Author's Note: Like I needed another story to keep up with. I should have known better than to start another BG2 game. Decided to try out one of the NPC mods and started with the Imoen romance. A few quibbles with the execution, but on the whole, highly entertaining, and of course, plot bunny generating. Be going with a (mostly) different crew of NPC's and hitting some of the scenarios that I missed in WMTM, so hopefully it won't be too repetitious. BTW, does anyone have any suggestions for good romance mods for female NPC's? On second thought…don't tell me. My active story queue is more than long enough.
The raging storm had blown itself out during the night, and the first silver light of dawn illuminated the damage that the driving winds and torrential rains had left in their wake. Leaves torn free from their moorings fluttered in the breeze or lay in soggy piles against the trunks of trees. The trees themselves had suffered broken branches, and more than one sapling had been completely uprooted.
Talon made his way unsteadily through the aftermath, his head still aching and vision slightly blurred from the falling branch that had knocked him unconscious as he had fled the night before.
Shame flooded through him at the thought. While it was true that Gorion had ordered him to run, his voice sounding as it never had before: commanding, powerful, and determined, yet terrified, as well, Talon knew in his heart that he would have run regardless. The towering figure that had confronted them as they left Candlekeep had made his bowels turn to water with a single, blazing glance. All his training with the guards, all the confidence that had filled him after he had killed his would-be assassin in the barracks, all his youthful bravado had vanished like a drop of water flung onto a hot skillet.
Run or die.
As powerful as Gorion's voice had been, the voice of his own terror had been stronger. If the man who had spent nearly eighteen years raising Talon as his own had begged the boy to stay and assist him, he would have kept running. The only thing that had stopped him had been the falling branch. He had awakened soaked to the skin, shivering with cold, and had lain there in the mud for he knew not how long, his mind hammering him with the memory of every running step he had taken.
He was a coward, and he eventually dragged himself to his feet to face the consequences of his cowardice. Gorion was dead; he was certain of that. His father would have found him if he were alive. He would never have abandoned him. Gorion was no coward.
He came upon the clearing where the ambush had occurred more quickly than he expected; it felt as though he had run forever before falling. He paused at the edge of the clearing, all senses alert to any danger, but only corpses remained: the two ogre mages who had attacked first, and –
No…Torm, please no…
The rain had washed away all blood, mercilessly revealing the damage that had been done. A single, brutal slash of a sword, moving diagonally from the left shoulder across the chest, had nearly cut Gorion in half, leaving the ruin of his heart and lungs exposed, the white bones of his ribcage jutting from the pale red of the torn muscle. His blue eyes were open, filled with rain, and his hair and beard were wet and matted. Talon dropped to his knees beside the body, closing his eyes against the sight. There was no peace in that beloved face; Gorion had died in pain and fear, and it was these emotions that formed his death mask, twisting his features into an unfamiliar countenance…the last memory that Talon would have of him.
Talon's eyes popped open, and scrambled to his feet, turning to intercept the auburn-haired girl who had bounded from the trees before she could see the ruin of Gorion's body.
Imoen stood frozen, the color draining from her face, her ever present smile vanishing, to be replaced with an expression of disbelieving horror as she stared, wide-eyed, at the body on the ground.
"Don't look at it, Im," he told her, interposing himself between her and the grisly scene, but she tried to push by him.
"No!" she cried out, struggling angrily as he sought to hold her back. "I've got healing potions, Talon! He needs help, he –"
"He's dead, Imoen," Talon forced himself to say, taking her by the arms and turning her to face him, forcing her to look into his eyes…forcing himself to look back. "He's been dead since last night. Healing potions won't help him."
She resisted, shaking her head violently and trying to pull away, then collapsed against him suddenly, burying her face in his chest and sobbing uncontrollably. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, laying his cheek against her hair and wishing that his own tears could fall. Even after a man had tried to kill him yesterday, Talon had never really considered that he could come to harm so long as Gorion was with him. Torm forgive him, he had even felt excitement and anticipation as they had left the walls of Candlekeep yesterday, thinking only of finally leaving the sheltering walls of the scholarly redoubt and seeking the adventures that he had daydreamed about. Now Gorion was dead, and the ease with which he had evidently been slain by the mysterious assailant made it clear just how foolish his notions had been, and how vulnerable he now was.
How vulnerable they both were…
"Why did you follow us?" he demanded suddenly, holding her at arm's length and giving her a little shake.
