Author's Foreword: This particular story stems from a few chapters set in Tale of the Bhaalspawn, in which certain characters are introduced to an alternate universe where Greywulf, the central character, was never born as a Bhaalspawn, setting into motion a chain of events leading to a warped version of reality. One of the reviewers, Kazza, I believe, suggested a story exploring this alternate universe, specifically the character of Imoen and her descent into darkness... and here we are. This might take longer to update than Tale of The Bhaalspawn, but I'll try and get to it as often as I can. Oh, and the name. Slow Fade is a song by Casting Crowns, and the lyrics are perfect for this story. Now that everything's been said and done... I hope you enjoy!
Thunder. Echoes of thunder, lightning and storm clouds above thickening the air with humidity and dust until it was like drinking the air. Sheets of rain were pouring down upon the blackened and ruined fields, spilling into the cracked and parched dirt, but it was no use. No downpour would quench or restore the life, the vitality that had once been here in the fertile foothills by the Orsraun Mountains. Or in the plains of Amn, where grasslands and bountiful pastures had become burnt, scorched earth. Or near Beregost, where farmland was now cursed ground, bone littered soil that sapped the life and will of any who ventured there.
The only signs of life now were those who would seek to destroy life... masses of soldiers, archers, pikemen and cavalry, all clad in ebony armor, a set of golden eyes emblazoned on the banners and shields of the armies at the west side of the foothills. They marched east, their footsteps like the drums of death while the sound of rain battering their armor was shriller than the wail of a banshee. Any sane man would have taken one look at the war machine, the unstoppable juggernaut of destruction and turned away. Fled for his life and hoped that by some slim chance, by some divine intervention, he might escape notice and be spared the death and the fate that had befallen millions of others.
Out in front of the army, a single man strode forth, separating himself from his men. Not that he blended in with anyone to begin with; his armor was large and bladed, his height at least a foot above any other there. The glowing eyes that adorned every banner belonged to this monstrosity of a human; they glowed like dark embers in the depths of his skull shaped helmet, his great sword lifted high with both hands. He needed say nothing- the men behind him would follow him to his death. Not necessarily out of devotion, out of pride... certainly not love. More so fear. Fear of what he would do to them if they were not willing to sacrifice their lives for his.
Again, what sane man would possibly face such depths, look into the eyes of the beast and be willing to face it? An echo of insane laughter tilted across the foothills, just barely audible, somehow discernible over the pounding rain and the footfalls of the army behind Sarevok, greatest of the Children of Bhaal. The source of that laughter, the one who would dare put their life on the line against him, was neither sane, nor a man.
Across the foothills, there waited another army. Smaller, less formidable. On the surface, no match for the one that approached and dwarfed any who dared stand against it. This one had no banners, no proud insignia to flash and behold for its master. She needed no symbol to go before her, no picture to display her image. Her laughter was enough. Such a little thing... and even so, it somehow spoke more volumes, inspired more fear than anything Sarevok could have mustered.
She mirrored him, before her own army. Stepping out, making herself known to the servants that followed her, as well as the armies out to destroy her. Hair drenched with the rain above, the pink and red strands sticking to her face, her eyes flashed a dark black for a moment, a mockery of Sarevok's own eyes. She laughed at that. She was clad in elven chain mail, though it had long since been dyed from it's original emerald colors, instead replaced by a black sheen, marred with jagged streaks of pink that looked like stripes of blood in the darkness. Two blades were at her side, magical weapons with vile enchantments cast upon them... more than a thousand men had met their deaths at the ends of those merciless weapons. Elves, humans, warriors... wizards. One kindly old wizard in particular that she remembered. Imoen, she who was the Laughing Death, laughed at that too.
The golden eyed beast watched her with narrowed gaze, the last of his foes, and the only obstacle to the Throne of Bhaal. He brought his sword to his side, and spoke. "Warriors of Sarevok!! This is the end! Take your place at the side of the Lord of Murder, and serve him in hell! Fail... fail and you will wish you had never been born."
He roared, and the men behind him took up the call, their own voices adding to his yet somehow still dwarfed. Imoen watched the army before her shout, preparing themselves for the carnage that would ensue in mere seconds. She flipped a lock of hair out from her vision, cracking her neck one way, then the other. She glanced behind her, biting her lip as she looked at the faces of everyone. They all looked so serious... why? Didn't they get the joke that was life?
She sighed, then turned for a brief moment. She shrugged, fixing a grin on her face. "Follow me. Don't follow me. You'll die regardless. It's all just part of the joke, anyway."
With that brief sentence, Imoen turned and darted at full speed towards the other army, magic crackling in her hands as she chanted her spells in a sing-song tone, rhythmically rhyming to make her arcane powers known. Sarevok followed suit; the last two Bhaalspawn led their armies in a final battle to decide the fate of the Throne. Her first spell completed; hail the size of boulders began falling all around, battering trees, soldiers, it mattered little whether it was her own men or Sarevok's. The two were only a few hundred meters out now; a second spell reached fruition. Fire fell from heaven and consumed scores at a time. The smell of burning flesh engulfed the field of battle, even as a lick passed right in front of Imoen, the girl only blinking once as she ran through the remnants of it, her clothes steaming from the near escape. She grinned.
Sarevok raised the Blade of Chaos to the ready, sidestepping another burst of flame. A hundred meters. Imoen laughed hysterically as her hands unleashed the powers of a Comet, the giant meteor crushing the center of Sarevok's formation. It was of no concern to him- his troops were nothing more than fodder. He would have killed them himself for failing to see the celestial spell before it struck them. Fifty meters now.
