Baldur’s Gate Heroes #017
Life on Earth, Part Five
“Getting late already,” Imoen observed once the two were outside. It was much darker than it had been; a combination of the sun getting lower and the heavy clouds that had recently blown in from above the ocean. “We’d better find some place to… what are you doing?” Aerie hadn’t yet made it out the doors to the restaurant. She peered around them, eyes nervously darting from side to side.
“She… s-she might still be around, somewhere,” the blonde explained.
“Who? Tina? Last I saw, those guys were all running towards the hills after Mason and his boys showed up… besides, after what you did to her I think she’d need a damn good reason to even think about the slightest possibility of coming back.”
“I didn’t hit all that hard. S-she was more surprised I think… and, i-if she realizes that…” Aerie bit down on her lip, unsure of how to finish her thought. She recalled when she was first captured, and they started to torture her… she tried to resist, to fight them, but it always ended the same; they were too strong and too many.
“Don’t be so presagious. Just get out here!”
Aerie blinked a few times at the grinning red head, impressed that she remembered the word she’d given her before, which the Avariel had gotten from a book of poems that Quayle had allowed her to read. Perhaps things were different now; she had people who cared for her, and who she cared for in return…
“You waiting for me to come and drag you out or something?” Imoen repeated, her outstretched arm still beckoning. “Just put one foot in front of the other and step through the door… once you’ve taken the first step the rest will be much easier. Trust me.” Aerie did, and so, she left the shelter of the building and stepped into the street.
“T-thank you,” the alien girl said.
“For… for helping me against those bullies.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything… not that I wouldn’t have done something, but, you just never gave me a chance.”
“That’s not… that is, b-both those times… just now and, w-with Sorel. I… I don’t think I’d have been able to do anything if you hadn’t been there.”
“Well…” Imoen bowed her head and put her hands in her pockets, standing urchin like in the middle of the street. “I… I’m afraid I don’t really do mushy and sentimental very well. But, thanks. Still don’t see what it is I did though.”
“You were kind to me,” Aerie elaborated, “I… I lost my home a-and all the people I cared for, and now… now, I don’t think I want to lose anything else. Ever,” the Avariel finished sincerely.
“No… nor do I,” the red head breathed and frowned. “Look, we had better get,” Imoen started, but didn’t finish. The Avariel held her hands up, feeling droplets of cold water fall onto them.
“This… this is…”
“Rain!” The red head smiled, holding her own hands up. Within seconds it was full blown shower, the words ‘pitter patter’ nowhere near sufficing to describe the noise of the sheer volume of water beating down against the rooftops and concrete.
“I-it’s wonderful,” the Avariel said, although it was unclear if Imoen was actually able to hear. “I-I’d only ever read about such things… n-never seen it… felt it…”
“When I was a little girl,” the red head had to speak up a bit, “I used to think that the rain was God crying because of all the bad people in the world; apart from when I was thirteen and I equated it with a very different bodily function, but the first one was nicer, don’t you think? Anyway, now I know that rain is good… once its cleared everything always smells fresh and new… If we stay out here much longer we are going to catch a cold though… well I am. Come on!” Imoen grabbed the blondes and they started to run, water filled clothing becoming heavier as they did so.
Cold, breathless, her heart struggling to keep pace with the rest of her body; Aerie was loving every second and found herself laughing out loud. Then, Imoen suddenly let go. Just in front of Aerie, the red head jumped and landed in a deep puddle sending a wave all over the blondes pants and then sniggered about it.
“W-why did you do that!” The blonde protested.
“Didn’t I say I always kept my promises?”
“You’re smiling… for real,” Imoen winked. Aerie was a little taken aback by this; she hadn’t really been thinking about it. But, yes, she believed that right now, in this moment she felt… happy.
“It… it won’t last,” she said with a sigh.
“Better make the most of it while it does then. I don’t need to order you to start having fun, do I?”
“All… all right,” Aerie thought for an instant about how she should make the most of it. Then, she jumped into the puddle after Imoen.
After several minutes spent giggling as they kicked water over each other, even while it fell on them from above, Imoen finally decided that they were soaked enough and brought the game to a halt.