"Why did you leave me?" she shot back, glaring up at him with red, swollen eyes. "You said we'd always be together. You promised…and then you go sneaking out in the middle of the night! If I hadn't found that letter –" She broke off, staring at the ground.
"What letter?" She tried to pull away from him, but he maintained his grip. "Imoen, what letter?"
"Don't know who it was from," she whispered, still not looking at him. "He just signed his name with an 'E', but he said that you were in danger and that Gorion should get you away from Candlekeep quick. I saw Gorion packing, so I snuck into his study and found the letter on his desk."
Talon was still. Yesterday, the rider had come through on his weekly circuit delivering mail through the region. It was a routine occurrence, so he had given it little thought at the time, but it had been little more than an hour after the rider had departed that Gorion had summoned him, bidding him ready himself for a quick departure and instructing him to tell no one of their intent, especially not Imoen. The mage had been quite firm on that matter.
"Come on." He began striding purposefully back toward Candlekeep, dragging her by one arm, his eyes seeing assassins behind every tree.
"Ow! Talon, slow down!" Imoen cried out, stumbling as she tried to match the pace his much longer legs had set. "What're you doing? You know they won't let us back in without Gorion."
"They'll let you back in," he said grimly. He'd see to it that they did, no matter what. "Winthrop can –"
He got no further, because she launched herself at his back, tiny fists pounding at his shoulders and head.
"No!" she shouted at him, all her sorrow turned to fury in an instant. "You are not leaving me in this place to be an indentured slave to Puffguts for the rest of my life!"
He tripped over a tree root, staggered and fell. She was on him almost before he hit the ground, flipping him onto his back with surprising strength and pinning him to the ground with a knee in his chest.
"You leave me there, and I swear I'll run off by myself as soon as you're gone," she vowed, her grey eyes narrowed to slits. "I swear I will."
He could have thrown her off easily; he'd done it dozens of times in their playful tussles. She was the more agile, but he was considerably stronger. "Imoen, this isn't some game. Gorion is dead, and the man who did it was after me."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better about you going off alone?" she asked him incredulously. "I know Gorion's dead, damn it! I saw him, and that makes you the only family I've got left now." She pushed herself off of him and stood, running a shaky hand through her hair, staring back at the walls of Candlekeep, just visible over the tops of the trees. "I'm not staying there, Talon," she said with quiet resolution. "I've never belonged there…not really. If you don't want me with you, that's fine; I'll go somewhere else –"
"It's not that," he said quickly, getting to his feet and hugging her. "It's just that…whoever it was, he was strong enough to kill a mage as powerful as Gorion. I…" His head dropped in shame. "I ran," he admitted in a whisper. "I left Gorion there alone. I've never been so afraid of anyone or anything in my life. Something about him was wrong…evil, like nothing I've ever felt before. I just don't think that I'm good enough with a sword, or brave enough, to protect you."
He waited for her reaction, for the revulsion and disgust at his revelation of cowardice, but she simply looked up at him with a wink and a wan version of her usually impish smile. "Guess I'll just have to protect you then, big brother," she said, returning the hug, laying her head against his chest. "And don't try telling me that Gorion didn't tell you to run."
"He did," Talon admitted slowly, "but-"
"But nothing," she cut him off, poking him in the chest with a finger and looking up at him sternly. "If he could kill someone like Gorion, there was nothing that you could do to stop him. He just would have killed you, too. Our best chance is to stick together."
Her words made a certain amount of sense, and despite his fear for her, the familiarity of her presence was comforting. "Our best chance is to join with others," he said, taking her hand and leading her back the way they had come. "Gorion mentioned that there were people waiting for us at the Friendly Arms Inn, friends of his from the Harpers. He said that if we were to –" he trailed off, realizing that his father had been fully aware of the possibility of his own death. "If we were separated," he pushed on resolutely, "I was supposed to go there and meet them. Their names are Khalid and Jaheira," he added after a moment of thought. "Maybe they'll know who attacked us and why."
"Sounds good," Imoen agreed. They had arrived back in the clearing, both of them trying not to look directly at Gorion's body. "We should get going."
Talon shook his head. "We need to bury him. I'm not going to just leave him here for the vultures."
"Talon, the ground here is mostly rock; it'll take us until midnight," she told him, her voice reasonable, though her expression said plainly that the words came hard to her. "We're close enough to Candlekeep; they'll find him and give him a proper burial." Seeing the stubborn set of his jaw, she continued. "What're we gonna do if we're hip deep in a hole and the monster that did this comes back?"
