“So… he tortured me… but you knew that. He had these special knives he liked to use, and I know each one by heart now. I can tell just from the sound of the metal being unsheathed, the feel against my skin, the sharpness, the curve of the blade… There were three of them for each size – small, medium, large. One had these jagged teeth that just rip through flesh and bone. One was so smooth and sharp that you don’t even feel the cut. The other’s smooth, too, but with this special edge to the blade that lets you add a little ‘extra surprise.’ Salt, hot oil, acid… y’know, that kind of stuff.
The physical torture wasn’t too bad, though. Well, not after a while, at least. I just stopped responding to it after a while. Sounds weird, huh? But… it’s just flesh, y’know? Just flesh… I guess Irenicus figured that out too. He always told me – he talked a lot — that there’s an order you have to go in to really break someone apart. First you break the body, then you break the mind, and only then can you break the soul. So after a few weeks, I was too numb to care about the physical stuff. He’d broken my body. And that’s when the real torture began.”
It was a nice day. Not as nice as some of the days back in Candlekeep, back before this whole mess with Sarevok, but it was still a nice day. Imoen leaned up against the windowsill of her room in the Three Old Kegs inn and watched the bustle of the people below. It was high noon, and the residents of Baldur’s Gate were busy going about their business, buying this, selling that. The sky was clear with the occasional wayward cloud in the distance, and the swallowtails perched on the washerwomen’s lines were singing with every ounce of their tiny little hearts.
She smiled. It was definitely a nice day. “Hey, Cass, c’mere.”
Figured. Like there was anything she could possibly doing that outranked a beautiful day like today. “Doin’ what?”
Cassandra was stretched out on her stomach on the room’s single bed, propping her chin up and studying a small blue pamphlet of some sort. The rays of sunlight caught the strands of hair which framed her face and made them glitter and glimmer like fire and gold.
Imoen reluctantly stepped away from the warmth of the open window and went over to the bed. “Readin’ what?”
“Is that all you ever read?” She rolled her eyes and sat down on the edge of the mattress. “Military whoopity-do and hoo-hah? C’mon, Cass, it’s beautiful outside.” She winked and shot the woman a grin. “Get a life already!”
Her sister sent back an annoyed glance. “You weren’t saying that when it was me and my military ‘whoopity-do’ saving your butt. I like this kind of stuff.”
“Well…. you’re just silly, then.” Imoen snatched up the book and leapt off the bed.
“Hey! Dammit, Im, I was reading that!”
She danced out of the way of Cassie’s lunge as the older girl launched herself off the bed in an attempt to retrieve the text. Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she darted back to the window and held the book up as a challenge. The breeze fluttered the pages with ominous promise. “I dare ya.”
Cassie crossed her arms across her chest. “You wouldn’t. No, don’t!” Imoen had taken on a mock-offended look and dangled the pamphlet further out the opening. “You’re right — you would, you would.”
Imoen giggled and wiggled her eyebrows. “So whatcha gonna give me for it?”
“Oh, c’mon, Im, this is totally not fair. I was really enjoying that.”
“Heh! And I’m really enjoying it now too.”
Cassandra sighed in defeat. Imoen wanted to play, and when that girl got it in her head to play, there was no use in trying not to. “Fine, fine… what would you rather do than spend a perfectly wonderful day in a perfectly wonderful room with a perfectly wonderful bed, reading a perfectly wonderful book?”
“Well, gee, if you put it that way…” For a moment Cassie thought she might actually win this one, but Imoen’s impish smile dashed that dream. “Anything but read, really.”
“What’s so wrong with reading?”
“Well, for starters, you’re the one reading, which means I’m bored.”
Cassie had slowly and casually taken a few steps closer as they talked. Imoen tried to keep her smile from growing even bigger. Cass had a long, long way to go before she could sneak up on a sneak. Still, Imoen was willing to play along for now. It’d just make it all the more fun in about… oh, about thirty seconds.
“We could get you a book, too.”
“Nah. Still be bored.”
“Not even one with pictures?”
