather than make her way back to the bar and Bernard. She was aware that the jokes had been something about them being a couple, but she wasn't sure what that meant. She had seen that men and women paired off, she'd have to be blind not to notice. But beyond that she was clueless and couldn't help but think she was missing something important. Perhaps she should ask Anomen to explain? But then she considered his reaction, and put it down to being very upsetting to him for them to be thought of as a "pair". Which was a relief as she had no intention of spending anymore time with him. On the other hand, what was wrong with her, she had tried to be nice and she hadn't laughed, or killed him.

    By the time they reached the gates of the graveyard, Ayla was thoroughly annoyed with Anomen as she ran the events over in her head. It wasn't like she had asked him to interfere so him being angry that people assumed they were a pair was really unfair. Then there was all that staring and long winded stories about himself rather than showing her any attention. Not that she wanted attention, but still, it was damn rude. He probably thought she wasn't worth bothering with and what was that about "asking other women"? Ask what and as if she cared anyway. She increased her pace as they walked, the sooner she could leave this pompous idiot behind the better.

    Anomen walked along beside her and wondered at his good fortune at meeting such a lovely young woman with such a good heart as to try and help a lost soul. Even going so far as putting herself in danger and braving the Coronet. That she was so innocent and well bred as to have not understood the crude jokes made at their expense filled him with joy. His heart swelled as he felt a great wave of compassion towards her, it was his duty as a would-be knight to serve and protect somebody this pure. And now she was hurrying to the graveyard in order to complete her good deed.

    "My Lady, perhaps we should proceed cautiously at this time in the evening?" Anomen asked her as they approached the gates.

    "I have a name you know, Maude, pretty sure I told you," Ayla mumbled under her breath before continuing louder so he could hear. "I was here yesterday at the same time and only saw Wellyn but if you're worried you could always wait here," (that should take him down a peg or two).

    Anomen was taken aback at first at this affront to his bravery but then realised that Maude was only speaking out of concern for him, he hadn't had a chance to show his prowess when dealing with the undead. In light of that, he rather hoped they were attacked so he could prove his worth to her and bathe in the approval he was bound to see in her eyes.

    "I would not dream of leaving you to enter alone and unprotected". (Ayla mentally rolled her eyes, Bhaalspawn here, you wish) "I think you will find that whatever confronts us will meet it's match in me."

    Anomen squared his shoulders and took what Ayla thought he considered a heroic pose.

    "What a two foot high Halfling ghost child? I'll remember to hide behind you," and she glanced up at his face and smiled sweetly. Then was dismayed to realise he hadn't got the heavy sarcasm by the way he answered,

    "I was refering to the other horrors that might infest this place, have no fear, My Lady, but allowing me to lead would be advisable."

    Ayla found herself unable to answer such was her overwhelming outrage at his words. He had said that to Her? The Slayer of Bhaalspawn? The Hero of the Sword Coast? Fair enough she couldn't remember it and he didn't know about it, but that was completely beside the point. Consequently all she managed to voice from her mute fury was a meek,

    "OK",

    while imagining eviscarating him...slowly.

    Thankfully for Anomen, before she had the opportunity to turn her thoughts into actions, she caught sight of Wellyn hovering by his grave. But when he saw the two of them, he seemed to hesitate and his form began to fade. Whispering to Anomen to stay back, she advanced on her own and called out to him.

    "Wellyn, what's wrong, you haven't forgotten me have you?"

    Wellyn moved towards her rapidly and as he did so his outline became more solid,

    "Course not, just worried you'd brought a priest and they'd try that whole "dispelling spirits" thing. People round here scare each other with stories about that, you know, they disintegrate us, poof," he mimiced the action with his hands, "just like that."

    "As if, didn't I tell you I'd help?" She knelt down to his height and started reaching into her bag, "and look who've I got here...ta dar," and pulled out the teddybear with a flourish.

    "Littleman, really it's Littleman? Oh..." and then he darted forward and threw his arms around Ayla's neck before grabbing the bear from her and hugging it to his chest, "thankyou."

    Ayla felt the cold envelop her for a second, bone chilling, biting cold and for a moment, it felt so welcoming. Then it was gone, and she was watching Wellyn hug his bear and once again trying not to cry.

    "So, I got the right one then?"

    "Course you did silly, there's only one Littleman". Wellyn looked down at his bear with a smile but then shuffled uncomfortably, "And...well...did you kill him?"

    "Yes, or at least he did," and Ayla gestured over her shoulder at Anomen.

    Wellyn looked up, clear eyed and fierce and nodded, "Good, he deserved it, he won't be able to hurt anyone no more."

    There was silence between them for a minute while Wellyn hugged and petted his bear, then he gave her a look of pure mischief,

    "So is that your boyfriend?"

    "A what? You mean Anomen?"

    "Well I reckon he likes you seeing as he helped you out and is waiting for you over there looking ready to kill anything that comes near," Wellyn teased her.

    "Nah, it just sort of worked out that way," Ayla shrugged, not sure what to say. Even children knew things she didn't.

    "Sure," Wellyn grinned and she could see his disbelief. "have it your way."

    "So Wellyn, what happens now?" Ayla asked him to try changing the subject.

    "I have to go, I can feel something calling, pulling. But it's good, it feels good. You get tired here, trying to hold on, but this feels different," she watched as his expression took on a look of contentment and he began to fade.

    "Can you let me mum and dad know? That you saw me, that I've got Littleman? I got you something as well, look where I met you cause I couldn't carry it this far. You'll have a right laugh when you see it and he'll be furious. And...well thanks Ayla."

    Ayla waited a few minutes after he had gone then got up and walked slowly back to Anomen. She wondered if Wellyn had been right about him, he was standing there waiting after all. Her earlier indignation had gone, it didn't seem so important after talking to Wellyn. It was silly considering she had only met him yesterday, but she missed him already.

    "Are you alright, My Lady? Has the spirit moved on and can find peace now?" Anomen asked her gently on seeing her so downcast.

    "Yes...yes, I think he has. Could you see him at all? He was worried what you were going to do."

    "Because I'm a Cleric? Yes we are called sometimes to help toubled spirits. But I think Wellyn already found somebody with a good heart who could help him." He looked into her eyes and smiled. Ayla felt slightly flustered and didn't know where to look. So modest, Anomen thought, before continuing,

    "It will be dark soon though and it is likely there are other spirits here that are not so friendly. I think we should go."

    "Wellyn said he had got me something, I have no idea what it could be. But I would like to fetch it before we leave, it's where I first saw him and it's not far. If you wouldn't mind?"

    "He left you something? I wonder what a spirit could leave? Of course we must go and retrieve it if it was his last wish, I wouldn't dream of refusing." Anomen agreed wholeheartedly, he'd get to spend more time with her. And if it did get dark, then he'd be able to offer to see her back to where she was staying and she could hardly refuse.

    They headed quickly to the older part of the cemetary with Ayla leading the way until she saw the large tomb with the impressive bronze doors. Pointing it out, she beckoned Anomen to follow quietly as the shadows were gathering and she remember Wellyn's' warning about the Crypt "King". As they neared the doors she could see something leaning there and hurried forwards,

    "Oh my," she exclaimed forgetting about the need to be quiet, "it's a sword, his sword?" She turned to Anomen as he reached her, "it's a sword, can you believe it? He must have got it for me, I have no idea how. The little monkey," and she started to laugh at the thought of Wellyn stealing from the "nasty bugger". She picked it up and examined it closely then gave a few swings.

    "It's not as familiar to me as my katana," she told him, "but it's a far superior weapon. I'm going to have to practise using it."

    Anomen had no idea what Ayla was saying about Wellyn. And he was impressed when he looked at the sword she was holding and the confident way she was handling it. It was ancient and had a carved and jewel encrusted hilt. Unrusted and lethally sharp because of it's enchantment he realised it was an artifact worth thousands. He was reminded of when she stood before him in the Coronet and he had sensed how dangerous she could be. He didn't know what to make of it and was worried that something not quite right was going on.

    "Umm, My Lady, Maude, what were you doing here? When you met Wellyn."

    "Watching the birds, look, you can see their nests," she pointed up under the overhang to the mud nests where the adults now roosted with their chicks. "They're Swallows, here, I bought a book so I could look them up" and she pulled a slim guide out of her bag that she had bought earlier in the day.

    It wasn't that she had a real need to find out the names, but she found relearning simple things quietened the bubbling panic she felt most of the time at being so ignorant about eveything else. Apart from everyday tasks and her ability to still fight or use her other skills, she was frequently finding herself at a complete loss when it came to names and meanings. But some things she did understand, and one of them was telling Anomen about her attempted lockpicking was probably a bad idea. And anyway, she had started off watching the Swallows so it was partly true. it was just that the lock had looked so tempting.

    It reminded her they should probably move away,

    "Come on, we had better start making our way back to the entrance."

    Anomen breathed a sigh of relief, of course she was innocently watching the birds. How could have thought differently, hadn't he learnt by now? And she had had nothing to do with obtaining the sword, once again he had thought the worst of this sweet, innocent woman. There was nothing unusual about taking fencing lessons in the better households and that she was talented at her hobby was a credit to her. He cursed his suspicious nature and vowed never to doubt her again, she deserved better.

    They walked back through long grass and past tangled ivy and brambles that were steadily reclaiming the area in this older and quieter part of the cemetry. Ayla wasn't paying much attention to the direction, prefering instead to practise swinging her new sword in long low sweeps or fast spins that cut through grass and undergrowth like butter. She didn't notice Anomen stop in front of her until she nearly walked into the back of him,

    "Maude, did you hear that? Keep still a moment. I think I heard something," Anomen said in a low voice glancing over his shoulder at her.

    Rather than answer she shook her head as she tried to get her breathing under control. They stood close together in the gathering darkness straining to hear anything other than the crickets and the bats that were beginning to emerge from their daytime resting places. Ayla thought she heard something, low pitched and away to their right, and she nudged Anomen and pointed. He nodded his agreement and quietly withdrew his symbol of Helm from where it lay against his chest under his splint mail. Then they both heard it again, a low moan and Ayla felt shivers running up her back. She glanced back from where they had come and could hardly see the large tomb now in the encroaching darkness. Another low, pained groan reached them and they were able to better pinpoint where the sound was coming from, thankfully from ahead rather than behind them. With a silent acknowledgement between them they crept towards the source.

    "Aaarghh, buried alive, not buried alive! Can anybody hear me? Is there anybody there? Get me out of here, I don't want to be buried alive."

    Ayla and Anomen stopped in surprise, then Anomen made to hurry towards the voice that was coming from beneath the ground some way in front of them. Ayla grabbed his arm and shook her head vehemently,

    "Anomen no, be careful, it could be a trick," she whispered urgently, thinking of the stolen sword she was currently holding. They needed to be cautious.

    Anomen paused, then nodded and pulled his mace from it's holster. The two of them moved slowly and quietly towards the sound with their weapons ready. As they neared they could see the earth had been recently disturbed around a large gravesite. Unsure what to do next as no other sounds had greeted their approach, they stopped. After a questioning look at Ayla which she answered with a shrug, Anomen hesistantly called out,

    "Err..hello? Is there somebody here?"

    They heard the faint sound of earth shifting from the hole before them and then a desperate voice answered,

    "Help me...beg you...please...can't move..."

    Spurred into action, Anomen knelt at the side of the hole and started scooping out the loose soil with his shield. Thankfully whoever had placed the man in the grave had been in a hurry and had barely covered him. Both of them reached down and hauled the poor man out and cut the ropes that were binding his hands and feet. They used their water bottles to wash his face and clear his mouth of dirt and waited for him to recover enough to speak.

    He told them his name was Tirdir and that he had been kidnapped, then buried here after they had collected the ransom from his family. He had expected them to let him go when the money had been paid. But instead they had dragged him here to leave him to die. In a last desperate act as they threw him into the grave he had ripped a piece of cloth from the coat one of them was wearing and he still clutched it in his hand. He handed the rag to Ayla and they could see even in the low light that it was a garish shade of bright red. It would be very recognisable if they had an inkling of where to look for the man.

    "These villans must be stopped, tell me Sir, do you have any notion of where they are based, where they meet?"

    "They were talking about meeting later tonight at the bridge. I suppose they didn't think it mattered if I heard, they didn't expect me to live," Tirdir paused, struggling to cope with knowing how close he had come to dying.

    "We have to apprehend them before they can get away...but I can't ask you to put yourselves in danger or leave you here unprotected." Anomen finished with a frown, frustrated at his innability to carry out both tasks he felt he was honour bound to complete.

    Ayla leaned forward and placed her hand on his arm,

    "I'll help," she said simply, "I have my reasons for hating kidnappers."

    Tirdir spoke up,

    "I can get myself home if you can help me to the exit to find a guard, I want them stopped."

    Anomen looked at both of them, then nodded his agreement,

    "Very well, we can at least find where they are holed up and report them to the guard."


    N.B

    I have an animated Halloween prop of a tombstone with hands trying to claw their way out. It says exactly what Tirdir calls out. Just could'nt resist putting it in the story. It's very effective in it's ghastliness.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Bit of a long chapter. It started off quite straightforward but felt I needed to develop the characters/relationship a bit more. And of course that ends up leading to more and more. Anyway here it is.

    Chapter 18

    Finding The Man In Red

    After leaving Tirdir with a patroling guard they found on the street, Ayla and Anomen made their way to the Bridge. Before leaving, he had thanked them profusely for his salvation and promised to report the kidnappers and the names of the people he owed for his rescue. Ayla wasn't half so keen on that part whereas Anomen was delighted his name would be associated with such a deed. It wasn't as if they had actually done much, she thought, and there was the matter of the sword she was carrying. What were the penalties for grave robbing, because nobody would believe Wellyn had stolen it for her if it were found out.

    Anomen was feeling conflicted as well, but for entirely different reasons. He could hardly believe his fortune had changed so much since his earlier misery in the Copper Coronet waiting hopelessly for somebody to need his aid. Already since then he had dealt with a murderer, helped lay an innocent child to rest and rescued a man from imminent death. And now they were on the hunt for the kidnappers.

    These were the kind of deeds he had dreamed about performing in his desire for knighthood. But involving Maude worried him. Surely he should be protecting her not taking her with him into possible danger? But then she was able to wield a sword, he had seen her surprising expertise as they had walked through the graveyard. And that she was brave was beyond question having displayed her willingness to confront Llynis alone. But she was also a young woman who had shown a touching innocence about the world in the Copper Coronet. And then, he didn't want her to leave, not before he knew more about her, he admitted to himself.

    Dogged by these thoughts, Anomen had slowed his pace and fell a little behind as they walked through the dark streets towards the Bridge. When Ayla looked back to see what was wrong he felt compelled to speak,

    "My Lady, Maude, I must insist that you allow me to escort you to safety and allow me to continue on my own."

    "You insist? You are telling me what to do?" Ayla made no attempt to keep the edge out of her voice as she turned fully to stare at him.

    "Yes..I mean no, not like that. Please you have to understand." He stopped disappointed at the way she was looking at him as if he was beneath contempt.

    "It could be very dangerous, these people they're killers. You could be injured, it's wouldn't be right for me to let that happen. It's my duty to try and stop them but...but you are a young lady. I have to protect you, it's not your place this kind of thing..." he trailed off hoping she would understand his good intentions.

