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Lasting Impression (ToB and beyond)

Discussion in 'Creativity Surge' started by Istari, Mar 13, 2002.

  1. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Hello and greetings to all.
    This is posted with apologies to all who might find the abuse to the characters too insulting; and those who think that there should be a law against writing bad fiction. ;)

    What this is about:
    In one of the dreams in SoA, Irenicus says what basically amounts to "Because of who you are, you will make a lasting impression on the Realms, not like the common mortals." (This is where he shows the protagonist the woman who was good and moral, and yet soon everyone will forget her.) Well, one has to admit: in the course of the protagonist's travels, lives of many people did change (sometimes the change was very abrupt, and final/fatal, but this is not the type of change I mean).
    Well, this is basically this story. After ToB, the protagonist's companions return to the Realms. They meet some people from past, and see whether the change that meeting the hero precipitated was constant or temporary.

    The idea started from the Epilogues at the end of ToB; I suppose this will become clear if someone won't be discouraged from reading the story itself after this overlenghty rant. ;)

    Now, I mentioned "abuse to characters" before. I think that "abuse to plotline" should be added to this. The thing is, I found it necessary to introduce some minor changes to the plot (NOT the main one, but several secondary ones) that I hope will not seem too intrusive; and although I tried to write the characters the way I saw them in the game, some of you might view them differently; not to mention that I'm not a writer by profession and the characterisations might be a bit... uneven?
    Of course, I invite criticism.

    And one last word: my protagonist was Aquila (apologies again, I'm not too good at inventing names, either; but since there is Avernus in PS:T - upon which coming I laughed really long, I thought that calling her the "She-Eagle" might just pass), a NG sorceress: intelligent, wise and charismatic, but clumsy, sickly and weak as a kitten; I think I did most of the quests in the good (and pretty often, I think, the lawful) way.

    And now, to the story. I hope someone is still reading.

    Something has ended.
    But something else is beginning.

    The fight with Amelyssan was over.

    Aquila of Candlekeep, Gorion’s charge, the most powerful of the spawn of Bhaal, accepted the immortal essence of her sire and ascended the ranks of godhood.

    Her companions divided the spoils they carried and scattered throughout the Realms.

    Imoen Aquila sent to Candlekeep per her sister’s request (“I’m sure not going to search for a book right now. The one I gonna write will be worth more than 5000 very soon.”) Jaheira accompanied her, as she wished to pay respect to Gorion’s grave. Then, she would return to Athkatla to take part in repairing Waukeen’s Promenade – now that the matters of the living were sorted out, she would devote herself to the dead: attempt to recover Khalid’s body from its unbecoming grave under the market and give her husband a decent burial.

    This would be her final deed in the wide world. She grew weary, and wished to rest. She knew of a leaderless druid grove near Trademeet, one she would be glad to stay in for the rest of her life. After concerning herself with the future of the whole Realms, the prospect of having her mind occupied with merely the matters of a small grove seemed… comforting.

    Sarevok, Aquila’s brother, seemed in no hurry to return to the Sword Coast. Feeling the need for some respite, willing to delay the moment when he would have to face the ghosts of his past in Baldur’s Gate, he asked to be returned to Amkethran. Much to his own surprise, he found himself volunteering to sort out the chaos that had broken out in the city after Balthazar’s death.

    Viconia, another one deeply changed by her travel with Aquila, was equally unsure as to her future in the Realms. Previously the most devoted follower of Shar, she now saw herself failing in her faith. For the time being, therefore, she would also keep away from the Coast – she opted to return to Amkethran as well.

    Then, Haer’Dalis. His affair with Aquila had been passionate. It had also been, quite uncharacteristically for him, long, steady and faithful. None, however, and the sorceress herself probably the least, were surprised when he announced his satisfaction at the end of their romance. Such was his way: it supported his view of life, and he was one of the happy souls prepared to do everything for the principle. The romance had been good, while it had lasted: but it had been doomed to die one day, and the day just arrived. No offence meant.

    And none was taken, for Aquila understood his view. Although she did not agree with it, she was happy their separation would not give her lover nightmares. It was bad as it was, losing Imoen and Jaheira; having to lose a lover who would actually remember her and miss her could be bad enough to shatter her resolve to use Bhaal’s power to help people. She would have refused the power, and remained mortal, still capable of helping many, but nowhere as many as she would do now. Haer’Dalis simplified the equation.

    To honour his love, the actor planned to write a poem based on her story. He claimed to find focus in the desert landscape; and so he would return to Amkethran with Viconia and Sarevok. His true motive was, of course, different: he wished to learn Sarevok’s side of the story, having already thoroughly questioned Aquila, Jaheira and – especially – the talkative Imoen. If he only made Sarevok to speak!

    And so it happened that Viconia, Haer’Dalis and Sarevok returned to Amkethran. The leader of the mercenaries agreed to leave the city quickly enough after finding himself on the receiving end of Sarevok’s sword; to ensure that he would not return, he was paid a month’s worth of his job – a small fortune, to be sure, but only a meagre amount by the party’s standards. The villagers were also given a pittance, enough to allow their survival until Amkethran would return to its role as a trade centre.

    Then, the company started off. They were not sure of their path, wandering over the desert in many directions to as great extent as the location of oases allowed. Sometimes they found themselves ambushed by highwaymen; on an occasion or two they fought the nuisance that were the over-eager representatives of the local authorities.

    They spoke little, each occupied by his or her thoughts. Haer’Dalis alternatively busied himself with perfecting the occasional unruly stanza of his song and wondering about the beauty of the Prime Material Plane. To his own surprise, in the course of rewriting history to a more aesthetically pleasing version he sometimes found himself missing his Eagle – however, he regarded these thoughts as unbecoming a Doomguard, and quickly quelled them.

    Sometimes, he would look at his companions and try to guess what the doom of their lives would be – what end to their songs he would write. Both of them he considered as prime subjects for epics, in case the one he was writing did not exhaust his artistic potential, as it sometimes, in the very rare moments of self-doubt, occurred to him it would.

    Viconia tried to force herself to remain as devout a follower of Shar as she had always been since leaving the Underdark. Shar, however, was the goddess of loss and despair, two things Viconia felt no more. Truly, she would never return to her home, and always feel a bit homesick; and she would never feel at home on the surface, always being the odd one out; and she did lose the one person she could have called her friend; and being one of Aquila’s former companions did not mean she would be treated any different by those she would meet in the future; but, against all reason, she was becoming increasingly optimistic. This departure from the rational state of mind she had always maintained did not anger her as much as amuse her; still, there was a lot to occupy her mind.

    And Sarevok? Sarevok behaved like a man possessed. Sometimes he would appear a perfectly normal person, conversing with Haer’Dalis on the matters of lore and magic, and the bard’s experience of the Realms. He would sometimes correct the occasional misperception, at times agree to take off his armour to learn the precise moves accompanying this or that cantrip or spell, and in the rarest of moments even agree to divulge some information regarding his doings with the Iron Throne. Then, he would speak with Viconia about her life in the Underdark and the reasons of her leaving and the changes in her conception of the world ever since meeting Aquila in Amn; the two would achieve an awkward understanding, nothing like the friendship Viconia had with the sorceress, and yet somewhat comforting to both of them. These were the good moments.

    And then, there were the times when Sarevok would wander off to the desert at night, struggling with his thoughts. Then, he would curse at Aquila’s name: curse her for killing him, and then bringing him back to life, for giving him a second chance. He would curse the ineptitude of his people back in the Throne, and his own back in the forest where he managed to kill Gorion, but not the Eagle; he would curse himself for not killing the sorceress when she revived him, or at any other time they travelled together. He would make great plans for the conquest of the Sword Coast, and spit at them for not being ambitious enough; he initially viewed gaining the power over people only as means to obtaining godhood, and – after what he had seen in his travels with his sisters – was ready to consider ruling the Coast as settling for the inferior prize. He would sit, and curse, and cry.

    At times like these, Haer’Dalis would sit by the campfire and listen to the voices in the night. He would smile to himself, cherishing the way even the strongest, most charismatic and intelligent of beings could be brought to madness by desires and cravings disproportionate to their means. He was certain that whatever the fate of Sarevok would be, wherever the man succumbed to his madness or regained his sanity, it would be an interesting one indeed, and one fitting a great tragedy.

    Viconia was slightly more compassionate: in Sarevok she recognized the signs of her own behaviour from the time soon after she left her subterranean home, though the motives, and exact patterns, were different. She sometimes ventured after the weak male into the night, and attempted to speak some sense into him, at times even with some effect. Sometimes, she would champion Shar’s cause to the human; at times, she would simply sit and listen, just as Aquila used to when it was Viconia in Sarevok’s place. Once, when she found Sarevok asleep amid a pile of mutilated bodies of some people he killed in his rage, she buried the victims and cleaned his sword, so that when he woke up and remembered nothing, there would be naught to remind him. She was almost sure, anyway, that those were some rogues and not innocent travellers who simply meant to ask him for directions; there are no innocents in the desert.

    Curiously, she did not feel physically attracted to Sarevok, or, for that matter, to Haer'Dalis: another source of wonder. But still, the fact remained – she found herself infinitely more attracted to studying the characters, than bodies, of the two male specimens. She felt more than a little disgusted at Haer'Dalis’ willingness to put a story over its heroes, and yet peculiarly often pulled into conversation with the bard. Having seen little of the Planes, being dragged there only on occasions when travelling with Aquila, she found the provided descriptions fascinating. She found it amusing that Haer'Dalis actually wished to see the Realms after what he experienced, and could not help but wonder whether it was merely the novelty that appealed to him – or her.

    All this time, however, the three felt the pull of the Sword Coast. For Viconia, and especially Sarevok, it was the object of a somewhat suicidal fascination; they knew getting there would mark the time they would have to achieve some resolve for the future, one they felt reluctant to arrive at. And yet, they were becoming weary of hovering in the limbo of indecision.

    And so, when one day they found themselves on the border of the Forest of Tethir, they decided to leave the desert, and the aimless trek, for the city of Athkatla. The official reason was they needed to recall what proper lodgings looked like; only Haer'Dalis, however, seemed honest in this desire.

    They moved fast through the elven lands, unwilling to meet any of the locals; although Viconia and Haer'Dalis were part of the party that saved Suldanessellar from Irenicus, the former still harboured no good feelings for the surface elves, and the latter could well do without the competition of elven singers. Sarevok they judged to be hardly accepted into the city, and so – they thought – it was best to avoid any unnecessary encounters, if only to escape embarrassment.

    They were several hours’ walk away from Athkatla when they spotted in the distance who appeared to be several Cowled Wizards attacking a man and woman. The woman was hurling spells at the Wizards as if her life depended on it – which, considering the situation, it probably did – and the man tried to lay a blow on the attackers; apparently, judging from the frustration on his face, to no avail. Probably the magical defences of the attackers were too strong for him.

    One of the wizards shot a spell at the woman, who bent in half, clutching her stomach. The man abandoned his assault and ran to his companion to help her…

    “They are dead if somebody doesn’t help them,” Viconia said, looking at her fellow travellers.

    “By the look of their clothes they appear to be some local nobility,” mused Sarevok. “Perhaps it is an opportunity we could utilise.”

    “What an amazing sense of theatrical duty the yonder hawk has! Look at the pose he strikes next to his fallen lady! Well, if we were to enter the fracas, I suggest that we do it now, ‘tis the most dramatic moment there can be,” Haer'Dalis finished.

    Between Viconia’s hammer, Haer'Dalis’ spells and Sarevok’s sword, the assassins were disposed of quickly. The trio then approached the victims, intending to introduce themselves, when the man spoke.


    “Who calls my name in the wilderness?” the tiefling answered, slightly astonished.

    Then, he recognized the man. “Valygar? Valygar Corthala? Be that you, raven?”

    “Yes, and this is Nalia, if you remember her. Listen, I’m sure I would appreciate the truly wonderful quote of some obscure poet that you are preparing to voice about our common travel with Aquila leading to the meeting of two broken hearts, a magician and a magic hater at that, and our getting married and all that, but please be so kind as do put it off for a while. Nalia is hurt; you wouldn’t by chance have a cleric with you, would you?”

    “I can see, my raven, that your wonderful manners I so well remember did not change. But the wound does not seem large, even if your lady fainted,” answered Haer'Dalis, slightly annoyed at the fact that he appeared so transparent.

    “No, but the thing is, she is pregnant. And I don’t think this magic could have done her any good.”

