Bhaalspawn Union – 1

Vox Populi

(Author's Note: This story is AU and constitutes my second effort to write the story of the Bhaalspawn Union. The first part was written a couple of years ago, and was partly posted in the Attic. My main grouse with ToB is that the entire game is completely linear. It is – go there, get the artefact X, kill Bhaalspawn Y. Rinse and repeat, and you have finished the game. It lacked the diversity of SoA, and even more, it completely robbed the PC of all initiative. Worst of all, it reduced the other Bhaalspawn into complete caricatures. There was nothing that any intelligent PC could do, even if he suspected Melissan of being up to no good. I will be taking a very different approach to the whole business, and the events afterwards.

One assumption I am making is that the timeline of the Shadows of Amn took at least several months, rather than the few weeks it is in the game.

As usual, all criticism is welcome.

Disclaimer: I do not own Baldur's Gate of any of the characters. I am just playing in the FR world.)

(The story begins after the fall of Irenicus and during the convalescence period in Suldanessellar. The PC, Inglor Starym, is a gold elf of true neutral alignment and a mage/thief)

--(Beginning of the Chapter)--

Inglor sat at his desk, his eyes fixated on a book in front of him, when someone rapped sharply on his door. The Bhaalspawn called, "Enter!"

The door opened, ushering in the slender figure of Jaheira. Seeing the elf still clad in casual robes, and engrossed in his book, the druid demanded imperiously and impatiently, "Inglor! Aren't you going to get ready?!"

"Get ready for what?" drawled her elven companion, as imperturbable as his druidic interlocutor was impatient. In fact, Inglor had not even looked up from the tome he was immersed in.

Jaheira looked at the Bhaalspawn with a mixture of annoyance and frustration. "Have you forgotten the Midwinter celebrations the Queen told us of? There will be many elven dignitaries expecting you!"

"Well, they'll have to resign themselves to a disappointment, I guess, " responded Inglor, still concentrating on the book in his hand.

Jaheira shook him by the shoulder, "Inglor! Are you mad! You can't afford to disgrace the Queen like that! She's been through a lot to help us and you won't even ..."

"Jaheira, I've had enough of the hostile glares on the walkways of this city", replied Inglor, raising his head to face his interlocutor at last, his voice cold and incisive. "I've no wish to tolerate the whispers behind the hands, the hostile stares behind my back and the unspoken hostility in every gesture. I see no need to endure any more disdain and coldness than I absolutely must. And all to make a spectacle of myself amidst the jokers of her court!" Inglor mastered himself, before shrugging indifferently, "No, thanks! You are welcome to make out my excuses if you like."

Jaheira had flinched at the vehemence of the speech, more so because she could not truthfully deny it. Inglor had risked his life – he had a lot at stake on his own account, it was true – nevertheless, he had risked a lot to help save the People from the minions of Irenicus. Yet, the moment the news had spread around that their saviour was a Bhaalspawn, and had been unwittingly responsible for the return to the Exile, the People had turned against him. She spoke neutrally, "Destiny means nothing to the victims, Inglor. While the people do not understand, the Queen is grateful for your help .."

"Gratitude!", sneered Inglor. "It lasts all but two weeks! Have you not learnt this basic fact yet? And in any case, what will it avail me if the Queen is actually grateful? Her subjects will continue to hate the guts of the fool who saved their worthless hides. Did you hear Elhan thanking you or me after the fall of Irenicus? Or did the priestess, Demin, have a word of concern for the welfare of the ones who saved her life from the Rakshasa? I wonder if I should have left them to the tender mercies of the minions of Irenicus and concentrated on the big bad mage himself!" He sighed wearily, laying his hand on her arm, "Go on, my old friend. The Queen needs to present a powerful ally, who is not controversial. The presence of a Bhaalspawn – Imoen's or mine – could far more easily harm, than help. Besides, you know the People of the Wealdath far better than I. Take Aerie with you. Imoen and I talked about the coming festivities last night and have decided to stay away. You can speak to the guests at today's feast, and stay at the Queen's side. We shall speak again tomorrow morning."

