Grand Theft Cookies
An epic™ Baldur's Gate fanfic in three acts
Written (rather hastily) for Spellhold Studios' (spellholdstudios dot net) fiction contest in January 2008. The prompt was "team spirit".
Act One: The (lack of a) Cunning Plan
It had started, like so much else, as the beginning glimmers of a plan somewhere in Imoen's clever yet occasionally unstructured brain.
"Cookies, Imoen?" I had asked, raising an eyebrow and peering at her over the book I had, until just recently, been engrossed in.
"Yes!" she had said. "Cookies. 's enough for the whole keep and then some. I heard 'em talking. Cook's been at it all day, she said -"
Ah, yes, the cook. Royal dictator of the kitchen, keeper of snacks and arch-nemesis of Imoenkind. I would come to understand, later, that Cook - who was known only by that title, never a name - was as stereotypical as they came. She was a large woman, rosy-faced from the heat of Candlekeep's many large stoves and ovens, brown hair tied in a bun at the back of her head; always wearing a white apron, spotlessly clean despite hours spent handling some of the most stain-prone substances known to mankind. (It was my firm suspicion that she had started with red beets and was busily working her way up from there on a mad quest to find the one food that would produce the most virulently resilient stains in the world. But I digress.)
"Then why," I asked, "would you want to steal them? There will be enough of them for you as well, even after the Keeper of the Tomes has his share."
She gave me a Look. She had several varieties of those; this one was the I can't believe what I'm hearing one. "Because it's fun!" she said, in a tone which suggested that the answer should have been blindingly obvious. "Besides, you know there's no such thing as too many cookies. We'll have all we can eat!"
Gorion would perhaps have reprimanded her for that blatant streak of greed. I simply sighed.
"Forget it. It would be too much work."
She frowned. "Don't you like cookies?"
"There is not a living soul in this world who likes cookies as much as you do."
She opened her mouth as if to retort, thought better of it and closed it again. There was a brief pause. "I'm not admitting anything," she said finally, giving me what she probably thought was a sly look.
Imoen was perhaps thirteen years old at the time, and she had not yet mastered the subtleties that would have been necessary for that look to work. It came off as more guilty than anything else.
"Besides," she continued, more confidently, "it'll be fun."
We were back to the word 'fun', but I was not quite convinced. "Do you have a plan?"
She blinked. "Well, no! I figure we'll think of something as we go. You and me, right?"
I sighed again, and put the book down. "In other words, the whole idea is to get me to come up with a way so you can eat cookies."
She pouted. "That's mean. I thought two heads were supposed to be better than one. Besides, it's been a hundred years since we did anything fun together. But you don't have to... if you don't want to..."
I take that back - she was perfectly capable of subtlety. That slight tremble in her voice towards the end was masterful. Unfortunately for her, my analysis was equally masterful. It would have to be, after all the time we had spent together.
"You know that only works on Gorion."
Imoen hmphed. "You really don't want to?"
"I did not say that."
"Great!" She beamed at me. "D'ya think we'll need a rope? 'cause I have a rope under my bed"
I did not have the heart to tell her that I had not said that Iagreed to it, either.
"Dare I ask why you have a rope under your bed?"
"Well. You know. In case I need one! We need a bag, too. Oh! And we should wear dark clothes so we don't stand out, too. Just like when princess Sari sneaks into the sultan's palace to rescue Prince Lyle!"
I shook my head. I knew the play she was referring to - it was one of her favourites - and the comparison was, to say the least, far-fetched. Compared to sneaking a prince out of a guarded compound, it would be insultingly easy to make off with a sack of baked goods. This was perhaps offset somewhat by the fact that neither of us could hold a candle to the protagonist of the story, who, in the chapters preceding the rescue of said prince, had made her way through a labyrinth filled with deadly traps and swum across a moat filled with starving crocodiles, and at one point killed four of the sultan's elite guards using nothing more than a kitchen knife.
I decided to focus on reality instead. "You are going to stand out no matter what you wear. No one could mistake you for someone else."