    “She is – what?” Haer'Dalis stuttered. Now, considering Viconia’s past, she probably was not the best candidate for a midwife. “No, my hound, I have no cleric with me. But if you direct me towards the nearest village, I will go fetch a doctor.”

    Viconia’s eyes narrowed at the flagrant abuse. Haer'Dalis should have known better than to decide for her; a few months before, he would have ended with a crushed skull without delay. Right now, however, she decided to put the matter aside for a moment, and deal with the more pressing matter.

    “It may take too long,” she said, stepping forth and dropping the hood she covered her face with ever since leaving the desert. “If his lordship agrees to accept aid from a drow, I could help your wife.”

    Valygar’s face twitched. “I have long ago accepted that help may sometimes come from the least likely sources. I suppose that if I could have married a magician and a noble, seeking help from a drow would probably be the next logical step. Know this, however: if I see you hurt my wife, you will pay with your life for that.”

    “More likely, considering the odds are against you, you will die trying,” Sarevok broke in. “Viconia is a very efficient cleric, and she will certainly help your wife – if you stop these ridiculous threats and shut up, that is. Come, and allow her to do her job.”

    The assistance came from an unlikely source. Yet, it was somehow reassuring, especially since Viconia had no idea what she was supposed to do. She felt that the unborn child was dying in the mother’s womb, but hesitated with healing; she had healed her companions innumerable times, but never attempted this on a stranger. Shar was an evil goddess; for certain, she would be better pleased if she killed the unborn child, and the mother as well. And then the offensive human, for good measure.

    Then, she remembered a child she was once to kill when she was still a priestess of Lloth; a child she did not kill, indeed the child that precipitated the events leading to her escape from the Underdark. No, she did not kill the child that day. But someone else did.

    “So it will be a life for a life,” she thought. Still, she was not sure if the energy she would channel would not hurt the child, even if against her will.

    “Aquila,” she thought, “if you are somewhere there, hear my thoughts. You saved that woman and that man once. You took responsibility for their lives. YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS THIS CHILD. Help me. Please, help me.”

    In her mind’s eye, she saw a giant white eagle, light flowing from her eyes, wings stretching to the borders of Viconia’s sight. Then, she felt a surge of healing energy in her veins: energy she directed into the body laying before her. She slowly healed the magic wounds in the mother and the child, feeling irrational joy at not allowing yet another of those short-lived beings to die; a being who would probably hate and abhor, and try to kill, her kin in the future. She withdrew, feeling spent. Curiously, even now Nalia looked better.

    “They will both live,” she announced. “Her ladyship will probably wake up in an hour. I suggest that we make a camp here; she should not move today too much. How’s that for a drow’s assistance, Lord Corthala?”

    “I suppose that I should apologise. Very well, then; I stand corrected. And I thank you for your help. I cannot pay you today, though: we do not usually travel with much money. Please, then, accept my invitation to my home – though it is my wife’s castle, I believe I would not overstep my bounds by inviting her saviours to stay with us. Then, we would also regulate the matter of payment.”

    “If you insult me any further, male, your wife will wake to see your body in many, many small pieces. And if you knew my kind at all, you would not take my words for a joke or an idle threat. I did not do what I did for money; you can keep it.”

    “Well then, let me apologise once more, lady. Many people, not excluding my wife and the bard present here, attempted to correct my manners, but I am still, unfortunately, little versed in the acceptable social repartees. Allow me, however, to renew my invitation to the d’Arnise Hold: perhaps a fine dinner will mend the breach I seem to have created with my unruly tongue.”

    “Well, you certainly do seem to have improved your language somewhat, my hawk,” Haer'Dalis broke in. “I, for one, look forward to the prospect of fine food and drink. The last we met, however, Lady d’Arnise was supposed to hand down her family abode to the Roenal family, and you were leaving Aquila’s company to return to being a ranger in the Umar Hills. Prithee tell me, why do I now see you her husband, and in control of the Hold? And what of the assassins whose attack precipitated this happy reunion?”

    “It is a great many questions that you have, bard – I can see your travels with Aquila must have taken you far from Amn, otherwise you would surely have known the story. But this is best told at a campfire. Haer'Dalis, lady Viconia, and you, gentleman to whom I have not yet been introduced, I would that you joined with me.”

    A small fire was made, and food was shared. As per Viconia’s forecast, Nalia woke up and was led to her place by the fire by Valygar and Sarevok; while she was happy to see the former, the latter’s face brought out from her a cry of surprise and more than a little disgust.

    “You! Sarevok… Anchev! I remember once seeing you in my father’s castle! You came there with your father! But I heard that Aquila killed you in Baldur’s Gate!”

    “The news of my death were vastly exaggerated, your ladyship,” Sarevok answered. Inside, he was teeming with anger – although he knew most of his welcomes to Amn and Baldur’s Gate would look similarly, having a first-hand sample did no good to his mood.

    “Whoever he is, remember, my dear, that he has just saved our lives,” Valygar added.

    “Then, I suppose, I owe you my gratitude,” Nalia sighed, still unconvinced.

    It fell to Haer'Dalis to break the silence that followed. “You promised us a tale, my lord.”

    “Could you, please, stop calling me with that title? It is nothing but a honorific: it is to Nalia that the title belongs.”

    “And I do not like being called “Her Ladyship” by anyone save that noble idiots, either,” Nalia added. “You must be wondering, Haer'Dalis – do I recall your name correctly – how we got married? It is quite simple, really: Valygar was one of your and Aquila’s companions who helped me liberate the Hold. When I heard from Aquila of his predicted departure for the Umar Hills, I met him in his Athkatla house and offered the rule of the Hold.”

    “As some of you may be aware, there is an ancient Amnish custom that the liberator of a castle may take over its rule if the previous lord is dead with no male heir and the female descendants agree. We used the custom to wrestle the castle from the Roenals; soon afterwards, it was apparent that a marriage of convenience was needed, as the old Lord, despite the illegal affairs his son was found to be implicated in, did not yield. This both removed the last doubts concerning the Hold, and restored the name of my family.”

    “And as for what happened later, I suppose that the version you wrote would be a thousand times more poetic than what really happened, Haer'Dalis. So, if you excuse us, we will leave this to your imagination.” Nalia blushed.

    “Thank you for your compliment of this sparrow’s humble talents. But what of the assassins, Nalia?”

    “With hindsight, I suppose that when we last travelled together, you must have believed me to be a naïve, inexperienced girl with a curious dream of helping the poor and no practical approach to the problem. Valygar you must have thought an equally foolish person who also curiously believed to be able to escape the corruption in Amn and the responsibilities of his title by becoming a ranger and burying himself in a forest. Well, although many things changed from that time, some did stay the same. The Corthala-d’Arnise grew to power the traditional Amnish way, by marriage of names, money and land. But I did not stop rooting for the poor, although I now attempt to work through legal channels; neither did Valygar become fond of corruption, although rather from avoiding it, he now works openly against it.”

    “I suppose we might have been slightly too efficient in our efforts. We will probably have to start travelling with a whole entourage of bodyguards, as all the other nobles do. No privacy anymore. And I really thought I could fight mages,” Valygar sighed.

    “Perhaps your weapons were inadequate,” Sarevok interrupted, willing to change the topic from the extravagant idea of fighting for the poor. “What do you use?”

    “Usually, my family blade in one hand, and another katana in the other. For a reason beyond my comprehension, all Corthalas have been trained to use this kind of weapon. It is very hard to come upon a good katana in Amn.”

    “Well, perhaps you would accept a small gift from us to remember this day,” Sarevok said, pulling a beautiful sword out of his backpack. “Neither of us is trained with this kind of weapon, and we probably won’t find much use for it anyway.” He could not comprehend his reasons for letting a small fortune – for the Celestial Fury must have been worth a lot around these parts – save that it felt right. He would have to attempt to analyse his motives later.

    Oddly enough, he thought he saw a glimpse of appreciation in Viconia’s eyes. It did not last long, though, and he was almost sure he had imagined it.

    Valygar took the katana from Sarevok and tried a few blows. “This is the second gift I receive today from you. You save our lives, and then give us what may yet come to save our lives again. I truly don’t know how to repay you.”

    “I’m doing only what Aquila probably would have done,” Sarevok answered. “Nothing to thank for. Any other news from around these parts?”

    “Well, there is this thing which shocked most of the pompous buffs around, although I myself find it only appropriate that it finally happened. A non-human was admitted into the Order of the Most Radiant Heart. A halfling paladin of Arvoreen,” Nalia responded.

    “Let me guess her name,” Haer'Dalis answered, mildly amused. “Mazzy Fentan.”

    “Did you know her?”

    “A valiant knight and a great warrior for the forces of good. She travelled with us for a time, although she separated from our company after we left Suldanessellar. It is good that her story found a fitting epilogue. I cheer for her. If only she died now, having obtained this much, instead of living on and spoiling the effect!”

    “Aside from your well-meant wishing death to my dear friend Mazzy – and rest assured I will inform her of her obligations to the tale – do you mean that you managed to see that fabled elven city? What is it like? What did you do after we separated? Where is Aquila?” Nalia asked.

    “Well, Haer'Dalis, it sounds like the cue to start your part. For myself, I’m spent, and going to rest,” said Viconia.

    That night, Viconia dreamt.

    The shadow grew.
    Her blood screamed in the nightmare she could not wake from.
    She felt her blood boil; with the remainder of her mind, already weakened by the assault, she tried to fight back, to keep herself alive.
    And she won.
    She felt the surprised goddess withdraw.
    “We shall see how your nascent goddess will help you against Lloth’s cohorts, Viconia,” were the last, almost amused, words she heard.

    She woke up to the sight of Sarevok’s face.
    The man, apparently, had been trying to shake her out of the nightmare. On seeing that she was conscious, he let her gently to the ground.

    “Did I scream?”

    “Mhm,” he nodded, obviously unwilling to divulge any further upon this topic. She felt oddly grateful for his brevity. “Listen…”

    “Better think twice, human, before offering me help. And this applies also to you, tiefling, wherever you’re hiding,” she added, looking around for Haer'Dalis.

    “I can see you have recovered your wits quickly enough, my raven,” the actor laughed, emerging from behind her head. “Believe this sparrow when he says he has learnt long ago not to help the proud Viconia. I still value my head.”

    “As empty as it might be,” Sarevok interrupted him.

    “Although… what would you say of something to eat? To drink? Our hosts left us some before they departed to prepare the household for our arrival. Mind it, it is not an offer of help… merely a favour, shall we say, raven?”

    “A favour… I might accept, perhaps,” she said, looking at the poorly masked concern on her fellows’ faces.

    Perhaps they did not deserve to be lied to.

    “Before that, however, there is one other matter we need to resolve. If you are wondering what my outrageous behaviour meant, know that my goddess abandoned me. Yet, I am not powerless. You can, therefore, stop pretending that you care for what happened to me. I will continue being useful. And now, where is this food?” She observed the relief flow into their faces, and almost physically heard them think: “If she can insult my feelings, perhaps she will be well.”

    Haer'Dalis looked at Viconia. At this moment, in this precise pose, she somehow reminded him of a different woman he once met, the proprietor of a Brothel in the planar city of Sigil. “I wonder,” he thought, “what would Fall-from-Grace say of Viconia?”

    They set off late that day; and so it was only in the evening that they reached the d’Arnise Hold. They refreshed themselves and ate the supper, looking out to the delightful prospect of spending the night in comfortable beds – a fine change after months in the wilderness. They spoke a little more about Amn and Baldur’s Gate, and the company’s travels.

    Viconia stood on top of the castle, looking at the setting sun and savouring the thought of being one of the few of her kind who could do so without pain or discomfort. For a moment, she wondered at the source of her newly found power – she was fairly certain that no matter what the goddess said, it wasn’t Aquila; rather, it was as though the power flew from inside herself, as if it was granted by her life and all that she had experienced; a thought she quickly dismissed as ridiculous. Then, she decided to stop concerning herself with something she was bound to discover in the future, and savour the moment. Although only for this split second, life was good.

    Then, she saw the silhouette of a large bird crossing the disc of the sun. She had never learnt to discern the various avian species, but was irrationally certain it was an eagle.

    “What is it that you want, Aquila?” she whispered.

    That night, Viconia dreamt.

    She dreamt of the drow, going out to some war or another; and she dreamt of a drow city, not the one she used to call her home so long ago, but another, the one she visited with Aquila when they chased Irenicus, Ust Natha; and she dreamt of a forest, and an elven city she recognized as Suldanessellar; and of battles, and carnage, and blood. In other words, she dreamt of things she should no longer concern herself about.