"But, Inglor, Ellesime ..."

"Enough of this, Jaheira, my old friend! I've made up my mind. There's no point in my coming there. It's a feast, in case you've forgotten. Elves are supposed to enjoy the evening, and they won't be able to do it in my presence – they'll be too busy observing me, trying to spot the moment when I suddenly sprout fangs or horns and attack the feasting crowd!"

The druid admonished, "There is no need to be so bitter. They are but worried, like everyone else."

"Let them worry away from my presence", snapped the elf. "I had credited elves with a higher sense of decorum, but I see I was mistaken." He sighed wearily, "Go on, Jae. Have fun."

Jaheira saw that it was useless to argue against the resolve of her Bhaalspawn friend. Once he had made up his mind, he was adamant. A sudden suspicion occurred to her, "What are you planning to do in the meantime, Inglor?"

The gold elf replied evasively, "I shall take a walk through the woods."

"Does this 'walk' involve fighting a few dangerous monsters?"

"No, no – I promise you I shall not be fighting at all. I merely wish to clear my mind, and the cold winter air in this part of the world is most conducive for it."

Jaheira looked askance at her student and friend – she clearly didn't believe him. Or more accurately, she believed him only partly. She believed that he didn't intend to get into fights, but it was most unlike the ward of Gorion to go on an aimless walk. He probably had a goal, but was reluctant to share it with anyone. Oh well, as long as he kept himself safe, she was content. A rap at the door announced the arrival of Aerie, and a few minutes later, the avariel and the druid had left for Ellesime's palace.

--(Scene Break)--

Outside the city of Suldanessellar in the Wealdath, the stars shone coldly and clearly in the cloudless, inky black sky and a chill wind whistled forlornly in the leafless tress, which were coated in a sheet of ice, giving the said trees a ghostly halo. More snow drifted listlessly on the surface of the frozen river, Suldanesse, which glistened in the pale moonlight. The city, bathed in snow, and moonlight, was at once beautiful and terrible. Even though it was just past dusk, there were few passers-by on the muddy paths that led out of the elven city, and the last hunters, enveloped in their heavy cloaks and mantles, were returning as quickly as possible to the Tree City. All of them were occupied with their own frozen miseries, and it appeared as if their chattering teeth were muttering imprecations against the biting cold that had made their existence so unbearable. Save for a few nocturnal creatures, most animals and birds had retreated to their warm haunts for the night, and around the Tree City, apart from these hunters, not the slightest signs of life were seen. The hand of winter lay heavy on this part of Faerun, and Auril's breath was a long way from giving way to Chauntea's regeneration.

Through this inclement weather, when everyone was hurrying indoors, a solitary figure clad in a mage robe of white and grey, with an elven shawl wrapped around his shoulders and a light pack across his back, strode away from the city swiftly and silently. He was flitting from shadow to shadow, his lithe form indistinguishable from the tree trunks he merged with seamlessly. Often, he paused to listen intently, making sure that no one was following him. Presently, he reached the top of a small cliff, and drew a piton, hammer, and a coil of light rope from his backpack. A dozen blows of the hammer had driven the stake firmly into the ground, whereat the hooded figure knotted the rope tightly to the piton, and tossed the other end over the cliff. Finally raising himself from his work, he gave a soft owl hoot. A similar hoot answered his call, and soon he was joined by another figure clad in pink mage robes. "Well, Immie?" the former questioned.

"No one following us. But the gate guard's eyes nearly popped out. He ran to the barracks the moment you left. I'm surprised we've got no company."