Imoen’s lips quirked in amusement. “Hey now, that’s low. I can read, y’know.” Cass had advanced another step, and was now almost within grabbing distance.
“Yeah,” she acknowledged, “but you prefer the ones with pictures.”
Cassie made another grab for the book, but Imoen had seen it coming a mile away. She tucked the book behind her back and switched it to her other hand. “Hah! Missed – hey!”
Cassandra had adjusted to the switch quickly – too quickly – and nearly managed to get her hands on it before Imoen could pull it away. The thief’s natural nimbleness saved the game, though, and now she kept the book firmly behind her, clasped with both hands, giggling as her sister tried in vain to grab it.
She grinned and shifted to keep her body between the fighter and her goal. “Dammit, Cass!”
“Okay, that’s just immature.”
“Okay, that’s just immature.”
Cassie’s lips pursed together and her brows furrowed in a distinct look of displeasure. It only made Imoen giggle all the more. The fighter decided to switch tactics. She was taller than Imoen, if just a few inches, and correspondingly had a longer reach — and in this situation, that extra inch or so might be all she needed. She wrapped her arms around the redhead’s waist and backed her up against the window so she couldn’t wiggle away. With both hands now she tried to liberate the stolen text, but even though she could now get a grip on it, Imoen held it fast.
“Imoen,” she said sternly, “if you do not give me back my book by the count of ten, I am going to shove you out the window.”
Imoen considered that. It was an empty threat, of course; Cassandra definitely had the strength – and the opportunity, and the motive – but she’d never raise a hand against her and they both knew it.
“You wouldn’t dare. I’d scream all the way down, you’d get arrested for murder, and then I’d come back and haunt you forever and ever. And ever,” she tacked on with a meaningful look.
If there were such a thing as a Fate worse than death, being haunted eternally by Imoen’s ghost certainly qualified. Pushing her out the window, then, was no option. Cassandra tightened her arms around the girl and slid her hands forward around her waist, coming to rest just above her hips – one of Imoen’s most sensitive areas. “I’ll tickle you until you pee.”
The movement of her hands sparked a strange warmth in Imoen’s stomach. The thief’s smile half-melted away from an unaccustomed blush of heat across her skin and suddenly it seemed her heart was beating a little faster. “It’d get all over both of us, and that’d just be gross,” she objected.
“Fine then. I’ll tickle until you pass out.”
Cassie was standing close – close enough that more than just her hands was in contact with Imoen’s body. The younger girl was forced to look up at her taller sibling, and for some reason Cassandra looked different now. The way her hair fell around her face, the planes of her features and lines of her face, close enough to touch… Imoen’s skin prickled with goose bumps. She stared up at Cassandra’s arctic blue eyes with a mixture of bewilderment and sudden excitement. “You wouldn’t dare,” she breathed.
Cassie pulled her closer, meeting her gaze with confidence and more than a bit of challenge. The hands around her waist drifted lower, evoking the same odd heat as they came to rest on her hips, and neither of them paid much attention to the thunk of the forgotten book falling to the floor. “Oh, I’d dare.”
Imoen’s heart skipped a beat and the pleasant tingle spread from her belly to her entire body. Her breath came quicker as her hands came to rest on top of Cassandra’s own. “Promise?”
The vision shattered. Suddenly the warmth was gone, the sunlight gone, the room empty and cold. Cassandra’s visage flashed and vanished with the blink of an eye, replaced by the dim and forlorn grey of bare stone walls.
“It is time for another… test.”
It was the same voice, a masculine voice. One she recognized and had learned to hate. Imoen drew her knees up to her chest where she sat on the cell’s floor and tried to recapture the image. She didn’t look up, didn’t want to look up. She kept her gaze on the rough surface of the stone-block floor. Maybe this time he’d go away.
He didn’t. He never did. Minutes passed as he waited, as Imoen began to shiver and shake from the abrupt return to reality. She kept her eyes fastened to the floor, slowly rocking herself back and forth, and trembled. The shaking grew worse, soon claiming her entire body, and eventually the mental barricade she’d so carefully constructed fractured under the weight of his presence and the tears began to fall.
