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
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.
"Wake up, wake up"
Voices reached me as I lay in the cage, penetrating the comforting fury. Different to the guards or the man, female and male. Of course I tried to ignore them, what trick was being played now? What new torment had the man come up with to provoke a reaction?
"Ayla, wake up, it's me Imoen, we have to get out of here"
"She maybe too injured, we need to get her out of this cage so I can examine her" another voice addressed the first.
I didn't recognise the names, didn't recognise the voices and the idea of "out" was absurd. My world had shrunk to the size of the cage, it was safer here, just me and the comforting anger. I carried on ignoring them. I could hear the sounds of the lock being manipulated accompanied by the sound of exasperated breathing that occurs when you are trying to do something complicated too quickly.
"Finally, that's it, come on Ayla, I've got the door open".
A hand reached into my sanctury and gave a tentative shake of my shoulder. That was too much, how dare they disturb me like this? Hadn't the man done enough, weren't the spells he threw at me adequate without conjuring demons to taunt me? I turned and sunk my teeth in the offending hand, demons or not, there were limits.
"Ayla, it's me Imoen, ouch, you bit me, what the f..., I'm trying to get you out of this cage".
There was a quick movement backwards and a cry of surprise. The voice sounded hurt, offended. Something here was different. The man and his servants never showed any emotion, never any surprise.
"Be careful Imoen, she may have be under the influence of some spell or have been driven mad. Perhaps we should get Minsc to get hold of her so we can talk to her"
"Perhaps if I let Boo talk to her, sometimes I get very angry but I can still hear Boo"
So they wanted to talk, the man never wanted me to talk. Too fond of droning on himself to let anyone else get a word in edgeways. Another difference. Perhaps they would go away and leave me in peace if I spoke to them? I slowly sat up, and turned towards the voices. Three people, a young woman, an older severe looking woman and a large bald man. They were dressed in a motley collection of armour and carrying weapons, none of which looked very good. The women had pale faces and dirty hair, they looked thin, tired and worried. The man appeared in better shape though he shared the same look of one who had been captive for some time. Too thin in the face and neck compared to the impressive bulk of his torso. Not guards then, nor demons which was a relief.
"What do you want? Why are you bothering me?" I snapped and they all took a small step backwards looking shocked.
"Ayla, it's me Imoen, don't you recognise me?"
Blue eyes widened with concern looked back at me , dirty strawberry blond hair, pale skin, a little shorter and thinner than me. The names Ayla and Imoen meant nothing. I tried to think, to remember anything about the girl standing before me as she obviously expected me to. But there was nothing that sparked any recognition. I tried saying the names aloud in the hope that would trigger some memory to surface,
"Yes, Ayla, that's your name, " she nodded encouragingly, "I'm Imoen, and this is Jaheira" indicating the woman next to her, "And that is Minsc. We were together, surely you have to remember?"
It was such a strange concept to be presented with. What was there to remember? There was a cage, there was a man, there was pain, there was anger, there was the knowledge that this existance wasn't at all real. Was anything or had anything ever been different? "Yes", whispered the taint in my head urgently, "you were a God and will be again but now you need to fight for it. Now you need to RUN". The last word was a scream rather than a whisper and my whole body jerked in response. So loud, surely the others must have heard it? Then I felt the taint slipping away, retreating, burying itself in my subconscious. Leaving me empty, lost, but more than that, afraid. The man would come back and I would be alone.
"We need to get away from here, we need to go before he comes back." I almost shouted at the trio still anxiously watching me. I didn't need to tell them who I was referring to, the look of fear from all of them told me that I was not the only one he had hurt. "I don't remember anything, it doesn't matter, we need to go" the urgency conveyed by the taint carried in my voice and Minsc hurriedly reached forward to help me out of the cage. "You can tell me more as we move".
Jaheira agreed immediately, "I need to find Khalid, I haven't seen him for some time. Can you remember how to fight, how to use a sword? We found some weapons and armour in a side room."
As we walked, Imoen and the others tried to tell me what they thought I should remember. It was all a blur of names and places. I was only half listening. None of it sounded familiar or even believable. And I only had their word that they were who they said they were or that I was who they said I was. I thought about my name, "Ayla", it would do I suppose, could have been more impressive, a few more syllables, perhaps a surname? When we reached the stash in the small room, I tried a few of the weapons in the hope that something would feel "right" if not familiar. And was suprised and gratified to find that whatever else I couldn't remember, wielding a sword or shooting a bow was not one of them. It was the Katana that I settled on, it felt better and was slightly better quality than the other swords. A suit of ill fitting splint mail and a battered helmet was the best on offer in the way of armour. And so, ill equipped as we were, we started along the passage that looked the most likely to lead to the outside.
