Disclaimer: Okay kids, you know the drill. Bioware and Wizards of the Coast own Baldur's Gate and all characters within. I own Isabel and certain other characters and plot points.
The delightful Keto Riven belongs to the folks over at PPG - Victoria Joyner, Jason Compton and Bonnie Rutledge specifically at my last check.
And Angelo Dosan was inspired by Sister Vigilante's wonderful mod over at Gibberlings Three.
Author's Note: Hello all! This is my first fanfic and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have writing it. This is a slightly AU retelling of the game and has a strong T raiting for adult themes, occasional language and violence. Reading and reviewing is not only welcome, it's encouraged!
Isabel Wren stared thoughtfully at the tall window pane to her right and wondered what the likelihood of her surviving the thirty foot drop would be if she just threw herself out of the damn thing and hoped for the best. Probably not very good, she decided, as she eyed the violent ocean hurling itself against the white stone bluffs far below. Not very good at all. That said, when you weighed the scenario against the probability of her making it through another half hour of Ulraunt's preaching without taking a blunt instrument to her head, her odds of survival began to look a lot more favourably with the window. She spared her haughty, hawk-eyed tutor a resentful glare as he waxed on about the trials and tribulations of some long dead somebody or another. Yes, between the thirty minutes and the thirty feet, she'd definitely take the thirty feet.
Whoever had said that knowledge sets you free had clearly never spent much time in Candlekeep, the great library fortress that perched on the edge of the Sword Coast and Isabel's home. Hells, you couldn't even leave the place unless you had some invaluable piece of arcane text tucked away to get you back through the front door upon your return. Although what kind of person who would want to come back she couldn't imagine.
Isabel suppressed a sigh and knotted her fingers in her long auburn hair. That was unfair of her. It wasn't that she hated Candlekeep, or its books, or most of her tutors for that matter (albeit with some notable exceptions, she thought rebelliously at Ulraunt.) After all, the library and its residents were the only family she had ever known. But life here could be miserable. The days were filled with lessons and chores with only more lessons and chores to fill the gaps between. Propping her head up with one hand she watched the curtain rain patter loudly against the stained glass, streaming down the pane in rivulets of amber, green and red. It just wasn't fair. Why was it that day after day she was expected to sit and listen attentively as monks recited the harvest yields from the last quarter century, but whenever she actually had a question to ask, whenever she actually wanted to learn something, she was met with a wall of indifference? Isabel had had to hound the Gatewardens to teach her even the rudiments of swordplay. And how often had she begged Gorion to tell her about her mother? Yes, she loved them. But often it felt Candlekeep was little more than a cage. Perhaps that was why she liked the windows so much. After a lifetime surrounded by stone walls and grey robes, the windows offered a small reprieve from the austerity that characterized the fortress – just in those places where sunlight would spill bright puddles of colour onto the cold flagstone floors.
Something hit the back of Isabel's head. Wincing, she turned to glance over her shoulder and met a familiar pair of mischievous green eyes winking at her from beneath a head of shockingly pink hair. Isabel couldn't quite keep the grin from her lips as she attempted to scowl at her best friend. So maybe the windows weren't the only thing in Candlekeep that wasn't dull. Now that she had Isabel's attention, Imoen's hands flickered beneath her desk in the same secret sign language that had been using since they were eight.
What's the bet Ulraunt gets up every morning and practices being this boring?
Isabel's gaze flickered back to their tutor. He was a tall man, if slight, and had jutting, angular features that seemed to enhance the haughty air of self-righteousness the man wore wrapped about him like a protective cloak. As Keeper of the Tomes, Ulraunt effectively ruled Candlekeep and the monks who tended to it and Isabel supposed that in many circles, he was probably quite a respected individual. Isabel thought him a sanctimonious ass.
He does seem suspiciously good at it, she gestured back at Imoen.
Practice makes perfect?
Yeah, a perfect fu–
Isabel almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of Ulraunt's shout punctuated by the sharp crack of his cane coming down hard against her wooden desk. Startled, she looked up into his icy glare, her inattentiveness clearly not have gone as unnoticed as she hoped.
"Yes, Keeper Ulraunt?"
"I'll have your complete and undivided attention from this point onwards, do you understand? I'll not have you waste my time whilst you engage in pointless social frivolities with your friends."
"Here I thought you were the one wasting my time," Isabel muttered under her breath without thinking.