“Please,” she whispered, “please, I can’t take anymore…”
“Patience, Imoen. Soon it will all end.”
The sharp click of Irenicus’ boots crossed over to her, his shadow slithering across the floor towards her resting place. He stopped next to her and she could see him on the edge of her vision even as she desperately tried not to. When he reached down and took hold of her upper arm, she didn’t resist. Resisting didn’t change anything. Screaming didn’t make a difference. Nothing ever changed what would happen.
He pulled her to her feet like a limp ragdoll and guided her towards the door. A duergar servant stood there, holding it open, and leered at the girl as she was led past. It closed with a hollow metallic clunk and she heard the lock as it was levered back in place.
The torture chamber – the ‘examination lab’ – was only perhaps a hundred feet down the hall. The crisp staccato beat of the mage’s footsteps echoed off the walls as he led the way. He never looked back to ensure his subject was following, taking it for granted that she would. And he was right. Imoen had tried running, tried hiding, tried fighting. Nothing ever made a difference, and eventually she’d given up.
The door to the lab grew closer, and she wondered which knives he’d use today.
Irenicus made a small motion with his left hand; the door unlocked itself and quietly swung open. The room itself was well-lit from multiple small arcane lanterns which hung from the walls and a orb of perpetual light floating near the ceiling. Most of the walls held different instruments of various sorts. The northern wall held a collection of alchemical equipment: test tubes, vials of colored liquids, coils of glass tubing, shelves of materials both exotic and mundane. The southern wall, where the door was, held the furnaces, sand pits, and water baths used to smelt and cool. The eastern side was a makeshift library, where Irenicus had gathered the most import of his manuals that he used in his ‘experiments.’ The western side held the shackles, knives, and other instruments; Imoen knew that wall the best.
But today there was something – someone – else.
There was a girl, a little girl, clasped within the chains. She was small and blond, maybe four years old, with a round and precious face streaked with streams of tears. The leg irons and shackles had been heavily padded to fit her tiny limbs, and she began sobbing uncontrollably when Irenicus entered the room.
Imoen’s grey eyes widened. She’d seen that girl before, she knew she had, but the name escaped her. All of the torture instruments were still in their places; the syringes, the saws, the scold’s gag, the iron tongs. All the things that Imoen had come to know so intimately when she was the one in the chains. But surely—surely not even Irenicus—he wouldn’t. Would he?
She looked over at him. He stood straight with his arms held loosely at his sides, his tight, corpse-like flesh unmoved and unmoving. There was no emotion in his eyes.
“Wh—“ Her words choked. She took a deep breath. “What are you planning?” Whatever it was, she was sure it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“Not to worry,” he responded. “Nothing worse than what I have done to you.”
“She’s a child!”
“Exactly, Imoen.” His eyes never left the little girl. “Exactly.”
Irenicus strode over to the western equipment cabinet and retrieved his little wooden tray. That was where he kept the knives, and sure enough Imoen could see the glint of the metal blades, laid out in perfect order, perfect alignment. Was he really going to do to that girl the same as he’d done to her? Was there anything this monster wouldn’t do?
The little girl saw the knives, too. She tried to speak, but the tears and minutes, if not hours, of crying had robbed her of her voice. All she could do was sniff and sob and strain against the chains that held her. There was such terror in her eyes, such a plea for help…
“Take a good look at her, Imoen,” he said, picking up one of the knives. The sharpest one, the one with the thin, narrow blade. “Have you ever seen innocence?”
“Stop it.” She’d started trembling again, and she hugged herself tightly to try to quell it. “Whatever you want; I’ll give you whatever you want.”
“Innocence,” he explained as he stepped next to the girl, “is beautiful. It is sweet and it is charming.” He placed his empty hand on her hair in an almost fatherly fashion, and it evoked a whole new cascade of tears.
Imoen’s own tears welled up against her wishes as she saw the fear and confusion she knew so well, reflected in the girl’s weeping green eyes. “Please, please just stop it! This isn’t fair! I’m the one you want!”
