Part I: The Opening
The man shook the girl's prone body.
"Wha— What?" the girl asked drowsily.
"Wake up, little sister, or I change my mind and kill you, after all," said the man, sounding not at all amused.
The threat had the desired effect; the girl opened her eyes at last. She looked at the man, and her eyes grew wide with terror.
"Yes. I. Now, drink this," the man said, passing a blue-tinted bottle to the girl. Seeing that she hesitated to take it, he said, again with more than a little warning in his voice, "A minute ago, you were lying unconscious on the floor. If I wanted you dead, you would be. It is a healing potion."
The girl blinked, but took the bottle and drank from it. It was a healing potion: she could feel it spread across her body, bringing warmth to the tired members, healing cuts and bruises; lending a modicum of clarity to her mind.
"Are you lucid?" the man demanded, and the girl nodded. "Can you stand?" he demanded again, and she felt in her limbs for the answer to the question.
"Yes?" she hazarded at last.
"Good," the man replied curtly. "Do so." He made no movement to help her up.
The girl followed the order, standing uneasily on shaking legs. She was tired, dehydrated and still hurting from the many wounds that the potion had only half-healed; but she simply had to stand up, she felt, she simply had to prove that she could stand up and walk out of that cage.
The man watched her; at last, apparently satisfied with the display, he said, "Follow me."
As before, there was simply no possibility of refusal; and the girl found herself following the man into another, much better lit room. The light almost blinded her for a moment; she felt tears flow into her eyes in an ineffective attempt to protect them.
When she recovered, she saw that the man stopped by a chest standing in the corner of the room. "It is locked. Open it."
The girl blinked again in incomprehension. "What?"
The man gave her a cold look. "Have the wizard's tender ministrations left you feebleminded, little sister? My spies told me that you were the thief of our late sibling's company. There is a lock here; consider it an opportunity to exercise your skill."
"Why—?" the girl searched frantically her mind for words; it was so hard—so very, very hard—to pull herself together—
She tried again, "How—?"
And again, "What—?"
The man was definitely not amused by her confusion. "The lock," he repeated.
Resignedly, she obeyed.
Working on the lock was, curiously, what in the end let her regain command of her senses: her fingers, following schemes imprinted in her mind through countless repetitions, manipulated the shard of metal by themselves, thus allowing her a moment to think.
Behind her, various clinks and clanks signified that he—Imoen could not force herself to think of him in any other way right now—did not remain idle while she was occupying herself with opening the lock on the chest. Indeed, when she turned around, he was already finishing putting on several scraps of metal which together looked like a provisional plate mail. A suit of leather armour was laid out on the table in the middle of the room.
"Finished," she announced.
He raised his head. "And inside?"
She reached inside and reported, "Healing potions and knives… One of the daggers is enchanted, a bit."
He nodded thoughtfully; if he were disappointed with the meagre loot, she could not tell. "Then consider it yours, sister. Now—"
He did not finish, because, unable to take it any longer, she exploded, "Why are you calling me that?! I'm no sister of yours!"
She could not decide whether she wanted to scream or to cry.
There was only cool contempt in the man's voice now. "If I had any choice to deny it, I would. But I do not: we are kin, you and I. Not that it will matter in the end, of course."
"No. You will kill me, like you killed Irene!"
The man's eyes did not leave hers. "Of course," he agreed easily. "That is the way of our kind. Put on your armour, little sister; we must move before the wizard returns."
Imoen looked at him with utter disbelief. "We?! How can you— How dare you—" She sputtered, and then, suddenly, burst out again, "How do you know, anyway?! How can you be sure? About me being— The same as you, I mean?! And what's going on here?! How come you're so sane all of a sudden?! Last time I checked, you were babbling on about godhood, and refusing Irene's offer, and killing—" She was going to cry any moment soon, she knew it.
The man did not move from his place. "Put on your armour," he repeated.
For a moment, she wondered if this wasn't some illusion conjured by the wizard, some illusion of freedom; if she wouldn't wake up any moment soon, only to discover herself still bound, in a cage, cut by knives, burnt by magic— The man who claimed to be her brother crossed the few steps which divided him from her, invading her personal space in the brusquest manner possible. She moved instinctively away from him; but she was too slow. He caught her chin in his palm, and forced her to look up; and up; and up, straight into those burning, golden eyes.
"Little sister," he said, and his deep voice suddenly reminded her all too well of an enraged predator's growl, "Our late sibling may have condoned or, indeed, encouraged, your antics. As you may yet have the chance to discover, I am of a less tolerant disposition. Put on your armour."
With one hand, he reached to the table behind himself, and retrieved the leather. Then, he put it in her unresisting hands.