His shoulders sagged. She was right; his first duty was getting her to the safety of the Friendly Arms Inn and the protection of Gorion's allies, and the mage would have been the first to tell him so. He knelt beside the body, forcing himself to take the coins that remained in the belt pouch, but although he knew that the items would bring a good price, he could not bring himself to take Gorion's staff and rings. Let them be buried with him. Pulling off his own cloak, he spread it gently over the body; as the face of his father vanished from view beneath the grey cloth, Talon felt something inside himself break, and he knelt over Gorion, sobbing as he had not since childhood.
Imoen knelt beside him, gentle arms drawing him to her, and he buried his face against her neck, feeling her tears mingling with his own as they held each other. Gradually the tears slowed, then finally stopped. Imoen got to her feet, taking his hand in hers and urging him up.
"C'mon, Talon. It's getting late. We'd better get going. C'mon."
"Come on! Wake up! We've gotta get out of here!"
Talon struggled to open his eyes; the pain in his head was blinding, his muscles were on fire, and it felt as though his joints had been replaced with broken glass. He knew the voice, though.
"Imoen?" His voice was ragged, hoarse, his mouth bone-dry. "What…where?"
"He messed with your head, too, huh?" Something was wrong…something in her tone. He forced his eyelids apart and sat straight up, ignoring the searing pain that flared through every fiber of his body.
She was thin to the point of emaciation, dark circles under eyes that were wide with anxiety and shadowed with fear and pain. Her hair was unkempt, tangled and matted with what appeared to be dried blood, her clothes ragged and filthy. As his vision swam into focus, he could see the scar running down the right side of her face, a wound that looked to have missed her eye by the narrowest of margins.
Anger surged through him, making him forget about his own pain. "Who did this to you? Where are we?" He frowned, struggling to grasp at memories that remained frustratingly elusive. Sarevok was dead…they had been leaving Baldur's Gate, going to Candlekeep to visit Gorion's grave…and then? "What happened?"
"We got jumped just outside Baldur's Gate," Imoen replied, her hands busy with the lock on the cage that confined him. "I don't remember much more…don't think I want to remember." Her hands trembled visibly before she steadied herself. "He's been…doing things to us, Talon…I could hear you screaming…"
"He?" His brow furrowed as one figure began to drift to the front of his mind. A man, wielding magic with the casual ease of one long adept in the arcane, inflicting pain, observing the results with almost clinical detachment.
You have much untapped power… The flat, emotionless voice echoed in his mind. "What does he want with us? Where are the others?" Jaheira and Khalid had been with them when they had left Baldur's Gate, as had Dynaheir and Minsc.
"I don't know," Imoen replied miserably. "You're not the only one I heard screaming …but I haven't heard anyone but you for over a day. We've got to get out of here now, Talon! He's distracted; there's been some kind of attack, and the fighting's still going on. My cage got damaged so I could get out, but if he locks me back up again…" She shook her head, clenching her fists. "It hurts so bad…it's like my bones have all turned to daggers, and it won't stop…" She gritted her teeth, returning her attention to the lock, and at last, there was a sharp click, and the door swung open. "Let's get out of here, Talon…now…please? I'm scared; I feel so strange…"
"It's all right, little sister," he replied, pulling himself to his feet, forcing himself to ignore the pain. He had to take care of Imoen and the others. "We'll find the others and leave this place." He reached out to take her hand, give it a reassuring squeeze.
His hand passed through hers as though it were nothing but smoke.
He looked up at her in shock, tried again with the same result.
"Talon?" Imoen's eyes were filled with confusion and terror, and he saw with horror that she was beginning to fade; he could see the walls of the dungeon through her form. "Talon, what's happening?"
"Im!" he shouted, making a desperate grab for her, his questing arms touching only air. "Imoen!"
"Talon!" she screamed, but her voice was fading along with her body. "Talon, don't let him take me! Help me! Talon!"
He came awake with a cry, reaching out blindly to clutch at the hand that had shaken him.
"Talon!" He was shaken again, harder this time. "You're dreaming again!"
He sat up, breathing hard and feeling the sweat that had soaked the sheets. In the dim light of the moon that shone through the window, he could see Yoshimo, standing as far back as was possible, his arm outstretched cautiously. He had good reason to be wary; the first time that he had tried to rouse Talon from his nightmares, the young warrior had nearly killed him before coming fully awake.