The cane came down again, striking the table scarcely an inch from where her hand rested. He liked to do that a lot, she noted sourly. "I am losing patience with your insolence, Isabel. Do not test it further."
She resisted the temptation to ask him to say "please". "Sorry Keeper." She didn't dare glance back at her partner in crime, who unlike herself had the wisdom to keep her mouth shut.
Ulraunt turned back toward the chalkboard, his tone no longer monotonous and Isabel had a sinking feeling she was in for a lashing.
"Since you have been paying such rapt attention, perhaps you might tell us all the subject of our discussion today?"
"Well technically 'we' haven't been discussing anything."
Ulraunt stared at her unsmiling. "That will be an hour this evening spent cataloguing the Neverwinter Histories for your cheek." Isabel thought she heard Imoen groan behind her. "You have some thoughts on the matter, Imoen?"
"You were speaking of Alaundo, Keeper," she supplied quickly, with an apologetic glance at her companion. Isabel scowled. Just wonderful. The monks practically worshipped the prophet and showing anything less than religious deference toward him was met by Ulraunt with a particularly nasty strain of hostility.
"Indeed, we were deconstructing Alaundo's prophecies. Isabel, pray tell us, what did he foretell?"
Here we go, she thought to herself as Ulraunt fixed her with a piercing stare. "The future?"
Imoen didn't quite succeed in suppressing a giggle, which the Keeper ignored. "And that will be another hour. He predicted, amongst other things, the Time of Troubles. In what year did it begin?"
Isabel almost groaned out loud. So he was determined to make her a spectacle was he?
"Um, I believe it was the Year of the Turret –"
"Incorrect. It was the Year of Shadows. And what year exactly was that?"
"Thirteen sixty –"
"Incorrect again. It was thirteen fifty eight." He frowned at her disdainfully. "I don't suppose a rough and tumble young ingrate such as yourself even knows the significance of this period, do you?"
Isabel felt herself rile. So she didn't know a few dates! So what? Just because she preferred the guardhouse to a classroom didn't make her a complete idiot. On the contrary, it probably makes me normal!
"It was a cataclysmic period when Ao forced the gods to walk Faerun in their avatar forms. Basically he cracked the shits over Bane and Mrykul trying to steal the Tablets of Fate." She raised her chin defiantly – and just because it felt good, she stuck out her tongue.
Oh dear Gods, Imoen groaned inwardly, with the tiniest shake of her head. She was caught between amusement and exasperation. For all her own mischief – and there was plenty of it – Imoen was at least glad for the fact that she had learned the value of keeping one's yap shut. Isabel on the other hand, couldn't help herself. There was no reasoning with her when she got like this – once the girl got a bit between her teeth, she refused to let it go. Stubborn as a mule, she thought wryly. And with all the sense of one.
Ulraunt responded predictably by giving Isabel another hour of extra duties.
"Let me get this straight," Isabel said with deliberate thoughtfulness. "First, I'm punished for not knowing the answers and now I am to be punished when I do?"
"You are being punished for your disrespect. Tymora willing, it might teach you to leash your tongue. Although I myself don't hold out much hope for the fact."
Isabel shrugged. She didn't either.
Ulraunt turned toward the window, his expression oddly pensive as he observed the torrential downpour. "It was cataclysmic. Helm alone was entrusted to guard the gates of heaven. In the name of his duty he even struck down his lover, Mystra. Magic became dangerously unpredictable. Many gods perished, becoming victims to their newfound mortality and for some mortals, the chaos paved the way for ascension. Ironic really." Ulraunt's voice had grown softer as he stared out into the storm that battered itself against the ancient keep. As much as it irked her, Isabel found the odd lilt to his words had piqued her interest. It felt as if he was speaking from a very faraway place and it occurred to her that Ulraunt had actually lived through the Time of Troubles. For the first time, she strained to catch his words over the din.
" 'The Lord of Murder shall perish, but in his death he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny. Chaos shall be sown in their passage.' So sayeth the wise Alaundo." Suddenly his eyes were locked with hers. Isabel shifted in her seat, uncomfortable under a stare so loaded with meanings she didn't understand. "Do you know what is meant by that?"
"He meant to be reborn," she offered quietly.
"Yes, through his children. Bhaal forced himself upon countless women, sowing the seeds – his seed – for his own resurrection. These children are now forever tainted by his evil. The sons and daughters of Murder itself. And when the time of Alaundo's prophecy comes, they will fulfil their birthright. They shall kill until they themselves are killed, until enough have died to fuel the return of their father."