    As Ayla listened and saw his expression, it dawned on her that he was trying to be protective. It hadn't occured to her that her appearance as "plain Maude" coupled with her hesitancy to answer questions would really be taken at face value. It was just a useful disguise to her, one she could drop whenever she chose and she hadn't really thought about it further than that. But to Anomen it was the truth, he believed she was just an ordinary young woman. Which was both what she had wanted and incredibly annoying at the same time. And so insulting, (her sliver of a dead God stirred inside her in agreement). But not really his fault she admitted as she dampened down her rising indignation.

    She needed to tell him something to stop this belief of his that she was incapable. Because for all the lies, there was one truth, she would stop the kidnappers. Finding Tirdir had reminded her too much of her own kidnap and what happened to the captives at their mercy.

    "Anomen," she paused trying to work out what to say,

    "Anomen, you don't you know me very well but I can fight. I told you I hated kidnappers, it's because it's how I ended up here in Athkatla. You see...You see, I was kidnapped and then sold to pirates. I had to fight them, even kill some of them, to get away. I ended up here...in Athkatla, when I jumped overboard to escape. I can't let that happen to others if we have a chance to stop it."

    Ayla stopped and looked down as if in distress, then raised her eyes to meet his with all the sincerity she could muster.

    "It's very hard for me to trust people because...because of what happened...but perhaps when I get to know you a little better... But please, I'd rather not talk about it anymore...that is...I know it's a lot to ask...you must have questions...but I don't think I can talk about what happened yet..."

    then she turned away quickly as if overcome. And mentally thanked Thalia Thunderburp for her invention eventhough her version was far sketchier on the details. Something told her he wouldn't want to hear about the "ne'er do well" which was just as well as she still wasn't clear about that herself.

    Anomen felt himself overcome with the rush of emotion her words had elicited. A mixture of sympathy, admiration, outrage and shock. And the way she had looked deep into his eyes had triggered something else as well. He quickly dismissed that line of thought as being unbecoming of a knight and hurried to reassure her.

    "Maude, please, you don't have to tell me anymore if it causes you distress. I would not add to your pain after all you have been through. Just let me say how much I admire your bravery and desire to stop others suffering the same fate. I hope one day you will trust me enough to confide in me. Until then I am content and will endeavour to earn that trust."

    Ayla turned back to him with a genuine smile on her face feeling very relieved he wouldn't question her further.

    "Thank you Anomen, that means a lot to me, really it does. Let's carry on then shall we? It's getting late and we need to find them."

    They resumed their trek back to the bridge and Ayla felt that some of the tension between them had lessened. They didn't speak much, both wrapped up in their own thoughts. Anomen was mulling over what she had told him and Ayla was feeling slightly guilty about manipulating the poor man. She glanced sideways at him as she walked by his side, she had to admit he was pleasant to look at. And now she understood he wanted to protect her, she realised he had actually been very nice to her since they met. She needed to stop thinking the worst about people, she resolved, be a bit less paranoid. It was really rather endearing the way he was trying to look after her.

    It was only when they were on the Bridge itself did they realise that they had no plan of how to find the building they were looking for. Anomen was all for knocking on every door and then demanding that whoever answered prove themselves not to be the kidnappers. Ayla didn't think that would go down too well, she doubted the innocent householders would take kindly to being woken up and accused of kidnapping. Plus they hardly wanted to warn those they were after that there was an enraged knight banging on doors late at night looking for them. No, much better to casually stroll around and see if they could spot anything suspicious and take it from there with as little noise as possible.

    As it happened, they had hardly started looking in earnest when they spotted a figure dressed in bright red loitering outside a respectable looking house that fronted the river. Urging Anomen to keep walking they passed by without acknowledging that they had noticed anything out of the ordinary until they could turn the corner and be out of sight. They crouched down close together against the wall so they could whisper.

    "That's him, that's got to be him, look the colour is the same," Anomen whispered excitedly holding up the rag they had been given by Tirdir. "You should have let me confront him as a Knight of the Order and demand he put an end to his evil deeds."

    Had he really just said that? Ayla put it to one side for the moment. But she was really going to have to have a word at some point, nobody who spoke like that would ever be taken seriously. She shook her head,

    "Better not, we need to find out who's in the house first, how many, how well armed they are. There was a window at the side, I'm going to sneak round the back and see what I can, it's dark enough not to be seen. But first I need to do something about this dress, hang on a moment."

    Ayla stood up and started cutting the long skirt from her dress with her small dagger.

    "Here, I need you to get hold of this and pull, it will rip easy enough." she bent down and whispered to Anomen.

    "I really think...that is...Maude..."

    "Not like that, here, you need to put one hand on each side of the cut and pull it apart. Why have you got your eyes closed?"

    Anomen did as he was told, he was beyond being able to object. And although he did open his eyes, he tried, though unsuccesfully, to look anywhere but at the long, slim legs that were being revealed at eye height as he ripped apart the skirt.

    "Well it's a bit short, better not bend over, but at least I can move quietly now. You don't know how much I hated that dress, and as for the colour, yuch. I need to ditch the scarf as well, it will just get in the way"

    Quickly Ayla removed the scarf and then plaited her hair, tucking the braid under the collar and down the back of her dress. She was worried she didn't have her helmet or any armour, but she wasn't planning to get in a fight. And this makeshift tunic did allow her move silently which made fighting less likely anyway. Once she found out what she could, they could fetch the guard to help.

    "Right I'm ready, I'm going to hide in the shadows and follow them round until I can get a look in that window we saw. I'm taking my katana, not used enough to the other sword so leaving that with you, and my bag. I've got an invisibility potion with me if anything goes wrong but it shouldn't. So just wait here until I'm back, say 10 minutes, and depending on what I can see, we'll decide what to do. Is that OK with you, Anomen, you haven't said much? Are you alright?"

    Anomen nodded and just about managed to find his voice,

    "Just be careful, Maude, please,"

    She nodded her agreement and then she was gone. Across the street and into the shadows and he couldn't see her anymore.

    Anomen stood there for a minute trying to adjust to what had just happened. It wasn't just that Maude was now running around in a short tunic that barely reached mid thigh, though that was a big part of it. It was the way she had weighed up the situation, decided what to do and then put the plan into action without hesitating. Or consulting him. He felt he should resent that, but found he was more stunned at the efficiency and her confidence. If ever he had thought to doubt her ability to escape from her kidnappers as she had said, he wouldn't now. He recalled how she had watched him when they had met in the Coronet, the feeling that she was in control of the situation that had raised the hairs on the back of his neck. She must think him a complete fool with his speeches about protecting her.

    Ayla moved through the shadows alongside the wall of the house that the man in red seemed to be guarding. Her shoes were soft pumps that suited her disguise as "plain Maude" but now she found herself appreciating the way they allowed her to move silently as she could feel the paving stones through the thin leather soles. Although it was a warm night, a breeze from the river played around her bare legs and she enjoyed the feeling as she crept along. Reaching the window she listened until she was sure of numbers, then chanced a look through one of the lower panes of glass. Only two, a dwarf and a tall man but both were armoured and armed. The room wasn't big, a fight in there would be risky for her dressed as she was and they looked capable. Armed with the information she headed back to Anomen.

    "So you see, there's a problem. There are three altogether and I don't think we can fight them in that room safely. I can't help you that much, only dodge in for a quick strike. And one's a dwarf so they will attack you at differing heights and they look like they know what they are doing. I think we should call the guard but I heard them say there is another hostage upstairs and that might put them at risk. What do you think?"

    Ayla finished summing up to Anomen what she saw as the difficulties and frowned as she tried to work out what to do.

    Anomen had been brooding since she had left him. He had convinced himself that she would sort it all out on her own and then come back and continue laughing at him as she must have been doing all along. But now she was asking him as an equal for his ideas and advice. He cursed himself for being so short tempered whenever anyone seemed to not take him seriously. It had caused him problems at the Order already. And of course it had created a vicious circle, the more he insisted they were always laughing at him or overlooking him, the less anybody would listen to his complaints.

    He considered the problem. "Do you think we can get them outside? Threaten them with going to the guard so they feel they have to stop us. Out here I can use my clerical powers to summon skeletons to help with the fight. If we hid them here around the corner, they would think they only had to deal with the two of us."

    "You can? Oh that would be brilliant, especially if we told them we came from the graveyard," Ayla grinned at the thought.

    Then she put on a ghostly voice and waved her arms menacingly, "We've come to get you."

    Anomen found himself laughing with her eventhough he wasn't sure one should laugh at using Helm's power and felt the weight of disappointment he always seemed to carry around, lighten just a little.

    Ayla watched as two skeletons climbed out of the ground in front of her as Anomen finished chanting. They were huge and armed with long, two handed swords and stood there silently swaying and fidgeting with their swords. She edged away somewhat nervously and whispered to Anomen,

    "Where on Toril did you get those from and who are they?"

    "They're fallen warriors and using Helm's power allows me to call on them, don't worry, they're perfectly safe. Unless you attack them of course," Anomen whispered back amused at her reaction, "and I don't think they can hear us, no ears."

    "So how do you control them? Don't they mind being disturbed?"she kept whispering just in case.

    Anomen considered how to explain, "They are linked to me, my thoughts control them. Not complicated instructions, just go here, attack that, and they know to protect us. I don't think they have the brains to mind. They aren't really alive, just animated, just a tool."

    Ayla nodded then moved closer to one of them and stared up at the face, or rather the skull. It didn't react to her at all but she still found it hard to believe nothing was going on behind the empty eye sockets.

    "Very impressive, I think our kidnappers are going to be very surprised, now all we have to do is get them outside."

    Anomen stationed the skeletons where they would be out of sight yet within "calling" distance and then after some blessings from him, the two of them headed for the man in red. At first he denied any involvement but when they produced the piece of cloth, he changed tack and offered them the opportunity to join the gang. Which was possibly the worse thing he could have said to both of them. He must have seen the anger he had provoked because he suddenly darted away and threw himself at the door to the house,

    "Let me in quick, they've found us, you gotta let me in," he shouted as he banged on the door. And he rushed inside as it opened.

    With Anomen leading they barged in after him before they had the chance to relock the door.

    "What the fuck do you think you're doing leading them here?" the dwarf was shouting at the man in red and he then realised he had made a mistake.

    "They know, they know everything, he was still alive, we gotta get away, I came to warn you," and they could hear the rising panic in his voice as he tried to excuse his actions.

    "Too late for that I think," the other man pointed to the two of them in a surprisingly calm voice.

    Anomen stepped forward, "We have come to arrest you for kidnap and attempted murder. If you give yourselves up it will go better for you. I warn you, as a member of the Radiant Heart, it is my duty to see you bought to justice."

    "Says who? We ain't been anywhere near no graveyard. What evidence you got?"

    Anomen wasn't expecting the question and Ayla stepped forward as well, "We have this piece of cloth torn from his clothes," she pointed at the man in red, "and a witness that he was there."

    "What this idiot?" the dwarf gestured at the man in red. When she nodded, he promptly stabbed him hard through the back, piercing a lung on the way to his heart. And they watched as blood spilled out of his mouth and he dropped gurgling to the floor.

    "So there you go, justice served. You ain't got nothing to prove anything. No witness, nothing. Now get the the fuck out of the house before I do the same to you for breaking in."

    "The girl can stay if she wants, interesting law enforcement uniform you've got there." the taller man looked Ayla up and down and she felt Anomen at the side of her tense. "Now if you're quite finished making baseless accusations with no evidence. As my colleague suggested, it's time for you to leave."

    "Unfortunately we can't do that having just witnessed a murder. Sorry, just going to have to fetch the guard," Ayla answered the taller man with an apologetic grin that did nothing to fool him. His face twisted into a snarl which replaced the condescending smirk he wore. And then he was advancing towards them with the dwarf at his side.

    Both turned and ran through the door, then halted just outside where they could still be seen and turned as if to make a stance with their weapons ready. The two kidnappers followed quickly and prepared to attack,

    "Time to put you whelps in your place. Won't have to bother with the graveyard, the river will do fine," the dwarf growled at them. Then swigged down a potion he'd been carrying in his belt.

    "Leave the little bitch to me, I'm going to have some fun before I kill her."

    So stupid Ayla thought to herself, if the dwarf came after her she'd have no chance but to run leaving Anomen to fight both. But a tall sword wielder? She might have to be content with harrying him rather than damaging him, but he would be slower striking low. The potion she'd seen the dwarf drink worried her and she hoped Anomen could cope because she knew he was going to take some damage. But at least he was armoured and had a shield. They both just had to hold on long enough for their summoned backup.

    The dwarf advanced at a rush and she heard the heavy blow hit Anomen's shield and a grunt that escaped from him as he withstood the force. Strength potion? But she had no time think about that fight further as the tall swordsman was bearing down on her. His arrogance worked in her favour and she could see he didn't consider her a threat by the way he was trying to toy with her. Well, who am I to disappoint him, and she followed his lead and gave out little whelps and surprised gasps everytime he somehow managed to miss her. And when she got in some "lucky" strikes of her own, she reacted with wide eyed shock as if she couldn't believe it. Of course it couldn't last long, nobody was that stupid as to not realise they were bleeding from several, albeit minor, cuts while their opponent was unharmed, and still put it down to luck.

    He changed his tactics as he became more frustrated and she realised that unfortunately he was skillful. It took all her concentration and speed simply to avoid being seriously hurt and she could feel herself beginning to tire. She missed parrying a slash with her sword and felt the blade slice into her arm and jumped back quickly to avoid the follow up. She saw the gleam of triumph in his eyes as he saw the blood flowing down her arm. But then as she watched for his next move, it was he who fell back with a look of horror on his face as a large skeleton rounded the corner brandishing his sword and making a beeline for him.

    The second skeleton was right behind and headed immediately for the dwarf. They weren't fast, but they were determined and large and didn't react to pain and they forced the two of them steadily back. Ayla saw her chance and she quickly rounded the first skeleton and attacked the swordsman in earnest from behind. He couldn't fight them both but it was the skeleton that scared him more and she found it easy to pick her spot and skewer him through a gap in his armour. He fell to the floor and she left him to be dealt with and hurried to help Anomen.

    Anomen had not fared so well being battered by the strength enhanced dwarf. He was breathing heavily and his shield arm hung uselessly at his side. But he was still on his feet. He grimaced as she looked at him,

    "Shoulder broken, but lets finish this bastard."

    The two of them advanced on the dwarf who had damaged the skeleton quite considerably with his enhanced strength. But it still stood and was still keeping him occupied. Anomen took the chance to call upon Helm for a burst of Holy Might. Then Ayla distracted the dwarf from one side, carefully keeping out of his reach, while Anomen attacked from the other. The dwarf stood no chance from their combined attack and Anomen once again used his mace to great effect on his opponents head.


    N.B

    I usually play this part of the game solo and this fight with SCS is hard, the dwarf hits like a truck. Also not usually that high level as dual classed towards the end of BG. Probably not with a party, but anyway, wanted to reflect how the game plays for me as well as telling the tale.

    Just a reminder, reviews and feedback are most welcome.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Not such a long chapter, the conclusion of the kidnapping. And Ayla discovers a new found fascination with Anomen.

    Chapter 19

    Distractions

    The dwarf collapsed in a heap at their feet still holding the heavy battle axe he had used to attack them. Ayla looked up from the body with a look of triumph to see Anomen stagger and almost join him. She quickly moved to his side and against his protests, hooked his uninjured arm over her shoulders to support him.

    "We can use their house, come on you can rest there, I'll get some potions. Shhh...don't try and talk."