Imoen's hair was currently bright cerulean blue after a verydeliberate accident involving a broomstick, a shelf and a bottle of enchanted dye. Undaunted, she shook her head, sending the shock of blue flying about. "I'll wear a hood. I need a cloak anyway. Adventurers always wear cloaks."
"You do not own a cloak," I pointed out, silently wondering if those claims that bad plays could be detrimental to one's mental health might hold some truth after all, "and I think one theft in a day is enough. You know who the first and only suspects are whenever something goes missing around here."
Being the only children in the keep often meant that we had no one else to blame, and on occasion had to take the consequences for crimes neither of us had in fact committed.
"Details, details! C'mon, go get dressed." She gestured towards the door. "Hurry up! Shoo!"
I looked down at myself. The familiar soft, grey shirt and trousers were in place, held in place by a thin belt that held a tiny knife on the left hip and a small pouch - empty - on the right.
"I am dressed," I said, and then, after only a brief moment's hesitation, added: "And this is my room."
Act Two: The Dastardly Deed
Imoen returned to my room a little later, quite conspicuously dressed in black, with a hooded 'cloak' which was probably intended for use as a cape by a much larger person and kept twisting itself around her legs. She had most certainly stolen it from somewhere on her way here. I sighed. It would not be the last time I did so this night.
She made an attempt to study my rather less 'professional' attire in a critical manner, and the hood dropped down over her eyes.
"Imoen," I said, as she struggled to free herself from the wretched apparel. I waited until she had managed to untangle herself and look up at me.
"Leave the cloak."
She did so, though not very happily. Being an unconventional adventurer, somehow, was not quite as appealing.
We also left Imoen's rope behind. It was rather long and about half as thick around as her wrist. She gave up on protesting once I pointed out that if she carried the rope in, she would have to leave behind its weight in cookies on the way out.
Along with the rope and cloak, we had also abandoned any notions of a plan, deciding instead to 'use whatever means necessary to accomplish the objective', which, while not overly helpful, at least sounded vaguely impressive.
It was dark outside, even though it was not very late; it was late autumn, and the days were growing noticeably shorter. The keep itself was always well lit, however, by enchanted 'torches' lining every wall, a few paces apart. There were no flames present; instead, each 'torch' held a clear, fist-sized crystal ball, which, once lit, shed a warm, golden light. This, naturally, made stealth rather difficult. My companion's very conspicuous attempts to be inconspicuous did not exactly help matters either. It was not as though she was incapable of stealth; it was more that she was incapable of combining it with theatrics.
Fortunately, the majority of the keep's population were tired old sages with bad eyesight who tended to go to bed early. The corridors were almost eerily empty and quiet. Candlekeep was watched by forces many times more powerful than mere guardsmen, so there were few of the latter and they rarely patrolled the inner keep. We only had to hide once - on Imoen's insistence - as a bored-looking man in a mail hauberk ambled by; obviously paying little attention to his surroundings, as he somehow missed the toes of my shoes sticking out below the heavy curtain Imoen had pulled me in behind.
This was the easy part. The kitchen was better fortified - Cook being the biggest obstacle, her small army of aides a distant second, though few if any of them would be present at this time. It was also just as well lit as the rest of the keep, and lacked any decent hiding places. We knew this well - it was not the first time Imoen had dragged me along on such missions. A good third of them ended with us getting caught red-handed; sometimes literally so, depending on the, as Imoen put it, 'swag'. (The Strawberry Jam Incident still weighed heavily on my mind, but we had both agreed never to speak of that ever again.) I did some quick calculations and came to the conclusion that statistically speaking, we were well overdue for yet another catastrophic failure. It would be pointless to share this information with Imoen, however. It never helped.
We had started on the third floor and were heading for the first. After the stairs, there were still several corridors to navigate before we arrived. There were a few times when we heard people talking, mumbling just a little too quiet for individual words to distinguishable, but otherwise nothing.
The kitchen itself lay in a small building of its own, connected to the main keep by a short corridor, which had obviously been added after the completion of the actual buildings and lacked the enchanted torches that were present everywhere else. It was completely silent when we arrived. The door was open just a crack, and a careful peek through it revealed Cook standing alone at the largest table, on the far side of the room - facing, but not looking at the door, a large feather pen in her hand and a determined frown on her face. I knew that expression; Cook was going over the tallies, keeping track of hams, cheese, flour and everything else that passed in and out of the kitchen.
