Welcome to this online fiction site! Here you can read the short stories inspired by the game "Baldur's Gate II - The Shadows of Amn." This is unofficial site and it is not associated by any means with Interplay, Bioware or TSR Inc. No material from this site can be reproduced for any commercial use and any noncommercial use must be authorized by Laufey.
Of Winter Solstice 2
Edwin had visited the hidden Assassins
Guild once before, but the circumstances had been rather more dramatic and
he hadn't got more than a brief glimpse. The term 'Ravens Nest' was a reference
to the members habit of making a living off the deaths of others, much like
the birds in question. Edwin had a feeling there was probably more than one
entrance, but the one his teacher led him to was the one he had seen before.
The house was a highly anonymous one, situated in the bleak and dangerous
Outer City. Nothing separated it from
the ones on either side of it, nothing apart from the fact that people went
in and out more frequently. But once past the door and the guard inside, hidden
passages led inside the true Nest, a complicated web of rooms and corridors
situated around a large natural cavern. This time it looked a little different
than on Edwin's previous visit.
Several large tables were being set out in the middle of the room, surrounded by long benches. A few of the younger assassins were decorating the walls and furniture with leaves of holly and laying out large red tablecloths.
"It is in preparation for the Solstice dinner", Dekaras explained as they walked past. "It is usually a very good one, and the games of skill that precede it tend to be both entertaining and educational. Last year there was an obstacle course, for example. Half of us set it up, using only items readily available in the kitchens, the other team had to try to navigate it." He smirked. "You wouldn't believe how nasty a trap can be set using only soap, string, a few dozen forks and some live mice", he said. "A memory to treasure. Anyway, the winners receive prizes, as well as the honor of cutting the meat. Trust me, you don't want to see a group of assassins arguing about that particular assignment."
"What's the holly for?" Edwin asked.
"Holly is an old symbol of truce", Dekaras said, his voice taking on a lecturing note. "It serves to remind our more hotheaded members to keep the bloodletting similarly symbolical. We don't want to lose out on membership fees, after all."
"And the tablecloths?"
"Help hide the stains in case anybody forgets himself. A contingency plan is always useful."
As they passed through the halls Edwin was acutely aware of the curious looks thrown his way, but there were no open questions asked. Dekaras nodded briefly at various passers-by, exchanging a greeting here and there but never stopping until they reached a fairly small round blue door at the end of a narrow passage. He knocked, waited a moment and then went inside, beckoning Edwin to follow. The room inside was warm and cozy and cluttered with cats. None of them were real, live cats, but the general impression was one of felineness. A fire was blazing merrily in the fireplace and the air was saturated with the delicious smells of chocolate and hot fudge. The sticky substances themselves were dotting the floor and furniture everywhere, but especially around the fire. Trays of dripping, runny fudge were all over the place.
A young halfling woman was standing near the fire, stirring yet another cauldron of brown, messy sweetness. There were clots of fudge on her nose, on her red and round cheeks, on her clothes and in her curly brown hair. Yes, even between the toes of her bare feet. Her eyes lit up as she saw her guests. "Hi Dekkie!", she chirped. "Hi there Eddie-kins! Happy Solstice and the Gods bless us everyone!"
Both the boy and the assassin winced slightly at these diminutives. "Happy Solstice, Poppy", Dekaras said. "And I thought I told you not to call me that. About three-hundred thousand times according to the current score."
"Call you what, Dekkie?" Poppy asked innocently, stirring her fudge. Then she grinned, showing off her dimples. "It's really funny how alike the two of you look when you're annoyed", she said. "Really cute look too." Then she yelped as she was suddenly lifted off the floor to the eye-level of her taller colleague.
"Poppy", Dekaras said, his voice deceptively mild. "As we are close friends I allow you to take certain liberties that would make anybody else worm-food. But I definitely draw the line at being referred to as 'cute'. Now take it back before I do something horrible enough to turn even the hair on your feet gray."
"Fine, fine", Poppy grinned. "I take it back. Want some fudge? This latest batch shouldn't be nearly as runny as the ones before." As soon as she was put down on the floor the halfling assassin ran over to the table, removed a tray of cooling fudge and handed her guests a piece each. Edwin was just about to put it in his mouth when he noticed his tutor's warning glance. Dekaras raised his hand and dropped the fudge on the floor. There was a rubbery 'Sprrroooing' and then a couple of loud crashes.