“It is also weak, Imoen, just as this girl is weak. Just as she is victimized and at the mercy of a greater power, so are the innocent of the world fated for destruction at the hands of those who wield that power.”
He placed the knife to the girl’s throat. She screamed as it pierced the skin.
“No!” Imoen threw herself at the mage to try to stop him. She collided with an invisible barrier after only a few feet and rebounded with such force that she landed on the floor. “Fucking bastard,” she spat as she rose to her knees. “How could you!”
“How could I?” The surprise in his voice seemed sincere. “Silly girl, I haven’t harmed her. Her death serves no purpose to me yet.”
Imoen blinked and used the heels of her hands to wipe the wetness from her eyes. The girl was still standing, locked in the padded shackles, and still weeping inconsolably. The knife which Irenicus had placed at her neck – that Imoen had been sure would end her life – had instead cut a small, fingernail-sized crescent just above the girl’s collarbone. A thin line of crimson blood oozed from the wound.
Irenicus wiped the blood away with his index finger, and then studied the thick smear of life on his skin. His eyes lifted, found Imoen, and he crossed over to her with measured strides. The ethereal wall did not hamper him as he reached down and took ahold of her hair.
“Innocence is not life, Imoen. It is death. It is the destiny of innocence to be consumed and feed the power of the truly strong. You possess the curious quality of both: you are innocent, but within you is the seed of power which you must embrace – or perish.”
He tightened his grip in the red waves of her hair and forced the bloodied finger to her lips. Imoen struggled and twisted, but it only succeeded in smearing the sticky warmth even more. The metallic tang assaulted her tongue and made her stomach heave.
“Does it excite you to consume this innocence?” he asked. “Do you find the taste… agreeable?”
If looks could kill, she would have slain him where he stood. She spat a mixture of saliva and blood onto his embroidered robe. “I think it’s disgusting. I think you’re disgusting!”
“Disgusting…” He eyes narrowed, but he was unmoved by the insult. “If you think that, then you are not nearly hungry enough. Belegar!”
The same duergar servant from earlier appeared in the doorway a few seconds after his call.
“Take her away,” Irenicus instructed. “She continues to resist.”
The stocky dwarf-like creature nodded brusquely and hauled Imoen to her feet with surprising strength. She’d forgotten how compact and muscular these half-sized beasts could be. He shoved her out of the room, barking insults as he did, and within moments she was back in her cell. The door was closed, the lock set in place, and she was sealed into darkness once again.
What would happen to the girl? She almost didn’t want to think about it. He’d said that her death served no purpose yet – but in Irenicus’ hands, sometimes death was a better option. Especially if he was going to subject her to the same ‘experiments’ he’d done to Imoen herself. He wouldn’t – he couldn’t. She simply couldn’t fathom that anyone, even a corpse-faced freak like Irenicus, would be even capable of doing that to a child. To a little girl.
But he had. He’d chained her there, terrified her, cut her. That was torture, too, just spiritual rather than physical. He’d do it. He’d do it if it served his purpose.
Imoen shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. It wasn’t fair. Was this some sort of new trick, some new method of madness to break her even further? Wasn’t she broken enough?
Her stomach growled. She sighed and drew her knees to her chest again, laying her chin upon the tops. You’re not nearly hungry enough, he’d said, and just that mention had been enough to make the hunger cramps start again. He’d restricted her food ever since he took over the asylum from the Cowled Wizards, limiting her to one meal every few days – or sometimes one per week. Starvation had robbed her of her strength and was starting to take her health as well. She was always cold now, and her muscles protested even simple movement.
It didn’t matter though. If she just closed her eyes and thought hard enough, she’d be back in that tavern in Baldur’s Gate. The sun would be shining, the summer breeze blowing, and Cassie would be there to make things okay. She could forget all of this even existed, for a little while, if she just closed her eyes.
Imoen closed her eyes, and thought very, very hard.
