Summary: And this is where things take a hard right onto Angst Boulevard, and I go even further into rampant speculation on motivations, reactions, magic, and plot developments, hopefully without making anyone too OOC in the process. Because of the story I wanted to tell, it doesn't quite follow canon as established by the game and the NPC Project mod, but it's just a few minor tweaks in dialogue and sequencing.
Back to Baldur's Gate, in a hurry this time, except now we're holed up in the Blushing Mermaid waiting to meet with some drunk who claims to know some of what's going on. Also we're wanted all over the city and will be arrested on sight because of that whole mess at Candlekeep. I keep saying nobody's going to arrest us once they know who I am—if I'm going to be recognized, at least it should be useful—butt Sheyra says no, we have to get more information before we do anything. I'm tired of waiting. We half kill ourselves getting here before it's too late to stop Sarevok, and now—
Never mind, Imoen spotted the contact, it's finally time to do something.
The world doesn't stop when Skie hears the assassins say they killed her father, and she wishes it would, because then she wouldn't have to see the glee they're taking in describing the murder and making her cry, how they enjoyed hurting the duke before they ended his life—
She has an arrow on the string before she's consciously decided to reach for one, and when the fight begins it's not so much that she's ready for it but that she's not aware anything else exists beyond letting fly the arrow on her bow and reaching for another. She doesn't decide to use one of the Arrows of Detonation, either, it just happens as if it's the next inevitable step, but the explosion—although it doesn't kill the assassins outright—is all the distraction Minsc needs to finish off one of them, and after that it's just a matter of a few spells and sword thrusts.
Sheyra and Imoen go to loot the corpses, and Skie takes several steps back from the pit until she bumps against a wall, which is good because her legs decide to stop holding her up at that point and she slides down to the Undercellars floor.
She still hasn't returned to actual conscious thought, nothing so complicated as that, and she's dimly aware that this means she couldn't not think about what she's kept so carefully packed away. Instead there is wordless, emotionless, unconscious clarity, to certain and dispassionate to be denied:
Eddard is dead.
Duke Silvershield is dead.
Eldoth does not love her.
She does not belong here, doing this, with these people.
The rest of the party sort of gathers around her, which would be nice if she had any ability to appreciate it at the moment, and Sheyra crouches to grip Skie's shoulder. "Hey. Are you...going to be okay?"
Skie looks up slowly. They actually do all look concerned and very sorry. Nice of them. "I...don't know."
"You can go home if you want to," Sheyra says gently. "Or you can help us take down Sarevok, which...avenging your father won't bring him back, but it might make you feel better. It's up to you."
It isn't really, though, and Skie knows she's simply stating the truth rather than making a choice when she says, "I need to go home, and this party doesn't really need me to finish Sarevok." Sheyra starts to object, but Skie cuts her off; if this unforgiving clarity won't let her lie to herself, it certainly won't let her offer untruths to others. "Imoen's the better thief and you don't need two of us. In battle I'll only be in your way. At home I can try to spread the word about you and Sarevok, try to warn people and maybe get the Flaming Fist off your backs. That's more than I can do if I stay."
Sheyra nods slowly. "If that's what you want, but...don't sell yourself short."
Skie smiles thinly and hauls herself upright. "I'm not. I'm being honest, finally."
"Well..." Sheyra stands too, seeming at a loss for words. "We'll at least see you safely back to the estate—"
"No," Skie interrupts, and the sudden painful desire to be alone is too strong to argue with. "Thank you, but no. I know this city, I'll be fine, and I need—I need to be alone." She barely has the patience for a brief round of farewells (Imoen gives her a hug, quick and a little awkward, and Dynaheir clasps her hand and whispers, "I will pray for thee and thy family") before she takes off into the dark of the Undercellars, ignoring the courtesans she passes. She doesn't really pick a direction, just walks; she does know Baldur's Gate, and this old friend will at least bring her home.
Back home, but
I keep trying to write, and
No. There's nothing I want to say. At least not about myself.