"Oh, darn", Poppy said a moment later. "That was my best vase. And the soup terrene as well."
"While I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the subject of confectionery", Dekaras said, raising an eyebrow, "something tells me that fudge really shouldn't bounce like that."
"Guess not", Poppy admitted, shaking her head to make her curls swing. "Oh, well. Try and try again, I suppose." Then she winked. "Want your Solstice Gift right now?" she asked. "Want to give me mine?" This last was said in a very sweet voice, dripping with faked innocence.
"As a matter of fact", Dekaras said, "I thought I might as well get it out of the way." He produced a flat package from somewhere inside his black cloak, wrapped up in dark blue paper with silver stars. Poppy fussed delightedly over it and her fingers started twitching towards the ribbon.
"Very good progress, Poppy", Dekaras said with an amused glint to his eyes as the halfling proceeded to rip her present open. "Last year you almost sliced my fingers off to get to it. And you're only four days early too."
"Oh, hush", Poppy muttered as she tore at the paper. "You gave it to me, so it's mine to open whenever I want to." Then she saw her present and fell instantly silent. It was a dress. Or more accurately a Dress. It was a dream in silk and frothy lace, glittering silver like moonbeams. Most importantly it had clearly been made to fit a halfling. Poppy's eyes went very round and suspiciously shiny. "It's…it's….beautiful", she whispered. "But it must have cost a fortune!"
"Well", Dekaras said, shrugging offhandedly, "I have had a beneficial year. And last year you did complain rather loudly about ruining your party dress on the obstacle coarse."
"And I still haven't forgiven you for those incontinent mice", Poppy said automatically. "But this…this dress isn't for me! It isn't what halflings normally wear! It's made for a beautiful lady!"
"And your objection is?"
It took Poppy a second or two to digest this, and then Edwin was treated to the sight of seeing his teacher look thoroughly embarrassed at the spectacle of a sobbing halfling girl hugging his legs and calling him 'the sweetest guy to ever go into contract killing'. "Here", Poppy sniffled once she had managed to compose herself. "Open yours." She fetched out a huge package from inside her wardrobe. It was easily as big as Edwin and about the same shape. The wrapping-paper was bright yellow with grinning red clown faces on.
"From Jester's Jolly Jokebox?" Dekaras said with some suspicion as he noticed the paper. "Not another exploding turkey, I trust?"
"No, no, no. That was last year. This thing is all the rage this Solstice, and I promise it doesn't explode even a little bit. Go on, open it. I want to hear what you think."
Dekaras put the present on the floor and inspected it carefully, gently sliding long fingers along the sides.
"Honestly, Dekkie", Poppy said, "you have to be the most cynical person I know. Do you really think I'd trap a Solstice present?"
"Of course you would", Dekaras responded, giving the ribbons a minute tug. "I know you, remember? So would I, for that matter."
"Well, all right", the halfling admitted. "But I wouldn't trap yours."
"Be that as it may, caution has kept me alive so far and I have no intention of abandoning it. Now let's see…" The tall assassin followed his halfling friend's example and fell instantly silent as he saw his gift. It was a stuffed doll, almost as big as Edwin. It had long, dark woolen hair and button eyes, and it was wearing what could only be described as a purple mage robe. On the back of the robe the word 'WITCH' was embroidered.
"It's for stress relief", Poppy explained, sounding more than a little embarrassed. "Here, I'll show you." She proceeded to slap the doll hard across the face and Edwin shied back as a tinny voice emerged from somewhere behind the smiling doll face. 'Ahahahah!", it cackled. "I'm a Witch I am! I'll get you girlie, and your little dog too!'
"Dog?" Dekaras asked, his voice neutral.
"They have a few standard phrases", Poppy said, slapping the doll again. This time it responded with 'Fly my pretties! Fly, fly! And hand me my ruby slippers!' "It sounded funnier in the shop", Poppy said, looking extremely nervous. "But it's supposed to be a Rashemani Witch. You hit it when you're angry about something and feel better afterward. There was one called 'the Boss' and I thought about getting you that, but then I figured you'd probably not want a thing like that lying around the house, and since I know you hate the Witches and all I just thought…" Here she had to pause to breathe.
"Thank you, Poppy", Dekaras said gravely. "It was a very thoughtful gift. I'm sure I'll be able to put it to use, one way or another. Now, I really need to ask you a favor. Would you be kind enough to look after my student while I enter into the cutthroat world of Solstice shopping? He'd probably like to wander into a few shops of his own as well."
