A low moan broke the Hunter’s shocked reverie, for it came not from Minsc, whom she saw was beginning to stir, but from beside her. She dropped the hand shielding her eyes from the sun and looked down; Yoshimo sat hunched against the boulder, forearms pressed against his knees with his face buried in his hands. His face was nearly as pale as the Hunter's own, its pallor contrasting sharply with the dark bronze of his hands. "Let it be over," he moaned, "tell me it's at an end!"
"Tshorave," the Hunter said sharply to rouse him, but he did not hear her, continuing to moan what sounded very much like a fervent prayer. The Hunter sheathed her weapons and sat on her heels beside him to pull his hands away from his face but he wouldn't let her. "Si tut nafti? There is much needing done, and we have not the time for this." He did not respond, and the more he ignored her words, the more her concern grew, until finally, desperately, she cried, "Yoshimo! Enough of this! It is at an end! Nothing is left here to fear!"
Yoshimo slowly opened his hand to look at her through his fingers. "You know my name," he said, his tone surprised but now otherwise normal.
Relieved, the Hunter released his wrists, then deftly trailed a gloved hand along his forehead to wipe away the beads of cold sweat, as if tending to a sick child. "Of course, si nanti dinlo. It was given by you to me." When she offered him a hand up, he took it and allowed her to pull him to his feet. The color was returning to his cheeks, though his dark eyes remained shadowed. "You are well now? There is no shame in fear, this you should know. I would admit to you, I also knew fear during this battle."
"It's not that," Yoshimo said without looking at her. He kicked aside a pile of stones that likely had once been another thief. "It's ... " He swallowed hard and said through gritted teeth, "I thought they would kill him, but they didn't."
"You believe that to him you are so important that he will come again for you?"
He looked at her, wearing an expression that made him suddenly look older than the Hunter, for it was one that she had only seen on men at the end of their lives who had resigned themselves to death. "If you," he began but stopped and expelled his breath in a long, low hiss. "Never mind. I just need ... I need a moment."
If I had been a prisoner of the Shattered One, then I would understand, the Hunter finished the sentence in her mind as she watched Yoshimo turn his back to her and walk away, looking as if he were about to be sick all over his boots. He had not spoken of torture, like the two girls had, but more had happened to him than just capture and imprisonment for him to so fear the Shattered One's return. The look in his eyes troubled her, and suddenly the suffocating feeling of a thousand bad omens began to descend upon her again.
A loud groan interrupted her thoughts, and she looked up to see Minsc rise from his stupor. "Boo must not squeak so loudly," the warrior moaned. "There are evil little dwarfs making armor in Minsc's head." He looked around at his surroundings, then at Greeneley, who still cowered in the dirt beside him. "Oh, there must have been a great battle. Little Greeneley always hides when there is a great battle."
The hin bounced up, the white locks of her hair now dimmed with grime and dirt. "I do not!" she snapped. "You big stupid liar! I was just ... I was protecting you, Mr. Gets Hit With a Rock and Falls Over! Huh, some thanks I get, see if I do that again!" She turned on her heel and stalked away to join Jaheira, who was combing through the wreckage, hunting for anything she could salvage.
Minsc groaned again as the Hunter gave him a hand up. "Where did Imoen go?" he asked. "She was keeping healing potions for Minsc, so he would not drink them all up because they taste so good like Thayvian ale, which is the only thing from Thay that Minsc likes."
"She was taken," the Hunter replied. She caught the small, dark blue bottle Jaheira tossed to her and gave it to Minsc. As he gulped down the healing liquid, she told him, "She and the Shattered One both, they were stolen away by Cowled Wizards." Minsc moaned again, so mournfully that the Hunter rubbed his broad back to comfort him.
Jaheira shook her head and straightened from the pile of debris she was searching through, a ripped scroll in her hands. "I find it odd that this Irenicus would leave of his own volition," she said softly, as if speaking to herself. "And why take Imoen, when it is Greeneley he is obviously so interested in."
"For what reason?" the Hunter asked, puzzled by Jaheira's statement. "What interest would this one hold over the other?"
Greeneley snorted. "Well, plenty," she said haughtily. "I'm much more interesting than Imoen. For starters, I'm the one who's a -"
"Pain in the neck," Jaheira said, slapping the hin lightly on the back of the head. "This is not the time or place." To the Hunter, she said, "It is enough to say that Greeneley has more enemies than Imoen has ever acquired. It is my thinking that perhaps Irenicus took Imoen to ensure that we would give chase. In any case, we must step carefully."