The Silvershield estate feels big and alien and very empty, and this strikes her as a little odd, since she's only been gone a couple months—but even Dora's gone now, afraid for her life, and none of the house's remaining occupants are the kind with which Skie would feel remotely comfortable breaking down in tears. Duke Silvershield's body lies in state downstairs, where it will remain until there's time for a proper funeral (highly unlikely, if Sarevok takes over), and for a while Skie deliberately avoids the room with the coffin and consequently the front door. She isn't too bothered by the idea of climbing in and out of windows anymore, but it doesn't really matter; there's nowhere she wants to go.
Instead she sends messages and meets with as many important people she can convince to visit her on very short notice, and she doesn't know whether she did any good (advisers and other officials are very good at saying how very sorry they are for her loss and dodging any actual commitment to provide actual help), but eventually she hears of Duke Eltan's near-miraculous recovery from the brink of death and the debacle at Sarevok's truncated coronation. She thinks: well, maybe. Official reports will take a while to sort out, but the remaining council members are alive and Sarevok is unmasked. Maybe her influence made someone a little more willing to believe Sheyra's evidence against the would-be ruler. It doesn't much matter either way, because there's nothing else Skie can do, and now she has way too much time to do nothing but think.
She really doesn't want to think. Numbness was better.
She spends most of her first night home pacing, around her room and through the kitchen, up the drawing room and back. The sound of Brilla's weeping manages to carry well enough to be impossible to ignore, and its persistence scrapes at Skie's already frayed nerves. Finally she stomps downstairs, but the silence just means her own thoughts are even louder, and when her mind starts conjuring images of her father's last moments, each more gruesome than the last, she can't make it stop.
Finally she forces herself to the coffin and heaves open the lid. She's not sure what she expects and doesn't get it: he hasn't been embalmed or prettied up much, just temporarily preserved, and he doesn't so much look peaceful or seemingly asleep as really, really dead. The object doesn't have much meaning without its animating spirit and his booming laugh, his habit of leaving books lying open all over the house because he'd go so quickly from total absorption to official business he'd forget to even close them, his way of calling Skie's attention to the most trivial places and explaining their importance in the city's history. His beard looked the same, but that didn't seem to matter since she won't feel it scratch her cheek when he kisses her. Because he won't be doing that either.
At least his dress robes cover the places where the assassins hurt him.
Skie closes the coffin, goes back upstairs, and doesn't sleep. Too many thoughts are tumbling through her head. Duke Eltan won't be fit to rule for at least a few tendays, and there's really no one who can step into Entar Silvershield's position. Eddard might have made a decent member of the Council, if he'd had time to work out his itch to travel—which of course he never will, now. Brilla has none of the skills or qualities a politician needs, and as for Skie herself—well, she knows she isn't ready. The city's already destabilized, with the iron shortage and tensions with Amn, and a scramble to find interim councilmembers of the right affiliations and sympathies to keep everyone happy wouldn't help at the best of times.
Baldur's Gate should survive without Duke Silvershield, but it won't be pretty. Sarevok didn't have to try very hard to stir up unrest, after all, and the city's never been less ready to repel an invasion. Say Sarevoke is stopped and what he set into motion continues without him. What then? The Flaming Fist is still divided, its leader is incapacitated, and the entire government is full of holes left by doppelgangers. And it's not childish devotion that makes Skie believe her father was one of the strongest leaders of the four; she's not the only one who's said so.
Skie wants her father back, but Baldur's Gate might actually need him.
All the decent healers and clerics in the city have already been called in, of course; between the poisoned blades and mutilation, they couldn't bring him back with any ordinary resurrection. Eddard is beyond saving, his remains almost certainly destroyed by animals not long after Sheyra's party found them, but the duke...
Well. History is full of extraordinary things, isn't it?
It's a flimsy idea at best and Skie knows that, but it's better than nothing, and at least it's something to do—and even if it doesn't work, it'll buy time for Duke Eltan to recover.
She makes a quick scan of her bookshelves, pulls out anything remotely relevant, and hauls the whole stack to the drawing-room table, where it's soon joined by other books from all over the house. Brilla's room can wait; most of what's on her shelves is purely decorative.