"Ah – well, Elhan knows and the others would've guessed that it's too dangerous to follow us. They'll keep a discreet distance. Anyway, we've got no time to waste. Keep a lookout, and take care of yourself. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Imoen nodded, and Inglor began to slither down the rope. The mountaineering skills needed for his job were minimal. All he needed to do was to fend himself off the face of the cliff. Five minutes later, he had completed the hundred foot descent, gained the treeless plateau at the foot of the cliff, and whistled sharply. Inglor had planned wisely – as a meeting place, his choice was impeccable. With the cliff sheer, it was impossible, even for elves, to make their way down without the aid of climbing equipment. And using climbing equipment in his presence was madness - no one could scramble behind him without disclosing themselves. With Imoen watching at the head of the cliff, no one could eavesdrop on him from above either. As for using magic to snoop on him or his sister, it was laughable. Both brother and sister were very powerful mages in their own right, and magical means to snoop on either without their trained senses triggering their alarms was all but impossible. Finally, if anyone had indeed followed him – as he suspected that the elves would – they would be unable to approach him, and were welcome to follow him back to the city of Suldanessellar. He was carrying nothing compromising. The only way Inglor's plan could have been miscarried was if his informant had been betrayed and followed, but Inglor was reasonably certain that such was not the case. The gold elf had taken every bit of precaution possible to guard his interlocutor, who was none other than his lieutenant in the Shadow Thief guildhall that the elf commanded.

Inglor reflected that the consummate irony was that, of all the factions and guilds in Amn, the most trustworthy had been the Shadow Thieves. It was a telling indictment of the more famously benign groups. As a guildmaster, Inglor had considerable leeway in his operations. As long as he paid his dues, and did not damage the organisational interests in any way, he could do what he wanted with his force. Inglor had begun with a motley crowd of pick-pocketers, thieves, assassins, and slave-traders. Quickly, he had dispensed with the assassins, the slave traders, and the ones who indulged in the more ugly forms of crime, dismissing them with handsome compensations or sending them to other guildmasters with recommendations. Then he had focussed on one area of interest to him – intelligence. His group had become the ultimate intelligence gathering organisation in Amn. Inglor traded in only one commodity – information. He recked little of affiliations or ideologies. He collected the necessary information from everywhere, for both his Shadow Thief patrons and his clients. His activities had gathered him a lot of connections, and had made him a wealthy individual.

On his whistle, another figure, this one a human male, appeared immediately keeping his hands clearly visible to the Bhaalspawn elf. Inglor waved his right hand in a half circle, raising a silencing ward around the two, completely cutting off the words from carrying outside the bubble that now encased them. Some quick passwords were exchanged, and Inglor relaxed slightly, smiling at Jariel, He finally voiced, "You made me come out in this damned weather. I hope it's worth it."

"It is", replied the other, his strong human voice a sharp contrast to the elf's mild and grave tones.

"You've finally got a name for me?" There was slight surprise in the elf's voice.

"Two names. Balthazar and Gromnir."

Inglor was silent for a moment. "Tell me about Balthazar."

"Balthazar's a monk. Based in Amkethran – Calimshan. Heads some Order of monks there. Also the local garrison commander. Actually, the monks make up most of the garrison of Amkethran. That's the Pasha's price for letting them use the fortress and monastery there. That's all we know about him."

"Excellent! What about the other?"

"Gromnir. A half orc. Commander of a mercenary force called The Marchers'. Based in Tethyr, but operates in Tethyr, Calimshan and the Forest of Mir. Has sold his blade to a lot of people. Rather versatile lad. Private guards, mercenary soldiers, bounty hunters – he's into everything."

"Very good. Anything else?"

The other hesitated, and Inglor persuaded him to continue, "Come on, it's okay. Tell me what it is."

"You're not the only one looking for Bhaalspawn. There's someone else."

Inglor's eyebrows went up, but he exhibited no other reaction. "Who?"

"I don't know", replied the other. "All I know is that it's a woman."

Inglor reached into his robes and brought a small satchel of coins. He handed it to his lieutenant, "You've done very well, Jariel. Try to find out more about them, but keep a safe distance. I'll meet you in three weeks. Our usual place and time."

The other nodded in acquiescence, took the proferred gold, slipped it into his own tunic, and disappeared into the forest without fuss. Inglor watched the Jariel go, and then clambered up the rope. His sister was there to greet him, and having retrieved his equipment, the gold elf joined her on the four hour walk back to Suldanessellar.

--(Scene Break)--

Elhan and another elf were standing, waiting at the gates of Suldanessellar, when the two Bhaalspawn returned to the City. Seeing the gold elf, Elhan questioned, "Where have you been, Inglor? We've been looking for you everywhere."