She led them to an old house she claimed was abandoned, making short work of both the padlocks on the fence and those on the doors. The yard was overgrown and clearly hadn’t been tended to for some time… it was a miracle they were able to find the path.
Once inside, it was fair to say that the pair were drenched; matted hair and clothes and boots that squelched as they walked across the dusty floorboards. There were lots of broken furniture around, old books and sheets; once Imoen had found the fireplace it was easy to get one going. Since it was now night time she was confident the smoke wouldn’t give them away. The stripped off their wet clothes and laid them out to try, equally confident that since the windows were boarded up absolutely no one anywhere was witnessing this scene of two pretty young women stripping themselves naked, revealing their smooth skinned yet firm young bodies… and anyway, Imoen had brought some more clothes from her apartment so they were dressed again shortly afterwards.
“I’m getting kind of sleepy,” Imoen yawned, “We’ll spend the night here. Tomorrow we’ll meet up with Minsc again. Hopefully I’ll have come up with a plan for dealing with Mason.”
“Paint!” Aerie exclaimed.
“No, I don’t want to paint him,” Imoen slowly sat up, “I don’t think he’s going to call off his hit men just because I flatter him with a portrait; if anything that’ll make it worse since I suck as an artist… oh,” it seemed Aerie had been exploring and had uncovered an easel along with several tins of paint. “Yeah, this used to be Prism’s house. He was an artist, and he died about two years ago and no one’s moved in since. They reckon the place is haunted.”
“Haunted?” Even though she had ‘rounded’ her ears and they were concealed beneath her long blonde hair, it was still somehow possible to see Aerie’s shoot up.
“Sorry… I figured someone from such an advanced and enlightened race wouldn’t believe in ghosts and that type of thing.”
“S-sometimes, th-things happen that even the Avariel can’t explain,” Imoen blinked; she hadn’t seen Aerie move but suddenly the blonde was kneeling right beside her. “The universe is such a vast… I-I don’t know if it will ever be possible for anyone to unravel all of it’s layers…”
“’To the rational mind nothing is inexplicable, simply unexplained’. That’s what Edwin used to say.”
“Hmmm… y-yes. He sounds like a wise man.”
“Who? Edwin? Beh… he just got that from a book or something. But he sure knows a lot, I’ll grant him that.”
“What about you? D-do you believe in ghosts?”
“Well, I didn’t want to say anything because I was sure it was just my imagination, but,” Imoen sat up more, using her finger to beckon Aerie closer. “Just a little while ago, while I was getting the fire started, I looked over my shoulder for a second and I saw something… an apparition! It was weird… she had this ghostly white skin and almost white hair, and her body was covered in a white sheet, and… she just stood there, by that window, as if she was staring at something and she didn’t say a word. It made me feel a chill,” Imoen shuddered, but Aerie arched an eyebrow skeptically.
“That… that was me.”
“Oh, right,” the red head grinned, “Well, to be honest, when I traveled with Diana I saw a lot of strange stuff and things I didn’t think were possible before. But, I don’t think anyone ever comes back. Not really.”
“I see,” the blonde closed her eyes. She seemed to be giving the matter some thought.
“I gotta sleep now. Aren’t you tired?”
“A-avariel don’t really need much sleep. One hour is usually enough for us. S-sometimes, if we’re injured we’ll sleep for longer so that our minds can concentrate on repairing the damage as quickly as possible.”
“Right,” Imoen nodded. She should have remembered that from Sorel’s that she had been reading. Looking like that though, it was very easy to forget that ‘Laura’ wasn’t actually human. “So what will you do all night?”
“I…” the blonde looked back at the easel. “Hm… w-when I was, y-young, I… I used to be quite proficient at art. Quayle; he encouraged me to try again, to see if it would make me happy. But I could only think of sad things to draw… a-and they never let me have any paint in the facility. I-I think they were afraid I would try to poison myself.”
“You won’t, will you?”
“No,” Aerie smiled sweetly and shook her still damp hair, “I… I thought I was dead once. For a time there was… n-nothing but emptiness. Perhaps, now and then, I saw the shadow of life; but it was ephemeral and transparent against the void. B-but, in the end… I came back.”
