Since arriving in Spellhold, Imoen had become certain of two things.
First of all, she had to get out of this hellhole. Second, once she was out she seriously needed to improve her social circle.
Of course Irenicus was here. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't forget that. He wasn't in with the other prisoners; and they were prisoners, even if the Cowled Wizards called them patients. When she tried to interrogate them about him they just ignored her. She could still feel him though. Just knowing he was close pushed on her mind like a vice.
She hadn't expected to meet anyone else she knew. First she had seen Tiax, the megalomaniacal gnome from Baldur's Gate. He had remembered her, sort of. He had told her that she could be a foreman among his minions in the new world order, anyways, which seemed positive.
The other familiar face was the one watching her intently as she arranged a wooden cup (they weren't trusted with china) in front of a mouse hole in the wall of the patients common room. Xzar definitely belonged in an asylum. She just wished it didn't have to be the same one she was stuck in.
Unlike Tiax, the necromancer definitely remembered her from their brief travels together. He had taken to following her around, providing a steadily more incoherent commentary on her day-to-day actions. She had tried complaining, threatening, whining and, on a particularly bad day, throwing darts made out of the straw from her mattress. Finally, she had just resolved to ignore him. Unfortunately, silences had never been her forte.
Kneeling on the dusty stone floor of the common room was beginning to make her legs cramp. She tried to prop up the cup on a spoon. It tipped and clattered to the floor, rolling over to Xzar's foot. He picked it up, looking bemused. Imoen snatched it out of his hand. 'Do you want something?' she asked impatiently.
Xzar seemed to find the question more puzzling than was necessary. 'I do not know,' he said thoughtfully, sticking a finger in his mouth. 'I believe I wanted a book once, but it did not belong to me. But then, the person it belonged to did not exist, so stealing it was more of an ethical dilemma than I anticipated.'
Imoen rolled her eyes, but Xzar clearly wasn't going anywhere. 'What was the book about?'
'I never knew.' He sounded oddly sad. 'Perhaps it wasn't real either. I am certain I wanted it, though.' He dropped his ear to the dusty floor, examining her simple trap sideways. 'Why, what do you want?'
Xzar had apparently retained his gift for uncomfortable questions. He been one of Imoen's least favourite travelling companions, right from the time she had met him outside Candlekeep. It had been a relief when Jaheira had finally put her foot down and thrown him and his creepy rogue companion to the wind.
Today, though, seeing him was almost comforting. Her dreams had been getting darker, on the rare occasions exhaustion had overcome her desire to stay awake and on guard. Waking from those dreams alone in her cell, she wondered which version of her life was true; the one where she walked freely in the sun, or the one where there were needles behind her eyes and a lonely cage under the earth.
Xzar was proof that her memories were real, and she hadn't been here forever. There was still a world outside. And it would be coming to save her.
'There's a mouse - a real one,' she clarified, 'in here. I want to catch it. I'm making a mousetrap.'
'Trap?' His large green eyes lit up with interest. 'A tiny mousey guillotine would suffice. Or political slander, if you are resolved to avoid the unnecessary spilling of rodent blood.'
'Heck no.' She shook her head emphatically. 'It keeps chewing my shoes. I'm gonna squish it.'
He nodded sagely. 'We must take care then, my acolyte, lest we open a portal with our sacrifice. The Plane of Mouse Torment is unpleasant, particularly at this hour of the day.'
'I can't tell if you're trying to be funny or not.' Carefully, she arranged the little piece of rubbery cheese in front of the mouse hole. As soon as the little monster poked its furry nose out, she would be ready.
'Wow, this is kind of a step back, isn't it?' she mused. 'This is how adventures are supposed to start.'
Talking made her feel better. Even more so now that she was actually talking to someone instead of to herself, which had become all too common of late. Xzar wasn't much of a conversationalist, but he made a good prop for her display of sanity.
'Lying on one's stomach in an accursed island asylum,' Xzar agreed. 'I have long suspected as much.'
'Not that. I meant hunting evil rodents with a bit of wood.' The hero stories travellers had told in Winthrop's inn had always started with that. The inevitable giant rat encounter. It was hardly a heroic tale, otherwise.
