Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn - Chapter 1

Late in the summer of the Year of the Banner, Abdel Adrian, son of the God of Murder, returned to Candlekeep a hero. Gates that had been closed to him only weeks before were thrown open this time. A man he'd known all his life, a man who had accused him of murder, who had locked him up like an animal, who had all but handed him into the clutches of the Iron Throne, had embraced him with a smile of relief and confidence. "Abdel ," Tethtoril said, a tear coming to his eye, "Abdel, I'm so glad you've returned to us.
I can only hope your stay this time will be a long one, and you'll—" "Abdel!" a thin, reedy voice sounded behind him. Abdel turned to see a face he hadn't seen in—how long? A year? "Imoen," Abdel breathed, meeting the slight girl's hasty embrace. "Imoen, you've grown into—" "Don't say it, Abdel," she interrupted, a smile softening her voice and making her eyes dance. "You're a sight for sore eyes, kid," he told her, and they embraced again. She held him and said, "I'm sorry about Gorion. I'm so sorry." Abdel's breath caught in his throat, and he forced a weary sigh.

"He didn't die in vain," Tethtoril offered. Abdel looked up and was surprised that Tethtoril seemed to have moved farther away. The sky over the secretive bailey of Candlekeep roiled with green-gray clouds. Abdel could smell lightning but couldn't see it. He was delighted to be able to return to his home with his head held high, but there was a heaviness in the air and someone missing—no, more than someone—too many people. Where was Jaheira? She'd come with him from Baldur's Gate, surely, and there was Xan, but didn't he get lost somewhere along the road? Abdel remembered Xan arguing with the ghoul Korak, then something happened— "Abdel," Imoen whispered, her breath cool against his bare chest. Abdel didn't remember taking off his shirt. Imoen shivered against him, and he looked down at her. He was easily a foot and a half taller than the girl.

Imoen was beginning to fill out, her little girl's pronounced joints smoothing into her arms, her hips rounding, and her ribs fading into smooth, pale skin. Her hair was long, and it blew into Abdel's face, stinging his eyes. He breathed out a little laugh and made to gently pull her away, but she wouldn't let go. Her small grip on his strong arms tightened and tightened some more when she whispered, "What's happening to me?" He said her name again, then winced when one of her fingernails pierced his skin. Blood ran out of the wound, trailing down the top of her finger and past her wrist. "Something's happening to me," she whispered, her voice deteriorating into a guttural, inhuman grunt. She actually snorted, spraying Abdel with freezing-cold spittle. "Imoen," he said, and when she didn't respond, he pushed her away more forcefully. He might have been the only man on the Sword Coast able to push back against her suddenly superhuman strength, but he had no time to be pleased with his physical prowess.

He hissed at the sight of this young girl's face. Her normally refined features were twisted and ugly, and her mouth was growing into a gaping, fang-lined abyss. A tongue, forked and long like a snake's, shot out and tasted Abdel's bare chest with a touch so chill it made the huge sellsword shudder. The thing that had once been Imoen made a sound that made Abdel shout in return, as if he could launch the sound of his own voice against it in battle. Imoen's reddening eyes bulged to several times their natural size with a look as scared and confused as it was hungry and malign. A string of curses spat forth from her quivering mouth, already bleeding where the razor-sharp edges of her teeth pulled against the purple mass of her lips. Abdel pushed her farther away, and the touch of her naked skin was freezing, and the texture was dry and rough, almost scaly. Abdel reached behind him and found the pommel of his sword though he swore he couldn't feel the strap across his bare chest.

The sword came out with a shriek of metal on metal that harmonized with the Imoen-beast's keening wail . Abdel didn't think about what he was about to do to this girl he'd known since she was a baby, who'd put up with his sullen moodiness and occasionally cruel taunting through their cloistered childhood , a kid who wanted to follow him on his adventures and was pushed aside at every turn. Abdel brought his sword down hard and fast. He cut off her head and screamed as it fell to the brittle brown grass of Candlekeep, and he was still screaming when he woke up, right into another, all-too-real, nightmare.

Abdel may have been a hero, but he had not returned to Candlekeep. He saw the light coming from the brazier first, then closed his eyes and felt the heat. The copper bowl full of orange-hot embers was too close to him. He tried to bend away from it, but his naked back moved only a fraction of an inch before it met a rough, cold stone wall. Abdel flinched away and adjusted again. Try as he might in those first few moments between dream and reality, he couldn't find the happy medium his body was demanding. The unforgiving iron manacles chaffed his wrists, and the sound the chains made when he moved mocked him. Abdel growled, a low, animal noise deep in his throat, and clenched his fists. He blinked his eyes open and saw a man enter the cell.

He was short and fat, with a stinking abundance of body hair thick with sweat around the black leather straps of his simple girdle and harness. There were tools hanging from the straps, most of which Abdel didn't recognize. The strange man met Abdel's gaze and smiled, revealing a single tooth hanging yellow and jagged from his upper gum. The man's beard was uneven , broken by a rough burn scar that did nothing to add attractiveness or even character to his round face. "You are awake," the man said slowly, careful to pronounce each word as if language was new to him, or at the very least difficult. "Jailer . . ." Abdel started to say, then his parched throat closed on him, and his eyes watered. He sucked in a breath and started choking from the smoke from the brazier, dehydration, and the ache from a bruise he didn't remember getting.