While it was lots of fun trying to figure out exactly what Aerie had meant, Imoen was too tired and eventually just had to fall asleep. She woke up in the middle of a country road in the summertime. Which was rather odd considering that when she fell asleep it had been the start of spring and she’d been in city; But whatever… she decided to just go with it and set off down the sandy broken road.
After a short distance she came upon a cart that had stopped to the side of the road. Next to it was a boy wearing a dirty medieval tunic and holding onto a stick with which he was mercilessly beating his horse.
“C’mon! Get up you worthless sack of bones!” The boy yelled. The exhausted animal blurted and squealed with each strike of the stick but appeared unwilling or more likely unable to rise to its feet. But those facts in no way lessened the boys enthusiasm, and as he raised his arm to strike again, Imoen was at his back and caught his wrist.
“You know, I may just be a city girl and not know much about this sort of thing,” the red head smiled innocently, “but, it seems to me that she might recover faster if you stop beating her and let her rest.”
“Mind yer own business whore!” The boy pushed Imoen away, surprising her with his strength she fell on her bottom while returned to the beating. But oh no… there was no way she was going to let some kid out of a renaissance festival get away with that. With a determined look she got up to her feet…
“Curious, isn’t it?” A familiar voice asked. Imoen closed her eyes and counted to three.
“I was wondering when you’d show up again,” she said to Irenicus, “So it’s another one of your nightmares right? No matter how hard I try I’m not going to be able to stop him.”
“You will not have to,” the tall, bald man, dressed from head to toe in leather (hardly practical on a hot day like this) stepped out from behind and into Imoen’s line of vision. “Right now, the boy controls the animal through its fear. He holds the stick and therefore he holds the power; and yet it is an illusionary power. What, do you suppose, would happen if the beast ever came to realize its true strength compared to that of the boy?”
Imoen didn’t answer; she just watched. The boy was by now alternating between using his stick and kicking the prone animal. Eventually, it seemed to give in to his demands and struggle haphazardly to its feet.
“About bloody time!” The boy still held his stick up threateningly. “Now you get back onto that…” and then the horse jerked suddenly and returned the boys kicks with one of its own; but its power being far greater, the horse crushed his skull in just one blow.
“Dumbass,” Imoen spat as the beast reared itself in triumph, “can’t say that I feel sorry for him. Got what he had coming as far as I can tell.”
“Perhaps,” Irenicus nodded solemnly, “nevertheless, I believe it would be prudent for you to run.”
“Huh?” Imoen wasted a second she needed to look up and see what he meant; the horse, apparently having been given a second wind but still very angry over the way it had been treated, now held the red head in a hateful stare, it’s hooves rubbing the turf as it prepared to charge. Of course, it been a dream she really didn’t need to run, but her body reacted to what her eyes were seeing and she did anyway.
The horse bounded after her across the open fields; Imoen was just managing to stay ahead of it but she felt her body start to tire while the animal wasn’t slowing down at all… but if it was a dream then how could she be getting tired? She would have to think about that when she woke up…
In the meantime, she had reached a fence but tripped when she tried to leap over it; the horse however got over the hurdle effortlessly. If it wasn’t on a murderous rampage it would clearly have had a future in showjumping. When it turned about, Imoen had nowhere left to run. The animal trotted over, and as it reared up for its killing blow Imoen instinctively covered, even though she knew that would be of no help whatsoever.
But then a moment passed. She uncovered her face and found that the scene had changed. Grey stones, timber, red liveries; it seemed she was in a castle. A dining hall, judging by the long wooden tables with food laid out on them. And sat on the throne was Irenicus, head resting on his fist as if he was bored.
“I don’t know what the point of all that was,” Imoen spat out angrily as she got to her feet, “But if you were meant to be ‘warning’ me about Aerie; trying to drive a wedge between me and my friends, then I think there’s two important points you’ve overlooked. One; Aerie isn’t a horse. People have treated her badly, but she still understands kindness and compassion as well. And it would certainly break her back if people tried to ride her all day… and I know certain minds, dirty minds, would probably think there was some kind of innuendo in what I just said, but I think you probably know as well as I do that Avariel just never think about that sort of thing… and what I’m saying is she’s not a horse. That was point one. Point two… even if she did come to realize her own strength, it wouldn’t change the fact that she’s a good person.”