"Sorry, what was that again? So if I press the button I die and somebody might live, if I don't press the button somebody might die and I live, and if nobody presses anything everybody dies and if everybody presses everything everybody dies? Doesn't really seem very good odds. Can you give me a hint? Best of three? Can I persuade somebody else to press the button?"
After fighting our way along the passage from the room where we were caged, we had come to a room full of pools of water and had been stopped by a genii who seemed to know my name. Which put him at an advantage compared to me but it did confirm that the three people I had been trying to escape with were telling the truth. Or at least a truth. I was much more interested in the pools of clean, warm water than answering questions. Not only was I able to wash some of the accumulated dirt off, when you gazed into them you could see things, pictures. After so long being deprived of seeing anything other than the bars of the cage I found then fascinating and curiously peaceful. The genii was growing impatient though, after posing his nonsensical riddle for the third time.
"I think I'll pass on doing anything, doesn't make much sense either way"
The collected gasp of disgust from the others signaled that somehow I had answered wrongly, well if they had understood what to do perhaps they should have volunteered for the whole button pressing exercise in the first place? The genii called me a coward and summoned some goblins to fight. That I could deal with as I had found out on the way to this room, I was good at fighting. The genii then told us to look for a "Rielev" as the reward for answering his riddle, (or not as was the case). I got the distinct impression that my companions were less than pleased with me. I heard Imoen telling Jaheira, "that it was what she expected considering I had left her on the road to Candlekeep after nicking her stuff". If I could have remembered what she was talking about, I might have felt guilty.
We found "Rielev" in a large glass vat of liquid, what it was was difficult to tell. The glass was dirty and the liquid cloudy but perhaps it was just as well because his tormented voice was enough to inform us of his suffering. The man had promised him eternal life but then had forgotten him and left him in this state of suspended animation. He begged us to end his life and in return gave us some directions and instructions to aid our escape. To get the doors open in this complex we had to activate the Golem that was used for cleaning and maintenance. Another room contained more glass vats, some of which had still living occupants, if you could call it living. We broke them all and killed the mishapen lumps of flesh that tumbled out with the liquid. It was a mercy. Imoen was badly affected, crying and asking why death was pretty, telling us that "he" had forced her to see things, do things. Jaheira comforted her as best she could but we didn't have the time to stop, we had to keep moving.
We passed through a library and then we were ambushed by Deurgars who must have been working for our captor. Considerably outnumbered, we fell back and Jaheira threw a spell of entanglement to halt their attack. As the sticky vines caught their arms and legs, we pelted them with arrows. I had the feeling that I had done this many, many times before because I fell into the rhythm without thought. Choosing my targets, picking them off one by one, aiming first to disable in case they escaped the trap and then arrows that would kill. Imoen followed Jaheira's lead and cast a sickly green fog over the entangled foe which caused some of them to fall unconscious and others to start retching. A few managed to fire the crossbows they were carrying but the mail myself and Minsc were wearing managed to deflect those that were on target. We waited for the fog to clear and the vines to disolve and then we searched the corpses for anything that we could use.
Returning to where we had activated the Golem, we followed the passage down to where it had opened the doors into the sewer that linked this part of the dungeon to the next. And once again found our way blocked, this time by a strange squat creature with long flapping tentacles. We immediately let fly with our bows and sling but were unable to inflict any damage on the creature. Whereupon Minsc, with a bellow about smiting evil that would surely have alerted any guard in a two mile radius, grabbed his sword and attacked it wildly. Seeing that the creature's attention was now firmly focused on Minsc, Jaheira and I followed and laid into it's backside. We needed to kill it fast in case anything had been alerted to our presence. Minsc was being hit with the tentacles and was moving slower and slower, some kind of poison effect. But instead of turning on us, it carried on laying into Minsc which gave us the advantage we needed. Imoen let fly a round of magic missiles and between the three of us, we brought it down. Jaheira managed to cure the poison and we dosed Minsc with some of the potions we had picked up. But all of us were feeling the effects of the constant fighting, we needed to rest a little, but somewhere better than this.
I suggested to the group we returned to the pools area where we had encountered the Genii, the way behind us was now clear and we would find water for drinking. The others weren't keen but did see the advantages, then Imoen spoke up,
"If we carry on down that corridor", she said indicating the one in front of us, "there is a bedroom which would be more comfortable"
"You've been here before? You know this area? I thought you were locked up with Jaheira and Minsc," I asked.
Jaheira answered for her, "No, Imoen wasn't with us, she was held somewhere else"
"Where, we've passed no other cells or cages? Imoen, where were you imprisoned? Are there any others we should be looking for? Was the one Jaheira is looking for with you?"
Imoen looked away. seemingly not able to meet our eyes, "It isn't what you think, He kept me close, showed me things, told me things, made me...made me do 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.
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.