The Hunter stared at Jaheira, who kept her gaze fixed upon the ruined ground. If there were answers to the many questions flying through the Hunter's brain, she would not find them here. Godchild, the Shattered One had said, and although the Hunter had assumed that he had meant Imoen because the girl had been the one to answer him, perhaps he had spoken to Greeneley instead. If the title was not one of family, perhaps it was one of heritage. And there was only god she knew of who had spawned a score of mortal progeny. Automatically, the Hunter's hand fell to her belt, seeking the dagger of Bhaal she had purchased from the fence at the Shadow Thieves' guild, but she touched nothing except her leathers. A quick check of her gear and the many pockets in her leather coat and a scan of the ground also turned up nothing. The dagger was gone.
"What's the matter?" Greeneley asked, a glint in her blue eyes marring the innocent expression on her face, "Lose something?"
The hin was so scantily dressed that the Hunter doubted a dagger as long as a man's forearm could be hidden somewhere upon her. "A dagger. Something I held in my possession within the dungeon, though I cannot seem to find it now."
"You probably dropped it when you were hiding from the big bad wizards," Greeneley sneered.
Then perhaps it was found by you, for you spent more time hiding than I, the Hunter wanted to say, but she bit her lip. Instead, she said, "You were recently of Baldur's Gate, were you not? Before your capture?"
Greeneley's eyes narrowed. "Yeah. So?" she asked suspiciously.
The Hunter did not answer her. So the Shattered One hired Linvail's men to capture a Child of Murder. She saw from the guarded expression on Jaheira's face that her suspicious had merit. Did Linvail know his prey was of such value? Perhaps his thieves were taken to hide that knowledge from him. Or because Linvail attempted to broker a more profitable deal for the capture of such a prize. Either way, there is much that will be told to me before I hunt again. She looked again at Yoshimo, who stood several paces away, watching the group intently with no expression now on his face. And what would your place be among this,tshorave, among this mess of godchildren and Shadow Thieves? There is more in all of this than I have been told, more than just innocent coincidence. I will know the why of it all before I am done, she resolved again.
Minsc drew his greatsword and held it ready, as if to now make up for missing the battle against the Shattered One. "The murderer of Dynaheir flees from righteous butt-kicking vengeance! And he takes Imoen with him!" he cried. "Something must be done! We must find this evil wizard! All that is goodness cries out for this! Even little Boo, although he cannot cry out quite so loudly!"
"And we will." Jaheira said. She, too, had her scimitar in hand, and her pockets were filled to bulging with the items she had looted from the debris. "But there is much that must be done first. We must find a place to regroup, resupply and acquire allies, for we know we cannot face him alone."
"But the wizard may be leering over her evilly even now!" Minsc began to fidget, hopping from one foot to the other like a child.
"Calm yourself, chingare. She is not lost to you yet." The Hunter laid a hand on Minsc's arm and asked Yoshimo, "These Cowled Wizards, they are known to you, yes? Where would they have taken their prisoners?"
"I wish I could tell you." Yoshimo spread his hands helplessly before him. "I've seen them, of course. Sometimes when mages cast spells in the streets, they just appear and take them away. But then, sometimes they don't. And sometimes there's a fight, and I've never seen them lose. Until today."
The Hunter looked at the bloodstained tatters of gray cloth scattered in the rubble, which, she thought, was a perfect definition for the wizards' pyrrhic victory. And she noticed that while the crowds now filling the Promenade were giving the scene of the battle a wide berth, no one was coming by to ask what had happened or was even looking their way. Either such occurrences were common in the City of Coin -- which she didn't doubt, based upon its reputation -- or perhaps the wizards' presence told them the matter was undoubtedly closed. Rakeh had said they were considered Athkatla's unofficial authorities, she recalled.
The thought of the giogoto boy made her guiltily look through the crowds to find him. The yellow and white striped canvas tent of the circus seemed quiet, its banners waving listlessly in the morning breeze. She had sent him in the place the previous evening, sure that her venture into the Shattered One's dungeon would take less time than a carnival show. Had the boy waited outside the dungeon for her and gotten caught up in the magical holocaust? Though she reassured herself that an young opportunist-in-training such as Rakeh likely ran off at the first sign of trouble, she began to fret for his safety.
"While I don't share the enthusiasm of your large friend, I agree that we need to move quickly to protect ourselves," she heard Yoshimo telling Jaheira. "There is an inn in the slums, The Copper Coronet, where we can find rest and work. If, that is, you'll allow me to accompany you."
The suspicious pout that Greeneley had worn since the Hunter had questioned her became a wide and salacious grin, and she looked over Yoshimo from top to toe as if appraising an artwork for sale. "I don't mind. Do you mind, Jaheira? See, she doesn't mind either. We can always use someone who doesn't need to be looked after all the time," she finished, giving Minsc a hateful glare that the Rashemi warrior returned.