    And somehow, when she awoke the next morning, she knew what she would do. After the breakfast, she spoke to her companions, and told them she would be leaving soon for the south, perhaps to visit the elves, and perhaps to re-enter the Underdark. They were welcome to accompany her, though if they preferred not to, she would not insist. She would only demand to be given her part of the money.

    Sarevok still felt no sincere desire to return to the North. He has never actually seen the Underdark, either; and this, coupled with the fact that he both knew the reputation of the drow as fearsome warriors, and fought some himself back in Sendai’s enclave, was enough for him to accede to Viconia’s direction. He was pleased with the prospect of battling some opponents who would present at least some difficulty to the art of killing he perfected: never since leaving the Throne of Bhaal has he found a worthy opponent, save perhaps Haer’Dalis. The blade’s finesse style of fighting did not suit Sarevok, however; the bard, on the other hand, abhorred Sarevok’s lack of subtlety, and the sparring session the two once started was quickly abandoned. Some challenging duel, therefore, would be a nice change to the Deathbringer.

    Haer’Dalis, meanwhile, returned to writing his epic; he tried to write the events of the battle of Suldanessellar into it; he was having additional problems due to an attempt to incorporate the great black dragon’s name, Nizidramanii'yt, into the chant. A visit to the city, in his opinion, could refresh his imperfect memory; not to mention the possibility of presenting the song to the discerning elven audience. In the end, the choice boiled down to remaining alone in the still foreign lands, or continuing travelling with the not yet fully tapped sources of information that were highly interesting cases themselves – not a choice at all for any aspiring bard.

    They bode farewell to their hosts, who were somewhat disappointed at having their saviours leave so soon – something the companions regarded as highly curious: after all, they reasoned, Nalia’s reaction showed that the two have heard of Sarevok, and Viconia never stopped being a drow, and Haer'Dalis was the first to admit most people reacted quite weirdly to him… was it that they were shielded by Aquila’s name? Or were the two unusually gullible people willing to trust them only because of having their lives saved by them? The debate lasted several hours.

    They travelled for two days. The second evening, they spotted several drow fighters leading a prisoner – they felt it uncanny that one slave was escorted by so many, and out of sheer curiosity followed them from a distance. After an hour, Viconia voiced an opinion that drow who allow themselves to be followed for so long do not deserve to live.
    She either unwillingly said her part too loud, or – as her companions suspected – intended the insult to be heard by all parties involved; the end result was obviously that a fight erupted. The drow fighters appeared to be relatively inexperienced, and soon lay dead at the companions’ feet. Then, they examined the prisoner.

    Viconia’s face mirrored her disgust.

    “Oh. It’s he.”

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited March 13, 2002).]

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited March 13, 2002).]
  2. Will Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose


    Dec 12, 2001
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    [​IMG] This is a mighty fine story. Keep it coming, please.
  3. C'Jakob Guest

    This is an excellent piece of work. Will the Great American (or whatever your ethnicity is) Novel follow? I wouldn't be surprised. :)
  4. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Yay! I have a reader! Two readers! Three!
    Thanks for the support.

    This I dedicate to the unhappy soul who had to place the "ToB and beyond" in the title of this thread, because I - obviously - forgot to do this.

    And also, I'd like to thank the creators of the "Drow dictionary" that was of immense help in the writing of this part.

    This part is shorter, and almost nothing happens in it, but because it contains more dialogue, it was much, much harder to write. I would really appreciate some constructive criticism. And some remarks regarding... uh... the usage of the Past Perfect as opposed to Past Simple; I sometimes get lost in the two (I am not a native speaker, in case you're wondering.)

    And now, back to the realm of overlengthy sentences and dialogue almost fit for a Star Wars film.

    Jal khaless zhah waela. All trust is foolish.
    Khaless nau uss mzild taga dosstan. Trust no more than yourself.

    In the end, it took one traitor only. It always does.

    It didn't matter that he was believed dead. It didn't matter that he approached only those he was sure of, and spoke only to those he was confident about. It didn't matter that he employed all his skills of deception, honed by years of service for Lloth, and it didn't matter that he used every means available to him to keep his cause secret.

    In the end, it took one traitor only.

    His cause was lost. His comrades were captured. It took all his skill to leave the city and get to the surface; a great deal of courage to head for the lands of the surface elves; and a lot of desperation to try to speak to one that separated from a group.

    But then, he was a desperate man, wasn't he?

    Of course, it didn't pay off. The darthiir screamed and called for help; other came and started shooting; and killing them probably wouldn't have been the best way to establish contact. He ran off.

    The worst thing, the screams revealed his position to the pursuit. And he was captured. Of course, instead of being mercifully killed on the spot, he was taken back "home" for the proper punishment. The new rulers of the city delighted in public trials and giving "examples". An absurd point of view he had heretofore associated only with the less intelligent races.

    As if a body wasn't enough of a proof if the death wasn't in public.

    He cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have left the city when he could, months ago, with the surfacers. He should not have tried to change the drow. You did not change the drow; you died trying.

    Ulu z'hin maglust dal Qu'ellar lueth Valsharess zhah ulu z'hin wund lil phalar. To walk apart from House and Queen is to walk into grave. And grave was his destination… if he were lucky.

    And yet, he knew he had tried to do the right thing.

    He felt himself being pushed aside. He lost his balance, and hit the ground. The last thing he heard before passing out were the sounds of a fight.

    The smell was not what he had expected.

    What he expected was the odour of prison, the stink of unwashed bodies, confined together in a small space. The dense, stale air of the Underdark, pregnant with blood, and rot, and treachery, like the ways of its people.

    But the taste of this air was different.

    He lazily scraped together the shreds of his mind, seeking in his memories for a place to this smell, and found that he could not recall what it was; he had not yet recovered after what had happened. But he sensed the gentle caress of the wind on his skin, and smelt the rich smells that it carried; and he felt that there was a certain - surface-y - quality to it, the quality that he had come to associate with freedom, and sometimes even happiness; and he knew that he was still on the surface.

    He finally remembered the events of - much as he tried, he could not place them anywhere in time. But there was not much to recall; he did not know who the attackers were, or what the outcome of the battle was. In whose hands was he now?

    He opened his eyes and looked. The Moon looked back through the canopy of the forest. "Eilistraee," he thought, "my goddess…"

    He turned his head to the side, and saw a fire, and the silhouette of a woman sitting next to it; the light reflected from her white hair, but not from her skin, which was dark as his own. And he knew that she was drow and that he was lost, and that whatever the reason he was allowed to rest, the respite would not last long. Soon he would be forced to resume his walk, blinded as he was before; and he would never see his beloved Moon again. So he turned his eyes away from the drow, and to the Moon again, to the silver rays that he so treasured.

    They were returning from the hunt, laughing loudly. "So," Sarevok said, "what you are basically saying, Haer'Dalis, is that with this… Solaufein's… help, my dear sister managed to fool a whole drow city and steal its greatest treasure? I'd never suspect she had it in her! Imoen, yes, I can imagine Imoen doing this, but… Aquila? Well, I suppose one learns new things every day." They arrived in the camp, to the sight of Viconia's appalled face.

    "I'd imagine you two, of all people, would have learnt long ago to be quiet in a forest that you don't know who it's crawling with! There may be other drow parties around!"

    "Then they will be dispatched like the previous one, Viconia. Why are you so nervous, all of a sudden? Afraid of meeting your kin, are you?"

    "Let's just say I think that it's better to be safe then sorry, as you humans say," she said, then abruptly changed the topic. "What did you bring?"

    "Some pheasants, a hare, and some of those berries, wild garlic and onions that you mentioned. I hope these herbs are right; at times like these, I really wish we had a ranger, or a druid, with us. And I really don't understand why he couldn't satisfy with the usual fare."

    "We also brought some willow bark," Haer'Dalis broke in. "How's he?"

    "No change, still unconscious," she said, absent-mindedly, still thinking of how correct Sarevok was about the real reason she felt so uneasy - was she really that transparent? Then, startled, "Willow bark? What for?"

    "Headache. If I had a concussion like this, I'd probably have an Abyss of a headache when I woke up. We could add some bark to the broth."

    She looked at him in an odd way, thankful for this opportunity to break the stream of her thoughts. "And since when are you the expert on local plant remedies?"

    "I hope you don't mind, but I'd rather keep it a secret, my raven," he answered, somewhat embarrassed.

    "Oh, but I insist. Please do share this story with us, bard. I'm sure it will be… interesting," she said, basking in his uneasiness.

    "If you insist… Do you, perchance, remember the trip to Trademeet? When we went to meet Mazzy's family? When you bought yourself that pretty belt that later appeared to be magical?"

    "The one when you and Imoen…"

    "Yes, yes, that would be the one. Well…"

    "When he and Imoen did what?" Sarevok's voice interrupted from where he was plucking the pheasants.

    "When they got so drunk that they strolled down the streets in the middle of the night, singing filthy songs at the top of their voices until Lord Logan Coprith - the local Mayor - had them locked up for disturbing the peace in the city. And Aquila…"

    "I'm sure Sarevok doesn't want to hear these unnecessary details…" Haer'Dalis' discomfort grew almost visibly.

    "Oh, but I'm sure I do," Sarevok said, grinning unpleasantly. "Please, Viconia, what did Aquila do?"

    "And Aquila had them Silenced for the whole of next day. No spells, and," she said, looking at Haer'Dalis, who was now almost bursting with embarrassment, "most certainly no songs. One of the best days I remember, for sure. But how this connects with willow bark is still somewhat beyond my comprehension."

    "Well, now that you have the hard part, the rest is pretty clear, my raven. When we woke up in that prison, we had a - I suppose you could call it a hangover; though I wouldn't have called it so at that time, and I hesitate to call it so even now; the memory still hurts. Anyway, Jaheira gave us the concoction, and the recipe for the future."

    "Jaheira?" The half-elven druid hadn't been known among the company as a great friend of Haer'Dalis; she had little tolerance for foolish acts as well.

    "Yes. We were pretty surprised ourselves until she said that despite what Aquila told us -"

    "- that she got so mad at them she almost turned into the Slayer -" she added for Sarevok's benefit.

    "she was actually laughing when she heard about what we had done. And that, since Aquila laughed so rarely those days, Jaheira was thankful enough to help us a bit, although she would have been even more grateful if we had refrained from repeating the act. Which, by the way, we did."

    "Those weren't the happiest of days for Aquila, when Irenicus took the souls from her and Imoen," Viconia said, remembering the time after they returned to Athkatla from Spellhold: the mad look on her friend's face, the look of one who had lost the most important thing in her life; the nightmares that haunted the sorceress every time she went to sleep, so that in the end she chose not to sleep at all; the times her concentration was so weak she could not have cast the simplest of spells, when they had to rest for hours, and use the mightiest of healing spells, only to make her move on. When all the time the Slayer was on the verge of breaking through Aquila's self-control.

    "And which days were? My eagle once told me she felt that ever since leaving Candlekeep, since her foster father's death, she had been constantly on the run, constantly being chased, denied the slightest respite. She felt Irenicus only continued what had been started by -" he looked at Sarevok, who had finished with the pheasants and now busied himself with skinning the hare.

    He then looked at the man they freed. "Look, my raven," he said, "our friend has awoken."

    He drifted on the edge of consciousness, listening to the rivvin. "What are they?" he asked himself repeatedly. Were they real, or merely an illusion of his broken mind? Or a trick of the drow, produced for his greater torment?

    He knew of only one instance of his helping someone "fool a whole drow city and steal its greatest treasure", as the loud voice had phrased it. Yes, indeed, he knew that instance very well. It was what had caused the greatest change in his life and led to his current lot, after all. But how come the voices knew about it? He told no one of his involvement with Veldrin. Not even the traitors could have told them that. Or could they?

    And if they were real - a very distant possibility, he thought - what were the rivvin doing here? Where was Veldrin - was she with them? How did he fall into their hands? Were they the ones who attacked his captors?

    So many questions, and none with answers.

    And then, he was discovered.

    They saw the panic cross his face as they approached him, first Viconia, then Haer'Dalis. It did not lessen any when she kneeled next to him to help him hear better, and began to speak in Drow.

    "Vendui," she said, "be greeted. Do not be afraid; we mean you no harm."

    "As if that would calm me, if I were in his place," she thought in the privacy of her mind.