'You lie.' Xzar rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling with an accusing frown. 'The rodents are not evil, simply self-serving. The lagamorphs pull the tiny puppet strings.'
Xzar held his fingers up against his head like horns. Or ears.
'Bunnies?' Imoen guessed. She had forgotten the wizard's weird fixation on rabbits. He had once alerted a whole troupe of bandits to their presence by blasting one with a lightning bolt. The result had been some confused bandits, an annoying adventure party, and an extremely well-cooked rabbit.
'Do not speak of them. The long-eared ones hear everything.' He waved a long-fingered hand at the door.
Maybe he meant the Cowled Wizards, Imoen realized. They almost looked like rabbits, with their grey clothes and floppy hoods. They skittered around the halls like rabbits too.
'I'm not scared of them.' It was true, too. She might have been, long ago. Now she could see that they were afraid. They whispered to each other, and cast nervous glances at their feet whenever they thought she wasn't looking. That was how she's known that they were keeping Irenicus below, in the earth.
They were afraid of her, too. They grew nervous when she asked questions about Irenicus, or about their thoughts, or about death.
She could identify. She scared herself.
'The hooded ones?' Xzar asked. He shot a glance at the doorway, where a Cowled Wizard had arrived and was hovering awkwardly. 'I concur. They are sneaky and puffy. We shall not fear them.'
'Tiax is here, too,' she mused. 'It's like a crazy reunion.' To which she had been invited for some reason.
'A crazy reunion would require far more sulphur, I believe. And possibly a coconut cake. Coconut is the flavour of madness. I have proven it scientifically.' At least talking to Xzar was making her feel saner by comparison.
'It seems like that was all forever ago,' she said, ignoring him. How long had it been since Baldur's Gate? Months? Years?
Some of that would depend on how long she had been here. She had been notching the wall of her cell every time the last sunlight disappeared from the slit window in the common room. She had counted, though, and there were fewer than twenty notches. The Cowled Wizards must manipulate the light, she had decided. She was certain she had been here for months at the least.
She tried focusing on Xzar's face to determine if he'd aged, then realized couldn't remember what he had looked like last time she'd seen him. His face was younger than she had expected under the heavy black tattoos. 'I haven't seen you since... well, since we threw you out.' She sat up and stretched her stiff arms over her head.
He didn't answer. His glazed eyes were fixed on a dust mote floating through the air, and his mouth was slightly open.
'So what have you been doing, Xzar?' she asked, covering a yawn. 'I've been saving Baldur's Gate, myself.' She paused. 'Well. Might have had a little help. But it was mostly me. You look...' Good wasn't exactly the right word. 'Less twitchy?' He did seem slightly less agitated than she remembered. And some of his thoughts were almost linear. Maybe Spellhold had some therapeutic value after all. That or she was just crazier herself, and had lost her frame of reference.
'There are fewer voices in this building.' He tilted his head sideways and frowned. 'Or rather, they disagree less.'
'Maybe they're bored too.' She checked her trap. Nothing. Weren't mice supposed to be obsessed with cheese? Maybe even they thought Spellhold food was nasty. 'Man, catching mice is hard,' she sighed, pushing her hair out of her eyes.
Xzar's eyes flicked disapprovingly to her pink braids. 'Perhaps your war colours alert our prey. Your camouflage attempts are poor.'
'It's not camouflage. It's hair dye.'
He looked disappointed. 'I thought perhaps you were related to an octopus, and your colouring conformed to your mood. I was going to ask if pink indicated despair or insanity.'
'Pink indicates 'brown was getting boring',' she snapped, feeling oddly self-conscious. She had chosen the bright colour very deliberately, some time after their encounter with Sarevok. It seemed so brazen in the bottle. Maybe if she looked more like an adventurer, she would feel less scared. There wasn't any dye in Spellhold, though, and her brown roots were showing.
'And I'm not insane,' she added. 'My friend's gonna rescue me.' At least she could be sure of that. That was the one advantage of having a hero for a best friend and surrogate sibling - rescue was pretty much guaranteed. It was taking an awfully long time, though.