    Ayla managed to help Anomen into a chair and began to unfasten the straps holding his armour in place. One handed it wasn't something he could manage on his own but that didn't stop him weakly insisting that he would be fine without her help. She ignored him, he was far too pale and the thin sheen of sweat she could see and the way he was breathing told her he was badly injured. She daren't use her healing power, Anomen was a cleric, he would recognise that it was a power somebody just shouldn't have if they were "normal". Thankfully he was able to channel his own which repaired the worst damage to his shoulder but she could see he was still in a lot of pain.

    "Anomen I have to fetch my bag, there's a potion in it and then I can run to the temple. Just sit tight, I'll be back in a moment."

    She ran out of the house and nearly straight into one of the skeletons who was still guarding the body of the dwarf. That gave her an idea, he'd used a strength potion, he might have more. She rifled through the remains and found what she was looking for, one wouldn't be enough but it would help. Returning to Anomen she unstoppered the health potion she had found and was pleased to hear his breathing ease and the colour return to his face after he'd downed it. The other in her bag would probably be enough and she left again to fetch it. She needed to collect her new sword as well and as he looked to be out of danger, she'd check the other body while she was at it.

    Coming back she was well pleased with what she had found, the tall one had been carrying a several hundred gold, probably Tirdir's ransom. Plus his and the dwarf's weapons and armour could be sold. Even divided between them, it was a good reward. She looked forward to telling Anomen, he would definitely need to replace that splint mail he'd been wearing, and she opened the door excitedly. Only to be met with the empty chair where she had left him. She looked around anxiously, he hadn't wandered off and collapsed somewhere had he? Or maybe there were more kidnappers here they didn't know about?

    The discarded armour was still there but where was he? She heard a noise coming from the side and saw a small curtained off area she hadn't noticed before and crept silently towards it, ready to run if she needed to. She swept the curtain back quickly to better surprise them and give her the advantage, and found herself facing Anomen's unclothed back.

    He turned around quickly from the washbasin,

    "My Lady..." then stopped when he saw her expression.

    Ayla ran her eyes over the tall man standing less than a yard away from her. She saw the dark, livid bruises that patterned his ribs and arms and the pink scars of recently healed lacerations. But what she also saw was his broad chest and the contours of well defined muscles that ran down his abdomen. The light covering of hair on his chest and his strong shoulders and muscular arms. The way his broad chest tapered to narrower hips. And the ridge of muscle that ran down and disappeared beneath the edge of his leggings. The pulse in his neck and the firm line of his jaw as her gaze swept up to his face and found him staring at her as if transfixed.

    "Oh, I'm so sorry, you must be needing this," and she handed him the potion before retreating back across the room feeling confused as to why she had found the sight so pleasing. She was already aware that he was strong, had to be to wear armour all day. But that didn't explain why she had stood there staring and why she had had the urge to reach out and touch him.

    Anomen took the potion in stunned silence. The way she had looked at him for so long and so appreciatively contradicted all his notions of how young ladies were expected to behave. And yet there had been something open and naive there as well. He was sure she wasn't aware of the effect it had on him. An effect that had caused the discomfort of his injuries to be replaced with an entirely different sort of emotion. He downed the potion and tried to surpress the feelings that had been aroused by the way her eyes had hungrily raked over him.

    A few minutes later Anomen joined her dressed again in his undershirt. Well that helped get rid of any distractions Ayla thought, with a tinge of disappointment. Though not much, it was a thin shirt and quite tight she noticed. Why was she obsessing over this?

    "Feeling better? I think we should have a look upstairs. I would have gone on my own but thought it better to wait."

    "Yes and Maude, thankyou for your help and...and the potions," he found it hard to look at her without feeling heat rising to his cheeks. Her long blond hair had come loose from it's braid and framed her face and tumbled down her back as he had imagined it would. And the fitted bodice of her dress ending in the very short skirt she was still wearing did nothing to help either.

    "Not only potions, I found gold as well, look" and she gave the bag a shake to make it clink. "There's enough here that with your half you can replace your armour, even get something better. Splint mail against a crazy dwarf wielding a battleaxe isn't much of a match."

    "No, I couldn't possibly accept it, we need to return it to the rightful owners," he was quite scandalised at the idea and it helped him regain his composure. Much to Ayla's dismay.

    "Don't be silly, the owner is currently very squashed under the feet of a large skeleton, he's really not going to need it."

    "No, no I was thinking of the the people who paid the ransom, Tirdir's family, perhaps there are others."

    This was a knight thing wasn't it? Ayla had no intention of giving up the money, bloody hell, they'd earned it.

    "But Anomen, Tirdir would be dead without us and we've stopped them going after anybody else. That's got to be worth something hasn't it? Your armour's beyond repair and you were dreadfully hurt and covered in bruises..." her eyes lost their focus as she recalled the sight of his naked and muscled chest and the pattern of bruises.

    "So you see," (pull yourself together she told herself, this is about gold), "it's more like payment rather than anything else".

    Anomen saw her eyes glaze over and knew exactly what she was thinking and his resistance crumbled as a fresh wave of desire washed over him.

    "Well, I suppose if you look at it like that and I am going to have to replace my armour..."

    "Exactly, and you know, plate mail is much smarter," and she gave him a dazzingly smile and he knew then that he could deny her nothing.

    The two of them made there way upstairs and methodically checked each room in the house. Towards the back in a small room where boards had been nailed across the window they found a woman with her hands tied lying on the bed. She was asleep and when they woke her and explained they were rescuing her, Ayla got the impression that she was more irritated at being woken up than grateful for being rescued. She demanded they untie her, which was quickly accomplished as the bonds were quite loose, and followed that with suspicion that they were part of the kidnap gang. Of course Anomen went into full knight mode declaring his noble intentions and begging her to accept his aid. Ayla had had enough after a while and interjected with the suggestion that they should have left her to be buried alive with the others.

    Of course that caused her to have a fit of the vapours and insist that she was too weak and terrified to manage on her own. So Anomen gallantly gathered her in his arms and carried her downstairs. Ayla followed behind and shot her looks that should have killed. Only to find them met by looks of smug satisfaction from the captive as she draped herself over Anomen's shoulder. Downstairs Ayla soon came to the conclusion that if she heard anymore about how strong and brave Anomen was and how weak and defenseless she was, she'd bury the cow herself. She slipped away and ran to fetch the guard stationed at the entrance to the Bridge, they could deal with her.

    Returning with Lieutenent Aegisfield and a guard, she realised how tired she was. It was late and she wasn't usually out after dark and it had been a long day. Seeing that he had taken matters over, she excused herself and started making her way back to the Five Flagons. She hadn't gone far when she heard footsteps behind her and heard Anomen calling her name.

    "Maude, Maude, wait."

    She waited for him to catch up wondering what he wanted and then remembered she hadn't given him his share of the gold.

    "Anomen, of course sorry, so tired I forgot, here it's nearly four hundred each," and held out the pouch she had divided it into.

    "What, no, that's not...I wanted to escort you"

    "Why, it's just up ahead, look you can see the lights," what on earth was he on about, she'd been running all over the place on her own for what felt like hours. She shrugged, too tired to think about it further, and resumed walking. He fell into step beside her.

    Anomen felt at a loss at the question. How could he tell her that he wanted to see her again when she was behaving as if he were a stranger. That since she had walked into the Copper Coronet she had restored some hope that he would become a knight one day. But that would display his weakness and she'd pity him for it and would never look at him again the way she had before. She was so confident, she wouldn't understand his self doubt. No, he couldn't risk her scorn, anything rather than that.

    "Yes, thankyou, my share of the gold, I need to replace my armour. So goodnight then My Lady," and he turned and left her standing at the entrance.



    @tbone1

    I got your pm, thankyou, did you get my reply?
    I can never tell

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    This is a bit of a linking chapter where a few things get sorted out and hopefully people get to understand Ayla better. The following after chapter is nearly finished and will be up in a few days. Had to divide them into two chapters, it was too long otherwise.

    Chapter 20

    Namarra

    Ayla woke late the following day after her late night. Judging by the sun she reckoned it was nearly lunchtime. Just enough time to have a bath before food, what could be better? Well perhaps food before a bath, she'd compromise and make it a quick one. She was in a very good mood, last night had been rewarding and profitable. Wellyn had been put to rest and that sword he had left for her was beyond anything she had expected. She'd have to show it to Trotter, get him to properly identify it's properties. Plus she had the armour and weapons from the kidnappers she could trade. The gold she had found could be put towards some decent armour, this time the traders would take her seriously with the amount she had to spend. The drab dresses had outlasted their usefulness, frankly she couldn't wait to dump them.

    Of course that meant she'd have to drop "plain unobtrusive Maude" and become "Maude", well she was sick of her anyway. Irenicus was locked away, there wasn't so much of a need to be anonymous. She'd have to explain to the Thunderburps and hoped they wouldn't be too disappointed that the "innocent lady kidnapped by pirates" was in fact a capable fighter. And it would stop the problem of people assuming she was helpless, not that it hadn't been useful. It was just so annoying being disregarded, it didn't sit well with her at all. Especially when people like Anomen assumed she was helpless like the entitled kidnapped bint.

    Ah yes, Anomen, her train of thought mulling over her plans for the day and the events of the night before came to a screeching halt. She replayed the scene behind the curtain in her head and tried to make sense of it. She'd been drawn to his body, his muscles, she wanted to feel his strength under her hand. That she was sure about but beyond that, what? Perhaps she should have carried on to have found out? But then he'd looked so shocked she doubted he would have been happy about it. Probably would have gone that curious shade of red like he did in the Coronet. Hang on, was that what all that was about? Oh, then it was really just as well she hadn't reached her hand out. But then, what about all the other men and women she saw around together they seemed to be happy enough touching each other?

    She shook her head in frustration, it was just another thing that was lost in the black hole that used to be her memory. There was no point driving herself mad trying to find an answer, she just had to hope that one day she would understand. A step at a time, that was how she had kept going so far. In the meantime, the smells wafting up from the kitchen reminded her what her next step should be. She bathed and washed her hair quickly and donned her remaining intact dress and headed downstairs for lunch.

    She had hardly stepped into the common room when Thalia with Samuel in tow bustled over to her,

    "Well here she is at last, our very own heroine. Who would have credited it? Dealing with a murderous gang of cut throat kidnappers who were operating as bold as brass right under the guard's noses. You must come and sit down and tell us all about it. Here Samuel, didn't I tell you there was more to our Maude than met the eye? And there you were telling eveybody she was just some poor waif who had washed up at the door."

    "Yes dear, you were quite right",

    Samuel didn't bother arguing that it was he who had known from the start that Ayla was anything but a helpless stray. From the moment he had seen her in the kitchen dressed in her rags and clutching her sword. That his wife had decided to treat her as an orphan and not listen to him was an argument he'd already lost.

    "You know about the kidnappers?" Ayla couldn't hide her suprise, it hadn't occured to her anybody would know.

    "Of course dear, it's the talk of the district. Bit of good news like that makes a change from everybody talking about the murders and being afraid to step out their front doors. There was another two last night, can you believe it? Two poor souls with nothing but the clothes on their back."

    Thalia sighed and shook her head and Samuel put his arm round her and give her a comforting squeeze.

    "But let's not dwell on that, only thing you can do is pray the Gods look after them. We want to hear about your adventures and that handsome knight you found."

    They ushered her to a table and bombarded her with questions as she ate. Thankfully Thalia answered a lot of them herself which gave her a chance to eat. It seemed the guards were as big a gossips as Thalia and everything they had told them about finding Tirder was now common knowledge on the street. Even the matter of Wellyn and Llynis, the recounting of which caused Thalia to tear up and "feel her heart breaking for the poor little mite". Samuel didn't say much, he was content to let his wife grill Ayla. But she got the impression that not a lot got past him and she wasn't surprised when Thalia let her know that they used to be adventurers themselves. Rather than let them carry on with the impression she was some betrayed lady, Ayla admitted to being a fighter herself. Whereupon Thalia, without missing a beat, upgraded her history to being betrayed by her former companions and sold to pirates. The "ne'er do well" was still featured though, which gave Thalia the opportunity to encourage Maude to take up with the knight.

    As soon as she was able to get away after eating without seeming rude, Ayla fetched Wellyn's sword and headed out. She had examined it herself but couldn't tell anything more about it than that it was very old, beautifully made and looked to have some magical properties. She hoped Trotter would be able to shed some light on it and anyway, she needed to sell the gear she had stashed last night. She was just making her way round the back of the kidnappers house when she heard a low whistle,

    "Psst, Maude, hey Maude, need to have a word with you"

    Turning towards the sound she found Rampah urgently beckoning her over,

    "Rampah? What's wrong, why are you lurking around here?"

    She saw him most days up near the market begging and usually dropped him a coin or two herself. She still felt grateful for his help and her name, and he hadn't betrayed her.

    "Waiting for you to step out. Saw something, got something, thought you might be interested. Don't want to tell the guards, don't want that sort of attention. Hundred gold pieces and it's yours".

    "A hundred? You have to be kidding, what on earth could you have that would be worth that much?"

    "Something from a murderer, something you could use to find him. Rampah found it near the bodies, picked it up and kept it safe."

    "Why would I want that? You should give it to Lieutenent Aegisfield, he's the one after the murderer not me. Where'd you get the idea I'd be interested?

    Rampah looked disappointed at first and then a look of cunning crossed his face and he gave Ayla a knowing grin.

    "Because you got the kidnappers..."

    "Oh, you know about that?", well Thalia had said it was the talk of the district so she shouldn't be surprised Rampah would be up on the gossip.

    "and you want money, and there's a reward posted. Got to be easier than risking crossing the Shadow Thieves," Rampah winked and did the nose tapping thing again.

    "How much is the reward?"

    "Hundreds Rampah heard, but Rampah daren't do it himself. Nah, needs someone like yourself, good with a sword who can defend themselves. So what you reckon?"

    Ayla considered the offer, it was true she didn't want to get mixed up with any thieves guild. And if all she had to do was find out who and then hand over the information to the guard, it couldn't be that risky.

    "OK Rampah, here's what I'll do. I'll give you twenty now for the thing you found and if I can use it and collect the reward, I'll give you the rest. Sound fair?"

    Rampah nodded after a little thought and she gave him his twenty gold. Whereupon he placed something in her hand before she had time to really see what it was. She dropped it with a shreik,

    "Oh you old bastard. What the hell, urgh that's horrible, why didn't you warn me?" and then danced around shaking her hand to get rid of the feeling of it.

    Rampah doubled up laughing at her,

    "She thought it was skin from the bodies, ha, I got her good. Nah, it's just a bit of leather, look, from his armour."

    Ayla stopped but could still feel shivers up her arm and peered at the offending article laying on the ground. Then gingerly picked it up using only her fingertips to have a closer look. It was very thick and rough and an odd greyish colour and clearly had been treated.

    "It's a strange type of leather, never seen anything like it before. How am I going to find out what it is?

    "Take it to the tanner of course, he'll know what it is"

    "The tanner?"

    "Just down the alleyway opposite the market. When you get close, just follow the smell. I got to be going. Ha Ha, I got her good I did, she thought it were their skin."

    Rampah wandered off still chuckling to himself and Ayla reluctantly tucked the piece in her bag still feeling faint shivers in her fingers.