The next morning there was no food, even though it had been nearly a week since her last meal already. The door grated open on metal hinges and the duergar servant – Belegar — sneered at her as he brought in instead a pitcher of water and a small wooden mug. She glared at him from where she sat in the corner. She hated that one. All of Irenicus’ lackeys were bad, but this one was cruder, smellier, and fouler than most. He seemed to take a special delight in making her life even more Hellish than it already was.
Imoen waited several minutes after he exited to make sure that he was done, then slowly got to her feet and went over to the pitcher and mug. Her throat was aching and her lips beginning to crack. And the water would at least help quell the hunger pains.
She carefully tipped the pitcher and watched as the liquid began to trickle down the spout and into the waiting glass, but her anticipation quickly turned to confusion. It was dark in the cell – it always was – and the water probably wasn’t top quality, but it looked even darker than normal. She finishing pouring, studying it with bewilderment, and then gingerly lifted the mug to her face. She sniffed it. It smelled stale and slightly pungent, with just a trace of copper. Metal wasn’t on her list of standard breakfast items, but she could live with a little contamination if it meant she’d get a drink.
The first mouthful of water touched her tongue and she immediately spewed it out onto the floor. She gagged and spit repeatedly to try to clear the taste from her mouth. Blood. They’d mixed the gods-be-damned water with blood! And she could guess whose blood it was. Her stomach heaved in protest and bitter yellow bile dribbled from her lips.
“Fuck,” she whispered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. That one simple word gave voice to her disappointment and anger. She curled her hands into fists. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” She raised her voice to a shout, pitching it for whoever might be listening, whoever was on the other side of that door laughing at this sick joke. “Fuck you, Irenicus! Do you hear that? I’m not gonna bend, I’m not gonna break, and you are not gonna make me! FUCK YOU!”
She flung the pitcher against the wall and was rewarded with a loud bell-like tone when the metal impacted stone. It didn’t make her feel any better.
Fine then. If they wanted to play that way, she could play that way. She could live without food, and she could live without water. Just gotta be strong, Imoen. Just gotta be strong. You’re stronger than him, you know you are.
She went back to her corner. There were no more visitors that day.
A second day came, and with it came another pitcher of water, tainted identically to the one before. Imoen spent the better part of five minutes screaming insults and curses through the door to her now-unseen captor, but if he heard – or if he cared – he did nothing to show it.
She kicked the pitcher as hard as she could, sending it and its contents spinning and spilling across the floor. Her stomach was tied in knots but the hunger pains had become dull compared to her thirst. She’d gone ten days without food, and now two without water. People could live a long time without food – she didn’t know how long – but water was a more precious commodity. Maybe a week? A little more, a little less?
She retreated to her corner again. She’d outlast this bastard. It’d be best to conserve her energy. Her head hurt, and the pounding at her temples was slowly and steadily increasing, and she’d noticed it was becoming harder to focus on things. She’d sleep it off. Sleep, and perchance to dream.
A third day came, then a fourth. The water kept coming, and she threw it back each time with vehemence and disgust. The headaches had become a constant thrum of pain and even just moving was nearly impossible. She was having trouble staying awake, and staying focused when she was.
“C’mon, Im,” she murmured to herself. “C’mon. Beat this. Beat…”
The words trailed off, and her head lolled forward as her consciousness slipped away again. She caught herself before the blackness claimed her completely and lifted her head again. Her eyes opened and she found herself looking at the ceiling. It was blurred and wobbled unsteadily. Dark splotches decorated the stone; splotches that jerked and moved in her vision as she tried to bring it into focus.
Imoen let her eyes drift close again. It was so tempting just to go back to sleep…
Focus, Imoen. Stay awake.
Magic. Magic required focus. And while her books and scrolls had long been lost, she still at least had her basic knowledge.
“Fire, water, air, earth…” The words came slowly, but came they did. She recited the primary elements and then made her way to the secondary and tertiary groups. “Metal, wood… wood, ele—acid. Acid. Acid. Ele—ele…“
The blackness descended again, settling over her mind like thick, wet wool. It clung to her, stifling and heavy, and threatened to drag her back down into the depths. Her brows furrowed and her chest tightened in concentration and effort. It receded unwillingly, and she snatched the last of the words from her memory.