Jaheira, too, gave the thief a calculating look, though it was less obviously mercenary than Greeneley's. "There is safety in numbers," she agreed, "and there are certain skills that we lack now that Imoen is away from our midst." She turned to the Hunter. "And what of you? I would feel more confidant with your sword at my side."
Behind Jaheira, Greeneley was shaking her head so energetically that her white hair formed a cloud around her face. "I cannot," the Hunter said regretfully, which deepened when Greeneley started cheering silently. "I have duties that call to me that I cannot abandon. But it is not my doubt that our paths in this place will cross again, for our goal is the same."
Jaheira nodded and stepped forward to clasp the Hunter's forearm in a warrior's gesture of farewell. "I will have the head of Khalid's murderer, that I promise." Her grip tightened as she drew the Hunter close to her and said softly, "For what you did for him, below, I ... I thank you. If I may do anything for you, anything at all, to repay you-"
"Stop. Such was my duty and my honor," the Hunter spoke the formal reply fervently, for how could she tell the woman that her true thanks was in Jaheira's eyes, where the pained and haunted look had already started to fade? The hasty funeral had given Jaheira some closure. Time would take care of the rest. And, she thought, that she seeks revenge will give her an impetus to keep living until her mourning ends. Sometimes, such a terrible emotion can be a beneficial thing. As she released Jaheira's hand, she said, "I will make my home at the Church of Kelemvor while I stay in Athkatla. Should you need my aid for any reason, any at all, do not hesitate to call upon me."
Greeneley waved too cheerfully at the Hunter. "Bye! Hate to see you go, but bye! Was nice to see you, but bye! We'll miss you, but bye!"
Jaheira smacked the halfling on the back of the head again. "That is enough, Greeneley! We shall be in contact," she told the Hunter as took Greeneley by the arm and led her, struggling, off the debris, with Minsc following slowly behind them.
Yoshimo, however, did not move to follow, and when she looked at him she found him staring at her. The moment her eyes met his, he dropped his gaze and began to saunter past to join Jaheira and Greeneley, but she caught his arm. "A moment, please," she said when he stopped, his expression wary. "You ... gave help to me, when I asked, when I fell into the sun."
Yoshimo relaxed and smiled, his grin charming and aggravating all at once. "So I did. And before, on the rug, don't forget."
"Yes, and then," she said quickly. "I would say to you, gestena, thank you. I owe to you a boon, for saving me much pain."
"A boon? Really?" Yoshimo's grin widened. "What kind of a boon?"
"You may ask a favor of me. Perhaps, if it weighs accordingly in my mind and it is in my power to perform it, it will be done by me."
"What's your name, then?"
The Hunter frowned and shook her head. "That, I cannot tell to you. Name another."
Yoshimo looked up and saw Jaheira, Greeneley and Minsc waiting for him by the entrance of a small shop. "I'll have to think about it then." He brought up a hand as if to touch her cheek but stopped, instead letting it hover over her skin. "I see you're already healed. Troll. No, not a troll." He chuckled and dropped his hand. "Vampire hunter."
The Hunter felt her cheeks redden at his baiting accusation, but before she could speak, the teasing grin on his lips faded. "I'm sorry," he said with such sincerity that her irritation faded. "Listen, I don't know what you are, but I think I know what you're not, and this may not be the place for you. Just ... well, be careful while you hunt in Athkatla, ryoujin." Without waiting for the Hunter's reply, he turned and left her standing on the rocks, puzzling over his strange warning.
"Touching," a voice called out, drawing the Hunter's attention from the retreating group to the shadows by the circus tent. Standing there, learning one of the ropes holding the tent upright, was none other than Aran Linvail, looking amused and annoyed. "You want to keep your eye on that one," he said. "Thieves who won't ally with the guild are usually trouble."
"You!" the Hunter snapped. She quickly descended the rocks to confront him. "For what reason are you here?"
"To find you and find out what in the Nine Hells you think you're doing."
"There is much that must be answered by you!"
"Me? What about you? I sent you after Irenicus to prevent my people from dying. Do you know how many of my thieves were lost today?" Linvail glared at her, but softened slightly. "Jim made it back all right, you know. You saved him, at least."
The Hunter closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She had forgotten about the boy that the mula in the dungeon had drained. "All that I could do was done," she said softly and opened her eyes. "That you could not keep your thieves in line is no fault of mine. As it is, you hold too many secrets for me to hunt for you. We are at an end, you and I." She turned her back on him and headed for the tent's entrance. It could be that Rakeh was still within. If not, she would search the district near the city gates, where she had found him in the first place.
