Chapter 1: "Enough!"

Irenicus appeared to have an expression of something bordering on the edge of intense surprise as he viewed the assorted group of assassins before him, not even noticing the escaping party as they emerged from the rubble behind him, almost instantly and instinctively taking cover.

"You dare to attack me here?" Irenicus demanded, raising his hands threateningly, obviously in no mood for any delays that the assassins could offer him. "Do you even know whom you face?"

The assassins, who had so far ignored the saying 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', at least where the escaping party was concerned, commenced an attack. Two of them danced across the rubble towards the mage with surprising agility, long swords drawn, a flurry of battle cries escaping their mouths as their pair of companions drew forth bows and shot arrows uselessly at Irenicus.

The mage, seemingly almost bored, incinerated the two advancing on him with a quick fireball, and a second spell caught one of the archers, instantly petrifying him solidly in stone. The final archer took one look at his surroundings as his comrades died around him, then turned and fled. The five onlookers considered it quite a wise move.

"You will suffer! You will all suffer!" Irenicus almost shrieked, livid with rage, and a final fire arrow was sent lancing towards the petrified assassin, shattering him into hundreds of shards as if he had never been a living, breathing person.

Finally, the mage calmed down, and looked at his surroundings with a superior air. He spotted his former prisoners, perched high above him in the rubble, some trying to look inconspicuous, like Yoshimo, others, like Minsc and Jaheira, standing tall, defiant, ready for vengeance. "So, God-child, you have escaped," Irenicus declared, almost in a whisper as he looked at them. "You are more resourceful than I thought."

Imoen's head snapped up, and she glared at the mage with an expression more violent and malicious than any of them had ever seen on her face. "You're not going to torture us any longer!" she yelled at him, and all could see she intended to make that declaration a promise.

Once again, Irenicus looked surprised. "Torture?" he repeated, one eyebrow raised. Then he laughed as realisation sank in. "Silly girl, you just don't understand what I'm doing, do you?"

Imoen shook her head. "I don't care what you're doing! Let us go!" Slowly, in the front of the archmage's vicious and unrelenting gaze, her resolve seemed to be slipping a little, in acknowledgement of the fact that they might not walk away from this confrontation.

"I won't let you leave, not when I'm so close to unlocking your power." Irenicus's anger was back, as he slowly stalked up and down the rubble, not averting his gaze from the five former prisoners.

"We don't want anything from you!" And with that final declaration, Imoen let loose a flaming arrow, summoning all of the power she wielded, the power she had just discovered, and sending it all directly at Irenicus.

The mage appeared completely untouched. "Enough! I will no longer listen to the babbling of ignorant children!" he shouted at her, before retaliating with his own flurry of magic weaponry, the spells hitting so fast they could barely see them move.

Imoen's responses, whilst far from incompetent, were most certainly not enough to beat a mage as powerful as Irenicus, and magic missiles struck her repeatedly. Yet still, the girl held her ground, even though the battle was already lost, as far as they could see.

Then suddenly, all around them, dimension doors swirled into existence, and they were surrounded by almost a horde of cloaked and hooded figures, bearing little more than quarterstaffs as they brought the battle to a halt with their mere presence.

One figure, the tallest, took a step towards Irenicus. "This is an unsanctioned use of magical energy!" he intoned deeply, his voice plain and emotionless, and completely devoid of any distinguishing traits. "All involved will be held! This disturbance is over!"

Irenicus practically sighed as he surveyed them. "Must I be interrupted at every turn?" he demanded furiously. "Enough of this!" With that, he let loose another volley of magic, but this time, the response was far from weak. The hooded figures, with Imoen once again taking up her offensive role, assaulted the mage mercilessly.

Yet it was once more not enough. The magics thudded harmlessly off Irenicus, and his retaliation had all but wiped out the interlopers. This had not been the deliverance it quite appeared, and the situation was once more as dire and dangerous as it had ever been.

But then, yet more dimensional doors opened, and yet as many hooded figures appeared in their midst. "This mage's power is immense! We must overcome him quickly," one of the new arrivals snapped hurriedly, considerably less self-assured than his predecessor.

Irenicus, whilst far from being done, looked even more bored once more. "Your pathetic magics are useless. Let this end," he offered grimly, folding his arms across his chest, and for a moment looking deceptively vulnerable.

"Even if we fall, our numbers are many. You will be overwhelmed," the same figure insisted, this time more strongly, and his words rang with truth as Irenicus's steely gaze met his hooded one.

Irenicus sighed once more. "You bore me, mageling," he responded, then slowly, a malicious look crossed his face and he glanced up at his escaped prisoners. "You may take me in, but you will take the girl as well," he declared finally, a look of triumph upon his face.

Shock hit everyone's faces, but, obviously, Imoen's most of all. "What?" she asked, in a small yet forceful voice. "No! I've done nothing wrong!" The panic that started to overwhelm her became perfectly clear as her position became defensive, and she threw a pleading look in the direction of her friends.

"You have been involved in an illegal use of magic and will come with us!" the leader of the hooded figures decided, waving his quarterstaff at her, and for once, his voice seemed to be one of weariness and anger. He clearly had no desire for another massive confrontation, although he had to know that one with Imoen would be far easier than the battle with Irenicus.

Dimension doors opened, and the hooded figure in the middle of the party grabbed Imoen by her arm, and pulled her towards them before any of her friends could intervene. "I'm not coming with them!" Imoen shrieked. "I'm not! Help me! Please!"

Then they were alone, except for the massive rubble, the corpses, and the few townspeople who were slowly milling towards them. The party leader, already wearied, flopped to the floor, ignoring the jagged rocks on his nearly unprotected skin as he lay back on the ground with despair, the outrage of his fellows washing over him, ignored. For the first time in weeks, his eyes turned skyward, and he could see the endless blue mass that had not been his companion in many, many days.

Even though it was mid-day, bright and clear, it seemed a whole lot darker than it had the last time he'd seen it.