Imoen stared into those golden eyes as he charged ever closer, mud and blood splashing up around her as she nimbly ran to her own demise. Or would it be his? She rolled her eyes and blew Sarevok a kiss before yanking both blades from their sheaths, gripping them tightly as she covered more ground between them. Twenty-five meters.
He roared in fury. Fifteen.
She laughed in sadistic mirth. Ten.
Lightning struck the field, engulfing everything as light blazed and divine power took the combatants. When the smoke cleared, the armies were nothing more than dust, ashes and memory. The two Bhaalspawn were gone. For the first time in years, the land was given a brief measure of peace.
X X X X X X X
Silence, in itself, can be deafening. That's what the impression was, at least, when compared to the massive clamor they had just been immersed in. No longer on the fields of battle, or in the middle of an explosion of death and suffering. Imoen sniffed once, trying to place the scent. Sulfur, that's it. She looked up from her new position, sitting on the ground, her eyes widening as she spotted the red and orange glow coming from the top of the mountain face they were on. A volcano... she would have laughed, but she found herself missing the other smell from the battlefield- burning flesh, that was it! It always made her laugh. Then again, a lot of things did.
Across from her, the giant of a man stirred, his armor shifting as he stood, shaking his head with the unexpected transportation... he had been so close! Where- he growled a curse as he took in his surroundings. Ruins, old debris that had once been a temple. Destroyed in the first eruption of this volcano... what remained would probably be claimed by the second eruption. Then he saw her... how he had been brought here could wait. All that mattered was the Throne, and if he could kill her now it would be his-
The voice that echoed through the clearing was powerful, radiant, so much so that its sheer tone was enough to command the respect and draw the attention of both Bhaalspawn. A dazzling light shone from behind her as the blue skinned figure descended, a gleaming white sword in one hand and engraved golden armor covering her with protection unmatched. Her eyes were a fiery orange, fixed on both combatants. "I am the Solar, messenger of the gods."
"Really? I'm Imoen. Pleased to meetcha!" Imoen grinned, surreptitiously drawing one sword from its sheath and slipping it behind her back while extending the other. "Shake hands?"
The Solar's eyes flashed again; Imoen yelped as the handle of her weapon suddenly grew hot to the touch- she let it drop to the ground with a clatter. She glared up at the celestial being with a sneer. "Meh. Not exactly playing fair, are we?"
"Quiet your insanity for a moment, fool." Sarevok snarled, turning to the Solar. "Why have you brought us here?! I demand to know why the gods have chosen now of all times to interfere with my ascendance to become the new Lord of Murder!"
"The gods did not send me out of concern for you and most certainly not for her." the Solar said with a frown, her angelic wings settling behind her as she landed between the two of them. "You have fulfilled the prophecies of Alaundo... the rivers have run red with the blood of those you two have murdered. The Realms have been crippled by your malice; the Bhaalspawn have sown chaos in their wake."
Sarevok grunted once, hefting his blade. "Should I feel pity? Remorse? You'll find I am beyond those pathetic emotions, Solar. Answer my question; why are we here?"
The Solar glared at both of them, and it seemed that she would have liked nothing more than to destroy both god-children herself...but her sword stayed at her side. She backed away, gesturing toward both of them. "It was the decision of Ao, the Overfather, that the Realms have suffered enough. Your battles will no longer plague the lands and wreak havoc over the innocent mortals who have endured so much. You armies are gone, and it comes down to this one battle. With the mandate of Ao, I bid you- finish your fight. One of you must claim the Throne of Bhaal... the other must be destroyed."
With that, the Solar's eyes flared again, and in a beam of brilliance, she disappeared. Sarevok raised one hand to shield his eyes from the glare, but as soon as it had passed, he fixed his eyes upon Imoen, a feral grin upon his face. "At last. I will admit, sister... I did not expect it to be you. Of all the god-children, for you to be the last one who opposes me... never would I have guessed."
Imoen stretched her arms back behind her, nearly falling over as she stretched, coming back to lean over and touch the toes of her boots, waving one finger at Sarevok playfully. "Always the last door you pick, isn't it? Shouldn't be any different with people then."
"Almost a shame..." Sarevok murmured, watching as the girl before him did a quick backflip, landing on a piece of rubble behind her, crouched on it like a giant cat. "The taint has driven you mad. Perhaps had you learned to control it, master it as I have, you might stand the slightest chance of surviving this encounter. As it is, you are nothing but dust before me."
"Mad? Oh no, not me." she laughed, cocking her head to one side. "I've just learned to get the joke. Everyone else did too. Well, it took a little persuasion, a few cuts here, and few limbs there..."
She leapt off with her head bowed, then looked up at him, a smile on her face that would chill the bones of any onlooker without trouble. "But they all got the joke in the end. You will too. And I tell you... its a good one."
For a moment, just the slightest moment... Sarevok was unnerved. He covered it quickly, sneering as he raised his blade, planting his feet to charge. "Oblivion comes to you, whelp... receive it well."
Imoen threw her head back, her hair flying this way and that as she tsked, a grin splitting her face as the volcano rumbled beneath them. "Oh big brother... you have no idea how much I've been looking forward to gutting you. No idea!!"
His eyes flashed bright yellow; hers were enveloped in blackness. As one, they came together- above the mountain, thunder echoed and lightning split the sky.