    "Do you want some water?" she asked.

    He nodded and she brought a cup to his lips. He drank thirstily.

    "Do you feel well? I tried to heal you, but I don't know if I managed to cure everything."

    He nodded again.

    "You are called Solaufein, and come from Ust Natha. Several months ago, you helped a group of surfacers disguised as drow steal the eggs of a silver dragon. My companion and I belonged to this group."

    "This should make him trust us a little bit more," she reasoned. "Unless this is common knowledge around these parts now, as the condition he's in seems to indicate."

    "Our leader assumed the name of Veldrin, of Ches Nasad, but when you first asked her about it, she said her name didn't really matter. I remember you quite liked that answer."

    "How many people would know such details?" she thought, searching for any sign that she convinced him slightly more. She found none, which was to be expected.

    "Listen, whatever you might be thinking now, it all comes down to this: you are here, in our camp, defenceless and at our mercy. You are starved and weak, and this forest is probably full of drow searching for you. For whatever reason, we have a fancy of letting you live for some time more. And we are not giving you the option to refuse. Do you understand?"

    "There," she thought, "straight and to the point. If I were him, I'd appreciate the sincerity."

    Solaufein's face crooked in the weakest shadow of a smile. "Yes," he said in Common.

    She was a bit startled at this, but continued in Common. "We are preparing a stew. You will eat it. In case you were wondering, we will eat as well. You don't need to fear poison; if we wanted you dead, you would've been dead long ago. None of us finds pleasure in torturing people."

    "My raven," Haer'Dalis interrupted, "what a terrible way to greet our guest. Do you always have to speak about killing, and poison, and -" he almost spat out the word - "torture - when we meet people? First Lord Corthala, now he. You really do need to work on your social skills."

    "Are you so sure, dear thespian, that I am the only one who needs to work on not bringing up death on every possible occasion? Better guard your tongue, Haer'Dalis, or you may one day find yourself lacking in that matter."

    "You hurt me, my raven; not to mention that our idle talk probably bores our guest to death."

    She smirked. "To death?"

    "Why yes, of course, dear Viconia," he continued, pretending to be unconcerned by his obvious defeat, "and, anyway, though Sarevok's stew may not poison us, if his cooking is as subtle as his fighting, I'd better go and make sure he does not overload our fine taste with garlic and onion. Cuisine is an art inasmuch as fencing; and as he lacks style in the latter, I fear for the former," he said, retreating.

    "I heard that," came the booming voice from the vicinity of the cooking pots.

    She looked at Haer'Dalis as he tried to escape from the battlefield with the remnants of his dignity, and then turned back to Solaufein. "He isn't that bad, from time to time and when you get used to it," she told him in Drow. "By the way, if you didn't catch that - I don't know how good your command of Common is, after all - I'm Viconia, formerly of the house deVir. Now, if you wish, you have a lever for use against me."

    "My companions are Haer'Dalis, whom, as I mentioned, you had already had the occasion to meet in Ust Natha, and Sarevok Anchev, a rivvil. He is also almost bearable, especially for a human and male. Now," she said, putting the newly refilled cup near his hand, "here is more water in case you were thirsty. Better return to your rest, the stew won't be ready for several hours. I have to go and make sure those two don't kill one another over the proper amount of seasoning; I'm not sure if I feel like resurrecting anyone today," she left, hoping that he would use the time given to consider his situation, and that the conclusion he would arrive at would be correct. She was quite interested how Solaufein had found himself in this position, and would be sorely disappointed if she had to kill him too quickly.

    His mind whirled, invigorated by the coldness of water.

    She did not kill that impertinent fool.

    He had all but insult her directly - he still shuddered at the memory of "You need to work on your social skills": he was so certain she would snap right then - but she did not kill him. Almost as if she treated him as an equal partner in conversation.

    And she told him her name. The name of a House now defunct. She was an outcast, like he. If she wasn't lying, that is.

    But what drow would lie about her House? And she wore no insignia.

    He gradually adapted to the possibility that she could have been telling at least some truth.

    But what of the part regarding Veldrin? She hadn't mentioned Veldrin's true name. Perhaps she didn't know it.

    How many people knew of his association with Veldrin? He hadn't told anyone; neither, probably, did she. And of all whom he knew, Veldrin was the most trustworthy.

    Not that it meant much, of course.

    For the time being, he would assume that they were indeed real and probably not aimed at his immediate destruction; but he would not trust them.

    Never again would he trust anyone save himself.

    The stew was served, and had the perfect amount of seasoning. Aware that he had to restore the forces undermined by his escape and captivity, Solaufein ate a lot. He wasn't the exception: everyone ate till sating themselves. After the meal, Sarevok, who had not yet talked to Solaufein, tried to pull him into conversation.

    "So," he said, "it appears that I have the pleasure of meeting yet another of my sister's many acquaintances. What did she do for you? Saved your life and altered your whole attitude to the world?"

    Viconia glared at him. Haer'Dalis stifled a laugh. It looked like the prologue to an interesting night.

    "As a matter of fact," Solaufein answered, appalled by the unmerited hostility he felt in Sarevok's voice, "that would be the most concise summary of what had happened. If Veldrin is your sister, that is."

    "Something I highly doubt," he thought.

    His interlocutor frowned. "Veldrin? Oh, you must mean the name Aquila took when she went to your city, at least according to Haer'Dalis here. Don't take my words as an insult: she has a penchant for doing precisely that, so I thought it a safe bet. I don't quite imagine your losing your favourite spider, and retrieving pets and toys seems to have been her second most frequent occupation."

    "What is the demon that possessed him?" Viconia was becoming enraged by the human's foolishness. "Even this evening, he was almost normal."

    "Could it be that it takes firsthand evidence of Aquila's deeds to push the hawk further on his path to the resolution?" mused Haer'Dalis. "Or is it the opposite, that while around here, all the time confronted by the past, he cannot break out of the vicious circle of comparison? Mayhap he should leave this place, go away, and try to carve his future in a place where nobody knows him, and nobody will measure him up to his sister. Perhaps only free of the past he would be able to decide his future."

    "Aquila?" thought Solaufein. "Be that Veldrin's true name? The Eagle? Or is he merely mocking me? And why the unfriendly words towards whoever this Aquila is?" He decided to forgo the comment about spiders and play along for some time more. It wasn't as though he had any choice.

    "Have been? Is she dead? Is that why she isn't here with you?" he said in as neutral a tone as he managed.

    "Not… precisely," this time it was the one who called himself Haer'Dalis who answered. "Our paths have parted. Much has happened since we left Ust Natha, and it would be the matter for a longer talk. If you wish, I could tell you this tale, though it will take the rest of this night. Will you, in exchange, give us the story of what has befallen you since our separation?"

    "Very well," Solaufein thought, "a story for a story. A lie for a lie. At least I will live to see another day. Then I will see."

    He agreed.
  5. C'Jakob Guest

    This keeps getting better. Can you give me a run-down of Aquila? (Alignment, Race, etc.) Thanks in advance.
  6. Elendil Gems: 7/31
    Latest gem: Tchazar

    May 6, 2001
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    [​IMG] I only read about 1/3 of the first part, because I don't have the time now to read all of it...
    But I really liked what I saw, so...run Forest, run!
  7. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
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    Thank you, Elendil!

    Some background on Aquila... let's see:

    Her name:
    When Gorion was returning from the Temple where she (and Sarevok) were supposed to be sacrificed, he once was so tired that he actually fell asleep. When he woke up, there was an eagle watching over him and the child. The eagle was actually sent there by a druid, a friend of his, but Gorion did not learn about it until later. Thusly, he took the appearance to be an omen, and called the child the "She-Eagle". His friend and he had many a good laugh about it later, but Aquila herself took to this name, and carried it with pride, so after some time (somewhere around cleaning the Nashkel mines and Tazok's camp) it was no more the subject of a joke. Instead, it became "The Eagle", as in "VERY sharp talons".

    Her character et caetera:
    As I wrote in the first post, Aquila is (was?) probably the most mundane character possible, that is a Neutral Good one. A human sorceress with 18 INT and pretty high WIS (I'm sorry, but I don't have exact the stats here with me), because I wanted her to be able to get around; very weak, clumsy and sickly (low STR, DEX and CON), and with CHA 3.

    The last part pretty much contradicts what I wrote before: that she was a charismatic leader, but let me explain, and you'll see that it quite makes sense.

    You see, Aquila was ugly. Not the hideous, deformed type of ugly. She was just plain, plain to the extreme. She was short for a human (around 5 feet/150 cm high), with brown hair (not the hazel type of brown, but the type that looks like a lot of grey was added to it), and blue eyes (again, the type that sometimes looked like they were grey, not blue). She had oily skin, which gave her a lot of trouble during puberty; she might have gone through a pox, or perhaps simply had little patience with her acne, because there were several scars of this type on her face. Such a set of genes would have probably given her a bit of facial hair in this world, but I wanted to save her from at least this humiliation.

    She might have been myopic but for the help of some of Gorion's friends.

    Then, I imagine her to have had a slow metabolism, so that she had already been gaining fat in Candlekeep when she had to run away with Gorion; but this actually helped in her journey, because she did not have to eat as much as the others.

    Now, imagine THIS kind of person living next to Imoen (especially the way she looks in BG2), and then meeting Jaheira (ditto). And THEN fighting Sarevok (all of what? - 2 metres? 2,20? - of him). And THEN accepting him into her party. At least gnomes are SUPPOSED to be small.

    At the same time, Aquila was very intelligent and witty; I'd guess that if she had better looks, most men would fall for her instantly. Alas...

    She still was very charismatic (the real world's most infamous example of how bad looks and charisma are not mutually exclusive would probably be Hitler; or any other one of those dictators. I can't really see a female example). In-game this was achieved by putting the Ring of Human Influence off when talking to people that I judged to be more impressed by her looks (most of the shopkeepers were included here, as well as most passersby, I'm afraid - I don't have too much faith in humanity) and on when talking to those that I judged willing to look past them (such as Irenicus, Bodhi, lord Coprith of Trademeet, Ribald and, of course, party members).

    I suppose that in this context her liason with Haer'Dalis should make little sense, but the way I see him, he is willing to put personality - especially the destructive aspect of being a Bhaalspawn - over looks. Perhaps I'm wrong.

    Now, more about her character. In BG1, at the beginning of her journey, she was probably as whiny as Luke Skywalker in "A New Hope". I can't really imagine this kind of person - let's face it, I think that all in all she's pretty nerdish - willingly leaving those fantastic books and going anywhere OUT THERE. This again contradicts the "charismatic" part of her, but I hope that it's clear from my story that she improved, and in BG2 was actually a pretty good leader.

    The other weird part of her, that I guess should have been her downfall, was that although most of the time she was totally cynical about the world, and herself (witness her choice of party members), somewhere deep inside she still believed people could be good, if they only wanted; that is why she usually helped people. In fact, I could just imagine her trying to pull a Luke Skywalker at Sarevok at the end of BG1, which I did not play with her (to pull a Luke Skywalker is basically to go to the biggest, baddest character in the game/film and tell him/her that "there is still good in him/her, I can feel it" - and be correct).
    I was pretty happy myself when in ToB it turned out that she was right.

    The party:
    As I said, I didn't really play BG1 with Aquila, but I'd think back then her party consisted of her, Imoen, Jaheira, Khalid, Dynaheir and Minsc, if only to explain the beginning of BG2.
    In BG2, the party fluctuated, but finally it consisted of her, Yoshimo (then Imoen), Jaheira, Mazzy, Viconia and Haer'Dalis. Somewhere, sometime during the opening movie of ToB, Mazzy received a letter calling her back home for her sister's wedding, so she left, leaving Arvoreen's blessing to Aquila, and conveniently creating a vacancy for Sarevok.

    Other notes:
    This is to explain some of the choices I did for this story.

    I thought much of the Viconia romance was not precisely a romance per se - actually more... searching for a friend?, and so had Viconia change her alignment in the story anyway. Since her alignment is now different, I couldn't have her a priestess of Shar anymore (at least I think so). But who/what precisely is the source of her power now is - at least to her - still secret.

    The reason Aquila had a romance with Haer'Dalis is (I hope sufficiently) explained in the text.

    Although in the game Sarevok's alignment changed to Chaotic Good, I think that in the story it's more Chaotic Neutral. I really hope he'll have enough willpower to decide which path he wants to take before he'll go crazier than Minsc. I'll try to write more of him into the story.