    She headed for the kidnappers house and let herself in. The body was gone, as were the two outside, and the house appeared quiet and undisturbed from the events of the night before. Except for the large pool of blood on the floor which she stepped around carefully. Last night she'd locked up what she had found in a handy chest while Anomen's attention had been taken up with the damsel in distress. Well at least she'd been useful for something Ayla thought. A couple of sets of armour, weapons and other bits and pieces. Then she staggered across the road to where she could usually find her fence, Trotter, very glad that it wasn't too far.

    "Maude, good to see you. Reckoned you'd be across to see me with the results of your heroics. Here, set it down and let's have a look at what you've got."

    She dropped the load gratefully at his feet,

    "Hi Trotter, so you've heard about last night as well? Does everybody know?"

    Trotter grinned at her,

    "Yep, you're quite the celebrity round here. Of course I knew from the moment I saw you deal with those muggers that you'd make your mark. Got in on the ground floor so as to speak. Hope you won't go forgetting your original "business associate" when you hit the big time. Still remember Trotter when you find something interesting."

    "Of course, you've always treated me fair. And talking of interesting, I need you to take a look at this."

    She pulled out Wellyn's sword from under her shawl and was pleased as she saw his eyes light up. It was a real beauty and caught the sunlight as she held it out to him.

    Trotter let out a low whistle,

    "You weren't kidding, that is interesting. I'm going to have to have a much closer look at that." He took an eyepiece out from his pocket and settled it firmly over one eye. Then she heard him muttering as he examined the sword.

    "Banded gold pommel, set with rubies, this is old, really old, can't tell where it's made, elven perhaps, maybe dwarf, but it's been round a long time, enchanted blade. You say you got this from the kidnappers? What's two bit lowlife doing with a blade like this?"

    "No, not from them...umm a ghost gave it to me."

    Trotter looked at her and raised his free eyebrow, then shrugged and went back to examining the sword.

    "There's something else here, look, etched on the blade, tiny though. Here, I need you to hold it up in the light so I can get a better look at what's written there."

    He handed it back and Ayla held it so it caught the light as he had shown her,

    "Looks like a name, course it would have a name, ancient maybe famous blade like this. Now let's see, that's an N...ahhh yes got it...Namarra, the name's Namarra."

    "Namarra?" Ayla repeated the name as she held out the blade and suddenly, everything fell silent. Her ears seemed to pop and she could hear nothing, no sound of the city, no birds, no gulls, no river, nothing. She looked in alarm at Trotter who was saying something but no sound reached her. She shook her head and cupped her ear to show she couldn't hear. Trotter looked confused and then rubbed his own ears, so it wasn't just her then. He tried saying something slowly so she could lip read but when he was met with a blank stare, he grabbed her hand and pulled her along the street. Then just as suddenly, she took another step and everything returned to normal.

    "Well I'll be blowed, Maude, that's a silence spell. That is some sword you've got there, reckon it might be legendary. Not thinking of selling it are you? I'll give you three thousand straight up."

    She wasn't listening, instead she was hopping in and out of the "silence", completely intrigued by the effect. This was a spell, with the sword she'd cast a spell. She'd never considered studying magic, something about it felt false to her, as if the power wasn't really hers. But from a sword she could use herself to fight with, that was different, she could own it. She wondered how long it would last. Then she wondered how else she could use it, could be useful for thieving. Could she do it again? She said the name and another area of complete silence settled around her and they had to move futher down the street. Trotter was not amused,

    "Alright that's enough now, we'll be off the bridge at this rate. Come on, let's head back and wait it out, I need to take a look at the other stuff you brought."

    As well as the armour and weapons there were a pair of boots that were enchanted to help avoid arrows. She didn't really fancy wearing dead men's boots, on the other hand, a useful enchantment like that wasn't to be wasted. She'd get some thick socks and try not to think about it too much. And also she needed a bow, if somebody couldn't shoot her so easily, it would make her shooting them much more effective.

    "So Maude, last chance, can I persuade you to sell me the sword, three thousand like I said, set you up that would?"

    Ayla shook her head, it was a large sum but she couldn't sell Wellyn's gift,

    "No, sorry Trotter, absolutely not. It was a present you see, I can't sell it, it wouldn't be right. Wellyn, he wanted me to have it. But what I can do is sell you my katana, can't easily use them together and I need the practice with the long sword. So how about it?"

    Trotter brightened considerably, it was a fine sword. Fair enough, "Namarra" was something else, but it was a darn good bit of business whichever way you looked at it.

    They settled a price and Ayla started heading back to the Five Flagons extremely happy with her new sword and shortbow. Now all she needed was some armour and she'd be set and could seriously start to plan her journey back to the Sword Coast and her past. Of course she'd need some more money, not only for traveling and Inns. If she was going to try and find her wizard "Xzar" who she had remembered, who knew how long it would take or what information she might have to pay for? That reminded her, she could make a start on earning that reward as she was practically passing the tanner's shop.

    She cut into the alley Rampah had told her it was on. He wasn't wrong, not far down, the strong smell of the tanning process hit her and she started to look for the door. It was hardly a welcoming building, the windows were boarded up and you would have walked straight past if you weren't looking for it. She tried the door thinking it would be locked but it opened easily and she stepped into the gloomy interior. The smell inside was much stronger and she had to fight the urge to gag. She recognised the smell, rotting flesh overlaid with the tang of chemicals from the tanning process, it made sense.

    Ayla looked for somebody attending the business but the place seemed to be empty,

    "Hello, hello, is there anybody here?" she called as she made her way further into the shop.

    She heard an answering voice from the downstairs and started browsing and feeling the leathers on display as she waited for them to arrive. There were a range of colours from light tan through to dark rich brown and better than anything she had seen in the armourers shops. She made her was along the display, marveling at the quality and feel of the hides, and then she saw something that caused her a wash of recognition. Black, glossy leather, so black it seemed to swallow the light.


    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    This chapter's a little different, all seen from the point of view of Rejiek the Skin Dancer. I needed a break from Ayla and her narrative. Hopefully you find it as creepy as the whole of this episode/quest really is in game. It goes without saying that I'd like to hear what people think about it of course.

    Chapter 21

    Skin Dancer

    Rejiek had heard Ayla's call from upstairs and cursed himself for not locking the door. He'd have to make her leave quickly and that meant he would have to drag his failing body up the stairs again. Damn, he should have taken one of last night's victims for himself, this body wouldn't last much longer. But he needed the skin to get the armour completed on time, he had to wait. Cursing he made his way stiffly up to the main floor of the shop.

    "What are you doing here? What do you want? We're closed."

    She turned sharply at his question, young, quite tall for a woman, slender. Fairer skin than was usual in Athkatla, if he was thinking of using it he'd have to adjust the dye he noted to himself. But right now he just needed her to leave and he snapped the questions at her.

    "Well the door was unlocked and this is a tanners shop isn't it? I'm interested in buying some of this leather for armour. The black dyed leather, is it for sale?"

    He was surprised the way she matched his tone and looked at him as if measuring him up. Strong voice, confident, and then that request, few wanted his black leather for armour, they preferred the more unobtrusive browns.

    "Yes it's for sale but we're closed. Come back another day"

    She made no move to leave,

    "When I'm here now? It wouldn't take long to make the sale and this is much better quality than I've seen anywhere else. It's really beautiful work and I won't haggle about the price."

    The compliment and offer caught him off guard,

    "You admire my skins? You have an eye for quality then, but why black for armour? It's not a usual choice."

    "I had a suit, black leather like this, it had protections cast on it..." she stopped and frowned as if she were trying to recall something then carried on, "I'd like to try and recreate it, there's an armourer in the Docks I've heard talk of."

    "Are you thinking of Shadow Armour? No, that can't be right." he couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. This young, plainly dressed woman had once had a suit of expensive and rare shadow armour? That was hard to believe, even moreso if she couldn't remember what it was called.

    "Shadow Armour...shadow armour...yes that was it, I remember."

    The look of relief and the smile told him she wasn't lying, or at least believed what she was saying. He watched as she turned back to the hides and smoothed her hand over the surface,

    "Could this be used to make Shadow Armour? It feels the same, strong yet supple and the way it absorbs the light. You could become a shadow in armour made from this."

    The sleeves of her dress were rolled up and the contrast between her pale skin and the black leather fascinated him. In the dim light of the shop her skin appeared almost luminous against it. He could see a scar running down her forearm and he inwardly winced at the blemish.

    "Of course, my skins after I've treated them can be used to make anything."

    He answered with a note of pride in his voice, it was true after all. He moved next to her and picked up up edge of the hide better to show off it's qualities,

    "See here, the thickness and the way it's been worked to retain it's flexibility. The way the dye has been applied to both colour and protect. How flawless and uniform the surface is with no marks from the process. You know, skin doesn't die if you treat it correctly, it lives and breathes with the wearer. It should be cared for, cherished..."

    He stopped, he had to be careful what he said. People didn't understand, didn't love skin, the way his kind did. But the woman hadn't seemed to notice anything strange and was listening to him with interest. She was standing close and he could smell her skin, how healthy it smelt compared to what he was having to wear. There was something else about her as well, something he couldn't identify. A presense, something hidden. he wanted to sink his hands under her skin to find it. This one wouldn't start to fall apart with the strain of containing him he felt sure.

    An idea began to form, but he would have to be careful, subtle.

    "So, you'd like to make a suit of Shadow Armour, well my leather would give you a good base. Where did you get one before?", he needed to know her alliances but it was an innocent enough question. She reacted nervously and he recognised the reaction as being from one who had something to hide. That feeling was ever present for him and his kind.

    "North, not here, not Athkatla, that's where I'm from, the North."

    "Ahhh, that explains it," he used a soothing tone, "that armour is not common around here". Of course it wasn't common anywhere, but perhaps she wouldn't know that, just as she hadn't remembered it's name. He watched as she relaxed again, good. Some flattery perhaps, the body he occupied was old enough that it wouldn't be seen as threatening.

    "And with your northern complexion, I can certainly see how attractive the contrast would be. Yes indeed, you would compliment my leathers." He smiled at her indulgently as if she were a child he was presenting with a gift.

    "Very well, let's see how much you will need. I'll need to take some measurements," he saw her hesitation and quickly added, "for the pieces, so I know what size to cut them."

    He saw her consider the reasoning, then she nodded and unbuckled her sword and placed her belt and bag and bow on the trestle beside her. The ornate sword surprised him, another warning to be careful with this one.

    "You know, I don't think I've ever been measured for armour before. What do I have to do?"

    Of course he had no intention of cutting pieces to be sewn together to make armour. He was simply performing this charade so he had an excuse to ask her to return and collect them when he had made proper preparations for his transformation. One as old as himself could judge the size of a body from a glance. But he showed her how to stand and hold out her arms and pretended to note down the figures he read from his measure. Usually they were lying paralysed and helpless in front of him for this kind of examination. He found himself amused by the novelty of her standing upright and yet so still.

    "I apologise but I'll have to ask you to remove your scarf. So I can measure across the shoulders."

    He wanted to see her neck, the place where he would make the first cut before peeling the skin away. Afterwards he would heal completely and there would be no sign of the violence he had commited, no sign of where he had sealed himself inside her. A tremour of excitement ran through his true form inside it's cloak of flesh.

    Again she hesitated, then shrugged and unwound the scarf.

    He couldn't control his sharp intake of breath when he saw the scar and he sensed her sudden rush of panic. He reacted quickly to calm her,

    "Please forgive me, that was unthinking and rude. But if you will allow me, I would like to make amends. I can remove this easily for you."

    She stared at him suspiciously,

    "You can, how?"

    "It's part of my trade, nothing more. We are taught how to repair damage, a small cantrip is all it takes. You have seen how flawless the leather is? It's a simple task and I would be happy to help if you will let me."

    Of course it was anything but a simple cantrip, he would have to pull on the necromantic magics that he used for himself. But he doubted she would know that, very few people did. He would have removed it anyway when he was preparing her for his use. The idea of blemishes appalled him, skin was so beautiful when it was smooth and unmarked. It was such a shame humans treated it so badly, they didn't deserve such a treasure.

    "Well alright, but I think I'll just take a hold of my sword. If you don't mind of course?

    He recognised the threat but he would do nothing to warrant it. Not now. Of course when the threat did manifest it would be far too late for her to do anything about it.

    "Of course, that's not a problem at all. Now if you just let me know when you are ready."

    The scar at her neck looked to be recent. He could tell the cut had been deep, heavy and shattered the bone. It should have killed her, he wondered how she had survived. It excited him to think how strong she must be, how robust. Her body would serve him so well. Perhaps he should make the armour, it would be worth it to protect this vessel that would protect him. A double layer between him and the harsh world that reviled his kind.

    When she nodded for him to continue, he released the power he was granted and felt the familiar flow of energy through him. But then unexpectedly, he felt an answering pull and for a brief moment he lost control and felt himself being drained. He pulled back sharply and the grasping feeling subsided so fast he couldn't be sure if it had been real. Though the scar was gone better than he would have expected over such a short duration, as had the one on her arm.

    "There you see, finished and as good as new, perfect as before,"

    he complimented her. She would trust him when she returned and that would make things so much easier. He couldn't have had a better chance to show his good intentions. He watched her as she ran her hand over the repaired skin and the look of delight as she registered his healing. Oh, this one was so vain with her desire for attractive armour and willingness to allow a stranger to treat her. Her vanity would be her undoing. And then he would use the admiration she recieved to disarm others.

    But he was tired now, drained from his work the night before and this unexpected interruption. He needed her gone so he could recover and prepare for her return. He moved to conclude their business and arranged her collection of the leather in two days. Enough time to complete the suit he was working on and the new one he would make for when he was clothed in her. She turned as she was leaving the shop, what did she want now?

    "I almost forgot why I came here, could you tell me what this is?"

    He recognised the scrap of hide she held out and quickly composed himself. Did she know anything? No, the look she held was one of innocent enquiry and she wouldn't have exposed such vulnerability to him if she suspected. He took the piece and pretended to examine it, turning it over in his yellowing fingers. His disliked the feel of this hide, so rough and thick. But it served well for his purposes. Absorbing the stains and protecting him should he mistake the level of control he had over his victims. He knew it had torn when it caught on a nail protruding from the doorway where he had been hiding. He had forgotten about it afterwards, too busy with his knives.

    He answered slowly as if having to think of the answer,

    "Very unusual, not like any leather I have, far too crude. Let me think...big animal...thick skin...hairless...and the colour...? No, it can't be, surely not...yet...what else? This is elephant hide, how strange, but yes definitely elephant hide. Where did you get this?"

    "I found it on the ground by the market, how odd...and what's an "elephant"?

    "An elephant? It's a large animal, big, bigger than a horse. Only place I can think you might find one was in a zoo...or a circus. Isn't there a circus just set up in Waukeen's? You should ask there perhaps".

    Pleased with himself for remembering that detail he handed the scrap back to her. That would lead her away from here and on the offchance she suspected something later, it would be too late. He would be ready for her.



    N.B

    I have no real idea what a "skin dancer" is but went with the idea that they are some sort of undead parasite that can live for centuries. They see humans merely for harvest and think themselves superior and have forgotten that once they were humans themselves. Or perhaps they don't like to remember that, and see themselves as more evolved.

    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Sorry this took a bit long to appear, sometimes I find I get stuck writing the really simple bits trying to get to the interesting bits. But I think you will enjoy the surprise Ayla has coming to her.