The third group of elements remained unspoken as she passed out and slumped to the floor.
On the fifth day, she drank. And had she the tears, she would have cried.
Her clarity of mind began to return in the days that followed. The food returned as well, a small platter of meat and raw vegetables presented each day at what she assumed was noon, along with another pitcher of the blood-water. She drank the liquid and picked over the vegetables mechanically, staring at the floor and trying not to think of what she was putting in her mouth. The meat remained untouched. She couldn’t look at it. She knew what was in the water. She didn’t know – didn’t want to know—
Imoen pushed the platter away and closed her eyes, taking a deep, quivering breath as her stomach clenched in protest. She couldn’t even think about it.
“Smoke, ice, steam, plasma.” The tertiary manifestations of the natural elements. She recited them, calling to mind the tables and formulae used by the arcane arts, using it to shove aside anything and everything else. “Vapor, plant, flesh, mind.” The fourth and last set of natural elements. Now the non-natural. “Rei arcanae, et obscurae, et spiriti, et animi.” Slowly but steadily the academic recitation forced her mind to calm.
Another deep breath. She opened her eyes as she slowly let it out. It’d be okay. It’d be okay. She’d get out of here. How long had it been, anyways? Day and night were meaningless within the unchanging confines of the cell, and she hadn’t seen the sky since her arrest after escaping from Irenicus’ dungeon the first time. She only had a vague idea of how many days had passed: at least twenty. But whether it’d been twenty-two or sixty, she couldn’t say.
Well, twenty-two or sixty, either way, sooner or later this would be over. Cassie would get here. She’d get here as soon as humanly possible, come blowing open the doors, and taken Irenicus down… somehow. She would; Imoen knew she would. She had to. Any day now. Any day.
The low-pitched click of the cell door’s lock announced that she had a visitor. Imoen caught herself reflexively retreating to the rear of the room, to the corner she’d claimed as her own, before she managed to stop herself. I am not afraid of him. I am not afraid of him! The trembling that had seized her told a different story. Her heartbeat had tripled as her adrenaline spiked.
It swung open slowly, revealing the familiar forms of Irenicus and the duergar lackey. The latter was literally half as tall as the former, but probably twice as wide; the mage had a stereotypically lean and slender look, a life of studying scrolls and arcanery rather than the sword and physical arts. Still, Irencius was muscular for a sorcerer. The duergar, however, was obviously used to a life of hard labor and back-breaking toil. He was build more like a workhouse than a person.
Irenicus turned his head very slightly towards his servant and spoke to him in a guttural and yet oddly sing-song tongue; the creature’s native language, she supposed. He nodded up at his master, spoke in return, and was answered in kind. Irenicus’ expression – flat and dead as it always was – gave no clue as to the contents of the conversation. The duergar’s face was too shadowed to read.
At length he turned back to his captive. “I am sorry, Imoen,” he said. “I truly am. However, you have proven resilient beyond my expectations. We must continue to develop the rage within.”
Imoen’s brows furrowed in confusion. Irenicus, apologizing? She didn’t even know he was capable of such a thing. What was going on?
Her captor turned, his robe rustling softly, and he exited the room. The door closed and the lock slid home. The duergar stayed behind.
She eyed him distrustfully from where she sat near the far wall. “What’s going on?”
He shrugged and began to move towards her. She didn’t move; there was no point in retreating, and she wasn’t going to make his job any easier by standing up. If he was taking her to the torture chamber, then by the gods he’d have to haul her there by force.
“What, he’s not even gonna do it himself? How pathetic.”
The dwarf’s mouth curled in a rough approximation of a smile. “Nau,” it answered in an odd accent. “I dauna think ‘e could ayn ‘e wanted.”
The duergar’s smell reached her a second before he did; a powerful, pungent mix of unwashed flesh and filth. Grime was engrained in his hands and the cracks of his face, and his beard was matted with dirt and oil. No doubt Irencius worked him like a slave, and odor only confirmed it.