She divides the books into piles (she's taking up most of the long table at this point, but no one needs it for meetings now anyway) and begins to read. Twice during the night she goes to the kitchen for food, which she eats but doesn't taste, and both times she glances toward her bedroom and the bed her exhaustion renders so very tempting—but each time her head starts to nod over the books, she sees her father's corpse, the assassins' glee, the life bleeding out of him as he dies alone and in pain—
No. At this point, not sleeping is probably better for her sanity.
She's still at the table, surrounded by heaps of books, when the sun rises; some hours later, when Brilla's door opens a crack, Skie's still reading, the only change the distribution of the books. She's started copying useful passages into the blank pages of her diary, and several pages are already full with her tiny, precise script after having only made it through two of the smaller stacks.
Brilla sniffs rather loudly, and Skie glances up in startled irritation, too focused on research to have noticed her stepmother before. "Sleep well?" she asks, not bothering to keep all the sarcasm out of her voice.
"Not...not really." Brilla sniffs again and wipes at her reddened eyes. "I couldn't stop thinking about poor, dear Entar—what I'm going to do now—"
A long night without sleep probably has a lot to do with Skie's temper giving way. She snaps, "I kknow for a fact he's left you as well of as you were when he lived, so I don't know what you're mooning about. You've got nothing to worry you."
Brilla blinks at her, handkerchief paused halfway up her face. Then she sighs and slumps against the doorframe: no affectation, just weariness. "Do you think I only married Entar for his money?"
"Well..." Yes, but now she's not as sure, and she flounders for a moment before saying, "That is what I thought, yes."
Brilla doesn't look at her. "The money was attractive, it's true, but I had everything I wanted. I...always admired Entar, long before I met him, and he was always kind to me." She raises her head. "Your father was a good man, Skie. I'm not worried about money. I just don't...the future seems...empty without him."
"Yes," Skie says, a little ashamed, and adds stiffly, "I'm sorry if I misjudged you." Apologies don't come naturally to her lips, but Brilla nods in acceptance and disappears back into the bedroom.
Skie pages through the books as the sunlight slants more and more sharply across the floor and then disappears altogether. Only when she copies down the last line of an ancient ballad and her hand hits the table as she reaches for the next book does she stop and look up.
Oh. She's gone through everything. Her former diary's half full now, she's combed through every book in the house that could possibly be of any value, and night's fallen again.
For now, she's reached the end of what she can do.
She pushes back from the table with the diary, leaves the piles as they are, and stumbles to bed. The mattress and pillow feel almost unbelievably soft, but she doesn't have much time to appreciate them; she plunges toward sleep as soon as she closes her eyes, exhaustion carrying her right past all the macabre images her mind wants to parade before her.
There are dreams, of course, plenty of those. She doesn't remember specifics when she finally wakes up, just that she feels more wrung out than when she went to bed, but at least her head's less fuzzy. The sun's been up for a while, judging by the amount of light in the room—that's all right, though; the sense of urgency that drove her through the night isn't quite as strong now. No, that's the wrong word—it's just as strong, but...steadier. Not as frantic.
All things considered, this is probably a good thing.
Skie makes lists in her head as she bathes and dresses, so by the time she's started on a late breakfast, she's got a pretty solid checklist. Unfinished business first, though: she writes a letter to Brilla as she eats and another to Sheyra, then neatly seals them and leaves them on her nightstand. The chances of anyone coming in here before she's left are slim, and she owes Brilla some kind of explanation, even if it's just the barest outline of her plans...and she doesn't want to give it in person.
Her pack's still leaning against the wall where she left it two days ago, and she dumps the contents onto her bed for a quick triage. Most of the clothes hit the floor, along with a few useless trinkets she picked up on the road. From there it's all lists and practicality, and soon her bed's full again: a couple sturdy tunics, trousers, cloak, bracers, Boots of Speed, dagger, bow and entire quiver. Money, lots of it, in multiple pouches to hide in her pack and under her clothes so she won''t lose everything if one is stolen or lost. Gem bag with her remaining valuable pieces of jewelry, in case she needs to trade. Her diary. She clears out her father's study of any protective rings, amulets, and stones he picked up back in his own adventuring days, decades ago now, and never bothered to sell. Potions...she'll have to make a stop somewhere to pick up more. Also a potion case—no, the one her father used was repurposed a while ago, it's still around here somewhere. Skie unearths it the kitchen where it's being used to store spices and brushes it off as she heads back to her room.