Just Yoshimo. As always, upon awakening, the enormity of his loss came crashing down on him, the pain as fresh as ever. Khalid, Jahiera, Dynaheir, Minsc, even Boo…all dead. He and Imoen had found their bodies one by one as they struggled to escape the hellish lair where Irenicus had held them. The name of their captor was by and large all that they had managed to learn about him, beyond what seemed to be a penchant for cruelty beyond even Sarevok's capabilities. Each mangled corpse had torn away another piece of his heart, but the final blow had been the harshest.
Talon, help me! Don't let them take me!
Imoen's terror-stricken face as she realized the intent of the wizards who had appeared around them was seared into his mind, as was the memory of his hand grabbing wildly at the empty air where she had been only moments before. The wizards had taken her, along with Irenicus; she had attacked the mage with her magic, fighting with a fearful desperation that he had never before seen in her, and the ones who had appeared, the Cowled Wizards, Yoshimo had informed him later, had seemed not to care that she had acted in self defense, terrified of being imprisoned by him again.
He had already been in a weakened state from the torture that he had endured in his captivity, and from the fighting in their arduous path to the surface; the loss of Imoen had pushed him perilously close to the mental breaking point, as well. Yoshimo had managed to get him to a nearby inn, using what gold they had brought out with them and all of his persuasive power to convince the proprietor of the upscale establishment to rent them two rooms.
They had been there for the last four days, Talon slowly recovering while Yoshimo moved around the city of Athkatla, selling their surplus gear, buying healing potions and supplies, and nosing about as discreetly as possible. Talon didn't bother to ask how the Kara-Turan had gotten into his locked room; the other man seemed to never sleep, and picking locks appeared to be as instinctive to him as it had been to…
He lay back, closing his eyes, trying to will away the memory of her face as he had last seen it, the way he continued to see it in his dreams. "Thanks, Yoshimo," he managed.
Yoshimo merely shrugged modestly. He invariably brushed off Talon's expressions of gratitude, saying that it was the least that he could do in return for being assisted in escaping Irenicus' dungeon. Talon knew full well, however, that they likely would not have made it out at all without the older, more experienced man's aid, and he was grateful for Yoshimo's continued presence. Being completely alone would have been unbearable.
"More dreams of Irenicus?" Yoshimo asked, crouching beside the bed. The first three nights had been filled with nightmares of the mage taunting him, daring him to use the power of Bhaal, dangling Imoen and the others before him as bait, then snuffing out their lives with a careless gesture.
Talon shook his head. "Not this time," he said quietly. "Just me and Imoen. First outside Candlekeep, where I found Gorion's body, then in the dungeon, when she picked the lock on my cage. I reached for her, but she faded…screaming for me to help her." He had told the thief much of his life in the preceding days, unwilling to let another share the risk of his company without full knowledge of what it entailed. Yoshimo had accepted the fact that he was the child of the dead god of murder with surprising equanimity, but then, as far as Talon had been able to determine, the Kara-Turan was completely unflappable.
The other man nodded understandingly. "A natural consequence of feeling helpless," he observed. "Your recovery is almost complete now; I think that in the morning, we should be able to begin following up the information that I have obtained so far. The activity will do your mind some good, I think. You have had far too much time to brood."
"That's an understatement," Talon murmured fervently. He had always been strong and healthy; the weakness caused by the damage that Irenicus had inflicted on him had been unprecedented, and the healing potions had to be administered judiciously. They would undoubtedly need them later, as well, so he had been forced to rest and allow his body to recover largely on its own, while his mind screamed at him to find Imoen and avenge the deaths of his friends.
I killed Sarevok, you bastard, and I'll kill you, too, he vowed silently, but doubts assailed him almost immediately. He would never have been able to kill Sarevok without the assistance of his companions, and he was alone now…except for Yoshimo.
"Do you really think we'll be able to find where they've taken her?" he asked, unable to suppress a slight tremor in his voice.
"We will," Yoshimo said decisively, giving a firm nod for emphasis. "I swear to you upon my family's honor that I will not leave your side until you have been reunited with your sister."
"Thank you," Talon said again, though such paltry words seemed pathetically inadequate in return for the oath that the Kara-Turan had just given. "I don't know what I would have done without your help so far; I can't even begin to repay –"
"In my homeland, family is revered above all," Yoshimo replied before he could finish. "To see you together with your sister once again will be all the reward that I need. Sleep now, my young friend," he said, squeezing Talon's shoulder lightly as he stood. "Tomorrow, our hunt begins in earnest."
He left, and Talon heard the faint click of the lock engaging. Rolling over, he waited to drift back to sleep, hoping that the nightmares were over for the night.