I had seen those books a few times, and the frown was certainly understandable. Candlekeep was not the smallest household on the coast, and the assorted scribes, clerks and monks could eat a lot or a bunch of scrawny ancients. Add in a few desperate and despicable individuals bent on unlawful and unsanctioned snacking and a tight-fisted treasurer who would make a fuss if so much as a copper went missing along the way, and the calculations could give anyone a headache. I imagine that Cook might have turned a blind eye to our 'unsanctioned' activities a little more often if it had not been for the treasurer, but with the way things were now, we would have to be careful.
"Oh, no, she's gonna be here all night," Imoen moped, sinking back against the wall and staring at her shoes. A moment later, she perked up and leaned in towards me. "Maybe we can get in while she's busy, all sneaky like? I made Gorion jump eight times this week, you know."
"Once he gets busy, Gorion would not notice if there was an ogre in the room until it hit him over the head," I said, throwing a sideways glance through the door. "And there is no way we can get that far with her standing there."
She pouted. "Yeah, I know. 's just-"
I gestured for her to shut up and pointed towards our adversary. "She is moving."
Imoen instantly shut her mouth and turned to the crack of the door, almost missing Cook as she turned away and tossed the pen on the table. She vanished somewhere to the left; there was a muffled, far-off noise of footsteps on stone, then a sound of a handle being turned, then a door opening and closing, and finally silence.
"Gotcha!" Imoen hissed, but she did not reach for the door, not just yet. Both of us waited, straining our ears, in case the woman was coming back. Several moments passed, closer to a minute, and we slowly breathed out.
"Let's get to work."
I nodded, and she pushed the door open, just enough to get by, and slunk inside. I followed closely behind, returning the door to its previous nearly-closed position behind me, just in case. Even though we were alone, we ducked down behind the tables as we moved, keeping as invisible as possible while advancing towards the larder.
We were heading for a room at the far right of the kitchen, kept chilly all around the year by the same magic that lit the torches on the walls and kept bugs from chewing on the books. Some of the shelves went further still, keeping anything placed on them in stasis, timelessly staying fresh for years if need be. We had fresh vegetables even during the winter months, something the keep's population generally appreciated, even though nobody seemed to know just why so much of it consisted of spinach. Or red beets.
The door had no lock; the builders obviously had not thought of food as something important enough to steal in a place like this, from which it was easy to deduct that none of them had ever actually worked in a kitchen.
The larder was enormous and well stocked. The room was lit by the same golden torches that illuminated the keep, revealing wheels of cheese lined up along the walls, rows of smoked hams and sausages hanging from the ceiling, crates full of grain, potatoes and vegetables, jars of various sizes and shapes, bags of flour and more, all of which would require several long minutes of exposition to describe in detail. We were here for one specific reason, and this was not the time to admire the facilities - we needed to find the loot and get out fast, before someone found us.
Fortunately, it did not take very long. On a stasis shelf near the floor, smooth dark wood that hummed silently with arcane energy and seemed to glow faintly blue if I focused on it for a few moments, we found a row of large clay jars, the contents of which proved to be just what we were after.
"They're still warm!" Imoen exclaimed - somehow managing to do so quite quietly - and held one up with an awestruck expression on her face. "This is so awesome. So awesome."
I shook my head, while she stuck hers in one of the jars and drew a deep breath. "It even smells awesome!"
"Save it for later," I said, casting a look towards the door. I had left it ajar, not entirely closed, so we would be able to tell if someone was heading our way. There was nothing there now, but that could change at any time. "We should hurry."
Imoen pulled her head out of the jar and gave me a sour look, as if accusing me of spoiling her fun. Then she nodded and pulled out the bag she had brought and started filling it, pausing occasionally to stuff a cookie in her mouth. I followed suit, quickly digging into the various jars and filling my own bag. A handful from every jar just about did it, and since we did not dig too far into any single one of them, I hoped it would not be too obvious what we had done.