“How can you be so sure?” Irenicus leant forward, suddenly interested. His leather made an irritating creaking sound.
“I know. The first time I met her, she tried to stop me from killing a creature that was running away. And earlier in Jansen’s, when that guy pulled out a knife on me; both those times, she didn’t think about what she was doing. She just reacted on instinct; good instinct. An instinct to help others and protect them.”
“Interesting… so you believe that your instincts betray the type of person you really are?”
“For Aerie it does; people made her believe she was weak. But in those moments when she doesn’t think and just does, and so none of that can affect her… yeah, that shows how she really is.”
“And you? I can tell that right now, with every fiber of your being, you want nothing more than to tear my heart out with your bare hands. And yet, you resist your urges… your instinct.”
“What I want is to know why you’re playing these games with me!” Imoen screeched. “What was it… your Shakespeare got a bad review so now you’re taking out your revenge on the world by dressing up like someone from the Rocky Horror Picture Show?”
“The games haven’t begun yet,” The leather clad man remarked in an annoyingly calm manner, “but they will soon. The next time you sleep,” at this point Irenicus, the castle, everything, started to fade away. “I suggest you be prepared. In the meantime, do enjoy the company of your old friend.”
The castle faded out, and in faded an arena. In front of her stood a woman who was tall and strong and with long red hair; Diana.
“Well, I know you’re not a ghost,” Imoen said, “So you’re a part of the dream… whose dream is it though?”
“I’m sorry Imoen,” the larger woman stared with tear stained eyes. “I have to do what he says…”
“What do you mean?” Imoen asked, but it was soon obvious anyway. Her old friend lunged at her, arms swinging. The red head just narrowly avoided the blow.
And for the whole rest of the night they fought; in this arena there were no objects, accessories or terrain for Imoen to take advantage of. It was a battle of strength and endurance and skill; unfortunately in such a battle Imoen never really stood a chance.
All attempts to reason with the person who in life had been like a sister to her failed, and on and on the nightmare went.
Meanwhile, in what Aerie at least believed was the real world. She was aware of possible arguments to the contrary, but disregarded them since she didn’t see that she had much choice but to trust what her senses were telling her. She wished they were telling her something else.
Oh, it was a good painting, technically speaking. She had decided to paint the grass, and the rain and even some cows. It was just, when she started, she hadn’t wanted to paint anything so sad… but there in the top right, between a break in the clouds, there was a star. A single star surrounded by darkness and shadows, looking down on the world from so far away. So alone…
The alien girl tried to get a grip; it was a silly thing to get upset about. She could always paint more stars into the picture. And yet, although Imoen had made her happy for a short time, the red heads snoring now served as a reminder that although she could live among humans she would never truly be one of them.
Sighing, she turned away from the painting and locked out the window into the sky. The clouds were clearing and she could see them, the stars. Their lights beckoned her but, unlike Imoen, they were out of her reach.
She would just have to accept things; even if she could acquire transportation, she would never be able to find Faenya Dail. Finding a needle in a haystack didn’t even compare to immensity of that task; it was more like trying to find a grain of sugar on a beach. She knew all this, and told her self it many times, but… it didn’t make it hurt any less. And then she had another thought; even if she could go back, would she want to now that she knew there were such wonderful things as grass and rain, to return and live a live of endless contemplation, to never experience the joy of splashing around in puddles… or the thrill of fighting for your life? She liked all these experiences; she had once thought she was dead, but now she knew for sure that she was alive and she wanted to feel more.