    Chapter 22

    Send In The Clowns

    Ayla stepped out of the shadowy alleyway into the full, late afternoon sunlight of the small marketplace. Taking a deep breathe to clear her nose of the stench in the tanner's shop she ran her hand over her shoulder again just to make sure the scar had gone. Her instinct was still telling her that something was wrong, as it had been doing so the whole time she had been in the shop. But the recollection of herself dressed in black leather armour had overidden all caution. She wanted so much to be that person again and not this lost person who simply made it through day by day. When the tanner had offered to remove the scar it had triggered the same emotion. It was another step to getting back to what she was before Irenicus, before Yoshimo and before she had lost her memory.

    And anyway, she told herself firmly to shake off the feeling, it had all worked out better than she could have hoped. The tanner had turned out to be just a nice old man once he'd got over his initial grumpiness, it was just her paranoia again. In a couple of days she could come back and pick up the prepared leather and get her armour made. And in the meantime, she could get herself something more practical to wear, something with a bit of colour for a change. With that thought she headed towards the stalls.

    "Afternoon Miss, what can I help you with today?"

    "Not a long dress", Ayla answered the stallkeeper without hesitating, "something I can move in. This," she swept her hand over the offending garment, "is a nightmare to wear, and don't even mention the colour."

    "Mmm..well, have to say, I never did think somebody would buy those two. Was looking to cut them up into floor cloths...errr sorry about that. But Susan said they were for somebody who needed taking down a peg or two."

    "I've been wearing would-be floor cloths? That's great, makes me feel so much better". Bloody Susan, and the amount she'd tipped her recently, well that was going to stop.

    She ended up buying some versatile and comfortable leggings and tunics and a woolen cape with a hood. The stallkeeper had been very helpful, probably due to her guilt about the dresses, and offered her advice when she saw the clothes Ayla selected.

    "Ermm, not that there's anything wrong with your choices, but don't you think multi coloured stripy leggings and a bright yellow tunic with orange flowers might stand out a bit much? And they don't really match..."

    Grumbling Ayla agreed, and settled for dark blue though she refused to budge on the vibrant purple cape, she could always take it off she argued.

    She returned to her room in the Five Flagons to change and then surveyed herself in front of her mirror. Well, it was certainly a radically different look. With her leggings tucked into the boots she had found, Wellyn's impressive sword at her hip and her bow slung across her back, and a quiver of arrows, there was no hope of her being mistaken for a helpless lady. Even without her helmet, she looked dangerous. Which she supposed was it's own protection, she doubted anymore casual street muggers would make the mistake of underestimating her. She wondered what Anomen would think of the new look and found herself hoping he would like it. Not that she had any plans to show him of course. It was just that she might, perhaps, on the offchance, randomly, accidently, call into the Coronet one day and happen to bump into him. The thought caused a flutter in her stomach but she quickly dismissed it as indegestion. The armour was going to be expensive, she told herself, and right now she needed to try and earn that reward money.

    Heading up through Waukeen's Promenade she became aware of the different way people were reacting to her. Whereas before they had brushed past, hardly noticing her, now she found she was being given space. People avoided catching her eye when they saw the sword at her hip and hurridly moved for her to pass. Coupled with the delightful feeling of being unencumbered by a long dress, it allowed her to move quickly through the marketplace towards the large yellow and white striped circus tent that stood out above the stalls.

    It was big, much bigger than she expected and surrounded by wagons and booths. The crowds of people became thicker and she could sense the expectation in the air. She became distracted by the hawkers selling sweets and trinkets and the booths with fortune tellers and games of skill. There were people wandering around in outlandish costumes playing musical instruments or performing tricks and she could hear the ever present call, "Roll Up, Roll Up". She'd never seen anything so full of colour and noise and excitement. When she came to the cages of animals, she was completely enthralled, stopping to gaze at them as excitedly as any of the children. But none of them matched the discription she had been given of an "elephant" and she reluctantly dragged herself away and headed for the entrance to ask about them there.

    "No Miss, we aint got no elephants, we got horses, dogs, and wildcats aplenty though. Never had an elephant, too big. But we're still the greatest show on Toril, come and see for yourself if you don't believe me."

    The white faced man in the multi coloured costume she had interrupted turned away from her and carried on hectoring the crowd,

    "Roll Up, Roll Up, greatest show on Toril, get your tickets now, else you miss the chance of a lifetime. Greatest show in town is about to start, nearly sold out, get your tickets now."

    Ayla considered, well why not? She'd never seen a circus after all and she had nothing better to do now the search for an elephant had hit a dead end. She bought a ticket and joined the throng of people heading through the large opening in the side of the big tent.

    Taking a seat at the end of a row she looked around with interest while she waited for the show to begin. She didn't know what to expect but the crowd was noisy and excited enough to be infectious. She bought herself some beer from a passing hawker, and then another as she waited. With nobody to talk to or share her rising excitment, she gulped them down quickly without even noticing. In front of her, above the sawdust covered ring she could see ropes and swings suspended from the ceiling and spindley looking ladders leading up to small platforms high up under the roof. Strings of bunting and flags decorated the interior and everywhere she looked bright and garish colours had been used for decoration. Then the curtains opened on the farside of the ring and with a roll of drums and the clash of cymbals, the show began.

    Jugglers, acrobats, clowns dressed in all manner of costumes poured into the ring and paraded before the audience. The noise from the crowd was defeaning and she found herself cheering and clapping along with them. Then a tall man dressed in a military looking uniform strode into the middle, and after waiting for the noise to abate, introduced himself as the "ringmaster". Then the ring was cleared and the first act to perform began their show.

    Ayla was dazzled by the spectacle. She watched as acrobats flipped through the air as if flying from the seesaws that launched them. She craned her neck to watch the trapeze artists high above her as they swung from ropes and swings. And just like everybody else, held her breath as they performed their dangerous tricks. She wondered what it would feel like to fly through the air like that and then rely on catching a small swinging trapeze. They were very brave and she wasn't sure if she had much of a head for heights.

    When three dancing girls came in dressed in snakes and very little else, it gave her a chance to catch her breath and calm her nerves after watching the trapeze artists. She got another couple of drinks while they danced as it wasn't that entertaining and went on for ages. She was pretty sure she could do it herself if she had a handy snake. But it seemed that was a minority view considering the cheering from the male members of the audience and the regretful sigh that went up when it was over and they were still wearing the snakes.

    She found the clowns confusing as she didn't completely understand the elaborate setups for the jokes. Why were they carrying a ladder which managed to knock everybody down? And what was it with the big shoes? And why did they all try and crowd onto that tiny cart? No wonder some of them fell off. None the less, when they tripped over and threw pies and buckets of water at each other, she laughed as hard as everybody else.

    She was very impressed with the Sword Swallower, she'd seen swords go down throats before but never with so little blood. After he had withdrawn it slowly from his throat she wondered if he'd manage to swallow any sword so neatly and was tempted to ask him to try and swallow Namarra. But then the Ringmaster came on and told the crowd that soon "Fearless Fearghus would display his death defying feats of bravery with the vicious and dangerous beasts of the Jungles of Chult". But first there would be a very special performance from a "Master of Magic and Illusion".

    The very small gnome that walked into the ring and introduced himself as the "Great Kalah" wasn't what the crowd expected. And when he started to perform some long and complicated magic trick they began to become restless. The promise of "death defying feats" and the possibility of them seeing bloodshed had put them in no mood to watch a small, unimposing gnome struggle to get a white rabbit out of a hat. They started to jeer and then laugh as the gnome became more and more flustered and dropped the rabbit. Whereupon it started to hop rapidly away from the hopeless Kalah. Ayla, who had moved closer to the front after fetching another beer, could see his rising frustration and felt a little sorry for him. But the sight of him running after the rabbit in his long flapping robe and his futile attempts to grab the recalcitrant beast were too much, and she laughed as much as anybody else.

    After the rabbit had circled the ring a couple of times, it wisely decided that showbusiness was no place for a rabbit and it darted between the legs of the red faced Kalah and disappeared through the curtains at the back. Kalah stood there for a moment looking at the exit where the rabbit had escaped and listening to the hoots of laughter being directed his way. Then he seemed to pull himself up and spun round and faced the crowd.

    "Laugh at me will you? I am the Great Kalah and you will know my power. You will suffer, you will all suffer" he shouted at them and withdrew a wand from his robe.

    Of course that just made the audience laugh even harder, including Ayla, it was just so ridiculous. But then a great flash of light errupted from the wand Kalah was holding that seemed to grow and spread until it filled the whole interior of the large tent. Ayla was forced to close her eyes against the bright light but she started to hear some screams amidst the laughter and instinctively took hold of her sword. The noises grew louder as did the light in front of her closed eyelids. Then, just when it was becoming unbearable and her head was spinning, it all stopped and she fell in a dead faint.

    Silence, no not quite silence, she could hear some low moaning to her right and further away the noise of what? For a brief moment she was transported back to Irenicus' dungeon and she opened her eyes quickly. But no bars greeted her sight and when she moved her arm a little, no chains restrained her. But something was different, strange, she didn't feel right, maybe that last beer had been a mistake? She lay on her side quietly and closed her eyes against the spinning in her brain rather than move more and perhaps attract attention. Nothing changed though and nobody approached her and after a while she considered it safe to try and sit up even if her head was telling her that a nice nap would be just grand.

    Opening her eyes again as she shifted, the shock at the sight that greeted her momentarily cleared any lingering effects of the alcohol. She had put her arm out to leverage herself from the floor but what she saw wasn't her arm. She scrambled back quickly from the huge, thickly muscled arm covered in silky black fur and almost screamed when it followed her and was joined by another. But what stopped her was the clatter as her sword dropped from it's grip. Then there were legs, covered in the same fur, that ended in long feet that seemed to have thumbs like her hands did. Where was she? Where was Ayla? She could hear her thoughts, she was alive, but this wasn't her, but this "thing" had held her sword. She stopped her panicky shuffling backwards on her bottom with sheer strength of will when every instinct was telling her to turn and run from this ...this what?

    Forcing herself to stop and breathe and look, she held up one arm, and then the other. There was no mistake, she told herself to move and these arms answered. She wriggled "her" fingers and the thick, black digits wriggled themselves back at her. This was her now? She looked down at her chest, broad, muscled, black, less hair, nipples but no breasts, was she male now? She bent over and looked lower, well no, that was a relief. Gingerly she used one of her new hands to feel her face, had that changed as well? Oooo yes, large jutting jaw, no nose just holes, big brow ridges, no long hair, fur. Her thick tongue told her she had teeth, very large teeth. So she was some kind of very big animal now? She thought about the animals she had looked up, which ones had hands, in fact almost four hands. Monkey, the name came to her, but the pictures she'd looked at hadn't seemed to be this big, giant monkey perhaps? Well at least she still had hands, could be worse, and she wasn't in any pain.

    Could she stand upright, well of course she could, though it wasn't so comfortable and her legs were short compared to her arms. But she was still taller than she usually was she thought. She tried walking, it was a bit bow legged and she staggered around a bit and had to use her long arms to balance. But not too bad, though she had this urge to go down on all fours and use her knuckles to help. So she could move pretty efficiently, good, time to find that bloody gnome who'd done this. Killing him should sort things out if it was a curse. But first she needed to have a look around, what had happened to everybody else? Would they be giant monkeys too? She hoped not, if she, a Bhaalspawn, was going to be turned into an animal, it seemed only right she should be unique. She might be completely changed but the ego was still intact.

    Picking up her sword was far easier than usual as she could do it with her foot, that caused her to giggle which came out as a series of loud grunts. Dual wielding be damned, she could quadruple wield, though it would mean she'd have to fight lying on her back. Clamping down hard on the tide of mirth that threatened to overcome her, her inner voice told herself to be sensible, she hadn't drunk that much. Though if she were offered another beer at that moment she wouldn't have said no, mmm beer, did monkeys drink?

    She looked around, the large tent had been replaced it seemed with a much smaller drapery hung room and the bright, garish colours were now subtle purples, pinks and blues that were hard to focus on. Almost as if what she was seing wasn't really there at all. She looked up, there were still ropes and swings hanging down but she couldn't see the roof anymore. The ceiling dissolved into a hazy dark blue and it was hard to decide whether it was there at all, but she supposed it must be. Across from her she caught sight of movement and moved closer for a better look. A group of small, to her, cats shrank back from her approach and then the bigger two stepped protectively in front of the three kittens. A family? A family who had been at the circus? She moved away rather than alarm them further and made her way around the room. In another corner, a strange humanoid green thing was cowering and rocking back and forth. That must have been the thing she had heard moaning.

    Satisfied that was nothing else in the room that would help her sort this mess out she moved on through the doorway, only to find herself in another similarly sized room with it's own collection of transformed humans. And so it went on, room after room, each with it's own inhabitants. Some were straight forward animals, some larger humanoids, some a mixture of both. All of them shrank away from her, she did seem to be bigger than most, and she was able to pass unmolested. She would have normally got lost in this maze of rooms but her "monkey senses" helped her navigate by sense of smell, she always could tell where she had been and what was new in front. Finally she reached the end, and stepping through the last doorway, she found herself on a stone bridge that arched across a void towards an impossibly large dome. Crenallated stone towers rose up from the void surrounding the bridge and the dome, they looked solid but even her monkey brain registered that they couldn't be real.

    As she made her way across the bridge, there wasn't anywhere else to go and the large dome looked to be important, the air shimmered in front of her and a man appeared from a portal. She reared back drawing herself up to her full height and bared her teeth in a show of hostility. The man appeared to be rather taken aback by the sight and lowered his tone to one much more humble than the loud proclaimation of this being "Kalah's Realm" that he had started with. She surveyed him suspiciously, Kalah, that was the name of the bloody gnome, perhaps she should listen.

    He told her, somewhat apologetically, that if she wanted to pass she would have to answer his riddle. Then he posed a long and unfathomable maths question that Ayla had got bored listening to well before the end. This was another one of these geniis wasn't it, like the button pushing one. But now she was big and strong and didn't have to put up with this nonsense. She reached out (her reach was enormous) and grabbed him by the throat and held him up higher than he was floating.

    "You have to be kidding, I've been turned into a monkey and now you're asking me to do maths? Forget it", and shook him for emphasis as the words didn't seem to come out right.

    The genii heard,

    "Uh, uh, uh, growl, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh uh"

    But the intent was clear enough and the hand round his neck felt very large and very strong.

    "Oh well done, yes the princess is 40 and the prince 30, what a clever monkey you are. Now if you'll just let go I'll open the door for you. My pleasure, Good Luck with Kalah."

    She let him go with a look that plainly told him not to try anything stupid, and then watched as he created a door in the side of the large dome. With that he popped out of existance back into his portal and she was left alone again.

    Well, nothing for it than to enter she supposed, sooner she dealt with this Kalah, sooner everything could get back to normal. And there was still the "death defying feats with the wild and vicious animals of the Jungles of Chult" to see. She'd ask for her money back if that was cancelled.


    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    This chapter virtually wrote itself and I had a lot of fun with it. I should have posted it earlier, I thought I had, sorry.

    Chapter 23

    Beauty and the Beast

    Aerie strained against the chains holding her again and again until her wrists were torn and bleeding. Deep down she knew it was useless, she could feel the enchantments binding her that were stopping her using her own magic. But what else could she do? Being constrained like this was forcing her to relive her memories of being captured and the horror that had lain in wait for her when she had been locked in that cage. No, she wouldn't think about that, the degradation, the agony she had endured as her wings had rotted while still attached to her back. And then when they had been brutally sawn off and the butchers trying not to gag as they removed the gangerous appendages... No, she wouldn't think about that, she couldn't let herself think about that. But of course she failed, and the memories and emotions filled her head until all she could do was stand there and pray that she would die quickly this time.