There must be a hold-up, Imoen reassured herself. She hadn't been forgotten.
'You tire of our therapeutic retreat also?. Xzar sat up awkwardly and settled back onto the ground. He ran a hand through his matted blond hair, making it stand up in peaks. 'I shall return to my research soon, although I believe the air here has done wonders for my spinal column.'
Imoen frowned, trying to decide whether this comment was lucid or not. 'Is your awful friend coming to get you?' She had overheard Jaheira and Khalid discussing Xzar and Montaron once. They had seemed to believe that the unlikely pair were linked to a criminal organization, but they had changed the subject once they noticed her. Still, even if there was someone with the power to rescue him, it seemed pretty unlikely that anyone would want to.
Xzar scrunched his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. 'Montaron is a terrible blight upon my countenance,' he said through gritted teeth. 'I shall have to go looking for him, lest someone else slaughter him before I get the chance.'
Imoen winced. 'Yeah, I forgot you had a weird little hate-romance thing going on.' Neither the mage nor the rogue had ever explained why they worked together when they obviously despised each other. Montaron had once spent an entire evening sharpening his blades next to Xzar's head. Xzar had responded by making several small effigies of Montaron out of sticks, which he had spoken with extensively about the weather before incinerating in their campfire.
Privately, Imoen had always thought that for self-proclaimed enemies they were awfully wrapped up in one another. Those effigies looked like they had taken a while.
'I had considered dissecting him for some time,' Xzar mused, apparently not hearing her, 'but I have decided against it. I would rather not look at him for so long, and he smells.'
'Yuck.' When I'm rescued, Imoen vowed, I am not going to complain about Jaheira being bossy or Minsc being weird. I am going to appreciate their loyalty and lack of interest in dissections.
Loyalty. The same loyalty that would bring them to save her would send them after her captors.
'My friends are going to want to go after... a bad guy,' she realized, talking more to herself than to Xzar. 'They're gonna go looking for the one that put me here.' No way the Hero of Baldur's Gate (even if they hated the title) would be able to ignore the fact that they had both been captured, that someone who had hurt them could roam free. There would have to be justice.
It wasn't what she wanted, though. It wouldn't fix things.
'I just want to leave,' she said hollowly, twisting her hair around her finger. Her throat closed. Even if Irenicus were dead, he would still be there, changing things in her head and skewing her world into something darker and bloodier than it had been before. 'I want to go home.'
'Don't be sad.' Xzar sounded strangely sympathetic. He patted her heavily on the back, making her flinch. 'I forget where my cell is too. We shall find you a new one.'
Imoen jerked away from him. 'This isn't my home!' Her voice cracked on the last word.
'The termites disagree. I can hear them discussing it. They are making you a lovely nameplate, but are unsure of the spelling. Do you know the feeling?' Xzar put one hand to his forehead and looked around, as though suddenly aware of his surroundings. 'Tis most aggravating.'
The mouse poked its whiskery nose out of the crack in the wall. Imoen wiped her eyes. The motion startled the creature, and it scurried back into the wall.
'I wish I had a net,' she complained, trying to get the choking sound out of her voice. 'Maybe that's what I'll do with my life. Make ridiculous magical mousetraps for fancy rich people. I'll have little platters with illusions of cheese, and then - wham!' She smacked her palm with her fist. 'Fireball!'
'An intriguing possibility.' Xzar stuck his knuckles between his teeth, eyes vacant. 'Perhaps a side business, marketing toasted snacks to dragons with insufficient flames. One would have to advertise carefully. A dragon who feels itself to be emasculated is a danger to itself.'
This wasn't so bad. If she just went with the idea that he was joking, this was almost like having an actual conversation. 'I could bring them back to life, as my zombie mouse army, and use them as messengers for my nefarious deeds.'
Xzar shook his head emphatically, making his hair whip back and forth. 'Mouse resurrection is a tricky business. The little arteries are so small, and bleed so quickly.' He folded his arms, looking disapproving. 'No, I fear you would be disappointed and end up with something you had to kill out of pity. From experience, it can be disconcerting.'