Oh, there were terrible things here on Earth… but good people like Quayle and Imoen. But to enjoy those she would have to live amongst humans, even though she wasn’t one of them… but perhaps she wasn’t Avariel anymore either? But in any case, she wanted to see them, her sisters; especially Fayanna. She wanted to tell where she’d went, and that she was sorry…
Aerie suddenly heard a sound from one of the back rooms; a small thud, probably too quiet for human’s to hear at this distance, and Imoen still seemed to be sleeping peacefully. It could be an intruder; on the other hand it could have just been a rat. She didn’t want to wake the red head unless she was sure, since she was aware that humans required a full eight hours sleep.
There was nothing else for it then; she would just have to risk leaving Imoen’s side for a moment and taking a look. One little step at a time she made her towards the back of the house, only stopping to carefully pick up a table leg. Everything seemed so still and so quiet, like the rest of the city were a thousand miles away…
There was another possibility, she realized; she might have heard a ghost. But that was so silly she had to stop herself from laughing hysterically. It really was very quiet, and there were shadows everywhere… all kinds of shapes that she couldn’t quite identify. Some could have been people, monsters… or ghosts…
“No such thing as ghosts… get a hold of yourself y-you wimp!” She chastised herself under her breath. Then she wondered she was doing… was she trying to be, what was word… macho? Or whatever the female equivalent was. It was doomed to fail; she was quite aware that she wasn’t big and tough and never had much of a problem admitting it. But she was also aware that there were real people currently threatening Imoen’s life, and it was her duty to protect her master… No, her friend, from harm. Especially now that she was vulnerable in the middle of her sleep cycle.
Swallowing her fears, she slowly opened the final door, cringing when it creaked suddenly. This was the room she heard the sound coming from.
At first glance it was the same as every other room in the house; old furniture covered in sheets, which in turn were covered by dust. But, the boards covering the window… one of them looked like it had been pried lose. Not enough to allow a fully grown human to pass through, but she had no idea what sorts of gadgets that might be able to use to get to them – like some kind of radio controlled robot that would inject them with poison while they slept; humans were clearly most ingenious when it came to that sort thing.
Or maybe she was letting her imagination get the better of her. The boards could have been pried lose a long time ago, or may have just come apart on their own. Besides, she didn’t hear anything else… except…
Aerie spun around, table leg held high in the air. The figure in front of her yelped in surprise and fell over backwards. The Avariel managed to reign in her nerves just in time to stop herself from bringing the leg crashing down.
It was… just a child. A human boy.
“I saw you two sneak into the house,” the little brown haired boy was sat in an old armchair, legs dangling over the seat and kicking at the air. Aerie had never met anyone smaller than her before… no actually, that was a lie. Once before she had, but that was a long time ago and had only been a very brief acquaintance. Anyhow, it was hard for her to judge the boys age, but she would say probably still in the single digits. “So I decided to sneak in after you… make sure you weren’t up to no good.”
“B-by yourself?” The Avariel was sat in the chair opposite the boy. She had decided not to wake Imoen; she hadn’t much experience with children, or indeed any at all, but it didn’t seem like any of them were in danger. Indeed, the child had become most amiable after she had given him some cookies, which was all the food Imoen had thought to bring in from the car. “We could have been dangerous people.”
“But you’re not, are you?” He grinned and stuffed another biscuit in his mouth. “Bad people don’t give you cookies.”
“I-I’m not so sure about that,” Aerie frowned. “Quayle said that sometimes, people will try to trick you… pretend to be nice when they’re not really.”
“You’re not trying to trick me are you?”
“No… but, y-you don’t know…”
“How do you tell then? If someone’s trying to trick you or not?”
“I… well… that is,” she frowned even more. Maybe she should have woken Imoen after all. At least though, she was sure that the red head wasn’t trying to trick her. Breaking her out of the facility, going against all those; if it was all a trick it was a very strange one and didn’t seem to work at all to Imoen’s advantage. “Maybe it’s one of those things you can only learn once you’ve had experience… anyway, d-don’t children have parents?”
“Yeah, I got a mum and dad. I always sneak out when they’re both asleep… and then I sneak back and they don’t ever know I’m gone!”
“Y-you shouldn’t leave your home without telling anybody!” Aerie suddenly involuntarily burst out angrily. The boy, shocked into silence, stared wide eyed at her whilst slowly munching the last cookie. “I… I-I’m sorry. It’s just… w-what if something bad were to happen to you, and your family didn’t know where you were. Can… can you imagine the pain you would put them through?”