    How long had she been chained, hours already she thought. At first she had been so shocked at what she had turned into she hadn't noticed anything else. Not the size and opulence of the hall she was chained in, not the tinkling fountains or the soaring columns. This form was so unlike her, ugly as she was with her scarred and wingless back. She knew it was a cruel, sadistic joke on the part of Kalah as was his torture of Quale. What had either of them done to him to deserve this? They were two of the only people in the circus that had shown him any kindness. But when she had rejected his advances and Quale had protected her, he had turned against them viciously.

    She had been working as usual at the back of the circus, helping people change into and out of costumes, fetching props and running errands. Sometimes she helped with the stalls selling drinks and sweets or at the box office selling tickets. She didn't have an "act", in fact since she had lost her wings nothing scared her more than the idea of people looking at her or watching her. But the circus needed general dogsbodies to keep things running and she could turn her hand to a lot, from enchantments to help protect the performers to healing if they were hurt to seamstress making costumes. It was a life, not one she would have chosen, but with Quale's help she had pulled together some of the shattered pieces of herself that survived the horrors of her captivity after he had rescued her.

    She had heard the crowd jeering and laughing at Kalah as she worked and had felt a wave of sympathy for him, he was so hopeless. And when the white rabbit had darted through the curtain in it's bid for freedom, she knew the act had gone wrong. What happened next though dwarfed anything she knew he was able to conjure. And as the bright light engulfed her and had ripped through the protections she had quickly cast on herself, her last conscious thought had been "how?" When she had come round she was already chained in this illusionary castle? tent? and changed into this hideous ogre. She let out a heavy sigh that threatened to turn into a sob, she was scared and alone and dreading what Kalah might do with this power he held.

    A sudden noise disturbed her from her miserable, despairing thoughts and she tried to shrink back and hide but chained as she was she couldn't move. A door appeared in the wall some way in front of her and for a moment a spark of hope lifted her spirits, somebody was coming from the outside, perhaps it was rescue. But when she saw the huge gorilla enter the room her hopes were quickly dashed and she felt nothing but fear. She watched as it made it's unsteady way towards the fountain, it seemed to be having trouble walking in a straight line. It didn't seem to notice her and she breathed as quietly as she could so as not to call it's attention. It carefully sniffed the water, then gingerly dipped a large finger in the water and hesitantly licked it and she saw the flash of it's large teeth. But it wasn't acting as she expected, not at all. And when she saw it lay the sword down carefully before thoroughly washing it's hands she knew that what she was seeing was as false as what it would see of her. Pulling up every last scrap of her courage, she called out as the gorilla, somewhat daintily, drank some water from it's cupped hands.

    "Hello, hello there, please can you help me? We have to get out, to escape, it's too dangerous here. Kalah...Kalah the person who did this, could come back at any moment."

    Ayla stepped through the door feeling pretty pleased with herself. Yes, she was a big and clever monkey, the genie had been right, a proper gent after all, she'd buy him a beer if she ever saw him again. Then she stopped and sniffed the air of this large room, something here was nice, something just up ahead. She carefully made her way towards the source. Water?, how strange, she'd not really ever noticed the smell of water before, must be her inner monkey, or was that outer now? She shook her head, too confusing, and lurched a little with the movement. Reaching the fountain she worried if it was safe to drink, but she was so thirsty. Hang on, didn't animals always know this sort of thing? She sniffed the water, it smelt good, then she carefully tasted it. It tasted good as well. She shrugged, she would trust her animal instincts. She washed her hands in the large basin as they had been all over the floor. Then collected some in her hands from the clean, steady stream that flowed from the top and down into the large pool.

    She was just enjoying her drink when the voice startled her and she looked round for the speaker. She growled menacingly when she saw the ogre, it was large and ugly and she recognised it could be a threat. It seemed to shrink back at the sound, it's eyes going wide in fear and she thought to herself, yes indeed, Fear Me, for I am the Great and Clever Monkey Person. But then the ogre rallied and spoke again.

    "Please, don't attack, I'm not what you see, I'm really an elf, a winged elf. Please, you have to believe me."

    Ayla cocked her head to one side, something was wrong here. That voice was soft and high pitched, nothing like she would have expected, she needed a closer look. She moved towards the "ogre" and as she did so she caught the scent of flowers. The ogre smelt of flowers? She moved right up next to the "ogre" and sniffed it's hair and and gently touched it's face while the ogre stood as if frozen to the spot. Satisfied, Ayla moved away a little and the ogre let go of the breath it had been holding. She nodded firmly at the "ogre" then tried to speak,

    "So you're an elf not an ogre? Guess what, I'm not really a monkey either."

    But the words didn't come out right, she tried again, slowly and carefully.

    "So...you...elf...me...not...monkey...me..." but then she bit her tongue and yelped in pain.

    None of it had been intelligible to Aerie, all she heard were a series of grunts, then a pause, then slower grunts finishing with a high pitched squeak that wasn't very gorilla like at all. But the nod and the fact that she hadn't been eaten yet were enough for her to realise she was safe, for the moment. Though the animal towered above her even in her ogre form. The gorilla couldn't talk but it could understand and respond with nods and head shakes. She would have to frame her speech to accomodate that and keep it simple. The gorilla didn't look very bright.

    "Kalah the gnome has changed everything. You can't see them but I am chained here with magic chains." she shook her arms and waited for the gorilla to nod it was following her speech.

    "OK, I need you to go over to those people over there," she pointed at two roughly dressed commoners who were hanging around looking suspicious on the far side of the room.

    "They have a magic sword and if you get it for me I can break the chains and change myself back. Do you understand? Sword break chains, change back, go after Kalah."

    Of course she understood, did the "ogre" think she was stupid? But the fact that she understood didn't make it any clearer to her. And she was just going to hand over a magic sword to the "ogre"? Well that didn't make any kind of sense. On the other hand she had a magic sword too and eventhough she was finding it a bit difficult to hold, she reckoned if it came to a fight, she'd win easily. Well only one way to find out if the "ogre" was telling the truth, and perhaps it would be better to find out now rather than have it following her around later. She nodded her agreement, picked up her sword and made her way towards the commoners.

    At first they didn't react, even when she moved close to them. That was odd, so far everybody she had encountered had reacted with a mixture of fear and awe whatever they had been transformed into. So she picked one of them up and shook them vigorously to get their attention, nobody should ignore the Great and Clever Monkey Person she was beginning to think of as herself. Immediately both of them changed from humans into something much bigger and uglier. Though still not as big as her. And although both of them were armed and they attacked, the fight turned out to be embarrassingly easy. They couldn't even get close to her. Her extended reach plus her sword rendered their weapons useless. And when she got bored of them waving their swords at her, she simply picked each of them up in turn and threw them against the wall. She found a sword on one of the corpses and hoped it was the right one and returned to the "ogre".

    "Oh, you have it? If you would give it to me I can use it...if that is...you trust me?"

    Ayla grunted and handed over the sword while making a show of holding her own so the message was clear. Then she shuffled back to watch with interest what would happen next. She heard the noise of the chains breaking quite clearly, well that much was true then. Then the "ogre" seemed to waver as if seen through water and began to shrink and rapidly change shape. The rough clothes changed to a long dress and she watched as large blue eyes appeared quickly followed by long blond hair framing a small elfin face. It was over so quickly there was barely time to register the changes, rather that one second there was an ogre, the next an elf.

    And such a pretty elf as well, she was like a little doll. Every monkey should have a little dolly like this. She was just so cute and small, Ayla had an urge to pick her up and pet her hair. She grinned at the pretty little elf and jiggled from foot to foot and clapped to show her approval.

    Aerie saw the massive gorilla bearing it's teeth and clapping it's huge hands together and sent a quick prayer to Baervan, so this was it, now it was going to eat her. She closed her eyes tightly and waited. But when she didn't feel the hands grabbing her and those teeth ripping her apart, she dared to open her eyes. What was it doing? Was it...applauding? She risked a small smile back and was rewarded with an increase of clapping and jiggling from foot to foot. Not wanting to antagonise it (just in case, those teeth!) she joined in with the clapping.

    Ayla was delighted with her response and let out a couple of loud ook, ooks and practically capered! Then suddenly realised what she was doing, and abruptly stopped. Could monkeys blush because it surely felt like she should. What the hell was she doing, it was so...so...monkeyish. Oh ye Gods, was she really turning into a monkey? If she had still been in her human form she would have coughed at this point to cover her embarrassment and said something like, "yes...well...what were you saying?". Instead she clasped her hands firmly behind her back and stared intently at her feet and wriggled her toes. She needed to control herself until they could get to this Kalah and reverse this curse.

    Aerie stopped clapping quickly and tried to understand what the gorilla was doing. It was just standing there with it's head down looking at it's feet. If anything, it looked as if it was...embarrassed? Oh, that's really rather sweet, perhaps I should give it a pat? And it has proved that it was human before the spell. I need to stop calling it "it". It must be a man with that sword...I wonder what he looks like...has to be strong...and tall...and brave...he made those orcs look foolish...and he has just rescued me...and that's just what heroes do...

    Aerie gave a small cough and cleared her throat to cover her embarrassment at where those thoughts were leading. Perhaps she should introduce herself,

    "Thankyou so much for trusting me...with the sword that is," the gorilla peered at her shyly from underneath it's, no his, heavy brows, and gave a small "smile". Oh, that was so adorable,

    "My name's Aerie. Do you have a name?"

    The gorilla gave a small sigh and grunted softly.

    "I'm sorry, that was unthinking of me, you can't talk can you?" the poor man, and now she had made it worse.

    Ayla listened, so the dolly's name was Aerie, that was a pretty name but she still couldn't help but think of her as "dolly". And she wanted to make her "dolly" happy not sorry. She had an idea. Carefully and slowly she used her sword to scratch out her name on the hard tiles of the floor. It was very slippery and her grip was a bit clumsy but she roughly managed the M, A, and D (she wouldn't worry about the last E, it could be spelt without) but the U with it's curve went awry. She stepped back and pointed.

    "Oh that's so clever, let me see, mmm...your name is MAD?"

    Ayla saw the look of apprehension cross Aerie's face and huffed in frustration. She very carefully scratched out another U, clearer this time.

    "MUD? your name is Mud?" Aerie frowned...but...but perhaps he was foreign...I wonder if he is a prince...

    Ayla shrugged and gave up, was her dolly stupid? Never mind at least it wouldn't scare her, it was close enough. She could put her right when she changed back.

    So...Mud..., I'm Aeria and I'm a winged elf...at least I was until they cut my wings off..." she trailed off looking very forlorn.

    Ayla snarled fiercly, somebody had hurt her dolly, who? she'd rip them apart.

    Aerie heard the angry snarl and saw the gorilla's expression. Bless, he wanted to protect her, the thought gave her a warm feeling in her chest. She carried on,

    "Kalah the gnome did all this," she indicated the room, "he changed everything, the circus, the people. But I don't know how, he shouldn't have that much power. He's taken my Uncle Quale away as well, I'm very worried about him. I think...will you...will you help me stop him? I can do some magic but I don't think I can face him on my own. Not if he has this much power."

    He had a wand, that's how, Ayla had seen it. And of course she would help to get this Kalah, what did she think she was here for? She certainly didn't fancy staying a monkey forever. Though she had to admit, being this big and strong had it's benefits. And being able to smell things properly. And she didn't have to worry about clothes, she had lovely black silky fur. If she could just get something to eat, the water here was good. Perhaps some fruit...apples...bananas! (she almost drooled at the thought)...

    What, wait, what was she thinking. Stop that right now. She was not going to become completely monkeyfied and that meant she needed to get changed back as soon as possible. Kalah, your days are numbered.

    Ayla nodded energetically at Aerie and grunted for emphasis. And with Aerie leading, they headed towards the next doorway.


    tbone1
  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882

    Ayla goes full monkey. Never go full monkey.

    Chapter 24

    Kalah the Great

    "Im not a "creature", I'm a woman or at least I was until that stupid magician did his show. Now look at me."

    The giant spider waved a couple of her legs at Aerie to demonstrate.

    "I don't know what to do...and my son...I told him to run when everything started changing. I don't know where he is or what he's going to say when he sees me like this. He'll be so frightened and he won't recognise me and I just can't bear it..."

    Much to Ayla's surprise the giant spider started to cry from all of it's eyes. She was already wondering how it was talking, not that she wanted to look too closely. The shivers it was causing to run up and down her back just by being this near to it were more than enough. She had positioned herself firmly behind Aerie when they had first seen it. Not really the behavior of the Great and Clever Monkey person who was twice the size of the small elf. But it was a spider and it had lots of eyes and hairy legs and might at any moment dash towards her because that's what they always did. Of course she could just squash it, but then she'd have to deal with a dead spider and possibly spider goo and that might be even worse...I think I'm going to be sick...

    Aerie fished a hanky from her pocket and handed it to the spider,

    "Don't cry, look I'm sure your son got out and when we've dealt with Kalah everything will change back to normal,"

    "You promise? I won't be stuck like this?"

    "Of course not, Mud and me are going to stop him. Aren't we Mud?"

    Damn, she had to mention her didn't she, now the spider had seen her. She grunted in response and tried not to think about the eyes that were looking at her as she followed Aerie towards the door. She was getting thoroughly fed up with this place. There were no trees to climb and there was nothing to eat. She thought how nice it would be to make herself a nest and curl up and have a nap and perhaps give her fur a groom.

    Aerie ran through the spells she still had available in her head. It wouldn't do to use them up before they faced Kalah himself as that would be where they needed to counter a magical attack she reasoned. Unfortunately most of her protection spells had already been used for the performers before the circus had been transformed. She had few offensive spells memorised as there had been no reason to think that at some point she would be fighting. She glanced back at Mud, how much did he still understand what was happening? He'd been content to follow her but seemed to be more and more distracted. When she had been transformed into an ogre she had felt the creeping influence of her outside appearence on her thinking.

    They halted before the door and Aerie cast stoneskin on herself and blessed both of them. She needed to make Mud understand that mostly what they would see would be illusions and that if they ignored them, they would be unable to be harmed. She tried to explain this to Mud,

    "Mud...Mud...listen to me..." she waited until he had finished scratching his, well actually his bottom she noted in dismay, and turned to her.

    "This isn't real...you understand...nor the creatures...they're not real. We have to ignore them and just keep walking. Don't attack them and they can't hurt us...just follow me and keep going."

    What was the dolly saying? Not real? That was silly, of course they were real, Ayla was the great and clever monkey person and Aerie was Dolly. But it seemed to be important to her so she grunted and nodded her agreement. As long as they kept going and managed to get out of here. She recalled something about trying to find somebody but the thought slipped away when she tried to concentrate on it.

    They stepped through the door and found themselves in a large, opulently decorated circular room. Light from outside filtered through stained glass windows and made colourful pattens on the floor in between the shadowed recesses. Plants in large urns and lifelike statues in dramatic poses were positioned around the walls. In the centre luxurious couches were arranged in a circle around a collection of exotic fur rugs. They quietly headed further into the room slightly overawed by the extravagence and unexpectedness of the decoration.