"But it's not like it's the kid's fault," Imoen interjected. "I mean, why should they be persecuted for who their mother decided to shag?"
Ulraunt's eyes were hard. "Would you not persecute the spawn of a demon? Or an illithid? A drow? These beings are dangerous, evil creatures and a Bhaalspawn is precious different. Perhaps even more dangerous for they walk in our image. Evil only begets evil."
"But they're still half human," Isabel pointed out.
"And humanity as a race is too often weak – in will and spirit," Ulraunt replied flatly. "Too easily pretty to sin. Ambitious, lusting after power and glory – add to that the lure of Bhaal's taint? No, inevitably they will fall. It's in their blood. Alaundo foresaw it; the Children of Bhaal will plunge the world into blood and chaos."
"My, my. I did not realise you taught doom saying in your spare time. How considerate of you," said a cool voice from the back of the room. Isabel would know his voice anywhere. All three heads twisted around to see Gorion sweep through the heavy oak doors. He looked as he always did – stern and commanding, piercing blue eyes missing nothing. He spared both girls a glance, his gaze lingering a moment longer on his ward. At eighteen, she was growing into an attractive young woman, he noted, with her auburn curls and her impossibly dark eyes. She didn't look much at all like the little girl he had brought to the keep all those years ago.
She's outgrowing this place, he thought. The realisation made him more than a little sad. Rather than dwell however, he fixed his attention upon the Keeper.
Isabel frowned as her foster father approached Ulraunt. Both men wore tight expressions, like polite masks that didn't quite fit over their faces. She and Imoen exchanged glances and Imoen's hands flickered again beneath her desk.
This should be interesting, she said.
Isabel couldn't agree more.
"I was merely recounting Alaundo's prophecies," Ulraunt replied mildly, returning Gorion's icy stare evenly. "I speak only his truths."
"Funny, I don't recall any mention of the innate evilness of Bhaal's progeny in the Chant."
Ulraunt shrugged. "It's a necessary implication of his prophecy. 'The Sword Coast shall run red with blood', 'The Bhaalspawn shall breed death and destruction where 'ere they tread.' These were the sage's words, not my own. Do you deny their veracity?"
Gorion's tone was frostier than a Rashemite winter. "I would deny the intention with which they were told. Alaundo meant for his foretelling to offer solace, not to inspire fear. Certainly not in the minds of two teenage girls."
"Alaundo intended for people to seek solace in knowing the truth, to plan for their future without the folly of blindness."
"You don't feel this discussion is a little inappropriate?"
Ulraunt spread his hands wide. "These girls have been afforded the exceedingly rare privilege of being raised in this great fortress – surely it is not to be considered inappropriate for them to know their own history?" There was almost something of a challenge in the way Ulraunt lifted his chin, an unspoken taunt that Isabel couldn't quite explain.
Gorion's eyes glittered dangerously. "That is quite enough, Ulraunt." Ulraunt smirked in reply. 'Girls, you are dismissed."
Neither Isabel nor Imoen needed telling twice, the girls all but scrambling for the exit. Closing the doors behind them, Isabel found herself leaning back against the wall.
"Thank the Gods we're finally out of there!" she declared, pressing the heels of her hands into her temple. Her head was pounding furiously.
"What do you suppose that was all about back there?" Imoen wondered, her green eyes riveted at the door. "I've never seen Gorion like that before."
Isabel rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. It's not exactly a secret that he and Ulraunt can't stand one another."
But Imoen shook her head, her puzzlement still plain. "Never like this. This was… more. I mean, it's unlike Gorion to even interrupt a lesson, let alone cancel one. Or Ulraunt to give one personally for that matter." She smiled wanly at her friend's bemused expression. "Well it's weird, Bels, don't try and tell me different."
"I'm not saying it isn't weird. I'm saying I don't care. And I'm not going to knock Gorion springing us from what I am positive is a new form of cruel and unusual punishment. Come on, let's head down to Winthrop's. With luck I can get in a quick meal before evening lessons."
"You're not the least bit curious?"
"Nup," Isabel replied smiling brightly. She would not admit to anyone, not even herself, just how much the entire exchange disturbed her. It was too irrational, and she shoved the uneasy feeling away. "I'm too delirious from joy. Do you know how amazing it is that I got out of there with my sanity still intact?"