Maybe it wasn't so much like a real conversation after all. 'Uh, I've kind of stayed away from necromancy.'
He looked appalled. 'Why?'
'It's gross? And kind of evil.' And fascinating, she added silently, biting her lower lip. It had been a look at a draining scroll which had convinced her that she couldn't pretend she wasn't interested in magic any longer. Actually learning it had been a line, though, and not one she had worked up the courage to cross. Little Imoen from Candlekeep might learn to shoot a few sparkly missiles, but there was no way she could try to control life and death and pretend she was still the same person.
Xzar was still looking unimpressed. 'Dead bodies come from somewhere,' she clarified, rolling her eyes.
'From you, often enough.' She scowled, but he continued, oblivious. 'Death is the imperative of all flesh. That is it's only purpose. To grant a body death is to give it the only thing it aims for.' His eyes were glazed, and he had one hand to his ear, as though trying to hear something very far away. 'It is hardly wrong to ask the flesh for service in return.''
The mouse stuck its little pink nose out and sniffed the air, seemingly weighing its options. Imoen crouched over it. 'You're still super creepy,' she told Xzar, trying to move her mouth as little as possible. 'Just sayin'.'
With a tiny squeak, the mouse lunged for the cheese. Imoen dropped her cup lightning-fast, trapping it underneath. 'Ha! First step, mouse killer. Last step, mansion owner!' she crowed. 'Still working on the ones in between, but I'll get there.'
'If you have a large property, you shall have to ward against them. The ones you call 'bad guys'.'
'Well, I'll be a pro trap maker. So I'll defend myself.' She could picture the marble foyer – just the right place for a nice acid arrow trigger. 'Besides, I have scary friends.'
She lifted up the edge of the cup and peered underneath. 'Heya, little guy.' Her hand trembled slightly. It was laced with scars, following the lines of the delicate bones underneath. She had seen those bones recently. She had been shown.
This mouse has bones inside, she thought, mind wandering unbidden. I could take them out, and they would be sticky and red, just like mine were. When you stabbed someone, they bled, but it was harder to remember that you were red inside too.
Xzar was still rambling to himself. 'They know no fear, the long-eared ones. They find what they seek and then - away!' He threw his arms out dramatically, knocking over a nearby chair. 'Back underground! Into their little warren-tunnels, back to their king!' He cocked his head sideways at her. 'You have seen him, I think now. '
'Yes. I have totally seen the rabbit king. It was awesome.' The mouse moved so quickly. She could hear it running back and forth under the cup, its little toenails scratching the rough floor.
'It is less a matter of seeing him, and more of what he sees, no?' Suddenly he seized her hand and clutched it between his. 'He must have shown you.' His face was grey under the tattoos, and his voice was low and urgent. She could see the whites of his eyes all around the pupil. 'He wishes to live forever, but such a thing is not so easy for flesh and blood, so he watches the flesh, to see it die and see how it might not die. '
'What are you...' Imoen tried to yank her hand away, but his grip was surprisingly strong. She twisted her wrist, making the scars burn. His long fingers were tangled in her sleeve.
Scarred fingers, she realized suddenly. It wasn't easy to see under the tattoos, but they were there. Thin, ropey scars, tracing each bone. Slowly, without thinking, she spread out her fingers, matching her scars up to his. Nausea slithered into her stomach.
'He has asked you for something, no? And yet here you are.' Xzar released her hand and patted her shoulder conciliatorily. 'Don't feel let down. He has been mistaken before.'
She opened her mouth iwth no idea of what was going to come out. 'He's here. He's in this place.' She reached for his wrist, mentally pleading with him to stay clear enough to understand the warning. 'He could have killed me, but he came here. Iren-'
Xzar wrenched his hand away. 'Stop touching me!' he shrieked, his voice high and whiny.
She tried to think of how to say it so he would listen, but he was staring into empty space, eyes wide and nostrils flared. He was somewhere else.