And then, he backed off; but he did not stop watching her.
The callous dismissal of her questions—and, admittedly, the demonstration of the man's sheer physical power—served as a sobering experience. She started to put on the leather.
But— He did not want her dead, for now, did he? He talked to her. And he gave her that potion. Which meant— What did the big, bad Sarevok want from her first? Of course.
"You know, big brother, if I'm to serve as your trap-detecting monkey, you might as well tell me something," she prodded, carefully.
The man's eyes narrowed slightly at the epithet; but he smiled, coldly. "I see that you have guessed my purpose for you at last, little sister."
Imoen shrugged, and tried again. "Well, it wasn't too hard, was it? I mean, come to think of it, we're in the middle of a place which must be full of traps, and you're nothing but a big man with a pointy stick. It's hard to use that on a trap. Or scare it."
That failed to achieve its intended effect; the man kept his cool. "A surprisingly accurate, if not entirely succinct, summary of our current circumstances, sister," he replied calmly. "Fortunately, I need not intimidate traps. Only the—what was that phrase, again?—Trap-detecting monkey?"
"What makes you think that I'm afraid of you?"
"You are," Sarevok Anchev replied simply, and they both knew that he was telling the truth.
"What makes you think that I will want to work with you?"
He considered this for a moment. "An interesting question. I suppose that I might break every single bone in your body, starting with those really small in your palm—but that would either render you unusable to me or force me to spend more healing potions, and those are currently in scarce supply. Besides," he eyed Imoen critically, "if the wizard treated you the same way he treated me—and I see no reason to believe that he did not—the intimidating value of mere physical pain must have decreased considerably in your case. This, however, leads me straight to the crux of the matter. The wizard. Much as it pains me, you fear him as much as you fear me. If not more."
"You want us to work together?"
"Oh, no. I merely believe that if we meet him and he is occupied with one of us, the other one may have a chance to escape. This works both ways, mind you," he added, clearly in response to Imoen's changed expression, "I am by no means saying that I will be necessarily the one who manages to escape, sister. Though I certainly intend to."
She grimaced. "Why do you keep insisting that I'm a—" She forced herself to say the word, "—a Bhaalspawn?"
The man gave her another frigid look. "How many of your people were still alive when the mist fell?"
Imoen started. "What?"
He sighed, and, in view of this almost human behaviour, Imoen started again. "I killed the half-elves, then one of the elves killed Tazok. Then, I killed our sister. This means that Angelo, Semaj and two of your elves should still have been alive when the mist fell."
Imoen furrowed her eyebrows: remembering the past was an unexpected pain. "Xan and Kivan, yes."
"The wizard," Sarevok continued in the same matter-of-fact voice, "killed Angelo and Semaj."
Imoen was suddenly glad that she had nothing in her stomach to vomit out: another memory occurred to her, of the wizard's cutting a body and showing her things, and of the body's screaming and screaming, and then, of the wizard's talking in a soothing voice and an unfamiliar tongue, and of another person's replying in the same tongue, and of the wizard's casting a spell, and of a sudden whiteness, a sudden, terrible whiteness—
Sarevok was still speaking, "This leaves you and the elves—"
"The elves are dead, too," Imoen cut in, abruptly.
"Ah. I was just about to comment on their absence. For, you see, this leaves you as the only other person interesting enough to keep alive, sister."
She digested the news for a moment. Eventually, she decided that, if it was at all true, it would have to wait until a better occasion, when she was more prepared—alcohol would come into play, she was sure of that, and in copious quantities. For now, there was a more pressing issue.
"So, there's a truce until we escape this place or meet the wizard, right?"
"Yes," Sarevok answered; then, pushed a bow towards her across the table. "Your favourite weapon, I was told."
Imoen took it, and started to check the string. "And then, if we manage to get away, you'll kill me anyway?"
"If we manage to escape, yes," he said, pushing the arrow-filled quiver down the bow's path. "We are siblings, after all."
The string was fine. "Can't say I like this idea much."
The golden eyes watched her curiously for a while; and then, at last, she heard, "I cannot say I do not understand your point, sister. Would you be less averse to the idea of cooperation if we simply parted upon leaving? If we are to meet again, we shall; there is a prophecy in action."
Now, it was Imoen's turn to stare for a moment. "You would do that?"
"Certainly," said the man, putting on a helm; Khalid's helm. "In any case, I have a wizard to destroy. He interfered with a familial issue; that is an unpardonable offence."
Against her better judgment, Imoen snorted.
"First, however, we need to leave," Sarevok concluded; and, indicating a dark corridor, he asked, "Shall we, little sister?"