Then came the last step, which was to get back to our rooms undetected. This was where things started to go wrong.
Imoen, who had been going first, peered through the crack of the door and froze, then started backing away as slowly and quietly as she could. I understood the signal. Someone was out there. We had not heard them arrive, and could only hope that they had not heard us either.
Imoen turned towards me, eyes wide, more from excitement than fear. "Cook's back!" she hissed, dragging me further into the room.
"Did she notice?"
She shook her head. "Don't think so. She's back to that boring ol' book."
The larder had no windows. The only way to get in or out was the door. We knew this because it was not the first time this had happened.
I looked around nevertheless, thinking.
There was one thing.
The keep was warded in so many ways that it was a wonder the various enchantments did not rip themselves apart and tear the building to pieces in the process. There was one thing they had never been able to keep out, however: rats. The keep had several cats to help keep the rodent population down, but so far, they were too outnumbered to make much of a difference. The cooks knew this, and there were mousetraps laid out in the corners, baited with meat and cheese. One of them had a small and scrawny rat stuck in it. It was a rather pathetic sight, but it could be our ticket out of here.
As I have already mentioned, Cook was something of a walking stereotype. Another of her more clichéd traits was a near phobic fear of rats. Granted, it did not seem as though she was afraid of anything other than rats, but that scarcely mattered. I had a rat, and I was not afraid to use it.
Imoen watched, wrinkling her nose.
"Ew," she said, as I picked up the contraption and extracted the rat from it. "Poor rat."
"We should help it extract revenge," I said, rather absently, as I turned it over in my hands. A large amount of arcane energy was necessary to animate a dead object. Fortunately, dead objects that had once been alive seemed to have some peculiar trait that made them easier to manipulate. It would not need to last long, either. Still, this feat was very nearly beyond my limited understanding and capacity.
Imoen watched silently as I turned the tiny corpse over in my hands. The background pattern of magic ebbed and flowed. The room seemed to bathe in silver-blue light, drowning out even the enchanted torches.
The rat twitched.
I shifted my feet, instinctively adjusting my body to better conduct the forces running through me. It was almost complete.
The energy rose and seemed to evaporate, like a sigh. The rodent shivered, trembled, and twitched again. I sunk to the floor and set it down. It stood unmoving, its body oddly angled, twisted in an unnatural manner where the trap had broken its back.
I had taken possession of a rat zombie. I sat still for a few moments, trying to catch my breath. Imoen poked my creation gently with the toe of her shoe. The rat fell over. I gave her a stern look, and she hurried to set it back on its feet.
"Are you ready?" I asked, struggling back to my feet. Imoen hurried to help me up, nodding. We headed to the door. The rat hobbled after us. It was nowhere near as graceful as it had been in life, but it would not have to be. The fact that it moved would be enough.
I commanded it to continue as the two of us peered through the tiny opening. It took a painfully long while to reach the table where Cook was standing, and almost as long to climb up the closest table leg.
It was rewarding, however. The zombie rat pulled itself onto the tabletop. I imagined the light click-scratch of its claws on the dark wood as it made its way towards poor, innocent Cook.
Deeply engrossed in her calculations, the head chef did not notice the rat until it had made its way halfway across the table. Then, she looked up.
I pressed my hands over my ears just in time. Cook shrieked like a banshee, threw her feather pen at the approaching rodent like a javelin, spun and fled at a speed that was just amazing for a person of her age and size. Only moments later, we heard the door slam behind her.
Imoen elbowed me in the side and grinned. I grinned back. We pushed the door open and ran - pausing only briefly to retrieve the rat on the way.
Act Three: Reaping Rewards
We had made it successfully out of the kitchen, through the corridor connecting it to the main keep, and just about halfway to the stairs when Cook caught up - chest heaving impressively, face even redder than usual and with an enormous wooden spoon held high like a weapon. She also had two rather perplexed-looking guardsmen in tow; I recognised them as Talan and Richard. We heard them coming long before they saw us, however, and only just barely had time to make preparations. And so it came to pass that we were found veryvisibly trying to avoid detection, hiding behind yet another heavy curtain. Cook prodded it aside with her spoon. We looked up at her wearing our best cute-yet-guilty expressions, and holding between us exactly one rodent and one bag of cookies.