Edwin grinned widely at this. He liked Poppy and certainly wouldn't mind going shopping with her. Besides, he had an idea or two of his own.
"Oh, sure!" Poppy said. "It'll be fun!"
"Good. And Poppy?"
"When I said shopping I meant the paying kind of shopping. Let's reserve the other kind for private occasions, shall we? I don't want the boy arrested for stealing handkerchiefs and money-pouches."
Three hours after he had begun his quest for presents Dekaras had decided that Solstice shopping could be nothing less than an evil conspiracy, created by some malicious god in order to torment mere mortals. The crowds, the bright lights, the incessant singing of Solstice songs, all conspired to create feelings of either abject misery or unbridled aggression. Sometimes both. On the other hand, he actually was very good at it. The milling crowds took one look at the tall, black shape of the assassin stalking through the snowy streets and parted to let him pass with more than one nervous titter and shudder. Inside the packed shops he found that the best tactic was to place himself within eyesight of the clerk and then stare intently, the hint of a sneer on his face. It really was amazing how quickly they would come running to assist him, ignoring all their other customers. Idly he wondered how other people were able to get by without snapping and jumping off a tall building. Probably with some difficulty.
Yes, everything had gone smoothly thus far. Fortunately he had an alternative Solstice list at his disposal, courtesy of Mistress Elvira, and was not forced to go hunting for baby dragons. Or for any other kind of baby. Dekaras shook his head and wondered just where his student had come up with that particular idea. The boy really had a remarkable mind. But it wouldn't do to dwell on such things. He had managed to procure the entire set of Famous Curses cards already. This had been accomplished by telling the salesman that he wanted one of each card, no doubles, and that if that meant opening every single package in the shop, then so be it. That would be the easy way to do things, and surely the salesman wouldn't want to find out about the hard way. Then Dekaras had smiled. After the salesman regained consciousness he had been very helpful, if a trifle twitchy.
There was still one problem, however. The pointy Magical Mr Mongoose hat had so far proved elusive. There was an infinite number of blue hats, as worn by Hammy the Hamster, but the red ones seemed to be sold out everywhere. Dekaras frowned. He really didn't like settling for second best. He never had. Briefly he considered armed robbery but decided against it. It wasn't his style, and besides it would take too long to find a victim carrying the desired toy. No, that wouldn't work. The assassin sighed and headed into the tenth toy shop of the day, entertaining an amusing fantasy of buying a blue hat and then dyeing it red in the blood of whoever thought up a ridiculous character like that stupid Mongoose and hypnotized children all over Thay into worshiping him.
The tenth toy shop was called 'Ye Olde Toy Shoppe'. Dekaras thought this something of an exaggeration, seeing that this shop had opened only two months ago. But he supposed it helped marketing, and the owners really had created an almost believable impression of good old dependable, benevolent greed. The kind of greed that gives you a cheerful smile and a cookie as it takes all your remaining money, rather than the modern, brightly lit and efficient greed that simply takes your money and considers cookies bad for your teeth. Dekaras slipped through the crowd, heading towards the 'Magical Mr Mongoose' shelf that glimmered in the far distance, and so failed to spot the dwarf until he was almost upon him. The dwarf was standing on top of a small platform, shouting at the top of his voice and waving something at the customers that looked like a dead cat.
"Fake beards!" the dwarf screamed. "Get yer fake beards here! Best in town!" His own beard was anything but a fake, a luxurious reddish brown that reached his knees. He was wearing a beautiful blue hood with a long silver tassel.
Dekaras stopped, interested almost against his will. "Why", he asked, "would anybody want to buy that?"
"Ach", the dwarf exclaimed. "Why wouldn't they? 'tis mighty cold outside, is it not? All these humans walking about with nary a whisker between them. They could use a good beard to keep their faces from freezing clear off." He winked. "Palin, at yer service", he said. "And between the two of us, there are other uses for disguises aren't there? Have one for free and be sure to tell all your friends." He handed Dekaras a particularly repellent brown beard. The assassin nodded and accepted the gift. It wasn't the first time people tried to influence the Ravens Nest by bribing its individual members. Standard Guild policy stated that any gift under a hundred gold coins was acceptable, and this ugly thing didn't look to be worth ten. Then again, maybe he could use it if he ever needed to pretend to be a convict on the run.