“Hm… I… I like you!” The boy beamed suddenly. “You’re pretty nice… for a girl. You don’t got to worry about me though, because I’m really good at sneaking. Never been caught before now.”
Aerie furrowed her brow… she admired the boys adventurous spirit, but it seemed he really didn’t understand any of the dangers. She didn’t know what to with him. Imoen would probably know, but Imoen needed her sleep.
“I knew you weren’t a bad person,” he went on heedless, “because I saw you when you were painting. You just looked… really sad. What’s your name?”
“La-Laura,” Aerie sighed.
“And why’d you look so sad?”
“I… i-it was just… I’m a very long way from home.”
“Where’re you from?”
“Um… Ca-Canada?” The Avariel hazarded, but the boy looked doubtfully at her. She tried again, but she could only think of the two places Bill had mentioned. “Britain?”
“You don’t sound British.”
“Maybe I… lost my accent?”
“You’re not very good at telling fibs. Why won’t you say where you’re really from?”
“Alright,” the blonde leant forwards conspiratorially. She was getting tired of the boys questions, so decided to try the truth. He was certain not to believe her anyway. “I come from outer space. My name isn’t really Laura; It’s Aerie. I was born on the Avariel city ship of Faenya Dail, a member of the Meneluin Chapter. Thirty six years ago I came to Earth in response to a distress signal; I was captured by your government, tortured and experimented upon… I only recently managed to escape and now I have to keep my identity a secret.”
“Th-that’s,” the boy blinked a few times, “That’s awesome!” He laughed; but contrary to Aerie’s expectations it wasn’t a mocking laugh. “So what’s the city ship like… to live on I mean?”
“It’s,” the Avariel closed her eyes, trying to capture an image from all those years ago, “T-there are silver lakes, a-and whole forests that look carved from nice… but they’re not cold. Above we’re protected by an opaque blue dome, and through it you can always see the stars. There are Ivory towers rising above the ice forest, and rearwards are the two tallest; the one on the left is the Tower of War. Gnarled and twisted; It’s where our warriors train… you often see them patrolling the inside of the dome, held high up with their mechanical wings. And next to it is he Tower of Wisdom, from where the most ancient amongst us keep watch, both on the city ship and on the stars themselves; only they know where our course will take us. And for the Avariel ourselves; we are a sisterhood. S-sometimes we fight and argue but always we try our best to help each other survive as our home drifts ever onwards through the vastness of space.”
“Cool,” the boy sat back and pondered all of this, “But… there are no boys? So how do you make babies?”
“W-well,” Aerie giggled girlishly, “We… we don’t. Deep within the heart of Faenya Dail herself the core of our main computer maintains the gene pattern from which all Avariel are created within her womb... she is the mother to us all.”
“Cool… and do you have light sabers and stuff?”
“What? I-I’m afraid I don’t know what a-a ‘light saber’ is… w-we do have lots of photon based weapons…”
“You really are from another world if you’ve never heard of light saber,” the little boy swung himself down from his seat. “I guess I should go home now… what’s wrong?”
“Oh… i-it’s nothing. I guess… whenever I get to talk about these things I feel a little less lonely.”
“Hang on a minute,” the boy told her and padded to the other side of the room. He returned with a soft object that he thrust into Aerie’s lap. “I got lot’s of these at home, so you can have this one so that you don’t feel lonely!” The Avariel held up the little thing; it was one of those fluffy representations of… something. It wasn’t as well made as the Fastpaws doll; it was brown and scruffy and one of its button eyes was coming out. Yet, it still made Aerie smile.
“W-what’s his name?”
“Don’t know really; but they’re called ‘Littlemen’, it says so on the label.”
“Littleman,” Aerie read.
“Well… maybe I’ll see you around then. That was some dream you were having.”
“A-a dream? Yes… m-maybe that’s what it was…”
“Wait!” Aerie called after the boy. “You… you didn’t tell me your name.”
“Ah, right… I’m Wellyn!” The boy beamed.