"Dungeon master," the man murmured, looking away from Abdel , then pausing as if seeing the brazier for the first time. As he reached up to grab a poker hanging from a hook on the wall to Abdel's right, he said,
"Dungeon master, not jailer. This is not a jail, it is a dungeon." Abdel sighed, trying to meet the man's blank, glazed stare, but to no avail. The man was an idiot. "What—" Abdel croaked as the man set the poker into the burning coals and held it there. "What is your name, Dungeon Master?" The man smiled but didn't look at Abdel."Booter," he said, "is my name. My name is Booter." "Where am I?" Abdel asked, his voice beginning to really come back now. "How did I get here?" "My boss's place," Booter drawled, scraping the tip of the iron poker against the bottom of the copper bowl. "My boss took you. I do not know where he took you from." "Who is your boss?" Abdel asked, eyeing the poker

He could feel the anger building, and though he was starting to remember trying to pull the chains out of the wall and failing, he kept his voice as level as he could. "Who is your boss?" Abdel asked again as Booter pulled the poker out of the hot coals and dragged it across Abdel's chest. He screamed, smelling his own skin and hair burning and feeling every popping blister and seared inch of flesh in a pain that was almost a living thing on its own. His scream drowned out most of Booter's answer to his last question, but Abdel was sure he heard the man say "Shadow Thieves." He couldn't be in Amn, could he?

Abdel had seen Jaheira murdered by Sarevok. As he went to spill his half-brother's vile blood, Jaheira was returned to the world of the living by the prayers of the priests of Gond at the request of soon-to-be Grand Duke Angelo of Baldur's Gate. It was fully a day after Sarevok's death that Abdel saw Jaheira alive again. She'd cried in his arms, and Abdel, drained of his ability to feel anything, just held her. They slept little, though the sense of relief was there. So much was over, but so much had been lost in the process. Instead of sleeping, they went on long walks through the dark streets of Baldur's Gate. Citizens, merchants, trades-men, and soldiers alike recognized Abdel and tipped their chins to him in silent thanks. Word of Sarevok's deadly plans spread quickly through Baldur's Gate, a city, like so many others, that all but ran on gossip.

They were walking together again, that last night, neither of them speaking. Jaheira's hand draped limply in the crook of Abdel's elbow. He took one long-strided step for every two of hers, and though it hurt his battle-weary knees to walk that slowly, he was happy to stay alongside her. Every once in a while he would look down at her, and she would smile. The men came out of the shadows in the manner of professional kidnappers. They were already surrounding Abdel and Jaheira before they made their presence known. It took only the blink of an eye for Abdel to realize what was happening and not much longer to draw his sword. In that same space of time, three of the kidnappers moved in. Abdel brought his sword around, above his head, and was startled by the shrill sound of metal on metal, then a hard jerk that succeeded in taking the blade out of his hands. His arms were still moving forward fast and hard—faster now that the sword was no longer weighing them down—and it was a small thing to alter the direction of the swing enough to smash his heavy right fist into a masked man's face.

There was a loud crack, and Abdel could feel the attacker's nose collapse under the blow. Jaheira grunted, and Abdel looked over to see a black-masked man holding the half-elf in a painful headlock. "I'll break her—"the man started to say, but finished with a hard exhale when Jaheira brought her elbow in sharply to his ribs. His grip loosened enough for her to wriggle out, and Abdel spared a glance behind him. Another masked man was frantically unraveling a long length of black steel chain from around Abdel's heavy broadsword. Abdel took two long strides at him, and the man ducked the first kick with admirable speed. Slipping across the damp cobblestones to avoid Abdel's left fist, the attacker spun his chain out at his side and narrowed his eyes in warning. The huge sellsword only smiled and feinted an attack.

The masked man fell for it and twirled his chain up and across at Abdel's face, but it swished harmlessly short. Abdel punched the man in the ribs hard with his left hand, and all the air blew out of the masked man's lungs. The thug fell to his knees. Abdel put him down with a kick to the head. Jaheira shot her elbow back and up this time into her attacker's face. This man, too, fell to the ground, and Jaheira smiled at Abdel and almost started to wink before another masked man grabbed her from behind. "Enough of this," a heavily accented voice called from the shadows. "Just take them." The voice was commanding and impatient, but the masked men didn't seem to react to it at all. Jaheira was pulled back and over by the much bigger man who'd grabbed her from behind, and Abdel's blood boiled at the sight of it. Someone grabbed him roughly from behind, and Abdel bent forward quickly from the waist, throwing this attacker to the street with a crack, a curse, and a clatter of metal on stone when the dark-clothed man's dagger skittered out of his grip.

Abdel picked up one foot to stomp on the man, and a voice behind him said, "Bhaalspawn!" Abdel's head spun almost as fast as his body did, and he made to face the man who had dared to use that name for him after all he'd been through to rid Faerûn of his own brother. Something dry and surprisingly light hit Abdel in the chest, and there was a puff of powder in the air in front of him, powder so light it was almost smoke. Abdel breathed in to muster an appropriate curse, and he got a sharp, bitter taste in his mouth, and his eyes clamped themselves shut tightly. "Abdel!" Jaheira called out. Abdel growled, and his head spun. He shifted one foot out to his side to account for the sudden extreme list of the boat he was—but wait, he wasn't standing on a boat. . . . There was another light thud, and Abdel's eyes rolled around to see Jaheira waving at a similar cloud in front of her face. She made to look at him, but her eyes just rolled up into her head, and she slumped back into the arms of a masked man behind her. Abdel tried to growl again but just gagged. He felt someone touch his arm, knew it wasn't Jaheira, and tried to make a fist. His fingers wouldn't bend, and he had only one clear thought: That's strange, before his knees gave way, and he was out before he could see the cobblestones rush up at his face.

Abdel roared in rage, frustration, and bloodlust, but not in pain, even when Booter latched onto the second fingernail with his needle-nosed pliers. "This will hurt too," the self-styled dungeon master murmured, then pulled hard, tearing the fingernail up and off in one swift, cruel motion. Abdel held his teeth together tightly and swore to more gods than he thought might be listening that he would kill this "dungeon master" in a most telling way, and he would do it soon.
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