Eldoth's waiting for her, leaning against the stairway railing.
Skie pauses for a second, not sure how to react or what she feels about him, and then realizes she's pretty well beyond surprise at this point and Eldoth is low on her priority list. She props the potion case open on her bed and starts slotting bottles into it.
"Going somewhere?" Eldoth finally asks.
"Candlekeep, first, and then probably Athkatla, probably further. Not sure." A scroll case, that's what she needs. Books and papers will get too heavy to haul around otherwise, and the volume she's bringing for entrance to Candlekeep already weighs more than she'd like. For now the book and her diary go at the bottom of the pack, potion case neatly on top of them.
Eldoth blinks. "...why?"
"Because it's the best library on the Sword Coast and I've got research to do." She rolls up the gem bag into one of her tunics and stuffs it into the pack, then sits on the edge of the bed and looks up at him. "Because if there's anything that can bring my father back, I'll get on its trail there."
He frowns. "Uh, Skie..."
"Look," she says, "I've spent the last day and a half going through every book in this house, and there are a lot of stories—some really old and probably metaphorical, some new and possibly accurate—about people being raised who shouldn't have been. None of the clerics here could do it, but so what? Faerûn's a big place with a big history. If there are ways of resurrecting people who've been—mutilated—and I think there are, then I'll find them. Might mean some kind of rare gem or ore, I don't know, or a really complicated ritual, or some kind of spell component that's only found in Tethyr or something. There've been...indications, in the stories, of things like that. There's truth behind the stories, there's a way, I just don't know what it is yet."
He shakes his head a little, as if to clear his thoughts. "You just got home, Skie, you're going to run off chasing stories? Let someone else do that. Take a rest."
"It doesn't matter." She turns back to the pile on her bed and rolls up another tunic. "I did some stupid things and I didn't love my father enough when I had him. If I can do something to fix that—and help fix the city—I have to do it."
"Sarevok's dead, the city's fine—"
"And everything he left behind is still here, including only two of the Four fit to rule. That's not good enough. This way, someone's will make an announcement about what I'm doing, and that should at least stave off civil unrest long enough for Duke Eltan to recover and unify the Flaming Fist again."
"So you're...what, buying time? Plenty of other ways to do that—"
"No, that's what made up my mind. Even if this turns into a completely pointless quest, at least some good will come of it. That's all I can be reasonably sure of."
He watches her pack for a moment and says, "You're pretty determined this time."
"I figured out some things I should have known a long time ago." Let him fill in the blanks however he wants. She adds with a thin smile, "Think I might actually be growing up this time."
"You've always been a lady," he says, but his tone is a little cautious now, not the easy, empty flattery she's used to getting from him. "Now as much as ever. You can't go off into the wilderness alone—"
"Only to Canndlekeep and back. I can manage that. I'll join a trading caravan at the Friendly Arm and reach Amn that way—slower but safer." She eyes him. "I'm not stupid, you know."
"No," he agrees, his tone so carefully neutral she doesn't even try to guess what he's concealing. "You're not, are you?"
Skie sighs and ducks into the kitchen for basic provisions and a little time to think. She's done before she's entirely figured out what to say—because the thing is, once he'd finished getting money from her family, Eldoth would probably have fed her some line about fate ruining their happiness, or how she belonged in Baldur's Gate after all and she didn't, or how he wasn't good enough for her, or something similar. Part of her would still like to see him try, fumble through without the help of the illusions he'd encouraged her to cling to—but he's standing in her room uncertainly, looking out of place for the first time, his face the utterly expressionless mask she's rarely seen because it means he's genuinely uneasy and can't decide how best to react, and she doesn't have the energy for more games.
So she skips several pointless layers of circuitousconversation and offers him an out. "Even if I find something that works, I'll be gone a good while, and Brilla will have plenty of time to grieve her husband. She'll need comforting. You seem to be good at that."