    If it helps: although I'm trying to, I sometimes can't help but think of Sarevok as of a Darth Vader variant - starting from the opening movie of BG1, through his childhood as spoken of in ToB, his armour and voice, and finishing with what Aquila did to him in ToB. That's why I'm using the Star Wars parallels so often. I'm sorry.

    Whether Vader would cook is open to discussion.

    OK, this is something I posted on the interim boards asking for help. Since nobody did, and I am still here, this is the part:

    Foreword: bit and pieces of this will probably look like stolen from Planescape:Torment, Book 3 and (either 4 or 6) of LOTR, and SW:TPM. I did not intend to plagiarise these works. I did not even think of them while writing. But when I re-read and edited this part, I recognised the similarities: probably the particular expressions somehow "imprinted" on my memory (don't know how, I'm not a neurophysiologist nor any other type of a neurobiologist) and I dragged them out while writing. That said, my fault lies in being too lazy to edit them out. Have fun searching for them.

    Foreword 2: Although I have a favourite version of what should happen next, I am open to ideas. Since I'm writing this simply for my pleasure (read: am not bound by a contract to fill X pages), I may just as well kill everyone off in the next part, if that be my readers' wish. (I would prefer that to simply abandoning this thing. I personally like stories with ends. Especially tragic ones.)

    Foreword 3: Can someone illuminate me on whether humans in Forgotten Realms have those little "ham-goblins" in blood? The blood is red, as opposed to e.g. green coppery one, but this doesn't prove anything. And does evolution work there, or is Haer'Dalis correct (at the end of this part)?

    For your lie - a lie.
    What will you give me if I give you a truth?

    She left Haer'Dalis, busy recounting Aquila's story to their guest. "I bet he wishes he had his epic finished," she thought, "it's the second time he is forced to tell the tale without the proper poetic flourish. It must irritate him to no end." She quickly dismissed this thought: there were other matters she had better occupy herself with. No need to get distracted.

    He leaned against a tree, standing in a place distant enough from the camp that no sounds could reach him, and yet elevated enough to see what happened there. "Well chosen."

    "Well?" she asked, seating herself in a position that would give her good control of the state of things by the fire. "Are you satisfied? He isn't likely to tell us anything now. Anything true, that is."

    "We can make him," he answered dismissively, his mind clearly in a place distant from where his body was. But she was not one dismissed easily.

    "Make him? I can see I was wrong when I assured him none of us finds pleasure in torturing people," she said, at the same time thinking, "The worst thing, I probably wasn't. If I had asked, he would've agreed with me back then, even though it was only several hours ago. But in this mood, he's probably going to agree with me now." She received her confirmation the briefest of moments later.

    "Torture can be useful," he answered, almost daring her to disagree. She would not take the obvious bait.

    "So can be listening."

    It was clear to her, however, that at this moment he would neither listen nor was really willing to force himself to; so she ceased the futile exercise in rhetoric and waited until he got to the point of what was troubling him. "Was I as irritating to Aquila? If so, she must have had much more patience than I thought. And if my speech was just as full of meanders of thought, half-truths and complete lies as his is - and as it probably was - I didn't credit her with enough wisdom either."

    "Would you trust me enough to follow me into a drow city?" She had been, of course, expecting something like this; still, the question threw her off-balance. "Concentrate on the task at hand," she rebuked herself, "do not wander off. This is what happens when you wander off."

    "Excuse me? Follow you? Whoever said you were leading this group?" she thrust with her full force at the small breach of incorrect wording in a desperate attempt to delay until she found a better answer. "A fine mess you've gotten yourself into, Viconia. Wonder what he'll do when he learns the truth. Although if there were any sense left in him, he should already know it. Otherwise he's as dim as the Underdark."

    Apparently, though, it was enough to discomfit him. He sighed.

    "You did follow Aquila, although - from the recounts you gave me of your escape - I sense this was probably the last thing you wanted to do. Why?" He looked at her expectantly.

    "He is more careful with the phrasing now," the more analytical part of her mind thought amusedly.

    She shrugged. "There was no choice, really. There was the opportunity to learn what our enemy intended, and disrupt his plans, before us, and a potentially angry silver dragon behind us. And it's not like it didn't pay off in the end. We managed to divest several rich Houses of some goods they probably didn't need anyway, judging how they left them with almost no guards. Some overconfident Despanas were taught their lesson regarding messing with demons… and we weren't the most lenient of teachers." She smirked, recalling the pleasure of seeing the look of comprehension that dawned in turn on the faces of Matron Ardulace and her eldest daughter. The only thing that could have improved the moment for her would have been if it were her mother and any one of her sisters in their stead. But they, she reflected sadly, were long dead. "All in all, it turned out a pretty good time."

    "But you couldn't have known it when you entered Ust Natha," he insisted.

    "Oh, I don't know. Aquila had a way of getting out of tough situations, wouldn't you say?" she said, pretending to be blissfully ignorant of what he was really asking about. "And the dragon did say that the city was half deserted."

    "And yet, you could have left her, and head for the surface."

    "Straight into the welcoming arms of the darthiir army?"

    He laughed, sadly. "You, my lady, are slithery as an eel. You give me a thousand answers, all true, reasonable and logical. And yet, you manage to entirely avoid answering my questions."

    "Then, my lord, please do speak clearer, so that I can answer with the answer that you seek; though if you know the answering answer, why ask the question?"

    "Again a logical answer which does not answer my question at all. Very well, my lady, allow me to ask this question: why did you follow my sister in the first place? I can understand the sick obsession of our tiefling friend, though I could never identify myself with it; ditto for Jaheira's sense of duty, and Imoen's sisterly love. Myself, at first I attempted to convince her to let me be her second-in-command - a foolish delusion she swiftly deprived me of - then I followed because… well, I guess I just wanted to see how it all would end. But why you?" He finished, dropping suddenly the high decorum, as if to show her that the time for wordplay has ended, and that he really strove for some concrete answers. On a whim, she decided to comply.

    "Perhaps because I had nowhere else to go. Because I had made the mistake of travelling to Amn, where my people are hated - I do not deny that for a good reason, and to Athkatla, where they have to pay a daily fee to be even allowed to stay in the city. Perhaps because travelling in a group appeared to be safer that being alone."

    "Perhaps," she added in her thoughts, "because Aquila saved my life twice, and became the only true friend I have ever had since Valas… but it is not the time to think of my brother."

    "Perhaps for all the previous reasons. Perhaps because when she asked, I couldn't really refuse. Who would she take instead? Those two noble fools we met? That half-crazed jaluk with the hamster? That arrogant cleric, enough of a hypocrite to call her "his fair lady" when she was the first to admit she wasn't really even pretty as ladies went? No, it had to be me, and Jaheira, and Mazzy."

    "You, and Jaheira, and Mazzy? What was so special about the three of you? What was it that she asked you to do?" Sarevok's voice broke her reverie.

    She stood, suddenly dumbfounded.

    "Now," she thought, "THIS is what happens when you wander off."

    "No," she added, "this is when you spend too much time with humans. Either that, or he charmed you. But he wouldn't dare, would he? Would that thrice-damned bard teach him how to charm?"

    "No," she concluded, "no reason to shift responsibility to where it's not due. It's your sole fault, admit it."

    She was loath to admit it, but she did. It did not make her feel any better.

    He stood there, that questioning look still in his face. If she started this, she could just as easily finish it. At least he forgot the initial question.

    "And what do you think I could have meant? You have intrigued against her, fought her, and then, however briefly, travelled with her. Did this give you no insight into the workings of her mind? None at all? Then you must be blind, deaf, and infinitely foolish, human! Know, then, that she wanted to have someone reliable with her - someone who would not only protect her and stand by her in danger, but who would not hesitate to take HER life if she… if she started to turn into some monster like you. Or worse. You see, with all that Irenicus told her, and all the weird dreams she had… it didn't take much intelligence to figure out that something was happening to her, something to do with her blood. And she wanted to make sure that whatever it was that she battled, even if it won, it wouldn't get far."

    "And she was correct, of course. She did begin to turn into the Slayer. Fortunately for us all, she managed to will herself over her instinct. Otherwise, we WOULD have killed it, me, and Mazzy, and Jaheira." "And I would not fail her, like I failed Valas."

    "So there, THERE you have the reason why I followed her! To kill her if she stopped being herself! At least this I could do for my friend. Because, in the end, it all came down to this: she was my friend! FRIEND! Do you even UNDERSTAND the word? I know I didn't till I met her! And, forestalling your next inane question: YES, THAT is why I followed her even AFTER she retrieved her soul, you IDIOT!" Now afoot, she was so agitated she was almost screaming at him, long past worrying about uninvited guests.

    And then, she saw his face change; abandon the indecisiveness that accompanied it ever since he started travelling with Aquila, ever since she first saw him. She had been expecting this moment, of course; and yet, now that it came, the abruptness of the shift still stunned her. Perhaps it was because it occurred in the least convenient moment, her alone with him, and on the brink of losing self-control; perhaps not.

    He was no longer leaning against the tree, but rose to his full height, almost - dwarfing - her in comparison; but to this difference in their heights she was accustomed. Less familiar, however, and infinitely more frightening, was the look in his eyes, cold and calculating; definitely inhuman, reminding her, quite irrationally, of her home and her mother. Now, she understood how this very man could have invented the complex plot Aquila described; a plan whose only ultimate goal was to sacrifice as many lives as possible.

    "I dare not suppose," he said, slowly and deliberately, "that this would be the true reason we are travelling together, Viconia? Because now your dear friend wanted her brother, the poor Sarevok, to have someone - reliable - with him? To help him if he didn't choose the right path? If he didn't behave? It is just as well that I learn of this now, instead of when the treacherous blow would arrive."

    He now commanded his voice perfectly; every rich cadence of flawlessly pronounced words strolling off his tongue seemed to live its own life, reflecting in a thousand echoes from invisible, immaterial walls all around them, with her in the focal point of it all, with each passing moment, each additional sound, feeling even smaller, weaker, less important. She was paralysed, caught in the web of his voice, alike to a helpless insect in a spider's nest; all the anger and agitation left her, leaving only sheer terror. Many times had she seen enemies paralysed by Sarevok's very presence; had they, too, felt like this?

    He was well aware of his effect on her. "All of a sudden having nothing to say, drow?" he taunted.

    This broke the spell: indeed, she was a drow, outcast though she may be. And no drow would allow herself to be so humiliated by a human, and a male at that. Ever. She suddenly found her courage, and her tongue again; with her mind clear, she could not believe how anyone, even a human and a male, could be that hopelessly stupid. Although she had hoped for a resolution, she could not allow him to make up his mind basing on false assumptions of Aquila: assumptions which would void all that her friend ever stood for.

    "You weak, arrogant, self-obsessed, miserable male fool! How dare you speak of Aquila like that! She conquered you; and then, though she had no profit in this, allowed you to live again. Yes, I am aware of that ignoble barter to which you had forced her: your life in exchange for the information you held. But it must have occurred to you that she could have put you back where you came from as soon as you outlived your usefulness and became a liability to her name; something I readily admit to having advocated to her repeatedly. I even offered to her to do the deed myself if she wanted no blood of yours on her impeccable morals."

    For a split second, she could plainly see the surprise on his face as she started to talk; apparently, this was the last thing he expected. But he listened, and this gave her time; time, from which she could only benefit.

    "And Jaheira? She publicly said little about your presence in the group; but you had killed Gorion, her friend whom she held in great respect; and while he, the victim, was dead, you, his killer, strode the world untamed, an unnatural being if there ever existed one: not truly living, nor dead, nor even undead! Oh, I know Jaheira: for all her parentage, the passions of her heart are that of a drow. She would have her revenge, if Aquila would have it; she had helped kill you once, and this would be simply… cleaning up the more obstinate bits."

    Having captured his attention, she now gained momentum.

    "But Aquila, your sister whom you are now so apt to bedevil, told the two of us explicitly that no matter how insufferable we might have found travelling with you, we were free to leave her if we wished, but she would not allow us to kill you. She had this weird fixation on letting you live, something about how easily your roles could have been reversed, with you having her life and her yours. Myself, I don't believe that even if she lived your life she would have turned into something as disgusting as you, but she appeared to think she had some kind of debt to you."

    The look in his eyes did not change any, but she continued. If she failed, he would kill her for sure. Things could only get better.