"Yeah, your sanity and three hours worth of punishment duties." Isabel rolled her eyes. "Seriously Bels, you're such a bufflehead! When are you going to learn to keep your mouth shut?"
Isabel tweaked her friend's nose and smiled impishly. "Never. Besides," she fell into step with her foster sister. "I only do it with Ulraunt."
Now it was Imoen's turn to roll her eyes. "Uh huh."
Isabel gave her friend a playful shove. "Be nice."
"I'm always nice." Imoen's face was still thoughtful. "You still gotta wonder though," she mused, apparently unwilling to let the strange altercation between the two sages go.
"Bull. Ulraunt despises me, and hates Gorion because I'm his ward. Or the other way round. Whatever." She waved a hand dismissively.
"I don't think it's quite that simple," Imoen disagreed. "And Ulraunt doesn't despise you. He doesn't really like anyone."
Isabel's laughter echoed off the vaulted ceiling. "Ulraunt may not like anyone, but he loathes me. He's never been anything less than cold and disapproving toward me from the day I arrived here. Do you know how old I was at the time? Three." She tossed her hair over her shoulder and gave her friend eye for eye. "You and I get into exactly the same amount of trouble, we pull the same stunts, the same pranks and yet every time, I'm the one stuck with extra punishment duties whilst you get to skip off to Winthrop scot free."
"That is so completely not true!" Imoen objected. "And you wouldn't get half so much grief if you didn't have such a big mouth on you and the restraint of a six year old in a candy shop!"
"Doesn't change the fact that if it wasn't for Gorion's influence, I'd have been tossed out on my hide years ago," Isabel argued stubbornly. "You saw him today – he singled me out. 'When was the Time of Troubles, Isabel?'" she mimicked Ulraunt's nasal tone, screwing her nose as she did so. Imoen giggled. " 'You're such an idiot, Isabel.' 'You're nothing but a rough and tumble little ingrate, Isabel.' So I didn't remember a few dates. Big bloody deal. What an ass."
Imoen giggled again, and then stopped. It took Isabel a minute before she realized her friend was no longer walking beside her. "What is it?" she asked.
"The year," she said slowly. "Think about it. You came here when you were three. And it's 1366 now. That means eighteen years ago…"
Isabel stopped dead. "Oh my gods."
"I can't believe I didn't see it before. It all makes sense now."
"I know, I can't believe it either. All this time, all these years and neither of us saw it." Isabel gripped Imoen's shoulders painfully, her dark eyed-gaze locking with Imoen's green one. She swallowed.
"I'm – I'm a Child of Bhaal."
Neither spoke a word. Isabel's words simply hung there, like a massive weight suspended in the silence that stretched between them. Then the corner of Imoen's mouth twitched and almost immediately both girls were gasping for air as they dissolved into laughter. Isabel collapsed against the wall, clutching her stomach as she completely surrendered her struggle to remain deadpan.
"Can you imagine?" she asked between breaths.
"You should go back in there, totally play it up," gasped Imoen, as she wiped her eyes. "You know, 'Keeper, I've been hearing this voice lately in my dreams. Sometimes even when I'm awake. He says he's my father and that I must fulfill my destiny of death. What do you suppose that means?'"
"Yes, he whispers to me in the night, telling me I must claim by birthright and embark on a killing spree of epic proportions!" Isabel said in a deep voice. She was still shaking with mirth. "He says one day I'll grow up to be a Big Bad Bhaalspawn who mutilates old women and chops up babies into tiny little bits and then eats them!"
"Heh, you should tell him Bhaal wants you to start with him – you know, prove to Daddy you're a good little girl."
"Oh Im, that's genius!"
Imoen grinned back at her, her delicate face pink with laughter. Isabel felt her heart unexpectedly surge with unadulterated love for her foster sister. She'd remembered nothing of her life or her family before Candlekeep. What she did remember were those early years in the library fortress – how the monks had always stared and Gorion, whilst kind, had been distant. She remembered how utterly isolated and lonely she had felt. Then one day she'd met a new girl in the rose gardens. Isabel had never met another person her age before. She had not known what to say to this dainty, green-eyed girl and her broad, inviting smile. But Imoen had known what to say. The stranger girl had stood before her and announced quite calmly that she and Isabel would be best friends. And then she had hugged her as if it was the most normal thing in the world. As if people hugged Isabel on a regular basis.