    "That must be the way to where Kalah is hiding" Aerie whispered to Ayla as she pointed to a magestic marble staircase that swept up to a large ornate door. "There doesn't seem to be anybody here so if we're quiet we can just pass through here to that door."

    Kalah, the name sounded familiar to Ayla, he had done something but she wasn't sure what. But before she had time to contemplate it further, loud howls started to ring out from the walls. The mournful howling grew in volume and echoed around the spacious, circular room giving the eerie impression that the walls themselves were making the sound. But she could smell the wolves now and the adrenaline coursing through them that signalled they were about to be attacked. She moved in front of Aerie protectively as the werewolves emerged from the shadows and formed a snarling, vicious semi circle before them.

    She heard Aerie say something, but she didn't listen even as she heard the desperation in her voice. She could feel the fur on her back bristle in response to the challenge of the werewolves. She could see their teeth in their open slathering jaws and the way their eyes darted between them looking for where they would attack. Enraged at the threat to her troup, that they would dare to challenge her, she reared up to full height and beat her chest and roared in defiance. The roar was immense and, like the howls, was echoed and amplified by the accoustics of the room. How long it lasted she wasn't sure, it just felt so right to let out this bellow of fury and display her strength and her power. It was intoxicating and she felt an answering surge of anger from deep inside.

    The werewolves shrank back, their ears flattening against their heads against the battering of the sound. And then their courage broke as they cringed and dropped onto all fours and fled from the beast before them. But Ayla was as fast and she dropped down onto her knuckles and feet and gave chase. She bounded after the nearest and caught it around it's middle and hurled it across the room. Then she was up on the couches, using the back of them to launch herself into the air to land squarely onto a fleeing werewolf's back. It didn't move again after nearly 500 pounds of enraged gorilla used it as a landing mat. She caught a third by it's tail and dragged it back to her. When it twisted in a last desperate attempt to bite her and get away, she slapped it hard. She heard it's neck snap as it's head spun round from the force of her blow. Then she shook the limp body gleefully, gloating in her dominance over this creature that had dared to try and bite her. She tossed it casually to the side and the lifeless body slid across the polished marble floor.

    More, she needed more to kill to satisfy her bloodlust and she looked around for the rest of them. They had fled to the far side of the room and were huddled together in the angle between the wall and the staircase. Good, she wouldn't have to chase them down. She loped on all fours towards them, taking her time and enjoying the smell of their fear. But as she bore down on her prey, a small figure ran from the side and positioned herself in front of the cowering werewolves.

    "Mud, Mud. Stop. You have to stop, they aren't real. Look, look, please you have to look at the ones you killed. This isn't real, they aren't our enemy. You have to stop."

    Ayla pulled up, she was confused at the sight of this tiny figure with it's arms outstretched between her and her rightful target. It was different, not one of the werewolves. And it was speaking, not growling and bearing it's teeth and the werewolves weren't attcking it. It was speaking to her and she recognised the high pitched voice. Dolly? It was her dolly? Why wouldn't she move so she could kill these monsters? She was telling her to stop, to look at the bodies of the three she had killed. Why would she do that, they were dead, they weren't a threat anymore. But Dolly was crying, she could see the tears running down her cheeks.

    With a cross between a grunt and a sigh, she turned back and made her way towards the body she had tossed aside. She could kill the rest of them when her dolly stopped being silly. She looked for the body of the werewolf but something had replaced it. Instead of a large, dog like human covered in coarse brown fur there was only the small body of a man dressed in bright colourful clothes. It's face was painted white and it's mouth was outlined in a wide, bright red smile. Something scratched at the back of her brain, she had seen this man before. She hurried to the next body and then the next, turning it over to see it's face. Where were the werewolves, where had they gone.

    These were...these were...she concentrated hard...these were...clowns, the clowns she had watched in the circus. She had laughed at them as they had run around falling over each other. The shock of the realisation cleared the fog that had been clouding her brain and extinguished on the inner fury she felt. She had been fooled into killing the clowns by Kalah, the innocent clowns. She let out a low menacing growl, She couldn't make it right but she could stop him hurting more people.

    Aerie watched the huge gorilla as it examined the bodies. She couldn't think of him as "Mud" after seeing the way he had gone after the werewolves. When he had bellowed at them and beat his chest it had chilled her to the bone. She had felt the manifestation of something deeper being released with the sound as it echoed around the room. The werewolves hadn't stood a chance, not that she knew what they were at that point. It was only after the first had been killed and the transformation reversed did she realise the true horror of what was happening. These were her friends being killed, she had to try and stop him before he killed them all.

    Desperately she had cast a domination spell at him followed by a hold monster with little hope they would work. They both failed as she had suspected which left her the choice of attacking directly with magic missiles. But they wouldn't have stopped him, it would simply enrage him more. She ran across to where the werewolves were cowering in the corner, perhaps if they all attacked together some of them would survive. But she had been too slow, what she now thought of as "the monster" was already heading towards the rest of the pack. In a last ditch attempt to avert his attention she had moved between them and had appealed to whatever was left of Mud.

    Ayla headed back towards Aerie and saw her fear but she couldn't explain and couldn't say sorry. That would have to come later but she doubted she would ever trust her again. It didn't matter right now and she would go on alone to face Kalah. Aerie could stay and look after the others until he was dealt with. So she was suprised when Aerie fell in behind her as she headed up the staircase to the large ornate double doors that led to Kalah's inner chamber. Her "dolly", no not her dolly, Aerie, was much braver than she had realised.

    A worried looking genii greeted them as they neared the door but kept a safe distance between Ayla and himself.

    "Hmmm, I think we can dispense with any riddles at the present time. In consultation with my colleague," his hand nervously strayed to his to his neck, "we are in agreement that you have passed all the necessary tests to enter Kalah's domain. It just leaves me to bid you welcome and... and...to ask that you remember our cooperation should we have any future involvement." he finished the sentence hurridly before winking out of existance.

    Ayla pushed open the doors cautiously, she was determined to control herself whatever greeted them. The much smaller round room they stepped into was something of a disappointment after the grand and richly decorated great hall they had left. It was stripped bare of everything other than a large ornate throne on a raised dias in the center. The large figure of an ogre mage stood at the side and as they watched, it directed a stream of missiles from a wand at an indistinct, glutinous blob that was spread across the floor before it. As the ogre heard the door it ceased tormenting the hapless jelly and turned his attention to them.

    "Welcome, welcome to my domain. I am most surprised you have survived this far. No matter, your enjoyment of my hospitality will be short lived. Come my beasts and shadows, dispose of these intruders for me. Rip them apart to please your master and enhance his majesty. They are mere mortals and too foolish to resist. Together we will enjoy their demise before we conquer all."

    Ayla cocked her head to one side and tried to work out what had just been said, it certainly sounded impressive. Behind she heard Aerie gasp,

    "Uncle Quale, oh no it's Uncle Quale," before she darted towards the mound of quivering jelly.

    That was Uncle Quale? That didn't make any sort of sense, though who was she to judge when it came to family? Shrugging it off she approached the ogre mage, she could see the wand he was holding and even if unsure about the magic, knew it was the key to undoing this mess. Suddenly the space between them filled with menacing shadows that reached out their long hands and fingers and tried to grab her. But this time she remembered Aerie's words and controled the rage that threatened to cause her to attack. They melted before her when she ignored them, they were just illusions. More werewolves joined the attack but she ignored them as well and stayed focused on Kalah and they were unable to harm her, they were just more illusions. Now there was nothing between her and Kalah and she loped across the floor towards him. He pointed the wand at her and for an instant she wondered what would happen. Then a stream of magic missiles from Aerie hit him and he cursed as he lost the words of control. That was his last chance and before he could muster another attack, Ayla was on him.

    She hoisted him high in the air by his neck and squeezed, crushing his windpipe and stopping him chanting another spell. His hands came up to pull desperately at her unyielding fingers and she took the chance to snatch the wand from his grasp, breaking his wrist in the process. He tried to scream but throttled as he was, it came out as a desperate wheeze. Now she had the wand and she could finish him and she threw him to the ground with enough force to break his back. She heard Aerie scream from behind her and without waiting to find out why, she snapped the wand in half.

    Darkness and silence engulfed her once again and once again Ayla found herself lying on the floor. But this time the ground was soft and a cloud of dust arose that made her sneeze when she moved. She pushed herself up and looked around. She was in the sawdust covered ring of the circus, above her she could see the swings and ropes hanging from the canvas roof. The bright colours had returned and replaced the hazy purple and pink drapes. When she looked down, her familiar shape was back, and for a brief moment she regretted how weak she looked. As she spluttered because of the dust, she looked around for Aerie and saw her lying on her side a little way from her and beginning to move. Slowly she pulled herself up but her head was spinning and her body ached as if it had been stretched. As she stood she could hear the gasps of relief coming from other people around her as they recovered their senses.

    She made her way slowly towards Aerie and reached out to help her stand up. She didn't look so small and fragile now though she was still shorter than Ayla. But her wide blue eyes and long blond hair still made her look very doll like.

    "Are you alright, I heard you scream before everything changed back, did Kalah hurt you?"

    "No, no I'm fine...umm...thankyou, but how did you know that?" she looked confused.

    Of course, she wouldn't recognise her,

    "I'm Mud...or rather Maude. My writing wasn't so good but it was hard with the sword...that reminds me, where did I drop it."

    The strange woman wandered away from Aerie and started searching the ground around them. That was Mud? Mud was a woman, that great hulking gorilla was a woman? Aerie remembered her earlier thoughts, before everything had gone horribly wrong, and felt herself blush. The woman, Maude, (and she had been calling her Mud, how embarrassing) gave a small whoop and picked up a sword from the ground and returned.

    "Aerie, please, before I go. Let them know...tell them I'm sorry. Really sorry about the clowns, it was hard...it was hard to remember being anything else and when I thought they were going to attack...well I think my instinct took over."

    Ayla frowned at the memory, it wasn't just instinct she had felt. The familiar rage she had felt welling up inside her was something that had been a part of her since Irenicus.

    "Of course I will, it wasn't your fault though. It was Kalah, what he did, what he did to all of us. He must have hated us so much...people laughed at him and he hated it I know, but I never dreamt he would go this far. Please wait, before you go, I'd like you to meet Uncle Quale, he'll want to thank you for saving him, for saving us and the circus."

    "The jelly? It can talk?" Ayla raised her eyebrows in surprise, this she had to see.

    "What? No silly, Uncle Quale's not a jelly. He must have polymorphed himself to protect himself from Kalah." Aerie saw the look of incomprehension on Ayla's face, "Magic resistance, Jellies have very high magic resistance. Come on, he'll explain himself. He's very clever, he's the person who has been teaching me magic. He's the person who rescued me from being caged...after... my wings had been cut off"

    Ayla saw the sadness on Aerie's face and remembered how outraged she had felt when she had first heard that. And the poor woman had been caged as well? She really was brave to have survived that and still gone with her to face Kalah after witnessing Ayla's rampage. Ayla felt a wave of sympathy and honest admiration for her, she knew only too well what it was like to be caged and helpless. And Aerie didn't have her Bhaalspawn anger to sustain her she was sure. There was a lot more to this doll like looking elf than first appearences would suggest.

    They found "Uncle Quale" examining the broken wand he had picked up next to the body of Kalah. Ayla hung back a little to allow their reunion and then Aerie introduced her to the bright eyed gnome and he peered at her with a look of keen inteligence.

    "So you were the huge gorilla? It was quite an extraordinary transformation you had. Not something I think Kalah was expecting, such a powerful beast, hmmm? This wand he had, it unlocks things we hold inside perhaps? Now Aerie, don't look at me like that, it's perfectly reasonable to ask questions when one is presented with a mystery. I'll need to investigate the properties of it further if for nothing else than to try and find out how Kalah obtained it."

    Ayla didn't know what to say, which was nothing new, but she had the feeling that Uncle Quale was a lot more perceptive than his rather mild and harmless appearance portrayed. Which meant that she needed to remove herself from here as soon as possible. She accepted his thanks, and those from the ringmaster who had joined them, with mixed feelings as she could see the huddle of sad clowns clustered around the bodies of the three she had killed on the far side of the ring. At least they didn't know she was responsible yet. And when the ringmaster offered her some money as a reward, she felt compelled to refuse it. Finally she was able to get away and joined the straggling groups of survivors exiting the large tent as anonymously as she had entered.


  • UnderstandMouseMagicUnderstandMouseMagic Member Posts: 1,882
    edited July 2

    All I can say is that some encounters are more welcome than others.

    Chapter 25

    Encounters

    When Anomen had left Ayla at the entrance to the Five Flagons the night before and made his way through the quiet streets to his lodgings at the Radiant Heart, the bag of gold had weighed heavy at his belt and had mirrored the heavy feeling he had in his chest. He should have said something to her or made some arrangement to see her again rather than let her think he had only followed her for the money. But of course he hadn't he told himself ruefully, he was too much of a coward to do that.

    The following day he was summoned by his superior Sir Ryan Trawl for a meeting and as he made his way to his quarters he worried what he had done wrong now to be so unexpectedly called. Although he admired the man, he was under no illusion that the feeling was reciprocated. He had been placed under Sir Trawl's supervision, much to Sir Trawl's irritation, as a precaution after his disgrace. At their first meeting he had made it abundantly clear that if it had been up to him, Anomen would have been dismissed from the Order. Since then their relationship had been one of strained formality and they avoided each other whenever possible.

    Still racking his brains wondering what he had done he entered the office,

    "Ah, Delryn, there you are," Sir Trawl didn't stand to greet him, much as expected he rarely missed the chance to treat him with contempt. He picked up a paper and appeared to read it while leaving Anomen standing awkwardly in front of the desk.

    "I have a report here from the City Guard, it appears you were involved in some trouble last night, "...three dead bodies and two summoned skeletons found in the vicinity..." he read aloud and shot Anomen a look over the paper.

    "Sir, I can explain if you will allow me..."

    Sir Trawl waved him to be quiet and Anomen fell silent, what had the guards reported, surely there was something about the kidnapping ring as well?

    "It then goes on to explain that you were instrumental in saving a man, Tirdir, from certain death in the graveyard and followed that with rescuing a young woman from the clutches of kidnappers."

    Anomen felt a wave of relief, at last, something Sir Trawl couldn't upbraid him for. Not that the bastard wouldn't try, a wicked thought fleetingly crossed his mind before he silenced it.

    "So, Delryn, it seems you are capable of being useful occasionally. Keep it up and I may have to change my opinion of you. Just one thing, dismiss the skeletons next time before the guards show up. We don't want any panic on the streets. You are dismissed."

    "Yes Sir, thankyou Sir".

    Anomen left the office feeling slightly stunned, he hadn't expected the City Guard to report to the Radiant Heart his involvement. Since he'd woken up the only thing he had on his mind was his missed opportunity to talk to Ayla. Buoyed with Sir Trawl's encouragement which, although grudging was more than he would have expected, he resolved to return to the Copper Coronet that evening. If something like this could happen once then why not again? And if Ayla should happen to want to contact him, where else would she look. He would need to replace his armour first though and so he headed to Waukeen's Promenade after finishing his duties at the headquarters.

    Aerie watched as Ayla made her way out of the tent and sighed deeply before turning her attention to what her Uncle Quale was saying.

    "...a wand like this can't just be purchased in a shop, no, no something like this would be part of a bargain...,"he paused noticing her lack of interest, "You're not really listening are you? What's wrong Aerie my dear, you seem distracted."