    "So you lived, and then, one day, you told her that you decided to change your ways. And she believed you and was so absurdly happy that day that I almost didn't recognize her when the four of us came back from Amkethran and found her drunk from something Cespenar prepared. She didn't tell you because she wanted this to be your sole choice, and she didn't want it to appear as though she coerced you to anything. And even if you didn't promise to change, she would be disappointed, but would not oppose you - again, because this was supposed to be your choice only. But I, I didn't believe you for a second; I knew you were lying, although you were quite convincing in your act. I understand how you managed to fool her so well, especially now; by now, I almost began to tolerate you myself."

    Did he just ease slightly his posture?

    "And then, there came the time to say farewell. I asked her what would happen with you, and she repeated what she had always said: that you had to choose the path for yourself. That it takes acts, not just words to change; that it would you take some time, and that without her, you would lapse both ways many times before you would finally decide your destiny."

    Now, she would have to be more careful. This was a dangerous ground she was treading. All that she gained she could too easily lose.

    "I admit, I did ask her if she wanted me to travel with you, and kill you if you chose the wrong path, and begin to hurt the people she would try to protect; just as you suspected. Aquila? She said she trusted you to choose correctly - only she knows why, because, despite your promise, it was clear to me that your behaviour never gave any clue to that. And she said that unless in self-defence, I was not to touch you. On the contrary, she would be grateful if I travelled with you and protected you like I protected her before; but that was up to me. She would not force me any more than she would force you."

    She was still alive; that meant she was winning. Now came the time for the revelation. She originally meant to keep it a secret, but now she would have to reveal it, if only to convince him that she had not lied; it wasn't as though he had not deserved this.

    "And because I had nothing else to do, unlike Jaheira, or Imoen, I went with you to Amkethran, and to the desert. And only then did I see what a miserable fool you were without the backbone she provided. So undecided, and so disgustingly weak! But I listened to your cries, if only because your sister used to listen to mine. And even when I saw what you did in one of that moments of rage of yours, I covered the evidence, even cleaned your bloodied sword, so that when you returned to your senses, you would not remember it; and so that a moment's madness - a lapse, one like she predicted - would not influence your rational mind. However little of that you now possess."

    "What was that that you saw me do?" His voice now returned to normal, and indecision re-entered his face. She was again the one in control. "Good," she thought, "Your anger no longer clouds your mind. You will face your deeds with the fullness of your sense; there will be nothing to distract you from the horror. You will have to face them - and perhaps you will finally decide. I am tired of games and indecision."

    "Go ask the graves in the desert, rivvil."

    Just as she planned, the expression in his eyes changed again. In turn, comprehension, revulsion, disbelief, and finally, acceptance showed up on his face, which was clear to her now as the script in a book. She could almost hear the thoughts in his mind. "She is lying, of course. No, she is not. She would not lie; it would give her no real advantage… A fine start of a new life."

    "It looks just like a fine start of the new, virtuous life you've promised your sister." Now that she was back in control, she could afford to taunt him a bit, if only to reciprocate what he did to her earlier. She observed the look of embarrassment - embarrassment by being so easily read - adding to the assortment of emotions on his face. It was now the time for the final blow. "Well, weakling, I can see you are back to your usual sickening self. A pity. I was almost hoping you would attack me now. I will not have Aquila insulted by saying she went back on her word, but didn't she say I could defend myself?"

    His was now the picture of a broken man. She pitied him at last, silently cursing herself; but she understood that even if she had been the person to receive such news, she would have to have time for thought. In this state of mind, though, he was prone to reflect endlessly, and that she would not accept, whatever her respect for Aquila.

    "I am giving you the time until tomorrow noon to decide whether you wish to continue to travel with me or to separate; in the latter case, though, remember that if we ever meet, and you attack me, I will defend as best as I can. And now, to answer your first question: no, I would not follow you into a drow city. For all the riches of all the Houses in the Realms."

    Viconia turned her back on him and marched off to the camp, a move that required more courage of her that she was ready to admit. She was in control, that was sure, holding him on the leash of guilt and shame; but in his current state, he could easily strike against her nonetheless. She would be almost defenceless then: she had not put any protective spells on herself, not really expecting that a casual conversation could end in such a disaster.

    "And all this happened simply because you could not keep your thoughts to yourself," she rebuked herself. This was not the whole truth, she knew it: one day, they would have to go through this all anyway; but then, she would have the opportunity to select the instance; and, of course, she would prepare herself.

    "Did I really have to push him that hard?" she asked herself. The answer, she was forced to admit, was not in her favour; now, with hindsight, especially the last several blows appeared cruel and tasteless; and, above all, quite pointless. She had already been in control of the situation; what she did was akin to booting an enemy already defeated: basely alluring, that is true, but potentially dangerous, if the enemy went berserk.

    "What devil possessed me? Was I doubly wrong when I told Solaufein none of us delights in torture?" No, it couldn't have been this. But the answer which emerged as she thought about this further held even less appeal. "I was mad at him, because in his indecision he is much like I was. Too much. He reminds me of myself when I was weak. I thought I had it behind me, and that I could actually help him. Instead, I want him to choose fast, so that I won't be forced to remember my past. Rushed, he will probably choose wrongly; and then, I will have to kill him. He will be dead because I am not strong enough to allow him to choose his own path in his own time, although I promised Aquila I would."

    "And the worst thing is, I think I really began to like him," she concluded sadly, recalling the - come to think of it, quite numerous - evenings in the desert when they sat, and talked, and sometimes listened to Haer'Dalis compose his song; or, as it happened more frequently, sat wordlessly, each savouring the opportunity not to say anything, to simply listen to the silence of the desert. There was too much noise in the world.

    Sarevok sat under the tree, his hands clutching the sword. On the fields of his mind, a thousand thoughts battled, vying for his attention.

    He had just managed to lose the sympathy of the only person still willing to sympathise with him. He had been called a weakling and a fool; epithets that he now believed were entirely merited.

    Or were they? No, I will not be so humiliated! How can I be sure Viconia isn't lying? She must be! No one, not even Aquila, would be so foolish as to trust my word. I don't trust it. So, I have never been let off the hook; and Viconia was sent to travel with me to kill me.

    But what of the graves that she mentioned? Another lie? If it were a hoax, it would be an elaborate one. Too elaborate to be real. Killing me in sleep would have been so much easier. If she were sent to kill me, why am I still alive? Does she want to manipulate me into anything? But I don't have to be with her now. I could have left when she first proposed to separate in the d'Arnise Hold. Would she allow me to leave?

    What of the graves in the desert?

    How sweetly had I felt today, when she cowered before me! The last time I felt so was well before my first death. The sweet taste of having my plans proceed perfectly, people duped into doing precisely what I wanted them to. Manipulating people with my voice.

    And then Aquila happened to me. But she is here no more. I am free to do whatever I want. Provided, that is, that Viconia does not try to step between me and the new destiny - perhaps something modest, like ruling the Coast, would be enough for the beginning. I should kill her, just to be sure.

    But why should I wish to carve an empire? You can't take an empire with you to the afterlife, Aquila once said.

    Do you really want to return to the Abyss?

    What of the graves in the desert? The bloodied sword she mentioned. No, she didn't lie. Was that how I fulfilled my promise?

    She was so happy for me she got drunk. How many times did she get drunk? How many times did they mention she ever got drunk? None? And the special toast prepared by Cespenar?

    Is it all but a ploy to distract me and to destroy me?

    the bloodied sword my bloodied sword the sword my brother's sword the bloodied sword
    iron on iron
    iron was the blood of the coast everyone knew that cut off the supply of iron and you stop the blood flow and then the blood will flow
    and the iron in the steel will free the iron of blood
    and there will be blood on blood iron on iron bloodied iron
    bloodied sword
    iron and blood prehistoric magnetism

    The Moon shone on his tears as he slept.

    It was late in the morning when he woke up, his mind unrelieved by the errant sleep, every joint in his body aching after a night spent in armour. He saw the lithe figure of Haer'Dalis approaching from the camp.

    "I have time till noon, remember," he said, cautiously.

    "I beg your pardon, my hawk?" The surprise on the bard's face was clear.

    "He wasn't boasting when he said he was a good actor," he thought.

    Aloud, he asked: "If you didn't come here to kill me in my sleep, then what for?"

    "You insult my integrity, my hawk. I came here to look at the flowers, of course," he said, seating himself almost precisely where Viconia was the night before.

    "Trust Haer'Dalis to marvel at flowers in the middle of a hurricane."

    "Don't overexert yourself; I know what you are going to say next, so might we just pass onto my equally obvious question: and how, precisely, do they remind you of death?" he asked, attempting to get up. Judging from his response, the bard had been expecting this question.

    "Simply look at them, resplendent in their blossom, so beautiful and full of life. And yet, so swiftly will they pass away; even now, in the full of their glory, do they carry the seeds of their destruction. Isn't this a most delicious irony? Such is the mortal life: it is at the height of our powers that we are the most aware that they will soon pass. Only the rocks, unliving, unthinking and unfeeling, survive winter."

    "After witnessing a style like this, I'm almost ready to help you pass into your beloved oblivion. You would have been much better off simply staying an actor than simulating a philosopher, Haer'Dalis."

    "Your analogy doesn't quite hold, Haer'Dalis. The next year, the flowers will return."

    "And will they change any? No, and their lives will be equally futile," the bard said, getting back up, "But I can see you are in no mood to speak of flowers now. Perhaps some of the yester stew will change your attitude; hurry up, though, or it will be too late. I heard Viconia say our friend's desire to finish it is incessantly growing."

    "Understood. However, this armour, magical though it may be, is not the most comfortable attire for sleep. I will come down as soon as I settle my stance; I concur, there would be no point in delaying."

    As Haer'Dalis was descending into the camp, he mused: "For the sake of the tale, though I profess myself an actor, I must now be no more than observer. He must resolve his mind alone; no more hints for him. And now, back to the song, otherwise when I finish it there will be no more audience willing to listen."

    Behind him, Sarevok rose and took his sword.

    Indeed, he understood.

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited March 27, 2002).]

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited March 27, 2002).]
  8. Namuras Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose

    Aug 21, 2001
    Likes Received:

    Keep it up, will ya? ;)
  9. C'Jakob Guest

    Two things amaze me:

    1)This story. :D

    2)Why a good author like you has actually complimented my Creativity Surge garbage.
  10. Masher Gems: 5/31
    Latest gem: Andar

    Aug 27, 2001
    Likes Received:
    This is really very good. You've probably already thought of this, but when it's finished, why not combine it into a single document and ask Tal if it can be made available for download on SP?
  11. Arabwel

    Arabwel Screaming towards Apotheosis Veteran

    Oct 2, 2001
    Likes Received:
    This fic is amazing, so well written... Better than many books I've read. (Trust me, I read a lot) I agree, you should ask Tal if this could become a downloadable.

    ("The more you read the more you want to read"- me when I was 12)
  12. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Now this is a story post.
    I really thank you for your kind opinions, although I think I should first write the story, then worry about what to do with it. ;)

    (And does anyone know if the FR humans have haemoglobin in blood?)

    And now, back to sesquipedelian words and back dialogue:

    Facilis descensus Averno. The descent to Hell is easy.
    How do I get back?

    The fire undulated. "Yes," he decided, "undulated." It was a good word, more, a proper word for what it did and what happened to it: up and down it went, now quieter and now louder, now stronger and now weaker, now clearer as it chanced upon a drier twig and now darker and with smoke stingy to the nose and eyes as it consumed a wetter one. Wave-like. Water-like. Fire-like.

    Like the fire he saw evolved the tale that he heard, every sentence of it crafted into a flawless gem by the cunning tongue of the teller. Sometimes it went slowly and lazily, like the meandering, silt-laden river of a delta or a fire nearly put out; these parts were rare, and spoke of the good times for the heroine, the uninteresting, happy times; of impressions, and feelings, and emotions, and thoughts. Other, full of sharp sounds and sharp words, were like a young flame or a young river, a mountain brook fast and furious in its bed, speaking of battles once fought and foes long defeated, now forgotten by all save the teller; of acts.

    He had long ceased to doubt his companions' sincerity; not only because everything he had learned from the bard agreed with his previous knowledge, but above all because he thought the prize of fooling him could not have possibly recompensed the energy spent on inventing such an elaborate lie. So he let go of his disbelief in the tale - though not his distrust of the teller - and sat by the fire, and listened to the bard, and marvelled at the story; and tried to learn more of his captors from their actions in Veldrin's - Aquila's - party.