He looks startled, which is kind of gratifying, and then the guarded expression returns. "I suppose one could say that..."
"I don't know if there will be a funeral yet—it depends on how much Brilla decides to believe I might accomplish something. No doubt lots of important visitors, though. Probably get invited to more ceremonies." Skie closes the pack and gives it a shake to make everything settle; the potions rattle a bit but not too much, so at least the case's enchantment is still good after so much time. "She'd probably let you stay here, even."
He shifts uncomfortably. "Is that what you suggest I do?"
"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm just telling you—look, I'm sure you're here for a reason and I really doubt it's to marry me, so I'm letting you know your options. What you do with that is your business." It's funny, she'd thought about heartbreak in the abstract (and, once or twice, in connection with Eldoth and the questions raised by other party members), and she had some idea what it was like to be hurt—and now that she's come up against real heartbreak at her father's murder, which may or may not still be permanent, any pain over Eldoth barely registers. Maybe that'll come later, but she actually feels...confident, dealing with him. That's new.
(So is his uncertainty, of course, whatever exactly it might mean.)
Skie straps on the pack, keeping bows and arrows within easy reach, and heads for the stairs. "Couple errands to run, then I'll leave the city at dusk," she says, not sure why she's telling him. It occurs to her that she might be hanging onto certain hopes about Eldoth after all—he could make sure she's found and brought back before ever leaving Baldur's Gate, which would win him points with Brilla right off, since she'll probably see this as a fool's mission at first. Skie wouldn't need to be gone for Eldoth to romance Brilla, anyway, as long as the awkwardness factor didn't bother him.
Well. She'll have to see what happens.
"I have to go now," she adds pointedly when he doesn't move, and he straightens and pulls back from the top of the stairs. She's halfway down when she hears him say quietly, "Go well, Lady Silvershield," and she pauses for a second but doesn't turn around or reply because what else is there to say?
No one sees her leave, which is a lot easier to pull off than it was a couple months ago. Outsside the estate walls, she keeps to the shadows and takes off across the city. Sorcerous Sundries, Silence's shop, and...that should about do it.
It's twilight by the time she's bought everything and packed away her purchases. No one's recognized her and she hasn't seen anything to indicate she's picked up a tail or the Flaming Fist are after her, but she's been cautious, so it's hard to say if that means anything.
But she wants to know, so when she walks toward the main gate to leave the city, she cuts right across the street and doesn't try to hide. She passes under the arch without being bothered, and then a patch of shadow detaches itself from the darkness of the gate and resolves into Eldoth.
When she doesn't stop, he falls into step beside her. "Still determined to go haring off into the wild after legends?"
"You know I don't change my mind easily," she says. Is he trying to stop her or not? This doesn't fit what she'd thought might happen.
He's silent for a moment. "Thing is, I've been to Amn and further. You haven't. If you want to stay out of trouble, you should go with someone who knows the place."
She knows she's supposed to accept that and not try to pin him down any further, but frankly she's enjoying her new bluntness, so she ignores what's expected and asks, "Are you offering?"
All right, Brilla would still be grateful if he accompanied Skie as some kind of escort, but he'd be gone long enough it wouldn't benefit him any. Interesting. "All right. Why?"
He hesitates. "Because...I don't want you to get into trouble."
She studies him for a moment and he meets her gaze squarely, which tells her as much as the lack of flowery exaggeration that this, at least, is the truth. It's little enough, but for someone who's made a lifestyle and a living out of telling anything but, it is enough.
Skie nods and finds herself really smiling for the first time since before she entered the Undercellars. She holds out her hand, and he takes it, and together they set out across the bridge and into the dark.
A/N: It's slightly possible I decided to go for a more sympathetic (and not, I hope, terribly OOC) portrayal of Eldoth because my brain insisted on comparing him to Flynn/Eugene from Tangled. It's also possible that my various speculations are totally ridiculous, but I needed some action Skie could take that wouldn't negate the forced character growth from her father's death. Plus the Forgotten Realms wiki indicates that Duke Silvershield was probably resurrected, since some other source has him still one of the Council of Four at some later date, so...I made stuff up and compromised.