He reached out and grabbed her shoulder, but instead of dragging her to her feet like she’d expected, he sent her sprawling across the floor with one forceful shove. Imoen caught herself reflexively with outstretched hands and kept her face from slamming into the stone.
What the Hell? She tried to look over her shoulder, only to feel his foot be planted between her shoulders and shove her flat against the floor. She grunted as his weight forced her breath from her lungs. Her cheek scraped painfully against the rock. What the Hell?? A garden-variety beating seemed a bit pedestrian, considering Irenicus’ normal tastes.
Her arms were still underneath her; she tried to lever herself up but with no success. Imoen had never been a muscular girl, and the weeks of starvation had stolen what little strength she had. Even if he hadn’t easily massed twice what she did, she still wouldn’t have been able to move him. He pressed down, crushing her further. She gritted her teeth in pain.
The foot was removed and she gasped for breath. He was on her again within a heartbeat.
Damned if she’d do any such thing. She had half-rolled to her back when the hands seized her again and roughly completed the motion. The duergar was leaning over her, pulling on her with rough and calloused hands. She growled and lashed out at him with her legs. He caught one in his chest, but it didn’t faze him in the slightest. The other he caught in his left hand and secured firmly under his arm. His right hand loosened the drawstring of his trousers, in which a distinct bulge had formed.
Imoen’s eyes went wide, and her struggles increased tenfold. This wasn’t going to be an ordinary beating. She started screaming and assaulted him with a flurry of kicks, using the resistance of the impact to shove herself further away. He grunted with displeasure, and as soon as he’d freed his member from the soiled pants, he seized her other leg and pulled her close to him once more.
“Get off me! Get away!” She fought with all her might, but he was far, far stronger. Her kicks were made useless as he dragged her forward, placed himself firmly between her legs, and forced her knees apart.
She switched to fists and swung at his head. The blows landed solidly, causing her knuckles to crack, but they seemed to hurt her more than they did him. He retaliated with a single, hammer-like punch that flooded her vision with a flash of light and made the world spin incoherently.
Imoen felt him adjust his position and push her robe up over her thighs, bunching it around her hips. It was the sole and only garment she’d been given. Tears began to stream down her cheeks, mingling with the taste of blood in her mouth. She could feel a thin warm trickle of it running from her nose.
“Please don’t,” she begged. “Don’t! Get off me!” She tried to shove him off again, to strike him again, to do anything to escape. It was ineffective, and another blow across her face sent her reeling. The world flickered, and for a moment she thought – she prayed – that she’d pass out.
“Be still,” he repeated, and then forced his way inside her.
She screamed again, from pain rather than fear. He adjusted position again and pushed deeper. Something inside her felt like it ripped. Pain spiked through her like hot irons in her nerves. She was crying, sobbing uncontrollably, flinging her fists at him with desperation. He barely noticed as he began brutally thrusting into her, each movement bringing a new lance of agony and anguished cry.
If only she had her magic, she could defend herself. If she had a dagger, had her strength back, she could attack. If it’d been any city but Athkatla, anyone but Irenicus, she wouldn’t even be here. If Cassie hadn’t abandoned her. If they’d never left Candlekeep at all.
Something else tore inside her, something beyond the physical. Something deeper. She felt it snap, and suddenly she didn’t feel anything. She was vaguely aware of the duergar on top of her, grunting and rutting like the beast he was, and for a moment she knew where she was, who she was… and then it all began to fade.
Somewhere she heard someone crying. Someone screaming.
But Imoen was back in Baldur’s Gate. The swallowtails were singing, and it looked like another nice day.
“I don’t remember much after that,” she concluded in a soft, almost inaudible voice. “He broke me… I swore that bastard would never break me, but he did.”
“I woke up after he was gone, and I was covered in blood. Some of it was probably mine; I mean, I know you’re supposed to bleed the first time you—“ Her voice choked as she tried to give voice to the violation. She covered her face with her hands and took several deep, trembling breaths before she gained the control to continue. Her eyes were red and shimmering from the tears she refused to shed. “—the first time you’re with a man.” Another unsteady breath, another pause to keep control. “But there was so much blood… It couldn’t all be mine. I hope I hurt him. I hope I scarred him for life.”