    At one point they were interrupted by cries from a nearby hill, a direction whereunto they saw their companions head some time before. But loud as they were, the cries carried no sense of urgency in them; nor were they accompanied by sounds of a fight. Those were no battle cries, calling upon their assistance; and so they forsook them, and did not comment on them, and returned their eyes to the fire and their minds to the tale; although he saw that the bard - Haer'Dalis - looked somewhat unhappy that he could descry no words from the cries.

    Soon, the outcast - Viconia - returned to the camp and told them of the choice she had given to Sarevok. She then laid to rest, advising that they do the same, for fear of Haer'Dalis' entering a potential battle fatigued; but neither of them wished to disrupt the tale, and they both felt fresh enough and rested enough; and someone still had to guard the camp; and so the teller continued his tale, and the listener continued to listen. And the tale was so long, it was finished only in the morning, even as Viconia woke up and admitted that although she tried, she could not rest well, perhaps because the bard's voice broke her sleep, but then again perhaps for another reason.

    Then, they ate their breakfast, but spoke no more, as if unable to find the proper small talk at a time like this. They were all anxious for what laid before them; his concern was mayhap the least, as - "unlike the others, those naive fools" - he was quite sure of the future, convinced there was one outcome only; that Sarevok would resolve to attack them without a warning; the course of action he deemed the most reasonable on the human's part. His only surprise was that the strike had not yet arrived.

    Time lapsed, and the Sun slowly ascended the skies, a circumstance which begat him great pain, for he was still little used to the scorching rays. The tense silence in the air did not ease his irritation any; but when Viconia suddenly broke it exclaiming she would that this wait was over at last, his mood still worsened, so that he was aflame and close to bursting himself. "Why don't you do anything then, drow?! You mustn't simply sit here! There is nothing that forces you to keep any deadline! Did you forget that trust is foolish? Foolish and dangerous?"

    But then, Haer'Dalis rose, and said that since he was possibly the closest to a neutral party in the arrangement, he would go and check on Sarevok; and unlike Viconia's, his voice was clear and composed, and at once both calming and invigorating, like water from the coolest stream on this burning day. It soothed him somewhat, and brought back rational thought to him. "She should be ashamed," he reflected, "to express her emotions so openly. And I should be ashamed just as well. Could this folly be due to the Sun? Could it be that it takes away one's mind and one's reason?" It was fortunate that he had learned his lesson of distrust in time… But a small voice in his mind questioned: "Is it?"

    And then Haer'Dalis returned, and said that Sarevok was coming.

    "Yes," he thought, "I do understand."

    The bard's words brought a clarity to his mind that the night's disturbed sleep could not.

    "I do understand your petty word games, Haer'Dalis. I do understand your pitiful attempts at wittiness and sophistication. And, although you would not believe it, I do understand you. Because, in the end, it is the tale that counts, isn't it? We will all die, and only the tale will remain. So, you are correct of course: it had better be a good one; nothing worse than inept heroes that don't even recognize their obligations to the story."

    "And nothing worse than inconvenient evidence that could possibly mar the legend, isn't it, Viconia? When did your friendship become fanaticism, I wonder?"

    "Of all the people, I assumed you probably the least inclined to idolatry. But for all your composure and self-control, your heart still holds as much passion as you ascribe to Jaheira, more: a passion directed alike; indeed, the two of you are more similar than either would wish to admit. Speaking your words: you could not let me live to become a liability to my sister's name, to be the - obstinate bit - spoiling the tale. Oh yes, you did want to kill me; only your loyalty to my sister prevented you from attacking me outright; but you gave her your word, and could not kill me overtly. You did not care for those I murdered, because if you did care any for justice or - protecting those whom my sister would protect - you would have assailed me on spot. But there was no witness to the murder, and so my deed could not harm Aquila's repute; thus, you could afford to be true to your word. You did cover the evidence, though, and not to alleviate my plight, as you claim. For what good would it do me to be unaware that I was turning back into who I once was? But it was convenient to you: for you wished me to unaware continue on the dark path, so that at one point I would attack you and you would be so contentedly forced to dispose of me."

    "Or perhaps your own fight distracted you on the desert, or even - though this be unlikely - made you more compassionate? Perhaps it is only after your goddess abandoned you, and your path was decided, and you were returned to the world, that you began to see me a danger you no longer were, an unfinished part to the legend?"

    "Now I will go and tell you I want to continue travelling with you. And then, you will have to decide if you want to continue travelling with me; for if you wish to end this farce now, you will have to strike first, against your word to my sister. For I will not strike first; but not because you expect me to attack you. And I will not attack anyone else, like those who bloodied my sword in the desert; but not because you expect me to attack others."

    "You had me in control for so long, it will be curious to see how you bear that I care for what you speak and decide no more. Aquila was right, as usual; the simplest truth that I forgot in my despair: my second life belongs only to me, as did my first one. Whether I choose to return from the Abyss or sink deeper into its corruption is my choice, and my choice alone. I have to please no one: not her, not you; I was wrong, of course, to ask help on a matter I have to deal with myself."

    "But you were even more wrong when you took it upon yourself to judge me. You betrayed Aquila: you heard her words and spoke her words, and yet did not understand her words; and you gave her your word, and yet did not keep your word. You were too busy creating a goddess from a human who had not yet been goddess to actually listen to her; the pride of a drow is no less than the pride of a human, I see."

    An odd thought stroke him, however.

    "But may it be that she is unaware of her motives herself?"
    "How would she explain my death to herself, then?"
    "It cannot be."
    "Should I tell her what I think?"
    "One day, she will understand on her own."
    "I will tell her, though. She deserves the choice."
    "And the worst thing she can do is try to kill me, anyway."

    Whenever he later returned to his Sun-blurred memories of this moment, he was always amazed how anticlimactic it was… as if almost unworthy of the former friction.

    The Sun stood high in the cloudless sky and the air was hot and filled with the lush smell of resin when Sarevok finally appeared in the distance. He came to them openly, not in stealth as Solaufein had expected; his sword was sheathed and no helm was on his head; and yet there was something in his stature, and something in his stride, that whispered: Here cometh a dangerous man.

    And if any shards of doubt as to the bard's tale were still in his mind, they all surely vanished now at this sight of a human - a mere human! - coming down a hill. He now understood that this human was one of Aquila's folk, and remembered he was one who had single-handedly bested his brother the half-drake. And his mind was afire with terror again, and again cried for the man's death.

    But Sarevok's eyes soon belied his stance; for though he had resolve in them, he also held a great weariness, a weariness heard in his voice as he spoke quietly and without malice:

    "This is between you and me, Viconia. I wish you no harm; will you hear me?"

    And she agreed, and they left the camp together, and headed back whence he came. And then, it was as though a spell was broken; his mind was cool and clear yet again, and yet again he felt he could breathe: and, laughing, he turned to Haer'Dalis and asked the first question that he could think of, "Do they never ask you for opinion?"

    The bard also laughed and answered, "Rarely; they know I will follow them anyway. They are far too interesting subjects of study to be left alone."

    "Why do then they allow you to accompany them, if they know what you take them for?"

    "I have always thought they needed a mediator; obviously I was wrong. Perhaps they mistook me for a jester?"

    They spent the afternoon ambling around the forest surrounding the camp, taking care not to intrude upon their companion's conversation. They walked and marvelled at the beauty of the place, and at the sylvan sounds, and at the multitude of scents in the air, some strong as the pine resin, other delicate as the wildflower scent; it was all so different from the Underdark! They fenced a bit, each pleasantly surprised that he found an equal; they spoke a bit about the life on the surface and the life below - and about a thousand other things; finally, they hunted and prepared a dinner even more delicious then the yester one.

    Evening came, and with it came the cool, rich-smelling breeze that had brought him to freedom only the day before. Vespertine flowers opened and diurnal flowers closed; some animals went to sleep and other awoke; the Sun they could no longer see from under the canopy, but the Moon reappeared; and Sarevok and Viconia returned.

    They spoke nothing of their conversation on the top of the knoll; but he sensed that the tension between them had eased, though much of their previous comfort was still missing and much time would be needed to repair their friendship; if, indeed, a discord like this could ever be repaired.

    And then, he found himself before the wavelike fire again, and again occupying himself with a tale; only this time, he was the teller, and the others the audience. For after the dinner was eaten and properly praised, Viconia asked that he fulfil his promise, and tell them his story. And so he spoke of the chaos that had followed the deaths of Ardulace and Phaere; and of the new leaders of Ust Natha; and of his attempts to start a cult devoted to his goddess Eilistraee in the city; and of betrayal, and escape, and capture. And then, to his amazement, Sarevok asked if he thought his comrades were still alive; and when he answered yes - he suspected they were all to be sacrificed in one ceremony, together with him, their leader - whether he wished that they go and try to free them; or perhaps he preferred that they take him with them, back north?

    He looked at Viconia, not really willing to decide without her; then, in an afterthought, looked at Haer'Dalis as well. But Viconia said she had already discussed this with Sarevok before; they both believed those foolish enough not to immediately dispose of captured traitors deserved to have their prisoners rescued from them. Haer'Dalis declared both north and south were equally agreeable directions with him; and so the decision was up to Solaufein again.

    He looked at the three of them, so powerful and dangerous, and conscious of this power; heroes from a tale, offering to him the impossible on a caprice; as if they were unaware of the risks involved, and ignorant that no reward could be offered. He could not pay them: he had no money and no connections now. Even what little he took from Ust Natha was gone, taken by the drow party that had captured him; the sword with which he had fenced came from their own backpacks. "Earlier today, they were perfectly willing to kill one another; what would make them so helpful to a stranger all of a sudden?"

    Even how they intended to enter the city was beyond his comprehension. If they had expected the same weak defences and deserted city as before, they were in for a bad surprise. But he described the fortifications to the party, and left them busy with discussion; if they could come up with a working plan to enter Ust Natha, he would just as well believe they could free his companions. If his calculations were correct, and those were still alive, that is.

    But one question still remained: did he want to return to Ust Natha?

    He wanted, of course, to free his companions; but he knew many of them, fearful of the hatred of humans and elves, and the new land, and new customs, might choose to remain in hiding in the Underdark for the rest of their lives; many had never really planned to abandon Ust Natha in the first place. "As if they knew long-term planning was needless."

    And he knew that if they decided to remain underground, he would have to remain with them as well, for he was their leader and would be responsible for them for the rest of his life; a very brief life, for if no weapon killed him, his sorrow for the Moon and the surface would.

    "Do I want to return to Ust Natha?"

    He looked around, and found, amazed, that while he was lost in his thoughts he wandered quite far away from the camp. He now stood on the bank of a small limpid pond; the Moon reflected from the surface of the water.

    Small tendrils of the mist around him thickened fast, and suddenly were all around him, and he was alone in the silvery-grey world of moonlight and water. "I have been calling people fools the whole day today, and yet I am the greatest fool of all. How am I supposed to defend myself against this mist, whatever it is, without a weapon?" But to his astonishment, he somehow felt - sensed - the mist was not there to hurt him. And then, he saw a light before him, bright and dazzling, and yet not wounding like the light of the Sun; and, desperate, he grasped for the light.

    The mist dissolved slowly, and there he was again on the brink of the pool; but with a sword in his hand. Fulgent white light traversed the length of the blade; soon, however, the glow lessened and only a weak shimmering remained, like moonlight. And then he saw the wavelike patterns that were engraved on the edge; and the guard in the form of a bird with her wings outstretched. This was probably not the most beautiful sword he had seen in his life; nor the keenest; but suddenly he felt a curious connection between him and this sword of vesper mist and moonlight.

    Sarevok's voice arrived from behind him. "Come, we have to rest this night; Viconia plans to cast spells all over the dale, so that we don't have to stand guard. But this requires that we all are inside the camp."

    He turned to the human, who now stood dumbfounded and looked at the blade.

    "A gift from my goddess… I think," he explained. "You are right, if we are to depart early and travel fast tomorrow, we need to rest." He strode off a bit, then turned, and looked back at the human.

    "Let's go."

    Sarevok recovered from his daze, and followed.

    "Nothing better to spoil your mood than a divine intervention when you just began to think you were on your own."

    "I believe your goddess reminded us of no small matter that we overlooked," Viconia said when the two returned to the camp. "Let's see what equipment we may find for you in Sarevok's unending supply."

    "Unending? That will too soon become the least appropriate term to describe our meagre inventory, Viconia," complained the human, though light-heartedly.