In another life she would have gone insane cooped up within the library walls. But she had survived, because she had Imoen and Imoen had this amazing knack for creating fun where none had existed before. It infused her, right down to that ridiculous hairstyle.
"What?" she asked, her eyebrows disappearing behind her bangs when she noticed Isabel looking at her. Impulsively she buried the other girl in a hug, just as Imoen had over a decade ago.
"What would I ever do without you?" she murmured into her shoulder.
"Well you're not likely to find out, are you?" she whispered back, surprised and warmed by Isabel's sudden display of affection. "Cradle to grave, remember?"
"Cradle to grave. It's a promise."
"Good. 'Cos I don't want your newfound dad telling you to stab me in my sleep or anything." Imoen grinned. "You evil Bhaalspawn, you."
Isabel laughed again, cuffing her friend playfully. Arm in arm, she smiled as they proceeded to make their way down to the inn. Of all the notions! She, Isabel Wren, the daughter of the dead god of murder? It was so funny she almost wished it was true.
Gorion slammed the door of his office, his fury with Ulraunt only barely constrained. Of all the Keeper's stunts over the years, Gorion had to hand it to him; this one was the most insidious. Telling the girls of the prophecy, the inevitable corruption of the taint – Mystra help him, he had been staring directly at Isabel as he told her about her heritage! Everything he had spent a lifetime sheltering his ward from, everything he had protected her from, Ulraunt brazenly laid out in front of her!
"That arrogant, conceited, selfish git!" he exploded to the empty room.
"Such language, Gorion! I'm shocked," remarked a voice from the shadows in a voice as soft and plush as velvet.
"Likewise," Gorion replied as a tall, hook-nosed man stepped out from the shadows, a wry grin tugging at his mouth. "How are you Dermin?"
Dermin flashed him a broad smile. "Better than you by the sound of it. Ulraunt pushing your buttons again?"
"You have no idea," Gorion said darkly. "He goes too far this time. You should have heard him today, spouting his own warped beliefs about Alaundo's prophecy in front of the girls. No, no – to the girls! I tell you Dermin, your superiors had better sort this out. Ulraunt's an even bigger fool than I give him credit for if he thinks I'm going to let him get away with this."
"Did he actually reveal to Isabel the truth about her parentage?" Dermin asked as he examined his own fingernails.
"No, but –"
"Then there has been no breach of the agreement."
The old mage frowned. "Don't gloss over this Dermin. It was the will of the Harpers that Isabel be brought to Candlekeep. And that she be kept unaware of her true nature. If the Harpers won't enforce the terms of the bargain –"
Dermin's head snapped up sharply. "It was your will, Gorion – not the Harpers – that the Bhaalspawn child be brought here. You were the one that petitioned the Council, begging clemency for the girl –"
"Clemency? For Mystra's sake, Dermin, she was barely three years old at the time! We're talking about a baby here, not a murderer!"
Dermin shook his head implacably. "I know you carry a great deal of affection for Isabel, but you are not naive my old friend. You know the prophecies of Alaundo as well as I and you know what she is capable of. One day not long from now, she will turn into the killer she was born to become."
"I wonder, did the Harpers agree for me to raise her in Candlekeep to protect her, or to protect people from her?" Gorion asked through gritted teeth.
"Both I imagine," Dermin remarked with a faint smile.
"None of us are saints, Dermin. We all have blood on our hands – but you're willing to condemn an innocent girl for crimes she hasn't even committed yet."
"Exactly. Yet. Isabel Wren won't remain innocent forever, and you know it." Gorion turned to look out the window that opened out over the courtyard. The rain had abated for the moment, and he spied the red-gold head of the girl in question. Blade in hand, she was sparring with one of the guardsmen, the sound of steel kissing steel just hovering on the edge of hearing. "A promising swordswoman," Dermin murmured behind him.
Gorion offered no reply. Dermin shrugged off his rigid silence.
"I did not mean to offend you, my friend. I only wished to remind you that the Harpers are not of one mind on this issue, and there are those who would sympathize with Ulraunt's position, as well as share his fears."
"It was a shot across the bow and you know it."
"And he will be dealt with accordingly. Gorion," Dermin's tawny eyes were now fixed on his own. "You have bigger problems than the Keeper of the Tomes."
He felt a weariness settle over his shoulders, and the mage slumped into the heavy mahogany chair. "Why did you break into my office Dermin?"
Dermin settled into the chair opposite. "What do you know of Sarevok Anchev?"