Cassandra sat in utter silence, stunned and horrified by what she’d heard. No wonder Imoen had told her to shut up when she’d joked on the topic of sex. And Cassie had pressed the issue, grown self-righteously angry, without the faintest clue about the wound she’d reopened.
“I remember the ritual, vaguely. I guess that’s when I started coming out of it. I remember when you found me in Spellhold, before Irenicus trapped you too. I thought it was a dream. Those dreams of you were all that kept me sane – or at least, kept me from losing it for good.”
She laughed self-consciously, almost bitterly. “Gods, I thought it was a dream. I was sure of it. I mean, there you were, after so long of wishing and hoping and praying you’d come… and suddenly, poof!, there you were. I didn’t want you there. Too many nightmares. Too many times when I’d dream you were there and then something horrible would happen, and you’d leave again, and I’d rot in that damn cell for the rest of my life. And then you really did leave…”
“Not by choice,” Cassie responded softly.
“I know, Cass. I figured it out when he dragged me back into the ritual room. He gloated the whole time about how he’d finally captured Gorion’s ward and finally he’d have his revenge, yadda yadda, standard madman stuff.”
Another brief silence fell as Imoen’s soft grey eyes studied the floor, as she gathered her thoughts. The tears had stopped, but her body quietly shook and trembled. She looked so vulnerable, as if any stray breeze would shatter her, but looks were deceiving. She’d been through an impossible series of nightmares and she’d come out alive and functional. Not many would have survived at all.
“Then the whole thing with Bodhi hunting us, and your Slayer changes… I missed you so much, Cass, and every second we’re in here there’s that chance that I’ll lose you again. I can’t go through that again. I can’t. I just can’t. I’d rather die.”
Cassie stopped. I’m sorry sounded so shallow and trite compared to the horrors that Irenicus had inflicted, to the damage he’d done. She’d make him pay for this. If it meant tracking him to Hell itself, she would make him suffer a hundred-fold for every second Imoen had been his toy.
“I will carve your name in his flesh for every scar he put on your body,” she finished. “I swear it.”
Imoen’s eyes rose and met her sister’s. Cassie’s eyes were still black from the Slayer change, and it lent a dark cast to the sincerity in her face. The older girl’s expression was closed and tight, an uncomfortable mixture of pain and acceptance at the story she’d been told.
“Thank you, Cass. I hope you do.” Her voice began to shake again, and wetness rolled down her cheeks. “I hope you flay that bastard alive.”
Cassandra reached out to embrace her, to try to give some measure of comfort, but Imoen held up her hands and warded her back.
“Don’t, Cass. Please don’t touch me right now.” She inhaled deeply and tried to bring her emotions under control once more. “I can’t talk about this anymore.”
Had the duergar’s touch tainted all others that would follow? “I just wanted to—“
“No,” Imoen interrupted, shaking her head and rising to her feet. Her trembling had increased, and now she shivered visibly even in the shadows of the room. “I can’t deal with this right now. I can’t — I won’t, I can’t.”
The fighter slowly withdrew her touch. Imoen offered her a shaky, fragile smile. “I appreciate it, Cass, I do,” she said. “But I’ve—I gotta hold it back, y’know? And if you touch me, if you hug me, I’m going to collapse. If I start crying in your arms, I’ll never stop. And I can’t deal with that right now.”
Cassandra nodded her understanding and acceptance. Imoen looked relieved.
“Just… let’s get out of here. And I can mend your clothes tomorrow; I know a spell that’ll work.”
Cassandra nodded again and got to her feet, following Imoen’s lead. “Okay.” She could do that. She could get them out of here. She could find the exit, get Imoen somewhere safe, and then track down that gods-forsaken mage and teach him what it was like to be at the mercy of a monster. Maybe she couldn’t erase the past, but she could prevent it from ever, ever happening again.
She’d kill him — or she’d die trying.