    "Be quiet, Sarevok! If you can give away masterful weapons to humans, why shouldn't I be able to present a small gift to a drow, who, though a mere male like you, is still worth infinitely more than any of your kin?" Her words were angry, but her joyful eyes belied their sincerity. Then, turning to Solaufein, she continued, "We will clothe you as would befit a princeling; what say you to this armour?"

    She showed him a suit of armour that he recognized as genuine drow plate made with the blood of a gorgon; slightly tarnished after months in a backpack, and yet instantly identifiable to him as Matron Ardulace's possession. He gasped; she mistook his surprise for a sign of consent, and said, wicked sparks now in her eyes:

    "Yes, indeed, I sometimes agree with Haer'Dalis; at times we do need poetic justice in life. Though indirectly, you helped kill that Despana bitch; it is only just that you share in the spoils, however belatedly. Anyway, it's a pretty good armour on its own and should serve you well."

    They also gave him a helm of polished steel, set with rubies, diamonds and fire opals, bathed in a lambent light, one which beautifully complemented the light of his sword, and starkly contrasted the darkness of his armour. And looking at him, holding the helm in his hands, the three companions unconsciously shared a single thought:

    "A curious union of light and darkness he is."
    "But then, aren't we all?"

    He was unaware of his effect on them. Instead, he looked at this brilliant flame of a helm; and suddenly, intoxicated, not able to hold back his emotions anymore, finally exhausted by all the events of the past days, he cried, "It's so beautiful!"

    And yet again, it was the voice of the tiefling, clear and cold, though playful this time, that sobered him:

    "You will not be saddened, then, that it comes not from a dragon's hoard, but from a discounted sale, my magpie?"

    "Of course," he said, though in truth he was disappointed somewhat. Then, he frowned, "Magpie? What does a bird have to do with that?"

    "A new addition to your aviary, Haer'Dalis?" laughed Sarevok, while Viconia busied herself explaining Solaufein why precisely he had just been called a magpie. He protested.

    "Hey, I don't want to be a magpie! I want to be a different bird!" He frantically searched his mind for the few names of birds that he knew. "Why can't I be a sparrow? Or a hawk?"

    "If you insist," answered Haer'Dalis, though the gentle, teasing smile did not leave his face. "You can even be both. A sparrow hawk. Will it suit you?"

    He looked at Viconia and Sarevok; they both nodded. Perhaps he could, after all, trust some - on an insignificant matter like this.

    "Yes… though I guess it will take a long time before I will be able to see the difference. The Underdark was definitely not the best place for education about fowl; it is a birdless place."

    "Most odd. Last time I heard, Avernus didn't move from Baator."

    Again, a trio of minds was uniform in resolve. "I will not be the first one to ask what this was about."

    The next day, they departed for Ust Natha.

    Edit: Oh great: I forgot, of course:
    the first sentence is from Aeneid; it's Sybil's warning
    the third is (kinda, I didn't remember this word-for-word) from Torment; Nameless One's response.

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited April 11, 2002).]

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited April 11, 2002).]

    [This message has been edited by Istari (edited April 12, 2002).]
  13. Namuras Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose

    Aug 21, 2001
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] This is marvellous!

    Few are the tales that leave you unable to take your eyes off the text, but this is one of them.
  14. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Thank you, Namuras, for bringing me some hope about this story.

    [frustrated rant]
    I mean, here I am, trying to write a small little story about what happened to a bunch of pixels I saw in a game - and just for fun, mind you, and here are those guys, stuck in a place I didn't want them to get stuck in, for longer then the action parts - the parts when anything happens! And why? Because I'm such an idiot that instead of writing simple sentences like: "They had an argument" I actually think it's a good idea to write what this argument was about! I'm such an idiot.
    And instead of simply writing "he took his sword", which is what I wanted to write, I write in a divine intervention to the story! Me! Someone who knows next to nothing about Faerun gods!
    And instead of writing beautifully simple sentences like yours, or C'Jacob's (now, where is his story, I wonder?), I write those bombastic monstrosities. What's next? "It was a dark and stormy night"?
    Not to mention I reread what I wrote, and suddenly find things like "former friction" and "she should be ashamed"! And fire and water and Hell references which I did not intend! (I was too tired to edit them out, though. I'll try.)

    There's almost as much frustration in this story as fun for me.
    [/frustrated rant]

    (Sorry, I had to vent. And I wasn't joking when I asked for tips on how to write simple sentences, and how to write fast. And for constructive criticism, like which parts are the worst.)
    There is some action coming - FINALLY!!! - in the next part. But since I never wrote a fight, it may take some time before I write this.

    As I now stand and look forward to this city of shadow, I seek to foresee the things that will come. For a day will arrive when I'm called forth to act and I would that my blades struck true that time.

    That's Haer'Dalis. I can forgive him that. (I can forgive him a lot, he's my favourite character in the game.) Hopefully, the rest will be better.

    (Does anyone know if FR humans have haemoglobin in blood?)
  15. Namuras Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose

    Aug 21, 2001
    Likes Received:

    It's your sentences that are beautiful. Our 'simple' sentences may serve our tales well, but they hold little beauty, and I don't see how they would ever fit in a story like yours.
    It's the slow, calm pace and detailed description of all things that make your story what it is: a fantastic piece of art.

    Maybe it's just me (indeed, all of this is only my opinions), but I like this tale just the way it is. In all my selfishness, I would advise against changing anything stylistically, as I want to read a good story. It may not be perfect, but then, what is?
    However, it's your story and you're free to change it however you wish, and if you think writing it takes too much time, or is frustrating, or whatever, maybe you should. It just won't be the same anymore.
    So, my advice is that you write as long as you enjoy it, using whatever style you like.

    As for writing faster, that's something I cannot give tips on, except that it's much easier to distort than to create something new. I parody the plot of a game while playing the game, which is fairly easy because then I already have the framework.

    The only thing to improve that I can think of is that sometimes it's quite difficult to know who's speaking or thinking...

    I think you could assume that all creatures with red blood have haemoglobin in it.

    Hope that helps.

  16. C'Jakob Guest

    My story? Bah! My story sucks! It's half-inspired and was done on a lark during Spring Break when I had nothing better to do than waste away. Your sentences belong somewhere between a novel's words and a storyteller's speech. Suffice to say, they're great.

    Hopefully I can take some time to get working on my story again, and make it better than the garbage of garbage it is right now. Warmth in the Dark? Sheesh, what was I on when I typed that in? :toofar:;)

    [This message has been edited by C'Jakob (edited April 14, 2002).]
  17. Faerus Stoneslammer Gems: 16/31
    Latest gem: Shandon

    Apr 10, 2002
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] Damn fine piece of work Istari, an inspiration to us all (those of us who want to write :p).
  18. Istari Gems: 1/31
    Latest gem: Turquoise

    Mar 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    LOL, thanks guys. Really, great thanks. Guess something's wrong with my serotonine/dopamine levels. Time to go see a shrink.
    Anyway, this is something I initially intended to include with the next part, but it evolved into an unexpected direction, and so is in a pretty different mood, so I'll make it a short interlude instead.
    It's mainly a collection of bad puns, starting from the title on, but I found it funny. (So it probably isn't, but still.)
    In order of appearance:
    B is Big Brother, aka Sarevok
    S is Solaufein
    V is Viconia
    H'D is Haer'Dalis

    So here is the Interlude:

    A Journey in the Dark

    B: "That's the problem with fancy weapons that shine in the darkness. You cannot pass. Your enemies know about you faster than you know about them."
    S: "They would see us anyway. My kindred aren't blind in the darkness as you foolish rivvin are. But if you want, I can take off the helmet. We'll see how you will walk then."
    V: "Oh, for the sake of the gods, shut up! Voice carries far in these caves."
    H'D: "Too late for that, I'm afraid, my raven."
    B: "Oh great. How does it go? I remember." In Drow: "Hey you, we don't have to fight! Just let us pass!"
    Sounds of fight. Then:
    V: "You have a pretty good accent, Sarevok."
    B: "For a human, you mean, Malla Viconia?"
    V: "Actually, no. You're so insecure!"
    S: "I'm curious, why do you keep repeating this line every time? They still attack us."
    B: "Because, Solaufein, I'm a foolish rivvil."
    S: "No, you're not. I never said that. Oh well, I did. But I did not mean that. So why?"
    B: "I want to practice the language. Some words are almost bad enough to break my tongue."
    S: "That is the hallmark of civilised speech."
    B: "Or indicative of an inclination for torture."
    S: "True."
    A moment of silence. Then:
    V: "Haer'Dalis?"
    H'D: "Yes, Malla Viconia?"
    V: "What's the tally?"
    H'D: "Sarevok leads, then it's a draw."
    V: "Yes, but which one… Oh. You do understand that one day you'll go a pun too far?"
    H'D: "What else am I supposed to do, my raven? I'm bored. Why don't you let me fight?"
    V: "Because you're too weak?"
    S: "Because you're too good?"
    B: "Because nothing can replace fighting to the tune of that song?"
    H'D: "Oh yes, the Cad Goddeu, by the great Talienis. A powerful one, indeed."
    B: "Korah… Viconia?"
    V: "You are pretty talkative today. Afraid of the darkness?"
    B: "I am a foolish rivvil, after all. That's just what I wanted to ask you about. If the drow are so superior to humans, why do they keep attacking us? I mean, you'd think they would take a clue after the first several patrols didn't return."
    V: "Well, the more we kill, the greater honour for those who finally manage to off us."
    B: "That is a point of view. Maybe we'll challenge the whole city to a duel?"
    S: "Still, it's stupidity. They all want to kill us first, and no one of them ever bothers to return to the city and report. What's the point of sending patrols then?"
    H'D: "Well, whatever it is, one thing's certain: there is some lady in that city that wants you."
    S: "I strongly suspect it's only my body that she wants."
    V: "And why would she need anything else? Intelligence is totally unnecessary in a man, my mother used to say."
    V: "Of course, she's dead now. That pretty much invalidates her theory."
    V: "Still, the fact remains. Solaufein, you have a body to die for."
    S: "That an offer?"
    V: "Why not?"
    S: "Indeed: why not?"

    Explanatory Note:
    The Cad Goddeu, The Battle of the Trees, is a real poem, which I found absolutely fantastic (but I know nothing about Welsh mythology, so there); if you can devote ten minutes to reading it, it's definitely worth it. But the version Sarevok is alluding to is something definitely different: in 1999, one line of that poem was translated into Sanskrit and used by John Williams for the Duel of the Fates (a motif in The Phantom Menace). And yes, it's even better for fighting dragons and the such than the BG2 music, I think.

    Another silly gratuitous Star Wars reference: I always imagined the War Chant of the Sith from Icewind Dale to be the thing from the Darth Maul Tone Poem, if anyone remembers it:
    Fear attracts the fearful...
    The strong... the weak... the innocent... the corrupt...
    Fear... Fear is my ally..."
    Although how it's supposed to be regenerative to the party I cannot say. I'd rather imagine some Fear/Domination effects.

    Now, if you don't mind, I have some questions:
    1. Should Solaufein use a shield?
    2. What should I call his sword? Is "Vesper" (as in: the Evening Star) OK? Is "Sword of Vesper Mist" OK? (LOL, nothing in common with Keldorn's daughter.)
    3. What should be its stats? I thought of something like +2/+3 enchantment, and something like the Daystar's (the sword I modelled it on: hence the name Evening Star) sunray? Or perhaps an immunity to blindness? Or a very minor protection from water/cold? (I have NEVER invented a weapon before, so I wouldn't like to overdo it?) Should it be exclusive: as in: only to Good Aligned Drow (not many users, then)?
    4. Should it be a long sword/bastard/whatever?

    Heh. Thanks again.
  19. C'Jakob Guest

    Well, in the game, Soulafein wields a +3 adamantine scimitar, just to clarify. He also has a piwafwi cloak, of course. Nothing else (maybe some drow armor, who knows), no shield.

    However, given that his equipment would have turned into dust in your story, he should probably be wielding something else. Perhaps a weapon from one of the Ust Natha vendors, such as Harbringer?

    Then again, some sword, of his own that you make up would also be great. I'm thinking something along the lines of "Darkstar", or something else.

    One more thing; Soulafein mentions that he reveres Lady Silverhair, or Elistrae (sp?). Her worshippers wield swords, although of what kind I forget. She also is a goddess of the moon, IIRC.

    So in short, Soulafein's weapon should definitely be a sword, maybe a scimitar.
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