"I went for a walk", replied the elven Bhaalspawn curtly. "Why were you looking for me?"

"The Queen desires your presence immediately!"

Inglor and his sister exchanged a quick, sardonic, glance, but shrugged and followed Elhan dutifully. Imoen muttered, "Why call us this late?"

"No idea", shrugged Inglor. "Something's gone wrong, doubtless. Something badly wrong. Look at the number of People still up this late. Only bad news of the first importance would be conveyed to us even in the dead of the night", he finished sardonically.

"What could have gone wrong?" Imoen's brows went up.

"I'm not sure. But look, we are getting more hostile stares than usual. People are openly pointing at us, raining maledictions when we're not looking. Only question is whether it's anything to do with us. If it's concerning our actions, we'll be booted out soon. If it's something wrong with the City, we'll be conscripted into the Queen's service. I'm not sure which is worse", returned Inglor, his lips quirking in a bitter smile.

A few minutes walk brought the duo to the palace of the daughter of Rillifane. An usher quickly presented them to Her Majesty, who was accompanied by both Demin and General Sovalidass. The Queen, bidding them be seated, ordered one of the attendants to serve refreshments, and began in a worried tone, "Inglor, there's just been a terrible accident. We're all truly sorry!"

"May I inquire what has occurred, Your Majesty?" Inglor's surface calm belied his agitation.

"During the feast, a fire broke out in the lower side of the City. A few buildings were gutted by the conflagration and there have been some casualties."

Inglor's heart had constricted when he heard of a fire in the lower part of the town – the place where he and his friends had been lodged. Surely nothing had happened to Aerie and Jaheira? He was aware that Imoen's hand had tightened painfully on his shoulder, and that her face reflected shock and horror. Inglor himself outwardly manifested no reaction, merely looking inquiringly at the beautiful daughter of Rillifane. Ellesime continued hurriedly, as though she intended to finish before her nerve failed, "Your friends have not been accounted for. We're still searching for them – both at the site of the fire and elsewhere!"

"Were they caught in the fire?" Inglor's voice betrayed no emotion.

"We don't know yet! All we know is that they went back to your residence after the festival. We've had no trace of them afterwards."

Inglor's voice was now distant and grave. It was detached, almost academic. He questioned, "What of the fire itself, Your Majesty?"

Ellesime explained, "The fire is now under control, although it has not been completely extinguished. We are looking for survivors and bodies now."

"Permit me to offer condolences for the lost ones, Your Majesty. Has the cause of the fire been established?", murmured the elf gravely.

"I am afraid not, Inglor", replied the Queen regretfully.

"I see. I thank your Majesty for the courtesy of letting me know of the accident." Inglor spoke as if the matter was of no greater consequence than a strayed hound or a falcon. "With your permission, Your Majesty, I would like to search the buildings that have been burnt." The queen nodded her acquiescence and the two Bhaalspawn siblings, having thanked the Queen for her courtesy and generosity, made their way back towards their lodgings, their steps brisk and firm as ever. Imoen wanted to rush to the site of the fire, but her brother's cold, firm grip on her wrist made clear his argument. The time for haste was past, and no purpose would be served by running around wildly. This was the moment of careful consideration, prior to any action. Everything done now would have serious repercussions.

In the Queen's reception chamber, the three elves had remained with the daughter of Rillifane. Sovalidass broke the silence after the Bhaalspawn had left, remarking maliciously, "Your Highness observes that the Hellspawn is not too worried about his companions. Nothing else is to be expected from a Child of Murder!"

The Queen who had been engrossed in her own thoughts finally spun to face the general. "Ah! His demeanour struck you that way, did it?"

"I do not quite follow your Majesty", returned Sovalidass, his eyebrows lifted.

"I confess I cannot always make out the Bhaal Child's true feelings either. All I can tell you is that I'm glad that I am not the one who set the fire, or harmed his companions." The Queen gave an odd shudder, and an eerie, uncomfortable silence followed her words.

--(End of the Chapter)--