-Excerpt from Of the Children of Murder
Blackness enfolds me. I drift, formless, in a void of indeterminate distance, and the whispering voices are my only company.
You enjoyed that. Admit it. A sibilant, demanding whisper in my mind. I reply as best I can.
You lie. Can you truly say that you didn't savour the taste of their fear, and the fool's agonizing, slow death? Like a fine feywine?
I had, though it pained me to recall it now. I remembered laughing, now, laughing as I saw Dand's eyes widen, laughing as they fixed forever in that staring form. I remembered that feeling of ecstasy, of power, as I condemned him to a slow, painful death.
But I dared not admit it. Not to this...whatever it was. Bhaal? Irenicus? Something else?
Your thoughts betray you, my child. And I knew, then. Why am I always forced to argue with things that can read my mind?
Now think of the taste of blood and fear, the taste of power and ecstasy, you have felt with only the least of what you have let slip...and multiply it a thousandfold. Why fight it? Relinquish your control, and become what you were meant to be.
A monster. A murderer.
Death comes for everyone. What matter whether it be sooner or later?
It matters to those who die.
And what are they to you? Merely vehicles to power, to be used and then discarded.
They are other people who have done me no harm, pose me little threat.
Why must you persist in this misguided viewpoint! The whisper had risen to a menacing growl.
Do not presume to educate me, Father. All I am to you is a vehicle to power, to be used and then discarded. But I will NOT be used! I am the fly in your ointment, Father dearest. As long as I resist what you plan for me, you are dead, and will stay that way. I will take great joy in holding this essence from you for the rest of my very long natural life.
You cannot resist me forever, mortal. You will succumb, or you will die.
We shall see, Father. We shall see.
There was no reply, and the stygian void collapsed around me, leaving...
...more darkness. I swore.
But I felt the presence of my body once more, and knew that I was lying down. But conscious, which was certainly more than I had been expecting.
I needed to know where I was. A quick, sonorous chant, and a ball of light appeared above my upheld hands. I seemed to be lying prone on a bundle of blankets, in a tent. This, combined with the rather obvious fact that I was still alive, meant that someone had seen to my wound.
Someone? Of course you know it was your little nature girl!
Or perhaps this was hell.
I see that you survived unscathed, Milei. I lack words to say how thrilled I am.
I missed you too, kid.
And there she was, nestled inside my backpack in the corner. The rest of my gear was with her: robes, sword, shield, spellbook, potions, bloodstained black shirt with a gaping torn hole in the shoulder...yes, whoever had tended me had changed my clothes, too.
Gods, let it have been Minsc.
No. There was an almost audible chuckle from the pseudodragon.
You're enjoying this, aren't you?, I accused my familiar, as a slight flush of embarrassment crossed me.
Yes. You adolescents are so uptight about that sort of thing. You should take a lesson from your lady friend. Well, take solace: she was too busy trying to save your life to stare. Well, except when she was leaving with that annoying singing elf. Then she stared, believe me.
What? She left?
You should have seen her, kid! Like she thought she was never going to see you again! It was so beautiful!
Typical. A piece of information I...admit it...desperately wanted to hear and believe, and I hear it from what's arguably the least trustworthy being on Toril who isn't trying to kill me.
Have I ever told you that I hate you?
Not since you were shot. I've rather missed it.
Consider it done. Now, what was that you said about Jaheira leaving?
Some strange elf woman with all the singing voice of a gibberling showed up and told her to follow. She showed off some weird necklace, too: a moon and...
...a harp. When was this?
How long have I been out?
Since yesterday morning.
And what time is it?
Do I look like a watch to you?
I opened the tent flap and looked outside. The sun was rising over the trees on the eastern horizon, into a cloudless sky.
Good. A grand day for a chase.
We're going to Athkatla.
Taking statue boy with you?
Not a chance. Let the seagulls have him. That last thought momentarily unnerved me. But it passed.
Mortalkind's tendency to see their beliefs, whatever their basis, as truth, often in direct defiance of what is actually true, has never ceased to astound me. Not since the...problems we had with the Harpers in Athkatla.
We walked through the imposing gates of Athkatla as the sun peeked over the hilly eastern horizon, three days later. News travels fast, it seems: before five hours had passed, three messengers had accosted us. First, a strange, pale woman named Valen had spoken to us as we walked past the local graveyard, then a messenger from Aerie's Uncle Quayle, and now the child Brus from Gaelan Bayle and the Shadow Thieves. It seemed I would soon have to take sides in this city's accursed guild war. It hardly matters to me who has the right to siphon gold from these people! Just as long as whoever wins can get me to Imoen!
But first, I had other business. I waved goodbye to the boy and watched as he wound his way through the teeming crowd towards an imposing brownstone building on the waterfront. Interesting that the thieves guild is so blatantly present in this city, where the Harpers hide behind that noble's mansion. , I thought to myself as my eyes slid further along the seashore to the building marked on my map as 'Galvarey Estate'.