Imoen clenched her eyes shut, screwing up her face. 'My name is Imoen,' she whispered to herself. 'I am from Candlekeep. I worked for Winthrop and I used to pick the locks on the guests closets just to see what was inside. I like magic but I was scared to ask for lessons, because Gorion was kind of freaky. I like shoes. I like shiny things. Someday I'm going to have a big house and a fountain and a closet of my own.'
With shaking hands, she lifted the wooden cup, releasing her small prisoner. 'And I think mice are cute.'
'That sounds nice,' a voice chirped behind her. She turned to see the little girl from down the hall. 'Can I be Imoen too?' the girl asked, in Imoen's own voice.
'Treason!' Tiax bellowed, throwing a plate to the floor with a clatter. 'Everyone must be Tiax! Tiax commands it!'
'The termites have made note,' Xzar told her, still fascinated by the empty air. 'They will remember.'
Imoen shut her eyes. She didn't belong here. She was going to be rescued. These things were true. They had to be.
'Someone here to see you,' a nasal voice said. Imoen opened her eyes, blinking away tears. One of the Cowled Wizards was hovering in the doorway. 'Looks like you've been deemed rehabilitated.'
She jumped to her feet, heart pounding. She could kiss the man, even if he was one of the people who had put her here. Her friends had come for her, just like she knew they would.
He frowned, the corners of his thin-lipped mouth turning downward. 'Not you,' he told her sharply. He looked down at the paper in his hands. 'Xzar?' he asked, obviously unsure.
Xzar stood, brushing off his sleeves in annoyance. 'Do not mangle my name, if you please. I prefer even numbers, and would have to mangle something else to match.'
The man rolled his eyes. 'This way. Hurry up, they've probably paid a bloody fortune.' He turned around, and Imoen heard him mutter 'Bloody Zhentarim,' before striding off down the hall.
Imoen stood stock-still, mind numb. 'No, please,' she whispered, although the Wizard was already gone. 'It's me. I'm the one that doesn't belong here.' The cup dropped out of her limp hand and rolled away.
Xzar made a motion to leave. She seized his hand, the hand with the same scars Irenicus had given her. He recoiled, but she hung on. 'Find my friend,' she whispered. 'The one I travelled with. Do you remember them? Tell them to come get me.'
'I do not wish it,' Xzar objected. 'Their mind smelled of rust and feathers, and their face-'
'Please?' With some effort she kept her eyes locked with his, willing him to understand. 'If there's a real person in there at all, please. Tell them I'm still here.'
'I...' Expressions flitted rapidly over his face, ranging from anger to confusion to fear. Finally he disentangled her hand from his and stuck his knuckle in his mouth. 'I will ask, if the opportunity presents itself,' he told her, formal words coming out slurred around his hand. ''Tis hard to remember out there. There is so much noise.'
She dropped his hand. It fell heavily to his side. 'I'm... actually kind of sorry for you,' she told him. Not nearly as sorry as she was for herself, though. 'Sorry.'
'Don't be.' Xzar gave her what was probably intended to be a reassuring smile, but came out as a skull-like grimace. 'He was pronouncing it correctly. I just wish to keep them on their toes.'
The door closed, and Imoen was standing alone in the middle of the common room. The other patients chattered to whatever demons occupied their time and thoughts.
'I'm not you,' she said, although no one was listening. 'It doesn't matter what happened. I'm not you.'
She really wasn't like him, she realized, stomach hollow. She was friendly and he was awful. She had dreams and hopes and plans, and he just had the voices in his head and a travelling companion he couldn't stand.
Someone had come for him, and he was leaving. And no one was coming for her.
Thank you for reading! This is my first attempt at a Baldur's Gate fic - I've been a fan of these games for a long time, but I'm too intimidated to take on a long story. I thought a one-shot might be a good place to start.
Maybe it's just because you get them first, but I was unnaturally depressed when Xzar and Montaron died in BG2 (this was before I discovered the joys of modding). Also, I make a terrible adoptive sibling. No matter how many times I play that game, I aways spend ages messing around before I go rescue Imoen...
I'm completely new to writing for BG, and pretty new to writing in general. If you have time, please leave some concrit! I would really like to improve.