Cook glared. "You... you little rats!"
Coming from her, that was an unusually strong insult. She snatched the bag of cookies out of Imoen's hand; I offered up the rat, and she backed off. The two guards were having a hard time not sniggering behind her back. Imoen was having a harder time not sniggering in her face. I discreetly stepped on her toes.
Well out of rodent range, Cook regained her composure and resumed her glaring. "I thought I heard something! I've half a mind to smack the two of you about the ears, I have!"
"We're sorry," Imoen managed to say with a straight face.
Cook, understandably, did not buy it. "And I'm a daisy-eating elf! Do you think I'm daft, girl?"
Imoen shook her head, blue hair flying in all directions.
"Is there any way we could convince you not to tell Gorion about this?" I asked, trying to sound mild and depressed. It was not so much a request as a suggestion. Cook would tell someone about this, there was no doubt of that. The idea was to soften the impact as much as possible, and Gorion tended to be rather more lenient than certain other figures of authority.
"Oh, don't even think about getting away with this."
Cook was nothing if not predictable. She turned to the two guards, who straightened up and tried to look serious.
"I have a kitchen to run. Take these... miscreants to the Loremaster's room. And bring that thing with you!" She gestured towards the rat in my hand with her spoon, shivering slightly at the sight of it. Then she turned and stormed off. The two men exchanged looks and shook their heads. Talan sighed and ushered us along, not entirely unkindly.
"All right, kids. You know the way."
We went, with the guards at our backs. Before long, we stood outside Gorion's quarters on the third floor. Richard knocked, and we waited.
"Wish us luck," I said, rather dryly. Imoen gave them a conspiratorial wink.
"She keeps them on the bottom shelf, you know. On the left."
"We'll keep that in mind," Richard said with a chuckle, just as the door opened. Gorion peered at us, not particularly surprised. He sighed and shook his head.
"What have you two got yourselves into this time?"
"Grand theft cookies, sir," Talan said, completely straight-faced.
"Unlawful use of animated rodent, sir," Richard filled in, equally straight-faced. I groaned. I had been hoping that they would forget that last bit.
Gorion gave me a stern look. I held up the offending rat, which by now had lost any semblance of life or unlife and hung limply in my grasp. Gorion sighed once more.
"Very well. Thank you, Talan, Richard. Children, inside."
We had little choice but to obey.
As expected, the lecture that ensued was quite long and felt even longer. Gorion was an excellent lecturer. To make things worse, even after the speech on the evils of greed, selfishness, theft and bullying, he kept me for another virtual eternity to deliver a follow-up lecture on the dangers of unsupervised rodent necromancy. My ears still buzzed when I finally managed to drag myself back to my room.
"Stable duty," Imoen greeted me, rather morosely. "Ihate horse poo."
"Count yourself lucky," I said. "I also have to clean the alchemists' lab all week for 'unlawful use of animated rodent'. And he took my rat. I was becoming rather fond of it, you know." I threw myself down on the bed.
"Aww. And ouch! Alchemists' lab, huh? Oh, but hey!"
I looked up, and only barely managed to avoid getting hit in the head by the object she threw at me. Somewhat dusty and lacking some of its original content, the other bag of cookies - the one we had hidden behind the other curtain before we allowed Cook to 'discover' our hiding place - landed beside me on the bed.
"The plan worked," I observed, and picked it up to dust it off.
"It did!" she exclaimed. "Right under her big red nose! We're awesome."
"It could have gone better." I gave her a meaningful look. It was not as if it was entirely her fault, but we both knew whose idea it had been. She winced.
"Don't worry about it. I'll help ya out with the lab. And," she added, "I saved you most of the cookies."
I think that is what they call 'sacrifice beyond the call of duty'.
The protagonist is left intentionally unnamed. Looking back, there are a few things that could stand editing, but I can't be arsed to fix them since it's already posted elsewhere in this state.