The Golden Rule, Amnish style: He who has the gold, makes the rules. Coin rules this city, and the Thieves rule the coin. No wonder Jaheira hates this place: it's the ultimate example of human greed run amok. The Harpers here must feel under siege.
But do they hold...or have they turned? I remembered how they had turned me into an unwitting assassin, and shuddered, walking with wary eyes towards the mansion.
I was expecting a challenge at the door, but the doorward recognized us. "You are expected.", he said. "Enter." And we walked through the opened door, into the gaudy-as-always Athkatla Harper Hold.
Had we anticipated something, or is this a bad sign?
Ever the optimist, Milei.
I'm serious, kid.
And what do you base this on?
I'll take that under advisement.
It's your funeral.
The group speaking in the centre of the great hall had finally seemed to notice my presence. Jaheira was there, and she smiled broadly when she saw me, though her smile was quickly replaced with concern. She walked over from her five comrades to speak with me.
"As always, Dallan, you conspire to make my life easier...and yet harder. I had not thought to find you here...in fact, I was about to go back to where we had left you. How is it that you have come to me instead?"
"I was planning to come back to the city in any event, and I thought I would find you here," I replied glibly.
"And from where did you glean this thought?"
"Why, from my black, unnatural arts, of course." And I grinned.
She smiled in response, then willed it away. "This is hardly a time for jokes, Dallan, even amusing ones. I have been told that the local Herald wishes to question you."
I sighed. "About my blood, of course. Just like everyone else. You know, being a subject of an apocalyptic prophecy is hardly all it's cracked up to be."
"Stop that," she said, fighting a grin. "And look on the bright side. You are a good man...you have nothing to fear from us. And think, how much different your life would be, were you not godsblood." She paused. "We would...never have met. Would you even be alive, I wonder?"
"Maybe not," I replied. But my face fell. I might not be. But Gorion and Khalid would be...and I wonder, if that would be such a poor trade.
She must have guessed my mind, then, because she said, in a voice tinged with sadness, "I...am sorry. We will talk later. Now, though, the Herald awaits."
And she led me forwards, towards the group she had come from. The others followed, Yoshimo and Valygar scanning the room with suspicious eyes, Minsc and Aerie staring ahead in childlike wonder. I watched as a foppish Amnish nobleman strode down the ornate stairs. He spoke as he reached us.
"Ah, Jaheira, how wonderful to see you. And Dallan, just the...man I wanted to see.", he said, in what I imagined was supposed to be a friendly voice.
"Spare us the false welcomes, Galvarey...why are you here? Where is the Herald?", snapped Jaheira.
"I am the Herald, Jaheira." Galvarey replied, with an air of calm and confidence.
"Or you have been eating too many of the wrong kind of mushrooms," the druid retorted.
"Charming, as always, my dear. You are right, though...I am not the Herald. Yet. The position here has recently become vacant, and I am confident I will be chosen to fill it."
"Then you are an ambitious fool. You act against all precedent."
"The High Heralds will decide. But this is a matter apart. Let us put aside politics and proceed to the matter at hand."
"Fine." But Jaheira continued to look at Galvarey as if she wouldn't mind shapechanging into a wolf and tearing him apart right this moment, witnesses be damned. Galvarey, unperturbed or perhaps simply ignorant, turned to me instead.
"Tell me, Dallan, do you know why you are here?"
"Because you, like everyone else who knows, is worried about my heritage." I calmly replied.
"Very good. Continue to make things this easy and it will no doubt be settled very quickly. What could possibly be more important than your heritage, as a matter for concern?"
"My character, perhaps?" I couldn't keep sarcasm out of my voice as I spoke to him. "There are very few irredeemable evils, especially among mortals. Even the accursed Drow can be benevolent if they so wish, rare as it may be."
"Your heritage is of far more concern than theirs. Tell me, Dallan, what are your earliest memories?"
"I remember running out of some dark place, following Gorion."
"Ah. The darkness is obviously that of your past. I remember Gorion...the idealist. I was one of those who thought him wrong."
"Really? I find that odd, since his "ideals" seem to be what your organisation is supposed to stand for."
"Do not presume to lecture me on Harper ideology, hellspawn." Jaheira winced, then seemed to close her eyes, listening and thinking as Galvarey went on. "Arrogant and disrespectful. Not good. Next question: As a Child of Bhaal, have you...violent thoughts?"
"No more than the next man. Nor do I act on them any more than I must, to protect myself and those I love...care about." I briefly remembered a hill, a statue, and the taste of power and fear.
"Hmm...must use violence. To be expected from one such as you."
Jaheira started. "He gave the same answer anyone else would! Why even ask the question if you plan to twist his answers! Dallan is-"
Galvarey interrupted her. "A good man? Hardly good, or a man. Do not let your feelings deceive you: can you understand an illithid? A beholder? He is akin to these."
Really? Then why are you being so rude if I could suck what passes for your brain right out of your head or fry you where you stand? Well, actually, I can do that last one. What an enchanting thought...but I would hardly wish to prove him correct.