"What in the Nine Hells does that mean?" Linvail called after her. When she didn't return to him, he followed her and grabbed her arm. "We have an agreement."
"And now it is concluded. The Shattered One, he was taken, and it is not known to me where. I cannot hunt where I cannot go, and so this task is impossible. It is done."
Linvail's grip on his arm tightened until it almost hurt. "You're a hunter. You'll hunt Irenicus until he's dead. Or until you're dead, and I can promise you, vampire hunter, that can be arranged."
"Bie!" the Hunter jerked her arm free, but Linvail lunged at her again. Before he touched her another hand grabbed him by the collar and hauled him into the air until his feet dangled a foot off the ground.
"You will not hurt pretty Amistry!" Minsc roared, shaking Linvail like a terrier shaking a rat. "Pretty Amistry is Minsc's new great friend, and friends of Minsc are not to be manhandled. See? You are not a friend of Minsc!" Still holding the Shadow Thief guildleader, the warrior told the Hunter, "Minsc and Boo don't want to travel with Greeneley any more! Amistry is much nicer! We will find Imoen and the evil wizard together, yes?"
The Hunter looked over her shoulder for Yoshimo and Jaheira, but they were gone. She was left with Minsc, who was holding one of the most powerful men in Athkatla in by the scruff of his neck. She started laughing and couldn't stop, and laughed so hard her sides ached.
"Very funny," Linvail growled hoarsely. Minsc shook him again before he could say anything else. Faith, the Hunter thought as she tried to catch her breath, he will kill us both if this continues. But oh, I would meet my lord Kelemvor satisfied with my last moment!
"Release him, chingare," she told Minsc, finally controlling herself. "He means to me no harm, at least, I am sure, while you remain at my side. Which you will, for the moment." The big warrior looked at her doubtfully, but dutifully dropped Linvail, who adjusted his clothes as he caught his breath. "This thing you would have me do," she told him, "it is not possible for me to do what your thieves and powerful mages cannot, especially when it goes where I cannot follow."
"Turning modest on me?" Linvail said. He looked over his shoulder and saw the crowds beginning to mill around them. He reached again for the Hunter's arm, but backed away when Minsc loomed protectively over her. Instead he beckoned for her to follow him to a secluded spot beside the circus tent's entrance. The only person nearby to hear them was a small boy, who was bawling lustily. "You owe me a boon, dhampir. You can break it, but then you'll be breaking your word to a Shadow Thief, and that's a very serious thing. And you can break your word as a Rom, and then you won't be one any longer. Do you really want to go that far?"
"You are gadje, not Rom, and I may break my word to you, but that is not the point." The Hunter shook her head. "There are rules that must be followed when asking the fulfillment of a boon. You bend them too far, the fault of the breaking will not be mine."
"Don't bargain with me, you're hardly a chieftain. I didn't set you on an impossible task! This should have been a walk in the glen for you. Or am I mistaken in thinking that you're the most renowned undead hunter on the Sword Coast?"
Out of the corner of her eye, the Hunter saw Minsc on his knees talking to the weeping child, but paid him no mind. "I am a hunter of the dead, not a hunter of mages! You ask of me too much and tell to me too little."
Linvail crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. "It's not my fault you ran off without asking questions."
"The lives of your people were at stake, and for that I took such risks. Before I would hunt the dead, I would protect the living. But now, matters are different." She saw that Minsc had leaped up from his chat with the boy and was heading into the tent. Loathe to let the great and simple warrior out of her sight, she beckoned to Linvail to follow her, and they entered the tent, still arguing. "If you wish for me to hunt this Shattered One, there cannot be secrets. Or did you believe that the capture of a Bhaalspawn too small for me to know?"
Linvail frowned. "So you figured that out, did you? I swear we didn't know until after the first group that captured them went missing. And it was only-" He blinked hard and looked up, and his brown eyes widened in surprise. "Didn't we just ... aren't we-" his voice trailed away as his voice echoed back to their ears.
The Hunter saw that they were not in a circus tent, nor any tent she had ever seen. They stood on an ancient stone bridge that spanned a great black chasm, the sky above them showing a dark, starry night. The tent flap they had entered was gone, replaced by a smooth marble wall so tall the Hunter could not see its top. And at the opposite end, floating in front of the entrance to a vast white palace, floated a djinn, a large scimitar in its hand.
"We're on a quest!" Minsc crowed happily. "Come! Let us go forward! Because going forward is the only way to go back! That is the way quests work!"
tshorave -- thief
Si tut nafti -- Are you ill?
Si nanti dinlo -- Don't be stupid
chingare -- warrior
giogoto -- half-Rom
Bie -- no
gadje -- non-Rom
ryoujin -- hunter
Memento Mori: 13
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