The assassin finally approached the 'Mr Mongoose' toys, and almost hissed with frustration when he saw that once more all the red hats were sold out. Or were they? Behind a counter, wrapped up in paper, he could see a distinctly pointy shape. Standing behind the counter was a skinny and harassed-looking man who shuddered and sweated whenever he saw a customer approaching. Apparently it had been a long and terrible week. Perfect. His powers of resistance should be at their lowest.
"I want to buy a 'Mr Mongoose' hat", Dekaras said in his most studiously pleasant voice as he leaned across the counter to look the clerk straight in the eyes. "A red one."
"S-s-sorry, s-sir!", the man stuttered. "They're a-all sold out already." Dekaras allowed his smile to widen just enough to bare some teeth. While he didn't of course possess actual fangs, he had trained himself to produce the impression of fangs. It was rare for it not to work. And the clerk's eyes had flickered briefly towards the package.
"I don't think so", Dekaras said and pointed at the package on the shelf. "In fact, I think that if I were to examine the contents of that package I would find that it contained exactly the specified item. Or would you perhaps prefer me to examine the contents of something else?" He looked pointedly at the clerk's belly and drummed his fingers on the hilt of one of his daggers. Subtlety was the key to intimidation. You threatened as little as possible. Much better to let the other person's own mind handle that part.
"Ah, i-in fact sir", the clerk stammered, "the gentleman who ordered that one should have picked it up an hour ago. I-I think I would be perfectly within my rights to let you have it."
"Excellent", Dekaras said. "I'm glad to see the spirit of Winter Solstice isn't entirely dead." He had just finished paying for the hat when he heard an enraged roar behind him and turned around to face a furious Red Wizard.
Rory 'the Roarer' Ravonar had long been an enemy of the Odesseiron family, and it didn't look as if the cheer of the season had penetrated to him. Almost as wide as he was tall, the red robe he was wearing should have made him look amusing. It did, in a way, much in the same way that a raging bear wearing a dress is amusing. That doesn't keep it from being highly dangerous. Ravonar's bald head with its well-known tattoo of a roaring lion was hidden by a cap as red as his robe, with a thick white tassel, no doubt of dwarfish origin. The same could be said for the fake white beard decorating his face. Apparently he had fallen for Palin's sales pitch.
"You…you…", he sputtered, his face an even purple behind the hideous beard. "That hat is mine! It's a Solstice present for my little Zabina!"
"My deepest apologies, sir", Dekaras said. "All is fair in love, war and Solstice shopping. You didn't fetch the hat within the set time. That makes it fair game." He paused to look around the shop. "If I may be bold enough to make a suggestion", he helpfully added, "there are plenty of blue ones left. And the word on the street is that Hammy the Hamster is bound to gain some more popularity as soon as he does something about his lisp."
Ravonar's fake beard was actually bristling by now. "I'll get you for this you know", he said in a low and dangerous voice. "Your Mistress has provoked me enough with her incessant challenges, and this is the final straw. You will regret this before Solstice is over." He turned on his heel and walked out of the store, the chuckling 'Ho Ho Ho' sounds coming out of his mouth sounding like an emanation of pure evil.
Meanwhile Edwin had been having an excellent time. Poppy had helped him buy his Mother a tiny bottle of poisonously green perfume named 'Kiss of the Lich'. It smelled heavily of roses and spices, and had a really cool picture of a skull on the bottle, which was what had attracted Edwin's attention in the first place. He had bought his Father a pair of fluffy slippers shaped like bunnies. That had to be safe. As he was sitting with Poppy inside a small tavern, sipping hot chocolate with whipped cream, he also brought up the subject of his teacher.
"I'd still like to get him something", he explained, licking at the foamy white cream mustache that had formed on his upper lip. "But he said not to, and I don't want him to get mad."
"Actually", Poppy remarked, "from what you've told me Dekkie just said not to buy him anything. Doesn't mean you can't give him something you made."
"Like what?" Edwin asked, confused.
"Dunno. But I'm sure you'll think of something."
"And you don't think he'll get mad at me?"
"Nah", Poppy said with a confident grin. "I know him. He might pretend to, but not really, no. 'sides, you can always blame me if it backfires." She suddenly seemed to realize something. "But he might get quite mad if we don't get going right now", she said. "We were supposed to meet him in Execution Square half an hour ago."
As a matter of fact, Dekaras didn't seem all that upset, more preoccupied with something as Poppy returned Edwin to his side. He didn't say very much on the way home either, except a few pointed comments directed at the still falling snow. As soon as they got home he immediately brought Edwin with him to Elvira's study, stopping only to hand the great heap of Solstice presents he'd bought to one of the servants.