Jaheira tried-mostly succeeding-to maintain calm. "He may not be human, but if your definition is that narrow, neither am I. And he is hardly so alien as you seem to think. Tell me, if you did not already know who his blood father was, would you be at all as suspicious as you seem to be?"
Galvarey brushed the question aside. "That is hardly relevant, my dear. The questioning will continue. Try to control any further...outbursts." She fumed, and he turned to me again. "Dallan, what is your...favorite colour?"
"Now you must be joking. Will you next be asking me the specific air velocity of a coconut-laden swallow?"
This fool nearly had me at the breaking point, and I had decided to toy with him...to keep me from killing him for the good of mankind, you understand.
"Do not mock me, simply answer the question."
"Here's a simple question for you, Galvarey. What color am I wearing?" I shot back, not in the least regretting my usual choice of black.
"Black! As void, as shadow, as death! I could expect nothing else from one such as you!" I could only stand speechless, staring in shock at the Harper as he nearly shrieked his judgment. This is madness. Sheer madness.
Jaheira, lacking any such impediment, exploded in rage. "That is absurd, Galvarey! Or do you think the night sky an irredeemable evil as well? You are so intent on seeing what you wish, the answer is irrelevant!"
Galvarey stood calmly in the face of the hurricane of her fury. Was he truly so foolish? "I suppose it doesn't matter. He clearly spreads chaos and death wherever he goes, just as the prophecies state. I merely sought to clarify it."
"If the verdict was already decided, why this farce of a trial? Why was I to bring him here?"
"So that he could be here, for us to do what we must."
"And what would that be?", I interjected. "Don't mind me, you're just discussing my fate, but don't you think I'm justified in knowing what you want to do to me?"
Galvarey practically oozed triumph, and the look of Jaheira's face was an equal despair. "You are to be...confined, Dallan."
"Call it what it is, Galvarey!" Jaheira shouted. "As good as death!"
"Nothing so barbaric, my dear. He is a...", he shuddered in distaste, "...mage, he will surely know of the Imprisonment spell. To contain the chaos in his wake, and protect the public."
You can judge your importance in the world by the lengths to which people are willing to go to get rid of you. I was evidently extremely important.
"So, it's barbaric to kill me quickly and let me go on to Arvandor, but it's civilized to stick me in a canister miles beneath the world for an eternity..." Rage rising, I nearly lost control, nearly gave in to...it. Don't prove him right.
I looked around, to calm myself. Even Minsc had caught the rising aura of hostility in the room...and I couldn't for the life of me see Yoshimo. I turned back to Galvarey and continued.
"Over my dead body."
"If necessary. You hardly have a choice...you can fight, but there are six Harpers here to contend with! The odds are quite clearly-"
"Incorrect, Galvarey." Jaheira, and her voice held the resolve of steel.
"There are only five of you, and you are hardly Harpers. I will have no part in this absurdity! Dallan, I...I will fight by your side, if you will have me."
"Of course, Jaheira. I never doubted you." Heartened, I turned to Galvarey.
"Well, Galvarey, it seems that the odds are now on my side. Would you like to reconsider, or must this all end in tragedy?"
I imagine, some days, that this could have ended differently. That he would have seen reason. But prejudice is a terrible thing, and most days I know that there was only one possible end.
He opened his mouth to answer. There was a flash of metal, and his head shot upwards atop a crimson fountain of blood. Behind his collapsing body I saw Yoshimo backing away, parrying aside a Harper's enraged blows.
The room erupted in battle. Minsc bellowed and rushed past me, swinging my brother's old sword as he ran to Yoshimo's aid. The air crackled with energy as Aerie and Galvarey's pet mage flung spells at each other. Arrows flew at another opposing spellcaster, breaking his concentration: he screeched with rage-quickly silenced with a swing of Jaheira's staff.
Where is the fourth? There, in the alcove. The slender elf was lining up her shot-at who, I did not know. We can't have that. The fireball incinerated her bow, and sent her running, her unearthly scream as she burned echoing through the hall, like a harp catastrophically out of tune.
"Give up! You need not die for following a fool's orders!" I shouted at the two who remained.
"Never, hellspawn. You will pay for what has transpired here!", was the mage's reply, as he and his comrade teleported out.
"Isn't that always the way. Someone else's fault entirely, and I take the blame," I remarked.
Jaheira chuckled. "Fear not. I..we know you far too well to believe any of them."
For one thing, she's seen you nude.
I should have given that scroll away.
Too late now, kid.
"You have no idea how much of a relief that is." I replied to Jaheira, as we left the Harper Hold behind. And she didn't, true, as far as I knew. I smiled, then, and she returned it. Her eyes seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.
With all of these offers of employment piling up, we could be on our way to Imoen's prison within the week...and meanwhile, two people's fancy seemed unexpectedly to be turning to love...
Looking back, it was then that I began to think things were going to be all right. I suppose I was right...it just took a couple more years for it to happen.