    "Oh it's nothing, really it isn't...it's just...well...this, the circus, it's all I've known since well...you know...I haven't seen anything of the outside world. Somebody like Maude, for instance, they get to see things, do things..."

    "Ah, I see," Quale tucked the wand away in his pocket and removed his glasses to see her face better. "You know Aerie, since I helped you I've become very fond of you, you're like a daughter to me. And I've watched you grow and been proud of the way you recovered and learnt what I taught you. But I could see how limiting this life has been for you... now don't argue, you know it's true...all those books you read about adventurers and heroes and how you wander around in a daze for days after and dream about a different sort of life. Maybe something like this happening is a sign that it's time to move on? You showed yourself to be capable...and brave, Maude would have...well lets just say not so many of us would have made it without you."

    "But Uncle Quale, that wasn't really her fault and she felt terrible about the clowns, honestly she did. It's the first thing she said to me, to say how sorry she was."

    "Yes, of course my dear, I wasn't implying she didn't. But that young woman could do with some help I think, somebody to point out when she goes too far. There's something about her..." he trailed off following his thoughts.

    "But there's nothing I can do, I don't know her, who she is or anything about her. Of course if she needed help I would but she didn't ask or anything, she just left. I doubt I'll ever see her again."

    "Well then, why don't you go after her? Talk to her, offer your help. Come on Aerie, you want things to change for yourself, perhaps it's time to take a chance? I'll always be here for you whatever you do, and the circus and the friends you have here."

    Could she do that? Go after this virtual stranger and offer her help and what help could she offer? Of course she had her clerical skills and her magic but what use were they if she was too scared to use them when she needed to? But then she had managed to use them when she had been scared. Perhaps Uncle Quale was right, even if it came to nothing at least if she made the offer and Maude would know she was willing.

    "OK, I'll do it, she couldn't have gone far and I should be able to catch her. And Uncle Quale,...thankyou for being so understanding."

    She bobbed down and gave him a kiss on his cheek.

    "Yes, yes, now get on with you, you need to catch her up."

    Quale watched her move quickly through the throng of people leaving the circus and wondered if he had done the right thing. He had meant what he said to her about her being like a daughter. When he had first found her dying in her cage at the Freak Show five years before, he had just hoped to ease her suffering for the last few days of her life. He never dreamt that she would survive let alone have the strength to recover to how she was now. Of course she still bore the scars of that trauma and even now he would sometimes hear her sudden cries at night when she was woken by some nightmare. But that was the point he told himself, she had already proved to him she was worth more than being a general dogsbody in the circus. She just needed a chance to prove it to herself. And that woman Maude, rarely had he had such a strong impression that destiny had so much in store for somebody. Ah well, he'd done what he could and they would just have to wait and see the outcome.

    Ayla filed out of the tent along with the other spectators and took a deep breath of the cool night air. It felt good to be outside, it felt "real" which helped banish the overhanging thoughts that made her want to go down on all fours and possibly find a tree to climb. She was dogtired or should that be "monkeytired", that caused her to grin to herself in spite of the headache she had. All around her people were reuniting with those they had lost track of in the mayhem with a mixture of tears and relief. Some of them were being helped by a contingent of guards that had been dispatched to the area when word had got out that something had gone wrong at the circus.

    A woman pushed past her and she heard her shriek in delight and then watched as she pounced on a small boy and enveloped him in a hug. There was something familiar about the voice and she suddenly realised who it was. So Mrs Spider had found her son well and unharmed, that was good, perhaps she hadn't made such a mess of things after all. She turned away from the tearful reunion and started heading past the now empty booths towards home.

    "Maude, Maude, wait a minute, I need to speak to you."

    Ayla heard Aerie call out, her voice was piercingly high above the low hub of noise coming from the people milling around her. She stopped and waited for her to catch up wondering what she could want.

    "Maude, thank goodness I've caught you before you left. Just a minute let me get my breath back," and work out how to say this Aerie thought to herself.

    "Look, I know this may sound strange but...but I didn't want you to just leave before I said something. I wanted to offer to help you, you know, with any adventuring quests you take on."

    "Adventuring quests?" what was she on about?

    "Yes, I mean I know I'm not very experienced but I'm a fast learner and I have my magic and I'm willing to help with anything when it comes to rescuing or helping people. An adventurer like you must get asked to do things like that all the time and I'm sure that sometimes you need people to help."

    "Hang on a minute, you think I'm an adventurer? That I go looking for trouble. Where on earth did you get that idea from?"

    "You're not? But you rescued the circus from Kalah and you carry a sword and Uncle Quale said you looked like you needed help."

    Ah, so that was it, bloody Uncle Quale, she'd recognised he was a crafty one. But Aerie was looking at her so earnestly and she wanted to let her down gently as she'd been pretty amazing in Kalah's domain.

    "Oh Aerie, I'm sorry, but I think you have the wrong idea. I just happened to be at the circus when everything went wrong and then well, I just did what I could to get out. And anyway, without you, who knows what would have happened so really you're the one who rescued everybody."

    "No, no, that's not right. I was chained up, I couldn't do anything..."

    "And then you stopped me massacring everybody so? Look, I appreciate the offer, really I do, but I'm not what you think I am. I'm just trying to get by until...well, just trying to get by."

    Aerie saw a look of sadness cross Ayla's face but before she could say anything encouraging or sympathic, a male voice cut across and a handsom plate clad knight hurridly approached them.

    "Maude, Maude is that you? Are you alright?"

    "Anomen? you're here? Were you at the circus? I didn't see you."

    "No not inside, the guards wouldn't let anybody in. Said we had to wait for the Cowled Wizards, damn fools when people could have been being hurt." he scowled. "I was in the armourers when I heard news of the trouble."

    "Ah right, the armourers, and you have your new plate, see I told you it would look smart."

    More than smart Ayla thought, the mail was contoured and followed the broad lines of his chest down to his narrow hips.

    "And you've been shopping yourself I see," Anomen took in the sight of the fitted leggings and remembered her pale thighs that he had tried so hard not to look at when ripping her dress.

    An awkward silence descended and Aerie, who had been quietly watching the two of them, decided she should intervene.

    "Ahem, Maude..."

    "Oh, Aerie, yes sorry. This is Anomen a ...friend of mine and Anomen, this is Aerie who helped me in the circus."

    "But Maude, only a little, you managed to kill Kalah and reverse the spell by yourself and change everything back." Aerie hurridly added wanting to help Maude impress the knight.

    Anomen dragged his eyes away from Maude and found himself being introduced to a slender, exceptionally pretty elf with eyes the colour of a clear blue sky. He doubted she could help with anything, she looked as if she could be blown away by a stiff breeze. The guards outside hadn't let anybody enter telling everybody it was too dangerous, no matter how much he argued with them. And yet Maude once again had been involved and seemingly rescued everybody and said this woman had helped. While he had been standing uselessly outside. He directed his irritation at the situation towards the elf,

    "You helped? What did you do, perform some tricks to keep everybody entertained?"

    And then instantly regretted his words when he saw her blush and Maude turned on him.

    "No actually, she stopped me killing everybody and Kalah blasting me with his wand. I doubt anybody else could have helped more." she stated, challenging him to argue.

    "I'm sure that's not true...," Aerie tried to interrupt. She didn't want them falling out over her as she could see they liked each other.

    "My apologies My Lady," he nodded at Aerie. "But Maude, you say you were trying to kill everybody, that I find hard to believe."

    Now it was Ayla's turn to look embarrassed,

    "I was a bit confused...being turned into a giant monkey does that to you."

    "You were transformed into a monkey?" Anomen wasn't sure if she was telling the truth or whether this was some elaborate joke directed at him.

    "Gorilla actually, she was a giant gorilla."

    "Yeah that, thankyou Aerie," she rolled her eyes, "so you see I wasn't thinking straight."

    "How big? I mean, not that that's important or anything..."

    "Huge, she was taller than you...and you're very tall," Aerie tried desperately to rescue Anomen's dignity.

    "Gods yes, I was enormous, and so strong. I thought Aerie was my dolly, you know, like a child's dolly, she looked so tiny in comparison." Ayla started laughing unaware of Anomen's growingunease, "Not when she was an ogre though."

    Aerie started giggling, "Oh no, don't remind me. When I first saw you I thought you were going to attack me. But then you started washing your hands so carefully, that wasn't very gorilla like at all."

    Anomen was trying to follow the conversation but was finding it hard. And more than a little disconcerting. Aerie had been an "ogre"? Maude a "gorilla"? He didn't understand but was very relieved that they weren't poking fun at him. Which he probably deserved after his rude outburst at Aerie and, embarrassed as he was about it, this time he wouldn't just walk away. He needed to make amends and find out more about what had happened,

    "It sounds like you were heroes and deserve a toast. Will you join me, both of you of course, I'd like to hear more about this Kalah and what he did."

    "Oh sorry Anomen, not now, I've got a splitting headache and really just want to get home. Aerie can tell you all that happened, she probably knows more about it anyway."

    "Ahh, yes of course, I wouldn't want to detain you if you are feeling unwell. So Aerie, will you join me?"

    Aerie saw the fleeting look of disappointment cross Anomen's face before he rallied and addressed her. Was Maude so oblivious she didn't realise that Anomen wasn't nearly as interested in hearing about Kalah as spending time with her? Perhaps this, if nothing else, was something she could help Maude with.

    "I'm afraid I can't. I have too much work to do, and it's very late. But why...why don't both of you come here tomorrow...as my guests of course? Then you can see the circus Anomen and you'll understand things better. And Maude, you didn't see the whole show, it's the least I can do."

    "They will open again tomorrow?" Maude asked surprised, she thought the circus would be closed and the people anxious to get away from here.

    "Of course, you know what they say, the show must go on..."

    "They do? Well I was enjoying it and I still haven't seen the vicious and dangerous beasts of the Jungles of Chult..."

    As she said it she didn't think they would seem quite so dangerous now. But as long as there weren't any magic displays, she couldn't face that again. At least, not before had got over this one and lost the urge for a banana and a good scratch. And she had been enjoying herself,

    "So Anomen, would you like to join me and see the circus?"

    Anomen once again found himself taken aback by Maude's directness. Of course he'd like to see her tomorrow, at the circus or anywhere else, but it didn't sound as if she was at all aware of that. And now she was asking him to join her, it wasn't at all what he expected. And after she had turned down his offer to toast her victory so abruptly. Automatically he answered her dismissively, just in case she was teasing him,

    "I suppose it wouldn't hurt though it sounds a frivolous waste of time when there are so many more important things to be doing."

    "Indeed there are. But look at this way, if the dangerous beasts of Chult escape, what could be better than having a brave knight in the audience to protect us?"

    Now she was definitely teasing him. But when he saw the mischevious grin that she directed at him, Anomen found himself not caring and answered in the same spirit.

    "Of course, My Lady, you will have nothing to fear from the vicious beasts," he grinned back. "You know, I haven't been to the circus since I was a child, perhaps it will be fun. So until tomorrow then Ladies, allow me to bid you goodnight."

    With a small bow Anomen made his way back to the guards to continue assisting with the people who were still making their way out of the circus.

    Aerie watched him go and excitedly turned to Maude,

    "Ooo Maude, I think he likes you,"

    "Likes me?"

    "You know, "likes you," Aerie emphasised the words and followed it with what Ayla was beginning to recognise as her familiar giggle.

    "Oh right, likes me."

    And that was the problem Ayla thought, I don't know. She said goodnight to Aerie and started making her way back to the Five Flagons puzzling over the meaning behind the words.

    Not really noticing her surroundings and still pondering the what Aerie had said, she exited the Promenade and skirted the edge of the slums on her way to the Bridge. The route was familiar to her and the dark moonless night didn't bother her as the few scattered lights from windows and lamps were enough to guide the way. She caught the smell of the river on the breeze and was grateful to be nearly home as her headache had got worse and she was looking forward to climbing into her bed. She passed through the large archway and called a goodnight to the solitary guard on duty and made her way slowly past the houses lining the Bridge.

    She wasn't sure what made her look up suddenly from watching where she was treading carefully over the cobblestones. Some prickle of apprehension at the back of her neck alerted her and she stopped and peered around. It was dark here, darker than it should be, and then she heard a low cry but she couldn't see where it had come from. It caused her to duck quickly behind the corner of the nearest building and she stood there as quietly as possible hiding in the shadows, listening intently and trying to work out what she had heard.

    Another cry of alarm reached her but it was cut off suddenly as if somebody's mouth had been smothered. Inching silently forward, she peeked around the edge of the building. Across the street at the entrance of a dark alleyway she could see the figure of a woman who had firm hold of a flailing man. He was trying to get away but the woman held him as if his struggling amused her. Next to her was a man, slightly taller, who seemed to be bored by the show and by his feet there lay a body. And then, as she watched, the woman suddenly dragged the struggling man towards her and forced his head back exposing his neck. Ayla quickly ducked back again behind the wall before she was seen. There was something unerving about the way the woman had so casually held onto the man, so unhurried and confident. It reminded her of how she had held the werewolves in the circus, that immense strength that made the victim's struggles useless. She wouldn't be able to fight somebody with that strength and the man watching as well, she had to stay hidden.

    Breathing as quietly as she could, she moved along the side of the house keeping to the shadow. She could head down onto the docks and make her way back to the Five Flagons that way and keep well away from the two she had seen. She had gone no further than half the length of the building when she heard a woman's voice behind her,

    "My, my, and what do we have here? A little mouse creeping around trying to hide. Lassal, be a dear and catch the rodent for me will you?"

    Ayla spun round drawing her sword as she did so, she wouldn't go down without a fight, and advanced towards the woman who was standing in clear view. She heard no sound of approach but then a wave of cold suddenly swept over her and she felt an icy hand grip her her neck from behind. The fingers were strong, impossibly strong, and dug into her throat forcing her to choke and she found herself pushed unrelenting forwards towards the woman. She fought the urge to resist, it hadn't done the man she had watched any good, and told herself to wait for her chance.

    The woman let out a cold, imperious laugh as Ayla was propelled towards her,

    "Did you really think you could hide from us? When we can hear the frantic beating of your heart and smell the warm blood coursing through your veins. Come now, submit to your betters and give yourself to a higher purpose than your pathetic life deserves."

    The man holding Ayla let out an exhasperated sigh and shoved her forward roughly.

    "Tanova, do you always have to be so overdramatic? You are fast becoming a caricature from some cheap novella. Kill her quickly and have done, I grow bored of this posturing."

    The force of the push almost caused her to fall and she stumbled and almost landed at the woman's feet. But he had let her go and Ayla wasn't going to waste the chance. Without straightening, she slashed at Tanova's legs and felt her sword cut deep into the thigh which was now at eye height. She heard the woman let out a hiss but before she could twist away and try and get behind her, a hand snaked out with supernatural speed and caught her wrist in a vice like grip.

    "Well, well, we have caught ourselves a feisty one."

    Another hand gripped her under her chin forcing her upright and for the first time she came face to face with the woman. Large bloodshot eyes leaking tears of blood stared back at her and then widened in shock,

    "You...you're alive...how can this be? You were killed...we were told."

    The grip on her wrist and chin slackened and Ayla wrenched herself backwards and turned to run. The man closed the distance between them so fast she didn't have a chance to get away, but then the woman called to him,

    "Stop Lassal...we must tell our Mistress...the Bhaalspawn lives."

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