"Mistress", Dekaras said as soon as he had ushered Edwin into the room and closed the door behind him, "we have a situation."
"You think I don't know that?" the wizardess snapped. "I don't know what the Tharchion is thinking of, really I don't." Then she paused. "Hold on", she said. "I only received the letter just now. How did you know so quickly?"
"I think", the assassin said, "I had better describe the events of the afternoon." He then went on to relate his encounter with Rory Ravonar in the toyshop, excluding only the detail of exactly what item they had been competing over. "While my comments undoubtedly enflamed him there seemed to be more to it than that", Dekaras said. "He referred to you 'challenging' him. Am I correct in assuming that he was referring to the newly available position as Advisor of Necromancy?"
"You are", Elvira said. Dark red fingernails tapped irritably against the smooth mahogany surface of her desk and she bit her full lower lip with obvious annoyance. "The Tharchion wants the very best Necromancer in Pyarados to be his advisor in such matters. Obviously that's me. Unfortunately that pig Rory Ravonar has some aspirations of his own. Ridiculous, really. I will admit he is good, but he is far too hot-tempered."
"Yes, Mistress. A dangerous trait in a wizard, I am sure."
"Yes." The wizardess glared at the roaring fireplace and muttered something under her breath. The flames jerked nervously and leapt even higher than before. "The arrogant oaf!" Elvira exclaimed, her dark eyes flashing with anger. Clearly she was about to explode with rage. "The Tharchion will decide between us immediately after Winter Solstice, and Ravonar is too full of himself to withdraw as he knows he should. He must be blocked! I will not have that troll-faced son of a goat assume a position of authority over me!"
"I see", Dekaras said, his face impassive. "I must admit I fail to see the problem." He gave a small shrug. "You know you need only state a request." There was an almost invisible twitch to the corner of his mouth. "In this, as in other things, I am yours to command, Mistress."
Elvira shook her head. "It's not that simple", she said. "His house is heavily warded against all intruders these days. And even if you were able to get in, terminating him wouldn't help. The Tharchion apparently considers us both assets to his rule. He doesn't want either of us prematurely dead. In fact, he went as far as to state that if any lethal accident were to befall either one of us the other would assuredly not be rewarded. No, assassination is out of the question, I'm sorry to say. And that isn't the worst of it!"
"No. Ravonar isn't about to trust his meager skills to win this skirmish. He wrote me a letter, warning me to withdraw from the challenge lest I be forced to. Add what you told me, and I'm beginning to suspect he'll try to strike my unprotected flanks, hoping to distract me. I will not let him hurt my family. He must be stopped, but in the meantime security must be tightened." She paused. "The Mansion is safe enough", she said. "The wards are easily as good as Ravonar's, probably better. No hostile entity will be able to penetrate them. But that is not enough." She drew a deep breath. "Nobody must leave the house until after Solstice is over", she said. "And I do mean nobody."
For a moment the assassin said nothing. Then he cocked his head to one side, as if incredulous. "I beg your pardon, Mistress", he said, his voice silky. "For a moment I thought I heard you say nobody is allowed to leave the house. Obviously I must have been mistaken since I know you to be aware of my other engagements. Also, I would have assumed you to be as aware as I, that I am not a family member and therefore singularly misplaced around the house at this time of year. I should think Master Galen would agree with my opinion."
"He will do as I say!" Elvira hissed. "As will you! Personal matters must be put aside. This is a matter of security and it must override everything else. I order you to obey me. You will stay put unless it is a matter of life or death." She drew herself up to her full height and put her hands on her hips.
Edwin was sweating by now. He was uncertain whether it was because of the fire or his Mother's white-hot anger. By contrast Dekaras had assumed his most formal stance, letting his features settle into a frozen mask of politeness.
"As you command, Mistress", he said, his voice frigid. "But as your advisor it is my sad duty to point out that you are making a serious mistake. You are effectively blocking my usefulness, tying my hands as it were. There is only so much I can assist you with cooped up in here, and none of it pertinent to the current situation." He gave a short bow and then walked out.
"Oh, just perfect", Elvira said. "As if things weren't bad enough already." She then turned to her son with a slightly forced smile. "It will be all right, dear", she said. "Now, why don't you tell me all about your day?"
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Last modified on , March 2 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Laufey. All rights reserved.